Not a sound interrupted the silence of the battlefield, it was as if life itself had come to a halt. The stench of blood and death was heavy in the air, bodies upon bodies as far as the eye could see. It was a strange feeling, to be the only ones still standing, but John didn't have the time to dwell on that. Ariondu was off even worse than himself and he would need some time to rest – somewhere safe and warm. Both of them were exhausted to the bone, barely managing to put one foot in front of the other, but they needed to move, anyway. The carnage seemed to go on forever before their eyes as they walked towards the edge of the battlefield. It was ironic that the place that had once been one of the most beautiful parts of Shinari was now nothing more than a huge grave.
The planet would recover from what they'd done, the population in this area might not.
John didn't care what happened to the people who had hunted him and his mate like rabid dogs. He had no pity for the humans who had forced them to fight when all they had wanted to do was live in peace and quiet for a while.
"Alon," his companion said, the pet-name sounding breathless. John could see the bloody foam froth at the corner of his mouth. "I'm dying."
The words felt worse than a punch to the face. "No," John said. "No, you're not dying." Denial swept over John like a tidal wave. It wasn't supposed to happen like that, Ariondu should have been safe. It was John's job to keep him safe. It was his purpose to protect his mate. John wanted for them to die peacefully, of old age, in a couple of thousand years. That's how it should have happened. They'd made it, hadn't they? They'd survived the army the humans had sent for them. He and Ariondu were supposed to live happily ever after this time, they'd earned it, damn it. "You're not dying," John repeated as if saying it one more time would make it true.
"Don't be stupid, Aloneru," his mate snapped. "That last wave, too many got through our defenses. I've got more wounds than I can heal and there is nothing you can do about it."
John stubbornly kept walking, taking most of his mate's weight onto his own shoulders. By the end of it he practically carried him. Tentatively John reached out with all of his senses in the hopes to get hold of a strand of Essence. He had no luck, there was not much left of that energy that infused all living beings. They'd sucked most of it out of the surrounding area, using it in their defense. Now the air was dead and cold, the corpses all around them covered with a fine patina of frost.
Finally they reached some trees which blocked their view of the grisly battleground. "Here," Ari said. He let go of John's shoulder, falling onto the grass in an unceremonious heap. John erected an air bubble around them, keeping out the awful smell. If his mate had to die now, he should at least be able to do so in what little comfort could be found under the circumstances.
"Alon." It was just one word, but it carried such hopelessness, disappointment and sorrow that John's heart broke. It was the recognition of the loss of all their hopes and plans.
Kneeling down next to his mate, John felt his eyes sting. He swallowed heavily, fumbling to take Ari's hands. "Please don't die," he blurted, closing his eyes against the sick feeling in his stomach. This was so unfair. They'd only been together for a measly two thousand years. Not nearly as long as it could be, not nearly enough, considering their life-expectancy.
"Don't you dare guilt-trip over this," Ariondu said, and John's eyes flew open again. There was a knowing look on his mate's face and John had to admit that yes, he felt that is was all his fault. He was the shield, it was his duty and his privilege to protect Ariondu. If someone had to die, it should have been John.
"Ari, I - " John tried to say, but he was interrupted.
"No, that's something I won't argue over." Ariondu sounded his usual stubborn self and John had to swallow hard once more against the tears that were stinging in his eyes. "If anyone is to blame, it's them. If they'd left us alone, none of this would have happened. Now, stop looking at me like this. This isn't goodbye and you know it. We'll meet again. Find me." His blue eyes were glued to John's as he squeezed John's fingers weakly. For one precious moment John could feel Ari's mind brush against his own, wrapping around him in a loving embrace before slipping away. To John it felt like part of his soul had been ripped from him, leaving him empty and cold.
"I won't ever stop looking for you." The ritual words almost got stuck in John's throat. He bent down and brought their mouths together one last time, just a short brush of lips against lips. His mate sighed, breathed once more, a small puff against John's lips, then stilled.
John let go of the rapidly cooling hands, but stayed on his knees next to his mate's gently glowing body. He'd have stayed there forever, unable to leave – and perhaps that was why Ari's body turned into sparkling dust. It blew around John for a moment, twirling tightly as if to touch him one last time.
"I'll find you," John said. The dust rose into the sky until it vanished from John's sight, turning his world dark. He closed his eyes for a moment, then he got up, one hand already on the hilt of his sword. Reaching out as far as he was capable of on his own, John sent out a tendril of power searching for the people who were responsible for this. He found them easily, tucked away safely in their castles and mansions, far away from the death on the battlefield.
Purposefully, he strode off. Afraid of the power of the Reincarnates, were they? Afraid of the madness that was spreading through the ranks of the Reincarnates, were they? Well, then John would give them something else to be terrified of: the anger of a Reincarnate whose mate had been killed. The madness that some of their kin had been infected with was nothing compared to the fury of a broken bond.
Nothing could stop him now.
John jerked upright, the knife he kept under his pillow in his hand before he fully awoke. "Fuck!" He let go of the knife to rub his damp face. It had been one of those dreams again. One of the ones about his past lives. They were crystal clear, HD and Dolby Surround Sound, while he was dreaming, but frustratingly hazy once he was awake. It made John want to howl with frustration and anger.
If only John could finally find him, could put a face to the name and the voice pleading with him in his dreams.
With a sigh, John got up. It was 0500; four hours from now he was supposed to shuttle a General to the "secret" scientific outpost. There was more than enough time to go for a run beforehand. At least the weather was good – sunny of course, since the next sunset was in late February, and the temperature a pleasant 2 degrees Celsius.
Running usually calmed John, gave him perspective and made dealing with the longing for his mate easier. But the dreams came more frequently now and John found it ever harder to push those memories away.
Ari's voice kept echoing in his head like a siren song, filling him with such longing that his chest hurt.
