The alarm is a mournful wailing noise. The warning light flashes on, off, on, off. It should be a frightening thing, what they are about to do, and maybe for some people it would be, but not for John. Not for Rod, who is leaning against the console about to enter his own portion of the self-destruct code.
A year, they have lasted a year – brought Atlantis out from the depths of the ocean. Walked her corridors, fixed her damage, discovered some of her secrets. They've lost people, and gained people along the way – John knows Teyla and the Athosians are unhappy at being evacuated, but at least they are going to be safe. And now... Now there are Wraith Hive ships on their way. There were three of them, but Rod won't mention Peter Grodin's name any more, and John doesn't really want to know. Two of them left, Rod says, and John has no reason to doubt him. Two very good reasons to be doing the things they are doing, and although the decision can be second-guessed, John doesn't think even the long dead Colonel Sumner would have argued with it. The protection of information – the 'need to know' is so ingrained. They cannot let the Wraith have Atlantis.
John tugs nervously at his always ill-fitting blue shirt and stares at Elizabeth Weir, at her anxious exultant face. He wonders that she was even given part of the self-destruct code. It's Sumner's, John supposes, and wonders at her nerve. She was in... Anthropology before, wasn't she? Lucky to be there, from the little he's heard. Lucky to be on the Atlantis expedition at all, and not rotting in some correctional facility, being re-educated. She's an independent thinker, and that's never a safe thing to be. But still, she jumped in, anxious to meddle, after Colonel Sumner and Major Bates joined the statistics. John can only assume she's a glutton for punishment. And yet...
Here they are about to destroy Atlantis, city of wonders and terrors, and a thousand possibilities. They are about to destroy the only Stargate that can connect them to their home galaxy. They are about to be exiled forever. He can't argue now that Weir didn't choose the right path. He wonders if his own face shows the same kind of conflict, of anticipation - the same kind of joy. He hopes not. It's not safe. Even now, it is far too early to show any true feelings, however wonderful the thought of... freedom might be. Even the hope is terrifying.
At least they know who the Political Officer is now. That individual had their own portion of the self-destruct code to enter – they had to step forward when that course of action became necessary. John remembers the fear in his stomach, when he'd realised that fact, worked out the consequences. Of course, he shouldn't know, he doesn't need to know, but there are some privileges that come from being on Rod's team. Privileges or dangers, they are all the same these days.
John is surprised to find he wouldn't have it any other way.
Rod steps away from the control panel with a courteous gesture, his eyes bright with something John can't identify. The screen flashes waiting for the next section of the code. Perhaps it is because Rod liked the man, John thinks. Of course, Rod likes everyone, so perhaps that distinction is not the mark of respect it would be with anyone else. But then, Rod isn't anyone else. Of course, he's a genius with people, has to be, or the State would have caught him long ago, John knows that too. But still. It has to hurt. What if Rod had trusted him, the way he trusts John?
The fear still spikes through the nervous flutters of excitement in his stomach, making him feel sick, but John is getting used to it, the way he was used to his isolation, his refusal to be part of a team. Before. Rod changed all that. Now John digs his nails into his palms, because he finds he is more afraid for Rod, than he is for himself. He wants to scream. He wants to lash out. Hope has made him stupid. He has grown so stupid. He can be hurt now. They both can. Of course, it's all an illusion – they could always have been broken. Could have 'disappeared' any day, back on Earth, but John knows that keeping himself closed off from everyone gave him a shield, was designed that way. Atlantis has made everything brand new. Terror has a shiny new patina. Worry is an effervescent new drug. Everything, but especially. Rod.
Two Wraith hive ships are on their way, and they are not the most dangerous things in the galaxy. John wants to laugh, because the universe in which that is true is so completely fucked up.
Not long now. Seconds really, and they'll never have to worry about Earth again. John might even stop looking over his shoulder after a year or two. He wants to giggle, with relief, with the unholy topsy-turviness of it all. He'll miss football, and maybe turkey sandwiches, but he can always build himself a Ferris wheel, and the Pegasus galaxy has plenty of things that go 200mph.
Carson Beckett walks forward, and enters the Political Officer's code. The alarm shouldn't be able to pitch itself any higher, but John is not sure that it doesn't. He finds he's holding his breath, and lets it out carefully. Weir is very pale. Rod is smiling crookedly, but then. When does Rod not smile? He is relaxed. Of course, he is.
It does make sense. Naturally, these things always do in retrospect. Everyone passes through the doctor's hands, sooner or later. Some people, careless people, might even confide in a doctor. The doctor controls all the drugs, including the ones that make you babble like a child, and the ones that emphasise pain, until a hangnail feels like your limbs are being ripped off. No, in retrospect, it does seem obvious. But Carson is a good doctor. He's worked as hard as any of them. He cried after the incident with the nanovirus – after it was all over, and the bodies were all lined up. He'd touched the sheet that covered poor dead Dumais, and John had seen a tear trickling down his face. He doesn't think it was a performance, but Carson is obviously a good actor, so maybe it was all a lie.
