Author: Keira Marcos
Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis
Relationships: McKay/Sheppard, Lorne/Heightmeyer (background), McKay/Keller (previously)
Betas: Chris King & Ladyholder
Genre: Romance, Time Travel, Dimensional Travel
Warnings: Permanent minor character death, temporary major character death, canon typical violence
Rating: R (language, violence, and explicit sex)
Word Count: 41,464
Summary: They lost Atlantis and life on Earth is a misery. They both having nothing left to lose and gamble everything on an untested device for an opportunity at a second chance.
John took a deep breath as he pocketed his keys and headed up the sidewalk. The call from Jeannie Miller had surprised him for more than one reason. He and McKay had parted on terrible terms shortly after they’d returned to Earth. With Atlantis lost, and recovery impossible, John had retired from the Air Force and Rodney had married Jennifer Keller. The door opened before he could ring the doorbell. Jeannie stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind her.
“Jeannie, you look beautiful.” He accepted the hug she offered and took a deep breath against her hair. “I was surprised to hear from you.”
“I bet,” Jeannie said dryly. “We don’t have much time, John. That little bitch is going to stick my brother in a nursing home in Nebraska.” She rubbed her arms. “We’ve been fighting over him since he was diagnosed, and he was ruled incompetent to handle his own affairs a week ago.”
John stared at her in shock. “What? What’s going on?”
“There was an accident—off world. He was exposed to an immense amount of radiation and…” Jeannie brushed tears from her cheeks. “The tumor in his brain is so advanced that it can’t be operated on. The SGC has tried all the medical advances available to them. They even found a Tok’ra willing to join with him, but it killed the symbiote.”
“Wow.” John rubbed his face with one shaking hand. “So what’s Jennifer done?”
“She’s done a lot less than she intended,” Jeannie said darkly. “She was quite startled to find out that Mer named you his financial guardian if he was ruled incompetent to handle his own money. That’s why she had me call you—so you can sign off paying for his care and so she can get access to the rest of his money.
John grimaced. “I’m surprised he left me in charge of that—after the way we fought.”
“He told me several months ago that you were right,” Jeannie murmured. “I don’t know what you fought about but when he was still lucid—he told me you were right.”
“I said that Keller only wanted his money and that she didn’t love him,” John admitted roughly. “Is she here?”
“No, she doesn’t come back until tomorrow. She didn’t want to see you but left all the papers for you to sign.” Jeannie grimaced. “I know you’re probably still angry with him, John, but please don’t leave Mer in her hands. She’s a cold-hearted little cunt.”
He blinked at her crude language. It wasn’t the sort of thing he’d ever expected Jeannie to say even if she thought it. “You said when he was still lucid. He’s not…he’s no longer lucid?”
“He has his good days and his bad days,” Jeannie said. “He’s excited to see you and seems convinced you’re here to take him back to Atlantis.” She flushed when John sighed. “It’s easier to let him have his little things, John. I hate to disappoint or hurt him and the truth—the truth hurts him the most. This is worse than when he had Second Childhood because he knows what he’s lost. Yesterday he cried because he forgot what Teyla looked like. I had to search for hours to find a picture. Jennifer had hidden all of that stuff from him under the pretense that it upsets him. Personally, I think she did it to be cruel.”
“Where is she?”
“In Nebraska making the arrangements,” Jeannie huffed. “I offered to take him, John, without the money, and she said no.”
“Well, she’s not getting his money,” John said. “Period.”
Jeannie smiled. “You were always my favorite, you know.” She tilted her head towards the house. “Come in, he’ll be so pleased to see you. Please try not to freak out if he gets weird.”
“It won’t be the first time I’ve seen him this way,” John reminded gently, but he already hated it. He hated the whole fucking thing, and he resented himself for leaving McKay in the SGC without him. He should’ve never trusted them to keep Rodney safe.
Jeannie led him through the house and into a large room that had once served as Rodney’s office. John would know—he’d helped McKay pick out the house before they’d fought. Rodney was sitting at a laptop, staring intently it. Jeannie prodded him fully into the room and shut the door. He hesitated briefly before walking across the room and sliding into the chair beside his best friend. John took a deep breath as he saw what Rodney was watching—it was Ronon’s wedding video. Ronon and his wife had died the last week of the war in Pegasus—fighting together like the badasses they were.
“He loved her very much,” Rodney said. “Remember when he saw her? It was like the universe had returned to Sateda to him.”
Ronon had met Myna in a marketplace, and they’d recognized each other—after a decade apart. He’d been reunited with a childhood friend who had quickly become so much more. They’d had six months together as man and wife before the final Wraith siege had destroyed Atlantis.
“I don’t have Internet access,” Rodney said sourly. “The SGC is afraid I’ll tell secrets by accident because of the tumor. I can’t use the phone either.”
“Sucks,” John murmured.
“I’m not as crazy as Jeannie thinks or as Jennifer wants,” Rodney said then. “It comes and goes—the tumor is pretty ugly. I won’t be able to walk within six months. They think I might have another year at most.”
John nodded. “What do you want?”
“I want a divorce,” Rodney said grimly. “But I’m not competent enough to request one.” He turned to John. “She caused the accident, John.”
“What?” John demanded. “Are you…what happened?”
“We were on a planet—SG3 had found an Ancient medical facility so after it was secure and it had been confirmed that there were no inhabitants on the world, Sam sent Jennifer and me out to the site. I told Jennifer four different times not to turn anything on because the device looked very familiar. She turned it on anyway because she was bored and tired of sitting there doing nothing while I ran tests. Miracle of all miracles—she was the first out the door when it started throwing off some unknown kind of radiation. Two members of SG3 are already dead, and Radek has been given six months to live. He has tumors in his lungs and stomach. I turned the device off before the impact bled out into the rest of the facility.”
“So she wasn’t impacted at all?”
Rodney shook his head. “She’s had several skin lesions removed that proved to be pre-cancerous, but that’s it.”
“Just enough damage for her to be considered a victim of the accident,” John murmured.
“You probably think this tumor has made me paranoid and delusional.”
“I know what you look like when you’re paranoid and delusional,” John said and laughed when Rodney did. “How can I help, buddy?”
“Are you still…mad?” Rodney asked.
“No, Rodney. I’m not—I never was. I was just frustrated and stupid.” He nudged McKay gently. “Tell me what I can do.”
“There is no cure,” Rodney said. “What if I told you that I had a device—something I took from Atlantis?”
“I sleep with an LSD under my pillow,” John admitted. “I need the hum of Ancient technology—I think maybe I’m addicted to it because I lived on Atlantis for so long.”
Rodney nodded. “Your gene was the strongest.” He closed the laptop. “The device. I took it from Janis’ lab.”
John exhaled and groaned at the same time. “McKay.”
“I know.” Rodney shrugged. “It was my favorite—it just felt important so when I knew we were going to destroy the city to prevent the Wraith from taking her—I went and got it. I smuggled it out of the SGC.” He pulled the small white device from his pocket and put it on the table between them. It was roughly five inches long and no thicker than his pinky finger.
John stared at it for a few seconds and snorted. “I can just guess where you hid that.”
Rodney laughed. “Well. I cleaned it thoroughly. Just…touch it, John. Please, then tell me what you think.”
John picked it up. The smooth surface was familiar and comforting. He frowned. “It feels like…hope.”
“Yes,” Rodney said. “Exactly like that. Janis called it the Iterum.”
John frowned. “My Ancient is rusty, McKay.”
“Basically, it means a second time.”
John’s stomach dropped, and he very carefully put the Iterum on the table. “Rodney.”
“You asked me once to trust you, and I stupidly didn’t. I’m going to pay for that with my life.”
John focused on him. “You want me to activate this device because you can’t.”
“I think it takes two,” Rodney explained. He picked it up and held it out to John, palm open. “Wanna do something stupid and ill-considered?” He smiled hesitantly. “If it does nothing—we can go have a beer and plot my wife’s murder.”
John snorted. “I’ve missed you like hell, McKay.” He put his hand over Rodney’s and thought on. Their gazes connected as the device hummed to life between them. “I love you. I always have,” he whispered, and McKay’s eyes went wide with shock.
– – – – –
John woke up with a shout of shock and pain. He rolled from the bed, hit the floor with a thud, and took a shuddery breath then gagged. Strong hands gripped his shoulders as a light flipped on.
“Are you okay, John?”
John lifted his head and stared at his father in shocked horror. Patrick Sheppard helped him up from the ground. “Dad.”
“Are you going to be sick?” Patrick questioned and pressed his hand to John’s forehead.
“I had a nightmare,” John said dully. “You died.”
Patrick sighed and patted his face. “Well, then, that’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it? How about some pancakes?”
“Pancakes would be great.”
“Wake your brothers,” Patrick said. “Midnight pancakes it is.”
John followed his dad out of his room and into the hall. He stopped in front of the mirror and stared at his face. Fifteen. He’d worn this ridiculous hair cut the year he’d turned fifteen. He was going to kick McKay’s ass all the way to Pegasus.
– – – –
Seventeen Years Later
Rodney was a nervous wreck. He paced back and forth in his office in the SGC, the results of the Air Force personnel genetic review was strewn across his desk. They’d found nearly fifty gene carriers, but none of them were John. Where the hell was Sheppard? He’d been pushing and prodding people in the SGC since O’Neill had first gotten his first face-hugger kiss. They’d found the gene six months before, thanks to him recruiting Carson Beckett to work on the project.
He kept his finger in academic circles outside of the SGC—he’d been in the Mountain since he’d rescued Teal’c from the stargate. Though he’d made a few enemies because of it. He’d had to basically ruin Kinsey’s life after that just to keep the man off his back. He had no regrets—he hated that bastard, and he wasn’t going to fucking Siberia again for anyone. Still, seventeen years in the past had given him a lot of room for personal advancement.
Rodney turned and found Carter bringing a stack of folders into his office. “I thought you were off-world.”
“I was. Just finished my medical check,” Sam dumped the folders on his desk in a clean spot. “Janet asked me to bring these down to you. She and Carson have finished the review of active duty Marines. They’re excited—they found one with a stronger gene that O’Neill’s.”
Rodney snatched the report off the top of the stack and opened it. Colonel John Patrick Sheppard. “Son of a bitch.”
“His military records are top of the pile. The General is already arranging Sheppard’s transfer to Cheyenne Mountain though he’s meeting some resistance. But then the Corps doesn’t like to give up their officers and most especially not Force Recon.”
“Force Recon.” Rodney frowned.
“Special operations, military intelligence, et cetera.” Sam waved at the stack. “Read his file. Well, read what you can of it. Most of it is redacted.”
Rodney picked up John’s file as Carter left. She was the Chief Scientist in the Mountain and had taken him as her second in command when he’d figured out to get Teal’c out of the gate. It had made all the difference in his career, and he was man enough to admit—not being a complete asshole had also been good for his career. He’d even had time to earn a third Ph.D. while at the SGC thanks to Carter’s support.
Rodney sat down and got to know his best friend again. The amount of combat experience was daunting and horrifying. There were a lot of black lines in the file, but there was a list of medals, among them a Navy Cross and a Medal of Honor which had been awarded just six months before. He was currently in Afghanistan. Rodney focused on the single picture in the file—John in Marine dress wasn’t a bad look for the man at all. Why had John joined the Marines instead of the Air Force?
Rodney hadn’t dared make a single significant change in his life until he was at the SGC where he’d fucked the timeline three ways from Sunday just by making sure that Janet Frasier didn’t die. But John? No, John Sheppard just decided to rearrange his whole damn life. Rodney scowled through the records—taking in the fact that John had a Master’s degree in math and was only a dissertation away from a Ph.D. in engineering. Another change, but he could see how it would be beneficial to the mission. He hadn’t gotten married, and his father was listed as his next-of-kin which surprised Rodney since John and Patrick Sheppard had been estranged until the older man had died in the previous timeline.
He closed the file and sat back in his chair as he considered the changes that John had made and how they would ripple out in front of them. His military record was near spotless and full of foolishly heroic behavior. O’Neill was probably giddy to get someone like John in the Mountain. Rodney checked his watch, he was due to leave for McMurdo within the next six hours so he wouldn’t know anything about John’s recruitment until after he was already at the Outpost.
– – – –
John said nothing as he exited the vehicle and was escorted into Cheyenne Mountain. His transfer to Colorado had come from the President after the Corps and the Secretary of the Navy at outright refused O’Neill’s request. He’d watched the whole process take place, knowing that eventually the President would give O’Neill what he wanted. He wondered where McKay was—he’d been tempted over the years to look him up but hadn’t. He had no way of knowing if McKay had come back with him and if he hadn’t there would be no explaining his interest. John had also been extremely careful about his digital footprint—it wouldn’t have done for anyone to notice his interest in someone of McKay’s security clearance. John had no doubts that Rodney was already a part of the SGC in some form another.
He was led into a room were several other Marines were already seated. They stood when he entered and saluted. “At ease,” he murmured as he sat down at the table, and they all joined him. “I’m Colonel John Sheppard. Looks like we’re going to be briefing buddies.”
One laughed. “It appears so, sir. I’m Dean Bates. To my left is Sergeant Jason Markham and on your right is Sergeant Marcus Stackhouse.”
John nodded and plucked a legal pad from the stack in the center of the table then picked up a pen. “Where are you men coming from?”
“I was in Nevada, sir, but my assignment is classified,” Bates said. “And you?”
“Afghanistan,” John murmured. “Stackhouse?”
“I was at Camp Dwyer with you, sir, until I was transferred to Virginia where I spent two weeks. I arrived here yesterday but was confined to barracks.”
John focused on him. “My apologies, Sergeant, but I don’t remember you.”
“No, sir, I wouldn’t expect so. I’m not Force Recon. I was an MP on base.”
John wondered if Stackhouse had been military police in the other timeline. He hadn’t spent much time reading service records. His laziness on that front was just one of many faults Sheppard found with his former self. He’d worked hard to be stronger, a better officer because the men going to Pegasus deserved a real leader and not some wise ass who really didn’t care if he lived or died.
“What about you, Markham?”
“I was in Japan, sir. I’ve been stateside about twenty hours.”
The door opened, and Marshall Sumner entered. John stood with the others but didn’t salute. He offered the man his hand. “Colonel.”
“Colonel,” Sumner returned. “When I heard you were here, John, I requested permission to do your briefing.”
“It’s good to see a familiar face,” John said. He and Sumner had met at Naval Postgraduate School, and he’d kept a weather eye on the man’s career. He outranked Sumner by just fourteen days which was amusing. “Let’s get started because I’m really interested to know why the President himself ordered me to Colorado.”
Sumner grinned. “You’re not gonna believe this shit, I swear.”
– – – –
John stared at the open wormhole as the members of SG1 left the Mountain on a mission. After the briefing, Sumner had escorted him up the conference room so he could meet General O’Neill. He figured Stackhouse and Markham were getting shit faced as Bates had promised them a bottle of the finest booze he could sneak into the SGC.
“The geeks say it’s fascinating.”
John turned and looked at Jack O’Neill. He offered the man a salute and O’Neill waved him off. He relaxed and refocused on the stargate. “Fascinating isn’t the term I would use.”
“What would you use, Colonel?”
“Dangerous,” John murmured. “Dangerous to use but also dangerous to ignore. Did you ever the feeling that perhaps you’d opened Pandora’s Box, sir?”
“You betcha,” Jack said grimly. “Marshall told me you had some questions he couldn’t answer.”
“He’s always been more a man of action,” John murmured.
“True. I have it on good authority that you submitted your dissertation three weeks ago.”
“Yes, sir, I was told I would have time to come back and defend it over the summer.”
“I’ve made a few phone calls on that front, and you’ll be going to Monterey in three weeks unless you need more time to prepare.”
“No, sir, I could defend tomorrow. Why?”
“Because you worked your ass off for it and I wouldn’t want your duties here to interfere in you getting what you’re due. If you don’t need to prep for that, I’d like to send you McMurdo so you can interact with the Ancient Outpost and maybe get some of your sciency questions answered. The Chief Scientist for the project is down there, and he’s already been told to expect you sometime in the next two months.”
“I’d like to read the mission reports.”
“On the Ancients?” O’Neill questioned.
“No, sir. I want all the ones I’m allowed to read, sir. I need to know everything.” John looked toward the now dormant gate. “I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
– – – –
John read most of the trip down, except for when O’Neill was awake and insistent on chatting. The man was a terrible, sarcastic bastard which was more amusing than irritating and Sheppard used the opportunity to quiz him about off-world situations and the various missions he’d already read. They took six hours of rest at McMurdo before they were cleared for the trip to the outpost. It hadn’t taken much maneuvering on his part to get behind the stick of the helicopter for the trip. O’Neill was still basically romancing him for the program, and a man of his rank wasn’t told no often.
The trip, however, was uneventful. John couldn’t remember the specific date from the first timeline so he wondered if McKay had gotten Carson Beckett to sit in the control chair at all or was it a sign that McKay had made the trip back with him? He hated not knowing. What if the brain tumor had damaged Rodney for him to return to the past the way John had? He really fucking needed his best friend and not a McKay, who wasn’t prepared for Pegasus.
He heard McKay before he saw him—calling someone a knuckle dragger. He snorted in amusement and O’Neill sighed.
“He must be out of coffee,” Jack muttered. “Fantastic. They could’ve warned me.”
McKay was in the chair. John was so startled that he stumbled a little. O’Neill caught him with a frown.
“My apologies, General, I’m a bit tired,” John lied and took a deep breath as his gaze connected with McKay’s. The scientist left the chair, and the lights faded around the room.
“Dr. Rodney McKay—meet your new light switch—Colonel John Sheppard, US Marine Corps.”
Rodney held out his hand, and John took it immediately. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Colonel. My last light switch wasn’t nearly so pretty.”
O’Neill sighed. “Don’t hit on the man, McKay. Just because you blackmailed the President into repealing DADT does not mean you can just…” He waved a hand.
John laughed. “It’s quite all right, General, I’ve come across a mirror or two in my life. I know what I look like.” He looked down at their hands then focused on Rodney’s face. “How did you blackmail the President?”
“I refused to a sign a contract with the SGC because the Department of Defense was cockblocking me.” Rodney smirked and released his hand. “So, come along, Superman, let’s play with your genes.”
“I’m not that kind of man, McKay, I don’t let anyone in my genes without dinner first.”
Radek Zelenka laughed as he skirted around the two military men. “Ah, attractive and funny. Rodney’s never been so lucky. Sit in the chair.” He pointed at the chair.
John frowned as he put his duffle bag down near the door and circled the chair. “Why do you need me? It works for you, doesn’t it, McKay?”
“Yes, but my gene is no stronger than O’Neill’s. You’ve got something else going on so we’re interested in knowing if more potent gene will open up parts of the chair operations that we don’t yet have access to.” McKay waved toward the chair.
John slid into it, and his whole body relaxed as it engaged then spun gently around.
“Show me something beautiful, Colonel.”
John’s stomach clenched, and he took a deep breath. A field of stars spread out in front of him and swirled brilliantly then panned out. A galaxy—Pegasus to be exact but he said nothing. His gaze connected with McKay’s then and the man smiled.
“Okay, relax, and let the technology get comfortable with you. Ancient tech, while not organic by Earth standards, has a relationship with gene carriers that is both physical and empathic. Ask the Outpost for a status update.”
John hesitated briefly but then did as McKay had instructed. This was new and wildly exciting information. They’d never connected with Atlantis that way in the other timeline but then McKay had plenty of time to research this time around. He’d been part of the SGC for years and had studied the gate for nearly ten years.
“Broken,” John responded immediately, his voice surprisingly hoarse. “She doesn’t have enough power.”
“We’re modifying generators to handle her essential systems,” Rodney said as he walked around the chair. “Anything else?”
“There’s more—something more she wants to give but can’t for some reason.” He winced when they all sighed. “I suppose you’re all getting the same feedback in the chair?”
“Yes, we were hoping that you’d have a longer reach,” O’Neill admitted. “You can try again tomorrow after you’ve had a good night’s sleep. You’ve been up for nearly twenty hours, Colonel.” He checked his watch. “McKay, show him where he can bunk down for no less than eight hours. I mean it—the man needs sleep.”
“Of course, General,” McKay leaned on the table. “I’ll make sure your little soldier gets all the beauty sleep he needs.”
“I deeply regret not sending you to Siberia,” Jack said as he left the chair room.
– – – –
John dropped his duffle on the bed in the small room he’d been given and turned to face McKay. The scientist shut the door and engaged the privacy mode embedded in the Ancient technology. “You have the gene.”
“You joined the Marines,” Rodney returned. He huffed. “I’ve been having the SGC scour the officer ranks of Air Force personnel for two years trying to find you without just putting your name on a list myself.”
“I needed a better education,” John said as he sat down on the bed. “And my father suggested I apply to Annapolis as well as the Air Force Academy. The Air Force told me no and the Navy didn’t. I knew I’d have a hard time getting to the SGC through the Navy but that the Powers That Be recruited Marines like they were going out of style. I also needed to be a better officer—a better leader for the people we take to Atlantis. They deserve that.”
“I read your file—your unredacted one. Though I had to hack the Pentagon to get to it.” Rodney leaned on the small desk in the room and stared at him. “You’ve seen a lot of shit you didn’t see the first time.”
“Are you okay?”
“Better than I thought I would be,” John admitted. “Having a family and a support structure certainly helped.”
“Yeah, about that. I noticed your father is your next-of-kin. I have to admit I was surprised.”
John took a deep breath. “Yes, well, I had a second chance to make a lot of things right, and one thing I did was ensure that the night my little brother called me too drunk to drive himself home—that I didn’t miss the call and that I went to get him.”
“No, his name is Matthew. He got wasted on his sixteenth birthday and when he called me—I was too busy getting laid to answer the call. He tried to drive himself home and didn’t make it. He died, and my father never forgave me for not answering that phone. I didn’t forgive myself either. But this time, despite all of the lectures I gave the little asshole about underage drinking—he still got wasted on his sixteenth birthday, but he called me. I answered that call, and I went to get him. And instead of a funeral, the kid was grounded for six months.” John rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. “He’s in school now—medical school.”
“You never said anything about him.”
“I couldn’t—none of us spoke of him after his funeral. It was the single most painful thing I ever had to do. Not even burying my mother hurt like that. But, thanks to your unique brand of crazy—he’s alive, and my family didn’t fall apart at the seams. Dad didn’t get mad when I wanted to join the military instead of going into his business. David went to law school as he wanted. Everything is kind of perfect, Rodney, and it’s amazing, and I feel like any minute I’m going to wake up in that nightmare future where I had nothing and you were dying.”
Rodney scowled at him suddenly. “For fuck’s sake, Sheppard, you’ve been in therapy, haven’t you?”
John laughed. “Actually, yeah, with my father and brothers so we could really process the loss of my mother. That helped a lot as well.” He flushed and shrugged.
“You.” Rodney sighed. “You fucked the timeline from here to Mars.”
John grinned. “Well, I’m still here. Thanks for not shooting at me by the way.”
“I’d never risk your life not even for a bit of nostalgia.” Rodney rubbed his head in a little frustration. “Okay, so get some sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Wait.” John stood up and caught McKay’s hand. He tugged his friend into a hug and McKay huffed but then slumped a little against him. “I’m really glad you’re back with me. I’ve worried about it a lot.”
“We’re going to kick so much ass,” Rodney declared. He patted John’s arm. “You’re being super weird, but I can work with this.”
John laughed and let his forehead rest on Rodney’s. He took a deep breath. “I miss them like crazy. I can’t wait to meet Teyla again.”
“We’ll keep her safe this time,” Rodney said. “She’ll live a hundred years and have babies and grandchildren. And Ronon? He’s going to find his girl and get married in their lovely ritual and have a bunch of alien barbarian babies for us to spoil. I’m going to save Atlantis for you, this time, John.”
“And I’ll keep her safe for you,” John promised. “We’re going to get this right.” He took a step back and cleared his throat. “I brought you some coffee.”
“You are my best friend forever.” Rodney made grabby hands as John reached for his duffle.
John pulled the pound of coffee from his bag with a grin. “Of course, I am.”
– – – –
John split his days between reading mission reports and sitting in the chair for McKay. They broke through the communication wall the third day and the facility’s database, which had been largely encrypted, opened up for them. He spent two weeks in Antarctica before O’Neill came back to get him personally and John was relieved when they were sorted to a private plane for the trip back to Colorado versus a troop transport. Traveling with a General did have its perks.