Things were weird this time around, different. Never in the past five lives had he hurt so badly, not even after decades of searching and never finding Ariondu. John had only been looking for a little over twenty years now, but he already felt brittle as glass, as though the longing had put cracks all through his body.
He stopped running and rubbed a hand over his chest; the pressure there had been getting worse every day. Feeling physically sick, he leaned against the wall of one of the labs for a bit, catching his breath. Just more proof something had changed.
John suppressed the urge to hit the wall next to him. Well, that had been a bust: running hadn't worked at all. There was a headache building just behind his eyes, too. Slowly, as if a heavy weight was dragging him down, John made his way back to his quarters. He felt unreasonably sore and hollow in a way that was outright disturbing. Like there was an empty place in his soul that Ariondu needed to fill, or John would just collapse from the separation.
It was a ridiculous thought of course. John knew that he was perfectly capable of living his life without finding his mate. But this time it seemed to be so much harder. Every day that he had to spend apart from the person he was meant to be with seemed to amount in an unmanageable effort. It was maddening.
Calling himself a sentimental fool, John opened the door to his quarters and pulled off his sweaty clothes. His skin itched and burned, John felt as if he could make out every single hair on his body. Cursing under his breath, John stepped under the cool spray of the shower. It took some time, but finally the cold water soothed his irritated skin and helped along with getting rid of the headache. He began to feel better.
John leaned his head against the tiles. "I won't ever stop looking for you, Ariondu. I promise."
With that, he pushed all thoughts about Ari to the back of his mind. He couldn't dwell on it today. He had a job to do.
John had to admit he was a bit surprised. Not that he wasn't used to being shot at or anything, but usually that happened in a war zone and didn't involve any Alteran drones. This was a first.
John had never been overly interested in whether or not the humans had discovered the existence of their ancestors already, thinking that if they had it would be all over the news. Looked like he had been wrong. Not only had they found out about the Alterans, but they'd kept the knowledge from the public eye long enough to actually figure out how to use the technology. They had no idea what to do when it came to Alteran tech, but ignorance had never stopped the humans from doing what they wanted before. It was something John had always admired and feared in them. At least they could admit to their lack of knowledge, if the Scottish-sounding guy who had almost killed him was anything to go by.
John just hoped that if they had found the Astria Porta as well and had learned to use it, that they treated the alien races they encountered with more tolerance than humankind had shown for the Reincarnated in the past.
He poked at the gel pads in the arm rests of the chair curiously, trying not to slip up and reveal how much he really knew about what the Scottish guy had just called the "Stargate". Then he walked around the control chair, inspecting it from all sides. He'd never seen one of these chairs up close, the last time he'd glanced at one like this had been a couple of thousand years ago.
Truth be told, John had never had much more than a passing interest in Alteran technology. Sure, it was shiny, sparkled, and did all sorts of interesting things, but finding Ariondu always took top priority in any lifetime and often that search didn't leave much room for something else. Now, however, John thought he might indulge a little, give in to his curiosity and the strange urge to sit down in the weird chair.
Listening with only half an ear, John started to sit down.
"…the Ancients having explored this galaxy for millions of years before ... Major, please don't…" The guy tried to stop him but John would have none of it.
"Come on, what are the odds of me having the same genes as these guys?" John asked then lowered himself into the control chair. The second John was properly seated, it lit up, reclined and started a warm, welcoming hum right in the back of John's skull.
Scottish guy said something, then ran off but John was too distracted by all the new sensations and the almost gleeful welcome the chair seemed to give him. This was so cool!
John had no idea how long it took for the guy to come back or whom he brought with him. He didn't really care either, because suddenly all of his senses were filled with Ariondu.
Surprise. Confusion. Recognition. Happiness. Bliss. Longing. Love. Anger. Lust. Frustration. Belonging. Joy.
John needed all of his self-control not to lose it then and there the moment Ariondu stepped into the room and the bond snapped into place.
The General was talking. John had to force himself to listen to what he was saying, to focus on anything else than the Want. Need. Claim. Mine. that was thrumming in his veins. He wanted to touch Ariondu so badly.
"…said don't touch anything."
"I … I just sat down," John said, the words nearly getting stuck in his throat. If he was sounding a little breathless and confused at the moment, John hoped people would blame it on the whole glowy chair experience.
"Major, think about where we are in the solar system," Ari decided to say just then. His voice all but made John come in his pants. God, how he had missed hearing that voice.
John was vaguely aware of the starmap that was now glittering prettily above him on the ceiling. While it was certainly nice and all, John really wanted to be alone with Ari now. Preferably somewhere private where no one would observe the Surge – or the sex he totally planned on having with Ari as soon as they had a few minutes to themselves.
"Did I do that?" John asked, frowning up at the ceiling. Of course it was a stupid question, who else could have done it? But seriously, John had an image to maintain, at least until he'd talked with Ari about what would happen next.
"Sweet Jesus, those people are worse than a dog with a bone," John said twenty minutes later as he walked briskly beside Ariondu – no, "Rodney."
"What did you expect after you made their every wish come true with your obscenely pretty gene? You're practically a wet dream for every scientist in this base – and not just because you have ridiculously sexy hair," Ari snapped, very carefully not touching him.
"Aww, Rodney, you make me feel the love," John replied. He wished they would arrive at Rodney's quarters already because he really needed to touch his mate now, or he was going to burst.
"Hey," John said, lowering his voice and moving that bit closer to Rodney, "does that mean I'm a wet dream for you, too?"
"Stop that, it's not funny," Rodney said angrily. He sounded hurt now, as well. "I've been fucking dreaming of your voice for months on end. And I can tell you most of the time it was no fun at all."
John swallowed hard. So Ariondu had felt it, too.
"Yeah, I know, buddy. I'm sorry." The urge to touch his mate was near unbearable now, forcing John to take a deep breath to center himself. He couldn't risk slipping up and Surging in the middle of a corridor.
