Daniel looked at the huge grin splitting Sam's face and he knew the test had been a success. She was reading out figures from the display in front of her, talking power ratios and levels and other stuff that way beyond his knowledge but eventually came down to one thing. The Daedalus was almost ready to head to Pegasus leaving Daniel with little time left to ensure that he and Jack were on board. The problem was the President. He was convinced that he needed Jack on Earth to be on hand to man the Antarctic outpost should another System Lord decide to attack the planet. Except that was not strictly true anymore. Carson Beckett had created an ATA gene therapy and had come extremely close to testing it on a live subject just before leaving for Atlantis. His work had been completed by Simon Wallis, Elizabeth's fiance, who had been brought into the Stargate Project ostensibly on Elizabeth's request so she could say 'goodbye' but more specifically to finish Beckett's work.
However, much to Elizabeth and to Sam's disappointment, so far the gene therapy had only taken with those carrying the recessive ATA gene--a mere forty-eight percent of those tested overall. The results were one hundred percent in both categories, success in the recessive gene carriers, failure in the pure humans. The important point though was that the therapy had taken with a number of soldiers who now had the ability to get more than a faint glow out of the Antarctic chair because they did not fear it the same way as Carson. To Colonel Everett it was just another weapon, one that had to be handled carefully while he learned how to control it but, otherwise, he was confident that he could work the technology. Several practice sessions had confirmed that, and though he might never make the Chair sing like Jack or Sheppard, he had the ability to use it to defend the planet, thereby negating Jack's continued presence here on Earth.
Daniel looked across the room carefully because over the past few months, he had become the manipulator. He could see Elizabeth nodding her head in satisfaction, her smile brighter than it had been in months. If thoughts could be projected onto a wall, Daniel knew that hers would be visions of the Daedalus journeying though space and taking up a geosynchronous orbit above a city that had seemed lost in space and time until recently. He wondered if she had a particular fantasy concerning the city of Atlantis. Did she see tall, twisting spires like a fairy tale castle, or something chunky like the New York skyline? Or perhaps she saw something out of the Arabian Nights as some of the intricate lattice-work within the Antarctic outpost would suggest, bell-domed buildings in burnished gold. He wondered if she would be disappointed with the reality but, at this moment in time, Atlantis was still her city of dreams and she wanted someone to unlock the city gates for her. Sheppard was supposed to have been that key but he was lost on the other side of the Stargate, out of contact. Since then, Daniel had been quietly trying to impress upon Elizabeth that Jack was her key now and then let her convince the President that the mission to Atlantis would fail if she did not take Jack along with her. He had started that process months earlier, placing small reminders into her path at joint briefings by making certain she had not forgotten that Atlantis had singled out John Sheppard and the other natural ATA gene carriers. Casually, he mentioned Jack's natural possession of the gene too, and how the city would have accepted him with open arms.
"Elizabeth," he nodded to her, smiling softly as he offered his congratulations. She beamed back at him, eyes bright with triumph. By now, he was aware that his presence alone was enough to remind her of Jack, and with the Daedalus almost ready to set out on its maiden voyage to the Pegasus galaxy, her eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
"I had a word with the President and he is very enthusiastic concerning this joint venture to Atlantis, both in fully testing the intergalactic engines on the Daedalus and in discovering what happened to the original expedition." She straightened, raising her chin a fraction. "Some of our bravest and best people were lost that day, and we owe it to them to discover their fate."
Daniel bit back a smile at the impassioned speech, knowing her posturing was to express the importance of the mission even though she was preaching to the converted here. While working at the Antarctica outpost, he had come to know many of those who were not returned by Atlantis and some, like Rodney, had become firm friends during that short time. As much as he wanted to see Atlantis and all her wonders, his thoughts rested mostly on those missing friends and colleagues.
"If this second mission is to succeed then we need every natural gene carrier we can find, and bearing in mind General O'Neill's strong expression of the gene, we need him too."
Hiding his triumph, Daniel screwed up his nose a fraction, acting as if he had not been working towards this moment for months. "Jack's been assigned to the Pentagon overlooking..."
"The President will be ordering him to join this mission under my leadership."
"I see," he murmured, but Elizabeth's expression proved she did not believe he truly understood the seriousness of this, especially when Jack had fought so hard against inclusion the first time around.
"Jack can be....stubborn," she remarked in a slightly conspiratorial tone, leaning in a fraction. "However, if the majority of his former team were to volunteer for the mission then I'm sure their presence would convince him to come willingly."
"Ah! You want me and Sam to...?" He waved a finger.
Elizabeth straightened, an enigmatic smile playing about her thin, glossy lips. She tilted her head. "I'm sure Atlantis will hold many wonders for an anthropologist and linguist, and for a scientist of Colonel Carter's caliber. And with the Daedalus able to bridge the space between galaxies..." She let that thought hang because it made a significant impact on the Atlantis expedition. It meant that their inclusion on the mission need only be temporary if they so wished, or if she so wished. If they gained access to the city and Sheppard still lived then Elizabeth would make no attempts to stop Jack from leaving. She might even encourage it so that she had no competition to her leadership.
He took a deep breath, intending to counter her argument with concerns for his own career, and Sam's of course, as he did not want to appear too eager to jump on-board in case it aroused her suspicions. "Dr. Jensen..."
Elizabeth took the bait and smiled.
"Of course, you would take charge of the Anthropology and Linguistics departments should you decide to stay in Atlantis. Dr. Jensen only agreed to accept that post once your name was removed from the original expedition list."
"And Sam?" Daniel asked out of interest but he had a feeling that, though Elizabeth liked Rodney, she would not remain loyal to him if she could have Sam as her chief of science.
"If Rodney is still... I'm certain he would step down as Chief Scientist in her favor. Colonel Carter was my original choice for the position because of her breadth of knowledge and experience." She held up a hand to forestall any comment from Daniel. "Not that Rodney wasn't an excellent choice too but he can be a little...difficult to work with."
It took everything Daniel had within him to keep his face from showing his anger and resentment at her remarks concerning McKay. Yes, Sam was brilliant but one of the greatest problems he'd had with her over the years was her tendency to make only token, respectful protests to those giving the orders when it was plain to see that she did not agree with the orders given. The military mindset had stifled much of her fire. Within the constraints of the SGC that trait was perfect because they did not want people trying to do their own thing--at least, not too often--and especially as they had spent the majority of the past years fighting an enemy determined to enslave or destroy the planet. However, Atlantis was not a military expedition and though it had a military contingent, the expedition had cultivated a far more open and intellectually driven atmosphere that would inspire people to greatness. They were explorers seeking to discover the wonders of the Ancients, and if they should stumble upon a way to fight the Goa'uld or another enemy in the process then that would simply be an additional benefit but not the whole point of the expedition. For such an expedition, they needed a lead scientist who would push science to its limits and beyond, who would put forward seemingly insane theories and not back down until they were proved or disproved. Someone who would not allow his work to take second place to a military career.
Rodney was the kind of leader who bullied those around him into freeing their minds and letting the science take them down new paths. He was a hard task master, difficult to please because he expected the best from everyone at all times, including himself, allowing each person to shine in their chosen field--and they would shine. They would do their greatest work under him, bitching all the way about his terrible management style. Yet, if they gained a begrudging good job from him, Daniel knew that this one small gesture would mean as much as any Nobel prize because Rodney did not praise lightly.
Rodney would fight any decisions that tried to stifle the wheels of scientific progress, and that was why Elizabeth would have preferred Sam. Sam would have made suggestions but allowed Elizabeth to make all the decisions, with few challenges. But Rodney would challenge her--and everyone else--every minute of every day. Daniel almost smiled at the thought, knowing how that attitude grated on the majority of people who came into contact with the irascible and arrogant scientist but Daniel had always found it refreshing to deal with someone who was not afraid to speak their mind.
