In the beginning was the Void.
And, then, the Universe decreed, "Let there be Rodney."
So Rodney came into being, fully formed, a little small, but his yelling had made up for what he lacked in stature. It was a relief, though, when he finally started growing and … filling out.
He'd carried this compensating tactic as an entirely conscious behaviour throughout his long life. Yelling had always proved useful when he'd been surrounded, too many times to count, by morons, idiots and downright lumps of flesh. Sometimes he wondered if he should change that to an antiquated expression from Star Trek.
But, no. Even he knew that pop culture should never be a metaphor for life, but there were some catchy sayings from its decades of reinventing the original series … not that he'd ever watched it … well, not until he'd gone away to university - yet oddly he had intuited exactly what Captain Kirk was.
And now he'd been distracted. Because he still couldn't think of Kirk - any Kirk - without having thoughts of John invade his mind.
No, he shook his head with determination. He had to focus on the past of long ago.
Yes, yes, 1967 had been an excellent year for Canada. Canada's 100th birthday. An exciting Expo in Montreal. As a child, he'd remembered seeing pictures of his parents on vacation there, standing in front of pavilions whose architecture was based on innovative building concepts for the time. Was it odd that he noted the application of geometry in practice before the fact that there had not been a single photograph of his parents together in the same shot. Even he recognized that his parents could have stopped a stranger to ask for a picture together.
But he was getting ahead of himself, for he hadn't been conceived yet. There was no error in the math that had led to his birth nine months after July 1. His parents must have been distracted by something to have produced him, in a burst of patriotism … or recklessness, as neither was fit to be a parent, despite their presumed - not to mention - combined intelligence.
The Universe had ordered that there be a Rodney.
So his parents had named him … Meredith.
The Universe had intruded in the McKay household a second time, creating Jeannie a few years later. When Rodney stopped to think about it - which he rarely did - he and Jeannie were about the only good things that had resulted from their parents' marriage. Because they'd certainly screwed up their own lives and consequently caused their children to move as far away as possible. Jeannie fled to a life on the western edge of the continent where science took a back seat to being the kind of nurturing mother she'd never had herself.
And Rodney distanced himself by choosing schools farther and farther away from home. Truthfully, he hadn't stopped moving until he'd reached another galaxy. Even then he hadn't rested until he'd found respect, admiration and fear. Yes, he'd always known he could press minions' buttons. Wasn't that why they were there in the first place?
However, the real fun had been to intimidate peers and even infuriate giants in academia with his self-proclaimed proof of genius - even if all he had left to show for it was a lousy T-shirt.
And, finally, unexpectedly, Rodney had found love.
But he was getting ahead of himself.
He had to start at the beginning.
He couldn't allow himself to be distracted as he didn't know how much time he had left. Living … surviving well into his eighties had not been something he'd contemplated, certainly not when he'd been a young man.
Yet here he was. Alive. Not necessarily in good health - he'd have to scold his doctor about that again - but with a brain that still retained memories of the things that mattered the most to him.
The beginning had never been his birth.
It was finding home again.
And taking home back where it belonged.
Rodney had always based his life on rational units of measurement, even if he didn't adhere to them for sleep or eating … or … sleep.
But this - this retrospective contemplation - required a coherent and cohesive structure: something that would define his life from A to Z (Zed, he sniffed, always having been the only accurate pronunciation - logically, historically and geopolitically).
And then he had it. Twenty-six letters of the alphabet. Almost enough for one man, even himself, to define a life. He could be magnanimous and allow a chosen few (John, John, John, his brain supplied immediately, as if he needed the reminder) to have a chapter here and there. And he couldn't, didn't dare forget Teyla. Oh, alright, another couple of chapters frittered away.
If he maintained this unexpected bout of generosity, he'd be giving away more chapters of his life to Radek or Chuck … or even Evan. Without keeping a tight rein, he'd end up babbling about his favourite Mess cook, the one who always saved him the last piece of chocolate cake. He'd forgotten her name over the decades, but he still remembered the cake. More than he'd remembered any scene of domesticity from his childhood.
He leaned back, resting his head against the fuzzy fabric of his favourite chair and started rewinding his memories. And, then, when he was ready, he began to record the wonders he had seen….
No, no, no, no, no. Fuck, no. Rodney's face was screwed up. This couldn't be happening. After everything else, this was too much. They were back on Earth. The had defeated the Super-Hive. Getting some well-deserved R&R. For Rodney that normally would have meant goofing off (no more than eight hours of work in the lab, ten max.), occasionally arguing with Radek for entertainment, sleeping in a real bed at whatever overpriced hotel he could guilt the SGC into booking him into, and enjoying non-stop room service in which mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy played a prominent role. He was too tired to even insist on fawning company of the blonde persuasion. The bliss-inducing basics would be just fine. So Rodney was not amused to see that being back in the Milky Way didn't prevent the weird shit Pegasus insisted on throwing at them. And derailing his vacation.
It had been such an innocuous greeting. Two words. Almost garrulous, for Ronon.
"What? Can't you see I'm busy?" It seemed redundant to state the obvious, even to the man standing in front of him whose greatest application of brainpower in his formative years had been spent in honing survival skills.
"The bridge has moved."
Rodney nearly growled. "Oh, for the love of—. Do I have to explain the compensating effects of the brain upon observing a fixed object while on a floating platform on an ocean? Even you should know something that simple."
"Do. This is different."
"How so, Mr. 'I know science'?" Rodney crossed his arms over his chest in a familiar pose.
"Oh, we are so not drifting. I think your eyesight's going. I'll prove it. Come on. Chop, chop." Rodney's irritation was growing, but he thought the easiest way to get Conan out of his hair so that he could get some more work done was to actually accompany him out to the nearest balcony and point it out personally.
There was only one slight problem with confirming his intellectual superiority over the Satedan. The man was right. The Golden Gate Bridge had moved. Well, actually, Atlantis had moved. Drifted further away from the bridge. It was only marginally noticeable, but Rodney was certain the amount of drift would become more apparent as each day went by.
As if they didn't have enough to worry about, Rodney recalled the most pressing matters: cleanup of the city, personnel being transferred by cloaked jumpers, Colonel Slinky spending whole days in meetings and not having the time to just drop by the labs, casually, to see how Rodney was doing. Not that he really had the time for such distractions, slinky or … or otherwise. But he missed them and it made the entire feeling of being back on Earth seem like an out of body experience.
There was no way Rodney was going to get up close and personal with the underside of the city via a jumper underwater though, yes, he admitted to himself he would have done it if John had been flying and if nobody else could do it. But Radek was there and not really doing any important work anyway, as far as Rodney was concerned, so it made sense to press him in a jumper piloted by Evan, who was getting bored himself, into investigating why the stabilizers weren't engaging. Rodney would, of course, monitor the situation from the Control room.
The consoles in the Control room showed situation normal. The limited tests that Radek was able to carry out from his own personal, miniature sea lab showed that there was nothing malfunctioning with the stabilizers. They just didn't seem to want to engage here. On Earth. Even when John had wandered down to see what Rodney was yelling about (because John found it was a different thing each day, so that never got old) and, at Rodney's specific command had distinctly thought [ON] at Atlantis while picturing the stabilizers, he'd drawn a blank. Everything else responded to him (the jumpers, lights, doors, useless Ancient doohickeys in Rodney's cartons), but somehow Atlantis was letting John know that she didn't belong on Earth and wasn't about to dig roots, even temporary ones.
Naturally, John wasn't going to divulge the latest manifestation of his secret affinity to the city out loud, so he whispered it to Rodney, causing him to immediately summon a bunch of geologists who filled the room with babble about the merging of the different tectonic plates in the area and whether Atlantis was receiving conflicting feedback from any one of them individually to establish a lock.
There was also the matter that Atlantis, until recently, had been anchored for thousands of years. Except that, so far, they'd had no reason to suspect this portion of engineering to be faulty. It had worked brilliantly on New Lantea after John had set the city down so there was no reason to expect that it would not work on Earth. Except for the fact that it didn't.
So, they were stuck in a cloaked city, drifting out of San Francisco Bay, in an area that had been cordoned off to all sea and air traffic, under Naval quarantine, making normal commercial operations just about impossible. As if the Navy didn't have enough on their hands already, this was going to make things impossible to control and contain. Already, there were birds flying into the windows and being killed on impact while marine life seemed to be giving the circumference of the cloaked city a wide berth.
All it would take was enough curious people, speculation voiced in the tabloids and a satellite fixed on the area, before the Pacific Ocean would soon have its own sensationalized version of the Bermuda Triangle. Rodney was certain that the crazy fundies would take full advantage of the situation to scream that the end of the world was nigh, all because of those godless homos in San Francisco and that they'd been right all along about God's wrath.
Rodney wasn't attempting to be funny or particularly patriotic when he wished the city had landed off Newfoundland instead or even in Hudson's Bay. Someplace a little less … commercial or touristy.
It didn't matter how much the IOA yelled at the SGC or the other way around, there was no place on Earth where Atlantis could hide for any length of time. Not realistically.
Rodney stared at the full pot of coffee and wondered if it would last him more than ten minutes. He doubted it. He sighed, put his fantasies of a sybaritic vacation on hold, and got back to work. Now that they all knew their time on Earth was finite because any attempt to stop the drift had been useless and potentially dangerous according to the so-called experts at the SGC, there was a lot to do before they could return to Pegasus. They'd need more than just a couple of miracles to get out of the situation without serious repercussions.
Richard Woolsey had always prided himself on being an intelligent man. His successes in the field of law had proved that. He'd once had a large enough ego to think that being a bureaucrat at the level of the IOA was an achievement. Until he'd been disabused of that notion when he'd had himself appointed as the civilian leader on Atlantis.
And, then, the reality of existing in another galaxy sank in and he had come to the inevitable conclusion that, most of the time, the IOA didn't have a clue in hell as to what decisions they were making.
A case in point had been the promotion and subsequent lateral move, not quite demotion, of Col. Carter. As much as she was a bright light in her lab and in military manoeuvres, she really hadn't had any indication that she'd been a mere pawn to the IOA. She'd been smart, but she hadn't been clever.
Richard compared her to Dr. Weir, whose legal training and diplomatic expertise had made her more than aware of the games people played - and she was instantly prepared to fight for her command and for unprecedented autonomy for the expedition. Elizabeth had known about the existence of Executive Orders and had insisted that she would not permit them to be issued against Atlantis except in the case of her untimely death. At the time, Richard had fought her, but ended up admiring her strength of character.
In comparison, Sam hadn't even been aware that there were such things as Executive Orders and knew even less about the judicious placement of trap doors within those Orders.
Richard glanced around the room and waited for absolute quiet before unleashing his own Executive Order, filed under XRW. 17, to be precise. Then, he sat back and waited for the disbelief, anger and outrage.
He wasn't disappointed.
"Have you gone completely crazy?"
"You mean to say that nice gal is—?"
"Just who the hell do you think you are?"
"Fuck, no. Not on my watch."
"We'll call in the Army, National Guard, whatever it takes!"
Some of the voices had reverted to shouting in their native languages. But he didn't need a translator to discern their meaning.
Richard leaned back in his chair and allowed the angry, resentful or mocking words to swirl around the room unchecked, knowing he'd be able to identify from the recording which speaker seemed to have raised the most outraged objection. He knew the voices would eventually die down and only then would he explain why he had made his decision. Why it was the only choice possible. And, as insurance, because he was no fool, why it was irrevocable.
His smile only grew wider. Because, if there was anything he had learnt, or perhaps finally grasped, in the Pegasus galaxy, it was to know what the real game was before declaring Checkmate.
He considered himself a lucky man to have had the experiences of the last year. Unusual, yes; occasionally life-threatening; but, on the whole, valuable. He had never thought himself capable of being integrated into such an alien milieu which, granted, had been tempered by the presence of so many of his beloved little luxuries and memories of Earth. He was not immune to thinking of Atlantis as home, from time to time.
He had also not thought he had the flexibility to move from a purely bureaucratic stance where he'd always considered himself to be in the right against a gaggle of people he had originally thought to be poorly disciplined children at best, recidivist hooligans at worst, though supremely intelligent ones to boot.
He considered himself even luckier to have made new friends at this point in his life. He hoped he would be able to rejoin them soon. He was not so naïve as to think he would avoid repercussions, but he also knew that this would not be the only chess game he would play. Nonetheless, his future and Earth's hinged on ensuring that Atlantis was safe and would remain so. He hadn't provided all of the details, just enough to make his case.
Richard had already established Teyla's interest in continuing their relationship based on trust and friendship. And so she accepted the mantle of leadership of a different kind, hoping that her presence, once back in Pegasus, would calm the indigenous populations who were most likely more resentful of the Lanteans for having fled the galaxy, together with the city, notwithstanding the trumped-up charges that had led to their trial.
He was also gratified to have made a good, strategic decision, having safeguarded the positions of the three heads beyond their existing roles on the premier gate team.
He'd done his part. He had also played a significant role in staffing the military contingent both as a compassionate gesture and also simply the most intelligent. And he had ordered massive amounts of printed matter to be dropped off in the city.
Now it would be up to Teyla to wield her new power over Atlantis. Richard had every confidence in her and her ability to succeed.
Really, it was simple.
Rodney put his foot down. He cited the case of Carson's wee turtles who weren't harming anybody and it just wasn't fair that others (his name, of course, placed prominently at the top of the list) had to go without some creature comforts in the form of pets.
Finding wishy-washy soft sciences useful for once, Rodney cited a multitude of psychological studies that showed how people who had pets had improved immune systems, not to mention lowered blood pressure, so it wasn't the many pots of coffee that kept his readings elevated; it was the absence of a cat - absolutely. And the clincher was the prospect - though he was careful not to make it a promise - of a sunnier disposition. Naturally, he'd tossed that reason into his argument in an offhanded manner, as a mere afterthought.
While Woolsey was busy (read stuck in a bureaucratic tangle with the IOA) on Earth, Rodney thought there was no reason why the SGC couldn't allow at least the Senior Staff at the beginning to acquire some safe pets.
Dogs, unfortunately, were not a practical option. Not if they needed to be exercised several times a day. Or whined or barked for attention. Rodney remembered the look of longing on Evan's face, when he heard that he couldn't have a Golden Lab. At least Rodney wasn't the Grinch who'd slapped a big "CLOSED" sign on the pet store window. It was just policy. And practicality.
But … cats. Ah - they were perfect. Well, Rodney reasoned, if only to himself, they really were. Though they all had to be neutered, a proposition that had made Rodney wince as his balls shrivelled up in sympathy, before they would be allowed into the city. Even after having undergone stringent veterinary examinations, they would spend some time in a lab under quarantine before going on to their new homes. Perhaps, if - when - this worked, they could get a few more of them for breeding purposes.
But … but … there would be cats. The look of bliss on Rodney's face was similar to how he felt about chocolate and coffee - at the same time.
Rodney had lost no time in acquiring an Abyssinian. A regal cat with … lineage. He could imagine how they could pretend to ignore each other for hours, at least until dinner, at which time it would be a race to see who would break first; he could also see Teyla rolling her eyes and then asking to be presented to his Majesty or the Athosian equivalent of he who must be obeyed. Rodney wondered what Teyla would think of receiving a head butt from a cat, surely the closest thing to the traditional respectful Athosian greeting.
Rodney had given much thought to a good name. And not the fancy one from the breeder. If he never heard endless rambling about Sires and Dams again, he'd be content. All he needed to know was that his cat was intelligent, sturdy and had a good disposition. He eventually chose the name Copernicus. There was something about that cat's piercingly direct gaze within a reddish-blond sleekly furred face, as if seeking to uncover the ephemeral mysteries of space.
Of course, John had to complain why Rodney couldn't choose a nice, normal name. Rodney had huffed in indignation, as if John had ever been capable of naming something normal by himself. Rodney smirked as he remembered how Copernicus had hissed and glared at John, appearing to have understood the exact nature of the insult. It had taken weeks before he would allow John to stroke his sleek coat and, then, only after many offerings of turkey and other delicacies. Rodney didn't blame Copernicus one bit.
After Rodney had revealed his intentions to acquire a cat, John had begun to act jealous and conflicted; he was decidedly pouting. Because, if he could have, he would have brought a horse or two into the city. Rodney remembered what Ronon had told him from the visit back home for the funeral. The stables and paddocks, surrounded by seemingly endless fields and sky. Rodney could see how such a large, graceful and fast animal would appeal to John. But it was definitely unsuited to Atlantis, though the mainland could have made a possible home, with room for stables.
The SGC had been adamant: no cross-galactic contamination. If it flew, it had to be caged. If it swam (well, that was easy), it had to be in an aquarium. If it crawled (there, the SGC had insisted on nothing more intimidating than turtles for which John had actually uttered a heartfelt "Thank God," because anything resembling an insect would have left him shuddering in remembered horror), a terrarium. So the only four-legged creatures with freedom to roam through personal quarters were cats. If they came out into common areas, it was either on a leash or in a carrier.
With his choices limited, John spent some of his hard earned and rarely spent salary in buying fish. If there could be turtles, then it wasn't that much of a stretch to imagine owning fish. And he indulged himself. With an unlimited budget (the exact amount he had spent had horrified Rodney), he gave himself permission to buy a variety of colourful, salt-water tropical, more commonly known as marine, fish . To Rodney's endless scorn with repeated reminders, John named every single one.
But even Rodney had to admit that they were strikingly beautiful, bringing a touch of accessible aesthetic improvement to John's otherwise sterile, too spartan quarters. And Copernicus, according to John, seemed to be in some version of cat heaven. Rodney was doubtful and mocked, "What would a cat know about heaven?" once when he and company had paid one of their frequent visits to John's quarters, but Copernicus would sit dazed for hours in front of the aquarium with a decidedly glazed sheen to his eyes.
The experiment was turning out to have nothing but positive benefits especially while Atlantis was stuck on earth. The military crews who hadn't been scheduled for rotation out were kept occupied in their free time and newcomers were entranced by the fact that living conditions would be far more humane and interesting than any tour of duty on Earth.
The SGC studied the results and reluctantly agreed that there had been little upheaval and much to recommend for expanding the pet program, to the extent that all but the lowest ranks of Marines were entitled to this perk. Even the junior jarheads didn't seem to feel slighted, as they were always available and willing to mind other people's pets.
Radek, to everyone's surprise, did not get himself a bird, despite his infamous obsession with pigeons since childhood. He adopted a stray cat that had a very thick dark brown coat with tiny splashes of orange and white, but very short hair. Of course, Radek was not intent on showing up Rodney who boasted about his pedigreed cat … often. No, not at all, though everyone was surprised and amused at Rika's innate ability to understand Czech.
When Rodney had mentioned the subject to Teyla and suggested that she might enjoy the company of a pet, Teyla glared at him before she launched into a speech about the heavy responsibility of running the city and being the single parent of a toddler. Rodney had been wise enough to retreat, muttering that she and TJ were welcome to visit Copernicus at any time once they were safely back in Pegasus.
Though the originally proposed intent of approving pets had been to provide psychological and emotional relief to the city's residents, the biologists were thrilled to know that they would be able to observe the effects of travel through hyperspace and life in Pegasus on Earth-born creatures other than human beings who, if they were anything at all like Rodney, didn't make for obedient test subjects. And they'd be able to eventually compare subsequent generations of fish populations - as John had not been the only one to have an aquarium delivered - to see if there were any genetic mutations. The labs were filled with excited chatter as the scientists considered possible behavioural tests.
But Rodney didn't care about those slackers in Biology or whatever it was that they intended to observe. He was just content to stroll down the hallway on his way to a certain Colonel's quarters (he of the exuberantly plumed hair with delusional aspirations of peacock-hood), a DVD in one hand and a leashed Copernicus perched on his shoulder.
Rodney had a cat.
Copernicus had a human.
And everybody in Atlantis breathed an enormous sigh of relief.
Rodney had been so preoccupied and excited with his new furry companion who liked to be carried over to the aquatic entertainment pavilion aka John's quarters on a regular basis, whenever he wasn't in the labs proclaiming his need to be overseeing the newest minions who could be on the verge of blowing up something of importance - that he hadn't even realized that something … someone was less a part of his life in the city than usual.
All department heads and subs had been so thoroughly engaged in fixing the city in the hope that they would be able to achieve an escape velocity while stocking up on everything they could think of in order to alleviate the need to have sophisticated spaceships used as the wasteful equivalent of space mules because that concept was so outdated and impractical, that Rodney hadn't even thought much of the fact that Jennifer kept putting off their get-togethers. Not for lunch. Not for dinner. Not for … anything else.
Until reality had hit him. He didn't think of how how long it had been until he'd glanced at his calendar and realized it had been weeks. If he didn't know any better, he'd have thought that she'd been using a life signs detector attuned to his signature to avoid him. Which was ridiculous … because, if there was one of those around, he would have been the one to be using it. Not that he currently needed to avoid anybody.
Struck by a sudden need to see Jennifer, to try to get some logical reason or explanation, Rodney bustled into the Infirmary, his attitude one of mixed bluster and shyness.
Jennifer was in her office, wearily updating some files. When she looked up at him, Rodney thought she looked a bit flustered.
Rodney uttered a soft, "Hey."
Jennifer replied a touch tentatively, "Oh, hi, Rodney."
"Are you busy? Because I can come back later or tomorrow."
Jennifer shook her head. "No, it's okay. I just have to get these finished before—," and then her voice abandoned her.
"Before what, Jennifer?" It had been a while since Rodney had been confrontational with her. He'd been trying his best to be a nicer, softer version of himself which, if he'd stopped to think about it, didn't make any sense. Besides, her definition of confrontational was his idea of direct. The words tasted strange in his mouth, as if he'd forgotten what he'd been like before he'd started up with Jennifer.
"Before I leave. Okay?"
Rodney was shocked to see a stubborn defiance in her eyes. But he could be much more stubborn. He had had decades more practical application. He noted to his credit that his voice was even, not betraying the whirlwind of emotional turmoil. "So where are you going, Jennifer? Is it for more supplies, or doctors or nurses? Where?"
Jennifer didn't have the same life experience to mask her agitated feelings. "I'm sorry, Rodney, but I'm leaving the city. I asked the SGC to release me from my contract. Even if they'd refused, there's not a psychiatrist at the Mountain who wouldn't attest that I'm not suffering from the alien version of PTSD. Because if that's not a diagnosis of how I feel about being kidnapped more than once, body-swapped, almost turned into a local DIY Wraith shipbuilding project or just plain nearly dying - oh, wait - I did die until you revived me, I'll write them a goddamn new bible of psychiatric disorders."
Her hands clenched in tension that must have been building up for the better part of a year. She spit out her next words, "And then tell them where they can shove it!"
Rodney was too stunned to say anything immediately, though he noted that he wasn't used to hearing Jennifer use common swear words. Ever. Jennifer only said nice things to people.
As the silence hung heavy between them, he finally spoke. "So, where are you going?"
Jennifer's voice was weary but calm. "I'm going home, Rodney. Home as in Wisconsin. I miss my dad. I miss feeling normal. I never thought I'd be in a place like this," and she waved her hands at her surreal surroundings. "All I ever wanted to do was to make people get better. Deliver healthy babies. Make sure people ate nutritious food, got enough sleep and exercise. Somewhere along the way after med school, I think I got sidetracked. Just because I was really smart, I thought I had to do it all. Trauma surgery, genetic manipulation, alien viruses, vaccinations against planetary plagues, all of the stuff that was normal in Pegasus. But, then, it all came crashing down around me when we flew back here."
Her voice began to climb as her agitation grew. "Do you know that Mr. Woolsey came to see me before the wormhole drive was engaged. He warned me to expect anything. And the worst that could have happened was that we would have gone Poof. Rodney, I didn't become a doctor so that I could go Poof. Do you think I wanted to become CMO after Carson? And that wasn't just a Poof. That was a horrible way for someone to die, just doing his job and trying to save lives."
Rodney watched her wince every single time she'd said "Poof," the explosion of air increasing in forcefulness. The way she said it, there was nothing pretty or sweet about it. His stomach lurched.
She paused, visibly shaken, breathing heavily, before continuing. "You know, even if I was a medic in some sand-covered hole in the Middle East, that red cross on the roof would mean something. It's not a perfect guarantee, but it's better than nothing. So I've been talking to my dad since we landed here. He told me the town doc was thinking of retiring, but didn't want to leave his patients unless he could find a replacement. I can take over his practise. He's even willing to sell me his house so I can live above my office."
Rodney couldn't help the bitter tinge that coloured his words. "Huh. So, when were you going to tell me this? When, Jennifer?"
Jennifer shook her head, her hair gliding over her face, providing some protection against Rodney's harsh words. "I don't know. It never seemed like the right time. You've been really busy, too. And you seem more content now, with your cat. I didn't want to ruin that for you."
Rodney's voice was cold and distant. "Oh, I get it. I have a cat now, so my girlfriend can split up with me and I'll be just fine." Two words in particular received the brunt of his hostility.
Jennifer grabbed Rodney's hand. It took all of his self-control not to flinch or to pull it out of her grasp. "Please, Rodney. It's not like that at all. I love you. And I don't want to break up with you. But I can't go out there again. Not when we're back home." She'd shuddered when she'd mentioned out there.
Rodney shook his head. "So what were you expecting me to do? Resign as well? Leave this once in a lifetime experience, the chance to exercise my scientific curiosity, the really amazing possibility that I could rewrite the laws of science? Come live with you in the middle of Nowheresville, USA? What, Jennifer? What was I supposed to do?" His tone was curt, his manner abrupt.
Jennifer dropped his hand, turning her head, refusing to look at him. Her voice sounded resigned. "Nothing, Rodney. I didn't expect you to do anything. I couldn't ask you to join me. To leave Atlantis and everyone in it. I guess I just hoped that I could have it all: a satisfying practice, a brilliant husband, a couple of kids down the road. A really good life. But I think I was fooling myself. Because you can't give me those things. Not in Atlantis. Especially not on Earth."
She finally turned her head back to look Rodney squarely in the eyes. "I don't think Earth is home for you anymore. Not for you, or the Colonel, or Radek or even Evan. I think if you had to return to Earth permanently, be exiled from Atlantis, you'd develop your own version of hypoxia. You'd be so starved of oxygen, as if the only true source of it is back in Pegasus, that you'd shrivel up and die. I can't - I won't - deprive you of that, Rodney. I love you. I mean it. Even if I have to stay here and you go back out there."
The force of her words slammed into him. He'd never taken the time to think about how much it entailed to live in Pegasus, even with life-threatening situations that meant he was panicking only once a day if he was lucky, otherwise once an hour. Rodney thought of his so-called peers on Earth and knew that he had outpaced them the moment he'd stepped through the wormhole and into Atlantis. Though he couldn't publish yet, as he constantly reminded and reassured himself, it was the unmistakable truth. His own minions, even scientists from other departments such as dreaded Botany, could think circles around their Earthly counterparts.
"I - I'm sorry, Jen. You're right. I can't stay here. After Atlantis, anything else is just a faded copy of what it's like to be doing what I do best. I couldn't go back to Area 51. It would be like - like a daycare in comparison. I - I just thought," and he took a deep breath before continuing, "I thought you were happy with the way things were going. I guess I just wasn't looking past my ego."
Jennifer sighed. "Oh, Rodney. There's nothing wrong with your ego." She watched Rodney's eyes open wide in alarm. "No, listen. I was wrong to try to change you, to make you act more humble around other people. Because you're not other people. You're the Rodney McKay, the guy who usually performs at least one miracle before breakfast. Two, if you've stayed up all night."
Rodney chuckled, amused despite the seriousness of the subject matter. "You mean S.O.P., right?"
Jennifer laughed. "Except when I managed to drag you away from the labs, fed you real food for dinner and had my wicked way with you."
She took a deep breath before continuing in a more wistful sounding voice. "You know, at the beginning, I couldn't believe I'd been able to make you walk away from the labs without more than ten minutes of persuasion and force you to actually get some sleep, even if it meant keeping my arm around your waist all night long. Which, by the way, ouch." She shook out an imaginary cramp.
Rodney blushed. "Okay, so once or twice I got to slack off with only one miracle."
Jennifer sobered quickly. "That's why you belong there. And why, some days, one miracle won't be enough. Not for you. And especially not for Atlantis."
Rodney stared at her, somewhat in awe. "You've really thought about this, haven't you?"
She nodded, a small, quiet gesture. "If we hadn't come back to Earth, it probably would've taken me longer. Hey, I admit I'm selfish. I finally figured out what I want out of life. That's why it's okay for you to be selfish, too."
Jennifer noticed Rodney's frown. "No, no, wait. I'm not trying to be the boss of you. You shouldn't need me to tell you it's okay to be selfish. But I think I finally get it. I understand how important it is to be free to do what you want for a change, instead of what everybody around you wants. Unless it's an emergency and you have to—"
Rodney cut in with, "Perform another miracle?" He watched as she giggled in response. When was the last time he'd heard her laugh? No, really. That was really sad, when a pretty woman didn't even have the opportunity to laugh.
He held out his hand and felt warmth when she took it without hesitation. "So," he ventured, "You know I'll pine for you, but it won't be forever."
Jennifer pulled him into a quick hug. "It's okay, Rodney. Everything will be okay. I'll miss you, too."
Rodney pulled out of the hug and cocked his head. "Okay, it's pretty clear you're busy and now I know why when there's a clock counting down, but can we do lunch? Maybe now?"
Jennifer grinned at the predictable words and slotted her arm through his as they made their way out of the Infirmary. Their conversation bounced back and forth. He felt enough ease to halt their progress down the hall, waving his free arm about. "So, listen, you'll write? Or you can send e-mails? I don't want to lose touch with you completely."
Rodney still felt guilty about the fallout from his ruined marriage proposal to Katie Brown. He'd barely seen her after the fake quarantine. She'd returned to Earth for good without saying goodbye. But, even if Jennifer was no longer his girlfriend, he wanted to know that he had a friend back on Earth, somebody he could bitch to without worrying about security clearance.
Jennifer's voice was filled with fond amusement. "Yes, Rodney. I promise I'll write. And I'll send e-mails. So often, you'll start to complain that I'm probably ignoring my patients."
Feeling reassured by her words, Rodney allowed her to steer him in the direction of the Mess.
When the day came for Jennifer to transfer out, Rodney came along on the cloaked jumper ride to the aircraft carrier the SGC had commandeered. The Bay area had changed significantly over the last decade. The SGC had been embarrassed to admit to Woolsey that the former naval base at Alameda had been sold off for a proposed housing community, but the project was still stalled in talks. So, the only recourse was the aircraft carrier as a safe landing base for both cloaked jumpers and conventional military aircraft.
Rodney lagged behind, not wanting her to have to bother with explanations as to who he was. He didn't want to cause her any embarrassment in front of her father. She could explain about the boyfriend she'd left behind at her own leisure and in private.
He ended up watching as a man who appeared to be only about ten years older than Rodney jumped up and couldn't stop hugging her. He heard Jennifer's mock shriek as she begged, "Daddy, you put me down this instant. I'm not sixteen any more. Please!"
He didn't hear her father's answer as he turned and walked back to the jumper. He didn't have to worry about her. She'd be fine wherever she was, but probably best in Wisconsin surrounded by the people who loved her the most.
Perhaps, whenever he had leave again, he'd stop by and see how she was doing, with her house and office that probably would be surrounded by a picket fence. At least he knew it definitely would be, once she took over. He looked forward to being able to reminisce and catch up. He hoped that eventually she'd come to understand that her time in Atlantis had made her a strong woman, one who could do anything she set her mind to. And better yet, she'd have the opportunity to get her white picket fence rather than a black wrought iron one surrounding a plot in a cemetery. He didn't know why he'd suddenly had such a morbid thought and hoped it was just a premonition of a death that had been averted in the nick of time.
As had become a habit when he was worried, Rodney rubbed the spot where he had been knifed during Kolya's unsuccessful bid to capture Atlantis. As he entered the jumper, the pilot, Ryan or was it Rowan, one of those fresh-faced eager newbies with the natural gene, closed the hatch and radioed his flight plan. Rodney was returning home.
With Jennifer out of his life, Rodney decided to call Jeannie. To be honest, he didn't exactly decide of his own inclination, but Jennifer's logic and powers of persuasion were excellent, especially after the fact. Because, Jennifer had reminded him, if - no, make that when - Jeannie found out he'd been on the same continent for at least a month and didn't get in touch with her, she probably would follow him by whatever nefarious means all the way back to Pegasus. So, yes, he called her.
After a horribly long-winded conversation (because, really, could Jeannie ever talk without involuntary breathing) that swung between laughter and tears on both sides, Rodney invited her to visit him before they had to leave. As someone with high enough security clearance, Jeannie's journey didn't stop on the aircraft carrier. She simply transferred to a waiting jumper. After nearly having lost her brother only a few months ago, she was surprisingly less prickly than she'd ever been. Rodney found his behaviour more mellow in return.
