Perhaps it was a good omen they were heading towards the very beginning of time, going back to the start, to the epicenter of the Big Bang that had created this universe.
Everett was the less romantic of the two of them, more of a pragmatist, but even he recognized the significance of Destiny's true purpose, finally seeing all the pieces fall into place to explain Rush's aberrant behavior over the past year. The Ancients had started out on this journey but they would have reached its end ten thousand years ago when they ascended, able to see all of time and space, and travel anywhere in the blink of an eye. They knew what was at the end of this long journey and he wondered if they were laughing at Destiny's unwilling crew, or strangely pleased that it had not all been for nothing. Though if Daniel Jackson was to be believed then they probably didn't care either way.
According to Rush's calculations Destiny was still years away from the source of what could be an intelligence from the dawn of time itself; years that could almost be counted on one hand rather than the millions of years that had already passed for Destiny. However, they were barely a third of the away across this hostile galaxy and the drones were learning too fast, lying in wait for them every time they dropped out of FTL. Destiny had barely survived the last confrontation.
Eli had suggested a single FTL jump that would use all their remaining energy, taking them beyond the reach of the drones. Of course Rush hated the idea, convinced the journey was as important as the destination, accumulating data along the way that would make sense of what they found at the end. To him, skipping two thirds of a galaxy was tantamount to missing a small step in an experiment leading to unforeseen, possibly catastrophic results.... or to nothing at all. A failed experiment.
In the end it was Everett's decision and he went with the facts. He was a soldier and he knew when the odds were stacked too far against them. They would never survive another encounter with the drones, and if they could not drop out of FTL to pick up fuel or stop at likely planets for food then they would never survive... period. He had to put the crew first, and Eli's plan offered them a greater chance of survival, his calculations double-checked by Chloe. They would sleep through the next three years, locked into the stasis chambers with no need for food or water. By the time they awoke they would have put this miserable galaxy and a whole void between them and the machines that were trying to destroy them. It was the only way.
One by one he watched as his family stepped into their assigned pod, feeling a sense of duty to ensure each of them was stable before moving on to the next. Eventually it was just the three of them left so it was a bad time to discover only two of the pods were operational. Both Rush and Eli were capable of fixing the damaged pod given enough time but time was not on their side.
"According to Rush, if two of us go into the pods now, today, the one that stays outside could keep minimal life support going for two weeks before it starts eating into the power reserved for the jump."
With insufficient energy they could fall short of the next galaxy and drift for thousands of years, or Destiny could lose all power to the pods and everyone would die. Everett couldn't trust Rush not to allow his passion for the journey to override common sense, perhaps bottling out and keeping the life support going past the two week deadline in some misguided belief he could find a way to cloak them from the drones. Rush would end up killing them all, but Everett couldn't order Eli to stay behind on the off-chance he could fix the pod in time. So that left only him even though he knew it was a death sentence - suicide. Yet it was his sworn duty to protect each of these people to the best of his ability, to give his life for them if necessary. He had lost his way at first, too caught up in his own problems to fulfill his duty - his failed marriage, and his constant battle to retain respect and command on Destiny - but he had found the right path eventually. Now he was ready and willing to make that sacrifice for them all, except Eli wasn't prepared to accept that.
"If you stay out, it's automatic - you're dead. If I do it, at least I have a chance. Maybe even a better chance than Rush." He smiled at Everett. "For too long I've been content to stay in his shadow... play the part of the eager young protégé, take his orders. But... I'm not afraid to say it any more. I'm smarter than him."
Eli surprised Everett with his insistence on being the one to stay behind. Just a few months earlier he might have refused outright but Eli had changed on this journey. They all had, and now he was asking for Everett's trust in him, demanding it even. Everett gave it to him, and in doing so he felt another shift inside, filling with pride for Eli.