“Tell me what you think of McKay.”
John set aside his tablet and focused on O’Neill. “He’s smart, demanding, and intolerant of laziness. I think you probably know that since you’ve worked with him for years in one way or another. He’s one of the few civilians in the program with field experience which is a concern. I can’t take these people to another planet if they can’t even load a 9mm, sir.”
Jack nodded. “I agree, but Dr. Weir isn’t on board with training the civilians for combat.”
John put it aside because that was a battle he was already prepared for, and he’d get his way. “I don’t have a problem working with McKay if that is a concern. Yes, he can be single-minded, and hyper-focused when he’s working a problem, but it’s not a detraction for me. Are you worried about letting a civilian asset of his caliber off-world on a long-term basis?”
“McKay’s gone out of his way to make it clear that he wants the Atlantis mission. The IOA knows that if he’s denied that he’ll probably leave the program entirely. Moreover, no one knows more about Ancient technology so to leave him out of an expedition whose sole purpose is to find and explore the city of the Ancient would be ridiculous.”
“He and Weir have been clashing for months on personnel issues. They’ve argued so much that she’s told the IOA that she’d prefer a different person be chosen to be CSO of the expedition.”
Jack winced. “Someone that Rodney has removed from the expedition three times in the past six months. A man named Peter Kavanagh. He’s an engineer and I already know he doesn’t have the leadership skills to be anyone’s boss much less the CSO of what is essentially a colony.”
“And the IOA? Are they going to replace McKay?”
“I don’t think so, but I wanted you to be prepared because Weir expects you to be on her side. She told me that after spending two weeks with McKay that you were probably ready to murder him.”
John sighed. “I hate politics.”
“I’m not fond of them myself. Marshall tells me you aren’t known for your diplomacy skills either.”
“There is nothing unreasonable negotiating a cease-fire with a grenade, sir. The results were excellent.”
“Right.” O’Neill grinned at him. “I’m tempted to keep you on Earth just for the entertainment value.”
– – – –
The supplies list made no fucking sense. But then it had been a shock in the first timeline when he’d sat down at his desk and come to terms with the fact that he was the military leader for a mission that didn’t even have enough ammo for required target practice for his active duty Marines. They were short on everything regarding basic skills maintenance for the military personnel. He was scowling at the list when O’Neill appeared in the doorway of his office with a cup of coffee in hand.
“Did you make this list?”
O’Neill shook his head. “Weir submitted it directly to the IOA, and I saw it this morning for the first time.”
“It’s nonsense,” John said. “This isn’t even enough to supply the mission for six months much less the full year we expect. And what if the Daedalus doesn’t come on time? What then? I haven’t even looked at food and sundry items—they can’t be any better than this…” He tossed the list and slouched back in his chair.
“So, fix it. You’re in charge of the military, Sheppard, and what you say goes.”
“This mission was originally Marshall Sumner’s. Why did he let Weir send this to the committee for approval?”
“He’s been hands-off on the whole thing because he knew he’d be replaced if we found an officer of your rank with the gene.”
Was that always the case? Is that why Sumner resented him so much in the previous timeline? John frowned and picked up a pen which he tapped gently on his desk. “I don’t have an XO and the only officer currently on the roster is six months out of Annapolis.” He focused on O’Neill. “I need another officer, but I’d prefer two or three. I’d like at least one hundred military assets.” He paused when O’Neill’s eyebrow shot up. “I’m counting field and logistics personnel, sir. I don’t think the civilians should be in charge of such things as gate security plus we’ll be protecting the civilians themselves in an unknown environment. We don’t know what we’re facing on the other side and defending our gate will be a priority.”
“I have a list of volunteers,” O’Neill admitted. “People who were to be put on a waiting list for transfer to Atlantis if we find anything. I’ll email it to you. As far as an XO is concerned—I have an Air Force Major in the Mountain with a ton of gate experience. He’s expressed interest in the mission a few times, but I’ll have a talk with him before I send him your way.”
“It would be better for me politically to have an Air Force officer as my XO, sir. Name?” John picked up his pen.
“Major Evan Lorne. He’s a gene carrier, excellent pilot, and has a master’s degree in geology of all things.” Jack took a sip of his coffee. “I’ll send him your way within the hour if he’s still interested but I haven’t assigned a single asset to the mission without their consent, Colonel. I have no intention of starting today.”
“Understood and appreciated, General,” John murmured and just sat back in his chair after O’Neill left.
John couldn’t even articulate how relieved he was when Evan Lorne knocked on his door forty-five minutes later. He motioned the Air Force officer in and sat back in his chair. “Have a seat, Major.”
“Sir, General O’Neill told me that you’re looking for an XO for the Atlantis mission.”
“Yes, but more importantly, Major, I’m looking for a veteran of the program who can get me up to speed on how things work around here. Frankly, I need someone to watch my back because I’m about to make some serious waves.”
Lorne grinned. “General O’Neill thought that might be the case, sir. Where should I start?”
“Take a look at the roster and start filling in the holes. There are a lot of them. O’Neill has authorized a hundred military personnel. I’d like another officer, and we need to evaluate Lt. Ford for off-world assignments. I’m not all that thrilled about taking a green officer through the gate to another galaxy.”
– – – –
It didn’t hurt like he thought it would see to Elizabeth Weir again. Her death in Pegasus had been tragic for more than one reason, but he realized he hadn’t missed her at all which made him feel a little bit like an asshole. He sat down at the conference table where Weir and O’Neill were seated and put down the computer tablet he’d been carrying around since Rodney had given it to him in Antarctica.
“Dr. Weir is concerned about the increase in military personnel for the expedition.”
“I see.” John focused on her. “And what your concerns be, exactly?”
“This is a civilian-led operation, and I don’t believe the additional military assets you’ve requested are necessary.”
“Have you ever been off-world, Dr. Weir?” John questioned.
“No, but then neither have you.”
“No, but I certainly will step through the gate multiple times in the weeks to come. Seventy-three percent of all gate missions since the inception of the program have involved armed conflict. Ten civilians and thirty-six Marines have died since the second Abydos mission. Each and every inhabited planet the SGC has encountered offered a new culture, different people, and a multitude of ways things could go wrong. They most often did go wrong. Earth managed to make some pretty terrible enemies due to the SGC’s missions into the Milky Way galaxy.
“You’re a diplomat, so I’m going to assume you know quite a bit about war and how quickly a misunderstanding can turn into full-fledged armed conflict. You currently have eighty-three civilians on your mission list, and very few of them are qualified to handle a handgun much less a rifle or a P-9o. I assume since they’re on your list of the mission that I shouldn’t consider any of them expendable which means that I have to staff my side of the expedition for exploration, protection, conflict management, settlement security, and mission logistics. I can’t do that with just fifty Marines. I need administrative and logistics staff. This isn’t even a debate, ma’am. I need these people for a successful mission.”
“You can’t possibly know that we’ll face any sort of conflict in Pegasus,” Weir protested. “The Goa’uld aren’t there.”
“The Ancients abandoned Atlantis in another galaxy for a reason,” John said then. “Do you know that reason?”
“No, nothing in the data we’ve retrieved even hints at the reason,” Weir admitted.
“Why would a technologically advanced species retreat from an entire galaxy?” John watched her process that question. “I don’t know the answer but I can speculate, and none of that speculation is pleasant. The Ancients left this planet due to a disease, correct? A disease that was killing them.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth said tightly.
“And yet they returned to Earth, not knowing what had happened with the disease or how it might have grown or mutated in their absence. It was a calculated risk, that’s for certain, but what drove them to do it at all? They were at least as powerful and advanced as the Asgard, correct? What made them cut and run?”
Jack exhaled sharply. “Right.”
“It’s been thousands of years since the Ancients came back to Earth—you don’t know that whatever they ran from is still out there.”
“You’re right—we don’t know at all. But I favor being prepared for anything than to be stuck in another galaxy with nowhere near the personnel I need or the supplies. I’ve been reviewing the supplies list, and I’ve already made the necessary corrections regarding ammunitions, weapons, and food resources. I’ll be checking the other lists when I return from California. We have to be prepared to build a colony because we’ll be out there a year or more without any sort of resupply from Earth.”
“You can’t know that—we could find a cache of ZPMs on the city.”
“If we locate the city—it could be in ruin, it could be empty and powerless. It could already be inhabited by someone else. It could be a treasure trove of technology or a death trap. We don’t know what’s out there, and we can’t build this mission on the assumption that everything on the other side of that wormhole is going to be rainbows and roses.”
“You act like the mission is doomed.” Weir frowned at him.
“No, Dr. Weir, I’m preparing for success. Failure isn’t in my wheelhouse, and I expect to come back to Earth at some point because I’ve got a father and two brothers who live here. I promised my dad the day I joined the Marines that I would do every single thing I could to always come home to them.” He shifted his tablet slightly and activated the screen. “Let’s discuss your selections for the civilian half of the mission. Only twenty percent of them have been evaluated by a psychologist—that’ll need to be a hundred percent within the next two months. I also noted that you’ve not added yourself to the evaluation list so I put your name on it.”
She flushed with fury. “What?”
“I’d rather not take a bunch of people to Pegasus and have someone have a psychotic break, Dr. Weir. All of the military assets slotted for the mission have been evaluated within the last six months. I’ve also requested thorough background checks for everyone. Some of the ones on file are more than five years old. Having read about the issues with the Trust in past at the SGC, I believe it best if we know where everyone’s weaknesses are.”
“Colonel, that’s completely out of line.”
“How?” John asked with feigned confusion.
“My people are none of your concern!”
“Until they lose their mind and pull a weapon on us?” John questioned. “Or there’s a sexual assault? Until someone decides they want to have a relationship with someone unwilling and harassment becomes a problem? How about a gay bashing? Should we just wait for these incidents to happen or should we take all the steps we can to ensure that we take mentally healthy people on the mission?
“Granted, practically everyone I know is one bad experience away from a psychotic break, but I’d like to at least make an effort to weed out any problems while we are on Earth. On that note, Dr. Peter Kavanagh has a gambling problem, and his credit check has raised flags with the Department of Defense. His security clearance is going to be revoked after the situation is fully reviewed. He should be replaced as soon as possible in the Mountain and, of course, he’s been removed from the mission.”
Jack O’Neill coughed into his hand as Weir’s cheeks flushed.
“General O’Neill told me you suggested replacing Dr. McKay with Dr. Kavanagh so I believed it prudent to request his security check be updated first. Apparently, his security clearance hadn’t been reviewed in five years. I also had Dr. McKay investigated. The Department of Defense continues to have problems with him because of his dual citizenship. However, they’ve reaffirmed his security clearance. I’ve read your request from the IOA as they solicited feedback from me regarding the issue of the Chief Science Officer.”
“And your position? Surely, you see that he would be a problem in the command structure.” She offered him a smile, shoulders relaxed.
“McKay isn’t military, so I wouldn’t expect him to work well within that dynamic that being said he’s also brilliant and has an excellent work ethic. I’m comfortable with him as the choice for the CSO, because again, I’m preparing for survival and success.”
Weir turned to O’Neill. “General, I don’t believe Colonel Sheppard is a good fit for the Atlantis mission, no matter his gene status. I’ll be communicating this to the IOA.” She stood and left.
John sat back in his chair and focused on O’Neill. “Should I be worried?”
“You have the Ancient gene and a service record that gave half the members of the IOA boners. She doesn’t have the gene, has complained non-stop about McKay for weeks even though she was repeatedly told he’d saved the whole planet twice. No, son, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Jack stood. “You’ve got plane waiting to take you to California. After you defend, you have five days of leave, and I’ll expect you back in the Mountain after that. Go see your family. You probably won’t get another chance before the mission is ready.”
John nodded and stood. “In the future, sir, I’d rather not know about any boners I might inspire.”
Jack snorted. “Dismissed, Colonel.”
– – – –
“Kavanagh has been fired,” Rodney said as he stood from his desk with a tablet. “Apparently he’s a gambling addict. Who knew?”
“I knew,” Zelenka said. “I told Colonel Sheppard.” He shrugged. “I have no interest in taking that idiot to another galaxy even though he would have definitely been first on my list of people to eat if we had to resort to cannibalism.”
Rodney grinned at him. “Mine, too!” He set aside the tablet. “How are we coming on the drone schematics?”
“Dr. Porter is nearly finished. The only concern that remains is that we do not have an explosive compound comparable to what the Ancients used.”
“No, we don’t, but we just need to be able to launch them from the weapons platform. We can design our own payloads and start working on different power sources for experimentation. Naquadah is the obvious choice, and we have an excellent supply right now. Defending Earth from invasion means, we have to make the weapons platform work for us in whatever way we can once we move it to Area 51.”
“Agreed,” Zelenka said with a sigh. “It is just frustrating not being able to figure out their power sources.”
“The closer we get—the closer we get to charging a ZPM.”
“A pipe dream, Rodney.”
Rodney desperately wished he could confide in Radek. He wished he could tell him that he already knew how to charge ZPMs and that the interface to start the process was on Atlantis. His life was different, better than before but very lonely. Having John back was a relief but now the man was in Colorado and Rodney had been reduced to living inside his head again. They hadn’t had much private time while he’d been in the Outpost as he had a lot of work and John had been orienting himself to the SGC by reading mission files and reports.
“I don’t have pipe dreams,” he finally said and set aside the tablet. “Weir has notified the IOA that she doesn’t think Sheppard is a fit for the mission.”
Zelenka frowned. “But…he is an excellent soldier, correct?”
“Yes, highly decorated. In fact, the President had to interfere to get him transferred to the SGC because Marine Corps didn’t want to let O’Neill have him. Plus he has that supergene.” Rodney sighed. “I don’t know what she’s playing at.”
“Perhaps she is worried that he’ll undermine her authority. He is a strong leader and smart. He told me he would be defending his dissertation soon.”
“Yes, having another engineer on the mission is a thrilling bonus,” Rodney agreed. “I don’t know what her game is, but I hope the IOA doesn’t listen to her.”
“They put her in charge of the SGC briefly,” Radek reminded. “They trust her a lot.”
“They want technology and advancement—they aren’t going to let Weir undermine the success of the mission because she got her feelings hurt.” Rodney frowned. “I hope.” He sighed. “Fuck. I should send an email, right?”
“Yes, highlight how amazing your Superman is with Ancient technology.” Radek waved him off. “We would not want to go off to Atlantis without him.”
Rodney shot his friend a bird but went in search of his laptop. He hated writing emails on his tablet.
– – – –
John was on a flight to Virginia by the time he started receiving texts from his brothers and father about the email he’d sent—the one he’d signed Dr. John Sheppard. He’d expected his father to send his driver but was pleased when he saw that Patrick Sheppard had come to the airport himself. John had worked hard to put the painful past with his father behind him for the sake of the relationship he’d wanted with his Dad and brothers.
“You look worried,” Patrick said as John slid into the car’s passenger seat.
“You’re a terrible driver.”
“Ha,” Patrick said with a laugh. “Really. You look worried.”
John rubbed his hand over his left knee—instinctively seeking to soothe an injury that hadn’t happened the second time around. “I’ve been offered a unique assignment. Well, offered isn’t the right word.”
“What can you tell us?”
“Not much,” John admitted. “The assignment came from the President.”
Patrick glanced his way briefly but then concentrated on the road. “That doesn’t sound…it sounds scary, John.”
“It is,” John agreed. “But I don’t trust anyone else with the mission.”
“I could be out of contact for more than a year,” John said then. “We aren’t sure but even if I can communicate with you—you might not be able to communicate back.”
“Who’s your commanding officer?” Patrick asked.
“Brigadier General Jack O’Neill. I’ll leave the contact details with you, but the mission is highly classified. The only reason he’d have a need to communicate with you would be to tell you that I’ve died or gone missing.”
“And you can’t say no to the mission?” Patrick asked quietly.
“No, and I wouldn’t even if I could. It’s that important, Dad.”
“Like save the country, important?”
“Like save the world, important,” John corrected.
“Well, hell, son,” Patrick said.
– – – –
Rodney wasn’t all that surprised when the IOA sided with Sheppard regarding weapons training for the civilians. He made the decision to return to Colorado so he could bully anyone who fought the training into doing what was necessary. He had a list of people that he considered mission essential, and he didn’t want anything to interfere with them staying on the expedition. Some were originally part of the second wave but he’d gotten rid of quite a few people at the SGC before Elizabeth Weir even knew it existed. People she had cultivated and groomed for control the first time around. Fortunately, Weir’s high-handed behavior regarding the science being done at the Outpost had nipped Radek’s crush in the bud far quicker than even her obsession with keeping Kavanagh on the mission.
He sat down at the conference table with his senior staff—Radek Zelenka, Allison Porter, Miko Kusanagi, Katie Brown, and Peter Grodin. “As you might have heard, the new military commander of the expedition has asked that all civilians qualify to use a 9mm at the very least. Concerns?”
“Yes, I.” Katie leaned forward. “I can’t don’t this. I’m not suited for such things and if the mission is going to be that dangerous—I would prefer to stay on Earth.”
He’d already known that, but he’d hoped that Katie might surprise him. “Very well, pick your replacement for the Head of Botany and send him or her my way as soon as you can.”
Katie nodded and stood. “Thank you for understanding. I’ve already spoken with Dr. Parrish, and he’s on stand-by to take my place in this meeting. He’s really the most qualified and has already been vetted for the mission.” She paused. “Thanks for not being a jerk about it, Rodney.” She hurried out of the room before he could respond.
Radek snorted. “I, too, am surprised by your calmness.”
“I’d rather not force anyone into a position where they have to do something they find morally wrong,” Rodney said. The door opened, and Parrish entered. “Take a seat, we have a lot of ground to cover.”
The door opened again, and Weir entered. She frowned at Rodney. “Why are you calling a meeting without me?”
“We’re just trying to organize ourselves for weapons training, Elizabeth,” Rodney said. “I’ve distributed the directive from the IOA, and there will be some adjustments as some people aren’t going to be able to qualify to handle a weapon for one reason or another. So I need to know who should be replaced on the mission as quickly as possible in case I have to do any recruiting.”
“Don’t bother. I’ve already told the IOA that I’m not comfortable with Sheppard or his plans. We’ll be getting a more reasonable commander for the military—one that won’t expect us to act like soldiers.” She turned on her heel and left.
“I think…” Miko trailed off. “She’s batshit, right?”
“Utterly,” Rodney agreed. “It’s a problem. Thoughts?”
“The expedition is undersupplied like she thinks we’re going to find Nirvana out there,” Parrish interjected. “Sheppard’s been pitching a fit about it since he came back from the Outpost. He went over her head to the IOA regarding military assets, food supply, and munitions.”
“Her end goal isn’t new technology,” Porter said reluctantly. “I think she’s seeking information on Ascension. Have you seen the way she grills Dr. Jackson about it? Weir’s been over working Dr. Beckett regarding the gene therapy because she wants the ATA gene. She’s trying to force him to take the CMO position for the expedition just so she could justify his placement on the mission.”
“So he can continue work on the gene therapy in Pegasus,” Rodney said. “Carson doesn’t want to go?”
“He wants to go, but he’s a researcher, Rodney. He hasn’t practiced medicine in years.” Allison sighed. “It’s not a good situation at all actually.”
“Great,” Rodney muttered. “Fanfuckingtastic. I had no idea.” He rubbed his head with both hands and sat back in his chair. “Miko, connect with O’Neill’s admin and see about getting me an appointment with him and Colonel Sheppard. Sheppard is due back on the base by Monday, correct?”
“That’s what the base schedule says,” Miko said and stood. “I’ll speak with Walter and make sure they’re both available. What about Weir?”
“I don’t care if she finds out about it or not,” Rodney said plainly. “I think maybe she’s planning a suicide mission, and I’m not on board with that.”
John tried to keep his face neutral when a half-naked Daniel Jackson answered General O’Neill’s front door. He shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels a little as Jackson flushed.
“My apologies, I’m Colonel John Sheppard. General O’Neill is expecting me.”
Daniel squinted at him. “Yes, I think…maybe he mentioned that. Come in.” The archeologist shuffled away hitching up his pajama pants. “Jack, Marine at the door!”
John stayed in the foyer as Jackson disappeared up a set of stairs.
“In the kitchen, Sheppard! Take a left and follow the smell of bacon.”
John shed his jacket and followed the bacon. O’Neill was wearing a pair of jeans, a T-Shirt, and no shoes.
The General motioned to a table. “Take a seat, Colonel.”
O’Neill nodded. “John. Hungry?”
“No, sir, landed a few hours ago and had time for dinner.” John took a deep breath but said nothing as O’Neill assembled a BLT on the counter. “Did the IOA side with Weir?”
“No, in fact, McKay has launched an all-out offensive against Weir. No one makes war like a geek so keep that in mind for the future. The problems are building so I wanted you to be prepared before we head into that meeting tomorrow. You’re going to have to pick a side, basically.”
“What do you mean?”
“The IOA has told Weir that they consider you mission essential so she knows she’s going to have to deal with you. But she found out that McKay is responsible for the IOA’s belief that they need your supergene on the mission. So she removed him from the mission three hours ago.”
John groaned. “What the actual fuck?” He flushed. “My apologies, sir.”
“You’re allowed to be a little frustrated. Marshall said he really doesn’t know how you’ve gotten so far at your age with your allergy to bullshit.”
“I’m a badass,” John said as seriously as he could and grinned when O’Neill laughed. “But, no really, I am.”
Jack brought two beers to the table and his sandwich. “So basically the civilians have split into factions, and I can’t just order them to behave like I would a bunch of soldiers. Weir is inciting a lot of hostility and McKay is pretty convinced that the reason the mission is understaffed and undersupplied is that Weir is primarily seeking Ascension, and she’s treating this expedition like some sort of pilgrimage to the holy land.”
John picked up the beer as Jackson entered. He twisted off the cap and took a long draw. “Are you fucking with me, sir?”
“Only if he intends to share,” Daniel declared as he entered the kitchen.
O’Neill sighed. “Daniel.”
“Sharing is caring, Jack,” Daniel said seriously. “There is no need to be stingy, and he’s beautiful.”
John laughed and exhaled sharply because his face was hot. He couldn’t believe he was blushing.
“Stop picking on him,” Jack ordered. “But, seriously, Weir is working her way towards some sort of Ancient suicide cult. At least, that’s what McKay and his senior staff are thinking. I have to agree. Daniel?”
Daniel sat down and stole half of O’Neill’s sandwich. “Okay, so I Ascended.”
“I read the mission reports,” John admitted. “I was kind of disappointed that there were no pictures of your landing. I understand the Ancients dropped you bare ass down on another planet.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open, and he huffed. “Okay, I had that coming.” He laughed a little when John grinned. “Weir makes a habit of cornering me and asking me about Ascension. She’s asked me to take her the temple where I met Oma Desala and was quite irritated when I told her that Jack had declared that world off-limits to SGC personnel. She’s learned Ancient over the last six months. All of her research efforts have been centered on the process and history of Ascension.”
“Has the IOA been informed of this?” John questioned.
“No, it’s speculation at this point, and we’d have a difficult time proving it. The IOA likes Weir, they respect her academic history and the work she did at the SGC while I was in that stasis pod. Weir is in a fight for control, I think, and she’s trying to limit the number of people on the mission to maintain that control. If you’re allowed to keep the men you’ve picked up for the expedition—the military outnumbers the civilians, and she hates that.”
John frowned and picked up his beer. “Can I sleep on your couch, sir?”
Jack raised an eyebrow. “I’ve got a spare room, John. Let’s get you another beer.”
“Forget a beer, he obviously needs something stronger.” Daniel stood and left the room.
– – – –
John had fond memories of Richard Woolsey. He also had a horrific one of the man’s death. But he had a lot of memories like that. Only ten people had survived the final Wraith siege of Atlantis. Sitting down at the table, he set his tablet down to the left and kept the brand new legal pad he’d gotten from Walter in front of him with the ink pen he’d stolen from Lorne’s desk. He’d already filled up four. Evan Lorne tucked in beside him. O’Neill slouched down in a chair at the end of the table. McKay had taken a seat directly across from John.
Woolsey cleared his throat, and everyone focused on him. The man was ensconced on the opposite end of the table from Jack O’Neill. Elizabeth Weir was sitting with him. The door opened, and Sam Carter entered with Daniel Jackson. They took the two remaining seats at the table when Woolsey beckoned them forward.
