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Short, But Not Always Sweet

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 "Mr. Woosley, are you honestly trying to tell us that Atlantis is alive?"

"Yes, Col. Petrov. Not only is she sapient, or alive as you put it, but she has declared herself an independent body no longer under Earth's jurisdiction."

"It can't do that!" the Russian ambassador yelled as he banged his fist on the table.

Richard fought a sigh. Pedantic as he tended to be, being responsible for Atlantis had made him much better at accepting reality and moving forward with a plan to deal with it. Similar could not be said for his fellows on the IOA.

"I'm afraid she already has,” Richard informed them with typical aplomb. “Furthermore, she has expressed that she wishes to be referred to as a ‘she,’ not an ‘it."

"Utter nonsense," Mr. Chapman, the British representative, immediately twitching toward his cup of tea.

General Jack O'Neill tossed the pen he'd been playing with onto the table and leaned back in his chair. Hopefully, he wouldn’t inflame the IOA members and make Richard’s job more difficult.

"You're sure this isn't anything McKay or Sheppard dreamed up?"

"Yes, General. Everyone on the city was shocked and, if I may say it, dismayed to find out that she is sapient. They were further distressed by her decision, though I believe some are more concerned with the possibility of not being permitted to stay than they are about her state of being."

"Well," the General drawled shrugging one shoulder, "this isn't the craziest thing we've had to deal with over the past decade. I’m sure a room filled with diplomats as experienced in negotiation as you all can strike a bargain with the city to ease us through this transition."

Woolsey couldn't tell if O’Neill was being facetious. Then again, he had difficulty knowing when Colonel Sheppard was being sarcastic. Occasionally, Richard was tempted to believe the rumors that Sheppard was O’Neill’s love child or possibly his child from another universe.

"In order to aid us in deciding who would be offered the option to live on Atlantis, the city has given us a list of people she believes she finds… promising. They will be required to live in the city exclusively for a period of one month while Atlantis is on Earth. After that point, the individual and Atlantis will discuss whether or not he or she will be offered citizenship."

Woolsey paused, knowing the next statement was going to cause the most problem. "All candidates must be willing to relinquish citizenship to any single planet and also must be willing to return to the Pegasus galaxy once Atlantis has finished making her selections."

"Unacceptable!" The French ambassador lapsed into a rant that made Woolsey sincerely regret choosing French instead of Spanish or Chinese as his language choice in college.

"While I understand that you are feeling distressed Mr. LaPierre, the decision of who lives and works on Atlantis ultimately belongs to her." He glanced around the room, meeting each representative’s eyes. “Furthermore, Atlantis asked me to inform you that any attempts to control her through coercion or stealth will fail, and when it does, she will retaliate against the nation or nations involved. She will protect herself and her citizens first and foremost. Her secondary focus will be protecting the peoples of the Pegasus galaxy.

"Now, wait just a minute," O'Neill gave him a narrow-eyed look. "How exactly did Atlantis happen to come by this list of names?"

Richard cleared his throat. "Yes. It seems that as soon as the Ancient Outpost was activated, an automated data mining function was also triggered. Though not sentient, the Outpost transmitted all new data to Atlantis each time a wormhole was opened between the two."

Richard was immediately grateful for the Excedrin Migraine he'd been wise enough to take prior to the meeting, as the noise level rose exponentially.

"So this Outpost has been recording data on people of my nation?"

"Atlantis has been spying on us!"

“I bet the Americans knew and just didn’t tell us!”

“It wouldn’t be the first time they withheld information.”

A shrill whistle cut through the outbursts.

"Alright now, people." General O'Neill leaned forward and glared at each member until he or she became silent. "Thank you. I'd just like to remind you that having that Outpost active has saved our collective bacon more than once. Or maybe you'd rather be a slave to Apophis, Ra, or Ba'al right now."

It didn't surprise Woolsey that no one was willing to argue with O'Neill about that.