He glanced across towards Sam as she worked on the data still streaming out from the test. With Anubis gone and with the rest of the System Lords far too busy fighting each other to bother with the Tau'ri of Earth, Sam was in an ideal position to request a permanent reassignment to the Atlantis Expedition should the mission meet with any success. He wondered if she would be tempted now that she had seen her work on Earth's very own spaceships almost completed.
As much as he loved her as a friend and colleague, part of him hoped not, or that she would be willing to take on a deputy role to Rodney, but that was unlikely. She saw Rodney as a professional rival and Daniel had to admit that the only time he had ever seen her fired up was when she was working alongside Rodney. He seemed to have that effect on everyone.
No. As much as he loved and admired Sam, Atlantis belonged to someone like Rodney McKay. Still, once they set out, it would take almost three weeks to reach the coordinates of the Atlantis Stargate. Hopefully, Jack would be able to discourage any interest Sam had in the lead scientist position by the time they arrived. However, they had another more pressing problem with Sam, and that was the fledgling relationship started only a couple of months back, a relationship that would devastate Sam once she learned of it as Daniel was not the only one to hold a torch for Jack. The difference was that his love for Jack was no longer unrequited.
Elizabeth stared at him eagerly, still awaiting his answer.
"I can work on Jack."
Her relief brightened her whole face, leaving Daniel feeling a little guilty for manipulating her when she finally turned away to finalize preparations for the voyage to Pegasus and Atlantis.
"56,383. Prime or not prime," Radek smirked.
"Please, not prime." This was almost too easy on occasion, though the soldier John had foisted on them had started making threats after Radek intimidated him one time too many for getting the answer wrong. Fortunately for Radek, he was leading his own research party and would split up from Rodney's team at the next corner.
"Don't touch anything unless you check with me first."
"Yes, Rodney, because I would be so stupid as to touch dangerous Ancient technology without checking with you first."
"Humph." Rodney let it go at that and turned in the opposite direction to Radek, calling back over his shoulder," See you in five hours."
"Yes, yes. Have good time."
After almost four hours, Rodney was tired but happy even though the majority of the rooms revealed nothing but empty spaces where machines might once have stood. When the Ancients left, they took practically everything that wasn't nailed down with them, and a few of those too. Even the musty smell of long disused rooms no longer bothered him and he wondered how much worse it could have been if not for the shield holding back the ocean. Of course, John had not been too keen on him choosing this sector to search today, preferring the expedition teams stayed closer to the surface and the central tower rather than going deep into the bowels of the city but Rodney had noticed this sector was full of laboratories rather than homes, schools and offices. It sounded far more interesting to him. Radek had sided with Rodney on this one, leaving John little choice but to concede to Rodney's wishes. Still, the military escort seemed a little over the top but was a small price to pay for getting his own way.
Unlike most of the floor, the door to the next laboratory was completely out of power. This was nothing out of the ordinary though as power had failed in various parts of the city over the millennia. He gazed at the unmoving door thoughtfully. Most likely it was something repairable and once Rodney determined there was something here worth wasting the time, supplies and power on then he would organize a full repair crew. Left with no other choice, Rodney rearranged the crystals and tried to prise the doors apart. He froze as he felt a tingle inside his head that reminded him of Atlantis rippling across his mind, though why she would do so here and now was a mystery. Perhaps there was something in the room that she did or did not want him to see. There was only one sure way to find out.
"Give me a hand here," he called to Eichmann, relieved when the large German lent his strength to the problem in the hope that they could widen the gap enough for him to squeeze through. When it refused to budge any further, Rodney cursed below his breath, aware that the bulk of his TAC vest was making him just a little too large to fit through. With a grunt of annoyance, he shoved his equipment into Eichmann's arms and began to pull off his vest.
"Sir, should you be doing...?"
Rodney gave him a blistering look and Eichmann fell silent. He dropped the TAC vest on the ground, slipped inside the room and then snapped his fingers while pointing at the equipment in Eichmann's arms. Eichmann handed the items through to him, letting out a deep breath as he waited outside the door, his P90 cradled in his arms once more as if he expected these Wraith to suddenly come charging down the corridor at them. Dumais followed Rodney into the laboratory, not needing to strip off the TAC vest from her slighter frame. The power seemed to be out inside the room too, leaving it in darkness except for the light filtering in from the corridor. In a huff of annoyance, Rodney recalled the maglite he kept in his TAC vest.
"You. My vest."
Eichmann gave a tight smile, grabbed the vest and thrust it at Rodney, eyes narrowing as Rodney hunted around for his light. Eventually, Rodney found what he was looking for and played the light around the inner door until he found the panel. Working swiftly, he swapped out a cracked and cloudy crystal, grinning as lights flooded the room. He turned, the smile still broad on his face only for it to falter as he took in the laboratory.
"Oh...this is not good."
At the center of the room was a console and above it were a dozen transparent tubes but they were splintered and broken as if someone had laid waste to them with a baseball bat. His feet crunched over shards of whatever the Ancients used for glass, wondering why they had not used one of the more indestructible materials such as that used for the windows and transparent panels in some of the ornate doors. As he reached out to the now glowing console, eager to learn the purpose of the experiment performed in this laboratory, sirens began to sound in the corridor outside.
"Rodney! Come in, Rodney."
Rodney tapped on his radio. "John..."
"Atlantis has issued a lock down on your part of the city and raised a containment field. What the hell is going on there?"
"We stumbled across a laboratory that...I think someone purposely destroyed it before leaving the city."
"What the hell was in there?"
"If you would give me a few minutes, I'd be able to access the database and find out," Rodney snapped back before biting down on his lower lip. John was worried for him and, truth be told, he was worried for himself too. He pointed at the other side of the console, watching as Dumais lifted frightened eyes but swallowed down her fear to give him a sharp nod of agreement. Rodney could hear the sound of running feet above the sound of the siren in the corridor outside. He clicked his radio.
"Everyone stop where you are. Stay away from this area until I know what we're dealing with here."
Another voice came on the radio, the rich brogue deepened by concern. "Rodney! I'm getting a full medical team together in hazmat suits. We should be with you shortly." He paused. "Do you have any idea...?"
"My first guess would be a bio-weapons laboratory," Rodney stated as he glanced back up at the broken tubes that reminded him of a biologist's lab.
"Rodney, I'm on my way too."
"No. You need to stay in the city and make sure whatever this is doesn't breach the containment field."
"Rodney! I coming down there."
Rodney huffed in annoyance because there was nothing John could do except stand over him and get in the way. Except that was not strictly true. He was scared and, selfishly, he wanted John with him but he also needed John to speak to Atlantis.
"I need you..." God, how he needed him right now. "I need you to go to the chair room and see if Atlantis will tell you anything about this laboratory and, more importantly, what was in it." He did not want to have to beg John to do as he asked even though another part of him wanted John to ignore his request and come down here.
"Rodney!" John's voice was sharp with fear but it softened to resignation. "Rodney...I'll call when I've got some answers."
Biting back any other words, Rodney focused on the database, silently thanking Daniel for all the Ancient language lessons that had made it easier to work through some of the menu options presented. Many of the terms were too technical though, leaving him floundering as he tried to make sense of the data streaming across the screen.
"Rodney. What do you need me to do?" Radek slipped into the room and raced to his side.
"I thought I told everyone to stay away." He flung out angrily, glancing in Radek's direction but Zelenka simply ignored him as usual as he began working on the console next to Rodney. He had almost forgotten Dumais' presence until she spoke urgently.
"Dr. McKay, I think I have something here."