“I’m Richard Woolsey, and the IOA has given me authority to rectify the problems with the Atlantis Expedition,” Woolsey began. “General O’Neill has graciously provided us this space so we that we may speak freely about our concerns.” He shifted around his folders in a manner that spoke to annoyance rather than nervousness. “Colonel Sheppard, I’ll start with you as I believe you’re the most objective person in the room. You have no personal investment in the mission and haven’t had the time to develop any sort of personal grudges.”
“That’s fine, Mr. Woolsey.” John relaxed in his chair and waited for the man to continue.
“Very well, first I want to address the supplies list that you submitted. They differ drastically from what was originally proposed, even if I consider the additional personnel you’ve added to the mission.”
“Mr. Woolsey, I don’t know how the original lists were generated, but they were short across the board—there wasn’t enough food for six months much less the year that is the current target. There weren’t enough military assets assigned to the mission to handle security, basic exploration, and supplementary resource management. Moreover, there is only one biologist on the mission so she’s going to be very busy figuring out what we can and cannot eat all by herself. No seed for food crops was listed. My people are going to need no less than twenty-two hundred calories on average to remain fit for duty. We know nothing about Atlantis beyond the fact that the Ancients lived there—is it a land structure? Is it in space? Is it stationary? Will there be land to grow food? Will there be animals for hunting? Will we find a database on Atlantis of planets? It’s my understanding that the SGC couldn’t use the gate we have until they found a map full of stargate addresses on Abydos. What if we’re stuck on that planet without viable resources?”
“You’re right, of course,” Woolsey agreed. “You need to be supplied for a full year. Thank you for explaining to me your thinking. We can’t expect a successful mission if we don’t give you the best tools and people we can. Dr. McKay, you’re authorized to recruit two more biologists.”
“Yes, Mr. Woolsey, I have a few names already. I’ll see them submitted to the Pentagon for a new security check.”
“I think Rodney’s replacement should handle that, Mr. Woolsey,” Elizabeth interjected.
Woolsey straightened his glasses. “Yes, I read your email, Dr. Weir but the IOA is unwilling to remove the foremost authority on Ancient technology from the expedition without due cause. You’ve yet to provide a satisfactory reason for the request.”
“He doesn’t understand the chain of command,” Elizabeth said. “All he does is argue with me.”
“Dr. McKay, is that correct?”
“She ordered me not to organize my people for weapons training. I did, in fact, ignore her,” Rodney said with a nod. “She also ordered me to stop working on the construction of drones and focus on pulling data from the Outpost regarding the Ancient’s history and the process of Ascension. I made it clear that there was no historical data to be had, and she called me a liar. I ignored her and continued on the drone construction project as I was ordered to do by General O’Neill, who happens to actually be my boss.”
“I’m the leader of the expedition,” Elizabeth protested.
“We’re on Earth,” Rodney told her seriously. “You’re the leader of an expedition that has not started, yet. I’m not under your command until I step through that gate with you, Dr. Weir. I have responsibilities within the Mountain that I must meet until the day I leave. One of those duties is doing everything I can to ensure that the SGC can build drones to defend this planet.”
Elizabeth flushed. “Don’t patronize me, Rodney.”
“I’m not.” McKay frowned at her. “I’m still the second command here in the SGC for the sciences. I have a lot on my plate. I don’t honestly have time to do history research. Plus, I’m still working on the math for the ZPM project, and I’ve not found anyone to adopt my cat.”
“I’ll take your cat,” Sam interjected. “He likes me better anyway.”
Rodney frowned deeply at her. “All right.”
Sam turned to Weir. “There is no historical data in the Outpost, not even in the sections that Colonel Sheppard managed to get open. What we know is that Atlantis left Earth several million years ago. As you know, we’ve also uncovered data at the site that indicates that travelers returned to Earth from Pegasus using the gate in Egypt. They returned to Earth in several trips and never returned to Pegasus. The outpost recorded incoming and outgoing wormholes for the Egyptian gate through the DHD. Since we don’t use one, the outpost has no data about the SGC’s usage of the gate.
“Whatever it is, Atlantis was at one time space-worthy. Which means Colonel Sheppard is right—it could be in space, on land, or even under water. We have no way of knowing if the Ancients left any sort of data behind on Atlantis either—so you might be stuck there for an entire year until we can get there in a ship.”
“McKay has an attitude problem, and I don’t want him on the mission,” Weir said flatly.
“Colonel Sheppard, your opinion?”
“Of McKay?” John questioned and paused when Woolsey nodded. “He does have an attitude problem, but he’s a civilian. I rarely encounter a civilian that can follow orders without complaint. Every single one of them is a liability in the field. They’re too loud, talk too much, often can’t hit the broadside of a barn with any sort of weapon, and they’ll probably get distracted by anything shiny and beautiful alien women. I expect this entire thing to be an exercise in patience so extreme that I’ve considered putting in for medals for each and every one of my men in advance except the DOD doesn’t give out medals for patience under fire. That being said, I’ve already told the IOA that I want McKay on the expedition. Frankly, he’s one of seven civilians currently on the mission that is fully prepared to go into the field, and I’d rather not part with any of them due to their off-world experience which is invaluable.”
Weir glared at him for a few seconds before she schooled her expression. “Major Lorne, you know McKay quite well, don’t you? What do you think?”
Lorne shifted in his chair, clearly uncomfortable. “Ma’am, I think what Colonel Sheppard thinks.”
She flushed. “You’re allowed to have your own opinion.”
“No, ma’am, I am not,” Lorne contradicted. “He’s my CO, and it is my duty to have his back and support his decisions. Even if I did disagree with him, I’d never make that disagreement known in public and only he would be privy to the details of my disagreement.”
She glared. “So you’re saying that if we were on Atlantis right now that you still wouldn’t answer my question?”
“Ma’am, you’re a civilian,” Lorne said. “If you had orders for me or another military asset on the mission—those directives should be filtered through Colonel Sheppard and he would, by the design of the expedition charter, be allowed to ignore any order you give if it compromised the safety of the mission or violated the UCMJ.”
John bit down on his lip to keep from smiling and cleared his throat. “Go ahead and answer her question, Major.”
Lorne straightened then leaned forward. “McKay is the smartest man I’ve ever met. He’s kind of arrogant but most smart people are in my opinion. He’s also foolishly brave in an entirely unexpected way. He saved my life a year ago—I have no doubts that I would’ve died. None of us even knew he had any sort of medical training, but he field dressed a wound when I was shot and kept me from bleeding out. Then he threw me over his shoulder and carried me back to the gate—over a mile in a hostile environment. I’m good with McKay going on the expedition because I trust him.”
“I see. I had no idea.”
“I’m sure,” Sam Carter interjected. “You’ve only read the mission reports that have to do with the Ancients.”
“It seemed like the best use of my time,” Weir said tightly and sat back in her chair with her mouth drawn into a tight line. She turned to Woolsey. “We need to make changes in the expedition charter, Mr. Woolsey. Colonel Sheppard’s authority over the military isn’t appropriate.”
“Dr. Weir,” O’Neill began with a frown, “there is nothing you could put in the expedition charter that would give you the ability to undermine the military leader of the expedition’s authority—no matter who that might be. Colonel Sheppard will be instructed to respect your position as the leader of the expedition, but his people are his and if you encounter a hostile force in Pegasus—Colonel Sheppard will take command of the entire operation.”
“That clause is only for hostile or threatening situations,” Weir protested.
“No,” Jack disagreed. “If you encounter a hostile alien force of any kind, Colonel Sheppard will take command of the mission. Period. I was very clear on this with the IOA. I cannot and will not sanction the use of any military assets on a mission where a civilian would be asked or allowed to make combat decisions. Unless, of course, the President of the United States decides he’d like to go to Pegasus.”
“You’re not qualified to make such decisions,” Jack snapped. “You’ve never even fired a weapon, Dr. Weir, and seem to think it’s perfectly okay for the civilians on the mission to be utterly incapable of defending themselves. This is a ridiculous conversation.” He stood.
John and Lorne stood up immediately, and Carter was just a few seconds behind them.
“Richard, you know my position on all of this,” Jack said with a wave of his hand. “Fix it and I mean it—I won’t allow a single man or woman under my command leave this base on this mission if you undermine Sheppard’s authority in the charter.” He strode out of the room. “Someone come make the damned machine give me coffee!”
Carter and Jackson exchanged looks, played a quick round of Rock, Paper, Scissors and Daniel left in a huff when he lost. He pulled the door shut behind him.
Sam grinned. “We bought a new coffee maker for the General, but he doesn’t know how to use it and refuses to learn.”
McKay sighed. “Holding a man’s coffee hostage is a crime against nature, Sam.”
She shrugged and turned to Richard Woolsey. “Did you need anything else from me, Mr. Woolsey? I have some experiments on my agenda for today, and I’ll need McKay and Zelenka in about an hour for drone tests. We’re going off-world to blow stuff up.”
“Oh, can I go?” John questioned.
“Of course,” Carter said with a grin. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“Thank you for your time, Colonel.” Woolsey cleared his throat. “And the reports you’ve generated as well. They were very helpful as I worked through the issues regarding the expedition.”
“No problem,” Carter said with a smile and stood. “You three better be ready to go in an hour, or I’m going to blow up stuff without you.”
Woolsey waited until the door shut again before speaking. “I will remain in the Mountain for the two weeks conducting a review of the expedition, and I’ll work in close collaboration with the team of psychologists the IOA has gathered for the psych evaluations that Colonel Sheppard has requested. I will make my final decisions regarding the structure of the expedition then. Dr. Weir, I suggest you work out whatever issues you have with Dr. McKay because he won’t be removed from the mission—no matter what role he eventually has—he’s going to Pegasus.”
– – – –
The little trip off world to blow stuff up was more fun that John had allowed himself in more than a decade. They’d come back from the planet hyped up on adrenalin and covered in alien dirt which had required a thorough physical and an even more thorough shower, but he hadn’t even cared. He followed McKay out of the Mountain, through Colorado Springs then onto a gated property out in the middle of nowhere. He said nothing as McKay let him in the door and they remained quiet all the way down the stairs and into a safe room. John flinched briefly when the large steel door shut.
“Both the TRUST and the NID regularly spy on me,” Rodney said. “I clean out the bugs once a month. I’m pretty sure my nearest neighbor who is over two miles away is a TRUST agent.” He rubbed his head in frustration. “Okay, I never read the original charter. Did you?”
“After the thing with the nanites,” John answered. “I asked Weir for a copy of the charter, and she sent it to me in an email. She could’ve easily doctored it, and I would’ve never known otherwise. I have to think Sumner had read it thoroughly. The two of them jockeying for control from the very start. It was like he was looking for a reason to take over and she was just as determined to make sure he knew she was in charge.”
“I remember,” Rodney said. “It’s…wow.”
“Yeah,” John agreed. “And when Earth finally made contact we’d been out there for over a year, and she’d proven herself at least as far the IOA was concerned.”
“No, that’s not true actually.” Rodney sighed. “They asked me my opinion, and I was an idiot. I made sure she was left in charge of the expedition, and she knew it was my opinion that kept her in the leadership role. That’s why she resented me so much—because the IOA valued my recommendation more than her results. Just like they did over the issue of you this time around.”
“But when Weir died they put Sam Carter in charge.”
“Then Richard Woolsey,” Rodney said. “Who was in the US Army for twenty years before he retired and went to work the Army Corps of Engineers as a civilian?”
John nodded. “Right.” He dropped down on the couch and stared at Rodney. “Way to soldier on with that thing with Lorne.”
“Well, he’s essential to the mission and…” Rodney flushed. “I know he was your favorite XO so I tried to make sure he survived to go to Atlantis with us.”
John grinned. “Thanks.” He stared for a minute, and Rodney fidgeted. “You’ve got more hair than you did the first time we met.”
“And you’re fitter.”
“I didn’t want to be a liability this time.”
“And you have the ATA gene but Carson hasn’t finished the therapy.” John frowned. “So, start talking, McKay and it’d better be good.”
“What? Do you think I’m a clone or something?”
“I’ve ruled out a clone and a replicator,” John said neutrally. “Are you a host? Do I need to have you checked for a snake? Because if you’ve let a Tok’ra in your fucking head, McKay, I’m going to be really pissed off.”
Rodney stared. “No, no Tok’ra. I’d never get that past Teal’c or Carter for that matter. They can sense them. I mean, I’d probably be tempted because some of those guys are thousands of years old. Just imagine how much they know?”
“We…the Iterum…wasn’t exactly what I thought it was.”
“What was it?” John questioned. “We came back in time.”
“Sort of,” Rodney agreed.
“What the fuck do you mean, sort of?” John demanded. “What’s going on McKay?”
“We Ascended,” McKay blurted out and winced when John’s mouth dropped open. “Whatever happened after that is a mystery, but I woke up in my seventeen-year-old body in a version of Rodney McKay.”
“We’re not in our dimension,” John whispered. “Rodney.”
“I know,” Rodney murmured. “It’s…I’m sorry, John. I’ve not found a whole lot of significant changes—a few things here and there.”
“Hawking published A Brief History of Time in 1986 in this reality. Two years earlier than our own. I’m sure there are a lot of little things like that. I met Radek in graduate school but in our original reality, we met in Siberia. I’m not allergic to citrus, and I have the ATA gene. I was half way through my Ph.D. in astrophysics when I landed so I knew something was wrong. In the other timeline, my first set of degrees were engineering.”
John rubbed his face. “I made so many changes that I can’t even begin to pick out little things. What have we done?”
“Changed this world—given this version of our family and friends a better chance at living?”
“Is this why Weir is so fucking crazy?” John demanded. “Because she’s not our Elizabeth.”
“What I’ve learned over the years is that we’re on a world remarkably similar to our own—the major events still went down, people are basically the same, and if you think about it, our Elizabeth had a narrow focus, too. She wanted Ascension. She wanted it so badly that she infected the Replicators with the idea of it.” He sat down beside John. “We’re getting a second chance, John. You saved your little brother, and you have this great relationship with your Dad.”
“His dad,” John said flatly.
“Your dad,” Rodney shot back. “This is your life, John, and they are your family.”
“Did we kill them?” John asked. “The seventeen-year-old you and the fifteen-year-old me?
“No, I don’t think so. Have you noticed that sometimes you have memories of things that happened when you were a kid that aren’t yours? At first, I figured it was because of the tumor I had before we used the Iterum. But the more settled I got, the more I realized I had a lot of childhood memories that aren’t mine.”
“One or two events, maybe, but I just thought I forgot about them, and the memories resurfaced because I was at home.” John let his head fall back on the couch. “So, what? We dumped all of those terrible memories on a couple of kids?”
“The merger seems to be almost flawless,” Rodney said. “So I think they got our maturity with the memories and everything just sort of melded together, and here we are.”
“Cheating fate,” John murmured.
“Was it selfish?” McKay turned to him.
“Hell, yes. I’d have done anything you wanted at that moment, Rodney. I’d have murdered that little bitch. Where is she anyways?”
“Waiting tables in a diner in Nebraska,” Rodney admitted. “I…okay…so shortly after we got married she confessed to me that she’s always had a problem with standardized testing, and she paid someone to take her SATs for her.”
“So, I figured out when that would happen, and I reported her anonymously. She was investigated and by the time the decision came down she was half finished with her freshman year of college—they expelled her. She hasn’t even tried to get back into another university. Of course, getting expelled from John’s Hopkins kind of ruined her.”
“Well, it’s never too soon to get petty revenge,” John said. “And besides no person of her low moral fiber should be a doctor anyway.”
“I figured if she didn’t cheat on her SATs that I’d just let her have a pass, but she walked right into it. It would’ve been easy to make sure she never got near the SGC,” Rodney said and shrugged. “There was every chance that this version of her wouldn’t be an asshole.”
“Do you remember what I said?” John asked quietly. He turned his head to look at his best friend of nearly thirty years. “You’re still my best friend, you know? Seventeen years apart didn’t change that.”
“I remember what you said,” Rodney murmured. “I remembered it every single time I kissed someone and when I lost my virginity again. I reminded myself of it every single I stepped through the gate without you because I believed all along you were here with me and I didn’t want to die before we could meet again. This second chance would mean nothing if you weren’t here, John.”
John reached out and took his hand. “I shouldn’t stay the night here if you’re being watched.” He laced his fingers with McKay’s and took a deep breath. “It’ll just give Weir ammunition against us.”
“Agreed.” Rodney’s finger tightened against his. “I felt the same, you know.”
“Before but not now?”
“I feel everything for you now. I don’t know what to do with it. A lot of time has passed, and you’re probably pretty mixed up emotionally, too.”
“Yeah,” John agreed.
“But there was a time when I loved you so much that it hurt, but I couldn’t risk losing what little I had of you so I said nothing.”
“We’ve got time to figure it out.” John released his hand. “So give me some files or something to take with me so I can tell anyone that asks that I followed you home for some information.”
“I’ve got a few schematics for weapons based on Ronon’s gun and the ZAT. You’ll love them.”
They stood and just short of the door, John cupped Rodney’s elbow and turned him slightly. “Wait, just…” He leaned in and pressed his mouth against McKay’s.
Rodney shifted around, curled one large hand around John’s neck and immediately deepened the kiss. Sheppard settled his hands on the scientist’s hips and pressed fully against him with a shudder. He loved the way Rodney fit against his body—warm and solid. Reluctantly, he pulled his mouth free and let his forehead rest on McKay’s.
“Yeah,” McKay said. “Just.” He smiled, and they came to rest against the door. “A little more.”
“A little more,” John murmured in agreement, and their mouths met again.
– – – –
John bounced back on his feet as he sized up his opponent. The VR training facility in the Mountain was ridiculous. He couldn’t believe McKay had created it. The man had always shied away from what he considered projects that were a waste of his time. Sheppard kicked out, his foot connected with an ugly thud, and the man’s head snapped back, simulated blood sprayed out over the sparring arena they were in. His opponent was as solid as anything else in the room despite the fact that he was a computer generated hologram. They’d found the device on an abandoned world that had once belonged to the long-gone Tollan. Rodney had appropriated all of their technology, and John figured some of that might have just been out of spite. He’d read the report on that mission the night before after he’d returned to the Mountain so he’d immediately went in search of the VR after breakfast.
He was on his fourth simulation and had stripped off his T-shirt a half hour into the first simulation. The bad guy drew a knife and launched himself at John. Sheppard pulled his K-bar, caught the man mid-stride, turned him, kicked in his left knee and cut his throat in one fluid movement.
John flicked the simulated blood off his knife and glanced towards his audience as the fake opponent disappeared. He figured half the men on his mission were in the room watching and judging his fitness in the field. The generator started to spawn another opponent when Sheppard heard the dulcet tones of Elizabeth Weir. He waited until the spawn was complete and casually threw his knife in the man’s face. The opponent hit the floor with a dull thud, and John turned to stare at her.
“Dr. Weir, I’m sure you were told I was in PT. Is there a problem that couldn’t wait until I was finished and had a shower?”
“I wanted to speak with you about the email you sent regarding security checks.” Her gaze shot toward the body and John watched it shimmer briefly before disappearing.
“You’ll want to speak with the Pentagon, not me, I don’t make those decisions I just forward them to the right people. The SGC got busy, and those security checks were allowed to languish. No one going through the gate with me is getting a pass.”
“With us,” she corrected.
“Mission safety is my primary concern with this, Dr. Weir, and if you’d been more careful in your selections, you wouldn’t be replacing two people.”
“Two. I’ve gotten approval for one of the psychologists to be replaced with a Navy Chaplain. He’s en route to the Mountain as we speak. He’s a psychiatrist and a combat veteran which is exactly what my men need. A civilian doesn’t have the right kind of mindset to deal with active duty personnel. I outlined this in the second email.” Bates appeared at his side and offered him his knife. John took the weapon. “Does this thing have a different setting? If so, could we elevate it above candy ass?”
Bates laughed but ambled off towards the generator.
John refocused on Weir. “If you’d like to have an in-depth discussion regarding this issue—please contact Mr. Woolsey and he’ll coordinate with my executive officer regarding my schedule. I’ll be spending the next two days evaluating the hand-to-hand combat skills of the Company, but I will be available at the dinner hour on both days.” He walked away from her without giving her a chance to say anything. “Bates, let’s roll this. I’m not evaluating these guys with this thing until it gives me a challenge.”
– – – –
Rodney frowned deeply as Weir swept into his office. “Elizabeth.”
“We need to talk, Rodney.”
“Is this about your issues with Sheppard?”
“Of course, he’s up to a full company—that’s over a hundred plus his officer corps. Two majors, one captain, and at least one lieutenant. Also, O’Neill has suggested that we take a military doctor on board as our CMO despite the fact that I’ve made it clear I want Carson. We don’t need that big of a military presence. Do you want to end up under Sheppard’s thumb? Once we leave Earth, he could use any flimsy excuse he wanted to seize control of the entire expedition.”
“Why would he?” McKay questioned. “If you’re worried that he’s NID or Trust, you shouldn’t—he’s been thoroughly vetted by the Pentagon. He’s a decorated war hero, Elizabeth. You should watch how you speak of him in this Mountain. The Marines take a great deal of pride in such men. He’s won the Medal of Honor. He makes every appearance of being a good man and a good officer. What more could we ask for?”
“We don’t need them at all,” Elizabeth exclaimed. “They’ll just be in the way of our research, Rodney. Tell the IOA we don’t need Sheppard’s gene.”
“It would be a lie. If Atlantis still exists, we’re going to need the Colonel and his supergene. He might as well be an Ancient as far as the strength of his gene goes. He was able to open up nearly seventy percent of the database in the Outpost that had been blocked to us.”
“Carson has almost perfected the gene therapy so we won’t need Sheppard. He’s already taken samples from him and will be able to replicate his so-called supergene. Help me fix this—for the sake of the expedition if nothing else. Let’s not make this personal. I’ll withdraw my complaints about you.”
“Is this some kind of lame ass attempt at blackmail?” Rodney asked in confusion. “Also, Carson doesn’t want to be CMO. He’s a researcher and hasn’t practiced medicine on people since he was an intern. I understand Dr. Harris is has worked with the VA since he joined the Air Force and is both experienced as a surgeon and in internal medicine. He seems like an excellent choice and who cares if he wears a uniform? The man has a medical degree.”
“You don’t understand,” Weir protested.
“Of course, I do, I’ve worked with the military since I was barely more than a teenager in some form or another. Despite my previously mentioned attitude problem, I’ve actually never had any problems working with the soldiers on the base. I’m field ready—trained with a variety of weapons and I have more reasons to trust Sheppard than I do to not trust him. I’ve read his service record, and there wasn’t a single thing in it that gave me concern.”
She scoffed. “Yes, and how is that even possible? Not one bump? Not one complaint? Not a single disciplinary action in his entire service record? Come on, McKay, that’s ridiculous. There is no way that Sheppard is as perfect as the Marine Corps would have us believe. If he is, why is he even here?”
“Because O’Neill had to go to the President to get him transferred here. Both the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Secretary of Navy told us no, and they both tried to argue against it with the President himself. Did you skip those emails? They had to read the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff in on the Stargate program to get Sheppard out of Afghanistan where he was apparently running a very successful intelligence operation.” Rodney did wonder how much John remembered about his service in that country and if that information had served him—saved lives. He hoped so. “I’m kind of busy, Elizabeth. I’ve got to sign off on all of these evaluations before they can be sent to you and Colonel Sheppard.”
She stormed out of his lab, and he slouched down on his stool briefly.
“I’d have not thought her the sort to fall for such…foolishness,” Zelenka muttered. “Do you really believe her end-goal is Ascension?”
“I have to admit that I’m surprised by her transparency,” Rodney murmured. “She’s keeping up a good front for the IOA, but that’s about it—they really don’t have any sort of day-to-day interaction with her.”
“Perhaps they do not care one way or another about her personal motivations as long as she’s willing to do their bidding as well.”
That didn’t sit well at all with him. Rodney frowned but didn’t say anything else. His thoughts drifted to John and the precious few kisses they’d shared in his safe room—the only place on Earth where they could actually talk to each other. Those minutes with John were the most honest he’d had in seventeen years and the relief of that still lingered.
John realized he was disappointed in Elizabeth Weir about half way through the tenth email she’d sent protesting changes the IOA had made to the mission due to his feedback. Every time she sent a complaint, McKay would send him an email with an unhappy face emoticon in it. John was really getting tired of that frowny face. And the worst part, Mr. Woolsey held a meeting every damned evening, reviewed her emails, and declined to take her protests to the IOA.