“And I would like to remind you that Atlantis is only in the Milky Way galaxy because she was willing to help protect Earth,” Richard snapped. “Despite the danger posed to her and those who live within her walls, she was willing to use the wormhole drive to make sure she would get here in time to prevent the Wraith from decimating Earth. Without Atlantis, none of you would be sitting here right now!”

Richard took a calming breath while the IOA were still stunned silent. He surveyed the room and nodded decisively. "Alright then. I have the lists here, so you can take them back to your various nations and decide if and how you wish to approach these people. I'm guessing that not all of them are going to make the cut, so each nation needs to figure out for itself the selection criteria."

“And you, Mr. Woolsey?” Shen demanded venomously. “Will you be remaining on Atlantis?”

Richard silently considered the woman who had been after his position on Atlantis not that long ago. He looked down and tapped his remaining papers against the table before he allowed a small smile to tug the corners of his lips upward.

“As a matter of fact, I will.”

 

Chapter Text

"It doesn't have to be this way, you know," she said.

"Ah, but it does."

If he hadn't heard that so many times from in so many different contexts, Tony might have laughed. As it was, he merely sighed and stared into the setting sun.

Tony had always liked staring into the sun. Foolish perhaps, but there was something appealing about looking into the heart of something so bright that it left him seeing spots for several seconds afterward. For a while there he'd thought his life would be like that - warm, bright, intense.

But reality never conformed to his dreams. Warmth turned cold, brightness dimmed, and intensity faded into routine. Like looking away from the sun, he'd been left with dark afterimages that blocked out joy as well as pain.

"You know I hate it when you ignore me."

"You know I never have."

Ignore? How could he ignore her? Whether it was a bullet through his arm, an insult sharper than a knife to the gut, or a child who couldn't be his, he'd never been able to ignore her. Not even when she was dead. Supposedly dead. Tony honestly wondered if Ziva had been "dead" so many times because she had faked each one, or because the devil had tossed her back, not wanting to deal with her attempts to manipulate him and run his kingdom.

"I have always despised these foolish little games you play."

"You despised that I don't play by your rules."

In the NCIS nest of king snakes, Ziva had been the invading coral. Helped into place by another who couldn't decide if she was king or coral, Ziva looked similar enough to fool most. With others, she played an exotic sensualist, a wounded daughter, an earnest immigrant. Not with Tony, though.

More than once Ziva had tried to finish the rhyme and make Tony a "dead fellow," but he'd grown up in a pit of vipers and recognized her kind. Tony's biggest regret was not leaving her in Africa. When he'd helped bring her back, he'd done so for Gibbs. Tony had thought Ziva would heal and play the wounded little girl for Gibbs until she could move on to her next target. He hadn't understood she'd never move on. Not while the bosses in her current nest were so willfully blind.

"Are you really this selfish?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

Selfish? No, this wasn't about what he wanted. His life had always revolved around someone else - sports teams, a fiancé, a job, a boss, and finally, another team. At least now his life would revolve around someone who was worthy of the sacrifices he'd make to guide her, protect her, love her.

No, Tali wasn't biologically his daughter, but she would never doubt for a moment that he was her daddy. It was because he knew how to be selfless that he could willingly surrender everything he was to become her everything. For Tali, Tony would leave everyone else behind, especially Ziva.

"This isn't the end!"

Tony turned and walked away, more calm and sure than he'd ever been before. He let his silence say this last goodbye.

Chapter Text

She wasn’t supposed to remember being ascended, but she did. She’s always been a little strange, even among her own people. Once she ascended, there was an unspoken agreement that she would continue her pursuit of knowledge on her own.

Thousands of years later, she still remembered the initial triumph of reaching past herself and the boundaries that human form and time placed upon her. It was terror and elation all at once.

It took many long centuries to become accustomed to existing in so many dimensions all at once. When she mastered the skill, it proved to be well worth the struggle. She could explore and understand the exquisite nature of the universe and could express it perfectly in complex mathematical equations. (Mathematics was the only true science, after all.)

She moved throughout the universes simply exploring and observing for several thousand years. She watched a supernova from within the heart of the star itself. She watched as life began on one planet and died out on another. She delved into a black hole and explored the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, which took millennia each.