"Shut up, we're there." Rodney sounded to all the world as if he was about to rip off John's head any second now – only John knew how much willpower it must cost his mate not to touch him in public. The bond demanded they touch and unite completely. The denial of that need was like a sharp knife in John's gut, and he knew Rodney wasn't any better off.
Rodney opened one of the doors to their right and stepped in, switching on the lights. John walked in right behind him, not sparing his surroundings a single glace. His whole attention was on the man he had searched for for twenty years. His whole life, really, and six incarnations before that. Ariondu - his other half, created to be with him until the end of time.
"Mate," John whispered, his voice breaking.
"Mate," Rodney agreed just as brokenly.
They moved towards each other then. The moment they touched, fingers intertwining and mouths coming together in a bruising kiss, the world around them exploded in a shower of light. Their powers returned to them, crackling in the air like static electricity before wrapping around them tightly, thrumming in time with their heartbeats.
John was on fire. "I need," he gasped against Ariondu's skin. "Yes, yes, I know." Rodney was as desperate for contact as John was, tearing at their clothes.
The next minutes were a blur of frantic fumbling, heated kisses, fingers grappling over skin, mouths licking, biting, nipping. It was morecloserfasterharderfinally. It was being reunited after way too long.
John didn't know how long they lay panting, sticky and sweaty. Both of them were high on the Surge and the first sex with each other after a small eternity and it felt so damn good. Right then and there John didn't care much about how long they'd taken or who might have seen them enter Rodney's room. They'd think of an explanation if someone asked them about it.
"We should go back," Rodney finally said. He made no move to leave, which was totally alright with John. Lying there with Rodney's head on his shoulder while Rodney's hands stroked his side was the most relaxed John had been in this incarnation. It was where he belonged and John could have stayed a few more hours, or days like that. For the first time in a long time nothing was wrong with his universe. But of course reality had to intrude. Rodney shifted, suddenly tense, and John felt it all over.
"What's wrong, Ari?" John asked. The bond was still pulsing strongly between them from the Surge, but John didn't get any clear impressions from his mate. Surging had made them hyperaware of each other, both physically and mentally, it would take some time until they'd come down enough to use it as a means of judging each other's feelings.
Rodney sighed. "I should ask you that. Something's been bothering you. Don't deny it, you're not as good at hiding it as you think you are." He paused. "Just say it, Alon."
"You were going to go to Atlantis without me." There, he'd said it. It wasn't an accusation, merely a fact John had longed to understand. He was gonna leave me behind, was running through John's head ever since Doctor Weir had introduced Rodney as the 'Head of the Science and Research department for the Atlantis mission.'
Silence stretched until John thought Rodney wouldn't say anything to that, then Rodney sighed. The sound was tired, making John want to tuck Rodney in with an order to sleep for a week. Reality, however, wouldn't allow that, either.
"Yes," Rodney said, turning slightly to lock their gazes.
John's hand twitched before he could control his immediate urge to smooth the tufts of hair that stuck off Rodney's head at impossible angles. Instead, he waited for Rodney to continue.
"I was going to leave–" Rodney broke off. He visibly swallowed, his gaze dropping to the blanket as he hesitated for a moment. "You know that Alteran technology was always fascinating for me. Atlantis will be something new, something interesting."
Rodney stopped, but John could hear an unspoken 'I needed to get away from here.' He didn't need mind-reading abilities to interpret his mate's body language. Rodney had been about to flee from something. John just hadn't found out what that was, yet. "The chances of finding you on Earth within this lifetime were ridiculously small anyway."
"Ari," John said gently. He knew there was more to it, something his mate was holding back. John wasn't above prying, not when they were talking about something so important. "Don't do this. Tell me the truth."
Annoyance was clearly written on Rodney's face for a heartbeat, but then he smiled. "Mother hen."
John grinned at the teasing. "The one and only. Now give."
Rodney returned the grin, but immediately turned serious again. "I wasn't going to leave with the expedition at first. They didn't even have the right Stargate address until a few days ago. Although … in the past few weeks I've been tempted to help Jackson along. Since I got to the outpost I've dreamt of you every night. Headaches, migraines … I've been feeling like crap. I thought you'd died," he finally admitted in a small voice. "So I figured I might as well head to Atlantis and wait for the inevitable while helping the expedition survive." He gave a broken laugh. "With you dead, I wouldn't have made it more than five years at the most, anyway. I never last long."
Frowning, John gave in to the need to touch Rodney. He ran his hand over his mate's unruly hair a few times before he started to stroke Rodney's side. "I've been getting those headaches, too."
Something occurred to John. "They got worse on the days I shuttled stuff over here."
Rodney frowned, but his mind was already miles away taking their problem apart at light- speed. "Interesting."
John smiled, watching Rodney work his way through the problem. He'd missed this, the sharing, being together.
"What was your flight schedule?"
The question didn't come from nowhere; John had expected something along the lines. "Mondays and–"
"Thursdays," Rodney finished with John. "This is huge, Alon." He sat up, hands pushing through his hair, tousling it all over again. "Do you realize what this means for us?" he asked, excitement turning his cheeks pink. "We've started to adapt again! Finding each other on planets like Earth with their horrible overpopulation or in the vast Stargate network of Pegasus will get a bit easier. It's like our personal proximity alarm. From now on we'll know that our mate is near before we step into the same room with them. We'll be able to cover a bigger area a lot faster."
John laughed happily at the joy and excitement he could hear in Rodney's voice.
"Maybe we should try to pass the word, now that we have access to the Stargate and have a chance of reaching a few of the others. I mean, there has to be a way to organize some sort of searching pattern" It was something John had been longing for for a long time now. In every incarnation anew. He wanted something to make it easier to find his mate without having to spend decades searching for him. "Gotta say though, crippling migraines aren't the greatest thing I could imagine as a kind of compass."