Strangely enough, Jeannie wasn't upset by the news of Jennifer's departure. Also gone was any unfair comparison to John, for which Rodney was grateful. More than once, she joined Rodney and John in the evening on their pier, but politely declined the beer. She preferred to drink organic iced tea. Before she left, Rodney and Madison had a long talk on the phone and, to Jeannie's amazement that left her with prickly tears in her eyes, he even had a thoroughly pleasant though - as he later reminded her - mindless chat with Kaleb. When he'd hung up, he'd muttered "English major" only once.
Rodney felt quite pleased with himself that he'd forced the SGC to issue them all with prepaid untraceable cellphones after they'd landed. Because most of the crew, unless they were rotating out, didn't have the status or opportunity to get in physical contact with the people who were important in their lives. After all, Radek couldn't very well fly to Europe to visit his family, not that Rodney would have let him, considering the urgency of completing the repairs.
One evening, John seemed more moody and Rodney pushed him until he revealed that he'd called his brother Dave earlier that day. Rodney said nothing, but merely handed over a fresh beer. There were some things that didn't need to be talked about. That night, they sat out on a pier that faced open water until it was nearly dawn.
Rodney only cared about the science complement coming into Atlantis. He knew that John had his own raw recruits to worry about and there seemed to be a much larger contingent of them than usual which he thought strange at the time, but he didn't have a spare moment to interrogate John about it.
Most of the new scientists were xenogeologists. Rodney had already appointed one of his Atlantis people, a fellow Canadian, Dr. Leah Keyes, as department head. She was level-headed, though Rodney thought she was crazy to do as much mountain climbing as she had. In his opinion, if Ronon ever figured out whether his thing with Banks was off or on again, as it seemed to change every week, he and Keyes could do the mountain goat thing together. Rodney grunted in distaste. Better them than him.
The time was drawing nearer when they'd have to leave Earth. Rodney just hoped that they'd have the right people along who could continue to do the impossible. Because, despite his obvious brilliance, he was only one man and Pegasus seemed to throw its version of new and improved shit at them on a regular basis just for fun.
Fun - ha! If there was anything that was never fun, it was transporting the bodies of the deceased for release to their next of kin. Rodney knew that most people would be surprised to hear how deeply affected he was whenever someone died in Atlantis. It didn't matter if it was the lowest grunt or someone who'd been one of his scientists. For Rodney, it was an unquestionable verdict that he had failed. He had always made it his obligation to write an additional letter of condolence, even if the scientist who had died had not been a member of his physics lab. In the end, the words he struggled over never seemed to be enough. But it was all he could do.
Rodney moved his lips, soundlessly reciting the names from memory of the people who'd died in the last year alone, as he settled into sorting the new people on his list into teams, assigning them personal quarters and lab space.
He only hoped he could keep them all safe. This time.
Communication in the middle of the night was never a good thing. Chuck had been on duty (as possessive of his post as Rodney, even with Amelia there to switch shifts), listened with tight-lipped concentration to the call he'd received on a secure channel and then radioed Teyla before patching the line through to her quarters.
Teyla was out of bed - if she'd ever been in it - and in the Control room in less than ten minutes. Yet she radiated only calm and composure, the skills that had led her to the pinnacle of her diplomatic life.
Chuck merely had to raise an eyebrow and nod his head at the empty chair next to his. Teyla nodded back, with a slight smile. All of them were her people and she knew she could rely on everyone. Within another few minutes, Amelia slid into her chair, not a hair out of place. Chuck spent a few minutes more bringing her up to speed before she assumed half of Chuck's roster and began ordering necessary personnel to their assigned flight locations. Those who weren't directly affected were ordered into one of the interior towers, to bolster each others' morale if nothing else.
A few minutes later saw Rodney hurrying into the Control room looking normal - well, normal for him - muttering about people who had nothing better to do than to engage in clandestine quasi-military manoeuvres in the middle of the night. Not to mention some probable bone-headed American instigation. The babble of words was entirely predictable. And reassuring.
Soon after Rodney's arrival, John joined them, showing nothing but his customary nonchalant air and slouch.
Radek, with his Czech curses preceding him, wasn't far behind.
Teyla didn't say much.
She didn't have to.
They'd all been briefed about the necessity of departing from Earth at a moment's notice. Apparently, Woolsey had managed to stall their enemies (it didn't really matter what their formal name was this time, as the undercover agent had reported the barest of Intel before falling back to avoid drawing undue attention), but they had to leave San Francisco Bay, not to mention the Milky Way, immediately. Definitely before sunrise.
Teyla shuddered to think how much more vulnerable the city had become since Ronon had noticed the drifting. The constant rate of drift had only made it more difficult for the SGC and IOA to protect them. It made her sad to think of how many there were against the Stargate program and how desperate they seemed to destroy it. Or focused on invasion and takeover for political gain, which would inevitably end in its ruin anyway.
The SGC had prepared a massive diversion that should be enough to cover the sound of the engines required to power their lift-off from the surface of the water; the resulting rushing in of massive waves to fill in the previously displaced volume was the other main reason for leaving before dawn. There would be no traffic in the area, as stunt drivers were going to simulate two seemingly coincidental transport truck collisions thereby blocking access completely to the Golden Gate Bridge from both ends.
Radek had begun to argue with Rodney which was also a common enough sight. But Rodney was not cooperating. "No, no, no. What part of no do you not understand? Using the wormhole drive once was an anomaly, and an act of desperation because we had no other choice. Trying it twice with the damage we sustained is an act of idiocy leading to a disaster of epic proportions. If anything, I'd like to keep my atoms from being vaporised. Col. Sheppard will fly the city. We'll open a hyperspace window once we're past … Neptune." He'd paused before stating the planet's name. It was common knowledge that he resented the demotion of Pluto.
John's head jerked up at the sound of his name. That and "fly" were the only words he needed to hear.
But Teyla was in charge, not Rodney, so John turned to face her, acknowledging her command.
Teyla's voice was soft but firm. "Are you certain, Rodney, there is no other way?"
Rodney's reply came out of his mouth in bursts. "Yes, yes, of course I'm sure. Mostly sure. The simulations keep crashing. Without a solid trial run which I may be able to do in a couple of hours, I'm not trusting my life to Radek who thinks he's suddenly Einstein. Or worse, Oppenheimer. It was my project and I have the final say. And I say no. Or, at least, not yet."
Radek put up a token protest. "But, Rodney—" were the only two words he could utter before he was cut off.
"John's flying us and I'll be in the Chair room to monitor for any irregularities. You can do something else. I don't care what. But the wormhole drive remains off-line until you see me again."
Teyla winced on Radek's behalf. She had, of course, heard the name Einstein many, many times before and how Rodney was obviously far more brilliant, but the name Oppenheimer had no meaning for her. Still, Radek did not appear to be angered by Rodney's dismissal. He just turned around, resumed his cursing in Czech and scurried off. One of these days she would ask what Yezoosh Maryah meant. Or perhaps it would be safer not to know.
Teyla would have found the picture amusing if all of their lives didn't depend on the accuracy of Rodney's usual doom and gloom prognostication. But she didn't have the luxury of delaying in order to deliberate. Not when the sanctity of the city was at stake. Teyla had no doubt that the adversaries of the city would ravage it in their desperation to learn its secrets. Even though Teyla had been enlightened out of many of her people's innocently held beliefs about the divine provenance and altruistic intentions of the Ancestors, she still felt the city deserved their respect and protection. She gave the order.
As everyone in the Control room moved to assume their stations, John and Rodney hurried to the Chair room. Rodney muttered calculations while John talked over his radio with Evan. Only when John was satisfied with Evan's answers could he concentrate on the city itself, knowing that Evan would keep its people safe.
As soon as John sat down in the Chair, it lit up brighter than ever. Its customary blue glow provided a reassuring reminder that they would have the ability to escape Earth's atmosphere and eventually reach Pegasus again.
Even though the Chair had already dropped into its reclined mode, John hadn't yet closed his eyes. "Evan's ready to relieve me in a couple of hours."
Okay, so that got Rodney's attention. "What?"
"Face reality, Rodney. Did you think you could tie me to the Chair for the duration? I'm not exactly a renewable resource."
Rodney shook his head. "Yes, yes, I know that. It's just that we need to have…."
John's voice meshed neatly with Rodney's unfinished sentence, "Our best ATA carrier. And I'm it. I get that Carson had a tough time controlling the city, despite his high test ranking. So, I get us off planet and away from the solar system until Evan steps in. And then you and Radek have to get the wormhole drive working again. Can't you tell how much Teyla's worried? I'll bet she didn't even tell us everything that has Woolsey spooked enough to put her in charge with orders to get the hell back to Pegasus."
Rodney waved his arm. "Are you finished? Because the sooner you lie down, the sooner we'll be on our way. And, yes, I'll go deal with that Czech prima donna, but only after Evan relieves you."
John smiled and nodded at his impatient teammate. "That's all I wanted to know. Engaging the Chair now."
Rodney watched, fascinated, as John's eyes closed and he reclined along the length of the Chair. Rodney was reminded, once again, of the stranger who'd walked into the Antarctic post over five years ago and changed all of their lives.
But it was more than just that for Rodney. He puttered about the room, monitoring readings that remained consistent and stable, so stable that a TA could have monitored them, not that he would have trusted one with such a precious resource as the Colonel.
He saw distilled - in just one image - the fierce passion, the innate drive, the unchallenged intelligence on John's face
Something … somewhere … went click.
Rodney got it. He understood.
How he could have missed this was beyond his comprehension. And he called himself a genius? He slowly came to realize that it had always been there, under the surface. All their chess games, movie nights, John's patient willingness, even eagerness, to play light-switch, these were all John's ways of being close to Rodney.
And, if it hadn't been for Jennifer's departure, he probably would have gone on being blissfully ignorant of his feelings. And that was … just … wow.
"Hey, Rodney. Are you paying attention to the readings?"
Rodney was startled out of his wandering and inappropriate thoughts. "Uh, everything looks fine, Colonel." Enough of the unproductive firing of neurons unrelated to the task at hand. He'd have time to deal with the newly retrieved data later.
Rodney wanted John to switch with Evan at two hour intervals, but agreed reluctantly that a four-hour rest would provide more time to replenish fluids and to recover from the strain from the Chair. So they had to delegate one of the Marines who happened to love showing off his proficiency with Ancient devices to take a shift in rotation with the two men. Because of his ATA gene, Lt. Burton Connors did not have the traditional and often irrational disdain for either the Air Force or the scientists, especially not if it got him another chance to practise showing off … uh, helping the city.
When Rodney came to John's quarters to wake him up for his next shift, he looked dreadful. John doubted that Rodney had slept five minutes over the last three days. If he could nudge Rodney to allow the wormhole drive to be used, then everybody could just collapse and get some sleep.
"Hey, buddy, you know you look like shit."
"Oh, ha-ha. How very astute of you, Colonel. I don't exactly have the luxury of sleeping at the moment, now do I?"
"What about the wormhole drive? Haven't you and Radek had enough time to fix it? Come on, Rodney. I've got to tell you, we can't keep this up for much longer. It takes a lot more concentration to keep the city in the hyperspace window. I don't know about Evan or Burton, but I'm beat."
Rodney hesitated. "I - I'll go talk to Radek and then consult with Teyla. He should have had enough time to take it apart and reconstruct it a few times. I'll radio you from the Control room one way or another."
"Fine, you do that." John swung his legs over the edge of his bed. He grabbed a bottle of water to drink on the way.
The two men walked out of the room and separated, going in opposite directions.
The call came an hour into John's shift.
"I'm ready," was his only response.
As the countdown fell to zero, he dropped the city out of hyperspace and waited for his next instructions.
He had them in less than thirty minutes. He braced himself for the unfamiliar feeling and chided himself for not having asked Carson what it had felt like. Well, he'd find out soon enough and then he could add that experience to his virtual résumé. He really did get to play with the ultra-cool toys. And he understood, more than anyone else he guessed, why Rodney felt the same way about his own set of toys in the labs.
That was a rush. He had been
and now he was
It was just a matter of setting course in his mind (Come on, girl, just one more jump) for New Lantea.
Even though the radio was silent, John could hear Rodney's voice in his mind, about all that kissing the water stuff and had to laugh, nearly losing his concentration. He'd show him kissing. Uh, on the water.
When John opened his eyes again, the city was floating gently in its original coordinates (according to the quiet murmur of Atlantis in his head).
And Rodney was standing in front of him, awestruck. It was a good look on him, though it would have been better without the bloodshot eyes and sallow complexion.
"So, buddy, was the kissing any better this time 'round?"
"Enough with the kissing references. I'm busting you out of here. It's time we both got some sleep." Rodney pulled John out of the Chair with a grunt and pushed him toward the door.
John didn't pay any attention to where they were headed as his legs moved solely on autopilot. He was just happy they were in one piece. When he felt his feet bump against a bed, he fell down onto it and was asleep in seconds, leaving him unaware that a second body, one suffering from a far greater exhaustion, had joined him in oblivion. Though not before dragging off both their boots to thump on the floor.
The next time John opened his eyes, it was daylight filtering softly through the curtains. Though what particular day it was, he couldn't be sure. He felt a soft bed underneath him and the odd certainty that he was not the only one in it.
That certainty was reaffirmed by a snore. His facial muscles protested but he grinned anyway. He'd recognize that sound anywhere as the snore of a genius, one who'd gotten them back to Pegasus where they belonged in one piece. He thought it was mostly in one piece; Atlantis would have warned him otherwise.
He was in one piece. Rodney appeared to be in one piece, though it wouldn't hurt to check that out.
John rolled over to confirm the status of the genius, his genius. As his arm brushed by Rodney's torso, he felt an unfamiliar nudging against his skin. He stilled his movement, but the nudging didn't stop, its pulsing a familiar repetitive action.
Fuck! Rodney was hard, his cock thrusting itself into his arm.
Just as suddenly, John realized that he was hard as well and couldn't remember the last time that had happened without it being a mere biological reaction.
This time, he couldn't help his response, didn't want to deny it. Instead, for the first time in a very long while, he deliberately welcomed and encouraged it.
He wanted it and, damn the regs, he wanted Rodney. He'd wanted Rodney from the beginning and often wondered how people had never caught him or called him out over it. The most probable reason was that they had seen it and that it didn't matter. Not in Atlantis and certainly not in Pegasus.
There was something in his mind that was urging him to go for it. No Sam, no Richard. Under civilian rule again and alien civilian at that. Back in Pegasus a million lifetimes away from an idiotically narrow-minded, myopic navel-gazing military Big Brother, he finally felt free. Well, more free than before.
Free enough to slide out of his sweaty, dirty uniform, tossing each piece dismissively over the side of the bed.
Once naked, he went to work on Rodney's clothing. He figured it would be too difficult to remove anything above the waist, but below the belt was easy enough to accomplish. Mentally he thanked Rodney for having removed their boots last night.
And, then, he was staring at the long expanse of pale flesh exposed to the soft light. There was something innocent about the bare legs, as if the body they supported had not been in a war situation, as if the body they belonged to should not have to be involved in a war. John wished things could have been different. And the familiar curve of Rodney's belly was thrust out in defiance even as he slept.
But the last bit of pale flesh that was now pink, as if blushing from unexpected exposure and attraction, was not innocent in John's eyes.
It called out to him, as demanding as its owner, seeking homage.
John was powerless to resist, though he'd deny it in a heartbeat that Rodney's cock compelled his rapt attention. Old habits, including the refusal to accept that any attraction was more than mere physical release, were slow to die.
Lying sprawled between Rodney's legs, he bent down and extended his tongue, lapping at the slide of salty pre-come. He stifled a moan - when he heard Rodney grumble - and stilled momentarily, but Rodney remained otherwise dead to the world.
John grew bolder. It was a no-brainer. What man would reject a wake-up blow job? Something in his mind decided that the fact Rodney had never acknowledged John's attraction to him before was insignificant. It was just a formality.
He slid his wet mouth over the head. This time he didn't suppress the moan. It had been so long since he'd had a cock between his lips and, even then, whatever he'd done before had always been quick, furtive and anonymous. Shameful. And always fraught with danger.
This time he could luxuriate in the feeling of the velvety skin stretching his lips wider as it thickened over his eager tongue.
With one hand, he jacked the shaft lazily, as if he had all morning to do this. He wouldn't mind spending hours at Rodney's cock. There was no shame in admitting it. With the other, he fondled Rodney's balls gently, rubbing the thin skin separating them tenderly with his fingers.
Rodney's cock, on the other hand, had its own idea of what it wanted and lazy did not appear to be it. The thrusting had become deliberate, rhythmic, and it was now accompanied by an occasional quivering in Rodney's legs. But the man himself remained fast asleep.
John sighed. Even in sleep, Rodney could dictate what he wanted. When he wanted. And, as Rodney wanted now, John would give it to him.
His sucking intensified, one hand tightened, the other rubbed more firmly, until he could tell that Rodney was on the edge of coming.
Then, to his surprise, John felt fingers threading through his hair, stilling, seeming to assess the potential identity of the hair's owner before grasping it almost painfully, tugging along to the same rhythm as John's mouth.
There was only a moment between hearing "John" in a raspy voice and having Rodney's cock pulse between his lips, emptying itself down John's throat.
John didn't let up until Rodney's body was quiet again. Only then did he raise his head to look at a still-wrecked face, but now partly in a good way. Its owner was looking at him oddly.
"So what was that? Your version of we're all safe so let's have sex now?"
"Uh. Maybe." Did they really have to talk about this … now?
"Oh. Okay. I just wanted to be sure."
"I've been sure for a long time, Rodney, but didn't know about you."
"Ah … well … not so long for me, apparently."
"And that would be when?" Okay, John was curious.
"When you sat down in the Chair this last time."
"And you're sure."
Rodney lifted an eyebrow and then pointed to his sated cock. "I could have stopped you, you know, once I figured out who it was in my not-dream. But it felt good. And I liked it. And, for whatever crazy reason, I appear to like you, too."
"So, perhaps we can do it again even if we're not in danger. Possibly after a lot more sleep and a shower and food and…." Rodney's tired voice trailed off, but he looked at John with a hopeful expression in his eyes.
"Perhaps we could start with a kiss. How about it, Rodney?" He licked his lips with what he thought was intent, catching a stray drop of come on his tongue.
John wasn't expecting Rodney's eyes to grow wide, staring in what appeared to be horror at his mouth. What the fuck? Rodney's legs folded up, nearly kicking John in the chin, as he drew himself up into a ball, shrinking as far away from John as possible.
The words from Rodney's mouth didn't seem to make any sense either. "Sorry, John, I can't. Not now. It's … it's hard to explain. But not after you've blown me. I just can't do it."
John's eyes narrowed, growing colder by the second. His cock that had been happily anticipating perhaps a reciprocal blow job, though it would have been just as satisfied with an offered hand job, shrivelled up.
He sprang out of bed, picking up his clothes off the floor and pulling them on roughly. He jammed his feet into his boots, not caring that he'd squashed his toes. The jarring pain was familiar, grounding; it would help him get the hell out of Rodney's room. Still facing away from that unexplainable huddled heap that was Rodney on the bed, he couldn't help but grit out, "You know, Rodney, I always knew you were a prick, but I felt you deserved some leeway because of your oh-so-swelled head. But I never expected you to be this selfish. So what did your little fantasy involve - that I would be willing to come over and service you on a regular basis?" He'd spat service out with as much loathing as he could muster.
He scrubbed a hand through his hair in irritation before continuing. "Gee, Rodney, that sounds so mutual. You get your rocks off and I'm the lucky guy that gets to sneak out still frustrated in the middle of the night, because the great Dr. McKay would never admit to having the hots for a guy or actually doing something in return. Well, fuck you! Oh, wait. There is nobody around to fuck you. I guess Keller's feeling pretty relieved that she got away from you just in time. That's what - two in a row? Third time's the charm, they say, so I'm wondering why I'm not feeling so lucky."
Rodney's pitiful sounds of "John, wait, you don't understand" didn't stop John from striding out the door and, God, he so wished, out of Rodney's life. But since God seemed to have a particular interest in tossing John from one inventive hell to another, he'd just try his hardest to stay as far away from Rodney as possible. Unfortunately, he and Rodney had to run the city together with Teyla.
Hell, what an absolutely fucked-up situation had he gotten himself into, all because of his stupid dick. He sneered in disgust at it and himself and could only hope that Teyla would be enough of a buffer to prevent him from strangling the bastard.
Poor Teyla. Running the city was easy. Keeping him and McKay apart would be the really hard job.
There was a chasm between John and Rodney that seemed bigger than the distance between the Milky Way and Pegasus. Though John really doubted this one could be crossed in three weeks. More like three months, if that.
Luckily, after they'd returned to Pegasus, everyone had too much to deal with, checking for damage … making minor repairs. So John managed to avoid Rodney completely.
He wasn't so lucky with Teyla. That woman had to have a special spidey-sense. All she had to do was say, "John, I sense that something is troubling you," and he was lost.
Well, not completely. He wasn't going to blab about something so personal, not to mention humiliating.
John shuffled his feet, feeling as if he'd been called to the Principal's office. "I, uh, seem to have had an argument with Rodney."
Teyla nodded gravely. "Does it concern the running of the city?"
John shook his head. "Thank goodness, no. It's, um, personal."
"Then, unless you wish for my intervention, I believe you and Rodney will have to settle your disagreement between yourselves."
John's response was immediate. "No, no intervention required, Teyla. But I may have poured gasoline on the flames."
"Do you regret making the situation worse?"
"Yeah. I'd take back the words if I could."
Teyla paused, considering his apparent repentance. "I see. Would it help if I conveyed your words of regret to Rodney personally?"
"But, then, you are getting involved."
"I cannot avoid it one way or another. We must work together, John. We do not have the luxury to abdicate our positions because of hurt feelings."
"Okay, if you'll just tell him I'm sorry. And I'll take it from there."
"I shall do as you wish, John. I hope my small effort will end the divisiveness."
"Me, too, Teyla. Me, too." John walked out of the office, feeling he'd managed to escape a more intrusive punishment.
Teyla covered her face behind her hands. She felt she was on the verge of yet another headache, one that would not conveniently disappear even if she drank her favourite herbal tea.
Rodney had welcomed Teyla to his quarters, seated her in front of his desk and had sat down on his bed - until he heard what she had to say to him.
He sprang up and began to pace. "No, Teyla. He. Hurt. Me. What he said to me was so vicious I don't dare repeat it." Rodney stopped in front of her, crossing his arms in his typical defencive posture.
Teyla reached out as if to touch him and then, reconsidering, retracted her arm. "Rodney, he did acknowledge that he hurt you and made the situation worse with his parting words. But he also assured me he would take the words back if he could."
She folded her hands, watching him calmly. "I have never had reason to doubt John's honesty and integrity. Not since the day I met him. Or yours."
Rodney frowned. "It's a little late for that."
Teyla stood up, the reason for her visit fulfilled even if the problem itself was not resolved. She laid a soft hand on his shoulder. "Please think about it again, Rodney. In any event, we have our first formal meeting tomorrow morning at 0900." As she walked out of Rodney's quarters, she heard him groan. She felt like groaning herself.
Teyla's mood did not improve the following morning as she sat between the two men. Rodney, every time he needed to convey information in response to John's question, looked at both of them with hurt, sad eyes. It was almost enough to make her cry.
And John's face was closed off, in that typical American military male fashion, revealing no emotions at all, though Teyla was certain she knew what was underneath the hard veneer. It was enough to make her angry, though she preferred to hide her upset for the moment.
The next day was a repeat of the first though Rodney's words seemed listless, emerging from his mouth at half his customary speed. And John's were curt and clipped, as if he resented the energy required to propel them toward Rodney.
The third day, Teyla had had enough. She banged her hand on the table making both men flinch at the sound. "I do not care whose fault it is for the misunderstanding, but you will clear it up immediately."
Her voice softened as she turned to Rodney. "Rodney, if you believe John does not have the information necessary to comprehend what happened - and I assure you I do not know any of the details nor do I ever wish to - then explain it to him. If he will not listen to you in person, then send him an e-mail. You of all people here should know that there is more than one way to communicate. You talk about the precision and superiority of computers in imparting information. I expect you to demonstrate it." She watched Rodney digest her words, a number of emotions flitting across his face.
"And John, I expect the same consideration from you. If you cannot bear to listen to Rodney speaking to you directly, then I expect you to read whatever he sends to you."
Teyla rose, her body radiating the exhaustion of her patience, though her voice remained steady. "Until you have each come to your senses and offered an explanation that will produce an apology, I will run this city by myself. I am capable of it and prepared to do so."
Her hand pointed at the door. "Now, please leave me. I have much work to do."
The look on Rodney's face was shocked; John's was stormy. But they both rose, gathered tablets, notepads and mugs before they left in silence, walking in opposite directions as soon as they were out the door.
Teyla sighed as she sat down again before calling up a new file on her laptop. It was going to be a long day, but at least it would be a peaceful one.
Rodney had only to say the names once and they stuck. Luckily, twin Doctors Gretchen and Hans Meister had a terrific sense of humour and they accepted the nicknames. Because it wasn't the names that were important, it was that finally there was a replacement for Dr. Heightmeyer. Better yet, two of them, though they shared few physical traits other than both being tall. Gretchen had long blond hair that she wore in a traditional European manner, braided and arranged in a crown atop her head, while Hans was prematurely bald.
The city's weary residents who struggled through personal and professional trauma, which didn't even cover the really weird stuff, while continuing to do their jobs were eager to have the option to unburden themselves.
However, even more important than having the opportunity to provide counselling, the doctors had proposed an additional series of nuanced psychological tests designed to further weed out those who would not thrive in an alien environment. There was, as John had been apprised, when they'd briefed him, an additional component to the tests because of the pervading opinion of the American military hierarchy.
The American military, simply because of numbers, was becoming a problem in the middle of an international expedition. Exposure to military and civilians from many different countries, including those that had already abolished archaic rules regarding same-sex relationships, created an additional conflict for the U.S. when it came to fulfilling its commitment to provide fresh troops.
John had already made a discreet overture to Richard regarding military staffing, asking him to get the SGC to approve new recruits who could handle the more open-minded international military community in Atlantis. As long as there were laws about something as simple as self-disclosure among the Americans, his success in achieving and maintaining a harmonious and effective command would be limited if not entirely doomed.
Besides, he was tired of hearing Rodney's predictable rant that nobody in the current gutless Administration seemed to be in any hurry or inclination to change the rules, citing the need to wait for the right time … again. He already knew the stats and could parrot Rodney's speech back at him. How the Canadian A.F. had been allowing same-sex weddings on its bases since 2005. Yadda, yadda, Canadian fucking superiority, yadda.
And John had feared he and Evan would be pulling all nighters for weeks trying to match compatible team members while they'd been stuck on Earth. John had accepted the responsibility of being head of the military; he hadn't signed up to play matchmaker or, worse, to weed out, separate and segregate a more dangerous adult version of schoolyard bullies. It wasn't enough that they'd had Wraith, Replicators, Genii and other backyard hobby dictators to deal with over the past five years; they shouldn't need to police their own troops for inflexibility.
Well, he hadn't had to play matchmaker in the traditional sense the last couple of months while still in Pegasus. Two Canadian servicemen had announced their engagement in the Mess one night, to the hooting and hollering of the diners, especially the Canadians who, like their most famous - and vocal - resident, liked to boast about their advantage over the Americans.
Trying his best to avoid another rant from Rodney while eating his dinner, John had put up a warning hand, stopping him, reminding him that he wasn't personally the bad guy and that he planned to congratulate the lucky couple. Rodney nodded once and resumed eating. John was relieved that Rodney did not bring the subject up again. It was nice and unexpectedly quiet when he could occasionally shut Rodney up. Not that he didn't personally agree with him, but he was just so tired of hearing about it constantly.
There were also a few couples from several European countries who were in open but discreet relationships. John frankly didn't care one way or another. He just wanted to avoid dissent in the ranks. Actually, underneath the nonchalant exterior, he did care, but had become so used to tamping down his own feelings, he'd forgotten that he could be affected. It wasn't the most important aspect of his command - as it shouldn't have been - but it dominated nearly every decision he made.
So, to say that he was intrigued when the Meisters gave him the speech would have been an understatement. What he had not expected was for Gretchen and Hans to look him squarely in the eyes, with Hans passing him a few sheets of paper and Gretchen smiling coyly, before asking, "So, Colonel, I'm sure you won't mind being the first person from the American military to take the test."
Sonuvabitch! He was busted. It was a good thing he was already seated, because his legs felt rubbery. He knew he was an impartial CO. But, really, he had to agree with the Meisters. How could he expect his troops to be honest if he wouldn't do it himself? And, even though the test and the attitudes it was probing did nothing to change the political stalemate, it was at least a start.
He looked at Gretchen warily. "For statistical purposes only?"
She smiled, trying to put him at ease. "Of course, Colonel. The results will be tabulated on a non-networked computer. No individual will be identified by name unless we encounter a profile that could be problematic for your command, in which case we will inform both you and Ms. Emmagan so that you may take the appropriate action while we are still on Earth."
John decided to just get it over with. He picked up a pen and ticked off the boxes. Three double-sided sheets, five minutes max. He didn't bother to double-check his answers.
John looked over the railing at the group of men: startled, awe-struck, confused, and a couple pretty much scared shit-less. He had to laugh. If they felt this much while the city was floating on Earth, just how wild would their reactions be when they were introduced to Pegasus.
There were exactly one hundred of them, dressed in identical BDUs, all wearing a Canadian patch on one arm. He smiled, still amazed at how Woolsey could be such a legal weasel, in a good way, of course, hunting up the perfect opportunity and a way to turn it to his advantage, while still doing a really good deed.
John was amazed he'd done it with the blessing of the SGC, while thumbing his nose at the American military. And deprived any rogue groups of potential blackmail subjects. These men were now safe from any attempt at interference by virtue of their being Canadian soldiers, even as they retained their U.S. citizenship.
Good old Woolsey had discovered the loophole and covered all of the angles. And the Canadian government hadn't been stupid either (so maybe Rodney was right … this time), as if any country would pass up a chance to acquire more well-educated soldiers.
Woolsey had brought some clever bargaining tools to the table when persuading the SGC. Many of the discharged men were so young, he was certain they could definitely become easy prey for the Trust. That was the crux of his argument. Whether through lies or blackmail, these young men could end up working for the Trust to infiltrate the SGC and destroy the program. Woolsey hadn't been as worried about the older men. No, he recognized it wasn't fair to them to be discarded without any other options, but they had enough experience under their belts to not be swayed by the agents the Trust sent out.
Lt. Rob Lang still felt he had to pinch himself every morning he woke up … in another galaxy.
He'd gone from being discharged from the National Guard because he'd inadvertently blurted out that he was gay after having had too much to drink one night and he was so never playing Truth or Dare while downing straight tequila again, no matter how cute the bartender had been.
To finding himself without a job that used his special skills. Because who else was hiring Arabic translators who had been booted out of the U.S. military? Oh, right, nobody.
To being approached by this odd-looking bald guy.
To feeling his mouth drop open when he heard the bald guy's proposal because, even though the U.S. Army no longer wanted him, the Canadian Armed Forces would gladly accept him, gayness and all (and how the Canadians didn't make a huge issue out of the gay stuff which he hadn't known before).
To being thankful he could still have a job after hearing that Canada actually would allow a foreigner to serve under special circumstances, without requiring the foreigner to become a landed immigrant which was more common, because the job could not be filled by a Canadian. And, wow, since when did knowing Arabic become such a special skill set. Rob knew there were Canadians stationed in the Middle East but it still didn't make any sense to him. However, he was being given a second chance and he wasn't about to pass up this opportunity.
To pumping the bald guy's hand so enthusiastically, which sort of embarrassed the bald guy, and thanking him for finding a way for him to still be able to contribute, to be a part of the bigger picture. He'd told him he'd be willing to learn another language - uh, even French - if necessary. The bald guy had merely smiled upon hearing that. Rob didn't know what could be so funny about French. Maybe it was just a Canadian thing. He figured he'd find out what was so funny eventually.
To signing a non-disclosure confidentiality agreement.
To enlisting with the Canadian A.F. and having to giggle that he was now perceived to actually be a Canadian and whether he fit the stereotype. He tried out saying "Sorry" a few times in the mirror and giggled some more.
To saying goodbye again to his folks in Riverside, Iowa and wishing he could tell them that the TrekFest people weren't totally off the wall.
To shipping out with 99 other gay guys, as he was surprised and really happy to learn, who'd also had identical experiences, well, minus the Iowa part
To arriving at a mythical invisible city floating in SF Bay until it actually did fly - honest to God - to another galaxy. The weird thing was that he was still an American citizen as the bald guy had promised him that he didn't have to give it up and he'd kept his promise.
The rest he was accepting as just another normal day in the life of a soldier.
Well, not everything was normal. He couldn't start using his skills until he acquired a new language. Now Rob understood why the bald guy had smiled cryptically when he said he'd be willing to learn another language. Well, it certainly wasn't French. If he'd thought Arabic had been unusual, that was before he encountered Ancient. He'd been told by his CO that his skills would - not merely could - mean the difference between life and death.
