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Starring:

Jax/Angela, Lt. Col. John Sheppard

Co-starring:

Ronon Dex, Dr. Carson Beckett, Dr. Elizabeth Weir, Dr. Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan, Dr. Kate Heightmeyer

Special appearances:

Major Lorne, Dr. Zelenka, Lt. Laura Cadman

 1 ≈

          Late, late one night, I open my door after a sharp rap of knuckles, not expecting anyone, especially not him.

          I’ve already turned on some music to ease my mind and pain.

Slide - Dido

          Even Ronon knew I wasn’t looking for company and he really wanted to watch the next episode of Friends because Ross and Rachel broke up on the previous one. But I said: No. I had a rough day on the ice; fell on my ass too many times to think about without my complexion permanently changing to beet red.

          The I-zoola’s are amazing people and fast becoming Atlantis’s primary trading partner for fish and a special herb that staves off frost from crops, but they don’t seem to understand that pebbles on an ice lake make for lousy skating—seems skipping stones is a pass-time for the kiddies.

          Gawd, I hate kids. And what I wouldn’t give for a Zamboni.

          Major Lorne was especially cavalier, trying his best not to laugh at my tumbles. I really wanted to kick his ass when he sauntered over all manly-man and offered his hand in assistance.

          He’s quickly become Dr. Weir’s right-hand pilot when it comes to off-world negotiations. She’s one of my biggest fans aside from Dr. Zelenka, the sweetest man-candy in the universe, so when this opportunity to skate again came so soon after my last brush with everlasting joy, I jumped at it.

          Needless to say, I also leaped, tripped and skidded my whole body across a frozen lake in about ten seconds flat, right at the start of my signature triple Salchow that’s supposed to transition into a sit spin, not a face plant.

          It wasn’t until inspection on my hands and knees that I realized the fault wasn’t my old age—in 1994, I was an alternate for the Olympics team. By the ‘98 Olympics, I would’ve been considered ancient. Of course, anyone over 18 is supposedly too old in some sports terms, but I was going to try…until I nearly got dead and the United States government made me disappear. Lipinsky won that year…at the ripe old age of 15, if I remember correctly.

          Yep, I hate kids!

          The I-zoola’s find ice-skating mesmerizing and especially like listening to my music, which is quite eclectic, so the negotiations took place outside by the lake rink. Dr. Weir was the first one by my side and also the next person to fall on her butt and, therefore, the first one Lorne wished to help—out of duty, I’m sure. Personally, I think all the men—and some of the women—on Atlantis have a huge crush on the lady, but that’s just me. I hope she doesn’t bruise easily.

          So, for the sake of my bones, bruised flesh and muscles I took a long, hot bath, did some grooming maintenance and decided to spend the next twelve hours lying naked within my freshly laundered, Italian made Egyptian cotton 1020 thread-count sateen sheets. Expensive sheets are essential to daily life. My money manager, Jack, doesn’t understand my need to indulge my unlimited Earth funds on such things but sends me what I ask for. I spend a third of my time in bed, not necessarily sleeping since my nightmares tend to make me even tenser than sore muscles, but that’s why dvd’s come in handy. Might as well be as comfortable as possible. As an undiagnosed insomniac anyway, as long as I’m comfy and my mind’s occupied, I’m content.

          I was just about to toss aside my fluffy, soft with age, yellow-white striped JC Penny’s terry-cloth robe. This robe is the only item I refused to part with when the feds took everything else away. It belonged to my mom. Thinking about her makes me want to crawl under the covers and be melancholy. Reliving losing my parents only leads me to think about Charlie. I don’t remember anything about my time in the infirmary or the whole catatonic fiasco after getting the KIA notice. One minute I was howling in rage, tearing through my used shot silhouettes and the next I was in Jack’s embrace.

          Jack and Ronon.

          My family now. As long as I keep them in my head, I know I’ll never be alone. But brooding is a big part of who I am and if I’m not beating the crap out of the heavy bag in the gym, I ruminate on my own. The last thing I want to do is entertain.

          And yet, here he is!

          Sheppard’s standing in front of me, dressed in civvies and looking—oh so hot in light blue—a bit off-balance, like he doesn’t know why he’s here. A tell-tale remnant of the black eye I gave him two weeks ago—by mistake of course—still evident. He should never have gotten in the middle of a tussle between Ronon, me and my elbow.

          Oh, but the boy looks so good when he’s in pain! I’d been willing to kiss it and make it better, but Ronon didn’t think Sheppard would appreciate the effort at the time; mostly because the black eye wasn’t the worst of his injuries. I managed to land a solid kick to an even more tender spot.

          Could’ve kissed that better too.

          So, basically, he’s the last person I expected to see at my door, let alone stepping into my room without a word or invitation. Then he starts pacing near the bathroom on the other side while running a hand through his gorgeous bed-head, black hair. I bet it’s as soft as it looks. It’s not a big space, so he only has a few feet to maneuver in, but the energy bouncing off of him must need some outlet. He’s more wired than the Energizer Rabbit.

          Keeping my expression neutral, even though I’m kind of disturbed by his audacity of moving into my personal space without asking, very manly-man of him—damn that’s so hot!

          No! It’s not hot; it’s annoying—in a totally hot way!

          Gawd, now I need a cold shower and my sub-conscience needs to get out of the damn gutter! It’s all about managing the Id factor: the pleasure principle. Want. Need. Have. Oooo, those words sound so good with his name following them.

          Shut up, Jax!

          I do that a lot these days, talk to myself in the third person. Dr. Heightmeyer finds it intriguing but has yet to insist on a padded cell. She figures it’s my way of coping with all my trauma. Big drama queen, that’s me. And as annoying as Jax is, I still cling to her like a security blanket. Mostly because that’s how people know me here, but also because Jax is my surviving center, my strength, the fighter. Without her, I’d be a sniveling mess. And I hate to cry…more than I hate kids.

          On Atlantis, only a few select hi-ranking officials and one non-Earth resident know my true story. And of them, only Ronon knows the real me. At least what I let him see of the real me. He believes that Jax is nothing more than a mask that I hide behind to keep others at bay. He couldn’t be right and still so wrong.

          To be clear, I don’t have a ‘split’ personality, I have one mind…with divergent agendas—and attention spans—at times. Angela/Jax, Jax/Angela, really there’s only a slight difference. Discipline. Emotional discipline, really. Jax has it, Angela…not so much. I’m completely aware of my coping mechanisms as Dr. H. calls them. It’s just safer to be Jax…especially around him

 

Take My Hand - Dido

          But I must focus!

          Bring on the Ego and Superego, because I’ll need both to counteract those naughty Id impulses. I’m not a psychologist or anything, but I love to read and have the curse/gift of a photographic memory. It came in handy during my high school SAT’s, college GRE’s and the trial that destroyed my life. I remember everything I read, see or hear—and in a recent twist, physically feel, if I concentrate hard enough—as if it’s happening right now. Or now!

          Hah, I made a funny.

          Anyway, over the years I spent in witness protection; let’s just say I had a lot of downtime to increase my mental cache.

          I tighten the belt at my waist and cross my arms, staying near the door, though I let it close, uninterrupted. Tilting my head, I watch him, waiting for who-the-hell-knows-what. I’m completely in awe of this man. He makes the air sizzle by his mere presence—not to mention what he does to my hoo-ha without even trying.

          He rubs the back of his neck then lifts his hazel eyes towards me from under his brows, classic puppy dog look that always seems to make people lose their higher reasoning abilities. Well, not this girl. At least…not…while…he’s a witness to it.

          Truth be told, he has remarkable power over me; one look from him, even if it’s not directed at me, and I’m oooh-god-yes. Almost. There! A quick mental head-slap from Jax usually manages to pull me back to reality, and now seems like a good time for one. Ouch!

          “Jax,” he says softly, his voice unusually deep. “I mean…Angela,” he grins, exposing the dimples of utter destruction.

          “Sheppard.” I’m cautious to keep my tone and voice as neutral as my face. The way he’s dressed, how he’s all sheepish and boyishly gorgeous is a dangerous mix. Where’s Col. Sheppard? Him I can deal with, all business, no subtext, no…damned dimples. Something’s different here. The way he says my real name…it’s unnerving how many butterflies it sends through my belly and the immediate tickle a bit lower…oh yeah, he’s goooood.

          He sniffs and starts pacing again, only occasionally catching my eyes.

          I keep still, pretending to be relaxed when every muscle in my body wants to jump him, soreness and bruises be damned. Whew, thankfully I have an ironclad Superego to overrule that childish Id, not to mention a strong sense of I-never-want-to-embarrass-myself-in-front-of-this-man-ever-again! It’s kind of my motto.

          He quits pacing abruptly and holds up a hand as if it’s a stop sign. “Look.” He licks his lips. He’s got some great lips, full, kissable. “I don’t know how to say this,” he chuckles lightly.

          “Usually, words help.”

          This pulls him up to full height—damn he’s tall—and he narrows his eyes, seemingly amused by my dry but witty repartee. “Okay.” More lip licking obviously meant to drive me crazy or lull me into a submissive state. “I know you…like me.” His gaze dances around the room, briefly hitting mine before looking away again.

          Oh, yeah, there’s a real shocker.

          What’s he doing here? Can’t a girl live out her fantasies in her own mind without the fantasy police coming by in the form of said fantasy to stop the action before it’s even started? I haven’t gone to bed yet and already he doesn’t want me trying to dream about him. This sucks! As needed, Jax returns in full force. My spine straightens and my blood cools a bit, ready for a fight if necessary. I will defend my right to a proper sexual fantasy if I must.

          Taking a deep breath, I hug myself a little tighter, holding on to my imaginary Sheppard clone and I shrug as if there’s nothing wrong with a thirtyish young woman having an imaginary sex toy who just happens to look exactly like the most gorgeous man in the universe. “Lot’s of women like you, Sheppard,” I say as calmly as possible, adding a second, single shoulder shrug. “You’re a nice guy.” Nice guy, ha, that should hit him where it hurts. Oh wait, I already did that.

          “No…that’s not‒” He presses his lips together tightly. Closing his eyes, he starts again. “What I want to say is…ahh…I…like you…too.”

          Towabbawhohuh? My brows practically jump off my forehead, but I have no say in the matter. If they go flying about the room, it’s all his fault. He opens his eyes and flashes the dimples again, like a one-two punch my gut spasms and the tickle in my hoo-ha returns threatening to destroy even Jax’s restraint.

          “What?” I gasp.

          Naw. This can’t be real. He’s playing me. It’s some big joke. Ronon! Has to be. Well, I’ll show them. I can play just as hard. I give him my skeptical single raised brow, what Ronon calls my ‘don’t-fuck-with-me’ weapon. “You saying you have a crush on me, Sheppard?” Only Jax can manage saying that with an amused tone, a straight face, and not falling to kiss his feet…oooh, he’s got big feet…that means… Stop! If it’s a game of wills, he’s met the best on the playground.

          His brows wrinkle and his mouth scrunches up into the cutest little pucker as he tries to find the right words to continue this torment. “Well…not…exactly‒”

          Ah ha! Gotcha. See, that’s the problem with nice guys. They don’t like to lie. He even looks embarrassed.

          When he’s suddenly shifty on his feet and shoves his hands into his pockets, my alarm bells go off. I know what this is about. As much as I’d love to toy with him some more and have him make more of those adorable faces, it’s best to pull off the Band-Aid fast. It’ll sting me for a while, but, I’ve known worse pain. “Don’t worry,” I say coolly. “I’m not going to follow you around The City like some lovesick fangirl.”

          How about a woman stranded on an island with just him and a crate full of chocolate sauce?

          I mentally sneer at my little voice. “I’m too old for that.” But not too old for an invisible clone? Gotta draw the line somewhere. Since we got this whole fiasco straightened out, I tell Atlantis to open my door, but it stops halfway when Sheppard holds up a hand.

          “Wait,” he says. “That’s not…” he sighs heavily, rubbing his neck anew.

          I let the door close. Maybe he needs a massage and doesn’t want to ask because he’s afraid I’ll beat him up again. I’d never do that. Seeing him wrapped in the tiny joke towel I give him at the end of his sessions is more than enough incentive for me.

          “I kind of had a dream tonight.”

          He’s already been to bed? Hmm…Sheppard in bed. I wonder what he wears…

          “Actually for a while now…that…well, involves…you.”

          Huh?

          “And me…from…before.”

          “Before…?” I echo, dragging out the word as a question. Okay, no hyperventilating allowed. Just because John Sheppard said he’s been dreaming about me! Okay hyperventilating is called for, but not at this exact moment. I cross my arms, not hugging the clone so much as locking my hands down so I don’t rush over and tear his clothes off. That’s a nice shirt.

          He shrugs and makes another face. “As in the pheromone thing…before.”

          I barely feel my voice as it leaves my mouth. “You remember?” Why’d he get so lucky? I didn’t get to remember anything…except for those…hmmm…lovely multiple… get a grip!

          He takes a deep breath, runs his hand through his hair and chuckles lightly, nervously. “I can’t forget.”

          He steps closer to me and I’m so ready to pounce…but that would be wrong.

          Not wrong.

          So wrong!

          He’s talking, and I know I should be listening but my eyes keep seeing the top button of his shirt is undone, and there’s…ohgawdyes, dark chest hair peeking through. Mental sigh.

          Okay, so I’m a sixteen-year-old locked in the—not completely falling apart—body of a non-disclosed age…that I refuse to admit even to myself. I figure my eight years in government-funded captivity equates as, well, eight years of no birthdays, so I sort of moved forward in time without aging…at all! I don’t care if it sounds crazy, it’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

          Did he just say he can’t forget our hook-up? Stop ogling and listen to the man.

          “And that’s a problem. See. I’m getting distracted.”

          Did I hear that right? He’s distracted by me? “I’m…sorry?” Not at all! Nope.

          He starts talking faster; using his hands much the same way Dr. McKay does, but stammering like I’ve never seen. It’s really adorable. “No… I’m thinking this thing, this attraction wasn’t given…what I mean to say, is that these…feelings I’m remembering…it’s just that, we…you and I…haven’t had any closure on the topic. And I’m wondering…” he trails off, his embarrassment evident in the blush creeping up his neck.

          Omigawd. Oh. My. Gawd! I may not be the sanest woman in the galaxy, and I freely admit that, but I swear I just heard John Sheppard say he wants another shot at making my body sing.

          Remain calm.

          And what? The red zone is for the immediate loading and unloading of passengers only? Since when did Jax become a flight attendant? Remain calm, my ass. He wants me! If I could do it without embarrassing myself, I’d squee!

          Instead, I clear my throat, force the smile of joy from forming and give him my Jax-serious, narrowed eyes and wrinkled brow. “Sheppard?”

          He looks up with those puppy eyes. So want to pet him right now! “Yeah?”

          Restraint is key. That’s how I manage to keep a straight face and flat tone, even when asking this question: “Do you want to have sex with me again?”

          Please. Please. Please!

          “Well…I…” he shakes his head. “This was a bad idea.” He takes a step toward the door, but I step in the way, holding up a hand.

          You’re not getting away that easily, mister.

          “Let me get this straight first.” He’s dodgy but I catch his gaze. Those gorgeous hazel eyes look almost blue with that shirt…oooh, top two buttons openwhen did that happen? mmm definitely chest hair! Mental head slap… I’m so sick of abusing myself.

          It’s time to abuse mister manly-man; although, he’s not behaving like a ‘drag-you-by-the-hair’ manly-man. This is just some regular guy looking for a hook-up. A really scorching hot, regular guy. But even Angela can handle a regular guy. My Id chuckles with an evil laugh and I have to fight the grin.

          I lick my lips, not out of nervousness, but for the right reason: to make him think of kissing me, of course, I’m not a fool. “You have a theory that our attraction... or infatuation as Dr. Beckett called it, was not thoroughly explored and therefore left...what? Residual urges.”

          He nods, bows his head to the side and does the most adorable shoulder shrug. Ha! I’m not the only sixteen-year-old in the room. “Pretty much.”

          Yeah, he’s looking at my lips. Score! “And in your opinion, another…romp,” I chose that word very carefully and threw in a nod to accentuate it. “Would get rid of these urges so that we can get on with our lives and you will no longer be distracted.” Man, when did I start talking like Teyla?

          His mouth twists slightly and he dodges my gaze again. But he keeps checking out my lips. Score. Score! “Sounds ridiculous when you spell it out like that,” embarrassed laugh.

          Ooooh, could he be any cuter! He should be illegal. Now, how to continue with honor and dignity but without letting him in on the fact that I’ve given my invisible clone the night off in the hope that the real thing will stick around.

          “Well...” I say, raising that single brow again, “it might have some merit.” This time I flash a half smirk. “Theoretically speaking. And…” Should I say it? Couldn’t hurt now that I think about it. Go for it. “I never was a one-night-stand kinda girl.” Sheppard’s eyes narrow as he tries to decide if I’m playing with him or not.

          Like any woman could say ‘no’ to that mug and bod. Please!

          Still, do I want to take the chance that another round might tarnish the previous experience? I mean, there was alien technology involved, heightened arousal from the lust-o-rama gizmo. Maybe if we go at it, he won’t find me…well, all that.

          A warning label might not hurt. Let him know I’ve been out of practice…with a real-live partner anyway. It has been a long time.

          “But, still, you may want to reconsider,” I say slowly, keeping my tone flippant as I continue. “The last guy I had sex with—that wasn’t under some alien influence—told me I was a lousy lay right before he shot me in the chest. Not exactly a glowing personal reference.”

          Sheppard’s eyes widen in shock and something else seeps in, a tenderness that sends an electric zing straight to my hoo-ha. Oh man, he’s got some seriously sexy eyes on him. I can’t be the only woman he can do this to…can I?

          He’s closing in on me and my heart’s beating in my ears. He’s not looking away anymore. No more embarrassment. My mouth and lips are dry, but I manage to find my voice. “The first part, I can live without ever hearing again. And the second part...?”

          He’s right in front of me now, staring down at me with that melt-you-to-the-core gaze.

          Oh, yeah, just some regular guy, my ass!

          He cups my face in those amazing, warm hands, tilting my head so that our eyes meet. His aftershave tickles my nostril. He shaved for me? Did I just whimper? No, I couldn’t have.

          He’s looking at me like I’m an ice cream sundae with hot fudge and a cherry on top…and he’s very, very hungry. I’ve never been looked at like that before. It’s kinda scary. “You planning on shooting me, Sheppard?”

          Shut the hell up, Jax!

          “Call me John.” Then his lips are on mine, soft but demanding, tantalizing…pure passion and lust that’s what he’s offering up to me. And wow—major shout out to whoever taught this boy to kiss, he’s got some dangerous talent and‒

          Ohhhh my…when his tongue hits mine, I swear I see stars. 

Lose Control - Evanescence

           I sort of lose track of time, space and my robe shortly after. I’ll never understand his power over me—not just me either since Jax is me and I am her, where the hell does my self-determination go? In the back of my mind, I hear my Id laughing: lust is not an emotional response needing management, but a physical indulgence.

          I guess that makes sense. I’m not in love with this man. Though in all honesty…but Jax would never let that happen. I simply find him irresistible and on this, I am of one mind. He’s so pretty. And a great kisser…and…oh, screw it. I give up.

          I don’t know if I stumbled and hit the wall or if he pushed me against it, but there I am, trapped between two hard—oh yeah, definitely hard—places and I’m giggling. I never giggle. Okay, that’s a lie. I rarely giggle. And he’s smiling against my mouth, his hands caressing my cheeks and breath teasing my lips. “So, I guess you’re okay with testing my theory?” He kisses me again until I moan deep in my throat.

          “Strictly for scientific purposes, of course,” I mutter as I play my tongue over his bottom lip before gently tugging it between my teeth. He pulls back enough to look into my eyes and I see a little-boy gleam in his…like he’s just gotten the best toy in the world.

          Oh, crap…now I’m a boy-toy?

          His mouth covers mine again and his tongue starts doing all sorts of naughty exploring. Yeah…I can live with that.

          The man is all muscle, not bulky or over-pumped, simply chiseled, sculpted muscle that my fingers seek and grip after ripping open his shirt. Yeah, I did it, tore those last few buttons right off…such a bad girl when my Id gets involved. And I let my hands and fingers do the walking. He’s got an amazing chest and tight abs, but it’s his arms I adore. I’ve always had a thing for toned, strong arms. I push his shirt off and grip his shoulders, pulling him against me, wanting the feel of his skin on mine. But he has other ideas and so do his hands.

          Finally breaking the latest kiss that seems to last forever, he leaves me panting as he trails his hot lips and tongue down my neck to take up residence where his fingers are currently toying with my tender skin.

          Now, I’ve never really been fond of my upper torso, the excess baggage never looked particularly attractive from my perspective, too big, not perky enough and always managed to get in the way without a decent sports bra, but with the way he’s paying homage to it… ohmyyes… that… mmm tickles…I’m starting to have a new-found respect for my assets, especially when his mouth closes around me, gently sucking.

          My fingers dig into his hair pulling him closer. “J…oh…n,” I manage out of nowhere. I could have sworn my voice had been replaced by a cat’s purr. I’d never done that before…but hey, I’d never had a mini-orgasm from a guy simply looking at me either. I have a strong suspicion John Sheppard is a man of many firsts. And I so want them!

          He’s too busy to answer and simply, ‘hmm’s’ against my skin as his teeth tug ever so slightly on my…uh…oh that there…the vibration from his voice combined with the pressure and searing heat from his tongue sends me right over the mini-edge and my body shudders with pleasure—it has been a long time!  He grins between my breasts as he grazes kisses towards the next one.

          After a few seconds of pure bliss, my mind returns so I can finish what I wanted to ask, though my question comes out stilted because he’s still assaulting me so wonderfully. “Not to be rude... but...is this… you… being… Kirk?”

          “Fuckin’ Rodney,” he grumbles against my skin, his voice again sending that tickle deep down. But he pulls his warm mouth away and I do whimper. His eyes burrow into mine as he straightens and he presses himself against me, pinning me even closer to the wall with his arousal growing, rubbing into me. His chest hair tickles my breasts, an erotic sensation I’ve never known before. I want him to kiss me, but he’s just staring into my eyes, a bit angry it seems.

          With his hands on my sides, he easily lifts me higher so we’re at eye level. My feet no longer touch the floor and he urges my legs open with his knees, resting me against his hips. I bend my knees, clutching his waist and push the pads of my feet against the wall for balance. He’s still wearing his pants and the bulging fabric rubs my already tender spot and I gasp at the tactile feel of his confined hardness. I don’t realize I’ve closed my eyes until he says a husky, “Look at me.” And I open them. “Why would you think that?”

          I’m at a loss for words really, considering…everything, but the look in his eyes is not just tinged with anger but also a hint of sadness, a little boy who’s been scolded for something he didn’t do. I want to look away, have to look away, but can’t. And he’s waiting for an answer.

          “Let’s face it... you could have any woman in Atlantis. Or considering that Ancient chick from Proculus, the hottest in the universe for that matter.”

          Besides that, the rumor mill has him as the slut of Atlantis. I’m hoping like hell the rumors aren’t true. Most can’t be possible, I mean, where would the guy find the energy to be banging so many different people? Just by a time-management factor, alone, it’d be impossible.

          “Why me?” I ask. “Not exactly a challenge, you see.”

          His gaze softens and his left hand begins new tantalizing travels down my side and slips between our closeness, skimming over my belly, making me gasp in anticipation. “You just said it.” He chuckles deeply, spreading feather light kisses along my jawline. “Seems, I wanted to be with the hottest woman in the universe.”

          “Wow!” I laugh hard and bang my head against the wall. “You’re good!”

          “Rumor has it... so are you.” He slides his hand between my legs and my laugh chokes off into a gurgled ohmygawd!

          There’s a rumor about me being good? I’d never heard that. I know there’s one about me trying to kill myself…twice …and one about Ronon and me being this galaxy’s version of sex-crazed bunnies, but that’s a given, considering how much time we spend together and that no one seems to understand how I don’t find him as…a…stimulating…oh my what’s…he…ahhh.

          His fingers find their next target and start to move in slow, delicious circles. My grip on his arms tightens, fingertips digging into flesh and he grins at me. For the first time, I realize how fortunate I am to no longer work in the kitchen. Now that I’m the city masseuse—and quite busy at that—my hands are always soft and I keep my nails short. So maybe it’s fortunate for him since I tend to have a very strong grip and know my pressure points. Including one… right… there.

          He moans with pleasure as a shiver runs down his spine. He captures my eyes again. “Where did you learn that?”

          “What?” I ask innocently before pushing the button on his neck again. “That?” He moans louder and quivers again. With my other hand, I hit the opposite side of his neck. “Or that?”

          His breath catches and his eyes roll back for a second then he attacks my lips as I laugh with delight. Down below, there’s more pressure and a subtle flick of his thumb and…ohhhhh…I throw my head back, digging my teeth into my bottom lip so hard I’m sure to draw blood. Now it’s my turn for my eyes to roll back, but his free hand comes up and grips the side of my face; thumb caressing my cheek as his fingers slip into my hair. “Focus, Angela,” he orders in that husky voice. “Look at me.”

          Angela! He said it again. No. Call me Jax. She can handle you.

          My breath catches as my eyes lock back onto his. Okay, so my eyes aren’t exactly focusing… more like swimming through a hazy pool because those stars come back and start pulsing in my brain. The intensity of his gaze…oh boy, am I in trouble…makes my stomach flop as if I’d just taken a huge drop on a roller coaster.

          I love that feeling!

          I can’t take it anymore. I grab him with both hands and pull his mouth back to mine, dining on his lips, grazing them between my teeth, tasting every part of him with my tongue. I want to devour him and he knows it. And by the rumble he releases, I pretty certain he doesn’t mind. “So…we’re both…so good…” I sigh between kisses, on rapid-fire breaths. “We were…bound to…bump…” uhhhh…mmmm.

          “And grind,” He whispers teasingly against my lips, sending fire through my body.

          “Into…each…other?”

          His teeth catch my bottom lip with gentle pressure then he releases me with a push from his tongue. “It was inevitable.” His fingers suddenly stop their torment leaving me stunned, my mind dizzy. His eyes take on that serious, anger tinged gleam again and my heart slams into my ribs. “But I don’t like rumors.” He leans in, brushing his face against mine then pressing his mouth to my ear as his free hand leaves a trail of tickles down my right side. “I like you. I want you.”

          Then his fingers find a new destination, and my breath hitches at the intimate entry. Oh my it's been too long! He’s stoking me with every motion, making me pant and hum with desire. Muscles tighten as the pressure builds, until I see flames behind my eyelids, sending me into pulse-pounding oblivion. “Gawd Johnny!”

          Thank the Ancients for soundproof walls, that’s all I have to say.

          Okay even though the first was a mini, I’m counting that as two. What the hell is going on here? Not that I’m complaining. At all! But since when did my body become this orgasm machine? Back in my previous life, I’d be lucky to get one, not even in my dreams do I get multies. Now, either John Sheppard has some other ‘gene’ that makes this possible or there really is some remnant left over from the lust-o-rama device.

          “Say that again,” he whispers in my ear. Demanding.

          I’m breathless and finding it difficult to focus now that he’s finally freed himself of confinement and is slowly but firmly massaging his length against me. “Johnny?”

          “Yes,” he groans. “Again.”

          “Johnny,” I pant on a rush of air.

          He pulls back, gripping my eyes with his. “Again.”

          I smile as I hold his gaze and whisper hotly. “Johnny.”

          And swiftly, he’s inside me, hot and hard, and my head slams against the wall as the stars burst into novas. He grunts with satisfaction, capturing my mouth and slipping his tongue inside as his hands grasp my breasts, thumbs taunting me into a quivering frenzy; giving me time to adjust to his size.

          What’d I say… big hands, big feet. You can thank me later.

          Ignoring Jax, I clasp my hands behind his neck as I tighten my legs against his sides, noticing he’s still wearing his pants. That’s not fair, why does he get to be partially dressed…but the insane thought dies as he starts to move. Withdrawing ever so slowly only to return in a torturous long, hot invasion that makes my body ache for more. So, this is what 100 percent John Sheppard feels like…ohyes! I probably won’t be able to skate, dance—or hell for that matter—walk for a week.

          As the pleasure builds, my Id takes over. Want John. Need John. Must Have all of John! Trapping him between my legs, ankles crossing behind his back, I push hard against him, pulling him deeper. He breaks the kiss as a gasp catches in his throat at my counter-argument to his languid approach. I give him a sly half grin as a challenge.

          “Damn,” he mutters. His eyes are as glazed as mine, but he’s not lost yet as evidenced by the smile he gives in return. Pulling his warm hands from my flesh, he smacks them into the wall on either side of me, and pushes himself harder, slamming our bodies together, chest against chest, and planting his lips on my neck, grazing my skin with his teeth, down to a shoulder. It’s a fast, perilous ride, as we huff and grunt in unison. My head batters the wall—so worth it—with every powerful drive.

          It’s not long before an unbelievable, full-body quake erupts within me, sending hot lava through my veins, muscles spasm and relax—putting the earlier thrills plus that long hot bath to shame—and I collapse against him, his name catching in my throat. A moment later, his body trembles and he moans into my neck.

          But he’s not done with me yet. Somewhere along the way, I remember equating him with the Energizer Rabbit…massive understatement! Stamina is not something this man lacks. And… oh, what’s…?

          His strong arms surround me, crushing my body to his even as he roughly grabs my hair and yanks my head back so he can smother my mouth with his and suck out my soul.

          I lose the wall support and hold on to him as he maneuvers to the bed, guiding us down in tandem without so much as pulling out of the kiss. Oh yeah…he’s a god among mortals! The coolness of my sheets rub my back and John’s sweat-slick skin slides on top of me. Hmmm, die happy now. But, oh no.

          “He lied,” John whispers, his teeth tugging on my earlobe before locking his mouth to mine with an intense, hungry groan. What? Who-ooooh! He’s moving again, plunging deeper, faster almost violently working his way inside me. I try to raise my hips to meet his, but his weight keeps me down. Then his hands slip over my thighs, urging me to release the hold I have around his waist.

          I moan my resistance into his mouth, but he pulls away, looking down at me and says the two most dangerous words in the human language. “Trust me.” And he deploys the dimples of utter destruction and my willpower is forgotten. Sure, let him lead the way. And boy-howdy does he!

          He molds me to his desire. So many thrusts, each one more forceful, powerful than the previous, but every one of them hits me oooh right there! And I realize what he’s actually trying to do…the man’s gonna fuck me into an orgasm induced coma!

          Oh, what the hell. Why not? Can’t think of a better way to go…

          And then I’m gone. I know I screamed…don’t know exactly what I screamed, but there was definite volume on the back end of that one and then the universe exploded behind my eyes. I think I actually blacked out there for a moment.

          The tingles and joyful spasms ebb and I open my eyes—pretty much the only thing I can move at the moment—and I see mister manly-man—yep he’s definitely one of them—in all his finally unclothed, amazing glory as he stands over me, gazing at my pliable form with those hungry eyes and…holy shit…still very much aroused.

          What’d he do, take a Viagra just to make sure these urges never return? I mean, c’mon, give a girl a break…we can do this again some other time…again and again and…

          “That’s three,” he says with a self-satisfied grin.

          “Four,” I croak, my voice as weak as my newly muscle-free body.

          He shakes his head as he lays down, half on and half off me. “Nope…” he’s trailing kisses over my forehead and face down my neck to my chest again. I’m starting to understand men’s fascination with breasts now…especially what they can do to them if they have the talent. “Three.”

          I’m trying to figure out why it’s important. Is he running a tally? Does he have a pool going with some of the guys? What’s the big deal? He says three, I say four…seems like I’m the winner either way.

          He must have noticed my attention waning because his tongue stops doing that oh so lovely motion around my nipple and he looks up at me, grinning. “You had three last time.”

          Okay…? I don’t have the breath to say anything so I just raise my brows in question.

          He licks his way up to my collarbone then nips at my chin and plants little kisses on the sides of my mouth. “If we want to beat this thing…” He’s grinning down at me. “We have to do better than last time.”

          “Oh,” I manage, flashing a barely-there smile of understanding. Yep, definitely trying to kill me.