Carter had banned Weir from the labs after a particularly stressful afternoon where she’d managed to reduce Dr. Simpson to tears, and Dr. Kusanagi had tried to requisition a sword. Plus there was the immense pressure she’d put on Beckett and his team to finish the gene therapy. Stress levels were already extremely high in the SGC and the problems with the organization of the expedition were not helping.
John tapped his pen on the table in front of him as Weir continued to outline her plan to halve the military force assigned to the mission and how the civilians could fill in for fifty-four highly trained Marines. It would’ve been laughable if were not so insulting. He cleared his throat, and everyone looked his way.
“Forgive me, Dr. Weir, but how exactly are the civilians going to maintain settlement security when only twenty, so far, have managed to qualify to handle a handgun and twelve managed to fire a P-90 without injuring themselves?”
“Well, the Marines you’ll have with you can handle that.”
“I see and who will do the hunting for fresh meat? Settlement construction and repair? How long will the day last? Can I count on your people to do six to ten-hour shifts in rotation on such things as guard duty, settlement patrol, and also depend on them to do research on whatever we find of Atlantis? Whatever and wherever the city is, it’s been abandoned for thousands of years. Will your people be doing clean up before or after they spend time on guard duty or helping to prepare meals for over a hundred people? Let’s talk about exploration—off-world. How many of your people have ever been on a mission off-world?”
“I don’t know…”
“Nine and two of those did it yesterday,” John answered. “They’re also the only ones who qualified to handle a handgun and a P-90. Two also qualified with an AK-47.”
“There won’t be a need to do any off-world exploration.”
“And why would you think that?”
“Atlantis provided for the Ancients, and it will provide for us.”
John wondered if Weir had bribed Kate Heightmeyer for a clean bill of mental health. He glanced at McKay, who was staring at Weir in ill-disguised horror. “I see, so you’ve discovered the reason behind the Ancients departure from the Atlantis, and you know the city is intact and ready for us?”
“You know that I haven’t,” Weir snapped. “It’s been made clear that the Outpost has no such data.”
John focused on Woolsey. “Sir, I don’t believe in fairy tales and mythology is only entertaining in the movies. Dr. Weir will accept the changes in supplies and personnel, or I will contact the President and tell him that I’m not interested in this mission and that I’d like to go back to where I was. At least I was useful there.”
“Colonel Sheppard, if you refuse to go the IOA isn’t going to authorize the expedition,” Woolsey said, and Weir’s smile fell away.
“Then I would suggest you prove to me that this isn’t a suicide mission,” John said evenly, “Built on a ridiculous mythos about a bunch of aliens who couldn’t be bothered to live.” He stood. “General.”
“Colonel,” Jack said with a nod. “Dismissed. Have a good evening.”
– – – –
“You’ve got Weir freaked out,” Rodney confided as he sat down in front of John in the middle of the mess hall.
“I’m tired of the crap,” John said and glanced around the room. “I don’t have a lot of experience dealing with civilians in this context. Overseas, we had some contractors, but they were almost entirely all former military or other government employees if you catch my meaning.”
“I do.” Rodney cupped his coffee with both hands. “What’s your afternoon look like?”
“I want to go into town and make a few personal purchases. I figured it would be too much of a hassle to shop when I was in California or when I went home.” John pushed aside his empty plate and sighed as Weir joined them unexpectedly. “Dr. Weir, if you aren’t prepared to be rational about the mission then we really have nothing to talk about.”
“I was hoping you’d have dinner with me so we could work out our differences,” Weir said and offered him a hopeful smile.
He really wanted to say no, but it wouldn’t serve anything or anyone. John had to make every appearance of trying to make things work with Weir no matter the eventual outcome. He’d rather contain her on Earth then worry about her going off the rails in Pegasus. But he really wasn’t prepared to have a meal with her—it would set the wrong tone and would require them leaving the base which would restrict the content of their conversation.
“Let’s get some coffee instead and find an office to speak in.” John stood and started to pick up his tray.
“I’ll take care of it, Colonel.”
“Thank you, Dr. McKay.”
They filled up on coffee, she grabbed a piece of cake for each of them, and they went to her office. He didn’t begrudge her the comfort of her own territory. She had a small table with two chairs in the room along with her desk so they went to the table.
“I’ve read your service record. Well, I’ve read what I could of it. Most of it was blacked out.”
“My career has taken me into classified situations a lot,” John allowed. He sat back in the chair and but tried to keep his posture relaxed. “I have no interest in leading the expedition, Dr. Weir. I don’t actually have the experience to wrangle a bunch of civilian scientists who appear to be capable of blowing up an entire solar system. I believe the mission to be foolhardy and ill-conceived but the President of the United States asked me to undertake it, and I agreed to do so. But I’m not going to allow myself to be set up for failure, especially not when I have so many lives at stake. It is my duty to keep the expedition safe and to see that our mission to find and secure Atlantis is successful.”
“Aren’t you curious about the Ancients? About your ancestors?” She reached out and put her hand on his.
“I was alarmed and remain slightly horrified to learn that an alien species came to Earth and bred with the populace. I don’t know what that means for us as a species, Dr. Weir.” He pulled his hand away from hers. “Am I the product of their assimilation into Earth’s culture in an effort to blend in and survive or a genetic experiment? Was my ancestor captured and studied? Or was he or she merely seduced by an alien? I’ll never know the answers to these questions, and I’ve made my peace with that. I know some people on the mission are hoping to meet an Ancient—I’m not one of them. They’ve demonstrated a horrific amount of power even in a mortal form and we have no way of combating their abilities if they prove to be a threat.”
“Of course, they won’t be a threat,” Elizabeth said, and her cheeks flushed with excitement. She wet her lips and moved forward slightly, displaying more cleavage than John had ever known her to do. “We can learn so much from them—about their culture, about the history of our planet, and perhaps the real origins of our species. They were here before—Atlantis was built here. What does that mean for us? Did they seed Earth with life? Did they do it on other planets in Pegasus?”
“What if they’ve created something worse than the Goa’uld and it’s run unchecked in the Pegasus galaxy for thousands of years because they all Ascended?” He watched her process that but the excitement didn’t fade from her eyes. “There is no single reason not to go to Pegasus prepared as possible and your continued obstruction regarding military personnel and necessary supplies is not only confusing—it is fast becoming a source of concern, Dr. Weir. The Ancients aren’t gods—they’re an advanced alien species who couldn’t handle life so they basically committed suicide through so-called enlightenment.”
“No one had a problem with my mission plan until you arrived.”
“Personally, I don’t think anyone bothered to read your mission plan until I started asking questions,” John said dryly. “What’s your end game?”
“Pardon me?” She frowned. “I’m not sure what you mean, Colonel.”
“Your end game—for the Atlantis mission. What’s your best case scenario?”
“We find living Ancients.”
“On the city that we hope to use as a base for our expedition?” John questioned. “That’s your best case scenario? That the expedition essentially becomes an invading force? We could immediately be expelled from their city and stranded some place in Pegasus with little to no resources and Earth won’t have the first clue where we are.”
“But they wouldn’t!”
John noted that her fingers were trembling. “Well, they could kill us all instead. But the Ancients have already demonstrated they don’t care about Earth—why would those who haven’t Ascended by any different than those who have Ascended?”
She picked up her coffee. “How do you sleep at night, Colonel, with your head full of the worst possible things?”
“Like a baby,” John said and stared at her.
“Our methods of leadership aren’t going to mesh, Colonel.”
“I agree because you don’t have any leadership skills. You’re a diplomat with exactly zero experience in the management of people and resources.”
She flushed. “I led the SGC for several months.”
“Did you? Or did you just sit in someone else’s chair and ride it out? How many organizational decisions did you make? How many missions took place during that period? How many involved armed combat? Was anyone injured or killed during your three months of leadership? Did you have to tell someone’s mother they were dead? Did you even have to sign off on the ordering of supplies?”
Her face was flushed, and John wasn’t certain if it was embarrassment or fury. “There is more to leadership than that.”
“A good leader inspires trust, encourages teamwork, and doesn’t work to undermine his or her best people to maintain dominance. The fact is, ma’am, you’re not qualified to be the leader of the Atlantis Expedition, and while you appear to be an outstanding diplomat on paper, you haven’t demonstrated those skills in the last few weeks.” John stood and walked to the door. “And, Dr. Weir?”
“Yes, Colonel?” She asked tightly.
“I’m not the kind of man who can be managed or manipulated with sex. So please spare us the embarrassment of trying this again. It’s demeaning to us both.”
– – – –
They went to Target because John couldn’t fathom spending any amount of time in a mall. He stocked up T-shirts, lounge pants, socks, and his preferred fitted boxers. McKay roamed around after he’d cleaned out the USB drive section all the while complaining bitterly under his breath about their capacity. John wondered how Rodney had enjoyed landing in his teenage body pre-Internet. Well, the Internet had existed since the 70’s, but it hadn’t been anything great or entertaining until the late 90’s. He would laugh, but he’d been horrified, too.
He bought some snacks for his quarters then they hit a Waffle House to eat a bunch of food that was terrible for them. They really couldn’t talk about anything in public—either their past or current circumstances so they were reduced to arguing over Star Trek, which frankly they could do for hours. After they’d exhausted that conversation and McKay had tested the limits of the unlimited refills on coffee, they returned to the Mountain.
Rodney dropped John’s bags on the bed. “At least they gave you good quarters.”
John gestured around the room and Rodney shrugged, indicating that he wasn’t sure about surveillance. “Thank you for your help, Dr. McKay.”
“Rodney, Colonel. I helped you buy boxer briefs, after all.”
“Then please call me, John.” He refrained from rolling his eyes, and McKay smirked at him. “I’ll see you in the morning for what I’m sure will be another round of Dr. Weir complaining and making every appearance of being insane.”
“Certainly,” Rodney agreed. “I’ve had her checked twice for a Goa’uld symbiote. I tried again, but Carter told me to stop wasting her time though she said that she didn’t blame me for my suspicions.”
– – – –
The next meeting with Weir happened shortly after breakfast along with a request for Sam Carter to join the expedition as the military leader. The Air Force officer looked deeply uncomfortable, and John was curious as to why. He already knew that while they had the same rank, she had a full six months of rank ahead of him, but there hadn’t been any power games between them.
“I don’t have the ATA gene and moreover, Dr. Weir, Colonel Sheppard is infinitely more qualified to lead a military force in an isolated location for a protracted amount of time. He’s built his career on such situations in very intense and often dangerous situations. I also have no interest whatsoever in going to Pegasus long term. If the city is discovered, I would like to visit and be privy to any scientific data that the expedition recovers. I trust that Dr. McKay will continue to be an excellent asset to the SGC. He wouldn’t have spent the last five years as my second in the sciences if he weren’t superior at his job.” She stood and offered Woolsey a practiced, smooth smile. “Thank you for your consideration, sir.”
John watched the Air Force officer leave but stayed relaxed in his chair. There was no need to throw his weight around—physically or otherwise. Weir was working her way towards a conclusion that everyone but her could see coming. She didn’t have the gene, and there were plenty of people in the Mountain with diplomatic skills necessary for the expedition. He wondered if he could steal Daniel Jackson then thought better of it—O’Neill wasn’t going to part with his scientist.
Was it the two of them causing too many waves or had the expedition on this world had a fractious start to begin with? He had to think that it was the changes that he and McKay had made. Would their Elizabeth gone off the rails if Sumner had started asking the questions he should have? Not knowing the answers to these questions was annoying in the extreme. More so, Weir’s unique brand of crazy was going to make things difficult once they were on the city. Provided, of course, she made it through the gate.
Woolsey cleared his throat. “I’ve come to decisions and related my findings to the IOA. They have already approved these choices, and they aren’t up for debate. Colonel Sheppard, it has been decided that you will lead the expedition. Dr. Weir will remain part of the mission as an Ambassador for Earth. Dr. McKay will continue to be the Chief Science Officer. Captain Chase Harris has been confirmed as the Chief Medical Officer, and he’s been notified to report to you and Dr. McKay for a discussion about the state of the medical supplies for the mission.” He stood and raised a hand when Weir lurched to her feet. “Dr. Weir, these decisions are final. I will not allow myself to be drawn into sort of debate. The fact is that you don’t have the leadership experience to lead an expedition to another galaxy, and the safety of the mission must be a primary concern. Colonel Sheppard, do you have any issues?”
John stood. “No, sir, thank you for your faith in me.”
“You’ve more than earned it, Colonel. I’ve read your service record—the uncensored version. I’ve made it clear to the IOA and to the President that you’re simply the best choice for this, and we can’t afford to make any mistakes when it comes to the discovery of the city of the Ancients. I have faith you’ll do all you can secure the facility if it’s been abandoned as we believe. Thank you, in advance, for your service to both this organization and to Earth.”
He left without another word, and the three of them were alone. John sat down and rubbed his face with one hand.
“Well, you go what you wanted,” Weir ground out.
“No, I didn’t,” John snapped. “You’re the one that started this, Dr. Weir. I just wanted some damn supplies!” He huffed when Rodney cleared his throat. He stood. “Excuse me, I have PT scheduled. McKay, I’d like to have a meeting with all senior staff for the expedition in the morning. Dr. Weir, you need to decide right now if you’re going to be a part of that team or if you’re going to continue to be a problem.”
Twenty minutes later, he was stripped to the waist in a pair of BDUs, repeatedly punching a bag that Bates was dutifully holding. O’Neill came to a stop near them and watched as he sipped his coffee.
“Do you need me, sir?” John questioned as he hit the bag again.
“Nope, just came down here to check your temper. You’re also making me feel incredibly out of shape.”
“I’ve worked in nothing but war zones for nearly my entire career, General,” John said and exhaled when he landed a punch that pushed Bates back and nearly off his feet. “Sorry, Sergeant.”
“Keep it coming, sir, I can handle it,” Bates assured. “Did you want to move into the sparring ring? Major Lorne is an excellent kickboxer.”
“I’d rather not get one of us hurt this close to the mission,” John said gruffly and started to punch again. “Franks! Wilkes! You got a problem over there?” He turned and stared at the two men who were having an intense if somewhat hostile looking conversation.
“No, sir,” Franks answered immediately.
“Wilkes?” John questioned. He knew the younger man was gay—he’d originally been part of the second wave of the expedition. Eventually, he’d confided in his CO that he’d been outed at the SGC and Landry had transferred him to Atlantis to protect him.
“Everything is fine, sir.”
John frowned. “Wilkes, take Bates place. Franks, go do something productive before I find something for you to do.”
Bates left the bag and leaned against the wall as the younger man took his place.
John waited until the kid was situated and started punching again. “He hitting on you or fucking with you, Wilkes?”
Wilkes blushed. “Sir.”
“Answer the question, Lieutenant, or you’ll be joining me on my ten-mile run in the morning.”
“I run ten every day, sir. It’d be awesome to run with you.”
John laughed. “Don’t make me ask again.” He hit the bag four times before the kid sighed.
“A little bit of both, sir. I think he thought I was playing hard to get.”
“Aggressive pursuit or borderline sexual harassment?” Bates questioned. “I didn’t drag your ass through training and send you off to OTS so you’d tolerate bullshit like that, you know.”
“I know, Sarge. I’m just having some adjustment issues. They said it was a mistake to come back into a command chain where I was enlisted.” Ian sighed. “I couldn’t tell the people at OTS the truth, you know.”
John frowned and continued to punch the bag. “Bates, call Lorne down here.”
“Should he gear up?”
“No.” He exchanged a look with O’Neill, who only nodded.
He wasn’t all that surprised when Lorne showed up in under five minutes. John was still thinking about his options actually so he said nothing while he pounded on the bag. O’Neill was leaning against the wall watching the show. Franks was a Captain and one of Lorne’s choices due to his extensive off-world experience. Finally, he decided to be blunt because fuck politics.
“Franks seems to think it’s okay to hit on a junior officer, Lorne.”
Lorne immediately focused on Wilkes. “He touch you, kid?”
“No, sir.” Ian blushed. “Just…conversation, sir.”
“What sort of conversation?”
“He.” Ian blew air out between his lips. “Sirs.”
“This is chain of command we’re talking about here, Lt. Wilkes,” Lorne said sternly. “Not to mention the issues of fraternization.”
“He said our difference in rank didn’t matter because I’m Air Force, and he’s Marines,” Ian muttered. “But I know better, sir, I might look like I just stepped off a farm truck I’m not that naïve.”
John snorted. “You’re pretty naïve, kid, you should’ve come to one of us immediately.” He waved a gloved hand at Wilkes.
“He told me that he wanted to fuck me and if I didn’t stop playing hard to get that I would regret it,” Wilkes blurted out and averted his gaze.
“He’s off the mission, Lorne. I can’t have an asshole like that in my command,” John said gruffly.
“I’ll replace him immediately, sir.”
“Well, I don’t want him either,” O’Neill complained.
“I can transfer him to McMurdo, sir?” Lorne asked.
O’Neill nodded. “I’ll sign off.”
Ian watched Lorne leave then focused on Sheppard. “How did you know, sir?”
“I imagine the Colonel has a fair bit of practice with such things,” O’Neill said dryly. “He didn’t spring a full bird right out of the womb, Lieutenant and I imagine he’s always been pretty.”
John laughed reluctantly as O’Neill strolled away.
– – – –
He followed McKay home again. Minutes after arrival, he dropped down on the couch in the safe room and let his head fall back as Rodney engaged the security. “Well, I didn’t see that coming. I mean I knew Weir was pushing her luck but I’d begun to think that Woolsey was just going to slot himself into the role of leader.”
“I figured he’d pick you actually,” Rodney admitted. “As I said, on this world Woolsey is former military, and I don’t think he was on board with a civilian-led mission to begin with. He’s the one that insisted that O’Neill be put back in charge of the SGC after the Asgard got him out of the Ancient stasis pod.” He sat down beside John. “And this version of Weir is far more extreme on the Ancient stuff than our own.”
“Or was our version merely better at hiding it?” John questioned. “I mean, I always thought that whole replicator thing was what drove her toward Ascension, but maybe it was always there in the background.” He rubbed his face with both hands. “I don’t want to be in charge of the whole damn expedition.”
“But I’m not sure we can trust anyone else with it,” he said then. “Every ounce of control we can manage we should keep, right?”
“Yes,” Rodney agreed. “Weir was always going to be an obstacle, but now things will be different and you’ll be able to shift things in ways that I can only hope will lead to a better outcome. I’m not sure I can…I can’t face Teyla dying again, John. I just can’t.”
“I need you to be prepared for the reality, Rodney,” John murmured. “We’re on a different world—there is no telling what is going on in Pegasus or if Teyla even made it to adulthood. We don’t know the state of the Wraith or how similar the circumstances will be on Atlantis. It’s a total mystery.”
“I know but…I know.” Rodney sighed. “Fuck, I wish I was sorry, but I’m not. Everything was so screwed up that even if I’d known we’d end up on an alternate version of Earth, I’d have still done it.”
“Me too,” John admitted and flushed. “Or murdered her. Or murdered her and used the device. Jeannie would’ve helped me hide her body.”
Rodney grinned. “Yeah, she would’ve. I can’t wait for you to meet her again. She’s got two kids this time around—Madison and Max.”
“Like in Rod’s universe,” John murmured. “Did you take over Rod’s body, you think?”
“No, I don’t think so but mostly because you still ended up in the military. His John had a vision problem that prevented him from joining the Air Force.”
“Right,” John agreed. “So you and Jeannie have a good relationship this time around?”
“Yes, I did manage to learn from that mistake though I still don’t know why she had to marry an English major of all things,” Rodney grimaced in distaste. “I paid for her wedding.”
“And I didn’t even shoot Kaleb in the leg or anything.”
John laughed. “I have missed you so much. It’s not even funny.”
Rodney caught Sheppard’s hand in his and laced their fingers together. “I hate that we have to be so formal with each other in the Mountain, and I can’t just drag you down to my lab to show you something cool.”
“Do you even have anything cool in your lab?”
Rodney laughed. “Yeah, actually, a few things. Since I knew where to look and what to look for—I’ve got quite a few Ancient gadgets. Nothing you haven’t already seen, mind you, but I’ve been able to use the technology to further my knowledge of their programming language and pass-off a lot of information that I already had but couldn’t share.”
“Have you ever considered confessing to Carter that you time traveled?”
“No, she’d try to fix it,” Rodney admitted. “She’s known for her zero tolerance for such things. She had the dimensional mirror on this world destroyed as soon as they figured out what it was. I don’t know what they might do if they knew were time travelers. We certainly wouldn’t be going to Atlantis. We’d both probably end up in prison because they wouldn’t trust us. We’ve hidden too long, gone too far down that path.”
John squeezed his fingers gently. “Just you and me then.”
“You and me,” Rodney agreed and took a deep breath.
– – – –
John would’ve liked to said that everything fell into place once Weir was moved into a position where her power and influence was limited. But the first staff meeting proved to be a difficult adjustment for her, and it showed. She became visibly more upset with each decision John made regarding resources and personnel. Two more people had been dismissed from the expedition due to mental health concerns and while she hadn’t complained about the individuals being dismissed she’d been very vocal about the replacements that McKay had put forth.
John had added them to the list for security check and psychological evaluations when both McKay and Kusanagi both nodded their agreement. Weir had frowned at him and sat back in her chair in what amounted to a pout. Evan Lorne was seated beside him, and the only note on the man’s legal pad was a reminder to suggest that Weir get a second mental evaluation. There was also a detailed doodle of a Goa’uld symbiote which amused John more than it should.
“Captain Harris, status on medical supplies?”
“I’ve submitted an updated list as requested—there were only a few issues of concern in that area, but I wasn’t surprised as Dr. Beckett has no experience in a combat posting and wouldn’t have been aware of what field medics carry. As requested, I’ve identified fifteen enlisted personnel that I can train as needed for field medic duty. Some of them have already completed a few training courses, and the others have expressed interest but haven’t had the time to dedicate to training. Other than that, I’m set for the mission date. I encountered no problems in the requisition for additional supplies.”
“Thank you,” John said and barely frowned when Weir cleared her throat. “Yes, Dr. Weir?”
“I’m sure the Ancients have medical facilities on Atlantis. Are you certain we need to waste space in the mission payload for such supplies?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” John refocused on his list. “Dr. Porter, you were in charge of getting us two crated X-302s. How’d that go?”
“Oh, the Pentagon said no three times so I cc’d Mr. Woolsey and the President on my fourth email request. They’ll be delivered this afternoon. We’re bringing five MALPs, and I have two being retrofitted to pull the crates for the X-302s. Between Dr. Zelenka and myself, we should have the first one assembled inside of an Earth month—depending on how terrible things go on the other side of the gate.”
John grinned at her. “You emailed POTUS?”
Allison smiled. “He’s my Uncle. I don’t often use it to my advantage, but I was fed up with being rejected. Once I get my X-302s, I’ll be set for the mission date, Colonel.”
“Where’s Dr. Zelenka?”
“He’s at Area 51 doing a final audit on supplies for our department. It’s being shipped here as he signs off. We’ve had three planes come in already,” Rodney answered as he wrote something on his tablet.
John nodded. “Questions, concerns?”
“None, nearly all of my people have managed to qualify with at least a handgun so that’s one less thing to worry about. I’ve upped our allotment of naquadah generators to fifteen, and they’ve all been assembled. I’ve also packed the two empty ZPMs for continued experimentation and research. We’re as ready as we’re going to get, Colonel.” Rodney set aside his tablet.
– – – –
“You seem to have gotten to know McKay pretty well.”
John flicked the fishing pole Jack O’Neill had given him. “He’s…interesting.”
“Frustrating,” Jack suggested.
“Brilliant,” John said and laughed when Jack sighed. “And honestly, sir, I could use someone smart on my side. He doesn’t even look at the universe the same way I do. His perspective is invaluable and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why Weir was so against him going on the mission—well—beyond her foolish belief that the Ancients will swan in and rescue her from herself.”
“I told the IOA that she should be removed outright from the mission, but they refused to consider it. I think she’s got something on a few of them—and considering the work she’s done in the past it wouldn’t be surprising if she knows where a few skeletons are buried.” Jack leaned back and crossed his legs at the ankle. “I’m going to give you some unsolicited, personal advice.”
John frowned and swished his fishing pole.
