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"Perhaps the Wraith took them to experiment on. We are trying to humanize Wraith so now they are trying to Wraithify humans."

"My god, that's a horrible idea. Why would they try to create more Wraith? There aren't enough humans to feed them already!" Rodney leaped up in horror at Radek's suggestion, and began pacing around the lab.

Radek sighed, his eyes still on the gate coordinates on the screen as the computer crunched through them, looking for links to the Wraith. He regretted having made the suggestion, particularly since it caused Rodney to become even more agitated than normal. "Forget I said it."

"Yes, I should hope so," Rodney replied, while John asked, "But what if he's right? They've never taken our soldiers before."

"He's not right," Rodney insisted, but the frown on John's face didn't relax. The Wraith captured hundreds of humans for food, but they'd never bothered to grab a four-member SGA team. "He's not right. And we'll find them." But both of them knew that downloading the last 50 addresses from a DHD was always a long shot, with no guarantee that they could locate the bad guys, be they Wraith or some other unpleasant Pegasus native.

"Maybe Arthur will escape."

"Yes, Arthur," Rodney said, his tone unmistakably bitter, making John give him a weird look.

"You have a problem with Arthur?"

"Golden boy, of course not, why should I?" Rodney rubbed at his forehead, aware that John could sense his bitterness, and he so did not want to deal with this right now. Or at all. "Look, we'll get him back. There's no point in you hanging around here. Go away, have some lunch, be ready to do the brave rescue when we have information."

"Radek, you can handle this, can't you?" John grabbed Rodney's arm, pulling him out of the lab and into the hallway without waiting for Radek's assent. "What's the problem?" But Woolsey's voice was in their ears, announcing an incoming wormhole. John gave Rodney a look of promise. "We'll talk about this later," he said, both of them turning to stride toward the gate room, conscious that an unexpected incoming wormhole while one of their teams was in enemy hands could be a coincidence, or could lead to the vital information they needed. They reached the gate room immediately after the final chevron locked, in time to see the silver blast of the wormhole whoosh out.

"Atlantis, this is SGC Command," Walter said. "Please lower the shield. We're sending someone through."

"Earth? How are they powering a wormhole?" Rodney instinctively moved to the controls, studying the data, not that any of the information received by Atlantis could reveal the answer he sought.

"They've provided the correct IDC," Chuck noted.

"Lower the shield," Woolsey instructed, heading down the stairs toward the Stargate. "Perhaps our visitor will have the answer." The figure who walked through the Stargate was not immediately impressive in anyone's opinion. A young man with dark hair and large ears, wearing faded blue jeans, a brown shirt, and a long brown jacket, with a maroon scarf around his neck. He walked with a long staff in his right hand, one reminiscent of those carried by the priors of the Ori, except his was more gnarled and had a large purple stone embedded in the top.

Woolsey stepped forward to welcome the visitor, looking to see if anyone else followed, but the young man seemed to be alone. "I'm Richard Woolsey," he said, offering his hand as the wormhole dissolved.

The young man shook his hand. "I'm Merlin Emrys."

"Merlin Emrys?" Woolsey was taken aback by the name. "Your parents have an interesting sense of humor."

"Not really." He glanced around the room, the usual reaction from people upon their first arrival to the majesty of Atlantis. "I have things to say, and you're not going to believe them. But we don't have a lot of time, so I really need you to try."

"You'd be surprised at what we believe around here," Woolsey answered. "But then, you should know that if you're working on the Stargate project."

"One of your people has been captured by the enemy. A soldier named Arthur."

"Four of our people have been captured." John put his hands on his hips, studying Merlin curiously, hopeful that he might have useful knowledge for a rescue. Except how could he, when he came from Earth? "Arthur, two other soldiers, and one scientist."

"We need to rescue them."

"Yes, sorry, we were just considering that idea. We thought we'd have some tea first," Rodney snapped, walking down the stairs from the control center. "We don't know where they are, or we would have already."