          And then he’s on me again, his mouth claiming mine in a searing kiss meant to send me straight to heaven. I try to reach for him, touch him, give him something of what he’s giving me, but his hands firmly grip my wrists and lock them over my head. At first I struggle, but it’s no use, I’m pretty much Jell-O now.

          “No,” he says firmly, gazing into my eyes with an unmistakable fire. One hand easily holds both my wrists in place as the other traces a finger over my forehead, around my sweaty cheek to my bruised lips. His fingers dance over my throat and for an instant I’m reminded of the Bugman attacking me in the corridor…wanting to do worse than kill me.

          John must have seen a flicker of memory in my eyes because he releases his hold on my wrists and his hand at my throat suddenly moves to my waist and he rolls his weight off me. As he pulls away, I see the fire in his eyes replaced with something else…guilt.

          My heart slams into my ribs with such force I think it might break bones. I clench my jaw, grinding my teeth, close my eyes and turn my face from him. He wasn’t supposed to know. I never wanted that thing to come between us…even though I never in my wildest dreams believed there’d be an ‘us’ to come between.

          I’m gonna kill Ronon!

          “He didn’t tell me,” John says softly, his hand lazily tracing zigzags over my flat belly.

          I hadn’t realized I’d said anything aloud. After a few moments of seething, I open my eyes, finding him hovering above with his hands on the mattress on either side of my head, legs planted between mine. The guilt remains, but not as overwhelming as before. He’s drinking me in with his eyes as he rubs against me.

          I’m raw and a bit sore… but I don’t care. I want him, again. And again!

          “Then…how?” I ask quietly, trying not to be distracted by the amazing feel of him against my skin.

          “I just remembered is all,” he says without meeting my gaze. He shakes his head. “I’m sorry.”

          Oh no, no mood spoilers in this room. We’ve got a record to beat. Now that my hands are free, I cup his face and force him to look at me. “Not your fault.”

          “Yes–”

          “John, nothing happened.”

          “But…I almost…I wanted to…hurt you.”

          “No, you didn’t. The virus was in command, not you. You stopped it. You saved me.”

          “But–”

          “No!” I leave no room for further argument. I use my eyes to dig into his mind and force him to see that I believe it wasn’t him that attacked me so he has no choice but to believe it as well.

          Then, I let my Id come out to play again, grinning as I return my arms overhead, linking fingers together so I don’t move, which won’t be too difficult considering I’m still pretty much Jell-O. “Your theory still has another test, correct?”

          It takes a moment for the guilt to leave his gaze, but as his eyes take in my apparent vulnerability, that adorable sideways smirk appears before he kisses me again: a long, luscious even innocent kiss that makes my brain fuzzy with renewed desire. He pulls back and stares at me, running his hands up my body, cupping my breasts before traveling back down to my legs. The fire quickly returns for both of us and he attacks my lips with new-found hunger sending all kinds of zings to my hoo-ha all over again.

          I’m so hopeless, it’s pathetic. But it feels so good! Gotta love that Id girl…she knows what she likes.

          Though the kiss is passionate and bruising, he chooses a different way to torture me this time. Slow, gentle, exceedingly tender, leaving me whimpering with pleasure and begging for him to pound my flesh to his will. He obliges eagerly and finally allows himself the powerful release that sends me spiraling into number five. Yeah, sue me. I’m still counting that first one.

1.5

          John stares at his reflection, not recognizing himself. Where the hell did that come from? He’s never behaved like that before. Never treated a woman so…he doesn’t even want to think about it.

          He splashes cold water over his face then grabs the hand towel. As he dries his eyes, he catches his reflection again only to quickly look away. Something indescribable came over him the moment he stepped into the room tonight. Seeing her freshly showered, standing in that ratty old robe, he felt overcome with hunger. Hunger only she could sate.

          He closes his shirt with the only remaining buttons available, reliving the last couple of hours in a few moments. Damn…it’s…he’s never been that intense, that insatiable before.

          He’s been feeling that way for a while, believing he had it over-powered. He buried it deep down and ignored the growing tension in his body. He tried to put her out of his head. Stay busy with work. Go on missions. But it never failed. Something would alert him to her presence. She never seemed to notice him, however.

          After a while, he started seeking her out. I’ve actually been stalking the poor woman.

          A week and a half ago, he found her alone in the Westside gym, dancing slowly to the most sensual music, an alluring vision of beauty and grace he wanted to caress, but he hid in the shadows of the corridor, not letting on that he was watching. Still, he got the impression she knew someone was there. When she finished, she looked around cautiously, on edge. He felt horrible for putting her on the defense after she’d been so relaxed, but he said nothing, stayed hidden.

          A few days later, he caught sight of her and Ronon sparring in the Eastside gym. They don’t use sticks, it’s strictly hand-to-hand combat. She’s so much smaller than Ronon and yet manages to keep her own, actually forcing the man to his knees with an arm twisted behind his back. John wonders how she did that but is afraid to ask because then she’ll know he’s been spying. Ronon won the match, but only because she got distracted and looked over her shoulder to see who was in the door. John couldn’t hide fast enough and she saw him. He avoided her eyes. Ronon took advantage in that instant and tossed her to the floor like a ragdoll. She’d gotten revenge, however: a solid head-butt that knocked the big guy silly for a few seconds.

          Three days ago, John followed her to the private room she uses for target practice. Again, he watched in silence, spying on her for no other reason than to see her in motion. She looks good with a gun in her hand. Not to mention how aroused he got seeing her throw the daggers with such precision. She has so many amazing talents; he doesn’t understand why Ronon’s not attracted to her. And yet, at the same time, he’s grateful. She seemed tense and watchful. She must have a spidey-sense because she always seems to know when he’s around. It’s unnerving as hell. But then again, he’s the one doing the stalking.

          So, he didn’t lie earlier. She has been distracting him; ever since seeing her skate on I-zoola two weeks ago. Something came over him that day. A wave of desire that’s been messing with his attention span. He thought he could bury it. Ignore all the impulses his body kept throwing at him on a daily basis. He thought he had it beat.

          Then he heard her confession to the girls in the poker game. After that...he was lost.

          And then tonight, the dream…or memory—whatever—returned, clearer than ever. Her flesh in his hands, the look in her eyes as she gazed at him with unrestrained passion, the trembles of her body as she climaxed. He wanted all of it again. Her name became a siren song in his head, refusing to let him sleep…ever again, if he didn’t act. He had to have her. Had to feel her. Just one more time. That’s what he swore. It’s infatuation…strictly physical. Some leftover chemical imbalance because of the Ancient device.

          This powerful lust drove him through The City, pushing him right into her room without so much as a word. By the time he got here, he was so agitated, he felt like he was going insane. John shakes his head. He can’t imagine what might have happened if she’d denied him.

          But she hadn’t. And she called him Johnny. He likes that for some weird reason. No one’s ever called him that before. He’s always been John. Or John-John to his mom. But never Johnny. It sounds so…juvenile. And yet when it comes on a rush of ecstasy…he really likes it. He really likes her saying it.

          John tosses the towel aside and steps into the bedroom. She’s facing him, lying on her side in the fetal position under the top sheet, lost to the world. She looks so young. So innocent. Who’d have thought?

          He’d shoot that guy who lied to her if he could. Of course, the asshole said that just to kill her a little more before bothering to shoot her. John knew she didn’t fall for it, though. She’s got skills, and she knows it. Though, if he’s right about the timeline, he’s the first guy she’s been with in eight or nine years.

          Damn! Nearly a decade! And here I thought three years was a prison in the making. Okay, two and a half, anyway.

          Still, he’s sure she only mentioned it as a way to play with him some more. And she’s good at that. His discomfort amused her and she didn’t try to hide it. She toyed with him, keeping him off-balance, making him work for everything.

          But at the same time, he gets the impression that she might have said it as a way to get him to leave, like a warning or hazard sign. There was a look she had, right before he kissed her the first time. A second before she asked him if he was going to shoot her, he caught the briefest glimpse of panic. But then it disappeared, replaced with steely power and determination. Not to mention a hell of a lot of passion.

          She’s a puzzle, that’s for sure. But he likes that about Jax.

          Or is it Angela?

          Who was he really with tonight? He calls her Angela because that’s her real name…but he’s not so sure if it’s really her. There’s a split-second change in her stature and especially her eyes when she’s one and not the other. Ronon calls it her Jax mask. It gives nothing away. Almost like a black hole. John has no idea how she feels or what she’s thinking from one moment to the next unless she tells him. But even then, he doesn’t know if she’s telling the truth. It’s impossible to know if she’s lying.

          He’s never been attracted to someone so inscrutable. She keeps him on edge which makes his stomach twist a bit.

          John moves to the side of the bed and stares down at her. So innocent. It makes his heart beat a little faster. He’s never known anyone like her. She’s tough but undeniably vulnerable, sexy but almost demure in her sexuality. She’s also extremely bright but refuses to let her intelligence shine. She’s a conundrum, an enigma and he’s drawn to that.

          His memory flashes and he remembers Jax lying on the gurney after collapsing in the mess. Her gaze was so open, so hopeful when she looked at him, apparently seeing her lost love in his eyes. And then a moment later, realizing her mistake and all that emotion vanished in an instant.

          It happened again when she started hallucinating in the infirmary and he managed to calm her down, tricking her into believing he was Ryan by calling her Angela. Then, boom, Jax returned threatening Beckett, of all people. Of course, it was right after the doctor stuck her with a needle full of sedative. That didn’t go over well at all.

          John finally heard her whole story from Gen. O’Neill a couple of months ago, after the shock of her half-brother’s death sent her into a catatonic state and the General’s visit managed to pull her back out. When he thinks about what Angela’s been through, it’s easy to understand why Ronon’s so protective of her.

          God, Ronon. If he finds out about this I’m so screwed!

          “Mom!” Angela shouts in her sleep, suddenly flipping onto her back, her face losing the innocence and taking on unimaginable pain. “Daddy!” She sobs, clutching the sheet to her chest. “...nooo...”

          John sits on the edge of the bed, but she doesn’t wake. She’s crying silently, whimpering. It’s heart-wrenching to see anyone in this much emotional agony. John traces a finger over her forehead, trying to smooth the wrinkled brow. “S’okay, Angie,” he whispers. “Everything’s okay.”

          She shakes her head, biting her bottom lip. “Don’t leave me…please,” she sobs. “Daddy…” Her begging sends spikes of pain into John’s heart, but it’s what she says next, in a hushed voice, that nearly stops it. “I’m scared.”

          John stretches out on the bed next to her, pulling her into his arms and letting her cry on his shoulder. “Don’t be afraid, Angie.”

          She whimpers and sobs some more. “m’all alone.”

          John holds her, whispering soothing words. After a while, she drifts out of the nightmares and rolls away from him. She doesn’t wake before he leaves.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

≈ 2 ≈ 

          It only takes four days for me to get back into my skates. Dr. Beckett’s checking on the I-zoola’s as part of the trade agreement and Dr. Weir offered me a chance to redeem my self-esteem. She’s even gone to the trouble of getting the ice cleaned up. So, it’s not like I can tell her ‘thanks, but no thanks’ because John tried killing me with sex earlier this week. Somehow, I doubt that would make her day. So even though I’m stiff and sore—and not just from the night of lusty activity—I’m lacing up my skates by the lake. But hey, I’ve got a high pain threshold and this is skating. Nothing gets between me and my blades now that I have them back. Not even naughty thoughts about a certain sexually talented man.

          Gawd, if they made that an Olympic sport…

          Besides, everyone knows sex is great for muscle tone, so I just consider it an extended workout…with an extreme endorphin rush.

Broken - Lifehouse

          There’s no audience today save the two soldiers on Major Lorne’s team standing guard by the jumper. The others, including Lorne, went with Dr. Beckett. So, instead of Zelenka’s amazing sound system, I have my MP3 player strapped to my arm, blasting into my ears as I slowly make my way around the ice. It’s silky smooth now. I have to wonder how Dr. Weir managed to pull this off. I must remember to thank her.

          Even though the tiny music box’s weight doesn’t register, having the phones in my ears might throw off my balance, so it’s another excuse for taking it easy and not trying any jumps or severe twists. Spins are out as well, considering how I don’t want the earplugs whipping out and smacking into my face. But it’s still a good deal. I’ve been restless and needed to get out of the city.

          My new-found ability to remember physical pleasure in excessive detail is kind of hard to deal with at times, especially if I think too much about what’s-his-name. I blame the Ancients and their ‘honeymoon’ device…even as I bless them for giving me the opportunity to take a stab at the man. He is so out of my league it’s laughable.

          Good thing I have Jax as my wing-man, because man-o-man, Johnny-boy would be a toughy to get over, that’s for sure. But since the whole thing with Ryan got totally screwed with a shot in the head, I’m not looking for that kind of hurt again. It’s not healthy.

          Besides, everyone knows that Sheppard’s head-over-heels in-love with Dr. Weir, so there’s no chance, Jax reminds me. Several times a day, in fact.

          He left sometime after I passed out from bliss, not that I mind. I was never good at cuddling even before my life turned upside-down. And I don’t like exposing someone to my nightmares if I can avoid it. I’ve been known to be…violent, in my sleep. That’s one of the embarrassing moments I’d prefer not to relive in Sheppard’s company.

          I’ve seen the Colonel in the corridors and in the mess as recently as this morning, but not Johnny—civvies John, that is—which is probably a good thing, considering how easily he gets me flustered.

          There’s a distinction between the two for me. Just as I distinguish Jax from Angie, there’s a difference between the Colonel and the man who tried putting me into an orgasm-induced coma. They are two different souls in the same gorgeous body. When he’s Col. Sheppard, I doubt he sees me; he’s on the job, his troubles and worries etched in his face and eyes. He has the whole world—galaxy—on his shoulders. I think it’s mostly the eyes that are different. Where Johnny gets a playful gleam, the Colonel has a hardness. Johnny’s a boy at heart, but the Colonel’s a tired man and the darkness he carries in those eyes haunts me.

          Because I’ve seen it in the mirror.

          There are times, though, when the distinction is fuzzier. I’ve seen him stalking the corridors late at night, wearing a tight black shirt and military pants, his handgun strapped to his leg, flashing the dimples-of-utter-destruction.

          That, is a dangerous combination.

          Ronon seems to know something’s happened. Two nights ago, he came for a visit and simply watched me the whole time he was supposed to be watching Friends. He usually gets a kick out of Joey and Chandler—swears they behave like a married couple—and he’s got the hots for Rachel, of course. But like the annoying brother he is, he kept pushing, wanting to know what’s different about me. And though I’ve got a great poker face, he reads me too well and knows when I’m lying.

          He’s the only one who’s ever been able to do that. Well…aside from my mom. She could always tell too. Not dad, though. Dad was putty…the big goofball. Gawd, I miss them.

          Stop feeling sorry!

          Anyway. I didn’t break under pressure, but I’m sure he knows something. And he keeps watching me. His attention is kind of claustrophobic, which I’m not good with, so I need space. Lots of space.

          And so I skate. 

2.5

          Something’s different, Dr. Kate Heightmeyer thinks as Angie bursts into the office fifteen minutes late for her weekly session. Dr. Weir called earlier to inform Kate that Angie had gone off-world to skate, so the doctor wasn’t concerned about the tardiness. Angie’s flushed from exercise, and possibly traveling in the puddle jumper considering her claustrophobia, but there’s still something else on her mind. “Good workout?” Kate asks.

          Angie drops lazily into the over-stuffed easy chair, tossing a leg over the side. “Yep.” She’s wearing black sweatpants and a light-yellow T-shirt. Her spiraled, black hair is tied up in a wind-blown ponytail with some strands matted to her sweat-stained face. She must have just gotten back and raced up here.

          “So, how are you feeling?”

          She shrugs. “Good.” There it is again, a flash of something in her eyes. Something…

          “Any nightmares?” Kate asks, watching her carefully.

          Angie shakes her head, pressing her lips together in a smug line. “Nope.”

          She’s lying, but Kate lets it pass for the moment. There isn’t a day that goes by that Angie doesn’t have nightmares. She’s admitted as much. “How’s work?”

          “Fine.”

          Kate tilts her head. “You’re exceptionally monosyllabic today. What’s going on?”

          Angie’s brown eyes lock onto the doctor’s and a chill fills the room. Kate doesn’t shiver though, recognizing the signal that Angie is using Jax to cover something. It’s a simple act of putting up a wall to keep others out. It’s just that this particular wall has a name. In the persona of Jax, Angie has cultivated a security system that permits no entrance, basically like when the city lock-down occurred…Jax is extremely tough to get passed, but not impossible.

          Considering how emotionally traumatized Angie’s been over the years, it’s no wonder she found a way to shut down her emotions. But in the end, the identity of Jax has done damage by not allowing the woman to trust and care about others or even herself for that matter. She’s put herself in dangerous situations more times than necessary and doesn’t seem to care if she gets physically injured or even killed. It’s a coping mechanism that makes her feel in command. One that Kate is hoping over time, Angie will realize she doesn’t need.

          “Have you thought more about what we discussed?” Kate asks, trying to open a line of dialogue.

          “Sure.”

          “And?”

          She shrugs. “I thought about it.”

          Kate leans forward in her seat, resting her elbows on her knees. Angie has to be her toughest patient. The woman spent too many years shielded from the world, forced into hiding by no fault of her own. The deaths of her parents right before her eyes shattered something within her, more so than being shot and almost dying herself. She lost the rest of herself years later when the man she loved died in her arms. Kate is amazed by this woman’s will to survive. She’s known others who would never have made it out alive, usually due to their own hand.

          “A journal is a good way to sort through thoughts and emotions,” Kate says.

          “Yeah, you mentioned that,” she smiles lightly. “I sort of started…I guess.”

          “That’s good. When?”

          She bites her lip, holding in another smile. “Couple nights ago. Just…happened. It’s more like I’m writing a story though.” Her brows wrinkle. “Is that weird?”

          “No. Whatever works best for you. Is it in third person?”

          “First.”

          Kate nods, that’s a good sign. “Anything you want to discuss in here? Not that you have to. As I said, the journal is strictly for your eyes alone. I will never ask to read it.”

          “That’s good.” A slight blush creeps into her cheeks and that flash in her eyes returns. Happiness maybe, it’s too brief to be certain. Angie shudders slightly and closes her eyes, wrapping her arms around her.

          “Are you cold, I can adjust‒”

          Her eyes snap open and she blushes again. “No…I’m fine, thanks.” She drops her gaze to her lap. “Just…need a shower.” They sit in silence and Kate watches her, waiting.

          Finally, Angie looks up. “What?”

          Kate smiles. “Something’s different about you.” The girl’s eyes widen and she catches her bottom lip with her teeth. “Angie?”

          “Yeah?”

          “Do you have a boyfriend?”

          “What!” She huffs and her mouth twists into a scowl. “No, of course not.”

          “Things between you and Ronon haven’t–”

          “Ewww!”

          Kate chuckles softly. “Yes, I’m sorry.” She pauses only a moment. “But there is someone.” Another shudder, and Angie hugs herself even tighter as the blush deepens. “You had sex,” Kate says and Angie’s brows shoot up.

          “How do you do that?”

          “Body language…and…I have been there.”

          “Right,” she blushes again, dropping her gaze.

          “So…how was it?”

          “Doc!”

          Kate raises her hands. “It’s not something to be embarrassed about. It’s actually very healthy. Your years of celibacy weren’t exactly part of your life plan, as you said. This new… development… is a good thing. Right?”

          She sighs and rolls her eyes toward the ceiling. “It was a one-time thing.”

          “Why is that?”

          She looks directly at Kate. “Because he said so.”

          “He did? And you agreed.”

          “Oh yeah.” Her luminous smile and husky voice intrigue Kate.

          “So, you’re all right with it being…casual.” Angie shrugs. “You’re sure you don’t want there to be more.”

          “More?” She chuckles softly. “I could always use that–”

          “No,” Kate says. “I mean…more of a connection. Emotionally.”

          Angie shoots out of the chair and stomps to the window. “You know I don’t…do that.” Her arms tighten around her waist. “Not anymore.”

          “Do what? Love a man?”

          “Exactly.”

          “What about Ronon?”

          She rolls her eyes back to the window. “What about him?”

          “You told him you love him, didn’t you?”

          “That’s different,” she snaps.

          “Why? Were you lying?”

          “He’s family.”

          “Like Jack.”

          “Yeah.”

          Kate makes a note to follow up on that tangent. Seems Angie is drawn to strong, protective men, in a non-romantic way, who may or may not be emotionally available of their own accord. Kate has spoken casually to Ronon, he’s not exactly open with his feelings. And then there’s Jack O’Neill. According to Samantha Carter—Kate’s long-time friend at the SGC—it took the man nearly nine years to admit his feelings.

          This association with the strong, silent types is considerably atypical for someone raised like Angie. Her relationship with her father, who she rarely mentions but clearly misses, was apparently very close. He openly showed his affection, even in public. He was a regular blue-collar firefighter who worked hard for his family and made sure she and her mom had everything they could need. Especially love.

          There’s always a sparkle in her eyes on the rare occasions she mentions her parents. She loved them dearly and their loss did more damage than Angie chooses to acknowledge. She was definitely daddy’s little girl. He was her hero. But she also adored her mother. The three of them had a very close connection that was stripped away in one violent moment…because of Angie’s boyfriend.

          So, this draw towards men almost exactly the opposite of her father probably stems from Jax. If they don’t open up to her, she can hold back as well. It’s another way to remain in the power seat and not be vulnerable to someone, just as it was with her and Ryan. She never admitted her feelings to the agent assigned to protect her for all those years and therefore never risked rejection. Then his death, which she blames herself for, sealed in her mind that romantic love is deadly.

          Thankfully she is open to familial ties…even those not truly by blood. It was her connection to Jack that saved her two months ago. She doesn’t speak of it, but the one-time Kate mentioned Jack’s visit, tears formed for a brief time in Angie’s eyes and she admitted missing him.

          Kate leans back in her chair. “How’s your friendship with Lt. Cadman?”

          She shrugs. “She’s all right.” Her answer is unenthusiastic. Not unexpected considering how closed off she is.

          “Have you spoken to her about the…event?”

          “No, of course not!”

          Kate nods. That would be a ludicrous thought for Angie…or more accurately, Jax. Sharing such intimate information could open her up to real conversation, real emotion, which terrifies her more than anything.

          Angie’s quiet, staring out the window at the deepening dusk. Kate decides to go back. “This man you were with. How do you feel about him?”

          Though she keeps her face turned to the window, Kate can see her in the reflection. Another shudder is followed by a silly grin capturing her lips. “He’s all right.”

          “Can you tell me his name?”

          “Sure.” She turns and smirks at the doctor. “But I’m not gonna.”

₪†₪

Chapter Text

Out of Control

 3

          Ronon catches me in the hallway as I leave Dr. H’s office. He’s all manly-man grabbing me by the arm and pulling me toward the transporter. “What the hell?” But he just grunts and drags me along. We reach his room quickly enough and he pushes me toward the bed to sit. I’m already tired from skating, not to forget my previous strenuous workout, plus I’m not so thrilled about Dr. H’s insights into my psychosis today. She’s far too perceptive. I don’t like that in people, generally.

          And I have a headache from hell, threatening to explode in my brain, leaving me a vegetable. But Ronon doesn’t seem to notice. He wants to rant…or beat the crap out of me…whatever’s faster. He gets like this when I don’t tell him stuff and he finds out on his own. He doesn’t like secrets.

          I sigh and fold my arms, by-passing the bed to lean against the wall nearest the bathroom, waiting for him to stop tossing his mane around like an aggravated lion. He snaps his attention to me and I swear his head might go flying about the room like a basketball. “Tell me it’s not true.”

          I roll my eyes and shrug then heave a big sigh. “Okay. It’s not true.”

          He grunts and growls, stomping in place. “You are lying.”

          “About what?”

          “You and Sheppard!”

          My brain hurts so much I can’t concentrate on how to get out of this, so playing dumb seems the only way to go. “What about me and Sheppard?”

          “Don’t make me say it.”

          I push away from the wall and try to make it to the door. “Okay.” But he’s instantly in front of me, blocking the exit.

          “I made a promise to Jack.”

          I don’t face him, but I do dart my eyes up and over, locking onto his. “What kind of promise.” I can growl just as much as he does.

          His hand rests on the back of my head and he gently tugs on my ponytail. “To not let you get hurt.”

          I face him now, releasing my arms and spreading them in one motion. “I’m fine. Don’t I look fine?”

          “You look like animal dung.”

          That deserves an elbow to the gut, but I seriously don’t have the energy, so I just glare. “What’s the rumor this week?”

          He crosses his arms and leans against the door. “No rumor. I’m observant.” He pauses and I wait. “You’ve been avoiding him.”

          My brows pretty much knit together. “No, I haven’t.”

          “Whenever he comes into a room you are in, you leave. If he’s in the room you are about to come in, you leave.”

          “Aren’t you in those rooms too?” I raise my brow in a challenge.

          His eyes narrow. “Yeah.” I slide my chin to the side. But he’s not buying. “No. No. It’s him. He did something to you. Didn’t he.”

          Crap! Now that you mention it big guy, yeah, he did something several times to me…all of them so goddamn memorable I can’t function when he’s in the same vicinity. Not that I’m about to spill all that to someone who can rip people’s arms off. “He didn’t do anything. I’m not avoiding him. I’m not avoiding anyone. I’m…busy.”

          Ronon cups my chin in one ginormous hand and tilts my head so he can stare down at me. “I know you’re lying. Don’t make me ask him. Because you know I will…and I won’t be nice about it either.”

          “Gawd!” I swipe his hand away and sit on the edge of the bed clutching my head in my hands. “I so don’t need this right now.” I push my fingers through my hair, pulling out the band holding it. “I just want to take a shower.”

          “Tell me and you can leave.”

          “Why is it so important to you?”

          Ronon kneels in front of me and again lifts my chin so our eyes meet. His intensity is clouded with worry. That’s not right. He’s not supposed to do that…not ever. That triggers guilt and I have no intention of feeling guilty about anything. “I want to make sure you are all right. If you tell me the truth, I’ll believe you. And I won’t have to do any damage to…someone.”

          That is so sweet. Here’s Tarzan waiting for permission to pummel someone for taking advantage of me. All I can do is smile and shake my head at him. “I love you.” It tumbles out in a giggle, but still tumbles out easily, which is so weird. But it is true. I do adore this massive house of a man. “It’s all good, Ronon. I swear.”

          “You are sure.”

          I smile again and get up. He stands as well and I wrap my arms around his middle and give him a tight squeeze. “Positive.” I pull back enough to strain my neck and look him in the face. “No injuries required. In fact, I’d prefer that.”

          Ronon kisses my forehead and chuckles. “Wow…you really do need a shower.”

          “Fuck you very much.” I push away from him, and he keys the door crystal. As I step out into the corridor, I glance back over my shoulder. He still looks worried so I smile again. “Hey,” I say softly. “Don’t you know happy when you see it?”

          He huffs and shakes his head slightly, his eyes looking out from under heavy brows. “That’s why I’m so worried.”

          I throw a mock glare at him then roll my eyes. “I can never win!” Then I head for the transporter that will whisk me toward my own room and long needed scrub down.

          As I make my way to the transporter, then down the hall, I ask Atlantis to pick a song from my collection that will go with my mood.

          It starts as soon as I enter my room and I almost laugh given what is waiting for me.

~ § ~

Addicted to You - Saving Abel

          So, it took four days for me to get back to normal, four days for Ronon to figure out that something happened between me and his boss…and the same four days for Sheppard’s theory to crash and burn. 

          When I open my door, he’s lying on my bed, wearing the black T-shirt of humina-humina-humina and jeans of oh-boy, hands clasped behind his head, and the dimples of utter destruction doing their worst. All I can do is sigh, roll my eyes and shake my head as I peel off my smelly T-shirt and drag myself into the bathroom.

          I strip down and turn on the shower, letting the water run over my fingers to make sure it’s hot enough. I glance back; he’s leaning against the door frame, arms crossed, eyes eating me alive…but no smile.

          “Well?” I raise my brows and his eyes catch mine. “You gonna scrub my back or not?” Then I step into the shower.

          Minutes later, John’s gloriously naked, standing behind me. He lifts my arms overhead one then the other and ever so gently wipes the washcloth over my skin. At the same time, his free hand’s sliding over my slick, wet belly, creating bubbles from the soap. This is much better than what I was expecting.

          As he joined me in the shower, he took the cloth out of my hand and simply said, “Let me.” So, I did. Who’m I to debate such a demand. I mean, really. He’s taking his time, intent on the job at hand, not even making an attempt at seduction yet. Though, there’s not much point in something like that…I’m obviously a sure thing.

          Yep, Slutsville here I come. Oooh, nice play on words. I giggle at my internal joke and John stops his task of washing my shoulders and the back of my neck. “What’s so funny?”

          “My little voice.”

          He leans down and licks the rim of my ear. The feel of his tongue sends a shiver down my spine. “You hear voices?”

          “Just one.” I turn my head slightly, catching his gaze. “What? You didn’t know that I’m crazy?”

          “Hot, yes,” he nips my earlobe. “Crazy…not so much.” He starts caressing my back with the cloth again. “So, what does this little voice have to say?”

          I giggle again. “It’s an inside joke. Very inside.” I am such a loon; I can’t believe he hasn’t noticed.

          “Ahh.”

          “You’re not scared, are you?”

          His mouth hovers next to my ear again. “Scared about what?”

          “That I’m crazy.”

          “Terrified.” He kisses the sweet spot just under my ear behind my jaw, making my nerves tingle to my toes and I shiver again. The cloth moves lower, slowly caressing every inch of my back. He stops in mid-swipe on my lower back and his fingers glide over one of my many still tender bruises along my side…then finds another. Grasping my shoulders, he gently turns me to face him, pulling me close, trapping my arms against his chest. “Did I do that?” he asks; eyes full of fierce concern.

          “You didn’t hear about my not so elegant ice encounter?”

          He smiles lightly. “I heard you fell…didn’t know it was so bad.”

          “Not so bad. Just bruises.” Then I grin at him. “Found something to take the pain away that same night.”

          He arches a single brow. “Really?”

          My fingertips glide over his chest. “Mmm hmm. A very powerful analgesic.” I raise my gaze to his. “Who knew it even existed.”

          “So. No more pain?”

          “Actually,” I pout a little, focusing my attention on his wet chest hair. “I do have a nasty headache.” Then I look up at him again. His face falls with disappointment. “Wanna make it go away?” I figure that’s enough incentive and I’m right on target.

          The first kiss is slow, tender and lasts for what seems like hours, though I have no concept of time when he’s nearby. As the hot water pulses against my shoulders, I slip my hands around his neck and he pulls me closer, sliding his arms around my waist, lifting me to my toes.

          Given our Olympic workout the last time, I’m all for a slow burn and that seems to be exactly what John has in mind. And though I did label him a manly-man last time, he’s of a rare breed, concerning himself with my pleasure above all else. I could so get used to this attention to detail.

          Later just having finished round two, still locked together, we lie facing each other on my bed, my right leg dangling over his hip. His fingertips skim over my arm as I gently tease his spiky, wet hair. “So, I guess my theory didn’t hold.”

          I laugh a little. “Guess not.”

          He locks his eyes on mine. “Are you okay?”

          “You mean in general or with our situation?”

          “Both, I guess.”

          “I’m good. You?”

          He grins, exposing the dimples. “Do you have to ask?”

          “You did.”

          “Yeah…but…”

          Oh, no he’s not. He’s gonna pull the, ‘but I’m a guy and this is what guys do and women are too nurturing and needy,’ blah blah blah. Geez, sometimes men just need a serious head slap. “John?”

          “Hmm?”

          “I’m not naïve. I knew exactly what you were offering that first night. No strings. No complications.” As in no pesky emotions, dear boy. He is just the cutest thing ever! Look at those puppy eyes.

          “And you’re okay with that?” His thumb slides over my bottom lip and I catch it in my mouth, playing my tongue over the tip, pulling a quiet groan from him. A moment later, he’s kissing me, our tongues caressing and dancing against each other.

          I repeatedly tighten and release my inner girly muscles around him until he breaks the kiss with a gasp. He starts growing inside me and I push him onto his back, lying on top of him, still messing with him as gently as possible…for the moment. “If I wasn’t okay with this…you’d probably be dead now.”