Rodney snorted. "Remember that interim cycle when we lost the ability to use our powers unbounded?"
"Hard to forget." John shuddered.
Rodney sobered up with a wince. "Yeah."
Just having that time mentioned brought back the memories of the agony that had come with partially disrupted Essence flow. Power practically burning them up alive from the inside. It had been … excruciating. "I'm just glad that the population on Tuhurandi was so small back then. I don't know what I'd have done if I hadn't found you when I did."
"Yeah, believe me, I was very glad as well," Rodney said dryly, obviously as uncomfortable with the topic as John. "Still, it stands to reason that this is a transition cycle. Next time around it'll be completely different."
Laughing, John sat up, too. "Hopefully 'next time' is a long way off."
Throwing John a fond look, Rodney leaned towards him, brushing a kiss across his lips. "Agreed," Rodney said. "This time I'll try not to get stabbed quite so often."
Watching as Rodney got up, John was loath to even leave the bed. Sure, Doctor Weir had pulled out all the stops to talk John into coming to Atlantis, but there were still the proper channels to go through. All that really meant was that John would have to go back to McMurdo where he'd wait for his new orders.
He sighed when Rodney threw his BDUs at him. "Alright, alright." John started getting dressed, too.
"We should tell Elizabeth we're bonded," Rodney said while he zipped his sweater up at the neck.
John froze. "No," he snapped, immediately sorry when he saw Rodney's bewildered expression. He repeated his 'no' in a much calmer tone, continuing to get dressed.
"We've got to tell someone!" Rodney threw his hands in the air. "We can't just go and hope for the best. I won't hide this. I won't sneak around Sumner's back. I'm not going to pretend that we don't know each other either. Damn it, Alon, if I never wake up without you it'll be too soon."
"If we tell Weir now Sumner will find out. Do you think I'll be allowed to go? Strong gene or not, he'll look at me as a threat. That's how the military works here right now. They won't be happy. It'll all end in a witch hunt or with me in a holding cell. They'll see me as weapon they can control. The military thinks that they own me, anyway. You know how it is."
"But you're mine," Rodney said, pulling John into a fierce hug. "You know I won't let them–"
"I know," John whispered, hugging Rodney back just as fiercely. "They might try though, and I don't want to fight. If we have to let anyone know, then maybe we could tell someone who won't be coming with us."
For a moment, Rodney was silent. "O'Neill. He'll understand most of it from bits and pieces Jackson put together."
"Alright," John agreed, leaning against Rodney for another moment. Reluctantly, he pulled back to finish getting dressed while Rodney watched him with hunger written all over his face. It hadn't been anywhere near enough, John already felt uncomfortably far away from Rodney even though they were only a few feet apart. "Let's go," John said. There was no point in putting it off much longer.
Rodney gave him another intense look, then he led the way back to the lab. The place was as empty and undisturbed as it had been when they'd left.
"They're at lunch. With O'Neill here there'll be something nice," Rodney told him with a lopsided smile before he shoved something into John's hands. "Think 'on'."
John was in the middle of pre-flight preparations when General O'Neill climbed into the chopper. "Sir," John greeted him, almost instantly deciding that he should forge right ahead. "I need to talk to you."
"No," O'Neill said immediately with a grimace, "you can't back out of going."
John laughed. "Yes, sir, I know. Doctor Weir is a pretty scary lady, I wouldn't do that to you." An expression of relief passed over O'Neill's face. John swallowed, but he couldn't back out of talking about this either. This was what Rodney wanted. "There is something you need to be aware of, though." John continued fiddling with the chopper's controls even though he'd already done everything he needed to. It was just one more procrastination strategy, one O'Neill was seeing through easily, judging from the small quirk of his lips.
"I know you're worried about the expedition, but … you don't need to be," John said. O'Neill's politely puzzled look – almost bored – wasn't surprising. From what John had seen the man was pretty laid back. With a sigh, John took off his left glove. Pulling energy from the area wasn't hard. Even on a glacier there was enough Essence to run warmly through John's body. He stopped when the intricate Reincarnate mark on the palm of his hand began to gently glow.
O'Neill's eyebrows appeared above his sunglasses. "What the hell?"
"I'm a Reincarnate," John said.
For a moment they were both silent. John was just trying to decide whether to retrieve Rodney from this place or take off with the chopper to do … something, anything really, when O'Neill asked, "So that Blade and Shield thing? Is that true or did Daniel just talk out of his ass?" He didn't sound alarmed at all. Mostly amused, maybe a bit curious, actually.
"It's true," John said with a small smile. "Rodney and I–"
"Rodney?" O'Neill asked. Apparently there were things other than Ancient drones heading towards their aircraft that could poke holes into O'Neill's calm. "Rodney McKay? That Rodney? Don't tell me he's … what do you call him?"
"My mate." John shrugged in a 'what can you do' sort of way.
O'Neill grimaced again. "I'm sure he looks, well, OK, if you squint just right, but his personality is a little …"
When O'Neill couldn't come up with a word on his own, John laughed. "Prickly? Sure of himself?"
"I was gonna say 'arrogant,' but sure, that works, too. So which are you? Shield or Blade?"
"That's almost on the same level as asking a lady her age," John said drily.
O'Neill grinned. "Come on, Sheppard, I'm just curious."
Wishing fervently Rodney was here to deflect all the questions, John grimaced. "I think I liked it better when people screamed and ran away when we told them who we were."
"Nothing. Look, I'm not going to satisfy your curiosity. Rodney thinks you're the right guy to tell before we leave for Atlantis. This is a courtesy, nothing more. You can't tell anyone before the expedition leaves."
O'Neill cocked his head, looking at John like he was trying to figure him out. "I take it this wasn't your idea," he said after a lengthy silence.
Deciding to be honest, John shook his head. "No, if I had had my way then nobody would know until we were both through the Stargate. But Rodney thinks you're a decent guy and that you'll worry about the expedition for nothing if we keep it to ourselves."
