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Chasing Grace

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Will your darkest hour Write a blank check on your soul? …Slaid Cleaves


"You just had to say it didn't you Volker," Eli sniped good naturally at the other scientist, he breathed a sign of relief as the Destiny settled into FTL as finally, all was quiet again. Volker turned in his seat to reply, but Colonel Young cut him off.


"Damage Report, people." Young barked out over the ensuing chatter. Young was not in the mood for bridge banter. At times it was enjoyable, like a sit-com, each of the unique personalities playing off each other joking and problem-solving. This wasn't one of those times. He assumed it was their way of relieving stress.


"I'm showing minor damage to the hull and..." Chloe turned frowning, "to the shuttle." The young woman sat ramrod straight to deliver her report. She was the only one of the science team with no background in science and yet the most professional member. She turned back around and continued her diagnostics.


"Great just great," Young rubbed his forehead, silently begging for relief from a headache taking up residence there. "Brody get down there and assess the damage to the shuttle. Scott, you go with him. The rest of you, I want detailed reports of the extent of any hull damage in one hour." He slowly got out of the command chair and headed for the bridge exit. He hit the door release then turned back to his crew. "Good job."


The Destiny had survived another encounter with their newest enemy. Young wondered if the ship had some big neon sign on it beckoning all hostile races to attack them. At least these aliens weren't relentless like the Nakai nor automated like the drones. They seemed only to want them to leave. The attacks were more a nuisance than full on destruction. But even small damages added up when the ship wasn't in the best shape to start off with.


The door swished shut behind him to a cascade of excited voices all clamoring to be heard over the other. Young shook his head. They were a good bunch of people and he felt lucky he had them but their chatter could drive a man insane sometimes. He could feel his headache pushing and prodding all other thoughts out of his head. Young pinched the bridge of his nose and pulled out his radio.


"TJ, report."


"Just a few bumps and bruises. We got lucky again." TJ's voice crackled over the radio.


"Yeah lucky," Young mumbled to himself before hitting the reply button. "Thanks, TJ." He could picture her perfectly. Blonde hair swept back, stray hairs slipping loose and falling around her face. Blue eyes sparkling because for once, no one was hurt or worse, gravely injured. Varro would be right beside her, his hand on the small of her back. Young sighed. She deserved some happiness after all they had been through. The whole crew did.


"Are you all right, sir," TJ asked. Her voice softened from its professional demeanor to the one she used when they talked as friends, not chief medical officer addressing her commander.


"A little tired of Destiny's version of luck." He cracked his back and let out a deep, loud sigh.


TJ smiled into the radio, "Maybe you should have Eli look into that, see if he can't program the ship to understand what good luck is."


"I might just do that," Young replied with a chuckle. "If anyone could do it, Eli could. Let me know if you need any help down there. Young out." He was forever thankful for TJ. She had turned into a good friend. He would never have believed they would stumble out of their failed relationship into a solid friendship, but they had.


He heard Camile's footsteps, recognizing them after all these years on the ship. He rolled his shoulders in hopes to relieve some of the tension settled there. She caught up with him and matched his stride.


"Colonel," she started putting her hand on his arm. He looked at her and stopped. With Camile, it was always important. At least she thought it was always important. That was an unkind thought. He did value her input.


"What is it, Camile?"


"Are you headed to the stones room to report to Homeworld Command?" she asked. Camile was impeccably dressed as always. Despite the years of wear on her clothes, she managed to look ever the professional. Even her worn shoes had a bit of shine.


"What's to report? Another hostile galaxy. Another battle, more damage, we need supplies. Still no way to dial home. How about our one shuttle is now damaged, it looks like only gate trips for a while, and we know how those go. Only, that is, if we can find any planets worth going to. Then we have to hope Destiny is gracious enough to let us have the time we need to get what we need."


"Everett." Her voice softened when she saw how tired he looked. He was starting to look as worn as his uniform. They had all been disappointed in the new galaxy, but she knew the colonel took everything as his personal failure. At one time she took it as his failures too. Now she knew better.


"I'm sorry, Camile. I didn't mean to unload." He gave her small smile.


"Do you want me too?" she asked.


"You go ahead," he replied. "You should hold off a bit, though, wait until all the damage reports have come in. I'm," Young rolled his shoulders again. "I'm going to lie down a bit; it's been a long day."


"Aren't they all," Camile mused.


Young laughed. "I'm expecting the first reports in an hour, come by after that and you will have a better idea what to tell Homeworld Command."


"All right, Everett. Get some rest," she said and turned on her heels, leaving Young standing alone in the corridor. He wished she wouldn't rush off to report about every little thing. He felt sorry for her. She was the only one still clinging to home. Reporting to Earth every little thing that happened. He knew she used it as an excuse to see Sharron. Still, Camile always came back a bit more despondent after each use of the stones. He would try and remember to ask about Sharron the next time.


Young only reported to Homeworld Command out of habit. It was evident to everyone involved they had all but given up trying to find them a way home. The Langarans were still refusing to help, and no more Icarus planets had been discovered. McKay had made some noise over the three years they were in stasis about modified ZPM's like they used in Atlantis but nothing had ever come of it. That idea abandoned just like they had been. Hell, even Telford finally stopped bringing his brand of misery on board and moved onto something new. Most of the time he had Scott or Camile report in for him these days only going himself when he was requested to show.


He finished his slow walk to his quarters, amazed the crew hadn't stopped him a half a dozen times. Young started pulling off his jacket before the door finished swishing closed. He tossed it on the back of the sofa closest to his desk and went to sit on his bed. He had so much to do, but he did want to take a nap, thirty minutes would go a long way. Or a drink. But these days, he only drank socially at Brody's. Never alone anymore. It had been a hard lesson, but he had learned from it.


Changing his mind at the last minute, he went to the couch instead and sat down. He leaned back, resting his head and closing his eyes. His mind was a whirl of status reports and how they were going to survive yet again in a universe that for some reason just did not like them. Space may be really really big according to Eli, but Destiny was a magnet for trouble.


It had all gone colossally bad right before they entered the stasis pods. Real bad. Then things had looked up considerably when they managed to find the minerals to fix the last pods. It had come down to the wire, but Eli had managed to use parts from the eighth pod they no longer needed, to fix the one he would occupy. Three years. Eli had been right. Again. His calculations had been perfect. The ship took three years to cross the void, give or take a few days. And then he had mistakenly thought their luck had changed when they woke up from stasis and everyone was alive and well.


They had all celebrated as best they could with a bowl of protein slop. Someone might have made a toast.


Destiny came out near a star and recharged while crew member after crew member had used the stones to reconnect with family. Homeworld Command had been pleased but unprepared. It had slowed the visits down, but eventually, everyone went home for a short trip. Young had started to suspect they had given up on them at that time.


Then Destiny dropped out of FTL for a planet almost too perfect. With two days on the clock, they immediately loaded up on food supplies and water. It had all gone so smoothly, and he dared to believe things were going to be different in this new galaxy. Only it hadn't.


The new galaxy had a race of persistent military types that seemed to be everywhere along their path. After that, nearly every planet they gated to for resupply, had been short and quick as they were run off by these aliens. Even the shuttle resupply missions were fast, giving no one time to relax.


They had tried communicating with them, negotiating, and fighting them. Fighting them was the only thing that seemed to work. Young had started to believe that they just wanted them to stay away. The aliens never actively pursued them or tried to destroy them or even board them, just hammered away until Destiny would jump to FTL. Once back out of FTL, it would be days, sometimes weeks before they would show up again and fire on them or near them until Destiny jumped.


Brody had a theory the alien ships were perimeter guards. Like they were patrolling an invisible fence in space. It never appeared to be the same ships, only ones of similar design and most of the time the shots fired at them did not seem to be firing to disable, just to deter. Without talking to them, no one was sure if this was indeed the case and Brody could offer up no proof to his theory. But it was the best theory anyone had come up with.


It did make sense. Young was all fine with avoiding their territory if they would only talk to them and let them know where they didn't want the Destiny to be. He ran his fingers through his black curls, messing them up. He needed a haircut. Maybe Becker would have time in a next few days. Young groaned. He couldn't shut his mind down long enough to doze off. Giving up, he moved to his desk and started reading the reports that were trickling in.


*****


"Does the colonel seem a little sad to you?" Chloe asked Scott. She curled into his side and watched the FTL through their small window. She sometimes tried to count the stars flying by, and sometimes it helped her sleep. Most times it didn't. Nothing did.


"We just need a break, ya know." Matt kissed the top of her head and hugged her tightly. He fingered the long strands of her brown hair absently. "Things gotta get better. I don't know if any of us can take much more of this."


"It's more than that, Matt," Chloe sighed. She had noticed it before they went into stasis and she suspected knew why. Chloe had hoped maybe the new galaxy would distract all of them, most of all her and Colonel Young from their loss. It was her fault, and she didn't think she could ever really forgive herself. The colonel would deny it, but she knew he blamed her too.


"Don't worry, Chloe. Colonel Young is a good commander, and he will figure something out," Matt closed his eyes. He had noticed the colonel's sadness and was keeping an eye out on the man. The colonel hadn't turned to Brody's still, and so far Young had not spiraled out down the rabbit hole like during Destiny's war games simulation. Matt hoped he never had to see that again. Being on Destiny had been a trial by fire, even so, Matt didn't think he was near ready to be in command of the whole dang ship.


He had noticed Chloe's depression too. She hardly smiled anymore. Matt had tried to get her to talk, but she just shook her head. Sometimes she would disappear down to the math corridor for hours until he hunted her down. Her hands covered in white chalk dust from scribbling equations on the wall, if there were new calculations, he wouldn't have a clue, but he assumed there were. Most of the times he found her she would be finished, curled around her knees on the deck, crying. Those times, he would sit beside her, pull her into his arms and just hold her. He wished she wouldn't go down there anymore since it only depressed her more. He tried to suggest it once, and Chloe had yelled at him. Matt might not have liked seeing the anger in Chloe's blue eyes or being on the receiving end of her anger, but at least it wasn't the deep-seated sadness for a while.


"Maybe this new planet will change our luck," Chloe whispered. Matt hoped so for all of their sakes. Chloe waited until Matt slipped off to sleep before getting up and going for her nightly walk.


*****


"Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy," Eli said as he swept his arm in front of him, stepping down off the platform of the gate. The planet had shown up on their sensors, just at the edge of gate range. It was the only one that showed any signs it might be worth gating too. Eli thought they might be wrong about that.


"Eli," Colonel Young warned.


"Star Wars. A New Hope." Eli groused. "Come on. Everyone has seen that. Mos Eisley is where Obi-wan took Luke to find passage off Tatooine. It's where they met Han and Chewie." Eli's voice held a bit of whine. No one ever got his movie quotes, although he secretly suspected they all did and just didn't want to admit they were as big a bunch of nerds as he was. Especially Scott and Greer. Those two always had little smirks for a few seconds when he quoted something. How could they not be? They were in the SGC for Pete's sake. Wasn't that like a requirement? And really, how could anyone that had seen Star Wars not thought the same thing. The planet was almost Tatooine. Granted it only had one sun instead of two, but it was hot and dry and dusty, with little in vegetation. Lots of strange people, uh aliens. But it did have a gate. Eli wondered if they would find a cantina.


"Oh and Matt. Han shot first," he added absently.


Scott just shook his head and squinted out into the square before he put on his sunglasses. This should be fun. Greer slapped him on the shoulder and whispered, "Greedo shot first."


"I heard that!" Eli shouted.


"That's enough, gentlemen," Young ordered. They were as bad as the science team, probably because Eli was with them. The young man had a way of bringing everyone's spirit of adventure up.


Eli settled his hat more firmly down on his head and put on his sunglasses. A small otter-like creature barked at him before it stood up on two legs and stormed off, waving the two upper appendages in a dramatic way. The remains of something smeared the platform. Eli pulled a face at Scott. Scott shrugged. Nothing they could do about it.


Otherwise, no one seemed disturbed or interested in their arrival.


"Do you think the people here use the gate?" Scott asked Eli. They had all been surprised by the gate on the planet so far off Destiny's path. No other gates were in range, so they weren't sure why it was here. But it was unlocked. That was invitation enough for them.


"I have no idea," he replied as he took in the landscape. It was a dirty, dilapidated town. A large variety races and way too much noise filled the square. He turned to Colonel Young. "It looks like we landed near a center of commerce. And if the readings from the kino are correct. It is a spaceport. Or at least some small crafts are landed around here somewhere. I'm getting numerous distinct EM signatures."


"Hopefully that means we can find some spare parts," Young said as he adjusted his rifle on his shoulder. It was almost too bad they only had a few hours on the clock. This was their first contact with aliens that hadn't started with gunfire besides the Ursini. It would have been nice to give everyone a chance to look around, even if there wasn't much to look at.


"Looks like they have food too," Greer finally added in as he pointed towards the rows of booths with an array of colorful and strange goods. "Maybe we can trade for some?"


"Trade with what, we are barely surviving as it is," Scott replied. He looked around. It didn't look all that promising to him. At least their new buddies hadn't shown up yet.


Colonel Young held up his hand for them to stop. "We have no idea what acts as currency around here. Just spread out. Teams of two. Barnes, you're with me. Varro with Greer. Eli, you're with Scott. Gather information and see if you can't get an idea of what goes for trade."


"Check in very thirty minutes. We have two hours on the clock and no way to know if this gate will still be active when we drop out again."


"Yes, sir." They all said and started to go in different directions.


*****


"I think she wants your hat," Scott joked. "At least I think it's a she."


"Well, you can't just assume it's a she, we can't just go assigning a gender to aliens," Eli said as he touched his hat and nodded at the crazy octopus looking creature in front of him. "Besides there is a lot more genders than just hes and shes, there's ..."


"Eli, give her, it, him, whatever, your hat. This is a big haul and we could use the fruit." Scott looked over the baskets of apple type fruit at the booth. It was green and round like an apple but the skin was gnarly with brown ridges. This person had been the only one to actually do more than wave them on as they attempted to communicate with the vendors. For what could be described as a marketplace, the vendors were very unfriendly to races that didn't speak a common language.


Eli rolled his eyes. "Seriously Matt. Did you not do some kind of sensitivity training in officer's school?"


Scott hoped it was fruit. The initial readings said it was edible and they needed something to add to the almost tomatoes and bland white pulp and almost kale wraps they were currently surviving on. When they had radioed the colonel, he told them to get as many as they could. No one wanted to go back to the protein slop.


Eli held out his hat and then swept his arm over the crates and baskets of the fruit, nodding his head.


The alien waved three of its tentacles and smaller alien nearly identical to the first slithered into view, chattered something and then disappeared again. When it returned, it had a large cart full of the apples. It added the five baskets at the booth to its cart. Eli grinned. It was quite the haul.


Scott radioed Colonel Young to tell him he and Eli were returning to the Destiny with the apples.


"All they wanted was Eli's hat?" Young shook his head and smiled at Barnes. She was listening carefully to the conversation. Seemed to good to be true.


"I know it seems weird, Colonel," Scott replied. "But the alien seems happy." He looked over, and the creature was trying to pull the hat onto its bulbous head. "I think."


"Good job, Lieutenant," Young said. "We're going to be heading back soon too."


*****


Greer threw back his arm against Varro's chest to stop him. He waved his finger for Varro to move behind the booth they were walking by. The former Lucian Alliance soldier knew not to speak but questioned Greer with a raised eyebrow. Greer nodded towards a booth a few spaces down on the plaza.


Varro didn't see anything more unusual than they had already encountered until he noticed the two large bear-like aliens accompanied by someone significantly smaller that may or may not be of the same race. He couldn't get a good visual, but it didn't seem to warrant Greer's reaction. The aliens were engaged in some trade negotiations, and he doubted they had even noticed them. But he had learned to trust Greer's assessments as much as Greer had learned to trust his, so he waited patiently to see what developed.


The Bears as he called them in his head, were towering creatures at least two and a half meters tall if not more. They were broad and covered with a short, dense coat of hair, and now that he had a clearer view, he could tell their smaller companion didn't seem to be from the same species, more humanoid. It sported a long brown coat, and it appeared to be wearing boots of some kind. It was way too hot to dress like that in this oppressive heat. Varro could relate. His leathers were sticking to his skin as he sweated profusely underneath them. Both the larger aliens carried rifles and seem to defer to the smaller one, who barely reached above their waists.


"Come on Greer, you are seeing trouble when there is none," the big man whispered. Varro respected Greer as a soldier, and he trusted his instincts, but this time they seemed way off the mark.


Greer waved him to be quiet and pointed again. The smaller alien had stepped forward to take something from the vendor's hands, and Varro had a clear line of sight.


Varro's eyes widened in surprise. He had to be seeing things. It wasn't possible. "Is that Rush?"


"If it ain't, then it's his double," Greer hissed and pointed his beat up old phone and took a picture as the trio started towards them before turning down an alley. He was sure it was Rush. It was impossible it was Rush. But the brown and silver shaggy hair had immediately caused Greer to halt. His gut told him it was Rush even if he mind was telling him there was no way in hell it could be. Greer had seen a lot of impossible things since joining the SGC. Hell, he had seen even more impossible things since they got stranded on Destiny. He had been involved in some impossible things. This seemed to be pushing it a little on the probability scale.


He motioned for Varro to follow him as they trailed discretely behind the trio. They followed them down the alley to where a small ship was parked. Greer watched and listened as the man they left behind in the last galaxy talked and seemed to give orders to the larger aliens. A small argument ensued between the trio until another bear-like alien strolled down the hatch. This one was even bigger and the way he yelled at the trio, he appeared to be the one in charge.


One of the two aliens went inside, and the other moved to join three more that had just entered the landing space. The one in charge and the man he believed was Rush, were currently involved in yelling at each other and with one defiant toss of his head by the smaller man, Greer knew he was right. It was Rush. He would recognize that move anywhere.


The leader snarled and brought a giant paw up swiping at Rush and knocking him off his feet. He knew that move too. Had wanted to do that for a long time to the scientist. Rush jumped up immediately and charged the man. Greer could see Rush's eye was going to have a right good shiner but it didn't stop him from shoving a finger at the big bear alien's chest and shouting again. Greer couldn't understand what they were yelling at each other, he might be imaging it, but he was sure he detected a Scottish lilt to words Rush was saying.


Greer waved Varro back up the alley a bit for better cover before he took out his radio.


"Colonel Young, come in. It's Greer."


"Young here, got anything?" the colonel's voice crackled over the radio.


"Yes, sir, you are not going to believe this." Greer softly said.


"What is it, Sergeant?" Young asked. Greer had a tendency to drag things out when reporting in.


"I think you'll want to see this for yourself, Colonel." Greer motioned for Varro back up the alley to the street. "I'm sending Varro to get you, we are about half way down the market on the," he squinted at the sun, "east side. Not far from the gate."


"This better be good Greer, Eli and Scott apparently got us apples for dinner," Young laughed into the radio, smiling at Barnes. Their quest had not been as fruitful, and while he wouldn't have minded exploring further, it was hot and dirty and just an unfriendly place they had found out. He was ready to go back to Destiny, shower, and maybe eat an apple.


"Oh, it's good, Colonel," Greer replied and clipped his radio back to his belt. "It's good," he said to himself.


It took less than ten minutes for the colonel and Barnes to find them and make their way back down the alley with Varro. Varro had remained silent about their discovery, letting Greer be the bearer of good news or bad news, depending on who you were. With Colonel Young and Rush involved, Varro was unsure which it would be.


As the others caught up with Greer, he put his finger to his lips and then pointed towards the ship. Young watched as the strange bear-like aliens loaded things on their craft, but nothing unusual seemed to be happening. He was about to tell them to head back to the gate when someone jumped out of an open panel on the starboard side of the ship.


The man was wiping his hands on a rag and shouting orders at three others standing to the back of the ship getting another set of crates ready to load. Young would have recognized Rush anywhere no matter how improbable it was. He started to go forward, inexplicably drawn to the man as he had been since the day they had met back on Icarus. Greer held him back as the biggest bear shouted back at Rush and charged towards him.


Rush waved a dismissive hand and turned his back on the big alien.


"I think that's the commander," Varro whispered as the leader reached out and grabbed Rush by the back of his coat and spun him around. It shoved a finger into Rush's face and growled. Young moved again to intervene when an explosion rocked the whole courtyard.


The explosion threw Rush and the alien commander back. Young watched as Rush went hard into a pile of unloaded crates, cracking his head and going limp, probably unconscious from the impact. The huge bear fell partially on top of Rush but quickly leaped to his feet and drew his weapon.


A new group of aliens, with lizard-like scales instead of skin and in military style uniforms started firing on Rush's bear aliens, who didn't hesitate to shoot back. Soon enough their ears were ringing from the gunfire confined to such a small area. Smoke from a second explosion blinded Young and the crew's view, but they were trained soldiers, they could fire by sound alone if need be. They joined the firefight, siding with bear-like aliens. It wasn't just that Rush was with them, Young also suspected that the newcomers might belong to the group that had made their lives miserable since entering this galaxy. Years in the Stargate program and natural instinct had honed his skills at immediately assessing a situation including to trust his gut, and the aliens were in uniforms. It was too coincidental.


The commander howled, and Young could just make out through the smoke as one of the crew darted over, reached down and slung the still unconscious Rush over its shoulder. It never stopped firing as it carried Rush inside the ship. The newcomers turned their fire onto the crew of the Destiny, splitting their defenses, which turned out to be their fatal mistake. The firefight alliance between Destiny's crew and the bear aliens proved to be too much power, and the military aliens were quickly defeated.


Young signaled his crew to keep their weapons up, ready for anything, while they waited for the smoke to finish clearing.


The stinging in their eyes had just started to ease when a loud growly voice broke through as the last of the smoke dissipated. Ambling out, bigger than Greer had first estimated, the commander approached them with a big toothy grin on his ursine face and his massive arms spread wide.


"Geerayjee dd dohmeetee," the creature said. "Mee fa Fafa Fa."


Young shouldered his weapon and smiled back while doing his best to convey he had not understood but wanted to appear friendly. He greeted the alien, "I'm Colonel Everett Young."


One of the commander's crew ran up to the captain and tapped his chest then turned to Colonel Young and handed him a similar pin before pushing the small button in the middle.


The commander looked down and growled trying to hide his unease. He knew that name. He didn't need the translator for that. He would see what this Colonel Young wanted. Then he would decide if they needed to eliminate them or not. He pushed the ornate button pinned to his left breast before looking up again and repeating now in English courtesy of the translator, "Greetings my friends. I am Captain Rhark."


"What the hell?" Greer hissed at suddenly understanding what the strange alien was saying.


Rhark laughed heartedly. "An invention of my chief engineer. He calls it a translator."


"That does make things convenient," Young held out his hand in greeting. "Colonel Young."


Rhark looked down at the offered hand and took it in his huge paws. "Thank you, my friend. We, the crew of the Annaroal, are in your debt. We are a humble and small group, with just this modest ship but I am a man of honor. Whatever you want, it is yours." He swept a hand towards the crates that still needed loaded and a grand gesture. "Name your reward my new friends."


Young kept his expression open and friendly.


"I have some very rare Dartarian wines," Rhark suggested. Young had no idea what that was except that it was wine but the alien commander had an air of about him that suggested it was a fine reward. He didn't want a reward. He wanted Rush back.


"Captain Rhark, you are too kind." Young smiled, trying to keep his expression as friendly as possible. "But that is unnecessary. We are here to resc..." Greer elbowed him in the ribs cutting him off before he could finish.


Varro stepped forward and said, "We would be honored if as reward we could have the small man that was working on your ship."


"This man speaks for you Captain Young," Rhark growled.


"It's Colonel and not normally, but in this case, I value his counsel," Young held up his hand for Rhark to wait.


Varro whispered quickly in Young's ear. "They seem to have some sort of system in place, similar to the Lucian Alliance. The crew would not be slaves, but they can be used as coin if necessary."


"He is correct," Young finished his sentence accepting Varro's quick take on the situation. "I claim that man as our reward."


Rhark studied the Destiny's crew. They were obviously the same race as his Meray me. He had wondered if there were more of his kind although Nhick never mentioned much of his former life. Had they sold Nhick to Ddarus, a fate worse than death, in his opinion. He may still kill them for that alone. He had heard words whispered in pain while Nhick slept, words like Destiny and the word young, said with such sorrow and longing. In fact, he knew he had heard the exact words...Colonel Young. Could this be the one that haunted his Meray me's dreams? He had asked Nhick about it once, but Nhick had dismissed it with a wave of his hand before he had fallen back into a restless sleep.


"What could you want with Nhick, he is a tela," Rhark waved his paw. "A handful" he explained when the translator couldn't parse out the correct word, "and our only engineer. A valued member of my crew."


"Rush, I mean Nhick," Young could hardly roll his tongue to match the pronunciation. "Was..I mean...is a valuable member of my crew." Young wasn't sure why he was stammering so much. His stomach was clenching uneasily too.


"Not too valuable," Rhark scoffed. "He has been with me for nearly two cycles." He didn't want to lose Nhick, but he belonged with his own kind. This Colonel Young looked capable of taking care of Nhick. Not very big but neither were Young's soldiers. They did handle themselves well in the previous fight. In this galaxy, nothing should be too easy. Negotiation was the key. It would give him the time to see if this Young was worthy.


Young held out his hand in acceptance of Rhark's words. "True but our parting was not of choice, he was stolen away from us."


"Ahhh of course of course." This did change things. Rhark, while not opposed to being in possession of stolen merchandise, it was his stock and trade after all, but he had never liked slavery and only took Nhick out of pity. Slave running was the line in the sand for him, and in sixty cycles, he had yet to cross that line. It did make more sense to Rhark now. He had not understood how someone as smart and capable as Nhick ended up being a slave of Ddarus. To be able to return him to his former crew...he cleared his throat "As I said, I am a man of honor. I will grant you the return of Nhick since he was stolen."


Young breathed a subtle sigh of relief. This was all going easier than he thought it would.


"But I beg you for some time Colonel Young. Our sub-light engines are down."


So much for easy. When were they going to catch a break? Young kept his expression neutral.


"While I sympathize with your predicament we are on a timetable at the moment," Young replied through clenched teeth behind his smile. He had checked the time, and they only had twenty minutes before Destiny jumped back into FTL. Eli and Chloe had cracked the code for allowing the crew to chose how long Destiny stayed in FTL without damaging the engines and how to change directions while inside FTL but the ship still determined their time out of FTL with that damn countdown clock.


"Fata, ray te fa ray fame, so Rayme sofa lafa fa ray dome fafa," one of Rhark's crew jogged up and rumbled at the captain so low the translator did not pick it up.


"How's Nhick coming with the engines?" he turned and asked the crew. The alien shrugged. Rhark grabbed what appeared to be a radio and barked into it, "Nhick!"


Colonel Young tried to hide his smile when there was no answer. At least they knew Rush was conscious.


"Nhick, pick up your damn radio!"


Five seconds. Ten seconds. Fifteen seconds. The radio crackled. "What?"


"We need to take off. The sooner the better. How long before we can do that?" Rhark asked, barely hiding his irritation. Young knew that look all too well.


"A lot sooner if someone will stop botherin' me." Rush's accent was in full force. Young hadn't realized how much he missed it. Or maybe he did and just didn't hadn't wanted to admit it.


Barnes who had up till now remained quiet, partially in shock that they had inadvertently found their former chief scientist they all believed had died back in the last galaxy, mumbled, "If there was any doubt he's our Rush, I think we have our answer."


Young ignored the comment, but Greer smiled and whispered, "Typical Rush."


"How long!" Rhark thundered into the radio. "I need a time."


The radio crackled like the person on the other end was thinking while holding the talk button down. "We can break orbit right now but we will have to jump straight to FTL. The sub-light engines are still down. It won' be pretty when we drop back out if you don' let me finish."


"Prepare for departure," Rhark spoke back into the radio and to the crew standing around. His remaining crew started quickly to load the last of the crates. To Young he said. "You are in luck. We need to leave too. I have just received word that our friends here have more friends." Rhark waved one of his crew over and took a gadget Young didn't recognize from the crew member.


"These are the coordinates to a small moon nearby. Meet us there. Hopefully, our engines are fixed by then." He smiled another toothy grin at the colonel and handed him the device. "Once we dock up, I will give you Nhick for assisting us." Or we move on he thought. He bowed and dashed into his ship, closing the door and leaving Young and crew standing there in shock at the abrupt departure.


They barely had time to move out of the way before the engines fired up and the Annaroal started to lift off.


The air around them was swirling with dust and pelting them with little rocks. Young tightened his hat down on his head and covered his eyes. He hoped the science team would be able to figure out the device.


"Come on let's go." Young turned and jogged up the alleyway, his crew right on his heels.


"What if it's a trick?" Barnes shouted over the roar of the engines.


"We got to trust him if we hope to get Rush back." Young was worried, though. They were so close and suddenly it was a race to get back to Destiny and hope that Captain Rhark was not lying. This could all have been a ruse to avoid giving them Rush. They had no idea if they could track the small craft or not. They had no way of knowing what was waiting for them at this moon. It might also be a trap.


"We need to hurry," Greer shouted and pointed to a group of aliens coming up the street, dressed like the bodies they had left dead back at the landing spot. That explained the abrupt departure of their new friends.


Luckily the gate wasn't far from where they were. They jogged quickly, weaving through the crowd with the practiced ease of trained soldiers.


Varro put his hand on Young's shoulder as Barnes dialed the gate. "Rhark seemed honorable. I have known his type. I believe his word is good. We will get Doctor Rush back."


"I hope so, Varro," Young mumbled and stepped through the blue event horizon of the Stargate.


*****


Eli had only discovered the hanger bay a few weeks prior after remembering a similar airlock he had let Scott and Greer through during the takeover by the Lucian Alliance. It was near back of the ship and not easy to get to, but they finally worked around the damaged hull areas and made a path. It was just a large open area with a port for docking. Large enough a craft smaller than the shuttle could park there.


Young had decided against telling the whole crew about Rush, instead, keeping it to his senior staff and the science team. Just minutes before, Rhark's ship had docked with them and immediately his crew had started bringing crates aboard, explaining they were for Nhick. Young had a detail of soldiers haul the crates to Rush's quarters. He didn't explain why and guessed they would gossip about what was up. He couldn't stop them and hoped things would settle before the rumors ran rampant. They could hear a flurry of activity through the doors but no sign of Rhark or Rush. Young could hear shouting and then silence.


The next minute, Rush was storming down the walkway between the ships. His head was down, and he had an air rage infused dejection. Young still couldn't quite believe they had found Rush out here in the middle of this strange new galaxy.


"Meray me!" Rhark shouted down the short corridor through the bay doors. His voice loud but even Young could hear a gentleness in it absent from their previous encounter.


Rush didn't look up, his long bangs shielding his face from Young's view. Rush turned slightly back towards the voice and squared up his shoulders, his hands flinching open and close. No one spoke, but a whir and click and a large metal collar from around his neck snapped open. It had been hidden from view by his hair and the collar of his brown leather trench coat. Rush reached up and pulled it off. He rolled it over in his hands but said nothing.


Young and his military detail stood back in silence and watched as the scene unfolded.


In an angry fluid movement Rush threw the collar back down the corridor with as much force as he could and yelled, "Fuck you!"


The doors slammed shut. Silence. Young felt like he was holding his breath.


Rush stood with his back to the crew. Young stepped forward, still unsure if Rush even knew it was them or not, he had no idea what Rhark had told him about the exchange. Rush's actions so far didn't indicate Rhark had told him about Destiny. Or if he had, Rush didn't seem particularly happy about the turn of events.


Young's radio crackled.


"Colonel, the Annaroal has jumped into FTL." Eli's voice announced over the speaker.


Rush flinched slightly. Young would have missed it had he not been watching so closely. Rush cocked his head to the side, as if unsure of what he had heard. Slowly his head came up, and he turned, facing the group gathered in front of the bay doors. His brown eyes grew wide, flaring momentarily in surprise before going black with anger.


He launched himself at Young.


Young had just enough time to brace himself for impact as Rush flung himself angrily at him. Rush knocked into him, and the force of the attack left them sprawled on the deck with Rush's hands gripping tight around the colonel's neck with a surprising strength Young had never felt from Rush before during any of their previous fights. Young tried to speak, but Rush was squeezing his throat so tight he could barely breathe. Young started to see stars prickling at the edge of his vision. He dug his finger's into Rush's hands to no avail. He looked straight into Rush's eyes, and all he could see was a blind rage.


Greer and Scott jumped in after their immediate shock had worn off and tried to pull Rush off of Young. Each man grabbed one of Rush's arms and pulled back. They only succeeded once Young had managed to bring up his knee into Rush's stomach, unbalancing him enough for the two soldiers to gain enough leverage to pull him away. It didn't stop Rush from fighting to get free, though. Scott thought it was like trying to hold on to a wild animal. Neither soldier could get him into a headlock. It was taking all their strength to hang on to him and not hurt him.


James stepped over to the colonel and kneeled down next to him, "Are you okay, sir?"


"Yes, just give me a moment," Young said rubbing his neck. He watched as Scott finally managed to get the upper hand on Rush allowing Greer to swipe Rush's legs out from under him, and together they lowered the man to the deck with a loud thud and then rolled him onto his stomach. Each man held an arm twisted behind Rush's back, and Greer pressed his knee into the small of Rush's back. Rush still hadn't stopped fighting, his body thrashing and bucking to escape their hold.


Young waved to Dunning to lower his weapon and let James help him to his feet. "Stop it Rush!" he yelled. Rush ignored his order and continued to twist around trying to dislodge Greer and Scott. "God dammit, settle down!"


"Stop Doctor Rush," Scott pleaded, his voice soft but commanding. No matter what had happened since they arrived on Destiny, Scott still thought of Rush as one of their own, and he hated seeing anyone this distraught. Scott didn't want to hurt the man but dang it, Rush wasn't making it easy. Plus he was sure Chloe wouldn't be happy if she found out he had.


Rush movements abruptly stilled, all the fight seeming to go out of him at once, although Greer could still feel the man's body vibrating beneath him his knee. He patted around Rush's body and didn't find a weapon. Greer pressed his knee down firmer. "Are you finished?"


Rush nodded, and the two soldiers let his arms go. Rush rolled over onto his back when Greer removed his knee and stood back. Greer offered Rush his hand. Rush swatted it aside and smoothly jumped to his feet. His hands once more clenching and unclenching at his side. Rush tossed his hair out of his eyes and defiantly tilted his chin up as he glared at Young.


"What the hell was that about Rush," Young growled out between clenched teeth. He was a little embarrassed Rush had taken him down so easily. Rush had only been aboard Destiny a few minutes, and Young felt the old need to crowd into his personal space and intimidate him into submission. He pushed the feeling down, instead said more gently than he felt, "We just rescued you."


"What makes you think I wanted or needed to be rescued?" Rush sneered at him. Rhark had told him nothing, only that he had given him away as a reward. He was to be someone else's slave. It was humiliating, and it hurt deeply. More than he was willing to admit. He falsely assumed he had earned his place as a member of Rhark's crew despite still wearing his slave collar and being Rhark's slave. Rush had started believing the collar was just a formality. He was wrong. Rhark had told him he would never be able to free him, it wasn't safe, and there were no such things as former slaves in this galaxy. Too many close calls and Rush had been glad he was Rhark's slave. Had accepted it. Now he wasn't. He had refused outright to leave, earning him a paw across the face and an unceremoniously shove out the door. He bit into the split in his lip, making it start bleeding again. The dull ache was helping him focus. Rhark had betrayed him.


Seeing Young, knowing Young was now his master. It was unthinkable. Young hated him. This was some sort of karmic payback. A way to humiliate him. A way to make him pay for his perceived sins. He was sure Young had a list of them somewhere.


"Come on Rush. You were a slave. I would think you would be happy to be back on board Destiny. The mission, your life's work," Greer pointed out. "All that science stuff."


Rush didn't acknowledge Greer, his eyes focused solely on Young. "Rhark told me he gave me to you Colonel Young. I'm to be your slave now." His voice was dripping with venom. He pointed angrily at Young. "You think now you can control me. You think I'll be your happy little puppet, doin' whatever the hell you think is best."


He smirked at the thought of Young trying to control him. The man had tried before and failed. Though, if Young considered him his property, maybe Young wouldn't be so inclined to leave him behind anymore. That might be useful at least until they were out of this galaxy and away from Ddarus. He needed Young until then. Needed his protection. He couldn't let Young know that. Young would surely hold it over him.


"You are not my slave Rush." Young sighed. How the man could have such a melodic accent that was so pleasant to the ears, yet he made it sound like it made of razors, ready to slice Young to pieces on the spot.


Rush narrowed his eyes and snarled, "Then who do I belong?"


"God man, no one, you are free," Young was getting exasperated. He would have to talk to Camile. Maybe she could shed some light on this. Young couldn't tell if Rush was mad about being Young's slave or because he was free. It was like Rush was suffering a mental break. Wouldn't be the first time, Young thought, remembering back to the day Rush had collapsed from withdrawal during their first few days on Destiny.


"Free?" Rush asked softly and looked away. This couldn't be right. He couldn't be free, that meant there was no one to protect him from that bastard Ddarus. They had too many close calls recently. Rhark had promised him. Promised him! Rush felt the panic of his situation take hold in his chest. He tried to focus. He bit hard on his injured lip, this time the ache was sharp. Nothing was making sense anymore. He fingered the heavy, silver bracelet on his left wrist, trying to let the cool metal calm him. He was starting to have trouble breathing. He twisted on the links a little harder. "Then who will protect me," he whispered so softly Young barely heard him.


The colonel reached forward and put is hand on Rush's elbow, trying hard not to startle the man. Rush was as skittish as a feral cat. "You are safe. We won't let anything happen to you."


"Like you've done a bang-up job so far," Rush hissed, and like the feral cat Young was just comparing him to, Rush was off and running at top speed down the corridor. Rush had grabbed the bag he dropped when he attacked Young, pulled something from it and tossed a small object towards them as he rounded the corner.


The small flash bomb went off, blinding the crew temporarily. Rush didn't want to hurt them. Despite what had happened, he held no animosity towards the crew. The bomb was only powerful enough to stop them from catching him. His feet pounded on the deck as he ran towards the bridge. It hadn't been long since the Annaroal jumped into FTL. He still had time to catch Rhark. Young couldn't protect him. The man hadn't a clue what this galaxy was like. The ruthlessness. The danger. No slave was safe here. Young had proven time and again how little he thought of protecting Rush. First leaving him on that barren planet to be captured by the Nakai. Then leaving him to be tortured by the Lucian Alliance. Rush felt the panic filling him up. His heart was beating faster than it should. He clutched at his chest as he ran. His thoughts scattering and racing down every possible conclusion of what staying here on Destiny under Young's version of protection would get him. Nowhere. Young's protection had never included him in any meaningful way. Things would go wrong. Horribly wrong, he just knew it. Left behind again. Stolen away by Ddarus again or worse. Because there was always something worse out there. He shuddered to think of what could be worse than Ddarus.