          His eyes widen considerably even as they start to roll back in his head from my internal massage. “Dead?”

          “Mmm hmm.” I bury my face in his neck, kissing his pulsing artery, nipping at his skin. “Ronon knows.”

          John’s hands grip my shoulders and he pushes me up. There’s slight panic in his eyes. “Knows knows or thinks he knows?” I smirk and plant a kiss on his pouty lips. He pushes me up again. “No, seriously…what does he know?”

          I rest my left arm on his chest, chin on the back of my hand and simply gaze at him as my right hand plays at his unruly hair. I search his face with my eyes, drinking in his beauty. Then I grab his gaze and hold it. “That I’m happy…as is.”

          “So…we’re friends with benefits.”

          My brows crease and I stick out my bottom lip, which his eyes immediately drift to. “I’m not so sure we’re even that.”

          “No?”

          “Let’s face it. We’re barely acquaintances.”

          “Naked acquaintances.”

          I flash a sly grin. “Bound to bang into each other on occasion.” And then I kiss him, still working my below the belt magic and he moans. His arms circle around my back, hugging me close. After a moment, I break the kiss, but not the massage. “This should’ve been broached last time…but…I got…hmm, distracted.”

          “Really? By what I wonder.”

          That makes me laugh. “Well…um…strictly for my personal health… you don’t happen to have any other naked friends or acquaintances…do you?”

          John grins, flashing his dimples. “Well, as the Kirk of Atlantis…ahh what the hell are you doing?!”

          I tightened my grip on him. See, all those exercises and stretches do come in handy. Good muscle manipulation is so important in everything one does. Kegels aren't just good for bladder control. Relax then tighten again. “Looking for an honest answer.” Throw in a flutter to drive him crazy.

          He groans deep in his chest. “Well, damn…” He trembles slightly. “You’re not gonna get any if you keep doing that.”

          Lifting myself up, I rub firmly against him and he moves within me, increasing his arousal. I catch his eyes, grinning wickedly. “So?”

          “Not at this time. No.” He chuckles a gasp. “I’d never have the energy.”

          “Yeah. Me neither.”

          Grinning, he rolls me under him, pressing me into the bed with his body and attacking my mouth as if I’ve just downed the last beer in the galaxy.

* § *

          So, the latest encounter with Sheppard…hot shower sex…hot bed sex…even more hot bed sex…not much else to mention except that we ‘defined’ our ‘relationship’ if it can be called that. Basically, we bump uglies whenever we feel the urge. It’s a dirty job…but he’s so damn hot… and yes, I’m that pathetic.

          Please, I’m making up for lost time here! Love the Id girl and her priorities.

          It’s strictly lust and passion. He’s just so damn pretty, I still think he should be illegal. Oooh, an illegal booty call, that sounds really hot!

          We don’t socialize in The City and rarely see each other on a day-to-day basis since I’ve got my massage therapy thing and he’s off-world or discovering new and exciting Atlantis secrets as part of his daily job. It’s a naked thing we do to fill a need. There’s nothing wrong with that. He certainly has a stressful job and needs some way to relax. And he’s very good at relaxing.

          I know he’s in love with Dr. Weir, as Jax continuously reminds me. I’m not an idiot. And someday the woman is going to wake up and smell the hotty. Oh, he does smell nice. Anyway, when that day comes, I’ll throw him down on the bed and screw him blind. Then I’ll send him off to the lovely lady as if he’s a candy gram and wish them all the best.

          I know I’ll miss his talents when he’s gone, but until that day comes, I’ve always liked Jell-O.

          Still. I’m rooting for real clones one day because every woman should know the unbelievable bliss that is John Sheppard.

 3.5

          “It’s like I’m there all over again, but this time…” Words seem to fail her and she shakes her head.

          Kate waits, giving Angie time to consider her thoughts. She’s slightly more open today, far more than the past two sessions. It’s been a tough month with her. She’s been more closed-off than ever, but at the same time, seemingly happier. Or at least content.

          Every once in a while, she gets a wistful smile and shivers almost imperceptibly. Though she doesn’t talk about it, Kate assumes the change is because of the non-boyfriend. It’s plainly obvious the one-night-stand didn’t stop at the one night and has been continuing for a few weeks now.

          Today’s conversation, however, is restricted to one topic: her recent nightmare, which has obviously disturbed her a great deal. This is a good sign. Kate’s been waiting for her to open up more about her subconscious fears. Angie admitted that it’s not the first time she’s had this particular dream. In fact, she’s woken up weeping on several occasions in the past month because of it.

          “They talk to me,” she says quietly, her hands fidgeting in her lap, eyes downcast.

          Kate waits again, but it’s clear she’s not planning on elaborating without some prompting. “What do they say?”

          “That’s the problem.” She looks up at Kate, her eyes filled with confusion. “I can’t hear it.” She presses her hand to her heart. “I know it’s important. I feel it’s important. But it’s all muffled by the gunshots. And Tony laughing at me.”

          “He’s laughing?”

          She nods, her voice bland. “He wasn’t the most sensitive guy, doc. It’s just my bad luck he was also a lousy shot.”

          “You really believe that, Angie? That you were the unlucky one?”

          Her eyes slide to her twitching fingers. “Sometimes. Hell, most of the time.” She darts out of the chair and paces off some energy. “Look, I know I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’ve gotten really good at it over time.” She tosses her head back. “Gawd! I hate this. I just…want…”

          Kate waits but gets nothing further. “What? What do you want?”

          Angie drops her cold gaze to the doctor and Kate can feel Jax has joined the discussion, effectively shutting it down. “A shower.”

          “I don’t believe that’s what you were planning on saying. Try again.”

          Her eyes narrow and she turns to the window, staring out over the water. She does this to avoid confrontation, with Kate…with herself. After a few moments, she sighs. “I get the feeling they’re trying to give me the answers to the universe or something.” She looks back at Kate and grins sheepishly. “But someone doesn’t want me to hear it.”

          “Someone. You mean a higher power?”

          Angie shrugs. “Maybe.”

          “Or,” Kate starts slowly. “You aren’t ready to hear it.”

          “That’s ridiculous. It’s my dream.”

          “Exactly.” Kate tilts her head, wondering if this is a good time to broach the subject again. “We could always try hyp‒”

          “No.”

          “It is an effective‒”

          “I said no.” Her arms cross protectively around her and she turns back to the window. Kate gives her a few minutes to calm down. Angie will start talking again as soon as she’s reined in her anger. Though it is the one emotion she does show, it’s still under heavy security.

          “They died instantly. No talking. Just…gone. I couldn’t even say…” She shudders. “Sometimes I think I hear my dad’s voice. How weird is that?”

          “Not weird. Natural, actually.”

          She turns; her face full of skepticism. “I highly doubt that.”

          “What does he say?”

          Her brows wrinkle. “My name. He’s calling to me…like it’s dinnertime.”

          “How does it make you feel…hearing that?”

          Her eyes get a far-off glaze and the tiniest smile lifts one corner of her mouth. “Safe.” In a split-second, the look is gone and she voluntarily shakes her whole body. “Well, that was melodramatic of me.”

          “Not at all.”

          Angie rolls her eyes and sneers, obviously amused by Kate’s indefatigable understanding. “Don’t you get sick of it?”

          “Of what?” Kate asks.

          “All the bitching? The whining? I could never do your job. I’d go even crazier.”

          Kate chuckles. “You’re not crazy, Angie. Full of turmoil, denial, steeped in depression, maybe… but not crazy.”

          Angie turns to the window again. “Damn,” she sounds disappointed.

          “What?”

          She shrugs a shoulder. “I was kinda hopin’ for crazy. It’d explain a lot.” She shivers, this time involuntarily and a blush creeps up her neck. Angie peeks over her shoulder at Kate then quickly looks back out the window.

          “How’s that casual fling going, by the way?”

          Angie slowly turns, staring down the doctor with a gaze full of awe. “How do you do that?”

          “What?”

          “Know exactly when I’m thinking about…him?”

          Kate smiles. “You don’t make it difficult. You may not realize this, but you embarrass easily.”

          “I’m not embarrassed.”

          “Maybe not consciously. But sub-consciously…you blush very quickly when you think about that…topic.”

          She’s surprised by this. “Yeah?”

          Kate nods. “I think I know why, too.”

          “Really? Impress me, Dr. H.”

          “It seems whenever you think of him…you get a memory of something…pleasurable.”

          Angie clenches her teeth, working her jaw. “Hmm,” is all she says, but her eyes narrow as she looks at Kate.

          “Is it part of your gift?” Kate asks.

          She licks her lips, deciding what to share. With a tilt of her head, she smiles coyly. “Let’s just say, my program’s been…upgraded.”

          “Really. How so?”

          “Alien intervention.”

          “I see. That must have been a difficult time for you. Losing control like that.”

          She raises a brow. “I don’t remember much.”

          “I’m surprised.”

          She nods and sniffs. “Join the club.” Then she waves a hand. “I’m over it. And God help McKay if he tries to pull something like that on me again.”

          “What do you mean?”

          “He’d better know exactly what it is I’m activating before I lay a finger on it or I will kill him.” For a moment there, Kate is certain Angie means that literally. Then the smirk reappears and the young woman returns to her chair. “So, how’s your sex life, doc?”

          “This session isn’t about me.”

          “C’mon,” she whines a little. “Fair’s fair. Let me see you blush.”

          Kate shakes her head. “Angie.”

          “Radek,” she says, grinning coyly. Kate’s heart rate increases without her consent and her cheeks get warm. Angie’s grin grows. “Gotcha.”

          “Very funny.” Kate shifts in her chair. “So…I take it your one-time thing has continued?”

          “We’re calling it naked acquaintances.”

          “Isn’t the term friends with benefits?”

          Angie huffs. “We don’t know each other that well.”

          “I see.” Kate watches her. “So, if you’re not friends, how did this happen?”

          “It was…” she smirks sideways. “Unexpected.” She heaves a heavy sigh and consciously shakes her body again. “Damn. It’s more of a curse, you know. Sometimes, it’s good to forget. Makes life easier. Not so…”

          “What?” Kate asks though she’s pretty sure she knows; she wants Angie to voice her concerns, give in to any emotion that she might have.

          She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. “I can still smell his aftershave.” She swallows. “He doesn’t have to be in the damn room and yet…he’s here! It’s…” Her head drops into her hands and she rubs her face. “Giving me a headache.”

          “How long since you were last together?”

          “Five days.”

          “Have you talked to him?”

          Her jaw slides to the side. “Haven’t seen him.”

          “Are you avoiding him? Or afraid he’s avoiding you?”

          She grins. “No. He’s a busy man. And I’m not some…clingy type. It’s a no strings policy. No complications. We agreed.”

          “And that doesn’t bother you, even a little?”

          “Why should it?”

          “Because, Angie, it’s not just a physical connection for women, there is emotion involved whether you want to admit it or not. It’s nature’s nasty trick on us. There are chemicals released, one in particular, that makes it almost impossible for a woman not to become attached. It’s the same as when a woman gives birth‒”

          “Oh, well. I must not have that.”

          “All women have it. It’s in the brain.”

          “Look, doc. I’m not exactly the poster girl for sanity. That means there must be something different about me…maybe it’s chemical. Whatever. I don’t get all…cuddly with people. Attachment’s over-rated anyway.” She chews on her lip. “Gets people killed.”

          “I thought you were past that.”

          Angie rolls her eyes. “Past what?”

          “Believing you curse people with your love.”

          “I must be. Told Ronon I love him. Told Jack. And they’re both still upright and alive.” She shrugs. “So, I’m not a curse. Doesn’t make romance a good idea.”

          Kate watches her closely. “So, you’re determined not the let John…” Oops. Kate realizes her mistake instantly and tries to backtrack. “This man‒”

          But Angie holds up a hand and her eyes blaze with fury. “Hold it! You couldn’t possibly have just guessed.”

          Kate sighs and leans in. “Actually, I did. An educated guess, but…it made sense.”

          Angie shakes her head. “How…what’d you do, just pull his name out of your ass?”

          “I read Dr. Beckett’s report about the pheromone incident.”

          Her brows crease and her eyes widen. “What?”

          Kate leans in again. “As your doctor, it’s my duty to know exactly what you have been through, whether you want to discuss it or not. He clearly indicated that you and Col. Sheppard‒”

          Her head shakes quickly. “He wasn’t there.”

          “But the report…you two paired off.”

          “I don’t care about the damn report.” Her eyes are cool and hard. “Col. Sheppard wasn’t there.”

          It takes a moment for Kate to realize exactly what Angie’s saying. The Colonel wasn’t there… but John was. She obviously distinguishes between the two. Very interesting…and telling in a way. Must come back to that later.

          “So...John and you‒”

          Angie huffs in surprise and disgust, shaking her head, then dropping it into her hands again and groaning. “This is so unfair!”

          “It’s also confidential, Angie. No one is going to find out.” She waits a moment. “But you do need to confront the issue at hand. Clearly, you’ve been attracted to the man for quite a while. And from what I’ve seen in your behavior when he’s returned from a mission even slightly injured…it’s not simply physical. You obviously have feelings for him.”

          She holds up a hand. “Not feelings, feelings. Feelings…as in…pleasure.”

          Kate nods. “But you have to understand something. Pleasure is tied to emotions. And no matter how hard you try to block yours, you still have them deep down. You need to let yourself experience them as well. It’s understandable that you’re afraid‒”

          She gets out of the chair and stomps to the door. “I’m not afraid of anything!” And then she’s gone.

          Kate sighs heavily. “Well, that could have gone better.”

₪†₪

Chapter Text

4

          Okay, so I’m stomping down the corridor, knowing I probably shouldn’t have stormed out of Dr. H’s office, but hey…she pissed me off. How the hell did she make that leap to John being my sex buddy? I mean c’mon what is she psychic or something? And if so, what the hell am I talking to her for, she should already know what I’m thinking and just fix me.

          Yeah, that’s right, it’s all her fault. You couldn’t possibly have over-reacted to the ‘a’ word, now could you?

          Shut up, Jax!

          And what’s up with her and that friggin’ hypnosis crap. She’s gotta know it’ll never work on me. As Jack’s fond of saying, “I’m not the cluck like a dog, bark like a chicken type.” How many different ways can I say ‘no’?

          Could work.

          I stop short, looking up and down the corridor. I’m completely alone, but I get the sense someone is around. That didn’t sound like a Jax thing to say. It was in my head…but different.

          Now I am losing it!

          I seriously feel like someone is watching me. It happens a lot in this place. Kind of like Big Brother is always on the lookout. It reminds me of being in protective custody, stuck in one of the fed buildings until they got me and Ryan set up in some rat-trap apartment.

          He always did what he could to make it livable though. He made dinner like a chef too. Gawd that boy could cook!

          And now my gut’s all clenched up, thanks for the trip down memory lane! I need something… intangible. I can feel it, but I don’t know what it is. Chocolate? No. Caffeine? Not allowed to have it anymore. Skating? Nah, don’t feel like it.

          What?! Yeah, that’s weird. I don’t feel like skating? Since when? Since this freaking head pounding refuses to stop! Okay, ignore it. It’ll go away; it always does sooner or later.

          But, still, I’m missing something. Ah hell. I think the doc’s wrong. I am nutsola. Okay, close the eyes and count to ten, maybe whatever it is will pop into my mind. One, two, three‒

          Suddenly I’m falling forward. Okay, I’m supposed to be this graceful athlete. Huh, not so much recently because I totally do a face plant in the middle of an Atlantis hallway because someone just rammed into me. It’s like I have no balance at all.

          Exactly!

          There it is again. That did not come from my head…it was put in there!

          “Jax!” Dr. McKay says as I roll over onto my back. He offers me his hand and I take it. “I’m…well…what were you doing just standing there?”

          Oh, so it’s my fault he plowed right into me?

          “Just standing there. What were you doing running through The City?” See, I knew someone was around. When I learned to sense others nearby, Ryan used to tell me my whiskers were twitching…like a cat’s. I kind of like that metaphor actually. Cats are solitary, slinky, mysterious… and allowed to be cranky whenever they damn well please. Cats are cool!

          “I wasn’t‒” he waves a hand. “It’s not important. Anyway, I’m glad I ran into you.”

          “Literally.” I’m still waiting for an apology, but I should know better than to expect one from McKay. He’s the kind of guy who should be locked in a room with a computer linked to his brain. No interaction with other people. I should call up Cadman…we can tape him to a chair again. I grin at the thought, which McKay, of course, takes as a sign that I actually want to speak with him.

          “Yes, well. It’s nothing urgent. I just thought you might like to know I finished translating the text about the…uh…Ancient‒”

          “Pheromone doohickey?”

          He snaps his fingers. “Yes. That. I really need to come up with a name for that thing. I miss Ford. He used to name things for me.”

          My brows cinch. “Yeah. That’s a good reason to miss him.”

          He nods, either completely ignoring or just not getting my not-so-subtle barb. “Anyway, it’s all good. It does exactly what we thought.” He cocks his head a little and his blue eyes shimmer with something he’s not saying…that’s not always a bad thing, but in this case, I’m not sure I want him holding back. “How are you feeling?”

          “I’m fine, why?”

          “No residual…I mean to say…you haven’t been…”

          “Spit it out, McKay.”

          “No nausea, weight loss, sleeplessness, fatigue or headaches, I take it?”

          Okay, now my alarm bells are going off like one of those screeching Piccolo Petes on the Fourth of July. “What?”

          He waves a hand again. “It’s nothing. Never mind.” He tries to skip by me, but I grab his arm and squeeze, making him wince. He pulls his arm free and rubs the spot. “Ow.” Such a wuss.

          “Why would you ask about that stuff? Are you telling me exposure to that thing’s gonna give me a brain tumor or something?”

          “Don’t be so dramatic, of course not. I don’t…think. No, they would have mentioned something about… Why? Are you having any of those...?”

          “No. Why?”

          “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. I really have to go now. I have an important meeting. Not to say you aren’t important…what I mean to say‒”

          I wave a hand. “Save it.”

          He bobs his head. “Saving it.” And rushes down the corridor. Such a strange man.

          He’s not so bad.

          “What the fuck!”

          Who the hell is talking to me…in my head! Oh, gawd…what if that doohickey is driving me off the crazy cliff?

           I’m gonna have to get that report. Could’ve just asked but where’s the fun in that? Besides, McKay might wonder why and if he finds out I lied, he’ll run straight to Dr. Beckett and it’ll be needles all around for me. No thanks.

          It’s just a headache…a coincidence anyway. Right? He didn’t say anything about random thoughts coming from…well it does sound like me…in a weird way.

          No. I’m not losing the rest of my mind. I’m…

          I squeeze my head between both hands. My brain feels like it’s trying to escape from my ears and eyes! What that hell!

          I’d give it some thought, but my mind refuses to cooperate. I squeeze my eyes shut and rub my temples. Headaches, my ass. This is a full-blown migraine. If this is some kind of after effect of that damn thing, I’m gonna kill someone. Probably McKay!

          That unknown craving is still with me, but the headache’s getting worse so I move to the nearest transporter, intent on getting a nap. Maybe my insomnia is finally taking a toll.

4.5

          John leaves the infirmary after Carson gives him the all clear. His elbow doesn’t hurt but does look pretty nasty all bruised up. Teyla kicked his ass today…again. Good thing it wasn’t Ronon wanting to spar with him. His head couldn’t handle the beating. It’s bad enough he can feel the guy’s ‘evil eye’ on him daily, watching him carefully for any sign that he’s been doing naughty things to Angie. Mmm, Angie. I wonder…?

          The pounding in his head becomes a conga. Maybe I’m coming down with something. He’s been feeling sluggish for the past day, ever since returning from P3X-734. What a dustbowl. Nothing on that heap except sand and more sand.

          McKay was sure they’d find a ZPM there because he’d found the coordinates while working on something related to it. Apparently, the Ancients used the planet as their version of an alpha site. Unfortunately, whatever had been on the planet was lost, probably due to some cataclysmic event that remade the place into the Pegasus Galaxy’s version of the Sahara Desert.

          McKay’s trying to figure out where they might have moved to, if at all, before the planet changed.

          Something to worry about later. Right now, he needs a shower. Sand manages to get everywhere. And maybe a couple aspirin wouldn’t hurt. He should’ve asked Carson. No, bad idea. Carson knows John has a high pain tolerance, so asking for even the mildest aid would light up the Bat signal for the Scot. He might even want to run tests.

          John grimaces at the thought. He’s spent too much time in that place since coming to Atlantis.

          He heads to his quarters, walking faster as he gets closer until finally, he breaks into a jog. He hits the door panel and sees her sitting on his bed, clutching her head in her hands. She looks up and her face softens. The moment she rises, he’s on her. They’re all hands and lips, fingers and tongues. They tear off each other’s shirts in a frenzy of gasps, moans and grunts. Her bra falls to the side and his hands automatically fondle her. She’s so beautiful, warm and…his. He’s instantly ready for her. He grabs her face with both hands. “Tell me you want me.”

          “I want you,” she gushes, her eyes full of passion.

          And he kisses her hard, bruising her lips, taking her breath.

          He yanks her pants down and forcefully spins her then pushes her onto the bed. She lands on all fours, her pants trapping her ankles. He doesn’t even bother to finish undressing, he can’t wait. He unzips and releases himself. He has to have her now. John leans fully over her, his mouth against her ear and he growls with hunger. “You’re mine.”

          “Yes,” she gasps, her body trembling beneath him.

          And he takes her hard, fast with unyielding power. He can’t help it. He has to have her, as if his life depends on this moment, the feel of her surrounding him, taking him in. Grasping her hips, digging his fingers into her tender flesh, he repeatedly plunges inside but she doesn’t resist, she’s hot, wet and ready for him and that arouses him even more. She pushes against him, letting him in deeper…all the way. She’s his and no one else can have her.

          He knows something’s wrong with him. This isn’t right. This isn’t how he does things, how they do things. But he can’t stop. He drives hard, furiously. It…feels…so…good!

          Violently, he flips her over and she lands on her back, her breath catching. He tears her pants all the way off and then he’s on top of her, inside her again. His hands grasp at her breasts, squeezing and pinching. His mouth follows and he’s drowning in the taste of her skin, the smell of her body. He’s intoxicated by her screaming his name.

          It’s all about him. His pleasure. His release deep inside her.

          He can’t stop.

          Doesn’t. Want. To. Stop!

          Even as his mind yells at him that this is horribly wrong.

          “Johnny!”

          Her cry pushes him over the edge. “Mine,” he howls, collapsing on top of her, shaking with unimaginable pleasure, trapping her beneath his weight.

          Feeling her struggling to breathe, John rolls off and lies on his back. They both stare up at the ceiling, their rapid breaths slowing.

          “Well,” she sighs.

          “That was‒”

          “Different,” she finishes.

          John rubs his hands over his face. He’s still shaking. He can’t comprehend what just happened. How he let it happen. How she let him do that. He can’t look at her. He’s actually afraid to look at her. What if this changes things? What if she’s afraid of him now? He wouldn’t blame her. Couldn’t blame her.

          He licks his lips. He’s got cotton mouth so bad, he can’t even swallow. Without a word, he rolls off the bed, adjusts his pants and goes into the bathroom. He downs a glass of water then splashes more onto his face, rubbing his hands hard against his eyes. What the hell was that? Who am I? He can’t imagine what she thinks of him. He…God…what is wrong with me?

          “John?” He spins before he can stop himself. She’s leaning in the door, wearing his shirt, arms folded beneath her breasts, looking as gorgeous as ever, but her eyes hold something new. Worry. “Did I do something wrong?”

          How can she ask that? Of course not. It was him. All him. But none of that comes out; he just stares at her, trying to understand how she could be so calm after what he did to her, how he treated her like she was nothing more than his property.

          He turns from her, grasping the sides of the sink, his arms ache as he clenches all his muscles until they quiver with exertion. He can’t bring himself to look in the mirror so he hangs his head and closes his eyes tight.

          Time slips by as his brain twists and turns over the last fifteen minutes.

          Say something, you idiot! She’s waiting.

          He finally turns to talk to her but she’s gone. John goes into the bedroom. She’s not there.

          Shit!

          Her clothes are gone, but so is his shirt so he grabs another from the closet and rushes out as he pulls it on. The corridor is dark, The City set to slumber through the night. Only the evening patrol in the Gate Room should be up at this late hour.

          He heads for the transporter. He can’t be too far behind her, maybe a few minutes…he hopes. How long was I in there? He can’t be sure. Doesn’t matter. He’ll make it to her room and apologize, beg for forgiveness even. He doesn’t want her to be mad, let alone feel like she did something wrong.

          How can she possibly think that?

          Because that’s what she does. She blames herself for anything that goes wrong. It’s actually part of her charm, in a strange and annoying way.

          John runs his hands through his hair. This is so crazy. I’m acting crazy. His heart’s racing as he pushes the section that will take him to Angie’s quarters. He runs down the hall, the slap of his shoes the only sound until her door opens just before he arrives and music pours out.

Evanescence - Hello

          She’s standing in the frame, wearing her robe, arms crossed protectively around her middle. He slows as he gets closer, the look in her eyes inscrutable. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. But she’s waiting for him, expecting him even. He bows his head as he comes inside and she lets the door close.

          John drops heavily onto the edge of her bed, hanging his head as he rests his elbows on his knees. “Angie‒”

          She holds up a hand. “Jax, please.”

          He only thinks of her as Angie these days but he’ll call her whatever she wants. “Okay. Jax. I…how…” He has no idea what to say. He was so harsh…brutal even. “I’m so sorry.”

          “For what?” She asks.

          He lifts his eyes and sees her confusion. “How I just treated you.”

          She blinks. Once. Twice. Her brows crease and she slides her gaze to the floor then back up and locks it onto his again. Understanding flashes in her eyes and she opens her mouth to say something then decides against it. She bites her bottom lip then takes a step toward him and reaches for his hand. She links her fingers with his then straddles his lap. “I don’t know how to say this,” she starts.

          “Usually, words help.”

          She smirks at that then licks her lips, catching her bottom one in her teeth again. “You were exactly what I wanted…needed even.”

          It’s his turn to be confused, shocked.

          Her free hand rummages through his hair; he loves it when she touches him. It’s like tiny electric shocks through his body and sends blood rushing straight down. “Before you came into your room, my mind was screaming at me. I had this horrible raging headache…and the only thought I had was…” She shakes her head, pulling her eyes from his. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this.” John lifts her chin so he can see her. “I want John to just take me and fuck the pain away.” She blushes even as she grins. “And boy did you.”

          With all the activity, he’d forgotten about his headache too. He no longer had it.

          “Afterward…” She drops her eyes again. Her fingers slip from his and she plays with the collar of his shirt. “You were so angry. I thought…I don’t know what I thought. I figured I’d done something, maybe said something I didn’t remember.”

          John rests his hands on her waist. “I was angry. At myself.”

          Her eyes find his again. “Why?”

          “Because…I was afraid I’d‒”

          “What? Hurt me?” John raises his brows, nodding. Jax smiles lightly, shaking her head. “You can’t.” Her eyes narrow, holding his. “I would never let you.”

          She’s not just talking physically, that much is obvious by her piercing stare. He should feel relief that she’s so honest and so open to their complications-free arrangement or that she’s not afraid of a bit of animal in her partner—though he still doesn’t know where it came from—and that she’s not going to ask for more than he’s offering. But there is something about her statement that leaves him chilly.

          He really doesn’t know this woman. Can’t know her. Because she won’t allow it. And for some reason, that really bothers him.

          She’s watching him intensely. “You think something’s wrong with me. With us.”

          “What do you mean?”

          Shifting slightly on his lap, she tilts her head, considering him. She doesn’t seem to notice that her robe has fallen open, her rosy nipple peeking out, but he does…he can’t help it. And he can’t help the fresh desire starting to build inside him at the sight of her luscious skin. It’s calling to him. So he answers the call.

          She gasps as his mouth covers her free breast and he groans at the taste of her. She’s trying to say something but it comes out as a murmur. “He said…headaches and mmm.” The hand in his hair pulls him closer and she starts rocking in his lap, sliding against him. John pushes the robe off her shoulders, devouring her with his eyes before finding the next sweet peek to attack.

          “You are so good at distracting me,” she moans, both hands now in his hair.

          John leans back on the bed, smoothly rolling over until she’s under him. “Likewise.” He catches her lips for a long, slow kiss, letting his hands take care of the impeding robe. Then he strips quickly so he can get back to his explorations. He wants to know every inch of her body. And he plans on taking his time.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

5

Listen to Your Heart - Roxette

          I wake with a start, not unusual given how annoying those damned dreams are. I’m not crying, however, and there’s no residual wetness on my cheeks, which is a nice change. No, I’m not at one with my emotions, blah blah blah. Who the hell needs to be, anyway? I’m functional. I manage. And I have a great sex life.

          That’s a big plus in my book.

          I have a third appendage it seems. There’s a hand on my belly and it’s not mine. Slowly, I roll my head and see John sleeping soundly…in my bed…with me. Okay, that breaks the rules. There are no sleepovers, we agreed this is casual. It’s supposed to be casual! Damn, he looks so sweet when he’s sleeping. I could get used to‒

          No, you could not! Because this is casual. It’s sex, simple as that.

          Not earlier, if you ask me.

          Well, no one’s asking you, Id girl!

          She’s right though. As much as I hate to think about it, there was something different this last time. Something…more. John did… Damn, what he did to me, how he made me feel.

          He made me want to cuddle!

          Bastard!

          And his hand is still on me, touching me, keeping me warm and…

          Shit! I have to get out of here. I need air. Lots and lots of air. So, I slowly move his hand away and slip out of bed. I look back to make sure he hasn’t woken then I quickly grab my sweatpants and T-shirt. Screw the bra, I don’t have time. And I hate going braless more than I hate to cry…okay maybe not more than that…but more than I hate kids.

          I’m out the door and running barefoot down the corridor before I know it. I slam both hands into the wall next to the transporter and pound my fist against it. My heart’s racing and I can barely catch my breath. I’m light-headed too. This is not good. I’m having a full-blown panic attack! I’ve had enough of them to know the signs.

          Turning my back to the wall, I slide down and sit on the floor pulling my knees to my chest. My mind’s a jumble of images: John’s lips, his hands, his eyes. Damn those eyes! And his voice…gawd! Why did he have to say that? Of all things to call me…it’s not fair! He’s not being fair! I bury my face in my hands and slam the back of my head against the wall. Once, twice, three times is the charm. Dizzying stars burn in my brain.

          This shouldn’t be happening. I have no reason to be all…crazy right now. I just had an amazing sexual encounter. Beyond what we’ve done before, even though I didn’t turn to Jell-O this time, that’s not the point. It was…unreal.

          Yeah. And that’s the problem… he called you‒

          Shut up! Shut up! No one calls me that.

          Daddy did.

          When I pull my hands away, they’re cool with tears. Whatthehell! I swipe at my cheeks. I’m fucking crying! This is not happening to me. No way in hell. Something’s wrong with me. With both of us. It’s the only explanation. That device did something to me and I did something to him. I’ve done something wrong to John! Whatever it is, I have to fix it. Now.

          McKay!

          “Jax?”

          My eyes dart from looking at my wet palms to the half-naked man with the most magnificent chest and arms standing in the light of my door at the other end of an otherwise dark corridor. Damn. Getting up quickly, I step on the transporter and vanish from him and his…cuddling. 

5.5

          John opens his eyes. He’s confused at first then remembers where he is and reaches for her, but she’s gone. Probably in the bathroom.

          A slow smile curves his lips. That was something else. They were all eyes that time, staring at each other throughout. It felt like…they made a connection. Not just two bodies colliding, but actual people. For the first time since they started this thing, John really felt Angela in the room with him. Even if she prefers to be called Jax, he couldn’t help the sigh that escaped in the end. It’s just how he felt.

          Still smiling, he scrubs his hands over his face and gets up. He leans into the bathroom. “Jax?” But she’s not in there and his heart sinks, startling him. He really wants to see her, now more than ever. Wants to hold her in his arms as they fall asleep together. Which is really odd, considering their just…what are they really? I mean that was different; especially compared to earlier. But we’re still not even…

          Quickly pulling on his pants, John keys the door open, not knowing why until he steps into the corridor. He can see her in the dim light at the end of the hallway, sitting against the far wall, her hands covering her face. But what makes his heart flop into his stomach is the sound of her crying, very faint, but he catches it.