Once she finished those journeys, she discovered she was lonely, so she visited the Nox. Even if she could not interfere, she wanted to be close to people. She marveled at the way the Nox were able to access many of the realms she now inhabited without choosing to ascend. They could ascend, of course, but they were happy to be born, live in harmony with all things, and then to die. To them, the use they made of a single lifetime was of more importance than all their scientific understanding. She could understand their logic, but it was not the path for her.

Of course, it wasn’t all perfect. When she returned to the Pegasus galaxy, it was to find that the heirs to her own amazing, wonderful people were nothing like those she had left. They had become entitled, elitist. They no longer explored and worked for the betterment of all; instead, they experimented and meddled simply because they could. In their arrogance, they created more than one living nightmare, but the worst was the Wraith.

How could her people have changed so much? How was it possible for a race to regress morally as they advanced scientifically? Some of the things she saw…. No wonder they couldn’t ascend without aid of some machine. It was just as well they now called themselves Alterans. These blind, vicious fools were unworthy of the title of Anquieta and all the treaties and respect that went along with it.

Her people, the Anquietas, had agreed on a policy of noninterference before they ascended. They had all sworn they would obey, but now she and a few others were questioning that vow. Wasn’t it their duty to help fix the disaster their descendants had created? These Wraith were destroying world after world, and the Alterans were not going to defeat them.

It took a long time to convince a majority the interference was warranted. By that time, the Alterans had fled Pegasus like the cowards they were, and Atlantis lay on the bottom of the ocean. It took even longer for those who would return to human form to decide just how to do so. Many got fed up and left to try on their own. Of course, she kept track of them and aided them whenever the others were distracted enough that she could get away with it.

Finally, she too was done with waiting. Atlantis had risen with a new people in its towers. She desperately wanted to help these people as well as the rest of Pegasus, but she worried about losing all the memories that would enable her to do so.

Unless… unless there were a way to have more than one form.

She knew one form would have to be a child, the younger the better, and she’d already chosen the man who would be her father. He had been her father before she’d ascended too. Unfortunately, he no longer remembered anything but his current life. The woman was unimportant – merely a means to an end with convenient DNA. She was quite certain the woman wasn’t interested in being a mother anyway.

The rest of her would become part of her first home, but not until it had the power to support it and her. As soon as it did, she would act. She gathered her courage and prepared for the split.

Then the moment arrived. She split herself in two, sending part of her to the city and part to human form. It was painful beyond anything she had ever experienced, but it would be worth it. The only thing was she hadn’t counted on needing both parts of herself in the same galaxy. Until that happened, she had to choose to maintain her human form.

Then the day came. In her first home, she chose a moment when all her favorite people were gathered in one room.

“Hello. Thank you for taking such good care of me over the last five years. I am grateful and very pleased I could help you defend your planet, but now there are some things you need to know.”

The Atlantis expedition was stunned silent. Even Rodney.

 

In her human form, she was more, well, limited.

She held up her freshly bandaged finger. “Papà, kiss?”

“Of course, honey,” her father said, pressing his lips gently over the bandage. “All better now.” He smiled and kissed her forehead too.

Tony DiNozzo, her once-and-again father, cuddled her until her tears were all gone. It was so strange to have a body and human reactions again. “Tony” might not remember her, but he already loved her. She could tell.

“After your nap, we’ll start toward San Francisco. It’s crazy, and I don’t know why, but there’s something I have to see in the Pacific Ocean.”

Tali DiNozzo smiled.

Chapter Text

"Hi!"

John's attention, which had wandered back to Atlantis even while he and Teyla sat at the seaside restaurant waiting for their drinks, snapped back to the present. He blinked and looked down at the happy toddler who was patting his thigh and grinning up at him.

"Hi!"

"Hello to you too," John replied. He glanced up to see if he could spot parents who looked like they'd lost a kid anywhere in the vicinity. The only person of note was the woman sitting across the small table from him who appeared to be enjoying his discomfort immensely.

