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Pack Come First

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"Lycanthropy is a myth, created by superstitious people with overactive imaginations, and perpetuated by idiots."

Rodney crossed his arms as he derided the latest project brought before him for the go-ahead by the Life Sciences department that covered anthropology, zoology and various other voodoo sciences that Rodney barely tolerated. He really wished Carson was in control of that department because Jennifer indulged their every whim and flight of fancy. Not that she was wrong to do so. After all, until they arrived in Pegasus, immortal soul-sucking vampires were also a myth, but he could not have the scientists pursuing this particular avenue of research.

The reason was quite simple. Lycanthropy was no myth, and Rodney had a pack on Atlantis to protect.

Unfortunately Philips wasn't one of the Pack or he might have let him go ahead with his research.

"References were found in the Ancient database that, taking into context the-."

"And yet the answer is still no, Doctor Philips. Go find some unicorns instead." Rodney added a smattering of contempt to his tone for good measure.

With a huff of exasperation, Philips stalked out and Rodney sagged back into the comfortable leather computer chair that was one of the few benefits from their recent trip to Earth. Before Atlantis took flight to return to Pegasus, they had taken full advantage to stock up on everything they could possibly want: new, larger beds with contour mattresses, computers, chairs and couches for work and for lounging around, lots of Earth food, and even decent toilet paper. Of course John and Lorne had been in their element too, ordering up enough ordnance, rail guns and nukes to sink the city, and it was surprising that Atlantis had the power to lift off with the additional weight of a Prometheus class battleship clinging to her south pier too.

But no Carson - at least not yet. He would be arriving on the first run of the Daedalus.

While on Earth Jennifer had stood down as the Chief Medical Officer, having never really wanted the position in the first place. Rodney thought she intended to leave the Stargate Program altogether, perhaps to spend more time with her father, but instead she reverted to her former deputy position on Atlantis as soon as the SGC reinstated Carson as the CMO. Unlike Carson, Jennifer knew nothing of the werewolf pack on Atlantis. Somehow Rodney had managed to hide the pack from her, though he'd had every intention of letting her in on the secret if they had stayed together. Unfortunately, their romance had fizzled out, admittedly helped along by some of his less than stellar qualities, but at least she had let him down easy rather than slapping him across the face or punching him on the nose. That had happened on one memorable occasion in a former relationship, though he still didn't believe Jeff had just cause to...

He sighed in annoyance as he wasn't usually one to go off at a tangent to avoid dealing with a thorny situation.

By this time tomorrow they would be on the outer edge of the Pegasus galaxy, thanks to the two ZPMs powering their stardrive, and two days after that they would be back on Lantea, though halfway round the planet from where they had originally found the city at the bottom of the ocean. It seemed the perfect place especially as the Asurans were no longer a threat, and neither were the Wraith. What was left of the Wraith had gone back into hibernation rather than starve or risk death by feeding from an infected human after Michael spread his strain of the Hoffan plague throughout most of the galaxy. Once Carson had returned, Rodney would ask him what they should do about Jennifer. Until then he knew he would simply have to keep an eye on her, and on Philips too, in case he went against his orders and pursued his research on Lycanthropy.

Rodney stretched and sighed, hoping he could manufacture a reason to head back to Athos as soon as they had settled back on Lantea, so he could transform and run through the forest with some of his pack, just as he used to do as a kid back in the forested areas surrounding Toronto. It was the only time he really didn't mind the exercise, and he doubted the sense of freedom gained during those runs would ever get old. It wasn't the same running on the hard floors of the city, though Parrish had a theory that the whole of the east pier was once a park area with trees and shrubs - based on a few dried twigs and roots he'd found clinging to parts of the structure there. The whole of that area had been exposed to the sea when the shield began to collapse soon after their initial arrival in the city, and rising from the depths had washed away practically all that was left of the dead vegetation from ten thousand years earlier. Still, if Parrish was right and they could restore that area then...

Rodney startled when he realized John was leaning on the door frame.

"How long have you...?"

"About twenty minutes."

"Really?" Rodney glanced towards the clock on his laptop, worried that he had become so caught up in his thoughts that he had also lost track of time, only to realize that he was being teased...again. "Oh, ha, ha!"

John shrugged with one-shoulder, lips curved into a quirky smile. "What did Philips want?"

"Oh, nothing important." Rodney waved a hand, going for a nonchalant air. "Just wants to expose us to the rest of humanity."

John's smile faded and his eyes narrowed when he realized Rodney wasn't joking. Though the very fact that John was standing there asking him about Philips proved he had heard something on the Atlantis grapevine.

"Rodney?" John growled low in warning.

"Yes, I know! Carson always deflected them away from investigating any anomalies with our genetics but Jennifer... Jennifer doesn't know about us."

"You never told her?"

"I... There never seemed to be the right time." He hated the small whine that came into his voice. "Carson should have told her-."