Both physicists rushed around to her side of the console and stared at the screen, seeing an image of microscopic creatures moving around as if on a petri dish but the magnification was not high enough to see any real detail. Just then, Carson arrived, puffing from the run from the closest transporter. He dropped his medical case just inside the door and rushed over to Rodney.
"What have we got here then?"
The next few hours held their own terror as the first symptom of the bio-weapon brought frightening ghostly shadows that raced towards him. He could hear Dumais screaming, her hands beating the air to try to force back her own demons. Even Eichmann lost his macho military image, his skin clammy with fear, eyes wide and breaths coming in harsh pants. Someone had forced the doors all the way open and brought him into the laboratory where he could be monitored and he sat near the door, sobbing quietly. From what Rodney and Carson could make out from the database, this was no ordinary virus. It had been created in a laboratory, perhaps even in this one, but the object had been to terrorize and then kill its victim with images similar to those projected by the Wraith, and all within a few hours of exposure. Rodney could agree with the terror part because, even now, he was still shaking from the last attack, and as the time moved ominously towards the last few minutes of his life, he wished he had given into his need to have John by his side. He knew he was babbling in fear, and he could hear John's frantic voice on the radio, trying to calm him down, trying to reach him through the blinding terror.
The attacks grew in intensity and just when Rodney believed he could stand no more, they stopped, leaving him almost breathless and everyone, including him, confused. Why wasn't he dead? Why were Dumais and Eichmann still alive.
"Rodney? Rodney?" John's voice seemed rational and calm but Rodney could hear the panic catching at his breath as he called his name over and over.
He clicked his radio. "I'm here...I'm still here. I'm alive."
Of course, nothing was really simple. He was alive but the final translation of the text and the exact pattern of the virus revealed the truth. This was no biological weapon, it was a miniature machine, a nanite programmed for a specific task. The tiny machines inside his body had attacked his brain but the ATA gene kept them from completing their task. In a pure human, those machines would have continued in their attack until they had caused a ruptured brain aneurysm above the visual cortex, and if Rodney was correct then Radek had only fifteen minutes left to live.
"An EM pulse!" Rodney turned to Carson, snapping his fingers. "Give me your hazmat suit."
"What? Rodney, that will expose me to..."
"These aren't going to kill you, Carson."
"Aye, but it looks a mite uncomfortable." He took a step back as Rodney reached for him. "Can you at least tell me why you need my suit?"
"I don't. He does." Rodney pointed to Radek. "Without it, Atlantis won't let him through the containment field, and he needs to get to the EM pulse generator."
"Yes. Of course," Radek nodded vigorously. "These are small robots that can be knocked out by an electro-magnetic pulse."
"Little slow on the uptake, aren't we?"
"Unlike you, Rodney, I am still suffering from..." He ducked nervously, blue eyes wide with fear behind his glasses.
Carson stripped quickly and sealed Radek in the suit. "Go!"
"John, I could use your help at my lab. I need you to clear a path for Radek to get there as quickly as possible. He'll know what to do once he gets there."
"I'm on it."
Rodney ran with him as far as he could but then had to shove Radek onwards alone with two of Carson's medical team who were still in their hazmat suits. The transporter was just around the corner and all Rodney could do now was sit and wait for news, uncertain if he could concentrate on anything until he knew Radek was safe. Except it didn't end there. The EM pulse would deactivate all the ones in close proximity but there was still a finite number of the small machines in the city, and four of the new Atlanteans, including Radek, were pure humans. Some how, he had to deactivate all of the nanites or they would continue to attack all of them and Atlantis would maintain the containment fields.
He sighed. If he could increase the size of the EM field then perhaps he could get the pulse to cover the whole of the city or...his snapped his fingers. Of course. Atlantis had contained the nanites in this area, allowing only those with hazmat suits to move between here and the rest of the city. He was willing to bet that the containment field was emitting a low level EM pulse to kill anything airborne or on clothing. Once Radek was clean of infection then he could arrange for the EMP generator to be transported into the contaminated part of the city.
"Radek? Where are you?"
"I am at the EMP generator and waiting for it to finish building a charge. Pressing..." A cry of pain cut off Radek's words and then Rodney heard John's voice on his radio.
"Hitting discharge button now."
Silence. Rodney hated silence. "Radek? John?"
"Rodney. He's okay. It worked."
Rodney closed his eyes in relief. "Well, tell him..." He cleared his throat, hating that his voice had cracked in relief. "Tell him, if he's finished skiving then we still have work to do."
"I love you too, Rodney," Radek stated dryly.
"Yes. Well. Time's wasting and..."
"You wish me to transport EMP generator to contaminated section of city."
"No. I want you to prepare it for transport. I want John to bring it." He wasn't going to risk Radek's life again even though he knew how to save it.
The rest of the incident was almost an anticlimax. Once Rodney had set up the EMP generator, he let the unit overload and then hit the discharge button, hearing the whump but feeling nothing. After several interminably long seconds, he heard Peter Grodin's triumphant voice.
"Containment fields have been lifted. Atlantis is no longer in lock down."
Rodney closed his eyes and sighed in relief, only opening them when he felt Eichmann lift him off his feet in a bear hug. Eichmann moved on to hug another of their number leaving Rodney standing alone, facing John across the room. Slowly, John removed his hazmat helmet and dropped it onto the console. They took slow steps towards each other, no longer aware of the people surrounding them. Rodney sighed as John's arms came around him, holding him tight. He could feel soft kisses pressed to his hair and his temple, feel the brush of John's stubble roughened cheek against his.
"Thought I'd lost you," John whispered.
There was no time to answer as others converged on Rodney, slapping his back and drawing him away from John.
Jack stood on the bridge of the Daedalus, staring down at the blue and white planet that had given birth to him as Caldwell gave the order to break orbit. He felt a slight nudge and let a smile play about his lips, his gaze drifting to the man standing by his side. Daniel was trying his best to hide a satisfied smirk which, considering he and Daniel had not had a moment alone together in weeks, seemed some how inappropriate. Silently, he wondered if Daniel had anything to do with the President's sudden change of heart and his new orders to report to the Daedalus under Elizabeth's command.
Of course, her command would only begin once they reached Atlantis. Until then, he was the ranking officer on-board a military ship. If they reached Atlantis and found the others alive and well, then Elizabeth would not need him at all and, perhaps, Jack might be able to make a fresh case for command of one of the other ships currently being built with Asgard hyperdrive and beaming technology. The Odyssey would be coming off the production line next and could be space worthy within a year.
The Daedalus moved smoothly out of orbit, the throb of her new engines reverberating through the solid floor like a comforting heartbeat.
"General?" Caldwell deferred to him even though he could bet the man was dying to just take command of his ship.
"Whenever you're ready."
"Lieutenant. Lay in course for Atlantis and engage hyperdrive."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Moments later, the stars began to streak as they entered hyperspace, next stop the Pegasus galaxy and Atlantis. Jack clapped his hands together, rubbing them briskly as he smiled at the happy faces surrounding him. Elizabeth was overjoyed to finally be on her way back to her city and Sam was excited at seeing all her hard work pay off as the engines thrummed, well within tolerance levels. Daniel still looked smug.
The stress of the passed few days caught up with him suddenly, and he felt exhausted. All the frantic packing, checking and rechecking, and the arguments over what equipment, men and supplies to take and what to leave behind for another run, had taken a toll on him even though Elizabeth was the one in charge. They came to him for details of all the ordnance and military requirements, recommending enough weaponry and soldiers to start a small war. Jack had needed to remind them that the original Atlantis expedition would be running low of food shortly so perhaps that ought to be bumped up in priority in case they were still trapped in the city. He did make sure that all his people had the ATA gene, courtesy of Beckett and Wallis.
