Chapter 1: Murphy's Law
John looked up at the man, who spoke with assurance and grim determination. Something clicked, even through the hazy fog of pain. “You’re purposely luring them here? You some kind of Wraith hunter?”
“This place is creepy,” John complained, picking his way behind the engineers. After a week of hard living under the Emmagen’s thumb, John was sore and annoyed but at least given enough leash to join the mission to the dead planet no one liked to talk about: Sateda.
“That’s what the Wraith’ll do for you,” Ford shrugged. He had been assigned by Lorne to “protect” John, although everyone knew it was more along the lines of making sure John didn’t fuck anything up.
The bitch of it was that John didn’t want to fuck anything up. He never did; it just happened. Someone got in trouble and needed help, or John got in over his head and lost his heart, or just plain fucking bad luck —didn’t really matter why, just that it was never something John asked for. He was completely content to meander along slowly while the engineers sorted through things. They were in some kind of factory, with strange parts and machines lying around half-rusted or broken apart. Every once in a while an engineer would pop up from the mess like a gopher with a prize, crowing about his find, and all the others would flock around digging in the exact same spot. The Marines serving protection detail looked bored and used to it, but kept a close eye on everyone anyway.
It was phenomenally boring.
Even the Emmagen, who had decided to tag along at the last minute, looked bored. She had mentioned something about visiting a temple there, to pay her respects, but for the moment she trailed after the engineers like everyone else. She ignored John and made the Marines nervous.
The only one having fun was McKay, who was wringing his entertainment like blood from a stone by way of making Dr. Kavanagh miserable. It was obvious they hated each other, and that their embittered antagonism went back quite a long time. Everyone else mostly ignored them, unless they could get a laugh at Kavanugh’s expense. For being the second in command of the science department, the man was utterly loathed. John was beginning to see how so many people could bitch about McKay but still sort of like him.
Not that John was going to fall prey to that.
There had been no more sex since the spectacular blowjob, and John figured that was McKay’s way of keeping him on a short leash. Something else he did not really care about, because John wasn’t anyone’s whore no matter how much he wanted to beg for it.
“What’s there?” John veered away from the herd towards a large door. It looked like a loading bay facing an overgrown courtyard, which was just alien enough to perk his interest. Aside from Atlantis, this was John’s first real trip “off world” and he didn’t want to spend it elbow deep with PhD-endowed grease monkeys.
Ford did not seem disinclined to disagree, and trailed after John. He gave McKay and Sergeant Stackhouse a signal to show that things were fine as they headed through the doorway.
“Just don’t fall down any holes or anything.”
“I’ll try,” John snarked back, picking his way carefully through the mess. He could not decide if the area had been a garden spot to begin with, or was just that overgrown. They walked for a while, passing smaller out-buildings and what John suspected might have been a truck-like vehicle once.
“Seems kind of boring for an off world mission.”
Ford had just finished checking in with Stackhouse when John spoke, and nodded in agreement. “Whenever the scientists are in the lead, it’s going to be boring. Unless McKay’s got a bee up his bonnet. Otherwise we just follow them around and try to kill Wraith.”
“Hard to kill?” John knew the answer, but it was something to say.
Ford sighed heavily as they walked. “The hardest.”
John nodded. It was the most civil conversation he had participated in with anyone in weeks, and he didn’t want to make the young lieutenant turn surly again by being too much of a smart ass with his comebacks. He was trying to think of something friendly to say while picking his way through a bunch of ground-covering vines when it happened.
The trap sprung on him in slow motion, that bizarre place where the brain turns time into a syrupy mess and life changes in an instant. John felt the noose as it closed and tugged, thinking gratefully that it was his good leg because he knew his bad hip would not take the stress of the coming flip-flop. He had the foresight to clutch himself up into a ball as his leg swung out, and in the end his good hip was still nearly dislocated. As he bounced in the air upside down, radiating pain from his ankle and lower back, he figured he had the Emmagen to thank for being as flexible and strong as he was. Not that it really helped while swinging around like a haunch of meat on a hook.
Ford was shouting and by the time John could focus again, Ford was ready for a fight. Nothing happened though, and the eerie silence of Sateda settled down on them while Ford waited for someone to attack and John calculated his injuries.
“What the hell?” McKay sounded amused as he walked up on them. “You’re upside down.”
“Go to hell, McKay.” John snarled through clinched teeth.
“Or, get you down. Your choice.” McKay just laughed, and John hated him all over again.
“Sir, this is recent,” Ford spoke up, checking out the rope mechanism that had hauled John ass-over-teakettle. “Very recent.”
“Who would be stupid enough to put a trap like this here?” McKay wondered aloud, standing next to Ford and looking at the set up.
“I don’t give a fuck, just get me down before I pass out!” John snapped.
“Hold your horses, Sheppard, I—” McKay’s words were cut short by the whine of some kind of weapon. He fell like a ton of bricks after being hit by a blast of light. Ford was already pulling the trigger as he turned to their attacker, but whomever it was had bolted.
“Stay there! I’ll be back!”
“What? NO! Ford! Get your ass back here!” John shouted in frustration as Ford dashed off. “God damn it!”
Curling up, his abdominal muscles and scars screaming, John grabbed his pants leg and tried pulling himself up hand over hand. It worked until he got to his ankle, which hurt like a motherfucker, and the rope above his foot was just out of reach. John’s surgical scars were enough to keep him from any gymnast kind of moves, but flopping backwards would likely finish breaking his ankle completely, if it wasn’t already fractured.
He hung there, contorted and sweating from the pain, until suddenly he felt himself being lowered.
John looked over at the voice and reconsidered his chances of getting out of the situation alive. The man was huge, maybe 6’6” if he was an inch, and built like a brick house. He was dark skinned like the Emmagen and had a head of hair that reminded John of Medusa. More than any of that, though, he looked like Conan the Barbarian in rough, dirty leathers and covered in grime. John wasn’t on his game but he suspected the decorations dangling from necklaces and bracelets and cords were trophies, the teeth and claws of things John did not want to think about.
The guy came over when John was grounded and undid the rope from John’s ankle.
“Thanks?” John gasped.
“You must be valuable.”
John couldn’t stop himself from letting out a honking laugh at that. “Willing place another bet?”
Something about John’s admittedly smart-assed reply amused the giant, who grinned. Then he looked over at McKay and frowned. “You people know how to destroy a good plan.”
“Not my fault, I did not set up the rope trap.” John massaged his burning ankle, hoping for good news. He noticed McKay was breathing, which was a surprising relief.
“No, I did. For Wraith.”
John cocked his head. “This place is Sateda. Everyone knows the Wraith don’t come here anymore.”
The giant raised his eyebrows mockingly.
“Well, that’s what they told me at the mission briefing.” John rolled a shoulder, judging its fitness.
“They will come here. Soon.”
John looked up at the man, who spoke with assurance and grim determination. Something clicked, even through the hazy fog of pain.
“You’re purposely luring them here? You some kind of Wraith hunter?”
That earned John another steady gaze of mystery, which just made him annoyed. “Look, there’s a whole group of us here, scientists, civilians. If you’re bringing the Wraith down on us, you’ll get them all killed. Is that what you want?”
John realized he wasn’t walking anywhere for a while, so instead stretched out his legs in front of him, trying to moderate the pain. The guy kept staring at him. John glared back.
“I came here to die.”
“I can arrange that. Give me his gun,” John said, pointing at McKay’s sidearm.
The giant laughed at him. “No. To finish this with the Wraith. This is where it started for me, this is where it will end. I’m tired of running.”
“You’re Satedan? Great.” John sighed, rubbing his head.
“Your people are coming this way. They need to leave, before the Wraith get here and ruin my plans.”
“You trussed me up, knocked out our lead scientist, and exchanged shots with a Marine. I doubt anything is going to go your way from here on out,” John said, aiming for honesty.
“Maybe not.” The giant nodded in agreement, which was all the warning John had before he stepped up and hauled him up into a choke hold.
“Put him down!” Ford yelled. By the time John’s eyes swum back into focus from the sudden onset pain and motion, he found himself held tightly in the giant’s grip, between him and Ford’s trigger-happy P-90.
“I’ll break him,” the giant growled.
“Dunno, big guy, but they might throw you a party for that—”
“Shut up, Sheppard. No one’s getting broken on my watch. Look, fella, I don’t care what your beef is. Put him down and walk away.”
The giant started backing up, his hold on John not letting up at all.
“Just let him go. Look, I’m putting down my gun.” Ford crouched down, unsnapping his p-90 and letting it drop, although he did not unholster his pistol.
“You’re still armed.”
“But my hands are wayyyy up here.” Ford did a little jazzy motion with his hands. John rolled his eyes because the kid was even more of a smart ass than he was.
The giant glanced away for a moment, and Ford almost took a chance, but then the giant was running backwards, his gun out and aimed on Ford. “Wraith! Hide your people!”
Panic sparked in Ford’s eyes as a high-pitched sound rolled over them. John glanced up as he was being dragged to see three beautifully aerodynamic and dangerous looking craft sear through the air above them. Before John could blink, a white beam reached out and swept over Ford and McKay and they both simply disappeared.
He opened his mouth to shout but felt the butt of the giant’s strange gun slam into his head instead.
Chapter 2: The Plans of Mice and Men
His body was cramping and in pain, and his head throbbed, but he was in one piece and alive so he was counting his winnings on that score.
John was trussed up loosely but securely deep in a basement with a gag over his mouth when he woke up. His body was cramping and in pain, and his head throbbed, but he was in one piece and alive so he was counting his winnings on that score. There were no windows, so he could not gauge the time well, but he guessed that he’d been out for at least an hour. Of course it could have been a day, but his stomach and bladder indicated that was not the case.
He spent a lot of time squirming until he could get into a sitting position that wasn’t excruciatingly painful, which wasn’t saying much given his list of injuries, old and new. By the time he was chewing on the gag to try and spit it out, a door above him opened and heavy steps came down the staircase.
The giant looked tired and angry and blood splattered. John hoped it was Wraith blood.
“Be quiet. I didn’t get all of them.” The giant yanked out the gag.
“Thanks,” John coughed out the word. The giant looked at him for a second, then opened up a canteen and poured a little water into John’s mouth, holding his chin to keep him still.
No reaction. The giant went over to a corner and wrangled with a small canister, and suddenly the weak ambient light was chased away by what had to be some kind of electric or gas lantern. The giant tapped it fondly. “Some of these still work. Always worth grabbing a few when I come here.”
“My name. It’s John Sheppard. Not that you asked, but since we’re sharing a moment here.” John shrugged.
“Can’t say it’s been a pleasure.”
“Not my fault your people have bad timing.”
“Yeah, thanks for that. What happened to Ford and McKay?” At the blank look John’s question got him, he tried again. “The white light? They disappeared.”
“You’ve never seen a culling beam before?” Ronon looked genuinely surprised.
“I’ve heard of Wraith cullings, but no one mentioned the beam thing.”
Ronon grunted in answer, then sat down, pulled out about a dozen knives from places and started sharpening them. John realized that he had known about the beam, at a subconscious level, from something Atlantis had shared with him during his ill-advised chair adventure. He sorted through the data that was bubbling to the top of his mind with growing horror.
“They are taking them to store on a hive ship.”
“Yeah. That’s what they do.” Ronon shrugged.
“My people…they were all taken.”
Ronon gave him a dark and grim look. “Most.”
John stomach curled, knowing exactly what it meant to the ones who weren’t included there. He still had the images of the Wraith’s murder victims outside of Vegas burned into his brain. “Damnit.”
Ronon paused and stared at his knives. “I’m killing this group off. They’ll send more once they don’t get them back, and that will be the end.”