No no. Only Rhark could protect him, Rush thought to himself as he skidded to a stop and slammed his fist into the door lock opening the bridge doors.


"Out!" he shouted at the crew seated at their stations. He strolled with practiced confidence he didn't feel and shouted again, pointing to the exit. "All o' you! Out!"


Eli and the others filed out quickly.


"Wait a minute," Eli exclaimed as the doors to the bridge swished shut in his face.


As soon as the bridge doors closed, Rush pulled a panel by the door off and locked access. It wouldn't hold them long, but he didn't think he would need very long. Rush covered his mouth with his hands, nervously tapping his lips. God, the thought of being out here unprotected was gripping him so tightly he was starting to have trouble breathing again. Rhark had to get him. He had too.


Deep breath. Deep breath. There was time, he tried to convince himself. They couldn't have gotten too far. He started to do the calculations in his head as he paced back and forth across the bridge trying to remember, trying to concentrate on what he needed to do. His fingers twisted on the bracelet.


He slammed his fist on the communications console. This had to work. It was the only way. He shoved the translator he carried in his coat pocket into a slot on the console. His fingers danced over the controls with remembered ease. He started punching in the frequency from memory, and soon enough he made the connection to the Annaroal.


Rhark's face appeared on the screen. It was a welcome sight. Rush felt the grip the panic had on him lessen, making way for the rage bubbling up again and spilling over.


"Nhick?" the big bear captain asked surprised to see the face of his former slave.


"You bastard! Do you have any idea what you've done to me?" Rush yelled at him.


"Calm down Nhick. What has happened my Meray me?" Rhark responded with a gentleness one wouldn't expect from such a ferocious looking creature.


"You!" Rush pointed an accusing finger at the screen. "Need to come get me now!"


"What has happened? Where is your Colonel Young?"


"He's no' my Colonel," Rush snarled. "He won' protect me."


"Yes, he will, he assured me you were safe on board Destiny."


On the other side of the bridge door, Young banged on the locked doors. "Eli, get these doors opened now!" he barked out.


"I'm trying Colonel, I just," Eli's hands flew over his laptop keys. "Just give me a minute, okay."


"We don't have a minute. Rush could do anything in a matter of seconds. Who knows what he is doing in there." Young banged on the door ineffectively again. "Why in the hell did you people leave him alone in there?"


"I don't know, he just told us to get out, and we did," Volker said sheepishly. "Kind of like habit." He shrugged. It was like seeing a ghost when Rush had stormed in, and the whole bridge crew just reacted like they always had when Rush was in one of his moods. They had all forgotten for a moment they were forced to leave him on the planet Destiny had stopped at before they went into stasis. Young had told them he had found him, but none of them really believed it.


"Got it got it," Eli yelled, and the doors swished open. "Rush is good, but he'll never be better than me." Eli smiled triumphantly.


"Can you lock out control of the ship's systems from that?" Young asked Eli, indicating his laptop.


The young man nodded. "He could work around it but not before you could take him down."


"Do it."


Young stepped forward, waving everyone to stand back but Greer and Scott. They flanked him and aimed their weapons at Rush who was ignoring or didn't hear their arrival. The way he was pacing, yanking on his hair and screaming at the communications screen, it seemed likely it was the latter. Young held up his arm to hold off any intervention. He wanted to get a handle on what was happening before they acted.


"Colonel Young's assurances mean nothin' to me. His actions in the past..." Rush pressed the heel of his hand into his eye and flinched when it came in contact with the bruising there. "You promised me Rhark. You promised, an' now you ship me off wit' no way to protect myself an' no one to protect me. You have to come get me."


"I'm not doing that. Colonel Young and I had a deal," Rhark replied, his voice still gentle but it had taken a firmer tone. The Destiny would be safer. Rhark had realized that when he saw the ship. Ddarus would have no idea Nhick was on it.


"Please, come get me," Rush pleaded, the anger evaporating. "You don' know what you've done."


"I don't know. I don't know because you never told me anything. Anytime I asked you dismissed it as the past. Don't try and use it against me now." Rhark growled. He could see Colonel Young and two of his soldiers behind Rush.


Rush pushed up the sleeve to his coat and waved his wrist at the screen. "Do you remember this?" he fingered the bracelet around his left wrist again. "This was a promise!" He yanked at the bracelet until the clasp broke. "This means nothin' to me!" he yelled as he threw it at the screen. It bounced off the screen and fell to the deck.


"Meray me," Rhark still tried to reason with the man. "Don't be like this."


"Don' call me that!" Rush raged at him. "Don' ever call me that again you bastard!"


Rhark looked down, sadness filling his eyes and then he touched his big paw to the screen like he could somehow feel Rush through it. He was used to Nhick's hysterics, but the abject desolation cut him to the core.


Rush glared at him and sneered, "I hate you." With that, he turned on his heel to leave but coming up short as he finally noticed Colonel Young, Scott, and Greer. He ignored them and went to push by. Young grabbed his elbow to stop him.


"Report to sickbay. I want TJ to check you out," Young said in an even voice. He nodded to Greer and Scott to escort Rush.


"I don' need to see Lieutenant Johansen. I'm fine," Rush whispered and ducked his head. The irrational man from just a minute before seemed to have disappeared. Young idly wondered if Rush was as dizzy as he was from the lightning fast mood changes.


"That may be, but I still need her to check, okay," Young still tried to remain calm and not upset the man.


"Fine," Rush snapped and pulled his elbow free from Young's grip. The bridge crew, still gathered in the corridor separated like the red sea to let him through as he stomped away at a fast pace. Greer and Scott following right behind him after Young softly ordered, "Make sure he gets there."


Eli went to step back inside the bridge, but Young stopped him. "Give me a minute."


"Uh, Sure?" Eli responded. He let the door close in his face but quickly switched screens on his laptop, to the one connected to the kino he let slip inside earlier so he could watch what was happening. He had recorded everything with the idea maybe Colonel Young will want to review it, not that Eli was nosey. Not that at all.


Colonel Young faced Rhark and slightly bowed. "Captain." Young tried to keep his tone pleasant.


"Colonel," Rhark replied.


"He's not adjusting well," Young said ruefully.


"I can see that," Rhark laughed. The sound filled with more regret than a laugh should. "Be patient with him, Colonel Young. He's not had it easy."


"The man is a lot of work," Young said, thinking despite all the time that had passed, Rush was still a lot of work.


"Perhaps we should have talked more before I let you take him from me," Rhark replied. "It was my fault. Letting him go was not easy." He rubbed his paw down his face. "Nhick was the first slave I had owned." Rhark went on to explain. "I was unsure of what to do with him, but I was obligated once I had won him in a game of Raysogard. I did the best I could."


Rhark paused, thinking of how to explain the state Rush was in when he first brought him aboard the Annaroal. "Nhick was more than broken. He was shattered. He did not utter a sound for weeks. He did nothing more than curl up and tremble when any of us tried to communicate with him. When he did finally speak to me, I found out what an intelligent creature he was. A real marvel. I had seen nothing like it and wondered how he wound up in the slave trade. He still has nightmares about his former master Ddarus but has told me little of what happened." Although he had a good idea.


"Why didn't you free him?" Young asked.


"That is simply not done here," Rhark explained like Young should know this already.


"I told him he was no longer a slave," Young said apologetically and explained further, "Where we are from, Earth. We abolished slavery centuries ago."


"That is why he panicked," Rhark muttered to himself. He looked straight into Young's eyes. "I did not know you were going to do this. Once a slave always a slave. To free him would be to put him in danger from other slavers. Leave him unprotected. From Ddarus, his former master especially. No one we've met had experience with your kind. Exotic races are in high demand. I could not do that to him. I grew very fond of Nhick."


"He can't be my slave, it just doesn't work that way," Young hoped Rhark could understand him.


"Even if he is not yours, you must still protect him. Help him to feel safe," the alien captain urged. "I fear I did not fill in all the cracks. He is quite fragile."


"I can try, but he's not making it easy." Young wondered if there was more to the story since the big bear had not suggested protecting the rest of his crew too. If Rush was in so much danger, wouldn't they all be? He would never have described Rush as fragile either. The man seemed to have the survival skills of a cockroach.


"Nhick never makes anything easy," Rhark no longer sounded angry. "He's impulsive, stubborn, arrogant, cranky, reckless and brilliant. And passionate. So passionate about all things. He made the engines of the Annaroal sing."


"That sounds like Rush," Young laughed. "Most of the crew call him a ship whisperer." He avoided thinking about passion and Rush at the same time. The other words did describe Rush, though, but Rhark forgot about deceptive, manipulative, thoughtless, hateful, selfish and cruel. Young had a moment to wonder why he had wanted him back on Destiny. They could have easily just moved on.


No. Young would never forget the look on Rush's face when he agreed to stay with him to carry on Destiny's mission. That was the man they rescued today. The man he started to be friends with. Rhark's growly voice brought him back to the present.


"I also spoiled him, in hopes of bringing a smile to his face. All he desired, I moved mountains to find for him. Nhick was always so filled with sadness." Rhark confided. "Just be patient Colonel Young. He is worth it."


The alien face could not hide Rhark's misery. It was painful to look at. All Young could do was nod he would. The whole conversation had been uncomfortable. Rhark appeared to be more than just fond of Rush. Young had never heard anyone speak of Rush in that manner. He figured Rush's wife must have loved him and those who had interacted with Doctor Perry said she was very fond of him. Young suspected, from what Eli had hinted, it was more than fondness.


"Don't let him contact me again," Rhark growled. "It's too difficult for me." He slammed his paw, and the connection ended.


Young took a deep breath. He found the bracelet Rush had thrown and pocketed it. He went to let the bridge crew back in. He patted Eli on the shoulder and nodded at James to come with him, and they headed towards the infirmary. This day was turning out to be one for the record books.


*****


TJ tried to hide her surprise when Rush charged into the infirmary. The colonel had told her they had found Rush on the planet they just gated to, but she didn't want to believe it until she saw him with her own two eyes.


"Welcome back, Doctor Rush," TJ greeted him. He glared at her. Well, nothing had changed much in that regard.


"Colonel Young insists I let you examine me," Rush snorted, his cheek twitching slightly. "There really is no need. I am fine Lieutenant Johansen."


"Why don't you let me be the judge of that," she replied adopting a professional stance and patted a nearby table.


Rush glared at the offending table and reluctantly took off his coat. He tossed it on the examination table along with his satchel. TJ patted the table again. Rush gave an exasperated huff before edging onto the table.


TJ pushed his hair off his forehead and examined the black eye. Most of the swelling around the eye had gone down, but the most of the white was red and inflamed.The area around the eye had a dark bruise. She went over to her medicinal cabinet and pulled out a couple of small squares of cloth and retrieved a jar from the second shelf. She dampened one of the squares and pressed it to Rush's eye.


He flinched in pain but allowed her to guide his hand up to hold it in place. She took the second square and cleaned his split bottom lip. Greer had told her how the captain of the ship had punched Rush in the eye, so she knew where the shiner was from but the split lip was relatively recent. She glanced over at Scott and Greer, they shrugged and shook their heads. At least it wasn't the colonel this time, which was a relief.


"The colonel said there was an explosion, were you hurt?" the young medic asked. TJ brushed back her blonde hair, tucking an errant strand behind her ear.


"I knocked my head pretty hard, blacked out a few minutes, but that was all. Maybe a few bumps an' bruises. Nothin' to worry about," Rush volunteered. That was enough for TJ to extend the examination further. Rush never admitted to any injuries unless he was in pain and then he tended to minimize it as much as possible. She asked where he hit his head and Rush gestured to the back of his skull. She moved his hair out of the way when she found the bump. The skin was split open, the hair around it matted with dried blood.


"I think you need a couple of stitches, it's still oozing quite a bit," she explained going to retrieve the needle and thread.


"That's no' necessary..." Rush started, then ended with a sigh. TJ would have her way whether he liked it or not. He didn't want to explain why stitches were a waste. Best just to let her get on with it. She made short work of the stitches, and soon enough she finished. TJ gave him her best doctor smile.


"I need you to remove your shirt now."


"Now Lieutenant Johansen, the Ancients have a diagnostics table. I shouldn' have to remove my clothes," Rush complained, apparently finished letting her examine him.


"They do, but I find that hands on gets the better results. Off with your shirt," TJ said flatly. She folded her arms across her chest.


Rush didn't bother getting up, he just pulled the fawn colored shirt off and deposited it by his side.


TJ managed to school her expression when she looked at Rush's torso. Large bruises and old and recent scars, covered his chest, including the one where she had removed the Nakai transmitter. His left forearm had been burned severely at some point in the last four years. The skin was discolored and distorted. She listened to his heart and lungs then got out her blood pressure cuff.


"Your heart rate is a little fast, and your blood pressure is up," she said as she put away the instruments.


"Ay, it's been a stressful day," he twitched a crooked smile at her.


"So I've heard," she quipped. TJ stilled as she moved to examine his back. She tried to cover her shock by asking him about his accent. She hoped it would work because she was genuinely horrified by the scars on his back. "You sound more Scottish than I remember, Doctor Rush?"


Rush barked a laugh. "I fear I got out o' the habit o' repressin' my accent when I no longer had to be understood by you Americans."


TJ laughed softly. She pressed lightly on the scars covering his back. They were long and deep, gnarled from little to no treatment. She wanted to ask him, but she knew, he knew, she could see them, she waited to see if he offered an explanation.


Rush looked over his shoulder at TJ and locked eyes with her. "A present from my former slave master I'm afraid."


TJ gave him a small smile. "Any pain? I could make you an ointment, might help minimize the scarring."


"No need for that Lieutenant. Are we finished?" he asked and reached for his shirt.


"Sure. But I want you to come by again tomorrow. Let me make sure it was just stress making your blood pressure high. Try and establish a baseline."


He nodded and pulled on his shirt but did not tuck it in. When he finished, he looked up, and Young was leaning in the doorway.


"How's the patient TJ?" Young asked, not bothering to enter.


"Fine," Rush snapped.


TJ smiled at the back of Rush's head. "He's fine."


"Can I go now?" Rush asked, addressing TJ and Young.


"Yes, but get some rest and don't forget to come see me tomorrow." Rush rolled his eyes and nodded at her.


He grabbed his coat and satchel and pushed past Young. Young grabbed him by the arm to stop him. "Lieutenant James will be with you tonight."


"I don' need a babysitter," Rush hissed at him.


"Didn't say you did," Young quipped in good humor, although he was sure Rush wouldn't take it that way. He let go of Rush's arm so he could leave. Things had gotten so much better after he had agreed to stay with Rush on Destiny before their aborted dialing within the star. They had really started to work together instead of against each other. Young had hoped they might get back to that, but so far it wasn't looking good. Maybe after Rush settled in. He sighed and watched as Rush disappeared around the corner, James right behind him, jogging to keep up at Rush's fast pace.


"He's really okay?" Young asked TJ.


"Yes. His vitals are a little high. Probably from stress." TJ sat on the examination table. "He's at a healthy weight. Better than before actually."


"He looks thin to me."


"He is, but he is showing no signs he's malnourished." TJ swung her legs absently. "What happened?"


"Not real sure." Young put his hands in his pockets and rocked on the balls of his feet. "Guess we'll wait for him to tell us."


TJ laughed and then sobered, thinking about the scars. "Whatever it was, it wasn't good, sir."


"I'm starting to get that."


*****


Lieutenant Vanessa James jumped when the door to Doctor Rush's quarters slid open, and he stepped outside with an air of impatience. She had just stood there for fifteen minutes, stuck listening to what could only be described as a conniption going on behind the closed door. At least that is what her grandmother always called them. Her polite way of not calling it a temper tantrum. She wondered who she pissed off to be saddled with this duty.


She peeked around Rush to look inside out of curiosity if it was as bad as it sounded and to let the man know she had heard. The room previously unoccupied for nearly four years looked like a tornado had hit it and smelled of smoke. James gave Rush a pained smile.


He merely shrugged in return and raised a challenging eyebrow for her to say something. Rush had left the long trench coat, and satchel tossed on his bed. His shirt was still untucked. It was long and billowy reaching mid-thigh, the neck large enough to hang slightly askew across his narrow shoulders. He was still in his brown leather trousers and boots. His hair was a mess. Apparently, he had been running his hand through it instead of a comb. James thought he looked a bit like a pirate, for certain nothing like he had before.


Rush cleared his throat. "You're to be my escort for the evenin', Lieutenant?"


"Yes sir," She smiled, brightly this time because of his choice of words. "I'm sure Colonel Young is just being over cautious."


"I'm sure," he replied, his voice reflecting that was not what he was really thinking. "Better than bein' locked up ay?"


James grinned, "It sure is. Where do you want to go?"


"The mess, unless Airmen Becker is still servin' protein paste."


"I think almost kale wraps are on the menu," James mused. The wraps were filling but really bland. What she wouldn't give for another near-deer like they shot back on the planet they had almost lost TJ on. The subsequent barbecue had become legendary and was still talked about over drinks at Brody's.


"Lead the way, Lieutenant," Rush asked and held his hand outward for her to take the lead. She started to step forward then shook her head. Nice try she thought.


"How about we walk together, sir?" James stepped into a casual parade rest. Rush nodded in agreement, and they strolled off side by side.


They didn't pass many of the crew on the way. It was well after shift change so most of the early shift would already be in the mess. It sounded crowded and loud until they stepped through the door. You could hear a pin drop as everyone turned to look at their long lost scientist returned from the proverbial dead.


Becker stepped up to them, two plates in his hands. "Good to have you back sir," he said to Rush with a nod towards James. "ma'am." Thank God for Becker, she thought. He was a gentle giant, and with his words, the buzz around the mess resumed, although James was sure the subject was now all about her companion for the evening.


"Mister Becker, if you don' mind, I will pass on the..." Rush pointed faintly at the offered plates. "An' may I bother you for two bowls an spoons. Lieutenant James an' I will be eatin' those." He pointed to the crapples Eli and Scott had brought back from the planet. For once Eli's naming system worked, thought James.


"Those are pretty nasty, sir," Becker explained even as he set the two plates aside and gathered up the bowls and spoons. The crew's excitement over the fruit had died quickly after a few brave guinea pigs had tried them.


"Yes yes, these will do," Rush said and handed James the bowls, ignoring the cook. He gathered up four of the crapples and followed her to an empty table.


"You know, everyone says these taste like cardboard. No, I think it was actually, cardboard tastes better." James wrinkled her nose.


"Maybe," Rush pulled a knife from his boot after they had taken their seats and started to deftly peel the skin off one of the crapples. "no one has a clue how to properly eat one."


After quickly peeling all four of them, Rush sat the skins aside. He cut all four in half and dug out the centers, putting them to the other side of his impromptu workspace. James didn't think the table was all that hygienic but decided to go with the flow.


"Pay attention for when I'm not here, an' you want to eat one," he waved the knife playfully at James and grinned. She grinned back.


"Save the seeds, it's important. But first cut the halves into as small o' pieces as you can," Rush made short work of the fruit and soon separated them into the two bowls. "Now you mash them up while I work on the seeds."


"How much?" James asked. The pulp was firm but mashed easily under the spoon.


Rush's smile quirked a little to the side, "As much as you can, try an' no' leave any larger chunks." He used the butt of his knife to pulverize the little seeds. When finished he wiped the blade on his shirt and stuck it back in his boot.


"Now you sprinkle the powder into the bowls like this," he explained while wiping as much of the seed dust off the table and into each of the bowls. "An' stir it up real well."


TJ moved onto the bench next to James and watched her stirring the mush. She and the colonel had just arrived. Young shifted into the seat next to Rush, jostling the man a little. Rush didn't look up, merely moving over a fraction to make more room.


"What have you got there Vanessa?" TJ asked.


Rush scooped up a spoonful and put it in his mouth, nodding for James to follow suit. She hesitated then shook her head and powered forward, scooping a spoonful into her mouth.


The flavor was incredible. James's eyes widened, and she let out an audible moan. "Oh god this is so good, you have to try it TJ, you too Colonel Young." She got another spoonful and offered it to TJ. TJ covered her mouth as she let the flavors of what was as close to cinnamon and apples she had tasted in a long time explode on her tongue.


For the first time since Young had sat down, Rush turned his head and met him eye to eye. He looked at Young from behind the fringe of bangs hanging over his face. Rush held Young's gaze and offered a spoonful to the colonel. Young kept his eyes locked with Rush's, then slowly leaned forward and took the spoon of mush in his mouth.


James nudged TJ's shoulder and nodded her head to Young and Rush. Young's eyes were closed in the pure enjoyment of the taste and Rush's eyes were completely focused on the man, a small smile on his lips.


Young blinked and said, "Where did this come from?"


James noticed Rush's smile had disappeared once Colonel Young spoke. He was suddenly staring down at his bowl instead of the colonel. If was if a spell had been broken.


"It's the apples Eli brought back," James exclaimed and took another bite.


"I thought the consensus was they tasted like crap?" TJ asked as she stole another bite from James.


"Apparently, they do not know how to eat one properly," James grinned, finally getting Rush to look briefly up at her before returning to his fascinating bowl.


Young waved Becker over to the table. "Becker, get us another couple of bowls and some more of those apple thingies. Doctor Rush is going to show you how to prepare them."


"I am?" Rush asked. His voice was so small only their table could hear him. His whole body had tensed up under everyone's attention.


"It's okay, Colonel, I can show Becker," James quickly interrupted, catching on to Rush's sudden discomfort. "Gotta show Doctor Rush I was paying attention. We need a couple of knives too Becker," she shouted after the cook.


Becker returned, eager to learn. The young African American soldier did the best he could with all the alien food they collected but learning how to prepare tasty meals with strange foods was near impossible. He passed the colonel and James a bowl when James handed her partially eaten one to TJ. Rush had folded in on himself, hovering over his bowl and just stirring the mush around.


James tried to be as animated and cheerful as possible as she showed them how to make the applesauce. That's what she decided to call it as she swept the newly crushed seeds into the bowls, no telling what Eli would try to call it. She hoped she could draw their attention to her and not Rush, but it seemed the colonel only had eyes on their returned scientist.


"This is great Doctor Rush. Where did you learn how to make this?" Becker asked. Rush just shrugged and took another slow bite. Becker stood there a moment hoping Rush would explain more but when nothing was forthcoming, he smiled at the others and left asking for help from various crew members to make some more of their delicious new meal. Everyone gathered around trying to get a sample. Soon enough he had plenty of volunteer helpers.


"Are you almost done, Lieutenant?" Rush asked quietly.


"Uh sure," Vanessa answered and ate the last of her bowl. She glanced at Rush's bowl, still almost full. "You don't want to finish yours?"


"I'm rather tired an' would like to lie down if you don' mind." Rush whispered, but he made no move to get up until she did.


"I'll see you later TJ?" she asked the medic. TJ nodded. "Colonel." James nodded to her commander.


"Rush," Colonel Young addressed the other man. Rush turned his head slightly but kept his eyes towards the table. "Good to have you home."


Rush nodded but didn't speak. He and James left the mess side by side ignoring the curious onlookers.


Young took another bite of his applesauce and TJ gave him an exasperated look. "Don't press him, Colonel," she said.


"I'm not," Young waved his spoon at her. "That was not pressing. That was being polite."


"You know what I mean," she responded, but before she could say more, Greer bounced in next to the colonel and started eating from Rush's discarded bowl.


"Mmmm, this is good," Greer said. "Becker, my man, you have finally outdone yourself."


*****


Rush was tired. He wasn't just trying to get away from the colonel. No, he really was tired. Bone deep tired. It had hit him like a freight train. The events of the past three days catching up with him all at once. He was a little surprised it hadn't hit earlier, and he wished he could have hidden it better. The Annaroal and her crew had been relentlessly pursued by the Federation. Apparently, they didn't like that the ship had crossed over into their territory, picked up some passengers, and absconded with them back over to the safety of a planet out of the Federation's reach.


Whoever these people were, the Federation didn't want them leaving Federation space. Politics and the military, both subjects and people he tried to avoid but couldn't seem to escape. The SGC and IOA were just as bad. It hadn't mattered to the Annaroal who the people were, they were paying customers, and that is what Rhark and crew did. Smuggle. Whether it be people, weapons or anything else. As long as the price was good.


Mostly they had always kept under the radar and managed to lose anyone pursuing them until three days ago. Then it was one firefight after another. No time for sleeping or eating or anything else. The engines had barely hung together long enough to make repairs. They ran into luck that they had found the blown component when they did or most likely they would all be prisoners right now.


Top that off with having his world flip on top of itself once again. Rush was mentally, emotionally and physically out of fuel. He still expected to wake up, and this all have been a dream. The likelihood of the Destiny finding him was so astronomical he couldn't begin to calculate, let alone factoring in all the variables he would have to consider. Maybe Chloe would do it for him. No. His heart clenched. He couldn't go there, not right now, not while he was so tired and feeling like tenuous control he had on his emotions was shot to hell. Young being so friendly did not help.


Rush finished cleaning up and changed before climbing into bed. He rubbed his hand over his face. He would have to shave soon but not tonight. For being as tired as he was, the last step to rest seemed to elude him. Too many thoughts were whirling around in his head. Annaroal. Destiny. Rhark. Young.


*****


"Are you awake Doctor Rush?" James knocked on the door. When he didn't answer, she hesitated for a moment. The colonel had just dropped by a radio for Rush, and maybe if she just snuck in quietly and put it by the bed, it would be okay. James bit her lip in contemplation before steeling herself and opening the door, a little surprised it wasn't locked. Nobody locked their doors much, but she remembered how Rush was about his privacy.


The light from the corridor illuminated the small room and the lithe figure sitting crossed legged on the bed. Well, at least she hadn't woken him up, James thought ruefully. Although looking around, he hadn't been in there cleaning up the mess he had made earlier. The door swished shut leaving the room lit by a small lamp next to the bed and the blue light from the FTL streaming through the window.


"What can I do for you, Lieutenant?" Rush asked looking up at her. He looked a little lost and sad. James had to stop herself from going over and giving the man a hug.


"Uh, Colonel Young asked me to give you this," she stepped towards the edge of the bed and offered it to him. He looked at it like it was a snake. James gave it a little shake and tilted her head. "Please."


Rush leaned forward but did not get up and took the radio from her. He tossed it on the side table. "Thank you," he replied politely.


James was never real sure how to take Rush's politeness. He seemed sincere, and she remembered that same polite way he had always thanked Becker in the mess, no matter how unappetizing the meal was. Rush always addressed people by their honorific, something very few offered back to him. And tonight he had been even more so as he had shown her how to make applesauce and a bit playful too. She decided to take the offered politeness at face value, smiled at him and nodded. "You're welcome. I'll just be going now. I'm off duty. Airmen Rennie is taking over if you need anything."


"I won'," Rush muttered. James turned to go then spun back around.


"Is your hair wet?" she asked. It had taken a moment for it to registered since she was too busy trying not to upset the man, but he looked like he had just gotten out of the shower and she knew for a fact that none of the quarters had private showers and he hadn't left his room.


Rush looked at her blankly for a moment then said, "Ay." He ran a hand through his hair making it stick out a little on the sides.


"How?"


"I took a bath if you must know," he said and dropped back against the pillows and stretching out. He had changed into a pair of baggy woven pants and what looked like a plain white t-shirt. Nothing she had personally seen the man wear before. Extra clothing was a rare commodity, and everyone pretty much knew what everyone else had to wear. "Will there be anythin' else Lieutenant?"


"It's just..." she looked at him and waved her arm across the room, "how?"


James couldn't contain her smile when Rush bounced up and sat on the edge of the bed and grinned at her. The man who had taught her how to make the applesauce earlier was back. And she honestly couldn't remember seeing the man smile that big before at any one or any thing, except Doctor Perry. Who knew the man had such cute dimples that showed even behind the salt and pepper scruffy beard.


"It's actually quite a marvelous invention," he said excitedly, getting up and walking over the mess of clothes and what not thrown on the floor. He waved James over to a what looked like a small wooden boat. The crate it had arrived in tossed against the wall. Rush squatted down and pressed the side, and a panel opened up.


"I haven' had the chance to do a complete work up on it, but it runs on a recyclin' of a substance close to water. You press this button an it fills the container with hot liquid, but it's weightless or becomes weightless when it drains back into the structure." Rush rubbed his hand along the rim and looked back at James. "You wan' to give it a try?" he asked and stood back up.


James noticed how bright and eager he sounded explaining it to her a lot like he had been at dinner before he shut down. It was impossible not to be caught up in his enthusiasm, so she found herself saying yes before she had time to think it through. "I'll have to go back to my quarters first to get..." she started to say picking at her dirty fatigues.


"Nonsense," Rush said cutting her off. He searched around on the floor before grabbing a large fluffy garment that looked like a robe. He handed it to her. "You can wear this when you are done, maybe look around an' see if you like any of this." He pointed at the mess on the floor. "I'm goin' to toss it out tomorrow."


"I shouldn't," James said. She really shouldn't, but she wanted to so bad.


Rush dismissed her with another toss of his hand while squatting back at the control panel and pressing some buttons. "This will be ready in a couple o' minutes. This light will turn yellow when it is." His smile faded just a little, and he ran his hand through his hair again. "I am honestly tired, Lieutenant, if you could try no' to wake me up when you're finished?"


"Uh sure, I'll be as quiet as a church mouse," James assured him, still somewhat in shock when he walked past her and climbed back on the bed. This was all so out of character, but his offer seemed genuine. He laid down and rolled to his side with his back to her, curling in on himself. He seemed so much smaller than she remembered.


She watched his back carefully for any signs that he was really up to something. She was used to men and some women, trying to take a peek at her. She couldn't help that nature had endowed her as much as it had. The military might have eliminated any modesty she had about dressing in front of her peers, but she still didn't plan on giving a peep show to just anyone. James stripped quickly, and as soon as the light turned yellow, she eased down into the sudsy water like substance. She couldn't stop the contented sigh that escaped her lips as the hot liquid surrounded her like a long lost friend.


James glanced back over at Rush. He hadn't moved, and she could barely make out in the low light of the room that his breathing had slowed. She was sure Rush was asleep. He must be tired if he fell asleep that quickly and with someone in the room. It really surprised her, but the bath felt too good to ponder the strangeness of the situation any further. She rested her head back on the ledge and closed her eyes. This was a luxury she never thought she would experience again, at least not while on Destiny.


"Huh," James started when something wet touched her chin. She blinked and realized she had dozed off. The water substance had gone from hot to warm, and she had slipped a little further down into the tub. She sat up and looked around. The room was quiet, and Rush was still asleep, curled on his side away from her. It looked like he hadn't moved an inch. James started to get up and then noticed the bottles on the floor next to the tub. She reached down and picked one up and sniffed. It had a pleasant odor, so she poured a little into her hands and rubbed, the gel warmed up in her palms and foamed. Hoping she wasn't going to regret it, she washed her long dark hair and scrubbed at her body before the bath cooled too much more.


After she had rinsed her hair and body, she stood up, grabbed the robe and wrapped herself in the softness, sighing again. She could so get used to this. She stepped out of the tub, and as soon as her feet were on the floor, the machine drained the substance and the lights on the panel went out.


James started drying her hair off with the sleeve of the robe and looked around. Rush's quarters were smaller than most of the others claimed back when they first arrived on Destiny. She wasn't sure why he had chosen this one. One thing at least, it was out of the way and probably why he had chosen it, she mused. She noticed a dark green chaise against the wall under the pile of her discarded uniform. She hadn't realized they had landed on something besides the floor. It took some maneuvering to get around the tub and shove her clothes to the floor, but she managed to do so without waking Rush. She sat down and relaxed, propping her feet up.


She really didn't want to change back into her dirty clothes, but she was meeting TJ at Brody's for an early girl's night before Varro would join them. With all the excitement she had almost forgotten. She pulled out her radio and turned the volume down as low as she could. "James to TJ?"


"TJ here. What is it, Vanessa?" TJ's pleasant voice replied.


"Go to channel 6," James told her.


TJ switched channels. "I'm here Vanessa."


"Could you come down to Doctor Rush's quarters?" James whispered and glanced at Rush's back. He still hadn't stirred.


"Is he okay?" TJ asked and immediately started to pack her to go bag. She was still in the infirmary just starting to close it down before heading to the showers then meeting James and Varro for drinks.


"He's fine TJ," James quickly replied. "Just, get down here but be quiet. I'll watch for you."


"Be right there," TJ replied, her curiosity piqued.


It only took her a few minutes to arrive and good to her word, James had her head peeked out the doors, holding them to keep them from opening all the way. TJ nodded at Rennie and then slipped inside. James gave Rennie a tight smile and glare to keep his mouth shut about anything he saw.


TJ noticed right away James was wearing a robe before the doors shut all the way. TJ raised an eyebrow, but James just smiled and grabbed her hand. She held her finger up to her lips for TJ to be quiet. TJ nodded then turned to the sleeping man in the bed.


Ever the professional, TJ couldn't help but go over and check on him. She brushed the bangs from his face, and he stirred and asked, "Colonel Young?" That was interesting, TJ thought.


"No, it's me TJ," she whispered, smiling gently. "How are you?"


"mm tired," Rush mumbled and buried his face back into his pillow. She started to pick up his wrist to check his pulse, taking note he wasn't resisting, when James got her attention again.


James grabbed TJ's hand again and nodded her head towards the other side of the room.


"What's going on Vanessa?" TJ whispered. James could hardly stop her smile from breaking her face.


"Rush has a bathtub," she whispered excitedly.


TJ's eyes grew wide, and she covered her mouth with her hand.


"Really? How?"


James pulled her to the edge of the tub and swept her hand over it. She bit her bottom lip and bounced a little on her feet. "Guessing it was shipped over here with him. Wanna give it a try?"


"I couldn't," TJ immediately said, then followed up with a hopeful grin, "Could I?"


"I'm sure he wouldn't mind," James said confidently. She couldn't really know for sure, but he seemed so friendly earlier, and she knew he liked TJ no matter how much he grumbled about going to the infirmary when he was sick or injured.


TJ nodded, the thought of a hot bath derailing any thoughts about invading her patience's privacy. James reached down and pushed the buttons Rush had shown her and the tub started filling. It didn't take long before TJ was stripped and easing herself down into the hot bubbles with an unexpectedly loud moan.


Both women stilled and held their breath. They looked over at Rush, and he was rubbing his face as he sat up. He looked over at them and quirked an eyebrow. TJ had to admire how someone could have a look of such disdain on their face while at the same time looking completely sweet and sleep-rumpled.


"I didn't mean to wake you?" TJ whispered. "I can leave." Rush shook his head at her and pressed the other hand to his forehead. He stood up and stumbled over to another one of his crates and opened it. He scrounged around a bit before coming up with two cups and a bottle.


"It's no' a proper spa day without wine," he said a bit mockingly as he pulled the cork out of the bottle with his teeth and spat it to the side. He poured the two cups half way full and handed them to James and TJ.


"Dartarian wine," he explained and took a deep drink from the bottle. "I've got a couple o' bottles. It's good stuff." He took another long drink before he leaned over TJ in the tub and handed James the bottle. "Enjoy."


Rush turned back and threw himself onto the bed on his stomach with his face away from the two women. He stayed that way a moment then rolled over to his side, his back towards the two women and said, "Please don' tell anyone else. I don' want a parade o' people comin' in an' out o' my quarters."


"Our lips are sealed," TJ offered quickly. She grinned at James. James nodded. She had no plans on sharing their little secret.


"Yes, well, I'm goin' back to sleep, try no' to wake me when you leave," Rush said as he pulled his blanket across his body.


James and TJ exchanged sheepish looks before taking a sip of their wine. It was good and delicious and just a little woodsy. The two relaxed. That went better than expected.


While TJ settled in, James took the opportunity to rummage through the discarded clothes on the floor. She pulled up tops, slacks, some tunics and a few dresses. She held a long scarlet sleeveless tunic for TJ to check out, grinning playfully.


TJ nodded encouragingly. James dropped the robe off her shoulders and pulled the top over her head, giving TJ a good look at her ample breasts and fit body. The hem fell just below the upper part of James's thighs, the material flowing over her body like water. She held her arms out and twirled.


"It's perfect," TJ whispered. "Find me one too."


Later, the two women entered Brody's to shocked stares at their appearance. James had found a shimmering blue tank for TJ that matched her eyes. Both were wearing snug black pants inside tall black boots. Their eyes danced when questioned, but neither woman gave up their shared secret. Not even to Varro when he joined them.


*****


Rush's radio crackled somewhere in the vicinity of the floor. He groaned and covered his eyes with his arm. The radio crackled again barking out his name. Rush sat up quickly at the voice, and that was a mistake, the movement caused his head to spin for a minute. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his temples.


Still, a little disoriented he finally blinked his eyes opened and looked around. This wasn't his room on the Annaroal, no no this was his quarters on Destiny, and that just couldn't be right. The events of the previous day flooded his thoughts. So it hadn't been some dream, or maybe he was still in the dream. Rush rubbed his hand down his face. Maybe this was some elaborate simulation by the ship. Maybe the entirety of the past four years was a simulation. Maybe he was still in one of those infernal pods. Maybe...


Someone banged on his doors calling for him.


He puffed out a breath and yelled, "I'll be right there!" And that was way too loud. Why was his head throbbing like he had spent the night drinking at the pub? He remembered something with Lieutenants Johansen and James. And spa night? That seemed highly unlikely. He did not entertain people in his quarters. It involved wine. Oh, yes, the Dartarian wine. Now it was starting to make sense.


He knew better than to drink it on an empty stomach and little to no sleep for days. It did not metabolize well in his system, so a little went a long way. Maybe that was part of the simulation if this was, in fact, a simulation. Destiny was able to create extremely realistic simulations. Mandy had demonstrated that quite dramatically and she had almost killed him. God if his head would just stop spinning for a bloody minute.


"Rush! Get to the damn Bridge." Colonel Young voice shouted through the radio. Young shouting at him was a nice touch of realism if this was indeed a simulation.


Rush felt around for the radio, almost losing his balance as his head protested his change in position. If this was a simulation, he wasn't going to figure out how to get out of it by lounging around in bed all day.


"I'll be there in a minute, Colonel." He fired back through the radio before squeezing his eyes shut again at how rough and loud his voice sounded.


As his mind slowly cleared he decided it wasn't a simulation, he had been in enough that he truly believed he would be able to spot the clues and inconsistencies.


So that meant yesterday had been real. He was back on Destiny.