"Rodney would say you bring this upon yourself, Captain Kirk," Teyla thoroughly amused. "Even very young females desire your attention."

John glared. Well, he tried to, but he found it hard to glare at Teyla even when she was mocking him.

"Cute, Teyla. Really funny. Now be helpful and see if you can spot her mom before I’m accused of kidnapping."

“I very much doubt anyone would accuse you of such a thing when we have been sitting here for the last several minutes,” she retorted serenely.  

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” John muttered.

“Besides,” Teyla added, “I believe the parent in question is heading directly toward us.”

“Tali!” The presumed father pounced on the little girl, sweeping her into his arms and pressing kisses to her curly hair – hair that was a dark blonde shade matching her father’s. “Bambina, you can’t go anywhere without Papà, remember?”

The father was white-faced as if he’d just survived the most terrifying moments of his life. He held his little girl tightly, only loosening his grip when she squawked in protest.

“Sorry, bambina, but you scared a decade off my life. I’m pretty sure I have at least fifty new gray hairs too.”

“She got away from you, huh?”

“Yeah,” the father looked at John for the first time. “I don’t even know how it happened. She was wiggling and wanted down; I set her down and looked away for two seconds - hardly enough time to take this –” He held up one of the disks that lit up when the table was ready. “- from the hostess, and suddenly she was gone. I about had a heart attack on the spot.”

The guy still looked like he was in shock.

“Children are capable of darting off more quickly than should be possible. I am glad she was safe with us.” Teyla said sympathetically, smoothing things over as usual. “Please, join us.”

“Oh, no. We couldn’t.”

“Sure you can. You look like you’re about to pass out, and we haven’t ordered yet.”

Even the girl could see how upset her father was. She said, “S’okay, Papà. Tali okay.”

“Yes, that way you do not have to worry about waiting for another table,” Teyla chimed in. “The staff here do not seem especially prompt; your little girl will be ravenous by the time you are seated. In my experience, young children do not wait well.”

The man frowned and looked around at all the filled tables. “Are you sure? We don’t want to impose. I’d hate to teach her it’s okay to barge in and take over someone’s table.”

“On the contrary,” Teyla smiled, her eyes glinting with amusement, “Young women should learn to stand up for themselves from a young age.”

The father snorted. “I agree with that, but I don’t think that includes hostile restaurant table takeovers.”

John rolled his eyes and nudged an empty chair away from the table with his foot. Aside from his kid suddenly finding John, there was something about the guy. Maybe it was that he looked more like John’s sibling than David did, what with his classic features, green eyes, and messy hair. John didn’t think so; there was something else.

“Take a seat,” he ordered, waving a hand toward the chair. “If you can’t trust your daughter to pick your friends, then who can you?”

The father gave a surprised laugh. “Alright,” he finally agreed and took the offered chair, settling his daughter on his lap. “I’m Tony DiNozzo, and this is my daughter Tali.”

“Nice to meet you. John Sheppard and Teyla Emmagan.”

“Pleased to meet you as well.”

“Hi!” Tali grinned cheerfully and patted her father’s chest. “Papà! Mine!” she declared.

John couldn’t help but smile back. “Yes, I see that. Just make sure you bring him with you from the beginning next time. I hear papas are terrible about getting lost when they don’t have their little girls with them.”

Tali nodded, her eyes going wide and serious. “Papà ‘tay. Papà mine.”

DiNozzo got the typical parental look of fond exasperation. John refrained from snickering. His brother’s kids weren’t this entertaining.

“A very good idea, Tali.” Teyla reached for her water and took a sip. “Are you from here, Mr. DiNozzo?”

“Ah, no. D.C., actually, and it’s just Tony. We’re sort of on vacation.”

“I can see why you’d want to get out of D.C.” John groused, then winced as he realized how that might be taken. There was a reason he didn’t do the trade negotiations. “Ah, no offence.”

