Laura slid into the co-pilot’s seat and said nothing while John communicated with the tower regarding their departure. He handled the small private jet with all the skill she’d seen him utilize dozens of times with a Jumper and she found herself relaxing into her seat.
“Fasten your seat belts.”
She clicked hers into place and glanced back and Ronon and Jen who were in a pair of seats directly behind John. Jennifer looked a little pale. “Hey, you okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah.” She nodded. “I just hmm… I really hate flying.”
John laughed softly. “You’ve been in a Jumper, Doc.”
“Yeah. I pretty much hated that but at least you can’t ‘feel’ it. In a plane, you totally feel it.”
“It’s the best part,” John murmured to himself. Feeling the force of gravity, defying it but he doesn’t say it out loud. As much as he loves the Jumpers – and God does he love them – it was a plane just like this that made him want to fly in the first place. They were airborne in minutes, with the most amazing sky out in front of them. “Now that’s how I like to remember Earth.”
“Yes.” Laura smiled. “Just like that – beautiful, pure, blue.”
It was an illusion, he’d known that for more years than he could remember. The illusion of clean air, a healthy safe world, but it was where he began and while he couldn’t honestly call it ‘home’ any more – the planet was like a part of him. A part he’d forgotten. Disgruntled, he glanced towards Laura who had put on a headset. Her bright blue eyes were lit with curiosity and amusement.
“You’re gorgeous, you know.”
Her mouth dropped open and then she laughed. “Thanks.”
“First time I saw you, I thought you looked like Christmas.”
“And now?” She raised one eyebrow.
“Christmas, my birthday, and the Fourth of July.” He shot her a glance and laughed when he saw the look of amazement on her expression. “And that’s with your clothes on.”
Which earned him laughter from Ronon and Jennifer.
She tried to frown him at him; but he saw the smile edging around her mouth before it even happened. “This charm bit get you a lot of action?”
“Absolutely.” He raised one eyebrow when she laughed. “You doubt me?”
“Not at all.” She unfastened her seat belt and stretched a little. “Hey, Jen, hand me the laptop so I can check for a message from Rodney and check our ITunes downloads.”
John grimaced. “Six thousand dollars in music.”
Laura laughed. “And we haven’t hit Amazon, yet.” She took the laptop and flipped it open and flipped to the email program. “Okay. We have an incoming message from McKay – it’s not encrypted.”
John frowned and glanced her way. “Contents?”
He laughed softly. “Okay, okay. So things are complicated on their end.”
“What does 42 mean?”
“Christ, Cadman, how old are you again?”
“28.” She glared at him. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“You’ve never read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” He frowned, and appeared troubled. “We’ll buy you a copy while we’re here. Speaking of – go online and order the rest of our stuff- including a copy of that book and send it to the SGC in my name. My credit card is in laptop bag.”
“Want me to chip in?” Jennifer called from the back.
“Thanks for the offer, Doc, but I’m obscenely wealthy.” He smirked at her over his shoulder.
“Yeah, I noticed.” Jennifer raised an eyebrow when his mouth dropped open in shock. “The two guys tripping over themselves to get us board the jet kept calling you Mr. Sheppard and ensuring you that the Lear 40 was available just as you ordered. So, is this a family jet or personal?”
John flushed. “Personal.” He sat back in his seat a little. Joking about money was one thing—but having pointed out to him made him decidedly uncomfortable. “I bought this with the IOA ‘bonus’ I received when I saved the planet a few years back. Ronon and Rodney got some pretty hefty ‘gifts’, too.”
“Seriously?” Jennifer looked at her husband. “How hefty?”
“They gave me a few account numbers, a credit card, and a money manager,” Ronon looked out the window. “I don’t know the exact number.”
Jennifer fingered the startlingly perfect diamond she wore. Three carats set in so much platinum that she could use it to signal for help. “You get reports?”
“Yes and Rodney makes sure that the man who handles my money isn’t stealing from me. I received another ‘gift’ after the Wraith/Midway thing. The IOA likes to throw money at things and people.” He shrugged.
“Hey, stop playing dumb with me.” Jennifer frowned at him.
“Roughly? My net worth is around six million.”
Jennifer sighed and sat back in the seat.
“What?” Ronon asked softly.
“I’ve felt really guilty about this ring. I know you draw a salary for your role in the expedition…but this ring…”
“Is about a year of that salary,” Laura called out from the co-pilot’s seat.
Ronon laughed. “Try two, Major Lorne says we get paid shit around here. But Earth money has very little value to me, ya know.”
“So what’s 42?”
“The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.” John offered a small smile. “The answer to the ultimate question and the answer took seven and a half million years to get.”
“So, they are getting no where fast on their investigation.” Laura sighed. “Sucks.”
* * * *
John linked his fingers with Laura’s as they slipped into a crowded bar downtown. “Relax, Cadman, we need to look like a couple.”
“We’re a couple that should not look like a couple in public,” she hissed.