“The end?” John really wanted to vomit, his feeling of helplessness and guilt swamping him. McKay was gone, Ford, everyone, just in a heartbeat of time that John could not change.
“At some point, if I don’t run, they’ll out gun me. They’ll keep sending more and more hunters until I can’t fight back.”
“That’s…one bad plan there, buddy.”
Ronon took a deep breath but didn’t reply. John wondered how long it had been since the guy had sat down and talked to anyone.
“Why are they hunting you? Why not just, uh, eat you?”
“I’m a runner.”
“Yeah, you said.”
“No, I’m a Runner.”
John picked up on the capitalization that time. “No idea what that is.”
Ronon looked frustrated. “Where are you from? You don’t know anything.”
“Not the first time someone’s accused me of that.” John stopped himself from laughing, which would have only devolved into hysterics. Taking his own deep breath, he focused on his captor. “Can’t tell you where I’m from. Not from around here, let’s leave it at that.”
Ronon nodded thoughtfully. “You’re military.”
That seemed to be enough for him. “A Runner is someone they can’t or won’t eat. They put a tracker in your back and set you loose, and hunt you. It’s training or a sport, I don’t know. But they don’t stop.”
“Ten years. Since Sateda fell. Time to end it.”
John could understand. It was basically the story of his life at that point, but hearing it from Ronon felt more like giving up than John was comfortable with. And worse, it would leave John in a position of being able to do nothing to save McKay and the others. He realized that he could not do that, no matter how much they hated him or he hated McKay.
Ronon looked up at him, his expression sardonic.
“I need your help to rescue my people.”
Ronon opened his mouth but closed it. He gave John a long, thoughtful look before replying. “Two of the darts went back through the gate with them. They are all on a hive ship by now, stored for later. You can’t save them.”
“I have a ship.”
Ronon looked interested for a second, but shrugged. “So what? You can’t get on a hive ship. You can’t rescue them.”
John was finally pissed off. “Stop telling me what the fuck I can or cannot do. Untie me and let me get to my ship if you want to finish off your own suicide mission alone. I could use your damn help but don’t let me stop you from dying a pointless death for the sake of a dead planet!”
Ronon stood up, radiating fury, and John thought maybe pissing off the humongous alien was a step too far, but then he felt the ropes being cut away from his hands as Ronon loomed over him.
“You say the sweetest things.”
Ronon snorted and helped John to stand, which took a couple of minutes.
“You’re not in good shape.”
“I’m a fucking wreck. But this is all we’ve got to work with.”
Ronon left him to his own devices, going over to pack up his set of knives again. “I’ll go finish the last two off. When they don’t report in, the Hive will send more, and that will open the ring. If you have a ship, that’s our best chance to get through it.”
John liked having a plan, even if it was half assed. That was his usual operating procedure lately anyway.
Chapter 3: Test Run
John looked up from all the meaningless blinking lights to see the Emmagen pointing her gun back at them, standing on the ramp, armed with two extra P-90s hanging off of her and her sticks still strapped to her back.
Some comments have questioned my wormhole science in this chapter (which I'll admit is squiffy at best); however, to settle the point: yes, wormholes are bi-directional here, mostly I think because it has never made sense to me that they aren't. And that's how I roll. :)
The gateship was happy to see him, in a weird puppy-dog way. Ronon was helping him limp along, and John was glad for the help. There were times when pride was overrated.
“Never seen something like that before,” Ronon said as they approached.
“Me neither. But she flies, and they tell me she has a cloaking mechanism.”
Ronon stopped, picking up on what John wasn’t saying. “You’ve never actually flown it before.”
“Hey, I can fly anything,” John said, trying to sound stung, but his own arrogance came through loud and clear and he knew it. The ramp dropped open when John asked it too, the whole ship lighting up and nearly buzzing with excitement. It had not reacted that way with Stackhouse flying it, and John wondered about the difference as he pushed Ronon off and went to the cockpit. Everything lit up as he walked through, and Ronon stopped dead.
“You’re an Ancestor.”
“No. But I’ve got something in common with them.”
“The legends say the Ancestors brighten the Dark Places of our Worlds, their steps bringing light and wisdom.” Ronon looked unconvinced.
“All I intend to bring is some hurting onto those Wraith bastards who took my people,” John said, focusing on the dashboard. He nearly missed the moment when Ronon spun around and pulled out his gun, pointing it out the back. John looked up from all the meaningless blinking lights to see the Emmagen pointing her gun back at them, standing on the ramp, armed with two extra P-90s hanging off of her and her sticks still strapped to her back.
“Do not move, Satedan,” She growled.
John gave them props for what was the most ridiculous standoff ever outside of a spaghetti western. She was half the size of Ronon, but they were both armed to the teeth and John figured the only one who would end up dead would be him, from friendly fire.
“Ronon Dex, meet the Emmagen. I have no idea what her name is.” John waved a hand around in mockery of formal introduction. He was not prepared for Ronon to drop like a stone to his knees.
“Emmagen.” He bowed his head.
She did not drop her P-90, but came forward slowly and put a hand on Ronon’s head. “Be at peace, Sataden Ronon Dex. Why have you come here to this desolate land?”
“I am a Runner.”
She finally lowered her weapon, sucking breath through her teeth. “My sincerest grief for your life, Ronon.”
Ronon didn’t move. The Emmagen looked up at John. “Everyone is dead or taken. We must leave the Runner here and return to Atlantis.”
“See, that’s not going to work for me.” John turned back to the dash.
He heard her re-arm herself. “You are choosing to run away?”
John didn’t bother answering, closing the ramp and fully powering up the gateship. Finally, after a few mental queries, a head’s up display appeared and John started to figure out the different systems.
“No, he’s waiting for the Wraith to open the ring, so he can fly into the Hive ship and save his people,” Ronon said, the amusement in his voice clear.
“I do not understand.”
John finally turned to face off with the business end of her gun. “They took McKay and everyone still alive to their Hive ship. So we—“ He motioned between the three of them, “Are going there, boarding the ship, saving everyone we can find, and then maybe, I don’t know, blow the fucker up or something.”
John kind of missed the camera on his smart phone, because the look on the Emmagen’s face was priceless. She was torn between laughing at him and being struck dumb by his stupidity, but she did at least lower the gun again. “You are mad.”
“Yeah, he is.” Ronon agreed affably, still on his knees.
“And you are joining him in this madness, Ronon Dex?”
He paled a little under her gaze, and John wondered yet again exactly who the hell she was.
“I’ve run for ten years. I’m done. I came home to die, one way or another. A dishonorable and cowardly end killing very few Wraith, compared to going to a Hive ship and killing many. His madness has honor to it. It’s a warrior’s way to die, trying to save others.”
She nodded. “It is nonetheless madness—”
“Ah ha!” John’s brain finally latched onto the cloaking mechanism. “Check it out! Invisible!”
They looked around at how much nothing had changed, and the Emmagen raised an eyebrow at him.
Sighing, John lowered the ramp. “Go outside and see if you can see the ship.”
At the Emmagen’s nod, Ronon jumped up and ran out, then ran back in. “Can’t be seen!”
“The city has this technology, but I was unaware the gateships could cloak as well. This does give us an advantage.”
“I killed the remaining Wraith. Soon, the Hive will dial in to send more hunters,” Ronon offered.
“That’s when I fly through the gate and up to the Hive ship.” John smiled, trying for charm and confidence.
She looked torn. John figured she felt a duty to return to Atlantis and whatever else she did for a day job, versus trying to help save McKay. Taking a risk, John turned serious and looked her in the eye.
“Would McKay come for you?”
Her chin went up. After a long moment of silence while they stared at each other, she nodded. “If he is alive, we will bring him home.”
John smiled. “Damn straight. Now settle in while I give this baby a test run. Don’t want to bump into the gate on a fly through.” He rubbed his hands together as he turned back to the dash.
Waking up cold and sticky was not Mer’s favorite thing, especially if not proceeded by a night of filthy, dirty fucking. In a turn that was about as far from that scenario as he could dream up, he figured out quickly that he was in a Wraith cocoon, probably in the bowels of a Hive ship, put up like leftovers. Literally.
Across from him he saw Kavanagh deep in another cocoon, still out like a light. Mer himself felt dizzy and his thinking was muddled, something he figured was from a chemical in the webbing or a drug he had been given. Slowly the memories hit, though, of waking up being dragged through the ship, half his team dragged along with him. He remembered seeing Ford and Simpson, but not Kavanagh or the red headed sergeant, or, worse, Teyla.
He had never been on a Hive ship before—no one had, and come back. It was a death sentence and all that was left was for the smartest man in two galaxies to wait to be turned into human sushi. Furious at himself and the Wraith and Sheppard and anyone else he could think of, he struggled at the webbing, but even in his slightly drugged state, he knew enough to know that he was just fighting himself. There was not going to be a rescue, and both he and what was left of his team were as good as dead.
Chapter 4: Data Points
The drone just hauled him up over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and Mer finally gave up.
More of my bi-directional wormhole travel! Just so you know. :)
This is a shorter update, but there will be more on Monday. Story is nearly completed and clocks in at over 12k as it is, so there are more than a few chapters to go. *evil laughter*
Like clockwork, the Hive ship dialed in to send more hunters through for Ronon. John couldn’t be absolutely positive, but he was fairly certain that the cloaking on the gateship would hide their power signature and any random frequencies as well, including the tracker that Ronon said was embedded in his back somewhere. John tried not to think about that too much.
As soon as the darts cleared the stargate John was pushing through it, just in case it was a short time frame. It was only a little disconcerting to be skimming a ruined city, fighting gravity and then be free-floating in space, but the gateship responded to him eagerly and he got everything sorted out before his passengers figured out they had wobbled at all.
It took them a moment to take in what they were seeing.
“That is one ugly ship.” John frowned.
“No one has ever seen such a thing, not like this,” the Emmagen said softly, awe in her voice.
“Never from the outside,” Ronon grunted in agreement.
“I doubt it’s any prettier from the inside,” John grumbled. The Hive ship was an affront to him as a pilot, ungainly and dirty looking. The Emmagen stared at him as if he was speaking blasphemy. He waved his hand out the viewport. “It’s like a dead pig floating in space.”
“It is a Hive Ship.”
“It’s butt ugly is what it is.”
“Do you not understand how momentous this is? That we are flying unseen next to a Hive Ship?”
“There will be legends, if anyone makes it back alive,” Ronon nodded.
“Can we focus?” John snapped. His passengers both glared at him. He pointed at the ship. “That’s huge. How in the hell are we supposed to find anyone—?” He had barely finished talking when a small compartment opened up next to him and spit out a life signs detector. “Oh, okay. Cool.”
Ronon stared at the ship while John fiddled with the LSD. “We can fly into one of the dart bays.”
John glanced up. “Yeah, that would work. Still, that’s a hell of a lot of ship to search, even with…Wait, let me try something.” He focused on the gateship, and a second later a graphic of the hive ship appeared on the HUD. Ronon and the Emmagen stayed quiet while John sorted out his requests, trying to phrase the question simply enough to not get overwhelmed with information in return. After a thoughtful pause, the gateship spit out a bunch of signals, showing as blips within the image of the Hive ship. John cursed. “No one told me we are all tagged.”
“Tagged?” Ronon frowned.
“Yeah, kind of like tracking beacons, only not. Subcutaneous transmitters so we can lock on location.”
Ronon did not look happy about that, and John himself was conflicted. It made sense and had suddenly made their job easier, but the idea that he probably had a tracker under his own skin made him squirm. It did answer his questions about how it had been so easy for Lorne and McKay to find him no matter where he was on Atlantis, though, which had seemed to damned convenient even with the LSDs. He dragged his brain back to the present.