"You're the Shield."
The statement took John off guard. He was reluctantly impressed: not many people came to that conclusion so easily. "That's right. You're quicker than you pretend to be."
"It's a survival mechanism," O'Neill said completely deadpan. "I've evaded a lot of very long and very boring explanations that way. What makes you think I won't call in a couple of MPs and have you arrested the moment we touch down at McMurdo?"
The expression on O'Neill's face was unreadable. John suspected even if O'Neill hadn't worn his aviator glasses, there would be nothing to help him read the man's eyes. "Because you you're too smart to threaten a bonded pair of Reincarnates. That, and the fact that you know the expedition might need us. It's dangerous out there."
Something in the way O'Neill held himself changed. It was subtle, but it told John that his message had been received: 'You're better off with a pair of Reincarnates on your side, than against you.' Still, O'Neill wouldn't admit to that too easily.
"It's a different galaxy. As far as we know there's no Goa'uld there."
Staring off into the clean, white expanse before him, John suppressed a shudder. "The Goa'uld aren't the only things out there that you should be afraid of," he said. O'Neill and the other humans on Earth didn't have the first clue what kinds of evil were just waiting to find them. They hadn't even seen a fraction of the worst yet. John forced himself to relax and aim for a tone that wouldn't sound lecturing. "Trust me on this one, O'Neill," he finally said, reaching for his helmet, "the universe is full of dangerous beings."
"And you're one of them?" O'Neill asked, his voice coming loud and clear over the radio.
John gave O'Neill a grin as he pulled the chopper upwards, pointing its nose towards McMurdo. "Oh yeah. Definitely."
The journey back to the base was smooth, boring, full of talk about planes and blissfully free of awkward questions. At least until O'Neill took off his headset and motioned for John to do the same.
"Your secret is safe with me. McKay's right, I was worried about my men. You'll take care of them?"
John nodded. "I'm a Shield," he said. Eons ago that would have been a pledge, but at O'Neill's frown, John added, "It's what we do."
"Right. You know I can't keep this to myself forever. Eventually, I'll have to inform the President."
"I know, sir." From O'Neill's expression John knew that he hadn't been entirely able to hide exactly how much that thought discomfited him. Just because a group of people elected a person to be president of something didn't necessarily make them suitable for the job.
O'Neill gave him a look. "For now, I won't though," he said, his expression blank. Then he undid his seatbelt and turned away to get out. Before he even opened the door, he suddenly looked back at John. "One more thing, Sheppard. Can I tell Daniel?"
That was something John wouldn't decide on his own. Concentrating, John sent a tiny tendril of energy through the bond until it flared up all bright and beautiful. John wished it could have been like that all the time, not just after they had bonded. It would make finding each other so much easier and headaches were just a shitty sort of 'radar' in his opinion. Unfortunately, this kind of contact only came with the re-awakened bond. John cherished the feeling all the more for that. Knock, knock, he sent.
'Knock, knock' jokes are the lowest form of wit, Rodney replied almost instantly, the tone of his voice betraying a certain amount of relief.
John suppressed a grin. The mental contact with Rodney was soothing the ache that was already beginning to build inside of him from the separation.
O'Neill wants to tell 'Daniel'. John had met Jackson briefly, coming away with the impression that he could be trusted, but Rodney knew him better. I think that'd be fine. Thoughts?
That'd be alright for you because I'm the one he'll pester with questions, Rodney said, the non-verbal component of his reply tinged with uneasiness.Jackson's okay.
Reluctant to cut off their connection, John sent a caress, just to have Rodney grumpily tell him that he had actual work to do before shutting it off with a wave of tenderness of his own.
John opened his eyes; he hadn't even been aware he'd closed them in the first place. "Yeah, you can tell him. But it'd be great if you could hold off on that until we're through the Stargate." The brief contact had been awesome. It wasn't anywhere near enough, but it would have to do for now.
"This is pretty hard on you, isn't it?" O'Neill was full of surprises, especially as he sat back down in the cockpit of the chopper, waving away the ground personnel.
"We're not made to be apart too much." Admitting to that wasn't easy. It was something John didn't want to talk about, or think about. Separation this soon after bonding hurt like a bitch. It was a weakness they didn't readily admit to, if they could help it. But if O'Neill knew, maybe he could speed some processes along. "There's a reason why we come in pairs."
O'Neill took off his sunglasses, looking him over critically. "I've got to talk to General Bleny and you're coming with me."
Even with O'Neill pulling some strings, the result was crappy at best. Sure, Bleny hadn't tried to keep John there, in fact he all but pushed him at O'Neill. That didn't change the fact though, that John still had to accompany O'Neill back to Colorado. John knew it would look suspicious if he didn't follow protocol at all and disobeying orders now would cost him his place on the Atlantis mission – something John wouldn't risk. Not when Rodney was looking forward to going to the city of the Alterans that much.
Which left John with being whisked away by O'Neill. The General looked apologetic but had made it clear there was nothing more he could do for John, other than have Rodney and some other scientists transported out the very next day under some sort of flimsy excuse. It was at least something, and John knew he should be grateful for that, but each additional mile separating him and Rodney burned like fire along his skin.
Stepping off the General's plane and onto the hot tarmac at Peterson was pretty much the best thing John had done in the past few hours. It meant he got to be alone and curl up somewhere until Rodney came back to him. It was ridiculous how vulnerable and drained John felt just from the separation alone. Not even the luxuries of the Learjet had distracted him from the strain, each passing minute turning it more and more into a small metal prison.
"Wait up, Sheppard!"
John balled his hands into tight fists. It really was too soon after Surge to be this far apart from Rodney and having to be social wasn't something John wanted to deal with – not even for O'Neill.
His teeth were clenched so tightly that his jaw was starting to ache, but John didn't care. "I'm sorry, General, but since I'm off duty right now, I would prefer to be alone for a while." He kept walking.