As he stood in front of T.J.'s pod he knew she was another part of his life that he had to let go, just as he had finally accepted the end of his marriage to Emily and wishing Telford well. He owed T.J. the chance to find real happiness too, something he knew they would never find together. So he said a final silent goodbye to a future with her as anything other than a friend, colleague, and subordinate. It felt right, the calmness growing stronger at the center of his previously turbulent thoughts and feelings.
Eli and Rush joined him and he watched Rush enter his pod. For the first time Rush was courteous to both of them, leaving Everett with a tightness in his chest as he thought of the journey they'd traveled over the past year - the anger, the betrayals, the torments and the regrets. It had re-shaped him, making him acutely aware of just how far he had walked down a dark path before finally stepping back out into the light. His acrimonious relationship with Rush had changed too, each of them more mindful of the other, a little more respectful. Everett had no illusions, aware Rush had expected him to be the one to stay behind, knowing he would never be able to fix the pod so would die, but Everett had learned to read Rush, and the former malice was missing. Perhaps Rush didn't truly wish him dead anymore but neither did he want Everett to remain a thorn in his side. They were not friends but Everett knew they could be one day, given more time.
Maybe there would be time now, except he had to give Eli one last chance to change his mind and save himself. He owed the kid that much.
"You're sure about this, right?"
"I've never been more sure of anything in my life."
His last sight before falling into cryosleep was Eli's confident smile, and his first sight upon awakening was the same. He had asked Eli to rig it so one of the two of them would awaken first, leaving the rest of the crew in stasis until he was certain they had reached a planet that could be foraged for food. As he stepped out of his pod he noticed the one next to his cycle down, and the door open. Everett shook his head, realizing Rush must have set a wake-up call attached to Everett's pod. Rush blinked at them both, openly smiling without guile when he saw Eli standing there.
"I knew you could do it, Mr. Wallace," Rush stated in his soft brogue, quickly shaking off the lethargy of stasis to step forward.
He didn't wait for a response, quickly heading off towards the control center; Everett and Eli followed but Everett held back by the door as Eli moved towards one of the stations.
"We're not in FTL. Any sign of the drones?" he asked.
"I'm checking long range sensors, scanning back into the void. Nothing." Eli grinned. "We made it."
"What about the world below us?" Everett asked.
Rush answered this time. "Nothing but desert for hundreds of miles around the Stargate. Minerals only." He looked across at Everett. "Minerals we need."
Rush shrugged. "Not much. A few handfuls at most but the tricky part is extracting it."
"A two man job then. You and me," Everett stated.
Rush's lips pulled together and Everett wondered if he was recalling another time they were alone together on a far distant world, of being abandoned, left to die alone. It was one of Everett's many regrets. He debated offering apologies, and promises never to allow his anger and distrust to override his duty and compassion again, but such promises were worthless between them. Only time and true intentions could build any trust between them. Still it didn't hurt to state the solemn promise out loud for Rush to hear.
"I won't leave you behind again."
Rush nodded slowly, not truly convinced, and they quickly gathered all the equipment they would need to mine the mineral.
"It would be better to gather as much of the source material as possible and refine it later... back on board," Rush stated, and Everett deferred to his judgment.
Stepping from the confines of the ship under the open skies of a new world was always an amazing feeling even though the air on this world was hot and dry, with triple suns pounding down on them from high above. Rush already had his handheld monitor out and was scanning the surrounding area.
"This way," he stated and walked off without waiting for a response, leaving Everett to push the Kino sled carrying most of the mining equipment.
They walked in silence for at least an hour before Rush stopped and indicated towards a rocky outcrop rising up from beneath the fine-grained sand.
"Over there. Density of the mineral is good but we'll still need around 300 pounds of the rock if we're to refine enough back on-board."
Everett grabbed the pneumatic drill. "Point me in the right direction."