“Okay, at least we know where they are.” He motioned at the dots, hoping to make the best of it.
“There are only seven.” The Emmagen pointed. The whole mission had been fourteen people, so counting both John and the Emmagen, that left five missing. She gave John a look that said enough.
“We’ll save who we can. That’s the best we can do,” he said, trying to sound confidant. As he angled the small ship towards a bay that looked like it was near where the Atlantis people were being kept, the Emmagen stepped up next to him and handed over one of her spare P-90s, placing it on his lap.
“My name is Telya.”
John nodded and concentrated on flying casual.
Mer woke up again when he was torn out of webbing by one of the drones. He tried to fight, even though logically he knew it was pointless. His lizard-brain instinct was in control and he was panic stricken, fighting against the inevitable with every ounce of energy he had.
Which wasn’t much, and didn’t get him far. The drone just hauled him up over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and Mer finally gave up. He lifted his head as the drone walked away and saw Kavanagh getting the same treatment. Somewhere, Ford was trying to yell and fight, not that he was having any more success than Mer. It was comforting to know that Ford had at least made it as far as Mer had, not that he expected that to matter much longer.
As he was bounced down the hallway on the drone’s back, Mer tried not to think about what was at the end of the line.
Chapter 5: High Noon
It would be a miracle if the lot of them weren’t discovered on the trek back to the ship, but the whole operation was one long, long Hail Mary pass and there wasn’t much John could do about that.
So, the thing is, I'm going away to a professional conference this week so I won't have time to upload tomorrow, and won't be adding to it until next week. Sorry. So here is a nice meaty chapter than ends on a cliffhanger for you! Yay?
John had to literally pull Ronon back from shooting every Wraith they came across. They needed stealth, so John was constantly dragging the larger man into small recesses or around corners in order to avoid a confrontation. He knew that he could not actually drag Ronon anywhere he didn’t want to be dragged, so it was a measure of agreement between them that Ronon allowed himself to be manhandled.
Teyla looked just as eager to start a fight but she understood the game plan and covered their six as they methodically worked their way into the interior of the ship. The place smelled like a strange combination of rancid rot and compost, almost swampy but damp and cold like a cave. They eventually hit a wider hallway that was lined with cocoons.
Cocoons, holding people.
They all seemed to be asleep, or in a coma, and John figured they had been drugged somehow to keep them complacent. Teyla and Ronon looked angrier and angrier the more cocoons they passed, but John’s eyes were on the LSD, following the dots. Three people had been separated from the others in the time it took John to successfully dock the gateship where it wouldn’t be tripped over—the cloak would keep it from being seen, but no one would miss walking into it.
It felt like forever before they found their people, who were all socked into their own cocoons. Ronon and Teyla quietly and quickly pulled them out while John oriented himself towards the direction of the missing three. Ronon leaned over his shoulder while Teyla dealt with reviving the survivors enough so they could walk. John regretted not bringing a med kit along, it would have had smelling salts. The longer it took for them to wake up, the more dangerous it was for all of them. The two Marines pulled out faster than the two scientists, but none of them were McKay or Ford.
“We go after them, we’ll give up our advantage. We can’t stay in the shadows forever.” Ronon pointed at the three dots.
“One of them is McKay,” John replied, although he knew it was a nonsensical answer. He didn’t like the guy and Ronon had no idea who he was, so it was the most pointless thing he could have said. He turned to Teyla. “Can you get these people back to the gateship?”
She nodded as she helped one of the scientists to stand.
“I keyed it to you and Ronon, it will open and let you inside before closing up again. You can’t fly it, but it will be safe place. Once Stackhouse recovers he can pilot it, if necessary.”
She frowned, unhappy to be relegated to waiting for him, but one of them had to get the others to relative safety, and John honestly figured Ronon would probably be better in a fire fight if it came to that, as he had been going up against the Wraith for years.
Teyla seemed to follow the same thought process, though, and eventually nodded.
“What…what you doing?” Stackhouse coughed, holding himself against the wall.
“Getting our people back. Go with Tey—The Emmagen, keep the civilians safe, don’t start any fights.” John snapped in his best “I’m the officer here, soldier” voice, which was sorely underused but apparently still effective. Stackhouse gave him a sardonic, barely-there salute but turned to help get the others moving as ordered.
It would be a miracle if the lot of them weren’t discovered on the trek back to the ship, but the whole operation was one long, long Hail Mary pass and there wasn’t much John could do about that.
He and snuck forward and down into the bowels of the ship. The walls got closer, the doorways thinner, and the smell worse but it was clear they were heading into an important area. The three life signs he was tracking kept blinking encouragingly. When they heard voices, they crouched down and crabwalked to a doorway that opened into a large vaulted room, where Ford and Kavanagh and McKay were on their knees before a hideous, tall female-looking Wraith. A queen, John’s memory helpfully supplied. Ronon raised his gun, but John put his hand on it, shaking his head. Around the room were scattered a large number of Wraith, both the tall hunters and the stocky drones. John had no doubts that a shootout would end badly for them, without some kind of advantage other than surprise.
His memory kept tracking, though, with the information Atlantis had shared with him about the Wraith filling his head. He motioned for Ronon to stay where he was, and hoped the guy would know when the time was right. John crept away, looking to find a way to go high. The vaulted ceiling had a lot of openings, and all John needed was one.
The queen was hysterically bizarre, a cross between a bad 80s new wave video and a cheap horror movie villain. She moved with elegance and grace, but it reminded Mer of a spider and he was creeped out enough without that image. Her red hair flowed beautifully as she screeched through her pointed teeth, and it was such a dichotomy of natural beauty and stomach-curdling ugliness that Mer felt like he was in shock. Although, he thought that it was a fair bet that he actually was in shock.
Ford looked stern and self-sacrificing, Kavanagh as if he was going to piss himself if he hadn’t already, and the Queen kept howling about finding Earth. Mer guessed that somehow, the weird mind tricks of the Wraith extended, in the case of Queens, to a form of mind reading and she had picked up on the images of Mer’s homeworld as it had filtered through their drugged consciousness. Not enough, though, to tell her where Earth was, and Mer appreciated small favors.
It was clear that Ford was going to fall on his sword before giving anything up, and Mer was willing to try, but Kavanagh was the weak link. It was no surprise that she focused on him first.
“You could save yourself. Worship me. Tell me what I want to know and live,” she snarled, dragging a finger along Kavanagh’s cheek in a parody of seduction.
His jaw worked uselessly in fear for a second before he rallied. “I’m an engineer! I don’t know how to get to Earth from here!”
“Then you are useless to me,” she said simply, pulling back her feeding hand to strike.
“Wait! I know who does! I can tell you who knows!” Kavanagh screamed.
The Queen paused, then lowered her hand.
“Fuck you, Kavanagh, you going to sell out your whole fucking planet?” Mer shouted before a drone hit the back of his head to shut him up.
“He knows! McKay knows where Earth is and how to get there! Just don’t kill me!” Kavanagh was pleading and Ford looked ready to murder him personally, if only he could.
She gave Mer a long look, then turned back to Kavanagh. “I think you know more than you admit.” She struck, her hand slamming into chest. He screamed as she loomed over him. Mer could almost see her reading Kavanagh’s mind, sorting through the morass of stupidity and cowardice to find what she needed to know as his body aged and he screamed and screamed and screamed.
Mer almost didn’t register when a shot rang out and Kavanagh went silent. He blinked to see the Queen holding up her hand, a bullet hole cut cleanly through it, although it was already starting to heal. She shrieked in frustration, but Kavanagh was dead at her feet, shot through the heart. The Wraith around them went crazy with activity as more shots rang out, as well as the sound of something that sounded a lot like a zat. The Queen was under heavy fire from above and Mer was doing his best not to end up the same way, falling down to make himself a smaller target. The Wraith were ignoring him, though, and that was enough to allow Mer to scramble to the edge of the room.
Mer looked up to see Sheppard in some kind of cubby hole in the ceiling, throwing his P-90 straight down into the fray. Ford caught it like a circus performer and used it to push back the Wraith who were trying for him, laying down controlled fire. The zapping sound kept on and Mer tried to figure out what the hell he was supposed to be doing, if anything. He hated feeling helpless more than any other emotion he could name, but it was a time for firepower, not intelligence. He stayed low, trying to remain invisible.
Sheppard came loping in, not quite running, and looking like he was in pain which Mer figured he probably was. It was hard to make out what was going on but Mer knew Ford would run out of bullets soon. He looked for Sheppard and saw him improbably running along the long table that was in the middle of the room swinging one of the drone’s machete-like swords while Ford and some huge giant held back the Wraith fighters with careful shots. There was long screeching like nails on a chalkboard that Mer knew instinctively was the Queen shouting in rage, but it was cut short with a wet hacking sound.
Then all hell broke loose.
Chapter 6: Leave No One Behind
It was like being locked up in a Wraith mental institution gone off the rails, which was something Mer thought should be funny but totally wasn’t.
More! Story is up to 13k words and still not done, so definitely lots more to post. Thanks everyone for readng along and being patient with delays. <3
Whatever edge John hoped to gain by decapitating the Queen Bitch evaporated under the oppressive wail of grief that the Wraith fighters started up. Ronon and Ford kept firing into the crowd, taking a few down. While it seemed the fight should be over, the Wraith were not dropping dead or anything, and the three of them were vastly outnumbered.
Then John realized he was standing high on the table, completely surrounded by hysterical Wraith…and completely ignored.
Looking down to where the queen had fallen, his stomach churned. They were fighting for the privilege of ripping her apart and eating her. The room buzzed with their insanity, or John’s brain buzzed with it, and he stepped away slowly from the carnage. He saw Ronon standing alone taking pot shots at the writhing mass of Wraith attacking each other trying to get at the Queen’s body, and Ford doing pretty much the same thing a few steps closer to the door. When John caught Ford’s eye, he signaled him to stand down and back away.
Ford did, then bent over and pulled McKay up. They had lost Kavanagh but otherwise their casualties were at a minimum, and John couldn’t even lie to himself that he wasn’t relieved to see McKay walking. Except for the fact that John was surrounded could not get off the table without jumping over the crazy Wraith, and he was pretty sure that would end with him in pieces. Neither his bad hip nor his recently damaged ankle was up to even trying after the stunt he pulled to get on the table. He looked helplessly over at McKay, who saw the problem in an instant, his eyes narrowing as he tried to sort out a solution. He stepped forward unthinkingly but Ford pulled him back.
It was Ronon who cut a swath through the incoherent mass with his killer phaser gun until he reached the table, kicking bodies both dead and alive out of his way. The Wraith swarming on the floor reminded John of an ant colony that had been stepped on. He had run into enough red ants in the South to get chills from the thought, but not time dwell on it as Ronon slung him over his shoulder, turned, and walked out.
They weren’t followed.
“They’ve all just gone insane, or something,” Ford said as they cautiously worked their way through the halls. He sounded awestruck, which Mer had to admit was his reaction as well. The Wraith drones they saw were attacking the ship itself, ripping at the fibrous walls silently. The hunters they saw were fighting each other or killing the drones with their own machetes. It was like being locked up in a Wraith mental institution gone off the rails, which was something Mer thought should be funny but totally wasn’t.
Sheppard was limping behind him, the giant guy—Ron, or Rowan, or something—helping him along. When they came to a juncture Ford stopped, and they all pulled up short.
“It’s too bad we can’t take more of them with us.” He motioned a gun at the row of cocoons that lined the walls of the wider hallway.