          She pulls her hands away and stares at them as if she’s never seen them before. Then she swipes harshly at her cheeks before staring at her hands again.

          “Jax?”

          She looks up at him, her face full of emotion, but he can’t tell what it is. Even after all these weeks, he still doesn’t know her well enough. She’s on her feet in an instant and disappears into the transporter a second later.

          Why is she always running from me?

          He saw the section she selected on the transporter panel, though he can’t understand why. That part of The City is where the labs are…

          Wait a minute.

          She mentioned something about McKay earlier. John rushes back into the bedroom and gets dressed then returns to the transporter.

          He spots her sitting in the dark, hovering over a laptop. John folds his arms, just relishing the view. He really enjoys a good stare now and then, even if he can only see her profile, she looks ethereal in the blue light from the computer screen, reminding him of what he said earlier. It rushed out as a heavy whisper before he lightly kissed her…my angel. He doesn’t even know where it came from. But it made her breath catch with a hushed whimper.

          “You do that a lot,” she whispers without turning.

          “What?”

          “Hover.”

          John strolls into the room and comes up behind her. “I don’t hover.”

          She looks at him then. “How ‘bout skulk?”

          John nods his head to the side and makes a face. “That, I do.” He leans in. “Why are you being all sneaky, breaking into McKay’s lab?”

          She turns her attention back to the laptop. “I didn’t break, I just entered.”

          “Then why are you whispering?”

          With a heavy sigh, she looks back at him. “Because it seems like the thing to do when you’re trying to be sneaky. Now, hush. I’m reading.”

          “Doesn’t he have a password on this thing?”

          “Yep.”

          “So, how’d you break it?”

          She gives him a cool stare. “I’m a genius.” John can’t tell if she’s kidding or not until she gives a half smirk. “I saw him type it in one time. Not brain surgery.”

          “So, what’s his password?”

          “SG1hotblonde.”

          “Ahhhh. Got it.” John looks over her shoulder. She’s in the middle of a text that looks kind of like… “Is that porn? Don’t tell me, McKay’s got porn on his‒”

          “John!” she hisses.

          He raises his hands. “Sorry.” He leans against the desk, facing her, his arms crossed, just staring again. After a moment, he tosses a glance at the screen then adds. “Looks like porn.”

          “Just because something has the word ‘sex’ in it doesn’t make it porn. What are you twelve?”

          He bobs his head. “Sometimes.” He closes the gap between them and pulls her long dark curls aside to kiss her neck. She still smells of their last encounter, sweet and salty, making his mouth water. “Sometimes older.”

          With one hand she pushes him away. “I’m busy.”

          John’s not deterred that easily. He moves behind her, both hands on her shoulders then dips his head to nuzzle her neck again. “Can’t help it.”

          She spins on the stool to face him. “Yes, you can. It’s called self-control, John…grab a dictionary sometime.” She tries to spin back to the computer, but he grips the seat with both hands, leaning down, his face so close to hers. Their eyes lock and he sees a spark of what he did earlier…Angela. But then she sneers at him and that vulnerability vanishes. He kisses her anyway. Seems like the thing to do. She responds by bringing her hands to his face and taking his lips with hers eagerly. There’s unmistakable hunger behind it, but also a gentleness she hasn’t shown before, maybe even a little timidity.

          John’s about to wrap her up in his arms and carry her all the way back to her room, but the moment his hands are free of the stool, she breaks the kiss and spins away from him. “Oh…” he groans. “That’s just plain mean.”

          She’s entranced with the computer again. “Embrace the pain, dear boy. It makes you stronger,” she says flatly.

          He decides to let her finish whatever has her so enthralled but refuses to stop touching her. He rubs her back and squeezes her shoulders. She’s very tense and getting worse by the moment. “Son-of-a-bitch!” She slams the laptop closed and jumps off the stool, out of his reach and stomps around the room. “I’m gonna kill him, I swear to God!”

          “Okay, when did we stop whispering? And kill who?”

          She looks at him with a mixture of frustration and pity before trying to storm by him and get out the door. But John’s too quick and he grabs her arm. Unfortunately, he should have learned his lesson weeks ago, but it somehow slipped his mind in those few seconds. Until she twists her arm around to grip his forearm, then in some ‘how-the-hell-did-she-do-that’ maneuver, his arm’s behind his back, wrist twisted at a painful angle, and he’s on his way to his knees.

          But she releases him without a word and he catches himself before hitting the floor. John rolls his shoulder several times to make sure it’s still attached. Then he goes after her. “Jax.”

          She stops halfway to the transporter, turns and holds up a hand. “Don’t John.”

          “What’s wrong?”

          “Just stay away from me. It’s for your own good.”

          His brows nearly collide with confusion. “Excuse me?”

          With a heavy sigh, she hangs her head and settles her hands on her hips. John takes a few steps closer, but she holds up her hand again. “I mean it. Stay back.”

          Even in the dim light, he can see the lethal expression on her face combine with the coldness in her voice. He stops instantly. “What’s going on here?”

          “Nothing. We’re done.”

          “But‒”

          “Like I said, it’s for your own good.”

          John shakes his head. “I’d like to make that decision for myself…if you don’t mind.”

          “Fine.” She folds her arms. “The report I was reading had to do with the Ancient device that…”

          “You mean the one that…?”

          “Yeah. Seems there can be some…adverse reactions if the device is used improperly.”

          “Improperly?” The lethal expression changes to what he believes to be sadness, or would believe if he could read her better. “What kind of reactions?”

          She clears her throat. “Nausea, fatigue, sleeplessness…oh and let’s not forget about the life-sucking headaches.” She must have read his reaction to headaches. “You too, I see.”

          “Yeah. Pretty bad after a couple of days.”

          She nods. “A couple of days without…us.” John nods and rubs his neck. She sniffs. “Yeah, I figured. See the little doohickey wasn’t created for…naked acquaintances or even friends with benefits. It’s meant for married couples. It’s meant for love.”

          “I don’t understand.”

          She huffs, shaking her head as if talking to a child. “It enhances the bond between the partners that keeps the party going…a long time. Since the people are married and most likely in love, that’s not a problem. An emotional connection counteracts the chemical imbalance somehow, letting them get on with daily life so they’re not in constant need of round-the-clock nakedness. Probably because they're attuned to being together every night. Whatever. McKay didn’t go into that part.

          “But without that connection, the chemicals overload the system, creating a continuous physical need for the other person. Once that takes hold, like after say a second time, it gets nearly impossible to break. The brain starts releasing mega doses of the ‘need sex now’ drugs…so basically free-will is all bye-bye.” She sighs again. “That’s why we can’t manage to keep our hands off each other.”

          John shrugs. “It’s not so bad.”

          Jax is not amused. “I’m a drug to you, John. An addiction. It’s the damn pheromones or something else even worse. Since it’s just physical, there’s nothing to counteract the chemicals getting released. The only time the physical bond can be interrupted is when a powerful emotional one is created…and that’s a bit too complicated for us.”

          “Is there anything else that can break it?”

          “Conception. And that’s never gonna happen.”

          He shrugs, playing up a smirk. “Contraception isn’t always 100 percent effective.” He’s being flip but this is getting too tense.

          She takes a step closer, her eyes dark and cold. “Mine is.”

          He just wants to take her back to her room and make love again.

          Hey oh, hold on! Make what? Since when did their sexcapades turn into that? John’s thrown by his own inner thoughts and shakes his head.

          “You never asked, so I figured Ronon told you.”

          “Told me what?”

          “I can’t have children.”

          He’s shocked by the intimate revelation. He should have asked. Why hadn’t he? “I’m sorry.”

          She waves a hand. “By choice.”

          Oh. “After that…time, Ronon just said I didn’t have anything to worry about. He didn’t go into details.” He takes another step closer. She’s like a magnet drawing him in. He wants to feel her skin under his fingertips, smell her hair, kiss…oh crap, she’s right! He is addicted to her. He steps forward, reaching out a hand wanting to do…say…something.

          Jax takes two steps back and he stops. “We can’t do this anymore. There are strings attached that neither of us want or need. It has to end.”

          “Why?”

          Her eyes widen in shock. “Why?” She laughs without a hint of humor. “Because I can’t do that to you.”

          Do what? Have amazing sex. So it’s an addiction…big deal. They’re adults. They can handle it. “Look. I get that there’s this…bond. But we’re great together. We like each other. It doesn’t change‒”

          “You’re thinking with the wrong brain, John.” That makes him stand up straighter. “This thing between us will only get worse. I can’t let that happen.”

          “Again…why?”

          “Because you should be with the woman you love. Not some stand-in.”

          Now he’s holding up both hands. “Whoa. What?”

          “John,” she says and there’s definite sadness in her voice. “I know you don’t love me…which is fine because I can’t…don’t want you to. And it’s quite clear you do love someone else.”

          John’s taken aback by that. “What or who are you talking about?”

          “Dr. Weir, you idiot. Everyone knows. You don’t hide it very well.”

          Elizabeth? She thinks I’m in love with Elizabeth? Wait, everyone knows? John can feel his face scrunching up. That’s ridicu…well, maybe not so much. Remember how you reacted when you thought Kolya had killed her? Or when you thought Atlantis had been destroyed by the Wraith… who were you most worried about never seeing again?

          But in love? He’s never been…there. Would he even recognize it if it hit him between the eyes?

          “I was all set to play bed buddies until she got around to noticing you…but even if that happens now, you won’t be able to go to her. And I can’t…no, I won’t let that happen. You’re too good for that.” She drops her head with a shake. “Too good for me.”

          “Jax‒”

          “No. It’s done. We have to end it now before you get hurt. I’m not good for you…for anybody.”

          Me? What about her. I heard her voice. She’s not happy about these adverse reactions, that’s clear, but having to break it off? He catches the look in her eyes when she lifts her face again. He can see a glimmer in them. Tears. He didn’t ask her why she was in the corridor crying. Maybe he doesn’t have to. Is she doing this because she’s…no that a stupid thought John, she just said it’s not possible. “So, what you’re saying is we just stop‒”

          “Cold turkey.” She nods firmly. “It’ll be tough, I’m sure. The ‘withdrawal’ whatever you want to call it, will be like going through detox.”

          “That doesn’t mean it’ll stop us…wanting each other.”

          “No…but it’s the only thing that comes to mind. We’ll just have to stay far away from each other. It’s a big city. I’m sure we can manage that.” She turns her back to him and hangs her head before taking a deep breath. “Goodbye Johnny,” she says quietly with a slight tremor in her voice.

          His heart thumps hard. “Where are you going?”

          “To find a big vat of chocolate to drowned in.” And she walks away into the darkness.

          John stands there, unable to move. His heart’s thudding in his chest and his mind’s whirling with the conversation. He knew it could end at any moment. Would end. They’d made that arrangement. Either of them could simply say stop and it would be over. He always figured it’d be Angie walking away because he did something stupid. In the past, his exes always left because he was too closed off. He couldn’t say what they wanted to hear. But in this case, Angie assured him that wasn’t going to be a problem.

          He remembers the look on her face as they…connected earlier. He didn’t catch it at the time, but for a moment, she had the same panic in her eyes that she had the first night before he kissed her. It lasted a lot longer tonight. She looked absolutely terrified for several seconds, but then it passed. And she smiled; a genuine smile that even hit her eyes. And he smiled too, feeling a wash of serenity flow through him. It had been an amazing union as if their minds were as close as their bodies.

          “You’re too good for that…Too good for me.”

          John’s chest hurts when he thinks about her saying those words. She sounded so lost. She’s not ending it because he doesn’t love her, or because he’s possibly—probably—in love with Elizabeth. Jax’s ending it because she can’t love him.

          Why does that bother me so much? It’s exactly what I was looking for. Casual. Fun.

          “I’m not good for you…for anybody.”

          “No,” he says out loud. “I don’t buy that for a second.” Turning back to the lab, John goes in and opens the laptop. He’s going to find a way to fix this. He has to.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

6

          Okay, it’s been less than twelve hours since I broke it off with John, and I feel great. Not just great, but really great. I went for a jog around The City, listening to my music, letting it pump through my blood.

Keeps Gettin' Better - Aquilera

          And suddenly, my muse returns. Yes! Christina Aguilera, Pat Benatar, P!nk even the soothing voice of the late, great Karen Carpenter… they always get me going. The songs play in my head over and over. They make my body move. My girls have never let me down!

          I turn around and head to the gym to create a new skate routine. I always like to dance the routine at least a dozen times to different songs until I find the perfect rhythm, the perfect beat, before trying it out on the ice. That way I don’t forget the steps and suddenly stumble. Once I get to the skating part, I tend to make changes, throw in a few more twists and spins, maybe a double or triple, but the actual footwork generally stays the same. I haven’t felt this rush of excitement in a long time. Not since I first got out on the lake on I-zoola.

          It’s this thing with John. I’ve been so tense, worrying…I know it had to be the addiction setting in. It’s the only thing that makes sense. But now that I’ve severed the strings, I feel free. I don’t understand it, but I’m actually…euphoric.

          I’ve always enjoyed working out, but the intricate details that put a routine together send me to a different place. My imagination feels unearthly like I’m a bird gliding through life with no worries.

          It’s better than chocolate. Better than… don’t go there.

          I’m not thinking about him. I’m not.

          Okay, I am a little. It was really difficult last night. I went back to my room, pulled the sheets off my bed and stuffed them in the hamper. And even though I remade the bed with fresh sheets, even a different color, I couldn’t lie down to rest. The panic attack still hadn’t released its hold on my heart and my brain was betraying me with memories of…everything.

          I grabbed my I-pod and went for a walk instead. Ended up on Ronon’s pier and watched the sunrise while listening to lovely orchestra music. It was spectacular, to say the least. I cleared my mind and just sat there enjoying the nature and the beauty of Atlantis as the pinks and oranges of the new day kissed The City.

          It’s my fault, I know. And I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I swear. I feel bad for John. I did this to him. Not on purpose, but does that really matter?

          I’m sure the cold turkey idea sounded harsh to him, but how else can we get each other out of our systems. I read the report…it’s not that hard to follow even with all the scientific mumbo-jumbo. Lust-o-rama device is evil. It’s an evil little rock-like thing that McKay is going to pay dearly for either in this life or the next.

          It was only intended for wedded bliss and disgusting amounts of gooey love, not strictly naked bliss. I don’t get all the chemical interactions and stuff…even if I read a whole library on it, I probably still wouldn’t understand it. Just because I can memorize something doesn’t mean it automatically makes sense. Science has never been my strong suit. All I do know is that I have to stay away from him.

          For his sake.

          You like him.

          Well, that much is obvious. I wouldn’t have been so eager to bump and grind with someone I didn’t like… no matter how hot he might be. I mean, let’s face it: Bates was a good-looking guy before the Wraith beat the crap out of him… but a total asshole; especially to Teyla and the other Athosians. Never would have let a dick like that touch me. Hmm… Good pun.

          You care about him.

          Of course, I do. John’s a nice guy. And in this case, I’m not going to let him finish last. He deserves to be happy.

          I mean, how horrible would it be for him when Dr. Weir finally realizes what she’s been missing out on and then he can’t go to his heart’s desire because of me. He’d end up hating me. And maybe I’m being selfish, but I don’t like it when people hate me. I’ve had enough of that for one lifetime.

          As I spin and leap through the air, I don’t know where this energy spurt came from, but it’s breathtaking and refreshing. I even manage a graceful backflip and ariel layout. My ariels have never been that spectacular, I always have that moment of panic that ‘hey, my head is near the floor, my feet are near the ceiling, but my hands are not out to protect me’ moment. But then I land on my feet and can’t help the smile. I just did a kick-ass flip.

          I feel great!

          Suddenly there’s applause and I spin, seeing Ronon in the door. I skip over to him like a little kid and give him a hug. “How was that?”

          He nods appreciatively. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

          “You should see it when I’m on skates. Very dangerous.” Actually, I never had the guts to try one while on skates. The massive head trauma has never been high on my list of experiences I need to try.

          “I bet. Are you hungry?”

          I nod side-to-side. “I could eat.”

          Surprisingly, he leans out in the corridor and picks up a basket. “How ‘bout a picnic on the pier.”

          I grin at that. “You read my mind.”

          On the outside, Ronon’s this big gruff warrior, Tarzan man. And I wouldn’t come up on him in a dark alley. But on the inside, he’s a puppy. A rough-housing giant horse of a puppy, but a puppy none the less.

          He spent seven years without companionship, always one step ahead of the Wraith. Even I had the feds to talk to once in a while. Not to mention Ryan’s company. He had nothing. The fact that he survived all that isn’t what’s surprising; it’s the fact that he’s now willing to share his time with me. I’m not exactly the nicest person to be around most of the time. And we did get off to a rocky start.

          But he kept at me until I gave into the fact that I liked him. He didn’t take my crap and was there for me when I needed him most. The fact that I remind him of his long, lost sister and he’s like a brother to me is beside the point. He’s good to me. Even when he’s kicking my ass.

 

6.5

          It’s been a while since he’s watched her dance. She’s been preoccupied with other things… another person for several weeks now. At first, he was concerned that Sheppard would somehow take advantage of her, but he should have known better. Angie would never permit that to happen.

          In fact, it seems Sheppard was the one on the pointy end of the sword. The guy looked truly pained when Ronon asked how things were going and Sheppard informed him that she had put an end to their arrangement. Ronon was tempted to ask for more details, but Sheppard wasn’t in the mood to talk about it.

          Ronon figured the best thing to do is talk to Angela, make sure she’s all right, so he can hold up his end of the deal with Jack. If Sheppard did hurt her in any way, he’s not getting away with it. She’s smiling a lot, almost giddy with energy and it doesn’t look like a cover.

          They sit in the sun facing each other. She curls her legs to the side and digs into the basket. “What’cha got?”

          “Something called tuna.”

          She grins. “I love tuna!” She pulls out the two sandwiches and hands him one. Then she grabs the water bottles and some fruit. “Grapes? You think of everything healthy.”

          “Actually…”

          “Teyla made the lunch,” she smirks and laughs.

          “How’d you know?”

          She pulls out a napkin that has: ‘Enjoy your lunch, Teyla’ written in ink. She laughs at his embarrassment. “It’s okay, Ronon. It’s the thought that counts. So,” she takes a big bite of her sandwich, chews and swallows. “What’cha want?”

          “I have to want something?” She nods, her eyes wide with amusement. He meets her gaze. “I ran into Sheppard this morning.” Ronon bites into his sandwich, enjoying the taste.

          Her brows rise. “Oh.” She eats some more while he waits for her to add to the conversation. “It’s not his fault,” she says quickly. “No pummeling necessary. It’s just…for the best.”

          “I thought you liked him.”

          “I do,” she squeaks. “That’s why we can’t see each other anymore.”

          “I don’t understand.”

          She sighs, sliding her jaw to the side and narrowing her gaze at him. “Remember the headache you got after the water balloon fight?” He nods. “We were getting them too.”

          “Why?”

          “It’s a withdrawal symptom. If we aren’t together practically all the time, we get…”

          “What about now?”

          “I don’t think it’s been long enough. Last one took two days to start, five to nearly kill me. I’m biding my time for the pain.”

          “Wouldn’t it be wiser just to stay together?”

          She cocks her head and wrinkles her brows together. “For the sake of sex?”

          “Because you care‒”

          Her hand shoots up. “No. It’s because I do that I’m letting him go. He doesn’t want me. He wants Dr. Weir. You know that as well as I do. You see the way he looks at her.” The next part comes out as a whisper, but he catches it. “How I used to look at Ryan, I’m sure.”

          “I’ve seen the way Sheppard looks at you as well.”

          “It’s chemical, Ronon. He’s not in his right mind. It’s not real.” She stuffs a grape into her mouth. “It can’t be.”

          “Who are you trying to lie to? You know I can tell when you are.”

          Her eyes widen and she coughs. “Lying? About what? I read McKay’s report on the doohickey.”

          “And?”

          “Kind of dry…too scientific. No real characters.”

          “Angie,” he growls.

          “It said I’m a danger to John, okay. Like an addiction to a drug or something. Unhealthy.”

          “What if you’re wrong?”

          “I’m not. Now, how ‘bout you stop grilling me and help me. The best way for someone to get over an addiction is to divert their attention from it. Talk to him. Tell him he has to tell Dr. Weir how he feels.”

          Now it’s Ronon’s turn to cough. “What?”

          “It’s important, Ronon. John needs to tell her. Otherwise, he’s just going to regret it.” She drops her eyes to the water bottle and cracks the cap. “I’ll always wonder ‘what if’. What if I told Ryan I loved him? What if he hadn’t died that day?” She sips her water then looks out over the ocean. Her voice is soft and he senses she’s holding back tears. “If he could’ve loved me.”

          Ronon touches her chin, guiding her face back so he can look into her eyes. “I don’t doubt that for a moment.”

          She grins again, but there’s sadness in it. He’s not completely sure it’s all for the lost opportunities with Ryan, however.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

7

          Lt. Laura Cadman is smart, funny and can kick some serious ass when necessary. We’ve never sparred hand-to-hand because I’m only trained in self-defense, she’s trained to kill…big difference. We met during the pheromone debacle and bonded over an urge to duct tape McKay to his chair. I’ve noticed he’s replaced it with a stool since then, probably just in case.

          We then managed to get all giddy and wet during a water balloon fight that ended…well, with us in rather compromising positions: me with John, of course, and Laura with Ronon. I even got her to call him Tarzan. Now that was funny. Nothing happened between them, they were found before that, which is probably for the best considering how screwed-up John and I are now.

          Afterward, the woman was unthrilled. She wasn’t mad at me, thankfully, more at herself for getting carried away by the lust-o-rama device. Another person not so thrilled was Dr. Beckett. He has a major crush on Laura, but it’s all good because she has a major crush on him. It’s really quite sweet when I see them together. Their eyes twinkle, literally twinkle at each other and they blush. So cute.

          Makes me wanna gag.

          Anyway, she threw her shoulder out and pinched some nerves in her neck when her squad got ambushed off-world. Something about the Genii having spies on every planet. Now, I never personally met the Genii, but I know what they tried to do and how pissed off and lethal Sheppard got during the storm. I got to help clean up the bodies.

          Yeah, that was a fun-filled day.

          Well, because of the injury, Dr. Beckett sent her to me for therapy. I like Laura, I really do. But she’s one of the biggest pains in my ass. She’s so friendly and open about everything when I give her a massage it makes me wonder if the woman ever shuts up.

          I generally like to work silently with a little background music like Enya or something else soothing and some incense to get the client relaxed. But Laura’s a bundle of energy and never seems to relax enough for me to get through a session without wanting to strangle her. In a friendly way.

          “He did the sweetest thing. It was like a real date. I mean a real one with flowers and dancing…all the trimmings. He set up this table on one of the balconies and there were Athosian wine and napkins. I nearly fainted.”

          “Please don’t tell me he was wearing a tux.”

          She giggles. “No. But he was in nice civvies.” She tries to lift her head from the hole in the table so she can grin at me, but I gently urge her back down. “I even wore a dress. Can you imagine…me…in a dress with heels? I had to borrow it all, of course.”

          “Of course. Let me guess. Maddog?”

          Laura laughs heartily. “Right. She’d have to be drugged to get into one.”

          “But not out of one, if the rumors are correct.”

          “You know, she starts most of those rumors herself. She likes being…a bad girl.” Laura tries to turn again, and again I gently settle her into place. “So, the dinner was gorgeous. I mean, almost too pretty to eat. But I’m not one to pass up a good meal, especially one that doesn’t include MRE’s.”

          “Of course.”

          And so it went, on and on and…gawd she can be worse than McKay. Okay, I’m being too hard on her. I enjoy the conversations really. It’s nice to hear about other people being happy. And when Laura talks about Carson, she’s obviously happy.

          Jealous, jealous, jealous!

          No, I’m not. I swear. Shut up, Jax.

          Once the massage is done, Laura sits up and stares right at me. “Do you know what? When we were dancing, I looked into his eyes and I swear…I was this close,” she holds up her finger and thumb with nothing between them. “To using the ‘L’ word.”

          Playing dumb, I say, “Lesbian?”

          She slaps my shoulder, laughing again. “No, the other one.”

          “Ah. But you didn’t.”

          She shakes her head, slips off the table and goes behind the Oriental Red Feng Shui Screen to change. Somehow Dr. Weir managed to get the beautiful screen aboard the Daedalus the same time as the tables. She never said, but I think it came from her own home and not from some order form. Laura’s still gabbing as she changes. “Naw. Too soon. Besides, I’ve never said it before. How am I sure it’s real?”

          This has me intrigued. “Well, what does it feel like?”

          “I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. I mean, we haven’t done…much of anything. He’s quite the old-fashioned man, you know. He gives me hugs and his arms are so warm and—not that I’m afraid of not being able to take care of myself—he makes me feel safe.”

          I busy myself with cleaning up, though I’m still listening. I have a session with Dr. H. in fifteen. When she said Carson makes her feel safe, I got a pang in my chest: a sharp icicle driving right through my heart.

          Jealous, jealous, jealous.

          “When he kisses me, my feet, hell my whole body seems to vanish, leaving only my lips. But it’s when he looks into my eyes. I get…” she trails off and I wait, but she just groans as if the words aren’t coming to her.

          “Butterflies,” I add softly, not really knowing why that comes out or where my mind is.

          She pops out from behind the barrier, tucking in her shirt. “Exactly.” She grins. “And it’s like I can see into his mind. And all I see…is me.”

          A little shiver runs down my spine and I take a deep breath to get rid of it.

          “You’ve been there,” Laura says softly, coming up in front of me.

          All I can do is shake my head. “Thought I was once.” Not so sure anymore? “I don’t know if he was.”

          “He never told you?”

          “He died.”

          Her hand lands on my shoulder but I don’t flinch because her eyes are so full of friendship and compassion for me. It’s been a really long time since I’ve had a close girlfriend. I miss it more than I like to admit. “And you never told him?”

          I can feel hot tears forming but I blink them away and shrug, busying myself with clean up again. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye. I never do.”

          Suddenly, both of Laura’s arms are around me and she’s got me in a tight hug. I’m extremely thrown by the gesture and don’t know what to do. There I am, standing like a mannequin with my hands full of towels at my sides and this woman is giving me a big squeeze.

          It’s very unnerving.

          Then she lets go, dropping that hand on my shoulder again. “We need to get you laid.”

          Omigawd! I burst into laughter like nobodys business. I’m actually tempted to tell her that it’s the last thing I need, considering the non-stop boing-a-thon that only ended four days ago, but my automated defenses stop the words before they’re formed. I just keep laughing, hard, tears cloud my vision. Laura joins me, which makes it harder for me to stop.

          There’s a throat cleared at the door making both of us jump and cutting the chuckles in an instant. “Colonel,” Laura salutes, becoming Lt. Cadman.

          “Lieutenant.” Col. Sheppard says, but his eyes are on me.

          Damn, has he always looked that hot in uniform?

          Not now, Jax.

          I look down at the towels in my hands and start cleaning up again. Laura’s bouncing on her heels; I can feel her gaze shifting between me and the Colonel. And there’s definite tension in the air. I just hope she doesn’t pick up on it.

          “Going off-world or just returning?” She asks because he’s standing there in full gear minus his P-90.

          “Going.”

          “Have fun.” He nods, flashing a polite smile. “Well,” she sighs. “I’ll just be going.”

          I watch them through my lowered eyes, trying to ascertain if she’s perceptive enough to see anything she shouldn’t.

          “How’s the shoulder?” he asks, finally looking at her.

          “Getting better by the minute.” She looks back and winks at me, then does the strangest thing with her eyebrows, like she’s motioning to the Colonel with them. My eyes open wide as my jaw drops and I shake my head as imperceptibly as possible. Laura’s eyes narrow on me and she flashes an impatient sneer then waggles her eyes back at the Colonel. With a glower, she huffs and then grins at me. “You should think about that…thing I said, Jax. Could do you a world of good.”

          “Bye, Laura.”

          She nods to the Colonel. “She’s got magic hands,” she whispers then slips out the door, letting it close behind her.

          “Yes, she does,” Col. Sheppard says to the closing door before turning his attention back to me.

          I shut my eyes, trying to put those last words out of my mind. I just found her as a friend. Do I really have to kill her so soon? I almost missed his response, it was so quiet. It makes my heartbeat jump a little.

          “Something I can do for you, Colonel?”

          He crosses his arms over the vest and tilts his head back, forehead creasing. “That’s a loaded question.”

          I toss the towels into a bin before turning to look him in the eyes. We’re on opposite sides of the room and yet it feels like he’s standing right next to me. Very disconcerting. “No, it’s not actually.” There, that wasn’t so bad. Jax can handle Col. Sheppard easily enough. No matter how hot he looks in uniform.

          What is it about men who carry big weapons? Now that’s a loaded question!

          “I wanted to see how you’re feeling,” he says firmly.

          “Don’t worry about me. I’m not your problem.”

          He stomps over a few feet, his eyes steely. “I never said you were.”

          I cross my arms and tilt my head. “Are we really going to do this? Because I have a meeting.”

          “Angie‒” I hold up a hand and he clenches his teeth. “Jax. I’m just asking.”

          “I’m good. You?”

          “Bit of a headache.”

          I roll my shoulders and start towards the door. “Sorry to hear that.”

          “Are you?”

          That stops me cold and I turn on my toes to stare him down. “Colonel‒”

          He strides over and stands in front of me. “John,” he pretty much orders. His eyes are harsh, angry, full of that darkness he lives through every day.

          This isn’t John.

          “Colonel,” I say again with as much coolness as I can muster even though my heart’s screaming like a banshee to run, run away, get out now. “Have a nice trip.”

          “Is that it?”

          I raise my brow. Obviously, the addiction is messing with him. I feel awful for any pain he’s in. Somehow, I’ve managed to push mine aside for the moment. Could be the massive amounts of chocolate I’ve been downing for the past few days. Then again, maybe all I needed was to exchange one endorphin rush for another. My routine is going really well and I’m very excited about it. I take a deep breath and let it out, channeling a little bit of Jack. “Don’t get dead.”

          He raises a single brow. “Nice.” He could give me pointers on being cold, that’s impressive.

          I’m not the most stable person in any room at any given time, but I’m usually the most contained. At least that’s what I keep telling myself, over and over and…oh hell. This man, in all his military garb, does things to me…Jax and Angie. I don’t get it. I don’t think I want to get it. It’s just there. It’s more than how regular guy Johnny gets to me. It doesn’t make sense, I know…and again, I’m stuck with the whole ‘I’m a lunatic’ theory. He exhausts me and my defenses.

          Shaking my head, I throw my arms out to the side, exasperated. I can even feel a lump growing in my throat. “What do you want from me?” I ask plaintively, like some whiny child. He stands up straighter and his face softens. The darkness in his eyes lightens just a touch. He’s stumped, totally caught off guard and with nothing to say. I nod in understanding. “That’s what I thought.” And I turn to leave.

          He grabs me by the upper arms and pulls me against him. His lips are on mine before I can utter a word. But it’s not a hard or bruising kiss. It’s tender, gentle. Then his arms slowly come around me, engulfing me in a tight, warm embrace. I don’t know how long we’re standing there. How long the kiss lasts. I don’t even realize that my arms have slipped around his neck until I hear Jax screaming in my head.

          Run now!

          I push away from him, breaking all contact and nearly fall over because my legs refuse to hold my weight for a moment. A scream of panic sticks in my throat. I’m trembling and don’t know how to stop. I gulp what sounds to me like a sob. That was almost…

          Don’t say it!

          How could he do this to me? He’s not being fair!

          I glare at him with every ounce of rage I can summon then swipe the back of my hand over my mouth. He looks a little lost, hurt even, but I refuse to let it get to me. “Col. Sheppard,” I spit his name. “Don’t ever do that again.” Then I’m out the door before he can respond.

          I let the door close before leaning against the wall for support. I know he’s going to be out in a second so I gather my strength and rush to Dr. H. office as fast as my wobbling legs will take me.