Rush shrugged and indicated towards a part of the rock that had small veins of a blue running through it - the mineral they needed. The rock was denser than expected, making it hard to cut even a small sliver so they worked together under the hot suns for hours, taking turns operating the drill while the other piled the broken rock pieces onto the Kino sled. When Rush held up his hand and indicated towards his wristwatch Everett turned off the drill.
"Time to head back. FTL jump in 72 minutes. Wouldn't want either of us to get left behind," Rush added with a slight twist of his lips.
Everett decided to ignore the veiled reference back to their dark past this time. "Do we have enough of the mineral?"
Rush's lips quirked again as he hefted up one more small splinter of rock and dropped it onto the sled. "We do now."
It was such a silly thing Everett couldn't help but smile, lightening the tension between them. They actually exchanged a few words on the way back to the Stargate, just small observations mostly but it was as if the dark cloud hovering over them had started to dissipate, letting in a few rays of sunlight for the first time since they met. It was a strange but pleasant feeling.
Back on Destiny Everett spent the next few hours pulverizing the rock to make it easier to refine the mineral Rush wanted while Eli watched with a slightly bemused smile, as if he had registered a slight thawing in Everett's relationship with Rush. Destiny had jumped back into FTL as soon as they returned, heading for the next Stargate seeded ahead of them. Everett hoped it would be a planet where they could forage enough food to make it practical to wake up some of the others. The three of them were already rationing the remaining food carefully, trying not to expend too much physical energy except out of necessity, but after several days Destiny dropped out of FTL to orbit a world that once more proved inhospitable.
According to the data the Stargate stood on a plinth of stone near the base of a solid rock outcrop. The outcrop stood tall, like an island sentinel amid a sea of lava. Everett watched as Rush studied the read-outs, seeing the frown crease his face until, with an annoyed sigh, Rush looked across at him.
"There has to be a reason for stopping here. If it's not for food, water, fuel, or materials then it must be for part of the main mission. I need to go down there."
Everett wanted to refuse permission on the grounds it was too dangerous but instead he nodded. "Can the environment suits handle the heat?"
Rush had opened his mouth expecting to have to argue his case, looking stunned when he realized Everett was not fighting him over this. "Yes. It's within tolerance. I'll get suited up then."
"I'm going with you."
Rush's eyes narrowed warily, and a tight nod was all Everett gained from Rush before they were heading to the gate room where Eli helped them suit up.
"Destiny is only giving you two hours and 13 minutes to FTL," Eli stated, drawing their attention to the countdown clock. They could override it but Everett figured two hours ought to be more than enough time to check out the small area around the Stargate, and Rush didn't disagree.
As they stepped through the Stargate the heat seemed to smack into them, forcing them to take a useless step backwards. Without the suits Everett knew they would have been roasted instantly, and for a moment he wasn't sure the suits could hold up for two minutes, let alone two hours. The sweat was already pouring off his body, trickling down his forehead and stinging his eyes.
"This way," Rush stated and moved off as fast as he could within the confines of the bulky environment suit.
He was heading towards an opening in the sheer rock face behind the Stargate, climbing steps that looked too uniform to be natural. Silently Everett hoped the rock would add an extra layer of protection from the hot air above the super-heated, fast moving lava. He sighed in relief when the temperature dropped substantially as they moved into the opening. Beyond was a passage leading deeper into the rock. It was barely wide enough with the added bulk of the environment suits and Everett hoped the passage did not narrow any further. As it was he didn't believe they could turn around and would have to walk out backwards if necessary.
They walked for several minutes, the passage angling upwards on a 45 degree incline, partially lit up by the fiery light of the lava behind them playing across the walls. One moment he was in the narrow passage and in the next it had opened out into a circular, domed room about twenty feet across. The glow from the lava hadn't penetrated this far but the lights on his and Rush's suits, and from the Kino lit up the enclosed space, reflecting back off gleaming metallic walls covered in strange symbols. Everett could tell just from his movements how excited Rush was over this discovery.