There was a huge database that they hadn't even begun to probe in depth. And it was always about the fine print. 1000 lines of "Do this" and then the triple-encrypted but plainly stupid one line equivalent to "By the way, don't do this if you want to stay alive".
At least Rob was studying only one language. Okay, really two, as he had also been assigned as the bald guy's - okay, he really had to stop calling Mr. Woolsey that because it wasn't polite - liaison to Teyla Emmagan, who just happened to be one of the two aliens on board Atlantis, which meant he had to devote time to learning Athosian as well as Ancient. The other guys had been split up and assigned to learn the languages of their current trading partners and of other worlds they wanted to be allied with. He knew, from first-hand experience, how just the transposition of one word could create an ugly international incident. How much worse an interplanetary incident could get, he didn't want to imagine. Not when he was living on one of those planets!
Mr. Woolsey had a plan that he'd shared only with Ms. Emmagan and Rob who couldn't believe what he'd heard. Obviously, he'd been brought up to speed on how the Stargates worked and their simultaneous translation ability. But that worked only for the spoken language. After opening several of the boxes of printed matter that Mr. Woolsey had ordered delivered to Atlantis before it had left Earth, Rob now understood how crucial his role would be.
Rob would have gladly spent twelve or more hours a day studying. He was eager for Ms. Emmagan to be prepared to start on what Rob considered would be the project of a lifetime. But his CO had put his foot down (which Rob admitted had been just a tiny bit hot) and restricted him to six hours max. The rest of his time was devoted to working out in the various gyms or running, eating three meals of not quite Earth food in the Mess (but who cared as long as there was plenty of it) and hanging out with his new buddies in the Gay Straight Alliance that had appropriated recreation space in one of the unused towers.
He still had a hard time believing that something good had come out of his being discharged. That he could be in the military, openly gay and nobody made a big deal of it. Rob had never been a very political guy, not like some of the others he'd known and worked with who'd been discharged. The famous ones who'd gone on TV shows (CNN, for God's sake!) and done stuff he couldn't imagine doing himself, like being chosen as Grand Marshall in a Pride Parade. Besides, he'd never considered himself as typical Pride material. He was just a regular six-foot, sandy-haired guy, who worked out though he'd never developed abs of steel, who cooked but not that well, who played aimless video games because he was still a guy, who hooked rugs to calm his mind and who happened to be gay. And in the military.
He really was proud about both things, but having to hide the gay part for so many years had changed him. People back home had known he was gay. Most accepted him. Those who didn't were too polite to make a big fuss about it. That was just the way folks were in Riverside. He knew his parents loved him even if they didn't understand him. But, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, he'd had to hide one of the defining parts of who he was. So he still wondered how much he could reclaim now that he was out. It would take some getting used to.
When Rob suggested the GSA to Col. Sheppard, his CO had thought it was a great idea and told him he'd put it on the next day's agenda with Ms. Emmagan and Dr. McKay. His CO had been enthusiastic, mentioning that, with so many new openly gay personnel in the city, it made sense for them to have another place to hang out. And, as it was a GSA, anybody who was forced to remain in the closet could still hang out with them and not be automatically judged to be gay by association. Rob and his buddies were free to disclose their sexual orientation, but he still wanted those few American guys that had pinged his gaydar to feel safe as well.
Things had gotten a lot more interesting when a number of the scientists began to show up on a regular basis, especially on Name That Drink Tuesdays. He wondered if that fuzzy-haired Czech guy also had a doctorate in demon drink mixology which was no wonder as he also supplied the distilled ingredients from the labs. The still was the worst kept secret in the city. Rob laughed at the irony that it seemed to be the most important thing that could be subject to secrecy. The GSA wasn't the only place to relax in the city, but it seemed to be the most fun.
Rob rubbed his throbbing not quite but almost hungover head as he concentrated on his letter to his parents. There was so little he could tell them. He knew that. But at least he could reassure them that he was using his skills to do something really good. And he probably could get away with talking about McKay without identifying the man - duh - and how, every time McKay saw Rob or any of the other pretend Canadians, he'd sniff, scowl and mutter, "Impostor," before walking away quickly. But Rob knew the truth: he'd seen the proud grin more than once.
And, maybe, Rob could tell them about his boyfriend. On the other hand, perhaps he'd leave that topic for another letter. Because, even though the whole living in another galaxy thing was such a normal thing, Rob still had to pinch himself that he actually did have a boyfriend. David would definitely be in his next letter. And, he hoped, the letters after that one, too.
So, without needing to pinch himself, Rob felt incredibly lucky to be where he was. He didn't know why he'd made the cut to be included in the hundred men who had been saved. It could have been his personality, or those weird psychological tests, but was probably something he'd never find out for sure.
Even so, he knew there were thousands more who had been hounded out of the services, just for admitting they were gay. He also thought of some of the lesbians he'd gotten to know, after he'd been discharged, and knew how unfair it was that they had not received the opportunity he'd been given, simply because of his linguistic skills.
Gretchen and Hans finished off the few remaining reports before finally closing down their computers. If they hurried, they'd be just in time for the last thirty minutes of this week's round of Gay Jeopardy at the GSA. Participation was open to everyone and it was always amusing to see who, gay or not, knew the most useless or vintage gay trivia.
They were both proud of the SGC for having been open to the drastic changes they had proposed and that their implementation had been remarkably smooth.
They knew the next step for a different type of integration would not be as smooth, but trusted that Teyla, with her unique set of life experiences, would be receptive to their proposal.
Rodney startled upon hearing his door chime. If it were an emergency, he would have been contacted by radio. He didn't have any pressing experiments in the labs, which was a welcome change. So, the only other person who could be standing outside his door was also the least likely, considering how the last few days had played out. And how they'd had no contact with each other at all, since Teyla had dismissed them.
With misunderstanding compounded by the bitterness of humiliation, with no opening for an explanation, even though he'd tried. And been deliberately insulted and hurt. Rodney had followed Teyla's unwavering order but couldn't be certain he'd actually gotten through that wild mop of hair to connect with the logic and reasoning centres of John's brain.
The door chime sounded again. Rodney was stalling. Of course he was. Because it was most likely John on the other side of the door. But, as long as he didn't answer it, then he could pretend that John was like Schrödinger's Cat and all possibilities could exist simultaneously. As long as he didn't open the door.
Those infinite possibilities were shattered when he heard John's voice. "C'mon, Rodney. I know you're in there. I read your e-mail and I just want to talk."
Well, now Rodney was convinced that not only was John not the human equivalent of Schrödinger's Cat, he was an alien impersonating John. Because John never wanted to talk. Not willingly. Especially not about stuff like this.
So, bracing himself to confront this alien in John's clothing, Rodney allowed the door to slide open.
John looked unusually small and tentative. "Hey."
Rodney's reply was equally non-committal. "Hey, yourself."
John shifted his weight from one leg to the other with none of his customary grace. He seemed to be growing more nervous the longer he waited outside the door. "Can I come in?"
Rodney merely shrugged and stepped aside so that John could enter.
John sat down heavily on the bed, leaving Rodney no choice but to sit at his desk chair. Rodney watched as John withdrew a folded piece of paper from his pocket. He didn't have to see it to know what it said, because allowing those words to exist at all had cost him, reliving emotional turmoil not to mention revealing embarrassing details that could haunt him forever, especially if John…. But, no, he couldn't condemn a future John of vindictive behaviour. After all, the guy was here in his quarters, sitting on his bed. That had to count for something.
To: J. Sheppard
From: R. McKay
Subject: There IS an explanation which, if you'd only stop and …
[I ran out of room on the subject line and just who designed this totally inadequate template because it must have been some small minded bureaucratic minion at the SGC who isn't aware that some technical terms could take up three times as much space and maybe I should send Walter a complaint.]
… listen, you'd know makes perfect sense - with my complex and too often screwed up medical history - and that my reaction had nothing to do with you personally.
Since sperm only makes up one percent of semen, the other ingredients include fructose sugar, water, ascorbic acid (aka Vitamin C), citric acid, enzymes, protein, phosphate and bicarbonate buffers (bases) and Zinc.
Go ahead and ask me what it feels like when just about everybody I've slept with thinks I'm a selfish prick because I won't reciprocate a b.j. with a guy or kiss a girl after she's sucked me. Well, not unless I happen to ask at the beginning of presumed intimate encounters which often means that I don't get any sexy times at all and only get slapped in the face if I'm lucky and punched out if I'm not. Not to mention that the possibility of any future encounter with that person is rendered nil. If you add to that the probability that people will be nasty afterwards and gossip about such stuff, you can see how my reputation too often preceded me.
No, it's not life threatening (not like eating citrus fruit, etc. - you've seen my entire list; knowing you, you've probably got it committed to memory by now), so I've never needed to use an Epipen, but I do need to take an antihistamine before indulging or hoping to indulge, wishing it'll happen, oh, fuck, you know what I'm trying to say.
You know that Teyla's pissed at both of us. Even I know we need to be a cohesive unit if we're to run this city effectively and do some good in Pegasus. And, seriously, we can't dump everything on her, no matter how capable she is. Can we either talk about it or forget about it or something. Hell, even I don't know what the solution should be. But, right now, I think I'm too tired to stay mad at you, which you should consider a lucky break because, once I get mad, I usually don't stop. Just look how long it took me to get over Jeannie getting married and no longer doing something important with her brain. But I still think it's got to be tofu poisoning or mind control. Anyway, I don't have the energy to fight with you, so please say something. Or, if you can't talk to me in person, then e-mail me back. Anything.
Do you know that Copernicus is also mad at me. I guess he misses the fish. Or you. Who the hell knows? Right now, I can't even tell what my own damned cat is thinking.
You know - and I'm more crazy than I thought I could be if I'm admitting this - it's not fun being glared at by Teyla, dismissed by you and ignored by the cat. See, you're in the middle of this, so I figure you're the key to a solution.
I've already told you too many embarrassing things - well, at least how often I've been humiliated when it comes to sex - and, if that's not a sincere gesture on my part (just don't ask for humble, because I don't acknowledge the word in my vocabulary even though Keller nagged me about trying it out and, believe me, it didn't look good on me), I don't have a clue what else would convince you.
You'll know where to find me or else I'm sure Atlantis will tell you, but this is not a conversation for the labs. I'm hoping - no, I don't know what I'm hoping for. Well, maybe to work through this before Teyla tosses both of us in the brig. In the same cell. If we're lucky, she won't make us share it with a Wraith.
"So where is Copernicus?"
Rodney's body startled on the chair, surprised by John's diversionary question. "Oh - since we haven't been visiting your fish, he misses the water, I guess. So I've left him a small puddle in the tub to splash about in every day. And, um, I found him a couple of plastic fish to play with. I didn't want him to feel deprived. Especially as none of this was his fault."
John's voice was soft in response. "Oh, Rodney. I'm sorry."
Rodney interrupted him, "No, don't apologize. We had a misunderstanding. That's all. Did I have a clue that I'd fall into bed with the military commander who'd just got our asses back in Pegasus where we belong? Or that I'd get a totally unexpected mind-blowing orgasm from said hot CMO in the morning, or whenever it was that we finally woke up the next day?"
John grinned. "So, mind-blowing, huh?"
Rodney scowled, but his heart wasn't in it. "I lost a few brain cells. Are you satisfied, now?"
John's voice was suddenly low, serious. "I haven't allowed myself to be satisfied for a very long time, Rodney. It's been years. After the mess with Nancy, I figured I'd never get what I really wanted. That's why this," and he waved his hand between them, "came as such a huge shock to me. I didn't expect you to sneak in under my defences."
Rodney allowed himself a small, wry smile. "Ah, yes, the case of the covert Canadian, a specialist in clandestine operations, especially Canadian-American relations of the same-sex variety."
John couldn't help himself. He released a laugh that filled the room with joy, bouncing off the walls. "Rodney, you may be a Canadian but nobody would ever confuse you with a quiet, unassuming spy."
Rodney couldn't help but respond to the laughter. He snapped his fingers in mock irritation. "I'll have you know I can be quiet. When I'm … when I'm … sleeping! That's when." His look was victorious, with the so there implied.
"Nah, not even then. You snore."
"I. Do. Not. Snore." The finger jabs were a staccato accompaniment to the emphatic words.
"Do too. Off-world. Ronon can hear it all the way from the next tent, though I don't know about Teyla. She's probably too polite to ever complain. You snore all the time. In the lab, with your face pressed into your keyboard. Also, that night. But … it was nice. Reassuring. Still, don't kid yourself. You make noise. A lot. Especially when you're, you know, happy."
Rodney's ears turned pink. "I was, wasn't I?"
"Sure seemed like it to me. Too bad I couldn't stay long enough to enjoy it. And, you know I didn't mean those awful things I said to you. Can we please blame it on my stupid dick feeling rejected?"
Rodney gave John a long look, then stood up and approached the bed, his movements tentative. His speech was equally halting, unsure. "You could … you could stay and enjoy it now. If you want."
John's reply was immediate and heartfelt. "Oh, believe me, I want."
Rodney glanced in the direction of the bathroom. "Okay, I need to see if I have any antihistamine left. And, maybe, you could take Copernicus to visit the fish. Because, I don't know about you - but I don't need to have an inquisitive cat staring at me while I'm having sex. Besides, it'll take about thirty minutes for the drugs to kick in."
"So why don't I get Copernicus settled and I'll be back in about half an hour?" By the time John reached the bathroom, Copernicus was already out of the tub, shaking off droplets of water. Obviously, he'd heard John's voice. John held his arms out and the cat leaped into them in a graceful arc.
Rodney met them at the door, clipping the leash onto the cat's collar. He glared at the cat. "Behave, you feline traitor."
Copernicus purred and rubbed his sleek head against Rodney's sleeve. John merely smirked. His silent response was met with a glare. "You, too, unless you want to forget our plans for tonight."
"Whoa, Rodney. I'm going. Just go find the antihistamine, already."
Before John returned, Rodney had managed a quick shower and shave. And he blessed that tiny bit of hypochondria and unexpected optimism - the eternal "what if" scenario - that led him to replenish his supply even when he'd had no guarantee of having sex in Atlantis. He grinned in anticipation. This was the best "what if" happy ending possible. Or he hoped it would be.
One of the side benefits of the medication was that he didn't feel as nervous as he might have been otherwise. Because … the thought of John Sheppard appearing willingly in his bed was almost too much for him to process. Besides, it was hard to build up to a complete freak-out in only half an hour. He'd had to pinch himself to be convinced he was really awake. Which he only did the once because … ouch!
Rodney used up the time until John was set to return - and, no, he wasn't checking every five minutes … it was more like six or seven, maybe eight - by folding back the covers off the bed. He was prevented from fluffing the pillows yet one more time by the sound of the door chime. Though he was nervous, he forced his body to move in the direction of the door.
When the door slid open, Rodney saw that John had also showered and changed. His hair tips were still sparkling with droplets of water. But he hadn't shaved. Rodney shivered in anticipation, remembering the way John's morning beard had grazed his belly, thighs, his overly sensitive cock.
John voiced his concern. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I was just … remembering."
"Good stuff, I hope?"
"Mmmm. You didn't shave."
John frowned, rubbing a hand over his chin. "Is that a problem?"
"Not for me."
"Good. So," John gestured, "not that I don't want to stand here and talk, but could we move this to the bed?"
"Right, right." Rodney's hands flailed wildly.
"Rodney, are you okay with this? Because, if not, that's cool, too."
Rodney sat down shakily on the bed and gestured for John to sit next to him. "It's not that. But you know me. I can be paranoid … occasionally. Justifiably so, when you consider my allergies. I've taken the pills, but I worry that maybe they won't work this time. And I'll have a reaction. Then you'll get mad. Or something. Which usually ends up with no happy times for me. As well as an embarrassing emergency trip to the Infirmary."
John's voice was firm. "Rodney, look at me. If - and I say if reluctantly, because I trust the pills - you have a reaction, we'll deal with it together. Okay?"
"Okay, okay. Fine. You trust the pills. And I trust the pills. I really trust the pills!" Rodney's voice had risen as he chanted the odd mantra.
John suppressed a laugh. "Enough with the over the top pep talk. Anyway, you never mentioned how you found out you were allergic to semen. Must've been scary."
Rodney rolled his eyes in irritation. "You think? Try being sixteen and messing around with my roommate who was older - of course, he was; everybody was when I was doing my undergrad. Without any warning, I'm choking and my face and lips are getting puffy. He knew where I kept my supply of Epipens, so he grabbed one and jabbed me with it."
He sighed dramatically. "Talk about overkill. That was like driving over an ant with a tank. I was on such a buzz from the stims, it took a couple of days to get me back down. By the time I'd returned to normal, or what pretended to be normal for me, he was gone, transferred to another dorm. He couldn't even look at me when we bumped into each other on campus. Ass-hole."
John's voice was sympathetic. "Maybe he felt guilty."
"I don't think guilt had anything to do with the fact that he went around calling me a freak. And, so, the great Rodney McKay's notoriety blossomed some more or, really, festered was more like it."
"So, how'd you find out about the citric acid thing?"
"What do you think? I went to the Library on campus and looked through some voodoo medical texts. I wasn't about to trust anything from the Internet, especially in those early days. I wanted it printed out on real paper. Under real doctors' names. In leather bound volumes. So, if necessary, I could call them up and yell at them for their lack of knowledge."
Rodney's face grew slack, his voice wistful. "You know, you think you already have all these factors against getting just a little sex, not even a lot, by being too brilliant, too skinny, and too young and then you realize the universe is so totally against you by giving you a really special allergy that trying to have just a little sex will make your life truly miserable."
John's voice was soft and sympathetic. "Wow, finding that out must have really sucked." And then he realized what he'd said and put a hand over his mouth. "Shit, you know I didn't mean it that way."
Rodney sighed. "Yes, I know even you can't be such an insensitive oaf."
John grinned. "Yup, that's me. Mr. Sensitive, all the way."
"I guess we'll have to add that title to the list of official promotions. Though I haven't seen you do anything to prove it yet."
John touched Rodney's bicep gently. "Why don't you let me prove it to you now? How about we have a little sex here and leave the misery behind for good?"
Rodney's response was to twist his body so that he was facing John, grasping his face between both hands and leaning in to kiss him firmly.
The touch of lips on lips was addictive. Only the moans from each man surprised them, causing them to draw back in amazement. The hunger and intensity in Rodney's eyes were mirrored in John's. As John reached out to grab Rodney, to draw him near again, Rodney gasped out, "No. Clothes off first."
John nodded. In minutes, the floor was littered with layers of clothing, jeans and sweats and shirts discarded and ignored.
Rodney manipulated John by his shoulders until he was lying flat on his back, spread out for his viewing enjoyment. And enjoy he did. Despite Rodney's constant belittling of John's scrawny ass, he didn't find fault with any part of the man. John's life and near-death experiences were all mapped out on his torso. Nearly being shish-kabob-bed while rescuing Teyla was just one of the more recent life-threatening scars.
Rodney stared for so long that John began to squirm. "Uh, not that I'm complaining, but you're looking at me as if I'm the special of the day." To emphasize his apparent discomfort, John thought the lights a little dimmer, so he didn't feel as exposed.
The softer lighting did nothing to douse the passion in Rodney's eyes. He reached out and trailed his fingers along the year-old scar and watched as John shivered in too self-aware discomfort.
John gazed intently as Rodney licked his lower lip, then bent down. Before Rodney's mouth touched the lines on his belly, there was a raspy whisper. "Fuck, John. You should be the special every day. I'd definitely order you."
John's mind slid off-line then. He allowed himself the rare gift of not worrying - at least for a little while - about the lives of every single person in the city. That was why he'd left Evan at the helm and informed him not to call unless the unthinkable happened. As far as John was concerned, the really good kind of unthinkable was happening here and now and it was fucking amazing.
John felt everything: the heat pouring off of Rodney's body as he lay between John's legs, the warm press of his soft, shaved cheek, the lapping of his wet tongue along the crease between torso and leg. His cock felt as if it would burst, his balls tight - and Rodney's mouth wasn't even anywhere near anything that would aggravate his allergies yet.
John groaned in frustration. Rodney, upon hearing the needy sound, lifted his head and grinned. "Don't rush me already. I intend to enjoy this." And, then, finally, Rodney licked off the pre-come that had been glistening in almost eager desperation on John's cock since he had stepped out of the shower nearly an hour ago.
Rodney licked his lips. "You taste so fucking good. It's been so long, you'll have to forgive me if my technique's a bit rusty."
John raised his head and glared, catching Rodney's intense gaze. "Your mouth on my cock is technique enough. Okay? Besides which, you can practise next time, as much as you like." He'd raised an eyebrow implying a lack of patience, but had to shut his eyes against the sudden heat of Rodney's mouth, sucking him in all the way to his balls. Fuck, if this was Rodney with rusty technique, he was afraid to think of what he'd be like with a bit more practice.
John's hands had been lying idly by his thighs until he raised one to stroke the side of Rodney's cheek, occasionally grazing his mouth, while nudging his own wet cock as it slid out and then back in where it was reacting in a very, very happy manner. He knew he really shouldn't be ramping up the stimulation because he probably wasn't going to last long, not with the attention Rodney was paying him.
In fact, his hips started bucking upward and he was afraid he was going to either choke Rodney or piss him off. John let out a warning but didn't get beyond uttering Rodney's name, because Rodney - the bastard - began to hum, his lips sealed just around the head, and the vibrations drove John over the edge.
Rodney managed to hold on for the wild, stuttering ride until John's body finally stilled. John's chest hair was matted with sweat and his eyes were drooping from the exertion of coming so hard. But he managed to keep them open long enough to see Rodney lick him clean and visibly swallow. The look on Rodney's face was so triumphant, as if he'd proved a new theorem. Well, at least he'd proved that John was exactly where he deserved to be. In Rodney's bed, in Atlantis and back in Pegasus. Also, Rodney wasn't allergic to him. And that, right now, was better than flying.
Rodney's body was buzzing with excitement. Well, he hoped it was only excitement and not an allergic reaction. He'd just had sex with the hottest man in Atlantis. Yes, yes, he knew that a few people found Evan or Ronon hotter and that was acceptable, as there was certainly no accounting for taste. But, as far as Rodney was concerned, the definition of hot began and ended with the man over whose body he was currently draped. The man whom he'd just made come and whose face was so unguarded it took Rodney's breath away was - from all the conclusive evidence gathered so far - apparently his ideal.
In the nearly six years that Rodney had known John, the only time John had been as close to revealing himself was the very first day when he'd sat down in the Chair in Antarctica. From the dorky question whether he'd been the cause of the impressive and inspiring display shimmering overhead to being responsive to Rodney's instructions (definitely hot) to simply lying with languid ease in the Chair. So many years later, Rodney wondered whether he'd insisted on the gene therapy for the benefits it could confer on him … or because it could give him something that would connect him to John on a more intimate level.
Yes, Rodney McKay could feel like an ordinary man, but it had taken this connection with John, wherever it would lead them, to reach the conclusion that he could be extraordinary without having to perform a miracle a day or to constantly need to establish his superiority over scientists on Earth who'd not been given his extra-galactic opportunity to excel. He was both awestruck and humbled by the personal revelation.
Though Tunney, the lying, cheating idiot, was still in his bad books.
John's voice was soft. "Hey, Rodney, what're you thinking?"
"Hmm. Oh, nothing. Or everything." Rodney paused, then continued, his voice hesitant. "Are you - are you okay?"
John stretched his arms above his head and released a lazy yawn. "Mm, I'm really relaxed. I'm fine. And this time you'll have to believe me when I say I'm not lying or exaggerating, unless it's in that really, really good way." John lowered his arms and sat up suddenly, dislodging Rodney's head from his chest. He stared intently at Rodney. "Hey, what about you? Are you okay? You seem a little nervous."
Rodney scrambled to sit up, crossing his arms protectively over his chest. His voice nearly squeaked. "Who me? Nervous? Ha - Colonel - don't be silly. Why should I feel nervous?"
Now John knew there was something not quite right. "Well, I don't know why, but you look uncomfortable and you just called me 'Colonel'. Do you want me to go?"
That got a typical hand-waving reaction from Rodney. And the squeak was … squeakier. "Go? No. But - but do you want to go?" Rodney's posture slumped. With his arms still crossed, John thought he looked as if he was in pain. It also looked as if he was losing his erection.
"Rodney, why would I want to go? We had a good time and I don't see any need for me to go anywhere else. I don't want to get dressed and go back to my place and spend the rest of the evening with only my fish and your cat for company."
Rodney's head jerked up. "Shit. I forgot about Copernicus. He'll be hungry or … or … I don't know."
John's hands reached out to stroke Rodney's face, trying to be both tender and firm. "Rodney, your cat will be just fine. I left food and water out for him. And, if he gets bored from watching the fish, he can scamper around in the puddles I left in the shower."
Rodney's eyes focused immediately. "You - you left him puddles?"
John's heart melted at the startled tone of Rodney's voice. For a man who claimed and often proclaimed indignantly not to love anyone, John knew that was a bald lie. From Madison and Jeannie to his old cat and now Copernicus … and possibly to John (but he wasn't going to be an idiot and say that out loud because simply thinking it was treading into dangerous emotional territory) … Rodney loved with a fierce stubbornness acquired despite the callous neglect from his childhood.
There were times when John hated the McKays for the way they'd raised, or failed to raise, their children. In some ways, he figured Jeannie had had it easier, being a second child, and a girl. But Rodney had carried the brunt of their expectations until Jeannie's birth. So John was accustomed to cajoling, prodding, bribing, pushing - whatever was the right tool - to make Rodney see a situation in a new light. But he did it only because he knew how Rodney's childhood had made him self-conscious even as he proclaimed his superiority.
In some ways, John felt that Rodney was his own chance at redemption, from having failed his family, as their constant criticism of his choices proved, to having left Dave to deal with decisions they should have shared.
John's left hand remained cradling Rodney's face. His right hand ruffled through a particularly mussed thatch of hair on his head. "Of course I left him puddles. What kind of —" he hesitated for a moment and then continued, "uncle would I be if I didn't look after him properly?"
"Yes, Rodney. Me. I. Whatever. If you want to look at it this way, he can fall under my unwavering adherence to the No one left behind policy which usually gets me into trouble, especially with you. But not this time. Okay?"
Rodney wriggled out of John's touch so that he could grab his hands. "That's - that's kind of sweet. Thank you."
John smirked. "Don't thank me yet, Rodney. I think my fish will be traumatized for life. How would you like it if someone stared at you all the time with glazed eyes, thinking 'Yum, instant sushi'?"
Rodney laughed, seeing the silly look on John's face. "Ah-so-desuka? I'll have you know the Rodney-uni sushi is a unique taste sensation. Well, don't worry. I'll buy you replacements. Or we can go fishing."
John ducked his head slyly. "Nah, don't worry about it. I can always send them for therapy with Hans or Gretchen, if they don't have enough neurotic patients to care for."
Rodney chuckled, at ease again. "I can just imagine their charts and trying to explain the notations to a peer review board."
"Well, why don't we leave that worry for another day. I think your cat will be just fine for the night and I hope I'll be equally fine right here. How about it, Rodney? Can I stay?" John looked up, sincere eyes revealing hope that Rodney would take the bait. Oops. Now he was thinking of more fishing references.
Rodney was back to babble-mode. "Yes, yes, you can stay. It'd be too much trouble to bring my cat back now, what with getting dressed and everything. And this is really … nice."
John sighed in relief. Wrangling Rodney was hard work, though the results were usually worth it. In this case, he'd say definitely worth it. He pulled the other man back down onto the bed, easing his head onto the pillow. Then, with a naughty look, he turned to a snuggling Rodney which, really, should not have been any surprise. "So, what's Rodney-uni sushi like?"
Rodney looked embarrassed. "Uh, it's an acquired taste. It's sea urchin."
"You mean those prickly things."
Rodney humphed in response. "On the outside only. On the inside they're—"
John interrupted smugly, "Soft and tender, Rodney?"
"Look who's talking, John-unagi-san."
"Hey, I am not an eel. I. Do. Not. Slither." John's protest was only for show, though. It was one of the weirdest, but fun, conversations he'd ever had with Rodney. Or, come to think of it, with anyone in or out of bed.
"You think you can deny that, with those hips? Okay, so, maybe Johnny-tobiko? Actually, come to think of it, that's perfect to describe you. Flying fish. Well, at least the roe. But still … flying."
John decided to put an end to the silliness by using his mouth to a much more effective purpose. The muffled sounds from Rodney were cut off as he became an equally eager participant.
John's mind was whirling. He was kissing Rodney. After really good sex. And then he became aware - well his brain had always been fuzzy after coming hard - that Rodney hadn't gotten off. And that wasn't fair. He wanted to see Rodney fall apart, to lose it, to be so satisfied by sex with him that he could finally be still. Content. Just for a few minutes.
He broke off the kiss which got a disappointed reaction from Rodney. "What? Why'd you stop?"
John pointed out the obvious. "You haven't come yet. What do you want from me?"
Rodney looked a little flustered which John thought was endearing, considering the man had already sucked him off. And how. So he offered a suggestion. "Do you want my hand on you, Rodney? I want to see you come, this time. Let me. I'll make you feel so good." John's voice was soft and husky, one he'd never used before to flirt with any silly alien priestess.
Rodney could only utter a shaky, "O-okay."
John rolled over on his side, so that he could both reach Rodney's cock and watch at the same time. He licked his palm slowly, knowing that it wasn't really necessary. It wasn't unexpected news that Rodney was uncut - after all, the team had experienced a number of awkward naked moments through the years and gotten extremely drunk after each one in a unsuccessful attempt to forget and Teyla's solemn pronouncement that "We will never speak of this again". But he was used to doing it this way and, hey, extra slipperiness was usually a good thing.
John was relieved to see that Rodney's erection was fully back after the reassuring talk and, he smirked, the hot kissing. Rodney's cock looked even pinker than before. Now that John knew what Rodney liked to do when blowing him, he'd try to remember for the next time. But, this time, it was his turn to give Rodney the release and pleasure he deserved.
He started out slowly, dragging his hand up, swirling over the top and then pushing back down, feeling the extra skin gliding under his fingers. Rodney had gasped at the first touch.
John shouldn't have been surprised to see Rodney's wide eyes following his every stroke. Fuck - that was so hot. If John hadn't already come so hard, he would probably be ready for another round. He could imagine touching himself another time as Rodney watched from across the room. It didn't matter what he thought of: the combination of Rodney and sex was irresistible.
But he was getting carried away, thinking of future encounters instead of focusing on the here and now. On Rodney. On the way his body was swaying … surging, John hoped, in delight.
Rodney managed a hoarse whisper. "Harder, please, John."
John would do anything to hear Rodney's voice, asking him for pleasure. He allowed his fingers to stiffen, forming a tunnel surrounding the column of flesh … and squeezed.
Rodney thrust his hips up, his breathing hitching in an erratic pattern as the pressure on his cock increased. John smiled as Rodney's moans became predictably louder. Oh, yeah. Rodney was loud.
John watched, amazed, as Rodney's muscles tensed and his body was overwhelmed, first by absolute stillness and then by the helpless jerking and spasms that put that unforgettable look of joy and awe on Rodney's face. The warm fluid gushing through John's fingers was nearly an afterthought.
Rodney was still breathing heavily, gulping the air down, as John leaned over to kiss him, while at the same time wiping off his fingers on the sheet. He had no energy left to get up to fetch a washcloth. Tomorrow morning would be soon enough to clean up properly.
When they broke apart so that both could breathe, Rodney managed to voice one halting last thought. "Besides the oh so obvious wow … if we wake up early enough, could there be shower sex?"
John smiled. "Even before coffee, Rodney? Why, I'm impressed."
Rodney's hand slapped John lightly on the chest, then settled at his waist. "Go to sleep, already."
John didn't reply. Even after drawing the sheet over their bodies and thinking the lights off, he kept his eyes open. Rodney had fallen asleep almost instantly, evidently more than worn out by his orgasm if not everything he'd revealed earlier in the evening, but John didn't want the evening to end with sleep. Not yet. And so he lay, facing Rodney, looking out into a moonless night, wondering how boring his life had been until he'd met Rodney. Finally, with that reassuring acknowledgement, he slept.
Teyla looked up from her notes as John and Rodney entered her office in the morning. Technically they were all supposed to share it, but she knew that Rodney preferred the labs and John his own cubbyhole; so, by default, they considered it to be hers.
She had not seen either of them for days, so raised one elegant eyebrow at the complete lack of tension that had made their last meeting intolerable. After having chastised them and wondering when she'd actually signed up to increase her child-rearing from one toddler to one toddler and two overgrown infants, she had not expected to see results so quickly, knowing how stubborn each man was. But they were tossing their customary banter back and forth as they approached the table. Their gently joking behaviour reminded her of the old days.
Whatever had happened or whatever she hoped had finally happened, she was immensely gratified to know that they could return to the task of running Atlantis and then to the new challenge of uniting the many worlds in Pegasus.