“You’ve never fished a day in your life, have you?” Jack frowned in obvious disgust.
“I’ve heard it on good authority that you don’t even have fish in this pond, sir, so really?” John raised an eyebrow at him.
Jack grinned then sobered. “You’ll tell yourself that you should keep things as professional as possible. You’ll be thinking that you need to isolate yourself personally because you’re the leader of the entire expedition. It’ll be a mistake, Colonel. I see how you conduct yourself, and I certainly can’t fault the officer you are. You’re exactly the kind of man who gets the kind of rank you have at your age but don’t deny yourself friendships out there or intimacy. Your circumstances are going to be isolated enough as is without cutting yourself off from even the smallest of comforts.”
“Speaking from experience, sir?”
“Hell, yes,” Jack said roughly. “And he had to die before I got my head out of my ass. Daniel says I’ve lost too much in my life, and it made me emotionally unavailable. But that’s just a nice way of saying that I let the death of my son turn me into a bastard who was prepared to ignore the love of my life to have a pretense of peace. It wasn’t worth it.”
“I’ll remember that.” John took a deep breath. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
– – – –
Anne Teldy, the officer he’d put in charge of general operations, left the conversation she was having and crossed the large room to his side. “Colonel, I’ve finished rating the civilians and assigned weight limits to their packs. Captain Harris has prepped a medical supply package for each expedition member that way if our supply train gets cut off we won’t be on the other side without necessary medical supplies. Dr. McKay requested that I clear space in each pack for coffee.”
“A pound for each pack,” Anne elaborated. “I know enough about geeks to know how important it is. No one complained about the sacrifice of space. Only two civilians have failed to qualify to carry a weapon—Beckett and Weir. Beckett is morally opposed to carrying a weapon, sir, and Dr. Weir has refused to even consider it. The rest have all been assigned a 9mm and holster and two clips. I’ve outfitted the civilians with the same uniforms like the rest of us as ordered. Dr. McKay didn’t argue so I don’t think he cares though he was thrilled with the pockets in the BDUs.”
“Anything else?” John questioned as he mentally checked off items on his list.
She grimaced. “I heard Weir had a full blown fit about the chain of command announcement, but unfortunately, I wasn’t there to witness it.”
“You will—she’ll be at the next meeting.”
“Fantastic, sir,” Anne said with a bright smile.
“Your idea of entertainment is a bit of concern, Major.” John just sighed when she continued to smile.
“I’m from Florida, sir.”
– – – –
“Dr. McKay, your choices for your command staff?”
“Yes,” Rodney began and looked up from his tablet. “I’ve sorted everyone into the workflow and assigned leads. Kusanagi for Information Systems, Commander Grant will supervise all social sciences and psychological services—civilian and military—as we’ve already agreed. I’ve made it clear to civilian medical personnel that while I’m the CSO that they will fall under the direct command of Captain Harris—I’ve included the genetics lab and biomedical research in that. Dr. Parrish will supervise Biology, Botany, Chemistry, and Environmental Sciences but they are also all on tap to work for Captain Harris upon arrival to ensure our environment is sound for both us and our food supply.
“We’ve discussed it at length, and Dr. Porter will be Deputy Chief Science Officer as she has the most cross-discipline experience outside of myself. She’ll personally supervise the Math Lab and Mechanical Engineering while Dr. Zelenka will handle Electrical, Communications, and Aerospace Engineering. I’ve reviewed all of the files you sent me and passed along names to various departments for lab staffing. All of my people know to coordinate the use of enlisted personnel in the labs with Major Teldy.”
“What would the enlisted Marines do in the labs?” Weir questioned.
John inclined his head towards Anne, who frowned.
“Ma’am, the Marine Corps train our people for a variety of jobs and professions in such fields as electrical and mechanical engineering, chemistry, and information systems. We made sure of our people are capable of functioning in multiple roles on the expedition to ensure the success of our mission. Speaking of,” she continued, and she turned toward Sheppard, “the Team arrived an hour ago and are being oriented for the mission. Rear Admiral Dawson was persuaded to part with a 4-man fire team from SDVT-2 out of Little Creek led by Lt. Declan Frost. They all agreed to the mission shortly after they were shown a Goa’uld mothership.”
John refrained from laughing though he had to admit the footage of the ship was impressive as hell.
“What sort of team is this? Don’t you have enough military?” Weir asked.
“Navy SEALs,” John murmured. “And, I do—now. If the city is on or underwater like the mythology suggests then, I need some people on the mission who can get in the water and work.” John put a note on the schedule to meet with the four men before the end of the day. “Anything else?”
“I’m not in the chain of command,” Weir snapped. “Surely the IOA isn’t going to agree to that.”
John frowned at her. “You’re a diplomat, Dr. Weir, and officially the ambassador for the expedition. That doesn’t translate into any sort of leadership role. Dr. McKay has given you a position in the social sciences department, as well, I believe.”
“Yes, I’ll be answering to Commander Grant,” Elizabeth said snidely. “I don’t agree with that either, Colonel.”
“Thomas Grant is a gifted academic and a decorated naval officer, Dr. Weir. He is very qualified to lead the social sciences, and you’re the only one who voiced a problem with his placement. Beyond his medical degree, where he graduated at the top of his class at John’s Hopkins, he has a master’s degree in psychology and an undergraduate degree in anthropology. He joined the Navy as an officer and has served his country with distinction since then. He’s more than earned the respect you appear to be reluctant to give him.”
“What about McKay?” Weir finally demanded. “You’ve put him in the command structure! He’s basically your second in command!”
“Major Lorne is second in command,” John said. “Dr. McKay is a valuable resource so, of course, I left him in the place that the IOA gave him which is the Chief Science Officer of the expedition. The position does give him limited authority over the military—appropriate authority as it applies to the science that takes place on the mission and the overall safety of the expedition. It’s part of his job, Dr. Weir.”
“I’m not answering to him.”
“Then stay on Earth,” John said bluntly and watched her mouth drop open in shock.
“All I’m asking is for you to elevate my position in the chain of command above McKay.”
“There is no position available above McKay in the civilian ranks. No one is getting a free ride on this mission, Dr. Weir, you either work where you are assigned or stay here. Period.”
He wasn’t at all surprised when she stood and left the meeting. He turned to Anne as the door shut with a sharp little bang. The childish behavior was starting to grate on his nerves, and he wondered why Weir was so reluctant to stand her ground with him. The Weir he’d known in his previous reality would go to the wall to get her way and retreat was rarely even seen as an option.
Teldy frowned. “There wasn’t even any hand waving, sir. I heard there was hand waving and pacing and carrying on.”
McKay snorted. “I’ll forward you the security footage, Major.” He turned to John. “She’s probably calling the IOA.”
John tapped his pen on the table in irritation. “Teldy, get with Lorne to finalize the departure order, verify our supplies are secure, so we don’t get any surprises on the other side of the gate and make sure everyone is down for the required rest period. We’re twenty-three hours out at this point.” He focused on McKay. “How about you take me to dinner, Dr. McKay?”
Rodney shrugged. “I like to eat meals with pretty people.”
Teldy laughed. John shot her a look, but she didn’t even bother to appear repentant. “I like to eat meals with pretty people, too, sir.”
– – – –
The ended up picking up a couple of pizzas and retreating to McKay’s safe room. John took off his shoes and wiggled his toes in his socks before opening up the box. McKay set a beer down on the table and snagged a piece of the pizza.
“She’s going to be a real pain in the ass on the city,” Rodney said.
“Perhaps but I had a lot more control of the city than I ever let on. As long as the city is at least as functional as it was in the previous timeline, I can limit her ability to act.”
“I wonder if Old Weir will be in the pod,” Rodney murmured.
“This Elizabeth Weir wouldn’t sacrifice herself for the expedition—being thrown back in time to meet real Ancients would make her fucking day,” John said darkly. “So the moment we enter the city—the priority must be getting it to the surface before the power fails. We won’t have long and even if we have to make people suspicious—we’ll have to act quickly.”
“A lot of it, you can pass off as your gene. No one else has a comparable gene so they aren’t going to question you if you say the city gave you the information you needed to save everyone’s ass.” Rodney shoved off his sneakers and snuggled down in the corner of the couch. “Beyond Elizabeth’s craziness…what concerns you about the mission?”
“Everything,” John murmured. “We don’t know what’s on the other side of the gate, Rodney. Just because this Earth is a near match to our own doesn’t mean things aren’t terrible in Pegasus. We can’t even be confident that the city is still there. What if she’s already flooded or been destroyed?”
Rodney frowned. “I don’t think the Ancients would’ve set us down in a reality where Atlantis was destroyed. I have to think Janis was directly responsible for the choice that brought us to this world which means that Atlantis is waiting for us. As for the rest—I can’t say. Maybe most of the Wraith are sleeping or maybe they’re not. Nothing is certain, but this life is already better than what we left behind. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” John agreed. “I’ve been hesitant to bring this up but if the device basically killed us—did Keller get your money?”
Rodney laughed. “No, actually, I never updated my will which means that every single penny I had went into a trust fund for my niece, Madison. The SGC would’ve never allowed her to contest the will because our deaths would’ve been classified to protect the program.”
“Good, because it was kind of annoying to think she might have won,” John admitted. He snagged another piece of pizza and took a big bite. “Too bad we can’t figure out a way to ruin her life in the other reality from here.”
“I’ve considered it, but dimensional travel is tricky. I didn’t want to make any mistakes or honestly, meet Rod again. I sort of hated him.” Rodney frowned when John laughed. “Did he…you slept with him, right?”
John’s gaze widened and he turned to stare at McKay. “What?”
“You slept with Rod,” Rodney repeated.
“You don’t have to lie to me, John. He all but told me.”
“Rodney—I never laid a hand on Rod. I swear it. He might have looked like you, but he wasn’t you. I’ve been…” He sighed and rubbed his knee. “At that point, I was already stupidly in love with you. I certainly wouldn’t have considered him a viable replacement. Besides, it just hurt.”
“What hurt?” Rodney asked in confusion.
“Rod made it clear that he would…that I could have him, but it wasn’t the same. It hurt to think that there was a universe out there where I could have everything I wanted, but I wasn’t in it. I told him no and I also told him not to bring it up with you. He was a real jerk apparently.” He picked up his beer and drank half of it.
Rodney reached out and grabbed the can. He put it on the table and before John could protest, he swung a leg over Sheppard’s lap and settled there.
John’s hands immediately clamped down on McKay’s hips and pulled him in. “Got something on your mind, Dr. McKay?”
“I do,” McKay said. “So listen—I blackmailed the President of the United States to change the UCMJ and end that stupid DADT bullshit because I didn’t want there to be a single thing between us when you finally came back into my life. I never searched for you personally—not even a damned Google search because I couldn’t risk it.”
“I know,” John murmured. “You don’t know how tempted I was to go to MIT before joining the Corps. A single semester there would’ve allowed us to meet then you’d have been in my life in such a way that no one would’ve questioned us exchanging emails, phone calls, or letters—whatever we could. But every change I made was one more step away from the path that brought you to me to begin with. I know you think I was reckless with the timeline.”
“I can’t blame you for what you’ve done,” Rodney said. “If I’d lost Jeannie like you lost Matt in the first timeline—I’d have done everything to make sure it didn’t happen again.” He moved closer until he could rest against the erection that John wasn’t bothering to hide and ran his hands over Sheppard’s head. “I miss the hair.”
“The Air Force let me get away with shit the Marine Corps never would,” John said wryly.
Rodney laughed and leaned in. He pressed his mouth briefly to John’s and Sheppard’s hand clenched on his hips. “We have plenty of time to figure out what we can have, but there is no one else, John. There never really has been. I can’t say I’ve been even remotely celibate since we came back in time but I never let anyone close—no one could ever have taken your place.”
“You loved Jennifer Keller,” John said and frowned. He looked away. “Sorry—it’s just. You did. You loved her.”
“Not more than I love you and I’d never given her a second glance if I’d thought for second that I could have you. Our marriage was falling apart before that so-called accident, John. We wouldn’t have lasted another six months.”
“So she basically murdered you,” John said with a scowl. “I should’ve killed her. Let’s figure out what universe she’s in and send ourselves a note about what a fucked up cow she is.”
Rodney laughed. “John.”
John cupped the back of McKay’s neck. “Tell me you’re mine.”
“I’m yours,” Rodney murmured.
He opted to have a meeting in one of the large training rooms an hour before dial out rather than a dramatic self-serving speech in front of the gate. John made it a point to greet each person by their name, ask if they were ready for the trip and if they had any concerns. Both McKay and Weir lingered at his side through the whole process. Once he was finished, and the members of the expedition were as relaxed as they could be, he stepped up to the podium that had been provided.
“We are an hour from mission departure. Providing that we do make a connection with the gate in Pegasus and the MALP gives us a favorable report, we’ll be taking a big step together. I want to thank each and every one of you in advance for your courage and grace under pressure. We are as prepared as we possibly can be for the unknown we face in Pegasus. Dr. McKay asked me to remind you to check your packs and make sure you have your allotment of coffee and the USB drives you were given to carry. Each of you should have five pounds of coffee and ten USB drives. He’s entirely serious about both. Those little USB drives are the only things standing between you and boredom as they hold the content of the entertainment server he’ll build later. So take care of them.” He paused. “This meeting is dismissed and might I suggest each and every one of you hit the head before we leave.”
By the time everyone was lined up, spilling out of the gate room and down the hall John was starting to worry that maybe in his new dimension that the gate address for Atlantis wouldn’t work despite McKay’s assurances. He watched the wormhole engage, and he took a deep breath as it stabilized. He flicked the safety off his P-90 and beside him McKay followed suit. The MALP went through.
“The MALP is reporting breathable atmosphere,” O’Neill said over the intercom. “Good luck.”
John stepped through the gate and McKay followed. Weir and Lorne came through behind them, and they moved out of the way of the gate so that the rest of expedition could come. They worked quickly, and Lorne had people sorting the supplies as soon as they came in. John moved away from that and walked to the stairs. They lit up under his feet, and he paused.
“Here, Colonel, I’ve found a control center of some sort.”
“Something is very wrong,” John said, and he turned to McKay. He wondered if he could feel it. “Anything working over there?”
“No, I need to install a generator,” McKay frowned. He reached out and touched the panel of the console in front of him. Light bathed his face.
“Get away from it,” John shouted and started toward McKay.
Rodney looked up even as he was enveloped in a very familiar golden light. John’s stomach dropped, but he kept moving. The moment he could, he jerked the scientist free of the console. The light fled, and McKay’s eyes rolled as he passed out.
“Son of a bitch, Harris!” He dragged McKay’s limp body from the console. John’s radio buzzed in his ear, and he clicked it. “We’ve found an Ancient facility of some kind, General O’Neill. McKay touched a console much like the ones in the outpost and was hit with some sort of light. He’s currently unconscious. The size of the complex is currently unknown, and power appears to be limited.”
“Should I stop sending people, Colonel?”
John took a deep breath as he watched the doctor checking over McKay. “Harris, report.”
“Vitals are steady and normal, Colonel. There is no physical damage that I can report and if he’s been given an Ancient download of some kind—we can’t send him back to Earth regardless.”
“Send the rest, General.” John closed his eyes briefly and hoped he’d made the right choice.
It took five minutes to get the rest of the expedition and their supplies through the gate. “Take care of yourselves, Colonel, and congratulations on traveling to another galaxy.” A crate rolled through the wormhole, and one of the Marines caught it. The wormhole winked out.
“Everyone stay in this room,” John ordered. “Something is off with the technology, and I’m not sure it’s the power problem. Anyone else getting it?”
“I am,” Kusanagi called out. “Feels like danger?”
“Yes,” John agreed. “Lorne?”
“The same, sir, like I’m being warned that something is wrong.”
John walked around the perimeter of the room, above the expedition on the upper deck. “The structure appears sound—no apparent damage due to age.” He stopped at the large balcony above the gate and stared at the star-filled night sky. The city wasn’t under water. “Zelenka, any idea on how much power this place has?”
“None. What can you see?”
“We appear to be on the surface of a large body of water,” John said, and his gaze drifted to McKay’s still form. “Teldy, Lorne—find us a place to set up base camp. One room is preferred. If you have the gene, be careful and touch nothing unless you have no choice. Try to mentally prod doors before resorting to making contact. Avoid the command center entirely until we know what it’s done to McKay.
– – – –
Harris looked up from his place on the floor beside McKay. “Everything appears normal, and he’s in REM sleep, Colonel. We won’t know what kind of impact it had on him mentally until he wakes up.”
“Keep me informed of any changes. Do you need any medical supplies located and unpacked?”
“Not yet, but if he doesn’t wake up within a few hours, I’d like to put him on fluids. He’s fit and has no real problems to speak of physically. I know where my IV supplies are if it comes down to it—they’re part of my emergency kit which I packed in the red metal locker.” He pointed to the large locker not far from him. “I’ll take care of him, sir.”
“Thank you,” John murmured and left them. He couldn’t stare at McKay—it would freak people out, and he needed to appear as if he wasn’t on the brink of a full-blown meltdown. He sat down at a makeshift table where Lorne and Teldy were.
“Eighty-seven civilians, one-hundred fifteen military all accounted for, sir. All the civilians are down for the night, and I have guards on both entrances to this room. Bates is handling gate security and they’ll be trading out in six hours shifts.” Lorne put down his tablet. “Concerns?”
“Besides the fact that our CSO is unconscious?” John sighed. “It’s a waiting game. Dr. Biro, any issues?”
“No, Colonel, everyone appears to have handled the trip well. We had a few bouts of nausea, but no one threw up. Per Captain Harris’ orders, I’ve stationed medical staff throughout the room so they’ll be close if anyone has problems. The environmental conditions are very close to Earth norm. But we’ll set up extensive environmental tests once we’re settled. Environmental Science has already confirmed that radiation on the planet is twenty-five percent lower than what is normal for Earth.”
“We’ve got an adequate supply of vitamin D if the ultra-violet light isn’t suitable for our needs, correct?” John questioned.
“Yes, of course, a two year supply for every individual on the expedition.” She yawned. “If you don’t need me, Colonel, I’d like to get some sleep so I can relieve Chase in a few hours.”
“We’re good, Doctor, have a good night.” John refocused on his own tablet as Weir joined them. “Dr. Weir, I was told all the civilians were down for the evening.”
“I couldn’t sleep,” she confessed. “It’s all very exciting.”
“At least we’re secure for the moment,” John murmured.
“I’d like to walk around for a bit.”
“No,” John said flatly. “All of my men are on rest or duty, and we’ve only cleared this room and the gate room for occupation. You can go out on the balcony if you wish but that’s it.”
“Dr. Weir, is your curiosity more important than the lives of our people?” John questioned. “You never even qualified to carry a weapon, ma’am. I can’t let you just walk around this facility without a guard and my people are on a schedule to maintain both their health and the security of the mission. Considering what has already happened—our exploration of this facility will be done by the numbers.”
“Of course.” She left, and Lorne sighed.
“I know,” John murmured. “I’d have left her on Earth, but I wasn’t given a choice on the subject.”
“You shouldn’t have to fight that battle every day, sir,” Lorne finally said and stood. “I’ve situated your pack near the far door, and I’m up here near this one. We’ve set up motion sensors up in every hallway leading this way so we’re as secure as we can be.”
“Sounds good.” John logged off his tablet. “Wake me if anyone gets foolish.”
He walked across the large room that would eventually be turned into their main storage area and found his pack just the opposite side of McKay. John glanced towards Chase Harris, who just inclined his head. John settled down on the air mattress and took a deep breath as the city settled in around him.
She was more and so very different than the city he’d lost in the other timeline. There was an awareness under the technology that had either been missing or damaged in the universe he and McKay had been born to. Sheppard reached out and let his fingers brush the floor—he was rewarded with a little rush of heat.
“What have you done to McKay?” John demanded silently.
“Relieved him of a terrible burden—he will be well, John Sheppard.”
John swallowed hard and took a deep breath. The city had never spoken to him directly before. “I’ll hold you to that.”
– – – –
John woke up to the sound of McKay complaining. It was music to his ears. He rolled his head and opened his eyes. Rodney was sitting up and glaring at Miko Kusanagi. The woman had a cup of coffee in one hand and a bowl in the other.
“I’m an adult,” McKay said with a glare. “I can have coffee for breakfast if I want.”
“Eat the oatmeal or no coffee,” Miko said firmly and offered McKay the bowl.
“McKay, eat the oatmeal.” John stretched and wiggled his toes in his boots. He hated sleeping in clothes. “Then submit to Harris for evaluation. You got mind-fucked by a piece of Ancient technology yesterday.” He sat up and rubbed his head with a yawn. “And good morning—it’s good to see you conscious.”
McKay took the oatmeal. “How long was I out?” He held out a hand for the coffee which Miko surrendered with a narrow-eyed glare.
John checked his watch. “About ten hours.”
Rodney grimaced. “Sorry about that.”
“Do you remember anything?” John questioned and glanced around. Several people were listening in.
“No, it didn’t even hurt,” Rodney said. “When I saw the light burst out of it—I was certain I was about to get the shock of my life.”
“Feel Ancienty?” John raised an eyebrow when Rodney snorted.
“No, I don’t think so. Ancient tech as a mental component and the console probably just had some sort of overload. It impacted me because I was touching it and I have the gene. Porter, Zelenka, Kusanagi—haul ass over here and report. Tell me everything.”
– – – –
John took the coffee he’d been given and went out on the balcony where Rodney had set up a crate to work on. “Any luck on finding a floor plan?”
“Very lucky actually, I’ve deployed a series of search bots on the Ancient system which is working very well. I’ve already given Major Lorne a map of the tower we’re in plus two more near us. He’s set up ten search teams, and I’ve assigned a civilian to each one. The rest are waiting for reports to come back in so we can start setting up space to work.”
Rodney paused and looked around. “Eh.” He cleared his throat. “The two towers I’ve chosen for clearance appear to be residential. It’ll be enough space for us to be assigned quarters. There is a suite of rooms in this tower that seem to be residential quarters. There is a bathroom and all of that. I figured we could share that until we can spread out. I’d like to be close to the gate room until we’ve got a good grasp on the technology.”
“Sounds good. Get with Heightmeyer and Commander Grant regarding roommate assignments. Let people bunk together if they request it and do assignments on the rest. I’d prefer that no one live on their own at present unless they have an excellent reason. I’ll set up command in the gate room.”
“I’ll head that way once I get my people situated and working.” Rodney paused. “Remind them not to touch anything, Colonel, not until we’ve figured out what caused that console to overload. We might not get so lucky the next time.”
“I will,” John murmured.
Privacy might as well be a myth at present, and it was grating. He really needed an office and a locked door so he could get some real answers from McKay.
– – – –
By lunch, John had an office thanks to his admin, an Air Force Lieutenant that Lorne had hand-picked for the job. Sean Taylor was scarily efficient and once he had John ensconced in the office above the gate room—no one got past him without a reason. The younger man had stationed himself at a desk—taken from where John had no clue–outside of the office and proceeded to given a scary impression of a dragon. The kid was a stickler for protocol and had even made Lorne wait for approval before allowing him to enter John’s office.
Lorne sat down in front of John’s desk, bemused and a little flustered.
“You picked him,” John reminded. “I didn’t even think I needed an admin.”
“Yes, well, he’s very good at his job and doesn’t let anyone’s rank deter him from his duty which I appreciate even if that means he makes me wait outside your office like a naughty student sent to the principal’s office.” Evan sighed. “So, Weir.”
“She’s on one of the exploration teams.”
“Yes, the one Major Teldy is leading. Teldy has reported that Weir has tried to leave her group three times since they started and disobeyed a direct order not to touch anything once. Thankfully, she doesn’t have the gene so she hasn’t put her team in danger but she’s annoying Teldy, which takes some doing. Anne is very patient with civilians. Both towers have been cleared, and I have the rest of the men going in behind the search teams to clean and prep the rooms for occupation. We should be ready to move out just before dinner.
“Commander Grant has completed the room allocations for the military—in some cases, teams preferred to bunk together. Dr. Heightmeyer handled the civilian assignments—two or three per room because there were more men than women. There are a few couples on the expedition so, of course, they asked to bunk together. Everything is settled on that front. I’ve already had your quarters cleared—your and Dr. McKay’s things have been sorted to the suite. Lt. Taylor directed the placement of furniture. There is a lot of it, and it’s all in good condition.”