“Well it’s not like we can just land the ship and—” Mer stopped. He turned to Sheppard, snapping his fingers. “LSD.”
John shook it at him. “I didn’t lose it, McKay, for fuck’s sake.”
“No, no, look, maybe we can just land the ship and let everyone out.”
Sheppard squinted at him, leaning further against the giant guy, which made Mer want to growl. Not that he had right to lay claim, but…he sort of did. By his rules, anyway. Sheppard didn’t notice or didn’t care, he was busy staring at Mer as if he was insane.
Sheppard opened his mouth to say something but the giant spoke up instead. “Can you do that? Can you save all these people?”
“Yes. Maybe. I’m not a fucking pilot, and we’d have to find the ‘bridge’ and I’m scared to think what they would even call such a thing, and we’ve still got thousands of Wraith wandering around here, even if they are batshit insane. Not to mention, completely different technology.”
“I can fly it,” Sheppard snapped, pushing the giant away. “If we can save these people, that’s what we have to do.”
“You are a wreck, you can barely stand,” Mer snapped back at him.
“It was your fucking idea in the first place. And I don’t need to stand to fly. Get me to the goddamn bridge, McKay.”
“Then do it.” The giant spoke up again, apparently continuing his conversation with Mer. He looked angry and hopeful all at the same time.
“Who are you?” Mer asked, but Sheppard waved the LSD at him.
“What are we looking for?”
“Wait, how did you get here in the first place?” Mer turned to Sheppard.
“I was kind of wondering that myself, along with where we’re going,” Ford said, sounding frustrated.
“I flew the gateship here. Look, I’ll give you the AAR later, right now—“
“You! Flew? Oh my god.” Mer pinched his nose.
“It’s a sweet ride.” Sheppard sounded defensive.
“Are we doing this or not?” The giant crossed his arms and looked—successfully—menacing.
“We’re doing this, big guy. Hang on.” Sheppard patted the guy on the arm before turning to Mer. “Look, me and Ronon and Teyla came here in the gateship. We got Stackhouse and few others out of the cocoons and sent them with Teyla back to the ship. Okay? Can we focus on the rescue plan now?”
John was being snotty but Mer sagged with relief to hear Teyla’s name so he decided to be forgiving. Nodding, he told John how to program the LSD to pick up on electrical and radio signals, along with anything else that might point them towards a hub. Technically, Ford was the ranking military officer, but for some reason after the whole showdown in the Queen’s throne room (or whatever it was) he was letting Mer and Sheppard take lead. John’s background as an officer was shining through his pain as he arranged their little team to head back in the direction they just came from in order to find someplace Mer was pretty sure he did not really want to be.
Except even a genius had a conscience sometimes, and he couldn’t leave a Hive ship full of people to die just because that was the easy way out.
Chapter 7: C'Mon Baby, Hold Together
“Do we have time to fly this thing anywhere?” John asked in the dead silence. “Because if we don’t, we’re making a run for the gateship and hoping the whole place doesn’t depressurize before we get there.”
Every Wraith they saw on the way was busy killing each other or trying to eat the walls, and John suspected his little group of people could play a Sousa march on trombones and they’d be ignored, but they moved with as much stealth as they could. Which, with McKay, was not much.
“This fucking place makes no sense!” McKay snarled, poking at one of the consoles. The “bridge” was murky and dark and empty with no viewports and no chairs.
John thought that wasn’t quite true. He could see that it was demonstrably a command center, smaller consoles arrayed around a central one, with monitors displaying information. Aside from that, though, he had to admit McKay had a point.
Ronon, who had been taking pot shots at every crazy ship-eating Wraith they came across simply because he could, kicked a console. “Meaningless.”
John eyed him. “You know something about space ships?”
“I was a Specialist,” he said, shrugging, as if that explained anything. John decided not to pursue the matter just then.
Ford was in position by the only door into the dead end cave, which was as reassuring as things were going to get. He was facing out, apparently trusting McKay to solve the problem. John had to marvel at that level of trust; no one had put that kind faith in John since Anne died, and even before then he was considered a loose cannon in the squadrons he served in. The kind of trust Ford handed to McKay unquestioningly was humbling, and John shoved down a flare of jealousy that shot through him from nowhere. He turned to McKay and snapped at him. “Are we screwed?”
“Yes. All we have is the LSD; what we need is one of my laptops; I could probably splice a cable into this mess, but absent that, we’re flying through space on a piece of flotsam.”
“Now you tell us, McKay?” John snarled, shoving into McKay’s personal space.
McKay held his ground. “Yes, now! Because I knew I wouldn’t know that until I saw it. Sue me for hoping for the fucking best, okay? Back off, Sheppard.” McKay pushed him hard, and despite expecting it and knowing what to do, John’s hips and legs were not up to cooperating. He stumbled into the console. McKay reached out and grabbed him, pulling back to upright. They stood staring at each other for a moment, angry and aggressive and frustrated, and John suspected McKay would as soon fuck him as hit him. Instead, McKay let go and stepped back. He waved a hand over the console, his posture defensive but his voice discouraged. “If I had any idea what any of this even says, we’d have a chance. We know Wraith is some twisted derivative of Ancient, but damned if I can translate this by sight. You need Saint Daniel Fucking Jackson for that kind of miracle.”
“Or Doctor Haworth?” Ford asked from the doorway.
“Well, yes. He’s not useless, for a linguist.” McKay sighed, rubbing his eyes with one hand. “One reason we always bring him along.”
“Then it is fortunate that Dr. Haworth agreed to join me in our rescue attempt,” Teyla said calmly, walking into the room trailing both Haworth and Stackhouse. Ford was grinning like a loon, his hero-worship of Teyla apparent as he tracked her through the room. John rolled his eyes.
McKay huffed. “We didn’t need rescuing.”
“So I see.” Teyla smiled at him, not at all put off by McKay’s sour attitude. “But from the gateship, we could not determine that. Sergeant Stackhouse had the ship tracking you, and we saw you turn around and go back the way you came. We thought you had been cut off.”
John nodded, because if he had seen that he would have assumed the same thing.
“This is navigation!” Haworth broke in before McKay could start protesting again. McKay moved swiftly over to the console Haworth was at and they started bickering at each other while pointing at readouts.
John moved around the consoles, trying to mystically divine what they controlled. One of them was lit up like a Christmas tree, graphs and numbers going mad. John stared at it for a second before calling Haworth over. “What’s going on here?”
Haworth frowned, studying the output on the screens, running his fingers over words (or, at least John thought they were words) as if he could absorb their meaning. Then he shrugged. “Environmentals, I think. Oxygen, water…although it looks like ship structure is included, which is weird.”
They studied the information for a second before understanding slammed into John. “Fuck. Fuck! McKay!”
“What? Shut up. I’m busy.”
“McKay.” John spoke with all the authority born of being a Sheppard and an officer, which brought the room to a halt. Everyone stared at him, including Ford. John spoke very slowly while jabbing a finger at the console. “They are tearing the ship apart.”
“Yes, we saw that thank you—oh, fuck.” McKay ran over. “That’s bad.”
“I would say so.” John agreed, stepping aside. Haworth pointed out readings and McKay worked on putting it all together for a few minutes before McKay sucked in a breath.
“Hours, maybe. Hours.”
“I do not understand, Rodney,” Teyla said, her voice calm but demanding.
“They are literally tearing the ship apart. It’s mass suicide.” McKay’s hand waved wildly around for a second before he noticed what he was doing and yanked it down. John filed that reaction away to study later.
Ronon kicked a console again.
“Do we have time to fly this thing anywhere?” John asked in the dead silence. “Because if we don’t, we’re making a run for the gateship and hoping the whole place doesn’t depressurize before we get there.”
Ford and Stackhouse looked ready to herd everyone out the room right then, but John shook his head and they stood down, unhappy but willing to wait for a command decision.
McKay snapped his fingers and went back to the navigation console. “We’re in a system, actually. Space-gates are always in a system. Habitable planets? No idea. But we’re in a system. Let me…” He trailed off as he looked at the console. Haworth moved over to him, translating on the fly as McKay tried to work the controls. John went back to inspecting the consoles again, since there wasn’t anything he could do until they decided what they were doing. One console looked more like a video game controller writ large, and John knew instinctively it was the pilot station. He stepped up to it and suddenly his mind was awash with different knowledge – data from his interface with Atlantis, showing him schematics for Wraith hives. Their technology was profoundly static, and the control station he was at was only slightly different than what he “remembered,” the primary difference being that the Wraith had scaled up over the centuries. The Hive ship he was on was at least five times bigger than the Hive ships the Ancients faced.
Larger, and more complicated, but otherwise very closely related. He knew the Wraith lived for centuries, which would explain the lack of significant change. Putting his hands on the controls, he applied pressure and one of the screens scrolled information.
“What are you doing?” McKay snapped, not moving from the navigation station.
“Piloting this thing. She’s responding, so they haven’t destroyed the engines. You need to program in our course so I can follow it.”
“I don’t have a course, Sheppard!” McKay spat out.
“Then find one!” John shouted back.
“Dr. McKay, this is planet has to be it. Close enough to the space gate, anyway.” Haworth pointed at something on the console.
“We don’t know that, we don’t have any readings on it and—”
“Plot it, McKay,” John growled. The ship was moving but sluggish, and John did not know where he was going.
“As if the ship will survive reentry!” McKay yelled.
“This was your idea!” John yelled back.
“That was before I knew those things were going to rip it apart with their bare teeth!”
John ground his own teeth, took a deep breath and nodded. “Haworth, plot the course if McKay won’t. Ford, get everyone back to the gateship. Stackhouse can pilot it off this thing while I try to land.” John’s hands moved over the controls with a memory that wasn’t his, but was close enough to let him figure out what he was doing.
There was a long silence. When Haworth finally bent over the console, McKay shoved him off. “Elizabeth was right, you’re a suicidal menace.”
“I don’t plan on dying, McKay.”
“Shut the fuck up and let me work. Ford, do as he says and get everyone out of here.” McKay punched at the controls.
“You need me to help,” Haworth announced, stepping up to the console again.
“I swore I would not leave without you, if you were alive,” Teyla said, putting a hand on McKay’s shoulder.
Ford and Stackhouse looked conflicted for a moment until Ford’s resolve gelled. “We’re staying, Doc. Sergeant, cover the door.”
John kept looking at the readouts, ignoring the sentimental declarations being made without him. Maps were all the same, even on an alien space ship with three dimensional displays and points labeled in Wraith. He focused on the path that was slowly building itself in front of him in response to McKay’s input, pushing the half-gutted monstrosity to its breaking point, hoping that it would not reach that point any time before, during, or after atmospheric entry.
Chapter 8: On a Wing and a Prayer
Sheppard stood alone on the other side of the room, cramped and tense as he fought the controls with his whole body, as if he were really into a good game of Halo.
Mer worked at the controls with Haworth talking in his ear like a damn Wraith whisperer. Teyla kept her hand on his shoulder while Ford stood nearby, vibrating with tension. Sheppard stood alone on the other side of the room, cramped and tense as he fought the controls with his whole body, as if he were really into a good game of Halo. The giant Rowan was by the door with Stackhouse, although staring at Mer as if trying to read him.
Mer gave Ford a quick look, causing him to step closer. Mer whispered. “Get over to Sheppard, and give him some backup.”
Ford looked confused. “I can’t fly.”
“I know that, stupid! I mean moral support. Hell, I might mean holding up so he doesn’t fall down. If you haven’t noticed he’s barely able to stand right now. Just get over there.” Mer hissed. Ford frowned and cast a rebellious look at Teyla, who nodded in agreement with Mer.