Or... John has met many people who honestly and truly believe what they do is for the greater good. Maybe Carson is one of those. He can't be a very good politician or he wouldn't have been exiled with the rest of them on this one way mission to another galaxy, so perhaps he volunteered. Perhaps he truly believes in the State. The United State. The freedoms that were promised by the Founding Fathers that haven't really been true for decades.
But then Carson is Scottish, not American. Or appears to be. Maybe that too is a clever lie? His accent seems real enough to John but he never thought to ask Grodin what he thought, and now it's too late. Or perhaps Carson was the compromise candidate – this is an international expedition, after all. Who knows what reassurances other governments have asked for?
Does it matter? It would, if they were still in contact with the home planet. If they still had a long umbilical cord down which reports could trickle, down which men and women could disappear. If they had a camp set up here somewhere in the Pegasus galaxy. Not just an Alpha site, but something secret. A mini-Guantanamo. If they had to worry about something like that, then Carson's motivations would suddenly become of utmost importance. They would take on an urgency, a round and shiny quality, as important as the sun.
John tugs on his shirt again. He can feel his head beginning to throb. The alarm has been going on too long. He doesn't think there is a planet like that. Rod would know about it. Ford would, or Weir.
With sudden white-hot clarity, John remembers Carson congratulating him on the newly set up Lantean chapter of Mensa. Is it a suspicious activity? Is it on an approved list? How good an actor is Carson? How sincere was his praise?
John's stomach clenches. He wants everyone to just get on with it already. He wants to be safe.
Weir looks to Ford, as acting head of the Atlantis, for permission. But even Ford's eyes now slide sideways to Beckett. Carson looks serene, and John thinks that's when he begins to hate him, just a little. Ford nods.
Weir begins to speak, "Self destruct is armed. Preparing to load the virus into the Ancient mainframe. Rod, dial the Alpha site."
"Dialling." Rod's voice is more clipped than usual. John aches for him, wishes he could reach for him, remind him that some things can be trusted, but he can't, not here, in public, not now. Not even a manly shoulder pat. Far too risky.
There is the sound of another alarm, blaring and indistinct over the first.
"We've got an incoming wormhole," Rod is saying, surprised, even as John recognises the familiar signal, "Receiving IDC."
Rod sounds strained as he says the next words, and Weir gasps, Ford whistles. Even Carson's serenity seems jolted. "It's Earth," says Rod, "It's Stargate Command."
There's a beat, a silence. It's Weir that breaks it. She's brave. John's always thought so. She skates along on thin ice, and makes it look so easy. "Are you sure?"
"Positive," says Rod, and he sounds happy, relieved, and John can admire that, allow himself to be reassured by that, knowing that relieved is possibly the last thing that Rod is really feeling.
"Let's lower the shield, then, shall we?" says Carson, rubbing his hands, looking pink-cheeked and amazed, like an eager child, and after another beat, Rod does so.
Everything is running on jagged time, nothing feels natural. John wants to fidget, but he doesn't, through long practice. Instead he slouches into invisibility half a console away from Rod. He can feel his walls building themselves back up, and the hair along the backs of his arms rising in an intangible chill. The wormhole that crashes into existence makes him shiver, but the marines that come cautiously though, pointing their weapons, they're an anticlimax. They're as ordinary as Monday's meatloaf. The only thing that makes this different from any other mission return, is that they aren't their marines. They're from Earth, they're SGC, in fact – they are the enemy, thinks John, surprised all over again.
No-one moves, not even Carson. It's not until the leader of this invading force comes forward, his P-90 put up cautiously, that it even seems real. Lieutenant Ford abruptly salutes, and this man, this soldier, tough-looking and greying, looks at them all suspiciously.
"Colonel Dillon Everett, United States Marine Corps," he states, almost barking. John has an incongruous urge to snigger, but doesn't. The man is such a cliché. "Where is Colonel Sumner?"
And that's a $64,000 question in itself. John can feel the gap between them yawn, and the leash to Earth start to pull, to strangle and reel them in. He breathes shallowly through his mouth, as the implications begin to take hold.
Rod is trying to explain about the Wraith hive ships, about the evacuation order, his hands waving. Ford is beginning a sit-rep on the current position, his own command, Sumner's fate. He's young, inexperienced – these reports are classified, and he knows it. He stumbles over his own words, as he tries to sum up information that John and Weir at least, have never needed to know. Everett cuts them both off cold, and stares at Carson, who hasn't said a word.
"You got my message, didn't you, laddie?" says Carson, at last, smiling beatifically.
"We got your message," says Everett, and that's the beginning of the end.