John typed out a few notes and checked off the items on his list that were done. “Where are the clearance teams now?”
“Lunch breaks, then McKay has given them a third tower, but it’s twice as large as the ones we’ve already cleared so I’ve assigned all ten teams to it. He believes it to be research labs of some sort. We’ve also finished clearing this tower and identified several interesting things—a space that was obviously a hospital and a bay full of space ships.”
John frowned at him. “You found space ships and didn’t lead with it? What kind of man are you, Lorne?”
Lorne grinned. “The kind of man who wanted your undivided attention while I reported, sir.”
John laughed and stood. “Show me the space ships.”
He let Lorne take the lead, but he was super excited to see the Jumper Bay again. It didn’t surprise him at all to find that McKay and Zelenka were already in the bay. He walked into one of the docking pods and let his hand trail along the surface of the Jumper. “McKay?”
“Eight here, another four in what looks like a maintenance area beneath us and the city is reporting another four in another area—an underwater exit. I’ve pulled the data for these little ships and once I get it all translated, it’ll be forwarded to you, Colonel.” He paused. “The Ancients called them portam artis—essentially it means gate craft.”
John grinned at him, and McKay just sighed. “Let’s call them Puddle Jumpers.”
“If you insist,” Rodney said dryly. “Please don’t get in it or try to activate any of them. I’d rather do a thorough inspection of them all before we start testing them for use.”
“Okay, but I go first.”
“The leader of the expedition shouldn’t be putting himself at risk, sir,” Lorne interjected.
“Me first,” John said firmly. “I have the strongest gene so I have the best chance of controlling one of these things.”
Lorne looked to McKay for support.
“I agree with you both, actually, so there will be a thorough inspection of every single system before the Colonel is allowed to test one of these things. The test will have all the safety measures we can devise, Major.” McKay walked away from them. “I’ll be available for a briefing in about an hour, Colonel.”
John nodded. “Lorne—inform Harris, Heightmeyer, Grant, and Weir that we’ll be meeting in an hour and find us some space to do so.”
“Lt. Taylor is setting up a conference room not far from your office, sir. I’ll coordinate with him. Have you had a meal, recently?”
John shook his head. “No.”
“We’re running the mess out of the room we slept in last night,” Lorne said. “But we’ve found an ideal area already. We’ve got a few gene carriers with Dr. Kusanagi checking out the equipment that is already there with McKay’s approval. They’ve already set up the induction ranges and their generator is in place.”
“Sounds good,” John said. He peeked in the window of a Jumper. “I can’t sit in one, McKay?”
“No, Superman, you can’t sit in one. Go be a Marine elsewhere,” Rodney ordered sternly and walked away.
John laughed. “Don’t forget about the meeting.”
“I won’t. I put a reminder on my tablet.”
He left the Jumper Bay reluctantly; if there hadn’t been an audience, he was pretty sure he could’ve gotten McKay to open one. They’d lost all of the Jumpers a full year before Atlantis, so it had been close to twenty-five years since he’d been in his favorite ride. John grabbed a sandwich, soda and a bag of chips from the make-shift mess. Experience told him that that the soda would go long before the coffee did, even with the extra packing they’d done, so he resolved to get his fill while he could.
Half way up the stairs to his office, he heard Weir. She was getting huffy with his admin which was irritating all on its own. Taylor had a pretty crappy job, truth be known, he’d end up taking a lot of crap from a lot of people to ensure proper operations and John’s peace of mind.
She turned to face him and the look he got from Sean Taylor spoke of relief and immense frustration.
“Lt. Taylor is in charge of my schedule, and I don’t appreciate you mistreating him because he didn’t give you the answer you wanted. How can I help you?”
“I wanted to talk to you, but he told me you were unavailable.”
“I am about to start my lunch break—I haven’t eaten in about seven hours.” He watched her flush, but he wasn’t sure if she was embarrassed or just more pissed off. “If you can handle watching me eat, you’re welcome to join me in my office.” He walked past her and didn’t sigh when she immediately followed. “Sean, I’m still on target for the group meeting in the conference room. Make sure everyone is in place.”
John sat down at his desk as Elizabeth closed the door. It was kind of amusing, for him, to sit down in the chair that had been hers in the previous timeline. He unwrapped his sandwich and made a plate out of the paper so he could open the chips. “What did you need that couldn’t wait for the meeting?”
“Rodney isn’t handling the search teams well at all. He’s not letting anyone interact with the technology we find, he’s restricted us from going anywhere but the towers he chose without any input from anyone else and is using the Marines as prison guards. There is a tower on the far side of the city that has shown up in my research that would be far more beneficial for the mission.”
“One, Dr. McKay is doing exactly what I asked him to do. Two, all of my people are following my orders and their first mandate on this mission is to protect the civilians—even from themselves. No one has any business, whatsoever, exploring on their own. As for the technology—it’s alien and dangerous as we’ve already discovered. We were really lucky that McKay wasn’t severely injured or hurt.
“Of course, McKay is going to restrict how we all interact with it until it’s proven safe to use. This is not a playground but a city built by people far more advanced than we are. We have no idea what sort of security measures are in place—for all you know a non-gene carrier could be killed for trying to activate a device. They restricted their technology using genetics for a reason, Dr. Weir, and we don’t know what that reason is. We tread carefully, we explore slowly and steadily. We minimize risks, and we keep our people alive.”
“Jack O’Neill has nearly died twice because of Ancient technology, Dr. Weir. We’re hell and gone from the Asgard so they can’t come to our rescue if one of our people stumbles across a repository and gets their head sucked into it. Every single report generated out of the Ancient Outpost had a section dedicated to how the technology they found there was largely unstable due to being abandoned for thousands of years. Machines that aren’t serviced regularly become unstable and could fail in stupidly catastrophic ways. We currently have nowhere to go if this city becomes unlivable for one reason or another.”
“Exploration requires risks.”
“A calculated risk, sure, but fools that rush in—die. I don’t consider a single person on the mission expendable. Who exactly are you interested in sacrificing in your efforts to discover the secrets of Ascension?”
She flushed and stood. “I told the IOA you’d be detrimental to the success of this mission, and I was right. Your timid approach to how the expedition was structured and supplied was evident, but they wouldn’t listen to me.”
“Insinuating that I’m a coward isn’t going to work with me, Dr. Weir. I’m not a thin-skinned boy, and I have nothing to prove to anyone, least of all you. And for the record, I told the IOA that I thought your only goal for Pegasus was Ascension and that I believed you were suicidal. I told them you couldn’t be trusted to make any sort of decisions regarding the expedition. They did listen to me.”
“I’ve been called worse by those far more insane than you appear to be. Do your job, Dr. Weir, and follow instructions. If you endanger this mission or a single person on this city with your bullshit, you’ll be confined to quarters until Earth sends a ship to get you or we find the power to dial home.”
She stalked out of his office without a word and John sighed as Sean left his desk, gently pulled the door shut, and returned to his duties. John frowned as he stared at the space that Taylor had set up. He stood, sandwich in hand, and walked to the door which he opened.
“Sir?” The younger Air Force man shot to his feet.
“This looks different than what I saw last night.” He waved a hand at the receiving area that had once been a narrow walkway from the office to the control room.
“I’m a gene carrier, sir.”
“And,” John prodded patiently.
“When I was setting up your office, I wished out loud there was an area outside of your office to set myself up and this morning when I arrived to finish setting up there was space.” He flushed. “I’ve already prepped Dr. McKay an email and cc’d you on it, sir. Of course, our intranet isn’t up, yet, so the email is sitting in my outbox. I didn’t mean to make the city do something. I think you might have lost about forty-five feet square feet of your office…I don’t know what to do about that.”
“It’s fine,” John assured. “I’ll protect you if McKay loses his shit. Just don’t go talking to the city again until we know what’s going on.” He closed the door and went back to his desk. He patted the wall next to his chair. “Cool it, sweetheart, before people start thinking you’re alive.”
The city pushed back with amusement which stunned John enough that he shoved half of his sandwich in his mouth without even realizing it.
– – – –
The conference room table was different, but he attributed that to Sean and what the younger man considered a proper table. He was seated alone in the room when McKay entered. Rodney set a coffee mug down on the table, a tablet, and an energy bar.
“Did you read the email that Taylor sent us?” Rodney asked immediately. “It was the first thing that hit my tablet when Miko launched the broadband routers.”
“Yes, just a few minutes ago actually. Don’t be pissed with him, McKay, he had no idea the city was actually listening, and that’s kind of a problem. We’re going to have to gather up all the gene carriers and have a talk with them.”
John relaxed in his chair as Lorne entered with Captain Harris followed closely by Commander Grant, Kate Heightmeyer, and Elizabeth Weir. Sean Taylor entered last, and the doors all slid shut.
“Sean, do you have the agenda? I don’t want to leave anything out by accident.”
“Yes, Colonel,” Taylor answered and slipped into place on John’s left. “Major Lorne is up first.”
Lorne put his tablet down and the cup of coffee he’d brought with him. “The two residential towers are clean—it didn’t take a lot of work as the rooms were mostly empty and dust was minimal. We’ve found a lot of what appears to be small personal use technology. I have non-gene carriers collecting it for the Science Department. For safety reasons, I also have it under guard. While I haven’t wondered far from the area that McKay has identified for our purposes, sir, I would say that the city is roughly the size of Manhattan. It’s going to take months to search the whole thing. Since the Ancients have a habit of leaving stupidly dangerous tech around—we’ll have to move very slowly through the various towers.”
“Once McKay has finished pulling the city plans from the database, we’ll make a long-term plan for exploration.” John rocked back in his chair. “Security concerns?”
“A few civilians here and there who are too curious for their own good, but they aren’t making a fuss when they’re redirected. It’s probably going to become something of a game.” Lorne shrugged. “It’s good practice. If the men can’t keep a bunch of scientists corralled then, I’ll have to set up some exercises to train them.”
Sheppard grinned. “Right. Anything else?”
“No, sir, everything is running basically as planned.”
Focusing on Captain Harris, John set aside his empty coffee cup. Taylor stood and retrieved an insulated coffee carafe that John hadn’t even noticed and refilled his cup. McKay waved his own.
Taylor flushed. “You take your coffee black, Dr. McKay. This has cream and sugar, as the Colonel prefers.”
Rodney made a face but continued to hold out his cup. “You’re a menace, Sheppard.”
Sean refilled him and put the coffee aside. “I prefer tea myself, Doctor.”
“How did you pass the psych eval?” Rodney demanded, and they all laughed.
Sean just smiled.
“Captain Harris, status on the infirmary set up?”
“We’re looking good, sir. I’ve set aside any devices that I found in the space that Dr. McKay cleared for our use. I have two private rooms and a ward large enough for ten beds, and I’m told that hospital-like beds were located in the storage area in this tower. Considering some of the equipment on the walls in the space, I agree with Dr. McKay that it was probably utilized by the Ancients as a medical facility. I’ve secured a cabinet in my office for narcotics, and it’s under lock-and-key per your instructions. I currently have no questions or concerns. We’re running by the numbers, and there have been no injuries so far.”
John nodded and focused on the two psychologists. “Dr. Heightmeyer?”
“As Major Lorne has already mentioned a few civilians are chafing under the restrictive nature of the exploration of the city, that being said, no one is unduly frustrated or angry. Plenty of people have died at the SGC in the field because they failed to follow procedure or encountered technology they couldn’t control. They’re eager but not resentful.”
“You’ll keep me in the loop regarding any changes? Some of these people have never been off-world at all, and we can’t expect them all to adjust immediately to living in such an alien environment. We’ll need to watch for signs of depression as much as anything else.”
“Agreed and I’m keeping close to make sure the civilians know they can depend on me for help if they get into a bad place mentally.” Kate tapped a stylus on the table then flipped through the screens of her tablet. “My office space has been set up already, and I’ll be opening up my schedule for sessions within the week.”
“Great,” John said. “Commander Grant?”
“As you said, many on the mission have never been off-world. Depression is a concern and so is zealotry. The Ancients were a powerful race, and now they enjoy what many would assume to be a god-like existence. I was very careful to question each military asset regarding this issue and feel that everyone is on the same page, but attitudes can change in a heartbeat on such topics.
“Our circumstances could lead to some dangerous situations if people start to invest in the idea of Ascension and being surrounded by the civilization the Ancients left behind might inspire some on the city to neglect life in favor of an altered existence. This is especially true if our situation were to take a dangerous turn.” Grant grimaced when John frowned. “I realize it’s a touchy topic, sir, but it needs to be kept in mind as we learn more about the Ancients and the city they left behind. I’ve been asked about religious services and a chapel, so I’ve already put in a request for space to be dedicated to that. I held non-denominational services in my role as chaplain in my last posting. I just need Dr. McKay to figure out our calendar so I can set things up.”
“Understood, Commander, and I appreciate your dedication in this matter. As a rule, I don’t attend church but let’s make sure that those that want to be included aren’t on duty during your services outside of an emergency situation.” John turned to Lorne. “You’ll work on that?”
“Yes, sir, of course.” Lorne made a note on his tablet. “It shouldn’t be a problem though they will have to make allowances for the mission schedule—something the military are already aware of.” He focused on Grant. “Your services are open to civilians?”
“Of course,” Grant murmured. “We’re all the same in God’s house.”
“Good, let’s make sure you have a large enough space to handle the entire expedition, just in case.”
“A lot of my people aren’t particularly religious at all,” McKay pointed out.
“Yes, but we should have space regardless,” John murmured and raised an eyebrow when Rodney started to speak. “While I certainly plan to keep us all alive out here, McKay, we have to accept the fact that we might need the room for a funeral.”
Rodney nodded and frowned. “Yes, terrible but true. I think it should probably be in the central tower. There is a large room two floors down that might be acceptable. I’ll show it to Commander Grant after the meeting.” He turned to Grant. “Do you prefer your rank, your academic title or perhaps Father Thomas?”
“I’m comfortable with whatever you’re comfortable with, Dr. McKay.” Grant made a few notes on his tablet. “That’s all I have. There are no issues regarding stress in the ranks, but I don’t expect that to be a problem in the short-term.”
“Dr. Weir, have you considered the translation schedule for the Ancient database?” John questioned.
“We’re focusing on city function, engineering, and history. Specifically, Dr. Grodin is focusing on finding out why the Ancients returned to Earth,” Elizabeth murmured as she used slim fingers to shift the screens of her tablet. “Dr. McKay has the translating program he built with Dr. Jackson which should help with general translation. It’s a brute force option but it’s better than nothing and will allow for more research to take place for those still learning the language.”
He was relieved she didn’t manage to insert a single veiled complaint and wondered if she was putting on a front for everyone else. John honestly hoped so. The fewer people to realize Weir was batshit the better.
“McKay? You’re up.”
Rodney put down his tablet. “Power is a problem, but I didn’t expect anything different after being abandoned for over ten thousand years. There is a single, nearly depleted ZPM powering the entire city. There are only five towers, including this one, that have power which means they’re probably all on the same grid. Fortunately, we also considered alternate energy sources so we’re already setting up a solar array to start harvesting power. Also, it appears the Ancients used hydropower but that system is down. Once we get it up and running—we should be able to use the ocean currents to generate enough power to open up more towers. Safe estimate on that is six weeks barring any disasters or parts that can’t be replaced.
“There are roughly a dozen grounding stations in the city that will have to be serviced. I have Dr. Kusanagi going through the database searching for planetary data to help Dr. Parrish determine seasons on whatever land mass is near us. Planetary Sciences are working on a measuring the day, week, month, and year.”
“Is that a wise use of your time?” Weir questioned.
John cleared his throat and the woman flushed. “The Ancients wouldn’t have built so many grounding stations on their floating city if they didn’t serve a purpose. Tropical storms on earth can produce a lot of lightning.” He opened the personnel roster on his tablet. “Dr. Billings has a master’s in climatology along with his Ph.D. in geophysics. I assume he’s y on this project, McKay?”
“Yes, Dr. Parrish is very adept at using his people,” Rodney agreed. “I’ve also put Dr. Simmons on the task as he’s most experienced mechanical engineer. We’ve slotted the two crated X-302s into the top of the Jumper Bay where there are several empty slots. Dr. Zelenka will be heading up their construction—since he was instrumental in the original design and built the first test craft on the X-302 project, he’s uniquely qualified to handle that. The private bathrooms in the residential tower appear to function the same as the public restrooms we found here in the central tower. Dials and buttons so no gene required. No one has done anything terrible or tore a hole in space so we’re good.”
“A hole in space isn’t terrible?” John asked in amusement.
“Nope, that’s more like interesting and sadly improbable with the technology we currently have available, but I live in hope.”
“It’s all you can do,” John agreed. “Well, add me to Zelenka’s project team. My focus was combat engineering for my Ph.D. studies, but I can be useful to him. He can forward me anything he needs to be done or researched. I’m learning Ancient—I’d say my comprehension is close to seventy-five percent right now.”
“I’ll let him know,” Rodney said. “You have a master’s in math—right? I’ve got a few projects that you can work on there as well as you have time. Once I have a server set up, Colonel, I’ll add you to the projects in question.”
“Sounds good.” John turned to Sean. “Anything left?”
“The intranet?” Sean questioned.
“Ah, we’ve got the server farm under construction. Broadband is up, but the intranet infrastructure will take a bit of time as we marry our tech with the Ancient systems. Currently, only the email server is operational, and the broadband range is limited to the control tower. The Ancient database with the translation program attached is being reviewed for integration. The gaming server will go up after that followed by the server we created to host music, movies, and TV shows. Which reminds me—status on a gym and a walking/jogging route?” McKay turned to Lorne as he asked the question.
“I’ve delegated that to Bates,” Lorne said. “And he’ll send an email with his approved route and the gym area when he’s finished. He’s checking structural integrity because we’re beginning to suspect at least part of the city was flooded at one point.”
“Let me know if you need a geek for that project,” Rodney said. “And I’m done. I think.”
John stood. “Same time and same place, tomorrow.”
“Wait.” Weir flushed. “What about the gene research, Dr. Harris?”
Harris frowned. “Dr. Beckett is helping the rest of the medical department set up what is essentially a hospital, Dr. Weir. I probably won’t release my research staff to individual projects for a least a week if not more. We have a lot of people to take care of, and I want to be prepared if there is an accident or illness.”
She frowned at him but said nothing.
– – – –
“I’m thinking that she could be lost in a freak transporter accident,” Rodney said as soon the door closed.
John laughed. “Rodney.”
“Or we could go visit the Genii early and have her broker trade with them.”
“Your assholery just achieved orbit,” John confided and crowded his friend up against the wall as he mentally shouted lock, lock, lock at the door of their quarters. He brushed his lips gently over McKay’s and Rodney relaxed under his hands. “I hate how much we haven’t been able to really talk.”
“I know,” Rodney murmured and pressed a soft kiss against John’s jaw. “I feel like I don’t know all of your secrets.”
“You can learn them again. In fact, I have one to share right now,” John murmured. He took a step back then guided Rodney to the sofa. They dropped on it together. “I don’t think we had this much furniture in the other timeline.”
“If we did, it wasn’t stored in the central tower basement,” Rodney agreed. “So…what’s going on, Superman?”
“You tell me. What actually happened when the console lit up?” He shifted so he could look at McKay head-on. “And don’t bullshit me.”
“I wouldn’t,” Rodney said. “I don’t remember much at all actually—just the light, a voice whispering to me, and warmth but nothing like when I touched the Ascension machine. I woke up beside you. That’s it. What have you noticed?”
“The city isn’t the same,” John confessed. “The thing with Taylor and the office rearrangement is probably just the tip of the iceberg. I felt…she is relieved we’re here.”
“Relieved,” Rodney repeated. “You’re saying that Atlantis is sentient?”
“Maybe. When we first arrived—everything felt off and weird, but that feeling went away a few hours after you touched the console. I asked the city, Rodney. I asked her what she did to you, and she said she’d relieved you of a terrible burden. What was she talking about? Did you bring something with you from when we were Ascended? What the hell was the Iterum?”
“I don’t know,” Rodney said. “Every time I think I get a handle on what it was—what it did—I get slapped in the face with something that makes my assumptions seem so fucking stupid. I…you…” He rubbed his face. “My understanding of Ancient and Ancient tech borders on preternatural. I chalked it up to the previous Ascension, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe something else traveled with us, with me? I just don’t know, and it’s honestly freaking me the fuck out.”
“I need to sit in the chair.”
“No fucking way,” Rodney snapped. “Not yet, and not for a while because what the hell, John? How did she tell you what she did? Did it appear on your tablet or on a wall?”
“No, I heard it. It was a mental communication of some kind.”
Rodney reached out and took John’s hand. “Promise me you won’t sit in the chair until I’ve thoroughly investigated what’s going on.”
“Rodney. We could get immediate answers.”
“I waited seventeen years to get you back, John. Please don’t take a risk that could kill you. I don’t…none of this would be worth it if I didn’t have you.”
John tugged him close, and Rodney allowed himself to be tangled up with Sheppard on the couch. They lay there together for several minutes in silence then John cleared his throat. “I’m not going anywhere without you, McKay. Not ever again.”
Not taking McKay to bed immediately had been the best, most adult decision he could’ve made. They were both emotionally fucked up, and their situation was tenuous enough without adding a new element to their already intense relationship. John really felt very mature about the whole thing which meant he felt no guilt whatsoever for watching Rodney’s perfect ass as the scientist moved around their little kitchen area making coffee.
“You’re not very subtle.”
“I don’t have to be subtle when we’re alone,” John pointed out reasonably.
Rodney laughed. “I’m kind of pissed.”
“These were Weir’s quarters in our before and seriously, one person doesn’t need all this space.”
“Who did she end up rooming with?” John questioned as he took the travel mug of coffee that Rodney offered him.
Rodney sighed. “She insisted on a private room and I’d have fought her on it but frankly there is no one on the mission who deserves to have to share space with her. No one appeared to be put out by her privilege on the subject but then I figured none of them wanted to be roommates with her. Miko told me all she does is complain about you when she’s not in the company of military personnel. You’re apparently a tyrant and a dictator. I’d be concerned about a mutiny, but she’s managed to make most of the civilians hate her or worry about her sanity. Or both—mostly both.”
“Grant and Heightmeyer are keeping an eye on that situation at my request. There are probably people on the mission that Weir picked because they are unduly fascinated with the Ancients.” John walked out onto the balcony, and McKay followed. “Let’s talk about Carson.”
Rodney sighed. “I’ve avoided him this time around.”
“Why?” John asked. “You didn’t avoid any of the others. Though I was surprised that Porter is your second.”
“Porter would’ve been the first timeline around if she hadn’t broken her leg three weeks before we left Earth. I just…” Rodney frowned and leaned against the railing. “It’s not about his death or the clone business.”
“Then?” John questioned.
“I’d have never approved the experimentation on Hoff if Carson hadn’t been my friend,” Rodney said. “Remember how you felt after Doranda and that fuck up? How I used our friendship to get you on my side? I knew Weir would do whatever you wanted in the end because she wanted to sit on your dick.”
John’s mouth dropped open. “McKay.”
“What? I mean, I’d like to sit on it too so I can hardly judge her for that,” Rodney grinned when John felt his face heat. “But the thing is that I realized I’d made a stupid mistake with you. I never came close to doing it again. But Carson used his friendship with me to pry my approval loose, and Weir fell on the idea like a thing starving because she was petrified of the Wraith and would’ve done anything to be safe from them. I let Jennifer talk me into the Michael experiment. Then Carson and she both managed to convince me that experimenting on a whole damn hive would be okay. The results? The Wraith killed most of us, and we lost Atlantis.”
“You can’t think that it was all your fault,” John said, genuinely sick to his stomach at the thought. “Rodney.”
“It was an avalanche of bad decisions,” Rodney said flatly. “And it started with the experiment on Hoff. If I’d said no—I’d have had some foundation to stand on when Keller used that very research to convince Weir to do the Michael experiment. Ronon told us all how stupid and dangerous it was. And eventually, he paid for that foolish decision we made in a vacuum. The Wraith can’t be cured, and extermination of their entire population is our only course of action.”
“It’s only genocide if we lose in the end,” Rodney said and looked out over the surface of the ocean surrounding them. “As Churchill said, history is written by the victors.”
John sighed. “Fundamentally, I agree. I’ve never met a Wraith that didn’t need a bullet in the head, but I’d like to avoid them as long as possible, Rodney. I’d prefer we let them sleep if we can.”