 

7.5

          Angie rushes in out of breath. “That bastard!”

          Kate’s out of her seat. “What happened?”

          She’s trembling as she stomps and paces around the office. Her eyes wild with fury and unshed tears, her face pale and sweaty. “Son-of-a-bitch!” She kicks a wall only to hop back in pain. “Ahh! See what he does to me? I can’t win. I tell him it’s over so that he can get on with his life…but then he goes and sends that man after me!”

          “What man? What are you talking about?”

          Angie hobbles over to the chair and drops into it heavily, slipping off her shoe to check the damage. Her pinky toe is at an odd angle and she gives it a good yank, there’s an audible pop as she puts it in the rightful place. “The Colonel just kissed me,” she hisses, seething with anger and leftover pain from the dislocated toe.

          “Col. Caldwell?”

          “Ewwww! NO.” Her upper lip curls. “Sheppard.” And she glowers. “Bastard.”

          Kate holds up a hand. “Okay. Walk me through it, Angie.”

          She shoots out of the chair, still favoring the injured foot. “Why do you insist on calling me that? My name is Jax. J—A—X. Why can’t you get that?”

          “Because it’s not really you.”

          “The hell it isn’t. You’ve known me for what, two months? I’ve known me for thirt…for a lot longer than I care to remember, actually. If I tell you my name, trust me. I know what I’m talking about.”

          She doesn’t like it, but Kate knows she won’t get anywhere if she doesn’t concede this much ground. It’s clear Angie is starting to lose some of that superior ‘Jax’ security if she finds it necessary for the sudden name change. She’s not as coolly collected as usual. “Fine. Jax. Col. Sheppard just kissed you. And it obviously upset you a great deal.”

          “Boy howdy!”

          “Why is that? Weren’t you and John‒”

          She holds up her hands. “Okay, let me lay it out for you, doc. I’m nuts…don’t argue the point okay. Where you see one guy, I’ve met two. Got it? One is a sweet, kind of dorky, math geek who just happens to have extreme talent in specific departments of pleasure. The other one is some soldier hero who likes to do dangerous stuff and save people’s lives. Two totally different guys…” She rotates a finger at her head. “In my crazy opinion. Are we on the same page now?”

          “Of course,” Kate says calmly. “Jax, why don’t you sit so we can talk?”

          “No,” she shakes her hands furiously, clenches and releases her fists. “I need to move. Is it getting hot in here?”

          “I believe you’re having a panic attack.”

          “No, really?” she drawls sarcastically. “Thanks for the insight, Doc. You’ve definitely earned your paycheck today.”

          Lashing out, sarcasm, panic attack. Whatever happened between the Colonel and her just a few minutes ago has opened a floodgate of emotions Angie’s not ready to handle. She grabs handfuls of her hair and pulls hard. “Ahhh! I was doing so well!” Kate’s by her side, trying to keep her from hurting herself. “Is he trying to make me crazier? I mean, that’s what guys do, right? They like to drive us right off the crazy cliff and laugh all the way home. It’s like a game to them or something.”

          Angie pulls her hands from her hair and allows Kate to guide her to the seat. “How do you mean?”

          “He kissed me.” It’s more of a sad sob than anything else. This time Angie sinks into the chair and drops her face into her hands. When she looks up, there are tears in her eyes. “Why would he do that? He knows it’s an addiction. Doesn’t he realize it’s hard for me too?” She swipes at the tears. “See this?” She shows her wet hand to Kate. “This is his way of getting to me. He’s trying to make me weak. Like…like…any other woman.”

          “Crying doesn’t make you weak.”

          The barely-there discipline is in her eyes, cold and hard…but there’s also something else starting to break through. “Yes, it does.”

          “Why was it so wrong of him to kiss you…as Col. Sheppard?”

          “Because!”

          “You can do better than that.”

          She opens her mouth to say something then stops, snapping her head to the side to avoid looking at Kate. “I don’t know.”

          “When did you break it off?”

          “Monday night.”

          “Why?”

          “Because it’s wrong.”

          “Why is it suddenly wrong?” Angie huffs then explains about Dr. McKay’s report, the addiction that can’t be broken and how she made the decision to quit now before John gets hurt. “So, you did it for him?”

          “Of course.”

          “Did he agree?”

          “He can’t…he’s under the influence of a drug. But he’s in love with Dr. Weir. How can he not know he’s in love with her? Is that even possible? Being in love with someone and not knowing it? This chemical thing is screwing with his brain big time. You’re a shrink. You know what addictions do to people.”

          “I do.” She’s seen her share of addicts. Never anything remotely like this, but if the report exists, she’ll get her hands on a copy and read it for herself. Just to be sure Angie got the information correct. “So, breaking up with him…”

          Angie shakes her head. “Was the only way.” Then she’s out of the chair again, her anger resurfacing. “And damnit we agreed! Either one of us could step back at any moment, no questions asked.” She stops, looks up at the ceiling then smacks herself lightly on the forehead. “That’s it.”

          “What’s it?”

          “He wanted to be the one to walk away. He can’t handle me saying no. It’s an ego thing, right?”

          “I thought you said it was an addiction.”

          She nods. “Well, that too. But the only reason for him to send in the Colonel was to…what seduce me into staying? I mean really. That’s totally uncalled for.”

          “Why would the ‘Colonel’ have an effect that regular John wouldn’t?”

          She flips a hand. “He…complicates things.”

          “How so?”

          She licks her lips nervously and Kate can see her hands shaking as she crosses her arms protectively around her body. “He just does.”

          “How?”

          She stomps on her injured foot, purposely shooting pain through her body. “Because he reminds me of Jack, all right?”

          Kate holds in a smile. Finally, something honest. She figured this out a while ago but was waiting for Angie to make the connection herself. The fact that she’s been having an affair with John Sheppard while avoiding Col. Sheppard was pretty telling in its own right.

          If the Colonel reminds her of Jack, who is a secondary father figure, then Angie has basically found a guy just like dad. That’s how it happens a lot of the time, especially when girls are close to their fathers. And Col. Sheppard’s basically a blue-collar guy in the military, though recently promoted, he’s The City protector. He saves lives while doing a dangerous job. Just like her real father did. Col. Sheppard’s a hero. Just like she sees Jack. Like she remembers her father.

          It must be terrifying for her to not be able to separate her feelings from one aspect of the man to the other. The ‘regular’ guy that is John Sheppard could be easily abandoned if things got too complicated for Angie to handle. But the hero, Col. Sheppard would not be easily forgotten. He’s too important to her—a link to her father, both her fathers—even if she refuses to admit it to herself.

          At least she’s done that part now. Kate wants to draw more out of her. Get her to face her fears of intimacy. “What exactly did Col. Sheppard do?”

          “Aside from a little chit-chat, he kissed me.”

          “Forcefully?”

          Her eyes shift. “Not really.”

          “Did you kiss him back?”

          Angie drops her gaze to her fingers pulling at the hem of her shirt. “Maybe…a little.”

          Kate leans her elbows on her knees. “So, who are you really mad at? John or yourself?”

          “Me…him…I don’t know. Yes, I do. Him. I’m mad at him.”

          “Why?”

          “Why?” she echoes her tone incredulous. “Because he did it on purpose. Like he knew I wouldn’t be able to resist him in all that military macho manly-man getup. And there wasn’t any playfulness in his eyes, you know. And the kiss was…it was…different.” She sticks a finger in her mouth and chews on her nail.

          “How do you mean?”

          “I don’t know.”

          “Sure you do.”

          “Damnit!”

          “An…Jax. Calm down.”

          “I can’t. I’m all,” she groans. “Agitated.”

          “I can see that. Try. Close your eyes.” She stands there in the middle of the room and does as Kate says. “Now, breathe deep, in.” She takes a deep breath. “And out,” and lets it out. She does it three more times as Kate prompts her. “Now…Angie, what were you feeling when Col. Sheppard kissed you.”

          An ever so soft sob escapes as she gasps, “Safe.” And silent tears slip down her cheeks.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

8

          I fall face down onto my bed and tell Atlantis to pound some Within Temptation into my head.

Frozen - Within Temptation

          No one will ever be able to convince me The City can’t read my deepest thoughts. She’s always spot on with the music… especially these days.

          It’s only been an hour since the…kiss-to-end-all-kisses, but it burned into my brain the instant it happened. Sometimes I wish I could cut that part of my mind away. It’d be so nice to forget everything. Forget Angela and Jax and all the others. Forget all the loss… Maybe start all over again as someone completely new, but with no memories of the past, no nightmares, no…

          John Sheppard.

          Exactly!

          I want to hate him, but I can’t. I can’t even be angry with the guy. He’s not in his right mind. That look on his face when I yelled at him…gawd, I actually feel guilty about that. What if it’s the last thing I ever say to him? Knowing the Colonel, he’ll probably get himself killed or start some kind of intergalactic disaster or worse. He’s kind of a danger magnet.

          You told him not to get dead.

          Yeah, well, I’ve told him lots of things. So far, he hasn’t listened so well.

          I know it’s my fault, not his. Not the danger thing, he does that just fine on his own. No, I got him into this pheromone mess because of that damned device and my inability to calm my over-reacting libido. It’s all me…and‒

          McKay!

          I clench my teeth at the thought of that…that…uhg I’m gonna kill that man.

          Now there’s a positive life goal.

          No, really. I’ve read enough books, spent enough time with the feds, I should be able to come up with any number of ways to take him out. Genius my ass. He’d never see it coming.

          Only if it looks like an accident.

          Of course, it has to look like an accident. I’m not stupid. I’ll have to do some thinking on this. He is a scientist, after all. It’ll have to be classy, but vengeful enough to be adequate. And unfortunately taping him to a chair again isn’t gonna cut it.

          That was pretty funny though. Maybe duct tape and a little electric—

          I can’t believe I’m actually contemplating murder plots!

          There is something seriously wrong with me. I’m a sniveling mess. Dr. H. finally got what she wanted, a whole lot of tears. I cried so hard I started hyperventilating. And I couldn’t talk anymore because I couldn’t breathe so I just dropped to the floor like a puddle of pudding—Tapioca pudding, all lumpy and gross. And then Dr. H. is all “there-there,” and “let it out.” I wanted to scratch her eyes out for encouraging such a show. It wasn’t helpful, it hurt.

          A lot!

          Maybe I’m PMSing.

          It would make sense, a whole slew of hormones flooding my system in combination with the chemicals from the addiction in my brain. That’s gotta be it.

          Explains the constant need for chocolate.

          Sure, it does. Plus, the random tears for no apparent reason.

          Well, you have a reason.

          No, I don’t. Neither Col. Sheppard nor John Sheppard is reason enough for me to break down and sob like some little girl who just skinned her knee. It’s pathetic. I’m freakin’ ass pathetic!

          So, get over it.

          And just how do I do that?

          Leave.

          I flip over onto my back and stare at the ceiling of my room. “What!” Leave? Where would I go? I can’t go back to Earth, there’s nothing for me. Plus, I couldn’t leave Ronon. He’d never get through life without knowing how Friends and MacGyver finally end. That’s a lot of shows to watch. Plus, I haven’t even introduced him to Firefly or Buffy and Angel yet. No, I don’t have anywhere to go.

          I can’t stay here. I roll off the bed and strip out of my ‘business’ uniform and get dressed for a hard-core dance session. It’s the only way I can think of staving off the soon to be brain-buster of a headache. Those things hurt worse than getting shot.

          And I know from where I speak.

          As I’m getting dressed, I catch sight of myself in the bathroom mirror. My eyes are puffy and red, my lips swollen and my face in need of some serious spray-on tanner. All I need is a sickle and black cloak to look like Death, really.

          Enough of this. I grab my MP3 player and head for the West Pier gym which is pretty much my place since no one else ever uses it. It’s a long walk from the transporter so I’ll get a warm-up jog in before dancing myself into an early grave.

          Now, there’s a plan.

          Maybe on the way back, I’ll stop in the Control Room and ask Dr. Weir when she plans on sending someone back to I-zoola. It’d be nice to practice the routine on ice soon. 

8.5

          The wormhole engages and Elizabeth hears Rodney over the radio. “What’s wrong?” She can’t understand him because he’s…laughing! She turns to the technician. “Lower the shield.”

          “Their home early,” the tech says with a wry grin.

          Elizabeth shrugs. “What else is new?” Downstairs, Rodney practically saunters through the gate, still laughing and turns to face Ronon and Teyla as they help John come through, obviously in a lot of pain. And John never expresses pain. She taps her headset. “Dr. Beckett we have a medical situation in the gate room.”

          “Ah, bloody hell. What’d the Colonel go and do this time?”

          “You’ll have to tell me. See you soon.” She ends the conversation with another tap then goes down the steps to join the team. “What happened?” John’s too busy grimacing and clenching his teeth to speak and it looks like both Ronon and Teyla are trying their best not to laugh as hard as Rodney. “Please tell me the negotiations didn’t‒”

          Rodney holds up a hand. “Everything’s fine, Elizabeth. It’s just that,” he glances at John. “The Colonel decided to take it upon himself to teach a few of the kids of MJS-513 how to play football.”

          Elizabeth’s brow rises and she tries not to chuckle. “He did, huh?” She presses her lips together tightly then forces a neutral expression. “I take it that didn’t go so well, Colonel?” John grunts in pain.

          Teyla cocks her head. “The children of the village are quite large, if you remember, Dr. Weir. Dr. McKay mentioned something about Summa Wrestlers?”

          She smirks and nods. “Yes, I remember.”

          “It was supposed to be touch only,” John moans. Rodney laughs again.

          “Excuse me?” Elizabeth asks.

          Rodney points a finger. “They tackled him. Four of them at one time.”

          Now both of her brows are up. “They could have killed you.”

          John’s forehead creases. “Didn’t they? I feel dead.”

          Just then the gurney arrives with Dr. Beckett in tow. He’s given the run down and John’s carefully hoisted onto the rolling bed. “Sounds like you threw out your back, Colonel. It happens sometimes as you get older.”

          “I’m not old,” he growls through clenched teeth.

          “Of course not.” Carson looks to Teyla. “How big were these lads?”

          “Quite large, actually.”

          Rodney holds his hands apart. “Big,” he says huskily, grinning from ear-to-ear.

          Carson orders the gurney to the infirmary and both Teyla and Ronon choose to follow their commander. “Ronon,” Elizabeth calls. He turns to her and she hands him a note. “From Jax,” she says, offering a slim smile.

          Ronon pockets the note then catches up with the gurney. Elizabeth hears John growl at Teyla and Ronon. “Go laugh at me elsewhere!”

          Elizabeth grabs Rodney’s arm before he can go after them. “What did you do?”

          He flashes an exaggerated innocent look that puts her on edge. “Me? I didn’t do anything.”

          “Rodney!”

          He shakes his head. “I swear. I just stood on the sidelines and watched…and laughed…and laughed…” He throws up his hands. “All right. I might have cheered too.” Then he’s hissing another laugh.

          She holds up a hand. “I get it. You do realize if he’s seriously injured your team is grounded for the duration.”

          “What…? Elizabeth!”

          She heads back up the stairs and he follows whining as usual. “That’s not fair.”

          “Perhaps not. But you must remember something, Dr. McKay.”

          “What?”

          She turns to face him with a superior smile. “No one else is willing to work with you. You did blow up a solar system, remember.” Then she heads to her office again.

          “Not the whole solar system,” he grumbles.

          “Sorry about that interruption Dr. Heightmeyer,” Beckett says as he proceeds the gurney into the infirmary. “Now, as we were discussing.”

          “Don’t you have‒”

          She motions to John and Beckett shakes his head. “They have to run him through the scanner, find out what’s ailing the lad. It’ll be a few moments.”

          “It’s about the pheromone device,” she says, following him back into his office as John is wheeled away. John lifts his head hoping to catch more, but sudden pain shooting down his legs makes him fall back again.

          So, the shrink is looking into the report? Great. By this time tomorrow, everyone’s going to know about him and Angie.

          Angie.

          He’s spent the last two days off-world feeling nothing but guilt. The football game was just his way of trying to get her out of his head for a little while. That look on her face. Stricken is the only word that comes to mind.

          After she broke off their arrangement, he went back and read the report. He didn’t see anything in it about addiction, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true. Jax is extremely bright. She probably caught more of the medical and scientific stuff than he did. Besides, he can feel it. He knows she’s right. Just stepping into that therapy room the other day made him hungry for her. He hasn’t slept a full night since their last time together. And the headache is a not-so-subtle reminder of her hold on him. Though he has to admit it has been worse in the past. Maybe staying away from each other is a good idea. It worked for Ronon and Lt. Cadman that first day.

          But after their first encounter, they had been staying away from each other, not consciously or intentionally, but through daily routine. And what happened? John turned into a stalker.

          It’s odd to think about how everything got started. That day in the corridor, Jax was definitely the aggressor. Even when they finally got together, she put the moves on him. But this fling of theirs had been his idea. He certainly became the aggressor, in more ways than one. He still doesn’t like to think about that, no matter what she said, he should never have treated her that way.

          And then he had to go and kiss her. She liked it as much as he did. Needed it as much as him. But then she pulled away. Damn, she was pissed. He also caught that flicker of panic in her eyes. On some level, he scares her. He just wishes he knew why.

          The scan ends and they wheel him back to the central infirmary and pull a curtain around him. The nurse comes in to take his clothes, but he waves her off. “I can do it.” She offers to take his boots off and he lets her. When she’s gone, John struggles to sit up, his back throwing spasms of pain through his legs, like long icy needles. He starts to take off his vest and that simple motion of his arms makes his body scream, so he gives up and lies back down on his side.

          The curtain sways and Beckett appears with datapad in hand. “Well, Colonel, you’ve managed to do some damage.”

          “Well, if you’re gonna do a job, do it right,” he says through clenched teeth.

          “You have musculoligamentous injuries of the lumbar spine,” Beckett says.

          “That doesn’t sound good.”

          “Because it’s not. You also managed to tie up your sciatic nerve in some swollen muscle. You’ll be needing a painkiller and a muscle relaxant before we can relieve that.”

          “Is that necessary?”

          Beckett sets the datapad aside and folds his arms. “Why don’t you undress then and let me know.”

          John closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Tried and failed. Bring on the drugs.”

          “Good to see you know when not to fight, son.” He picks up the data pad. “They’ll be along any moment. Now. You’re going to need at least two weeks from duty, maybe three.”

          “Three weeks!”

          “Possibly four. Lower back injuries can become chronic, lad. You don’t want to cause permanent damage, do ya?” John frowns and grumbles to himself. Beckett nods. “I didn’t think so.” He makes some notes. “Now, you’re in overall good physical condition, so I don’t see a problem with your recovery being relatively swift compared to sedentary patients. However, you will be needing therapy. Three times a week for the first week and then we’ll go from there.”

          “I don’t need to see Dr. Heightmeyer for my back, Carson.”

          Beckett rolls his eyes and sighs. “Massage therapy, Colonel. Heat and ice, ultrasound, but no deep tissue massage until I give the go ahead.” John’s about to ask if it’s necessary but keeps his mouth shut. Then Beckett adds: “It should go without saying, but given the patient, I must…no strenuous physicality of any kind, including sparring with Teyla or Ronon. And you must refrain from any extracurricular activities involving the lower torso.”

          “Excuse me?”

          “No sex,” Beckett raises his brows. “Clear enough?”

          “I’m not‒” Beckett’s head tilt is enough to stop him short. “What do you know?”

          “Well, having just spoken with the lovely Dr. Heightmeyer regarding the pheromone incident, I’ve come to a bit of a conclusion about something.” He narrows his gaze on John. “You lied to me, Colonel. Flat out lied to your CMO.”

          “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

          “Of course. How have you been feeling lately? Any headaches? Unusual urges for a specific person’s unclothed company?”

          “Carson!”

          “I’ll take that as a yes.” The nurse comes in with a needle and two white pills. She injects the syringe into John’s arm and hands him the pills and a cup of water. He downs the meds that taste worse than chalky Lima Beans—really hate those—then lies back and waits for them to kick in and get him back on his feet. Beckett’s talking to the nurse. “We need a scan of the Colonel’s brain, as well.” He glances at John. “Just to make sure it’s still in place.”

          The nurse nods and leaves them. “What’re you up to, doc?”

          “Trying to find a way to save a young woman’s sanity, if you don’t mind.”

          “What?!” John sits up onto his elbows and instantly regrets it. He slowly lies back onto the pillow.

          “Hypothetically speaking. If a woman asks a man to leave her be, he should, don’t you agree? Otherwise said lovely lady might find it necessary to leave her home and her friends…just to get some piece of mind.”

          The painkiller starts playing havoc with his higher reasoning abilities and the muscle relaxant is turning his body into mush. “What are you saying, Carson?”

          “She ran away from home, Colonel.”

          “What?”

          “Jax. She left Atlantis. Gated off-world.”

          John can’t comprehend what Beckett’s saying. “When?”

          “Two days ago.”

          “Because of me?” Of course, because of me! What have I done now? Why didn’t I do as she said, just stay away?

          “Aye, son. To help you, it seems. So, I’m going to find a cure for your…addiction…so she can come home.”

          “Where’d she go?” Beckett shakes his head. John’s brows wrinkle. “So, you think it’s real. This addiction is real?”

          “I believe it’s quite possible, aye. The brain is a powerful computer, handling millions upon millions of data bursts and responses. We have only scratched the surface of mapping it. These chemicals that you were exposed to the first time are very potent. Had the two of you been honest with me the first time around, I might have been able to include the information in my research…prevented this from happening. What’s the worst symptom?”

          “Headaches,” he slurs. “When we’re apart.”

          “I’m not surprised.” Beckett touches John’s shoulder, but John can barely feel it. Beckett’s talking again, he sounds far away. “Tell me what happened. From that first time until now. Let’s see if we can fix this mess for both your sakes.”

          John nods, his eyes spinning in their sockets. “Whatever you need. She needs to come back.”

          “Good lad.”

          “If only to keep Ronon from killing me.”

          Beckett shakes his head. “And here I thought you were being altruistic.”

          John’s feeling good now. The pain’s ebbed and he’s able to roll onto his back. Beckett places pillows under his knees. “Nope…I’m selfish,” he says. “I like having her around.” He looks at the doctor. “Is that gonna go away once you fix me?”

          Beckett shrugs. “I don’t know lad. I really don’t know.”

₪†₪

Chapter Text

9

To the Moon & Back - Savage Garden

          Life on I-zoola is pretty mundane. I absolutely love it.

          There’s a communication gap since I don’t speak the language, but I’m learning to interpret easily enough. They use their hands a lot, very animated.

          Having been isolated from the rest of the galaxy for whoever knows how long has left them completely self-reliant. Apparently, they used to have a gate on the planet but once the Wraith made themselves known, their ancestors buried it. There’s no explanation for the space-gate being in orbit around the main planet, no one remembers life on that desiccated rock. None of that matters now, though. They are now allies. And very friendly ones at that.

          The tribe of people Atlantis has the trade agreement with is called Gullins and there are about 300 of them. Turns out there are several tribes on the small moon, but only the Gullins’ know of us. They are rarely in contact with the other tribes as they like to keep spread out so as not to draw attention from the Wraith.

          All the tribes live in large mountains on the planet; something about the ore in the rock that keeps the Wraith from knowing people exist here. And when I say large, I mean ginormous! Like the Egyptian pyramids maybe. There is one huge central cavern like an indoor swap meet. Tunnels lead from the ‘city’ to smaller ‘villages’ and those villages lead to family homes. The homes kind of remind me of the underground one’s on the planet Tatooine from Star Wars; where Luke lived, only instead of two suns, there’s none.

          The city itself bustles with life and activity and chatter. The villages are a lot quieter and each ‘home’ is like a two-story condo made of stone. It’s really cool. Literally cool, considering the climate outside. I doubt the temperature gets much higher than sixty in the caverns, even with all the people. Probably because heat rises and I’m talking big ceilings.

          The Gullins—and I imagine the other tribes—live off the land but manage to make their crops look like wild growth. It’s fascinating. They haven’t had a Wraith culling since the mother planet was destroyed but they still know of the danger, the stories are passed along in song.

          They don’t have technology as in electric, but they do have plumbing—thank God!—fire, and wax making for candles, pottery and the like. Somehow, they manage not to over-populate, but we haven’t gone into that. I’ve been given my own quarters in the matriarch’s home—which is a big deal considering how few rooms are available in these houses—and I’m being treated like some kind of princess.

          I hadn’t expected this reception, that’s for damn sure. I hadn’t planned on being here at all, really. It just sorta happened, thanks to a fairy Godmother.

          Ten days ago, following my workout, I did as I planned and went to the Control Tower. Dr. Weir was in the briefing room so I waited in her office. I was so exhausted I fell asleep on her couch. I woke rather suddenly to find her working at her desk. She hadn’t bothered to wake me when she came in.

          “You seemed to need rest,” she smiled. “It’s quite a comfy sofa.” I agreed, slowly getting my bearings as I sat up. She came over and sat in a nearby chair. “I take it you wanted to speak with me?”

          “I was just…wondering when‒”

          Given the only times I have ever ventured to her office, she automatically knew what I wanted. “We don’t have a scheduled meeting on I-zoola for several weeks.” She easily caught on to my disappointment. She curled her legs under her and watched me with those impenetrable green eyes. “Is there something wrong? Maybe I can help.”

          I shook my head. “No. Thank you, though. I was just hoping…to…get away. For a while.”

          Her gaze narrowed on me. “You mean an extended stay?”

          I nodded, cleared my throat. I don’t doubt my eyes were still a bit red from the previous cry fest and I know my face must have still been pale, so basically, I looked like crap and she could see it; besides the fact that I found it difficult to look her in the eyes; her being his beating heart after all.

          “Well, we did leave a radio with Hani. I could give her a call. Find out if they’d be interested in a visit.”

          My heartbeat increased ten-fold. She’d do that for me? “But…how would‒”

          She offered a small, sly smile. “I’m sure I could find someone willing to fly you over in the jumper. It’s not a long trip.”

          “Thank you, Dr. Weir. You don’t know how much…I need this.”

          Her eyes narrowed again. “I think I do.” Her brows arch. “Man trouble?” I could feel the blush in my cheeks. She’s far too perceptive for my liking. She offered a rather soothing, comfort grin. “I’ve been there. Sometimes we just need…distance.”

          I nodded again. “Yes. Distance would be very good.”

          She grinned again as she stood and clapped her hands together lightly. “I’ll see what I can do.” I got up too and headed for the door. “Jax?” I turned around. “Talk to Dr. Heightmeyer. Let her know, just in case. I’d like her okay on the matter first.”

          “Sure.” And that became my next destination. Dr. H. was a little more difficult to find. I actually had to track her down to the mess. I should have known; it was lunchtime after all. I’d been up all night, so my internal clock was thrown off. It felt like evening, not noon.

          She greeted me with a smile as I sat across from her. I told her what I wished to do and she thought about it for a moment. “Get some lunch and join me. I’d like to hear more before I make a decision.”

          So, I grabbed lunch and sat with her a while. I think she was more interested in seeing me eat than anything else. My eating habits have been less than stellar since I broke off with John. Once we finished lunch, she told me she’d go straight to Dr. Weir and give the go ahead. The only request she made of me was that I take my laptop and continue my journal. Not exactly a heavy burden for a caveat. Thankfully my battery is fully charged. I don’t plan on being here long enough for it to die. Of course, plans do change in this galaxy.

          Anyway, a few hours later, Dr. Weir showed up at my door, her smile friendly but professional. Talk about being able to keep people at a distance. She must have mastered that somewhere along the line. I just hope someday she lets her guard down long enough to see the man-treat bowing at her feet on a daily basis.

          “Hani is very excited about your visit. She’s hoping you will skate for them again.”

          “I’d love to, but…I’m only taking my MP3 player. They won’t be able‒”

          “That’s actually been handled…in a way. Dr. Zelenka would like to accompany you on the trip over.”

          “Dr. Zelenka?”

          She smiled. “He has a surprise for you and the Gullins.” She spread her hands as she does sometimes. “So, Major Lorne is ready to take you as soon as you’re ready to go.”

          I turned to my bed and grabbed my giant duffle then picked up my skates I’d left near the door. I didn’t say anything, just gave her a grateful smile.

          She nodded, also smiling. “Okay then.” She tapped her headset. “Major Lorne, ready the jumper, she’s on the way.” We walked to the transporter together and I could feel her eyes on me. “You know…if you ever want to talk…”

          “I thought that’s what Dr. H. is for.”

          She grinned. “I mean, to a friend.”

          I couldn’t meet her eyes. For someone so nice, she intimidates the hell out of me. I was worried she’d be able to see right through me. Somehow see exactly who I was trying to get out of my system. That might have hurt her and I couldn’t do that. “Thank you.” It was all I could think of saying.

          “Has something happened with Ronon? I know he’s spending time with Teyla…”

          Her question surprised me and I stopped in my tracks. “Oh, no. No problem. In fact, if you wouldn’t mind.” I pulled a note from my pocket. “Could you give this to him when he gets back? I don’t want him to worry about me.”

          It’s no big deal if she reads the note, it’s a simple so long, see you later, I need time away to think, we’ll watch Friends when I get back. He’ll understand, she shouldn’t. But I know she won’t read it. She’s not that kind of person.

          “You’re sure you don’t want to wait until Col. Sheppard’s‒”

          “No,” I said quickly at the sound of his name. Probably too quickly in fact. Dr. Weir got a strange look on her face like she was trying to figure something out—or had figured it out.

          We stepped onto the transporter and a moment later we were walking down the hall to the Control Room. She wasn’t going to follow me all the way, there was no reason. I was on the steps heading up to the jumper bay when I stopped and turned. “Dr. Weir?”

          She was halfway to her office. “Yes, Jax.”

          I knew what I wanted to tell her, I just didn’t know how to get the words out. She needed to open her eyes, see what’s real, be open to…him. But how do you tell someone that they’re missing out on something potentially amazing? That they’re letting life pass them by? Especially when other people are in the room and listening. “If something makes your heart beat faster…or gives you butterflies…you shouldn’t ignore it. Don’t you agree?”

          She had a quizzical look on her face, but what I saw in her eyes told me she knew exactly what I was trying to tell her. She’s a very intelligent woman. A worldly woman, in fact. It’s the whole butterflies metaphor…every woman knows that feeling and why we get it. After a moment she smiled politely. “I do.” She nodded once. “Enjoy your trip, Jax.”

          “Thank you, ma’am.” And then I raced up the stairs. I don’t know if she actually followed my advice, I’m not the most reliable source for that sort of thing. And the fact that she knows I’m running away from home to avoid some man must give her pause about said advice. But, I couldn’t not say something…she shouldn’t ignore anything…anyone that…hot.

          Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic deep…deeeeeep down. Or just hopeless. Whatever.

          Anyway, Major Lorne and Dr. Zelenka were waiting for me when I arrived. The Major was actually kind enough to ask me if I wanted to sit up front. Imagine that, me, a little nobody in the co-pilot’s seat. It made the hour-long ride in the sardine can a lot easier to handle since I could simply stare out into space. No walls to close in on me. Dr. Zelenka was in the back fiddling with something mechanical…kind of looked like computer speakers actually.

          We were greeted at the lake by Hani and her daughter, Mika. The teen instantly took my bag and whisked it away from my sight. I had my skates slung over my shoulder and those stayed with me. I wasn’t in the mood to skate at the moment, having had very little sleep and a hard workout, but Dr. Zelenka asked me to stay behind.

          I was right about the speakers. It took about fifteen minutes but with the Major’s help, he managed to hoist four of them up into trees around the small section of the lake I consider a skating rink. He then took my MP3 and plugged it into a makeshift outlet and suddenly I had surround sound. And not distorted, muffled, lost in the trees sound either. This was really good.

          “What about detection,” I asked him. “We don’t want to draw attention with electronics.”

          Dr. Zelenka cleaned his glasses. “They don’t give off energy until you plug in player. Even then it is with battery, so minute, I doubt would be picked up from a distance. But on safe side, remove player when you finish. Speakers will go unseen.” He pointed at the trees and I could not see the speakers or the wires.

          I almost fell on my ass running over the ice to give him a big hug. He is the sweetest man ever!