“We’re undercover. We can totally make out in the middle of the dance floor and if anyone asks… we were undercover.” He grinned down at her. “You know you look hot in this dress. I wanted to tell you the first time I saw you in it… but that was the night…”
“I remember.” She relaxed and let him push through the crowd to the bar and order them drinks.
The crowd pressed in around them and it reminded her of how truly empty Atlantis was – that they had a whole city for a few people was amazing and it made a grungy DC bar seem like a bar in Tokyo instead. She curled her ringers around the glass he pressed into her hand and looked around the room. Jennifer and Ronon were already on the dance floor—they’d arrive a few minutes ahead of them with Ronon on ‘point’. They looked relaxed, in love, and totally oblivious to their surroundings but it was an act. She knew what they were like when they were really wrapped up in each other and this was not the case at all.
John lead her to a small empty booth at the back of the bar just a few feet from where Jennifer and Ronon danced and slid in beside her. She shivered a little as he moved close. It was amazing being out with him like this and she was going to do her best to make the most of it. He would never be this physically affectionate with her on Atlantis in public. Granted, they spent time together—their best friends were married and most people didn’t question it but it wasn’t the same. Not remotely the same.
“You know most women at least pretend to be pleased to be with me.” He turned her face so their eyes met. “You look sad.”
“You’re my Christmas, too, you know.” She leaned in and kissed his mouth. “The fire engine red mustage I got for my 16th birthday, my prom, watching the first bomb I ever designed and built light up the testing ground on PX3-045 like the fucking Fourth of July on crack. All of that and more.”
“Did you just compare me to a nuclear weapon?” he asked her against her mouth.
“A nuclear weapon with a naquadah warhead.” She grinned when his eyes widened a little. “I rocked that whole planet and it actually wobbled on it’s axis a little.”
“And I make you wobble on your axis?” He brushed his lips over her jaw and down her throat.
“Oh yes.” She curled her fingers into his hair and shuddered when one hand snaked around her waist to pull her closer. His lips trailed to her collar bone. “No marks.”
He growled a little and sank his teeth into the top of her shoulder.
“No marks I can’t cover up,” she clarified softly.
“I don’t know how beautiful women put with you and your silly hair, Sheppard.”
Laura laughed as John groaned and lifted away from her. “Diana. You’re timing is, as always, extraordinary.”
The woman offered Laura her hand. “Diana Cole, FBI.”
“Laura Cadman, United States Marine Corp.”
“Beautiful and she can kick your ass.” Diana grinned. “I’m almost impressed with you, John.”
Laura pulled her hand free taking a mini-SD memory card with her without missing a beat. She made the pretense of straightening her dress and slipped the tiny piece of plastic into her bra. Her eyes met John’s briefly and his gaze slid to Diana who was viewing them both with real amusement.
“Life has been kind, Diana. You’re still a walking wet dream. How is your life partner?” He leaned back against the booth trailed his fingers in Laura’s hair. “I trust she’s still a better shot than you?”
“Actually she retired about five years ago to raise our children. We have two now.”
Diana grinned when John’s mouth dropped open in shock. “I know—you figured it would be me, right? We’re considering a third pregnancy—I might do it this time since she’s done it twice.”
“Congrats. Boys or girls? Both?”
“One of each. Sophie sends her love and told me to tell you that should stop by and see us when you’re in town for something other than business.” She slid from the booth. “Bring your Marine, she’s so pretty that we could tolerate you for an entire weekend.”
John watched her slip away into the bar and then turned to Laura. “What did she slip you?”
“A mini SD card for a cell phone.” She curled her fingers into his. “Come, let’s dance at least once song and then snag the love birds. I’m starving.”
He followed her as she slid from the booth and took her in his arms when she turned to face him on the dance floor. The music was slow, entirely too sensual for his peace of mind, and he found himself lost in her again—like the first time he’d danced with her—except now he knew how her body will move under his, how her breath will catch with each thrust of his cock into her, how her nipples will harden against his chest, how their dog tags will tangle up in a hopeless mess between them as they strain and work to please each other, and how all the while she will clutch at him with small but strong hands, moan his name, and beg for more.
John forced himself to survey the room and then met Ronon’s gaze, he knew the man looked relaxed and sated to most but to him he looked like a tiger who’d just realized the door to his cage was open. Ronon’s gaze flicked to a table a few feet away from them against the wall and John nodded. Two men, in suits looking so much like NID they might as well have had it tattooed on their foreheads.
His body language must have given him away because Laura stiffened in his arms and he refocused on her face. “Just a couple of government suits.”
She nodded. “Ready to go then?”
“Yes. I think dinner is in order.” He signaled to Ronon and then lead Laura off the dance floor.
* * * *
Laura snagged the box of Chinese food in front of her and a plastic fork with a glare. “Don’t mess with the General Tso’s chicken—I’ve dreamt about this stuff for months.” She’d finished loading the contents of the mini-SD card onto the laptop with a SD card reader. “Looks like your friend had quite a bit to say.”