"Pan your head camera. I need all of it," Rush demanded, and in the scheme of things it was a small request so Everett complied without a murmur, making certain he didn't miss a single spot of the entire room even though the Kino was also recording everything they saw.
It took over an hour to be sure, with Rush also using his camera just in case Everett's suit camera or the Kino proved faulty, or they simply missed a vital spot. The excitement in Rush's voice as he picked out certain symbols had Everett smiling throughout, seeing a different side to the scientist that he liked. Rush was insisting on another pan across the whole room when Everett felt a vibration beneath their feet slowly building in intensity. The room seemed unchanged, with no dislodged dust or crack of metal but it had felt ominous nonetheless.
"We should leave," he ordered, his gut telling him something was amiss.
"No! One more pass-."
The next shake was a little more violent, leaving them holding onto the nearest wall and each other. The passageway was opposite them and in Everett's opinion it looked a little brighter than earlier. The ominous sensation in his gut grew to a klaxon resounding inside his head and he grabbed Rush by one arm and began to drag him towards the passage. The Kino shot ahead of them and Rush tried to stand his ground at first like a recalcitrant child but he froze as if noticing the brighter glow for the first time. Everett could tell he was torn, the scientist in him wanting to stay and examine the symbols, but fortunately Rush's survival instincts were starting to kick in now. Everett forged ahead through the narrow passage, fear tempting him to move faster as the path sloped down towards the entrance, but the soldier in him was warning him not to rush headlong into potential danger. The passage grew brighter and the air hotter as they approached the outside until the heat became almost unbearable, much hotter than he recalled from before. Everett froze when he finally reached the surface, seeing the lava several feet higher than when they had first entered. The lower steps had already gone and the lava was barely two feet below the plinth of rock upon which the Stargate stood, and it was rising rapidly.
"We have to jump," he ordered, not waiting for a response because the gap was widening with each passing second leaving no time for arguments.
Although he had made a promise never to leave Rush behind he had no means of forcing Rush to jump first as the passage and remaining steps were too narrow to allow the man to pass him. Everett cried out as the super-heated lava taxed his suit to the limit as he jumped over the gap between the edge of the remaining steps and the rock plinth, hoping the suit wasn't melting against his skin. He turned and waited for Rush, watching him hesitate as the gap widened further.
"JUMP!" he ordered.
For once Rush obeyed but he was no athlete and it was just a fraction too far, leaving Rush teetering on the edge, arms whirling as he overbalanced, falling backwards towards the lava. Everett grabbed the front of his environment suit and pulled hard, both of them sprawling onto the heated rock plinth supporting the Stargate. Righting himself quickly, Everett used the Kino to dial up Destiny, pulling Rush to his feet as the wormhole exploded outwards before settling back within the ring. They stumbled through with the wormhole snapping closed behind them, just moments before the lava reached the lip and spread into Destiny's gate room.
Eli rushed up but wisely kept his distance as some type of gas encased both him and Rush, cooling down their super-heated suits. It was a relief to finally remove the helmet and take a deep breath of the cool air inside Destiny though he had to smile at the image of Rush with his face soaked in sweat and hair plastered to his skull - just like him no doubt. Eli seemed to realize something had happened and for once he didn't pry.
"I'll take the Kino to the control room," he offered, leaving them alone as they removed the suits.
Rush was silent for a long time but as they finished hanging up the suits, leaving Destiny's systems to inspect them for damage, he spoke up in soft voice, eyes boring into Everett's.
"You could have left me there to die."
"I promised I'd never leave you behind again."
Rush stared hard at him, eventually walking away without another word, but for the first time Everett had seen a glimmer of warmth in his eyes for him.
By earlier agreement, they had decided not to contact Earth using the Stones immediately, not wanting Earth to interfere until they had fully assessed their current situation. After all, if the SGC had discovered a way to rescue them, either using another planet with a naquadria core like Langara or some other means of crossing the galaxies separating them, then they would have been waiting here when they came out of stasis. That hadn't happened so Everett knew they were still on their own out here, and if Destiny didn't find a planet rich in water and edible items within two more days then the three of them would have to consider going back into stasis rather than starve to death.