          “Where’s mine?” The Major asked as soon as I let the Czech go. Since he did help, I gave him a quick hug too and thanked him profusely for taking the time to fly me out here.

          “You’re welcome,” he whispered right into my ear.

          Okay, is it me or is there a normal hug time-limit for general strangers. It’s like the handshake time-limit…now I know that exists. Maybe I was just really tired, but I got the weird feeling that Major Lorne doesn’t have this time-limit installed in his brain. I was ready to let go, but he kept hugging me for a few extra moments, not a long time, like a couple of seconds. Was he copping a feel? I know I’ve been out of the dating game…well pretty much my whole life considering Tony was my first boyfriend...ever…and the last as it turned out. I’m probably just imagining it.

          Nope, he was copping a feel.

          You know, that Id girl hasn’t been wrong yet. Should I be worried? I mean, Sheppard‒

          Ah uh! This is a JS free zone from here on out!

          Right. Good catch, Jax. That man did say there’s a rumor going around Atlantis about me. Eww! What if Lorne thinks it true and…ewww. That’s just not right!

          Whatever. It’s over.

          Yeah, it’s nothing. So, they left and here I am sitting on my fabulously comfy sleeping cushion with the most amazing sheets—I’m no dummy, I brought my own—and keeping good on my promise to Dr. H.

          The first two days I didn’t skate even though I had the set up raring to go. As soon as Hani introduced me to her village and then showed me my ‘room’ I didn’t have enough energy left for one of those imaginary light bulbs that pop over cartoon heads. I sat on the bedding then promptly passed out. Seems I slept a long time too because the next thing I remember is Mika tapping my shoulder, and I think it was the next day’s dinner time. I don’t remember falling asleep or a single dream.

          Now that’s how to start a vacation.

          Mika is about sixteen and the eldest of the village children. She watches over the young ones most of the day. And by watch, I mean…in the house. And I so love kids. Let the sarcasm runneth over.

          Following my first conscious morning meal, I was assigned two tour guides: Shali and Lin—girl and a boy—about seven in age. They are quite chatty and easily grate on the nerves, but I’m a guest and I know how to be a gracious one no matter what Ronon’s eye rolls would say. They gave me the tour of the central cavern, introduced me to some folks and showed me the easiest routes outside to the lake so I could skate.

          My first day on ice was like a movie moment really. Shali and Lin sat in the snow; listening to the music and watching me practice my new routine. About an hour into the workout, it started to snow, light and fluffy flakes. I took pictures with my eyes, just relishing the beauty of the moment.

          Before we went back inside, I must admit I got a little giddy and started a snowball fight. Afterward, I showed them how to make snow angels. Before I leave this winter dreamland, I must impart my knowledge of snowman making, it’s only right.

          Mika has two younger girlfriends and they all like a few of the boys in the ‘city’ from other villages. I hear them chattering and giggling a lot, it’s kind of nice to see something so innocent, non-cynical. I just hope they don’t learn the harsh reality too soon.

          Boys are evil.

          I discovered this long ago, of course. But the lesson has recently been re-taught to some degree.

          Though I’m treated like royalty, I’ve spent much time outdoors just wandering through the woods, alone. Hani is very perceptive. In her own way, she informed me that she knows I’m sad about something. She understands I need my space and does not try to dissuade me from my walks, except to wear one of her coats. It’s made of some sort of animal fur and smells like wet dog, but it keeps me warm.

          I haven’t come across any wild animals, which leaves me wondering…where’s the fur come from?

          Last night I was sitting in my room being all girly and painting my toenails when I saw my curtain sway. Beyond, there were three shadows hovering nearby. I could tell by the soft giggling who was there. “Mika…”

          She pulled the curtain aside and peeked in, obviously worried I was mad at being disturbed. So, I smiled and waved for them to come inside and sit. The three girls were intrigued by my colorful toe nails and the polish, though not the smell of it, which made me laugh.

          So, I turned on some girl-bonding tunes and became big sister Angela.

Anthem - Superchick

          I taught them manicures and how to paint their fingers and toes by using Mika as my model. Kai followed my moves as she worked on Sison’s fingers. She watched very intently and seemed to pick it up rather well. While we played, they were talking rapidly about boys and I caught every few words, including Mika’s crush, a boy named Dre. Supposedly Dre is a hunk-a-hunk of burnin’ love that Mika cannot stop staring at. I nod my understanding. Yep, I’ve been there.

          That’s why I’m here.

          So, they chatted and I listened, throwing in my two-cents when I could. Once I finished with Mika’s nails and they were dry, she took up residence behind me and started brushing my hair with her fingers as Sison worked on Kai’s nails. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed having someone mess with my hair. It’s very relaxing…calming even. I know Dr. H. would want me to draw a conclusion about it, so here it is: Mom, plain and simple.

          It was our nightly ritual from the time I was a little girl until…well…I moved out. I remember sitting on the floor in front of the sofa with a bowl of popcorn or peanuts, whatever sufficed for a bedtime snack, watching TV at Mom’s feet. She would either be brushing my hair or putting it into twists, sometimes even a French braid, before I went to sleep. It usually put me to sleep. She had the most mesmerizing touch; long, elegant fingers, not a single callous, and her nails were always perfectly shaped and painted.

          Mom had been a concert pianist in an earlier life but gave it up to be a housewife and mother. I always wondered if she regretted her decision, but never had the guts to ask—or the time. Mom never let on that she was anything except ridiculously happy with me and daddy.

          Not that any woman could regret marrying him. Daddy was one of the good guys, not evil in the least. He always made us laugh, cooked a mean barbecue, didn’t yell or scold too harshly and always had time to give me piggy back rides—when I was a kid of course. He was a true hero in every sense of the word.

          I was maybe nine at the time, but I can still see Mom’s eyes full of worry when Daddy was late coming home from his shift at the firehouse. She kept staring at the phone and spinning her wedding ring around and around her finger. I crawled into her lap and wrapped my arms around her neck before kissing her cheek. “Daddy promised we’d go to the beach tomorrow,” I reminded her. “He promised.”

          And Daddy kept his promises. Mom knew this to be true and the worry left her eyes. Later when Daddy came home, he apologized for being late—something about the big red trucks needing maintenance—and Mom was so happy she cried. Yeah, Mom loved Daddy and he loved her. And I know she loved me and was proud of me. They both were.

          I just hope they forgive me.

          So, basically, the girls and I had a slumber party, though without so much slumber. We sat up all night playing at hair and nails and talking about boys.

          Damn that was fun!

          And JS never once entered my mind.

          Liar.

          Yeah, whatever.

          So, I’m stringing up my skates, getting ready to try the new routine et al…with an audience. It’s only Hani, Mika and the others girls, but still an audience. Hani wanted to invite everyone, but I managed to get her to understand this is a practice…which means I might fall on my ass and embarrass myself. I don’t know if she got that part, but she didn’t invite anyone else.

          I plug the music player into place and select the song. It took me a while to decide on one this time. Usually, I pick the music first and let it carry me, but this time the moves came first. It’s odd that it happened that way, but once I flipped through all the music on my MP3, I came across this one and it fit as if I’d chosen it first. Maybe I did, way back in my mind, but hadn’t realized it. Anyway, I’m not only a sucker for movie soundtracks, but 70’s and 80’s tunes as well. One of my favorites is Bananarama’s Venus. Classic girl power all the way.

Venus - Bananarama

          But since it’s widely different from the orchestra music I used last time, I didn’t want to startle Hani or the others into covering their ears and shouting ‘noise’ in their own language. So, I played a little of the song for them and they seemed to like it. I have to wonder if the girls would like Halestorm, Pat Benatar or Joan Jett…if they could understand the lyrics? I may just have to introduce them to some of the women of hard rock.

          I manage to get through the whole dance without so much as a hiccup or pebble on the ice. It’s such a rush the first time I do that. Not that any time after isn’t just as fantastic, it’s…dreamlike the first time. Sliding over the ice in my skates takes me back to a time when I was someone else. Before Jax or the woman in witness protection, but not just Angela Peterson, ice skater; Angela Peterson, daughter of Melinda and Greg Peterson…the littlest ice princess.

          From the time I was six, my parents had me in skates. They seemed to know even then that it was my destiny. That’s why they were so willing to put everything on the line to get me my dream.

Instead they lost everything because of me.

~ § ~

          I wake with a scream caught in my throat and my body drenched in sweat. I’d consider it life as usual, except for the fact that since I came to I-zoola, I’ve been nightmare free. Nearly three full weeks without a single dream.

          Until now.

          My pounding heart starts to slow and I take deep breaths as I wipe my face and neck. I should be used to the storyline by now. Not only did I live it the first time—though what happens in the dream is different from reality—I’ve been reliving it for years. But this dream refuses to release me. And tonight, it changed.

          As I knelt over my father, desperate to keep the blood from flowing out of his chest, he was trying to tell me something…but a shadow loomed over me, laughing behind me. I knew who to expect when I turned, knew what to expect…

          But I couldn’t have been more wrong. It wasn’t Tony aiming his gun at my heart, laughing at me.

          It was John.

9.5

          Carson checks the Colonel’s eyes with a pen light. “How’s ye headache, lad?”

          “Same.”

          “No better, no worse, then?”

          “Thought I covered that with ‘same’.”

          “Mmm. Techy.” Carson pockets the pen light and lifts the datapad to take notes. “Been feeling a bit moody, I take it then.”

          Sheppard clucks impatiently. “Suppose.”

          Carson considers the man sitting, or rather slouching, on the gurney. Dark circles have taken up landscape under his eyes, he’s got enough stubble to sand the entire city and then some and he looks to have lost a bit of weight, at least in the cheeks. “How’ve you been eating?”

          “The usual way, with a fork. You know, lift it to the lips and suck it in.”

          “Good to see you still have your sense of humor, Colonel.”

          “Not much of one. Please tell me I’m released to active duty.”

          “Aye, looks like you’re back is fully healed. But I am concerned about the withdrawals regarding the other topic.”

          “I’m fine.”

          “You’re suffering more than headaches, lad. Weight loss, sleeplessness. I can’t in good faith release you back to duty with this over your head.”

          “You mean in my head.”

          Carson nods. “For most people, the body builds up a tolerance for the chemicals that you and your lady friend have been subjected to. Unfortunately, that is not the case here.”

          “So, I’m a lost cause? Stuck to forever lust after one woman who clearly doesn’t want me.”

          Carson shakes his head and raises his brows. “I’d hardly say that, Colonel. Now, I haven’t spoken to the lass, but from what I understand, she’s doing whatever she can to help you break from her. I’d say that’s incredibly selfless, considering she must be harboring the brunt of the damage.”

          Sheppard looks at him with narrowed eyes. “How’s that?”

          He shrugs. “I cannot break privilege, of course, but I can readdress information you know. The Ancient device doesn’t work on men. Only women. Hypothetically speaking, if I chose to re-examine a specific female’s PET and MRI scans pre and post incident, I might have found that the Ancient device sparked extra activity in the brain, which is likely responsible for the enhanced pheromones released. Such a woman might be under the influence of a flood of hormones, especially testosterone, just as you.”

          “So, she’s going to get chest hair?”

          Carson grins. “Not likely. The hormones would remain in balance to assist with conception, though high enough to be conducive to heightened sexual drive. Such a woman would, hypothetically, be even more addicted than, say…you.” He nods. “Not to mention the poor lass would still be emitting intense pheromones…possibly receiving unwanted attention.”

          “So basically, she’s gonna get hit on wherever she goes.”

          “Aye. And probably won’t know why.” He nods again. “That kind of woman…must care an awful lot to take on such a burden…far from home, with no support from friends.”

          “Subtle.” Sheppard runs his hands through his hair. “Please tell me there’s a way to fix this. Carson, I feel like I’m dying…every day she’s gone…am I going crazy?”

          “No, lad. Let me know if this rings true. You’re obviously miserable when apart like you’re not complete. You get a rush of energy being near her. Either way, it’s difficult to concentrate. And being with her isn’t complete unless in ends in some type of sexual encounter.”

          Sheppard’s eyes widen. “Wow. Nutshell.”

          “Ah, the blush of new love.”

          “What!” Sheppard stares at him. “I’m not in love with Angie!”

          Carson smirks, shaking his head. “Who are you trying to convince, son?” Sheppard’s brows wrinkle. Carson considers the man. “It’s textbook, Colonel. Romantic or passionate love is characterized by euphoria when all is well, mood swings when all is hell, needed attention, obsessive thinking, and intense craving for the other person. Tell me I didn’t just describe you.”

          Sheppard just stares at him, mouth gaping, eyes barely blinking. “But…I’m not in love with Angie,” he says plaintively.

          Carson shows him the datapad. “Your recent brain scan clearly shows increased activity in the attachment center. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you had a spike of phenyl ethylamine in the limbic system once you lay eyes on her again. That blissful rush of love.

          Carson sees something odd in the data. “How long were you two involved?”

          “Almost two months. Why?”

          “Strange,” he says with a shake of his head. “See,” he shows Sheppard the data again. “This section here is long-term attachment. See all the yellow, that’s activity. It takes time to fill up. At least a year. Usually five or more.”

          Sheppard’s hands fist at his sides and his teeth clench, working the jaw muscles. “Carson, I’m not in love.”

          Carson shrugs. “That’s not what your brain is saying.”

          “Well, my brain’s lying. I don’t even know the woman.” Carson arches a brow and Sheppard glowers. “Other than physically.”

          “Textbook infatuation. Unfortunately, as I stated, your body is not growing bored, or accustomed to the chemicals as usually happens with this kind of situation.”

          He cocks his head. “What’s usual?”

          “Once the initial infatuation wears off, the subjects either move into attachment bonding, or love, or they drift apart. I’m not so sure you have an option, however.” He folds his arms. “From what Rodney told me of the translation, the device was intended specifically for married couples. As a romance enhancer and facilitator. According to the data, it is what they called a ‘soul-bond’ device.”

          “Soul-bond?” Sheppard drops his face into his hands. “That sounds…kinda long-term.”

          Carson nods from side-to-side. “As you may or may not know, the Ancients’ did not have anything like divorce in their time. ‘Til death do us part’ was taken quite literally. And from what I understand, they lived for a really long time. Possibly a hundred years, with one mate.”

          “What if the…subjects weren’t romantically involved to begin with?”

          “I don’t suppose they ever came across that…actuality. Or if they did, they didn’t put it into the literature.”

          Sheppard scrubs his hands over his face. He seems to want to ask something but is either too embarrassed or afraid to make the effort. Carson watches him. Sheppard rubs the back of his neck. “What if…” Carson waits. Sheppard’s eyes dart around the infirmary. “Hypothetically speaking…”

          “Okay.”

          “Say a man got caught in this infatuation…strictly because of the pheromones…”

          “Right.”

          “But that man was…unbeknownst to even himself…already in love…with a different woman.”

          Now, it’s Carson’s turn to gape. He’d never considered this eventuality; much like the Ancients obviously hadn’t. “Oh, dear.” Sheppard nods slowly, brows high on his forehead. Carson shakes his head. “Hypothetically speaking…this is unprecedented. May I ask who?”

          “Do you really need to?”

          Carson thinks on that a moment then realization hits him. Dr. Weir. Of course, the long-term attachment…they’ve been through a lot over the past year, that instantly bonds people, especially through life and death situations. “I don’t believe I do.”

          “So, you see how this can only end…badly.”

          Carson nods. “Actually, you should thank the lass for ending it when she did. Considering your conflicting emotions and elevated testosterone level.”

          Sheppard’s suddenly on edge. “Why?”

          “There’s a reason romantic love can’t last, John. You’d die from exhaustion. Lasting love induces safety, the sense of calm, peace, and stability. If that is threatened…”

          “I could become violent.” His eyes close as he sighs. “Blame her.” He looks at Carson again. “That’s why I scare her.” He claps his hands and rubs them together. “Well,” Sheppard sits up straighter. “There’s gotta be some kind of chemical cocktail you can give me to counteract what’s happening?”

          “No.”

          “C’mon, Carson. You created a virus that turned me into a bug. You can certainly get me thinking with the right…brain again.”

          “Low serotonin is the most important factor here. However, I’m not eager to try anything given the nature of the situation. Introducing another chemical could harm you.”

          He points a finger. “Antidepressants. Don’t they kill libido?”

          Carson nods slowly. “It can be a side-effect, but it’s not a guarantee. And even then…I could not in good conscience put you back on duty while increasing your serotonin level.”

          “Why not?”

          “It impedes judgment, Colonel. You make life and death decisions every day. If I prescribe an antidepressant, you’d lose the necessary insight to make hard decisions.”

          Sheppard nods. “More of a ‘maybe’ guy than a ‘get it done’ soldier?

          “Exactly.”

          “So, what can I do?”

          Carson shakes his head. “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help. Perhaps the lass is right. Maybe if you simply stay away from each other the effects will dissolve over time.”

          Sheppard nods. From the look in his eyes, however, he doesn’t believe it any more than Carson does.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

 

 

10

            Time seemed to stand still for me until I looked up and saw the puddle jumper landing. I knew they were coming, just not so soon.

            It’s been an amazing three and a half weeks away from real life. No demands on my time. Plenty of music and skating. Tons of new friends. I got to know pretty much everyone in the small village Hani and the girls live in. She may be the ‘Mayor’ of the entire tribe, however that works, but in the home village, Hani’s the baker and her husband is a mason. Basically, she ‘moms’ everyone. I haven’t felt so welcomed since I met Charlie and Lily.

            Which reminds me, I need to find out how Lily and the baby are doing. Jack’s been keeping me updated, but not exactly e-mail accessible on I-zoola. So, I have missed some…stuff.

            Dr. Beckett and a few agricultural scientists along with Major Lorne’s team arrived for their scheduled trade meeting and medical check-ups. The tribe is so big, Dr. Beckett’s team can only work through one or two villages per visit. So far, everyone seems very healthy here. Including me.

            Atlantis’s elegant metal and glass structure with its controlled temperature has always been so…comfortable. In contrast, the frozen moon that summer, fall, and spring forgot would suggest harsh living, but the people are not simply surviving. They’re thriving.

            Everyone drilled it into my head: stay warm. That’s the one thing everyone looks out for, keeping the heat in. And everyone watches out for each other. It is definitely a tribal community. No one I’ve met is ‘out for themselves’. It’s glorious. Also, I wasn’t a slug taking advantage of my host family the entire time. I got myself laughed at by the kids when they tried to explain the simplest chores to me.

            Everyone in the mountain tribe works, including the kids. Not some labor-intensive sweatshop like on Earth, though. Lin and Shali took me with them and their friends on their daily rock hunt in the tunnels that run deep under the base of the mountain. They treat it like a game. Finding just the right size, shape and composition determines how well they will heat in the fire and how long they stay warm. And again, they laughed at my lack of knowledge of something so basic for them. We had an awesome time.

            I think I need to invest some study in geology books.

            Now, it’s time to return to Atlantis. I’m sure I could ask Hani to stay and she’d welcome me with open arms, but I do have responsibilities back in The City. I pushed off my massage patients onto the nurses I trained, so I imagine they’re ready for a break. And Ronon’s probably stomping around and growling because he hasn’t seen the last episodes of season three of Friends.

            Before I leave, Hani and Mika request a skate show. As I look around the audience, it seems they’ve invited the whole village. It may only be 40 or so people but I haven’t been this nervous in a long time. Perhaps the nerves aren’t so much about skating as they are about returning home. I have that rollercoaster-flip-flop-stomach-drop feeling in my belly.

            Once the music starts, though, I’m no longer cognizant of outside forces. Only the music matters to me as it flows through my veins, into my muscles and gives my body flight.

            So, I skate to “Venus” one more time and they clap while Major Lorne and Dr. Beckett whistle their approval at my decidedly sexier skate routine—the song makes me work it! Mika, Kai and Sison cry as I say goodbye. They hug me three on one then individually. It’s amazingly sweet and makes me chuckle to cover the sudden tears in my eyes. I’ve had so much fun just hanging out and being girly. I’m gonna miss them.

            I left my bottle of purple “Love Shimmer” nail polish with Mika and have promised to send more as soon as I can convince Dr. Weir. I’m sure she’ll understand but if the SGC puts the kibosh on it, then poor Jack will have to go to the beauty supply store and send me a care package. Hell, he can get Sam to go, she’s always up for a nice shopping trip, especially when I’m treating.

            Either way, the girls should have a multitude of colors asap. I always keep my promises… something my dad taught me.

            I almost forgot. “Major,” I call to Lorne and he turns back to me before stepping into the jumper. “They don’t know what a snowman is.”

            Major Lorne looks at his watch and sighs. But it’s Dr. Beckett who rubs his hands together and grins, exposing deep dimples below mischievous blue eyes. “Then I suggest we show them, eh lassy?”

            We’re all freezing when we hit the jumper bay, but there’s a train of laughter from the whole group as we trudge out of the jumper. Major Lorne orders his team to shower and change into dry clothes before unloading the supplies and they quickly disperse as do the scientists. Dr. Beckett, Major Lorne and I keep laughing as we go down the stairs into the Control Room. Dr. Beckett kisses my numb cheek before reminding me I have to be tested and cleared within the hour. I nod my thanks and he takes off, waving and grinning.

            Dr. Weir stands at her office door with her arms crossed, mouth tight and one brow arched. Major Lorne and I stop chuckling abruptly as soon as we see her. She motions for us to come into her office. It’s after she sits behind her desk that a sly smile appears. Damn, she’s got a helluva poker face! She’d clean us out at girl’s poker night. “You’re late and…what’s the story with your clothes?”

            Major Lorne grins at me, his face still rosy from the cold. “Well, Dr. Weir. Something funny happened on the way to the puddle jumper.”

            I giggle and her smile widens. “Really? Do tell.”

            That’s when I step forward. “I’m sorry, Dr. Weir. It’s my fault. I…mentioned the kids had never seen a snowman before. So…”

            “Major? A snowman?”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            I glance at him then look back at Dr. Weir. “But…I did happen to introduce some of them to a different winter activity.”

            She leans back in her chair, clasping her hands. “Let me guess. Snowball fight.”

            I tilt my head and nod. “They kinda…attacked.” Then I’m laughing again as I tell the story. I can’t help it. Seeing Major Lorne and his team pelted with ice had to be the funniest thing ever. They all stood statue-still with these dumbfounded looks on their faces. A couple of them even ducked into the jumper. It wasn’t until Major Lorne howled: “Retaliate!” that they returned. Since Dr. Beckett, the other scientists and I were also from Atlantis, we were drafted to serve the honor of the military.

            The joy on the kids’ faces and the laughter from the rest of the village as they all joined in made my year. I can’t remember having so much fun. Dr. Beckett and I didn’t last long. We were on the ground covered in snow. Mika and Kai were relentless in their attack on me. As were Lin and Shali. Sison went after Major Lorne with a vengeance. I’m pretty sure the fourteen-year-old has a massive crush on the manly-man.

            So, not hating kids so much?

            I can make exceptions. But no babies!

            “Please tell me you won,” Dr. Weir chuckles after I finish the tale.

            Major Lorne’s embarrassment is only trumped by the joyous glimmer in his eyes. “We got our asses kicked ma’am.”

            “Cheetah,” Ronon says from the door and in an instant he has me turned around and off the floor, his tree-trunk arms holding me in a tight hug.

            “Tarzan, I’m home.” I kiss his cheek.

            Col. Sheppard is right behind him, casually slinking into the office. I catch his eyes briefly but look away, my heart thumping painfully. Ronon lets me down but keeps a hand protectively on my shoulder. “You’re shivering.”

            I blow into my hands. “Well, yes, Mr. Obvious. I’m cold.”

            “How’d the skating go?” Dr. Weir asks.

            “It‒” I start, but Major Lorne interrupts.

            “Amazing. They loved her.” He turns to me. “You were fantastic. Really.”

            I’m thrown by his enthusiasm and compliments. “Thanks.”

            “I mean it. You’re really…beautiful…umm, I mean…what you can do with your body…” Lorne clears his throat, clearly embarrassed by his rambling.

            Okay, now I’m blushing. I can’t help it. It’s probably from the cold. Or from Ronon’s big goofy grin. Okay, maybe it’s a bit of modesty. I really don’t know. I do believe my teeth are chattering.

            “Yes,” Col. Sheppard’s husky voice joins in. Has he always sounded that sexy? “Jax here knows exactly how to use that body of hers.” The edginess in his tone instantly cuts the festivities. I slide my eyes over to him and he’s watching me with a predatory gleam. And I’m not the only one sensing his hostility.

            Major Lorne clears his throat again, nodding to Dr. Weir. “Ma’am?”

            She nods in return, dismissing him from her office. “Thank you again, Major.” Her eyes cut to the Colonel.

            Major Lorne catches my gaze as he heads out, flashing an embarrassed but friendly smile. He doesn’t look at Sheppard.

            “I need to change,” I say, moving past Ronon and heading for the door. “Um. Dr. Weir.” I look back, avoiding Sheppard’s eyes.

            “Yes.”

            “Could you see about supplying nail polish for I-zoola? Could be a decent trade product. Or a friendly gift.”

            She smiles softly. “I’ll look into it. Thank you. And it’s good to have you back. The time away seems to have agreed with you.”

            I give her a small half smile, my eyes automatically catching Sheppard still watching me, that painful thump hitting my ribs in double-time. Then I quickly turn and walk out. Ronon right on my heels, but I don’t look at him. “He hates me. Doesn’t he.”

            Ronon’s giant paw lands on my shoulder and he squeezes. We walk toward the corridor. “No.”

            I love Ronon, but sometimes…dense is a really good descriptive word for the lug. The moment I saw Sheppard, I knew my time away had done something to him. Worse than being near him all the time. I won’t pretend to understand it. All I know is that I’ve been pushing my pain aside, ignoring it to the point it doesn’t seem to exist, but he obviously hasn’t been able to. He must hate me, he has to. I’ve caused him so much hurt.

            I don’t know what I was thinking of staying away so long. I should have realized his symptoms would only increase.

            And seeing him again, feeling that chemistry between us just sizzling in the air. I just wanted to grab him, kiss him wildly and do all sorts of nasty things, right on Dr. Weir’s desk. Give Atlantis a big show.

            No, my distance theory just crashed and burned. I’m going to have to tell Dr. Beckett the whole sordid story. Maybe he can figure something out.

 

10.5

            Three days after her return, John finds Angie in the gym, kicking and punching the crap out of the heavy bag to some dark rock or heavy metal.

Devour - Shinedown

            She’s alone, which hasn’t been the case recently. Ronon’s been a never-ending shadow, like a guard dog. If John tried to go near her, Ronon steered him clear, even growled and flashed his canines.

            It’s his own fault. He was downright hostile when she returned. Simply hearing her voice as he approached Elizabeth’s office had him hard as a rock in seconds. Then seeing her face flushed and happy reminded him of the last time she looked that gorgeous. He’d been inside her, pulsing and pushing them both into unbridled bliss.

            Elizabeth had been decidedly sharp with him about his attitude once they were alone. “Colonel?”

            John turned away from the office door. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with him. He’s had women. His twenties were awash in one-night stands and casual club fucks that left him well-sated. The military tends to gather flocks of groupies who are only interested in fucking someone in a uniform. For a while it was fun. Easy sex isn’t something most guys turn down, especially when you’ve been away on missions. Get in, get off, get out…no left-overs, sometimes no names.

            But he’s in the shit now. There’s no letting go of Angie/Jax, whatever the hell she wants to call herself. It’s her being, her body that calls to him; makes him feel whole, sends him into…complete rapture. No other way to describe what she does to him. He’s never had it better than when he’s inside her.

            And the lack of intimacy has left him raging inside and out.

            When she left Elizabeth’s office without a word to him, John started following Angie, but Elizabeth’s tone made him stay. “What was that!” He looked at her, the narrowed eyes, tight lips. He’s never really seen Elizabeth pissed before.

            “What?”

            Her brows rose. “That comment.”

            Wild, irrational jealousy…desire turned to madness…take your pick, Liz.

            “It wasn’t very professional or nice. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were deliberately trying to embarrass Angela. Hurt her feelings even.”

            John shrugged. “Maybe you don’t know me all that well.”

            She leaned in, arms on the table. “What’s that supposed to mean.”

            “Nothing.”

            After a moment of watching him, she stood up, tapping a pen against one hand, walked around the desk and came to stand in front of him with arms folded. She leaned a hip against the desk. “I know why she went away. For the longest time, I figured it was because something had happened with Ronon.” Her eyes narrowed at him again. “But it’s you. She’s avoiding you.”

            John pulled his eyes from hers. He couldn’t fight the pumping of his blood, the anger that filled him as he’d entered the office, seeing her flirting with Lorne.

            Was she flirting? John takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out. Remember what Beckett said about the pheromones. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth.”

            “For what you said? Or for getting involved with her?”

            “Both.”

            She looked down at her hands clasped in front of her stomach, that pencil gripped between them. “Butterflies,” she said softly, to herself.

            “What?”

            She shook her head, tossing whatever thought she had right out. When she looked up at him, her deep green eyes seemed to stare right through him. “I’m not the one you need to apologize to.”

            John didn’t know what to say. Her expressions are just as guarded as Angie’s. She never lets her emotions out, especially not in public. But when she made the leap that he was the reason Angie left, Elizabeth seemed…saddened by it.

            Didn’t she?

            “It’s because of the Ancient device,” he explained quickly, giving her the highlights, leaving out the seedier details.

            She nodded once. “I see.”

            “But I’m not…”

            She held up a hand, stopping him. “It’s not important, John. You’re allowed a personal life.”

            He took a step closer to her and their eyes met. “I think it is…very important…for you to know.”

            Dropping her eyes from his, she stepped sideways and returned around her desk to sit. “You need to apologize to her.”

            John shook his head. “She doesn’t care‒”

            Then her eyes nailed his, holding firm, anger brewing. “Yes. She does. Too much, at times, for her own good.”

            John didn’t know what to make of that last statement. Elizabeth literally dismissed him after that. The anger in her eyes hadn’t abated, but he wasn’t completely sure it was aimed at him. She seemed upset, but more with herself. John knows Elizabeth well enough not to miss when the hold on her emotions manages to slip. There’s something more she didn’t say.

            So, here he is three days later, but no closer to finding the words he needs to fix things. John covers the door crystal with his hand and orders Atlantis to lock it. He doesn’t want to be interrupted, or physically assaulted by Ronon.

            Angie knows he’s in the room, her eyes flitted to him the moment he entered, but she’s not giving him an ounce of interest. Her attention on the music and the precision of each blow. Turning away from the bag, she quickly spins, slamming the heel of her right foot into it, making the thing rock with the force of the kick. The next kick reminds him of a Rockette, high enough to smack him in the face. Then she twists sideways and slams her flat foot at the bag with enough power to make the chain squeak in protest. After a few punches and elbow slams, she does the same kicks with the left leg, though not as powerful, it could still do damage.

            The music ends and she tugs at her gloves, pulling the wraps off with her teeth. John’s in front of her, offering his help, but all she has for him is a fierce glare. She shakes off the gloves, unwraps the bandage around her knuckles ignoring the spots of blood. She’s been working a while.

            Sweat trickles down her face and neck, a drop slowly flowing between her breasts, making his mouth water.

            “Jax,” he starts. She sucks in a deep breath, her chest rising in the effort. Her mouth sets in a thin line. “I’m sorry for what I said.”

            “Doesn’t matter.”

            He drops his head with a nod. “I think it does.”

            She shoves the boxing gloves into her bag and slings it over her shoulder. “No, Colonel, it really doesn’t.” She steps toward the door, runs her hand over the crystal, but nothing happens. “Unlock it.”

            “We need to talk.”

            Her shoulders droop. “About what?”

            “Us.”

            Her eyes close and she sighs. “There is no ‘us’ Colonel. There never was.”

            “Why do you do that? Call me John.”

            Her eyes snap open, locking onto his in an instant. “No.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because,” she motions to his clothes. “That’s not who’s here right now.”

            “I don’t understand.”

            “Color me surprised. Please, unlock the door.” John crosses his arms. She drops her bag at her feet. “Why are you making this so difficult? We had an agreement…if one wants out, then it’s over.”

            “That’s the problem.”

            “What is?”

            “Neither of us really wants out.” She flinches and he knows he hit a nerve.