Everything is anticlimactic after that. The marines bring equipment through the wormhole, efficient ugly-looking crates, more personnel. They're going to defend Atlantis at all costs, apparently, and the original expedition, the Lanteans, must cheer them on, just as though they haven't been surviving by the skin of their teeth alone for a year, making their own decisions, making their own allies... fraternising. They have to be grateful for it too, because they've been saved from themselves. Of course, they have. John wants to dial the Alpha site, to warn... But, of course, it's impossible. Rod is trying to play mediator, being useful, being diplomatic, being amusing, and personable, and all those things he's good at. It's water off a duck's back to Everett. Rod's getting frustrated, John can see it, although he doesn't think anyone else will.
Weir has gone from white to green, as she drifts in silence, escaping current notice. She's gravitated to John's side, and he wonders what support she can possibly expect from him? She's the one who stuck her neck out when the chain of command needed her, she'll have to live with the consequences. John finds his hands have clenched. Weir has done a good job, she's competent, and that's rare. He wishes he could save her, because... because... she's one of their own. Their own, as Everett is not. And that stings. They thought they had escaped, they all thought that. And John doesn't trust her, he doesn't trust anyone, except Rod, but he still wishes he could save her.
John busies himself on the consoles, bringing up dormant systems, bringing the database back online, the good efficient scientist. He doesn't think about the fact that this is normally Chuck's job, the too-quiet Canadian technician, that this is beneath John, beneath his level of responsibility. First impressions count, always, and this is better than many an alternative. At least this way he will seem to be a 'team player', although John has never really been that, has always had to work at it, or hold himself apart, for safety's sake. It's good to have something to do at any rate, to distract himself. He'll start freezing up, if he thinks too long and hard, although he knows he'll need to do that too. Later. He needs to think, to remember, to work out what could have been in this message that Carson apparently sent, and how incriminating it might be. He's remembering what it feels like to be afraid, all the time, like an old enemy.
He misses Rod already, and he's standing not ten feet away.
Eventually, Everett takes Ford away, to brief him. Weir is drafted into showing the new marines the armoury, their proposed new quarters. It's Rod's idea. John is pleased – something useful, that takes her away from casual notice. He's twitchy enough, he's angry enough, that he almost suggests Weir should show them the South East Pier – with any luck they'll find another lab with a nanovirus, or other deadly Ancient toy. It's not a solution, but John's... losing it. He can tell.
He sits down on Chuck's chair, and it skids a little. John reaches for the console and holds on, his knuckles white, his breath gasping. He doesn't know why, but his heart feels like it's racing. The ties to Earth have been re-knotted, and there's nothing he can do. There's nothing he can do.
Then suddenly there is a solid body behind him, behind his chair, and there's a warm hand on his shoulder, and John's skin tingles with sensory memories, as Rod leans over him, and taps at the console, bringing up communication protocols, although not dialling the Alpha site, not yet. Not until they have fucking permission.
"It's ok," says Rod, and he's cheerful, and solid, and real, and John can hear the warning in it anyway. "It's ok, John."
And it isn't, not by a long way, but John has Rod looking out for him, and that's something. He's got to hold it together for both their sakes, but he's never wanted to explode into some kind of action more in his life.
"We're going to save Atlantis," says Rod, after a second, "Remember that." And his thumb digs hard into the muscle of John's shoulder.
John wants to turn and push Rod up against the wall. He wants to spin and drag him down onto the chair with him. He wants to twist Rod open until he's moaning and begging for it. He wants to kiss him, and suck him, and fuck him, and... he wants to be able to do any of it. Any of it at all.
He takes another breath. "Yeah," he manages, "That's cool."
"Think about it," Rod says, with the curl of his smile in his voice, "All of this and new sparring partners too! We'll have to open up a new gym."
And John closes his eyes, just for a second, because the gym... Two team members appearing on the life sign detectors in the gym area. That's an acceptable place to be. Leaving the gym flushed, or sweaty. That's an acceptable state to be in. Physical exercise is a healthy, encouraged thing. He truly hopes that Carson really is as naive as he's always seemed, or they are both dead. Dead and fucking buried.
Then he wants to kick himself for his own stupidity, his own panic, because he's not been listening. Not properly. Rod always says more than one thing, always, even on a normal day, and now, when John's almost hyperventilating? Now is not going to be an exception.
'We're going to save Atlantis' says Rod – but he doesn't mean from the Wraith, does he? They're almost incidental. A natural enemy. One they can fight openly. No, Rod doesn't mean the Wraith. And 'new sparring partners'? John hopes like hell that Rod knows what he's doing.
But it's worry of a different kind. John can feel his fingers beginning to tingle where the blood flow is coming back. He's not dizzy any more, he's stopped breathing hard. Rod is patting his shoulder and letting go. They're going to do this. It's just like another mission, really. And John's learnt tactics, and strategy, over the past year. He's even learnt to be a team player, for certain values of team.
And he's got Rod. If anyone can figure this out, he can. After all, he's a genius.
Rod always smells clean; of leather, and soap, or sometimes ozone and electrics if he's been in the lab. Today is no exception. It's just a normal day. John stands up and under that cover allows his hand to lightly brush Rod's. Just a normal day.
Off saving the galaxy.