With very little food remaining they agreed there was little point in waking up anyone else for a turn on the stones only for their bodies to experience nothing but thirst and hunger before they returned to stasis. However Everett insisted that if he, Rush, and Eli did have to return to stasis then he wanted to inform Earth of their decision in a quick debriefing. If nothing else he wanted Earth to know they had survived the long journey across two thirds of a hostile galaxy and the void leading to this new galaxy, not wanting to give the SGC any reason to give them up for dead.
It didn't come to that as Destiny jumped out of FTL several hours later to orbit around a blue and green Class M planet. Initial reports from Destiny looked good so they made the decision to wake T.J. and several others who could perform tests on the water, and on the animals and plants living in abundance in the area surrounding the Stargate, as well as a few others to do the hunting and gathering. It was good to see them all, welcoming each other like family, though they quickly got to work organizing trips through the Stargate.
That day he, Eli, and Rush had their first decent meal since awakening, and as the newly awoken crew gathered in the mess hall Everett noticed how Rush moved between them all with only a little awkwardness and trepidation. In turn they treated him with respect, leaving Everett wondering if the enmity between him and Rush at the beginning of this journey had caused all of the friction they'd experienced with Rush; a defense mechanism, with Rush pulling back from social contact, and turning him into an outsider. Everett knew that wasn't the whole reason, that Rush had done more than enough alone to ostracize himself, but the bad blood between them had reinforced it. Without that bad blood the anger, distrust, and resentment had faded substantially.
With a full stomach and a happier heart Everett made his way to where they stored the communication stones. It was time to contact Earth.
The next two years were full of good times and bad, with everyone finding their place as they deciphered the symbols on the metallic walls of the lava world to gain greater insight on what was waiting just ahead of them. They lost a few good people along the way but gained three new lives. Everett happily presided over several marriages, including T.J's to Varro, and rejoiced when T.J.'s daughter was born nine months later. Then T.J. found a means of regenerating Lisa Park's damaged eyes, allowing her to see again.
His relationship with Rush... with Nick had changed too. Everett had proved a quick study in learning Ancient, his military background surprisingly useful in helping to decipher some of the symbols, leading them to discoveries on other worlds they came across. A few quiet words with Nick over the work had led to small talk, then to longer conversations and a discovery of the many things they had in common. This in turn led to a fuller understanding of each other, and to friendship. They argued sometimes, heatedly, though without the anger, bitterness, and resentment that had overshadowed their early days on Destiny, but more often they found moments of laughter and companionship together, finally learning to trust in each other.
Several years after that Destiny reached the epicenter of the Big Bang, the beginning of all life in this universe, shrouded in a nebula more beautiful than anything Everett had ever seen... until he turned his eyes away from the beauty ahead to the man standing by his side. As Nick listened to the song from the dawn of time revealing the remnants of the universe that had come before them, with his eyes bright and his face lit up in joy, the final piece fell into place for Everett Young.
He reached out, arms wrapping around Nick in a heartfelt hug and felt Nick's arms tighten around him in turn, both blinking as their lips met in a first kiss... unexpected but definitely not unwanted.
Pulling apart a fraction Nick stared at him for a long moment, eyes locked onto his asking silent questions that Everett answered with a gentle nod, joyfully and with love. Nick dipped his head, lips still curved into a smile as they kissed with full intent for the first time. As the pleasure took him Everett opened his eyes for a moment to see beyond Nick to the beauty ahead of Destiny.
They had started this journey as enemies, hating each other, slowly changing their hearts and minds as they listened to the song of the universe guiding them onward. So perhaps it was fitting that he and Nick had finally found each other at the beginning and end of all things.