Merlin held out one hand, spreading his long fingers wide. "They are here." An image formed, hovering over the palm of his hand, the edges a fuzzy silver, but the vision itself bright and sharp. Arthur was shown in a Wraith cell, sitting with his back against the wall, two people slumped against him, one on each side.

"How do – " Woolsey started to ask, but John cut through his question. "That's not enough. We need to see the exterior."

"I can only show you what Arthur has seen," Merlin said, but the image changed, showing first a corridor, then another room recognizable as a Wraith lab, then more corridors, and finally a docking bay.

"Still not enough."

The image continued unspooling to the outside of a Wraith hive ship, then to a Stargate in space.

"Wait! Freeze there." Rodney snapped his fingers at Merlin, and the image froze. "This area. Expand it." The blackness of space filled the image. "That has to be the gate around PXR-375."

"You sure?" John questioned, already reaching up to tap on his earpiece, waiting only for Rodney to nod.

"I am the most brilliant astrophysicist in two galaxies," he pointed out. "Yes, of course I'm positive."

"Lorne, get your team together and meet me in the jumper bay in 10. We're going on a rescue mission."

"Slow down, Colonel. We don't even know who this person is or how he's using an Ori staff to show us what Arthur has seen. I have a lot of questions that need to be answered."

"We don't have time for questions," John grated out at Woolsey. "We have people to save."

"They're back," Merlin announced, and everyone's eyes were drawn to the image hovering over his palm, as a Wraith lieutenant walked into the cell, two Wraith soldiers waiting in the corridor. Arthur rose to his feet, his companions huddling together as he stood in front of them. "He'll shove his hand into Arthur's chest, and make him age."

The image began showing what Merlin had described. A few flinched, but everyone kept looking, all of them having seen a Wraith feeding before, and feeling that watching was necessary, in support of their comrade. Arthur screamed, his mouth opening wide, back arching, but no sound came from the image. Merlin closed his palm and the image vanished. "We need to go."