"Carson wasn't exactly in a position to tell her... due to death by exploding tumor." John chided, and Rodney looked away because even though they had Carson back, it was not the original Carson Beckett. The remembered grief was still there, hanging heavy in his heart. When he looked back up at John, he read the apology in his green-hazel eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, and Rodney nodded in acceptance. "But that doesn't change anything. Keller needs to know, for the sake of the Pack."

"Pack come first," Rodney murmured, because that was the first rule he had learned as a whelp. That and the fact that they had to keep their transformation abilities secret from normal humans due to the amount of bad press their kind had received over the centuries.

Most of the myths were full of inaccuracies, telling stories of them turning into mindless, blood-crazed beasts at the Full Moon, but the truth was that they had always been able to turn at will, and they retained their 'human' level of intelligence no matter which form they took. The bad press had come from a few isolated incidents. Just as humans had their sociopaths and psychopaths, so did the Lycan, though it was extremely rare. On the whole, the Lycan were far more mentally stable as a race than normal humans, and Rodney wondered if that was connected to the ATA Gene.

Carson was the first to discover the connection between the Lycan and the Ancients, which was why Rodney had asked to be tested for the ATA gene several times while in Antarctica. He'd refused to believe that he could be Lycan and yet not have the ATA gene. Rodney should have known that it was likely some non-Lycan in his ancestry had made his ATA gene recessive. Fortunately, Carson's gene therapy had reactivated it, giving him everything he wanted. Interestingly enough, considering it was a soft science so usually not very interesting at all, every Lycan who had taken the gene therapy gained the ATA gene but the gene only activated for forty percent of non-Lycans, and those non-Lycans did not gain any shape-shifting abilities to go with their ATA gene. It appeared that the two genes were connected but not dependent upon each other for activation, so this created three distinct groups on Atlantis: the Lycan, humans with the ATA gene, and normal humans.

Jennifer was a normal human, and her lack of the ATA gene was part of the reason why she had stepped down as CMO in favor of Carson, though mostly she wanted to concentrate on her research rather than administration. She was beautiful, strong, funny, and intelligent, and even though Jeannie hadn't approved of Jennifer because she wasn't Lycan, Jennifer would have made a good mate.

"Pack come first," John repeated before slipping away, leaving Rodney staring after him forlornly.

As one of the pack alphas, John hadn't approved of Jennifer either, and Rodney had avoided asking him why. Certainly, John had seemed more relaxed since Rodney's break-up with Jennifer, but equally that could simply be because Atlantis had left Earth and was more than halfway across the void between the two galaxies. John always seemed uncomfortable on Earth, perhaps out of fear of being reassigned.

He dropped his forehead to the desktop, realizing he was letting his thoughts go off on a tangent again.

"Someone back at the SGC should have told her after she was made CMO... like O'Neill or Daniel," he muttered to himself, "Or Carson could have told her after we rescued him from Michael." He lifted his head and sighed again in frustration. Just a few more days, he thought, and he could pass the problem back over to Carson.

***

Two days later Rodney received an alert that someone wanted access to the full blood work for all of the natural ATA gene carriers. He cursed under his breath when he realized Jennifer had authorized the release to Philips. There was no earthly reason why Philips would want those unless he had continued in his research on Lycanthropy, and if Philips noticed the anomalies between the Lycan and pure human gene carriers then he would start digging even deeper.

Rodney couldn't really fault Philips for his tenacity; the Anthropologist was a brilliant scientist despite his choice of the soft sciences. Before that tragic Sunday, Carson had started mapping the genetics of the Lycan and Rodney wished Philips could continue with the research into the history of the Lycan and Lycanthropy, if only for that reason, but centuries of fear-borne secrecy was hard to break.

Pack comes first.

With swift key movements, Rodney locked down the files to refuse access even to Jennifer, aware that this would raise her suspicions - and she was a tenacious scientist in her own right - but he had little choice. While the anomalies could have been explained away in a laboratory on Earth, the use of superior Ancient technology would expose them all, especially if Philips or Jennifer uncovered the original Carson's research.

Rodney tapped his radio. "Sheppard? We have a problem."

John arrived quickly, falling silent when Rodney explained what had happened. Wringing his hands anxiously, Rodney paced the small laboratory, refusing to catch John's eye in case he found something darker than disappointment in his stony gaze.

"I should have told her. I should have trusted-."

"And that's just it. You didn't trust her, Rodney. Why?"

Confused, Rodney paused mid-step and glanced across, and was caught instantly by John's intense gaze.

"What?" he asked weakly.

John stood ramrod straight, almost in parade-rest, but with his arms folded tightly against his chest. "Do you think she's a liability? Is she a danger to the Pack?"

Stunned, Rodney straightened. "No! No, she's... Carson would never have kept her on as his deputy if he didn't trust-."

"I'm not talking about Carson. I'm talking about you." John relaxed his stance a little, dropping his arms as his eyes narrowed. He tilted his head slightly as he studied Rodney intently, a frown drawing his expressive eyebrows together. "You didn't want her to know."

Rodney started to bluster, "Of course I-."