Jack stifled a yawn, blinking away a film or tears brought on by tired eyes, and clapping his hands together once more. He caught a flicker of amusement cross Caldwell's face. Steven was a good man and would make an excellent captain, though he tended to hide his sense of humor a little too deep sometimes. What he didn't need though, was Jack standing around on his bridge making everyone nervous.
"Think I'll retire to my cabin. Go watch a few episodes of The Simpsons before turning in."
"Hmm," Daniel murmured. "Mind if I join you... for The Simpsons?" he clarified.
Jack opened his arms wide in an I-don't-mind gesture before nodding to Elizabeth and heading out, knowing Daniel would follow. Sam was too busy to notice them leave and Jack knew Elizabeth hated The Simpsons, finding it too crudely drawn and written for her tastes. They walked in silence but as soon as the cabin door closed behind them, Jack grabbed Daniel and kissed him soundly, humming his approval into his lover's mouth. Daniel pushed back, tongue colliding with Jack's and making its own demands as his hands slid under Jack's t-shirt to glide over his skin, raising goosebumps in their path.
Damn but he needed this; had missed this. The taste and feel of Daniel in his arms filled his senses and he pulled back, breathing in deeply, detecting the first faint scent of their arousal as Daniel murmured his appreciation and rubbed his hardening erection against Jack's thigh.
"I've missed this. Missed you, Jack." Daniel pressed kisses against Jack's throat but Jack held him back for a second, lifting away the familiar wired frames and dropping the glasses carefully onto the bedside cabinet in the tiny room.
"Hope this place is soundproofed," he whispered back before running his hands down Daniel t-shirt until he reached the hem, and then dragging it up the firm body. Daniel obliged by lifting his arms, allowing Jack to discard the t-shirt before he tugged off his own. He sighed as they came back together, feeling the heat of flesh against flesh as he devoured Daniel's mouth once more. Daniel seemed to struggle in his arms a little and then sink a fraction as he finished toeing off his shoes, and Jack shouldn't have found that amusing but he did. He huffed out a laugh.
"What?" Daniel's voice was full of tenderness and a little exasperation.
"No more than you."
Jack laughed softly and reached for Daniel's pants, unzipping them, pushing them down over his hips and then letting them drop to his ankles. He reached out as Daniel undressed him swiftly, pushing his restrictive pants and boxers aside, and his hands found smooth bare skin. Lightly, Jack cupped each ass cheek, drawing Daniel in closer until he could feel Daniel's cock pressing hard against his own.
"You've been on the bridge all this time with no underwear?"
"Let's just say I didn't want to waste any time once I finally got you alone."
Jack squeezed the firm handfuls of Daniel's ass, rocking his hips to increase the delicious sensations as he kissed Daniel once more, nibbling and biting on his lower lip before plundering his mouth. He swallowed Daniel's low moan of pleasure, obeying the nudge that sent them crashing onto the bed in a tangle of sweaty limbs and fiery kisses. This time there would be no finesse, just the simple pleasure of a swiftly building climax, cries muffled in a passionate kiss as they tipped over the edge, legs locking around each other as the powerful sensations ebbed into sated warmth.
He really was tired now, eyes heavy with both physical and mental exhausted but, for the first time in months, Jack felt good. He groaned when Daniel insisted on staggering into the tiny bathroom to gather a washcloth but Jack knew they would both feel uncomfortable waking to the itchiness of dried semen splattered across his belly and chest. Cleaned and dry, Daniel threw the washcloth back towards the bathroom and sank back down onto the bed and into Jack's welcoming arms. The bed was narrow, barely fitting two grown men but that simply gave Jack the excuse to snuggle in tight, spooned behind Daniel with an arm around his waist.
The alarm call was set for three hours and Jack hoped to take things a little slower before Daniel was forced to sneak away to his own cabin for the rest of the night. Daniel's breaths deepened as he sank into sleep and with a final kiss against the nape of his neck, Jack fell asleep to the deep thrum of the Daedalus's engines and to the warmth of Daniel's body pressing back against his own.
John was sitting naked on the pushed together mattresses when Rodney came out of the shower, with his arms wrapped around the knees tucked almost under his chin. He had been staring at the bathroom doorway, waiting for Rodney to emerge and denying himself the impulse to join his lover beneath the hot spray. He knew Rodney was exhausted though and he knew his lover needed to wash off the terror of the day unmolested, to simply stand and let the needles of water pummel his skin into submission.
Rodney emerged with one towel wrapped around his hips and the second in his hands, rubbing at his slightly thinning hair. John grinned when Rodney dropped the hair towel, seeing his light brown hair standing up in all directions like a prickly hedgehog. Blue eyes, bruised with exhaustion, widened in curiosity as Rodney spotted him at last; John dropped his knees.
"Come here." He smiled softy as Rodney tilted his head to one side questioningly but obeyed John nonetheless. John reached up and tugged at the towel, smiling as it fell aside leaving Rodney standing clean and oh-so naked before him. He licked his lips, knowing how Rodney would taste if he lapped at his freshly-washed skin. Instead, John reached for Rodney's wrists and drew him down, only the air mattress providing a comfort barrier between them and the hard floor.
Carefully, he rolled Rodney onto his back and leaned over him, smoothing down his soft, spiky hair before wrapping his arms around Rodney's shoulders, embracing him tightly while Rodney reached up to run his fingers through John's hair. They kissed tentatively at first, tiny little licks and nibbles as John aligned their bodies, trapping hardened flesh beneath his weight and between their close-pressed bellies. The kiss deepened as John slowly rocked against the warm body trapped beneath him, dragging over Rodney's skin, hips pushing him down into the mattress, and causing delicious sensations that rippled through his body.
The bed linen rucked up beneath them as he kissed Rodney gently, trying to capture each breath and claim it for his own, losing himself in the knowledge that he had almost lost this most precious man; nearly lost him to some microscopic robots bent on destruction.
The lights dimmed at his nonverbal request, casting an amber glow across Rodney's pale flesh, bathing him in soft focus.
"Nearly lost you," John whispered against the pliant lips that parted beneath his questing mouth and tongue as he offered small light kisses almost in a benediction.
"I'm still here."
John laughed softly as he captured the warm breath of the low spoken words. Yes. Rodney was still here, his body warm and firm and beautiful beneath him, his heartbeat strong, chest rising and falling with quickening breaths as arousal flared between them. He could feel Rodney's cock, hard and wanting, pelvis tilting in tight little thrusts to stimulate them both. Never truly still. Damn but he loved this man and couldn't bear to consider a life without him, without this.
"Want more than this." He gave a gentle thrust to give meaning to his words and felt the hitch in Rodney's breath before he replied.
"Then take it. Take more. Take it all."
John closed his eyes, smiling as he kissed away the growing impatience and need before releasing Rodney from his embrace and groping for the lube. He smiled again, pressing a kiss against a shoulder and tasting the clean sweat gathering there as Rodney parted his legs, drawing his knees up until his feet lay flat on the mattress, open and vulnerable, trusting. After so many days and nights, preparing Rodney was simple and pleasurable, his fingers opening the beloved body, feeling as well as hearing the soft sigh as Rodney relaxed completely, riding John's fingers until he was ready for more. Drawing Rodney's ass up the incline of his thighs, John positioned himself carefully and pushed in, eyes fluttering closed as his cock sank into the familiar heat and tightness of his lover's body.
Rodney writhed beneath him. "So good."