“None take, believe me,” Tony snorted. “I’ve often wondered why I’ve stayed so long. I’m definitely reconsidering now that I have Tali.” He gave his daughter an adoring look and smoothed one of her curls back from her face. “How about you two? You’re locals?”

“No, I am from a very small town outside the United States,” Teyla volunteered.

“Nah,” John answered. “I’ve got family on the East Coast, but I’m actually military and on leave now.”

Sort of. If leave covered Atlantis kicking everyone out while she did maintenance or something to her systems, whatever that meant.

When John had asked when he’d be allowed to return, she hadn’t given him a direct answer. She’d said he had to take time to make sure he fully understood the ramifications of becoming a Lantean and what it would mean to give up citizenship on Earth. If and when he returned, he would no longer be Colonel John Sheppard, but Dominus John Sheppard – a rank and authority no one could take from him except Atlantis herself. That thought thrilled John more than it probably should have.

His thoughts were again interrupted when the server finally arrived with his and Teyla’s drinks. While he was there, the server cooed and fawned over Tali so much that John wondered if women were the only ones with biological clocks. At the very least, John had higher hopes of seeing their food before the turn of the century.

“So what brought you to San Francisco, Tony?”

Before Tony could answer Teyla, Tali chirped, “’Lantis!”

John choked on his coke and had to sit up and cough into a napkin.

“Sorry,” Tony chuckled, a little embarrassed. “She’s been obsessed with that Disney movie Atlantis lately.” He shook his head. “She’s weird about it though. I’ll get it going and then she’ll stand in front of the TV, stomp her feet, and shout ‘wong!’ at it every few minutes.”

It shouldn’t have meant anything, but the hairs on the back of John’s neck started to prickle.

Tali nodded vigorously. “Modie wong, Papà. Tali know. ‘Lantis mine!”

John exchanged a glance with Teyla when Tony was looking down at his daughter. Teyla simply looked back at him and raised one brow as if to tell him it was his call.

“Tali is definitely my kid,” Tony rolled his eyes. “Everything is either ‘mine’ or ‘not mine’ in her world right now.”

“Well, I can’t say as I blame her. I was never good about letting other people play with my toys,” John said casually.

“’Lantis not toy,” Tali scolded. She cocked her little head to the side and stared at John. “We go ‘Lantis now, mine?”

John and Teyla were both silent as Tony attempted to persuade his daughter that Atlantis wasn’t real, much to her ire.

Finally, Tali did the trick all kids seem to know instinctively: she stretched out, arms going up, back arching, and head going back, all so fast that Tony was lucky to get her safely to the ground without getting a bloody nose himself.

“Tali,” DiNozzo scolded.

Tali ignored him in favor of patting John’s leg and demanding, “Up! Tali up, mine!”

“Jeez,” Tony slid his chair back and started to stand. “Here, let me grab her.”

“Nah, she’s alright.” John reached down and carefully picked up the little girl… except his instincts were telling him she was more than that. “Is that better, Tali?” he asked once she was perched kneeling on his thighs.

Tali nodded, her scowl vanishing.

Teyla, the most awesome wingman ever, distracted Tony with a gentle smile and questions about his plans. “You mentioned you’re considering moving now that you have Tali. Have you decided where you’d like to go?”

“We go ‘Lantis now?” Tali asked softly, placing her little hands on John’s cheeks.

“Well, I don’t know,” John drawled, smiling. “What if I don’t know where Atlantis is?”

“See dere,” Tali grinned and pointed toward the ocean. “Mine know dat!”

“Mine? Am I yours?” John teased.

Nodding again, Tali answered seriously. “Uh-huh. D-yon mine.” She frowned, concentrating on getting the words right. “Wad-nee mine. Woh-nan mine.” She made a face. “Kedder not mine.”

John’s heart stopped in shock before it started beating again.

“Rodney and Ronon are yours, but Keller is not yours?” he whispered.

“Yeah.” She patted his cheeks. “Mine. D-yon mine. My Daw-mee-nuh-us.”

Holy shit.

Holy shit.