Rush fumbled around his floor until he found his satchel. He pulled out a flask and took a deep drink. Hair of the dog should help temper his headache. He took another drink before capping it and tossing it back on the floor. He needed coffee. Definitely needed a cigarette. He rubbed the back of his neck. Food. That would probably help too.


He finally felt human enough to stand up. Rush stretched his arms and cracked his back. He grimaced as he became aware once more he was pretty bruised up from yesterday's explosion and Rhark's temper. He lowered his arms and absently scratched his stomach, looking around at the mess on the floor.


Grabbing a pair of pants, he quickly changed them before sitting back on the bed and running his hands thru his hair. The shirt he was wearing was fine. This would have to be good enough, if Young didn't like it, well, he didn't really give a rat's arse. Rush snagged his satchel and pulled it over his shoulder and across his chest. He'd have thought Colonel Young would have given him a day at least to re-acquaint himself with the ship.


He opened his door and immediately stepped back to his room when the bright lights of the hallway assaulted him. He squinted and covered his eyes momentarily with one hand and dug in his bag for a pair of sunglasses with the other. He quickly slipped them on, killing the glare assaulting his eyes. That was better.


Rush gave a tight smile at the soldier standing outside his quarters. He tried to place the man's face but he had never felt the need to get to know him before, so the name escaped him.


"Shall we go?" he asked. His babysitter looked down at Rush's feet. It appeared he forgot to put on his boots. Rush gave the soldier a shrug like he hadn't forgotten, it, in fact, was a choice. The deck did feel cool against the bottom of his bare feet. It grounded him. He imagined he could actual feel the thrum of the engines or maybe that was the shields. Whichever it was, it was Destiny. He hadn't dared dream he would ever be on Destiny again.


He ignored the soldier's continued inquiring stare and started down the corridor for the Bridge. Shouldn't keep Colonel Young waiting any longer.


Rush pulled out his pouch of tobacco and rolling papers. It wasn't really tobacco, more herbal than anything but it was pleasant and gave him the feeling of smoking. A slight buzz filtered through his head, easing his headache somewhat and calming his nerves as he walked.


It didn't take long to arrive at the Bridge. The whole science team was at their stations as far as he could tell, he didn't look too hard. It was a science team meeting, after all, they should all be there. He looked at Colonel Young leaning casually against the command chair, his arms crossed and looking displeased. Still, a brutish brick wall clad in the same old stodgy black uniform, that did fit across his broad shoulders and chest nicely. Young's hair was longer, and the curls made his face...more attractive. Nope, not going there, Rush thought.


"Glad you could join us," Young greeted him with irritated amusement. Rush gave him a crooked smile and nodded. He looked around and decided standing at one of the consoles with this headache was too daunting. No, the floor would be better. Rush folded himself down and sat cross-legged on the deck. He started rummaging through his satchel again. He tried to always have his satchel with him, it contained a wealth of all the little comforts Rhark had acquired for him. He pulled out a pair of glasses and replaced the sunglasses with them. He found a small notebook, similar to the ones he had carried before and put it on the floor beside him. A pencil was in there somewhere. He shook the bag. He smiled triumphantly when he found the pencil.


Young cleared his throat. Rush looked up at him.


"No smoking on the Bridge," Young chided. Rush cocked his head before taking the cigarette out of his mouth and pinching off the end, looking at it and tucking it behind his ear.


Rush continued to ignore the meeting, only peripherally aware no one was speaking. He pulled out his small press and proceeded to fill it with water from his canteen. He added his coffee like substance and fired the thermal mechanism on the bottom. Very quickly he pressed the plunger. Once he poured the hot liquid into his tin cup, he took that always pleasant first sip of the day. Rhark actually could find most anything he had wanted. But he was still amazed that Rhark found a french press, or something this close to it.


"Do you have enough for the whole class?" Young asked, not hiding his amusement. They had all watched as Rush did his little routine not saying a thing. Most of the science crew was still in shock at the reincarnation of the man they all believed was dead. The man sitting on the floor was not the Rush they remembered. Nothing at all like the whirling dervish that had stormed in yesterday demanded them to leave. Young considered the picture Rush presented. He looked more like a burnt out rock star, with the bare feet, long shaggy hair, leather pants, and a white t-shirt than a renowned scientist and former professor.


"You called this meeting Colonel, can we get on with it," Rush suggested with an air of impatience completely ignoring Young's question.


Eli threw up his arms and sputtered. "We've been waiting for you for, I don't know, all morning."


"Yes, well I'm here now." He was aware that he was being an ass, but he didn't really care. They had left him on that planet. It gnawed at him. Scratched the back of his mind despite his best efforts to accept it for the pragmatic solution it had been. Now Colonel Young wants him to be all grateful, a team player. Not bloody likely. At least his headache had lessened to a dull roar. He took another sip of his coffee.


Eli rolled his eyes and punched on his laptop keys.


Brody merely smiled. He was glad Rush was back. There were so many things they had just stopped working on in lieu of keeping the ship going. Without Rush, it became apparent he had been the one driving all the new discoveries aboard Destiny, while still maintaining the ship in one piece along with the support of the team.


"Really?" Volker pointed at Rush. "You can't just stroll in here and...do that." He didn't know if he was referring to Rush brewing some concoction or the way he was still acting like owned the place or was back in charge. The whole man's demeanor irked Volker.


"That's enough Doctor Volker," Young said hoping to diffuse any outbursts. He was serious about the enough for the whole class comment, though. Whatever Rush was drinking smelled delicious.


"I..." Volker tried to keep going. Young nailed him with a withering look. Volker reluctantly didn't finish.


Young cleared his throat. "You might have figured this out already, but I want to make it perfectly clear. In your absence, I appointed Eli to chief science officer. That appointment will stand."


"Congratulations, Mister Wallace. It is good to see you are livin' up to your potential," Rush raised his cup in a toast but didn't look up, still focusing on something in his notebook.


"Thank you?" Eli narrowed his eyes and cocked his head. Was Rush serious or was he mocking him? He was never sure.


"And Doctor Volker is his second," Young continued.


Rush did raise his head this time and looked between Eli and Young but ignored Volker. "Bold choice."


"What's that suppose to mean?" Volker squawked.


Rush went back to studying his little notebook. Young started to speak when Rush interrupted and asked, "May I have my laptop back? I assume it's still around."


Brody closed the laptop perched between his station and Eli's console. He gathered up the cords and then carried it over, handing it to Rush. Rush nodded and thanked him. Brody went back to his station and shrugged at Volker as he sat down.


Young folded his arms across his chest and moved closer to Rush. "So you don't have a problem with this?"


"No no, it makes perfect sense. Eli is the best qualified." He gave Young a one-sided smile.


"What does that make me?" Volker demanded, still stinging from before.


Rush continued to ignore him, and it only served to anger Volker more. Dale Volker was normally a sweet man and well liked among both the military and the civilians. He and Rush had barely spoken back on Icarus, and then once on Destiny, their interactions never went well. It looked to Young like time apart hadn't fixed that.


"Answer me Rush," Volker ordered, like that would work. When Rush still ignored him for reading something on his laptop, Volker exploded.


"It galls you that we have proven yet again that we don't need you. We. Don't. Need. You. Just like back on Novus. In fact, we get along just fine without you here. Better even. You are just not that important Rush."


"Dale," Lisa Park interjected. Her voice was pleading for her best friend to stop.


Rush stayed silent for a heartbeat then looked directly at Volker. "If I remember right, the crew got along fine without you on Novus since...you died."


"Guys come on," Eli pleaded with them. "Colonel Young, can't you do something."


Generally Young would feel the need to intercede, but he let this go on in hopes they would finally get past the animosity between the two men. At least animosity on Volker's side, Rush was mostly indifferent to the other man's existence. Which Young figured played a significant part in why Volker was bothered by Rush. Besides, if he wanted to push the matter, it was now Eli's role to settle his team down, not his. Young held up a hand to Eli, signaling he would step in when he deemed it necessary. The young man might learn by watching how he handled this.


Deeply stung by Rush's remark, Volker decided to go for the throat, "What have you done since you arrived in this galaxy, Rush. From what I hear it's been warming a bed." Volker snorted. "How'd that work out for you?"


Volker finally got a reaction. Rush pointed his finger at Volker and seethed. "You have no idea what you are talkin' about!"


Glad to have the upper hand finally, Volker quipped, "I have plenty of ideas from what we all heard go on yesterday when you were talking with your master." Volker made air quotes, an ugly smile on his face none of his friends had witnessed before.


"You know nothin'!" Rush shouted and started to get up. Young pressed down on Rush's shoulder to stop him from rising. Volker had the nerve to hold up his hands in mock surrender.


"Rush, calm down. Volker, shut up," Young roared. Everyone got quiet. Young let the silence linger for a minute.


"Are you good?" He asked Rush quietly.


Rush tried to calm his breathing. He hated this. He used to have tight control over his reactions, whatever Ddarus had done to him ended that. He squeezed his eyes shut, and gave a curt nod as he twisted his shoulder from Young's grip.


"That leaves us with what to do with you," Young stated and gave Rush a little more room.


Rush paused for a moment before running his hand thru his hair thoughtfully. "Engineerin'," he said matter-of-factly and went back to examining something on his laptop. "I was responsible for rebuildin' the Annaroal's FTL drives. They are faster an' more stable now. I was also able the increase the speed o' the sub-light engines quite a bit. Rhark claims he has the fastest ship in the galaxy now." Rush was still reading his laptop as he spoke, more stating facts than boasting his abilities.


"I do need help with the shuttle, Colonel," Brody interjected.


"Engineering it is then," Young clapped his hand down on the back of the command chair.


"Okay, what else?" Young encouraged. He hoped Rush would take the gesture with the good intentions he was giving.


"And I would like to continue my research o' the ship?" Rush asked politely. He glanced at Young.


"Sure." The colonel said warmly. He felt like maybe they were getting somewhere. Coming to an understanding. Finally.


"Are we finished," Rush stated as if it were a done deal as he started to close his laptop.


"No, I wanted to talk to you about this galaxy. See if you could offer any new information that could help us resupply and not get attacked." Young went into detail about the aliens that had plagued them.


"O' course," Rush replied. He pulled out a thumb drive from his satchel and plugged it into the laptop and then he tapped on the keyboard for a few seconds before setting it aside. Then in a move that was way too graceful for a man of fifty, he unfolded and stood in one fluid movement.


A large screen appeared in the middle of the Bridge.


"Wait! How'd you do that?" Eli exclaimed pointing at the screen. Similar to the ones in the Control Interface room and the Research Lab, but the Bridge had so many banks of monitors they didn't know it was capable of producing a large screen.


Rush rolled his eyes as if it should have been obvious. He stepped up to the screen. "I assume someone has mapped out Destiny's projected course?"


"I did, Doctor Rush," Chloe spoke for the first time. Rush spun around.


"Chloe?" Rush exclaimed. His whole face brightening. Chloe stood up and then threw herself into his arms. She was taller than Rush, but he still squeezed her tight enough he lifted her off the ground. Chloe buried her face in his neck and tried not to cry. She had missed him so bad. Although no longer plagued as much by her nightmares of the Nakai as she used to be, she still would find herself wandering the ship, eventually arriving at the mess in the middle of the night for tea, and wishing he was there to share it with her.


"I'm so sorry," she said, her voice hitching despite her efforts to stop it.


"You're alive," Rush sighed in relief. "I was afraid to ask. You hadn't come to see me. I thought..." he squeezed her tighter. "I thought you didn' make it."


"It's my fault you were captured. If I hadn't..." Chloe begged. "Please say you forgive me."


"There's nothin' to forgive, lass." He let her go and held her by her arms. "I pushed you up the ramp, but I didn' see you go through. After that, I didn' remember what happened." He pulled her into his arms again. "I thought you were dead," he whispered.


"You saved me. Again," Chloe's tears finally broke free, and she cried into his long hair.


Embarrassed by the emotional outburst and taken aback by Chloe's tears, Rush cleared his throat and stepped away from Chloe folding his arms across his chest. She smiled at him, remembering he was uncomfortable with emotional displays. Chloe was a little surprised it had gone this far. She wiped at the wetness on her face.


"We should get back to work," he stated flatly, turning back towards the screen.


"Of course," Chloe replied as she wiped the last of her tears away on her sleeve. "But..." she chewed on her bottom lip. "One more thing."


"What Miss Armstrong?" he asked softly.


She smiled behind her hand. "How do you smell so good?"


He turned to look back at her, his eyes open in surprise at her boldness. He paused then smiled impishly at her, leaning forward and beckoning her to do the same. He whispered in her ear, "Come by my quarters later, an' I will show you."


Chloe grinned and went back to her station. Everyone else stared silently while Rush squatted down at his laptop and entered more commands. The map of Destiny's course appeared in front of the first one. Rush studied the map a minute, his chin resting on his hand, then he typed again. He stood up and drew a circle on the map. It appeared in red and stayed. "This is our current position."


Eli waved his arms dramatically trying to get anyone's attention and pointing at Rush. "Seriously, did anyone else know we could do that?"


"Just Rush keeping more secrets," Volker grumbled. He was impressed with the interactive map, though.


Rush ignored them. Young watched and wondered if Rush had been like this as a teacher. Ignoring the students until he asked for their input. Young decided to let it play out before he interrupted. As long as they didn't come to blows or venture into off-limit subjects like before, he was okay with the team establishing their pecking order.


"The main problem is this...," Rush used his fingers as a marker to designate an area on the map. "All belongs to the Federation. Each year they expand their territory, swallowin' up the planets along this line." He pointed to the edge of the area he marked. "They are slow an' methodical. The inhabitants are given the choice o' join or die. Some o' them fight, but ultimately the Federation wins. It would be best if we avoided them as much as possible."


"Why would Destiny send us through there if it's so dangerous," Volker asked.


Young was glad Volker asked when Rush impatiently chided, "Why do you think Doctor Volker?" Rush sounded like he was talking to a child instead of a grown man or a student rather than a colleague. "You must have gone to the university unless they are handin' out doctorates to anyone now. Use that brain o' yours."


Volker didn't answer, bristling under the chastisement. No one answered. Rush pinched the bridge of his nose. "Anyone? Anyone at all?"


"Oh I know," Eli piped in and bounced in his seat. "The Federation hadn't expanded that far in the galaxy when the seed ships came through."


"Thank you, Mister Wallace."


Once more, Eli wasn't sure if he was being insulted or not. He was a happy fun guy. He would take it as a compliment. But it did remind him of why school wasn't his cup of tea. Besides, none of them could have known any of this. They hadn't exactly received a brochure with a warm welcome in this galaxy on the cover.


"So we just plot a course around, but I am guessing there will be fewer gates," Young suggested.


"Right." Rush noted that the colonel was finally using some deductive reasoning.


"If there are fewer gates, we'll need to get the shuttle working sooner than later," Brody added. Rush nodded.


"Chloe lay in the course corrections," Young ordered. "If any gates come up, let us know right away." Rush nodded again.


"Colonel," Rush spoke quietly. "This area here," he pointed to a collection of planets and moons along one edge. It was considerably more off their path than the route Chloe had just laid in. "They call this area the badlands. Destiny won' be in any danger but the inhabitants o' the planets are rough. Good for tradin' and we might find parts for the shuttle, maybe even a workin' shuttle that can be modified to work with Destiny."


"You think it's worth it?" Young asked.


"It's a several days journey in FTL with minimal stoppin', I'm no' sure what our supplies are like."


"They are low, but we haven't had to start rationing yet. That's not long to get the shuttle up to working order, though."


Rush looked Young in the eye. Young still found it unnerving to be the focus of the man's intense stare. Rush pointed at one planet. "There's a gate here."


"Is it the only planet with one?"


"No, there are a few gates scattered about."


Young studied that map. He wanted to trust Rush, but he had only been back less than a day, and that was a lot of trust to just hand over. For the crew of Destiny, he had been missing almost a year. For Rush, it had been four years. A lot can change in that amount of time. It was hard not to wonder if the man was lying and sending them into a trap. "How come you didn't use it," Young asked.


Rush rolled his eyes, what good would it have done him to use the gate, he thought but said, "I didn' have a gate remote." He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I couldn' even tell you if it works or no'. I only saw it from a distance. As far as I can tell, from the few I have been able to examine on different planets, the gates are no' used."


"Okay, give Chloe the corrected coordinates."


Rush nodded then said, "I'll start workin' on the shuttle."


"Take it easy there. I didn't mean for you to start work right away. Get some lunch or take a walk."


"Lieutenant Johansen did want me to check in with her," he said looking down in thought and then remembered Park. He needed to talk to the Lieutenant about her. "If that is all Colonel Young?" Rush turned to go. Young placed a hand on Rush's arm.


"The coordinates?"


"Yes, yes, o' course." Rush went over and punched the location of the planet into Chloe's console before collecting his stuff and heading off the Bridge.


Eli was standing in the doorway talking to Young. He moved to the side when Rush stopped in front of him, clearly irritated that Eli was blocking his way. Eli rolled his eyes and folded his laptop against his chest and canted his body slightly. "I mean, I thought maybe you would have changed. Going through whatever you, you know, went through. I don't know, gotten more mellow. Friendly even, but you're the same. The exact same. Well, not exactly the same, just pretty close. You are more Scottish. Did you know that? Sometimes, I'm like, what did he say."


Rush glared at Eli then stepped around him. "I'm glad you back," Eli added. Rush gave him a terse smile and walked away from them, Eli said to the colonel, "Have you noticed he's more Scottish?"


"Eli," Young warned.


"And what does he have in that man bag," Eli babbled on, ignoring Young. "It's like, anything he needs just appears in there."


"Eli!"


"What?!" Eli finally quit chattering.


"Just, find out as much as you can about the upcoming planets." Young turned to leave when Eli spoke again.


"You know, he can have his old job back." Eli was serious. He hated the whole administration part of being lead scientist.


"It's yours, Eli. You earned it." Young patted Eli on the back and left.


*****


"Lieutenant Johansen?" Rush announced his arrival to the infirmary. His quiet voice still startling TJ. She turned around and smiled warmly at him.


"I thought for sure I would have to hunt you down," TJ teased.


"Lieutenant, I have," Rush looked around nervously. "somethin' I would like to discuss with you."


"Are you okay," TJ asked worriedly, quickly putting on her doctor's hat.


"I'm fine. It's about Doctor Park."


"Is Lisa okay? She hasn't said anything."


"No no, Doctor Park is fine as far as I know."


TJ let out the breath she was holding. "Good. She's done really well adapting to her blindness. Better than most people in her situation."


"What if..." Rush put his satchel on the examination table and pulled out a cylindrical object about 6 inches long. "What if she didn' have to adapt any longer?"


TJ made a questioning face. "What's that?"


"Durin' my time with my first master," Rush rolled the object around in his hands. "My shoulder, my arm really...was damaged. The nerves were damaged." He rubbed the back of his neck and continued to avoid looking at TJ. "I...uh lost all function, for a long time."


TJ still looked horrified when he looked up at her. He shook his head, "Rhark didn't understand at first that my arm actually was suppose to be a functionin' limb. Once I told him, he hunted around until he tracked down a doctor who gave him this." He handed the object to TJ. "It repaired the nerve damage, an' well," he flexed his wrist and rotated his left arm.


"And you think it might help Lisa?" TJ's eyes glistened. She hated that she had been unable to help Park.


"I don' know. There's no real way to test it without hurtin' someone," He gave her a hopeful look. "but I think there is a good chance."


TJ grabbed her radio and called Park to come to the infirmary. She didn't tell her why since people tended to listen to radio chatter. After TJ gave Rush a recheck and carefully examined his black eye, they waited in silence. TJ fussed around the infirmary while Rush paced. Park took longer than most people to arrive but soon the tap tap of her cane could be heard outside the infirmary doors.


"TJ? Doctor Rush?" Lisa asked to the room in their general direction. Both of them quickly went to her side and guided her to the examination table. She let them and then sat dutifully on the table. Park grabbed Rush's hand before he could step away and squeezed. "I'm glad you're back Doctor Rush."


He gave her a small smile and squeezed her hand back. "I'm glad to be back."


Rush admired how she had recognized he was with the lieutenant waiting for her. He wondered if they were able to fix her sight, would she keep her newly acquired heightened senses.


He explained about the device and that it was no guarantee. TJ assured her they would only try if she wanted to. Park eagerly agreed.


"Do you want Ronald here?" TJ asked. Park nodded. She pulled her dark glasses off and twisted them nervously in her hands. TJ walked away to call the sergeant. She didn't tell him what it was about except that it involved Lisa.


"Colonel Young is with me," Greer told her. TJ looked over at Rush. He gave her a nod.


"Bring him along," TJ suggested.


"You wanna tell me what this is about?" Greer asked the medic. He looked questioningly at Young. Young just shrugged.


"I'll explain when you get here, TJ out." She walked back over to Park and said, "He's on his way. Colonel Young is joining us too if that is okay."


"Yes. I'd like that," Lisa replied. She took a deep breath and smiled big. "So what else is new Doctor Rush?"


Young was surprised to see Rush in the infirmary, standing beside Park talking in hushed tones. The man must have gone straight there since he was still barefoot. Or maybe that was his new preferred dress code now, Young mused.


Greer rushed over to Lisa's side, pushing Rush out of the way. Rush let the man, he understood the sergeant's reasons and didn't take offense. "What's going on?" Greer demanded of the room.


"TJ and Doctor Rush think they might be able to fix my eyes," Lisa explained excitedly.


"There's no guarantee, but Doctor Park wants to try," Rush said softly.


"Is it safe?" Young asked at the same time Greer asked Lisa, "Are you sure?"


"It won' hurt her, if that is what you want to know," Rush insisted, a little irritated that Young thought he would let Park be hurt. He assumed it was because Young blamed him for her blindness in the first place. TJ explained what Rush had told her about the device repairing damaged nerves. They hoped it would fix the burned optic nerves of Park's eyes.


"How do you know it won't hurt?" Greer growled at Rush.


"It didn' hurt when it was used on me," Rush said defiantly then tried to calm his irritation by running his hand over his face and through his hair. Getting mad was not going to help Park. He cursed again his tight control over his emotions was all but gone.


Young gave an affirmative nod. He wondered what Rush had meant about the instrument being used on him. What had happened? What kind of nerve damage had Rush suffered? Was that when his arm was burned so bad? He doubted TJ would tell him, even if she knew. Rush wouldn't. He rarely shared anything personal.


Young leaned against a gurney with a good line of sight on the proceedings. Park was lying back on the bed, Greer had her hand tightly in his grasp, TJ and Rush were hovering around her head talking back and forth.


He noticed how comfortable TJ and Rush were with each other while they worked. He sighed. He wanted that kind of ease between him and Rush. Young felt a twinge of jealousy. He wasn't sure if it was about TJ or the two of them working so seamlessly together. It wasn't TJ, he assured himself. They had both moved on. Of course, he still had feelings for her and always would. But she was with Varro now, and he was happy for her.


No, it had to be how they were with each other, like old colleagues. He was glad his relationship with TJ was getting that way again. After the affair, the breakup. Carmen. He feared too much had happened for it to happen. But against the odds, they were back to being friends.


Young wanted to be friends with Rush too. There was no tension bubbling below the surface threatening to boil over and end up in an argument or fight between TJ and Rush. Now he wondered if too much had happened between him and Rush. He could admit he had always found Rush attractive, but the man had irritated him from day one on Icarus. Rush had been too polite, too quiet and that ringed false with him. He had heard about the man's arrogance and insolence from Telford before Young had even arrived. Heard about the bad moods and the dismissive attitude. How Rush wasn't a team player. Young had been sure the initial politeness was Rush trying to manipulate him.


David had let Young know he hated Rush and wanted him off the project. That Rush wasn't a good fit. Now looking back, Young wondered if he should have formed his own opinion instead of trusting David since David had been under the influence of the Lucian Alliance's brainwashing at the time. Normally it was how he did things, but at the time, he wasn't in a good place mentally and emotionally and needed the counsel to get a handle on things at Icarus. By the time Young had taken command of the base, everyone was ready for Rush to be gone and Young had adopted an air of civility towards scientist. That simple bias colored every interaction he had with Rush since.


Before Young had even thought about reaching out to try and mend those fences, it had been too late. They had been stranded on Destiny by Rush's dialing of the Ninth Chevron. Incident after incident had made Young distrust the man. Too many lies. Too many times Rush had callously disregarded the crew's safety. Still, the attraction had gnawed at him. He couldn't decide whether he wanted to punch the man or kiss him. Young had chosen to punch him. And then he had left him on the dusty planet to die. He wasn't proud of that. Then after Rush had come back, Young chose to punch him again. And choke him. And pound his head into the deck. Maybe this time would be different. If he could somehow control his temper and Rush could somehow manage not to screw them over.


He raked his eyes up and down Rush's body, bent gracefully over Park's prone form. Those old feelings of attraction were still there. Maybe he should try kissing him. He could see if running his hands all over the slim body, running his fingers through the silky hair, kissing that smart mouth would change their relationship. Young shook his head ruefully. No, he wouldn't go there. Shouldn't go there. That would end up with him being punched. He still held out hope they could at least learn to work together without trying to kill each other.


"Colonel Young?" Young stared blankly at Rush when the man spoke.


"Sir?" TJ inquired. Young blinked and shook the cobwebs from his head.


"Sorry, yes?" He queried.


"Could you dim the lights?" TJ smiled. "We don't want to overwhelm Lisa's eyes if this works."


Young turned the lights down to a soft glow.


The procedure didn't take long, and soon enough TJ was telling Park to open her eyes. They allowed her to adjust in small increments and to everyone's joy, it worked. Park couldn't hold back. She burst into tears as she wrapped her arms around Greer.


TJ started crying too and covered her mouth with her hand, and she gave Rush a curt nod. Rush grabbed his stuff and started easing for the door, eager to get out of the emotionally charged room. Park was having nothing of that. She let go of Greer and seized Rush in a bruising hug.


"Thank you," she gushed. Rush gave her a slight squeeze then patted her back. He pulled out of her embrace and wrapped his arms around his chest to hide his unease.


TJ went to intervene before it got to be too much for him but she was too late. Greer slapped Rush on the back and shook him by one arm. "Thank you Rush!" the sergeant exclaimed. "You did good man. You and TJ both." He grinned at TJ.


Rush gave them a nod and turned toward the door. As soon as he started walking, Young stepped in beside him.


"Greer's right. You did good," Young said.


"Yes, well. Doctor Park is an important member o' the science team."


"She was important without her sight."


"O' course she was. Did I say she wasn'?" Rush hissed in exasperation. His nose wrinkling as he spoke. He could never figure out why Young always took everything he said wrong.


The colonel held up his hands in mock surrender. "I'm not saying you did." he offered gently. Then cautiously continued with, "How about we go see what Becker has on the menu for lunch? I know you didn't eat breakfast and you hardly touched your dinner."


"I need to stop by my quarters first," Rush said, surprising Young. He turned and headed down the hallway.


Young shrugged at the man's back. Guess that was a yes, he thought. He jogged a little to catch up. "You know the applesauce was a big hit."


"They grow in abundance on several planets. It's pure odd considerin' the different soil compositions, atmospheres, and evolution of the ecosystems."


"You think we could grow our own?"


"I don' see why no'. There are several root vegetables that appear to be hearty too." Rush's nose wrinkled again. "Lots o' fish as well."


"What, you don't like fish?" Young teased.


"The Jkaram, that's Rhark's race o' people. Ate fish with almost every meal," Rush gave him a crooked smile.


Young chuckled. "I guess it would grow tiresome after a while, but it sounds delicious to me."


"We will have to figure out a way to preserve them for the long term."


"Brody rigged up a refrigeration unit in one of the storage room near the mess."


"Brody's a fine engineer," Rush replied as they stopped outside his quarters. "Glad to know someone was workin'."


Rush opened the door and stepped inside. His hand had reached to press the door closed when Young put his hand up to stop it from closing. "You're not going to invite me in?" He asked.


"I won' be but a moment, Colonel." Rush held his hand over the door controls.


Young just stared at him until Rush relinquished and waved him in. Young almost commented on the mess the room was in. He decided against it, deferring on the side of not wanting to set Rush off again. The scientist didn't take teasing well. Or maybe he just didn't know Young was teasing him. Young had three older brothers, learning to give as well as take teasing was a way of life in his family. He wondered if Rush had any siblings. He realized he really didn't know much about the man at all.


Rush had tossed his satchel on the floor and was now sitting on the bed, pulling on socks. Honest to god socks, Young marveled.


"I wouldn't mind new socks," Young mused wistfully.


Rush rolled his eyes and dug around on the floor coming up with a couple of pairs. He tossed them to Young. "I can't," Young protested.


"It's no big deal," Rush replied. He started to pull on a pair of boots, tucking his too long leather pants inside.


"No big deal? These are practically currency on Destiny." Young stuffed his new socks in his jacket.


Rush sighed. "I've plenty. Once Rhark understood that I wanted boots an' socks, which he said was ridiculous to cover your feet twice. He made it his business to obtain them. It would seem he sent them all with me." Rush pointed to a foot locker filled with assorted items, many of which were socks.


"Thank you," Young replied gratefully. He was curious about what else Rhark had given Rush but dropped it for later.


"You're welcome." Rush stood up. "Lunch?"


"Lead the way," Young smiled.


Rush started to the door but then stopped and went over to another small locker. He picked it up, after checking the contents and then turned back around giving the colonel a nod. Young pressed the door, and they stepped out into the hallway and into Chloe.


"Oh, Doctor Rush, I was just coming to see you," Chloe said, eyeing the two men quizzically, surprised to see the colonel with Rush. "About earlier?"


"Right," Rush smiled at the young woman. He handed the locker to Young and then escorted Chloe inside his room. The door slid shut behind them, leaving Young standing in the corridor alone. He sighed and leaned against the bulkhead. He was starting to think Rush had no clue he was rude.


Soon enough Rush returned and held out his hands for the box. Young shook his head. Rush shrugged and turned to head to the mess.


They walked in a companionable silence until Young couldn't stand it anymore and asked, "What's in the box?"


"Spices."


Young rolled his eyes. Rush was such a wealth of information. For a genius, the man seemed completely clueless on how to carry on a simple conversation.


Rush realized late that Young wanted more of an explanation. It was obvious to him. He didn't understand why Young continued to be so obtuse about things. "I thought maybe Airmen Becker could use them."


"And you just happen to have a small array of spices, just lying around?" Young couldn't help teasing him this time. It was starting to seem natural.


Rush stopped walking and heaved a sigh. "After I explained to Rhark that humans preferred food with more flavor, he obtained some for me to use on my meals."


"Rhark mentioned he spoiled you," Young tried not to grin.


"He did no such thing!" Rush squawked.


"Oh, it's clear he did," Young teased and started walking again. He left Rush thrown off balance. He tossed over his shoulder. "You coming?"


Rush jogged up next to him muttering. Young ignored him and just kept smiling. They handed off the box of spices to Becker. Rush explained a couple of them demonstrating on their kale wraps. It was still early, so the mess was mostly empty. They found a table and sat down with their meals.


Young took a bite of his wrap and made an approving noise. Rush smiled at him and took a bite of his own.


"So tell me about this galaxy," Young asked.


"It's fascinatin'," Rush tilted his head. "A diverse population o' races." He got excited and pushed his plate to the side. He started to reach for his satchel he left back in the room then wrinkled his nose when remembered.


Young pulled out the chip of chalk he carried and handed it to Rush. Rush took it without a word and started drawing on the table.


"It's a cluster o' galaxies. Similar to our own Milky Way." He drew three and pointed at one. "This is just a small portion o' it. We're here," he pointed to one of the surprising well-drawn galaxies. "But all three engage in some sort o' trade. It's quite interestin', despite havin' interstellar travel, none o' them seemed to have advanced any further. I've found no evidence of exploration outside o' these three regions."


"What about the others in the cluster?" Young asked, genuinely curious.


"I'm no' sure, but it is quite possible. I think the galaxy we left had more alien races, we just didn' encounter them."


"Or maybe they were all wiped out by the drones." Young was glad they were far from them now.


"Possibly." Rush tapped the table with his fingers. "The distance between these galaxies are no' as far as our last one but..." he looked at Young. "Some traders have ventured there. Their ships are no' as technologically advanced as Destiny, but they have developed faster drives."


"Are some of these traders the ones that..."


"The ones that took me, ay," Rush replied. He reached over and grabbed his wrap and took a bite. "Although I wouldn' classify them as traders," he said with a shrug of his shoulder and an air of detachment that Young didn't buy for a minute.


Before Young could respond, Eli bounded up to them and scooted in next to Rush. "I think we should have a celebration," he announced like it was a done deal. It almost was, as far as Eli was concerned. He had been waiting a long time to have a party.


Rush ignored him and kept eating.


"You know, to celebrate your return," Eli bumped his shoulder into Rush's side. "We got some good eats, and I hear Brody's got a new batch of hootch. Come on, we haven't had anything to celebrate in like...ever."


"No." Rush said flatly.


"But..." Eli whined.


"Eli," Young warned. "We could have a small, very small celebration that Doctor Park has her sight back. Maybe at Brody's bar."


"What!" Eli exclaimed. "Lisa can see? When did that happen? Why wasn't I told? OMG, this is fantastic. Yes!" He thrust a fist in the air.


Even Rush smiled at Eli's youthful glee. He realized he had missed the young man a lot.


"It happened this morning after the science meeting," Young explained. "We're letting Lisa tell everyone."


"Sure. Of course," Eli gestured and nodded his head vigorously. Both men knew Destiny's resident genius would have half the crew told by the time evening rolled around. Eli tapped his chin, thinking. "It'll be like a cocktail party. Do you think Becker can come up with some appetizers?"


Eli didn't wait for a response.


"I'll do everything. You don't have to worry," Eli looked around. "Where's Chloe? We got a party to organize." He got up to search for his best friend.


"They'll want you to be there," Young remarked casually.


"I'd rather no'." Rush's cheek twitched.


"I can't order you to go, but it would be nice if you made an appearance. Doctor Park would want you there," Young said gently.


"I'll think about."


Rush didn't show up at the celebration, and Young wasn't surprised. He almost hunted the man down to drag him there, but if Rush didn't want to be there, he wasn't going to force him. Young hid his disappointment from the group, smiling wryly when TJ and James opened up a couple of bottles of wines courtesy of Rush. He even indulged in a cup before wandering back to his quarters with thoughts of Nicholas Rush ever present in the back of his mind.


*****


The next day everyone was still talking about the previous night's party. Young listened idly to the chatter during breakfast and then again while sitting in the command chair on the bridge going over reports. Camile had returned in time for the party and the news of Rush's return and Park's sight brought a smile to her otherwise sad face. She always put on a brave front when she returned from using the stones but Young knew it was wearing her down. The rest of the crew rarely went home for visits. Young promised her they would talk today, have Rush give them a more in-depth look into what to expect from the residents of this galaxy.


Young strolled down to the shuttle bay in search of the scientist to tell him about the meeting. He could have radioed, he guessed, but he had felt an itch to see the man again, especially when Rush had not made an appearance in the mess that morning.


He found Rush and Brody on the floor of the shuttle, parts spread out between them.


"Good morning"


"Good morning, Colonel." Brody started to get up. Rush pulled him back down and nodded his head at Young.


"Mornin'."


"How's it going?" Young asked to break the silence that had settled between them.


"Mr. Brody ran a more thorough diagnostic an' the shuttle was no as damaged as previously thought. A few replacement conduits an it's as good as...well no' new but usable."


Young made a face. The mess on the floor didn't look like conduits. "Then what is all this?"


"Parts of the drive," Brody offered. "Doctor Rush thinks we can rebuild this portion and get a little more speed out of the shuttle."


"It was Mr. Brody's idea," Rush interjected. "His knowledge o' engine mechanics has been untapped. I fear it was my fault," Rush pushed his hair out of his face, leaving a grease mark on his forehead. Young wanted to lean down and clean it off.


"How is that your fault?" he asked instead.


"I needed him on other things and I knew I could trust him to do them right." Rush didn't look at Brody so he missed the surprise on the engineer's face. "Although now I suppose he knows those systems, life support, shields...better than most, so engineerin', beyond just repairs, will take a back seat."


"Speaking of," Brody stood up, Rush letting him this time. "I got a half day shift on the bridge to start. We can finish this later Doctor Rush. It shouldn't take long. Maybe after my shift?"


"Yes, o' course."


After Brody had left, Young eased down on the floor across from Rush. "Can I ask you something?"


"I've found that when people say that, they will ask whether you say yes or no," Rush smirked.


"Why Engineering and Research?" Young asked, ignoring Rush's comment. He was curious. He thought Rush would put up more of a fight to be back in charge of the science team.


"Engineerin' because I found while on the Annaroal, I enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would, the mechanics of it. The theoretical an' design part had always fascinated me. That was how Mandy an I met." Rush grew quiet.


Young didn't want him dwelling on Doctor Perry's death so he prompted, "And Research?"


"Before I started teachin' an' lecturin', I was in pure research. The SGC...when Jackson recruited me...it was for a research position. I got obsessed with the Ancients. With Ascension. When I started workin' on the Ninth Chevron it appeared that all my life had been buildin' towards this. Towards Destiny."


Young was surprised. Rush had never been this forthcoming with him. Except for the time he had spoke about Destiny's mission after Young had beat him severely on the destroyed Ursini ship. He started to speak even though he was unsure what to say, but he wanted Rush to continue.


"Once we got here, it was just constant survival an' the research I was able to accomplish was just to keep the ship runnin'. I only happened on the CBR after breakin' the master code."


"You could have had more time for research had you let the science team help."


Rush flicked his hair back and looked at Young for the first time since he started talking. Young felt captivated by Rush's brown eyes. "I know that. I just couldn'..." he dropped his gaze and started fiddling with one of the drive components. "I had to know an you were no' goin' to let me, so I had to do it on my own."


"I wasn't going to stop you," Young interjected.


"You made it your mission to stop me!" Rush argued, he drove the heel of his hand into his eye socket wincing as it came in contact with his still tender black eye. "You never left me alone."


"I never left you alone because you kept putting the crew's lives in danger. You kept lying and keeping vital information from me!" Young roared back then drew in a deep breath. How many times were they going fall into the same tired argument? He reached up and tugged at Rush's hand to pull it away from his eye.


Rush flinched and yanked his hand from Young. "Just keep me updated with what you find. Okay?" Young asked.


Rush gave him a curt nod.


"Camile's back and wants to see you. I thought maybe this afternoon, we could go over some things. Kill two birds one stone all that." Young tried to sound casual.


"Time?" Rush said. He had gone back to fingering the parts scattered on the floor. Young was surprised the scientist didn't kick up a protest.