“We are all in this together, Aiden,” she said softly.
Ford went across the room. He might have said something to Sheppard, but Mer was back to sorting out the intricacies of navigating a behemoth, doomed starship full of suicidal Wraith. Haworth kept talking, explaining that it was still base-10 which made everything make so much more sense, so Mer took a few risks to cut their flight time down.
“Haworth, get over to the environmentals. We may have areas depressurizing already, we can’t have the plasma blow in during entry, we’ll—“
“Got it.” Rowan was already at the console before Mer finished talking. Mer frowned at Haworth, who shrugged and not-very-subtly scooted over to see what the giant alien was doing.
After a moment, Haworth let out a surprised huff. “You can read Wraith.”
“Enough to get by. I’m no scholar, but you said this is environmentals, and I can figure it from there.” The guy said, fiddling with the controls. “They have not breached the outer hull. I am venting bleeding ways to kill those close to the skin; we will lose some of the cocooned.” His voice was firm but there was a still a note of regret.
Mer really had no idea what the hell the guy meant by “bleeding ways,” but he knew the sound of acceptable losses. “Any idea how many people are stashed here?” He asked, redoing the entry math.
Sheppard shouted at him. “Make up your fucking mind, McKay! I’ve got to fly this pig; don’t leave me hanging!”
“We’re twenty minutes out at this rate. You’ve got time to adjust. Deal.”
“About 7,000, best estimate.” Rowan won Mer’s respect by simply ignoring them to answer the question he had been asked.
“Then even if we lose ten percent we’re getting over 6,000 out alive. Focus on that.” Mer tapped the monitor as the doubled checked his numbers and Haworth translated them to verify. “And focus on keeping the integrity. We need a solid hull or we’re burning up.”
Rowan ignored him but Mer didn’t care. Either he could manage it or not, because it wasn’t as if anyone else would do better, and Mer was too busy refiguring on the fly as Sheppard guided them along Mer’s numbers like a damn drunk.
“Sheppard, I can’t make the numbers right enough to compensate for you being sloppy.”
“I swear to God, McKay, I’m going to cut your fucking tongue out.”
“Oh, did I wound the proud Air Force pilot honor? Fly straight you son of a bitch!”
“It’s like surfing a trash can lid over gravel!”
Sheppard bared his teeth and leaned into the console controls. “I…will…kick…your ass!”
“Trajectory! Trajectory! And what are you, five? Pulling my pig tails?”
“I’m losing the alignment! Do your fucking job!”
Mer bent over his console and reset the course again. There was a long pause while Sheppard flew it and the ship snapped and crackled with noises that reminded Mer of whenever he popped his back. The ship wasn’t shuddering or twisting or anything that Mer would expect of any kind of normal, human constructed ship under so much stress, but it was still clear from the vibrations they did feel that things were going wrong.
Rowan growled just as Sheppard let out an explosive breath. Mer looked over at him to see Ford literally propping him up, his shoulder jammed in between Sheppard’s shoulder blades, one hand on Sheppard’s hip to keep them both steady.
Mer thought that if they lived through this, the first thing he was going to do was toss Sheppard’s free and easy ass into the shower to wash everyone else off of him.
“Entering atmosphere,” Sheppard ground out.
Mer looked at Teyla, who was still standing at his side. He wanted to say something profound, something worth dying for, but his brain shorted out. “My name is Mer.”
Her head tilted. “Not Rodney?”
“That too. But not really. That’s…official. Only family call me Mer. Hedy…Hedy called me Mer.”
Teyla’s eyes crinkled as she gave him a sad smile. He was sure she did not really understand the intricacies of Earth naming conventions, but she got the idea. The floor bucked under them as she leaned in for the Athosian forehead touching thing. Mer grabbed the console for balance but met her, and they stood like that for a moment before he pulled back to look at the console. There was nothing he could do at that point; entering atmosphere was something that would give an experience pilot nightmares, and while Sheppard was experienced he had not piloted anything in years and never once flown outside of any planet’s atmosphere.
Mer looked at his people—Teyla and Ford and Stackhouse and Haworth, and even Sheppard and his huge alien who could read Wraith—and realized he had put his life and the lives of people he genuinely cared about into Sheppard’s hands. It was all down to a man who hated himself more than anyone could ever hate him, who no one trusted and had a habit of letting down everyone who relied on him.
Mer knew he had done the right thing, he just hoped they lived long enough for Sheppard to realize that too.
Chapter 9: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
The landing on the planet had not been what John would call whisper-soft, in fact it was more like dropping an egg on concrete but speed mattered more than finesse. Especially after Ronon announced a hull breech at 50,000 feet.
John let himself collapse, stumbling backwards into Ford, hoping the young Marine officer would catch him. Ford did, wrapping his arms around John’s torso and dragging him down to the ground in a controlled fall.
The landing on the planet had not been what John would call whisper-soft, in fact it was more like dropping an egg on concrete but speed mattered more than finesse. Especially after Ronon announced a hull breech at 50,000 feet. It was better than a failure in the vacuum of space or during atmospheric entry, but it still wasn’t good, and John had arrowed the ship for the flattest surface McKay could find. They landed like a prop job skidding down a run way in bad weather, but they landed, and as far as John could tell the ship was still officially in one piece.
And so was he.
Ford gave him a quick once over before standing up and running over to where McKay was grinning.
“We did it, McKay!” Ford yelled, grabbing a slightly dazed Haworth in a one-armed hug. He held his hand up for a high-five with Ronon, who looked at his hand quizzically. “You slap it! In celebration, because we made it,” Ford said exuberantly, and John cringed on his behalf before Ronon slammed his hand into Ford’s. Ford was a Marine, though, and took it with a pained shout of victory.
“You! Rowan, can you tell us how many Wraith are onboard?” McKay snapped his fingers.
“Right. Dex. Well?”
“Number’s been dropping. Less than ten thousand now.”
John’s stomach dropped. Ten thousand Wraith. He glanced at McKay who looked as sick as John felt. Even Ford lost some of his exuberance at that announcement. Everyone stood around, frozen in the moment of victory combined with a real fear of what was to come next.
“McKay, send Stackhouse and Haworth back to the ship, have them fly out and dial Atlantis from the space gate. We need help, and we’ve got thousands of survivors to get out of this fucking thing alive if we can.”
Haworth had migrated over to a different console. “As far as I can tell, this is one of the Ancient’s terraformed worlds; should look a lot like British Columbia outside.”
McKay snorted. “Don’t they all? I leave home to go to exotic alien worlds and they all look like Mother’s summer estate. Well at least the air will be breathable.” He turned to Stackhouse. “Get out, get us some back up. Let Elizabeth know we’re going to need every jumper and someplace to temporarily stash five to six thousand people that isn’t Atlantis. Be careful on the way, because I’m sure the Wraith are more interested in hari kari than having a snack but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.”
“Ronon, go with them.” John motioned over to Stackhouse, who tried not to frown.
“You’ve still got a tracker in your back. We know the gateship cloak blocks it. You aren’t safe here, and neither are we.”
“Wait, what? Tracker? You’re a Runner?” McKay pointed at Ronon accusingly. Ronon pulled himself up to full height and looked down on McKay like he wanted to step on him.
“Drop me off wherever. Some Hive will pick up the signal and come for me.” Ronan snapped, stalking towards the door.
“Not what I meant. Ronon!” John yelled, trying to get him to stop despite being stuck on the floor.
Ronon brought himself up short at Teyla’s use of his name, but he kept facing the door.
“It is time to stop, Runner. The Lantean doctors can perhaps remove the tracker, so you will let us try to help you. Go to the ship as Sheppard asks, and we will determine your path when there are not thousands of people to transport and settle.”
Ronon turned, bowed his head to her and then to John before walking out. Stackhouse and Haworth scrambled to catch up to him.
Ford went back to guarding the door, with Stackhouse gone. McKay and Teyla stood by the navigation console, looking at John who was very happy to be sitting on the kind-of disgusting floor. It was a bit squishy, more like a gym mat than a solid floor. At that point, he didn’t care.
“Ford, we need a recon of where we are. Get me a sitrep.” John waved a lazy hand at the door, his head buzzing with endorphins and pain, and not giving a damn that he technically was not in the command structure at all.
Teyla stepped over to where Ford was looking conflicted. “I wish to understand our situation better, as well. Together, it will be safer.” She turned to nod at McKay. “Stay here, stay armed. We will remain within shouting distance.”
McKay just nodded, leaning heavily against the navigation console and staring at the floor. John understood how hard the come-down from a crisis could hit a person, so leaned back on his hands to enjoy the silence. He also appreciated the complete, utter lack of need for him to move any body part, almost all of which were throbbing in promise of future agony.
McKay launched himself off the console, stalked over to John with a half-mad look in his eyes and stepped over him, straddling John’s legs. He crouched down, grabbed John’s shirt and pulled him into a searing kiss. John’s arm flailed for purchase until he got one hand set against the floor, the other twisted in McKay’s shirt.
The kiss was hot and wet, and McKay smelled sweaty and human and John would have been hard if his body weren’t halfway to collapse. He opened his mouth to let McKay in, wanting taste and heat, the salt of McKay’s mouth on his tongue. McKay groaned, his tongue darting out to skim over John’s, their lips mashed together painfully. McKay yanked himself back but did not release his grip.
“You insane fucker, we should be dead.”
John’s brain felt like syrup, pleased and sweet and turned on. He smiled, knowing he probably looked deranged. “You’re welcome.”
McKay leaned forward to whisper against his lips. “Asshole.”
John smiled as he kissed McKay, drifting his free hand to rub over McKay’s hard on. McKay swatted at his hand and stood up, stepping away. “I don’t need to be serviced, thanks.”
Annoyed at having the one thing that felt good right then taken away, John glared at him. “Liar.”
“Maybe you can’t tell the difference, but I wasn’t...never mind.”
“You weren’t what? Sucking my face? Taking advantage? Because from here I think that’s all you know how to do.”
A look of pure fury whipped across McKay’s face before he shut it down. “Nice way to kill the afterglow, Sheppard.”
“Is that what we were sharing? Felt more like foreplay.” John ran a hand over his groin. His cock still wasn’t in the game, but that wasn’t the point.
“Oh, did the hookers on the Strip teach you those moves? Because I can tell it’s practiced.” McKay sneered with more venom than the situation warranted, in John’s opinion.
“Hell I taught them. Jesus, you’re an asshole. I was just going to give you a hand!” John bit out the comment, leaning back on his hands again as the creeping sensation of imminent pain started up again. It must have shown on his face despite himself, because McKay crouched down again, although to his side instead of over his legs.
“You’re out of practice playing the hero, Sheppard. How badly did you hurt yourself?”
John thought he was going to get whiplash from McKay’s mood swings. “I’m fine.”
“Bullshit. But if that’s how you want to play it.” McKay shook his head and stood up just as Ford and Teyla reappeared.
“Lieutenant?” John asked before McKay could commandeer the situation again.
Ford grimaced. “Still a hell of a lot of Wraith, sir. But they don’t care about us, seem to be busy killing each other off.” Ford did not even notice that he had called John “sir” and John was not about to point it out, despite being uncomfortable with the old military appellation.
Teyla nodded. “They are also ignoring the cocooned people, who are themselves still unconscious.”
McKay nodded. “I figured the webbing has a chemical compound that puts them into some kind of hibernation state. We’ll want medical to take samples, something like that could be helpful if we can manufacture it.”
John stared at where McKay was looking thoughtfully at the wall, his mind completely absorbed with the science and not all the comatose people. Looking over at Ford, John sighed. “Then we’ll keep them there as long as we can. Might make transporting them easier if we don’t have hundreds waking up at the same time.”