“Do tell.” John eyed the food in her hand but took the Beef and Broccoli she’d left behind. He figured he’d make her pay for that later. “You two want to stop playing kissy face and come out here?”
Jennifer and Ronon slipped out of their bedroom dressed in sleep clothes and gave him a dirty look. “We do actually do more than have sex you know.”
John pointed at her with one finger. “Do not ruin my dirty mind; I like it fine just the way it is.” He motioned towards the two boxes of pizza. “Eat, Cadman is going to read us a bedtime story.”
“There are four relatively new groups actively recruiting members and only two of them are not linked to foreign terrorist groups on Earth. One, which is being called ‘The People’s Right Hand’ is obviously the TRUST and the FBI is treating it as a domestic terrorist threat. I wonder how much your friend knows about the SGC?”
“Very little actually – she knows there is some seriously top secret stuff going on in Cheyenne Mountain and that there is a facility in Antarctica – she knows that stuff more because her partner/wife is ex-Secret Service and they often mingled on cases which is how they eventually hooked up.” He propped his feet up on the coffee table and eyed her chicken. “You know, lovers are supposed to share things… like showers, the covers, the remote control, and food.”
“Not happening, flyboy, you should have gotten your own.”
“I would have if I’d know you were going to be stingy with it.” He waved towards the laptop. “Second group?”
“They call themselves “The Children of Zion” and are lead by a man who calls himself Sethur. His real name is Marcus Canning and he was a fringe minister with a small, but devoted polygamist sect in a small mountain community in Eastern Tennessee. In the past twelve months, things have changed and his group has started to grow… upwards of one hundred women and about twenty men.” She frowned. “You know that’s familiar. Hold on.”
“What are you doing?”
“Google search,” she muttered. “Unless you want to call Dr. Jackson at this hour and ask him about a weird name?”
“Not that I wouldn’t but you go right ahead and demonstrate your Google-Fu for us.” John reached out and stabbed a piece of chicken from her box and had it nearly in his mouth before she looked up. “I do have special ops training. If I can’t steal a piece of chicken… I may need to consider an early retirement.”
“I’ll show you special ops.” She grabbed the box and set it on the other side of the laptop. “Okay, the name Sethur… it’s biblical and it can mean ‘hidden’ or ‘destroyer’.”
“Why am I not surprised?” John asked, disgruntled.
“In the Bible, Sethur is the son of the Archangel Michael and is one of the twelve spies sent to the Promise Land – which would be modern-day Israel for all of the heathens in the room.” She glanced at Ronon and grinned. “And visiting aliens. Israel is a place on our planet that is revered and fought over by many religious factions – it’s believed to be sacred land.”
“So if it is so sacred… why doesn’t Sethur have his cult there?”
“He doesn’t have a following big enough to try to stake a claim in Israel. That would be like the four of us deciding to claim part of the Genii homeworld for our own and building a house there.”
Ronon laughed. “Okay, not so easy.”
“No. Not so easy.”
“So, Michael came to Earth – found a batshit insane minister in the middle of nowhere and turned him into a worshipper by pretending to be an Archangel?” John frowned. “I’m not very religious—you know—but this is just wrong. I wonder how many of the women have the Ancient gene?”
“More to the point… how many of the women have given birth or will give birth to a Wraith/human hybrid?” Jennifer asked softly. “It’s just another experiment, John. An experiment on a selection of Earth humans. No different, no less horrible than anything else he has already done.” She leaned into her husband. “I wonder how many women they’ve already killed with this?”
John set aside his food, no longer hungry and leaned forward. He rubbed his face with both hands and unclenched his jaw. “Send an email to O’Neill—let him know what we’ve found. I need some air.” He stood, walked across the large hotel suite and pushed open the French doors that lead to a small balcony. He was alone a few minutes before Ronon joined him. “Not the same is it?”
Ronon leaned against the railing. “Honestly, nothing much could beat a balcony view on Atlantis – kilometers of ocean in front of you and a star filled sky above you… so no it’s not the same at all. Different, interesting, but no where near as calming.”
“I couldn’t leave them on Atlantis but I really regret not leaving them both with SG1.” He glanced over his shoulder and into the hotel room. “I don’t want to take them into the mess we’re going to find.”
“No. I don’t either. Neither one of them deserve to see it—but we can’t leave them here and frankly I know one member of SG1 well enough to leave my wife in his hands. I realize you trust them because they are part of your military but it’s different for me.” Ronon swallowed hard. “Very different. As it stands, we’re not leaving them here, we’re not sending them back to the mountain, and tomorrow we’re going to take them into a situation where they are going to see other women who have been abused and used in an experiment they are both thinking about right now. We just have trust them to do what is required of them and we’ll make it through.”
“I think I’ll take my woman to bed and make her forget about everything but me until morning.”
“Good plan.” John sighed.
“Couldn’t hurt for you to try it out yourself,” Ronon said over his shoulder as he left the balcony.