"I want explanations when you return," Woolsey demanded, his skin noticeably paler.

~~~

The hive ship was by the gate around PXR-375, exactly as Rodney had observed, and John cloaked the jumper immediately, though he knew that the Wraith had likely registered the gate activation. "They'll be on high alert in the docking bay."

"They won't fire on us before we get into the docking bay?" Merlin asked from the back, where he was sitting with the members of Lorne's team.

"I've cloaked the ship. But as soon as we step outside the jumper, we'll be visible. We need to come out firing hard and fast," John instructed.

"Let me go first."

Rodney swiveled in the passenger seat, staring incredulously at Merlin. "You don't have a weapon. Do you have a death wish?"

"I'm going first," Ronon rumbled.

"I'm more dangerous than you realize," was Merlin's response, a sentiment that made Rodney snort. Merlin certainly didn't look dangerous.

"That's an Ori staff, isn't it?" Lorne nodded his head toward the staff in Merlin's hand. "Sir? Those things are pretty powerful."

"They know we're here." John made the jumper hover within the docking bay, cursing the effectiveness of the Wraith ship's sensors, because Wraith guards were ringing all the exits, stunners at the ready. "Rodney, can you locate our team?"

"Yes, got them. Two levels down and thataway," he said, pointing toward one of the corridors branching off the docking bay.

"Okay." John landed the jumper in the middle of the docking bay, keeping it cloaked. "We don't have a lot of choice. I'm going to fire drones there and there," he said pointing in areas away from the corridor Rodney had indicated. "I don't want to risk collapsing the corridor we need to use. Lorne, I want two of your guys to stay here and protect the jumper. Rodney, stay in the middle and keep us on the right path. Everyone out and start firing."

"Colonel, please." Merlin stood, staff held loosely in one hand. "Let me go first."

Impressed by Merlin's confidence, Teyla advised, "John, if he can do damage with this weapon, perhaps you should let him. The Wraith may not realize he's a danger until it is too late."

John licked his lips, frowning as he got up from the pilot's seat, positioning the strap of his P-90 around his neck. "Okay," he agreed reluctantly. "We'll be right behind you."

Merlin nodded and walked out of the jumper, holding up one of his hands in the gesture known as peace on Earth, though not necessarily in the Pegasus galaxy. The others watched from the jumper's window as he was allowed to walk several feet away from the jumper before the Wraith unleashed their stunners at him. None of the blasts hit him, impacting harmlessly against an invisible shield. Then Merlin began pointing his shaft at each Wraith, a brilliant flare of lightning shooting out of the purple stone at the tip. As the lightning hit, each Wraith splintered in hundreds of pieces and completely dissolved.

"I didn't know they were that deadly," Lorne muttered.

Ronon twirled his gun and stalked out of the jumper, taking care of the last few Wraith. With a glance at each other, Merlin and Ronon strode out of the jumper bay.

"They don't have a life signs detector. How do they know where they're going?" Rodney wondered, as John yelled, "Come on!" The others ran out of the puddle jumper, following the path of destruction. Ronon and Merlin were efficient, taking care of every Wraith they encountered, and John found himself a bit unnerved at not having to fire his weapon once. But if they could escape with their team rescued and without him being forced to his knees by a Wraith queen, he'd be extremely happy.

Merlin did his dissolving trick on the doors of the Wraith cell, and Arthur immediately stepped out, looking as youthful as ever, the 'golden boy' as Rodney scornfully called him. "Merlin. You came."

"Of course."

"We need a Wraith alive. Or maybe two." He retreated to the back of the cell. "And I need some help," he added, pulling one of his team members to his feet. Ronon, Teyla, Lorne, and Clayton took positions around the outside of the cell, protecting it. John entered the cell, shocked to see that Chin had been aged to his 60s or 70s, and Bergdahl was even older.

"Where's Rhodes?"

"Gone," Arthur said briefly. "They fed on him completely."

"They fed on you," Rodney snapped, even as he wrapped an arm around Bergdahl's back, holding her up, a move John applauded. Rodney was still the weakest militarily, and would be most useful helping the infirm. "We saw it."

"They couldn't feed on him." Chin laughed hysterically. "They kept trying. And trying."

"Hey. Keep it together and we'll get you out of here." John wondered about Chin's statement even as he dismissed its immediate importance. "Let's go."

"Merlin, they can be forced to feed the energy back and restore Lenny and Sarah. We need a Wraith," Arthur insisted. "You need to help restore them."

"A cooperative member of the enemy, giving back what he's stolen," Merlin murmured. "It's stretching my power."

"Please, Merlin."

"We need to start moving back," John said, dubious that even Merlin's amazing shaft could force a Wraith to return stolen human energy. "We'll grab a Wraith prisoner if we can. Let's go."

~~~

Ronon stunned a Wraith guard and dragged him into the jumper as the others ran on board, John dashing for the pilot's seat and commanding the ship to lift off. Ronon, Teyla, and Rodney all sat in their normal places, Lorne and his men in the back. Merlin placed the shaft on the floor, kneeling by the Wraith's head. He lifted one hand toward Chin and the other toward Bergdahl, chanting under his breath in a language that sounded Welsh. Arthur squatted on the floor by Merlin, one hand on his shoulder.

"He's not using the shaft," Rodney said, twisted in the passenger seat to watch, wondering why he hadn't noticed that Merlin's eyes were such an unusual shade, almost golden. "He must have another Ori device on him."

"What's he doing?" John kept his attention on the HUD, firing drones at the Wraith ship as he sped the jumper toward the gate. The Wraith weren't sending darts after them, which was odd.

"Chanting."

"Chanting?" John risked a quick look back. "Dial the DHD," he ordered Rodney, focusing again on his piloting.

Rodney dialed Atlantis and triggered the IDC even as he kept glancing at Merlin. "It's working! Life energy is flowing from the Wraith to Chin and Bergdahl. They're de-aging."