“Yes, but…” Teyla stopped, grimacing. Something about her posture pulled McKay back into the moment.
“What? What are you picking up?” McKay grilled her.
She frowned. “Not a queen, if you were concerned about that. It is simply that this place, this ship, is dying.”
“Yeah, we got that,” John snapped. The pain in his legs was starting to blossom now all the endorphins were tapering off.
Teyla sighed. “Have you not noticed?”
“Noticed what?” McKay glanced around, looking carefully at the consoles.
“This ship is organic, Rodn—Mer. It is a living thing which is being killed from the inside out.”
John snatched his hands off the floor, barely managing to keep from toppling over when he did.
“Ewww.” McKay—Mer—scrunched his face up in disgust. “Although that makes sense. Hmmm.” He walked over the wall and started poking at it. Ford just looked freaked out.
“How?” John finally asked.
Teyla visibly paused to think about her answer. She looked around, as if listening to something. “It is, I think, the life cycle of a queen? It has a consciousness that is murky and old. But it is dying, and it knows it is dying, and welcomes death.”
John found her whole speech creepy. “How the hell do you know that? Are you telepathic?”
McKay stepped between them, as if protecting Teyla from an attack. “None of your damn business, Sheppard. The point she’s trying to make, if you are too busy being in agony to figure it out, is that when the ship dies it will start to decay.”
Ford shook his head. “We’ve found old, abandoned hive ships before. They were husks but they weren’t decayed.”
“Exactly. Abandoned. Probably given up for a newer or bigger model. We’ve never found a hive ship where the queen died without an heir because they rot after the Wraith kill it, and each other.”
John finally got it. “Shit. We have to wake everyone up anyway.”
“Exactly.” McKay groaned.
John’s LSD suddenly chirped. He picked it up. “Oh, hey, it’s a text message from Stackhouse.”
McKay stomped over. “They can do that? Why didn’t anyone tell me they could do that?” He reached for the LSD with “grabby hands” but John yanked it out of his grasp.
“Uh uh. Mine.”
“You are such a fucking child! Fine!”
“Gentlemen,” Teyla said, slicing through their verbal slap fest. “What does Stackhouse say?”
Trying not to cringe at her wordless rebuke, John read the message. “Beckett’s coming through the gate to operate on Ronon, and Lorne is putting together a small platoon. Dr. Weir is coming over on a later run, once the platoon is here and we’ve got some security on the ground.”
Ford groaned. “Great. We better go out to greet ‘em, otherwise they’ll just set up a Wraith shooting gallery.” He paused. “Not that I’m opposed to that.”
“Me neither, Lieutenant, me neither,” John sighed.
Chapter 10: No One Comes Out Unscathed
Mer turned to Elizabeth and gave her a combination AAR and sit rep. Her expressions were almost funny, if they hadn’t been so genuine. She went from shocked to amazed to appalled as Mer wrapped up the story and let her know the numbers.
Wrapping up! Notice how this is now 10 out of 12 chapters? Yes, that means I have drafted out chapter 12, and that's where this story ends. I suspect the 'verse itself will keep going, though...
Dex refused anesthetic, the very thought of which made Mer’s stomach curdle in sympathy pain. He could put up with a lot—days without sleep, tasteless food from the mess, off-the-shelf military boots—but physical pain was a step too far. The operation took less than fifteen minutes, surprisingly, and Carson snuck in a local when Dex passed out for a few seconds, and then the giant, filthy Runner was stumbling out of the gateship and asking for Sheppard.
“Teyla’s helping him get here,” Mer waved a hand back behind him, where Teyla was laboriously coaxing the crumpled ball of fragile paper that was John Sheppard towards the landing site. Sheppard had, of fucking course, refused a gurney and insisted he walk off the Hive ship, for given values of “walk” that Mer defined as “hobbling piteously with a distinct leaning tower of Pisa affect.”
Dex growled at him. “You let him?”
“Sheppard’s his own man, Dex, you better figure that out right quick and—
“I mean you let him touch the Emmagen?” Dex looked at him like he was flat out insane, then jogged off to intervene. Mer figured that if not for the recent back surgery, Dex would be running. He shook his head.
“What’s that about then?” Carson stepped down the ramp, rubbing lotion into his hands. Mer admired how soft Carson’s hands were; he remembered a time when his own were immaculately manicured and soft as silk. He had been in Pegasus awhile, though, and such luxuries were unknown to him. He figured he’d go for the full extravagant mani-pedi with the toe-nibbling fish at that one spa he loved back in Vancouver once the Wraith were eradicated. So, maybe in ten to twenty years, then. He grimaced.
“Mer?” Carson looked at him quizzicly.
“Sorry. Lost in thought. It’s been a long day.”
“Aye. We thought you were all gone, for good. You missed the dial in, and when we got there all that was left were…well.” Carson stopped there. Mer knew they had found the desiccated bodies of the people who had not made it onto the Hive ship. He patted Carson’s shoulder.
“We got out.”
Carson gave him a comically wide-eyed expression. “That’s not ‘getting out,’ man!” He waved his hands towards where the Hive ship was a fractured, hulking mess less than a mile off. “That’s bleeding insane, is what that is! Land a Hive ship? What possessed you?”
Mer rubbed his face. “Six thousand people trapped on board.”
Carson paled. “Six…six thousand? Bloody hell, what we garn do wi’ all t’em?” His brogue went into overtime as the numbers sunk in.
“English, Carson, or something like it, please,” Mer sighed, rolling his eyes.
“Oh, you! You!” Carson poked at him with a finger. He stopped when he finally saw Sheppard, who by then had been transferred to Dex’s not-quite-loving care—it was pretty obvious they were yelling at each other about whether Dex was just going to carry him or not. Teyla had simply walked off, heading towards Mer and Carson. By the time she got there, some kind of détente had been reached, with Dex holding Sheppard up like a rag doll with his hands in Sheppard’s arm pits. It was ridiculous, and Mer was not happy about how comfortable Sheppard seemed with Dex pawing all over him.
“Teyla, love, it’s so good to see you alive!” Carson exclaimed, distracted from starting at Sheppard and pulling her into a hug. He was in fact the only person who was allowed to hug her, although Carson probably did not even know that. It was simply that “cuddly” was his default setting, which Mer thought kind of set back the fierce reputation of the Scottish highlanders a few centuries.
“I am, Carson, thank you. It was Mer and Sheppard who did this, though—I would never have thought…or dreamed…” She waved her hand at the Hive ship. Mer wondered if the ship was sending out some kind of energy wave that rendered people speechless. But Teyla’s expression was one of unconstrained joy. “Thousands of people, Carson! Thousands! Never has such a rescue ever been sung about!”
“Oh aye, I’m sure of that.” Carson grimaced as he looked back at the Hive ship.
“Hey, Doc.” John drawled, pushing Dex off of him at last, walking the last couple of meters to the gateship on his own. “Looks like a party.”
“Lord, you mean you look like Hell. Stay there, let me get my kit!” Carson ran back into the ship just as another gateship appeared overhead.
“Elizabeth’s here,” Mer said unnecessarily. Sheppard nodded then leaned against Dex like they were doing a Star Wars cosplay, Han Solo and the Wookie style. “Oh, don’t get comfortable. She’s going to want the AAR in triplicate.” Mer stomped off, motioning for them to follow and ignoring John’s pained huff of annoyance.
By the time Carson came back out, Mer, Teyla, Sheppard and Dex were heading for Elizabeth’s gateship which landed just a few meters away. Carson moved to come over but Mer pointed to the Hive ship. “Find Ford!”
Carson frowned but nodded, and trotted off with his Marine escort in tow.
When the ramp to Elizabeth’s gateship lowered, Mer’s little group came face to face with three heavily armed Marines who did not look happy.
“It’s us. Just us,” Mer snapped. “The Wraith are all in the really big ship committing mutual suicide.”
“Gentlemen.” Elizabeth’s calm voice worked like parting the sea and the Marines stepped aside. Lorne appeared, obviously amused. Mer assumed he had been piloting the ship.
Elizabeth looked startled when she spotted Sheppard limping over. “Mr. Sheppard, please, come inside and sit down.”
Sheppard nodded, trudging up the ramp like a condemned man, Ronon hovering behind as if to catch him if he toppled. The Marines bristled but Mer gave the “he’s an ally” hand signal to Lorne, who subtly motioned the Marines to back down. They were not too subtle about keeping their safety switches off, though, and Mer could not blame them. Ronon looked like a comic book barbarian, dirty and splattered in Wraith blood with wild hair.
Sheppard did not make it to a bench, collapsing slowly a few steps past Elizabeth. Lorne and Ronon both reached out, helping Sheppard make it to the floor without landing like Humpty Dumpty. When he was settled Mer turned to Elizabeth and gave her a combination AAR and sit rep. Her expressions were almost funny, if they hadn’t been so genuine. She went from shocked to amazed to appalled as Mer wrapped up the story and let her know the numbers.
“Six thousand people?” She asked weakly. “We have to transport and shelter six thousand people?”
“I’m open to ideas,” Mer snapped.
“Six thousand people, a third again as many Wraith, a dying ship! What! How?”
Mer stared at her, too surprised to form a reply. For all the times they faced impossible odds and imminent death, he had never seen her unable to talk in complete sentences or waving her arms around. Teyla was nodding in sympathy with Elizabeth, which wasn’t much help, and Lorne stood next to her, just as lost for words—although whether that was due to Mer being alive or Elizabeth being incoherent, it was hard to tell. Lorne really knew how to play the poker face, even in the middle of a crisis.
“It’s simple. We send in advanced team of Marines and field medics to pull people out of the cocoons and kill any Wraith who get in the way. We set up Marines and Athosians along the exit path to keep the lines out orderly and moving. We get everyone off the damn ship first, then deal with transport.”
The three of them looked down to where Sheppard was speaking, sitting on the ground, his legs bowed out in front of him, holding his head in his hands with his elbows on his knees. Mer could not even tell if his eyes were open or closed.
“McKay.” Sheppard paused. “The spacegate—can we just move it onto the planet? If we can set it down on the ground next to the ship, it will make evacuation that much easier.”
“What? No, of course we can’t. Gates are calibrated…well, maybe. No. But if we…wait, it might work.” Mer’s brain sorted through dozens of scenarios before he turned to Elizabeth. “Getting it onto the planet is the problem, we can’t just tow it in.”
“The Daedalus is weeks out.” Lorne offered.
“That! Yes, yes, the Daedalus can scoop it up and move it—”
“It’s still a long time to keep those people planet side,” Elizabeth murmured.
Sheppard never looked up. “We can get, maybe, twenty people or so onto a puddle jumper. That’s over 300 jumper trips to get them moved. If you think it will take less time to do it that way, then do it. But we only have, what, seven people certified to fly the jumpers? They’d each have to do 50 trips, give or take.”
“What the hell is a puddle jumper?” Lorne asked no one in particular.
“The gateship. Whatever.” Sheppard waved a hand around. “Anyway, it’s doable. Your main issues, whether you keep them on the planet or moved to the beta site, are potable water, waste disposal and food. That problem isn’t going to be solved no matter how fast we move ‘em.”
Mer watched curiously as Lorne unconsciously moved closer to Sheppard.
“We’re not ready to handle those numbers, not at the beta site. Not anywhere planetside,” he said directly to Sheppard.
Mer looked over at Elizabeth, who seemed to be as fascinated with the power play unfolding in front of them as Mer was.
“I know what you’re thinking, and it’s a bad idea. We don’t know who is in those ranks, they might not all be friendlies. We don’t want them on Atlantis, even if it is the only sewer system in Pegasus that can handle that many people.” Sheppard looked up at Lorne. “Sateda.”