That was all John could think for several seconds as his existence was redefined. Again. There was no way Tali DiNozzo could have known about Rodney, Ronon, or Keller. The conversation John’d had with Atlantis about becoming Dominus had taken place in private in his room on Atlantis, and he hadn’t told anyone, not even Rodney.

“Tali?” he choked out, wondering if he was crazy to be asking a three-year-old. “Tali, do you know Atlantis?”

Tali nodded, and suddenly he was certain he was looking into the eyes of an old soul. “’Lantis is me. Tali ‘Lantis too. Papà wike Tali, but he no ‘member no more.” She held her finger to her lips. “Shhh, no tell. Secwet. Mine no tell.”

“No, I won’t tell.” John’s head was spinning. What did that mean? Tali was Atlantis? How was it even possible? Was Tali an Ancient? Did she have the gene? Did her father? This was a thousand pounds of crazy in thirty pounds of little girl. If  it was true and anyone found out, Tali and Atlantis would both be in danger. The safest place for her really was on Atlantis.

“Hey, you okay?” Tony asked. “You look awfully pale. She didn’t – uh – crush the family jewels, did she? I know from experience how bad that is.”

Forcing himself to get it together, John shook his head.

“Nah, we’re good. I was just thinking that I’d love for a few friends to join us. You don’t mind if I give them a call, do you?”

Tony’s brows shot up in confused surprise. “Um, sure. Here, I’ll take Tali.”

He held his arms out to take her, but Tali threw her arms around John’s neck in a stranglehold – also managing to knee him in the “family jewels,” as Tony had put it.

“Mine!” she shrieked into his ear.

Realizing what happened by the high pitched wheeze and the way John’s eyeballs had bulged, Tony started coughing into his fist. Even Teyla was politely snickering behind her hand. The traitor.

Tony cleared his throat several times. “Maybe you should wait a few minutes to make that call.”

“Yeah,” John wheezed out. “Maybe just a few.”

Well, so far belonging to Atlantis and belonging to Tali seemed equally likely to cause him physical pain. He wasn’t sure if that was more proof Tali and Atlantis were connected, or just proof the universe liked to see John suffer. He assumed he’d find out soon enough.

 

Chapter Text

“So, I’m… I’m not good at this,” Rodney mumbled, fiddling with one of the spare crystals he kept around.

When he’d been called by Atlantis, (and hadn’t that been insane, getting a phone call from the city!) he’d been elated. She’d asked if he’d thought about matters and had decided. He’d scoffed.

“Are you sure you’ve been watching and actually paying attention? Because I’m pretty sure even an idiot like the ones I was saddled with would know my answer to that; but let me just clear up any misconceptions you might have. Yes, I’ve thought about it, and I’m certain. Now. How are you getting me back?”

Instead of being offended, Atlantis had laughed – not a mocking laugh like Rodney had heard from so many others throughout his life, but a laugh of pure delight.

“Of course, dear one. I knew what you would decide all along. I had to be sure you were comfortable with your decision,” she’d explained. “As for how you’re returning, I have made a few improvements I think you’ll like.”

She hadn’t wanted to tell him over the phone and had simply said she would send “appropriate transportation,” which he assumed meant a cloaked Jumper, for him. Apparently, she could pilot them remotely now that she was awake. They would talk once he was back home. She’d actually called herself home, which had thrown Rodney for a loop. He owned several houses in various countries, but he’d never had a home before.

Atlantis’ voice brought him abruptly to the present.

“What are you talking about, dear one?”

He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Uh, you know. This. Talking. With people.”

She was silent for several heartbeats, then said slowly, as if she wasn’t entirely sure she was asking the right question, “You believe your interpersonal relationship skills will suddenly become relevant to our relationship?”

Rodney nodded, shrugged, then felt stupid for not replying audibly. Then he felt even dumber, since, even though he couldn’t see her, she could certainly view him through her systems and didn’t require an audible response.

“Rodney,” Atlantis said patiently, “did you know that you are the first I have called to return to me?”

He nearly dropped the translucent blue crystal. He’d never been picked first. Not for anything.