He pushed until he was as deep as he could go and then held still, savoring the pressure and heat around him, glorying in the possession, in the trust and love shining back from desire-darkened eyes; lips parted in a soft 'O' of pleasure. John smirked, knowing the exact moment to draw back and thrust forward, knowing it by the tiny frown that gathered on Rodney's brow when he had lingered too long in one position. He knew the right angle to make it good for Rodney, knew the slight twist of his hips at the end of the gliding thrust would drag a whimper from his lover. He reveled in the power he had over this body, in the pleasure shining from bright eyes as warm hands gripped at John's upper arms, squeezing and releasing in perfect harmony to the deep and compelling thrusts.
A bead of sweat formed and trickled down from Rodney's collarbone as he pulled up from the bed, craning towards John for a kiss and John slid past the begging mouth to latch on that droplet, lapping it from overheating skin before pulling back to share the taste with his lover. No gentle kiss this time. Hard and bruising, mashing lips together and demanding to possess Rodney's mouth as deeply as he possessed his ass. It was enough; a thrust dragging over that special place inside, the added friction of his hair-covered belly against the sensitive head of Rodney's cock and Rodney was crying out, the heat of his release flooding between them, body tensing muscles that milked the orgasm from John's body until he was exhausted and spent, collapsed across the heaving chest, blood pounding in his ears almost in rhythm to the strong heart beating beneath him.
A slight struggle and John pulled out carefully before rolling onto his back, still half-covering Rodney's chest. He reached up to play with a few damp strands of Rodney's hair, turning to face his lover, noses almost touching. A hand snaked over him, sweaty palm burning against his chest as he closed the gap and nuzzled Rodney's lips before taking them in an almost chaste kiss.
"Nearly lost you. Don't *do* that again," he whined tenderly.
Rodney laughed and then shoved at him, forcing him to move off and roll onto his side, tucking in behind Rodney who had rolled over too, hating to lie on his back for too long. For someone so fastidious, like a cat, Rodney had a weird liking for being hot, sticky and sweaty after sex so John snuggled up close, one thigh pressing between Rodney's and feeling an aftershock of pleasure as he felt the wet, stickiness of his possession between those legs while his hand wrapped around Rodney's waist, fingers playing the sticky remains of Rodney's release, coating his belly until he fell asleep to the soft snores of his sticky lover.
Daniel sighed as he sat in on another briefing organized by Elizabeth as she went over all contingencies for when they reached Atlantis in a little over five days but, in truth, they had no idea what they were going to find when they got there. The Ancients had been pretty good at shields and Atlantis had been more than a city. She was, to use Jack's words, a flying city. A spaceship. If she had a shield over the Stargate then she might have a shield around the whole city too.
Unless Rodney had managed to figure out how to shut down that shield then they had only two options. Either Sam figured out a way to shut down the shield from the Daedalus or they attempted to penetrate the shield using the Asgard beaming technology.
"I would suggest that using the beaming technology is your best option," Hermiod stated in his concise and almost clipped manner, blinking slowly, and Daniel saw Sam nodding in agreement but then she rarely argued with Hermiod, deferring to him in practically everything.
"Okay then," Sam smiled. "Dr. Wallis has prepared some genetically altered mice that we'll try to beam into the city, and then we'll try to beam them back out again."
"What about sending down a note if we can't establish radio communication." Jack raised a querying eyebrow.
Daniel nodded in agreement. "Jack's right. The city stopped the radios from working last time...except for Major Sheppard's final call to raise the iris. If we give them a set time between beam in and beam out then they could send a note back."
Sam nodded eagerly. "I'll set up a laptop so they can--"
"I was thinking more along the lines of pen and paper," Jack interrupted. "That way, if there is a...sentience in the city, it's less likely..."
"Yes, of course, sir."
"And how about adding a few normal mice to the mix too," Jack added.
Daniel hid a smirk behind his hand. All these so-called geniuses in this room and yet Jack was always the pragmatic one, seeing the simplest solutions and covering their collective asses by thinking outside the box. After all, the Atlantis AI had shown a preference only for those with the ATA gene or those who were companions to ATA gene carriers. There was no telling how she might react to non-ATA. Last time she had simply redialed the Stargate and sent them back. What would she do if they arrived in her city by another means?
For this reason alone, Jack did not want Daniel on the first beam down group. Despite having died, ascended and de-ascended, he still did not have the ATA gene in any form. Like Elizabeth and Sam, he was pure-human and Jack did not want to take the risk with his life but Daniel was determined to go wherever Jack went. He would rather die again than be parted from him after all they had shared in the past months, especially after gaining his dream and seeing his love requited. Last time, Jack had been the one to forbid him to leave his side for Atlantis. The same applied here in reverse. They went together or not at all.
Finally, Elizabeth spoke. "Then I suggest we use these last few days to compose a short message that can be sent and retrieved...on pen and paper." She nodded to Jack in deference to his suggestion. Her words held a finality, saying 'meeting over' and Daniel rose from his seat, expecting Jack to follow but Elizabeth had other ideas.
"Jack? Can we speak alone?"
Jack shrugged and remained seated, one eyebrow rising at Daniel's querying glance but he had no idea what she wanted with him. Perhaps she simply felt this was the right time to start acting like she was Jack's boss-to-be.
Twenty minutes later, Jack wandered into the mess and grabbed a coffee before sinking into the seat opposite Daniel. He said nothing, merely sipped at his coffee while staring at Daniel over the rim of his cup. Eventually, Daniel ran out of patience.
"Hmm?" That innocent look never ceased to both irritate and please Daniel in equal measure but then Daniel noticed there was something tight and confused about Jack's brown eyes.
"I think Liz was hitting on me."
Daniel swallowed his mouthful of coffee. In an almost sickening way, that made a lot of sense and was a brave move on Elizabeth's part. Kavanagh was the first to mention that the Atlantis AI changed its selection process after scanning Rodney, remarking that it was likely the presence of Major Sheppard's DNA on--and in--Rodney that had registered before it recognized the recessive ATA gene. Perhaps Elizabeth was considering the same thing, wanting to improve her chances of gaining access to the city by fooling Atlantis into believing she and Jack are a mated pair.
"This could be a problem," Daniel murmured around the lip of his coffee cup, uncertain how Elizabeth would take the news that Jack was already with him and well aware of the old adage concerning a woman scorned...or spurned in this case.
John looked up as Rodney breezed into the room just off the gate control area that he and John had taken for an office when they agreed on co-leadership of the expedition; a big grin lit up his face and John found himself smiling in return. Since they discovered the transporters, Rodney preferred to bring his discoveries to John rather than tell him over the radio or call him down to the labs. The reason for this change was obvious as he would lose a lot of the excitement when he ended up bent over, hands on knees, red-faced and gasping for breath after climbing five sets of stairs and traversing several long corridors in order to reach the control room. Now, he rushed into the room with blue eyes sparkling with excitement, sending a shiver of anticipation through John as his thoughts turned to their lovemaking from the night before or to the pleasure in the night to come.
"We have long range sensors." Rodney grinned broadly, leaving John slightly perplexed because it wasn't as if they could do anything with them. Then again, he thought, having an early warning of an impending Wraith attack might come in handy. Which made him wonder why the sensors had suddenly come to life.
"And we have a ship heading this way perhaps five days out, maybe less if they hold current speed." He gave a smug grin and bounced on the balls of his feet like a small child. "The Daedalus."
John narrowed his eyes. "And you know this is the Daedalus? For sure?"
The smug grin faltered, eyes skittering sideways. "Well...extrapolating its trajectory backwards would imply it originated in the Milky Way galaxy." He grinned again. "Asgard hyperdrive technology."
"What about these Goa'uld that you mentioned?" John folded his arms across his chest and took a step forward. "Don't they come from the Milky Way galaxy and have intergalactic engines?"
"Yes, some of them do." Rodney held his ground and raised his chin defiantly. "But why would they come here?"