"When was Earth going to tell us about this?" John groused, though the possibilities excited him. To be able to force a Wraith to return the energy it stole…

"Maybe they've just figured out how to use it," Teyla suggested, both her and Ronon also watching the scene as the jumper entered the wormhole. "Something Samantha discovered?" she added as the jumper rematerialized in Atlantis.

"Merlin, stop now." Arthur shook Merlin's shoulder. "That's enough."

Merlin stopped chanting, and his eyes seemed to change color.

"Oh, thank god." Bergdahl stroked her cheeks, feeling the smoothness, the lack of wrinkles. "Thank you."

"My pleasure." Merlin stood with the help of his shaft and Arthur's steady hand gripping his elbow. He aimed the tip at the aged remains of the Wraith, vaporizing it.

"Keller will still want to check everyone out." John opened the jumper's rear door. "First stop jumper bay, second stop the infirmary."

~~~

The atmosphere in the infirmary was always a bit frantic after a mission, as Keller and her people triaged to determine who needed treating first. Thanks to Merlin, everyone had come back from the Wraith ship healthy, so it wasn't long before Lorne and his team had left, and Woolsey had joined them for debriefing. Keller was still making notes, and the Ancients seemed to have little concern for privacy in their design, so Arthur and the other survivors were sitting on infirmary beds, Sheppard's team and Woolsey ringed around them.

"I believe it's now time for explanations. Fairly extensive explanations," he said pointedly to Merlin. "Do you know why the Wraith took you prisoner?" he directed at Arthur.

"They couldn't feed on him," Lenny inserted, less hysterically than when he'd spoken in the Wraith ship, but still agitated. "One of them tried on PXW-488, and couldn't, so they grabbed all of us. Then they kept trying and failing, so they'd feed on us and give it back, trying to understand why he was different."

"That's not an Ori staff," Rodney interrupted, looking up from the scanner in his hand to point at Merlin's staff, held negligently in one hand. "And even if it was, the Ori never demonstrated the abilities you used on the Wraith ship."

Merlin stood beside Arthur, his free hand resting on the infirmary bed behind him, and shrugged carelessly. "I never said it was."

"Leonard," Woolsey said gently, but firmly, "please calm down. You're home safe now."

"You don't know what it's like." Lenny shook his head, as if to deny what had happened to him, while Sarah nodded her head in agreement. "You get old and you feel like you're going to die and then all your life comes rushing back in and you didn't know you could feel that good."

"Yeah. I know." Ronon lounged against the infirmary wall, arms folded against his chest. John didn't say anything, even when Woolsey gave him a quick look.

"Yes, Wraith feeding, horrible," Rodney snapped, "but it's done now and you can start visiting the quack for therapy. That's not an Ori staff and when did Earth find a Zed PM?"

"A Zed PM?" Merlin looked at Rodney in confusion.

"The glowy orange device that powered the gate so you could get here?"

"Oh. I powered the gate. Which magic."

"You powered an intergalactic wormhole. With magic."

"Well, I am Merlin Emrys," he answered modestly.

"Perhaps I should explain," Arthur inserted quickly, because Rodney was beginning to look like he was tempted to hit Merlin, who appeared amused by scientist's ire. "Since I'm the only one who understands. I realize this will be difficult to accept, but this is Merlin the magician, *the* Merlin from ancient history and legend." He gave a rueful grimace. "And I'm not Arthur Penfield, but Arthur Pendragon, who was once king of Camelot."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Oh yes, this gets better and better. So the Wraith couldn't feed upon you because what? You're a magical being too? Hundreds of years old?"

"I'm not a warlock. Only Merlin. They couldn't feed on me because I'm cursed." Arthur's expression turned weary. "A witch cursed me, swearing that I would outlive all that I loved."

"I couldn't stop the curse, but I could add myself to it, and also that all that Arthur loved included Camelot. We can't die until the very ground that was Camelot is destroyed," Merlin added, humor diminished, his eyes soft on Arthur's profile.

"Do you expect us to believe this absurd fairy tale?" Rodney asked.

"No. No one ever does. But it is true." Arthur reached behind him to find Merlin's hand and clasp it. "I've known this man for hundreds of years, since I was a prince and he was a serf. We're essentially immortal, something that been both a blessing and a curse."

"Do you have any sort of proof?" was Woolsey's question.

"Of course not. But it doesn't matter anyway. We have to go now." Arthur hopped down from the infirmary bed, as Merlin raised his staff, beginning to chant in that unusual language. The members of SGA-1 all realized the folly of leaving a powerful weapon in the hands of a person who told a dubious and unbelievable story. Rodney and Teyla both started to lunge for the shaft while Ronon went for his gun and John's hand shot down to his thigh holster.

And then they all collapsed, leaving only Arthur and Merlin standing. "Do you have anything you want to take with us?"

"No." Arthur smiled sadly. "Memories are sufficient souvenirs."