Lorne looked surprised then turned to Mer. “It’s a ruin. Can it handle 6,000 evacuees?”
“Better than the beta site. We’ve mapped out the central city, we know what’s where. It was bombed to hell ten years ago and been rotting away ever since, but at the very least people can throw their shit down the sewer drains. Water might still be an issue.”
They all turned to stare at the Runner, who had been forgotten in the discussion. Mer crossed his arms. “The what?”
Mer pointed at his ear. “The word isn’t translating. Try again.”
Dex frowned. “The ‘training city’?”
“What, like a military base?” Sheppard asked.
Dex nodded. “Yes. Only used once a year, closed up otherwise. Training ended before the Wraith came. Need to check the water filtration system, find a way to power the grid, but it will open up. Can hold up to two thousand people, easy. Six thousand will be a stretch.” He shrugged.
“It wasn’t bombed?” Elizabeth asked, mirroring Mer’s stance.
“It was empty. No reason for the Wraith to take it out. I’ve been raiding the stores for years. Food’s no good anymore, but everything runs if you can power it. There’s corrosion but it’s not like Raxtrunny.”
Elizabeth frowned. “You mean the capital.”
Dex nodded unhappily.
Elizabeth nodded again, decisively. “Dr. McKay, get your team together and go with…who are you?” She turned back to Ronon.
Sheppard spoke up from the floor again. Mer wondered if he was even able to stand. “Specialist Ronon Dex, meet our, uh, High Commander Doctor Weir.”
Mer could tell that Sheppard made up the “high commander” crap on the fly, but Ronon bought it. He dropped to one knee and stared up at her fiercely with a fist over his heart. “Commander Doctor. I am yours, if you will have me.”
Mer and Lorne grinned at the way it was phrased, Sheppard coughed into his hand, and Weir went scarlet but she rolled with the punches. Mer loved her sometimes. “Ahh, thank you, Specialist Dex. We welcome your assistance.” She spoke formally and motioned for him to stand up. He glanced at Sheppard, who nodded towards Lorne as if ordering him to take Ronon along, and that was when Mer really understood who was in charge, whether anyone else did or not. Although the look on Elizabeth’s face suggested she saw the same thing he did.
As Mer watched Ronon trail Lorne out of the jumper—gateship, Sheppard sat up straighter. “McKay.”
“The stargate is still the fastest way to move people, and time is an issue here.”
“You heard her, the Daedalus is weeks out.” Mer motioned at Elizabeth, who nodded.
“What about the beamy thing?”
Mer exchanged looks with Elizabeth, who seemed to agree that Sheppard was just this side of delirious.
“I mean, the beam the Wraith use to cull.”
"Absolutely not, I won't have these already taumatized people go through the process of being culled again, even if it is in everyone's best interest," Elizabeth said firmly. "No."
Mer nodded in agreement. "They'd probably riot the minute they saw us doing it anyway."
"No, I mean for the gate. Cull the space gate, drop it here." Sheppard squinted up at him.
Mer shook his head. “It only picks up humans. Not things.”
“That has to be a setting.” Sheppard persisted.
Mer shook his head. “Maybe. But we’d need a dart, and…” Mer tailed off, realizing that the list of “things I need to be brilliant” were right at hand. “Well, huh. Be right back.” He went out to find Haworth and a spare platoon of trigger happy Marines.
It wasn’t until five hours later—with survivors already lining up to be moved somewhere and after Lorne learned how to pilot a dart well enough to get out of atmosphere, “cull” the Stargate and restore it near the Hive ship where Mer and four minions hot-wired the gate’s configurations so they could dial Sateda—that Mer learned that moments after he walked off the gateship, Sheppard puked on Elizabeth’s shoes and then passed out completely.
Chapter 11: Turn and Face the Strain
John had an IV pumping fluids into him, and his left foot was wearing something that was not quite a cast. And Rodney Fucking McKay was propped up awkwardly in a chair, tipped to one side and snoring, his hands loose in his lap.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
John woke up to the overly-familiar noises and sounds of a hospital. After blinking a few times in the low lighting and glancing around, he realized it was not a hospital but the infirmary on Atlantis, probably early morning between 3 and 5am. It was a testament to his life over the past six months that he could tell time by the nurses’ schedules.
He knew from fairly recent experience that doing anything that required movement was a bad idea, but he tipped his head around to figure out if he was intensive care or just languishing on a bed, taking up space. He had an IV pumping fluids into him, and his left foot was wearing something that was not quite a cast.
And Rodney Fucking McKay was propped up awkwardly in a chair, tipped to one side and snoring, his hands loose in his lap.
John’s bed was not all the way reclined, so he rested his head back onto the pillow while still keeping his head turned towards McKay. The man looked exhausted even in sleep, and while it was obvious he had showered and changed clothes at some point, dirt was still caked under his nails and his boots were covered in grime. Relaxed, with his receding hairline and strangely lopsided mouth, McKay looked more like a dork than a menacing super-genius who ruined John’s life. John tried to muster some hostility but he was too zoned out to care, which tipped him off to the fact that the IV probably contained some form of painkiller or muscle relaxer. John didn’t really care which, and was far past the need he used to have to macho it out through the pain. Everyone knew he was a basket case, so it was not like he had anything to prove by being stoic and brave in the face of physical agony.
As he started drifting back to sleep, John stared at McKay and felt a surge of something sweep up over him like a warm blanket. He knew McKay was ruthless but on the Hive ship, when it mattered, he had not run out of the bridge to leave John to fly the thing in alone.
It was something, anyway; something more than John had felt in a long, long time. Sleep embraced him.
When he woke up again later, it was to the deep brown eyes of the Emmagen. He had to search his brain for a minute to remember her name. “Teyla.”
She nodded, a bright smile lighting up her face. “Yes, Sheppard. I am glad to see you well.”
“John. Call me John.”
She frowned a little. “Your people have too many names.”
John laughed, because he had suffered enough nicknames over the years to agree with her.
“Sheppard,” Ronon said, stepping into John’s line of sight.
“Hey, Big Guy. How are you doing?”
Ronon shrugged. “Back hurts. I’m too old for this.”
“Not getting any sympathy from me for that, buddy,” John snorted. Ronon grinned back at him and Teyla seemed trying to hide a smile. John fussed with the sheets on the bed self-consciously. “So how’d the evacuation go?”
Ronon nodded to suggest it went well, then cut his eyes over to Teyla. She smiled again. “It goes well, John.” She paused, trying out his name, before continuing. “Many people insisted to be taken back to their homeworlds immediately. The gate was dialing for 20 of your hours straight to get people home. Some found barren worlds, and returned.” She sighed. “Nonetheless, there were happy stories of people reunited with their people—”
“Some had been in that fucking ship for up to ten years,” McKay said by way of joining the conversation, walking in without looking up from the tablet he was poking at. Ronon gave him an almost fond grin and moved aside to make room for him at John’s bedside. “Are you better? Lucid? How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Just this one,” John answered, flipping him the bird.
Ronon tilted his head. “I see that a lot. What does it mean?”
“Ask Carson,” McKay said, and John had to fight not to laugh.
“How long was I out?”
“Not long. Mostly you were exhausted, dehydrated and physically stressed by the amount of pain you were in. Carson knocked you out for a while. It’s been about thirty hours since you made an impression on Elizabeth. On her shoes, to be exact.”
“Mer,” Teyla scolded, although she seemed more amused than upset.
“Hey! Major Sheppard!” Ford bounced in. John was so used to seeing him looking angry and annoyed that he almost didn’t recognize the young lieutenant. The use of his former rank dampened John’s mood, though.
“Drop the ‘major’, Lieutenant. I was dishonorably discharged.” John suddenly wanted everyone to just get the hell out and leave him alone to rest. He leaned back and carefully crossed his arms. His body was aching a little, but the IV was gone and he felt better than he had before he puked on Dr. Weir.
Ford was giving a pained look at McKay, who was glaring back at him. “Uh, I guess you didn’t tell him yet, Doc?”
“I just walked in here!” McKay squawked. John could tell that McKay was still running ragged simply by the undignified, familiar way he was acting. “Okay, never mind. Sheppard, Dr. Weir requested that your rank be reinstated for the interim. Lorne signed the paperwork while you were unconscious.”
John’s mouth went dry. “They can’t do that.”
McKay turned back “on” in an instant, his posture straightening and his expression closing up. “I think you’ll find Weir can do pretty much any damn thing she wants. If she nominated you for president, you’d be in the Oval Office tomorrow. So don’t argue with her, just nod and say thank you and be fucking grateful that she was impressed enough with your stupid heroics to do this in the first place.”
“I’m broken, and I’m not officer material. And you know why.”
Ford shook his head. “Yeah, we know why, and yeah, you can’t meet the physical requirements. SGC would wash you out in a heartbeat. But Dr. Weir thinks we need you in the military chain of command, and as the Doc said, what Weir wants, she gets.”
Teyla nodded. “She is a formidable statesman.”
Ronon hit the metal railing of the hospital bed with his hand, making it ring. “The High Commander Doctor has ordered it, Sheppard. Are you military or not? Because a soldier knows to follow orders.”
John looked into the eyes of a man who had lived in hell for years, who was so much older than John would ever be no matter how long he lived. A man who swore his life to Weir for reasons John couldn’t even guess, and who had somehow become part of John’s world in a way he could not explain.
“It wasn’t in my plans,” John evaded.
“Join the fucking club, Sheppard. It’s Pegasus: nothing ever goes to plan.” McKay rolled his eyes, completely unsympathetic to the way John’s whole world was sliding uncertainly under his feet. “Look, no one’s forgotten your little stunt with the command chair, but between saving our home world from a Wraith invasion and then rescuing an entire Hive ship worth of Wraith food, you’re getting some special dispensations here. Don’t shit in the hand that feeds you, Sheppard.”
Ford grinned all the way through McKay’s tirade then turned to John. “So, Major, I was just stopping by to let you know that Col. Lorne says you have the rest of the day off, but expects you in his office tomorrow at 0800.” Ford went to leave, then stopped and turned back, his expression somber. “You saved us all. You saved me and the Doc and our team, along with thousands of Pegasus natives. I just wanted to thank you for that, sir. Thank you.” He saluted and stood at attention until John remembered what to do. He gave a stiff, unfamiliar salute back. Smiling, Ford bounced out of the room.
“I don’t remember him being quite that…enthusiastic.”
“He doesn’t become really annoying until you get to know him,” McKay complained. Teyla laughed.
Carson showed up then and chased John’s visitors out, threatening everyone with large bore needles when Ronon gave him the finger and asked what it meant. John was sorry to see them go, but part of him needed to regroup from the multiple shocks to his system. Once again, his life had changed overnight and John was scrambling to keep up.
I do believe in happy endings, so it's fair to say I'm not pulling the rug out from under John before this story wraps up, but keep in mind that he's still got issues and things will definitely not go smoothly as he deals with these changes. I normally would not warn for that kind of character development, but I think it's only fair to say that this remains a Vegas!AU, and all that entails, including "VeryFuckedUpJohn".
Chapter 12: Glass Houses
“Maybe not made of glass, but you are broken, Sheppard. Do me the favor of letting me know when I hurt you.”
The END! ...of this story. It's pretty obvious to me that this series will continue down the road a bit more, which I hope people don't mind. But this chapter wraps up this particular saga, at long freakin' last. Thanks everyone for reading the chapters and encouraging me, it is always appreciated!