John stepped into Rodney's personal space, his folded arms brushing against Rodney's chest, knowing he would see tiny nipples peaking the soft blue science shirt if he glanced down. "For all the amazing Ancient technology...and weaponry perhaps?"
Rodney shifted uneasily, blue eyes wide with dawning realization and fear. They fixed on John's eyes, making John feel a little guilty for frightening him, probably for no reason. He gave a half shrug. "Nah. It's probably the Daedalus. About time!"
"You think?" Rodney looked so uncertain now.
John uncrossed his arms and placed his hands on Rodney's shoulders, squeezing them with reassurance. "Yeah." It seemed so natural now to simply lean in a little more and press his lips lightly to Rodney's but rather than deepen the kiss, he drew back. "Except we won't be able to do this any more if it is." He gave a wry smile. "Least not where we can be seen from the control room."
Rodney frowned and waved towards the darkened wall panels. "We can't be seen now."
John raised an eyebrow and Rodney swallowed hard, suddenly understanding. He looked even more dismayed. "I'd forgotten all about..." he waved a hand that John translated as 'the rules and regulations of the US Military'.
In truth, John wished he could forget all about them too. He wished he could keep the openness of their relationship, not needing to hide in darkened corridors, or sneak into and out of rooms in the dead of night, never able to fully relax as he chewed over the day's events nervously, wondering if he or his partner had slipped up at an inopportune moment. He had disliked the Antarctic outpost for that reason, aware that they had both slipped up once of twice judging by the way Kavanagh would eye both of them with contempt. Jackson figuring it out was only marginally better...as long as the guy didn't say anything to his SG-1 team--or to General O'Neill in particular.
Any fears on Atlantis had faded during those first few days when the sudden urge to kiss and fuck had overcome all rational reasoning. He could still recall the intense pleasure of holding Rodney, of pushing inside him, of feeling him pushing back, demanding harder and deeper. He could recall the rising crescendo of other voices close by, hoarse with pleasure. He shivered in memory of the low moans and feminine cries echoing around the large gate room, the joy in another's union driving his own desire to that perfect peak as he emptied himself into Rodney's strong and willing body. If he had merely thought he loved Rodney before arriving in Atlantis then that night sealed his commitment to him.
Despite initial embarrassment, no one was particularly horrified to learn of his desire for another man, except for the fact that it was Rodney of all people who had caught his eye. As the weeks turned into months, the others had ceased to notice or care if John showed a little affection in public to his male lover as long as they maintained a professional attitude while on duty with others. Here in their office, a small sign of affection was not a major issue. Even so, John had learned to darken the glass panels whenever Rodney arrived just to give them a little added privacy.
"You're not the only one, you know," Rodney stated, eyes flicking to the world beyond the darkened panels.
John nodded, knowing Rodney was referring to several others from the military who had either revealed a homosexual relationship or started one since arriving in Atlantis. All but eighteen of the fifty-six expedition members had found a companion, and it was the lack of available females that had kept the remainder single, with Parrish being the exception. John felt sorry for Parrish. He was not interested in women but the single males were not interested in men.
It was unfortunate that men far outnumbered the women on the expedition and this was particularly apparent on the military side where only a handful of female soldiers had been selected for the expedition by Colonel Sumner. John was not certain if he could call Sumner's decision shortsighted or overly optimistic that they would not be abandoned here in the Pegasus galaxy, especially as before stepping through the Stargate, Dr. Weir had given everyone the chance to withdraw their participation on the grounds that they might never get home again.
If Rodney could not find a way off Atlantis, then those men could be looking at a lifetime of loneliness unless the heterosexuals formed alternative partnerships. In the meantime, John watched for an increase in tension between men vying for the attentions of a single woman but, so far, that had not happened and John wondered if Atlantis had something to do with that. Perhaps she was suppressing the urge in some while increasing it in those with partners. Except that implied a greater level of intelligence than John wanted to consider from their benevolent captor.
John licked his lips as that triggered another thought. "If the sensors have picked up the ship then she knows too."
Rodney nodded, fully aware that John was referring to Atlantis. "So we have to figure out a way to distract her when the Daedalus arrives."
"Or at least convince her not to blow it out of the skies."
The hologram always appeared in the form of a young, dark-haired woman and she always bowed her head slightly in greeting when it was one of the natural ATA gene carriers, no matter how weak their gene might be compared to those genetically altered. Strangely, her face was an impersonal mask to all of the formerly-recessive ATA gene carriers except for him, and Rodney wondered if she had simply recognized his brilliance, if she accepted him as the joint leader of the expedition, or if she simply liked him purely because of his place in John's bed. Certainly, John was her golden, blue-eyed boy, feeling her thoughts and desires vibrating through his body even without sitting in the Chair. Strangely, Rodney felt her too, felt the immense power and intelligence rippling at the edges of his thoughts, guiding him whenever they came across artifacts left behind by the Ancients. She gave him warnings that he had learned to heed after finding the sealed and damaged laboratory harboring the nanovirus that would have killed the few pure humans among them.
The holographic image would not activate for the pure humans at all, much to Radek's disappointment but Miko would accompany him and ask questions on his behalf.
He snorted softly, wondering when all of these people became more than just work colleagues. He had never been good at remembering names, but after seven months in Atlantis, he knew each and every one of the fifty-six now. He knew their names and he knew the person they had chosen as a partner, as a companion and lover, just as they knew him and John. Perhaps it was their situation, or perhaps the very nature of this mission meant that the people belonging to it had a far more open and tolerant attitude, but it felt good to be able to walk through the city with his lover by his side and not have to suffer the snide remarks and disgust of the homophobic. They did not even bother with the pretense of separate rooms, aware that everyone knew they would be sharing a bed and each other's bodies when they retired at night.
The holographic figure smiled serenely as Rodney questioned her. For the thousandth time, he wished Daniel had been with them, aware that Daniel's linguistic skills would have figured out the subtleness of the responses given to his questions, leading to straighter answers. Even Elizabeth would have worked out how to coax more from the intelligence holding them in Atlantis. Direct questioning had gained him little, with Atlantis either ignoring his question or spouting off cryptic or esoteric answers that seemed totally meaningless and out of context.
"The approaching ship. Is it...is it Wraith?"
Rodney sighed in relief because everything they had gleaned about the Wraith was bad. Very bad. The creatures had brought the entire galaxy to its knees, turning advanced civilizations into Middle Age societies overnight according to the Ancient database.
"Is it a known enemy?" John asked.
"Unknown. Insufficient information."
"What are your intentions towards it?" Rodney asked because he needed to know how Atlantis planned to welcome the ship.
"First contact protocols are standard for orbiting vessels but incursions into the city will be met with deadly force."
John turned to Rodney. "Let's hope they don't try beaming in a search and rescue party."
"Hmm." Rodney felt quite sick because, if he was on-board a ship with Asgard beaming technology then that would be his first choice for breaching the Atlantis shield. Carefully, he spoke the name the Atlantis AI had offered during one of Carson's sessions. "Atlantia. These may be allies. More of...of our people. Humans with the Ancient gene either naturally or recessive."
Nothing. She smiled at them serenely.
"Okay, let's rephrase that as a question," John stated. "If these are humans, will you invoke containment protocols rather than use deadly force? As you did when we first arrived through the Stargate."
"Only one Stargate may open into Atlantis. All other incursions into the city is to be met with deadly force."
"Even if these are Ancients? Or their descendants?"
She turned from John to look at Rodney, head tilting a fraction as she smiled at him. "I will consider this."
The holographic image froze for a few seconds and then smiled again. "Containment protocols will be activated for those with the ATA gene, natural or recessive until cleared by Major John Sheppard or Dr. Rodney McKay."