"Say after lunch, we could go grab some right now," Young suggested. "Meeting shouldn't last long."


"Okay." Rush picked up his radio. "Lieutenant James?"


"James here."


"It's Doctor Rush. I have a meetin' with Colonel Young an' Ms. Wray, we'll have to wait until I'm done."


"Sure, just radio when you are ready and I will grab TJ."


"That would fine Lieutenant. Rush out." Young raised an inquisitive eyebrow.


"The Lieutenants are helpin' me with somethin'."


"Keeping secrets already?" Young teased.


"Maybe," Rush gave him an impish grin.


Young stood up and held out a hand to Rush. For once the scientist accepted. Their hands lingered together a beat longer than necessary. Rush cleared his throat and pulled his hand away before turning and leaving the shuttle. Young wasn't far behind.


*****


First thing Camile did was give Rush a hug. He stiffened in her embrace, but tried to relax. He wondered where all this affection was coming from. Before he had been captured everyone had barely tolerated him. Not that he wanted it, he preferred people kept their distance, but it was a curious development.


Camile went over what was new with Homeworld Command and the IOA, which as usual not much. They were still working on getting a supply line open but were not forthcoming as to progress. Young thought it was bullshit but refrained from saying so.


Camile stretched an arm out along the back of her couch. "So what should we know about this galaxy besides the Federation?"


She had watched as Rush spoke, he looked...different. Something only those close to the man would notice. It was very subtle, but she thought he seemed more open. More expressive. Not as closed off and unapproachable.


She caught the looks that lingered on Young. She smiled at Everett, wondering if he had noticed.


Rush shrugged. "There are three major forms o' currency." He clicked off his fingers as he listed them. "The money is a rare mineral, similar to gold or platinum. They have minin' operations in the neighborin' galaxy. It's rare enough that," he held up a second finger. "Barter is the preferred method o' commerce. Most anythin' is worth somethin', you just have to find the right person."


"And the third," Camile asked.


Rush gave her a pained smile and fingered the collar on his neck that was no longer there. "Slavery."


"Oh," Camile said and sat up. "I'm sorry."


He waved a dismissive hand. "Colonel, one the things your soldiers will have to do is turn a blind eye to it. I know they will want to intervene but it will just make things harder on the slaves in the long run."


"I'll be sure to remind them to not interfere," Young assured him, though he doubted any of them would be able to contain themselves in face of abuse.


"If that is all, Lieutenant Johansen an' James are waitin'," Rush said, reaching for his radio.


"Still not going to tell me what's up?" Young teased.


"It's really nothin', Colonel." Rush explained how the two lieutenants were helping him get rid of some of the things Rhark had sent over for him. "Mostly fabrics, clothes, maybe some boots. Things I neither need nor want."


"Clothes?" Camile asked excited at the prospect. "Really?"


"Yes, well Rhark had a tendency to," Young wasn't sure but he swore he could see a blush on Rush's cheeks as he spoke. "to over buy. He had no sense of what was functional for me, so he bought anythin' he came across. It left me with an abundance of useless things."


"Maybe the rest of the crew could have some things," Camile suggested, a little jealous that TJ and James were included but not her. Young noticed and was glad he hadn't mentioned his new socks.


"I think that was the plan, I'm no' sure." Rush radioed James. "Is now a good time Lieutenant?"


"Yes, I'll stop by the infirmary and pick up TJ then meet you at your quarters," James replied.


"I'll be bringin' the Colonel an' Ms. Wray as well."


"Sure, James out."


"Whatever is left we can use for barter," Rush said nonchalantly.


"If there's anything left," Camile mused. The prospect of new clothes, even just a blouse or fabrics to make one was exciting.


Young opened the door and gestured them through. He was surprised Rush had included him. He wasn't going to question the man's intentions for once.


TJ and James had acquired Chloe somewhere along the way and the three of them were waiting at Rush's doors talking excitedly. Rush rolled his eyes when Camile went straight to join them. They all separated and tried to adopt a casual stance when he cleared his throat to get by.


After they all filed into Rush's quarters, the colonel leaned up against the door and watched Rush start picking up stuff off the floor, tossing it towards open crates on the far side of the room. He did it haphazardly, not really caring what it was or examining it.


As quickly as he was filling the crates, the women were pulling items out and making approving noises. Rush finally got frustrated and demanded, "Will you lot quit it. You can go through everythin' once it's out o' here."


They all gave him sheepish smiles. Chloe walked over and put her hand on his arm. "We're just all so excited. I'm sorry we got carried away."


"No, lass. I should be apologizin'. Sorry to have lost my temper," Rush whispered. Chloe patted his arm and leaned down to kiss him on the cheek.


"It's okay," she whispered back. "We'll be quick."


Young cleared his throat and held up his radio. "I'll have a couple of marines down here to carry this to?" He looked at TJ and James.


"Oh." TJ glanced over at James. "Uh, there's a storage room across from the infirmary."


"We can spread everything out there and let the crew come in and pick things out," James added.


"Are these just bolts of fabric?" Chloe asked, holding up light woven material. Rush nodded. "I know our resident seamstresses will love these." She picked up another bolt, running her hand over the silken fabric.


"Nicholas?" Rush looked up at Camile. She was standing by the bath, running her hand along the edge. "What's this?"


TJ, James, and Chloe were suddenly busy quickly filling the crates with items off the floor. Rush crossed his arms over his chest and stared Camile down.


"Nicholas?" Camile asked again in the no nonsense tone she was famous for.


Rush let out a huff and threw his arms over his head in frustration. "It's a bath. Might as well take it to. It won' be a secret anymore an' I won' get any peace if it stays here."


"You had a bath tub and didn't tell me?" Young asked incredulously. He narrowed his eyes at TJ and James, then at Chloe. "You all knew?"


"Yes yes they knew. I asked they no' say anythin'," Rush interjected.


"It's not a problem, I'm just surprised you didn't let me in on this little secret," Young smiled. "I wouldn't mind a bath. Another gift from Rhark?"


"Yes." Rush looked a little bewildered by Young teasing.


Young leaned over and whispered in his ear. "Spoiled."


"What?" Rush started to sputter. Rush huffed after a moment. "I hadn' planned on tellin' anyone but these two," he pointed at James and TJ to get the attention off of himself. "Took it upon themselves to have a spa day in my quarters."


"Now Doctor Rush, you invited me!" James said in mock outrage. "I was just being polite by accepting." She propped her hand on her hip and grinned.


"And I told you I would leave, you told me to stay," TJ joined in. "You were the one that offered us wine."


"I didn't get wine with my bath," Chloe chimed in. Rush just gaped at them.


"We will have to make a sign-up sheet," Camile added. "Without the wine of course." She put her hand over her mouth to hide her amusement.


Any more discussion of the matter was put to rest when a couple of marines knocked on the doors. Young let them in and directed them to the filled crates.


"We're going to need more help, sir," Marsden said. "It took six of us a couple of trips last time."


"That's fine soldier," Young replied. "Take this first load to the storage room across from the infirmary and I should have your help here by the time you get back."


"Yes sir," the two men said in unison and began heaving the first of the heavy crates up and out of the room.


By the time the other soldiers arrived and with everyone's help, Young was surprised to see Rush hand gotten rid of almost all of the stuff Rhark had sent with him. Even a couple of crates of Dartarian wine. The only noticeable item left was the chaise. Which was nice because Rush's quarters didn't have a desk or chair or a couch. It at least made the room seem less spartan.


The ladies said their thanks and goodbyes, leaving Young alone with Rush. Rush was busying himself putting what few items of clothes he had kept in the footlocker at the end of the bed.


"It was really nice of you to give all that up for the crew," Young remarked.


Rush looked up at him. "I didn' want the stuff anyway, it was more to clean my quarters than anythin' else."


Young stared at the man a moment. He flashed back to the first time they had flown into a star and the aftermath in the mess hall. At the time he was convinced that Rush had known they would be okay and just put the crew through the fear of dying out from some sick twisted motives he could never figure out. It seemed so clear now. More incidents flashed through Young's mind. Rush didn't handle compliments or any kind of praise well, especially in front of a crowd. He would always find of way of dismissing them.


It was odd, to say the least Young thought. Completely at war with what he thought he knew about Rush. And kind of endearing. Considering the man, as Eli pointed out once, had an ego the size of a bus.


"Still, I'm sure the crew appreciates it," Young said. He turned to leave and then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the silver bracelet. He held it out to Rush. "I had Brody fix the clasp. Thought you might want this."


Rush took it and sat down on the edge of his bed. He ran his fingers of the metal links.


"No, you should hang on to it. We might be able to use it for trade. Maybe get another shuttle." Rush said quietly. He went to hand it back to Young.


Young wondered how expensive it must be if they could buy a shuttle with it. "You should keep it for now. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."


Rush looked up at Young as he slipped it on his thin wrist, his eyes open and honest. "Thank you, Colonel."


The room suddenly felt too small, too claustrophobic. Young hit the door control button and started to step into the hallway. He cleared his throat and tossed back, "You're welcome."


Later that evening, James knocked on Rush's door. He was sleep rumpled and bleary-eyed when he opened it. James smiled and tried to push the folded up fluffy robe into his hands. He crossed his arms. "I thought you would want this," she explained. "There was only this one and it's pretty much a luxury. You should keep it."


Rush said nothing in reply. James started to shuffle nervously.


"Keep it, Lieutenant..." Rush rubbed his shoulder absently. "As a thank you for bein' so kind since I've been back."


"Oh, thank you," James squeaked then recovered. "I've enjoyed it sir. The spending time with you."


"Yes, well. Good nigh' then," Rush said and started to closing the door.


"Good night Doctor Rush," she managed to get out before the door shut in her face. She hugged the robe to her chest and realized she meant it and wasn't just being polite. She had enjoyed spending time with Rush.


*****


"Rush? This is Eli." It took Rush a moment to wiggle around and get his hand on his radio. Long enough for Brody to answer in his stead.


"Eli, Rush is inside the crawl space we're working on. Can I give him a message?" Brody explained.


"You mean he's not just ignoring me," Eli joked. Brody smiled a little and went to answer but Rush cut in.


"No Mister Wallace," Rush's voice was clipped. His back had started tingling early in the morning and by now it had moved into the first stages of pain. It had been so long since his last flare-up, he had dared hope it finally gone. He tried not to wince as he scooted along the narrow crawl space to the open panel.


"I need you on the bridge," Eli said.


"Is it important Mister Wallace?" Rush replied. "Mister Brody an' I are quite busy at the moment."


"It is," Eli retorted. He looked at the rest of the bridge crew watching him and rolled his eyes.


"Give me ten minutes. Rush out." Rush winced as he moved to stand up. He tried to quickly suppress it but Brody noticed the flash of pain on his face.


"You okay?" he asked.


"I'm fine," Rush answered and wiped his hands. "I managed to reach the end o' the section. When I return we can run some tests. We might be able to open the next corridor soon."


"That'd be great," Brody replied. They had already opened several storage rooms in the current newly unlocked corridor. One was filled with crates of replacement conduit, relays, and valves. They were hoping some of the new rooms would hold hull plating, possible replacement panels for the dome. Some of the weapons conduits. Maybe an armory. They had left replacing the sensor relays to Park and Volker, instead remaining where they were and continuing to claim more real estate and checking out the new rooms.


Rush absently ran a hand through his hair trying to tame it somewhat. He was covered in dust and dirt from the crawl space. He didn't mind the work. The manual labor was oddly satisfying and he didn't mind getting his hands dirty. It was a filthy job but he was small enough he could do it more efficiently by going through the crawl space than he and Brody removing the deck plating and then having to replace it again.


When he arrived at the bridge, Eli looked up, raised a comical eyebrow and chortled, "Don't clean up on my account." Rush glared at him. Eli ignored the glare. "You should really try out the bath. It's amazing."


"Mister Wallace," Rush said through gritted teeth. He had tried over and over for the last week to get in a bath but no matter the time of day or night, someone was always using it. The sign-up sheet was filled for weeks to come. The showers on Destiny were efficient he was resigned to use them from now on.


"I'm just saying," Eli quipped. "Come here I want to show you something."


Rush walked over to the station Eli was currently working at. He glanced around subtly to see if the colonel was on the bridge. It wasn't that he was ignoring Young, it was merely because he was busy. He hadn't encountered the colonel since the day Young had given him back his bracelet. For that he was thankful. The gesture had been thoughtful really and he wasn't sure how to take it, especially from Young. Granted the man had been nice to him since his return but he still felt that Young was just waiting to find something to yell, accuse or punch him about. Rush doubted the niceness was just lingering guilt Young felt for leaving him on that planet in the last galaxy. None of it made sense. Young had always hated him, even back on Icarus.


"I've been working on your translator." Eli pulled up a screen of running code. "I transferred all the data from the device and added it to the ancient database." He pointed at the code running beside a second set of code.


"Why didn' you just add Destiny's data to the translator?" Rush asked. He knew why he would do it the way Eli did but he wanted to see how Eli worked it out.


Eli rolled his eyes. "It made more sense to combine the codes with Destiny's before transferring it back. Quicker."


Rush gave a twitch of a smile to the young man.


Eli suddenly gestured wildly, his hand almost hitting Rush in the face. "Oh oh Oh! I also wrote this code." He pointed again at the screen.


Rush pulled out his glasses to get a better look. Eli's coding was always overblown and over complicated but it never failed to work and never failed to impress Rush with its ingenuity. Rush shook his head for Eli to explain.


"I wrote," Eli waved his hand. "an adaptive algorithm to pick out distinctive phonemes, patterns, and syllables. From there, after hearing several sentences, it should extrapolate to a base phonological system of that language."


"That's brilliant Eli," Rush said.


Eli looked surprised at Rush's praise then broke out into a big grin. "Of course it is. I'm just full of brilliance all the time."


Rush's cheek twitched at little at Eli's boasting but the lad was extraordinary, no one could deny it. Rush pointed at the screen. "Is this line o' code what I think it is?"


"If you're thinking it allows the program to evolve," Eli bubbled.


"Very well done, Mister Wallace. Very well done." Rush watch the lines of code for a moment. The code was genius and elegant. He wished he had thought of it. "It will be interestin' to test it."


Eli puffed out his chest. "I already have."


"How? The ancient database already had all o' the Earth's languages."


"Klingon." Eli crossed his arms over his chest and lifted his chin in defiance.


Rush shook his head. "That's no' a real language, Eli."


"Sure it is. The guys that developed it were linguists. They spent years perfecting the different sounds and the grammatical structures. It's a real as any other language and I happen to be an expert. Probably better than you are at Ancient."


Rush doubted that. Some child's made up language could not compare to the complex language of the Ancients but he decided not to point that out. "Did it work?" he asked.


Eli started getting excited again as he explained. "I said a few basic sentences of greeting. Like, hello. We're peaceful explorers from the planet Earth. I let it do its thing and then I played a speech from one of my sound files on my laptop. It took a few minutes but the program," he waved his hand at the screen. "Voilà." Eli pressed a button and demonstrated.


Rush rubbed his chin absently. It was pure brilliant. The program started off slow, missing a few words here and there, but the more of the language it encountered, the more it adapted and interpreted it. "Very impressive."


Eli beamed then sputtered out, "It still needs some work and I still have to add it back to the translator device so we can take it off-world."


Rush's response was cut off when Destiny shifted and dropped out of FTL.


"We have two gates within range, Eli," Park announced. "and both initial reading show breathable atmospheres."


Rush looked over Park's shoulder at the planets in question. One of the planets stuck out immediately to him. The Annaroal had stopped there once to hide. It did not end well. They had barely escaped before anyone was killed. He never saw the gate. The other one he had no idea.


Eli pulled up the sensor readings on his console and asked, "So Rush, what's the 411?" Rush raised an eyebrow. "What's the low down, you know, the info."


Not wanting to have any more slang explained to him, Rush pointed to the dangerous planet and said, "We should no' go there. The other one I don' know. It'd be worth checkin' out." Rush headed towards the exit.


"Eli, what's going on?" Young called over the radio.


"We've got two planets in range of the Stargate, Colonel," Eli replied.


"Meet you in the gate room," Young out. "Brody, we need you in the gate room, bring Rush."


Eli shrugged, deciding there was no need to point out that Rush was with him, not Brody.


Young marched into the gate just seconds after the bridge group arrived. His eyes lingered on Rush for a moment before he asked, "What do we know people?"


"Two planets. Both have breathable atmosphere. We already dialed the first one and sent a kino through." Eli responded, punching up the kino data on the second console. "It appears to be agricultural society. I'm not picking up any advanced technology."


"They could be hiding it?" Chloe suggested.


"I'm not getting any EM readings," Brody added.


"We'll send a small scouting party down first." Young looked at Eli to select his staff.


"You should go to the planet Rush," Eli suggest. "And you!" he pointed at Park. "haven't been off-world in forever, so you should go too."


"I would love too," Lisa said excitedly. "If there's not monsters or angry aliens."


Volker and Chloe both turned and looked expectantly. "We can't all go," Eli rolled his eyes. "I want to go but I want to finish this translator first. I need to figure out how to clone myself." He grinned. "Then we would have two geniuses."


Rush started to leave the gate room when Young stopped him. "Where are you going?"


"To get my satchel an..." Rush turned back to Young.


"It's a scouting trip. You don't need anything but the kino remote to gather data." Young addressed the group. "Scott. Greer. Take Marsden and Rennie. Don't take any chances but if you can make contact with the locals do so." He checked the clock. "We have six hours people, make them count."


The soldiers were already geared up and Greer was helping Park into a BDU jacket. Scott handed Rush a jacket before they headed to the puddle. Rush looked back and noticed Eli had still not stalled the clock. With an exasperated sigh, he quickly went back and punched on Brody's console then jogged to catch up to Scott.


"Check in every 30, Lieutenant," Young ordered right before the two stepped through the puddle, the iris closing behind them. Young turned back to Brody, "What was that about?" he asked pointing to the console.


Brody shrugged. "I have no idea."


"Guys!" Eli exclaimed. Everyone turned to look at him. "He stopped the clock."


"What?" Volker asked and looked up at the clock in disbelief.


"You didn't know he could do that?" Young asked Eli.


"No! Don't you think I would tell you," Eli shook his head and kept punching keys. "I don't even know what he did to stop it!" The young man threw his hands in the air.


"Typical, keeping something like that a secret," Volker groused. Chloe glared at him but even she couldn't shake feeling Rush should have told them something this important.


"How long has he known?" Young growled. He could feel the anger starting to rise. Eli shook his head and Brody just shrugged again.


"I know he was working on it before we went into stasis," Eli's fingers flying over the console. "I didn't know he had solved it."


Young slammed his hand down on Eli's console making everyone in the gate room jump. He couldn't help but think about all the close calls they had had since entering the galaxy. Not having to race the clock would have made all the difference.


"Colonel?" Eli pulled up the data from the second planet.


"What?" Young angrily.


"It's about the other planet." Eli pointed to the sensor readings. Really if Rush had lied about the clock, he was probably lying about the second planet. "There's nothing showing up on the sensors. It's a little on the humid side. Mostly jungle. No technology. No signs of structures. Seems pretty primitive."


"You recommending we send a second team?" Young asked.


"Rush said we shouldn't go there," Brody interjected.


"Yeah, well he didn't explain why." Eli looked pointedly at Young. "Just like he didn't tell us about the clock."


"You think he's hiding something?" Young growled. Of course Rush was hiding something. He was always hiding something. Young bit down on his anger. "Dial the planet, Brody. Eli, send a kino through."


They all stood around not speaking. No one wanting to set the colonel off. Chloe finally broke the silence. "We have the kino feed," she announced. They all gathered around and watched the images coming on the screen.


"Yep, it's a jungle," Eli announced. "Might be some fruit. Maybe some medicinals." Young waited impatiently. Eli nodded. "We should at least check it out," he declared. Young gathered a small compliment of soldiers to accompany him. They would check it out first before bringing down anyone else, since they had time.


Planet A


They stepped out into a field of golden wheat like plants. Park immediately started running scans on them. It was warm and a breeze made the plants ripple, filling the air with a sweet odor.


"Reminds me of home," Marsden said after taking a deep breath. They all stopped and looked at him. "What, I'm from the midwest. You can drive for miles and see nothing but wheat."


Even Rush smiled at the soldier's face. Greer chuckled and said, "Didn't have nothing like this where I'm from."


"The structures the sensors picked up are this way," Rush said quietly and started heading into the rows of plants with his head down completely focused on the kino readings he was getting.


"Wait," Scott ordered. Rush continued walking when the others stopped. "Rush wait!"


He turned to the Lieutenant, an impatient look on his face. Scott rolled his eyes at the scientist. "I think, there's a road." He pointed a few feet to their right. The road was barely visible through the wheat, he only noticed it when the wind and had separated some just right.


The group stepped over onto a wide dirt path cutting through the field. "This is wide enough for some sort of transportation," Greer said.


"Maybe carts?" Scott asked. "Or trucks?"


"This seems to be a grain," Park said, breaking off a piece. "The scans are showing it should be edible. If we can get enough of it, we might be able to make a bread."


"Bread would be nice," Greer mused. "Miss it almost as much as meat." Park frowned at him. She started to retort when several lizard-like creatures surrounded them, chattering and clicking excitedly.


The creatures were only a few feet tall and moved both on two legs and four. They were bright green and white, with big eyes and a tail that was constantly moving. They reminded Rush of geckos. The soldiers readied their weapons but Rush held up his hand to stop them.


He knelt on the ground and clicked at the creatures. They started bouncing around and a few climbed on the scientist. "They're children," he smiled at Park.


"You don't think they're dangerous." Park kneeled next to Rush and held her hand out to one of the smaller ones. It scampered up her arm and wrapped around her neck. She giggled when it used its tongue to lick her face.


"Lisa be careful," Greer warned. "You too Rush."


"I asked them to take us to their parents," Rush replied instead and took off walking again. Two of the geckos hanging onto the legs of his pants. He wanted to push them off but let them stay only to show their parents they were friendly and meant no harm.


They could see the house and a couple of bigger buildings Rush assumed were barns. A couple of the geckos ran ahead of them. He assumed to alert their arrival. What he was able to glean from his rudimentary understanding of their language, they were not native to the planet. They were a farming colony, supplying their grains to many different planets. The closest correlation he could make were they were similar to Earth's sharecroppers, not slaves, just a step above.


"Marsden, go back to the gate, take one of the stalks with you. Let them know the natives are friendly we might get some trade," Scott ordered.


"Should I bring back the kino sled?" Marsden asked.


"Yeah, but leave it at the gate. Let me know when you get back."


"Yes, sir."


Once they arrived at the house, it all became a whirlwind of activity. The alien that greeted them Rush decided to designate it as the mother, despite the sex was not evident. She hustled them inside and offered cups of water. A quick analysis determined it was drinkable so the group settled in and let Rush find out what he could.


By the time Marsden radioed he had returned, Rush was giving Scott his report.


"They are excited to see us. They don't get many visitors an' have never known the gate to be used," Rush explained. "She," he nodded toward the mother, "insists that we take as much as we need. I explained to her we are willin' to barter but she is sayin' it is their tradition to give travelers their bounty as gifts." Rush rubbed the back of his neck. His back was really starting to hurt, making it hard to concentrate. Park noticed the grimace on his face.


"Are you okay Doctor Rush?" she asked quietly.


"I'm fine," he replied.


"If you are feeling bad, we need to know if you have picked something up down here," Scott broke in, grabbing Rush's arm.


"No no. I have a little discomfort, nothin' to worry about." Rush tried to school his expression but it was hard, the pain was beginning to make him dizzy. "I felt this way before we arrived." The pain lessened a little so he went on with his assessment.


"Their main crop is the wheat, so maybe we could offer them some of Destiny's tomatoes and seeds?" Park suggested.


Rush nodded.


Scott went out to radio Marsden about the plan. He stretched his arms above his head. It was so peaceful there and he wished Chloe had come with them. Greer walked up and slapped him on the back, holding out a piece of bread with a golden spread. The sergeant was happily devouring a piece.


"I could get used to this," Greer said around a mouthful. Scott had to agree.


In the end, they ended up with loads of the uncut grain, several bags of the coarse flour to make bread, loaves of bread and a large bucket of the spread. Their host graciously accepted the tomatoes once she observed how much her little ones enjoyed them. Scott thought maybe their luck was finally changing.


Planet B


The smell of decaying flowers and fruit filled the humid, thick air. The cloying scent had crossed over from unpleasant into nauseating in a matter of minutes. Young covered his mouth to keep from losing his breakfast. Whatever was causing it seemed to come from all sides. "Keep alert people."


"My gramma would call this thick enough to cut with a knife," James wiped her face with the sleeve of her jacket. She wrinkled her nose, "And that smell is like death."


"I think it's actually misting," observed Barnes. She squinted up at the canopy of trees. "It's just so hot it feels more like steam. Might not be so bad if not for this awful smell." She covered her mouth. "I can almost taste it."


"Maybe we are at the end of the season and all the fruit has rotted," Sergeant Michaels suggested. He looked around. None of the trees appeared to have fruit and no flowers were covering the ground. Something was giving off the awful scent though. "A dead animal?"


"Enough speculation," Young barked out. He was regretting gating to the planet already. "Barnes with me. Michaels go with James. Keep in radio contact."


Young had barely finished his orders when Michaels screamed.


Barnes had been in the marines for ten years. Been at the SGC for all but one of them. Been off-world so many times she had lost count. She had never froze on a mission.


When you are a marine, you are a marine first and a woman second, if you want to get anywhere in the ranks. Add to it that she barely made the height requirement. She had to work harder, train harder, be harder than any of the men she has known. Even Greer. He's a bad ass for sure. Some think he's psycho with that rattlesnake smile of his. But he's a white knight. A latter day Don Quixote tilting at the injustices instead of windmills. He froze on that one world after he had given his kidney to Volker. She didn't freeze. Ever.


Barnes had been in firefights. Seen guys in her platoon blown up. She had seen friends die, horrible deaths. Lots of death. Dealt out some too. There's really just two kinds of death if you get down to it. Horrible or peaceful. Very few are peaceful. Michaels' was not peaceful. The creature ripped his head off his body.


She froze.


It ripped his head from his body.


That's some strength there. In mid-flight too. Like a bird of prey, only these weren't birds except for the fact they did have a wing span. A nasty looking leathery membrane spanning over a thick frame. Barnes didn't think hell could have come up with a more evil looking creature. It pretty much resided in her personal version of hell now.


She had studied predators, told by mentors it would help understand the different alien species they might discover on a gate trips. Thing is, this was a first for her. This thing, this vile creature, didn't kill for survival. It killed for the sake of killing.


Hell, maybe the gate was smack in the middle of its territory. Most predators guarding will give a warning first before they attack. This thing. It didn't. One minute they were all standing there sweating like whores at Sunday service, the next, Michaels was screaming. Michaels was still screaming as his neck was torn, as the last muscles and tendons gave way. Michaels was screaming as his skull separated from his spine.


She could still hear his screaming.


Barnes would never forget Michaels' face in that moment. She was sure it was permanently etched into her mind's eye. Even now she saw it when she closed her eyes. Just outside the edges of her peripheral view. Glimpses like shadows or ghosts. Just a blink and it was gone.


Haunting her.


The only reason she was alive was because of the colonel. He barreled into her, knocking Barnes to her ass just as the creature went for her head. Barnes still hadn't unshouldered her rifle. She was just standing there with the gate remote clutch in her hand, in shock and disbelief.


If Young had froze, she would be dead. Like Michaels. She knew it too. It got her in the shoulder, the razor sharp talons sunk deep and ripped. Funnily enough, Barnes didn't feel a thing. Maybe it was shock, she wasn't sure. She looked down and she was still holding the gate remote.


Colonel Young went down hard in a roll after hitting her, rolling back to his feet and firing his weapon. James was firing her rifle from the other side, providing enough distraction for it to turn away from them. Only when it turned, the tip of its wing caught the colonel in the head.


It knocked Young back but he didn't stop firing.


James was firing non-stop at it. It flew upwards into the canopy of trees then started a dive back towards them. James and the colonel still didn't stop firing and it banked at the last minute and flew to the sky again. Colonel Young yelled at Barnes to dial the gate.


Barnes finally unfroze and punched up Destiny's address. She was trying, she really was. She was scared shitless. Her hands were sweaty and trembling and she could see the blood. Her own blood. It had already soaked her coat so badly it was running down her hand. Barnes knew she needed to stand. And she didn't understand why the gate was taking so long.


The creature dived at them again. The quicksilver vortex of the gate hit the thing in its clawed foot as it swept by the platform. The scream from the creature vibrated through them. She knew they only had moments. She had to pull it together and get her ass through the puddle before that thing came back.


Barnes tried to stand and everything started to go dark. She might have fainted. She wasn't sure. The colonel and James grabbed her on each side and carried her through the gate. She didn't remember arriving in the gate room and the three of them almost collapsing. She didn't remember Colonel Young yelling at the crew to clear the way to the infirmary and to call TJ. What she did remember was opening her eyes and TJ was standing over her. Her shoulder was wrapped up tight and her head felt woozy from the pain medicine TJ must have given her. She tried to smile at TJ. Barnes was feeling no pain and that should have made her feel better but all she could remember was Michaels. And that she froze. And he was dead. Her eyes started to fill up.


"Shhhh, go to sleep. You're going to be okay," TJ's soft voice whispered. Barnes wasn't sure if that was true. She had froze. Then she closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.


*****


"How's Barnes?" Young asked TJ as she added another stitch to the gash in his forehead.


TJ grabbed his chin to keep him from looking over. "The wounds were pretty deep and she lost a lot of blood but she's stable for now." She tied that one off and wiped her brow. "There's always fear of an infection."


She added another stitch. Then another. She was tired. Barnes was touch and go while she tried to stop the bleeding and stabilize the young marine. It had taken nearly an hour before TJ had finished the surgery. Luckily no major artery was hit. The colonel had paced around the infirmary while she and a temporary SGC trauma doctor, who had switched with Camile, operated on Barnes.


The doctor was gone now. TJ hadn't even bothered to learn their name.


"You might have a slight concussion. I want you to stay over tonight so I can keep an eye on you." She finished stitching and pulled off her gloves.


"Is that really necessary?" Young asked.


"Doctor's orders," TJ gave him a wan smile.


Young's whole body went rigid when the infirmary doors swished open and Rush ran in, skidding to a stop. Rush was visibly pale and TJ could see his hand shaking as he reached out to the colonel.


"Colonel are you okay?" TJ could hear the tightness, fear, and concern in Rush's voice.


Young didn't say a word. He had years of hand to hand combat experience. He never telegraphed his moves. So even TJ never saw the punch coming let alone Rush. Young hit him in the face, knocking the smaller man back and to the floor.


TJ started towards Rush but then had to grab Young instead to keep him from charging the fallen man. Rush was struggling to right himself and shove himself backward out of Young's reach. The concern and fear she had seen just seconds before had been replaced by confusion.


"A good man is dead because of you!" Young raged.


"What?" Rush wiped at his lip, smearing blood into his beard. They had just gotten back. The whole team excited by the bounty of food stores. It had felt good like he was a part of the team. Then Eli had stopped them. Nothing Eli had said registered but infirmary and Young. Rush had raced to the infirmary fearing the worse. He couldn't lose the colonel.


"Michaels is dead!"


Rush eased up against the bulkhead slowly and managed to get to unsteadily to his feet. A different fear filling him up.


"You should have warned us!"


"I did!" Rush started forwards but flinched back when Young struggled to get away from TJ.


"You didn't tell us why," Young snarled. The rage was making his blood boil. All he wanted at that moment was to pound Rush's face.


"I told Eli we shouldn' go there. Why didn' you listen?"


"Listen to what. Half truths. Full blown lies. We had no idea if you were hiding something!"


"What? Why would I lie?"


"God, why do you lie about anything! Why do you keep things to yourself? It always ends up with someone hurt or killed!" Young pointed his finger at Rush. "You can't be trusted."


"I no' lied to you!"


Young lunged at him again. "You kept stopping the countdown clock a secret until it suited you. How long have you known?"


"I..." Young interrupted him again. Rush face went blank. The fear morphing, evolving into something else.


"How many more people are going to have to die before you stop with the lies! Every one of them. Every man, woman and," Young choked, "child that has died since you dial the Ninth Chevron is on you. You!"


"Why did you bother gettin' me back?" Rush sneered.


"You know, I don't know." Young snarled. "Right now I wish I hadn't."


Rush turned on his heel to leave only to run into Eli in the doorway. He pushed around the young man and took off running down the corridor. He could still hear Young yelling, "Get back here you bastard. We're not done!"


TJ managed to get Young back sitting on the gurney. He must be feeling weak. She knew under normal circumstances she would have never been able to hold Young back and she hadn't had time to call for back-up. TJ wanted to yell at Eli for just standing there, holding his laptop and not doing a damn thing to help her stop the two men from fighting. Well, stop Young from fighting. Rush had just stood there taking it.


"Colonel?" Eli asked.


"What is it, Eli?" Young rubbed his forehead.


"He did tell us." Eli tilted his chin up. He was ready for Young's rage to be redirected at him. At least he hoped he was ready. "About the countdown clock."


"When?" Young furrowed his brow.


"Well, he didn't tell us, tell us. He put it in a report," Eli started to pull something up on his laptop.


"He could have been covering his ass, hiding when he actually found it," Young replied, the anger still scrunching up his face. "He's done it before. Fake data."


"I know that," Eli complained. "But he's just not that good at it. I figured it out the first time. And the second. I have logs now of everything done in Destiny's database. I can go in and figure out pretty much who was doing what and at which console since we first dialed in."


"So he buried the report then?"


"No, Colonel. He didn't. The logs show when he found the clock fix in the master code and he submitted the report the same day. Just like you asked him to do. He's submitted a report every day," Eli's face flushed. "It's my fault."


"How is any of this your fault?"


"I hate reading reports. I got piles of them. If I had read it, known about the clock," Eli bit his lip and his eyes glistened. "I thought since he was hiding the clock fix, he was hiding something about the planet. We could have waited until he got back and asked. If we had waited Michaels would be alive."


"It's not your fault, Eli," Young said wearily. "It was a command decision."


"It's not his fault either you know." Young nodded. Rush hadn't lied.


TJ didn't speak. Not even in her tightly controlled professional tone. Young tried to give her an apologetic smile but her eyes, her beautiful blue eyes were cold. Colder than when he had broken it off with her.


Young grabbed her hand. TJ didn't pull away but narrowed her eyes. "I'm sorry," he said softly.


"It's not me you need to apologize to," she hissed at him and finally yanked her hand away.


Young stayed there a few more hours but could only stand the silence for so long. He got up and went to his quarters. He'd find Rush tomorrow and tell him he was sorry. Right now he was tired and still hurting from losing Michaels.


Rush paced around the Research Lab. His mind was racing and he couldn't quite catch his breath. He yanked at his hair. He pounded his fist on the bulkhead. Fucking Young. God, he couldn't focus on anything. He pounded his fist against the bulkhead, trying to feel the pain, capture it, let it his mind focus on it.


He shouldn't have run off. He's not some trembling waif afraid of the man. He had half a mind to go back and confront Young. He could do it. Rush looked at his shaking hands. If he could just focus. Focus on not being afraid.


Fuck, he was afraid of the colonel. He could admit it. Those that weren't were just fools. Young was a trained killer. He might only be an inch or two taller but he was built like a bloody bull. All square and solid muscle. Yeah, he was afraid of Young.


Rush wrapped his arms around himself. But he refused to show it. He had been on the losing end of all their fights. That left him with a right and proper healthy fear of the man. No matter how hard he fought he couldn't get the upper hand against someone like Young.


Fucking Young was a bully and he used that to intimidate him. Rush hated that it had always worked. So Young still blamed him for everything. Rush felt stupid that he had ever thought they were passed that.


"We'll never be done!"


His words. Not Young's.


Rush slid down the wall and buried his face in his hands. He had really thought things were different. Dared to believe. Dared to hope.


Rush let his head fall back and banged it against the wall. He did it again. He drove the heels of his hands into his eye sockets making stars flare behind his lids.


Now what was he going to do? Young could be ordering his men to find him, lock him up until they could dump him off on the next planet to be hunted down by Ddarus. Or just gate him off to the planet Young had just come back from. That was a horrible thought but at least his death would be quick.


Suddenly everything seemed to be closing in on him. He could hear everything. It felt like he could feel the tones of the shields vibrating through his body. Destiny's engines shouldn't be this loud. Rush looked at his hands. His vision had narrowed down to one small focal point.


Rush grasped his bracelet and twisted. He had to concentrate. Had to get back. He couldn't risk having a full blown panic attack right now. Not with Young ready to toss him out an airlock. He fingered his bracelet. He counted each link. His fingers glided over the cool metal. One. Two. Three. Breath in. Breath out. Five. Six. Seven. Breath in. Breath out. The panic dissolved a little more with each breath. By the time he had counted the links twice, his breathing was somewhat back to normal. By the third round, his heart rate was steady and the tightness in his chest was gone.


Now all he felt was empty. He felt exhausted. When had he slept last? He looked around the room. It was so quiet now. Rush wondered if he could just lay down right there and take a nap. Rest a bit, then go back to his quarters. Smoke a cigarette. Try and calm down and formulate a plan. Just a quick nap.


The pain in his back hit him like lightning. He wouldn't scream. He gritted his teeth. He felt tears prickle the corner of his eyes. His back was on fire. He folded down to the deck and curled up. He could feel each cut of the blade as Ddarus dug into his flesh. He could feel the skin and muscle being ripped down. Ddarus had laughed at his screams. Again and again, Kiva ordered them to stab him with the pain stick. Another strip. Another line of never ending fire as the flesh was torn. They cut into his chest with no anesthesia when they planted the tracker. The Nakai didn't understand pain, they were indifferent to his pleading for them to stop. Another strip of flesh cut. Another line of pain. Their thoughts ripped through his mind as the sought for information on Destiny. Over and over they raped his mind, tearing him apart from the inside. Another piece of him gone. The flesh tearing from his shoulder down to his waist, slowly as he screamed. Ddarus had laughed.


Rush startled and jerked awake when Brody shook his shoulder. He blinked at Brody and then looked around. Brody was talking but he couldn't make out what he was saying. Rush just stared at him, trying hard to figure out what was going on.


He was still in the Research Lab, he must have fallen asleep. The pain in his back was still making him nauseous and it was hard to concentrate on what Brody was saying.


"Rush are you okay?" Brody asked again. He was just about to radio TJ to come down there when Rush finally looked at him with a little more awareness.


"I'm fine," Rush croaked out and pushed Brody away. He struggled to his feet, trying not to let Brody see the pain he was in.