Her smile was dazzling, her welcome unmistakable. "Good morning, John. Rodney. You both appear to be in excellent spirits today, so I trust we will accomplish much this morning."
Both men slid into their chairs in front of the desk and settled down to work. Except for their slightly pink cheeks, nothing else seemed out of place. It was business as usual.
Lt. Rob Lang still could not believe what had happened. As if the whole join the Canadian Armed Forces and go to another galaxy weren't enough, he was now apparently in charge of the other 99 translators.
When he got up the courage to ask his CO, Col. Sheppard had said it had to do with his psych. eval. But, when he went to talk to the Meisters, they said he'd been highly recommended by Col. Sheppard. And Mr. Woolsey. Okay, so something seemed weird but, if their combined opinion of him was that high, he wasn't about to argue with them.
Still he'd talked it over with his - yes, it was official - boyfriend, David Garway, an oceanographer who was from Australia. Rob had never met anybody from Australia. Heck, he'd never met anybody from Canada either, and here he was wearing that maple leaf patch on his arm. Back on Earth, it would have been a big deal but here in Atlantis they were just two guys from a little place called Earth.
David had already been in Atlantis for a couple of years and he reassured Rob that people were genuinely evaluated based on their merit and definitely not by rank. Case in point, as Rob now had a couple of Captains and Majors in the translation unit reporting to him.
Rob felt lucky to have met David so quickly. He didn't understand where the attraction had come from. Here was a guy from the other side of the world, shorter, broader, and whiskered. Oh, older, too.
When the new guys in the translation unit were forced - okay, so Teyla and the Meisters had encouraged them to think of it as a new opportunity - to switch rooms, he found that too many of the others still isolated themselves in clumps, clinging to the only things they had in common such as being American, male, and gay.
As much as Rob cared for the concept of solidarity, it didn't make much sense to isolate himself from the fascinating people he saw in the Mess each day. In an open environment, there was no great need to stick together for safety. Atlantis didn't need to have its very own gay village or, worse, ghetto. Besides, he hadn't come all the way to Pegasus only to hang around with people who were just like him. If he had, then he probably wouldn't be working with Teyla. And that would have been a loss, to pass up getting to know a straight, alien woman who, as if anybody needed a reminder, was amazing.
So Rob had taken David's advice and they had chosen to live on a floor with Han Lu, a Chinese botanist who did not take offence when people still weren't sure whether it was proper to address her by her surname or secondary given name, Pierre and Jean-Claude, a couple of French nurses whose surnames he wasn't quite able to pronounce … yet, he reminded himself, remembering how he'd offered initially to learn French, as well as a few Marines who were cool about the more cosmopolitan atmosphere of their shared living quarters and their neighbours.
No doubt about it, he wasn't in Iowa any longer. But, when he'd come home one afternoon and found David explaining to Han - or Lu - that Rob was his "best mate" in that distinctive Aussie accent, he couldn't help laughing. Occasionally, he would wonder if they didn't need an internal translation matrix to cover the various interpretations let alone pronunciations of certain English words among the residents from countries who used the language primarily for science. He'd already found out that English wasn't a standardized experience from his limited contact with the Canadian military before coming to Atlantis. Which should not have surprised him, considering that there were so many dialects and colloquialisms in his country of birth. However, he thought he'd gotten his point across - without resorting to words - when he'd leaned over and given David a kiss on the cheek. Han's blush was proof of it.
It had been a long day. And a long week.
Rob scratched his head. He wasn't getting anywhere with the translations. He'd felt nothing but relief when he'd completed his language training because now he could get to the real work at hand, namely helping Teyla. Finding the appropriate expression for an Earth concept so that she would understand exactly what it meant was frustrating.
He had known that this would be the opportunity of a lifetime when Mr. Woolsey had approached him, but he hadn't expected to be providing lessons in Earth history, war, politics, as well as acting as Teyla's personal liaison. And then there was the matter of examining old mining treaties to determine which ones could be applied in Pegasus.
It was one thing to talk about things and allow the Stargate to do the simultaneous translation. But Teyla needed written materials that she could access on her own to figure out where she was headed.
Rob had never considered the nuts and bolts of something like the treaty of the United Nations. He hadn't realized that it came into being after the end of the second World War. Still, he understood why Mr. Woolsey would have included it in the piles of documents. Why there were parallels between trying to bring countries together after a shocking war and promoting friendly relations between worlds in another galaxy now that a once-common enemy had been successfully repelled, their level of threat downgraded.
Having the Wraith as a foe had not guaranteed harmony in Pegasus so, now that the enemy had been strategically weakened, it wasn't unexpected to find continuing incidents of double-crossing and trying to gain the upper hand. Teyla had emphasized the urgency of uniting the various worlds before they split off into smaller, less idealistic and volatile factions. Rob didn't even want to think about coming across isolated pockets of Wraith sympathizers. He didn't care if they were suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or enzyme addiction; they just gave him the creeps.
His focus on the translation in front of him was interrupted by a sigh from Teyla. He looked up, concerned.
She shook her head. "Do not trouble yourself, Rob. I feel thwarted reading about such greed and short-sightedness on your world." She rubbed her eyes. "I believe a break would be in order. Would you care to join me for tea?"
Rob's reply was immediate. "Yes, Ma'am." Teyla had insisted they be on a first-name basis, but his upbringing from his parents coupled with time in the military had instilled good manners in him, so he found it difficult to not think of her as Ms. Emmagan and address her more formally. After all, she was everybody's boss. But, maybe, during personal time, he'd try to call her Teyla.
Tea turned out to be a two-hour break, but Rod wasn't about to complain. They both worked long hours and cataloguing the various treaty specifics strained his eyes, leaving him with a tension headache more often than not. At least he was familiar with the concept of the original template, if not the details. But Teyla had no such familiar advantage.
When they returned to work, Rob not only felt refreshed but he had some ideas for personal changes as well. He'd talk to David later that night.
Work continued at a glacial pace for months. More tea was consumed, though without the luxury of enjoying it in Teyla's quarters which had been a special occasion. Rob could see the strain in her face, indicating clearly that she was under too many time constraints and responsibilities, from the overall operations of the city to her child. So, often, he would just bring her a fresh cup and leave her to her intense concentration.
Whenever he had a free moment which wasn't often, but more so when David was away on missions, Rob went back to his familiar hobby of hooking rugs. He was exploring new techniques and textures. And subject matter. Earth, not just Iowa, was the last thing on his mind.
When both felt they had accomplished enough for Teyla to be able to formulate the basis of a successful treaty, Rob insisted they had an excellent reason to celebrate.
Rob invited Teyla to meet his boyfriend and their neighbours. It wasn't meant to be a big formal dinner but, as Rob valued their unique working relationship, he wanted to include Teyla more often in his personal life. He knew she had a tightly knit relationship with her team, but wondered how often she took advantage of it nowadays when she had to deal with Col. Sheppard and Dr. McKay administratively on an almost daily basis. Though Teyla had been in the city for so many years, her inclusion on the primary gate team as well as involved friendship with her teammates meant that she had not interacted with the majority of the city's residents beyond basic recognition.
When the Transporter delivered Teyla to the designated location, she was met not with an impersonal corridor as expected but a large lounge whose walls were covered with plush wall hangings. Several couches as well as two dining tables with chairs invited social interaction and relaxation. If that hadn't been enough, the adjoining balcony provided a spectacular view.
Teyla smiled as she raised a hand to her neck, touched by the warmth and serenity of her surroundings. When Rob rose and approached her, she pressed her forehead to his. "I am not familiar with this configuration. Were these not personal quarters?"
Rob blushed and inclined his head. "They were mine, actually. But, since not everybody was lucky enough to have a balcony on this level, I moved in with David and we decided to turn this area into a common room."
Teyla laid a gentle hand on his arm. "I am sorry you felt the need to deprive yourself to provide comfort for the others."
Rob's blush became more vivid. "Ah, Teyla, I'm not depriving myself." He turned and motioned to his boyfriend. "This… here … um … is David. My, um—" He took a deep breath as he grabbed his partner's hand. "My lover." When Rob dared to look at Teyla again, he noticed her genuine smile, as opposed to the one she painted on when faced with irritating people who were less deserving of her tolerance or patience. It meant a lot to him that Teyla and David seemed to be comfortable with each other, as she had not yet released David's other hand. Or Rob's arm.
The quiet moment didn't last long before everyone in the room had approached them and been introduced to Teyla. She immersed herself fully, laughing and participating in the friendly chatter.
While dinner was being prepared in the tiny kitchen area by several people who managed not to bump into each other too often, Teyla walked around the room, examining the wall hangings. Rob and David tagged along, pointing out small details or naming various creatures with which she was unfamiliar.
The hangings could have been crude and overdone in the hands of a less sensitive artist. But the scenes of oceans, schools of fish, whales and dolphins seemed to be representative and yet too fluid to be merely copies of Earth's marine life in their natural surroundings.
Teyla ran her fingers lightly over the bubbling sea foam on one particular hanging. "This is so delicate. Who made these?"
Rob grinned in obvious pleasure. "That would be me. I did them in my spare time. And David made sure I got the marine details right." David grinned as well, appreciative of being included in the creative process.
"These are truly beautiful. I am very impressed with your artistry, Rob."
"It's just a hobby, really."
"But that does not detract from their beauty or the care you have shown in creating them."
"I'm glad you like them … because … I made one just for you." To Teyla's surprise, Rob retrieved a smaller rolled up hanging from a nearby shelf and handed it to her.
When Teyla unrolled it, she began to tremble. There were tears in her eyes. "But this is … how did you … I do not understand."
Rob reached out, ready to take the apparently offending object out of her hands. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause you distress. I just thought you'd like to have it as a memento."
Teyla clutched the hanging closer to her chest. "Lieutenant, I am not offended. Your gift overwhelmed me momentarily. But I do not understand how you acquired the images?"
"The original expedition took lots of pictures of Athos and your people. I found them in the archives."
Teyla rewarded his generosity with a formal bow. "You have done my people and me a great kindness, Rob. I will treasure this for the remainder of my life."
Rob blushed and grinned again. He was saved from further awkwardness by David who suggested they all sit down as, from the mouth-watering aromas wafting across the room, dinner appeared to be ready. For the next two hours they talked and ate Pegasus versions of traditional Chinese, French and American dishes with the cooks providing commentary on how inventive they'd been in adapting local ingredients.
David had grumbled that there had been no interest in the cuisine from his country which had led to a hilarious discussion of kangaroos and, even more inexplicably, frogs. After having sampled a portion of each dish, Teyla thanked everyone profusely for their culinary contributions and suggested that they might wish to pass the delicious recipes on to the cooks in the Mess.
Teyla didn't mention the special wall hanging or the room decor again, but Rob noticed her watching him carefully throughout the evening. Every time their eyes met, she had a sparkle in her eyes. Rob was pleased. It was one thing to make the boss happy. But Teyla had always been more than a boss to him and he'd never forget that.
Returning to Pegasus should have been a joyful experience. Returning to New Athos, safe, with her team intact and the power to make significant changes should have been only the beginning.
But Teyla had also expected that the father of her child would have been the first to greet her, holding a beaming Torren John in his arms.
When John had set the city down exactly, according to him, at its point of departure, she'd been anxious to be flown to the mainland to be reunited with her people and, most of all, her lover and her son.
The Athosians were there.
She moved from person to person, searching frantically until she found her son whom she'd swung up into her arms with a ragged sob of relief.
But she couldn't find Kanaan anywhere in the crowd. When she had asked but none of her people was willing to volunteer any information, Halling took her aside and told her the unwelcome news.
Teyla knew she had every right to resent Kanaan for seemingly abandoning her and Torren John, especially as he had done so when she had been on Earth and he had no knowledge whether or not she had survived or would be returning to Pegasus.
Yet she was also able to understand what could have led to his decision. Having been so close to him during her captivity under Michael, in physical proximity at least, showed her how deeply he had been in thrall to the altered Wraith. She was grateful that he had broken through the spell long enough to help her, her son and the team escape from the Hive.
That he had been an attentive and doting father to their son had never been in dispute. However, whatever deep abiding love they had once shared through so many years, weathering crises and separations, culminating in a welcome birth, was … absent.
Teyla wondered if Kanaan begrudged her specifically for having moved away from her people to live among the Lanteans. But this was all speculation on her part, as he had never expressed his dissatisfaction to her or, as far as she knew, anyone else.
She was grateful that he had chosen the fostering couple with care. Negla and Kareen had both lost husbands and children in separate cullings and had turned to each other for comfort and support and eventually love. That had not surprised Teyla as there were many newly formed families on Athos that occasionally disregarded convention. She knew instinctively that Torren John could not ask for a more wonderful pair of foster parents.
If she had not survived the battle with the Wraith, Teyla's spirit would have been content knowing that her son would grow up in a loving environment. Even, she reasoned, with Negla's flamboyant clothing style and Kareen's high-pitched laughter in the background. It was a tribute to their combined strength that they could rise above grief and live abundantly again.
Teyla could not deny her son ample living time with the two women, but she did feel the ache of loneliness more keenly when he was away for more than a night. Still, not wanting her son to grow up affected by a situation over which neither had any control or responsibility, she kept these feelings within and shared them only with her team and, even then, sporadically.
There was a parallel, she supposed, to Carson's situation. The cloned version had felt such guilt for aiding Michael, albeit reluctantly after being coerced with an ethical dilemma that could have no right conclusion to participate in his grotesque biological experiments, that he had expressed an overwhelming desire to atone for his actions by travelling from world to world treating those plagued by a number of diseases, hoping he could provide relief if not a cure.
Kanaan's guilt had led him to leave on a quest for redemption. Through their loyal trading partners, she had received word that he was well, though the haunted look in his eyes had not disappeared yet. Sometimes, an object would find its way to New Athos, a small treasure or memento meant for their son. Teyla grimaced, casting her eyes to the sky or ground, anywhere except at her hands that held the latest gift. She knew that Kanaan thought he was being considerate and generous, but she still could not help feeling bitter that mere objects were seen to be an adequate replacement for a father's love and presence.
Suddenly, she had a much clearer understanding of how distasteful it was when many broken relationships on Earth exhibited one parent plying offspring with … material things. Though her only reference point was a couple of the films she'd watched especially while they'd been on Earth and having her questions answered by John or Rodney, she had found it repugnant as an Earth practice and she certainly did not like it happening here. But she could not deny her son the memory of his father.
Teyla had no idea if Kanaan would ever return. There was no convenient timetable for the self-guided ritual. It was up to the individual to decide if redemption had been achieved. Occasionally, there was a note to her along with whatever gift he sent, so she'd learnt that Kanaan was concentrating his volunteer efforts on worlds that had been heavily culled. He helped rebuild burned villages, or tended fields at harvest time, wherever he could make a difference with his youth and strength.
Teyla had come to accept that it would be the will of the Ancestors, even if that belief was understandably thinner these days, whether Kanaan returned within her lifetime or not. All she could do was to love her son to the best of her ability. And to corral the men in her team as well as Evan who had been exceptionally sympathetic during her pregnancy to provide a positive influence. She laughed unexpectedly, her mood lifting, as she contemplated the continuing influence that Rodney might have on Torren John. Perhaps a temporary gag would be in order.
She roused herself from her reverie. Torren John would be home with her tomorrow evening and she was certain he would be babbling to her all about the exciting things he had done with his Aunties. Teyla knew she could not have asked for a better alternate arrangement to suit everybody. From filling the women's home with a child's love again to giving her the freedom and time to fulfil her increased role, both in Atlantis and in Pegasus, she had to accept that Kanaan had made an independent decision based on what he needed to do and that it would do her no good to worry about him. His quest was his primary goal. And Teyla had no doubt as to what her goals were.
She finally blew out the single candle and went to bed, hoping that this would be her last night alone.
John was lying on Rodney's bed, wearing just an old T-shirt and sweats while reading, when the door chime sounded. As Rodney was still in the bathroom, probably playing with Copernicus after he'd already finished brushing his teeth, John approached the door with caution as it was late - and he was in Rodney's quarters - before giving the mental command for it to open. He was surprised to see Teyla on the other side. She appeared to be nervous which was a look John was not accustomed to seeing on her face.
She looked up suddenly. "Oh, John. I am sorry. I did not mean to disturb you. I wished only to speak with Rodney."
John waved a hand in the direction of the bathroom. "He's, uh, probably brushing his teeth. I'm sure he'll be out in a minute. Please … come in."
"You are certain I am not interrupting anything."
John shook his head. "Nah. Just reading my book. It'll keep. So, what did you want to talk to Rodney about?"
Teyla ducked her head. "I have been feeling lonely as of late and I find it comforting to talk to Rodney."
John's eyebrows shot up. "Uh, Teyla, this is Rodney we're talking about, right? Dr. 'Don't bother me if you're looking for a shoulder to cry on'."
Teyla's look was fierce in response. "I am not looking for a shoulder to cry on, John. But I find Rodney's interpretation unique and he does not mince words. Though I have relied on diplomacy all of my life, there are times when a direct, more blunt appraisal is required. And I believe you may be mistaken about Rodney's presumed lack of sensitivity. The past few months have been a learning experience for all of us. Or have you forgotten already?"
John shook his head, ashamed at his own lack of recognition of Rodney's personal growth since the experience with the parasite. Or his maturity in the way he'd seen Keller off. Or when he'd offered to sacrifice himself to feed Todd - John ached to think about that almost-disaster - to save Jeannie. "Sorry, Teyla. Sometimes I forget that this isn't the same old Rodney. Please, come in; have a seat. I'll let him know you're here."
Teyla nodded, all graciousness again. "Thank you, John." She came in and sat on the bed that was made but apparently rumpled by John, as the book he'd been reading was resting on top of the covers.
John returned with Rodney in his wake.
Rodney looked flustered to see her. "Teyla, is everything okay?
Teyla looked up, realizing that she was intruding on her teammates' privacy. "I am sorry, Rodney. I should not have come. Perhaps I should take my leave of you and return another time."
As she attempted to rise, Rodney moved forward and laid one hand on her shoulder. John noticed that Teyla appeared to almost lean into Rodney's touch. Now he was really confused. Since when did Teyla appear to be so … needy? Oh, yeah. Since Kanaan had taken off, leaving her alone with the kid.
Rodney exerted the tiniest amount of force to which Teyla responded immediately, sinking back down onto the bed. "You're already here. What can we do for you?"
Teyla was silent for a while. "I do not think there is anything you can do for me, but I thank you for your offer. The problem appears to be mine alone. For once, I believe I have lost my source of strength. I do not know how to continue on my path."
Rodney sat down next to her. "You know you don't have to be alone. You know we're here for you. Right, John?"
John nodded automatically while he pulled up a chair, trying to stay on top of the unusual conversation.
Teyla's voice was strained. "I am grateful for your presence and support, but neither you nor John can take the place of the man I loved."
Wow. John was stunned to hear that word in the past tense. "Wait, Teyla. I don't understand. Are you saying that you're not in love with Kanaan any longer?"
Teyla sighed, a soft sound. "Athosian customs may appear unusual to outsiders but one of the primary motivators is practicality, assessing whether a goal can be achieved. When I fell in love with Kanaan so many years ago, I knew that some day we would be together and would have many children. When I became pregnant, one goal was fulfilled. When you rescued us and we returned to Atlantis, I thought another goal was solidified."
John was stunned to see the frown appear on her face, the sadness marring her customary serenity. He gave her a few seconds to organize her thoughts before prompting, "And, then?"
He hadn't expected to see such bleak misery in Teyla's eyes. But, somehow she found the will to continue, her voice weary. "When Kanaan disappeared with no intention of returning to me, because his own goal had changed from being a loving mate and caring father to a wandering penitent working to gain his redemption, my goal vanished along with him. So, there is a pain in my heart because I know he will never return to me."
John looked confused. "How can you say he won't return to you?"
Teyla had regained more of her composure. "Because he knew I would follow the ways of my people and release him from his former obligation."
John shook his head in denial. "Still, that's awfully rough for you, considering what you've been through."
"I agree, which is why I wanted Rodney to remind me that I was being foolish."
Rodney took her hands between his. "You're not being foolish, Teyla. It's—" He paused, choosing his words carefully. "Losing the one you love is a horrible thing."
Teyla saw Rodney flash John a look and John's surprise, followed by a shy smile.
"I believe you truly do understand how I feel, Rodney. But I still cannot help thinking that my longing is selfish. And that it is making me weak. Unfit to lead." She shook her head, as if to negate her own strength as a leader.
Rodney squeezed her hands in encouragement. "You're the absolutely last person I would ever consider to be weak. Teyla, you amaze me. I would have been on my knees from only half of your burden."
A snicker interrupted the serious conversation.
Rodney looked at John, annoyed. "Oh, please, grow up for a moment. Unless you'd like me to find you a Wraith Queen to bring you to your knees."
John swallowed and shook his head. "Uh, sorry, Teyla. It's just sometimes, when I'm really tired, I'll let my imagination loose and speak without thinking. Doesn't mean I'm not taking you seriously."
Teyla tried to rise, though Rodney's strong grip enveloping her hands prevented her from getting to her feet. "Once again, I am sorry for disturbing you. I should let you rest."
"No. You're still feeling lonely and Colonel 'Emotional Fumbles' didn't help."
John tried to object, "Hey!"
John shut his mouth at Rodney's abrupt command.
Rodney's voice became gentle again. "I think you should stay here tonight. Sleep with us. We love you and we don't want to see you feeling sad or lonely."
Teyla appeared rattled. "But, this is not appropriate. To sleep with —"
Rodney's voice slipped into the growing silence. "To sleep with your friends, Teyla. To share only a bed with your best friends. That's all I'm suggesting."
Teyla nodded slowly. "Perhaps just this once."
Rodney stood, drawing her up to face him. He lowered his head to touch her forehead, impeccably respectful. "Thank you for trusting us." Then, he pointed at her thickly woven shawl. "I don't think you'll be needing that. It's quite warm tonight."
Teyla allowed the shawl to slip from her fingers. Rodney handed it to John who hung it over the chair back.
Rodney's voice was low, almost bashful. "Um, why don't you get in the middle?"
Teyla looked at him with amused fondness before slipping off her shoes and climbing onto the bed with her usual limber grace.
Rodney was taking off his shirt when he saw John, seemingly frozen to the spot, though he had walked to the other side of the bed. His voice was a mere whisper. "John, are you okay with this?" The look of confused anguish was painful to see.
"I - uh, Rodney. I don't know if I can do this. This is Teyla."
"Of course it's Teyla. Who is lonely. And we're keeping her company. Please, John." He took a deep breath. "Please, do it because she needs us."
John watched as Rodney slipped into bed on the other side, wearing only his sweats. Then, he sighed and removed his own shirt before getting into bed beside Teyla, keeping to the edge of the bed.
Rodney grumbled and John thought the lights off before inching his way over toward the unexpected body between him and Rodney.
"Uh, goodnight, Teyla. Don't mind Rodney. He snores."
Teyla giggled. "That is a fact of which I am well aware, John. But I believe I will sleep well tonight." Her hand landed on his bare shoulder, just a whisper of a touch. "Thank you. Thank you both."
Rodney muttered something indistinct which prompted Teyla to giggle again.
And, then, there was just the suspended sense of peace enveloping the three bodies, leader, warrior and scholar, united in friendship.
When John woke in the morning, he reached out but encountered nothing but empty space. He could still see the imprint of Teyla's body, so it had not been that long since she'd left. Yes, he'd missed having Rodney snuggle into him, though he wasn't about to admit that he would have been just as willing to snuggle against Rodney. They'd both been too tired to do anything but snuggle lately. So, having Teyla in the bed between them had not been an imposition. Or restriction.
But John wouldn't know how Teyla felt about the past night until they ran into her at breakfast or even their regular morning meeting. He hoped she'd be okay.
Teyla had been more than okay when John saw her. She looked calm and radiant. She and TJ were eating breakfast with his other parents or, as everybody called them, his Aunties. John joined them, listening to all of the misadventures a toddler could get into in a magical floating city. He'd missed being around for Dave's children and this felt as if he'd been given a second (third, fourth, fifth) chance at becoming a more involved family member, despite the lack of blood ties. And, for the record, he was grabbing every chance he could get.
The subject of Teyla's sleeping with them had not been broached at any of their morning meetings which were - after all - for business only and recorded for the archives. But Teyla did come by Rodney's quarters, about once a week, with that forlorn look on her face. John came to know there was only one response that would ease her distress. Without talking, he would lead her to the bed, taking her shawl. If Rodney had not come back from the lab yet, then John would hold her. Sometimes she would talk, often doze, occasionally cry. And John was learning to his amazement that he could provide comfort of an emotional nature, without pulling away in embarrassment, especially if all he had to do was listen.
One particular evening, Rodney had returned to his quarters, exhausted, yet ready to launch into a rant on whatever had irritated him most that day. But, when he'd entered, one glance from John who'd pursed his lips in a "Shh" made him turn in the direction of the bathroom instead. John heard the shower start and, five minutes later, there was a clean body in equally clean sweats sliding into bed, cradling Teyla between them.
After many weeks, Teyla had made an unusual decision. What she was proposing was revolutionary though she'd already implemented it on a small scale among the new residents of the city. And, actually, it made a lot of sense. John thought it was a good idea and even better knowing that it had come from Teyla.
Rodney, on the other hand, thought it was the most ridiculous, impractical, bothersome, time-consuming scheme and he would have said so - but not to Teyla's face. Considering how much she meant to him, to both of them, there was no way in hell he would have said anything to hurt her. He swallowed his grumbles as he continued to listen to the details.
And, so, the decision was implemented.
Rodney had decided that they were all crazy. Hansel and Gretel, especially. He considered Teyla to have been corrupted … contaminated; no, not quite the right word. What he'd been looking for was … dammit! Ah! Yes. Compromised. Though sometimes - more like always - he'd still blame H&G for their continued wishy-washy influence on the way the city was being run. Damn shrinks.
Because, somebody in their infinite wisdom - whose names began with John or Teyla and ended with Sheppard or Emmagan - out-talked (when had that become possible?) and out-voted him when it came to deciding how to change the way everybody worked and lived in the city. Rodney considered this to be tantamount to a revolution … or a misguided, foolish experiment in social engineering. For Rodney, those had never worked out well. Besides, "social" and "engineering" were two words that had no business being side by side. Soft pseudo-science was just too mushy to contemplate.
Because … because they were all going to be moving quarters. Rodney sniffed dejectedly as he continued packing up his belongings. He liked his quarters. And … and his special bathtub. At least he'd made sure that his new quarters would have an even better one (really big enough for him and John). [He'd already checked on the sly before he agreed, while continuing to pout with feigned reluctance to the proposal.]
Still, instead of packing up five years of stuff he'd forgotten he even owned, he could be doing important work. Like trying to beat his Minesweeper record, or talking to Copernicus, or bugging Sheppard. Which had its own built-in entertainment value that never got old.
But, no, he was packing up, getting ready to move to superior accommodations. In fact, everybody was getting a better deal, moving into some of the towers that had recently opened up, declared safe for habitation. That had been a welcome side-benefit of having extra crews working on the city while they'd been stuck on Earth. Having engineers going over every micron, inspecting for damage or loss of structural integrity and carrying out repairs, was something that could only be managed during extensive down-time.
Actually, Rodney wasn't surprised at the expansion itself. He'd often wondered why so many lights came on at night in the city, even in the towers where the living quarters had been sealed off, after being deemed unstable from the flooding - until he'd found references in the database pointing out that the entire city was using stored solar power for light and that a regulated influx and output made for the greatest efficiency. That made sense, no matter what galaxy they were in. So, they'd ended up having room to expand.
He was surprised that H&G had even considered the housing needs of the Marines. For them, bunking together wasn't an anomaly; it was standard deployment procedure. What had they called it - Little Tripoli? Close quarters equalled normal in their book. All that togetherness, rah-rah (or whatever their cheer was) attitude was supposed to promote unity. He didn't know how it didn't promote homicidal tendencies instead.
But that wasn't the weirdest thing that H&G had proposed. They wanted to see an end to some of the artificial and, as far as they were concerned, unnecessary divisions between the military and civilian residents when it came to living quarters and social attachments.
Sometimes, Rodney tended to forget that he, John, Teyla and Ronon had a unique relationship: a working team (he gloated, emphatically, the premier gate team, though they'd had to cut back under the new ruling structure) who also liked to spend a lot of their down time together. CSO, CMO and two Pegasus survivors. And, by the way, Jeannie was so, so, so very wrong; he'd have to remember to send her pictures to prove it. He could make friends, especially if they were smart … and scary, in Ronon's … oh, wait, and Teyla's … and, hell, sometimes even in John's case, especially if he'd just decided, in true Klingon fashion, that today was a good day to die … again.
So, when H&G had suggested that the various teams be housed in small groups, they'd expanded the groups to include other random civilians and military, so that the formations weren't strictly team-based. Because people were rotated out, eventually, or quit, rarely, or - he hated to think about it - were killed too fucking often for his taste.
Rodney had to admit that, even from a military perspective, it made sense to have the people who were supposed to actually protect the scientists be in adjacent quarters. He wondered why nobody else had noticed the prior vulnerable housing assignments. He also didn't want to think of invaders being able to infiltrate the city and hide in deserted areas. No, he shuddered, he definitely didn't want to think of that.
Rodney, however, didn't know what to think of the almost respectable arrangement between him, John and Teyla. Teyla had proposed that their quarters take up an entire floor, with not only separate entrances from the transporter but also interior doors connecting them. Teyla thought, as she continued to bump into John in Rodney's room and she hadn't even been coy when making that particular remark, it would make the most sense and be practical to have Rodney's quarters between hers and John's.
After having listened to Rodney's persistent rants about the backwardness of America's military leadership and general population, Teyla pointed out that she was also exercising caution. Though the threat of American penalties against members of the military showing any sign of a same-sex relationship was tenuous in another galaxy, she could not ignore it entirely. So, if she could provide a measure of safety for John as well as a few others who, she believed, were in a similar situation, she intended to do all she could.
One suggestion was to remove the task of assigning quarters from John, Rodney and Dr. Lars Erik Lindgren, a short Danish man with blond hair, who had accepted the Chief Medical position. Though Carson Beckett's clone had remained on Atlantis, the man did not think it proper to resume the status once conferred upon his original especially since he did have his ongoing humanitarian mission of tending to the sick on different worlds that kept him away from Atlantis for irregular periods of time.
Dependent on seniority, residents were able to form their own living clusters. Some of the results had drawn raised eyebrows and others seemed almost tame in comparison. Even predictable. Ronon settled down one floor below theirs, seeming quite comfortable to be between Amelia Banks and Leah Keyes. Rodney had tried to keep a straight face when thinking of that grouping because, otherwise, he would have been leering at the presumably horny Satedan. But who was he to judge, with John in his bed most nights and Teyla a beautiful, though chaste, visitor from time to time.
Radek inherited his own light-switch puppy in the form of Lt. Burton Connors. The young man's eagerness to please the Czech scientist had made Rodney snort in derision which he usually had to swallow quickly whenever his own puppy, that is to say Col. Sheppard, showed up to pester him. So Rodney was not too surprised to see the Marine moving to live on the same floor as Radek, even though he professed to be allergic to cats. As long as he wasn't allergic to Radek himself, Rodney was not concerned.
Teyla made sure that Negla and Kareen were located on Ronon's floor, as well as Torren John who also had a separate room in her quarters. Teyla had not wanted there to be any real or imagined obstacle keeping her son from being close to her or his Aunties.
After the Marines had finished their own extremely efficient move, they had volunteered to help the other residents in the city. Still, Rodney would not allow them to move any of his possessions without his immediate supervision. Unfortunately, he kept muttering "July 1st" under his breath until one of them asked him what the significance of that day was. He stopped and recoiled at the effrontery, almost as if he'd been slapped, before replying that in the Province of Québec, which still happened to be in Canada, thank you very much, everybody moved on the same day. It was chaos. It was ridiculous. It was a rejection of the day the rest of the country took off as a national holiday - the country's birthday. And, he supposed, as an insult, it was unique.
His answer had apparently ended any further questions from the still-confused Marines who went back to their specified tasks. And Rodney had settled down as well, coming to the conclusion that he should not be ranting about something that was going to make it easier and far less dangerous for John to be with him. Eventually, he left the Marines to continue working without his excessive scrutiny and went to visit Copernicus who was spending the day out of harm's way in the specially enclosed garden that was strictly for cats. Surprisingly, that suggestion had come from Miko. But, then again, he shouldn't have been too surprised, as she had decorated her workspace with a few of those traditional Japanese welcoming cat figurines.
When Rodney returned, a couple of hours later, Copernicus on his leash, he found John and Teyla in his new and vastly improved quarters, adjoining doors wide open. When he unclipped Copernicus, the cat bounded through the door to John's place, obviously sensing that his pseudo-playmates were on the other side of the connecting wall.
John held up the bottle of champagne that had been chilling. They'd had a chance to stock up on a few bottles while on Earth. Though Teyla found it tickled her nose, she knew the significance of sharing a glass. And a toast.