Rodney sighed in relief because he didn't have the stomach to watch a squad of US marines executed right before his eyes if Sumner was the one directing operations but then he realized that she had made no guarantee for pure humans. He opened his mouth, drawing in a breath to ask yet another question but John beat him to it.
"End holographic session."
"What?" Rodney turned in annoyance. "I still had..."
"Enough for today, Rodney." He smiled tightly. "Let's not push too hard in one go."
He huffed his irritation but John was right. It had taken almost two hours to reach this point, having wasted most of it asking the wrong questions or the right questions in the wrong way. He was never quite certain which. At least Atlantis was willing to contain rather than destroy any ATA intruders now, and that had to count for something.
Jack's eyes snapped open when Daniel sat up abruptly and called out her name.
Ohgodohgodohgod, Daniel thought, dragging the sheet with him to maintain what little modesty and dignity remained. Tomorrow they reached Atlantis and he had expected Elizabeth to make another play for Jack's attentions, and then felt confused when she hadn't. When they retired for the night, he thought she must have either decided to brave it without DNA back-up or found another more willing gene donor. What he had not considered was her entering Jack's cabin in the early hours of the morning while most of the ship's complement were sleeping. He had not expected her to strip off her clothes and try to climb into Jack's narrow bed, unaware that it was already filled to bursting point by two men--him and Jack.
She had gasped out in shock when Daniel raised his head from where it was buried beneath the blanket, and if his naked body spooned around Jack's equally naked frame was not convincing enough, the room probably smelled of the passionate sex they had engaged in only a few hours before. She backed away from the bed and stood shaking by the door, pulling on her clothing with sharp tugs.
"Damn it!" Daniel exploded, dragging his hand through his hair as Elizabeth turned away, tight-lipped and slipped out of the room without a word, the door closing behind her. He stared to push off the bed but felt a warm hand on his forearm and looked down at Jack, who had not moved during the whole debacle.
"Let her go, Daniel."
"What if she...?"
"She won't. She won't do anything until she's got Atlantis."
Daniel closed his eyes and sighed deeply. No one was going to drum him out of Academia for being caught in bed with another guy--or even out of the SGC--because he was a civilian, but what of Jack? Jack would lose everything. Dishonorably discharged, losing his rank, possibly even his pension and the fact that he had saved the goddamn planet a dozen times over would count for nothing. Nothing! Or maybe that would be enough to see him pushed into retirement quietly, his presence at official functions never requested or required. Maybe.
"It's not fair."
Jack tugged on his arm, drawing him back down into the circle of Jack's arms. "Go to sleep."
"Sleep! How can we just...?"
Jack raised an eyebrow and, for once, Daniel felt resigned to simply flop down and let Jack wrap his arms around him, spooning up behind him this time.
"We should never have done this, " he whispered hoarsely into the darkness of the room. "Wasn't worth this."
He felt Jack's breath fanning warm on the nape of his neck. "You're wrong there, Daniel. You were worth it...and you still are."
Daniel wasn't certain how he managed to fall asleep after that trauma but he awoke hours later when Jack stirred behind him, literally, his cock hardening and pressing insistently into the valley between Daniel's ass cheeks. Slick-covered fingers pushed between them, opening him slowly and Daniel pulled his knees up to give Jack better access. He sighed when Jack replaced his fingers with something thicker, something Daniel wanted so badly, pushing back as Jack pushed forward until Jack was sheathed in his body. A hand snaked over his hip, grasping his own hard cock, the still-slick fingers wrapping around him perfectly, drawing up and down in time to the thrusts into his ass until a wave of pleasure swept over him bringing on Jack's climax deep inside him.
Afterwards, as they lay sated with Jack's semi-softened cock still inside him, Daniel sighed again. This wasn't how it usually happened because Jack liked to bottom more than top, especially in the mornings.
"Hedging my bets."
Daniel snorted softly, squeezing his ass muscles around Jack and smiling at the soft gasp of pleasure.
Two hours later, they stood side by side on the bridge as the Daedalus entered orbit above the planet where Atlantis had to lie, according to the Stargate address.
"Anything?" Caldwell asked but gained a negative from his crew. "Seems we've come a long way for nothing."
Elizabeth looked devastated but her eyes hardened when she caught Daniel's look. He turned away from her, focusing on the blue ocean passing below them. His eyes narrowed in thought. "Maybe not. Atlantis was the city that sank beneath the waves."
Caldwell took the hint. "Scan the oceans."
It took another fifteen minutes but Daniel held his breath when Novak's voice carried clear to the bridge. "It's beneath the ocean, hundreds of feet down. Hermiod's sending the coordinates....now."
Caldwell looked to his crew. "Bring us into geosynchronous orbit above that position."
Below the Daedalus was nothing but blue ocean but the Asgard technology had picked up the slightest anomaly that indicated a strong Ancient shield. It had to be Atlantis.
"Open a channel. Atlantis. This is Steven Caldwell, Captain of the Earth ship Daedalus."
Daniel held his breath, aware that he was not the only one. Nothing. He heard Caldwell try several more times but with no response.
"Dr. Weir. Perhaps we should try sending down our goodwill package."
"Yes, of course." She nodded her agreement and strode off the bridge, heading towards the transport area. Daniel and Jack followed and watched as Elizabeth gave a final check of the items due to be sent down. She smoothed the written note, folding it neatly and placed it on top where it would be spotted immediately.
The flash of light in the center of the gate room caught all but Rodney and John by surprise. Both of them had expected this. What they had not expected was just a few small items; some mice in a cage and a folded piece of paper with a pen lying on top. Leaning forward carefully, Rodney grabbed the paper and stepped back, unfolding it.
"It's from Elizabeth. She's on the Daedalus."
Several cheers went up because, for the first time in months they had positive proof that the others had been sent back--alive. Rodney felt a huge weight lift from his chest, unaware until now how much he had hated not knowing the fate of the others.
"They want us to leave the mice where they are. They plan to retrieve them in fifteen minutes. Obviously, the pen and paper are for us to leave a message."
"Give it here." John reached for the paper and pen.
"I'm perfectly capable of writing a message."
"No you're not. That last report was 50 pages long and we have...less than fifteen minutes."
Grumbling, Rodney handed it over and watched as John wrote, quickly filling both sides, reading the scrawl easily. 'Fifty-six survivors, no injuries. Food running low. No outside access.' He saw mention of the Atlantis AI and a recommendation that no one beam down unless they are prepared to stay. He saw command codes that only John and his commanding officers would know, semi-proof that he was the genuine Major John Sheppard.
When the fifteen minutes were up, the mice and pad disappeared. John kept the pen but instead of being happy, he cast a despairing look to Rodney which Rodney understood all too well. The moment they had both feared had finally arrived. All these months of open intimacy had come to an end with the re-established contact with Earth, and the US military in particular.
Rodney did not want to lose that intimacy though and he knew John dreaded the loss too even though he had said little, but Rodney had noticed how John was overly attentive one minute and then trying to draw back from their open relationship in the next. He could understand that feeling, could understand the almost desperate need to touch and hold one another, to make as many memories as possible before it was all taken away. Conversely, he could understand John's desire to pull back, to prepare for a time when they could no longer be together whenever they wanted or whenever they needed each other.
In truth, Rodney was not certain he even wanted to be rescued now, apart from the impending death by starvation problem.
Months earlier, when Atlantis had first trapped them, he had been afraid of the sentience displayed by the city but she had not harmed any of them. Instead, she had given him the coveted ATA gene and, apart from an occasional urge to try to make them all procreate--which was a useless but enjoyable experience for the same-sex partners--she had not interfered in any way save to protect them as they stumbled around the city. The major problem, though, was that their food supplies were starting to look a little thin on the ground, and the idea of starving to death did not sit well with Rodney. In another few months they would be in serious trouble if they could not find anything else to eat, and the chances of finding supplies in a ten thousand-year-old city was pretty remote and would most likely prove inedible even if they did happen to stumble across the Ancient equivalent of a Walmart supermarket.