            She spins and stomps over to the bench by the window. She sits heavily, resting her elbows on her knees. “That’s the addiction. It’s not real.”

            John kneels in front of her and this time she doesn’t try to move away. He picks up her hands, looking over the broken skin. “Do they hurt?”

            “I’ve had worse.” She slips her hands out of his grasp. He gets up and sits close to her on the bench, breathing in her scent. The sweat from her workout only teases him, reminding him of their more acrobatic encounters that leave them drenched. Damn, he’s hard again. Never takes much, just being in her presence, smelling her skin; those soft, heaving breasts make his hands itch to feel them, squeeze and pinch them.

            His eyes devour every inch of her as if he’s never seen her before. “It’s called a soul-bond, Jax. A lifetime thing. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

            She refuses to meet his gaze. “I’m sure Dr. Beckett‒”

            His hand brushes her hair away from her neck and she shivers from his touch. “He’s already looked into it. This whole time you’ve been away…”

            Now she does catch his gaze, her eyes widening, “There’s nothing he can do?”

            John shakes his head. One hand grazing down her back the other under her chin. She looks away but he gently turns her to face him again. “We’re stuck with each other.” He caresses her cheek, something he’s been dying to do for the past three weeks. Her skin’s as perfect as he remembers. “Is that so bad?” She closes her eyes, leaning into his touch. Her lips tremble and an almost inaudible whimper of longing escapes. John knows at that moment Beckett is right about her withdrawals being worse than his. Frustration, anger, helplessness flow from her.

            She brushes his hand aside and gets up, going to the door. Her willpower astounds him. She’s the strongest person he’s ever known. She tries to open the door again, but it’s futile and she knows it.

            Atlantis has a special bond with her, but John has it too. The City even started playing music whenever he stepped into his quarters after she left. It had to have come from Angie’s files, but for some reason, Atlantis wanted him to hear certain songs. It was as if The City missed her too.

            Though, by the choice of music…Atlantis obviously has a romantic side. And Angie’s music…very eclectic! Air Supply, The Carpenters and Five Finger Death Punch…really?

            “Please, let me go.”

            He’s in front of her, close enough to feel her breath on his face. Her eyes latch onto his lips then she looks down and away. He inches closer, his mouth so near hers, he can almost taste her. “I can’t…don’t you get that?”

            “Johnny…” she sighs, shaking her head.

            At the sound of his name instead of the calculated Colonel, he’s lost and kissing her. He’s gentle, tender, keeping a tight rein on his desire even though he wants to ravish her here and now. They’ve been apart too damn long. He can’t imagine how he got through the separation. He needs to be with her, a part of her. And she’s melting into him, letting him wrap her up in his arms, her hands roaming up his back, pulling him closer, igniting him to take it further. He deepens the kiss and she accepts with another slight whimper.

            Just like Beckett said, it’s a rush when they’re close. He can’t stop his heart from over-exerting, can’t contain his arousal and he doesn’t want to. His only thought is to be with her.

            He’s trailing kisses down her neck when she gasps a sob, something he’d never thought he’d hear from her: “No,” she says, her voice trembling. She pushes him away, though not with much strength. John pulls back and looks at her. Tears hover in her eyes and his heart thuds to a stop. “This…hurts,” she whispers.

            The pain in her voice stabs him in the chest. He lifts her chin, staring into her wet eyes, clearly catching despair…agony. And knowing how hard she keeps everything under wraps, never lets any raw emotion show, so much so that only the late-night murmurs in nightmares have any true value…this must be torture for her.

            I’m torturing her.

            She drops her gaze and the tears slide down her cheeks. “Please, Johnny,” she gasps, obviously fighting the urge to sob right in front of him.

            John sighs heavily. He releases her and waves his hand over the crystals and the door opens. Angie turns from him, but he grabs hold of her hand, linking fingers. “I don’t think I can stay away.”

            Her gaze locks onto his; forgotten tears slide down her cheeks; her hard eyes now dry—Jax is back in command. “Then I’ll leave again,” she says firmly. “And I won’t come back.” She pulls her fingers from his and rushes down the corridor, frantically wiping the tell-tale tears away.

            John stares after her. His mind and body screaming for action. But his heart’s thumping painfully in his chest again. The thought of her leaving…of never seeing her…never touching her. He shuts his eyes tight. I don’t think I’d survive that.

            He wants to be with her always. Fuck the addiction. They’re good together. He wants her, she wants him. That can’t be bad.

Is This Love - Whitesnake

            Atlantis’s romantic side strikes again when a song starts playing while John stands there, staring at the now empty corridor, desperately wishing she’d just appear in front of him and wrap her arms around him.

            Like Elizabeth did?

            He’d been overwhelmed when he’d beamed down from the Daedalus after surviving what he’d expected to be his final flight. Elizabeth hadn’t run to him, she’d walked over and shocked the hell out of him when she threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. At first, he didn’t know how to react. But once he wrapped his arms around her as well, he hadn’t wanted to let go. When Elizabeth pulled back, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. From her lips…he’d wanted to kiss her right then. Take her somewhere quiet and hold her some more. He’d come so close to dying…then so close to living without her. He couldn’t think about that then…or now. Doesn’t want to think about it.

            And it’s the same with Angie.

            John sighs. Crap. They can send me to a new freakin’ galaxy where I wake up these dreaded life-sucking vampires, have to mercy shoot my own commander, relentlessly put my life on the line to save The City and all the people in it without blinking and yet, I can’t manage to choose between two women?

            John looks up at the ceiling. “Got any suggestions, sweetie?” He waits but the song doesn’t stop or change to something new. John sighs, shaking his head. “Fuckin’ alien devices. I blame the Ancients, ya know.”

            Damn straight!

            What the hell? John looks around. “Atlantis? Was that you?”

            No answer.

            John shakes off the random thought. “I’m losing it… big time.”

₪†₪

Chapter Text

11

          Damn, I forgot my bag!

          Well, I’m not going back, that’s for sure. He’s still there, standing all manly-man in his tight black T-shirt showing off his pecs and those not baggy enough military pants. And what’s up with those lip-locks of his? Gawd, I need an icy shower after that.

          On that first night, it was so clear what he wanted, how he wanted me. Sure, he was gentle, but…a different, feverish kind of non-ape-man gentle. He made me want him every day, any way I could get him.

          Those eyes staring into mine, those soft lips, that sculpted swimmer’s body. I love that body, the power he wields. When he took me hard that day in his room, I was so hot and ready for him the moment I stepped into his quarters. I didn’t know how long I’d be waiting, but I somehow knew it’d be worth it. And damn if he didn’t crack open my soul when he growled: “Mine.” Gawd, the adrenal rush of letting him take me, of giving myself over to him. It shook me. The pleasure so fast and furious, spiked through me just as hard and fast as he did.

          That’s not what screwed me up later, though.

          It was when he threw in all that tenderness and warmth. And those arms around me…staying with me. Sleeping next to me. The cuddling! That’s what he wants now. All the time. Cuddling…intimacy.

          Damn! Damn!

          I start running as fast as my feet and legs can take me. Unfortunately, the sudden burst of panic-induced energy is short-lived and by the time I make it to the transporter, I have a stitch in my side, sending a sharp cramp around my lower back. I squeeze it with my hand, trying to massage it away but it doesn’t work. I’ll just have to let it fade on its own.

          So much for self-discipline.

          I’m not letting him get to me this time. If he keeps persisting…I’ll leave. Even if I-zoola isn’t an option, there has to be some other planet I can find. I’m not without resources, I can build stuff if I need to; maybe live in a tree-house.

          Without electricity? Plumbing? Without DVD’s? No Ronon to hold your hand. No contact with Jack? I’d hate it.

          Shut up, Jax.

          Man, how’d this get so complicated! I was so happy on I-zoola…

          Liar! I was miserable, only refusing to admit it. Denying every thought of him. Pretending there were no dreams…memories of him touching me…giving me the best sex of my life!

          Am I really willing to throw that all away, throw my whole life away just to keep John available for another woman?

          Yes.

          Well, that’s pithy, unrealistic, but pithy. What happened to fighting? I’ve never been the cowering type. Fighting is what I’m here for. It’s what I do. It’s what we do. You and me together. One mind, surviving.

          No, I’m tired.

          I step into my quarters and Atlantis hits the soundtrack.

Paralyzed - The Cardigans

          I’m too busy to pay attention, though. I swear Atlantis is in league with Jax. Pushing me to fight for John but right now, I don’t care. I can’t concentrate. My side hurts, my head hurts…my damn heart hurts. Knowing there’s a friggin’ AI that has access to my brain and is trying to tell me something isn’t what I want to deal with right now.

          I’ve got bigger problems.

          I strip and jump into the shower before I even turn it on. The cold water hits my face and I shriek a little at the chill. But it’s all good. Well, not all good. Perhaps cold isn’t the only way to go. So, I turn the nozzle a bit and let the heat scour away the mess that is my pathetic life.

          The last time we stopped fighting, catatonia set in. I won’t do that again!

          Shut up!

          I close my eyes and suddenly I’m back in the gym: John’s eager lips on mine, possessive and so damn talented! His tongue licking my top lip before slipping into my mouth, gently sliding against my own. The touch igniting fireworks in my brain and lust in my body just like that first night. He tastes like mint…cool mint and coffee. I can’t feel my feet anymore…just his lips against mine and I never want it to end.

          I open my eyes to break the fucking spell he’s got over me only to get them drenched with hot water. In reflex, I suck in air but also a lung full of the damn water. Great, now I’m gonna choke to death in the shower and he’ll never know…No. Doesn’t matter.

          Say it!

          My body racks with coughs and the next breath’s a painful but filling one. I’m trembling and my chest hurts from the near-death-by-shower. How embarrassing would that be? Salty tears flood my eyes and slide down my face as a result of the harsh coughing, not emotional ambivalence or heartbreak.

          Lying again. You’re so good at that these days!

          Stop it, Jax.

          Admit it now. Admit it to us! You’re in love with John Sheppard and have been for nearly two years, stupid bitch!

          No! I lean into the stream and let the water wash away the tear stains. It’s not true. I don’t do that. I refuse to do that to him.

          To him? What about us! Why give up the best thing to happen to us in forever? Why continue with this ridiculous self-sacrifice? Despite your name…you’re no angel. Never have been.

          I’m sobbing…and I don’t even know why. Really, is that possible, to start crying for no reason? It’s just so…crazy.

          Dr. H. is gonna have a field day. Hell, she’ll be able to write a book on my delusions.

          Here I am, having a fight in my own head with Jax who is actually me but I treat like a separate entity while harsh sobs renewed the tension from the earlier side-stitch. I fall back against the stall and slide to the floor, bringing my knees to my chest.

          Stop this! Get up!

          But I can’t. All I know is my chest hurts so much I feel like I’m being ripped in half. My stomach’s in knots but also fluttering in a nauseating way. And my mind keeps swimming with images of John, the sound of his voice, the feel of his hands on me.

          I brush my fingers over my lips and it’s him kissing me again. Any part of my body, I can feel him, where he’s been, how he’s touched me. And it all burns so beautifully. I remember everything to the point of pain. My forehead falls onto my knees and more sobs shake my body. I want to stop. I really do. I don’t know how to make it stop.

          Somebody, make it stop.

          Please.

          Somewhere far away, Ronon’s calling to me. I call back, but my voice simply echoes inside my head, like it’s bouncing around in my skull and not out where it belongs.

          I open my eyes and John’s standing in front of me. Then he’s got me pinned to the shower wall, kissing me, inside me, moving so wonderfully slow and deliberate, sending ripples of pleasure through my body.

          I hear Ronon calling to me again, but I can’t see him. I can’t see anything except Johnny.

          “Angie.”

          I’m fine Ronon. Light as a feather…but cold. Why am I so cold? John’s hot skin rubs against mine, tantalizing…all-consuming, embracing me. In the next moment, I’m snuggly warm, toasty even. But my body’s trembling and I can still hear the horrible sounds of weeping.

          That’s gonna kill the mood for sure. Whoever’s crying needs to get their own room. John’s got his hands on me, loving me. Making love to me.

          Shit! There’s that word again. Why does it send my heart into palpitations?

          Scaredy cat.

          “Angela?”

          What? Ronon! Can’t you see I’m busy? Don’t I rate some form of privacy?

          John’s eyes are on mine, trying to delve into my brain and steal my secrets. He’s smiling. That devilishly adorable grin with dimples-of-utter-destruction, but then something changes. His eyes grow cold, heartless, dark. He’s standing in front of me, no longer Johnny but Col. Sheppard in full gear. He’s aiming the P-90 at me. I want to look away but his eyes lock me in. I can’t move. Can’t speak. I call to him but he just stares at me.

          He wants to kill me.

          “Angie, wake up!”

          What? I turn, looking for Ronon, but I can’t see anything except John. Everything else a hazy white blur. Only he exists to me. Now, even I know that doesn’t make any sense.

          Ronon? Where are you? For that matter, where am I?

          John’s smile returns, but it’s ugly, it sends a flutter of fear through my gut. Not the rollercoaster-ride fear…actual I-need-to-run-and-hide fear. It’s harsh, angry…dangerous. “You did this to me!” he snarls. “It’s your fault.”

          And then he pulls the trigger, spending hundreds of rounds on my body. I stand there and take it. I don’t even fall over. I just stand there. I look down and see each impact exploding inside me like liquid fire, but I remain standing and he pelts me with more ammo.

          “Angie!”

          Finally, something bursts from my chest. It hangs in the air in front of me. A bunch of white crystals explode out. Hey, it’s like the Matrix…and I can see each individual crystal. They look like ice cubes…only each one has a face reflecting in it.

          Charlie, Ronon, Lily, Laura, Mom, Jack, Dad, Ryan…Johnny! The cubes finally drop to the floor and shatter at my feet. I’m not bleeding. Why am I not bleeding? Shouldn’t I be? He did just shoot me full of holes. Why am I spewing ice cubes?

          It’s so cold and my teeth are chattering.

          And then there are hands on my arms, rubbing up and down. Strong arms holding me close and I hear a distant heartbeat. Not my own, of course, because my heart’s lying in melting pieces on the floor.

          I look up and Col. Sheppard’s staring at me enraged. And suddenly I’m behind him. Not me, me…but another me. I see myself walk up behind him, glaring with the same amount of anger and…betrayal. The other me puts a hand on the Colonel’s arm. I tried to warn you.

          He glances at her and nods. “So you did, Jax.”

          Jax? What’s happening?

          So weak, Angela, Jax glowers. She taps the man’s arm then pulls away. Then he’s glaring at me again. And firing.

          Col. Sheppard wants me dead. That means John hates me. And Jax. Jax hates me too.

          Finally, I collapse to the floor in the icy pool left behind by the cubes. Sobs once again wrack my body, making me tremble. I bury my face in my hands, just letting the tears take me. I don’t know what else to do.

          I should just curl up and disappear.

          “I won’t let you,” Ronon says from behind me. I look over my shoulder, but only find more of the hazy white. No one there. No Ronon to save me.

          Always needing to be rescued, Angela, Jax spits. So pathetic. And she kicks me in the face, sending me onto my back hard. Then she nails me in the side, the pain exactly like when I ran down the corridor. She pulls her leg back to kick me again, but for some reason, her foot doesn’t connect.

          I lie on the floor, shivering, waiting for the attack, all the while I still feel warm arms about me, and that distant heartbeat calls to me, keeping me safe, even from…myself.

 

≈ 11.5

          Ronon’s outside her door, his hand moves over the crystal. As usual, there’s music playing as he enters. So far so good.

Frozen - Madonna

          Five minutes ago, Sheppard caught him on the way to the mess. The man didn’t look well, his eyes wild with energy, face pale and sweaty. “I need you to check on Angie,” he said nearly breathless.

          “What’s wrong?” The fact that Sheppard, of all people, was standing before him worrying about Angie triggered all sorts of alarms in Ronon’s head. Sheppard’s supposed to be staying away from her. Ronon made that very clear. “What’d you do?”

          He closed his eyes and licked his lips, running a shaky hand through his hair. “Just talked.”

          Ronon felt the growl growing in his chest and leveled his gaze on the other man. “If you only talked‒”

          Sheppard nodded. “She got upset. Let’s just say, I get the feeling she’s…very upset.”

          “What do you mean?”

          He shook his head, running the hand through his hair again. “It’s just a feeling, Ronon. Please. Check on her.”

          So, Ronon ditched the mess hall and raced to the nearest transporter to take him to her quarters. He figured he’d start there and if he didn’t find her, he’d check his room and then search her known haunts if necessary.

          It isn’t necessary.

          The door opens instantly, she didn’t bother locking it, an oddity given how private she still is. He pokes his head inside and calls her name. Running water echoes from the bathroom into the bedroom, so he goes in and leans his back against the wall separating the rooms. He crosses his arms and tosses his voice over his shoulder. “Angie? You okay?”

          Nothing. He tries again. Only the music speaks back at him. Taking a deep breath and bracing for an all-out shouting match from a very angry, naked woman, Ronon steps into the bathroom and stands next to the shower. “Angela!”

          A soft keening sound like an animal caught in a trap slams his heart against his ribs. Yanking open the shower door, Ronon finds her huddled in the corner, legs drawn up, arms wrapped tightly around them and her head on her knees, a ball of quivering flesh. “Angie?”

          She doesn’t respond, not even to look up. Ronon shuts off the shower, pulls her robe from the door and wraps it around her before picking her up and carrying her into the bedroom. Her weight barely registers in his arms.

          He lays her down on her side, she stays in that curled position, weeping. He pulls all the covers up to her shoulders as her body trembles from a combination of cold and tears. “Angela?”

          Still no response. He smooths her wet hair from her face; her eyes are shut tight. She’s murmuring something even as she continues to cry. Ronon can’t understand; it’s too soft. Kicking off his boots, he lays down facing her, wraps his arms around her, pulling her close to him, her wet head resting on his chest.

          “He wants to kill me,” she whispers, repeating it over and over.

          “Angie, wake up!” For a moment there’s nothing and then her body starts shaking violently. “Angie!”

          He should call the doctor. He should call somebody. But that would mean leaving her. He doesn’t have a headset; he only wears it when going off-world.

          The shaking subsides and she lays limp against him. “Cold,” she says, her teeth chattering. Ronon wraps his arms around her, holding her as close as possible.

          She’s crying again, a continuous, barely audible sob. And she’s still trembling, muttering the same thing over and over. “He wants to kill me,” her voice full of despair. After several more minutes, she adds: “Just curl up and disappear.”

          “I won’t let you,” Ronon says firmly, holding her tight and kissing her forehead. “Not a chance.”

₪†₪

Chapter Text

≈ 12

          I’m sitting alone in my room listening to another of Atlantis’ top picks from my enormous music collection. But the songs don’t start on time or end right. It’s little snippets of lyrics from different bands and singers. It’s getting frustrating. What is she trying to tell me? It’s like she’s got a remote and just channel surfing.

Torture - Berlin

          Yes, I think of The City as a she. She reminds me of me. Moody, temperamental and obsessed with John Sheppard.

          Finally, I latch onto a Berlin ballad and she lets it play through. I still don’t get the message, but I like the song or it wouldn’t be part of my playlist.

          “Angela…”

          I spin around in a white mist. “Mom?”

          My room is gone…what the…I don’t recognize this place. Not that there’s much to look at, just some fog or a giant white room only no walls. And there’s a breeze. Maybe it’s that misty planet Dr. McKay talked about that one time. Oooh, I always did wonder what that place would be like. Talk about being able to create your own life. That would be a trip. Too bad it would be a short-lived trip, though. The scenarios I could think up…

          “Angela…” her voice soft, dreamy. It reminds me of when she used to wake me for school with a gentle shoulder rub. Mom always had the gentlest touch and a voice to go with it. No wonder Daddy fell in love with her so easily. He once told me it was love at first sight. He must have been swept away by her beauty, grace, and voice. “I’m here.”

          And then I see her. She’s wearing a fancy, bright red dress and red high heels. Her long spiraled black curls rest atop her head, little tendrils gracing her neck and face. We share the same hair, naturally curly locks. Hers always looked so elegant, whereas mine…well, frizz doesn’t even come close these days.

          “Mom,” I gasp.

          She looks so beautiful against the white backdrop. Where are we anyway? It’s a dream, obviously. But not one I’ve ever had before. I feel warm, calm. Mom’s here, smiling at me the way she always did.

          Where’d Jax go? The Colonel with his P-90? What if they see her? My heart’s racing as I whirl around looking for them. I can’t have them see her. They’ll hurt her…take her away from me. Leave me‒

          …It’s that bloody Ancient device... That sounds like…Dr. Beckett?

          “Don’t worry, baby,” she says softly. Suddenly she’s in front of me, her warm hand on my cheek. Her fingers are as silky and delicate as I remember. “Mommy’s here.”

          I throw my arms around her, clinging to her like a silly child. But I don’t feel silly. I feel relieved and happy. And I’m crying because of that. “I’ve missed you so much.”

          …I don’t understand... That’s…Dr. Weir?

          Mom’s hand caresses the back of my hair and more tears fill my eyes: burning but so refreshing when they slide down my face. “I know,” she says, hugging me close.

          “Where’s Daddy?”

          “He can’t be here, baby.”

          “Why not?”

          “He doesn’t want you to see him…sad.”

          …It’s the chemicals being released…

          I pull back, my eyes locking onto her hazel ones. I’d forgotten we didn’t share our eyes. I got Daddy’s in the mix…dark, Italian brown. Dramatic eyes, Mom always said. She warned me they could be considered bedroom eyes and I’d have to be careful how I used them on men. That always made me laugh. “Why is he sad?”

          Mom’s hand rounds my face and cups my chin. “Because of you.”

          “Me?”

          Mom nods, her smile faltering. “You’re not the daughter he’d hoped for, baby.”

          …So you say…

          My heart nearly stops beating. “What?” There’s so much pain. I feel like I’m going to split in half. It’s like a full body blow right inside my chest. I’m shaking again. Trembling. “What?” I repeat, but it’s just a whisper.

          Mom pulls back from me, keeping me at arm’s length. Then she points over my shoulder. “She is.”

          …I do say because she said so.

          I turn my head slowly. I don’t want to see, but I have to. I have to know. And there she is, standing with her arms folded, dressed in all black. Dressed like death.

          Jax.

          …I don’t agree.

          She’s me. An exact duplicate, only…she’s not me. She’s hard and cold. She feels nothing. Daddy couldn’t want her. Could he?

          …Just my opinion.

          I shake my head wildly as I turn back to Mom. But she’s gone, vanished into the misty landscape. “Mom?” I spin in place, searching for her. I run through the never-ending mist. “Mom!” I spin again. “Mommy!”

          Jax is in front of me. Face it, Angela. No one wants you. You’re weak. Crying for your dead parents. Crying over John…a man who clearly could never love you. So weak. That’s why you never had Ryan. You could never have a man love you. Tony showed you that much. And you know it. You told John. You’re not worth it.

          “Ronon loves me.”

          Sure, he does. You’re his pet. He likes having someone follow him around, making him feel important. But he could never love you really. Not the way a man loves a woman. You’re not strong enough for him. For any of them.

          You’re just no good, Angela. Mom and Dad know it now. Of course, you had to get them killed for them to figure it out. Same with Ryan and Charlie. It’ll be the same with Ronon and John. They’ll figure it out soon enough…when you get them killed too.

          “No!”

          Why fight it. You know it’s true. Just go on and keep crying like a little baby. It seems it’s all your good at these days.

          Okay, that just pisses me off to no end. So what if seeing Mom makes me happy, not seeing Dad makes me sad, seeing John makes me want him ten different ways. I’m sick of taking Jax’s crap. Sick of apologizing for my damn feelings!

          She’s staring me down with that hateful glare. So I pop one off and deck her. She doesn’t go down, but she’s shocked to the core, I can feel it, because so am I. Usually, she’s the one smacking me around. This is so weird.

          She stands firm, rubbing her jaw. I raise my fist again. That’s some bitch slap, sweetie. She’s smiling at me. Knew you had it in ya.

          “What?”

          Jax circles me, looking me up and down, appraising me even. When you were six and fell down on the ice the first time. Who picked you up?

          My brows crease. Is this a trick? “Daddy.”

          Jax shakes her head. Okay, fine. The second time.

          “I did.”

          She nods. When Jacob White tripped you on the playground in eighth grade, what happened?

          I can’t fight the grin. “I broke his nose with a head-butt.”

          When you fell off the apex of the pyramid in high school and dislocated your shoulder…what’d you do?

          God. High school cheerleading? She’s bringing that up? “I cried.”

          Because it hurt.

          “Well…yeah.” That’s a given.

          Then what’d you do?

          I turn my head, watching her carefully as the memory returns. “Went to the ER. Flirted with the cute doctor.” She’s still looking me up and down like I’m something on an auction block.

          After that. After the recovery.

          “I went back to cheerleading.”

          And?

          Now I see where she’s going. “I got back on the apex.”

          Jax stops circling and stands in front of me, eye to eye. Hers are exactly like mine, only there’s a challenge in them. And when Tony Demarco pointed his gun at you, ready to kill you in an instant. What did you do?

          I shake my head. I don’t want to go back there. I’ve never wanted to go back there no matter how many times my brain takes me. Jax grips my shoulders and squeezes, painfully almost. What did you do?

          “I…I…” I close my eyes and take a deep breath, then open them and stare right at her. “I told him to fuck off.”

          She releases me and folds her arms. You didn’t beg for your life?

          I shake my head, not taking my eyes from hers. “No.”

          You didn’t run? Let him shoot you in the back?

          “No.”

          Jax tilts her head, eyeing me with that challenge. And during all this…where was I?

          My eyes widen and my jaw drops. I can feel the air going in and out of my lungs, but I’m so stunned, I can’t catch my breath. I’m dizzy and my heart’s beating so fast. So hard.

          Where. Was. I? She asks again, pointedly hitting each word.

          I shake my head. “Nowhere. You didn’t…exist.”

          Jax smiles. It’s a gentle, warm smile…so different. It’s Mom’s smile. She has Mom’s smile. Which means I have Mom’s smile. How come I never noticed that?

          Call yourself whatever you want: Pamela, Frankie, Tammy…Jax. They’re only names. They don’t make you…you…Angela.

          “I don’t understand.”

          Jax’s smile turns sly, into a smirk. You will.

          “Jax is a cool name,” Mom says. I spin, seeing her behind me. “Tough. Like a shield. Or body armor.”

          “Mom?” She fingers my collar. I look down seeing black clothes, Jax’s outfit.

          “Or a code name,” a deep male voice says.

          I spin again and bump into… “Daddy?”

          His arms engulf me with a giant hug, pressing his heart against mine. “Hello, Angel.” I can smell his aftershave. And his arms are so tight around me. I’ve never felt so safe. So loved.

          “Oh, Daddy!” I sob against him. 

≈ 12.5

          John’s only partially listening to Carson as he tells Elizabeth what’s happening to Angie. He’s too busy watching over the young woman who—for reasons beyond both their control—has become a very major concern for him. He’s grasping one hand as Ronon clutches at the other while she lies in the infirmary, wired up to an EKG and an IV.

          “It’s that bloody Ancient device,” Carson tells Elizabeth. “I should have seen it sooner. I’m so sorry.”

          “What is happening to her, Carson?” Elizabeth asks. John hears the worry in her voice. Elizabeth—like a lot of others here—has grown attached to Angie. She’s…well there’s something about her.

          Maybe it’s the pheromones.

          Yesterday, Ronon found her in the shower, completely unresponsive. He did his best to warm her and rouse her, but nothing worked. John had sent him there because he had a gut feeling something was wrong with her. He didn’t know where that idea came from, but he couldn’t get rid of it. He felt Angie in trouble. He just wishes he’d been wrong.

          “Her metabolism has gone haywire. And she’s lost weight.”

          John fought the urge to go to her himself, but that only lasted about fifteen minutes. He finally gave in and when he arrived at her quarters, he found Ronon on the bed with the weeping woman. He’s never seen Ronon so worried. Even when she’d gone into the catatonic state, Ronon still remained stoic, almost removed from the whole thing. But yesterday, John saw fear in the big man’s eyes.

          Fear for his sister. And a predominant hatred for John.

          “Her body’s expending more energy than she’s putting in. I’ve spoken with Dr. Heightmeyer and she did tell me the lass’ eating habits are, let’s just say, erratic. But with all the chemicals flooding her system, she probably hasn’t noticed a drag.”

          “I don’t understand.”

          Ronon carried her to the infirmary with John following close on his heels. Carson kicked them out moments later, though neither could leave the outside corridor and the doctor ordered them to get some rest. Like that was really an option.

          They stayed in the corridor all night, waiting; blame in Ronon’s not-so-subtle glare. If anything happens to her, John knows Ronon would feel righteous in killing his commanding officer. And part of John would welcome it.

          Carson finally relented and let them in an hour ago to sit with her. Elizabeth arrived a few minutes ago to get updated.

          Carson sighs heavily and that makes both Ronon and John look at him. “I daresay she’s had enormous amounts of physical energy. It’s the chemicals being released, they are essential to stamina.” Elizabeth nods and John’s breath catches when he hears the word. “The problem lies in the fact that a human body needs fuel to expend such energy. She hasn’t been putting in that fuel…or enough of it, anyway.”

          “Shouldn’t she have known? Been hungry at least?”

          “Aye. But you know the lass, Dr. Weir. She’s an exceptionally driven creature. I’ve never met the like…well, aside from you that is.”

          Elizabeth flashes an embarrassed smirk as she folds her arms. “Is she going to be all right?”

          Carson crosses his arms, glancing over his shoulder at the young woman. John follows the doctor’s gaze. She seems to be sleeping peacefully, at least. The weeping ended sometime in the night according to Carson. Her eyes do look a little sunken and her cheekbones pronounced, but otherwise, she’s just as beautiful as ever.

          Maybe I should kiss her. It always works in fairytales.

          Now that’s the most ridiculous thought ever!

          Though the kissing idea came to him, to John’s surprise, the last thing on his mind is sex. That’s a big deal these days, especially when he’s around Angie. Usually, his body gets in on the action before his mind can even focus. But as of yesterday—their last meeting—something’s different. He’s wondering if being apart really was the only way to help them and he just had to reconcile the fact in his mind. Put her needs ahead of his.

          When he realized how much he was hurting her, something snapped inside him. The thought of being the cause of her pain even in the slightest made him angry at himself. He beat the crap out of the heavy bag for a while. Until that twinge in his gut told him something was seriously wrong with her and he raced back into The City proper to find Ronon.

          Carson’s talking again. “Her heart-beat became erratic last night.”

          “What!” Ronon stands up, still holding Jax’s hand. John twists in his chair, echoing Ronon’s cry.

          The doctor nods. “Aye. We had to shock her back to normal rhythm. It wasn’t long…just a minute. But it’s never a good thing. As you know, Colonel.”

          John nods. “Hurts like hell too.”

          Elizabeth turns to him. “You remember?”

          “Yeah,” he scrubs his free hand over his face.

          “I have her on a high electrolyte IV, which I’m hoping will get her to wake up.”

          Ronon re-takes his seat, still watching the doctor. “You don’t know if she’ll wake up?”

          “You have to understand son, what’s happening to her is metabolic. That’s a very slippery slope to mess with. I can’t believe the Ancients didn’t add this to their data.”

          Elizabeth shrugs. “They probably never came across it. After all, the device wasn’t meant…”

          “For us,” John says firmly.

          “Mom?” Jax says softly. Her hand tightens around John’s. He glances over and sees that Ronon’s also getting the same response.

          John runs his hand over her forehead, ignoring the glare from the other man. “Wake up, Jax.”

          “Angie,” Ronon growls.

          John grimaces at him. “She doesn’t like to be called that.”

          “So you say.”

          “I do say because she said so.”

          “I don’t agree.”

          Elizabeth sighs and both men turn to her. “I doubt your bickering is the encouragement she needs.” She spreads her hands. “Just my opinion.”

          “Thought women liked to be fought over.”

          Elizabeth’s eyes narrow on him. “Masculine misconception, John.”

          John nods, dutifully chagrined. He glances at Ronon. “Sorry.” Ronon just grunts.

          “Mommy!”