And yet there were no words exchanged as they clinked their glasses together, only a look into each others' eyes. When she had drained her glass, Teyla touched each man's forehead with her own. "You will excuse me, but I will retire now."
Rodney look puzzled. "You're not staying?"
"No, Rodney. Torren John and I have plans for dinner tonight. But, please, enjoy yourselves. And the new view." Teyla then walked through her adjoining door. They heard an audible click which meant that she had engaged the door lock manually; it would open only if Atlantis deemed there was an emergency.
Rodney looked at John, wondering what to say. "So…."
John seemed to be equally lost for words. "So…."
"But same bed."
"We should still try it out."
John had to agree. Rodney's insistence on scientific proof was a necessity. "We really should."
However, Rodney could not overlook the other necessity vital to his well-being. "But what about food?"
John smiled. "Already taken care of. Sandwiches in my fridge. I'll go get them and put out fresh food for Copernicus."
Rodney turned. "I'll be waiting for you in our new tub. We shouldn't forget about testing that either. There's greater water displacement that I may not have factored in … and…." Rodney waved his hand, having apparently run out of words. "Stuff."
John's smile became even broader. "I agree, especially about stuff. These are important details that shouldn't be ignored."
Rodney rewarded John's equal disregard of conventional logic with an impulsive kiss before walking briskly in the direction of the bathroom. What John didn't know yet was that the bathtub was situated in an alcove and opened onto its own private balcony.
Rodney sighed in contentment. Moving Day had been an excellent idea. He was so glad he'd thought of it.
Teyla sighed, exasperated beyond exhaustion. Teaching Torren John had not been this difficult.
These people - she hesitated to call them adults - were not being rational. They were stubborn, petty, small-minded and … oh, yes, stubborn. They went beyond a Rodney definition of stubborn. He could be reasoned with on an intellectual level or at least offered coffee as a crude bargaining tactic.
She recalled how Richard had warned her that creating an organization of such scope, on such a grand, multi-world scale, would be … difficult. Surely he had been joking when he had used such an insignificant word.
But what lay beneath her gaze was not insignificant. She wanted to put an immediate stop to it. Richard had also mentioned, in one of his many introductions to the structure of the Earth organization she and Rob had used as a template, how a mostly forgotten dictator had removed his shoe and banged it on the table. That had happened many decades ago. Perhaps that was not such a bad idea, though perhaps she would choose to rap her bantos rods upon the table … or upon several heads instead.
Her voice rang out, imperious, "Enough!"
The attendees ceased their bickering, looking up in surprise.
"Must I impress upon you the need to focus on the agenda? Without consensus, we cannot proceed to the next step. Is it not enough that our ongoing conflict with the Wraith prevented us from achieving a temporary measure of unity because saving our families and homes was the only matter of value? Are we not ready and mature enough to rise above petty differences that should remain buried in the past?
Teyla watched as her words were heard and then heeded by the chastened delegates.
Then the hard work began. Each delegate had received a binder containing the relevant details of the various components of the Charter. Teyla and Rob had distilled the best parts of the articles from the United Nations, added modern versions of mining treaties in which the investors didn't automatically swallow the profits, thereby leaving the place of origin with crumbs, and ended with Teyla's historical accounts of the types of governments typical to Pegasus and how it was not inconceivable that they could work in harmony as joint signatories.
They covered it all. From arbitration to armed forces, from civil disputes to education, from farming techniques to health and safety protocols, from impartial observers to political autonomy.
The binders were thick to begin with. They became thicker with transcripts of the proceedings and the delegates' personal notes.
Teyla's plan was to focus on the benefits of membership in the League which were slightly geared in favour of the member worlds. She wanted the prospective members to recognize that joining was a wise thing to do, something that would elevate the worlds in their peoples' eyes.
The other factor in Teyla's thinking was that, if they were successful in gathering a significant number of worlds into signing the initial Charter, it would be much easier to add the few remaining unaligned worlds afterwards, one world at a time. She expected that envy and greed would play a part as well, once the word got around that the League was offering generous terms.
However, as eager as the delegates were to embrace the promised bounty, they were hesitant to subject themselves to the proposed restrictions. If one objected to impartial observers, another was disdainful of the supposedly stringent health and safety restrictions.
But Teyla had been adamant.
She had insisted that they would stay at the table until a consensus had been achieved. With the need for the delegates to check in with their leaders on a daily basis regarding each article, the discussions had been prolonged. Despite the initial clamour of objections that diminished as the proceedings continued week by week, there were very few revisions required, for which Rob and his translation team had been eternally grateful. And it did save on paper.
Teyla slumped in relief once the delegates had filed out of the room. She had done it. She and Rob had authored an egalitarian Charter with many prominent signatories to it, based on the highest principles that they felt could be achieved.
Though, when it was all over, she regretted a touch wistfully that she had never had an opportunity to use her bantos rods.
Radek wanted to jump up and down in celebration, but he managed to restrain himself, especially in Rodney's presence.
Once the negotiations had been concluded and the new Charter adopted, he had surprised himself by mentioning to the holy triumvirate (more like cursed, considering that Rodney was a part of it) that he wanted to move out of the labs, wanted to get some practical use out of his engineering degrees.
When Rodney had sputtered that Radek hated going out on missions, Radek was ready with a reply. "Is not the same galaxy, Rodney. Teyla has tamed the worlds. Like ovce, they are docile. And I … I need to be working with real materials, not theories."
Teyla looked puzzled. She'd picked up a word or three of Czech, but not this one. "Ovce, Radek?"
"Ah, sorry. Meaning to say sheep."
Teyla nodded, accepting the translation.
But Rodney was never that easy to sway. "But Radek, you can't just desert me. I need you to bounce ideas off of." He snapped his fingers. "Back and forth, without needing to explain ourselves fully, it's always worked before. That's how we work best, how we've always saved the city before. Why would you want to stop now?"
Radek's mouth had dropped. Rodney sounded almost forlorn. If Radek had really been a vengeful man, he would have taken delight, but he was not that man and he'd always considered Rodney to be a friend, though it was nice to know his regard was returned and finally acknowledged. He had been around enough big egos to know that real genius could be accorded an occasional lapse in manners, even if such a lapse had dragged on for six very long years. "Rodney, is not desertion. You need me for emergency, I stay. But now is peacetime. Let me enjoy. Prosim."
Radek waited for Rodney's response.
"I must be crazy, but alright. You've more than earned it. If I have to deal with the idiots in the labs by myself, I'll handle it. Name your team."
"Leah, Ronon, Burton. Team of engineers to accompany geologists. Marines for backup. Should be enough."
Rodney attempted a scowl. "Is that all?"
Radek smiled slyly. "For now. If anything else, I will ask Teyla."
Teyla laughed, seeing the impish look on Radek's face.
But Rodney did not share her amusement and answered Radek with a true scowl. "Don't forget to name your successor before you desert me."
Radek sighed; he hoped it would be for the last time. "Yes, Rodney. You will have e-mail as soon as meeting is over. Three names. Very competent. Will be your choice to make."
It was almost like old times in the labs. Almost. Hearing muttering in the background in Czech made Rodney smile, but only when he was not being observed. The three people whose names Radek had submitted had equally excellent qualifications, but the thought of a silent lab, full of cowed scientists had horrified Rodney. So, Dr. Pavel Novotnỳ, eager, quick, though sometimes he really seemed to scurry about underfoot like a dark-haired rat, became Rodney's new sounding board.
If Radek just happened to drop in more often than was strictly necessary, Rodney would rant and complain that he didn't have time to entertain half of Eastern Europe because they were busy, busy, busy, so if the mighty space explorer cum engineer would not mind leaving them to their incredibly valuable work … and on and on until the sound was reduced to a comforting, familiar hum in Radek's ears.
And Radek would smile before walking out, reassured that the decision he'd made had been exactly the right one for himself and for Rodney.
Besides, he was enjoying his freedom, visiting worlds where nobody shot at him. It had been his one piece of shame from his past, how he cringed at the sound of gunfire, carrying the memories of his parents' stories from their childhoods in WWII, and his own despair of growing up under Soviet occupation.
Though the country of his birth was free and thriving, Radek felt most liberated out in space, unconfined by artificial boundaries.
Emancipation was the best thing that had happened to Radek Zelenka, something he had never expected to experience in another galaxy.
John had made it a point to always be on the lookout for trouble. He didn't seek it consciously, but he knew that most things were never as easy as they appeared to be on the surface.
Of course, Rodney had never been easy. But John had learnt how to read and speak McKay early on. It was entertaining. Always good for a laugh, even when Rodney was his customarily irritating self.
However, there were others who were not as easily plumbed. Evan Lorne had turned out to be one of those people. John knew that Evan was capable of greatness, that he had made General in the alternate time-line, though Rodney had intimated there had been a weary acceptance of reality rather than an actual desire for the position. When everyone around was getting massacred, moving up quickly through the ranks was not unheard of.
But Evan, here and now, seemed restless. Pegasus appeared to be on the verge of becoming a stable galaxy with only sporadic incidents of violence, apparently instigated more out of a sense of the combatants' boredom than any real provocation or aggression.
So John did the logical thing and asked him point blank. The answer stunned him.
"I want to cut back on my military duties, Sir. You don't need me pushing paper and there are lots of eager people around who'd jump at a promotion to become your 2IC." He shrugged before continuing, a hint of amusement colouring his tone. "No disrespect, Sir, but I need to get out and explore and not at the tail end of a P90. I need to paint full time."
Seeing his superior's seriously raised eyebrow made him brave enough to continue. Evan knew the 'show me what you've got' face was his CO's signal that he was interested in hearing more. "The concept of war artists is not something new and I personally think it's important to continue the tradition. Even if we're lucky enough to achieve long-lasting peace here, I believe we should be documenting what war has done to these worlds."
Finally John spoke. "Is that all, Major?"
"Uh, no, Sir. I'd need a team of photographers who have an eye for capturing what's important. I'd want them to be an extension of me because I can't be in more than one place at a time." He rubbed his chin, hoping he'd remembered everything. "That's it, basically."
John's voice revealed nothing but sincerity. "Well, Evan, I'd be sad to lose you. I'll discuss your request with Teyla and Rodney, then get back to you."
Evan was well-versed in his CO's laid-back style of dismissal. "Thank you, Sir. I appreciate it."
"Don't appreciate it yet. I have no idea how they'll react to it. Now, if you could just finish your paperwork before you get carried away with your flight of fancy?"
This time, it was Evan's turn to quirk a brow. "My paperwork, Sir?"
"Please … give this poor CO a break. Okay, my paperwork. Just be sure to prepare a duty transfer sheet and leave it somewhere where I'll see it." John stood up, considering the conversation to be at an end.
Evan grinned. "Gladly, Sir. You won't be able to miss it in the middle of a spotless desk."
John walked away muttering to himself. "Smart-Aleck. No wonder Rodney gets so frustrated with his underlings."
When John mentioned it at the next meeting Rodney was incredulous. "What is this, a case of copy-cat? What my second does, yours has to imitate?"
"Uh, Rodney, they're two distinct matters. Besides, who says you get to have all the fun in playing musical chairs? Your new guy, Pavel what's his name, seems to have worked out fine. When I drop in, it feels like old times."
"Humph. You want to play. Go right ahead."
Teyla, on the other hand, was more than sympathetic. "Our role in Pegasus is changing. It is happening at a slow pace, but Evan sees it with the clarity of an artist, a visionary. I believe in the value of his proposal. If we have succeeded in forcing the Wraith to abandon their traditional feeding grounds, we should never forget what they were and how we allowed ourselves to be diminished, by living in villages that could be destroyed so easily. We have lost too much. I have lost too many. I need to remember." She paused, taking a moment to regain her composure. "We all do."
The paintings were starting to pile up. The photographs that were part of the historical evidence were stacked as hard copies, organized according to the world they represented. They were also digitized and available for personal viewing through the network servers in Atlantis. Teyla and Evan had encouraged all residents, whether they were the hardened survivors from the original expedition to the latest eager arrivals, to see the human face of her war, her reality. Despite their efforts, the residents of Pegasus had not been able to rebuild and repopulate every culled world. She reminded people of these grim facts in an audio recording that was meant to be a companion piece to the photographs.
Once again, Teyla was left with a problem and wondering how to solve it.
Teyla had been deliberate in creating the schedule to add new worlds to the League. She had arranged it so the worlds most likely to cause issues would be tackled first.
This arrangement had worked, but it also meant that considerable time had passed before she set out to visit Queen Harmony. Though the child was now older and, Teyla hoped, more mature, she remembered how immaturely John and Rodney had behaved once they'd returned to Atlantis. Their written reports had given her a clear picture of the situation.
When the party arrived and was escorted to the Palace, Teyla was amused to note the look of mild irritation on the Queen's face. She was trying to hide it, but not succeeding.
"I welcome you to my world, Lady Teyla. But I don't see my special friends, the Doctor and the Colonel. Didn't they travel with you?"
Teyla watched as the Queen's eyes swept over the entire party, not missing a single person. And noted the obvious disappointment as they widened in understanding.
"I regret, your Majesty, that we do not travel together for security purposes. As my role is that of chief negotiator, we felt that I alone should visit you this time. Perhaps, once the negotiations have been concluded, they will once again pay you a visit."
The Queen's response was a dull, "I hope so."
The Queen accompanied Teyla and her team to the Temple of Laros ruins where she had secured her right to ascend to the throne. Though Rodney understood the principle of the defences, he wanted his people to scan the pillar in the daylight when, not coincidentally, nobody was having to avoid getting killed. Avoiding getting killed was hard work. But, Teyla smiled and shook her head fondly, Rodney had gotten better at it over the years, thanks to John. Even so, he had made it clear to her that he did not want his people investigating after sunset. Teyla knew that, as much as he berated his scientists, he was concerned about their safety and well-being.
Teyla had also made the offer, on Rodney's behalf, to have the team fix the broken panel. As the rite of passage was an integral part of this world's culture, it was in Harmony's interest to have the Ancient machinery repaired after the damage it had sustained.
The Queen had sat nearby, staring off in the distance with a sullen look on her face unless she was asked, always politely, by one of the engineers to touch the interface in the pedestal. A little over two hours later, the engineers had completed their work after ascertaining that everything was in proper working order; they cleared the site of debris and packed away their tools.
Harmony rose, summoning her attendants, before she approached Teyla. "I suppose I should offer a feast to thank you for the work you've done here."
Teyla suppressed a grimace and thought the child deserved to be subjected to a taste of her own arrogance until she reminded herself with a touch of compassion that the Queen was an orphan and had been the object of an assassination plot.
"My people and I would be most grateful, Majesty."
With something Teyla suspected was supposed to be a royal wave, Harmony turned to leave, adding, "Alright, then, come along."
Teyla sighed and gestured to her team to follow. She had endured this child for the good of the League and also for the benefit of Rodney's greater understanding of the mini-drone operation. But Teyla was anxious to go to her next appointment, though she'd kept having to postpone it often. She expected it would be a refreshing change, meeting her dear friend, Queen Nahri. It couldn't be anything but better than this experience where Teyla had tried repeatedly to engage the Queen in polite conversation while the engineers effected the repairs, only to be rebuffed by one or two-word replies.
After the royal feast, Teyla excused herself, saying that another world needed the expertise of her team members. The Queen did not appear to require much persuasion and Teyla and the others were soon on their way back to Atlantis.
Teyla listened with pleasure to the high-pitched laughter as the all-female team celebrated her foresight and cunning in derailing any potentially seductive ploys, no matter how childish the source, had she sent a predominantly male team instead.
Despite her fatigue, Teyla was satisfied, anticipating the smile on Rob's face when she presented him with yet another signatory to the Charter.
The weapon to the back of Teyla's head was unexpected, as was the source.
John, Rodney and she had spent months discussing where the greatest resistance would arise. To everyone's surprise, it hadn't been from the Genii. One of the best carrots they'd offered the Genii had been to safely fill in every single overworked and abandoned mine as well as performing extensive tests on their currently operational mines in order to bring them up to a safe standard - at no cost to the Genii. Saner heads had prevailed when offered a possible end to their radiation poisoning problem. In the face of a long-needed resolution to increasing medical complications among their workers, the leaders had quickly accepted the safer technology and labour and were eager to discuss an equitable exchange of profit sharing. Though Teyla had no doubt that the Genii were most likely congratulating themselves and boasting that they had cheated the Lanteans.
Teyla regretted the fact that it had taken her more time than she had anticipated, for political as well as personal reasons, to be able to travel to the more distant worlds. She understood, even if she disliked the reason why Rodney and John had imposed the sensible restrictions. This meant it had taken her nearly two years to reach Endra where she had always been received with the utmost hospitality.
But this violent reception was a shock, especially on a world with a stable constitutional monarchy.
As were the harsh words.
"So, Whore of Athos, we finally meet. I'm amazed that you didn't bring either of your bastards with you. Or their fathers. Could it be that they've tired of your tawdry and used goods already?"
Teyla didn't let any of her discomfort show on her face or in her voice. Her posture was straight and elegant as she spoke calmly. "I am Teyla Emmagan of Atlantis and I am here to meet with Queen Nahri on behalf of the League of Aligned Worlds. You will take me to her immediately."
"No, I don't think my mother needs to be meeting with you, slut. In fact, she has no idea that you've arrived. I've made sure that the servants will tell her that you've been unavoidably delayed. It's a pity, really, that you may not even arrive at all. I'm sure my men can find some use for you before tossing your worthless body through the Gate. Or else we can see if we can fetch a price for your hide." The owner of the callous voice and weapon strutted around to stand before her.
Teyla couldn't believe that the angry young man before her was the same red-haired child she'd last seen two decades ago, one who had tugged on her skirts, begging to be picked up by the "pretty lady". But she knew that to bring those memories to his attention, surrounded as he was by his court attendants, would be a grave mistake, one that would lower him in the eyes of his men. She chose her words carefully. "I am sorry, Prince Nahron, that you do not share your mother's or my philosophy of expanding alliances and treaties."
Nahron's response was preceded by a sneer. "The only thing I've observed you expanding is that tribe of degenerates."
She shivered as he raked his eyes over her body, lingering at her breasts before continuing down to stare at her belly.
His cruel voice continued to taunt her. "Are you growing a third bastard in there? Perhaps I should spare it from being born. I'm sure my men could rip it out of your body."
Teyla's cool demeanour did not abate: she'd lived her entire life dealing with people who allowed their frustration and helplessness to rule their actions, causing them to lash out instead of drawing together. For every hideous slur Nahron tossed at her, she responded with dignified calm. Eventually, he grew increasingly irritated, tiring of his inability to provoke her. Muttering a string of curses, he strutted out. In her fatigue, Teyla still allowed herself to ponder whether the shoemaker to the court must be spending most of his time resoling the Prince's boots, considering how much time the man had spent pacing during his exhaustive though ultimately unproductive verbal assault.
As his men followed the Prince out of the inner courtyard, Teyla called out to one. "Please, I am thirsty. Would you bring me some water?"
The man merely pointed haughtily to a spigot set in the wall, probably for watering the plants surrounding her, with a bucket slung beneath it. Then he, too, went through the door. Teyla heard a click, followed by the thump of a bar being dropped. She was locked in.
Teyla observed her surroundings more closely. She had protection from the elements because the roof overhead was sturdy with only a few closed windows to let the light in. There was some air movement discerned from the draught along the floor, which meant that the doors leading out were not air-tight. She now had water, though she doubted it would be sweet tasting. As a leftover precaution from spending so many years travelling with Rodney, she had brought with her a few power bars, so she knew that she could assuage her hunger, at least in the short term. She smiled, silently thanking Rodney for his pervasive influence.
There were stone slabs for benches, but Teyla doubted she would find sleeping on them pleasant. She thought it would be preferable to curl up in a sitting position on the ground and spread her cape over her body.
Having observed the immediate area, Teyla walked over to the bucket. She rinsed it out a number of times to make it as clean as possible before filling it again. First she gulped down handfuls of the refreshingly cold water, then washed her hands and face.
After eating a power bar, Teyla looked upward again. The building was unusual in that, even though it had an inner courtyard, there were no windows overlooking it; nor were there any balconies. Teyla thought that it may have been constructed so that nobody could spy on its occupants. In any case, with no windows for her to try to attract the attention of the Queen or her attendants, Teyla knew that she would not be receiving any aid from above.
Following her initial visual inspection, Teyla walked around the perimeter. There were four doors, one on each side. She tested them, but they were all locked. Occasionally, she heard footsteps and muffled talking, but that was all.
Eventually, Teyla tired of the aimless walking, though of course John would have called it standing watch. But a watch of one was not efficient and would only weaken her. She had nothing to defend herself with but her wits. She could hear both John and Rodney in her head ranting that this was absolutely the last time she would go anywhere on her diplomatic ventures without them or a guard or both.
Based on her long-standing friendship with the Queen, she had convinced them to accept a delayed check-in until the next day. As she hadn't been harmed, only insulted and sequestered, she hoped she would be able to talk her way out of this predicament and dial Atlantis according to schedule. She doubted that the Prince would really harm her; he was exhibiting mere posturing though aggravated to a greater degree.
Teyla found a spot as far away from the overpowering Litta blossoms as she could get. They were a brilliant purple with yellow stripes, but much too fragrant to abide by for more than a few minutes. Again, Teyla was comforted by the memory of Rodney complaining about his many allergies. When she folded herself into an elegant but compact shape on the ground, she snapped the cape with both hands, so that it would float down and envelop her body.
In the fuzzy minutes before she achieved sleep, Teyla once again thought of Rodney and how he had tried repeatedly to cajole her to choose opaque leg coverings, a short skirt and boots as the most fetching costume for her diplomatic travels and how saner heads, obviously hers and John's, had prevailed, choosing a blue cape to signify that any who wore it were in the service of the League. The vivid blue dye was rare in Pegasus, thus ensuring that there would not be many opportunities for confusion or misrepresentation.
John had also provided additional security in the form of laminated identity cards with each delegate's photo. She recalled the quick thinking that had caused that instant photograph to be slipped into a pocket before everyone except for her and Ronon had fallen victim to deadly amnesia a few years earlier. John had showed it to her, but only after he'd thumped Ronon on the head for having stunned him.
Teyla continued to draw strength from the love and support she knew she had not only from Rodney and John but from everyone in Atlantis. Allowing that certainty to comfort her, she slept.
Teyla woke suddenly to the sounds of arguing voices and the unbarring of one of the secure doors. She maintained her low profile on the ground while peering though one eye. The open door could mean being saved or it could mean more trouble. But she need not have worried. The welcome figure of her friend, the Queen, was followed by the equally unwelcome figure of her new foe, the Queen's son, who evidently did not know when it was unwise to quarrel with an authority figure even when it was his own mother.
"But, mother, you can't just let her go. She's a traitor to Pegasus, spreading lies, persuading our allies to desert us, one by one."
The Queen drew herself up, exuding the full force of her authority, though still in her night attire, her long auburn hair uncombed. "Nahron, you will cease talking immediately. You have shamed me with this vile treatment of a respected guest. I expect you and your men to report to the guard house for discipline."
Her voice softened. "I had hoped you would have earned the right to succeed me, but I fear that you may never be ready. If our allies are joining the League, does that mean that they, their ruling councils and advisers are all fools? Or are you the fool, child? Go, now. I do not wish to look upon your face."
The Prince appeared stunned to be rebuked in public by his mother. But he did not open his mouth again. He bowed curtly, spun around and walked out. Teyla heard more raised voices out in the corridor but did not concern herself with the shouting. The Queen was here and that was all that mattered.
Satisfied that any threat had passed, Teyla opened both eyes to see the familiar figure of her friend, bending down and offering her hands to assist Teyla to stand. Teyla moved her arms gingerly. It had not been a comfortable night. But she managed a pale smile for the Queen's benefit.
The Queen was not easily fooled and huffed at her friend. "Do not try to hide your discomfort from my eyes, my dear. The ground is cold and your wrappings insubstantial. Come, let me try to ease your pain. I will have a hot bath drawn for you and fresh clothes provided. And, then, something substantial to eat. For you must be hungry as well. Only after you have rested sufficiently will we talk."
Teyla looked at her friend with gratitude in her eyes. "Normally, I would say it is nothing, but I do appreciate your warm hospitality."
"Nonsense, Teyla Emmagan. It is merely common courtesy, something of which I believe my son may require a reminder."
As they walked out of the courtyard and into the hallway, they continued to talk. "Have you decided what you will do with your son, Majesty?"
"My brother, Pellagron, has need of strong, young bodies to tend to the goats in the mountains of his world. I believe my son and his cohorts will spend the summer there after their tour of duty in the guard house. When he has taken the time to reflect on his poor judgement, he will return to the court here. But I'm afraid that, in his rashness, he has forfeited his birthright to succeed me. My brother's second born, Ellagra, is an intelligent girl. I believe she just turned 15. It is not too late to school her to ascend to the throne. So, what do you think of my plan, my friend?"
Teyla swallowed a laugh. "I do not think it is my opinion or approval you seek, Majesty. But I believe Nahron may not share your enthusiasm."
The Queen laughed boldly. "Oh, my dear friend. Only you can combine diplomacy with a delightfully sardonic twist. Your mother, Ancestors preserve her, was equally gifted."
Teyla's entire body was warmed by the fond reference to Tagaan, reminded that she was still remembered with respect and affection on many worlds. She felt imbued with renewed strength and determination, despite her unpleasant night.
The cause was worthy. Teyla Emmagan could and would overcome any resistance.
Sundays were an artificial construct on Atlantis. Due to the insane scheduling problems, Sundays didn't happen every week. The crews were lucky if they got one Sunday a month, though often in the early days they had to be satisfied with squeezing in one every two months.
However, since Teyla's diplomatic missions had resumed, John and Rodney had begun to notice how the pace was wearing her out. Though they didn't travel with her, they read her reports. They both knew that her skill with phrasing could mask any number of serious situations. Based solely on her appearance and the circles under her eyes when she had returned from her visit to Endra, they overruled her and insisted on observing Sundays every three weeks, no matter how much time it took them to fix the schedule. It was the least they could do for her.
Rodney and John had not even considered the benefits to their relationship.
They still had their share of desperate zippers pulled down seconds after the door slid closed sex - especially if their schedules didn't coincide and they had only five minutes in which to get off, clean up and get changed.
They'd become really efficient at the cleaning up and getting changed bit over the last few months.
If they were lucky, they got to sleep in the same bed a couple of nights each week. If they were really lucky, they'd actually be awake and physically capable of having sex on one of those nights, but there was no guarantee. Still, somehow, their bodies recognized the proximity and regulated whether they felt particularly horny or not.
Their bodies seemed to be horny quite often, busting the myth that men in their forties weren't able to get it on like teenagers.
But, then, there were Sundays.
Rodney remembered how he'd almost felt dirty and disrespectful on the first Sunday they'd stayed in bed. He couldn't help it, being reminded of the horrifying events of the worst Sunday in memory.
And so they'd done nothing but lie in bed. Rodney talked himself out until there were no more words left. John held him, simply offering the comfort of his presence, without attempting to force out words that would have felt unnatural and stilted. He stroked Rodney, not trying to make the contact sexual. He concentrated on the arms and back, anywhere he could provide smooth continuous touch. Rodney had fallen asleep from the caresses and John had joined him a few minutes later.
When they'd woken up after a couple of hours, Rodney was ravenously hungry. John had showered and dressed quickly, in order to make a quick run to the Mess for some real food. Though the Mess staff had the day off as well, there were enough prepared or frozen foods available for individual consumption. John always managed to find something his lover would like.
Occasionally, there would be a wrapped piece of chocolate cake with Rodney's name on it (yes, actually written in big letters, underlined twice) set aside in one of the fridges. John would laugh, knowing that it was almost impossible for Rodney to remain grumpy when presented with chocolate cake. It was amazing to see how accurate the timing of the appearance of cake was, as it coincided with some of Rodney's worst moods. Today, there was cake - two pieces of it. John blessed the baker for her consideration.
By the time John had returned, Rodney had showered as well and put on some sweats. They'd sat out on the balcony until it grew dark.
Enough time had passed when the next Sunday appeared on the schedule. Still, John was worried about the recurring survivor's guilt that Rodney exhibited which always seemed to be closer to the surface on Sunday in particular. He wasn't about to make the guy visit Gretchen or Hans. There were some things that were best handled in the field, so to speak.
John knew first-hand about that kind of guilt. His treatment of choice had been both denial and reckless self-sacrifice. Rodney's appeared to be a lack of confidence in his actions that he only revealed to John. These were extreme reactions and not designed to relieve the condition.
So John set out to prescribe his own form of therapy. He'd decided in advance that there would be no sex unless Rodney initiated it. But there would be an unhurried day devoted to good food, some music, even a walk if Rodney felt like going outside. He planned to start with a bath.
And, yes, he cheated. He asked Teyla for help. When he woke up and made sure that Rodney was still fast asleep, he tapped on the adjoining door. Teyla's eyes were twinkling: she relished the idea of being a co-conspirator in John's efforts to relieve Rodney's emotional burden. When John walked back into Rodney's quarters, he was carrying a tray piled high with Rodney's favourite foods as well as an insulated carafe of the really good coffee. He hadn't dared ask where Teyla had obtained it. He figured it should be one of the perks of being everybody's boss.
John carried the tray into the bathroom and started the hot water running, mixing in some fragrant herbal crystals, courtesy of Teyla, again. She'd guaranteed they would promote relaxation. He watched almost fascinated as the delicate bubbles formed and floated on the surface of the hot water.
He had just enough time to visit his own quarters and feed an equally lazy Copernicus who hadn't deigned to open his eyes beyond mere slits. It was obvious the cat was in favour of Sundays as well. He took a few additional minutes to check on the fish before returning to Rodney's room and slipping out of his clothes.
In the bathroom, he poured a cup of coffee and carried it to the doorway where he stood, hip cocked at an angle. But he willed the more interested part of his anatomy to not be so perky. He wanted Rodney to accept that relaxation was the primary goal of the day.
John silently asked Atlantis to sound a soft chime, similar to that of their doors. He watched as Rodney's eyes opened, suddenly alert. His voice was almost alarmed. "What's wrong? Is there an emergency?" He'd sat up in bed hurriedly, ready to swing his legs over the side.
"Whoa, Rodney. There's no emergency. I just thought you'd like to have some coffee."
Rodney made frantic motions with his hands, expecting John to carry it over to the bed.
"Uh-huh, Rodney. This time, you're going to have to come and get it." He watched Rodney's scowl with amusement, before turning, deliberate ass wiggle and all, to disappear back into the bathroom.
John was just pouring a second cup, when Rodney stomped into the bathroom, only to stop as he saw the breakfast, the steaming bath and finally the coffee.
"You — you —."
John smirked. "Yup. You've tagged me alright. I'll plead guilty. Now, if you could please get in, I'll serve you your coffee." With a grin, he waved his hand at the tray piled high with food. "Breakfast, too."
Rodney was still speechless but, as John knew all too well, when faced with the prospect of coffee he did as he was asked. He stepped out of his boxers and then into the bath, groaning as he sat down, the heat penetrating his limbs.
John rolled the short cabinet holding the tray next to the tub, then handed Rodney the cup. As Rodney clutched at it gratefully, John gently nudged him, trying to get Rodney to move over so that he could climb in as well. John watched Rodney roll his eyes, but the gesture was definitely only for show as he slid over quickly, holding on tightly to the coffee.
After they'd finished the first cup or, in John's case, only cup, John served Rodney breakfast that lingered on into brunch. They spent so much time in the bath, John needed to top up the hot water twice. But, in the end, it was worth it. He'd finally dragged a boneless version of Rodney out of the tub, wrapped him up in a huge towel and pushed him back into bed. After drying himself off with the edges of Rodney's towel, John dropped it over the edge before turning back to look at Rodney.
Rodney looked wide awake, though there was this calm that John didn't think he'd ever seen before, unless one counted Rodney's curtailed incident with Ascension and John didn't care to remember that time.
It wasn't all that surprising because living in Atlantis had not been a picnic; even now it wasn't all hearts and flowers. Or ponies. Or was it supposed to be unicorns? He didn't know what little girls were into these days. He still remembered Care Bear commercials.
"Hey, Rodney, you okay?"
John was surprised when Rodney didn't bother replying but simply nodded his head.
"Would you like to listen to some music?"
Rodney nodded again.
John sent his specific request to Atlantis and a moment later the room was filled with the sounds of Chopin's Nocturnes for piano. Even if Rodney no longer played which John still thought was a damn shame, the music had the power to soothe him.
When Rodney had figured out how to load all of their music into the database and turn Atlantis into a gigantic iPod, John also thought it was the neatest thing. He'd even promised to restrict playing Ring of Fire to his quarters. Or Teyla's, as long as she would put up with it. Accessing it was simple for those with the gene; anyone without it had to send a command from a laptop.