Despite repeated entreaties and his own attempts to break through the security system, he could not get the Stargate shield to lower so they could at least gate off world within the Pegasus galaxy in search of a means to replenish their ever-dwindling supplies. Rodney knew it had something to do with the Wraith. The little he had gleaned from the holographic interface had warned of the longevity of the Wraith, how they were virtually immortal and hence a continuing source of danger even after ten thousand years. He had asked about the shield, asked about the aborted dialing-in sequence that occurred each night but she would not answer and would not allow them to dial into one of those addresses to find out for themselves.
Of course, logically, that made sense because forming a wormhole connection would alert whoever was out there that the city was occupied once more.
The Wraith had laid siege to the city for a hundred years before the Ancients abandoned her so the Wraith knew where Atlantis lay within the Pegasus galaxy. They had no reason to come here if there was no food as they did not need the city or her technology. Perhaps their only interest might be in discovering where their former meals-on-legs had disappeared off to, or in watching to see if their prey returned.
The one thing he had realized after all these months, and proved by going back through the data logs for the past ten millennia, was that the vast majority of addresses did repeat after a while, going back to the beginning of a loop that held sixty-three gate addresses. Some of those addresses remained in the same place in the sequence for hundreds of years at a time and then altered for a few months before returning to the original gate address for hundreds of more years. Perhaps these were the great hive ships mentioned in the Ancient database, Perhaps the Wraith hives took it in turn to test the Atlantis shield and perhaps the times when the Stargate address changed was when that hive had awoken to cull its worlds for food, returning to its chosen world to hibernate once it had taken its fill.
It was a frightening thought.
Even though there was sufficient power left in the ZedPM, Atlantis would not allow them to contact Earth either. Rodney had tried several approaches, even giving Atlantis the option of leaving the shield in place so that they could send video and radio communication but not be able to physically leave the city. It seemed a perfect solution to Rodney but Atlantis did not seem to be ruled by any logic that he could readily understand.
All he knew was that she was desperately lonely, and desperate to protect the ones who had, seemingly, returned.
However, if they did not need to rely upon the Stargate because the Asgard beaming technology was sufficient to send reinforcements and supplies then the society they had created while on their own, small though it might be, ended this day. His open relationship ended; sharing a room, sleeping in the same bed right through to morning, trading the occasional public kiss and show of affection. Their leadership ended too for Elizabeth would assume command of the expedition, and Sumner command of the military.
It was all over and if they didn't need supplies so desperately, Rodney would have considered asking Atlantis to send the Daedalus away.
He waited beside John in the gate room, eyes traveling around the room to take in his extended family, too morose to feel impatient at the wait. He could hear no triumphant whispers, having expected them mostly from male-female couples who had nothing to lose and everything to gain from restoring contact with Earth but even they seemed quiet and a little dismayed. Miko stepped up beside him, her almond eyes filled with sorrow as she held his gaze and squeezed his arm...and Rodney knew. He knew she understood his loss, understood John's loss, and understood the loss of others, of Eichmann and two of the other soldiers who had chosen a male partner mostly from the scientists.
A flash of light heralded the Asgard beam and Rodney straightened as he saw several familiar figures coalesce within the beam; Elizabeth, Sam Carter, Colonel Sumner, General O'Neill, Daniel and a number of soldiers probably under Sumner's command. He chewed his lip worriedly, wishing John had mentioned that they had never gained a definitive answer on how Atlantis would treat any pure humans who attempted to beam into the city.
Rodney blinked in shock when the beam seemed to stutter, the figures of Sumner, Elizabeth, Sam and one soldier failing to fully materialize.
General O'Neill blinked at Rodney and John and then let his eyes gaze around the magnificent gate room. He opened his mouth, turning to where Elizabeth had stood at his shoulder and frowned almost comically, only then noticing that Sumner and Sam were gone too. He tried his radio but gained no response. Another flash of light and a single sheet of paper lay on the floor close by. O'Neill picked it up, eyebrow rising before handing it to a still-stunned Daniel.
"Elizabeth?" Rodney had to ask.
O'Neill pointed upwards. "Back on-board the Daedalus...along with Sam, Colonel Sumner and Private Reeves."
Rodney closed his eyes in relief. As much as he didn't truly want Elizabeth here any more, especially as leader, he had not wanted her or Sam, or anyone else come to think of it, harmed in any way.
He blinked several times and the spell transfixing everyone was broken. The containment field surrounding the new arrivals fell suddenly and Rodney found his arms full of Daniel Jackson pounding his back.
"We kind of hoped you were all still alive," Daniel stated, grinning happily.
John stepped forward and snapped to attention. "General."
O'Neill waved him down but that was typical of O'Neill to dispense with military protocol whenever the opportunity arose. Rodney had seen that a dozen times over while stationed at the SGC and Antarctica.
Rodney frowned and wondered what orders O'Neill had given her before they beamed down. She separated herself from the others, standing exactly where the mice had been and waited. The Asgard beam enveloped her moments later but refused to lock on. Several others tried unsuccessfully.
"Looks like we're stuck here, sir."
O'Neill turned to the man hovering by his side. "Daniel?"
Daniel shrugged but didn't seem too upset at the notion, his eyes still wide with awe as he gazed around. "Atlantis," he murmured.
Atlantia did not stop the Daedalus from beaming down the supplies filling her hold for she understood Rodney's fear of dying from starvation even though she could not alleviate those concerns when voiced. Still, now there was enough to feed all of them, including those who had beamed down from the Daedalus, scientists and soldiers who were willing to remain in her city. They numbered sixty-nine now and she knew more would come in the years ahead.
She greeted the newcomers warmly, mentally nudging them towards a companion when she sent out an urge to procreate. She was especially pleased to see Parrish smiling coyly at a new soldier called Evan Lorne, and to feel Carson's happiness with Laura Cadman. Both had been so alone during these long months and she had felt such sadness for them until now.
Everyone relaxed when their new leader, Jack, gave up any pretense of sticking to the military regulations that had filled John and Rodney which such sorrow. He took over Rodney's large but unwanted quarters for himself and Daniel, sending Rodney back into John's arms and bed, and that pleased her because they were meant to be together, all of them, and were never happier than when they were lying safe in each other's arms.
Events had worked out perfectly and if the pure-human Elizabeth ever reported Daniel's beloved Jack to his people, it would not matter. Jack was in her city now. He was one of her people... and she loved and would protect them all.
In recognition of John's unfailing duty to the expedition, Jack promoted him to Lt. Colonel, which pleased him greatly, and he gave John full control of the military presence, answerable only to Jack in emergencies. She knew Rodney was more than happy to leave all the city administration to Jack, preferring his laboratory and his discoveries, and Daniel was more than willing to leave all the science administration to Rodney, preferring a smaller department of linguists and anthropologists. She watched as all her new people settled down into their work, gently guiding them in their discoveries when she could, but ever aware of the restrictions placed against her interference.
Deep within her, she knew she could trust the few pure-humans walking through her city for they were special to those around them, trusted and loved. Perhaps it was time to allow these few special ones more privileges, and to welcome them too.
She smiled serenely as Rodney activated the holographic interface for Daniel, deciding that this would be one of those privileges for she knew him in another life, another memory. He frowned at her and she could see him trying to recall a lost past of himself but the memory slipped away. He smiled back at her, enjoying her attention while Rodney flustered over her unusual response to a pure-human.
Perhaps she would answer more of their questions--in time--but for now she looked to the distant stars and watched for the enemy that slept.