“Wha- Really? I just…. I assumed Sheppard was around here somewhere.”

“No, dear one.”

“Huh.” Rodney couldn’t help but feel a surge of pride. “Well, of course that makes sense. I’m the one who knows you best, despite Sheppard’s super-gene.”

“Yes.”

“Wait. You’re seriously agreeing with me?”

“Of course!” she declared. “You are the one who has seen to the depths of me – my programming and physical structure both. You have seen my capabilities and have met each discovery with enthusiasm. When you look to the future, you seek a symbiotic existence with me. Even before I spoke to you audibly, you treated me with the care of a lover and were grieved by what the so-called Ancients have done to Pegasus and to me. All that was before you were aware of my sentience. Is it any wonder that I chose you above all others?”

“Yes. Well, no. But Sheppard!” Rodney exclaimed, flustered, “Sheppard has the gene!”

“As do you.”

“Right, but he didn’t need the gene therapy to get his gene working. He walks in, and equipment lights up and starts working for him.”

Not that Rodney was bitter about that.

“Rodney,” she sighed. “it’s true that John’s genetic code did not require intervention to activate, but that does not mean he is superior to you in my regard. Now that I am awake, I hope all my residents will accept my offer of genome correction and augmentation.”

“You can do that?”

“Indeed. The human body’s natural rate of decay is most unacceptable to me. I would have you with me for much longer than your present life expectancy would allow.”

“You’re not going to clone me, are you?” Rodney asked, eyes narrowed.

Atlantis didn’t laugh, but her voice was warm with amusement. “No, Rodney. I merely wish to make corrections in your current genetic code.”

“Oh, well. That might be alright then.”

“Excellent.”

“So,” Rodney started out unsurely, “I’m back, which means you want me around, but do I get to keep my position?”

“If that is what you wish, then yes; however, I would like to discuss some alterations of your duties.”

Rodney’s whole body froze, and he had to force himself to take a deep breath before cautiously agreeing, “Alright.”

“It seems to me, and you may correct me if my observations are incorrect, that while you are capable of performing all your previous tasks, it would be a disservice to ask that of you again.”

“What do you mean?” He was starting to get worried.

“It seems,” she said again, “that more was required of you than any other single person within my walls. You held a position on AR1. You were chief scientist with all the administrative duties, from approving shift assignments and maintaining records for all sub-departments to approving research requests.

“And I must state that you prevented some truly reprehensible research. If Dr. Weir had listened to you, the travesties with the iratus DNA, the Hoffan Drug, and the Wraith known as Michael never would have happened. There is research and experimentation, and then there is stupidity.”

With rare humility, Rodney reminded her, “In all fairness to Dr. Weir, I made my own mistakes. I did blow up three-quarters of a solar system.”

“You did,” Atlantis agreed calmly. “An uninhabited solar system. You cost no humanoid its life, Rodney. You also admitted your mistake and have learned from it. Had you not, you would have pushed to try your wormhole drive long ago.”

“Well, that’s true.”

“Furthermore, you were on-call 28 hours a day, every day, the moment you arrived. All looked to you any time there was a crisis, and there were more than there should have been. Even though you were not within my walls for this last crisis, it was your theoretical work that enabled me to travel the distance between galaxies in time to save Earth.” Atlantis voice went soft, cajoling. “Rodney, it is too much for any single human. People complained about your short temper even when they knew you had been up for weeks with little sleep each night. I cannot allow that to continue.”

Rodney closed his eyes. “What do I have to give up?” he asked miserably.

“Rodney, dear one, I do not wish you to give up anything. Instead, I would give to you. If you decide to accept my offering, your title will be Primus.”

Rodney frowned in confusion. “Primus what?”

“Just Primus. I would like you to retain your authority over the sciences, though I have someone in mind to be under you and who will take those you call ‘soft’ sciences. It is a much smaller group than the ‘hard’ sciences.”

“Really?” Rodney perked up. “I wouldn’t mind unloading those.” He frowned again. “Though I want to keep medicine.”