Brody stepped back but only far enough to give Rush room. He was ready to try and catch the man if he fell, Rush was white as a sheet and looked like he was about to pass out. Brody thought maybe that was why he had found him asleep on the floor.


It was near noon already. Brody had been busy all morning after yesterday's massive cluster. The crew was demanding someone be at fault. Most had settled on Rush. Brody and a few others had defended the scientist, even James had sided with Rush against most of the rest of the military. No one wanted to accept it was just another crappy day like Destiny was infamous for.


Rush looked like hell though and Brody was worried. He wouldn't push. He'd just keep an eye on the man.


"Colonel Young wants to have a meeting with the science team," Brody checked his watch. "In about an hour."


Rush sneered and shook his head. Brody stepped towards him again but Rush waved him off as he straightened up and took a deep breath. "Where?"


"The bridge," Brody tried to look busy. "He said it was mandatory."


Rush gave him a curt nod and left. As soon as he was out of Brody's sight, he let out the breath he was holding and leaned against the bulkhead. If he could just make it to his quarters, he might be able to minimize the pain a little. Enough that no one would notice.


It took him almost ten minutes to slowly walk to his quarters. If he had been walking with his head up he might have spotted Young in time to turn around, instead, he tried to school his expression with venom as he walked up to his door and hit the button. He didn't say a word to the colonel as he stepped across the threshold into his room.


"Rush," Young stuttered. "About last night?" Looking at the shape Rush was in, Young wished he had waited to have this conversation. He wanted it over with, though. When he had woken up that morning, the events, what he had said, all of it had crashed in on him. The face that looked at him this morning when he shaved was the same one that had stared back at him after he had left Rush on that planet.


"What do you want, Colonel Young?" Rush's voice was low and tight. Young could barely hear Rush with his back to him. Young took a deep breath, he was here to apologize not get into another fight. Besides the man looked awful.


"I was out of line. I shouldn't have said those things," Young tried to sound as sincere as he felt.


Rush shrugged and immediately wished he hadn't. The movement caused a searing pain across his back. He tried to say something cutting back to Young but he didn't dare speak.


"Damnit Rush, I'm trying to apologize. Can you at least look at me?" Young growled. Rush didn't turn completely around but he did turn his head enough Young could see the profile of his face beneath his bangs.


"I over-reacted. I'm sorry."


Rush brushed the hair from his face and tried not to groan. He sighed. He just wanted Young to leave. If the colonel was apologizing, then at least Rush didn't have to be worried about being left on a planet alone again. "Accepted," he managed and slammed the button to close the door.


Young stood there fuming for a moment then sighed. What had he expected? Them to suddenly be okay. They had tried that. Both had failed. Young wanted to be at least civil. His mind flashed to that moment, that fleeting moment when Rush had first entered the infirmary. Rush had looked...concerned. Scared. Worried. For him.


He wanted more than just okay between them. Young wanted to trust him, be able to depend on him to do the right thing. Not keep secrets. That was what had enraged him about the clock and the planet. It had seemed like Rush was back to his old ways of lies and hiding things. It had felt like a personal betrayal because he wanted more. Now that he knew it wasn't true, he felt ashamed.


Young raised his hand to knock on Rush's door then stopped. He would give Rush some room.


Rush didn't show up for the science meeting but he ended up being the main topic. Eli put to rest most of their immediate concerns with an updated information from the reports Rush had been sending him. Even Volker had agreed it was because of the missing clock information that they had all assumed Rush was lying about the planet, instead of trusting his warning to stay away.


Chloe, wise beyond her years, suggested they might try not expecting the worse from Rush.


Young asked them all to leave Rush alone for the rest of the day and maybe tomorrow. They all remembered how Rush would disappear to lick his wounds, only to resurface and act like nothing had happened.


*****


Rush tapped on the infirmary's door, calling out, "Lieutenant Johansen?"


TJ came out of her office, turning off the light as she stepped into the main room. It was normally the time she shut down for the night. Barnes was doing well and already asleep. "Doctor Rush? Is everything okay." The scientist never dropped by just to chat.


"I need a favor," Rush said and stepped in and closed the door.


"Sure, what can I do?" TJ asked.


Rush was holding a large jar of something, he was twisting it around in his hands nervously avoiding looking at TJ.


"It's okay," TJ said softly. "Just tell me."


"It's the..." Rush dropped his head and then looked away. "You remember the scars on my back?"


"Yes," TJ bit her lip waiting. She would never forget those horrible long strips of gnarled flesh out of her mind.


"Um, well," Rush thrust the jar into her hands. "I was wonderin' if you could put some o' this on my back. It's for the pain."


"Oh, I didn't think you still had pain. They seemed healed," TJ went over to him and slowly put her hand on his arm.


"They are healed. It's just," Rush let her guide him over to an examination table. "Every once in a while, there's a flare up. Like the nerves are on fire. It's quite painful."


"Didn't you try...?


"Yes o' course we tried," he snapped then softened. "We tried after my arm was healed but apparently the nerves are no' damaged...more over-stimulated." He dropped his voice so low TJ could barely hear him. "This was the only thing that seemed to help when the pain became...unbearable."


Rush looked embarrassed for admitting so much. TJ shook her head. "Take off your shirt and let me get some readings first." TJ had to step in and help him with the shirt. Even those movements clearly causing him pain.


He sat on the gurney and let her take his vitals without a fuss. She noted that and how exhausted the man looked. "How long have you been in pain?"


Rush shrugged noncommittally and winced from the movement.


"How long?" TJ said more firmly. His blood pressure and heart rate were elevated. And she could tell he was trying to control his breathing.


"A couple o' days," he finally admitted. He noticed the skeptical expression on TJ's face. "Maybe more?" Rush gave her a weak sheepish smile.


"Why didn't you come to me sooner?" She wanted to throttle him.


"I don' know, Lieutenant," Rush said brokenly, immediately making TJ feel guilty she had chastised him. "Rhark used to do this for me, now I have no one. I thought you bein' a doctor..."


"It's okay," TJ put her hand on his shoulder. She wanted to just hug the man. No one should ever feel that alone. "Why don't you lie down on your stomach now and tell me what to do."


Rush stretched out cautiously, trying hard not to jerk his back. TJ watched his movements, detecting each wince he made and tried to hide ineffectually. Now that she was looking at him closely, she could see the lines around his eyes deepening as he grimaced in obvious pain. If he was trying to hide the pain and yet she could still see it, it had to be bad.


"Do I need gloves?" she asked as she sat the jar on the table beside the bed.


"I don' think so," he replied. "I've had it on my hands before with no ill effects." He slowly rolled his arms up and put his hands under his head, turning his face to the side. "Maybe you should just to be on the safe side."


She reached for a pair of gloves then changed her mind. She wanted to use this to assess the damage by not only sight but by touch too. Gloves would limit that.


TJ reached up and pushed his long hair off his neck. She picked up the jar and put a large dollop in her hands, rubbing them together to warm the substance.


"Next time don't wait so long," She chided. "Now tell me what to do."


"Massage it in as deeply as you can." He hissed when her hands touched his back. "It will be painful for me at first but don' stop. Once it starts penetratin', it will get better."


As she worked the medicine in, she tried to be careful, Rush was trembling from the pain and every time he flinched, jerked, or whimpered she almost stopped. She worked it in beneath the scars, she could also feel the knotted muscles soften. Watched as he slowly relaxed.


"I think you just wanted a massage," she teased. He murmured a response she couldn't quite make out. She leaned over and looked at his face. His eyes were closed and his face relaxed. The difference a clear indication of how bad it had been when he walked in.


TJ took the time to study the scars. They ran all the way from the top of his shoulders, just below his neck to the small of his back. It was obvious there had been no wound care. Probably infections. No sutures. Nothing to help the gashes heal. The lines were wide and appeared deep enough that she imagined they had healed from the inside out. She wondered how deep they were to cause the nerves to react the way he described. She wondered what could have caused this much damage. She wondered what else had been done to the man. TJ kept working the ointment in until his breathing even out and she was sure he was asleep.


She wiped her hands off with a towel before gently checking his pulse on his neck. His heart rate had dropped back to normal levels, she wanted to check his blood pressure but loathed to wake him. Deciding against it, she gently brushed the hair out of his face and examined his swollen and split lip. It was healing, she would have put a couple of stitches in had she been able to find him after the colonel had hit him. TJ mentally kicked herself. Had she hunted him down, she would have noticed the pain he was in.


She tugged a lock of his hair. "It's your fault too, you should have come to me sooner," she whispered, then pulled a blanket over him. She lifted up and sat down on the bed across from him. She would sleep in the infirmary tonight. It wouldn't be the first time, although she knew he was in no danger. It just didn't feel right leaving him alone.


She heard the doors open and looked over her shoulder. Vanessa walked in and was about to say something. TJ put her fingers to her lips and nodded to the bed beside her. James tip-toed over and sat down beside her, resting her head on TJ's shoulder. TJ put her head on James, letting the smell of Vanessa's hair fill her senses.


"Is he okay?" James whispered nodding towards Rush.


Keeping her voice low, TJ explained he had come to her because he was in pain. James listened carefully then added, "You know, yesterday I saw him in the mess before that whole disaster with the gate trips. I thought he looked like he was in pain. I asked but he gave his patented I'm fine Lieutenant."


TJ gave her a small smile. "That's how I knew it was serious. He sought me out and I didn't once hear the words I'm fine."


"You going to stay the night?" James asked, already knowing the answer.


TJ bit her lip. She wanted nothing more than to go crawl into bed with Varro and Vanessa but she just couldn't bring herself to leave. "I'm going to stay."


"I could stay too," James suggested.


"No, it's okay, you go get some sleep."


"I could stay just a little while," James gave her a grin. TJ couldn't resist.


"I'd like that." She leaned over and grabbed James's hand.


James studied the sleeping man in front of them. TJ had covered his small frame with a blanket but she could see the edge of the scars on his shoulders. She sat up and arched an eyebrow at TJ.


"That's why he's here. They cause him pain but you know that's all I can say," TJ chewed the corner of her lip. James nodded and leaned over and kissed her. "Come on. At least let's sit on the couch." She tipped her head to the sofa against the wall near TJ's office.


The next morning when TJ woke, Rush had already slipped out. He had covered her and Vanessa with a blanket before he left. She found the jar and a scribbled note of thanks. He had signed it Nicholas Rush. That was new. TJ smiled.


*****


Young didn't see Rush for three more days. He knew Rush was around and working, though, Brody had kept them up to date about the shuttle and the different rooms they opened as they made their way in fixing the closed off sections of Destiny.


Chloe had let him know privately she had been in the math corridor with Rush a couple of times. She gave Young a soft look. He had mumbled a thanks, a little unnerved the young woman seemed to know why he was concerned. When Rush did surface, it was to announce that he and Brody had finished fixing the shuttle and it was time for a test flight.


They dropped out of FTL to recharge in a small system's red dwarf. After Destiny's tank was filled, they steered towards a planet with a couple of small moons. The planet was a rock and had no gate but it would work for testing the shuttle capabilities.


Rush was explaining to Lieutenant Scott the different systems the young soldier needed to put the shuttle through its paces, when Young joined the group. Eli was explaining they had real time link up for the data and would know if anything wasn't working or going into overload.


"Just in case," Eli said. "You know?"


"Just in case what, Eli?" Young asked. Scott paused in the hatch.


"It...uh...explodes?"


"It won'," Rush said sharply, narrowing his eyes at Eli.


"We don't know that. Accidents happen. Sheesh," Eli rolled his eyes. "Just trying to be cautious."


"Eli's right," Young interjected. "I don't want to risk our best pilot on an unknown."


"Sir, I'm sure it's fine," Scott said. He was itching to back in the shuttle. Brody had gone on and on about all the improvements they had made. And Brody never acted excited about anything.


"Fine," Rush huffed and pushed past Scott to enter the shuttle. Young grabbed his arm to stop him.


"You don't know how to fly."


"It can' be difficult, I already know all the systems." Rush gave Young a dark look. "My double seemed perfectly capable."


"You know, go ahead if you want to kill yourself," Young growled. Rush started to pull his arm from Young's hand when Eli cleared his throat.


"Or you know...we could test it remotely," Eli said slowly. "Like we did to distract the drones?"


When he had their attention, he waved excitedly. "I've already written a program to do more than just fly. You can run through all the controls, Matt." He turned his laptop screen to Scott to show him.


Brody looked over Eli's shoulder and asked, "Does this mean he can land it too?"


"Yes!" Eli pointed at the screen. "He can fire weapons! Anything he wants, just like he was in there."


"That's great Eli," Young said to the young man. He was relieved Eli had already anticipated a problem.


"Ay, very good, Mister Wallace," Rush added. He looked down at Young's hand on his arm then back up pointedly at Young.


Young slowly dropped his hand, letting it linger a little longer than necessary. "How about we let them run the test flight and you and I get some lunch?" He asked. Rush looked a bit perplexed by the invitation.


"I'd like to stay an observe the readin's," Rush replied quietly. He rubbed his hand over the spot Young's hand had been.


"Then afterwards?" Young asked. Rush hadn't flat out refused his offer. Young smiled at him, disarming Rush more. Rush gave him a curious look, then a nod. Rush wondered if Young was getting some perverse joy out of keeping him unbalanced.


*****


The rest of the stops they made went without any incident. It appeared just leaving the Federation space improved their luck considerably. Supplies were at all time high with enough food they could go months without stopping if need be. Brody and Rush had found a storage room large enough they felt confident to add soil and start a small field for the wheat.


The wheat was another surprise. Its germination period was short. They would have a new crop every four weeks. This caused a stir among the crew in hopes for more indulgent food stuffs, like cookies or cake.


After a couple of weeks Rush ended up spending most of his time in his quarters or working in the Research Lab and avoiding the mess hall. He had worked out a deal with Becker to make him small meals he would pick up in the mornings. Becker was happy he could do something to thank Rush for the spices.


He had resorted to this for two reasons.


The first, was his infatuation with the colonel had gotten out of hand. Once he had buried the hurt at being accused of lying, he's thoughts started changing. He was starting to think about Young all the time. Rush suspected it was due to the colonel being his protector now, at least that was how he thought of him, whether it was true or not. Right now it was helping him cope. Rush remembered how his affection for Rhark had amped up once he realized Rhark would keep him safe from Ddarus. It was a silly crush, he kept telling himself. Young was undeniably handsome. Rush had noticed when the colonel first arrived on Icarus, but Rush hadn't fancied him back then, merely observed the aesthetic fact about the man.


Then it had morphed into animosity. Young didn't respect him. Wouldn't listen to him. He had been like all the other military. Dismissing his work and treating him more as a nuisance. When they got to Destiny, it only got worse. Young didn't trust him. Made his life miserable. Tried to kill him. More than once. Now all those incidents between them had become muted, turned into something else. The friendly times between them seemed more prominent now. It all added to Rush wanting to reach out and touch the man. Know what it would be like to be wrapped in his arms. Silly thoughts born from everything Ddarus had done to him to make him feel so vulnerable. Thoughts that would lead no where, the colonel hated him. Well, maybe Young no longer hated him, but he certainly didn't like him. They weren't friends.


Rush found himself searching for Young in every room he entered. Listening for his voice on the radio. It had to stop. So he had resorted to hiding out.


The first reason was compounded by the second.


After each successful gate trip and several fruitful shuttle trips, the colonel had nearly lost all his suspicion of him and Rush found it unnerving to be on the receiving end of those little smiles Young was prone to give him. He wasn't worthy of the trust. The last few gate trips had proven it.


They had gone fine except Rush started feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He had looked around as subtly as he could but had never saw anything concrete. The second time it had happened, the vendor they were bartering with had been too nervous and would avoid meeting Rush's eyes.


Rush had managed to accidentally lose his guard, Sergeant Greer, long enough to confront the vendor. After a proper threat at the end of his knife, the alien had spilled that Rush had a bounty on his head. Ddarus had some how found out he no longer belonged to Rhark and now wanted him back.


He couldn't tell anyone, especially Young. He couldn't risk it. He would kill himself before he went back. Young's trust of him was too new, too fragile to test it on this.


And now Young was forcing him down to this planet.


Rush took a long drag off the cigarette he had just pulled from behind his ear. The smoke worked its way down into this lungs, into his blood stream, instantly giving him a sense of bliss against the panic that was slowly filling up his entire being. He knew it was a false feeling and he didn't care. If things went south as they had a habit of doing, it would be his last.


At least the cigarette was helping him control his breathing and calm him.


Young yanked on his arm, propelling him forward and out the door of the shuttle. Rush glared at him, the colonel just rolled his eyes and gave his arm another yank.


This was why he should have never trusted Young. The man was hell bent on greeting a disaster head on without even knowing he was headed for said disaster.


Rush had told him emphatically to not stop here. Sure it was originally part of the plan but things changed. They were right at the edge of the galaxy, Destiny was all fueled up and ready to cross the small void and they could leave this nightmare behind.


But no, Young insisted they stop. Insisted they try and buy another shuttle. Sure another shuttle would be handy but it wasn't a necessity. There wasn't any real way to even know if there was a shuttle down here to fit their needs. So Rush had conceded but refused to accompany the away team. Young said he was going. Then he had asked for a gun. Young refused that too. So here he was despite his best efforts to not be part of the coming shitstorm. Fuck you, Rush thought and gave the colonel another withering glare.


Rush pulled out of the colonel's grip and stormed down the street. He knew the man they wanted to talk to, the sooner the better and the quicker they could leave this god forsaken planet. Before Ddarus arrived and found him.


He found Vfarghar in his garage where the man always stayed. Rush could see the wheels spinning behind the aliens four eyes as he closed a communication device. Vfarghar was not known for his discretion. Rush would have to be quick, word was already spreading he was here, he could feel it in his bones.


"We're lookin' for a shuttle," Rush barked out in the alien's native tongue. He had deliberately left the translation device turned off.


"I have several out back," the smarmy merchant replied. "Take a look around, I give you a good price. Come back when you find the one you want. All are in excellent shape. Good deal for you."


Rush turned to Young. "He says all o' them out back are in good condition. Find one you like, have Lieutenant Scott take a test flight, if he likes one, he can take it back to the Destiny. I'll stay here an' negotiate the price."


"Why aren't you using the translator?" Young narrowed his eyes at Rush.


"I left it on my coat," the lie slipping easily off of Rush's tongue. "I know enough o' the language to get by."


Young nodded. It was just outside, they wouldn't be far. He would still have a line of sight on what Rush was doing. He went with Scott to pick out a shuttle, leaving Rush to make the deal.


As soon as they were out of ear shot, Rush grabbed the merchant by the throat and pushed his knife against one of the alien's four eyes. "I'm goin' to give you a chance to live. Tell me everythin'."


"I don't know anything, I'm a simple merchant," he whimpered. Rush pressed the blade until a trickle of blue oozed from the eye.


"Waitin'."


"Ddarus has a bounty on your return," the merchant laughed nervously. "I promise, I did not tell him you are here."


Rush sneered at him. "Oh really. What were you doin' when I walked up?"


The alien shook its head. Rush pushed the knife in deeper. "Yes, okay yes!" It cried. "I told Ddarus you had arrived."


"How far out is he?"


"I don't know."


"How far out is he?" Rush jabbed the knife in and yanked it out. He put it up against the second eye.


"He's already here, he thought you would be coming. Planned for it. Was just waiting for you to be spotted."


"Fuck!" Rush hissed.


The alien jerked out of Rush's grip and tried to take off. In a flurry of movements, the alien managed to jam a small knife into Rush's thigh. The pain barely registered to Rush, the panic and need to get out of there was more present, more visceral. Rush grabbed the alien and plunged the knife into its chest, ripping up and spilling its guts on the floor.


He quickly dragged the body of the merchant behind a couple of barrels and brushed his clothes off. Luckily there was no splatter except on his boots and hands. He grabbed a rag and cleaned off quickly, then strolled confidently to the back of the garage and out the door to Young.


"Did Lieutenant Scott find somethin' to his likin'?" Rush managed to sound casual despite the adrenaline pumping through his veins.


Young eyed him suspiciously. "He's flying it back to Destiny right now. I hope we can get it, I don't think Scott will want to bring it back."


Rush waved him off. "Price has already been paid. We can go now."


"What do you mean it's been paid?" Young crowded into Rush's personal space until Rush had no choice but to step back. Young knew something was up, he couldn't grasp what was going on but Rush was acting weird. All fidgety and nervous, his eyes darting around the area. Young had studied the man for a long time. He could recognize when Rush was hiding something. When he was scared. When he was mad. When he was about to bolt. And he was all those things at this very moment.


"Vfarghar wanted a knife I had," Rush said, turning away to go back to the way of the shuttle.


"That's it? A knife?" Young asked, grabbing Rush by the arm.


"It was a very nice knife," Rush tossed at him and lifted his chin, daring Young to question him.


Young stared at Rush until Rush dropped his eyes and looked away. He knew for sure Rush was hiding something then. Damn the man.


"Seems a bit too easy." Young demanded, "What aren't you telling me?"


Rush tore his arm away. "Nothin'. We need to go."


Young grabbed his arm again and yanked him to his side. "We'll go, but you are staying right here, beside me," Young growled.


"Fine."


Young yanked his radio off his belt and called the sergeant waiting at the shuttle. "Greer, any problems?"


"Nothing, sir. How'd shuttle shopping go?"


"Scott flying it back to Destiny right now. I want you to be ready to fly as soon as we get back, Young out."


"Yes, sir."


They were only a few meters away from the shuttle when they were attacked. The first thing Young noticed was their attackers were only shooting around their feet. Obviously they wanted them alive. He started jogging faster and firing his weapon at the same time. He managed to hit a couple of them but it didn't deter the rest. Rush was trying to sprint ahead but Young refused to let go of his hold he had on the scientist's arm. He could tell Rush was starting to panic. He didn't need the man bolting and accidentally getting hit.


Greer met them at the hatch and started to lay down cover fire. Once Young and Rush were inside, Greer slammed the door shut and headed to the cockpit. Young threw Rush down onto one of the shuttle seats and stomped up to the pilot's chair. Greer slipped into the co-pilots seat and glanced back at Rush.


"What'd he do now?" Greer asked.


"I don't know," Young snarled and engaged the thrusters. They blasted off the planet and the sensors were showing no one was following them. Yet. "But obviously something."


"Destiny, this is Colonel Young. Is Scott back?"


"I'm back, Colonel," Scott replied cheerfully. "The new shuttle is sweet, not as much room as Destiny's but it has more firepower and a lot faster."


"Firepower is always good," Greer noted. He checked the sensors again. They were a few minutes out from docking with Destiny and all was quiet. Didn't make sense to him. The aliens back on the planet seemed determined to stop them. He ran a sensor sweep again. Still nothing.


"Good, Lieutenant." Young breathed a sigh of relief. "We'll be docking in a moment."


"Yes, sir."


Young turned to Greer and asked, "You think you are ready to dock this on your own?"


"Yes, sir," Greer replied. He looked back at Rush, who was looking anywhere but at them. Young nodded and got out of his seat. "Sir?"


"Stand down, sergeant," Young ordered. He knew Greer thought he was going to go punch Rush, but that wasn't the plan. Maybe throttle him but he wouldn't hit him. He just needed the man to come clean for once in his life.


Young walked over and stood over Rush, trying to hold his temper. Rush kept his head down until Young lightly smacked the side of his head. Rush jerked and looked up at him.


"Want to tell me what that was about?"


Rush opened his mouth to speak and Young crowded in closer, deliberately hovering over Rush. "Don't even think about lying."


"I have a bounty on my head!" Rush shouted and tried to stand up but he had forgotten to release the seatbelt.


"What the hell for? Because of Rhark?" Young yelled. Had Rush brought this mess down on them? He knew the Annaroal crew were smugglers. The aliens must have been bounty hunters.


"No. Ddarus found out Rhark gave me away," Rush snapped. "He wants me back."


"How long have you known?"


"I found out a couple planets back," Rush kept fighting with the seat belt and wouldn't look at Young.


"You should have told me!" Young raged and slammed his hand into the bulkhead above Rush, making the man flinch. "You put all of our lives in danger!" Young was working himself up.


"He can' do anythin' now, his ships are no match for Destiny," Rush smarted. "We should just jump into FTL an' leave this galaxy like I told you."


"Like you told me?" Young took a deep breath. "You're just full of useful information. You knew we needed a shuttle. Hell, it was your idea to begin with."


Greer could tell he was about to punch Rush, despite Young's earlier resolve.


"Colonel? I need you up here," Greer called out. He didn't really need the colonel but he had seen how terrified Rush had been when they first got back on the shuttle. The scientist had been shaking like a leaf and barely holding it together. He didn't agree with Rush lying to Colonel Young but they were safe, no need for the colonel to keep bullying Rush. Before stasis, Greer would have helped the colonel bring a beat down on Rush, but since the man had come back and healed Lisa, he had to admit, he was now a little protective of Rush.


Young took a seat and a deep breath. He had once again let his anger get the best of him. He knew Rush was scared. It didn't excuse the lies though. Why couldn't Rush trust him? What did he need to do for the man to believe he cared?


"You okay, sir?" Greer whispered. He punched in the auto docking codes.


"Yes, sergeant." Young rubbed his hand over his face. "Thank you."


"No problem, sir." Greer hesitated. "Go easy on him, Colonel. I'm not sure how I would react in his situation."


Young nodded. The shuttles docking clamps engaged and they were back on board. He was out of his seat and grabbing Rush by the arm before the man had unstrapped. Greer hustled back to them but Young gave him a nod. "I'm not going to hit him."


"Didn't think you were, sir." Greer nodded back and left, not looking back. He trusted the colonel's word. He hoped by leaving Rush could trust the colonel's word too.


Young pushed down on Rush's shoulder to keep him from getting up until Greer had disappeared around the corner. Rush watched the empty doorway and finally managed to unlatch his seat strap. As soon as he was done, Young pulled Rush to his feet. "Come on."


"Would you stop bloody draggin' me around!" Rush demanded and tried to stop their forward movement. Young yanked hard, almost pulling Rush off his feet. Rush's leg was starting to throb and he could feel the blood dripping into his boot. He wasn't sure how much longer he could hide the pain and his head was starting to spin.


"I want you to explain why you didn't tell me," Young said, low and dangerous. He turned and continued to drag Rush with him. "Why did you put us in danger?"


"Colonel Young, I...I'm sorry. A wasn' puttin' the crew in danger... they were never in danger. Only me," Rush stammered as he tried to keep up.


Young spun around and slammed Rush into the wall, pressing heavily against him. He grabbed Rush by the hair and forced his face up. "Only you? ONLY YOU!" Young yanked harder on Rush's hair, making his eyes water. "You are a part of the crew. Damnit Rush!" Young rested his head against Rush's forehead and softened his hold on Rush's hair. "Don't you get it?" he hissed softly. They had just got him back, Young couldn't lose Rush again.


Rush eyes were cast aside and away from Young's face. Young reached down and gripped Rush's chin. He held on until Rush followed his lead and looked at him. Young let go of Rush's hair and stroked his hand gently down the side of Rush's face. "Don't you know?"


Then Young kissed him. It was more teeth slamming and desperation than tenderness. Hard and tinging on violent. Young kept pressing, kept running his tongue against Rush's lips, demanding entrance. Demanding surrender. Demanding Rush understand that he mattered.


Suddenly Rush did surrendered. Rush grasped feverishly at Young's shoulders. His lips parted and Young plunged inside. Yes! Young's mind screamed. Yes! This was what he had wanted. What he may have always wanted from this man from the moment he first saw him. This man who occupied way too much space in Young's mind. This man who was always a lot of work and still was and would probably always be. This man who caused more problems and solved more problems than anyone else. This kiss. This moment of surrender. This made it worth it. Young plundered Rush's mouth. Stabbing over and over with his tongue. Taking him. Possessing him. Dominating him. It was exhilarating. It was...


It was...no longer surrender. Rush let out a soft high pitch moan and he melted into Young's with a full body shudder. Everything, every part of Rush opened up to Young. Young feasted on Rush's mouth, kissing him until he felt Rush go boneless in his embrace. Rush was no longer standing under his own power, merely suspended between Young's body pressed so tightly against his chest and his back pinned against the bulkhead. Rush moved one hand up and gasped hungrily at Young's face, slipping his tongue to greet and welcome Young's. His lips were soft and pliant against Young's, accepting all Young had to offer and begging for more. The other hand twirled in Young's curls, twisting and yanking, holding on for dear life. Their chests were pressed so tightly, Young could feel Rush's heartbeat thumping wildly in his chest.


Young wanted. Needed. To hear that sound from Rush again. He bit down on Rush' bottom lip, rolling it between his teeth and pulling hard while he reached down and rubbed his hand over Rush's slim hip and then around to grasp a handful of Rush's ass. Oh yes, there it was, Young thought as Rush made the sound again. Young could almost imagine he was tasting the sound as it vibrated through is body, down through his chest, to his stomach and finally pooling in his groin. Young tightened his grip on Rush's ass and Rush responded immediately by lifting his leg up and wrapping it around Young. Then his other leg was up and around Young's hips, straddling his waist. Young had only a moment to note that Rush seemed to be trying to climb inside him and then the moment was shattered when Young's radio went off.


"Colonel Young! We need you on the bridge!"


Young pulled his face away and scrambled for his radio. Rush whined and buried his face into Young's neck. Young could feel the breaths of the other man, warm puffs of air against his skin of his neck in time to his beating heart. "Young here!" he choked out.


"We got a ship approaching. Their shields are up and they are hailing us. The translator is not working fast enough. I don't know what they want," Eli reported.


"On my way!" Young replied. He belted his radio and turned back to Rush. "Hey?" He gently let Rush slide to the floor but held on to him, one hand holding on Rush by waist. Rush's eyes were unfocused and blinking slowly, his breathing coming out in hard gasps. Young brushed Rush's hair out of his face and cupped his cheek. "Hey, kiddo? It's okay. We can finish this later." He leaned down and kissed Rush again. Softer, gentler, and hopeful. "Come on we need to get to the bridge and end this."


Rush looked around confused and said, "I need to go...?"


"You need to come with me," Young said and gripped Rush by the arm and dragging Rush to the bridge with him. Rush stumbled behind him, his leg was starting to hurt more and more each passing minute. Young's kiss had left him breathless and did nothing but exasperate the dizziness.


When Young stepped onto the bridge, the first thing he noticed was the alien ship looming in the view screens. "Report!" he barked out, moving quickly down the stairs. He left Rush standing frozen at the railing. He wiped his sweaty palm off on his uniform jacket not noticing it wasn't sweat.


"I...I almost have..." Eli was hammering away on his console. "Yes!! The translator is working!"


The screen in the middle was filled with the face of a nightmare. Young was used to alien lifeforms. Or so he thought. Even faced off with Wraiths back in the Pegasus galaxy. Nothing could prepare someone for this creature. Barely humanoid. It seemed as wide as it was tall. The eyes were almost as non-existence as the nose but they were there, black as coal, devoid of even catch lights to give at least some illusion of being more than empty holes in its cranium. But it was the mouth, the awful mouth that was currently laughing at them.


Rows of teeth filled the mouth, its cheeks were pulled back tight by what looked like wires, exposing even more teeth. A large tongue snaked out and swiped as drool poured down its chin as it laughed.


"You have my property. I demand it back at once."


Young rounded around the command chair and casually took his seat. "I'm Colonel Everett Young. What can i do for you, Captain?"


It laughed again as it bellowed out, "I'm Ddarus. You have my property. I am reasonable. I have no quarrel with you but I will fire on your ship if you do not comply. You have five minutes to give it to me before we take all of you prisoners."


"Their weapons are online, Colonel," Volker reported. "Our shields are at one hundred percent, but we have no way of knowing what kind of damage their weapons can do especially at this close of range."


"Maybe we should give them what they want?" Eli suggested.


"Yeah, sir," Scott said. "The shuttle's not worth a firefight over."


"That's not what they want," Young stated. He didn't look back at Rush but he knew he was still there.


"How could you know that?" Eli asked.


"Two minutes Colonel Young," Ddarus laughed. The sound made Young's shudder.


"Could we just jump to FTL?" Park asked from her station.


"They're too close!" Eli shouted. "I don't know what kind of damage that would do to Destiny. If our shields would survive."


"We've done okay before," Volker said.


"They are right on top of us," Eli exclaimed. He's fingers flying manically over his keyboard. "We could practically jump over there. It could disrupt the shields."


"They're going to fire," Brody warned. "Brace for impact."


The shots rocked the ship. "Damage!" Young yelled.


"uh...nothing?" Eli reported. He checked again. Destiny's shields held steady.


Rush flew down the stairs and across the bridge. "Fire, Greer!" He pointed frantically at the readout of the ship in front of them. "Right there." He pounded on the screen. "Fire now!"


Greer tried to hold Rush back with one hand. "Colonel?" as Rush fought to get to the weapon controls.


"You've got to fire now!" Rush ordered.


"Stand down, Rush!" Young snapped. "What do you know?"


"It's a slave ship, Colonel," Rush's eyes were hard when he looked at Young. He turned back to Greer. "Fire, Sergeant!"


"If there are slaves aboard, we can't destroy them, it wouldn't be right," Eli said. Young knew Eli was right. They couldn't in good conscious do that. "I'm getting over a hundred life sign readings!" He looked pointedly at Young.


"Everyone on that ship would rather be dead!" Rush yelled. He lunged again to gain control of the weapons. Greer stood abruptly and wrapped his arm around Rush, pinning him to his chest. Rush struggled frantically. Greer locked eyes with Rush.


"Rush?" Greer hissed softly.


Rush's eyes were wild and haunted. His fear clearly evident and Greer couldn't look any longer. He had seen similar eyes in the men at the VA hospital when he had visited his dad. Men who had survived something they wished they hadn't. Fear of going back there. Fear they couldn't escape from. Greer held Rush tight and reached over and fired the main weapon where Rush had indicated.


The hit was on the mark but nothing changed. Rush sagged in his arms.


On the screen, Ddarus laughed. "Your weapons are weak, my favorite toy. I will destroy this ship and have you back. We have so much more fun to explore." He turned away and barked out, "Fire again!"


Destiny was hit again but the shields barely registered. "Toy. Toy." Ddarus said in a sing song voice, that made everyone's flesh crawl. "So many clients ask for you especially. But I think I will keep you all to myself this time."


"Colonel, we are registering an overload in the ships engines," Volker reported.


The weapons fire rocked the Destiny again but once more, no damage. They all watched as the ship shuddered and almost in slow motion from where Greer had hit it, the ship started to glow as the engines started to explode.


The ship tilted and rolled as the engines exploding caused a chain reaction through the ship, small explosions started being visible all over the hull.


"What's happening!" Ddarus roared to his crew. The screen went blank. The crew of Destiny could only watch as the large alien ship was slowly overwhelmed with explosions.


"Could our sub-light engines get us enough distance to jump?" Volker asked Eli.


"Yes!" Brody exclaimed. He wanted to hit himself for not thinking of that sooner. They managed to get just far enough way not to be engulfed when the other ship exploded. Brody was sure their shields would have protected them, but he was glad they didn't take that chance.


"What in the hell was that all about?" Eli asked no one in particular. "Did we just kill a bunch of innocent slaves." He breathed a sigh of relief just the same when the FTL engaged.


"Damages?" Young asked. He went up to look over Eli's shoulder, deliberately avoiding going over to Rush.


Park looked over at Greer with tears in her eyes. He was still holding Rush pinned to his chest. They locked eyes and she could see his acknowledgement of what he just did and his belief it was the right thing. She had learned to trust in him, so she gave him a small smile and turned back around.


"Sir, were you hit?" Eli pointed at a dark stain on Young's jacket. Young shook his head and pressed the spot. It was damp and his hand came back red. He looked over at Greer and Rush.


"Hey Doc, it's over," said Greer, he was surprised Rush was not struggling any more. He shook Rush and the scientist's head just lolled over. Greer went to shift his position to move Rush to the seat and his boot slipped a little. "Colonel!"


Young rushed over and tried to take Rush from Greer, "What happened?"


"I don't know, sir." Greer replied. "I think it's coming from his leg." Greer swung Rush up into his arms and stepped round the puddle of blood on the floor. "I got him…just lead the way."


"He must have been hit back on the planet," Young said as he jogged just ahead of Greer. He called TJ, "TJ, it's Rush. I think he's been shot."


"I'm ready down here, do I need to meet you?" She asked.


"Almost there. Young out."


They reached the infirmary and Greer laid Rush on the examination table.


"What happened?" TJ asked. She started taking vitals. "Greer get his boots off. Sir, get his pants down, it'll be easier to examine the wound."


"I think he was shot on the planet." Young suggested. Rush's leg was a covered in blood beneath the leather pants. Young tossed them on the floor next to where Greer and dumped Rush's boots. TJ discretely covered Rush's lower body with a blanket, leaving the one leg exposed.


"It's a stab wound, sir." TJ wiped the blood away from the wound. It was still bleeding but not much which she found curious. "He's lost a lot of blood, I'm going to start him on an IV. Luckily I don't think there was much damage."


"When was he stabbed?" Greer asked. He gathered up Rush's clothes and laid them aside.


"I don't know, maybe back at the garage where we found the shuttle," Young replied. "He didn't say anything about it. He didn't even act like he was hurt."


TJ irrigated the wound and then put in stitches. "We'll have to watch for infection but I think he'll be okay." His heart rate and blood pressure were almost back to baseline, so she would monitor him but hoped the risk of shock was over. She patted Rush's face gently. "Doctor Rush? Nicolas?"


He stirred but didn't waken. TJ pulled the blanket over him and turned to the colonel and Greer. "He's going to be fine. I want him to sleep awhile, stay over night."


"If it's not so bad, why'd he pass out?" Greer asked.


TJ shrugged. "Most likely just adrenal fatigue coupled with the blood loss."


"Colonel, what happened out there?" TJ asked. "Is the ship okay?"


"Destiny's fine. But god," Young rubbed his face. "The other ship was destroyed. A lot of lives lost. Innocent lives. It was a slave ship."


"Somethings are worse than death," Greer said quietly from the doorway. TJ and Young looked at him.


"There had to be another way," TJ pleaded. Her eyes glistening. She might be a soldier but she was a medic first. This wasn't war. To think of all those innocent lives.


"I could write you up for refusing my command, sergeant," Young added. He and Greer both knew that he wouldn't. Greer nodded and stood to attention. "Stand down, Greer."


Young knew they both would have to live with what they had done. If he had wanted to, he could have stopped it. Rush's words kept gnawing at him. Everyone on that ship would rather be dead! Young wondered it Rush had felt that way when Ddarus had him.


"Thank you, Greer," Young said. Greer saluted and turned to TJ, "LT, will you let me know how he's doing?"