Rodney turned and kissed John on the cheek. To John it felt like the most genuine and open expression of affection that Rodney had ever made toward him. It went beyond any sex they'd ever had. John gathered Rodney in his arms and murmured, "Yeah, buddy, me too. Me too."
They listened to the lilting music for over an hour before sleep overtook them again.
Later, they dressed and asked Teyla if she would like to accompany them to dinner. Most people spent Sunday in their quarters, finding the peace and quiet enticing. But sometimes there were small informal gatherings in the Mess. It was remarkable to see the difference in the way people interacted on Sunday. Dress was extremely casual. John could have sworn that Ronon, Leah and Amelia had been there in their sleepwear, but they left shortly thereafter so John didn't have to think about whether it was inappropriate. Or whether they even wore anything to sleep. Besides, he was there with Rodney and Teyla, just relaxing. And that had been the purpose of the day in general and his specific goal for Rodney.
Oh, as for the sex?
It didn't happen the next Sunday. Rodney was worn out and needed to sleep. John would have had to be blind to ignore it. So he went for a run with Ronon, who was unusually quiet about the fact that he'd left Leah and Amelia alone. Not that John had asked or anything. If Ronon ever wanted to talk, that would be a different story. But, knowing Ronon, that would be highly unlikely. At that point, John stopped thinking and just ran for the simple pleasure of feeling alive on a day which imposed no obligations on him other than relaxation.
But the following Sunday and every Sunday ever since, Rodney and John had sex. Lots of it. Even a couple of risky, slippery rounds in the bathtub. But mostly deliciously lazy, unhurried afternoons during which they took turns fucking each other slowly between naps. Or was it the other way around?
John didn't care about semantics. He'd never been a wordy kind of guy. The important thing was that it worked. For Rodney and for him.
Todd could honestly say that, in his thousands of years living and dining in the Pegasus Galaxy, he had never come across a group of people who not only refused to accept their role as food, but also did everything in their power to spread their poisonous influence. Successfully.
Of course, not all of their actions had led to an unpleasant outcome. Todd's interests had coincided with those of the humans, allowing him to secure his supremacy in his own Hive while witnessing the destruction of other more powerful Hives, Queens included.
When Atlantis had returned to Pegasus after defeating the Super-Hive, he watched his sources of food dwindling as more and more worlds aligned themselves with Teyla, believing and accepting her guarantee of a safer future. Decades later, these worlds received the ultimate measure of security when they were given an endless supply of ZPMs to power planetary shields.
In those intervening decades, Todd had heard that the original almost-mythical plentiful feeding ground of Earth had suffered great losses in civil strife. So he had decided it just wasn't worth it, going back to Earth. In fact, he'd heard the most irritating Doctor had also sent additional ZPMs to Earth, guaranteeing their safety.
He'd stretched out the fingers of his feeding hand and shivered delicately. He wondered, idly, what irritation tasted like. If he couldn't have Earth, then surely one puny human being couldn't be too much to ask for. Ah - that was a particularly delicious recurring fantasy.
There was only one source of food left: what the Travellers' ships carried. If he had thought the Earth-born humans to be rebellious, at least they lived their lives fully. But the Travellers, who had thought their solution of never settling on a planet would save them from being culled, had deluded themselves. And had reduced their own value to one of mere breeding.
It was almost distasteful - Todd had to chuckle at his morbid play on words - to feed on humans who ate processed nutrients instead of whatever food they could hunt or farm themselves. There was also an unpleasant tingling feeling from draining one of their kind who had been exposed to too much radiation. It made him wonder how well they could be breeding at all, as he had heard that radiation poisoning tended to damage the reproductive organs.
Todd didn't know whether he should be sickened or fascinated by the messiness of males copulating with females. It seemed impractical. Though he had found it interesting, the few times it had happened to humans in captivity, to observe a desperation in the coupling.
He had watched and waited, seeing the Travellers' ships fail, one by one, as their tangled, mismatched and overworked engines and other systems could not carry them into hyperspace.
And, every time one failed to escape, he pounced on it, supplying his own crew with much-needed sustenance.
But, when the last ship was taken, Todd knew he had a vital decision to make.
The video transmission was brief. He wondered how its intended recipient would receive it. But that would not be his concern.
John Sheppard stared at the image on his screen, a familiar foe and, from time to time, an unusual ally.
"Hello, John Sheppard. I'm certain you have not forgotten your old friend. I never forgot you. Have you missed our incursions into your space? I decided it was not to the Hive's advantage to try to overcome superior technology. Not at the moment. But I am not worried. Your irritating companion - I believe you call him 'husband' - should not gloat. These ZPMs of yours will not last forever. And, when they fail, the worlds they protected will once again be our feeding grounds."
John watched as Todd stepped closer to the camera, his face filling the screen ominously. "How can I be certain of this? Because my Hive and I are about to enter hibernation. Ah - I can imagine you are missing me already. Farewell, John Sheppard. The next time I rise, you will be a speck of dust." The transmission ended with the raucous sound of Todd's laughter, evidently enjoying the sound of his own voice and a peculiar sense of humour.
John screwed up his face in disgust. He didn't care to have his demise predicted by Todd or anyone else. And he had every reason to be confident in Rodney's abilities to keep them safe. To keep everyone safe on all of their worlds.
He activated his comm unit. "Hey, Rodney."
The annoyed squawk made him smile. "What, Sheppard? Are you bored?"
"Aw, Rodney, I just thought you'd like to hear what Todd called you?"
The next sound was nearly a shriek. "Todd? What? Where? Are we in danger?"
"Nah. He and his Hive are going into hibernation. From the look of things, that's the last of him we'll see in our lifetime. If he's true to his word. I guess he must be feeling desperate these days, what with his near-starvation diet."
"Oh. Well, that's good, isn't it? But wait - just what did he call me?"
"I'll tell you later. It's not important."
John listened as Rodney impatiently cut off the connection. Todd might not understand it, but John liked having an irritating companion. It made life so much more interesting.
Some had scoffed at the idea. Others had rejected it immediately until they heard that it was a non-negotiable stipulation for entry into the League. If they doubted it, they only had to check Article 12 of the Charter: Education.
Atlantis had opened a school, welcoming children from many worlds. There were four long sheds built on the mainland. One served as a dormitory for teachers and students; two were for classrooms and the last was for dining and recreation.
Every world wishing to join was required to send one girl and one boy. Accompanying them would be an instructor who would also act as their chaperon. The dormitory was divided into segments, each one suitable to house nine people, three from each world. Teyla believed that contact between people from three vastly different worlds and societies was ideal. Any more and there would likely be confusion. These were, after all, still young minds.
The children who were chosen to attend had to be ten years old. Teyla thought that any younger they would miss their families and familiar surroundings too much; any older they could be less inclined to study about different ways of doing things.
Teyla had obviously been listening to many of the scientists from Earth who had talked about Study Abroad programs where students lived with local families while furthering their education. It was one way to foster co-operation within the academic community and to work toward the common good. It was, as she heard, an easy way to pick up another working language. Or not, judging from the unusual conditions in Rodney's lab. Still, he and his staff had one goal in mind, survival. If he yelled in English, Radek or, later, Pavel cursed in Czech and Miko murmured in Japanese, these were not words intended to be obstacles, but to enhance each person's thinking process.
She had seen the instances of former enemies who were reconciled after meeting on neutral ground. At times, the treaties signed were followed with an exchange of "guests" who were little more than well-treated hostages to ensure that each side kept its side of the bargain. She had negotiated several such pacts, trying to ensure the well-being of all participants.
Teyla didn't want to think of how many ambushes and skirmishes there had been in her lifetime, most invaders hoping to gain weapons or power but some acting from sheer viciousness. People did not have to live this way. If she could break the cycle of envy, invasion and retaliation, Pegasus would be farther along the path to a harmonious existence.
She had decided one of her primary goals was to break the concept that there were certain things that were impossible or unseemly for girls to do; the boys were taught along similar principles. To emphasize her point, she took on the task of teaching the girls how to protect themselves with the bantos rods. She wouldn't be satisfied until the girls understood that they could learn the necessary skills to defend themselves. And they could also help defend other members of their families who were too old or infirm should they be the targets of violence.
Teyla knew that there were still many worlds that sent healthy men away to work during the day or sometimes for weeks on end, to hunt far from home while the women stayed behind, along with children and ill relatives. And there were criminals who knew they could prey on those they deemed to be vulnerable. As far as Teyla was concerned, illness was the only reason to excuse weakness. She was determined that strict gender roles should not negate any person's ability to stay safe.
Ronon taught the children about the poetry and music of Sateda. He was already an iconic hero to them, having resisted the Wraith for so many years. Living on Atlantis had only served to elevate his status further. Many of the boys began growing their hair long so that they could conceal knives in it. Ronon laughed heartily when he heard why they were doing it, but only allowed them to use the smallest knives. And then he got serious.
Even with the self-defence classes, Ronon tried to teach them that the primary objective was to not get caught. It was not foolish or cowardly to hide or retreat after having assessed a dangerous situation. It wasn't that he had become that much more cautious as he grew older, but he knew that few ten-year olds could overcome an older, heavier, more experienced foe. The Charter had made most of the worlds safe; but, there were still instances of greed and violence. He taught them how to be observant, to react immediately, to make a plan of action, to be stealthy in retreat and, only if necessary, how to launch an attack from a protected position.
Though both Teyla and Ronon preached peace - as that was the primary intention for the school - they insisted that each student be equipped with effective techniques for self defence.
When the children had first arrived and been sorted into segments, John had suggested using the names of the houses from the Harry Potter books at which Rodney had groaned and struck his forehead with the palm of his hand.
"Sorry, Snape, you'll have to grow your hair into a greasy pageboy before you can head up Slytherin."
Teyla didn't understand the meaning of Rodney's sniping words, though John certainly did. He had screwed up his face and retaliated with his own jibe. "Hey, Professor McGonagall, what happened to your pointy hat, the one that matches your pointy nose?"
Rodney's face had turned so red that Teyla had been forced to intervene. She'd sighed inwardly. Again. How could two allegedly grown men who she knew loved each other still snipe with such casual cruelty? Once again, she attributed their behaviours to the lack of a loving example from their respective parents. Thankfully, they both seemed to forget the insults quickly which was a far better thing than to have them remember every single taunt and slur in order to use them as ammunition at a later date.
"Each segment will be named after a planet in the Milky Way. You should both feel honoured that these children are being introduced to your galaxy's astronomy."
Rodney immediately forgot about John's insult and jumped, eager to participate. "Oh, I can do that. I could build them a scale model. We could pull up some star charts. And we could probably donate a couple of older computers, if … if it would help them study better."
Teyla had smiled, smug that her diversionary tactic had worked. Now she only had to persuade John to assist.
"John, I would like you to teach them Mathematics."
Predictably, Teyla saw John begin to fidget.
"Ah, Teyla, I don't know if that's such a good idea. You've got so many scientists to choose from. I'm sure Rodney could name you a dozen."
"That is true, John. But I believe it is necessary for children who have lived in tenuous situations for most of their lives to understand that even a military commander must be good at something else. That war should not provide the only skills for existing. Rodney just agreed. Ronon and I are teaching. We all need you to show what you are capable of."
Rodney touched John's shoulder tentatively. "John, pretend this is your MENSA acceptance. You can do it."
John nodded slowly. "Okay. But if there's a military situation, that has to come first."
Teyla smiled. "I understand, John. We all have our priorities."
Seriously, Rodney didn't know how Teyla did it all. She was an excellent and devoted mother to TJ though the presence of the Aunties and everyone else in Atlantis since his birth made a huge difference in reducing her workload. She was the real leader of Atlantis because, honestly, John and he were just her errand boys. If that wasn't enough, she was the Dean of the school.
After many years of pushing and prodding dignitaries from other worlds to send their children, she had managed to increase enrolment dramatically. Rodney had listened to some of her more persuasive arguments. He now knew what a "guruguru" was ever since she had threatened to equip those leaders who were too stubborn to participate and who chose volume over logic when protesting. For she had said in a moment of exasperation that she would prefer listening to the guruguru instead. It was the Pegasus equivalent of a baby rattle and the improbable image of so many otherwise dignified adults waving one always made him chuckle.
Luckily, there had been many others who had seen the changes in their children as they returned after the end of each semester. Each year there were many more children clamouring to be chosen to attend the special school. And, as in its inaugural year, a new instructor accompanied two more students. It was a fairly equitable exchange where tuition for two equalled the salary of one. The range of subjects grew wider with the addition of so many new instructors.
More sheds were built to accommodate the new students. The younger ones still spent their school hours on the mainland. The older ones, however, were allowed to make day trips to Atlantis, to study and conduct experiments with senior staff.
Rodney had laughed, though, when Teyla had instituted "development days" during which all of the instructors would congregate in Atlantis while the children had the time off to go camping in the woods under the supervision of the botanists.
Using the medium of education, the people of Pegasus learnt through trial and error how not to fear one another. In turn, the instructors brought with them the many varied cultural traditions from their worlds. New crops were planted on the mainland and tended by the staff of the Mess as well as the students, as a part of their education. Rodney was proud to say that he could now recognize a citrus fruit no matter what colour of the rainbow it was.
However, as far as Rodney was concerned, Teyla's biggest accomplishment had been the concept and construction of a Library, in an attempt to recapture so much of the technical expertise that had been squelched lest it attract the attention of the Wraith. He agreed that every single written document would be preserved on disc, every image and object reproduced in holographic form, of which copies would be given to all League member worlds. Rodney was determined that knowledge be denied to no one and was proud to support Teyla in their shared goals.
Another project she had been relieved to create had been a public archive within the walls of the Library; she offered it to Evan, providing him with the space to house the photographic evidence that had been piling up for years, catalogued then shoved into storage. His historical paintings were a much needed reminder of the past, their stark expression evoking myriad emotional responses.
Nine years after Atlantis had returned to Pegasus, Torren John Emmagan started his first day of school. Though the residents of Atlantis had taught him informally since his childhood, it was his turn to interact with children and adults from the worlds around him on a daily basis.
TJ had one advantage and it wasn't that his mother was the Dean. His birth and rescue had crystallized the hopes and beliefs of everyone who lived in Atlantis and on the mainland that there could be peace and that children everywhere could rely on being able to have a happy childhood.
The deaths had seemed random at first.
And, then, it became evident that this was no natural phenomenon.
The Athosian men were being killed off, the oldest first, though there were no symptoms. They were dying in their sleep. Originally, their deaths were considered a blessing. To die in one's sleep from old age was a sign that they had lived out their lives fully and had gone on peacefully.
As the sun's rise each morning was greeted with trepidation, the men would consider themselves lucky if none had been taken from them that night. But the days of relief were rare.
Amid the despair of the survivors pleading for answers, Teyla had sequestered herself. She could hardly be the kind of leader they needed at the moment if she had no idea why the deaths were occurring.
She needed quiet in order to think, to rewind the decades, to try to find the explanation for this current horror. Despite the apparent conclusion that age was the determining factor, there had been a handful of older men who seemed unaffected. They went to bed and woke up the following morning, only to find that those younger had succumbed during the night.
And, then, she thought she knew what the only answer could be. She talked to these older survivors and heard that they had been visiting other worlds at the time of the disappearance of their kin. They had been ashamed to admit that they had feared to return to a deserted world, not knowing whether the same fate would befall them. Teyla assured them she held no grudge. In fact, it was their sense of self-preservation that had given her the most valuable clue.
It had to be Michael.
These men were alive while those younger who had been imprisoned were dying.
She remembered, with growing repugnance and apprehension, how Michael seemed to favour the men, forcing additional injections on them and cataloguing any changes. At the time, Teyla had not paid much attention, her sole focus on trying to escape and save her unborn son.
It all made sense in a grotesque way that Michael would want to surround himself with fellow warriors, even those he created himself. To Michael, only a man could be a warrior. Teyla felt grateful that the women had been spared his special attention.
But this - even in the midst of the presence of living proof - was all speculation on her part until she could obtain evidence. The men who had died had already been delivered from one world to the next on their funeral pyres.
Teyla had to remain calm and wait patiently until the next man died. Sadly, it didn't take long. She had not known Derok or his family that well, but he had nonetheless been one of her people. It was painful to speak to his widow and grown children, to describe what she thought the cause was but couldn't be sure unless the doctors on Atlantis could be allowed to take a few tissue samples.
Nerys was shocked to hear that the Wraith could still be controlling the destinies of the Athosians. It was the cold rage accompanying the shock that gave her the strength to allow the perceived indignity to the body of her mate. Teyla held her, comforting a woman thirty years her senior, during the jumper ride back to the city. They sat together outside the Infirmary awaiting any news.
One hour later, the doctor emerged, still fully covered by the standard Infirmary haz-mat suit. The news was inconclusive. "I'm sorry, but I've been unable to see any cause of death from the few samples of blood and tissue."
Teyla stared into the man's eyes, his frustration visible even beyond the shield covering his face.
"Is there anything else you could do, doctor, run any additional tests?"
He hesitated before replying. "I might learn more if I were permitted to perform an autopsy."
Teyla bowed her head. "I will discuss this with my friend privately."
He nodded and walked back into the lab.
It was difficult for Teyla to discuss the matter of an autopsy with Nerys. She had to try to convince her friend to allow a systematic surgical extraction and examination of the organs to see if there could be a clue … any clue to his quiet death. She took a deep breath and began to speak in a low voice.
Ten minutes later, Teyla knocked on the lab door.
The following morning, Teyla was awakened by her comm unit. She stretched out the aches in her joints after having slept through the night in a chair next to the bed upon which her old friend was still asleep.
Teyla whispered into the comm. A minute later, she was gently rousing Nerys. "The doctor has news for us. But, first, we will eat."
Nerys was too numb to object to the delay. Teyla could understand that it didn't matter if they learnt anything ten minutes from now or ten hours. At least not to Nerys.
Nerys and Teyla had had the advantage of a night's sleep. The doctor had not. He ran a hand over his weary face. "I didn't understand what we were facing here and I'm still not sure. The only thing this has any similarity to is Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome in which mostly young men experience arrhythmia of their hearts and die during their sleep. There is a very strong concentration of it occurring in distinct ethnic populations on Earth."
He brought up a map on his laptop to show Nerys the countries whose names wouldn't mean anything, though Teyla would be familiar with them. "Look here. Thailand, Singapore, Philippines. But the targeted segment is adolescents or young men. There is a similarity of a homogeneous population here, but it's contradicted by the age factor."
Teyla looked at the doctor, suddenly aware and ashamed that she could not remember his name. It was not like her to be so seemingly insensitive. All she could do was remain polite. "Doctor, is there any other reason why you doubt it could be this Earth syndrome?"
"Yes. There does not appear to be any sign of a failure in the normal electrical current stimulating the heart in a regulated manner."
"But it could be an artificially engineered condition?"
"Teyla, Ma'am," he acknowledged both women with a wave of a hand, "Out here anything is possible. I'm sorry I can't be more specific. If it's unusual for your people to pass away in their sleep, for men to be targeted specifically, then your guess would be more valid than mine."
Teyla exchanged a sharp look with Nerys. She hissed one word. Though spoken softly, it conveyed nothing but contempt. "Wraith!"
Nerys pinched her lips together but did not speak.
Teyla turned once again to the doctor. "When may we return the body to the mainland for our customary observances?"
"When you're ready to leave, have the pilot radio me and I will personally accompany it to the jumper bay. Again, I'm really sorry I couldn't pinpoint the problem."
"We are sorry as well, doctor, but it is no fault of yours." She laid a comforting hand on his arm. "You appear to have been awake all night. You should rest."
He grimaced. "Ah - I look that bad? I'll stay with the body until it leaves. Then I'll get some rest."
"Thank you again, doctor." Teyla turned to take her friend's arm but stopped as Nerys stepped up to the doctor and bowed her head. The doctor was familiar with the Athosian custom and bowed his weary head, his forehead touching hers longer than tradition dictated.
After Derok's funeral, Teyla spoke to every Athosian adult in attendance. They would convene in three nights to discuss the latest threat to their survival.
There were many from Atlantis who attended the meeting, not all of whom belonged to the senior staff, for friendship and allegiance had bound the two groups in fierce solidarity. Dr. Paulo DeBarros, Teyla had finally recalled the name of the Portuguese native, was there as were several colleagues in Pathology and Cardiology paying their final respects.
It took another three days for the Athosians to come to terms with the latest threat to their existence. Teyla remained with them. Everyone else, including Rodney and John, heeded her wishes, returning to Atlantis. She didn't know how her people would overcome this latest tragedy, but they would find a way.
When she returned to Atlantis, John and Rodney were taken aback by her suggestion. Still, they agreed. It was the only honourable thing to do.
Once a week, an hour before sunset, the Athosians and their friends gathered on the mainland for a celebration. The hour was chosen deliberately should any of them not be there by morning. Teyla desperately wanted to keep the occasion a happy one but, as the weeks sped by and more men - it was always men - were taken from them, even she came to realize that she was not immune to the grief.
Each successive week, she could see the survivors glancing about, remembering who was missing this time. Halling joined the ranks of the dead in the seventh week. Teyla and the rest of her people watched as Jinto walked steadily toward the pyre and lit it. She offered up prayers with the flames and smoke, asking that the children be protected and spared, even if their parents did not survive.
It had always been men and only the older ones. As the women gathered to mourn by themselves, they continued questioning Teyla who had no answers for them. She did not know if the deaths would stop before taking the young ones. She did not know if the women would be next.
She did not know.
But she knew she had to do something.
Three weeks later, the Athosians were once again residents in Atlantis. As far as Teyla was concerned, the relocation would be permanent. Whether the people who survived had biological ties or not, they were family. Only those refugees who were not originally from Athos remained on the mainland permanently, having offered to tend to the fields and animals, farming and giving the land a sense of continuity.
The school and university were still well attended, so Teyla was not concerned about their viability. But any Athosian students attending were allowed to return to Atlantis every night to be with their relatives and to sleep. It was a concession that nobody objected to.
Rodney had looked stricken and admitted eventually to John he couldn't stop himself from imagining the worst-case scenario, of losing her. He had not let out a peep when the three had discussed increased housing requirements, ferrying students daily, maintaining a busy Mess around the clock or orienting confused strangers in the hallways. Though every time he saw one of the new residents, he had to stop from calling Teyla on the comm to be sure she was still there.
The plague of deaths stopped as suddenly as it had begun. All of the men had been taken, but none under the age of twenty. So the women formed new relationships, often two or three moving into shared quarters with their children.
However, the old men who had survived asked for quarters away from the others. Though Teyla had absolved them of any cowardice - and it was their absence that had given Teyla the direction in which to seek answers - they could not bear the intense scrutiny especially from the women who had lost their mates. In the end, the isolation wasn't enough. So, with Teyla's understanding and blessing, they returned to the mainland and joined the ranks of the refugees.
When Teyla had realized that the nocturnal deaths had slowed and then stopped finally, the constant nightmares in which she saw herself push Michael off the beam with even greater vehemence ceased as well.
She had endured the latest threat to her people. Many old and dear friends had been lost, but she had the resilience to gather the remaining women and children to lead them all into what could only be a better future.
They had all survived Michael's failed attempt to eradicate them as a people.
She did not have the luxury to be afraid of conquering anything, not even death.
Richard Woolsey had promised he'd return to Atlantis and the Pegasus Galaxy. However, he had not predicted that the twenty years it would take him to work his way back - and to manoeuvre his way around others' backs, because he had maintained that particular aspect of deviousness - into favour with the IOA so that he could travel with impunity.
Of course, the fact that he'd been right all along about Teyla and the League of Aligned Worlds, that she'd been instrumental in establishing in Pegasus, did little to placate pompous bureaucrats who thought that Earth, especially the United States, should have continued to have the dominant influence over an entire galaxy simply because the Ancients had seeded planets with Earth's genetic material thousands of years ago.
Still, he had been one of the lucky ones to make it off Earth before the revolts hit.
A group calling itself "Worlds Beyond The Wormhole" leaked the Stargate Project less than a year after his departure. When Richard looked at news feeds from Earth, the first thing that came to mind was that a confidentiality agreement no longer guaranteed secrecy. Though many of the leaders of the movement that had sprung up following the revelation were misguided, their fervour fed by the latest science fiction, it was the disclosure of the inner workings at Cheyenne that angered him the most. Some disillusioned fools had put real people at risk, many of whom had been his friends for decades.
Whoever the real leaders were, they had expected to be hailed as visionaries by people they figured would be eager to reach out to other worlds.
They were wrong.
Instead, there were riots, especially in the U.S. because of the Stargate's proximity. The SGC was still part of the government, but it had become a virtual orphan, substantially drained of financial support and lacking purpose in the overall scope of policy-making. It had been set adrift by the ultra conservative, fundamentalist Christian party that rose to power. "God's Embracing Love" with its unappealing jiggling acronym did little to show its support for the Stargate program or its employees. It came as no surprise that they also cut funding at Area 51. As far as they were concerned, the only entity that generated interest for them out there was their strict definition of the Divine despite all evidence to the contrary.
Hysteria reigned over logic. It seemed as if there was a preacher on every street corner, claiming that the devil and demons were taking over the Earth, that the end of the Earth was imminent. At first, the only proposed action was a national week of prayer, as if that would invoke Divine intervention to cleanse the world of these allegedly evil influences. That had been the peaceful option. Of course, nothing changed.
The violent option was to swarm Cheyenne Mountain to try to get to the Stargate with the intent of destroying it.
At this point, the SGC was running out of options. Canada was still being governed by a seemingly more rational party, but its proximity to the U.S. could not guarantee a safe haven for the Stargate or the program. The border was too long, too unprotected. It was more than enough for the majority of Canadians to worry about being invaded by Americans … simply for being Canadian. This was not a new fear but, until now, there hadn't been such political volatility to act as a catalyst.
And, so, a desperate plea went out to the old world. The European Union had demonstrated stability without uniformity, difference of opinion without chaos or war, as well as ease of communication despite the lack of a common language. In fact, many people spoke several languages as a matter of personal preference or pride. It was this flexibility that proved encouraging to the survival and continuation of the Stargate program.
The Stargate, along with its platform, was airlifted out of the Mountain and re-established in Brussels, Belgium, which had the advantage of also being the de facto capital city of the E.U. There wasn't a mountain to hide under, but a museum was built in a U-shape around it devoted to the various worlds that were now allied with Earth.
Though the religious riots diminished in strength, they did not disappear. For there were other concerns that the U.S. had ignored. The warnings about global warming had not been heeded and, oddly enough, it had been the plains states with the largest concentration of religious zealots that had suffered the worst droughts.
That deprivation fuelled more revolts against the federal government, even though it was a self-proclaimed theocracy in every way. But logic and reason were not enough to stop people whose homes and livelihoods had been destroyed, whose children had continued to desert the family farm in a well-documented rural brain drain, seeking more opportunities as well as tolerance in the big cities.
The loss of the Stargate had been a blow, even if the government loathed the existence of a wormhole to other galaxies and aliens because these concepts defied their previously espoused beliefs of living in a universe that was only 6,000 years old. Science and technology had been devalued with the rise of unchallenged religious beliefs.
The United States was in a shambles. It had lost its supremacy in so many fields. It didn't have enough food to feed its people. And it had had to resort to using its military forces to hold back the uprisings and incursions into the more moderate areas along the East and West coasts.
The Canadian government held its breath in anxious anticipation. For about 65 years, there had been grumbling from various provinces about separating from Canada. Of course, Québec had grumbled the longest, proclaiming that they were a distinct society and deserved special status. But, there had been other provinces as well, such as British Columbia on the west coast and the three prairie provinces who had flirted with the idea of separation.
Before the droughts had hit, the Prime Minister expected the prairie provinces would definitely split and join with their Midwest geographic counterparts south of the border as they had often shared many similar political and religious beliefs in the past.
But the droughts changed everything. As Canada still had plentiful natural resources, they had the upper hand.
And could, therefore, offer a helping hand.
The offer was made.
A pipeline would provide Canada's neighbour to the south with water, with the proviso that Canada's borders would not be breached. Enforcing that particular assurance meant sending even more U.S. troops to guard the border from their fellow citizens.
A similar offer was made by Mexico to provide food. It was a sad but ironic commentary that the fence erected decades ago to keep illegal Mexican immigrants out of the U.S. now made it harder for desperate Americans to escape south.
Only one other region suffered greater devastation than the U.S. from the droughts. China simply had too many people and too centralized a governing system to react quickly. There was also the unfortunate, but real recognition that there was no power large enough to offer help. Every other continent had been preparing for or trying to divert resources to lessen the impact of flooding or droughts or hurricanes. There was nothing to spare for China.
The Chinese uprising was drawn out and ugly, pitting one province against another. The residents of the major cities fled into the countryside, hoping to find food as well as liberty. Some found freedom temporarily, but most found only starvation and death.
Only a cynic would have remarked on the ironic symmetry of two world super-powers, one capitalist, the other communist, both going down in defeat. But most people who survived were too worn out to care.
There was only one avenue left for escape.
Unfortunately, only a few were considered worthy of that resource.
Richard Woolsey was established as the honorary grandfather in Atlantis. He had escaped from a confused Earth with only his cherished Yorkshire Terrier, Bobbin, in tow. The rules had been bent to allow the pet, as Richard was retired and had the time to take his dog for long walks. Once the younger children had spotted the adorable little dog, they tagged along wherever he went.
When he'd bumped into John and Rodney out on the pier one evening, he'd been taken aback by Rodney's exclamation that Bobbin resembled a mini-Ewok. John merely shook his head in amused resignation as he ran his fingers through the springy dark brown coat, though he later admitted to Rodney that the caramel beige colour lining the ears, as well as emphasizing snout and stout forelegs, did make it look like one of those determined, brave fur-balls.
At the age of 76, Richard was something many of the children had rarely seen, namely an old man. Without any formal duties, he had the time to devote to regale them with stories of an Earth that now existed only in his memories. He'd brought many DVDs and was fond of showing the children his favourite animals. He loved listening as they laughed at the antics of smirking chimpanzees, held their breath in awe as they admired ponderous pachyderms, and imitated the high-pitched whistles of the brilliantly plumed birds of the rain forest. He always had something to offer the children that would captivate them.
He smiled at the thought of the little ones being so relaxed in his presence. When they were worn out and sleepy, he would play them music. The sight of their eagerness when exposed to the lush and intricate harmonies of a symphony orchestra pleased him immensely.
Without a formal role on Atlantis, Richard still felt he could contribute to the betterment of Pegasus, not limited solely to the inhabitants of Atlantis, while continuing to help Earth in its time of crisis.
He talked to Teyla who then put forward a proposal to the entire League. She had been unaware of the other worlds Stargate teams had visited, until Richard mentioned he personally considered they would not be suitable for any large influx of settlers. But Pegasus, with its vastly-underpopulated worlds, could be a sanctuary for open-minded people who were willing to travel to another galaxy, as long as their skills were needed and honoured.
Despite inclusion in the League, each world had drawn up its own immigration policy. Not only those with theoretical or practical skills such as architecture or carpentry were ranked highly on the list of desirable future citizens. Richard was enchanted to learn of a world whose currency was music. All of its inhabitants sang, played and composed music which they then traded for all their needs. He thought it sounded like a wonderfully egalitarian expansion of the concept of having a royal patron, but without the hypocrisy and obsequiousness required in exchange. He visited often, brokering deals which saw various groups of musicians travelling to Atlantis on a regular basis.
When Richard saw that Rodney attended every single musical performance while trying to remain unnoticed in the back, he decided that Rodney deserved a unique present. From the leaders of the musical world, and in consultation with the few artisans from Earth who had immigrated there and were experienced in building keyboard instruments, he commissioned a harpsichord. Obviously, he would have preferred to have been able to present Rodney with a grand piano, but that was beyond that world's current manufacturing ability. Though, he mused, if they were to find the mature trees required, then perhaps one day a piano would be a possibility.
Seeing the finished harpsichord being wheeled through the Stargate had been a delight. Knowing that Rodney was up in Teyla's office together with John - who knew about the plan in advance - brought a twinkle to the old man's eyes. Then there was the pleasure of summoning Rodney downstairs and noting how his eyes had lit up and meaningless babble had emerged from his mouth before he'd hugged him enthusiastically.
Rodney had not known what to do with the harpsichord. It was certainly a valuable personal gift, but he didn't want to shut it away in his own quarters. So they transformed one of the lounges into a music room. It was not unusual to hear the crisp yet delicate notes of Bach's Goldberg Variations trailing down the corridors. That couldn't be anybody other than Rodney playing his signature piece.
The best thing, as John had informed Richard later, was that Rodney had overcome the self-consciousness about his presumed inability to feel the music he played and John could finally stop cursing the utter ineptitude and callousness of Rodney's last piano teacher.
The harpsichord had been only the first such instrument commissioned. Soon, the music room had violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, drums and many other instruments that had no Earthly equivalent. John had sent his guitar away for restringing and reconditioning; upon its return, he added it to the collection. Several impromptu instrumental and choral groups were formed and soon the room was occupied around the clock, bringing joy to both participants and listeners. And Sundays provided many opportunities for the musicians to present more polished performances in a casual but dedicated concert-like setting.