Warning: Some comments on past series episodes have noted that Mer is slightly creepy and stalkerish in this AU. This is fair warning to say that observation is on the mark, so if that is a trigger for you, please be advised.
Mer’s tablet pinged with the alarm he had hacked to John’s medical file to alert him to John being released from the infirmary. Mer had never been above stalking when the circumstances warranted, and if ever a circumstance warranted monitoring 24/7, it was John Sheppard.
He waited until John was in the residential section, hobbling towards his room on the air cast Carson had locked around his fractured ankle. It was a really small fracture but Carson had admitted to Mer that he was playing it particularly safe, given Sheppard’s overall physical condition. If nothing else, the lightweight, temporary but inconvenient cast would slow him down and keep him from doing something stupid. Again.
“I was just on my way to my room,” Mer lied smoothly, inserting himself into Sheppard’s path.
Sheppard looked at him with an expression that clearly said he did not believe a word that came out of Mer’s mouth. “You’re stalking me?”
“Yes.” Mer shrugged. No sense in lying to someone smart enough to figure it out.
Sheppard seemed derailed by the admission, though, and stared at him before rallying with a glare that bordered on hostile. “I wondered how the hell you guys could find me so fast all the time: I’m chipped.”
“If you’re talking about the subcutaneous transmitter, then join the club. Everyone here has one because we can’t afford to just lose people. Nothing about that makes you special. Although you are probably the only person who can sweet talk the city into letting you track anyone you want. The rest of us have to beg, or modify the LSDs.” Mer crossed his arms.
A brief flash of guilt ran across Sheppard’s face. He shook his head. “She’s not really talking to me anymore. Not that I can tell.”
“But the City’s still active, right?” A nervous flutter went through Mer’s gut, which he put down to that afternoon’s serving of not-rice pilaf.
“How the Hell would I know? I guess. I mean the damn lights are on. Isn’t figuring that out your job?”
Mer hated getting his nose rubbed into the fact that he was not ATA-active. “I can only do so much from a distance.”
“Like stalk me?”
“Look, you’re mine, and you’ve just been released from the infirmary. Of course I’m checking up on you.”
Sheppard’s jaw locked, and he looked ready to use his cane as a lethal weapon. “I’m yours?”
Mer nodded. He thought they had settled this the week before.
“I don’t belong to you, McKay. Fuck off.”
“So you can stumble to your room and let some Marine sergeant get his grubby hands on you? I don’t think so.”
“I’m generally not a slut within 24 hours of being released from the hospital,” Sheppard ground out through clenched teeth, moving again in the direction of his room, slamming his cane down with each step. “I save that for the really special occasions.”
“What, like odd days and weekends?”
“Leave me the fuck alone.”
“Oh, we’re wayyyyy past that. Come on.” Mer grabbed Sheppard’s bicep and steered him back to the transporter.
“Hey!” Sheppard resisted, but they both knew that a real fight would land him on his ass. Playing along was the smart move and would keep damage to a minimum, and Mer trusted that Sheppard was intelligent enough to figure that out.
When they finally made it to Mer’s room, John shook him off. “Great. Going to lock me up in here? Won’t people talk?”
“I’m pretty much done with worrying about that.” Mer slipped off his expedition jacket and hung it up.
“I’m military again, now. People talking could be trouble for me.”
“Because, yes, we financed an international expedition to the far side of nowhere—which had and still has a high probability of becoming a lost colony—without addressing the ridiculous American anti-gay policies for military members.” Mer sighed, crossing his arms and facing Sheppard. “Every member of this expedition is exempted from local law. That means Dr. Al-Khalifa can go around without her hijab and not worry about being beaten to death, and everyone can fuck whomever they want. I think the only law that was across the board for all the militaries represented here is the ‘no fraternization’ rule, which while still on the books is probably ignored more often than not. I don’t really care. So get over yourself.”
John rubbed his neck, still leaning on his cane with his other hand. “Look, McKay, I don’t know what you think this is but—”
“You’re thinking too fucking much,” Mer said, wrapping a hand around John’s neck and yanking him into a kiss. John stumbled into it, his cane clattering away, as he grabbed McKay’s biceps. He squeezed hard as he fought for balance, but that did not stop his mouth from being wet and hungry against Mer’s.
Mer pushed him back a little. “You let me do the thinking, hm?” He caressed the corded muscles of John’s neck, picking up on the tension there. “This isn’t supposed to be unpleasant,” he added as he dragged John closer to him.
John didn’t answer with words, instead leaning down to slam his mouth over Mer’s, sucking and licking with an edge of desperation that felt sad and angry to Mer. He was not going to question that, though, having his own memories to bite down on. They made out awkwardly, John leaning against Mer for support while still trying to get his hands under Mer’s shirt. Their hips were not quite touching, their dicks brushing against each other lightly through the fabric of their pants. John finally shoved forward a little, wincing in pain as he did. Mer groaned, leaning his head back, trying to take in all the sensations he could because he was not convinced that John wouldn’t bolt if pushed too hard. Although Mer was beginning to think that John actually got off on being pushed to his limits. In that way he was just like Hedy.
Mer tensed and shoved that thought away.
John picked up on it and kissed along Mer’s jaw and up to his ear slowly, like a lover who cared, trying to settle Mer down again. Mer knew when he was being managed but let it happen and started to massage John’s ass. John huffed out a pleased grunt when Mer’s fingers dipped teasingly into his crack, even through his pants. John tipped his head and blew softly into Mer’s ear, making him shudder. “I can’t decide if I hate you or not.”
Mer tried not to laugh. “You do. You hate everyone who has authority over you. You can’t help yourself.”
John stiffened but did not try to pull away. “Who says you have authority over me?”
John finally put a few inches of space between them. “The hell I do.”
“Both of us know you would have found a way to disappear if you didn’t want to come here.”
“You fucking killed me off like a damn red shirt. I could barely walk out of the hospital.”
“You could barely walk out of the Hive ship, but you did,” Mer said, grabbing John’s shirt and shaking him like a naughty dog. “You did, and you could, and I know for a goddamn fact you’ve thought about stealing a gateship and slipping away to disappear in Pegasus. I know you have.” Mer let go of him before he just pushed him hard enough to make him fall. “Deny it.”
John looked away for a second, just a glance to the side, but it was enough.
“Exactly. You could have fought me in the halls and called security on my ass just now. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been up for sexual harassment because someone decides to have second thoughts about sleeping with an asshole like me.”
John stared at him for a long second before a small smirk broke out, his body language collapsing into a comfortable, amused slouch. “Class act all the way, McKay.”
“Get on the bed so I can blow you, you ungrateful son of a bitch.”
“Yessir,” John drawled, slowly leveraging himself down onto the bed. “I love your romantic streak.”
“You talk too goddamn much, anyone ever tell you that?” Mer snapped, losing his patience and pushing John down.
John’s eyebrows shot up. “Actually, no.”
“Hm. First time for everything,” Mer smirked down at him and quickly flicked open John’s belt and unzipped his pants.
“Not for this,” John said, his voice turning breathy and needy as Mer stripped him out of his clothes, stopping short of yanking everything off for fear of hurting him. John snarled and shoved his knee into Mer’s groin. “I’m not made of glass, goddamnit.”
Mer recovered from his eyes rolling back in his skull from the assault on his dick, then tossed John’s underwear away before shoving his legs apart. John twitched, twisting his back and leaning up on one arm, his erection flagging.
“Maybe not made of glass, but you are broken, Sheppard. Do me the favor of letting me know when I hurt you.” Mer sat back on his heels, his frustration to just fuck John open warring with his protective instincts. He hated his own brain, sometimes.
John grimaced. “My hip.”
Mer reached out and resettled John’s right leg, bending it slowly as he shuffled forward until it was wrapped loosely around his own hip, his thigh holding it up. John relaxed visibly. Before John could take another breath, Mer leaned forward and took John’s semi-soft cock into his mouth, sucking on it softly. John gave an unmanly squeak followed by a curse, but his hands were grabbing at the bed cover, twisting it the way he could not twist his own body anymore. Mer did not find physical damage in and of itself sexy, but the way John was redirecting his energy by sheer force of will was hot as hell. Mer wanted that energy to be his, in his hands and in his mouth; he needed John to give over to him completely. Mer rested his hands on John’s ribs, symbolically holding him down although Mer put no force there. He saved his attention for John’s lovely, thick cock which was swelling and bouncing with energy.
Contrary to the reputation he encouraged about himself, Mer did not take lovers often. It had been two years after Hedy’s death before he had sex with anyone again, and even then he kept it to one night stands off-base. He was open minded and figured that one day he’d get back to being a sex god again, but without Hedy it had seemed pointless. So sucking cock was something Mer had not done in four years, and he thought it probably showed in his sloppy technique, but John did not seem to mind too much.
Mer’s back started to hurt but the weight of John’s cock on his tongue, slipping in and out between his lips, was too good to give up. He bobbed his head and moved one hand to start jacking John, trying to push him over, wanting something worthwhile out of all of it because he knew damn good and well that sex was not going to make things easier between them.
He felt John tense up, babbling something that might have been English, and start scratching at Mer’s shoulder. Mer jacked him harder, faster, and concentrated on sucking the head of his cock, popping it in and out of his mouth swiftly. John came with a whisper, his body stuttering as he tried to keep his hips from snapping. Even that far gone, John was still in control, and it pissed Mer off.
He sat back while John breathed heavily, looking like he had just run a marathon. Mer finally unzipped his own pants, shoving them down around his thighs.
John looked up at him, loose and languid, his eyes dark with pleasure. “Fuck me?”
“No. Goddamnit, no, I’m not going to fuck you, not…fuck…” Mer leaned forward on one hand, holding himself over John, and stripped his dick. John looked at him in confusion. Mer shook his head. “I’m not having what every hole-puncher in Vegas has already sampled…I’m…oh, Jesus, I’m not…yet…” Mer groaned as his orgasm struck him hard, his cum dropping onto the silvery, hairless scar that ran down the entirety of John’s abdomen. Mer squeezed himself out and stayed where he was, shaking a little, trying not to fall down and break John again, staring at the scar and his cum and John’s legs wrapped loosely around his waist, everything wretched and beautiful and incomplete. “Fuck.”
John ran a hand through his hair. “Well, that was fun.”
“Don’t start with me.” Mer extracted himself and went to the bathroom to wet down a towel for clean-up. When he came back out, John was slowly rolling himself into a sitting position. It was easy to shove him back down, despite the squawking. “No, you’re staying. We’re sleeping. Move over.”
“Christ, your bossy.” John let Mer wipe him down quickly but then batted the towel away. “I’ll get a shower later.”
Mer let him grumble. He finished undressing himself after cleaning his dick and climbed into bed. John was stiff and unwelcoming, but Mer simply curled around him.
“You’re a cuddler? The great Dr. McKay?”
“Are you so fucking insecure in your manhood that you can’t deal with affection?”
John relaxed a fraction, but when he answered his voice was tense and questioning. “Is that what this is?”
“Go to sleep.”
Mer woke up when John fumbled his way out of bed later that night, but kept his eyes closed and his breathing steady. Chances were good that John knew he was awake, but they both had a vested interest in keeping up the charade. John was stealthier on pain medicine and with one foot in an air cast than Mer was on a good day in the field with three cups of coffee in him, though, and dressed so quietly that Mer almost fell back asleep before John left.
He was glad he didn’t, because he would have missed the moment John trailed his fingers over Mer’s forehead and down over his cheek. It was a gentle caress offset by John’s mumbled “You fucker,” but Mer was willing to take what he got. It had been far too many years since loving hands had touched him.
John slipped out of the room and Mer resigned himself to waking up alone again…at least for a little while yet.