"Yes, Ronald," she replied quietly. She waited until Greer had left then asked Young, "I don't understand why they attacked."


"Ddarus wanted Rush back." Young leaned a hip on her desk. "Apparently what Rhark told me was the truth. You don't just set slaves free. Without Rhark's protection, Ddarus put a bounty on Rush."


"All that for Rush?" she asked surprised. Then she remembered his back. That was done by someone that wanted to inflict pain and nothing more. Pure torture.


"Ddarus called him his favorite toy."


TJ covered her mouth, just thinking about it made her want to vomit. She looked over at her sleeping patient. "He has some pretty dark bruises on his arms that look like handprints."


"I may have grabbed his arms a little hard," Young admitted. She frowned at him.


"Do we need to have a talk about...how physical you get with him," TJ asked, her voice hard.


"TJ!" Young hissed. "How could you think that?"


"Like he hasn't come back from away missions with you more often than not with bruises and other injuries," TJ wasn't going to back down. She should have talked to Young about this ages ago.


"Things are different now," Young explained softly. "I'm not going to hurt him."


She raised an eyebrow.


"Let me know when he's up," Young said and rested a hand on her shoulder but letting her know the conversation was over.


She nodded. "Okay, sir."


Surprisingly, the next afternoon Rush was awake and ready to leave.


"This looks like it is already healing?" TJ prodded the knife wound on Rush's leg.


"It still hurts!" Rush snapped and pushed her hand away. He pulled up the military issue athletic pants TJ had given him to wear.


TJ stepped back and crossed her arms. "If it hurts that bad, maybe you should stay another night."


Rush glared back and then huffed. "It wasn' hurtin' till you started pokin' at it." He shook his finger at her and grinned.


She tried to hide her smile. She wasn't going to let him charm his way out of this. "I need you to tell me why it's healing so quickly," TJ said. "Are you changing, like Chloe did?"


"No no, it's no' like that," Rush replied. He rubbed his shoulder and shook his head. "I've already changed. I don' heal as quickly as Chloe, a bit faster than normal is all."


"But you are changing, on a cellular level?" TJ pressed.


"The changes are complete, there's nothin' to concern you."


"Why didn't it heal your shoulder when it was damaged? And your back?"


"From what I can tell, it accelerates the healin' process an obviously it doesn' stop scarrin'. It doesn' fix anythin' else like nerves," Rush scrubbed his hand over his face. "If I lost a finger, I wouldn' grow a new one." He looked at his left forearm with the burn scars.


"I think as your physician, I should have been made aware of any changes. This could effect how you interact with drugs," TJ scolded. "You already cause enough issues with your reaction to our anesthesia. This is also something Colonel Young needs to know."


Rush ran his hand through his hair. "How much goes in the file?"


"Only the medical, anything else you want to tell me stays between us," TJ assured him.


He looked everywhere but at TJ, she waited patiently until he finally spoke. "Ddarus liked to…liked his slaves to be on the market as much as possible. Couldn' have the merchandise out o' commission for to long. The quicker healin' accomplished this. These changes…it no' only speeds up healin' but slows down the agin' process."


"Is that why you don't look like you've changed after four years?”


“Ay. He did it to all his slaves,” Rush face was somber. “Especially the little ones. Didn' want them agin' out too quickly. Most didn' live long anyway despite the accelerated healin'." He looked at his hands. "He had no idea about my age, I was considered exotic.” Rush said, spitting out the last word. He ducked his head. "it also makes the slaves more responsive. More hypersensitive. Clients o' certain appetites wanted to see how the merchandise reacted to their preferred stimuli." He flipped his hand dismissively. "Without causin' permanent damage."


She didn't want to address the children, she didn't want to think about them, what they must have endured. It broke her heart and she understood a little more what Rush and Greer had about fates worse than death.


TJ looked at him. She hated how he was cavalier about what he had gone through. She wasn't a fool. Rush had danced around saying it straight out, but she was getting the jest of it. She wasn't going to push it, if he wanted to talk, he would. It had to weigh heavy on him. He couldn't, nobody could bury trauma that deep.


Rush didn't say anything for a few minutes but TJ held her ground. He looked up at her. She raised an eyebrow.


"There's really nothin' else unless you count the bloody emotional rollercoaster I'm on all the fuckin' time," he snapped and then tossed his hand at her. "See? See what I mean? I used to never react that way. Now I spend over much o' my time tryin' to control my temper."


TJ covered her mouth with her hand. Rush narrowed his eyes at her. "What?"


"Nothing," she smiled amused he thought he had ever been in control of his temper. TJ sobered up and said, "I'll let the colonel know about the changes."


"May I go?" He asked, already getting off the examination table.


"Yes, okay go," TJ shooed him towards the door. "Keep an eye out for infection and don't wait. Come see me immediately. Or if you need to talk."


"Thank you, Lieutenant," he replied graciously before ducking out the door and disappearing.


He headed to Colonel Young's quarters. The Lieutenant may be planning on letting the colonel know about the changes, but in the spirit of being more open after his last disgraceful failure surrounding the bounty on his head, he might be able to head off the fall out from this before it became an issue. As he neared the colonel's room, he started to slow. Almost a whole day in the infirmary and Young hadn't stopped by once. He knew the colonel made it a habit of checking on the crew if they were injured. Of course according to Lieutenant Johansen, he had slept for almost sixteen hours. Maybe Young had stopped by then. It felt a little ridiculous to wonder about such a thing but Young had kissed him. Now he was beginning to wonder if maybe he had misread the kiss.


He stood outside Young's door. Rush fingered his lips, he imagined he could still feel the colonel's lips against his. Maybe he had dreamed it all while riding high on whatever alien venom Lieutenant Johansen had pumped him full of this time. Maybe he should just wait for Young to come to him. No, he really needed to talk to the man but he would let Young bring up the kiss.


With that resolved, he knocked twice and waited. He started to knock again when Young called out to come in. Rush hit the door release and stepped inside. Young was at his desk looking through reports, he looked up when Rush walked in.


"TJ said she cut you loose," Young smiled and removed his glasses.


"Yes well, that's part o' why I'm here," Rush fidgeted. Young stood up and walked to the front of his desk and leaned back, crossing his arms.


"She'll send a report, you could have gone back to your quarters. Changed?"


Rush looked down at the too large pants and t-shirt they used in the infirmary. He shrugged, it wasn't like he cared what he was wearing. "I thought I would tell you myself. The Lieutenant's report would just back up what I have to say." He crossed his arms over his chest.


"Okay," Young motioned for him to go on.


Suddenly Rush didn't know where to start. He rubbed the back of his neck and tried to think of an opener. It was so much easy with Lieutenant Johansen. He looked everywhere but at Young until Young finally cleared his throat. Rush flinched.


"I going to assume this has something to do with why you are walking around like you didn't get stabbed yesterday," Young kept his voice as neutral as possible.


Rush took a deep breath. "Ay. Durin' my time with Ddarus, he altered my DNA," he waved off Young's concerned expression. "Nothin' like Chloe, I assure you."


"Then what is it?"


"I heal a lot faster." He dared a glance at Young. "An age a bit slower."


"That's it?" Young sure there had to be more. Rush was way too jittery for that to be it.


"Isn' that enough?" Rush snapped.


"I don't know. You tell me." Young scooted up to sit on the edge of his desk. "Does this mean you're going to be more reckless since you can't be hurt?"


"I'm no' reckless!" Young frowned at him. Rush had the decency to look at least a little chagrined and said, "Maybe a little, but I can still be hurt. I feel pain. More intense pain, everythin' is more intense."


Young waited patiently for Rush to continue, merely quirking his eyebrow.


Rush paced a moment. He glanced at Young, then paced some more before throwing his hands back and saying, "I'm a bit more sensitive…" he turned his head away, "a bit more reactive."


"What exactly does that mean?"


Rush glared at him like he thought Young was dense.


"So you're high-strung and moody?" Young did his best not to laugh. Rush looked like he was about to storm out. Young raised his hands in surrender, "I'm teasing. I think we all are used to that by now."


Rush huffed and looked away and down, "I'm gettin' control o' it." Young nodded indulgently, although he doubted Rush saw him.


"Come here," Young said softly. He was a little surprised when Rush did. The man stepped just close enough Young could lean forward without getting up and grab Rush's hand. Young pulled Rush to him, situating him between his legs. Young studied Rush for a moment, waiting for him to finally look up. As soon as Rush snuck in a look through his hair, Young smiled at him and then ran his finger down the side of his face before hooking his hand around Rush's neck and pulling him even closer.


"We still need to talk about what happened on the bridge," Young reminded Rush. Rush tried to look away again but Young didn't let him. "I don't agree with what you did...but I think I understand. Greer understood but I don't think anyone else does. There might be fallout from some of the crew."


"I can' talk about what happened," Rush pleaded softly. He looked at Young with haunted eyes. "I just can'."


"I know," Young pulled him into a hug. He hoped one day Rush would feel comfortable enough to face it and talk to him about it, at the moment, this was good enough. "For now though," Young whispered hotly into Rush's ear. "We have something to finish."


Young felt Rush's whole body shiver as he dropped his hands to Rush's waist and rubbed his thumbs under the hem of the t-shirt Rush was wearing. Rush was suddenly gripping his head and pulling Young into a fevered kiss.


The kiss started out exploratory, soft and gentle as Rush took his time getting to know the contours of Young's mouth. Young let him, enjoying being the full focus of Rush's attention that wasn't brimming with anger. He slipped his fingers further beneath the tan t-shirt Rush was wearing and trailed them softly over the small of Rush's back.


Rush threw back his head and arched his back, squeezing his eyes shut in unabashed pleasure. Young pressed his fingers harder. Rush started making that keening sound again. Young could feel his cock swell at the wanton display. He half wondered if he would be able to handle this kind of responsiveness. He was more than willing to take that challenge. Young yanked at Rush's t-shirt, trying to remove it. He had it pushed up around the middle of Rush's chest when the scientist suddenly pulled back with an emphatic, "No."


"Hey it's okay," Young whispered. He gave the shirt another try causing Rush to step back completely and pulled it down. Rush shook his head. Young could see his eyes were almost black, he was panting through his swollen and slightly parted lips that were still glistening with spittle from their kiss.


"I'm sorry, Colonel." Rush wrapped his arms around his chest and looked away. The large loose pants from the infirmary he was wearing left no question he was just as hard as Young.


"What is it?" Young slipped off the desk and stood up. "Do you not want to do this?"


"No no, that's no' it," Rush turned his back to Young. Rush had never been vain about his looks. He knew he was passable, maybe not turning any heads, not like the colonel, who was broad and handsome with golden brown eyes and jet black hair. Solid and strong. The picture of masculinity. No scrawny was what he heard most. He always had been. And now he was covered in scars. Forever marked by Ddarus. He pressed the heel of his hand into his eye. He just couldn't let Young see. But he wanted this. He knew Young did too. Rush took a deep breath and with as much courage as he could muster, he walked over to the door, locked it and turned out the light. The room was plunged into almost total darkness, only the light from the FTL adding a soft blue glow to the colonel's quarters.


Rush walked back to Young and wrapped his arms around Young's neck and kissed him again.


Young was taken aback a moment by the turn of events but quickly got back in the program. He smoothly pulled his long sleeved shirt over his head, letting Rush help him with the final movement. Young dropped his hands back to Rush's waist and hesitantly lifted the hem of his shirt. Rush didn't resist this time and soon enough it was tossed aside and they were bare chest to bare chest. Rush kissed him more aggressively this time.


Young pressed his hand's against the small of Rush's back, bringing their bodies even closer, never breaking the kiss. The colonel slowly moved his fingers up Rush's spine, mapping out the contours of the rises and falls of the scars. Rush trembled and arched into him, deepening the kiss. Young found Rush's responsiveness intoxicating, he only wished he had more hands.


Young let one hand drop down to the curve of Rush's ass, cupping and encouraging Rush to lift his leg in a move similar to the one in the corridor. Rush responded and lifted into Young's arms, straddling his waist. Young carried him over the few feet to his bed and gently lowered them down finally breaking the kiss.


Rush fell back against the pillow, his long hair fanning out. Young cupped his face and kissed him again. He nibbled on Rush's lips, kissed along his jaw to his neck. Young grabbed a handful of Rush's hair and pulled his head back to expose more of his neck, sucking on the flesh until he was sure he left another bruise. Young was realizing how much Rush loved his neck being kissed and added that to his list. It was beginning to be a long list. Rush responded to everything. Young worked his way down, planting kisses along Rush's collar bone and down his chest to bite playfully and then lavish one hardened nipple and then the other. Rush arched into him and making little approving noises so Young did it again and again, moving from one nipple to the other until Rush's legs gave out and Rush let them fall from Young's waist sprawling on either side of him.


Young moved between them, thrusting a little, letting their mutual erections brush through the fabric of their pants. Rush gripped Young's shoulders, his fingers digging into the flesh as he arched up meet Young's thrusts. Rush felt lightheaded, there was not enough air getting to his lungs. Young pulled back and hovered above Rush, one hand on either side of Rush's head.


"Shhhh," he whispered. Rush blinked at him and shook his head but eased his grip on Young's shoulders. Young reached between them and removed his belt, he could see a flash of a smile on Rush's face and soon Rush's hands were scrambling to push Young's pants down. It was awkward trying to kick them off so Young stood off the bed and finished removing them. He quickly removed his socks, balling them up and tossing them over his shoulder. Rush hadn't moved except for one hand was lazily rubbing circles on his slightly furry stomach as he watched Young from hooded eyes.


It had been a long time since Rush had been touched like this. Rush could feel Young's eyes on every inch of his bare skin, including his hardening cock. Rush couldn’t help it. When Young looked at him that way something in him began to ache.


Young took a moment to admire the man in his bed. He climbed back on the mattress on his knees. He rubbed his hands down Rush's chest and abdomen and grabbed the waist of Rush's pants and slowly pulled them off. Rush lifted his hips to help, his eyes locked in on Young's. One hard tug and the waist caught on Rush's prick momentarily then it popped out, slapping back against his stomach. Young tossed the pants to the side and stopped, just staring at Rush.


Young felt bewitched. Rush was the picture of complete wantonness. So beautiful. Young couldn't move, he didn't want to move, he wanted to drink in every last drop of the sight of the man before him. Rush has always been a stunner, but like this, he was breathtaking. Young raked his eyes up and down Rush's body, and slowly stroked himself. He was suddenly glad they only had the light from the window. It was almost too much as it was.


He must have stared too long, Rush dropped his eyes and turned his head. Rush slowly started moving, curling over and reaching for the blanket to cover himself. It was a self-conscious move, it made him seem shy and all the more sexy to Young.


And yet, it was heartbreaking. Young knelt on the bed and crawled over the other man, gently opening his body up again and tossing the blanket back. He pushed the inside of Rush's knee back and rolling him onto his back. Young ran his hands up Rush's legs, resting momentarily on Rush's healing knife wound before moving to his hips. His hands felt more scars, on Rush's thighs, his inner thighs, his pelvis. Young gently caressed Rush as he worked his way up until he was completely covering him. Their cocks nestled against each other and Young was relieved they were both still hard. Rush still wanted this as much as he did.


Rush still hadn't turned his head back so Young gripped both sides of his head and tenderly turned him to face Young. "Hey, kiddo," Young whispered. Rush just looked desolately at him for a moment then looked away. Young tugged on his hair. "Look at me." Rush looked back, biting his lower lip. "I want you, all of you. Scars and all."


Young hoped he was reading the situation right. It suddenly made sense why Rush had turned out the light and been reluctant to remove his shirt. He traced the scars on Rush's chest with his fingers as he spoke, ghosting lightly over the all of them. "All of these just show how remarkable you are. How you survived something no one else could. They only make you more beautiful."


Rush's eyes flashed to Young's. He let out a depreciating bark of a laugh. "I'm no' beautiful."


"Yes you are," Young whispered, his voice low and seductive. "Beautiful. Charming. Moody. Stubborn. Hot-tempered. Irritable." He punctuated each word with a kiss. "Completely and totally captivating."


Rush pulled Young down tight against his chest, deepening their kiss. His fingers once more digging into the flesh of Young's arms. Young started moving his hips, thrusting their erections together. Flesh over heated flesh. It was an all-consuming, fast and frenzied. And all to soon they spilled over onto each other, leaving Young trying to catch his breath and not collapse onto of Rush. He finally rolled over and grabbed Rush's t-shirt from the floor to clean them up. When he was done, they both lay silently for a moment, then Rush sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.


Young reached up and laid a hand on the small of Rush's back. "Where do you think you are going?" he asked playfully. "We have all night."


"Colonel," Rush cleared his throat. "Despite what was done to me, I'm no' a young man. That's about all I'm up for I'm afraid." He didn't want to go, it was just easier than explaining what was really going on.


Young sat up and wrapped his arms around Rush's waist and tried to pull him back down. "Stay. We don't have to do anything."


Rush peeked over his shoulder at Young. "I'm no' a cuddler."


"Well, I am," Young laughed and laid back down, pulling Rush with him. He nestled Rush against his side with Rush's head in the crook of his shoulder. He kissed the top of Rush's head. "I'll do the cuddling, you can just lay here." He could feel Rush's mouth curve into a smile against his chest. Soon enough both men slipped off asleep.


Young woke the next morning warm and comfortable and happy, really happy for the first time in a long time. Rush had moved a little in the night, one arm was draped across Young's chest and one leg was hooked over between Young's. Young checked his watch. It was a little past five in the morning. Still early. He closed his eyes and idly carded his fingers through Rush's hair.


Something was different. Young suddenly realized that Rush was no longer naked beneath the blankets. At sometime during the night, Rush had gotten out of bed and put his athletic pants back on and donned Young's shirt. He was disappointed that Rush had felt the need to cover up, Young would have liked to have woken up to the warmth of flesh on flesh. He counted it as a win that Rush had dressed but hadn't left. He could have easily slipped out of Young's quarters, leaving Young to waken to an empty bed. But he didn't. Rush had crawled back in and snuggled back against Young.


He chuckled to himself. Rush might not be a cuddler, but he was a damn fine snuggler.


Young rolled his head over and kissed the top of Rush's and then brush the errant bangs from Rush's face. Rush's nose wrinkled and then he snuffled back down again. Young was sure he had fallen back asleep but then he felt Rush flex his fingers against his chest and start to shift.


"Morning," Young said. Rush blinked up at him, then tried to move but Young tightened his hold on him.


"What time is it?" Rush yawned and stretched, trying to move out of Young's embrace again.


"Early still." Young threw back the covers and let him go.


Surprisingly Rush didn't get up except for sitting up and crossing his legs. He ran his hands through his hair, messing it up instead of taming it. Young smiled. His black shirt was too large on Rush, the cuffs falling down over his hands. Young tugged at the hem.


Rush turned his head towards Young, letting his hair fall across his face. It didn't hide his smirk. "Mine was..."


Young smiled back. "Sorry about that, it was the first thing I found."


"Well, I'll have to return this later," Rush plucked at the cuff. "can' very well roam the halls with come all over my shirt."


"No, can't have that," Young laughed. "Come back to bed."


"I've got too much to do," Rush said half-heartedly.


"No one is expecting you back today, you did just get knifed." Young said. "And you passed out."


Rush stretched his arms above his head and cracked his back. "Lieutenant Johansen cleared me. I wouldn' want to upset the commander."


"I'll have a talk with him, I hear I can be pretty persuasive," Young leaned up and wrapped his arms around Rush's waist. Rush let himself be pulled back down, proving Young's point. Young rolled him over until Rush was sprawled on top of him.


"I really need to get to work, Colonel." Rush said quietly but he made no move to get up.


"No, you really don't," Young brushed a finger over Rush's bottom lip. Rush opened his mouth and let Young slip his thumb inside. Rush lightly lapped his tongue over it playfully. Young was loving being with Rush this way, at ease and playful. Young let his other hand slip beneath the waist band of Rush's pants and he squeezed Rush's ass. Young was feeling the first stirrings of arousal when Rush shook his head, letting Young's thumb fall out of his mouth with a plop.


"Sorry, Colonel," Rush's smile was devilish. "What is it they say, the spirit is willin' but the flesh is weak?"


Young pulled his hand out of Rush's pants and used it to pull Rush down by the neck into a quick kiss then said, "Okay, okay. Go to work. Do some math."


Rush climbed off him and headed towards the door. Every touch was electrifying his desire. He wanted nothing more than to stay but he knew Young wouldn't understand.


Young suddenly felt nervous. The morning had been so easy between them, none of the awkwardness he had worried might happen. Rush might have spent the night but now he was walking out the door back to the real world.


"Will I see you later?" Young asked, sitting up. Rush turned back to him and gave him a half smile. "O 'course."


Young didn't see Rush the rest of the day so by the time dinner was approaching, Young decided to seek him out.


He wasn't surprised to find Rush in the Research Lab working. He also wasn't surprised to see Brody working there too. Young was surprised to see Rush was still wearing his t-shirt. He smiled to himself as he entered the room. Rush hadn't bothered to tuck it in and the sleeves looked like he had rolled them up several times besides shoving them up on his forearms. Young knew he was completely smitten when he realized he thought Rush looked somehow adorable and sexy in his shirt.


"Good evening, gentlemen," Young said announcing his arrival.


"Colonel," Brody replied with a nod.


Rush glanced up from his console. "Colonel."


Young stood awkwardly for a minute, shuffling a little then deciding moving was less conspicuous. He wandered around fingering empty consoles and various parts lying about.


"Is there somethin' we can do for you, Colonel Young?" Rush asked, finally straightening in his seat.


"Any new developments?" Young asked.


Rush raised an eyebrow at him. "Mr. Brody thinks our next new corridor might hold manufacturin'."


"What makes you think that?" Young inquired, facing Brody. Finally something to make him not feel like he was invading a secret lair.


"It has to be somewhere," Brody replied in his deadpan manner.


Young looked at him. Then looked at Rush who just smirked. Then back to Brody. "That's it? It has to be somewhere?"


"The ancients didn't exactly leave a detailed map," Brody explained. "Or we just haven't found one."


"If there's a pattern to where they decided what would be where, we haven' found it. There's no discernible logic either." Rush pulled a schematic of Destiny with all the areas they had unlocked identified. He crossed his arms. "For as many crew quarters as they have, they must have planned for a rather large crew. One would surmise there is a larger kitchen, more facilities, possibly recreational areas, manufacturin', an' an armory o' some sort."


"It does seem like there are more crew quarters than anything else," Young observed. He was impressed with the work they had done.


"A lot won't be accessible until we fix the hull," Brody pointed out.


"Eli says we will be in FTL for around two weeks while we cross this void. Once we drop out, we can lower the shields in some areas enough we can access them with the suits," Young suggested. "Work up a plan and let me know."


"O' course," Rush said before leaning back over his console.


Brody looked between the two men. Young had very subtly closed in on Rush. He cleared his throat. "I'm going down to the mess," he announced.


Rush looked up at him.


"Dinner time?" Brody hastened to add. "Told Eli and Volker I would meet them?"


"You don' need my permission Mr. Brody," Rush said, waving the engineer to go.


"Sure, I just thought." Brody locked down his console. "I'll just be going then." He looked at Young, nodded and said, "Colonel."


"We'll probably see you there," Young replied. Rush raised an eyebrow at Young.


As soon as Brody had left, Young found himself pushed up against the wall and Rush devouring him in a enthusiastic kiss. Young had just reached down and grabbed a handful of Rush's ass when Brody walked back in and coughed. Rush sprang away from Young like a scalded cat.


"I just forgot," Brody stammered and picked up his iPod he had left on his console. He turned to leave then added, "I'm not going to say anything but if you want this to not end up on one of Eli's highlight reels, then you should probably..." he pointed at the kino hovering in the corner of the room.

"Spyin' on me again, Colonel?" Rush snapped. Brody took that as his clue to scurry out the door.


"Damnit, Eli," Young growled and marched over, grabbing the kino. "No, I haven't," he said back to Rush.


Rush gave him a looked that said he didn't believe that for a minute.


"I haven't since long before stasis, you know that," Young reassured him. "I do need to have a talk with Eli about invasion of privacy."


"Like that will stop him," Rush huffed. He went back and sat down to study the read out on his console.


Young placed the kino next to Rush's station and wrapped his arms around the man's waist. He nuzzled Rush's neck, drinking in his scent. "Now where were we?"


"I was workin'." Rush made no move to stop what he was doing.


"You were not working a moment ago," Young kissed his neck, biting down on the vulnerable flesh beneath Rush's collar.


"I'm afraid Mr. Brody's untimely return has killed the mood." Rush curled his lips into a half smile and leaned his head to the side, exposing more of his neck.


Young moved his hands down Rush's sides, over his stomach and down to his crotch. He rubbed over the hardening bulge in Rush's leather pants eliciting a moan from him.


"You're right," Young quipped and stepped back. "We should probably head to the mess and get dinner."


Rush turned around and gaped at him. Young smirked back at him. Rush crossed his arms over his chest and glared. "You're a tease, Colonel Young."


"Pot. Kettle. I'm just saying," Young's smile was mischievous. Rush thought it made the colonel look boyish. He found it utterly charming. Rush's cheek twitched as he tried to control his own smile.


Rush calmly switched off his console, slid from his stool, grabbed his satchel and walked to the door, glancing over his shoulder he asked, "Comin'?"


Young glared at Rush's back. He reached down and adjusted his uniform pants, glad they were black and the coarse fabric was thick enough you couldn't really see anything. "Now who's the tease."


"I don' know what you're talkin' about, Colonel." Rush kept walking. "You mentioned dinner." He looked over his shoulder again at Young. "I'm quite famished"


Young shook his head. He was loving this flirtatious side, even if he would have loved even more taking Rush right there in the Research Lab. The flirting was new and good though much better than arguing. They weren't horny teens that couldn't control themselves. Young grabbed the kino and jogged a few steps to walk side by side with Rush. They walked in a companionable silence for a while, their knuckles brushing once in a while and both of them stealing glances and smiles.


"What exactly do you have in the bag?" Young asked. "Eli seems to think it's a bottomless pit."


"Eli is too nosey," Rush replied, ignoring the question. He nodded to the kino in Young's hand. "Case in point."


Young rolled the kino in his hand before handing it to Rush. Rush quickly put it in his satchel.


"I'm going to have that talk with him," Young reiterated. Rush smirked at him. "I am." Young smiled deviously back, "I may have him give me a copy of the footage before he erases it."


"What on earth for?" Rush asked. Then it dawned on him what Young was talking about. "You're daft."


Young just grinned. "You didn't answer my question."


"What question was that?" Rush replied nonchalantly.


"What's in the bag?"


"Stuff."


"Stuff?"


"Stuff."


"You're not going to tell me, are you?"


"No I am no'."


Later that evening, they were all hard kisses and fevered hand jobs against the door of Young's quarters, leaving them both sweaty and exhausted, falling into Young's bed and going straight to sleep. Rush stayed the whole night again, wrapped up in Young's arms.


*****


"We just dropped out of FTL," Brody announced.


"Obviously," Rush replied. He switched screens and pulled up the data from the bridge. "No gates in range."


"I'm not showing any thing wrong with the engines," Brody said, reading his own data.


Rush picked up his radio and called the bridge. "Mister Wallace?"


"We dropped out of FTL." Eli announced.


Rush rolled his eyes. "I know that."


"Volker is picking up a sub-space signal. We're trying to identify it right now, Eli out."


Young was already on the bridge and in the command chair when Rush and Brody arrived. Rush leaned on the arm rest next to the colonel, resting his chin on his hand.


"The signal keeps breaking up. Volker is working on cleaning it up so we might identify it." Young said.


Rush nodded.


"It's a seed ship," Volker announced excitedly.


"What, no way," Eli replied. He started pulled up the reading and started his own clean up to double check Volker. "Dale's right. It's a seed ship." He made a face. "Something's wrong though."


"I'm not picking up any other power readings but the sporadic signal," Volker said.


"Maybe it crashed?" Brody suggested.


"We should investigate," Rush said quietly to the colonel.


"We should take the shuttle down, check it out," Eli said as he closed his laptop.


"You think it's safe?" Young asked Rush. Rush shrugged. Young radioed Scott to assemble an away team. "You want to go?"


Rush nodded and Eli said, "I think Brody and I should go."


Young smiled at Eli, "There's room enough for all three of you." He started to get up and Rush stepped back. Young raised his eyebrow at him. "I'm going too."


Eli made an audible groan after the two left the bridge. Everyone had noticed that the colonel and Rush were getting along better but this was a planet with a downed seed ship and who knows what they would find. Seemed like a recipe for disaster. He leaned over to Volker and whispered, "Wanna bet how long before they start fighting?"


"Your next three bath privileges says they don't make it off the shuttle before their first argument," Volker suggested.


"It's a bet," Eli accepted. "You want in Brody?"


"No, I think I will sit this one out," he replied.


The planet had a breathable atmosphere but that was about it. Very little vegetation appeared to thrive in the dusty red dirt of the mesa. They landed the shuttle as close to the seed ship as they felt comfortable.


"I'm picking up an EM reading," Brody announced. "We may not be alone down here."


"Life signs?" Young asked. Eli's fingers flew over the kino remote control. "Nothing yet...wait, yes!"


"Wait a second, Colonel," Brody interjected. "I'm...I recognize this signature. It's the Annaroal."


They all turned and looked at Rush. "I don't know why they would be here." He crossed his arms across his chest.


"Could they have caused it to crash?" Eli asked.


"No no, the Annaroal didn' have tho' kind o' firepower."


"Salvage?" Young asked. He was starting to feel a little uneasy.


"Rhark doesn' salvage. I suggest we go find out," Rush snapped and moved towards the back of the shuttle to leave. He hoped he was hiding his worry. There was no reason he could think of that Rhark would be there. Rush twisted on his bracelet and told himself not to panic.


"Hang on there hot shot," Young said and grabbed Rush's arm. "We do this right."


Rush nodded but yanked his arm from Young's grip. He stood by the shuttle door impatiently while the soldiers took their positions. Scott and Greer in the lead with Marsden, Dunning and Rennie taking their six. The science team and Young in the middle. Young left two other soldiers to guard the shuttle.


Eli sent a couple of kinos ahead of them. "No sign of the Annoroal, but the seed ship is right around that bluff." He pointed. "About a half click."


Greer grinned at Scott. Eli was finally picking up some of their lingo. They kept their eyes sharp and weapons drawn as they walked.


Rhark strolled down the hatch and opened his arms out wide, a big grin on his face.


Rush stepped forward hesitantly. Young went to grab his arm to stop him but Rush ducked at the last second to avoid him and pushed past a startled Greer and Scott. He took off at a run, only to skid to a stop a few paces in front of Rhark. He felt a lump grow in his throat. He never thought he would see Rhark again. He couldn't move.


"Meray me," Rhark said warmly. Rush launched himself into Rhark's waiting arms. Rhark hugged Rush tight and lifted him until Rush's feet were a good foot off the ground. Rhark didn't care what his crew was thinking. He didn't care what Colonel Young's crew thought. He missed his little bird.


Rush buried his face in Rhark thick soft coat. He would forever associate Rhark's scent with protection, with safety, with sanctuary. "I didn' mean it," Rush mumbled into Rhark's shoulder. "I could never..."


"I know, Meray me. I know."


Young cleared his throat. Rhark looked up and smiled at him, slowly letting Rush back to his feet, but keeping his arm wrapped tight around Rush. "Good to see you are alive and well, Colonel Young."


"Good to see you as well, Captain." Young extended his hand.


"I heard about the Destiny's run in with Ddarus. The reports were that you all had been victorious," Rhark explained. "Then we heard a rumor of a great ship wreckage found on this planet," Rhark swept his hand towards the seed ship. "It sounded like your Destiny. I had to check it out. See if there were survivors." He looked down at Rush.


"When we arrived it was clear this was not the Destiny. We've stayed a few days thinking perhaps you would show. And here you are."


Young was a little skeptical of Rhark's story, but nothing concrete. The captain just didn't seem to be the type to go out of his way to check out wreckage for curiosity's sake. True to his word though, Rhark wanted none of the salvage.


"Annaroal has no room for all this. What's left that is. From what we can tell most of it was destroyed entering the atmosphere."


Eli and Brody had already started running scans of the wreckage. Eli looked up at the colonel. "Rhark's right. There's not going to be a lot to salvage here."


"Get what you can, Eli." Young said. "Thank you, Captain. I'm sure we can take it from here."


"I would like to see your ship, Colonel Young." Rhark said. A little peeved Young was wanting him to leave. He wanted to spend time with Nhick. Rhark put his paw on Rush's head. "Spend some time with Meray me."


"Absolutely," Young replied with a tight smile. He couldn't very well say no but he wanted to. The sooner the Annaroal was a memory the better.


"I should stay," Rush suggested. "to make sure we get everythin' we need."


"Surely there are others to do that," Rhark stated.


"Yeah, we know what we need," Eli said. "Don't we Brody?"


"My crew will stay and help. We can stay as long as you need," Rhark slapped Young on the back.


Young had the unkind thought he hoped Rhark was uncomfortable squeezed into their shuttle. The big bear made no mention of it, merely chatted in hushed tones with Rush. Young felt his jealously amp up a notch.


Once they were back on board Destiny, Young had Scott return to the planet with a salvage crew. He was surprised when Rhark suggested that he accompany them on the tour. If he had hoped being with them would squash the jealousy, he was wrong. He felt like he was hallucinating as his normally taciturn scientist was suddenly chattering away animately about everything.


"I went home. To Jkara," Rhark said solemnly over a glass of Brody's best. They had given Rhark the grand tour and settled in at Brody's still for drinks. "That is why I did not know about the bounty, Meray me. I would have found you and warned you. I would never leave you in that danger." He touched the heavy silver bracelet on Rush's wrist. "I see you still wear it."


"Ay, Colonel Young found it after," Rush tossed his hand vaguely. Young looked up in surprise to hear his name. He almost choked when Rush reached between them and grasped his hand under the table. "He fixed it and gave it back to me."


Young cleared his throat and added, "Luckily we didn't have to use it to buy our new shuttle. Still can't believe the merchant only wanted your knife."


Rhark roared in laughter. "Vfarghar drives a hard bargain but Meray me drives a harder knife."


Young glared at Rush. Rush looked away, biting his lip. "What, did you not know?" Rhark asked Young. Rhark reached out and smacked Rush. "You lie to him?"


Young stood up to intervene. He didn't care anymore about what kind of relationship Rhark had with Rush. He would not allow him to hit Rush again. Rhark must have read what Young was thinking because he gave him a barely perceptible nod, acknowledging he had crossed his bounds and with that, Young sat back down. Rhark grabbed Rush by the chin and forced him to look at him. "Answer me."


"I didn' lie," Rush spit out.

"What happened on the planet?" Young squeezed Rush's hand.


"Ay, okay. I killed him. It's no' like I planned to do it," Rush managed to actually looked ashamed. "I couldn' risk Vfarghar givin' Ddarus any more intel. i thought it would give us time to get away."


"Was he the one that stabbed you?" Young asked through clenched teeth. Rush nodded.


"So Colonel Young knows about the healing?" Rhark asked Rush. Rush nodded. "Good, you should not lie to your commander nor your lover."


Young and Rush both looked at Rhark in shock. The big bear roared in laughter again. "You both smell of one another." Rhark cupped Rush's cheek with his large paw. "And I can see that Colonel Young has driven the sadness from your eyes."


"You went home?" Rush finally asked to break the silence that had fallen between them. Rhark poured them all another drink, downing his in one gulp.


"I had not seen my family in a long time," Rhark poured another drink but didn't down it right away. "My cubs all have cubs of their own now. I had become a myth to them. Stories to tell around dinner." Rhark paused a moment. "Our time together helped me realize I wanted more to my life than the next big score."


The big bear downed his drink. "I shall return to Jkara, sell the Annaroal and live out my days spoiling my grandchildren." Rhark pulled out a small drive from his fur and handed it to Rush. "On this is the knowledge of my planet. Everything. I...I thought if you were not dead, if I managed to find you...I know how much you love information."


"Thank you," Rush said quietly, rolling the disk around in his hand. He couldn't help it, he gave Rhark a hopeful look.


The bear laughed, recognizing the look. "Yes it has maths on there. Lots of them for you to scribble on walls and make messes." Rhark sobered. "There is also something. A cure, perhaps just a stepping stone, a help for your doctor."


"How did you know about TJ?" Young asked. TJ's ALS had yet to manifest symptoms, he doubted TJ would have shared that information with Rhark.


"I could smell the difference. The scientists and doctors on Jkara are very advanced. I was to follow the greats into science but I wanted adventure."


"Thank you," Young said. "This means a lot to all of us."


Rush looked at Rhark and grinned. "You did understand some o' my equations then?"


"Yes," Rhark laughed. "We may not be as advanced as your Ancients but maybe not so far behind them either."


"We should probably see how the salvaging is going," Young suggested. He felt better but still wanted Rhark gone.


The salvage was almost complete. Between the two crews, they had managed to strip the seed ship of components and spare parts. The hull plating proved more difficult to deal with but between the Annoroal's using a grappling hook to haul it up to Destiny and the repair robot and ingenuity from Eli and Brody, they had managed to seal several of the larger breeches with plans in place to replair the smaller ones on their own. In all they were able to salvage much more than originally thought.


All too soon it was time to say goodbye. Young said his goodbye and stepped back to allow Rhark and Rush a moment alone.


"We will never cross paths again, Meray me," Rhark stroked the hair from Rush's face. Rush grabbed Rhark's paw and brought the rough pads to his lips and kissed it.


"Thank you," he said. Rhark pulled Rush into his arms. He would miss his little bird. Nhick would always have a place in his heart. He would never regret taking the broken creature into his life. It was a fine ending to his life of adventure. "I'll ne'er forget you," Rush whispered into Rhark's fur.


"Nor I you," Rhark said brokenly. "Go be with your Colonel." Rush nodded and gave once last squeeze before turning and walking away.


Rhark bowed to Young and hastened inside the Annaroal. Soon enough they had disappeared off the planet.


"You okay?" Young asked.


Rush wiped suspiciously at his eyes and kept his head down. "Yes yes, o' course. We should get back to Destiny."


*****


It took several days to start organizing all the things they had salvaged from the seed ship. Everyone pitched in and soon enough everything was separated and being cataloged in different storage rooms. With the larger hull repairs, they managed to open up a corridor that housed not only a small manufacturing room but also some more repair robots.


The science team and TJ had translated most of the Jkara 'cure', enough that bringing on a geneticist from Earth had them sure they would be ready to try it within a month.


It was an exciting busy time and thankfully no run ins with hostile alien races.