"Just get into the damn car, Sheppard, I don't want to have to knock you out and carry you."
A growl escaped John, but he turned around and stalked to the car anyway. He wouldn't put it past O'Neill to try and make good on his threat. And John really didn't want to have to hurt the man. "Don't you have better things to do than play babysitter for me?" John asked as he curled himself into a corner, half leaning against the cold plastics.
Unperturbed, O'Neill regarded John with an amused grin. "I know you said that it wasn't gonna be fun, but it seems that was a bit of an understatement. Geez, Sheppard, is it normal that you're in that much pain?"
John growled, but forced himself to shrug. O'Neill stared at him. He'd done that a lot during the flight, too, pretty much whenever John hadn't answered one of his questions quickly enough. "Kinda," he said. "We only just Surged, the bond is still raw and supercharged. Separation is … difficult during the first time. There's this … intense urge to stay close. If we don't, it hurts. I've known Reincarnates who never separated a day in their lives after they bonded."
"Do they go to the head together, too?"
John snickered at the picture that produced. "I never asked. But no, that's not the standard. We don't generally have to stay that close together all the time. We're not helpless without each other. The thing is, right after the bond flares, staying together is usually what works best." He winced, realizing he'd scratched his wrist bloody without noticing. He itched all over, it was driving him insane.
"McKay and some others are flying out tomorrow," O'Neill said, his eyes glued to the red lines. "You gonna be okay until then? You look like shit."
John had the feeling this was O'Neill at his most caring. It was touching. "Thanks sir," John said dryly. "But yeah, I'll be fine. I've survived worse." What were a little pain and itching against lifetimes of feeling incomplete? Yeah, right. "It's just a day."
O'Neill studied him a bit longer. "If you say so."
Twitching, John looked away from O'Neill and turned to watch the sights instead.
"Daniel told me there are different classes of Shields," O'Neill suddenly said. "Do I have to guess which you are or are you gonna tell me?"
"Does Doctor Jackson know you actually remember everything he tells you, or do you have him fooled, too?"
O'Neill snickered. "Answering a question with a question, Sheppard, not fair. But to answer yours, Danny talks a lot on any given day, I don't even remember half of what he says."
Momentarily forgetting everything else, John cocked his head. "Liar."
"Hey!" O'Neill said, looking pained.
"And you know it, too. You pay more attention to him than you do to most of the other people, don't you? Oh, I see." He mentally went back a few long hours, rewinding what he'd seen, what he'd heard, until he came to the part that was now wiggling in his memory like a particularly big exclamation mark. "You like him a lot, don't you?"
"So you digging into my life is okay, but me figuring out that you have the hots for Doctor Jackson isn't?" John asked with a grin. "Remember who you're talking to."
O'Neill rubbed a hand over his face, then grimaced at John. "It's just a crush. Completely harmless – and unrequited. So don't you go matchmaking."
Reading people had always been one of John's specialties. Maybe it was to make up for Rodney's cluelessness, but whatever the reason, it came in handy now and then. "I think you're wrong about it being unrequited," he said.
O'Neill leaned forwards, his eyes intense. "Sheppard, drop it."
"Yes, sir. Just let me know when you change your mind." The car slowed down until it stopped in front of a five-storey apartment building. "That's my exit. Thanks, General. For everything." He grabbed his stuff and moved to open the door.
"Sheppard," O'Neill said, quietly, "who are you really?"
Maybe he owed O'Neill that much. John smiled. He clasped O'Neill's hand to shake it. "I'm Aloneru, Wind Shield of Ariondu. Good to meet you, sir."
He was still standing there, looking up at the grey building, when the car took off again. Sighing, he got the key out of his pocket and went to find the small corner apartment O'Neill had managed to get for him. It was on the second floor, tucked away in the back.
O'Neill's questions, his curiosity and easy acceptance, it all eased a hurt John hadn't been aware of. Maybe he'd just gotten too used to the people he had always tried to protect hating him. Dropping his bag in the middle of the living room, he walked straight into the bathroom. Clothes trailed behind him, lying where he pulled them off.
He ached so much even the soft cotton hurt. It was a relief when he was naked. Hoping that a shower would help, John stepped into the small cubicle. The cool water eased the pain somewhat, but John knew that until Rodney was back, nothing would work against the ache completely. For a while he just stood there, letting the water help with the awful sensation of Rodney not being there. After a while the water turned almost painful, too, so John ruefully got out of the shower. He didn't bother with the towel that some nice soul had put out for him; instead, he created a warm breeze. The soft caress of wind was much easier to handle right then. By the time he let himself drop onto the freshly made bed he was perfectly dry.
Ari, he called, submersing himself entirely into the bond between them, travelling along it until he was there with Rodney. So close paintoofar that John knew if he wanted he could touch notalonenotalonenotalone he would be able to. It was like he was sitting next to Rodney on the plane to Peterson, watching him type rapidly on the laptop perched on the fold down table in front of him. Ari.
Deeply immersed in his work, Rodney said, "Not now, Alon." The words had barely left his mouth before he looked around, blinking rapidly a few times. What the hell are you doing here? Get back into your body, stupid. I can't leave you alone for a few hours without you doing something rash! He hit a button, closed the lid of the laptop, and leaned back, his eyes closing. Then he was there, like a wisp of wind, next to John, pushing him away, back towards where alonesoalonehurts John could sense his body.
John clung to Rodney tightly, allowing him to do whatever he wanted. As long as Rodney was there, too, he didn't really care where he ended up. It itches.
Rodney sighed. Me, too. But do you see me pushing my way through the bond until I'm barely in touch with my body anymore? No, you don't. Do you know why? Because I have a strong sense of self-preservation that you're obviously lacking.
John felt a sudden rush of giddiness. You have my self-preservation, he agreed, happily, and I have your people skills.