Though Richard knew through Rodney that his sister and her family were not likely to be in imminent danger living on the west coast of Canada, he understood that Rodney wanted them to be out of harm's way, far from the zealots south of the border. So when Jeannie and Kaleb had submitted their application to a world that prided itself on its high-yield organic farming methods and healthy living, he crossed his fingers in the hope that they would be accepted. When they were, he had the pleasure of hearing Rodney ranting about "Woodstock World" and mouthing other similar epithets. Not to mention his dread that Jeannie was bound to bring soybeans with her to cultivate in Pegasus. That he would be doomed whenever he visited them, because he couldn't just sneak out for a burger.
Richard had also been able to inform John that his ex-wife, Nancy, had been safely relocated along with Homeworld Security to Brussels. But he was not at all upset to learn that the worlds accepting newcomers placed no value on political or bureaucratic experience. After all, Teyla had kept him informed as to how many people of "dubious merit" she had encountered in the endless rounds of negotiations. Richard knew exactly what she had meant. He also knew how the most idealistic newcomer could become a bitter, manipulative ass-hole. He could have fallen into the same trap, had it not been for meeting Teyla and his year of personal growth in Pegasus.
One of the unexpected benefits of the emigration from Earth was a major reconstruction of that world's religions. The faiths that could not accept the fact of life on other planets in another galaxy or that were based on strict adherence to petty or irrelevant rules dwindled, reduced to little more than self-obsessed cults. But those that stressed the values of compassion and good deeds flourished. So Atlantis finally became a home full of complexity and diversity, not just a scientific expedition with an attached military posting as it had been originally conceived. Because many of the original expedition had been selected not only for their uncoupled status but also for their lack of strong formal religious ties in order to preserve the secret of the Stargate, that restriction was no longer valid.
As a result, there were many varied groups on Earth who were willing to come to Atlantis, but had to agree that there would be no vigorous attempts to convert the residents of Pegasus and that their spiritual guidance would have to be consistent with the goals of the psych. department. Some, after hearing about the two stipulations, were less eager. Richard admitted in the confidence of his meeting with the ruling trio that it was probably for the best.
When he thought back to his one year of leadership in Atlantis, he would have never predicted this outcome: a vibrant, growing world full of gifted professionals and happy families. Some of them were openly unconventional. But what always made him the happiest was knowing there were children who could study and play without worrying that their parents or homes could be snatched away from them.
Another welcome development from the diminishing role of the U.S. was the abolishment of the antiquated rules of military conduct. No longer did the Americans stick out as inflexible and intolerant where same-sex orientation was concerned in comparison to the other contributing forces. The U.S. could no longer afford to send any military to support Atlantis and had, in fact, asked if any of the currently serving Americans would like to return. Predictably, not a single American went back, not when the theatre was their own country and the enemy they engaged was their fellow citizens.
Rob Lang and the other 99 gay American servicemen who had been dishonourably discharged twenty years ago were shocked to have also received a plea to basically come back home, all is forgiven. As much as Rob had loved his country and still did, the sad reality was that his parents were most likely dead and Iowa was a wasteland. In fact, he was dubious that the current government, with its imposition of strict fundamentalist ideals, would embrace 100 gay men with any enthusiasm upon their return, no matter how desperate it was for an increased military presence.
He and the others felt that Canada had earned their respect, so they too had declined. Besides, he had made a life for himself with David. Had they really been together for so many years? And he couldn't fathom leaving Teyla. From working with her so hard on the translations, he had grown close to her, closer than he'd been to any woman other than his mother. He regarded her as the older sister he'd never had. And he wasn't about to abandon the only chosen family he had left anywhere. Besides, he was living in Atlantis. That was reason enough to stay.
In the midst of the joy both within his heart and around him, Richard was stunned to learn, three years later, that he had developed brain cancer. Despite medical advancements over the decades, not to mention the more sophisticated hybrid Ancient tech the scientists had engineered, there was no treatment that would alleviate the chronic headaches or remove the tumour.
Yet, even in a time of personal despair, he welcomed the daily visits from the children, especially as they came to take Bobbin for walks when he was too fatigued to look after the needs of his dog. At other times, when the headaches were not severe, he would continue to tell them stories. He made sure there was always music of some kind, playing very softly in the background. When there were no visitors, he napped, Bobbin tucked against his side.
Everyone came to visit him; well, all except for Rodney. Richard tried not to take the rejection personally, almost convincing himself that the man was incredibly busy, but it still hurt. Because that excuse could have applied just as easily to the Colonel who made an effort to drop in a couple evenings each week. When Richard pressed him about Rodney's whereabouts, John had admitted with some discomfort that he actually hadn't seen much of him for weeks, that he was apparently working on some special project. John had no idea what it was but Rodney had informed him that it had nothing to do with Ancient tech. So, he had no reason to barge in on Rodney when he was working. In fact Rodney had told him to please stay away. He respected the request. It was the please that had gotten to him. Though he had been puzzled to see Rodney talking to people around the city, many of whom he wasn't aware Rodney even knew.
Richard had pondered Rodney's unusual behaviour and hoped that the strain of running the city had not affected his relationship with John. Though Rodney was behaving in a mysterious manner, that was not reason enough to insinuate there was a rift between the two men. As Richard knew, Rodney was still an incredibly busy man, though no longer a young one.
He sought to take as much comfort as he could from Teyla's daily presence as well as that of the Guardian of Peace. The Keepers of Peace had emigrated from Earth, applying to live on the Athosian mainland, bringing new life and hope. The influx of many eager new hands was welcomed by the scattering of refugees who had settled on the mainland after the Athosian survivors had moved into the city.
The Keepers had blended the tenets of many old religions to proclaim spiritual growth through simple living and offering their own uncomplicated interpretation of faith. They believed in providing for their own sustenance and keep, so they farmed, wove their own clothing and tanned hides for shoes and outer garments. The office of Guardian was rotated on a fixed schedule through the entire community of Keepers above the age of sixteen.
At the time of his illness, the Guardian was Menefer, a young man who was only seventeen. He and his parents had come from Egypt and Richard thought it was appropriate that his name meant "beautiful city". Through meditation, all of the Keepers had achieved remarkable serenity and Richard was always surprised to see how much patience the tall dark-haired youth exhibited during his nightly vigils. Though it was difficult to focus through the pain, Richard was grateful for Menefer's guidance to try to lessen the pain through meditation.
Five months into his illness, Teyla and Menefer insisted on dressing Richard in his warmest clothes and accompanying him to the nearest Transporter. They refused to tell him what was happening while they were walking. But, when the Transporter doors opened, he found himself on a balcony overlooking an atrium. Below him stood Rodney, dressed in old-fashioned formal wear, at his harpsichord. Fanned out around the harpsichord were twenty instrumentalists and a dozen others, presumably a small choral group. They were not dressed as Rodney was, but instead reflected the colours of the ocean as well as Atlantis, in shimmering shades of greens, blues, golds and silvers.
He seated himself on a cushioned bench between Teyla and Menefer.
Rodney rose and bowed. His voice seemed far less sure than usual. "It is our privilege to present the premiere performance of my work, 'The Woolsey Enigma', and my honour to dedicate it to the man who gave me the gift of inspiration as well as this magnificent instrument."
Richard slumped back on the bench, a hand over his open mouth, glancing from side to side for answers from either of his companions. But Teyla and Menefer merely exchanged beaming smiles and patted him on the arms. With the recognition that he wasn't going to elicit any response from them, he settled against the cushion and listened as the music seemed to speak directly to him….
It was the majesty of the Stargate being found in the simple melody that sounded faintly Egyptian on the harpsichord.
The pounding of tympani along with the dissonant clanging of two triangles suggested the clash of fighting against the Goa'uld and the triumph over false gods.
The murmur of violins indicated the rustling of the leaves in the forests on so many of the worlds they'd visited. There was the sorrow of seeing Col. O'Neill overwhelmed by the knowledge of the Ancients and abandoning him on a frozen wasteland echoed in the staccato shards of the brass interrupted by increasing moments of silence.
A quick progression of rising chords, of harpsichord and strings, danced with the bubbling enthusiasm of a piccolo, a portrait of the barely dreamt of quest, conceived and born from the ever inquisitive thoughts darting in Daniel Jackson's mind, which led them to the lost city of Atlantis.
The singers scattered words in many languages, interpreting the inner turmoil of a fearful, original expedition, walking through the wormhole, not knowing whether they would ever return. Underscoring the words was the military precision of a snare drum.
Major Sheppard's sure tread as he climbed up the city's steps and felt it awaken, lighting up in exuberant welcome of a long-lost son, burst out from the two bugles that, if Richard wasn't mistaken, were played by two of the men he'd rescued so long ago from the ranks of the discharged Arab language specialists. He thought he recognized an homage to Mussorgsky in the opening notes to The Great Gate of Kiev.
The sudden panic from a collapsing shield (shimmering chords which had players dropping out one by one) and flooding (through the tremulous bowing of strings) was followed by the hope of spires soaring magnificently from the perilous depths (the bugles were back again, their high notes piercing, reaching for the sky) before settling on the surface of the ocean, ripples spreading out into infinity. This time, it seemed as if Rodney had channelled Smetana's Vltava. Or Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony to convey the serenity and safety.
Richard saw everything unfolding before him as if he'd had a direct connection to Rodney's mind.
But the music continued, all the way to showing him his own rigid arrival in the city, meeting Teyla, Ronon, having a minor struggle over the chain of command with Col. Sheppard, confronting the Wraith, facing the dangers of returning to Earth; then the almost impish deviousness through which he'd managed to return Atlantis to Pegasus, a thunderous hammering of a drum and relentless swooping of strings prefacing a dirge to signify the death and destruction on Earth which transitioned into a flute romping playfully with a violin, its strings plucked pizzicato-style. He smiled. It was Bobbin with the children. Finally, two cellos, quiet, dignified though not sad, predicting the death that would soon welcome him to a realm he didn't dare predict but couldn't bring himself to fear.
After a moment's silence, he could not believe the final chord - so magnificent yet produced by only 33 musicians. Because, to his discerning ear, there were 33 different notes but hundreds of harmonics, swelling with immense power until the sound vanished between one breath and the next.
He didn't dare move when the music stopped. His heart was beating rapidly. He was so overcome with emotion, he would have gladly leaped over the balcony to embrace Rodney, to applaud the exquisite performance of the musicians. He had to remind himself that they were scientists and soldiers. Music was only a hobby, something to fill an empty hour or two. Not this … this masterpiece.
What he had not expected either was to see that the floor was covered with more instruments than performers. He'd missed that important detail earlier. For Rodney, in order to fill his composition with as many different sounds, had scored it so that players could switch effortlessly from one instrument to another, as required. If the composition itself had not been brilliant, Richard recognized that the ingenuity of its creator could never be disputed.
He couldn't jump over the railing, but he could still stand in recognition of Rodney's gift to him. So he did and bowed in gratitude.
Rodney and the other musicians also rose as one and bowed in return.
Then Rodney spoke. "We will perform this again three evenings this week, but you deserved to be the first to hear it."
After Rodney's words, he and the musicians filed quietly from the atrium.
Richard sat down heavily, unable to fully process the honour that had just been paid him. He was still seated when he heard the whoosh of the Transporter doors. And, then, Rodney was standing before him, his face and hair wet from perspiration. Even the tux looked limp. Richard knew from his concert-going days that performing and conducting were honest feats of athletic endurance.
"I, uh, I'm sorry I haven't been to visit you. I was … busy."
Richard was certain he'd never heard such a shy declaration from Rodney. He smiled and tilted his head in understanding. "I believe the reason for your absence is self-explanatory. There is no need for an apology, Rodney. I'm truly honoured that you created such an intricate and intimate piece for me."
Rodney then extended his left hand. "I made a recording of tonight's performance, so that you can listen to it again, if you like."
Richard grasped Rodney's hand, accepting the additional gift. "Thank you, Rodney. Thank you … for everything."
He slumped, suddenly fatigued. It had been a long performance without the benefit of an intermission. Teyla and Menefer were on either side of him, ready to offer a supporting arm which he accepted gratefully.
"I suppose I should return to my quarters. Bobbin will be missing me."
Rodney nodded, then shuffled his feet in embarrassment at having had to hide something from his lover. "I should get back to my quarters, too. I guess I should tell John what I've been doing all along. And I have 32 e-mails to send to my musicians, complimenting them on their performance."
Teyla smiled at Rodney. "It is a direct reflection upon your brilliance, Rodney. How could they not excel under your masterful leadership?"
"Huh, I was brilliant, wasn't I? Do you think I should play music to my minions, to make them perform miracles?"
Teyla's laughter was as bright and captivating as crystal chimes. "Oh, Rodney, my many years here have taught me that it would not be wise to tell you what to do in the labs."
Rodney's semi-indignant "Humph" was cut off as the Transporter doors closed behind them.
The funeral service had been held in the late afternoon on a warm day on the mainland. Presiding over it was the current Guardian, Abhayaa, whose country of origin was India, though she had travelled extensively during her youth, living in Japan and Thailand. Richard had felt at peace when she had succeeded Menefer, as her age, close to his of 80, felt more appropriate. At least he didn't have to worry that she didn't understand the common frailties of the ageing human body. She complained, whenever not in earshot of her followers, of her arthritis, stabbing her cane into the ground in irritation.
The service was not long, but it had a poignant moment during which Rodney and his musicians played only the last movement of the Woolsey Enigma, with the two cellos leading the other musicians to that ultimate transcendent chord.
The burial had been something unfamiliar to the Pegasus natives. So they watched, puzzled, as the plain coffin that had been stained and decorated by the Keepers was lowered into the earth and they all threw handfuls of dirt over it. There was a simple marker with the dates shown for Pegasus and its equivalent for Earth. On it appeared a new religious symbol: a circle within a star within a larger circle.
Richard Woolsey had served well and, ultimately, wisely. He would not be forgotten. Most of all not by the people on Atlantis, and especially not by the children who were now the proud and dedicated companions to Bobbin. He had never had children of his own. But, in Atlantis, he was the only grandfather they had ever known and loved.
Rodney had been in one of his moods for weeks now. It had been a long and hard forty odd years since Atlantis had returned to her rightful home, in Pegasus. He was a tired, old man. He felt cold all of the time so it was no surprise that he walked alone through the empty halls of the city at night in his now trademark cardigan fit only for an old man.
He didn't care if he looked frumpy. He'd given up vanity decades ago. Not by choice but because Teyla and John had eventually worn his defences away, insisting they loved him despite how his hairline and waistline kept moving stubbornly in opposite directions.
Rodney pushed his hands deeper into his pockets. The sweater was big and warm and comforted him. Though it paled in comparison to John's strong arms holding him, it was better than nothing, he supposed.
He walked with only the flickering lights of the corridors as company, each panel lighting up and then going chillingly dark as he passed by. But Rodney didn't need any lights. Not when he had maudlin melancholy and useless sentimentality to keep him company. Who would have thought that the great Dr. Rodney McKay would allow loss and pain to suffuse his body and mind. Though nothing stopped him from continuing to function during the day, and he still had a few pet projects to tinker with, at night his soul was laid bare, devoid of dignity, raw with need. And pondering his own mortality.
He missed Teyla. They'd lost her fifteen years ago to an anomaly in her Wraith-tinged blood. Rodney still wondered, not without reason after what had happened to the Athosian men, whether Michael had injected her with something equally sinister while he'd held her in captivity. Teyla had already intimated that her survival had been of little concern to Michael, that he only wanted her for her baby. So, that feeling of dread when dealing with the unknown had invaded their desperate attempts to stave off the deleterious effects of the illness. Teyla's face and limbs, swollen and stiff, showed the greatest change as a result of the unknown yet insidiously rampaging infection. But her glorious hair still shone, especially as Rodney would sit by her bed daily, brushing it with a gentle hand. Despite the doctors' efforts (and, for once, he'd held his tongue about voodoo quacks, as one of the healers had been her daughter, Merla), not to mention countless transfusions of TJ's blood, ineffective to the extent that Merla had to put a stop to them, Teyla had breathed her last, her hair fanned out over her pillow, John and Rodney each holding a hand, surrounded by her family.
The pyre had been a monument to her stature not only among her people but also to all of the allied worlds. As word spread of her passing, more and more people insisted on paying their respects. There were many sturdy backs and hands willing to gather the wood needed to build her final blazing tribute. Many had also brought twigs and herbs from their own worlds, in the hope that these offerings would comfort her spirit and act as a reminder of how much her slight form had accomplished during her life.
On a chilly, sun-dappled autumn day, TJ had set his torch to the pyre, sending a glorious plume of flame shooting into the crisp air. One by one, each dressed in an array of brilliant colours with not a uniform in sight unless it was the distinctive blue cloak of the League, the celebrants passed by the pyre and tossed slips of paper on which they had written their farewells to and fondest memories of Teyla. The ceremonial songs were wistful, their plaintive melodies lingering in the air.
TJ had added two pieces of paper to the pyre, one from himself on which Rodney knew he'd written his gratitude for being born and the other from Kanaan who had sent it through an ally many years ago when he'd heard about the sickness that was decimating the population of Athosian men. TJ refused to show Rodney the paper, remarking that he had not read it himself.
Rodney and John were the last to approach the pyre, clutching at each other in sorrow. John kept squeezing his crumpled scrap of paper until Rodney opened his fingers with gentle compassion and withdrew the scrap, blank on both sides, but evidently stained with tears over the course of many sleepless nights, not that John would have ever allowed anyone to see that naked display of grief.
Rodney tossed the scrap onto the pyre, all the while soothing John in a low voice. "It's all right, John. It's all right. She knows how much you loved her. I think the fondest memory you can carry with you is to remember that you approached her with respect and accepted her hospitality that first time. But how you could have drunk more than half a cup of that god awful tea that tasted like burnt cauliflower, I have no idea. If you ask me, none of this would have happened. We wouldn't have survived the first year without her. And, then, you risked everything to save her from Michael."
John turned sharply to face Rodney. "So did you. Even more. Rodney, you changed the universe so I could save her."
Rodney was unable to comment, but kept stroking John's back in tiny circles. Finally, he tossed his own scrap of paper to join John's amid the many hundreds of other memories.
John whispered, "What was your about?"
Rodney stuck his chin out. "Being there for the births of all of her children."
John smiled, just a small sad tilt to his lips. "Right. You're one up on me there."
Rodney frowned, remembering the rescue mission. "You were occupied. Not to mention wounded. Again. Besides, is there any other kid who's ever had a ride in space before he's a day old?" Rodney refrained from adding other than Kirk, the rebooted version, referring to another of their never-ending geeky trivia discussions. But this was not the time for their customary banter, not when John seemed to be hurting even more than Rodney was.
They stood there, lost in precious memories, unaware that everyone else had left. Even Teyla's devoted assistant, Rob, and David had finally walked away. This act of respect gave them a measure of privacy, though each man had eyes for nothing other than the fire. They didn't hear the chatter of people moving into the tents that had been set up by the Keepers of Peace to provide a warm, inviting place for the feast. Nor the rising voices of children running about after having remained unnaturally still and hushed during the ceremony.
Rodney remembered how he and John had continued to cling to each other, still faintly disbelieving, as the flames soared high over the pyre on which they'd laid Teyla's body. They'd stood there, it seemed for an eternity, until the body and wood had been consumed, leaving nothing but bitter ashes in their wake.
Before Merla, Jorin and TJ had been able to approach them, offering supporting arms, hugs and kisses, Rodney had scooped up some of the still warm ash in a vial. The children had appeared puzzled, but John had merely nodded, understanding that Rodney needed to have something, even if only ashes, as a permanent reminder of Teyla.
There had been a full week of mourning and celebrating Teyla's life, mostly for the many people who had not been able to be present at the funeral. Half the time Rodney wasn't sure which was the appropriate sentiment, but he understood that both were valid expressions of love and loss. It was impossible for him and the kids to convince John that he could grieve and still smile. Probably for the first time in his life, Rodney had been the gracious host, offering hospitality with unexpected ease while John was distant and taciturn.
The one thing that had saddened Rodney was the fact that Jeannie and Kaleb had not been able to leave their hippie haven planet because Madison was about to give birth to her second child. Only now that he was a father himself could he understand how everything else could pale in comparison.
Teyla's legacy was everywhere. From the faces of all of the delegates from worlds which would have never allowed themselves to be aligned with Atlantis, let alone do simple trade without her efforts. To the faces of the Athosians, her people of birth, who now moved and lived freely within their fabled city of the Ancestors.
And, finally, Teyla's legacy lived on in her third-born, Jorin, John's daughter, who had inherited her mother's grace and diplomatic demeanour along with John's natural expression of the ATA gene. Of course, Rodney had sniffed half-heartedly, being John's meant she only had to use her inherited charm and not any reasoning skills. Though even Rodney had to admit that Jorin was a superb negotiator, marrying calmness with tact and instinctive timing.
The name Emmagan would live on in her three children. Oddly, Rodney hadn't uttered one word in protest after Merla's birth, even with his often-quoted goal of having brilliant offspring to carry on the McKay name. He'd shrugged and merely said, "When in Rome." After all, his daughter did have a melodious name, merging a part of his hated first name and the second half of Teyla's.
Besides, when Merla had decided she wanted to become a doctor, he couldn't have been more proud of her, as she embarked on a specifically-tailored course of studies under their chief medical practitioners. Rodney had also prided himself on having insisted on playing recordings to Teyla's swelling abdomen during the entire pregnancy (to Teyla's initial amusement and then weary acceptance) and that he was certain they'd been solely responsible for producing a child with a scientific bent … even if it was only medicine.
With a combined knowledge of traditional Earth surgical skills, holistic Athosian herbal medicine and an increasing range of uncovered Ancient healing devices, there was hardly anything she couldn't conquer, though saving her mother had been beyond even her ability.
After the week of mourning, John's mood became worse and - as far as Rodney was concerned - verging on suicidal, but Rodney wasn't foolish enough to confront John with that suspicion.
To Rodney it seemed as if Teyla's death had killed something within John and that John, being who he was, probably blamed himself, going back thirty years and finding fault with most of his command decisions. John had not separated himself completely from Rodney: he'd still climbed into bed on his customary side, but he went to sleep with his back to Rodney. Rodney tried his hardest not to take it as a personal rejection, but it still made his heart ache.
And, then, John simply vanished.
Though the towers were filled with new life and laughter, John still knew where there were those dark places he could hide out without emerging for days. Rodney's enhanced personal LSD that could be tied remotely into John's sub-cu told him that John was still breathing, his heart pumping, though his b.p. was a little low.
On the fifth day of John's unnatural absence, the kids approached Rodney.
"Papa," began TJ, "we're worried about Dad."
It still struck Rodney with gratitude that TJ had given both him and John paternal honorifics, though he'd been reassured he was under no obligation to do so. When Rodney had objected, stating that there was no biological reason, TJ had told him he knew Kanaan would always be his father, but that it made him feel more connected and less abandoned - an emotional burden he would have never placed on his mother - if he could call them by those affectionate names. Rodney and John couldn't deny the little guy that bit of comfort. Of course, when Merla and Jorin were born, they automatically called their fathers by the names their older brother had chosen.
Rodney felt more than a little grumpy that he'd been sleeping alone in their big bed. Hating to admit it to anybody, let alone the children, even though they were adults, he sniped, "He's a grown man. He can do whatever he wishes."
Jorin drew her arms around Rodney's neck. It wasn't fair. That spiky-haired offspring of John knew that, as the youngest, she could cajole Rodney to agree to almost anything. "Papa, I miss him. And you shouldn't have to be alone by yourself."
Rodney grumbled, "I have my work to keep me busy. And you're like a spider, always crawling all over me. Why can't you leave me alone?"
"Papa, it's not the same and you know it!" Her voice rose in irritation.
Exasperated, Rodney pulled her arms off his neck and stared at her. "So what do you expect me to do about it?"
Merla stuck out her familiar inherited chin. "Go after him."
"Why should that work when he's the one who left me? You go after him yourself." Rodney's arms were crossed over his chest. Child of his or not, he wasn't about to let Merla tell him what to do.
Finally, Jorin stepped in between the two of them. "Fine, we'll all go after Dad. Honestly, there are times when I want to tie everyone in this family up - and use gags." Echoes of Teyla's no-nonsense approach were apparent in every word. And attitude.
Rodney's voice was strained. "There will be no tying up, at least not by any child of ours."
He closed his eyes for a moment, opened them and took a deep breath. "Merla, you'd better bring an emergency med kit. Knowing that maniac, he's probably suffering from shock. TJ, I need you to grab a couple of blankets. And Jorin, you may want to get some of those Merdock root strips your father is so fond of since Teyla introduced him to them. They may make him snap back to reality, as unhappy as it is. We'll meet in fifteen minutes at these co-ordinates." He pointed to a corridor on his display. "Don't anybody move from that point until I show up."
The three moved off, leaving Rodney muttering under his breath about "spiky haired emo-hiding Americans in denial" as he typed in a command code on his laptop.
The place where the Transporter had deposited them was dark. Rodney could have ordered Atlantis to turn on the lights, but he didn't want to spook John prematurely. So they used small flashlights as they walked carefully down the corridor that Rodney had indicated. When they turned at the next L-junction, they had to stop suddenly at the appearance of a containment door.
Rodney looked at his LSD and saw that it was indicating a life sign just beyond the door. He slid it back into a pocket and propped the laptop against his hip. The kids watched, fascinated, as he typed one-handed. "Atlantis may still think he's the best thing since … oh, never mind. You wouldn't understand the outdated analogy anyway. But I can still override anything he does. And don't you ever forget it."
Rodney pressed [ENTER] and the containment door slid up into the ceiling with a dull metallic clank. Beyond it was an alcove lit dimly by an Ancient lantern. Within its limited pool of light was one John Sheppard, lying on a sleeping bag, blinking up at them in confusion, as if unexpectedly roused from sleep.
John whispered, "Uh, hi. Is it time to go back already?"
Rodney's reply was predictable. "You moron. The kids were worried about you."
Said kids hurried forward, TJ first with the blankets, then Merla with her med kit. Jorin hung back, because she knew that forcing John to eat immediately would not be a smart idea. But her eyes were huge, assessing whether the only biological parent she had left would be okay.
Rodney stayed in the background, his arm around Jorin. There was nothing he could do but get in the way. He jumped and his arm fell, useless against his side, at John's next comment, the low raspy voice. "What about you, Rodney? Were you worried about me, too?"
Rodney rarely swore, and never in front of the kids. But he was provoked beyond any attempt at being genteel. He'd spent too many days trying to keep his own grief in check as well as seeing that the kids were coping. Luckily, the responsibility of running the city had been passed down to younger minds many years ago. "Fuck, John. That's an unfair accusation and you know it. What the hell do you want me to say? Of course, I was worried about you. I gave you the room you thought you needed to hide and lick your wounds. That doesn't mean I don't care or worry or - or love you. Dammit. What about a lifelong commitment do you not understand? There are times I don't know who of the two of us is the bigger idiot. Because, I just —" His voice cut off in frustration as he ran his hand raggedly through his hair and turned his back on John.
Jorin looked at her father, her eyes pleading.
Sighing, John patted TJ on the shoulder and waved off Merla who by this time had administered an injection to bring his glucose levels up to something she considered acceptable. Jorin tugged at Rodney's arm to turn him around and then pushed him in John's direction. Rodney did not resist but stumbled forward on shaky legs and sank down onto his knees.
Before Rodney had a chance to say anything, Merla cut in. "I've left a bottle of a solution to balance out your electrolytes which you should drink in about twenty minutes. And Jorin brought you some Merdock root. If you chew that slowly, you should feel less dizzy in about 30. When you think you can stand up without dizziness, you're going to go straight to bed. By all rights, I should have you in the Infirmary but, Dad, I know you wouldn't stay put. Papa, I'm putting you in charge." Her authoritative voice left no doubt as to her intent.
She walked away briskly, herding her siblings before her.
John quirked an eyebrow. "Bossy, isn't she?"
Rodney sighed in response. "Don't you think she has every right to be?"
John scratched at his scraggly growing beard. "What - as our kid or as our primary physician?"
Rodney blinked. "Do you - do you think we made a mistake allowing our own daughter - yes, yes, technically my daughter - to direct our medical care?"
John shrugged. "Nah. Besides, she's the best there is."
Rodney thought for a moment. "So any conflict of interest is merely theoretical."
John nodded, attempting a parental smirk. "Right. Besides, we outnumber her and, if necessary, we can tell her she's out of line."
Rodney's voice softened as he reached out to caress John's rough, unshaven cheek. "But she's not out of line this time, is she, John?"
John's eyes closed. His voice was weary. "No. I shouldn't have run. I was wrong to leave you and the kids. But, fuck, Rodney. Teyla's gone. She's been the glue between us for 25 years. I don't know how to behave with you if she's not here. And I don't want to disappoint the kids, especially Jorin."
Rodney moved over to embrace John whose eyes opened at the enveloping touch. "Unless you've suffered more brain damage than Merla has assessed, you should remember what we meant to each other at the beginning. You may not believe me, but Teyla wasn't the glue. She was the spice that brought a different flavour to the relationship - what we had with each other and then with her. You and I, we're still the original ingredients."
Rodney groaned in disbelief, hiding his face against John's shoulder. The words were muffled but still understood. "And how far gone am I that I'm now describing us with a cooking analogy?"
John's response was prefaced with a weak chuckle. "So are you the meat and I'm the veggies?"
Rodney raised his head, his ears perking up at the prospect of delicious food. "Roast vildar?"
"In that case, I'm definitely the meat. You can be whatever weird vegetable you want to be."
Rodney released John to rummage through the supplies. "Now, listen, you're going to have to drink the solution in a few minutes. And chew a couple of strips. If you don't mind, I'd really like to get out of this creepy part of the city as soon as possible. And then get you in the bathtub. If you behave, I'll even shave you myself."
John grinned, the first genuinely open expression of happiness he'd revealed for months, ever since Teyla had fallen ill. "Aw, Rodney, it must be love."
"Shut up and drink." Rodney shook his head. Why did he have to be in love with a delinquent senior citizen. Well, he reasoned, someone had to love the goof.
A few minutes later, the two men, one grumpy and one whining, made their way to their quarters. If one of them leaned a little more heavily on the other, there was not even a whimper in protest.
Rodney was grateful that, any time he stretched out in bed at night, his hand would glance off a body part of John's. Though the two men were back to sharing a bed and John had been cleared by Merla to "stop loitering around my Infirmary so that I can treat people who are really sick which, by the way, isn't you, Dad," there was still an emotional barrier that translated into physical awkwardness between them.
Rodney finally screwed up his courage and went to visit Hansel and Gretel who had also relinquished their official roles years ago. Their office was less a facility for the treatment of psychiatric disorders than a casual drop in centre for anybody who felt the need to seek advice. When he left, after 30 embarrassing but productive minutes, Rodney was determined to get his relationship with John back on track. And that would require stealth, a jumper and the assistance of a certain trio of kids who were eager to be his co-conspirators.
The kids had stocked a jumper with ample supplies. Rodney had persuaded John to accompany him on an imaginary goodwill mission. Only when they landed on a deserted world did Rodney reveal that they needed to be by themselves and not to worry about anything else. If that weren't persuasion enough, he could also produce an official note from their daughter, the doctor. Or just doctor, period.
John pouted for approximately 3.5 minutes and then set about erecting their tent while Rodney gathered dry wood for a fire. After dinner, John was reluctant to move under a roof, even something as flimsy as a tent, so they ended up sleeping under the stars next to the fire. For the first week, they merely lay side by side, an occasional shoulder-bump the only acknowledgement of each other's presence. Rodney did not push, but neither did he let John out of his sight for long. It wasn't technically a suicide watch, but Rodney needed the reassurance of knowing where John was at all times. He understood, just as Jorin had, how devastating it would be for him to lose his last remaining partner.
It was only during the second week that John's eyes lost that shocked look, which had put so much distance between them. As Rodney held his breath, both in anticipation and anxiety, John undressed himself and then Rodney with a languid grace, cautiously gentle, revealing each body part to the flickering firelight. As he traced unproven mathematical formulae and random gate glyphs into Rodney's ageing flesh and followed them with unhurried deliberate kisses, John finally let go of his burden, allowing his tears to wash over his cheeks in a silent, cleansing trail that overflowed onto Rodney's chest, easing the pain they had endured.
Still, John refused to admit his feelings, so he muttered obstinately, "Just so you know, 'm not crying."
Rodney played along, trying to ignore the odd sensation. "Of course not. It's just the wood smoke irritating your eyes."
Rodney dragged John up to lie over his body, his eyes promising anything that John wanted … or needed.
Rodney knew that John wanted nothing more than to have Teyla back, glowing with health and a certain prospect of long life ahead of her. But he couldn't give John that. There was no solar flare that would allow him to miraculously change the time line twice, and no cure in either galaxy to prevent her from dying again.
Rodney's whisper was a husky rasp. "How long have I loved you, John?"