Young and Rush had fallen into a routine of stolen kisses and heavy petting, both too tired by the end of the day to do much more than curl into each others arms and sleep. Young was beginning to think he would never get Rush naked again. Not that it was his only goal and his dreams provide plenty of recaps but he missed the real thing.


One thing was for sure, he and Rush were getting to know every supply room, storage closet and dark unused corridors. It did add a sense of thrill to their relationship so Young didn't press. They did almost get caught when Rush pushed Young into a storage closet just off the path near the bridge.


Rush had gripped Young by his jacket and devoured him with frantic kisses. Then Rush was on his knees, scrabbling to undue Young's pants. Young tried to get him to stop when someone started to open the door but Rush was having none of that. Young was just able to hit the lock in time. Rush had pulled Young out and stroked and licked him to full on hardness. Young grabbed two handfuls of Rush's hair when the man swallowed him fully. It was fast, it was intense and it was over before Young wanted it to be. Rush finished him off by licking him clean and then tucking him back in like nothing had happened. He grinned that infuriatingly sexy impish smile at Young then left.


Young paid him back by pulling Rush down an empty corridor and giving him the same treatment. Young had to hold his hand over Rush's mouth, which made their positions awkward when a couple of the crew wandered down and nearly caught them. Wouldn't due for anyone to find their commander on his knees with his mouth full of cock, his fingers buried deep inside the other man's ass.


So Young was completely taken by surprise when Rush cornered him just outside the mess and whispered in his ear. "I want you to fuck me tonight." Then Rush tried to stroll casually away into the mess.


Young dragged him into a small storage closet and kissed him hard, twisting his fingers through Rush's hair and pushing his shirt up. "You can't just drop a bomb like that and walk away," he growled.


"Not if you insist on draggin' me into," Rush grinned. "Any available storage closet."


Young was already hard, just the words had him ready to go right there. He bit down on his desire to bend Rush over that minute and plow into him, teach him not to taunt him like this. "You're a cock tease."


"I'm no'," Rush replied. The impish grin on his face told a different story. He knew exactly what he was doing to Young. Young reached between them and ran and teasing finger along Rush's waist band, deftly popping the top button and slipping inside. Rush was already hard. Young moved down and cupped Rush's warm heavy balls, massaging them roughly and then giving his cock a firm upwards stroke.


Rush pushed his hips into Young's exploring hand. "I've given you plenty o' hints, I can' help it if you're too dense to clue in."


Young grinned. Rush was spiraling into pure Scottish gibberish. Good, the little tease deserved it. Young pulled his hand free and stepped back. "Okay. Tonight it is." He turned around and left the little room, leaving Rush hard and aching and looking like a hot mess.


Later in Young's quarters, it was all heated frenzied groping as soon as they closed the door. Rush slammed the lights off. By the time they were both stripped, both men were on the brink of orgasm. Young had to slow them down, he wanted to savor this. He held Rush back against his chest and ran his hands all over Rush's body. His cock pressing against Rush's bare ass. He spun Rush around and lifted him, Rush immediately wrapped his legs around Young's waist.


Young idly wondered if he had enough stamina to take the man like this. He didn't think so but it would be fun to try at another time. Maybe with Rush propped up against a wall. So many ways he wanted to take this man in his arms. Young walked Rush over to his bed and tossed him down. Rush bounced a moment then settled into an indecent sprawl.


"Lay down on your stomach," Young instructed. He reached over and retrieved a small jar of homemade lube out of the nightstand. Condoms on Destiny were a thing of the past. When he turned back, Rush had done as he asked. Young ran a hand along Rush's thigh, encouraging him to bend his leg and roll to his side slightly. Young slipped one lubed finger between Rush's cheeks and pressed against the puckered hole. It wasn't the first time he had his fingers inside Rush so he was surprised he was meeting some resistance.


"Are you sure you are up for this?" Young asked softly. He kept the tip of his finger moving gently over the ring of muscles.


"Ay, Colonel," Rush sighed and squeezed his eyes shut briefly. When he opened them back up, Young felt Rush's whole body relax. His finger slipped in easily. He massaged the tight passage thoroughly, adding a second finger, then a third. Rush was pumping his hips, matching Young's rhythm and then notching it up, trying to encourage Young to go deeper.


Young crooked his middle, seeking out Rush's prostate and then pressed against the hard nub. Rush twisted and moved to his knees, shoving hard against Young's hand to get more.


"Whoa there kiddo," Young said, withdrawing his fingers. Rush flopped back on the bed in disappointment. He moved back into the position Young had asked for.


"Now who's teasin'," Rush said sullenly. "I'm no' some delicate flower. I won' break."


Young lubed up his cock while running his hand over Rush's back. Glad to feel the flesh shiver beneath his touch. "Maybe I just want to take my time. You're a bit pushy." Young pressed inside Rush slowly, inch by inch, letting Rush get used to him. Letting himself get used to the tight heat. He kept going until he was fully seated. He brushed the hair away from Rush's neck and kissed him there. "And a brat."


Rush smiled into the pillow. "I'm no brat." Rush felt impossibly full and he only felt the delightful low ache of being stretched beyond what he thought possible. He wanted to move but Young had planted himself completely on top of him.


"Yes you are." Young started pumping into Rush at a leisurely pace, just enjoying the feel of Rush around him. Young straightened his arms and braced himself on his hands.


"mmm...that feels really good, Colonel," Rush murmured. "You might have to wake me when you're done."


"Brat," Young started pumping harder. He pushed Rush's thigh up more, making it easier to spread the man's cheeks so he could watch as he slid in and out of the tight opening. "You should see yourself, taking me..." Young couldn't hold back any longer, the sight of Rush taking him, all of him was too much. He started thrusting in harder and harder.


Rush fisted his hands in the pillow and gasped for breath. Young's thrusts were driving his cock into the mattress but there was not enough friction for him to come. Every time he tried to move a hand beneath them, Young managed to rake across his prostate and he would have to grab the sheets again to keep from crawling away from the intense pleasure. He wasn't sure how Young had that much insight and control. He opened his mouth to complain and Young started coming. Rush bit into his lip to keep from crying out Young hit his prostate over and over again until it bordered on painful as Young's body spasmed out the last of his orgasm.


Young hovered over Rush's back, trying not to collapse. He could feel the sweat running down his back and he could see the sweat as it dripped off his face and onto Rush's back. He tried to catch his breath. He leaned down and nuzzled Rush's cheek.


"Come on," Young whispered. He carefully kneeled back and pulled Rush up with him to rest on his bent thighs, Rush's back against his chest, and his cock still buried deep but softening.


"I don' think this is going to work, Colonel," Rush panted out, still catching his breath from Young's wild ride. His cock slapped against his belly. He tried to grab it but Young slipped his arms under his and forced Rush's arms back enough he could no longer reach it. He had already orgasmed once, while Young had hammered against is prostate, he was surprised to find he hadn't ejaculated as well. Then need to come was overwhelming.


"I think next time I'm going to have to try harder to distract this smart mouth," Young growled and twisted Rush's face around to kiss him. He drove his tongue in as best he could at the angle and knew he got his point across when Rush could do nothing but moan in response.


Young tightened his arm across Rush's chest and leaned him forward slightly. Rush had to grab hold of Young's forearms to keep from sliding off despite still being seated on Young's cock. Young might have softened inside him but Young was slightly larger than average so even soft, he was still buried deep. Rush felt surprisingly possessed and maybe a little more thrilled at the dominance than he anticipated.


Young grasped Rush's prick with the other hand, playing with it, toying with it as he whispered. "Do you want to come?" He flicked his finger over the foreskin and ran the pad of his thumb over the glans. Young rocked his hips, he wondered if he would get hard again but instead tried to focus on pleasuring Rush. Rush threw back his head and wailed when Young pressed this finger tip hard against the slit in Rush's cock. He smeared the trickle of pre-come over it and squeezed down.


"Shh shh shh, kiddo, it's okay," Young whispered. He had never had a lover respond so profoundly to anything he did. It was a heady feeling.


"Colonel," Rush whimpered and his head lolled forward. Young started to pump Rush in firm tight strokes. It didn't take long before he could tell Rush was on the brink of coming. Young licked Rush's shoulder and bit down firmly. Rush's whole body started shuddering as he spilled over Young's hand finally breathing out a husky Everett as he finished.


They stayed like that until Young was sure Rush was through. He slowly lowered Rush to the bed, managing to situate him away from the wet spot Young had wiped his hand off on. Young grabbed a towel he had left by the bed and cleaned them both up. Rush just watched him lazily grinning. Young laid back down and pulled Rush into his arms.


"You good?" Young asked. Rush murmured an affirmative. "That's all you have to say."


"mmmhmm," Rush leaned up to kiss Young. Young deepened the kiss then pulled away, flopping back and resting his arms under his head. Rush stayed where he was, curled into Young's side, one arm wrapped tight across Young's torso.


"I can't believe a few minutes ago you were back chatting me, now all you can do is mmmmmm," Young teased. It was the wrong thing to do.


Rush sat up abruptly and snapped, "Are you wantin' a performance review? It was bloody fantastic. Happy now?" He scrubbed his hand through his hair. "This is why people smoke, to keep from fuckin' talkin' after fuckin'." He swung his legs over the side of the bed and started picking up clothes. Young sat up to stop him.


"You're not seriously leaving?" Young said a little angry.


"No, I'm no bloody leavin' but if we're goin' to talk," he glared at Young over his shoulder. Even in the dim light Young felt the full force of it. "I'm goin' to be dressed to do so."


"Fine," Young groused and sat back. Rush pulled on clothes, it wasn't until he climbed back in the bed and sat cross legged in front of Young that Young could see he was wearing Young's discarded uniform pants and his long sleeved black t-shirt again.


They sat in silence for some time until Young tugged at the sleeve of his shirt. "Couldn't find yours?" he asked.


"Yours were closer," Rush replied. Young could see a flash of a smile beneath the hair hanging down over Rush's face.


"I didn't mean to upset you," Young apologized. Rush waved him off.


"What is it you want to talk about?"


"Nothing really, I just wasn't ready to go to sleep," Young explained then quickly added. "But since you seem willing..." he paused. "Do you love him?"


"Who?" Rush asked confused.


"Rhark. Do you love him?" Young asked again.


"O' course I love him," Rush said. "It's complicated. It's all mixed up but I do love him. I'm no' ashamed o' that." Rush lifted his chin defiantly, daring Young to ridicule him.


Young had no such plans, he took hold of Rush's hand and laced their fingers together. "I'm a little jealous of how you were with him. How easy you two were around each other," Young explained.


Rush unwound his body and rolled over with his back to Young's chest. He pulled Young's hand over his chest and hugged it to his body, wrapping their fingers together. Young nestled down, resting his chin on Rush's shoulder. He threw one leg over Rush's until they we connected from head to toe.


"When Rhark took possession o' me, I wasn' in my right mind. I didn' e'en know where I was or who I was with, all I knew was darkness. I'm no' e'en sure how long I had been with Rhark before I became aware o' my surroundin's. Rhark hadn' put a guard on me, so as soon as I had the strength, I made a run for it. Tried to throw myself out o' an airlock." Rush paused and took a deep breath.


"I'm sorry," Not knowing what else to say, Young tightened his arm around him and Rush sighed. He could tell by the heavy accent Rush was having trouble telling him.


"I don' remember this, but Rhark said I screamed for days after they tackled me away from the airlock." Rush squeezed Young's hand. "That's what he did for me. He brought me back."


Young turned his face and kissed Rush's ear. "I'm sorry you had to go through that."


"It's over now," Rush angled his head around for a kiss. "No need to be jealous o' Rhark, Colonel. I love him but I'm no' in love with him." Rush rolled his head back and closed his eyes. Young just stared at the other man's face in profile, wondering if he meant what Young was thinking he meant. Rush finally murmured, "Go to sleep, Colonel."


"One last question," Young whispered. Rush nodded, keeping his eyes closed. "What does Meray me mean?"


"Little bird."


"hmmmm."


"Don' say anythin'."


"Not saying anything," Young smirked into the dark.


"Don' think anythin'."


"Not thinking anything." Young placed one last kiss on Rush's temple and then let sleep overtake him.


Young woke the next morning with Rush plastered half-way across his torso, his hand was inside the uniform pants, resting between Rush's cheeks with one finger crooked and buried deep inside Rush. He slowly moved the finger in and out lazily. Young felt like he was being watched, he looked down to find Rush was staring at him.


"Enjoyin' yourself, Colonel?" Rush asked.


"Yes, I am," Young grinned. Rush raised his eyebrow and smirked.


"You seem a little obsessed with my arse."


"It's a nice ass," Young added a second finger and picked up the speed slightly. He was already hard, the coarse fabric of his uniform pants rough against his cock. Rush didn't seem to mind, he laid his head down and closed his eyes.


"You're not really going back to sleep are you?" Young asked.


"You seem to be doin' fine all by yourself, Colonel," Rush murmured contentedly. Young had just enough of an angle he could nudge against Rush's prostate. He pressed down as hard as he could. Rush's eyes flew open and he moaned indecently.


"That's no' fair," Rush grumbled and shuddered.


Young chuckled and did it again.


"Colonel Young, please," Rush squeezed his eyes shut and let the sensation wash over him. His whole body broke out in gooseflesh and he shuddered again. Rush looked at Young and then looked away. He could feel how hard Young was against him. He looked back at Young, deciding it was time to test the waters. "It's no' goin' to happen for me. I'll still enjoy it…" He felt his face flush. "But I'm no' goin' to get hard."


"How does that work? I just fuck you and you lay there and take it?" Young said, annoyed.


"It's okay. I said I will still enjoy it an' I meant it." Rush pleaded with Young. "It feels really good."


Young removed his fingers and pushed Rush off of him. "You're not a damn sex toy. If you can't get hard then…" Young sat up and looked at Rush. "How can you not be hard? You don't really want this do you?"


"I do," Rush whispered, clearly upset. "I just know I won' get hard again."


Young didn't care and snapped. "It's too bad Ddarus didn't fix that as well."


Rush was out the door before Young had time to blink. Young sank back in the bed, mad and horny. He stroked himself to completion but it felt hollow. Why did Rush have to be so much work? He thought. Young got up and decided to shower and then hunt Rush down, try and make some sense of this.


Young's words just wouldn't go away. Too bad Ddarus didn't fix that as well. Rush wrapped his arms around himself tight. His legs felt weak as he stumbled down the corridor. The lights seemed overly bright and he squeezed his eyes shut. He could hear Ddarus' voice. Could feel him touching him. Forcing him. Over and over. The pain was relentless. Even when a client was brought in, he would already be in so much pain, what ever they chose to do he would start screaming. Every touch was brought more pain. Ddarus had changed him. Everything was more intense. There were times he was so overstimulated he would just lay and convulse after they were done. It was never pleasurable. Not even when his body betrayed him and he came. It wasn't from pleasure. He had long forgotten what pleasure was. Only pain. Never ending pain. Ddarus had no idea about human anatomy. Ddarus didn't care. It was the screams, the body's reaction, the convulsions, the shivering, and the sobbing that interested him. Ddarus loved his screams so much when his voice gave out, Ddarus would break things. His arm, his fingers or his face. If that didn't work, Ddarus would get the knife and then he would scream even if it was just a hoarse sound squeezed from ravaged vocal cords. Sometimes he couldn't remember what it was like not to scream. Clients like the screams too. They paid high prices to make him scream. The pain. That was his life. All he could do was scream.


Then a day would go by, maybe just a few hours of peace. He would hope it was over and then a sound, a rattle of a door, the slide of something walking near and it would hit him. The fear. The sudden, horrible knowledge that it wasn't over. That awful certainty that this was his life now. And the door would open to his cell and he couldn't stop screaming.


James ran out of TJ's quarters when she heard the screams. She flew into the corridor and found Rush curled on the deck in a fetal position, screaming. The sound was horrifying. She dropped the deck and tried to unfold him but had no luck. James looked around. It was still too early and no one was around to help her. TJ was down the hall in the showers and had the radio. Varro was already on shift. She couldn't leave him there, like that, screaming.


She tried again to unfold him, whispering reassuring words, or words she hoped were reassuring as she rubbed her hand down his back briskly. Rush finally reached out and grabbed her around the waist and clung to her, begging over and over, "Please stop. Please stop."


Unsure of what he meant, she stopped rubbing his back. He stopped begging and started making a heartbreaking whine and his whole body was shaking hard, James wasn't sure she could get him up. It wasn't easy but after a few failed attempts, James managed to get him to his feet. As soon as she tried to move him, he collapsed again, taking her to the floor too. She just held him and waited for TJ to return.


"Oh my god, Vanessa! What happened?" TJ yelled as she ran down the corridor. She watched helpless as Vanessa dropped to the deck with Rush in her arms. She skidded up to them and knelt down next to them.


"I don't know, TJ. I heard him screaming and found him out here," James replied. "At least he's stopped screaming." She was glad but the desperate keening was just as bad. James held his head fast to her shoulder, hiding his face. Rush's arms were clenched tightly at her waist, making it a little difficult to breath. TJ joined her and between the two of them, they manhandled him inside TJ's quarters and onto her bed. They let go for just a moment and Rush curled back into a fetal position, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees. He started rocking back and forth and slowly his keening took a higher pitch and he started to scream again. His screams were muffled but they still cut right through the two women.


James immediately sat on the bed and wrapped herself around him, burying her face near his ear. She didn't know what to say so settled on telling him he was okay, he was safe, no one would hurt him anymore. Her eyes welled up. She had heard those same words spoken to her. It had taken her a long time to ever believe them. She prayed he would believe her now. She prayed she was right, that he could be okay. After a few moments he stopped screaming but his body continued to shudder from head to toe. James grabbed the blanket. He might not be cold but it would add the illusion of another layer of protection. She hoped.


"I'm going to go get a sedative," TJ said. James gave her a pleading look. "Please don't go TJ."


TJ reached over and brushed Vanessa's hair back, "I'll only be a minute." James gave her a tight smile and buried her face back in Rush's neck.


It seemed like TJ had been gone a long time and James wanted to go check on her but she couldn't leave Rush. He was still trembling and he had settled some, his body would occasionally jerk spastically but for the most part he was quiet. She thought he might have fallen asleep or passed out, but when she moved his hair aside to check, his eyes were wide and unfocused and he had his fist shoved in his mouth. James felt her eyes welling up again. She hid her face in his soft hair and just kept repeating you're okay.


"TJ what's wrong," Young asked. TJ was running back from the infirmary when she ran into Young. TJ grabbed his arm pull him along with her, she didn't want to leave Vanessa and Rush for any longer than necessary.


"Vanessa found Rush collapsed in the corridor. I think he's having some sort of flashback," TJ explained as she kept up a steady jog.


"Where is he?" Young demanded. He had been out looking for the man, but hadn't found him in any of his usual haunts.


"He's in my quarters." She replied shortly before they arrived at the door.


She tapped lightly then stepped inside. Young made to step around her and she held up her arm to hold him back. "Colonel, please." Her voice was quiet and firm.


Young wanted nothing more than to go over and take Rush from James, hold him, be the one comforting him.


TJ sat down on the edge of the bed and asked softly, "Nicholas?"


Rush didn't acknowledge her presence. She put a hand on top of the blanket and pulled it back a little and spoke again. When he still didn't respond, James stroked his head gently and whispered, "Nick, TJ's here. It's okay. It's just TJ."


His eyes darted to TJ's face. She couldn't be sure he even recognized her. "I'm going to give you a sedative." TJ showed him the hypodermic of the alien venom she was using.


Rush eyes grew panicked and he clawed at James, trying to get closer. "No no no, please, no more." His breaths started coming out in short hard pants and he started shaking again.


"It's okay, it's only going to help you calm down. Nothing more," She pulled back the cover and ran her hand soothingly over his hip.


"If he doesn't want it," Young started to say. He had moved to stand next to the bed. He was in shock at seeing Rush so distraught. This was completely different than the panic attack Rush had when they first got him back.


Rush's eyes flew to Young face. "No no no," he stuttered out and then buried his face into James.


"Get back, Colonel," TJ hissed. She reached back over and started rubbing Rush's hip again. She noticed he was wearing the colonel's slacks, they were too big and the waist slid easy down his hip so she could inject him. She had barely pulled the needle out when he lurched over the side of the bed and threw up.


James held him tight and TJ quickly grabbed his hair to hold it back as he threw up what little he had on his stomach. Then he continued to convulse in dry heaves for a few minutes. James moved her hand in slow, reassuring circles between Rush's shoulder blades. Rush seemed struggled to regain control of himself, but then he was heaving and retching once more.


Young felt useless. He looked around the room and spotted a canteen. He went and picked it up, luckily it was still mostly full. Young handed it and a small hand towel he found to TJ. She nodded for him to place them on the bed.


“It’s okay. You’re okay. Take your time,” James murmured, gently stroking the back of his head. “When you’re ready, sip some water to get rid of the taste.”


The sedative started to kick in and Rush seem to calm down. James pulled him back up into her arms while TJ cleaned him up. TJ handed him the cup of water. Rush reached for the cup, but his hands were shaking too much, so James lifted the cup to his lips. He swallowed a tiny bit and managed to keep it down. The worst of it seemed to have passed.


James managed to get him to take a couple more of sips of water before he fell asleep with his head in her lap. TJ sat the canteen next to James on the bed and went to pick up a clean towel. James gave her a small smile, she wasn't going any where and TJ knew it.


Young started to speak but TJ held up her hand. TJ pulled Young across the room to talk to him privately.


"TJ, what's going on?" he whispered.


"Flashback, panic attack, maybe a combo of the two," she whispered back, keeping an eye over at the two figures on the bed. "Do you know where he was this morning?"


"He was with me," Young answered.


"Did anything happen?" TJ asked. They needed to get to the bottom of this if they had any hope of helping Rush.


Young shuffled a little. It was embarrassing to talk to TJ, his ex-lover about his new lover. TJ picked up on his discomfort.


"If it helps, think of me as a doctor," she huffed. The man was being ridiculous.


Young took a deep breath. "Nothing really. I don't know TJ, we were talking, flirting. I was trying to take it a little further," Young blushed. "Then he was up and out of there in a huff. I let him go to cool off."


"Why did he get mad?" TJ narrowed her eyes at him and hissed. "What did you say?"


"Nothing!" Young shouted then quieted down again. "Nothing."


"Are you sure? Tell me exactly what happened. This is important, Colonel."


Young scrubbed his hand over his face then tucked his hands in his pockets. "I was…touching him, intimately. He was enjoying it but not…uh responding." Young looked over at the lump of blankets. "He wasn't getting hard. He said I could do it without him. That he would still enjoy it." He glared at TJ for making him say this. "I could have sex with him he just wouldn't you know, get an erection."


"I don't see the problem." TJ waved her hand.


"I got a little mad. It doesn't work that way."


"How mad?" TJ let the other part go for now. She would have to have a frank conversation with Young about it at a later time.


"I told him he wasn't a sex toy and if he couldn't get it up then we weren't having sex," Young hissed out.


TJ tapped her chin in thought. "The use of the word toy might have been the trigger. Possibly the rejection. He's pretty fragile right now." She looked back at Young. "Anything else?"


Wasn't that enough, Young thought. He was surprised TJ hadn't had more of a reaction to that. And why did she consider Rush fragile. Rhark had said the same thing. Rush was far from fragile. He was a tough son of bitch. Just look at what he survived. Young looked over at the bed to the sleeping form that had been shaking apart when he first walked in. He suddenly felt completely ashamed. "I said it was too bad Ddarus didn't fix that as well."


Young didn't see the slap coming and the impact didn't really register until TJ's hand came up for a second time. Young managed to grab her wrist just in time. "Stand down, Lieutenant."


"Out of here!" TJ shouted. She covered her mouth and looked over at Rush. James shook her head. Her shouting hadn't woken him.


"No, I need to be here when he wakes up!" Young growled.


"That's not happening. If he wants to see you when he's awake, then fine. I will radio you." If she had a door to slam TJ would have slammed it. A couple of times. As it was, she settled for shoving Young out the door and letting it swish shut behind him.


She gathered up some more towels and cleaned up Rush's vomit, then she wiped her hands off. While crouched by the bed she reached up and brushed his sweaty bangs back from his face. TJ had no idea how long the sedative would last with his metabolism but hopefully long enough he would be completely out of the flashback by then. She sighed. She wanted to throttle the colonel.


TJ finished cleaning and grabbed a bucket for James in case Rush started throwing up again, although she doubted he would. "I'm going to drop these by the laundry and then go to the infirmary for a bit. You going to be okay?" She asked, sitting on the bed next to James.


"We'll be fine. Do you think you could bring some tea by later?"


"Of course, maybe lunch too," TJ leaned over and kissed James and then kissed Rush on the temple. "Call me if he wakes up before I get back."


"Can we keep him?" James whispered, a teasing smile on her face. TJ covered her mouth to keep her laugh from escaping.


"Maybe." She kissed James again. "I'm going to let Colonel Young and Camile know we won't be on duty today."


TJ paced the infirmary. Every once in a while she would slam something down. It didn't help. She radioed Becker to bring her a tray of wraps and a canteen of sweetened tea. She needed to have a hard conversation with Young but she didn't want to. Might as well get it over with, she thought.


"Colonel Young?" She tried to not sound annoyed at him even though she still was.


"Is he awake?"


"I don't know. I'm about to head back there. I need to talk to you first. Can you come by the infirmary?"


"Headed that way, Young out."


Young arrived a few minutes later. TJ was glad to see he at least looked like he felt guilty.


"You might as well take a seat," she told him and crossed her arms.


"What is this about?" Young asked and sat on the closest examination table.


"How much did he tell you about what Ddarus did to him?"


Young looked at his hands then folded them on his lap. "He told me about the changes in his DNA, nothing more. I figured out from what Rhark said and a few things Rush has said, there was torture."


"How about when Ddarus attacked? I read the report on what he said. What did you pick up from that?"


"That Ddarus liked to torture him. Had clients that liked to torture him."


TJ rolled her eyes at him. Could he really be that dense? "He was tortured and tortured sexually," her tone even.


"What! He told you that?" Young jumped off the bed and headed to the door.


TJ grabbed his arm. "He didn't tell me, he didn't have to. The signs are all there."


"The accelerated healing and the amped up sensitivity were for?" Young rubbed his hand over his face.


TJ stepped back and wrapped her arms around her chest. "So the torture could last longer and he be more reactive."


"I need to talk to him." How had he not seen it? Young turned to leave again. TJ once more stopped him. "There's something else you should know."


"What?"


TJ sighed. She really couldn't believe she was going to have this conversation with her superior. "Some men can experience pleasure, intense pleasure and orgasm, without every getting hard or ejaculating."


"No, it doesn't work that way, TJ." Young hoped he wasn't blushing. Did TJ really want to give him a sex-ed lecture?


"Yes, Everett it does." TJ sighed. "Men are hard wired to see an erection as desire. To see ejaculation as orgasm and that is simply not true. Erection, ejaculation and orgasm are three wholly separate events that usually happen in concert but don't have to."


Young laughed softly and shook his head. "I think I know a little more about being a man than you, TJ."


TJ glared at him. "You might be surprised what I learned when I did a roto through the VA."


"If this was really the case, then why didn't Rush tell me?"


TJ gave him a derisive snort. "Let's see. One, getting personal information out of him is practically impossible. Two, I hardly think you would believe him, you don't want to believe me, plus he might not know the mechanics of the why. Three, I don't know, Everett, from what you said about this morning, he did tell you, you just chose not to listen."


Young deflated before her eyes. TJ was right, Rush had told him that morning and he responded with rejection and cruel comments. "Can I go see him now?"


"Let me check on him and I won't let you see him if he doesn't want it," TJ softened a little. At least the colonel was listening to her.


Becker knocked on the infirmary door with the tray she had requested. She thanked him and then told Young, "I'll radio you in a bit."


*****


TJ crouched in front of Rush. She rested her hand against the back of his neck and rubbed the muscles. His eyes fluttered open and he whimpered.


“Shhh...shhh...it’s okay, Nicholas."

"Where am I?" he asked softly.


"You're in my quarters," TJ said and removed her hand and pushed his hair back from his face.

He looked around and then realized his head was in someone's lap. He tried to sit up too quickly and moaned as the room spun around. He put his head back down and gentle hands started to massage his temples. He canted his eyes up to see who it was.

James looked down at him and smiled. "Hey."


Rush groaned. "What happened?" James increased the pressure at his temples and his headache started to subside a bit.


"I think you had a flashback. You collapsed in the hall," TJ explained. She stood up and then sat on the bed beside him. "Vanessa found you. You were...screaming and didn't seem aware of where you were."


Lovely, he thought and closed his eyes.


"How do you feel?" TJ asked.


"Embarrassed. Drained." He looked around again. "Where's Colonel Young?"


"I promised I would radio him if you wanted to see him?" TJ waited.


"O'course I want to see him," he replied hoarsely. He rubbed his throat. It felt raw.

"Okay. But I want you to eat something and drink some tea," she nodded her head to the tray by the bed.


"I'm no' hungry," he mumbled and closed his eyes. James stopped her massage and he embarrassed himself by whimpering again.


"Come on, I'll help you sit up so you can eat," James offered. "TJ won't call the colonel if you don't eat."


Rush tried his best to glare at the young woman but fell short and gave in. TJ and James helped him sit up slow enough the dizziness didn't return and he realized he was a little hungry. TJ handed him a cup of tea first and he drained it quickly unable to hide the slight tremble in his hands. He wasn't really back up to par yet.


She handed him the wrap and he nibbled at it, then asked for more tea. The sweet cool beverage was soothing on his sore throat. Rush realized both women were watching him so he took another bite of his wrap. The second bite awakened his appetite and he finished eating it and downed some more tea.


Satisfied, TJ radioed Young. She noticed how quickly he arrived, she figured he must have been hovering around nearby. She let him in and watched Rush's initial reaction, which was positive and showed relief. TJ and James both noticed Rush visibly brightened at seeing Young. TJ held her hand out to James and they stepped outside the room to give the two men some privacy.


Neither man spoke for a minute. "How are you?" Young asked awkwardly.


"Fine," Rush whispered. He shrugged and looked down.


"I'm sorry," they both said at the same time. Rush looked up in shock.


Young put up his hand to stop Rush from talking. "I should have listened to you. I shouldn't have said what I did."


"No, I should have explained...I should have told you what happened."


Young walked over and sat on the bed next to Rush. "We need to talk." He bumped Rush with his shoulder and smiled. Rush swallowed the lump in his throat and nodded. Young held out his hand. "But not here, okay?"


Rush took his hand and nodded again. As soon as the door open, they dropped their hands.


Vanessa leaned into TJ as they watched the two men walk away. "You sure we can't keep him?" James asked.


TJ smiled. "You've gotten pretty fond of him." James raised an eyebrow and smiled back. "Like you haven't? I'm mean, once you get passed the crankiness he's pretty darn sweet."


"He is," TJ rested her head on James' shoulder. "Maybe the colonel will share custody."


*****


They walked silently back to Young's quarters, sneaking glances at each other. As soon as the door had closed, Young wrapped Rush in his arms and apologized again. Rush shook his head and said, "It was my fault, Colonel."


Young tilted Rush's face up to his. "No, I was an ass. An insensitive jerk."


"Maybe a little bit o' a jerk," Rush grinned. Young leaned down and kissed him, then pulled back and rested his forehead against Rush's. He rubbed Rush's back, pleased to feel Rush quiver from his touch.


"Talk?" Young suggested. Rush nodded. "How about we talk on the couch? You're still a little pale."


"I'm fine," Rush replied but let himself be guided to the couch and pulled down to sit tucked in next to Young. He leaned his head against Young's shoulder. Rush really didn't remember much of the flashback and was glad he didn't, but he was feeling the need to be physically connected to Young at that moment, more connected than even wearing the colonel's clothes.


Young let the silence linger and then leaned over and kissed the top of Rush's head. "Tell me what happened."


Rush pulled out of Young's arms and laid down, using Young's lap as a pillow. He sighed contentedly when Young started running his fingers through his hair. "I can' tell you everythin', Colonel. Please don' ask me to."


"Just tell me what you can."


Rush was quiet for a minute, then he spoke softly. His voice distant. "Ddarus used me. Tortured me. Let others torture me. It was never endin' pain. My whole body." Young could feel Rush trembling as he spoke. Rush buried his face in his hands. "I can'."


"You don't have to tell me any more," Young assured Rush quietly. He paused thinking for a moment, trying to find the words. "I just...it's just I don't want to do anything that will remind you of it."


Rush rolled over and looked at Young and then rolled back. He rubbed his cheek against Young's thigh and hooked on hand between Young's legs. "You won'."


"You can't know that."


"I can because your touch isn' painful," Rush murmured. "I want…I want you to touch me." Young rubbed his hand along Rush's shoulder and thought about how many times his touch had brought pain to the other man.


"You'll tell me though if I do...hurt you?"


Rush nodded, "An I won' storm off in a huff."


Young chuckled.


"What?" Rush pouted.


"Nothing." Young thought for a moment, trying to ready himself for the next part.


Rush seemed to know what he was thinking and said, "I can have an orgasm without comin'. I've always been able to. Might no' even get hard. Most partners don't understand."


"This isn't new?"


"No, it's just more intense now. Doesn' take as much...hardly anythin' at all." Rush's fingers tightened against Young's thigh. "My wife knew. She enjoyed it." Rush was sure Young could feel the heat coming off his cheeks.


"So can you...have multiple," Young felt foolish asking but he was curious. Maybe too curious, depending on Rush's answer.


Rush was silent. Young leaned forward to look at him. He brushed the hair away from the side of Rush's face and he could see Rush was blushing. Young almost didn't hear the barely whispered yes. Rush cleared his throat. "That's new though, I think because I'm more sensitive to touch."


"Is it any touch?"


"No. The desire has to be there. On my part."


"So just me then?" Young felt reassured. It wasn't what he had been asking but it was good to know.


Rush sighed, why did it seem he was doing all the confessing. "Yes, Colonel. Your touch is the only one I wan'."


Young started thinking of all the possibilities this knew knowledge would open up. Young had always had a healthy sexual appetite, even as he got older, it hadn't declined. He closed his eyes and willed his interested cock to shut the hell up. Right now was not the time.


Rush noticed Young had gotten quiet. He turned his face and looked up at Young. "Are you okay with this?"


Young nodded tightly. Just looking at Rush right now, his desire for the man skyrocketed. Young rubbed a finger over Rush's lips. "Any touch? Can you control it?"


Rush shook his head. Young smiled. Then his smile grew. His eyes twinkled as he started thinking of what he could do with this knowledge. What he could do with this delightful sensuous man in his lap. Anytime. Anywhere. As much as he wanted.


Rush groaned, realizing what he had revealed. Young slipped his finger in and out of Rush's slightly parted lips. He could feel Rush's body shiver in response, see how his breathing was becoming faster.


"I promise I won't use this information," Young gave Rush lustful grin and pulled his finger away. "too much."


Rush glared at him and turned his head back around and settled it back down on Young's thigh with a sigh.


*****


Dale Volker had an idea. He had run through the numbers several times. Checked double checked and the rechecked again. Normally this would be something he would run by Eli, but unfortunately, this would fall more under Rush's knowledge bases. At least he thought it would, and the man seemed to know a lot about a range of subjects.


Volker stood in the door was of the Research Lab, trying to build up the courage to go in. Since Rush had returned, Volker had avoided him after that first explosive meeting on the bridge. Although no one except maybe the colonel knew exactly what happened to Rush, everyone had a good idea, and Volker felt nothing but shame for the words he had said.


Unfortunately Rush was alone because Brody was still on the planet gathering samples with Eli. Volker stepped in and cleared his throat.


Rush looked up momentarily then went back to reading his console. Volker cleared his throat again. "Rush, I'd like to run something by you," he squeaked out.


Rush sat up and looked at him. "What can I do for you, Doctor Volker?"


"When I was on the planet, I found some crystals. Nothing fancy. I just thought they were nice." Volker started to explain.


Rush put his fingers on his forehead.


"It's just, I brought them back and was messing with them with the one 3D printer and by adding some additional minerals and silica I was able to do this." Volker shoved a piece of glass at Rush. He knew he hadn't explained it well, but the man made him nervous.


Rush rolled the glass over in his hands. It wasn't truly glass, but a clear polymer like the molecular material from the dome.


"I know the printer is only capable of creating small objects but connected we could," Volker wanted to scream. He was completely ruining his presentation. He figured any moment Rush would start yelling at him about wasting his time.


"We could fix the dome," Rush murmured. "This is fantastic Doctor Volker."


"I...uh...so you think it will work?" Volker stuttered.


"We'll have to run the calculations, but it should work," Rush was very impressed. "Have you shown Eli?"


"Well, he's still down on the planet, and I was kind of excited," Volker looked around. "I've run some of the calculations already if you want to see?"


"O' course." Rush stood up from his stool and offered his console to Volker. Volker nervously pulled up his research and showed it to Rush.


Rush read through the work and stood back and scratched his chin. "Eli still needs to go over them."


Volker nodded.


"You'll have to get more o' the crystals off the planet. Do an estimate o' how much you'll need an double it, maybe triple to be on the safe side an' for future repairs."


"So you think it will work?"


"I do," Rush gave him a small smile.


"Okay then, thanks. I guess I'll just go back down to the planet and start gathering the crystals," Volker began to head to the door.


"Doctor Volker." Volker turned back around. Rush held out the piece of glass to him. "Well done."


Young found the science team all gathered in the 3D printer lab. There was excitement in the air. He leaned in the doorway and watched them. An amused smile on his face. It was good seeing them all working together. Volker's glass was a huge hit, and they were already starting to manufacture the pieces needed. The rough estimate would be weeks before enough of the small octagonal pieces were made to create even one larger panel.


Rush stood off to the side watching the team bounce around additional uses, a small smile on his face. He noticed Young watching him, watching them and raised an eyebrow.


Young nodded for him to come over.


"So, Volker's not as useless as you thought?" Young teased.


"I never said he was useless," Rush protested.


"Yeah, you did. On several occasions." Young laughed.


"I might have misjudged him."


"Maybe," Young leaned close and whispered. "Come here. I found something I need to show you."


Rush nodded. The newly opened corridor was not yet fully explored. They were still in the process of finding and cataloging.


Young led him to the room next door to the 3D lab. Rush was sure they had already finished with the chamber, it was filled with powders, resins and other materials to use in the printers. He had barely crossed the threshold when Young grabbed him and pushed him up against the wall in a passionate kiss.


Rush tried to break the kiss, to warn the colonel that it was too dangerous, any one of the science team could walk in on them. His protests died in his throat, driven away by Young's tongue down his throat. Rush wrapped himself around Young, deepening the kiss, happily moaning as Young continued the assault on his mouth.