Now they were hovering somewhere in the middle, floating towards John. I resent that. I have plenty of people skills, Rodney told him, his voice mild.
You make them cry, John pointed out, feeling drowsy now with the giddiness draining slowly out of him. A lot.
Rodney laughed. So I do. It was a nice sound. So nice that John didn't complain past a small sound of disagreement when Rodney pushed him firmly back towards Colorado Springs. Now off you go. Back to where you belong. We'll have a talk about your risk-seeking attitude once I'm sure you can stand on your own two feet again. O'Neill said he put you into my apartment, there ought to be plenty of chocolate in the cupboard to the upper left of the sink. Have some if you can make it there.
The last John heard was, At least that idiot doesn't do that kind of shit when we're in dangerous areas. I just found him, damn it, I don't want to lose him again, then he fell asleep.
The repercussions of his stupid stunt were immediately clear when John came to. The sun was low in the sky, too low for it to be the morning. "Fuck," John moaned. He lay completely still while the wave of nausea passed over him. "I'm such an idiot." He'd lost a whole day – which was probably for the best, considering the emptiness he felt from Rodney's absence. "Fuck," John moaned. He lay completely still while the wave of nausea passed over him. "I'm an idiot."
John took a slow, deep breath, trying to decide what to do now. He'd messed up big time. Disconnecting from his body the way he'd done was dangerous enough when his mate was around, but with Rodney thousands of miles away, a speedy recovery was pretty much impossible.
Giving in to the unavoidable, John took stock of all the pains and aches of his body. Everything hurt. His head pounded, his skin felt like it was on fire, but the worst was the hollow feeling inside of him. It was setting his teeth on edge, driving him almost out of his mind. Everything in John screamed for his mate. It was a bit like the physical hunger John was feeling as well, only stronger. It was a hunger of a different kind, on a far more basic level. John ached so much with the separation that, had he been able to handle even the smallest amount of Essence without puking his guts out or collapsing, he'd reached out to Rodney again, consequences be damned.
"Quit stalling and get up already," John told himself firmly and determinately rolled onto his side. That alone exhausted him, but he stubbornly pushed himself into a sitting position until his feet touched the floor. Alright, not a good idea. Vertigo joined the nausea and the headache and John had to grip the edge of the bed to steady himself while the room spun around him madly. God damn it, this sucked. Sweat broke out all over John's skin but he grit his teeth and clung on until he felt less like keeling over.
Suddenly the kitchen seemed to be miles away. Getting there was going to be hell, but John knew that he needed to eat, needed to give his body at least that kind of energy, or Rodney would find him passed out on the floor when he came home. And wouldn't that be fun? Rodney would have his hide for pulling such a stunt for sure, then.
No, best would be to tough it out and go get that chocolate Rodney had mentioned. He could do that. "I can make it to the kitchen," John said aloud, not wanting to think about when he had picked up the habit of talking to himself like that.
Giving himself one more moment to gather his strength, John took in his surroundings for real, for the first time. This was Rodney's apartment. O'Neill had put him into Rodney's place. That explained the smug smile when the man had given him the keys. John would have loved to do some exploring, but he knew that was absolutely out of the question. No, getting to the kitchen alone would be a challenge all its own. Getting up on unsteady legs, John decided not to risk walking across the room. Instead he made his painfully slow way along the wall, leaning against it every few steps to catch his breath.
It was just starting to dawn on John that he probably should have stayed in bed a little longer, because he was pretty sure he wasn't going to make it all the way to the kitchen. At least not in one go. Looking over his shoulder, John decided that he wasn't going to make it back to the bed either He'd just have to collapse where he stood. Great, just great.
"Rodney is never gonna let me live this one down," he said to the empty apartment.
By the time he was leaning against the counter in the kitchen, John was drenched in sweat. He was shaking all over from the effort: the only thing that still kept him on his feet was his willpower, which he suspected was going to run out soon, too. John found the sweets exactly where Rodney had said they were and wiped them all to the floor, unceremoniously. Heaving a sigh of relief, John then slid down to join them. There was no way he would make it anywhere else now, not for a couple of hours at least. The first rush of energy from the chocolate made the nausea even worse, but thankfully his stomach settled after a moment.
Thirsty now, John gave the faucet a speculative look. Nope, he was not gonna make it there, not when his legs felt like overcooked pasta. "Think I'll just stay here." There was no way he could heave himself up just for a glass of water. Not yet anyway. Maybe in a couple of minutes he'd give it a try.
Sweat was itching on John's skin and the cold tiles of the kitchen floor were uncomfortable on his bare ass. If he'd known he'd end up naked on the kitchen floor he'd probably have put on a t-shirt and some shorts. Well, though luck. Nothing to do about that now.
When he was finally feeling slightly better, John reached out, letting Essence trickle into him on the smallest scale possible. It hurt, of course it did. He'd depleted his Essence resources almost completely after all and his body was telling him unmistakably that that had been a Bad Idea. John felt raw inside, as if he'd bruised something essential during his stint as an incorporeal being.
Alright, John needed more to eat. He grabbed something at random, frowning when he realized it was a PowerBar. That was so Rodney, going with that kind of barely-edible stuff. Giving a shaky laugh, John bit off a large piece of the candy, not caring about the taste. He needed food to gain back his strength; the Essence he was pulling out of the air slowly helped, but wouldn't be enough in the end. At least his hands were a little steadier now, even if he didn't think he could stand yet.
"If I thought you'd learn something from this, I'd leave you on the floor a little bit longer."
John closed his eyes in defeat at the voice coming from the living room. "Fuck," he cursed. He'd hoped he'd be a bit more steady on his feet until Rodney came home.
"Dizzy?" Rodney asked as he went down on one knee next to John.
"Maybe," John grunted, holding his roiling stomach with one hand while his other wobbled under the stress of keeping him upright. An arm slid around his shoulders, steadying him.