~~~

Merlin whisked Arthur back to the gateroom, using his magic to knock out the staff on duty so he could dial Earth again. He kept them moving out of the mountain, leaving more unconscious bodies in their wake. Arthur was strangely lethargic, moving as if dazed while Merlin pushed him. Finally, Merlin shoved Arthur into his car and drove away from the mountain. Arthur slumped in the passenger seat, his head resting on Merlin's shoulder, his eyes closed.

"Thank you. Again."

"My pleasure. Always."

"I seem to say that to you a lot."

"I've said it a few hundred times to you too. Maybe thousands." Driving with one hand, Merlin curled his fingers around Arthur's. "Are you okay?"

Arthur sighed softly. "I want to go to the beach. For a year or so. Can you get us there?"

Battle fatigue then, crashing down on Arthur as soon as they'd escaped danger. Merlin hadn't expected it this time, as Arthur hadn't been in the Pegasus Galaxy that long, but he knew the signs. Over the centuries, Arthur had tried many professions to occupy his time, but he always returned to being a warrior. "What do I get?" Merlin asked lightly, though they both knew he would do whatever Arthur needed.

"You can buy my swim trunks. Or suits. Or whatever they're calling them now. "

"In any color or level of skimpiness I desire?"

"Anything," Arthur promised, and Merlin could picture him, running in the sand on a beach, splashing in the waves, his swimsuit clinging to his hips and ass. He definitely needed at least one black pair, because nothing made Arthur look more golden. Women, kids and dogs would flock to him, attracted by his amazing smile and the Pendragon aura. The sun would soak into his body, turning him tan, while Merlin watched from the comfort of a large beach umbrella. And despite Merlin's teasing comment, none of Arthur's suits would be too revealing, because even after all these years, Merlin didn't like others ogling what was his. What always had been; what always would be.

"Then the beach it is." Merlin swung the car off the freeway at the next off-ramp, parking in the farthest corner of the first fast food restaurant he saw. Not disturbing Arthur's head, he pulled his PDA out of his pocket and began checking airline flights on the Internet.

Arthur opened his eyes long enough to see why the car had stopped, watching Merlin tap on his PDA before shutting his eyes again. "Technology."

"Sometimes it's better than magic."

"I thought you'd call a gryphon for us."

"I prefer airplanes for long flights. No bugs in your teeth. And no need to catch a rodent for its supper."

"The Wraith were hungry, but they wanted more than a rodent. They wanted me, and they didn't understand why they couldn't feed off me. They just kept - " Arthur rubbed his hand over his chest, feeling the fingers of multiple Wraith, trying to dig into his skin, trying to eat him like an entrée. A prime piece of meat. He had no idea how many people had tried to kill him over the centuries, but at least he'd always been an adversary, an enemy. Not dinner. He gave a bitter laugh, understanding Lenny's hysteria, even if his experience hadn't been quite the same. At least only Rhodes had died because the Wraith had wanted to know why Arthur was special.