Young slowly pulled out and latched onto Rush's bottom lip. He sucked into his mouth, keeping up the pressure until it was swollen and aching. He let go with a sharp nip for good measure and worked his way down Rush's jaw to his neck. Nibbling and sucking on the flesh randomly while Rush continued to mewl and whine in his arms.


"Colonel, please." Rush whimpered. "The team...the might hear us."


Young laughed evilly. "I guess you should try and be quiet then." He knew it was next to impossible. Rush might not talk much, but he was always making some noise, some unusually loud sound of approval when they made out. Rush looked down at him with wide eyes as it finally dawned on him Young knew exactly what he was doing when Young pushed his t-shirt up and bit down hard on one of his nipples.


"God!" Rush squealed and arched into Young's mouth. Young rolled the little nub around with his teeth then sucked on it. He ended by biting down again and tugging on it, letting it go and assaulting the other one. Rush was getting louder and louder, so Young resorted to pushing his fingers into Rush's mouth to hopefully muffle the sounds.


Rush sucked obscenely on his fingers. Young wasn't sure if it was on purpose or a natural reaction to what he currently was doing Rush's nipples. Young reached between them and deftly unbuttoned Rush's leathers. He pushed them down and grabbed hold of Rush's soft cock. Young had discovered that although Rush might not get hard, his prick was still sensitive to touch. He pushed the foreskin back and rubbed his thumb across the glans roughly. He pulled at the head as he tugged on a nipple.


Rush's noises had started to reach a fevered pitch. He was babbling and clawing at Young's head. Young pulled away and reached up and grabbed Rush's face with both hands, "Shhhhh." he whispered. Rush quieted down and shook his head frantically. His eyes were wide, and Young could see the iris' were almost completely black. Rush's body was shaking hard, and his bottom lip was swollen and glistening. He looked utterly defiled. Young loved it. He hadn't even made Rush orgasm yet, and he was already a wreck.


Young kissed him again. Driving his tongue in and out of Rush's mouth suggestively as he pushed the man's pants down past his hips. Young grabbed Rush's ass and squeezed. Rush threw his head back and accidentally banged it on the wall. They both stilled. Young looked at Rush and grinned. He spun Rush and pressed him against the bulkhead doors. If they were to open, they would both fall out into the corridor.


Rush realized where they were and tried to push away, but Young plastered his body against's Rush's back immobilizing him. He whispered seductively into Rush's ear, "I can't help you stay quiet this time, you better do something, or they will hear you."


"Colonel...Everett, please," Rush begged. Young just chuckled softly and lowered to his knees. He grabbed Rush's ass with both hands and pushed and massaged both cheeks. Rush moaned loudly and hit the door with his fist and then stuffed it in his mouth when he realized what he had done.


Young squeezed the two pale cheeks, up and down and to the side, spreading them wide. He did love Rush's ass. Had so many plans on things to do with it but at this moment he wanted to try something new. Young leaned in and swiped his tongue over the puckered hole. Rush squealed and scrambled to get away as Young pushed his tongue in.


"I swear I heard something out here," Eli's voice sounded through the doors.


"You were hearing things, Eli," Brody replied. "Let's finish in here and go get some dinner."


Young drove his tongue in as deep as he could, over and over as Rush writhed beneath his hands. He had stopped making any noises which inadvertently made his body shake even more. Young loved it. He pulled his tongue out and lavished the hole with soft firm strokes and then pushed back in.


"Maybe someone is in here, we should check." Eli started to punch in the code to open the door. Brody grabbed his hand to stop him.


Rush's orgasm ripped through him, and his knees started to buckle. Young had to stand up to hold him in place. He quickly turned Rush around, wrapped his arms around Rush and held Rush's face to his shoulder. He could feel Rush's biting into the fabric of his jacket as Rush's whole body spasmed.


"Let's just go," Brody said and thought someone owed him. Big time.


"No, I think someone is down here," Eli said. He listened for a moment, but everything was quiet. "Maybe Destiny is haunted. That'd be cool."


"Cool?" Lisa commented. "I think I would be creepy. Let's get out of here."


Young held Rush to his chest until Rush's shuddering slowly quieted to trembles. "You okay, kiddo?" Young whispered in Rush's ear. Rush shook his head, and his body spasmed again. Young laughed softly. "You know, I don't think I will ever get used to this. I certainly can't get enough of it."


"You're an evil man," Rush finally hissed out. "Are they gone?"


Young listened for voices, even distant ones and heard nothing. "Yeah, they're gone."


"My turn," Rush whispered and dropped to his knees. He quickly unzipped Young's uniform pants. He nuzzled into Young's pelvis and kissed, moist and warm butterfly kisses into the mess of curls. Lightly teasing and just shy of reaching Young's cock, his chin brushing against the sensitive flesh.


Slowly Rush pulled Young out and ran his fingers up and down the shaft. He licked over the head, lapping up the pre-come and letting the taste dance across his tongue.


Young braced his arms against the doors as Rush teased his tongue into the slit and around the head. Rush cupped Young's heavy balls in his hand. They were warm and full, and he rolled them around in his palm. As he continued to caress the sacks he used his other hand to hold onto Young's sturdy thigh for balance.


Rush rolled his tongue tightly around Young's cock as he moved over it, down to the base of the shaft and then up again to kiss and suck lightly on the tip. He gently pulled the head into his mouth, lavishing it with a sloppy wet kiss.


Young wanted to see, so he stepped back and held Rush's hair away from his face. He could see Rush take him in, inch by inch, stretching his lips and filling it up until Rush's mouth had taken Young into the hilt. Young groaned. He still couldn't believe Rush could take him all the way in like this.


Rush pulled back slowly, wrapping his tongue tightly around the shaft until he had only the tip inside his mouth. Rush looked up at Young briefly, then moaned as he swallowed Young whole again. Young gripped Rush's hair tight in his fists and held him there. He could feel Rush's warm breath against his groin.


"That's it. God. Yes." Young chanted. The blowjob was sloppy and decadent. Rush's enthusiasm bordered on pornographic, and Young couldn't help taking control. He pulled Rush back off and then pulled him back against his crotch again. Rush was moaning obscenely, approvingly, enjoying every minute of it. Young held Rush by the hair, twisting it tight and started thrusting harder. Young watched as he fucked the other man's mouth, spittle running down Rush's chin, his cheeks flushed, his eyes squeezed shut.


Rush reached behind Young's balls and pressed his thumb into the perineum and his fingers slipped between Young's cheeks to graze across his hole. Young howled as he pumped shamelessly into Rush's mouth, coming with sweet abandon as Rush's swallowed as much as he could without gagging. Rush stayed that way, his nose pressed into Young's groin, Young's cock slowly softening in his mouth. Once Young could finally catch his breath, he helped Rush stand and then pulled him into his arms and kissed him gently.


"It was unbelievable, kiddo," Young whispered. Rush rested his head against Young's shoulder, pleased. What Young had done to him was pretty amazing too, he was still a little shaky from it. Rush didn't speak, he nodded against Young and squeezed his arms tighter around Young's waist.


"We should probably make an appearance at dinner. I'm pretty hungry after that," Young kissed the top of Rush's head and hit the door lock code.


"Okay," Rush whispered. Young gave him one last squeeze and led him off to the mess hall. Rush was always a little out of it after they had made out or had sex, just one of the things Young loved about him.


They ran into TJ, Vanessa, and Varro on the way. James took one look at Rush and said, "For Pete's sake, Colonel." She grabbed an unresisting Rush and dragged him to an adjacent corridor, TJ hot on her heels. TJ gave Young a steely glare before she disappeared around the corner too.


Varro shrugged. "Should we wait?"


"No, we'll grab a table, they can catch up," Young smiled.


"What was that about?" Varro asked.


"I have no idea," Young replied.


James fussed over Rush. She tried to tame his hair as best she could and used the sleeve of her jacket to wipe his mouth and beard. She couldn't believe the colonel left him like this. "You'd think the colonel would know better."


"I suspect Everett knew exactly what he was doing." TJ quietly laughed as she brushed off the knees of Rush's pants.


Rush suddenly came back to himself and tried to push the two women away. "What are you doin'?"


"You were walking around looking like a hot mess," James said, putting her hands on her hips, making Rush blush, realizing the women knew exactly what he and Young had been doing. James thought he at least looked somewhat better. She couldn't do anything about the swollen lip or the blush.


"Maybe I should go," Rush mumbled.


TJ hooked her arm around his, "How about you take us to dinner." James caught his elbow on the other side, and they walked him to the mess.


Young and Varro were waiting for them at a table crowded by the science team, along with Scott, Chloe, and Greer. Rush groaned, he didn't think he was up for this much socialization.


"Hey Rush, Eli thinks the ship is haunted," Scott blurted out. Everyone laughed.


"We heard something earlier," Eli waved his spoon around. "In an empty storage room, the one next to the printer lab."


"Maybe it was rats," Greer suggested.


"God I hope not," Chloe chimed in. "I'd rather have ghosts."


"We don' have ghosts," Rush grumbled and snuck a glare at Young. Young grinned back.


"I know, but it would be fun, wouldn't it?" Eli chirped and made an oooh sounds, waggling his fingers at the group.


Camile walked up with her dinner and sat down. "We are about to be haunted by Telford."


The table all groaned in unison.


*****


"Telford's going to want to talk to you."


"No." Rush looked at Young and glared.


"You know he's not going to give up until he talks to you. Just do it and get it over with."


"No."


"For me?" Young whined.


"No."


*****


Young leaned against the doorway of the observation deck until Telford caught his eye. Telford motioned for him to join him at the table. Rush had just left, a storm cloud following him. Young left him alone. He would deal with that later.


"I take it things did not go well," Young mused.


"With him...no," Telford scoffed and flipped his hand towards the empty doorway. "He's still a little shit."


Young chuckled. "And you expected he would be different?"


"I don't know, maybe." Telford leaned back in his chair. "I tried to make peace."


"Peace?"


"Yeah, I hadn't told anyone except the higher ups, but I'm retiring." Telford folded his arms over his chest. "Started seeing a therapist shortly after you all entered stasis to help me deal with," he twirled his finger around. "this."


"This being?" Young prompted.


"Destiny. The Lucian Alliance. The brainwashing." Telford sat forward and steepled his thumbs into his forehead then looked back up at Young. "It was all jumbled. I couldn't tell what part was the brainwashing, which part was me just being an ass. I couldn't tell where Kiva's influence began and my ambition ended. I lost all sense of self."


"I hadn't realized it was that bad, David. I'm sorry." Young offered.


"You don't know the half of it, Everett." Telford looked out towards Destiny's FTL trail. "My therapist says I need to find the people I hurt the most and try to make amends. I told her some things couldn't be fixed."


"How's that going?" the colonel asked. He looked pointedly at Telford.


"Ah hell Everett, we might as well get this over with," Telford rolled his shoulders, cracking his neck. "You were next on my list anyway." He gave Young a tight smile.


"That bad?"


Telford nodded. "I mean we've talked about some of it already."


"Emily?"


"Yes."


"Are you still together?"


"That's the thing Everett, Em and I were never together I just made sure you thought we were. It was all to try and get you to step down, make you lose your self-confidence, make mistakes and then give up your body until I could find a way to get on board. For me take over command of Destiny. When that didn't happen, well you know." Telford tapped his finger on the table. "That's a big part I am still coming to terms with. Destiny became an obsession."


Young raised an eyebrow. "Still seems like one."


"No, like I said I'm retiring. I've come to realize that Destiny was never my obsession but Kiva's. Living, breathing the Lucian Alliance for years, I became so immersed I couldn't tell...I still sometimes can't tell...which were my feelings and which were hers."


Telford sighed. "I destroyed so many lives. Been directly responsible for the deaths of countless men and women. It's sometimes so hard to get up in the mornings let alone look at myself in the mirror."


"The attack on Icarus? I didn't know it was going to happen. I was caught off guard as much as everyone else. Kiva was questioning my lack of progress in getting her Rush."


"You were supposed to what, get Rush to join the Lucian Alliance?" Young had not heard this part before in any of the official reports.


"That was the plan. Rush was so close to figuring out the Ninth Chevron. The LA had already found the second Icarus planet, but they were about six months behind us."


"You already knew where the Ninth Chevron lead."


"Yes. My job was to discredit Rush, drive him out of the program and they would take him. They hoped to reach the Ninth Chevron address before the SGC. With me as commander."


"That's why you fought so hard to get on board," Young said knowingly. "And kept trying to undermine my authority, but that doesn't explain what happened since... after I broke the brainwashing."


"I suspected something was up when my double died after we dialed inside the star," Telford suddenly looked old. "I read the reports again. Talked to Carter about it. Rush had been right all along about too many uncontrollable variables." He slammed his fist down on the table. "I knew it but refused to accept it. I wouldn't back down from getting you all home. Despite the risk being too damn high. I had to get you home because it was my fault you were here. I almost got you all killed. My double did get you killed!"


"Well, technically the alternative crew lived out their lives on Novus. No one died, except the other you and the other Rush."


Telford laughed sadly. "Doesn't change a damn thing. And then there's him." Telford pointed to the empty hallway. "It's hard asking forgiveness from someone you honestly...don't like."


"What exactly did you do to him?"


"Besides the obvious." Telford stared at his hands. "After Jackson recruited him and I realized or at least at the time, thought, he would be the key to the Ninth Chevron. Kiva insisted I get him. That was when I started planting seeds of doubt about his abilities to everyone, I pushed him, belittled, lied, set people against him, anything to make his life miserable." Telford gave a disparaging laugh. "He made it easy. He was closed off. Didn't talk to anyone except the science team. With them, he was short tempered and demanding. He was still grieving for his wife. I took full advantage of that. By the time he dialed Destiny everyone on Icarus had despised him. Even you, Everett."


"God, David." Young buried his face in his hands.


"O'Neill tried to protect him, made excuses. Jackson too. Carter. Even McKay. Hell, Jack was the one who thought the two of you would work well together. But Rush kept pushing everyone away. We thought we could get him when he went with Jack to meet Eli. And then when that failed, I thought for sure I had him when Eli's proof didn't work that first night since Armstrong was going to use that to remove Rush for good the next morning and have him shipped back to Earth. Then Eli figured it out after the bombardment started, which would have been fine had I not taken off in my 302 to fight them, leaving you to be the one to step through the Stargate instead of me."


"That's a lot to forgive," Young said. "You destroyed the man's reputation, his credibility with everyone. Shit, David, you destroyed it with himself."


"You know him, Everett, he's not exactly likable. He's arrogant, self-serving, obstructive, uncooperative and all around a little shit. That I'm not responsible for." Telford crossed his arms over his chest.


"It doesn't make him deserve any of what you did."


"No, you're right," Telford sighed and unfolded his defensive posture again. "My therapist warns me about trying to justify my actions by blaming others. Victim blaming she calls it."


"Have they've given up trying to get us home?" Young knew the answer. He had known it for a while. No one would come out and say it, though. He wanted to steer the conversation in another direction. David's therapy sounded too much like AA for Young's taste. It was all about gaining forgiveness from those you hurt to make yourself feel better. It rarely helped those that were hurt or had their lives destroyed find any closure.


"Pretty much," Telford gave him and apologetic smile. "They're still working, but it's way on the back burners especially after the accident."


"What accident?"


"No one told you?" Telford shook his head in disbelief. "I guess not. The eggheads at SGC were experimenting with using modified ZPM's to dial the gate. One exploded. They lost eight people on the dialing side of the gate and..." David frowned. "Three on the arrival side. The information they gathered put an end to the Icarus argument."


"Why's that?" Young asked. His stomach fluttered. He was pretty sure where this was going.


"They now believe that had Rush dialed Earth, the Alpha site would have been destroyed or worse. For sure all of you would be dead."


"That doesn't mean he couldn't have dialed a Pegasus or Ida address."


"No it doesn't, but no one wants to test that theory. But...I'm not convinced Rush dialed the Ninth Chevron to save you all despite what he claims. He couldn't have known for sure, no one else did, and we had some of the best minds on it at SGC."


"I don't know about that anymore David," Young said. "He makes these leaps that make no sense how he gets there, but most of the time he's right."


"Yeah and if you don't just accept it he thinks you're a moron," Telford grinned painfully.


"Did you tell him? About what they discovered." Young hoped so. He didn't look forward to having that conversation. He would have to inform Camile and then tell the crew.


"He didn't give me a chance," Telford replied. "Too busy storming off in a huff."


Young sighed again. "Anything else? Anyone else you want to talk too?"


"Maybe Greer." Telford smiled.


Young laughed. "Yeah, I think you owe him an apology too."


"Yeah," Telford looked around wistfully. He would miss Destiny but this chapter of his life was over, and he was glad to be moving on.


"What's retirement going to look like for you?"


For the first time since Telford arrived, his smile seemed genuine and not pained, even on the borrowed face of Corporal Dunning. "I'm headed back to Wyoming. My father wants me back on the rez."


"I have a hard time picturing you back home," Young grinned. "Seems too sedate."


"Me too, but pop's getting up there and needs help at the bar. I think he wants me to find a nice native woman and give him some grandkids before he dies."


"I'm going to miss you, David," Young said and found he meant it. Telford seemed more like the man he had come up through the ranks with. The man he had once called his best friend. He offered Telford, his hand.


"I'm going to miss you too Everett." Telford took Young's hand and pulled him into a one arm hug. "Take care. And if Rush ever calms down, tell him my apology was sincere."


"I'll do that," Young nodded. "I'll send Greer to the stones room to meet you."


"Sounds good." Telford didn't look back as he walked out of the room. Young watched him and then radioed Greer.


*****


"We need to tell the Senior staff first, and then I will call a meeting in the gate room to tell everyone else."


"I thought we were tellin' the Senior staff about us today?" Rush asked quietly.


"We can do both, but it's important that the crew knows about the Ninth Chevron," Young said as he shaved. "It will go a long way in fixing your relationship with them." Young had explained what Telford had told him about the Ninth Chevron dial-in. How the consensus was now that Rush had done the right thing, saved all their lives.


"You know I don' care about that," Rush said. He leaned against the doorway to Young's shaving nook and watched him.


"I know you don't, but I do," Young finished shaving and offered his razor to Rush. Rush declined and walked away. Young followed pulling on his standard issue black t-shirt. "It's important they know you are not the sociopathic selfish insufferable bastard they think you are." Young grinned and wrapped his arms around Rush's waist, nuzzling his neck.


"So instead they will think I'm the insufferable bastard that is conveniently fuckin' their commander when this news comes out," Rush deadpanned.


"We can always wait to tell them about us," Young went on. "I rather like sneaking around and having you all to myself."


"Well, it's no' like we are goin' to fuck in the command chair o' the bridge. We just won' have to hide..." Rush looked down at his hands resting on Young's hands at his waist, "...us."


"I'll get with Camile this morning, set a meeting in the gate room around 0900," Young said, thinking it was time for Rush to start trusting that he knew what the crew needed. Although Young couldn't help but think having sex with Rush in the command chair had a certain appeal. He would have to figure out a way to make that happen. Young kissed Rush's neck and let go of him and grabbed his jacket. Rush was out the door and gone before Young finished zipping it up.


Young caught up with Camile on the way to the mess. He explained what David had told him about the Ninth Chevron and dialing Destiny. She agreed the crew would benefit from knowing.


"I just wish Rush was more on board with telling them," Young sighed. He didn't understand why Rush was so stubborn about it.


"Did Nicholas tell you why?" Camile asked.


"He thinks the crew will find it convenient timing," Young stopped and looked at her. "if we tell them about us as well."


Camile gave him one her knowing smiles. They had stopped outside the crowded mess. "So instead of telling the crew about Icarus which would go a long way in repairing his reputation, his credibility and his relationship with the crew. He is choosing you."


Young gaped at her then looked into the mess hall. He could see Rush standing in front of Becker to hand the soldier his empty dishes.


He didn't care if it was silly, cliché or over the top romantic. He marched into the mess and grabbed Rush and pulled him into a passionate kiss. Soon enough Rush was tangling his fingers into Young's curls, and Young was tightening his grip on his lover's waist. Had Young been paying attention, he would have noticed the whole room had gone silent. Young would have seen Camile with her hand covering her smile in the doorway. He might have seen TJ and James smile at each other knowingly, Eli's shocked expression, or Chloe's soft, indulgent smile, her hand on Scott's arm.


Young didn't even hear Greer shout out, "About damn time."


EPILOGUE


Bathtub privileges were the hottest commodity on Destiny. Everyone assumed it would slow down but even a few month's in, the novelty hadn't worn off. It took a two-day rotation to accommodate everyone with a thirty-minute time frame to use the bath. Eli had written a program to randomize everyone's name and time slots to make things fair, but that still left people with time slots in the middle of the night. Everyone had signed up except for Rush, which surprised Young. Even the folks that might not want to use it signed up to barter their shift for something else they might want.


It took weeks of secret bartering, promises, shift changes, and anything else Young could think of to get a large block of time in the tub. It ended up being a couple of hours blocked from midnight to two. Hopefully, this way, no one would be leaving if they arrived a few minutes after midnight and if they were gone well before their two hours were up.


Finally, the night had arrived.


"I have a surprise for you," Young whispered in Rush's ear, letting his hot breath linger before nibbling on the lobe. Rush trembled and pressed his body back against Young. Rush was warm and comfortable and basking in a pleasant hazy post sex daze.


"You know I hate surprises," he grumbled even as he moaned in pleasure when Young moved down to plant a humming kiss to his neck. He shivered. They had already had sex once this evening, with Young ripping a mind blowing orgasm out of him. He felt weak and spent. Ravaged. The colonel had a way of making him completely lose any control he had. Even still, Young's hot breath against his neck was already making his body want more. Damn Young and his insatiable appetite.


"You only think that," Young playfully nipped Rush's collarbone. "I think you'll like this surprise."


"I won'," Rush huffed and grinned. He would give in. He found it hard to refuse Young anything these days. At least privately. They still found themselves arguing over the ship's business quite often. But it wouldn't do to let the colonel win too easily.


Young pulled away, got out of bed, and slapped Rush on the ass over the covers. "Come on, get up and get dressed."


Rush pulled the covers over his head. "No."


Young tugged at the covers, the threat of moving them blatantly apparent. Rush rolled over onto his back and glared at him. Young knelt on the edge of the mattress, but Rush didn't move. He climbed over Rush and straddled him. Rush just continued to glare at him. Young leaned down and captured Rush's lips in a sloppy kiss. "You know you can't refuse me." Young started kissing Rush all over the face. He pulled back and kissed his nose. "Come on," Young whined.


Young grinned and kissed his nose again. Rush pushed him back. "Why are you not the least bit exhausted after..." Rush couldn't hide his smile remembering that last hour of activities. Rush reached up and held Young's face in his hands and pulled him back down into a more passionate kiss. Young was having none of that and grabbed Rush's wrists and pinned them above his head near the wall.


He held him like that until he felt Rush's body start to undulate beneath him. Young leaned down and gave him another sloppy kiss. He licked him across Rush's cheek and into his ear, back across his cheek and over his eyes. Then he kissed his nose again as he tightened his knees against Rush's hips.


Young waggled his eyebrows. "You're going to give in, or I'm going to have to resort to more nefarious methods of persuasions." Young licked his lips and grinned.


"You're like an unruly puppy." Rush grumbled and tried his hardest not to smile. "You don' play fair, Colonel."


"What's fair is all in your perspective," Young climbed off of Rush and started getting dressed. "Don't worry about changing, just grab a couple of towels," Young suggested as he pulled on his uniform slacks and t-shirt.


Rush noted that the colonel didn't bother with boxers, which led credence to the idea that Young wanted to do some late night screwing somewhere besides their quarters. Rush worried that Young's playful, and the semi-obsessive streak of wanting to have sex where they might be caught was going to backfire one day by them actually being caught. He sighed.


Rush picked up two towels and looked up at Young. He suddenly was overwhelmed with desire. Young always looked so delicious in the black uniform with his curls in disarray and a slight five o'clock shadow. When Young stomped into his boots, Rush realized he was still barefoot and in his sleep pants and t-shirt. This wouldn't do. He tossed Young the towels and started to dig around on the floor for some slacks to put on. Young walked over and wrapped his arms around Rush and pressed his groin against Rush's ass. Rush could feel the colonel was half hard already. He sighed again and tried not to laugh. Young had the libido of a teenager.


"I told you," Young rubbed Rush suggestively. "You don't have to change. No one is up at this hour. At least not where we are going."


"An' where would that be again?" Rush asked. Young let Rush go and walked to the shaving nook to pick up their shower kit. Rush raised an eyebrow. A shower was hardly a surprise.


"Not telling. I'm not going to blindfold you, but I will ask you to close your eyes at one point," Young tossed the towels over his shoulder and took Rush's hand. Young had tried to suggest a blindfold one night during sex and Rush had almost made it to the door of their quarters before Young had caught him and calmed him down.


Sure enough, the hallway was empty when Young led Rush around the corner. He had Rush close his eyes although Young was sure Rush was savvy enough to have figured out where they were going by then. Rush remained quiet though and didn't hesitate to go into the unknown room Young had led him to.


Young let Rush open his eyes once the doors to the bathtub room were closed.


"I got us two hours here," Young wrapped his arms around Rush. "Enough extra time so that no one will see us leave. Just like no one saw us come in here." Young tried not to make too big of a deal about Rush being shy when it came to using the bathtub. Rush had no problem with joining Young in the shower, but sharing the tub seemed to be off limits.


Rush didn't speak. He merely leaned his head against Young's shoulder. "You okay with this?" Young finally asked.


"Yes, Colonel." Rush realized how much Young had put into this plan. It was sweet, and Rush did like the idea of bathing again. He missed it. Rush just didn't like thinking about someone hovering nearby while he was naked and alone. He couldn't find the courage to ask Young to stand guard. It seemed silly, so he had abstained from using the bath. For some reason he couldn't fathom, the showers felt safer.


Young tossed their towels and shower kit down by the tub and started the filling sequence. In a flash, Young was stripped and testing the water temp. Rush watched Young, naked and unashamed. Of course, Young had no reason to be in Rush's mind. Rush smiled and admired the play of muscles across Young's back, the way his shoulders were broad and strong, the way his torso tapered in perfect symmetry to his waist. Young's firm ass and thick cock, nestled in black curls. Even flaccid, it looked formable. The sturdy muscled thighs, Rush loved to hold onto. Everything about Young was perfect.


"Nick, get out of your clothes and get in," Young turned around and whined. "We have almost ninety minutes." Young eased down, letting the hot soapy water wrap him up in luxury. He sighed and leaned his head back against the rim. Rush's face was suddenly hovering over his, Rush's long hair falling and tickling Young's cheeks.


"Can I wash your hair?" Rush asked with a soft smile, but Young could hear the slight apprehension in the man's voice.


Young was a little taken aback by the request, but all the same, he liked the idea. "Sure."


Rush folded their towels to kneel on. He leaned over and scooped the hot water into his hand and let it pour into Young's head. Young signed and relaxed his shoulders. Slowly Rush began working the shampoo into Young's hair and scalp. Rush's massage felt light as a feather, sending delicious shivers throughout Young's body.


Young hummed happily as Rush's talented fingers worked through his curls gently, untangling them in a way Young usually only found a brush would do. Rush massaged his scalp, working from the top down the sides and across his temples and down to his ears. Young was sure he had never felt so relaxed. Rush worked down to his neck, rubbing the tense muscles until they were finally unknotted. All too soon, Rush had finished and was cupping more water to rinse the shampoo away. Young was about to speak when he felt Rush's hands rubbing over his shoulders and encouraging Young to lean forward. When he did, Rush worked his hands down his back. Young let him work out the tension and tried not to groan.


"Come here, Nick," Young whispered. He wanted Rush in the tub with him, as much as he loved the shampoo and massage, he had other plans. Rush was still kneeling behind him, his hands resting on Young's shoulders. Rush leaned around and looked at Young, raising an eyebrow in question.


"Get in," Young said roughly. Young sat back and reached around to pull Rush in with him when he realized Rush was still fully clothed. He sighed but tried his best to school his expression. Patience.


Rush disappeared from his peripheral vision for a minute, then suddenly he was climbing into the tub. Rush straddled Young's waist, his knees on either side of Young as he started to wash Young's face. Rush gently moved his fingers over Young's forehead and down the side of his face, using his thumbs to caress and wash Young's cheeks and the delicate skin under his eyes. Young loved the feel of Rush's strong slender fingers, teasing and tantalizing his face, and then his arms, and his chest lingering playfully on his nipples. Young ran his hands up and down Rush's back, only staying on the scars long enough to press in and then dance away, eliciting a hiss of pleasure. Rush shivered, and his skin broke in gooseflesh. Young ghosted his hands down and palmed Rush's ass, and Young felt his cock thicken in response.


Rush continued to wash him, his hand caressing the contours of Young's body. Young felt worshiped, but he wanted to play too. He patted Rush on the hip.


"Turn around and let me wash your hair," Young whispered. Rush's closed his eyes, eyelashes fanning delicately across his cheekbones, he bit his lip, and Young watched in fascination as Rush's trembling turned into shivers. Now Young wasn't sure he could wash the man's hair if just asking to do it cause this reaction. Young reached up and brushed Rush's bangs aside and tucked a loose strand behind his ear. "Would you like that?" he asked. Rush nodded and didn't resist Young helping him to turn around and sit in Young's lap. Rush wiggled around until Young's cock was nestled snuggly between his cheeks. Young sat up a little straighter and started pouring water from his hands over Rush's head.


Young added a little of the homemade shampoo in his hands, lathering it up before running his fingers thru Rush's hair. He let each strand fall from his fingers before starting from the top and doing it again. Rush was making little whimpering noises each time his fingertips touched his scalp so Young decided on the third round to start massaging Rush's head like Rush had done his. The effect was immediate. Rush started shivering all over as Young moved over his head, to his temples, to the base of his neck, over his ears and back up again.


"You know, I've always loved your hair. From the first time, I saw you at Icarus, standing there looking at the Stargate. I had no idea who you were," Young paused and leaned in to press a quick kiss to Rush's shoulder. "But I thought you were gorgeous." Another kiss. "And this hair was gorgeous."


Rush shook his head but didn't say anything. Young knew what he was thinking, though. "I'm not sure who or what made you doubt this, but you are a stunner, Nicholas Rush." Young kissed his neck. Rush shuddered and dropped his head. Young wished he could see his face. Read his eyes. See if, for once, Rush believed him.


Young cupped more water in his hands and rinsed the shampoo out, finger combing Rush's hair free of tangles. He swept it back, exposing more of Rush's face than Rush normally ever allowed. Young pulled him back to rest against his chest. He tucked Rush's head beneath his chin and just held him.


"Are you still with me, kiddo?" Young whispered. Rush moved, untucking his head and reaching up to cup Young's face with his hand. He nodded then pulled Young down into a soft, determined kiss.


Young, spurred on by the kiss, ran his hands down Rush's arms and moved to rub over his nipples. He rolled the little nubs between his fingers and then pinched them. Rush arched against him and let out a deep moan. Young worked Rush's nipples until he was sure they must be aching. They stood up proud, hard and dark against Rush's honey toned skin. He moved his hands lower, rubbing firmly over Rush's stomach, playing with the smattering of hair leading downward.


He was surprised when he reached Rush's prick and found him hard.


"Oh my god, what is this," Young stroked up and down Rush's shaft, squeezing tight like it might disappear. "Is this a second hard-on from the illustrious Doctor Rush in one evening? It can't be. This...this is like a unicorn. I've found a mythical unicorn."


"You're mad, Colonel," Rush moaned, finally speaking, even as he bucked into Young's hand. "If you don't stop, it won't last long."


"Well, we can't have that, can we," Young teased. He flicked his finger over the head and pulled back the foreskin, running his thumbnail over the slit. Young could feel his own cock grow heavy and full.


Rush thrust into his hand and whimpered. "Please, Everett."


Young let go of him and nudged against his shoulders. "Lean forward." Rush scrambled to obey, even if there wasn't much room to maneuvered in the tub, but at least the lack of room kept him from slipping.


Once Rush was in position, Young pushed a finger deep inside of him. He had to hold onto Rush's hip to keep him from crawling away but only momentarily. As soon as Young found the spot, Rush was pushing back on Young's finger. Young was so glad that Rush seem to love his ass played with as much as he did since Young did love to play and watch Rush abandon himself to it. Young added a second finger. Rush grabbed the edge of the tub, thrusting his ass out in a wanton display for more. Young obliged and added a third finger.


He twisted his fingers in and out until he felt Rush's start to tremble all over. He could see Rush's whole body tense up. Young knew Rush was close, so he pulled his fingers out making Rush loudly whimper at the sudden loss.


Young grabbed Rush's hips with both hands and encouraged him to turn around and face him. It wasn't easy, but Young managed to turn him without getting kneed. Rush was babbling incoherently at this point. He grabbed the sides of the tub again. Young lifted and maneuvered them until he had Rush poised above him.


"Are you ready?" Young asked, even if he could tell Rush was more than ready. Rush shook his head then nodded, his wet hair flying around his face.


Young guided Rush down, slowly onto his straining cock. He watched Rush for signs of discomforted. Finally asking Rush to open his eyes. Rush blinked his eyes open and stared at Young. His eyes were black, and shining with desire, but he was chewing on his bottom lip again. Young wanted to reach up and stop him, but he didn't want to let go of Rush's hips. Young looked down and could see Rush was still hard, his pretty cock standing proudly with pre-come glistening on the tip. Rush's breaths were coming in short pants as Young eased in, inch by inch.


Young took his time, and soon Rush was fully seated. He bent his knees and pulled Rush up against his chest. Young tightened his grip on his hips, and thrust upwards, holding Rush there against him.


Rush gasped again and threw his head back, once more squeezing his eyes shut. But he moved with Young, riding him as he moved. They found a rhythm, their bodies slapping together, causing the water to lap against the side of the tub in concert to their movement. Rush rocked with him, his hands finally letting go of the side of the tub and holding tight to Young's shoulders. The want. The need. The pleasure. The ecstasy was thrumming between their bodies.


Young let his legs slip, and Rush fell back against his thighs, Young thrust again, digging his fingers into Rush's hips to pull him closer. Rush groaned, deep, guttural, and dropped his hands on top of Young's to keep them in place.


Young could feel his need for release building. Coiling under his skin, needing to be released but he wanted this to last forever. This one moment for Rush to feel as desirable as Young saw him. But it was too much even for Young to hold on too. He slid one hand away and fastened it around Rush's prick. He was still hard, the flesh hot in Young's palm. Young gave it a firm stroke and another. Rush moaned and shook his head. He blindly reached out to find some place to put his hand as he rocked his hips forward into Young's, finally landing on Young's chest. Rush dug his fingers in and bit his lip harder, making it swell and bleed.


"It's okay, kiddo. I want us. Together, now." Young had barely said the words and they were both coming. Both swept away in blinding lights and a dizzyingly whirl of emotions, leaving them both gasping for air. Rush was shaking as the sensations ripped through him. Young held on, riding it out, feeling it vibrate through his own body. Rush suddenly flopped his head down onto Young's chest, Young softening inside him. Young was afraid Rush couldn't catch his breath until he finally spoke.


"That was..." Rush's voice sounded broken. Young quickly put both arms around him and held on. Rush body started convulsing as aftershocks racked his body. When Rush finally calmed down to slight tremors, Young held him back and brushed his hair from his face and said, "That was wow...we came at the same time, you realize that?"


Rush burst out laughing, letting his head drop against Young's chest again, completely wrung out, exhausted, satiated and undone. He was grinning so big, and Young was sure he was seeing and hearing things.


"Did you just laugh?"


"Nothin' new there, Colonel. I laugh all the time."


"No, you don't."


"I think I would know if I laughed or no'."


"I've seen you amused. A wry smile. Maybe heard a chuckle." Young teased. "In all the time I've known you, I have never heard you straight up laugh out loud."


Rush cocked his head a moment, thinking. Young could see Rush's eyes were bright for a second then Rush's closed his eyes, and buried his face into Young's chest. Young tilted Rush's face back to him with one finger on his chin. "Hey hey. Come on, kiddo. I love that I made you laugh. You have a great laugh."


Young watch as Rush's cheeks bloomed red. Rush ducked his head back down and whispered. "I'm just really happy." He trailed his finger over Young's chest, embarrassed how much that revealed about him. Because he was happy, for the first time, truly happy since he lost Gloria. She had made him laugh like that. He had almost had that happiness with Mandy.


Young touched Rush's cheek, tracing the dampness. He brushed back Rush's hair. Young worked his fingers down and rubbed across Rush's swollen lip. Remembering Rush had bitten it so hard, he had broken the skin, but at least it was no longer bleeding. Young pressed against it until Rush moaned and opened his lips. Young moved his fingers inside and slowly pumped. He slid his other hand down Rush's back, over the curve of his buttocks and slipped a finger between his cheeks. Young pressed inside and pumped in conjunction with the fingers in Rush's mouth. Rush sucked on his fingers lazily for a few minutes.


"I'm really happy too," Young whispered. "You make me happy."


Rush didn't make a sound. He just shuddered all over; one final orgasm ran through his body. Young held his breath until Rush stilled. He looked down to find Rush's eyes were open and unfocused. His lips slightly parted with Young's fingers still inside.


"Nick?" Young whispered and moved his fingers. Rush stayed still, his eyes unblinking. "Nick, please?"


Young withdrew his fingers and brushed the side of Rush's face. Concern was edging out the warmth of afterglow and contentment. "Nick, are you all right?"


Nothing. Young could feel the rise and fall of Rush's chest as he breathed.


"Come on, Nick. Talk to me," Young patted his face.


Finally Rush drew in an audible breath. He blinked but still didn't speak. Young pulled him closer still, Rush curled up between his legs, head still resting against his chest. Then Rush's eyes closed again as if he couldn't keep them open any longer. Young rubbed his cheek against the top of Rush's head while the water slowly cooled. Young felt him relax and watched Rush slip into sleep and he felt his own heart ache at the sight.


It was getting late, Young reached for his watch, stretching his fingers as far as they would go. He couldn't reach it but managed to knock the shaving kit enough he could read the time. It was late. He needed to wake Rush up so they could go. He didn't want to, but the water had cooled enough he was starting to get cold, so he knew Rush would be freezing soon.


Young looked up when he heard a quiet knock on the door. TJ peeked her head in and smiled.


Young held up a finger to signal he needed a minute but much to his chagrin, TJ tiptoed over to the tub. He unconsciously covered Rush with his hands.


TJ rolled her eyes but smiled again. She punched the keyboard on the tub, and the water started warm back up. "I'll come back in an hour. You owe me." She handed him his watch after she set an alarm on it.


"Thanks," Young whispered.


TJ slipped out, and Young closed his eyes and drifted off.