“Well, they aren’t all asleep—we know that. Beyond the Keeper’s hive, there are other hives out there. Sateda was virtually destroyed while most of the Wraith slept. We need to figure out how many Wraith hives are active, and we need to have a reason to be searching so we need to go to Athos. But we don’t have an excuse for immediate exploration like we did last time.”
“Has the database revealed anything about the city being on the surface?” John questioned.
“No, but I’m looking through the sensor data as I figure that might be the only clues we get on the subject. Allison is looking at the Ancient database for the history of the city and Miko is searching through the programming for security and failsafe procedures. They don’t know why I’m so interested, but Miko expressed surprise regarding us being on the surface. She assumed we’d be under water.”
“Maybe the shields failed. Lorne says there appears to be some flooding damage.”
“I’ll start looking backward for system failures.” Rodney frowned. “We don’t have long to prepare for the superstorm.”
“If it comes.”
“I don’t think we’re lucky enough to skip it.”
“Granted. I’ll get the biologists researching the marine life—see if they can’t find your Sam.”
“I miss my cat,” Rodney said suddenly. “He doesn’t like Sam more than me, you know.”
“What his name?” John asked curiously. He’d only seen the sleek black cat once during his visits to McKay’s house.
Rodney flushed. “Eoin.”
“You bought a black, green-eyed cat and named it the Welsh version of John?” Sheppard asked then smiled when Rodney blushed. He looked around then prodded the scientist back into their quarters. “When we make contact—we’ll make Sam send your cat.”
“Well, I have you now.” Rodney let himself be pressed up against the wall. “Though he was much easier to pet.”
“You think I’m hard to touch?” John questioned. He brushed their mouths together. “Really?”
“I think you’re more now than I ever knew you to be, and I’m not sure what to do with you. I think the old John would’ve slipped into my bed last night.”
“Oh, I thought about it,” Sheppard assured. “And jacked off in the shower thinking about it. But…I’d like us both to be a good place emotionally when we take that step.”
“I don’t disagree,” Rodney said and relaxed in John’s hold. “You’re beautiful.”
“Shut up,” John said with a laugh. He let his head rest against Rodney’s. “Think of a reason, Rodney. We can’t…what if we aren’t the reason that Athos was culled that night? I figure we have a week, maybe less.”
“I did the math—six days and three hours until the culling. We arrived earlier in this timeline than we did in the first. I made sure of it—I wanted time to keep her and her people safe it were possible.”
“Were you in love with her?” John questioned.
“No more than you were,” Rodney retorted.
John took a deep breath. “It was never sexual, Rodney. I mean I was tempted once or twice, but I never went to bed with her. There’s something about Teyla that drew me in from the first moment, but it was more than a physical attraction.”
“But less like a sister,” Rodney said wryly. “I get it, John. She’s inspiring and beautiful. Yes, I loved her, but I’d never gotten her dirty with my mess. She deserves so much better than that.”
John laughed suddenly. “Once, she and I were splitting a bottle of wine—very good wine that she’d traded for and talking about people, relationships. She said sometimes she just wanted sex and didn’t know why people had to make it so complicated.”
“The Athosians had much freer opinions of such things,” Rodney allowed. “You seriously never slept with her? You know a lot of people thought Torren was yours.”
“I wish,” John murmured. “I wish he’d been mine because I would’ve sent him back to Earth when Teyla died, and he wouldn’t have gotten culled on that planet because of that fool.”
“I didn’t like Kannan either,” Rodney admitted. “She deserved better, but her choices were always more important than anything I wanted. Otherwise, I’d have tossed her and Torren both through the stargate to Earth when the fifth siege started.”
John sighed. “The question is how do we get Torren without that asshole?”
“We could push him off a cliff after he knocks her up.”
“Pretty sure she’d kill us both,” John admitted. “We’ll figure out something when the time comes. If the time comes. Maybe this Teyla won’t be all that interested in him, and the events that led her to falling into that asshole’s arms aren’t likely to happen again anyway. Damn it.”
“Maybe this version of Teyla never has kids. We don’t know. Dimensional travel is a real bitch, John.”
John kissed him again then lifted his mouth. “At least we didn’t end up in the mirror ‘verse.”
“You nerd,” Rodney accused with a grin.
“You’d look hot in leather pants,” John continued. “Why do they always dress like they’re in some BDSM fantasy world?”
“There’s a whole discussion there about sexual repression and how sexual freedom is considered evil that we don’t have time for. I didn’t pack any leather pants, but I look great naked—my ass is a modern marvel.”
– – – –
Porter and Taylor were waiting outside the door. John sighed and walked toward his office, his admin just on his left. He could hear Porter reporting to McKay as they walked in a different direction.
“Something fucked up happening?”
“We’re short three civilians this morning, sir. Lorne and Teldy have three teams searching through the towers we’ve authorized the use of. Dr. Zelenka is in the command center reviewing last night’s sensor data.”
John frowned. “Why am I hearing about this just now?”
“We finished roll call ten minutes ago, sir, and I tried your radio, but you didn’t respond.”
John pulled the earwig out of his pocket with a flush. “Sorry, it’s something to get used to.” He tucked it into his ear, aware that he’d not put it on because he’d wanted private time with McKay. “Who’s missing?”
“Weir, Heightmeyer, and Grodin. None of them are answering their radios either. They missed the AM check-in set up in the temporary mess, and we’ve already checked their assigned quarters.”
They entered the command area, and the few civilians who were on station looked nervous. John ignored them—he didn’t have time to cater to fear or whatever might be brewing. “Bates.”
“Sir, I’ve checked in with all three teams that handled overnight watch in the residential towers. No one left either until just shortly after 7:00 am. They have no record of the three missing civilians leaving the towers at all, but they aren’t there.”
Transporters. John blew out air between his lips. They hadn’t officially discovered the transporters, yet. How could he convey that without…he jogged up the stairs. “Dr. Zelenka, check the city power grid for unexplained power fluctuations.”
“What am I looking for exactly, Colonel?” Radek shifted in his chair as he worked on the tablet he had connected to the console.
“If the three missing people didn’t walk out of the residential tower then they found another method of leaving it,” John said. “The Asgard and the Goa’uld have some form of beaming technology. It stands to reason that the Ancients might have as well.”
“Ah, yes, very logical,” Zelenka murmured. “Oh, there.” He shifted rapidly through several screens. “Yes, there is some kind of beaming system—there are hundreds of elevator like rooms across the city connected to the power grid, and one was activated early this morning in Residential Tower 1.
“Can you tell where they landed?”
“Well outside the containment zone we’ve created for safe exploration,” Radek said grimly. “They’ve been gone two and half hours, Colonel. I need to report to Rodney so we can set up an alert to monitor these transporters until we can lock down the dangerous parts of the city.”
John opened up a channel on the radio. “McKay, you said in a report about six months ago that you’d recovered what looked like a life signs detector at the Ancient Outpost. Can you get to it readily?”
“Yes, Colonel, I made it part of my emergency kit. I’ll bring it to you shortly. Zelenka is showing us the data he’s found on the matter conveyors.”
“Matter conveyor?” John questioned. “Come on, McKay.”
There was an audible huff and several people around John laughed. “Fine, you child, we’re working on the transporter data, and I should have a general location for these three idiots shortly.”
– – – –
John was eating a power bar when he caught sight of McKay again. He tossed the one he’d gotten for McKay and Rodney caught it. “Well?”
“They’re on the opposite side of the damn city,” Rodney said. He passed the LSD to John. “The transporter system is full of problems, and the area blew entirely, and I’m not willing to authorize further use of the system without maintenance. You’re going to have to hike it—all eleven miles.”
“Lorne set up a team and include a medic. Also, pack them some food and let’s hope they haven’t wandered far from where they landed.” John turned to McKay. “Unless we can use one of the Jumpers?”
Rodney glared. “You could crash and die.”
“Walk it is.” John activated the LSD and frowned briefly at the screen. “Yeah, this is working…McKay are there any more of these in what’s been collected so far?”
“We’ve found five so far.”
“Let’s put them high on the list for clearance and get our security teams outfitted with them,” John said as he turned it off and tucked it in a shirt pocket. “It’ll take us about three hours to get there, but there is no telling how long it’ll take to get back. I wouldn’t say any of them are in prime shape, and they haven’t eaten in hours. I’ll stay in radio contact as much as possible. Teldy, you’re in command.”
– – – –
John didn’t have to touch Grodin to know he was dead, but he said nothing as Lorne reached down and hesitantly checked for a pulse. He clicked his radio and cleared his throat. “McKay, we’ve found a body.”
“Who?” Rodney demanded.
“Based on height and the uniform, I would say, it’s Grodin. He looks desiccated and very old. The remains are essentially mummified.” McKay’s silence told John that he understood exactly what Sheppard couldn’t say aloud. The life sign detector in his hand displayed two signs which meant that either Weir or Heightmeyer was also dead. “We have two life signs out here besides my team.”
“Understood, Colonel. Dr. Harris wishes to speak with you.”
“Go ahead, Harris.” John waited while the radio clicked slightly in his ear.
“Colonel, I’ve found medical records in the database that speak of such bodies. The deaths were attributed to two different species called—the Wraith and a large insect called an Iratus both of whom were purported to feed on life energy. The details were scarce, so I can’t tell you what either might look like at this point. I would assume the Wraith is humanoid since the incident report I read mentioned a feeding hand. I’ll focus my people on finding out more—I recommend you exercise extreme caution in searching for the others. Sergeant Zhang has a body bag in his kit so he can prepare Dr. Grodin for the return when your situation is secure.”
It was kind of startling and weird to have people who were so on their game. He hadn’t considered what information the medical staff had been finding as they were settling into their space. Beckett had been so focused on the gene research in the first timeline that John had to wonder if the man had ever looked into the historical medical data available in the infirmary. It was annoying that their single-minded focus in the first timeline had been so damaging.
“I’ve got movement,” John murmured. He closed the radio connection.
Kate Heightmeyer came around the corner, her gun drawn. She looked like hell—her usually immaculate hair was tangled, and a bruise was spread out over the left side of her face. “There was…a monster.”
John and Evan reached her at the same time. Sheppard took her weapon from her shaking hand. “Where is Dr. Weir?”
Her mouth trembled, and tears fell. She turned to Lorne. “I’m sorry, Evan. I was just trying to humor her and calm her down. I thought going along with her would settle her. Peter is dead.”
“Yeah, Doc, he is,” Evan said gently. “Where is Dr. Weir, Kate?”
“She’s with the monster. I killed it.”
“You killed a monster,” Evan murmured. “Insect or humanoid?”
“Humanoid.” Kate shivered. “I had to use both guns—mine and Peter’s. She wouldn’t stop coming, talking to me—she hurt Elizabeth—made her old.” Tears spilled down her cheeks. “Don’t be mad at me.”
“I’m so mad,” Evan told her dryly. “You know better. This was stupid—instead of coming with her, you should’ve reported her.”
“I didn’t know it was a transporter until it was too late, she lied to Peter and me. We were only supposed to look at the room she found down the hall from her quarters.”
“We can have that discussion later, Dr. Heightmeyer.” John glanced between them—he wondered if the two of them had been in a relationship in his ‘verse. They were obviously on their way to something in this one. “Can you show us where Weir is?” He paused. “Where is your radio?”
Kate flushed. “In my quarters. Elizabeth took Peter’s and threw it in the water when he tried to call for help.”
“For fuck’s sake,” John muttered and rubbed his face. “Never, ever go anywhere without your radio and the next time someone basically kidnaps you, feel free to shoot them in the leg.”
Kate blushed. “Of course, Colonel.” She pointed towards the hallway where she came from. “Peter held the monster off so we could escape but we ended up in a dead end hallway with only one room that would open.” She paused. “Can I have my gun back?”
John ejected the empty clip, pocketed it, and reloaded the weapon before handing it back to her. “Holster it and don’t draw it unless necessary.”
“Thank you.” She put the gun back in her thigh holster. “Peter’s gun is with Elizabeth, but it’s empty.”
“You put forty rounds in this alien?” Evan questioned.
“Perhaps about twenty—she moved fast so I missed a lot,” Kate admitted with a blush. “When she attacked Elizabeth—I ran out here and got Peter’s weapon. He hadn’t fired a single shot. I didn’t…get back in time to keep her safe.”
“This is not your fault,” Lorne said flatly.
John said nothing as he followed the psychologist down the hallway. The wraith was sprawled across the entrance of the room—half in the hall. Kate had certainly played her advantage to the hilt. Turning her dead-end scenario against the enemy. He’d have probably praised her if he weren’t so mad at her and Grodin both for indulging Weir’s stupidity to the point that she managed to essentially force them outside of the safe zone. He stepped over the body of the wraith queen and crossed the room to Elizabeth. Heightmeyer had tried to make her comfortable, but the damage was horrific.
John activated his radio. “Captain Harris, are you still reviewing the data you found?”
“Yes, Colonel. Do you have more information for me?”
“I think we’re looking at a dead female Wraith—I mean—the creature has breasts so I assume a female. Dr. Weir has been attacked and appears to have been aged by several decades. Dr. Heightmeyer is shaken up and seems to have been in a physical altercation, but she’s on her feet.”
“The Wraith feed, sir, on what the Ancients called life energy. Feeding makes the victim old and eventually leads to death. A feeding can only be reversed if the Wraith returns the energy stolen—something that can’t happen if the creature is dead.”
John stared into Elizabeth Weir’s glassy eyes as Harris gave him the information he already had. “Thank you, Doctor. Major Teldy, send teams three and four out here—we need help carrying the bodies and Dr. Weir. We don’t know if they female was alone or if there are others in the city. Dr. McKay, set aside all other projects and clear one of those Jumpers for us to use—we need to scan the entire city for these things.” He closed the connection after they voiced their understanding of his orders then he knelt down on one knee by Weir.
“Colonel,” Weir murmured. “I…don’t know what to say.”
“When we reestablish contact with Earth—you are going back, and you will face charges for the death of Peter Grodin. Dr. Heightmeyer has already explained how you basically tricked them into coming out here and threw away his radio so he couldn’t call for help. He’s dead because you think you’re above the rules, and no one’s life apparently matters to you at all.” He stood and walked away before she could respond.
There was nothing she could say that would be a viable excuse for her actions and they’d have to interrogate her later for the record anyway. He honestly doubted she’d live long enough, due to the long-term physiological trauma of a Wraith feeding, to face any sort of consequence on Earth but he wasn’t above threatening her with it. He walked out into the hall and wasn’t all that surprised to find Kate crying in Evan Lorne’s arms. He guessed he was glad he hadn’t kicked the pretty little shrink off the mission because he had been tempted due to her friendship with Weir and the fact that she’d died in his timeline.
Evan flushed when he realized they were being watched, but John noted that his XO just curled his fingers tighter into Heightmeyer’s jacket. Sheppard offered him a small smile and turned to walk out of the hall. He was impressed with how well the man had held up when it had become known that his woman was one of the missing civilians. John couldn’t promise the same if McKay disappeared.
Zhang was closing the body bag when John emerged from the hallway and out onto the open part of the city where Grodin’s body had been found.
“I only have the one bag, sir,” Zhang said and flushed. “I realize the scientists might prefer I preserve the alien remains for study, but Dr. Grodin deserves respect.”
“I don’t disagree, Sergeant. I have another team in route to take care of the alien and Dr. Grodin. We’re going to need your stretcher for Dr. Weir. She appears to be in stable condition but do what you can to make her comfortable until we can get her back to the infirmary.”
Zhang stood and picked up his pack. “Yes, sir. I…” He took a deep breath. “Yes, sir.”
“You aren’t thinking anything I’m not, kid,” John said.
“Dr. Grodin was a good guy,” Zhang finally said. “He set up a TV and a gaming system for us yesterday afternoon—after he was off shift just because we were a little bored and had already put in all the time we were allowed to work. He didn’t deserve this, but then I don’t think anyone deserves this. I thought the Goa’uld were the worse the universe had to offer. I was wrong.”
“Just when you think things can’t get any more fucked up, they do,” John said. “I learned that in Afghanistan.”
– – – –
Rodney was staring at Elizabeth Weir. He’d seen her old once before, so it wasn’t a novelty. He was so fucking furious, he could barely breathe, and it must have shown on his face because Weir had averted her gaze as soon as she saw him. They’d set a video camera up in the private room that Harris had placed Weir in—it was for the best. Her condition had caused quite a stir for the entire expedition, but Rodney had made sure that the results of her stupidity were no secret—he didn’t want any more of his people ignoring the rules and getting themselves killed for being idiots.
He was only slightly surprised when John delegated the questioning of Weir to Major Teldy. John looked furious as well, and it wouldn’t do for either of them to be on camera verbally abusing a seemingly elderly woman.
“Dr. Weir, for the record, we need to take your statement regarding the incident.” Teldy paused. “Dr. Harris isn’t confident that your condition will remain stable, ma’am, and the SGC will want a full accounting.”
Rodney watched Weir process that and wasn’t surprised at her calculating expression. The woman was a politician, and he figured they were all about to get an excellent demonstration of that.
“Yesterday afternoon, I found data regarding a lab on the other side of the city that was dedicated to Ascension experimentation. I requested an exploration of the tower the lab was located in, but Colonel Sheppard refused to discuss it and told me it would be months, if not longer before the search teams cleared enough of the city to allow exploration of the lab. I felt that was detrimental to both my research and the mission of the expedition.
“He’s allowed little to no exploration of the city since we arrived and has ignored the defined perimeters of the mission set down by the IOA. We’re supposed to be out here exploring and finding technology for Earth, but he’s more concerned with establishing some kind of fiefdom. I doubt he has any interest whatsoever in the scientific research that the IOA is expecting to be done out here.
“I took it upon myself to investigate. I found reference to a transporter system in one of the historical diaries I was reading and found one in the residential tower where my quarters are. It took me a few hours, but I figured out how they work, and I also located the closest transporter to the tower I wanted to explore. I told Dr. Grodin and Dr. Heightmeyer about the room I’d found and once we were inside—I activated the transporter.”
“Were Dr. Heightmeyer and Dr. Grodin aware that you planned to leave the safety zone set up to protect the expedition?” Teldy questioned.
“No, but I felt they would agree how important the research is.”
“Did you throw Dr. Grodin’s radio away when he protested his transportation across the city without his consent?”
“Yes,” Weir admitted with a huff. “He was acting ridiculous.”
“And now he’s dead,” Teldy said flatly, and Weir flushed. “How did that happen, Dr. Weir?”
“Kate and Peter calmed down eventually and agreed to look at the lab with me in exchange for me returning them to the residential area the military had set up. We entered the lab, and there was an alien in some sort of stasis pod. The personal accounts I’d read had made reference to a species the Ancients had basically engineered in their endeavors to reach Ascension and immortality. I was excited to see her, and when I realized she was alive, I opened her stasis pod.”
“We’ve seen stasis pods before, Dr. Weir. They require the ATA gene, and you don’t have it.”
“Oh, but I do,” Weir said with a sly smile. “Carson gave it to me yesterday. I was so excited that it worked.”
Rodney was going to throw Carson Beckett in the ocean, once a day for the next year. He exchanged a look with John who appeared to be doing some kind of breathing exercise. The gene therapy had never worked for Weir in their timeline but then this time around Beckett had already spent several years experimenting with the ATA gene when he got access to John’s supergene.
“How was Dr. Grodin killed?” Teldy asked flatly.
“The creature woke up,” Weir explained. “And was quite—violent. She hit Kate, and we ran from the lab, but she followed. Peter stopped and told us to continue running—that he would distract her.”
“So he sacrificed himself for you and Dr. Heightmeyer to a creature who sucked the life out of him,” Teldy said.
It struck Rodney then that Elizabeth didn’t even appear to feel guilty about Peter’s death. It made him want to space her. He started mentally reviewing active spacegates in Pegasus.
“The creature ignored Kate when she found us and focused on me. She called me an Alteran.” Weir’s hand went to her chest. “And she touched my chest. I don’t remember anything else until Kate was shooting. I was surprised not to get caught in the crossfire.”
“Dr. Heightmeyer took the time to learn how to use a weapon and is actually one of the more gifted marksmen among the civilians. Lucky for you,” Anne said. “She saved your life even after you essentially kidnapped her and nearly got her killed.”
“If Colonel Sheppard were actually doing his job this would’ve never happened. Once we reestablish contact with Earth, this will be reported to the IOA, and they’ll give me back the leadership of the expedition. They’ll understand my commitment to the mission.”
Rodney turned and looked at John and wasn’t all that surprised to find Sheppard staring at her open-mouthed shock. Weir’s crazy had never been more evident. Sheppard’s mouth closed with a click of teeth and reached out to turn off the camera.
Teldy sat back in her chair with a huff. “Ma’am, with all due respect, you’re out of your damn mind.” She stood and walked from the room. “Captain Harris, contact Commander Grant and request an in-depth psychological evaluation of Dr. Weir and search her for a symbiote, again. Then check for brain tumors or whatever else might make her crazier than a shit house rat.”
Rodney snorted as Teldy stalked right out of the infirmary muttering under her breath. He looked toward John and found his best friend near laughter.
– – – –
Carson Beckett was pacing around the conference room when John entered with McKay, Harris, Lorne, and Porter.
“Sit, Dr. Beckett.”
The Scotsman flushed but took a seat. “Colonel, I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want an apology,” Sheppard snapped. “I want answers—honest answers. How long have you had the gene therapy ready?”
“About a week before we left Earth,” Beckett admitted. “But I wasn’t allowed to begin human trials due to FDA regulations. I’m still refining it, and I still don’t consider it quite ready for use, but Dr. Weir insisted.”
“And you gave it to her without consulting me, Dr. Harris, or Dr. McKay?” John asked.
“I.” Caron flushed. “She.”
Rodney sighed and turned to John. “She’s sleeping with him.”
Beckett averted his gaze. “I made a mistake. I ignored my instincts, and I should’ve realized how unbalanced she was, but I didn’t. I was excited about the research and so was she. Elizabeth made sure I stayed on the mission, and I was grateful for that.”
“And I’m sure the sex helped,” Porter snarked and rolled her eyes when Rodney cleared his throat. “Come on, Rodney, the man’s pussy-blind and Weir got Peter killed!”
Carson blanched and lowered his head to the table.
John sighed. “Porter, never say pussy-blind in front of me again. I’m delicate.”
Porter frowned. “When did delicate become innuendo for gay? I always miss out on these things because I work too much.”
“Porter,” McKay said pleasantly. “Stop trying to pull the Colonel out of his closet, it’s rude.”
“Oh? It’s supposed to be a secret?” Porter turned to John and with an earnest expression said, “You’ve gotta stop staring at Rodney’s ass if you want to stay on the down low, sir.”
“I’d fire her, but we’re sort of stuck with her,” Rodney said. “Just like we’re stuck with Weir until we can ship her back to Earth.”
“At least Porter’s entertaining,” John said with a sigh. “Beckett, stop feeling sorry for yourself and focus on proving to the rest of us we can trust you because right now I’m not certain you won’t be going back to Earth with Weir once we make contact. Gene or not, you’ve proven to be a weakness for the expedition. If we can’t trust you going forward, then we have major problems. I want all of your research on the gene therapy evaluated by a committee of your peers. McKay, Harris—make that happen. I want a full study completed on the gene therapy and no more human trials until I say otherwise. This is not up for debate or discussion.”
– – – –
John hesitated in the doorway of the room McKay was using in their quarters. Both bedrooms had full beds which sort of pissed him off. He wondered where all the great furniture was in the first timeline? He’d slept on what was probably the Ancient version of a toddler bed for years. Stepping into the room, he cleared his throat.
McKay turned slightly in the bed. “If you’re going to crawl into my bed, you’d better be naked.”
John pulled the string of his lounge pants and let them fall to his feet. McKay flipped the covers back, and he slipped into the bed. He sucked in a deep breath as Rodney pulled him close. John tucked his face against Rodney’s neck and settled into his friend’s arms.
Rodney cupped the back of his head. “Perhaps it was his fate.”
“Bullshit,” John muttered against his skin. “I could send her through a space gate, again.”
“I made a list,” Rodney confided, and John laughed sharply. “The worst part is that she doesn’t even feel guilty.”
John lifted his head. “Lorne is banging Heightmeyer.”
Rodney blinked in surprise. “I don’t know which one of them to congratulate.” He rubbed John’s bottom lip with his thumb. “We can’t save them all, you know.”