"No. You didn't."

Self-analysis wasn't one of Rodney's strengths and he felt a little nauseated when he realized that John was right. Subconsciously he had held back from saying anything about the Lycan to Jennifer. Not because he didn't trust her but because he had not wanted to share that part of his life with her. He had not wanted to share his connection to the Pack or, more importantly, to John with her.

He thought back to when Jennifer had told him their relationship wasn't working. When she'd implied she was always coming second in his heart, he thought she had been talking about him always putting his work first, but her eyes had cut to John. So then he thought maybe she meant the team. Except John had been seated alone on the other side of the mess hall that day, and his eyes had met Rodney's for a split second before they both looked away, and Rodney had wished John had been seated close enough to read his expression. It took the scraping back of Jennifer's chair for him to realize that he'd forgotten she was even there, so caught up with thoughts of John. Always John.

He blinked hard as that last thought ripped through him. Always John.

"Oh no."

Dismayed by this new knowledge, he realized that his relationship with Jennifer had been doomed from the start. Just like Katie before her, Jennifer had simply been a form of denial on his part for what he truly wanted but subconsciously decided he couldn't have - John. He realized that since breaking up with Jennifer, he had slipped back into his easy friendship with John as if she had never come between them. Playing chess and watching movies, sharing the small frustrations of his day as well as his triumphs. It was everything he had tried to share with Jennifer, and as he looked at John, his mind started filling with fanciful notions that John might actually return his feelings. But if that had been the case then John was certainly keeping his own emotions in check right now.

"Rodney?"

He hooked a thumb towards the door, knowing he needed time to think without John's presence, if only so he could have a major freak out. He was in love with his best friend.

"I have to go."

John stepped between him and the door, but the determination to stop Rodney from leaving faded from his face and he stepped aside as Rodney brushed past him. He needed to shift and run; needed to cast off his human skin for just a short while but they were still a day away from landing on Lantea. Once in the transporter, he pressed for the only location on Atlantis that could offer him the freedom he needed away from prying eyes. It was still the equivalent of a concrete jungle rather than the woods and sweet meadows of Athos, but he could think of no other place to go.

The lights flickered on uncertainly, trying to acknowledge his ATA gene, partially illuminating the long corridors that still reeked of salt water and rotting vegetation and dead fish. As a wolf with a keener sense of smell it would be even worse, but he still pulled off his clothing, leaving a trail behind him in his desperation to be free of human restriction. As the last item was discarded, he shifted, becoming heavy-set with powerful muscles. He caught sight of his reflection, tawny in color, as he sprang forward, the pads of his paws beating against the cold marble tile, stirring debris as he ran harder and faster.

He twisted his head when he caught another scent beneath the sharpness of rotting fish and vegetation, something warm and familiar. A dark wolf - sleek and agile with gold and green eyes caught up to him, running at his shoulder but otherwise making no attempt to stop Rodney.

John.

After another fifteen minutes, Rodney slowed until he was at a fast walking pace, and John stayed beside him. Eventually, Rodney stopped and let his head hang low, only to feel John nuzzle him softly. With an internal sigh, Rodney shifted back to human form, feeling a little self-conscious and keeping his eyes averted when John shifted back too. It didn't stop him from peeking though, quickly catching sight of a lean, muscular torso with a chest almost as hairy as John's wolf counterpart. That though made him smile wryly as he wondered if John's human hair was as soft as a his wolf's fur.

"Rodney?"

"Jennifer can be trusted. Probably Philips too. Daniel recommended him."

"Yeah."

Rodney frowned. "You were right. I didn't want Jennifer to know about us... the Pack," he added quickly before waving between the two of them. "Not us, us, because there is no us, except there is because we're friends. We are friends...?"

"Yes. We're friends." John licked his lips. "And there could be an us. An us, us." He winced.

"A you and me, us?" Rodney asked, a little confused.

John shifted and the dark wolf nuzzled against Rodney's throat, and automatically, Rodney sank his face into the soft black fur. He shifted, breathing in John's warm scent, finally understanding where words had failed them moments earlier. He nuzzled against John, pulling back at the soft whimpers of pleasure as John licked his muzzle. They both shifted back into human form, and the broad swipe of tongue became a kiss as Rodney's fingers carded through soft, dark hair.

"Let's avoid all awkward relationship conversations in future," Rodney murmured between kisses.

"Yeah."

****

Jennifer wore a stunned expression for several minutes after Rodney told her about the Pack, stealing glances across at him and John as she started looking through the research on the Lycan and Ancients that the original Carson had compiled. Philips had simply looked smug, as if he had known all along, but underlying that for both of them was the almost infectious scientific urge to study their new subjects.

As they bombarded him with questions, Rodney simply rolled his eyes and told them both to wait for Carson. He grinned as John leaned in and grabbed him by the front of his uniform jacket, dragging him away from Jennifer and Philips. He and John already had plans for the rest of their evening and those plans involved only one excited scientist on the road to a new discovery - him.

END