"Shhh." Merlin cupped one side of his head, kissed him softly. "We'll go play on the beach for a decade. Two decades. A century. However long you want."

"A month, maybe. A month. God, I wish I could do something for Lenny and Sarah." He could only hope that they received good therapy on Atlantis. Neither he nor Merlin could see a psychologist. Therapy was pointless without honesty, and no doctor would believe the tale of their immortality. At least they had each other to help stay sane, even though they occasionally fought and didn't speak for a decade or two.

Merlin wanted to argue that this fight wasn't Arthur's, but centuries had taught him that the good fight was always Arthur's. "They wouldn't trust you."

"No," Arthur agreed. "They never do. Not once they know." Not that they often believed that Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Future King, was alive, his home still the land that had once been the site of Camelot. But they understood that Arthur and Merlin were abnormal, and that was enough.

They lapsed into silence as Merlin worked on his PDA, finding a good flight, reserving seats in new names, giving his credit card information. He'd learned to change as the world changed, to use modern ways, though he always worked on strengthening his magical power and knowledge. He couldn't lose what made him unique, even in a world that no longer believed.

"We're on a flight, but it's leaving from Chicago. I thought we should put some distance between us and the SGC."

"Wake me when you need a break," Arthur said, his breath softening.

"Yes, sire," Merlin responded with a gentle smile, starting the car again.

~~~

"Hey," John said quietly, knowing that Rodney could get so absorbed in his work that he often didn't hear anyone enter the lab. "What's up?"

Rodney glanced up from his laptop. "Doing incredibly important work," he answered, promptly, routinely. Usually he was thrilled to see John, his best friend, his closest co-worker, and his lover, but today his enthusiasm was lacking.

They were alone, so John leaned against the desk, close into Rodney's personal space. "What was up with Arthur? The golden boy crack?"

One side of Rodney's mouth turned down. He'd known John wouldn't let that go. "You fawned over him since he arrived. Which is hardly surprising if he's really Arthur Pendragon, the Once and Future King. Certainly more desirable than a middle-aged Canadian astrophysicist, even if I am a genius."

The bitterness of Rodney's reply startled John, but explained his grumbling dislike of the apparently younger man. "Jesus, Rodney. I never thought about replacing you with him. But it's - my twenty years are almost up."

Rodney frowned at the apparent non sequitur. "Yes, so?"

"I could switch to being a civilian contractor, here or at Area 51. That would be easier if I knew Lorne had good back-up. Someone like Arthur that he could train." That he'd thought needed training, anyway. If Arthur had really been a soldier since the Middle Ages, he'd probably been downplaying his skills.

"Switch to civilian contractor? Area 51?" Rodney gaped in horror at John. "You're thinking of leaving Atlantis?"

"No, not really. I just." He placed his palm on Rodney's shoulder, lightly massaging. "It wouldn't matter. You and I. If I wasn't Air Force. They couldn't say anything."

Rodney covered John's hand with his own, suddenly understanding. "You want to go public with our relationship?"

John grimaced. "I don't like sneaking around."

"I thought you didn't mind. Don't ask, don't tell, all that American military nonsense." Combined also with John's own natural reticence at being demonstrative in public, and Rodney's belief that John preferred to hide his attraction to someone widely considered difficult and obnoxious. Rodney was wise enough not to mention those thoughts. He was bad with people, but he wasn't completely idiotic.

"It's a stupid policy."

Interlacing their fingers, Rodney offered, "It may be repealed soon."

"Even if it isn't, once my twenty are up…" John's word trailed off.

"Don't be an idiot. You must know - here, or Area 51, or anywhere, John. Anywhere," he promised fervently.

"As long as you can do your vitally important research," John said, grinning.

"Well, of course." Rodney stood up, pushing the chair away, hauling John into his arms to smother his grin with a kiss.

~ the end ~