“I wanted to,” John murmured. “I…”
“We just have to make every single day count.”
“There was a time when you were the neurotic mess, and I was the one flying by the seat of pants.”
Rodney laughed. “I got news for you, Superman, you’re still flying by the seat of your pants.” He pushed John onto his back and slipped astride him. “Did you ever even sit down and make a plan before you decided that the basic rules of time travel didn’t even apply to you?”
John grinned. “Not at all.” He shifted his hips and rubbed his erect cock against McKay’s balls. He let his hands fall to Rodney’s thighs. “Well, you’re sitting on my dick—did you have a plan for after you accomplished that goal?”
“I’ve got a few theories I’d like to test,” Rodney murmured. “You’re such a pretty bastard—it used to be annoying.”
“But not now?”
“Now you’re mine, and I don’t have to share you with hot women.”
John smirked. “Not even if I brought them home for you to play with, too?”
“You’re filthy,” Rodney said with a delighted grin. He shifted up slightly and hissed in a breath when John used the opportunity to flick his tongue over a nipple. “That’s…hmm.”
John sucked a little as Rodney rummaged through the small bag he had on the nightstand. He thought about holding him still, but when Rodney shifted again, he let go of the pert nipple in his mouth and McKay sat back on Sheppard’s thighs with flushed cheeks. John wished there was a little bit more light in the room and the city responded by casting a soft white light from several sources. McKay was fit—startling so—which had put John off his game from the start. He wanted Rodney healthy but he kind of missed the old McKay. He ran his hands over McKay’s thighs and wet his lips as he wrapped one around Rodney’s cock. At least that was the same—nearly as long as his own and slightly thicker.
Rodney opened the lube he’d retrieved and poured some in his hand. “I’m not an exclusive bottom, but it’s what I prefer with men at least.”
John hissed in a breath as McKay wrapped a slick hand around his cock and slicked him up with the slightly cool lube. “Yeah, that’s, I can…damn.” He sucked in a deep breath. “I’m good with either.” His fingers clench on Rodney’s thighs. “Condom?”
“We’d have never made it through the gate with an STD,” Rodney reminded. “Unless you just prefer it—we’ll need to get rid of this lube.” He stroked John’s cock with sure even strokes. “But I figured you’d be the type who’d like it raw when it was safe.”
“You’re not wrong,” John said and sucked air through his teeth. “That hasn’t happened in this body—I only ever went without a condom when I was married during the first timeline.”
Rodney added a little more lube then tossed the bottle aside. “I want you to stretch me open with your dick.”
“For fuck’s sake,” John ground out and rolled them over abruptly. “Stop talking before I come all over myself.”
Rodney let out a breathless laugh as he hit the mattress and spread his legs. “In me.” He stretched his arms over his head and tilted his hips.
John positioned himself and rubbed the head of his cock over McKay’s entrance to spread the lube a little. “Are you sure? I could finger you a bit.”
“No, just your cock,” Rodney urged. “Please.”
He pushed in with one slow stroke—Rodney shuddered and bore down against the penetration. It was perfect—hot, slick. John lowered himself so that McKay’s cock was pressed against their bellies and kissed him gently. “I don’t remember what it’s like not to love you.”
“John.” McKay’s fingers bit into his sides, blunt nails scraped against damp skin.
He took his time—he’d waited over twenty-five years for to have this. McKay rocked beneath him, but there was nothing urgent about his movements either. They exchanged soft kisses, lost in the physical pleasure. There was relief underneath it all for John—it was like reclaiming a part of his life he’d left behind.
John shifted, slipped one hand between them, and wrapped it around McKay’s cock. He started to stroke him with the same easy rhythm—thrusting in deep just as he pulled upward on McKay’s erection. The soft, breathy moans falling out of Rodney’s mouth increased with each little hitch of John’s hips until the man spilled over Sheppard’s hand with a shudder.
He let himself come immediately, stilling inside Rodney. John rubbed his thumb over Rodney’s slit and the scientist groaned. “Fuck, you’re…I really resent myself for what happened in the previous timeline.”
Rodney hummed as John carefully pulled free of his body. “Were you always such a great fuck? Because if so, I resent you, too.”
John laughed and dropped down on his back beside his lover. “I’ve always done things well if I enjoy them.” He turned his head then shifted on his side. “Flying, sex, etc.”
“You’ve got something besides more sex on your mind,” Rodney said.
“A shower maybe,” John said with a pleased grin. “Did you have something on your big brain besides more sex?”
“I think you were right.”
“Right about what?”
“I think you need to sit in the chair and it worries me a lot. There is an intelligence in the city’s computer systems that wasn’t there the first time around. Moreover, John, six different times yesterday I went to pick up my tablet and the chair room had been highlighted in the city plans. She wants to talk to us, to you.”
“I think I’ve gotten a few nudges in that direction,” John admitted. “Nothing particularly strong but just a little push. I was able to brush them off. Do you think we could’ve prevented Grodin’s death if I’d sat down in the chair?”
“I think Weir wouldn’t have gotten the transporter to work at all if you’d made it clear to the city that you didn’t want the civilians leaving the containment area we’d set up.”
John rolled right out of the bed. “We need to shower.”
Rodney huffed a little but followed.
– – – –
They found Evan Lorne standing outside the chair room.
Evan turned to look at them, gaze calculating. “The city wants me here. I don’t know why.”
They all three turned at the sound of footsteps, and Miko Kusanagi came around the corner. Another very strong gene carrier, John thought. His gaze narrowed as he the petite Japanese scientist made her way down the hall.
“How did you get past the guards in the residential tower, Dr. Kusanagi?”
“Dr. Porter has created night and day shifts for setting up the command deck. I was up there…and something.” She frowned. “The city wanted me here.”
John looked at the chair, even unoccupied it had a faint glow. “I was fifteen.”
“Twelve,” Miko said.
Evan’s shoulders relaxed completely. “I was fifteen.”
“Seventeen,” Rodney admitted roughly. “How much do you remember?”
“Enough to know I’m not in the right universe, but this one is better,” Miko said and flushed. “It was like I woke up from a nightmare and my mother was still alive. On our world, she died when I was ten. I’m not going back to the other one, Rodney, and don’t try to make me.”
“I would never,” Rodney murmured. “And I don’t think we can. You did the right thing—keeping it yourself.” They all turned to look at Evan.
“I got into the SGC sooner,” Evan said roughly. “Took a degree in geology as planned but I was working on my master’s in combat engineering because I knew we’d need it out here. I asked O’Neill three times to be included in the expedition. He said it was up to the CO. I didn’t know if your change in career was just this new universe or if you’d been fucking with the timeline a lot, sir.”
“I ain’t gonna lie,” John said dryly. “Maintaining the timeline really didn’t serve me or the expedition. We already know what happened the first time, and I needed a better foundation to stand on.” He turned to Miko. “Was Elizabeth batshit in our universe and I just missed it?”
“She was deeply interested in Ascension,” Miko said. “More so than anyone else on the expedition and we can’t forget that she was so far gone that she managed to infect the replicators with the idea.” She rubbed her arms. “Why us?”
“You and Lorne died on Atlantis,” John murmured. “McKay and I were evacuated back to Earth.” He glanced towards Rodney, who sighed.
“I found a device in Janus’ lab that basically seduced me into keeping it. I was dying of a brain tumor, and John helped me activate it. It was called the Iterum.”
“A second chance,” Miko murmured. “But why did we come back? We weren’t with you when you activated it.”
“I think you, Lorne and perhaps Teyla were in the device—all three of you died in the final siege of the city, and I had the Iterum in my pocket. I believe it was active, and it harvested the three of you when you were killed.” Rodney refocused on the chair. “But you weren’t the only ones in the device—if I’m right—the five us basically Ascended, but we didn’t do it alone.”
“The city is smarter,” Lorne said. “And I think I’m getting emotions from her. The console took something from you when we arrived—that’s what the light show was about.”
“The city told me, in actual words, that she’d relieved Rodney of a burden,” John admitted. He stepped into the chair room and the walls lit up. The three of them followed, and the door slid shut.
The chair turned, and light shimmered around it. A woman appeared—a soft glow to her skin spoke more of projected image than Ascended being.
“I am Thera.”
John blinked in surprise as he’d half-expected her to claim to be Atlantis. “I…who are you?”
“Do you believe in the soul, Colonel Sheppard?”
“Yes,” John murmured. “Isn’t that what Ascends?”
“In part,” Thera agreed. “My people sought Ascension single-mindedly and to our great detriment. Our experiments led to the creation of the Wraith. I am sorry about Dr. Grodin. I realized too late what Dr. Weir was going to do and without full power, I was unable to prevent them from entering the lab.”
“You’re an Ancient? Ascended?”
“An Ascension experiment gone terribly wrong,” Thera corrected. “My mate was a theorist and a brilliant inventor. He was far too busy inventing things to worry about Ascension, but I was fascinated by it. I thought the spiritual path was a bunch of nonsense, so I took a scientific approach.” She focused on Rodney. “You found my experiment in the other universe, I believe.”
“Yes,” Rodney agreed. “Destroying it is on my agenda.”
“Good,” Thera murmured. “I agree. The experiment was a failure, of course, because I could not follow the spiritual path the others were attempting. As I lay dying, my mate came to me with a device. He only wanted to save as much of me as he possibly could. The others would’ve never understood as they found us both quite vexing.” She smirked a little when Rodney laughed. “So in the moment that I died, I activated the device. It harvested my mind and memories. Janus was going to merge me with the city, but the others didn’t agree. They ordered the device that held me destroyed—they searched everywhere for me, and Janus had very little time to hide me. He was working on a hand-held dimensional traveler, but it wasn’t working quite right. He hid me in there. Days later, he was forced to abandon the city with the others, and I was left in his private lab until you came.”
Thera smiled brilliantly at Rodney. “I could not save everyone but after you picked me up to take me with you—I was able to attract the others as they died. Miko, Teyla, and Evan. We stayed in the Iterum together until you and John activated it.”
“Why did you travel back with McKay?” John asked roughly. “I could’ve done it—you said it was a burden. It should’ve been me.”
“Or me,” Evan interjected. “It’s our job, Thera.”
“Rodney was the oldest,” Thera said simply. “His brain and body were the most mature, and he was able to hold us both after Janus sent us back in time.”
“Why didn’t you stay with Janus?” Miko asked.
Thera smiled sadly. “Unfortunately, Miko, what remains of me is not the woman he loved or mated with. The changes I made to the Iterum meant I was able to save your souls when you died—the first device he built only harvested the contents of my mind. He did not believe in the spiritual path either, you see, and thought the notions of a soul and psionic energy to be pure nonsense. He learned differently, of course, but nothing could be done at that point. My soul had moved on.” The chair brightened around her. “This is my purpose now.”
“You’ve merged with Atlantis.”
“Yes, and I will keep you safe.”
John nodded. “I don’t suppose you know how to build ZPMs? Rodney can charge them, but we don’t have that many to charge.”
Thera sat back in the chair, crossed her legs and smirked. “We’re going to kick so much Wraith ass.”
– – – –
No one really expressed a single protest when John decided they should find out if the Wraith were active in the galaxy. Everyone had seen the body, and they knew what it had done to Peter Grodin. Evan had put on a show of protesting John going through the gate personally, and Sheppard had relented only so far as to allow his XO to accompany him. He asked Rodney to pick out a female scientist to bring in case the natives on the planet they chose preferred to deal with a woman. Rodney, of course, after a few conversations picked Miko.
In the original timeline, the sun had already gone down on Athos when they’d stepped through the gate. The sun was midway in the sky as the gate closed behind them. The four of them hesitated at the stargate, taking in their peaceful surroundings. By Rodney’s calculations, they were sixteen hours short of the culling, and they couldn’t be confident that John finding Teyla’s necklace had caused the culling in the first place.
“Sheppard.” Rodney put his hand on his arm and nodded his head up ahead of them.
Teyla a few yards from the DHD. She had a blaster, much like Ronon’s, strapped to one leg. Her hair was shorter than John expected, curly and a little choppy in style like she’d been cutting it herself.
She made a soft, indescribable sound and darted across the clearing. John barely had time to pass his P-90 to McKay before she launched herself at him.
He held her trembling body close, and the others moved in, each touching her as if to connect with her.
“You have to get it out of me,” Teyla whispered fiercely. “Where’s Carson? I need a doctor.”
“Teyla, what?” John set her down and cupped her face. “What?”
“They made me a Runner,” she said, and her voice broke. “I was so foolish!”
“Evan, dial the city—ask for Harris and request squads 3 and 4 for security.”
John wasn’t all that surprised to find two Wraith bodies a few hundred yards from the gate. He didn’t say anything as Teyla led them to her small camp. Rodney dug through his pack as soon as they were there and pulled out a scanner.
“Is the tracker like Ronon’s?”
“No, it is much different. The implant keeps me from leaving the planet—this is my prison and my punishment for what happened on Sateda.” She took a deep breath. “They come in pairs every seven days—if I evade them for twenty-fours they leave.”
“They’re using you for training,” John said grimly. “For their ground troops?”
“Yes, but I knew today would be the day you came so I killed them as soon as they came through the gate. I did not wish your team to get injured accidently due to the unexpected circumstances.”
“It’s scanning the same,” Rodney said. “They must have different functions, but we could never risk studying one long term. I can turn it off once it’s out of her and study it so we can find Ronon. What happened on Sateda?”
“I was ten when I returned to the past,” Teyla murmured. “Too young to make any sort of changes without a great amount of subterfuge. I did not think anyone would believe me if I said I had traveled in time so I passed myself off as a Seer. It only took a handful of predictions to secure my talent. Unfortunately, my father was not the leader of our people and the man that was proved to be a braggart. The tales of my ability spread far and wide. People came every day, some I knew and some I did not. Then a man came from Sateda, and I told him what would happen to his world. I spared him no details regarding the loss of life or the destruction the Wraith would deliver upon them for their technological advancements.”
“And?” John prodded gently as he shouldered out of his own pack. He passed her a chocolate energy bar since they were her favorite and she smiled briefly.
“My leader traded for me—my parents had no say. I was taken to Sateda, and they used the information from my visions to go to war with the Wraith. Dozens of hives were destroyed, including the one carrying the Keeper who originally culled Athos, and the entire population woke up. Sateda was culled, and only a handful of us were taken prisoner. Ronon was part of my security detail, but I have no idea where he is. The four of us were made Runners—me, Ronon, Tyre, and Vita. I was brought here—and I discovered that my people had been wiped out. Culled because of me.” She averted dry eyes. “I’ve been here for three years.”
In the distance, the stargate activated and John stood. “Is your necklace still in the ruins?”
“Yes, I have the ATA gene.” She took a deep breath. “I realized it before I went to retrieve the necklace. Why?”
“How else am I going to lure Wraith to their deaths?” John asked dryly. “Why hasn’t Ronon checked for you here?”
Teyla took a deep breath, “Sometimes the gate activates and no one comes through. I think if they are out there, that their implants won’t allow us to be together. I don’t believe that they can step through the gate because I’m here.”
“Does he know you time traveled?” John questioned
Teyla shook her head. “But I told him and the others about Atlantis—about the people who were related to the Ancestors and how they would help us fight the Wraith. I spent years preparing allies for you, for your arrival. But I made so many mistakes…”
“We’re not in the same universe,” Rodney said. “We have a lot to explain to you but what happened here—there is no way you could’ve truly prepared for it. There is every reason to believe that Athos was culled to extinction in this universe regardless of your actions. Time is tricky, stupid thing. Dimensional travel is altogether another mess.”
“I realized I wasn’t in the right dimension when it became apparent that my father wasn’t the leader of the Athos,” Teyla said. “They also already knew about the Wraith experiments, which is why my family wasn’t allowed any sort of leadership role within our people. They didn’t shun us because our ability to detect the Wraith protected them but we weren’t trusted the same way. I assume that’s why Jessup, Halling’s father, had no real problem with trading me to Sateda. Moreover, he knew they could take me by force if he refused the deal. He had no emotional investment in keeping me. I was just fourteen.”
– – – –
For appearances sake, he assigned security to the infirmary when they transferred Teyla to the city. Mercifully, she slept through that part as the surgery to remove the tracker had taken Harris nearly an hour due to how it was embedded in her spine. The doctor had also insisted on taking her Wraith kills back to compare them with the one they’d found in the city. The Marines were impressed with the badass alien woman who’d killed two Wraith, and the civilians were super curious about an alien from Pegasus.
Elizabeth Weir lodged a complaint from her hospital bed before he even had time to return to his office to start his mission report. John strolled into her room. She’d been set up with her personal laptop. He frowned at her and closed the door.
“Colonel Sheppard, I heard you stupidly brought an alien back to the city.”
“I brought a potential ally and asset back to the city for medical help not that it’s any of your business. Dr. Weir, let me be blunt, the moment you violated the containment protocol and kidnapped two members of the expedition, you ceased to be a part of us. You are, for all intents and purposes, a prisoner. I intend to levy murder charges against you with the SGC the moment we make contact.”
“I didn’t murder anyone.”
“Dr. Grodin was killed during the commission of your crime—kidnapping, and that’s felony murder. All members of the mission—civilian and military alike signed the expedition charter which explicitly stated that we agreed to be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Government. This ensured we had one set of laws and rules for everyone to abide by. The only stipulation is that the IOA insisted that the death penalty not is an option for punishment regarding any crime that takes place during the mission.
“I know the laptop is personal property so you can keep it, but your network access will be terminated. A member of the IT department will be here shortly to clean the laptop and ensure that you have not downloaded any classified data as your security clearance has been voided.”
“You can’t…” She jerked back when he openly glared at her. “Peter’s death was an accident.”
“Peter’s death was a direct result of your arrogant assumption that the rules don’t fucking apply to you!” John took a calming breath. “This discussion is over, Dr. Weir. If I had a prison—I’d stick you in it. Once Harris decides you can be moved, you’ll be returned to quarters and confined there until we contact Earth. Your meals will be brought to you. You can’t be trusted, on any level, and I’m not going to let you get another member of the expedition killed.”
– – – –
Miko was with Teyla when John returned to the room where she was. Evan was lingering outside of the door. The two women were speaking in hushed tones. There was a pile of clothes on the bed—things he remembered Teyla wearing and preferring in their previous timeline. He realized then that Teyla must have gotten many of her clothes from Miko and this time Miko had packed a bag just for Teyla.
Teyla looked up and smiled. “John. Where’s Elizabeth? I was hoping to meet her again.”
John grimaced. It was going to be a difficult discussion, but it was best to get away out of the as quickly as possible. “This Weir is far more invested in Ascension that ours was. She’s…just crazy, Teyla. She kidnapped Kate Heightmeyer and Peter Grodin—used the transporter system to take them across the city and they found a Wraith Queen in a pod. Peter is dead and Kate’s traumatized.”
Teyla frowned. “There were…changes among my people as well. My father was far more interested in drinking than he as in being a parent. I was startled by it, hurt because while he had the same face—he wasn’t the man that had raised me. He wasn’t the man that trained me.”
Rodney came in with a tray at that point, and John pulled the door shut again. “I told everyone that since you met us first—that it was best if we stuck with you until you became comfortable. I’ve also accidently on purpose dropped your cover story as a genuine Seer and the last of your people in the galaxy. So everyone is assuming that precognition is a gift of the Athosians.”
“That’s true,” Teyla said wryly. “No one questioned my ability because there were many Seers born on Athos over the generations.” She shifted slightly on the bed and reached for a sandwich. “Peanut butter. I’ve missed this so much.”
“I figured,” Rodney said with a blush. “You used to put it on everything. Fortunately, it’s a staple food stock due to the number of calories and protein in it. You said you made allies for us?”
Teyla nodded as she chewed. Miko reached forward and opened the can of soda Rodney had brought. “Yes, many. The Genii are looking forward to your arrival. I also found two ZPMS on Sateda. I took them off-world and hid them. Once I’m healed, we’ll retrieve them. I didn’t have the ability to figure how much power they had, but neither were empty as the machines they were powering still worked when I found them.”
“I love you the most,” Rodney blurted out.
John scoffed, and Teyla smiled, soft and pleased. “I’m so glad to be back with you—I loved my people, but they weren’t the same. Now, the four of you are the only family I have.”
Evan dragged a chair up and sat down beside Miko but focused on John. “Why did you do it? Why did you activate the device?”
“Because I had nothing to live for and the love of my life was dying of a brain tumor,” John said baldly. “I lost everything, Evan, and I figured maybe the universe owed me one.”
Lorne nodded. “I woke up freaked out and a little mad, but I got over it quickly. What you and McKay did—the leap of faith you took—saved my life. I’m not ever going to forget that. And I’m totally on board with kicking all the Wraith ass we possibly can.” He looked toward Teyla, who was eating her second peanut butter sandwich. “I’m sorry for your people—I counted many of them as friends…before. I was looking forward to meeting them.”
“All I have left of Athos and Sateda is revenge,” Teyla murmured. “What of the other?”
“The other what?” Miko asked as she paused in her folding of the clothes she’d brought for Teyla.
“The other person with us in the Iterum,” Teyla said patiently.
“How did you know…?” Rodney’s mouth dropped open. “Are you…wait, are you really a Seer?”
Teyla frowned, but she focused on Lorne and Miko. “You don’t remember being in the Iterum? You don’t remember talking to her? The other person with us? She never told us her name, but we had many conversations—she taught us so much about the universe, the ancients, the creation of the Wraith—we spoke for thousands of hours.”
Miko and Lorne were staring at her in horror and finally Evan cleared his throat. “No, Teyla, my last memory before I woke up in my teenage body was…” He cleared his throat. “I found Miko’s body, and I picked her up. Then were was an explosion and I remember nothing.”
“The Wraith destroyed the tower you were in,” John said shortly. “The person in the Iterum with you as an Ancient named Thera—she was the mate of Janus and was killed in a failed Ascension experiment. Rodney carried her until we came to the city but now she’s merged with the city as Janus intended in our universe, but the other Ancients refused to allow it. He hid her in the Iterum to protect her. That’s how we ended up in a different universe—the Iterum was a dimensional travel experiment. We’ll take you to chair room after you’re recovered and you can meet Thera, again.”
Teyla cupped the soda can with both hands and took a deep breath. “In my visions, I refer to the expedition as the Children of the Ancestors. I speak of the Ancestral City and how the children will return to claim their birthright. I describe the children as people rooted in their desire for knowledge and the protections of others. There are those who are skeptical, of course, but many embraced the idea of the Children of the Ancestors returning. I imagine most of the alliance I was creating believes me to be dead because of what happened on Sateda. When I appear with you at my side, it will cement the mythology I’ve set up for the expedition.
“There are enemies, of course, and Wraith worship takes an even darker turn here than it did in our universe. I’ve done all I can to make way for you here—to keep Atlantis safe and…” She trailed off and took a sip of her drink. “I’ve done all I could.”
John stared at her for a long moment in the silence that followed. “Thank you, Teyla. For what you did before and what you’ve done in this universe. I’m sorry, too, about the loss of your people in this universe and the previous. We can’t give you any of it back. We can’t bring Torren back, and it’s heartbreaking.”
Teyla took a deep breath. “I mourned my baby long ago, John. He’ll always have a place in my heart, and eventually, I’ll have a child in this place and time.”
“You can have all the babies you want,” Lorne said. “And I’ll take them to Earth personally if things go bad again. I won’t let what happened to Torren…” He rubbed a shaking hand over his face.
“I should’ve taken him from Kanaan. I considered it,” John admitted. “I deeply regret that I didn’t. My brother and his wife—they wanted more children but couldn’t have them. I could’ve brought them Torren, and they’d have taken him without even thinking about it.”
Miko opened up the bag of chips Teyla had been ignoring and shoved one in her mouth. “Now we just have to find you a baby-daddy.”
Teyla laughed, and John relaxed.
“Unless one of these three will do.” Miko waved a hand. “I was thinking I might berate one of them into giving me a kid or two down the line. We need babies with the gene.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Rodney said. “Let’s kill the Wraith first.”
Miko and Teyla exchanged a look then grinned at McKay until he blushed.
John sat back and watched them all laugh and tease each other as the bag of chips was passed around. It wasn’t perfect, and there was a thread of grief running through them that time would never heal but as second chances went—he felt pretty good about this one. He nudged McKay with his foot and Rodney rolled his eyes and passed him the chips.
Author’s Note: Yes, there will be a sequel. Don’t ask when. I don’t know.