John's voice was tired, but firm. "Twenty-five years, give or take a few days."
"And how long have you loved me?"
John didn't answer immediately. He sighed and then whispered, "Thirty years, give or take a few days."
"I want you to forget about us, just for tonight. Do you remember when she first came to our bed? How I encouraged you to embrace her, just as a friend? You weren't prepared for that. Yet you ended up spending so much time comforting her every time she felt lonely. And, then, later, when she asked us to father her children. Imagine she's here … with us, one last time. Remember, she never came between us, not once. I loved her, but I always loved you first. And I'll always love you last."
John's body convulsed as if he were unable to catch his breath. Rodney's broad hands encircled his back, moved lower to grasp his waist, embracing him with strength, warmth, peace and love.
"Can we just —?" John's voice trailed off, but his intent was clear as he slid over Rodney's torso, their slick cocks touching.
Rodney gasped and bucked up at the unexpected movement. "Anything. Anything you want, John."
And, then, it was just fire dwindling down to embers, stars piercing the night sky. In the refuge created out from light and warmth, John's hands clutched Rodney's shoulders while Rodney held their slippery oh-so-familiar cocks in one hand, keeping John safe, connected, always loved.
Rodney's other hand moved with intent to John's ass, stroking, soothing, reminding him of every time they'd been together. John wanted to come so badly, but wasn't ready for this to be over even if it led him finally, finally, to peace with himself. The sweat ran down his chest, as desperation battled with illogical dread that he might forget Teyla if he were to stop hurting inside.
But Rodney's efforts were relentless. He refused to permit John to remain lost. His greedy mouth swallowed up John's moans as he continued to demonstrate the love that had been leeched of even the simplest expression of physical affection for weeks.
John's limbs were trembling; he was teetering on the edge of losing himself while Rodney's breathing was strained from the effort of holding back, waiting for John, wanting him to peak first.
Without any conscious decision, John shuddered, gulping air down as his cock spurted, sudden warmth spreading between them. Rodney was right there with him as his body convulsed, their mingled fluids a united tribute to the woman they'd both loved.
Until there was nothing left but silence. The fire. And the stars.
Rodney combed his fingers distractedly through John's sweat drenched hair, calming him. Above everything, there was the earthy smell of life-affirming sex to dispel the overpowering, lingering stench of disease, death and, most of all, loss. It had been their gift to Teyla. Not as public as the ceremony, but uniquely theirs.
Somehow, even though the mumbo jumbo of the afterlife still irritated Rodney and provoked him to try to obliterate any expression of faith with the relentless hammer of his intellect, he felt that Teyla's spirit had watched over them, just then, with a smile gracing her lips. For once, Rodney thought it was acceptable to believe.
Unwilling to break the fragile bond they had just re-established, Rodney pulled a blanket over their cooling bodies. Rodney continued to caress John's hair until he fell asleep, and only then did he succumb, relieved that their love for one another had been renewed even amidst their mutual loss.
Rodney had never thought himself to be a masochist. But, if thinking of Teyla's death wasn't painful enough, it didn't help that he was thinking of John. Missing him. There was an ache deep within, a hollow that couldn't be filled, not even by Atlantis herself.
How had he done it, being alone for the first half of his life and then allowing John to slither, slink and sashay (ha - that was the perfect word to describe John's wiggling pelvis) into his life, his mind and his heart.
And his body.
Double fuck. He didn't want to need to remember sliding into John, stilling them both for a brief moment in time that seemed to happen with a curious regularity. Or John finding him, deciding that there were more important things than work - blasphemy - undressing Rodney while cataloguing his favourite body parts before sinking down, impaling himself on the final one mentioned, though he'd often pretend to forget where they were and try to start all over again. Occasionally, Rodney would pretend he'd forgotten as well, because it just meant more tantalizing attention from John.
But what else was there to occupy his sleepless nights? He couldn't very well play Prime/Not Prime with himself … well, perhaps if he created a hologram with an A.I. of himself. But, no. That would be too boring.
He'd already discovered everything worth discovering. And, yes, yes, that had been a significant achievement, but it didn't negate the fact that he was tired. Old. And lonely.
There wasn't even a cat for company. Copernicus had been succeeded by Curie, yet again an Abyssinian whose personality had been more refined. For one thing, she would not stoop to admiring fish in an aquarium, which made John sulk and complain that he must be losing his touch because he was obviously unable to entertain this particular cat.
But, when Teyla died, Curie pined for her. Rodney hadn't blamed her - she was an intelligent, sensitive creature after all - though seeing the cat die a few months later just scraped the wound raw again.
He would have paid good money to have Radek around to joke with, to have those indescribable half-finished sentences flying between them. He probably wouldn't even insult the man and how pathetic was it that he would gladly surrender his right to berate his unlikely friend, just so he could give him a hug. But Radek was long gone. He'd returned to Earth, back to Prague soon after Jeannie had come to live in Pegasus. He'd felt it was time for him to re-establish his family connections. As there was nobody to keep him in Pegasus, a statement that had saddened Rodney, he'd said his goodbyes to Rodney, Pavel and his faithful light-switch, Burton, and left on the Hector.
Rodney continued to walk, alone. His footsteps echoed along the corridors, on this, his final night.
Somehow, Rodney had survived his last long night alone on Atlantis. In the morning, he drank his customary three cups of caffeine-laden glaav, a bean unearthed in Pegasus and cultivated by those amazingly helpful botanists ten years ago. Rodney was satisfied that they'd finally found something useful to do.
Merla had tisk-tisked but Rodney had sent her pages of links of studies that had indicated that mental agility could be maintained well into one's - ugh - golden years through regular consumption of caffeine. And, though Rodney had reached the grand old age of 81 without any apparent diminution of brainpower, he wasn't about to leave anything to chance. Besides, it was almost coffee.
He'd dressed carefully and slowly, his arthritic fingers not being as responsive as his ever-active brain. He was sure the suit he was wearing had gone out of style decades ago, but he didn't care. It wouldn't matter, not where he was headed. He carried no luggage because it had already been sent on ahead of him. The only thing he had was an envelope in his coat jacket pocket.
Rodney didn't know what to expect when he arrived at the Gate room. Everyone knew that this would be his final walk to Earth from Atlantis.
What he saw made him blink away the sudden wetness in his eyes. It must have been that time of day when the sun's rays illuminated the Gate (and wasn't it fascinating that the Gate room had repeatedly oriented itself to the sun, both on New Lantea and on Earth). He kept his eyes open resolutely, not wishing to miss a second of this particularly significant farewell.
The Gate room was full. He knew that most of the people there should have been either asleep after a long shift or busy, busy, busy in their labs, but he thought he'd let it pass, just this one time.
As Rodney stepped through into the unfamiliar though elegant setting surrounding the Gate in Brussels, he noted that someone certainly had good taste. Looking around, he spotted a familiar figure nearby. He advanced like a predator until he was able to pounce on the bushy, white-haired man - and how illogical and unfair was it that he still had a full head of hair.
The man startled, as jumpy as a rabbit. "Rodney! Hey, I missed you."
Rodney poked him in the chest. "Don't you dare say you missed me. At least you had company. And where are they, by the way? You didn't lose them on the way here?"
John laughed. Rodney loved John's familiar, braying laugh. But, then, he loved just about everything about John. Thankfully, John had finally grown too old for any more self-sacrificing heroics. Life with Teyla had changed him for the better as well. Or, if not her life, then certainly her death had.
Rodney had still been worried, sending John back to Earth with the kids. It was a cruel reminder that John couldn't return to his own country, and that - even though John had tried to persuade them - Dave and his family had shown their own stubborn Sheppard streak and refused to leave the U.S. and leaving Earth had been particularly out of the question. Dave had said that he could wait out the revolt, that the Sheppard millions would be needed to rebuild the country when some time had gone by and the hysteria died down. John had been slow to accept Dave's reasons and was even more worried with the advent of the ugly race riots. But he had no choice but to accede to Dave's autonomy in matters concerning his own life. And to be proud of his brother. Though John couldn't show the kids the U.S., or Canada for that matter, they could still get an idea of what life on Earth had been like.
"Relax, buddy. The kids are at the hotel packing."
"They still don't know where they're going?"
John pretended to zip his lips. "Nope. And the news wasn't leaked either. It's a mystery to the entire world."
Rodney sighed in relief. "Did you have a good time showing them around?"
"I could have done with less walking. We're fooling ourselves if we think we can still do it all."
"Speak for yourself, General 'must get up at 0700 to lope around the city'!" Rodney's heavier inflection on the word "General" was deliberate. After the unexpected separation from Earth, Teyla, Richard and Rodney had decided that John deserved a promotion and decided to simply confer on him the highest one possible. He would be General-For-Life. Rodney had created huge fireworks in his honour. And the celebrations had lasted three days. It would have been longer but, by the third day, everyone was worn out. As much as he hated to admit it, they were all getting old.
Even with the more casual living arrangements and a less restrictive military routine, Rodney and the others thought it was a positive idea and excellent morale booster for everyone to be able to show their loyalty to John just as they did to their resident Genius-For-Life. At least that was the trump card he'd used when John had tried to decline the unasked for not-a-promotion.
The two walked off, bickering in that effortless manner that had seen them through decades together. John steered Rodney past the discreet security station.
When they arrived in the lobby of the hotel nearby, the luggage and, thankfully, three perfectly healthy and safe offspring were there. They were also, to Rodney's dismay, very noisy, trying to out-talk one another, mentioning their sightseeing trips, castles, rivers, mountains, spas, museums as well as dropping in to see Uncle Radek and his family in Prague. He thanked the universe that at least there had been some marginally educational benefit to the trip.
And they moaned about the delicious but unusual food they'd eaten during their whirlwind trip through central Europe. Rodney pouted at that, wishing he'd had more opportunities to eat Earth food once again. He had an immediate vision of frites with mayonnaise for which, he sighed with longing, one needed real chicken eggs. If they weren't in such a hurry, something he would have to remember to berate John about later, he could have indulged his craving at any corner bistro.
While he was relishing his food fantasies, he remembered roast lamb, the only good thing about Sunday dinners at the McKay residence when he was growing up. If he stuffed his mouth full of the flavourful meat, then he could almost shut out the harsh words lobbed back and forth between his parents.
Then there was sushi for which he'd formed a taste while stationed (he was being kind) in Siberia. It may not have been traditional fish from Japanese waters, but it was fresh and surprisingly good. So, when Rodney had regained his freedom and some semblance of professional dignity, he made it a point to find the best sushi in every city he visited.
The conversations as well as Rodney's food cravings were cut short when the van John had rented arrived to transport the five, baggage and all, to the airport where John had a private plane waiting for them. Once aboard, both John and Rodney were again at the mercy of their interrogators who continued to pester them about the mysterious destination.
When the pilot who was probably relieved the trip was nearly over, due to the intense scrutiny of an overprotective John, announced that they would be landing in Stockholm in thirty minutes, Merla looked at Rodney triumphantly. "I know where we're going! I should have guessed, considering the date. You've won another Nobel Prize, haven't you, Papa?"
Rodney grinned. Oh, this felt so good, even better than having won his own Nobel ten years earlier. Which he'd deserved of course, for creating easily rechargeable mini-ZedPMs and then for gifting the technology - powerful enough to provide clean energy but not to create weapons of mass destruction - to Earth, to try to restore the planet from its near ecological destruction.
"Actually, wonderful daughter of mine, you've won the Nobel for Medicine. I may have, by the way, nominated you."
He handed the envelope to an astonished Merla, her equally stunned siblings looking on. "Here's the official announcement and your invitation. I, uh, managed to persuade them to keep your name out of the press release. Because what fun would it have been if someone had leaked the news to you? Besides, if that's the only concession I ever receive from the McKay name, well it's not important, as I don't happen to live on Earth."
Merla was usually composed and not lacking for words. This was not one of those times. "Papa! You … I … really … I mean —"
Rodney laughed at her obvious struggle to speak. There were times where it was appropriate to be speechless. This was one of those times.
Her smile fell as her eyes grew wide, the look of joy and surprise morphing into fear. "Papa, what about the lectures? I'll need my notes, my simulations. I can't prepare without materials."
"Breathe, Mer. It's already been taken care of. I packed everything myself and had it delivered to the Nobel committee."
"Oh, okay, then. So I have nine days to prepare."
"You won't need all nine. Remember," Rodney tapped her forehead gently, "it's always been in there."
And then, Merla's more frivolous tendencies surfaced. "But what will I wear? I only packed for a sightseeing vacation."
Rodney grinned back. "All taken care of. You know those two extra suitcases that John has been lugging around, presumably with my clothes? Well, only one of them is mine. The other is full of stuff for you. Some of it was made especially for this occasion. So, not only will you be the first Pegasus born person to win the Nobel, you'll be wearing an outfit that's out of this world."
Merla and the others started chattering immediately and didn't stop even as Customs waved them through. Merla couldn't stop talking about how respectful they'd been, especially after Rodney had mentioned her upcoming honour. By the time they had arrived at their hotel, Rodney was relieved that he and John no longer had to keep the secret. He could now enjoy his vacation.
The nine days flew by. They rarely saw Merla except when she dragged herself back to the hotel for a few hours of sleep. Despite her father's re-assurances, she felt she still had to push herself. This wasn't just any award, this was the Nobel Prize.
With Merla already occupied, TJ and Jorin went on their own sightseeing adventures, returning every evening with aching muscles and more stories to entertain their parents.
John and Rodney just relaxed. They woke up late, had breakfast, went for leisurely walks, and every afternoon found them in the heated pool followed by a sauna. Though John insisted the regimen was for Rodney's benefit to ease his arthritis, Rodney knew that these sessions were also beneficial for John. After returning to their suite in a boneless state, they would nap. John prided himself on the fact that it had only taken him about 30 years to convince Rodney of the additional, naughty benefits of taking regular naps. Then they would talk about the old days.
This time away from Atlantis in the presence of their children made them think about Teyla and how proud she would have been of them all. TJ was teaching at the University, passing on her traditions and offering an encyclopedic course including Teyla's original notations on the participants from all the member worlds in the League. Forty years later, no one was offended to hear what she had really thought about them.
Rodney's heart was close to bursting when he thought about Merla. By all rights, he would have never been a father if it hadn't been for Teyla. When, one night in bed between John and Rodney, she turned to Rodney and said, "I would like to have another child, Rodney. I have often heard you expressing how it would be a tragedy to the universe if your genetic material was not used."
Rodney had turned beet-red while John sprang out of bed as if he'd been stung by a scorpion.
At that time Teyla was still an infrequent visitor to the men's bed and the only activity had been innocuous cuddling, kissing and sleeping, so Rodney had no idea how they were going to accomplish this.
Yes, yes, he knew how but, still, he didn't want John to feel excluded as if his genetic material was anything to scoff at, what with that bountiful expression of the ATA gene. After they'd agreed to talk about this unusual development in the morning, they fell asleep, the men happy that they'd avoided that particular bullet.
But Teyla would not allow them to dodge it for more than a few hours. When they woke up, they were presented with breakfast in bed, including copious amounts of real coffee, and a request from Teyla - or demand, if they were reading it correctly, that they discuss it without delay.
John didn't know why either of them wanted him there. He didn't think it was so he could keep the candles lit. But he'd been with them from the first time Rodney tried to impregnate Teyla. From the moment they removed their clothing - Teyla determined, Rodney blushing bashfully and John frozen in his disbelief - to the point where they were kissing and caressing limbs that didn't care to acknowledge specific ownership, John was always present and never made to feel superfluous.
And, then, when Rodney sank into Teyla's heat, John was right there, allowing her to use his sprawled body as a welcoming cushion, so that he could see over her shoulder and experience everything, from her trembling to the look of awe and pride on Rodney's face. He remembered the daring though delicate glide of his fingers over her breasts and the certainty that he'd just touched a goddess. He had gasped in incredulity that Rodney could divert enough attention from Teyla to stroke him to a climax that, while entirely unnecessary, had united them in this goal.
But it was a relief to all of them when Teyla knew she had conceived. The sex had been loving and pleasurable, but it had been only a means to an end. During the pregnancy, Teyla spent less time in their bed and more time visiting and staying the night with Negla and Kareen. Torren John's birth had been fraught with so much danger, she wanted to be sure that this child would have a safe delivery. TJ's aunties fulfilled another role by acting as her mothers, always available for gentle advice while soothing her fears.
It should not have been a shock then, two years after Merla's birth, when Teyla approached the two men again, this time drawing her arm through John's. When Rodney heard the request, he sputtered, "Oh, you have got to be kidding me! I could understand passing my genes and genius on, but any kid you have with that pointy-eared—"
John spun around, eyes blazing in warning, and clapped his hand over Rodney's mouth. "I wouldn't go any further, Rodney. Otherwise, that's the last time you'll ever grab my pointy ears when I'm fucking you."
Rodney nodded, wide eyed, recognizing the wisdom of not continuing to voice his objections. And, eleven months later, when Jorin was born, he remarked, without any irony, that the ears looked quite lovely on her.
On December 10, Merla dressed carefully with the help of Jorin while TJ provided a big brother's perspective. She emerged from her room to face her fathers. Their gasps echoes in the quiet room. She was wearing an exact copy of one of her mother's favourite dresses: sleeveless, low-cut, flowing, with turquoise the primary colour of the asymmetrical panels. She was prepared to be the centre of attention during the photograph session though the last thing she wanted was to cause her fathers distress over their memories of her mother. But Jorin had already reassured her that Rodney would not have packed the dress if he didn't want her to wear it.
She bowed to the two men. "If I may be so bold, I would love to enter the hall on the arms of the General and the Nobel Laureate." Unfortunately, the giggles of her siblings shattered her playful attempt at formality. They all ended up laughing but, once composed, John and Rodney offered her their arms willingly.
During the lectures, Merla had discussed how she had come to create a cure for cancer. She mentioned how devastated her father had been to lose one of his closest friends to an exploding tumour in Pegasus, years before her birth. She recalled how many diseases on Earth had become extinct through vaccination or other preventative measures; and occasionally through invasive medical intervention.
But cancer still eluded the most brilliant minds and any conventional treatment was extremely harsh on a body already weakened by disease.
John had secretly told Merla about how her father had offered to sacrifice himself to the Wraith to save Jeannie, how the unregulated nanites had gone on a rampage to fix things without focus or control. He may have also mentioned how Rodney had created Fran who had willingly accepted and adhered to the programming that would result in her own destruction, as long as she felt she had fulfilled her intended purpose.
Merla had taken those late-night conversations with John and the concept of the exploding tumour, wondering if she could make it implode instead. After years of single-minded focus, she made it work. From the injection of a single nanite with a specifically directed limited code, she could pinpoint the exact location of any cancer in the body and see it on her screens. After the tumour had been located, the nanite's purpose was to make the cancerous cells implode without harming any healthy tissue. Finally, the nanite would break down into inert matter and it and the debris would be destroyed by the body's white cells.
Merla's genius was more than evident during the lectures. But it was her acceptance speech that showed the world her capacity for compassion and love. This had not been just an academic exercise for her. She spoke first of the man she'd come to call Uncle Richard and how helpless and useless she felt, surrounded by all of the Ancient devices and other medical marvels, when all she could do was watch him die. And, then, a few years later, to lose her mother to something that she described as an alien form of leukaemia.
When she left the stage holding the elegant velvet-lined box in which her gleaming gold medal rested, she was surrounded by her family, tears in their eyes. Still a mischief-maker despite her award, she grinned. "So, when can we leave this place and get back home. I've got work to do."
Rodney's mouth dropped open. "What work?"
"Papa, you don't expect me to stop now, just because I've found a cure for cancer. I want to stop cancer cells from forming."
Rodney's words held suspicion. "This wouldn't have anything to do with not being satisfied with only one Nobel, would it?"
Merla stopped in her tracks, grabbing her father by the arm. "Do you think I care about this one that much? Here - take it. Mount it on the wall next to yours. I've already given the money away; it's to be used for more extensive diagnostic tools and clinics on Earth." She took a couple of deep breaths. "I was meant to do this, Papa. Please believe me."
"I do, Merry-go-round, I do believe you." Rodney had not called his daughter by that improbable name since the last time he'd spun her around in circles, to the accompaniment of her shrieks and the raucous hoots from John. She'd been four or five at the time. Teyla had, thankfully, not been anywhere in sight.
"Then why do you have to question my decision?" The famous McKay chin was sticking out again, reinforcing her annoyance.
Rodney shook himself gently out of her grasp and took John's left hand between his, twirling the ring on the finger in his sight. "Because I don't want you to wait until it's too late to learn that there's more than the thrill of scientific discovery in your life."
Merla rolled her eyes. Rodney figured it was a habit she'd definitely inherited from Teyla. "My life isn't only about my work. I do happen to get away, once in a while."
Rodney did not look at all convinced. "And that would be when we're fast asleep, I suppose?"
Merla nodded. "That's exactly when I do go out."
Rodney was so surprised, he dropped John's hand. "And are we ever going to meet this person or … or persons?"
She put her free hand on her hip. "Papa, I'm the daughter of the two most famous people in the city. Do you think anybody is ready for me to bring them home to meet you? Beyond the fact that you would probably grill them for hours, not only about their intentions, but also their academic background."
Suddenly, Rodney's mind was whirling, trying to recall whose quarters were adjacent to his daughter's and whether she could be in a relationship with someone on the same floor. The groupings had changed from time to time, but he knew that Merla's section was considered to be extremely stable.
Merla broke into his thoughts. "Stop it. You're wondering if it's anyone in my residential group. In any case, they're too shy to be with me in the open. And I hope you remember how you and Dad and Teyla decided to hide your unusual relationship at the beginning. I don't think either of you wrote Uncle Dave or Aunt Jeannie for years. And you certainly didn't yell it from the highest spires. Or put in in the daily e-newsletter."
Rodney was floundering. He turned to John. "Help me out here." But John shook his head and backed away, his own hands raised in surrender. Rodney was on his own.
"Mer, there were real reasons why we had to keep things secret. John could have been kicked out by the U.S. military in the early days and your mother could have had a rougher time gathering new member worlds. In fact, she did have a tough time. Did you know the Prince on Endra imprisoned her. That was before you were born, Jorin, but it was enough to get people riled up because your mother had two children by two fathers. She was only held overnight, because the Queen rescued her. But she'd been called names so horrible that I won't allow myself to repeat them. I would never call any women by those slurs, and certainly not your mother."
Rodney flinched as he replayed the ugly words in his head, remembering his outrage that anyone in Pegasus could call their Teyla such vile names. "Your mother was treated with disrespect because of her relationships. She never told anyone except us about what had happened, because she did not want her mistreatment to colour any future alliance."
Merla's voice softened, though it still had a determined edge. "You should be the first to understand then, Papa, why I need breathing room. Let me make my own decisions." She shook the box she was still holding with a firm grasp, despite her offer to give it away. "I haven't done too badly so far."
Rodney had to admit she hadn't. None of the children had. They'd led honourable lives full of dignity and service to others. Considering how awkward "The Talk" had been with each of them, they were thankful Teyla had done most of the talking after rolling her eyes at her emotionally stunted mates. All three siblings had grown up accepting and understanding that love could be as unassuming as seeing a sunset or as stark as having every long-held belief in one's sexuality overturned. Sometimes both simultaneously.
Rodney wasn't as concerned about TJ or Jorin. They managed to maintain a balance between work and personal relationships, though Jorin - the baby of the bunch - seemed to surround herself only with casual friends.
But Rodney was worried about Merla. He knew he hadn't been the best example of a father when she was growing up, taking advantage of the fact that he could rely on Teyla and even John to pick up the slack when he got carried away staying late, as always, in the labs.
Still, Teyla and John should have had some influence on her, but it seemed as if Merla had inherited his drive for excellence at the expense of other things. If she was telling the truth, perhaps she was finally allowing these other things or people to slide into the picture. He could only hope that she would be as happy at the end of her life as he was now.
Rodney kissed her soundly on both cheeks. "Have I told you how proud I am of you, Merla?"
"Every day of my life, according to Teyla when I was too young to remember, and twice on pretend-Sundays."
He nodded sharply. "Correct. Now, could we please leave. I'd like to get out of this suit before it strangles me. And I have a proposition for your father."
As their children preceded them, John turned to Rodney. "Is this something I should be extra worried about?"
Rodney lifted an eyebrow. "Oh, I don't know. How would you like to prove a theorem or two, just to stay ahead of that daughter of ours?"
"Seriously? You want another Nobel? With me?" Seeing affirmative nods to each of his queries, John thought for a moment. "What about Messing and Falkofska?"
"Falkofska's alright. I like her starting premise. But I think it would take forever to prove Messing, which means I think he's wrong, wrong, wrong. What about Mendelbarg, instead?"
John squinted at Rodney, puzzled. "The Dutch guy? You'll have to remind me when we get home. Okay, you're on. So … four years for both?"
As they walked away, Rodney's voice could be heard. "I think we can do it in three."
They managed to do it in three and a half years.
However, Rodney had been right four years ago when he said he was taking his last walk through the Stargate back to Earth. He had argued with John, saying he was not about to have his creaking joints jostled about on an aircraft, even if John had been the pilot, between Brussels and Stockholm.
He had been wrong, though, to think he had been done with demanding concessions on Earth. So, he had crowed gleefully upon learning that the mountain would indeed come to Dr. Rodney McKay and his husband, Dr. John Sheppard, who had himself managed to acquire a couple of not-insignificant degrees from German and Swiss universities while collaborating with Rodney.
Rodney had been dismayed to hear that he and John were not the oldest Laureates in history, but he insisted that he was done with science and deserved to be allowed in his old age to go fishing off the mainland. Or, better yet, pretend fishing, unless he made John deal with wriggling bait and flopping selka fish which looked and tasted remarkably like Pacific salmon. Rodney decided they made acceptable sushi. He wasn't too far off the mark. Miko had examined the freshly caught fish, running her fingers along the scales, slicing precise sashimi strips with her own knife before pronouncing them to be adequate.
The TV crews from Earth had arrived a few days earlier, to conduct interviews and to give their viewers a thorough tour of Atlantis. Not that Pegasus needed the additional scrutiny. Between steady immigration and people apparently having babies everywhere, its worlds were thriving. Even Ronon, Amelia and Leah had made it back from a reborn Sateda, along with their brood of children and grandchildren.
It was a shame that Jeannie couldn't make it, but Kaleb had broken his hip. Upon hearing the news, Rodney had bitten his tongue rather than chastise her for not having fed the man a steak every now and then, because the tofu had obviously not given his bones any great advantage in his old age. In exchange for Rodney's sounds of seeming concern, Jeannie had sent through a pallet of plump fruits and vegetables. Rodney shrugged his shoulders and sent the pallet on to the Mess to be added to the menu for the post-ceremony party.
Rodney and John had prepared their lectures in advance, recorded them as a combined display of film and holography, and had them screened in Stockholm prior to the presentation. They'd heard back from Radek who had attended … and then declared he had not found too many errors. Rodney had just laughed at his old friend's attempt at a jest and told him he missed him too.
The only thing left was to welcome the committee to Atlantis and to hold the unique award presentation ceremony.
When Rodney received his medal and was given the opportunity to make an acceptance speech, the crowd was shocked by the few humble words that emerged from his lips. "I always thought the work I did was important for its own merits. I was wrong. You," he pointed at John, "and you," he swung his arm in an arc to encompass everyone in the Gate room, "are what gave my work meaning. Without you, I would have achieved nothing. Thank you, again, for this great honour."
When John stepped forward to accept his medal, the crowd had no idea what to expect after Rodney's unusual speech. John turned to Rodney and grasped the hand that was empty. "Nobody ever respected me based on how my mind worked. I thought all I ever wanted was to fly. Until I came here. But you believed in me. You also ridiculed and provoked me. But you never stopped loving me. Without you, my life would have never turned out anything like this." John let go of Rodney's hand and turned to the committee members. "Thank you."
The two men walked down the steps, the cheering crowd parting to let them through but not before they'd received excited hugs from their children.
When they reached the Transporter, they turned and waved to their friends, old and new. White-haired Miko, stooped though forever dignified, held an exquisite formal tea ceremony once a week. No one knew how she managed to find tea that tasted Japanese. Somehow, in her old age, she'd become wily. It suited her.
Chuck who'd gone completely bald (and didn't that make Rodney feel a little better about his own hanging in there hairline) had established a small, friendly, not-too-greedy casino in the recreation complex.
Rob had accepted the position of head of Pegasus Languages, but resolutely refused the title of Dean saying that the position would always belong to Teyla, at the University Atlantis had built on the mainland, adding to the programs originally designed for youth.
David had supervised the construction of its marine biology department. Rodney had laughed and said it was all John's fault for having brought all those fish as pets into the city so many decades ago.
Next to them, Evan was leaning on a cane, wearing dark glasses. His recreational paintings graced the gallery that now adjoined the music room. As he had aged, his eyesight had worsened, so it was a tribute to him that he had made such a lasting contribution. He and Rob had become good friends after Teyla's death. Rob would often be found consulting with him on colour choices whenever he had a little time to indulge in his hobby. Even with dimmed sight, Evan could still visualize whatever colour combinations Rob mentioned.
And so many children that Rodney had simply given up and called each one of them "kid" or "you there".
John called out, "Enjoy the party."
Rodney grumbled, "But not too much."
John raised an eyebrow. "Rodney, behave. It's not every day people get to celebrate a Nobel."
Rodney raised his arms in stubborn denial. "Why should I start behaving now?" Then he sighed for dramatic purpose. "Come on, let's go home, old man."
John kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear, "Yes, dear."
Once they had arrived back in their quarters, they placed the boxes that held their hard-earned medals on the desk.
Clothes came off in random order and were dropped on the floor. It wasn't because of any great urgency or passion; they were simply exhausted. The years they'd worked together had been worth it as they'd found out that there was an instinctive shared understanding of new concepts that they didn't need to verbalize. If Rodney had not respected John enough before when he used to nag him for not joining Mensa, his esteem for the man had risen exponentially.
But the long hours had taken their toll. Merla had not been able to supervise their care because of her own demanding research. As Rodney's daughter, she had already demonstrated that she was no great role model either. They in turn had not paid much attention to their new doctor whose name Rodney decided was not worth remembering. So they had each swallowed whatever pills had been prescribed and carried on with their relentless intellectual exercise verging on insanity.
Now they didn't care. None of it mattered. The only important thing was that they had survived. And had lived to see Pegasus flourishing.
Once naked, they fell into bed and pulled the sheet up to cover their chests. Rodney, eyebrows raised, glanced at John who thought the lights off. At least the ATA gene did not suffer any deterioration due to age.
John nudged Rodney's ribs. "So … about that fishing trip?"
Rodney swatted the offending hand away from a ticklish spot. "Ah, screw the fishing trip. Why don't we send the kids instead, get them out of our hair?"
John's hand returned to rest lightly on Rodney's abdomen. "So what do you suggest we do instead of fishing?"
Rodney pushed John's hand lower. "We could do some fishing of our own. I believe morning is the best time."
John fondled Rodney's unresponsive cock gently. "I do believe you are right, Dr. McKay. They say that one can usually catch a big one at that time of day."
Rodney chuckled. "Why, Dr. Sheppard, I'm shocked. Is this the kind of lax research you've been conducting, gathering only anecdotal data. It's a shame the Nobel committee didn't chastise you. But I'm far more demanding. You'll need to substantiate it."
John murmured into Rodney's hair. 'I'll be more than glad to meet your demands. In the morning."
"Mm. Of course, you do know I'll have to corroborate your methods." Rodney's mind was already contemplating a successful fishing expedition on the landscape of John's body. Because, when the fish were biting, they were … John Sheppard.
Rodney knew that made no sense and he didn't care. With a second Nobel soon to be mounted on the wall and his husband with a Nobel of his very own wrapped possessively around his body, making sense was irrelevant.
What was most relevant was the man in his bed.
And in his heart.
And fishing was…. Rodney fell asleep before he could even finish the thought.
The next morning saw the two men entwined on the bed, languidly demonstrating the love for each other that had grown over four decades. Or, for John's efforts, nearly five.
But they weren't alone. Not exactly.
After Rob had surprised Teyla with the first wall hanging that was prominently displayed in the Library, Teyla had asked him to make one other when Michael's gruesome present from beyond the grave had become apparent. As she had no idea how long she would live, she wanted to preserve her image as a gift to the two men who had changed her life. When she had fallen ill, she had entreated Rob to keep the hanging and to reveal it only after six months following her death. Rob had promised her, with tears in his eyes.
The image appeared to shimmer, spreading a soft glow until the two bodies were radiant within a sparkling sphere.
Teyla's calm gaze rested lovingly on the figures beneath her. They were unaware of it, but she had vowed to protect them forever.
Though she had no intention of forgetting about Atlantis either. Or all of Pegasus.
She would never abandon any of her peoples.
When Teyla had found to her eternal delight that a set of ethereal bantos rods had been waiting upon her arrival, her heart was filled with joy. She couldn't wait for the next challenge to begin.