“Yes, I would ask you to retain direct authority over the medical department. Some of the experiments Dr. Keller began… Perhaps it is better if I just tell you I have removed any trace those experiments ever existed.”

Rodney winced. “She –” He heaved a sigh. “She knew what she was doing, even if I wish she didn’t. She just didn’t care.”

“I am aware. I will not invite her to return, Rodney.”

“I know.” He wasn’t surprised. He and Jennifer had already broken up.

“As I was saying, in addition to the reduced burden, I intend for you to have three administrators. The first will deal with research requests from all sciences, determining if a request should be forwarded to you for approval. All remaining requests will be declined automatically. They will also deal with all scheduling and all lab assignments because they will know who needs to be where.”

“That will help,” Rodney admitted easily.

“The second administrator will deal with typical administrative duties such as screening your emails for interpersonal problems and complaints, basic questions, and demands for your time. There are several other tasks I will assign to them – tasks you do not enjoy anyway.”

Rodney snorted. “I hope you find someone who’s able to say no to the ungrateful whiners.”

Atlantis’ voice was smug when she answered, “Oh, I believe I have found someone who will make each and every person grateful for your patience and unwillingness to murder.”

When Atlantis started giggling mischievously, Rodney couldn’t help but laugh too. He wondered what kind of person made him look patient.

Atlantis continued, “The third administrator is the one I think you will appreciate most. This person will be in charge of all safety protocols within all labs.”

“But still under my authority, right?”

“Of course,” Atlantis agreed. “I wish for someone to write a list of proper procedures for everything from gathering and storing samples from Pegasus’ planets to disposal of a hazardous experiment – their own or that of the ‘Ancients.’ Violations of procedure, depending on the seriousness of the infraction, will result in penalties ranging from performing mundane duties for all in their department to banishment from my walls.”

 “Expul – You’d banish someone?! Isn’t that a death sentence?”

“Not necessarily, though it does guarantee they will never work with the same level of technology.”

“But banishment? Really?” Rodney could help his shock.

“Rodney, I will no longer tolerate those who do not value me or the other lives within my walls, including their own. I promise I will make this abundantly clear to every single person before we leave the planet. Disregard for life does not just apply to scientists, after all. I will never again tolerate a military commander who thinks human lives are ever ‘acceptable losses.’”

Rodney had to wonder about all the times he had disregarded what he knew was proper procedure. He’d probably have to be better about logging what he brought back when he went through the ‘gate, too.

“Hey, wait. Will I still be a part of AR1?”

“As long as you wish to be, though I believe AR1’s priorities may be shifted. It is dangerous to have so many of the ruling body gone from me at once.”

“Ruling body? What ruling body?”

“I have offered a position to John. You are the second. I will offer Teyla and Ronon a choice of positions. While none of you are expendable individually, the four of you together would make too tempting a target for those who wanted to blackmail those left behind.”

“I guess that makes sense.” He was going to miss being able to go on regular missions, though. Well, he’d miss it occasionally. The way it sounded, he was going to be so spoiled that he’d have to go on a mission and get beaten up just to keep him from becoming too content with his life. “So I can stay on the team, and you’re taking a huge weight off my shoulders with the admin people you have planned.” He paused. “I trust you to pick the right people.”

“Thank you, Rodney,” she said warmly, understanding the compliment he had given her. “I believe I will alleviate more of your day-to-day ‘emergencies’ that are not really emergencies. I have chosen several electricians, plumbers, builders, and other craftsmen to join us.”

“Oh my god, that will help!” The exclamation burst from him. “You don’t know how much that will help. Well, you probably do, but thank you.” Rodney could have cried. To think he wouldn’t have to go into some dark pit at the bottom of Atlantis’ structure to fix something at 3:00 AM ever again!

“Of course! You see, you are not giving up anything.”

“You’re right,” Rodney replied enthusiastically. “This is going to be great. Now, about those improvements to your systems.”

Atlantis laughed. “Well, you remember the Asgard beaming technology they refused to share…”