"You really did a number on yourself this time, John," Rodney told him. "Come on, I'll help you to the couch."
Once he was out on the living room couch, Rodney spread a blanket over him, tucking it in properly before he rushed back to the kitchen. "You know exactly how vulnerable this kind of out-of-body experience makes us. It served absolutely no purpose, but you did it anyway. Why?"
"Missed you." That didn't even begin to explain exactly how awful being so far away from Rodney had made him feel. He doubted Rodney could completely understand it either. No one but another Shield could. The impulse to get to Rodney, to be at his side, close to him, to guard him was overwhelming. Not something that was supposed to happen, but in the achy out-of-his-mind state he'd been in … his Shield-nature had taken over.
He nodded tightly,watching as Rodney opened another PowerBar for him. "Pretty much."
Rodney sighed heavily, handing over the food. It wasn't until John felt like he couldn't possibly eat another bite, or have another glass of water, that Rodney sank down on the low coffee table, watching John with bright eyes.
"Can we agree on not doing this again? Next time, just give me a nudge. I know this kind of thing, separation, is worse for you than it is for me. But you really should have let me know how bad it got this time. I'm pretty sure that just opening the bond would have helped. Promise me you won't get yourself in danger like that again."
"Sure," John agreed readily, sighing when Rodney's expression fell.
"You're just humoring me," Rodney accused.
The whole thing was so frustrating. "I can promise that I won't ever do that on purpose or while I'm in my right mind. Can we just leave it at that?"
With a sigh, Rodney nodded. He was clearly not happy, but they both knew that sometimes a newly awakened bond did crazy things to the people it was supposed to connect. Rodney's eyes were roaming the room until they came to rest on his luggage, neatly stacked next to John's own discarded bag. He got up again, pacing the room.
"Okay, what is it," John asked, irritated by Rodney's sudden change in mood.
"I, uh, don't think you'll like what I want to do," Rodney told him. "See, I want to leave a document with O'Neill. Something he can show to people. Kind of like PR? We've been running and hiding and staying out of the eye of the public for so long, it's made our lives hell. Not just ours, John, think of all the others who have been looking for their mates in vain. This is greater than you and me."
John opened his mouth, but Rodney shot him such a beseeching look that he didn't say anything.
"The Terrans, they're in a unique position. They're powerful, they have friends, they have influence all over this galaxy. If we make them our friends, too, maybe in a cycle or two we won't have so many problems finding each other. Maybe the mortals will be our friends again. We need them, you know that. We're supposed to help mortals, to guide them, but how can we do that if we can't tell them who we are? I've agreed with the others before, but I'm not so sure anymore." The pleading tone of voice really got to John. Rodney shouldn't feel like he had to beg John just to listen to his ideas. "I know it's not what you meant when you suggested that we 'try to pass the word', but I really think we need to include the humans in our plans, if we want to succeed. At least think about it? Please?" Rodney said, insecurity written in the way he held himself.
"Ari," John said, steeling himself against Rodney's open expression, "this is a phenomenally bad idea. And you are right, it's not what I meant when I said that. I was talking about our kind, not the Terrans. We can't let the humans know. They've hunted us for centuries, have you forgotten hat?"
"They were afraid."
Growling, John fought his way into a sitting position. "Yeah, there are factions that have always been afraid of us. It stopped being about the madness a long time ago, though. You know that. We're too powerful in their eyes. It doesn't matter that we don't use our powers for gain, they don't see us like that. They look at us through their mortal eyes and only see what they'd do with our powers."
"Not everybody is like that, Alon. People have always been afraid of us, even before the madness. But we've gotten all caught up in the same thing, don't you see that? It's become them versus us. There has to be something we can do to change that. I'm not saying that we should go on TV and give interviews, damn it. I just want to start taking that one step towards healing."
"By giving the US military access to information about Reincarnates? That's insane, they're not to be trusted, not as long as we're just their secret. They'll try and use us as a weapon–"
"We wouldn't be just their secret," Rodney interrupted.
For a moment, John was stunned into silence. "What?"
"What I'm planning is to give Daniel Jackson access to some information, along with a taped message. I want to invite him to ask questions when we come back into contact ..." he hesitated for a moment, "...and I'd ask him to spread knowledge of us to every scientist who he believes could be trusted."
"I'd like to ask O'Neill to do the same thing."
John abruptly leaned back. "Gee, Ari, you call this a first step? We might as well go on TV." He didn't doubt there would be something freeing about being in the public eye once more, but at what cost? They'd hidden for a reason.
"I won't do this without you," Rodney suddenly said. "If you can't see my point I'll get rid of it all and we'll keep hiding – but if you feel the same, even a little bit, then maybe it'd be worth the risk? O'Neill and Jackson can be trusted. These people deal with aliens, they've fought the Goa'uld. They are trying to do what's right. And … and I think they could make good allies."
He was too tired for this. "Alright, Rodney, alright. I'll think about it and then we'll decide what to do." At Rodney's nod, John sighed. "Now come here and give me a hug, I think I deserve that."
"What you deserve, Alon, is a severe spanking."
John waggled his eyebrows at Rodney, the only thing he could do, considering how terribly exhausted he felt. "Kinky."
Rodney snorted, but sat down next to John anyway. He pulled John towards him until John's head was pillowed on Rodney's shoulders, an arm holding him steady. Their bond pulsed with the touch. "Let me help," Rodney said, joining John completely, soothing the pains as more of the surrounding area's Essence ran into both of them. "I was going to tell you to stock up to capacity anyway. We don't know what shape Atlantis is in. Some preparation can never hurt."
His eyes closed, Rodney's touch like balm against his skin, John nodded sluggishly. He was just dozing a bit, wallowing in the warmth of it all while listening to Rodney's heartbeat.
"I'll wake you up for dinner," Rodney said while he was already twisting something in their bond, putting John to sleep.