          Her breathing increases and her body’s shaking. “Carson,” John and Ronon call at the same time then look at each other. John doesn’t back down this time. Yes, he understands Ronon’s protectiveness of her. But Ronon has to understand that John isn’t going away until he knows she’s all right. And even then…he might not be able to stay away.

          And John’s not so sure that’s such a bad thing anymore.

          Carson checks her vitals and listens to her heart. “She’s panicking.” He calls to his nurse. “5mg diazepam.”

          Her grip on John’s hand tightens and he winces as his knuckles get crushed together. Damn, she’s strong! “I think something’s pissing her off,” he tells everyone.

          “Nightmares,” Ronon says, not taking his eyes from her.

          The nurse returns with the shot, but Angie has already settled down. Carson checks her heart again. “Slowing…getting better.” He waves off the nurse. “Never mind.”

          She’s quiet now, though her brows crease in confusion. She shakes her head slightly, but not thrashing as she normally does. Her grip on John lessens considerably.

          Elizabeth looks to Carson. “That’s a good sign, right? She’s dreaming.”

          “Aye.” He turns to her. “I’m optimistic. As soon as she’s awake, we need to get some solid food in her. She’s going to have to make some changes in her eating habits. And I know she’s not going to like this, but I’m requiring at least a ten-pound weight gain and not just muscle. The lass needs some insulation on her as well.”

          Elizabeth’s brows rise. “Ten pounds? Really?”

          “Aye. I’d say this trade agreement with I-zoola could not have come at a better time.”

          Her brows wrinkle. “Why’s that?”

          “While on their planet, Jax managed quite well on the fish and grain diet. I’ve run my tests. There are substantial proteins and vitamins in their food. Plus, no added fillers like we’re used to on Earth.”

          “Daddy?” A moment later, though, she’s crying again. John looks up at Carson.

          “Happy tears,” Elizabeth says softly.

          “How can you tell?” John asks.

          She nods toward Angie. “She’s smiling.”

          He turns back to the young woman. Elizabeth’s right. Angie’s softly curved lips seem blissful.

          Elizabeth nods and clasps her hands together. “Good. Keep me informed.”

          John catches her gaze before she leaves. She pulls her eyes from his almost instantly and it makes him feel guilty and sad. He doesn’t want to leave Jax, but he knows he has to talk to Elizabeth. They’ve been doing the back and forth eye-thing for too long. He’s accepted the truth about his feelings for her. He can’t believe it took someone else to point it out to him, but there it is. It’s time he put everything out there.

          He’s seen the looks she’s given him. Not to forget the hug. They never spoke of it, but since then, things between them have been different: the flirting a little bit more serious; the silences on the balcony more fulfilling; the subtle touches on an arm or back a grateful reminder that they’re both still here.

          And he’s forever been attracted to her, since that first meeting in Antarctica. Have to face it, she’s a gorgeous woman. Even though he’s been affected by this thing with Angie, it hasn’t dampened his attraction for Elizabeth…or the fact that his heartbeat quickens when she comes into his sight.

          He releases Angie’s hand, laying it across her stomach and follows Elizabeth. He finds her in the corridor, leaning a shoulder against a wall, head bowed and her back to him. She must have heard the door open because her spine instantly straightens and she starts walking away. He catches sight of her hand as it swipes over her cheek.

          If he didn’t know better, he’d swear Angie was the one walking away from him—he shakes off the crazy non-sense image. “Elizabeth,” he calls softly.

          She stops but doesn’t turn around. He catches up to her. She doesn’t look at him as she speaks. “You should stay…wait for her to wake up.”

          John shrugs. “Ronon’s with her. He’s all she needs.”

          Elizabeth turns to him; the remnant tears on her lashes. “You can be so dense, John.” He’s taken aback by that and knows the shock is registering on his face. She smiles softly. “I wasn’t talking about what she needs.”

          John shakes his head. “I don’t understand.”

          Elizabeth sighs through her nose and closes her eyes for a moment. When she opens them, she motions at him: “Look at you. You haven’t slept. I doubt you’ve eaten. Unshaved and wearing the same clothes you had on yesterday.”

          “So, I’m lazy. What’s that‒”

          “No, John.” She shakes her head. “You’re worried. You’re afraid you’ll lose her. You’re in love.”

          “What?” Why is everyone assuming his feelings for Angie are more than…well, just more? First Angie breaks up with him because she says he’s in-love with Elizabeth, something he hadn’t even contemplated. After all their time together, all their angst and danger…believing each other to be dead, John supposes it makes sense. But then Carson and now Elizabeth insists he’s in love with Jax? Wouldn’t he be the first to know this sort of thing? Shouldn’t he?

          Then again…shouldn’t he have known about his feelings for Elizabeth too? All the time he’s spent watching her in meetings, hoping for a glimpse of her emerald eyes, a hint of a smile or even one of those sexy arched brows. Their banter makes his day, gives him a tickle in his stomach when he catches her off-guard. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to him…and he’s only just now realizing it. He’d be lost without Elizabeth. Her strength and determination, her leadership and intelligence, even her stubbornness can make him feel happy.

          She’s the last person he looks to when going off-world and the first person he seeks out when returning. It has nothing to do with her being in command. It has to do with the fact that when he sees her…he knows he’s home. It’s as simple as that. Nothing here would have meaning, really. She is the heart of Atlantis. His heart.

          How could he be with someone else…no matter what the physical attraction? Elizabeth has always been there, inside him, since the beginning. She’s the reason he came here, the reason he took the risk. After that first meeting, even though he’d told Gen. O’Neill he had to think about it, he’d already made the choice.

          “I don’t know why you’re fighting it so hard,” Elizabeth says. “We all see it. Even Ronon. That’s probably why he hasn’t tried to kill you yet.” She laughs softly.

          See what? That I like her, that I’m ridiculously attracted to her? That I can’t stop thinking about her…or wanting her…talk to her…see her smile…?

          Who exactly am I thinking about? “Elizabeth. I told you I’m not in love with Jax.”

          “Angela.”

          He waves a hand. “Whatever. Whoever. I’m not‒”

          She takes a deep breath. “I saw you when I came into the infirmary, John. Sitting there, holding her hand, watching her. Wanting her. You can’t help it, I know.”

          Okay, so…he’s grown attached to Angie. She’s…god she’s beautiful and sexy…but that’s all there is to it. Like he told Carson. It’s just physical. Right?

          If that’s the case, why was I sitting by her side the whole night? Why am I willing to stand up to Ronon just to be near her?

          He shakes his head. “Certainly not part of any plan. It just… happened. Like everything else around here just happens.” John dips his head so he can catch Elizabeth’s eyes. “But I’m not with her right now, am I? I’m with you. Why were you crying?”

          She doesn’t look at him. “I wasn’t…I…” Words fail her as she shakes her head. John lifts her chin with a finger. Elizabeth’s mouth sets in a tight line. “It’s a difficult situation…the burden of command. Perceptions, protocol.”

          He drops his hand to his side and tilts his head back. Ah. Protocol. She’s the leader and he’s her second in command. That sticky little thing.

          She looks him in the eyes. “Col. Caldwell.” He bristles at the mention of his superior’s name. That man is going to be the bane of his existence, he knew it the moment he met him. The moment he saved my life?

          The guy is just itching for an excuse to get Atlantis militarized. To take control. To send me packing.

          As if reading his mind, Elizabeth says, “Atlantis needs you, John. Needs us both.” She shakes her head again. “But…you need some stability…even here. Someone to look forward to seeing…”

          “I have that.” John grasps Elizabeth’s hand and puts it to his lips. A gasp escapes her, but she doesn’t try to pull away from him. She trembles at his touch. He knows it’s not fear. He likes that he can elicit such things from her. “I can’t be in love with Angie. Because I already am…with you.”

          There he said it and the moment he did, he felt it as truth. He’d never told a woman that before and now he knows why. All these years of holding back, it’s because he’s been waiting…for her. For Elizabeth.

          She closes her eyes and stifles a sob. “As much as I want…” She looks at him, her eyes full of sadness, pain…a lot like Jax. “It doesn’t matter. You’re bonded to her, John. She needs you. And you do need her.”

          He shakes his head again, this time pressing her palm against his lips and gently kissing it. “I only need you.”

          Now she does pull her hand away, but to caress his cheek, running her thumb over his mouth. “You have me, John. Always.” He’s so ready to take her in his arms and kiss her, but suddenly she turns and walks away.

          He stands there not knowing what to do. He’s never been this indecisive before. Half of him wants to run after her, make her clarify exactly what she means by that. He has her? How exactly if she’s walking away from him. If she’s so worried about Caldwell and protocol…how can they be together? Why is she pushing him towards Angie?

          The other half is pulling him right back to the infirmary, to urge Angie to open her eyes and smile at him the way he adores. To take her in his arms and straight to bed, hold her through the night and tell her everything’s going to be all right. Convince her they should be together.

          John turns and bangs his forehead into the nearest wall. What the hell is wrong with me? Is it possible to be in love with two women at the exact same time? Not that he’s saying he’s in love with Angie, because he’s…

          Oh, hell…stop lying to yourself! He knows what his heart does when he’s around Angie… it’s exactly what it does the moment Elizabeth walks into a room or raises an eyebrow or grins at him slyly. Sometimes it’s like they’re the same woman and then other times…

          This is fun!

          “What the hell!” John looks around. He’s alone in the corridor. Who the fuck just said that? He’d swear he heard a giggle too. “Atlantis…if you’re in my head, get out right the hell now.”

          Ooops.

          “Fuckin’ A!” Someone has to be messing with him! John sighs and bangs his forehead against the wall again. He needs a shower. He needs a meal.

          He needs to get his damn head on straight.

          Women!

          They’re gonna be the death of me.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

13 

            Déjà vu. So sick of this shit.

            Wake the hell up, lump!

            I wake rather slowly, which is so not me. Usually, I’m jerking awake, suffocating from nightmares, my heart drumming some insane beat through my body. Well, this time is different. The subtle beep of a computer…or something drags me out of the darkness, like an alarm clock almost. And soft whispers—though I can’t tell who’s doing the talking or what they’re saying—pull at me.

            I open my eyes and I don’t know why or how, but I’m in the infirmary staring up at the white ceiling. Wow, that’s a weird design…the ceiling looks like a cat’s eye. Funky. I notice my hand isn’t my own and I roll my head to the left where Ronon grins at me. I smile back. “Hey,” I say, my voice a bit muffled and my throat scratchy. “My usual haunt, I see.”

            Ronon leans over and kisses my cheek. “Feeling better?”

            My stomach rumbles. “Kinda hungry actually.”

            “Good,” Dr. Beckett says, pulling the curtain aside. “That’s what I want to hear.” He taps his headset and says something about a food order.

            I sit up very slowly and Ronon pushes an extra pillow behind me. “What’s going on? Last thing I remember…” Crap! The shower! I narrow my eyes on Ronon. “You didn’t.”

            He shrugs. “I had to.” He raises one hand. “I didn’t see a thing, I swear.” I don’t believe him, but at the same time, I do. That’s the thing with us. We may not be blood-related, but if anything happened…the thought is just…yucky in big bold letters. I know it doesn’t make sense, he’s a hot, towering man of muscle. But he’s so…Ronon.

            I look to the nice doctor. “You gonna explain?” And he does, telling me I’m the victim of the lovely lust-o-rama device yet again. That damn thing is gonna kill me, I just know it. “So…am I okay?”

            “Let’s get some food in ya first. Then we’ll see. You’re going to have to make some changes, Lass. I’m creating an eating schedule for you to follow. You must keep it up. I don’t want to see ya back in here…ever if you can help it.”

            Not by choice!

            Ignoring that weird not-Jax voice in my head, I nod. “That’s a good goal. I’ll try to keep it.” The doors part and my heart skips a beat until I see it’s Dr. H. Who was I expecting? John, maybe? Not likely. I did tell him to get lost, in no uncertain terms.

            “He was here all night. Same as me,” Ronon says.

            “What?”

            “You were hoping to see Sheppard.”

            I shift uncomfortably in the bed. “No, I wasn’t.” Ronon raises a single brow, narrowing his gaze at me at the same time. I roll my eyes. “Maybe a little.”

            “How are you feeling?” Dr. H. says. She looks all kinds of pretty today. Must have a date with Dr. Z later.

            “Better, according to Dr. Beckett. Sorry if I put anyone out. Wasn’t exactly a plan or anything.”

            Dr. Beckett pats my leg. “We know that, lass. Like I told ya. I should have seen this coming.”

            I wave him off and flash a smirk. “Not blaming you. So, this…metabolic thing. It’s gonna be on-going?”

            “I’m afraid so.” Dr. Beckett nods. “You’ve had a shift in your brain chemistry. I don’t see it returning to…”

            “Factory standards?”

            He grins. “Exactly. It’s nothing to worry about, as long as you eat in a timely manner. And I want you to gain some weight. Which means some junk food might be necessary.”

            I grin at that. “Junk food? This coming from a doctor?”

            “Well, there are many junk foods that have beneficial side-effects, in moderation.”

            “Chocolate.”

            He nods. “That is one.”

            “Pop tarts? No…marshmallows.”

            “Hmm. I’ll give you a list. Try to steer clear of the bad cholesterol though. Don’t need to work your heart too hard.”

            That reminds me of my dreams and the ice cubes. I look at Dr. H. “Something weird happened.”

            She sits on the edge of the bed next to mine. “What?”

            “I had the strangest dream.”

            She settles in, crossing her ankles. “Why don’t you tell me about it.”

            “Want me to go?” Ronon asks.

            I grin at him, give his hand a squeeze. “You do look like animal dung.” He wrinkles his nose at me which only makes me smile more. “You don’t have to stay. I’m good. You should get some sleep.” He squeezes my hand then gets up from his stool, leans over and kisses my forehead. Our hands don’t part until he’s too far away for me to keep touch. “Ronon.” He’s still watching me in that protective way that always makes me feel special. “I knew you were with me. Thank you.”

            His smile is huge and his chest pumps up. “That’s what I’m here for, Cheetah.”

            “That’s my Tarzan.” I laugh.

            “Now. Tell me about the dream,” Dr. H. says.

 13.5 

            Ronon catches Sheppard in the corridor. He’s carrying a tray towards the infirmary, obviously Angie’s food. He raises a hand and Sheppard stops a couple feet from him. The Colonel’s clearly wary. “Sheppard.”

            “Ronon.”

            “She’s awake.”

            He motions with the tray. “I figured.” He licks his lips. “So…is this going to be a problem?”

            Ronon shakes his head. “I don’t have a problem…as long as you don’t make one.”

            “I’m just bringing her food.”

            “She’s falling for you, Colonel.”

            Sheppard’s whole face scrunches up in disbelief. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

            Ronon huffs. “I’m not as…uncivilized as you might like to believe. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen what it can do to a woman if the feelings are not returned.” He lifts his chin. “I made a promise to Jack.”

            “General O’Neill?”

            Ronon nods. “If she gets hurt…by anyone…I take action.”

            Sheppard swallows hard, drops his gaze and nods. He bites his bottom lip. “I’d have made the same promise,” he says firmly then latches his eyes onto Ronon’s. “I’m not out to hurt her. That is a promise.”

            Ronon nods. “Fair enough.” Then he starts down the hallway again. “But if you do,” he tosses back without looking at the man. “I’ll tear your arms off and beat you to death with them.” He grins when Sheppard clears his throat.

            John almost drops the tray. Ronon probably could tear his arms off and beat him with them. Damn, what a thought! Well, it won’t be necessary. While getting cleaned up, he came to a decision. No matter how hard it is, how many symptoms he might have, he’s going to stay away as she requested. That’s what he plans on telling her right now.

            The fact that he really hasn’t had any symptoms…not even a headache since he kissed her yesterday didn’t really factor into his decision. Well, maybe it did a little. After all, if the headaches are gone, doesn’t that mean his brain is back to normal? That the addiction is over? He should let Carson know.

            The curtain’s closed around her bed, but he can hear Dr. Heightmeyer’s hushed voice. “How do you interpret what happened?”

            There’s a rustle of fabric, probably the bed sheets. “Well…I’m thinking it was pretty straightforward. Don’t you?”

            “I don’t think Col. Sheppard wants to kill you.”

            John jerks at that. He sets the tray down quietly, tempted to push open the curtain, but changes his mind and turns to the door instead. Still, he doesn’t open it. He stands there…waiting. He knows he shouldn’t be listening. It’s wrong, on so many different levels. But…she thinks he wants to kill her?

            “Yes…well, no… I know it was just a dream image, but… You didn’t see his face. Somewhere in my subconscious…yeah, I believe it. I think he really blames me for all this. I did cause everything.”

            “On purpose?” Angie doesn’t respond. John wishes he could see through the curtain. See her face. “You care about him.”

            “Too much, I think.”

            Is Ronon right? Does she have…

            “Is there such a thing?”

            Angie laughs but there’s little humor in it. “From me…yes.”

            That’s it, either stomp in there and say something or leave. Stop spying. It’s not right and it’s not fair. John swipes his hand over the door crystal and steps into the hallway. He doesn’t move far enough out for the door to close so it stays open. If I leave the tray, they’ll know someone was here listening.

            John picks the tray back up and clears his throat, announcing his presence.

            “Who’s that?” Angie whispers. A moment later, Dr. Heightmeyer pulls aside the curtain. Angie stares at him with wide eyes. “Jo…Col. Sheppard.” She glances at the doctor then back at him. “How long have you been here?”

            He motions to the closing door. “Just now.” He holds up the tray. “Someone ordered room service.”

            Angie’s smile is full of relief. Dr. Heightmeyer nods, pushing the curtain around the bed. John moves in, setting the tray on Angie’s lap. “We’ll talk later,” Dr. Heightmeyer says. She nods to John, offering a professional smile then heads out the door.

            Angie pokes at the meatloaf on her tray with a finger. John quirks a brow. “They said Beckett was specific about what to send up. Lots of starch and protein.”

            “Great.” Her upper lip curls as she eyes the mashed potatoes and gravy, yellow corn and a dinner roll, the sweet kind that he likes. Grabbing the knife and fork set, she pulls them apart.

            John grabs a couple of ketchup packets from his shirt pocket and sets them on the sides of the plate. She smiles. “Thanks.”

            He grins. “My pleasure.” Now she stabs at the potatoes with the fork, mixing the gravy into the white fluff. Since they got the mainland crops going, the expedition no longer has to struggle through chowing down on dehydrated potatoes. The Athosians have made great work in growing them.

            John bounces on his feet for a moment then claps his hands together lightly.

            She takes a bite of the mashed potatoes, then nods side-to-side in acceptance. “If I’m keeping you from something…” She motions to the door with the fork.

            “No, I’m good.” He bounces some more. She looks so…adorable sitting there making faces at the food. John realizes he doesn’t even know what she likes to eat. What’s her favorite color? Where’d she go to college or did she?

            And suddenly, he really wants to know these things. He wants to see her making more of these silly faces at food as she pokes at it. He needs to know everything about her. It’s like his whole body is on fire wanting these answers. Wanting to know her.

            Maybe Elizabeth is right. Maybe he does need Angie. “Would you go out with me?”

            Okay, where did that come from? That was nowhere in the decision. Not even a blip on the ‘decision’ screen.

            Jax must be thinking the same thing because she’s staring at him, mouth open, fork halfway inside, eyes wide. She blinks a couple of times then closes her mouth around the food and slowly swallows. She sips her drink. All the while, her eyes stay locked to his. “Excuse me?”

            Exactly! I clearly remember planning to stay away…

            …It’s not a bad idea. John leans against the empty bed. “You know…dinner, a movie…a date.”

            She wipes her mouth with the small napkin. “Is this a joke?”

            John shakes his head. He’s beside her in an instant, leaning down and kissing her lightly. “I was really worried about you,” he says, catching her gaze and the surprise in her eyes. He was really worried. He just hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself.

            She smiles nervously. “That’s me…big drama queen.”

            John brushes the back of his hand across her cheek. “I think we should consider our previous deal null and void.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “The rules have changed,” he says softly, searching her face, her eyes, seeing things he hadn’t before. A softness in her eyes, a warmth that wasn’t there previously. “And it seems…so have the players.”

            Then he’s kissing her again, gently catching her bottom lip with his teeth before gliding his tongue over it. She trembles slightly but she kisses him back. Before it gets too heated, John pulls away but keeps his face close to hers so he can feel her breath on his lips. “I’m not going to hurt you. Promise.”

            “You should know by now‒” Her brows crease ever so slightly with concern as her eyes stay on his and her hand comes up to his cheek. “I’m not worried about me.”

            John grins. “Then there’s nothing to worry about.”

            She swallows hard, watching him. Her eyes full of emotions he can’t yet discern, but the familiar wall doesn’t come up blocking them either. Something has happened since they last spoke, last kissed…for both of them.

            “Okay,” Angie smiles lightly.

            John’s grin grows and kisses her again; keeping it chaste. He locks their gazes. “How’s your head?”

            Her brows wrinkle in confusion. “Um...Fine.”

            John nods, raising his right brow. “So’s mine.”

            After a moment, realization dons on her, glimmering in her eyes. “Oh…” she says breathlessly. A moment later and her eyes widen and she sighs another, stronger: “Oooohhhh.”

₪†₪

Chapter Text

14

          Dr. Beckett released me after only one more night in jail…the infirmary. He’s obsessed with the new caloric intake plan he’s put me on; sending me straight to the kitchen to visit with my old work buddies, food schedule in hand. I’m also to keep a supply of protein bars on hand at all times as well as take a daily multi-vitamin.

          Not to mention the ten pounds he insists I gain! Just please don’t let it be in my ass. That’ll throw a whole wrench into my triples.

          This is really a pain. I’ve never kept a regular eating schedule. I prefer eating when I’m hungry. But that seems to be the whole problem. I don’t eat when I’m hungry. So even if I can run, dance or skate faster than the other kids, I’m kind of like a Cheetah—not that one—the big cat. I get spurts but once the energy dissipates, I’m pretty much Jell-O.

          Who knew that wiggly substance would come in so handy as a metaphor?

          He also requires me to inform him of any sudden bursts of energy, especially if they leave me feeling euphoric or dizzy in their wake—I’m pretty sure I can rule out any workouts I might have with Johnny, however. Those are supposed to leave me euphoric and dizzy.

          Damn, I can’t stop the silly grin that’s been plastered to my face since he asked me out on a real date.

          It’s been three days since my infirmary visit and I’m still waiting to hear from John about the particulars of our ‘date’. Man, did that come out of left field. I know I should have said no…but I couldn’t. Didn’t want to. I’m so sick of feeling guilty because of what happened. Yes, in most likelihood, the two of us were probably never meant to be together. And yes, I know he’s in deep with Dr. Weir. But I can’t fight it anymore. I want the man constantly.

          Some addictions you just have to learn to live with, I guess. This one’s gonna be a real burden. Oh yeah, constant naked bliss…that’s harsh.

          Well, as of yet, there hasn’t been any nakedness or bliss. We’ve spent some time together, in public places only, like the mess; occasionally touching digits, but no kissing or anything else for that matter. John’s made it pretty clear he wants to start fresh—as in completely sex free—to see where this friendship leads. Basically, it’s another one of his theories and though the last one didn’t go as planned, he might be on to something this time.

          Still want to strip him naked on a moment’s notice, though.

          Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna change, ever. The man is scorching. But, I still have my memories to keep me…less anxious when I’m around him. Hey, I managed with the invisible clone for a long time before the real thing came around. I can deal for a while.

          When I woke up in the infirmary I had this strange feeling. Not unfamiliar but at the same time completely foreign. I can’t say it out loud let alone write it down, but I’m pretty sure why my headaches abated when I went to I-zoola. I wasn’t completely dishonest with myself when I was there. I did have a great time and I didn’t have nightmares…until that one. But I hadn’t been paying attention either. It was the dreams that did it to me. Dreams of John…smiling.

          They made me happy. I even caught myself giggling as I woke up. That’s why I was so content on I-zoola even though I missed him terribly…he already had a hold on me.

          I shake off the thought, it’s still too much to handle and I don’t want to jinx it. And I’m not being negative or overly sensitive. I’m realistic. My track record isn’t the best. And I’m kind of a bad luck magnet for other people.

          Maybe not in this galaxy.

          I can hope. The whole Jax thing still rings in my head and the dream of my parents—I didn’t tell Dr. H. about that one, I can figure it out on my own pretty good. I must have been really starting to lose it for my subconscious to take on the actual role of Jax and try to beat some sense into me.

          Pretty scary, really.

          At least it worked. I think.

          Yeah, I still chat with myself…in fact, I’ve decided that Jax is not only my Id girl but also my subconscious. She wants what she wants when she wants it and that’s just how it is. But she also protects me.

          But there’s still a niggling part in the back of my mind telling me Jax is dangerous…to me. It’s a small part of my little voice. For all I know, it’s Jax playing games—though I know she doesn’t really exist, never has—something in me is Jax: hard, cold, and full of rage. I really don’t want to bring that part out…ever.

          What if it could take over, completely?

          A shudder runs through me at that thought. It’s not possible, I’m sure. No one can lose themselves over to someone who doesn’t exist. I mean, I’ve read about multiple personality disorder, but that only happens to kids, not adults. And sure, I’ve done the whole dissociative thing, but it was completely non-violent well, except for the fist through the window and the piece of glass at my jugular, according to Ronon, I just sat there, staring.

          Okay, enough of this. I simply have to shake it off. I have clients to knead into dough and a snack to scarf down.

          And a date that needs specific details to get me closer to bliss.

          “I hear you had a bit of a meltdown,” Laura snickers. “Mr. Man, Ronon Dex had to save you from a horribly cold shower?” She wobbles her brows suggestively. With a sigh and a roll of my eyes, I point her to the Oriental Screen to change out of her clothes. “Come on. You gotta give me something.”

          “He’s my brother.”

          “Well, sweetie, you’ve got one hot brother. Plus, the way he watches you. Mmm, that is intense.” I point to the screen again. Laura shakes her head. “Always looking to get people naked, Jax. You should look into treatment for that. Or, at least, find a new hobby.”

          “Oh, I have.”

          “Really?”

          “Yeah…it’s called homicide. Wanna play?”

          Laura giggles from behind the screen. “So…I see you’ve taken my advice.”

          “Which would be?”

          “A scrumptious Lt. Colonel seems to be at your beck and call these days.”

          The smile returns; it’s kind of a reflex whenever I think of John. I’ve reconciled the fact that Col. John Sheppard is Johnny, darkness and all. Besides, the Colonel part is so hot. Whew! Have to fan myself a bit. But beck and call? “I wouldn’t say that.”

          Laura comes around the screen wrapped in a towel. “No. I did. You’re too quiet about such things.” She sits on the table but doesn’t lie down right away. “I caught you in the mess…” She wiggles her fingers at me, grinning slyly. “Holding pinky fingers under the table.”

          I open my mouth to protest but nothing comes out because I know she’s right. The blush and the impending silly giggle come out without my permission.

          “Ahh. I knew it!” She improvises a mini dance wiggling from the waist up on the table. “Jax got her man uh huh, Jax got the man uh huh uh huh.” Laura tosses her carrot top head back and groans with delight. “Mmm, this is gonna kill Maddog!” Then she laughs. “Her poker face is gonna suck for a month! Gimme a high five.”

          I lift my hand, palm out and she slaps it. “Wait. Maddog likes Sheppard?” The laughter comes unbidden, uncontrollable.

          “Dr. Morgan does too.”

          “Kat! God, is every woman hot for this man?”

          “Please!” Her smile is huge. “Some of the men too.” She lays face down on the table. “If this place was one of those orgy houses in Ancient Greece, we’d all be dancing around naked, feeding him grapes.”

          That gets me really rolling. I’m laughing so hard tears cloud my vision. Laura’s good for that, making me laugh. The image of John in a toga being fed grapes is…damn, that’s hot!

          “Okay,” Laura throws her arms out to the side of the table, flapping them a couple times then lets them drop to her sides with a slap. “Magic finger me.”

          “I am sorry to take up time,” Dr. Zelenka says as I work on his lower back.

          “That’s what I’m here for, Radek. Besides. I owe you for the speakers on I-zoola.”

          “That is so much my pleasure, sweet lady. Seeing you bruslit ohromující I get husí kůže.”

          I have no idea what he just said, but it sounds so pretty I smile anyway. I’m sure it was nice; he’s always nice to me. “So, how’d you hurt your back?”

          “Proklatý kamínek blocks from the chrám…uh temple on PXT-705. I lift…but I do not stand, I fall over instead.”

          “You must bend you’re knees, Radek. Or better yet, get a marine to bend his or her knees for you. You’re a scientist, not a heavy loader.”

          “And this is what I tell Dr. McKay…but does he listen?”

          I shake my head as he says a long “Nooooo”.

          Lots of noise about this new temple zips through the city. It seems to be on everyone’s mind. All the scientists are excited about the discovery. None so much as Dr. McKay of course. Apparently, this unknown monument was a possible beta site for the Ancients during their war with the Wraith.

          Col. Sheppard’s team didn’t find the site, however, which means Dr. McKay must be all kinds of put out that he wasn’t on the research team from the beginning. However, he is now, to everyone in The City’s pleasure because he’s been gone for two days, leaving us all in peace. Except for Dr. Weir who keeps getting ‘urgent’ calls from him for supplies.

          After cleaning up, I open the door to leave the therapy room for the night, an arm strikes out in front of me and there’s a beautiful green and yellow wildflower pinched in a rather masculine hand. I stopped myself just in time from striking out in defense. A moment later, John spins away from the wall and stands in front of me, grinning. He’s wearing the dangerous combination of black shirt, standard BDU’s and dimples-of-utter-destruction. So yummy. “For the lady,” he says with an exaggerated bow.

          I’m stunned. I actually have to cover my mouth to keep from giggling with delight. He’s so adorable. I firmly keep my smile in place as I take the flower. “Why thank you, kind sir.” I can’t believe I said that with a straight face.

          He bends an arm, offering it to me. “Would the lady care to take a stroll before supper?”

          I nod once. “The lady would.” Me, a lady…now that’s something Laura would get a kick out of. I drape my arm through his, we link elbows and I rest my hand on his forearm. He walks at a languid pace. I lean over. “So, is this it?”

          “Is this what?”

          I motion with the flower. “The date.”

          “Oh, that…” He smiles to himself. “Let’s see where this corridor takes us, shall we?”

          “Oh, there you are!” Dr. McKay says as he comes around a corner at us. I take a deep breath and let it out hard.

          John does the same but adds a groan. “Here I am, Rodney. What do you want?”

          “Not you Colonel. Jax.”

          My brows shoot up. I glance at John then look back at McKay. “Me?”

          He motions as he turns. “Come with me.”

          I don’t budge. I’m not ready to trade down so quickly. I mean, Sheppard’s wearing his black shirt for gods’ sakes. Plus, this could be the date. The first of many I’m hoping. And I’m not about to let McSnarky screw it up.

          He notices I’m not jumping at his order and stops with a huff, lifting his chin in that superior manner I find so annoying. His arms fold as he turns back to stare down his nose at me. “You’re needed on PXT-705.”

          I scoff with a smile. “Hah. Bite me.” McKay’s clearly struck by my tone. His brows wrinkle and some of the steam seeps from his puffed-up chest. John pats my hand as it rests on his forearm. I take that as a sign of encouragement. “I’m a masseuse, doctor. I work on Atlantis. And as of five minutes ago, I’m off-duty.”

          John grins, flashing dimples. “So am I. So, if you don’t mind…we have plans.” With that, we start walking, by-passing McKay who spins in place to watch us go.

          “Plans? What! This is important.” He shuffles up behind us. Tension tightens John’s arm then shoulders and neck. McKay manages to get ahead of us and stop us mid-stride. “We’ve uncovered a control panel…of some sort. It needs to be activated.”

          John taps McKay’s chest. “So…go activate it.”

          McKay sighs and rolls his head. “I’ve tried. Don’t you think I’ve tried? No one can get it working. I need someone with innate control over the gene. Someone…like Jax.” He raises a finger. “Or you, Colonel. Either or, doesn’t matter to me.”

          “You know I have a mission tomorrow, Rodney. Minus one team member.”

          “Which leads me back to my first choice of…Jax.” His smile is slim but holds that frustrating haughty ego.

          “He hasn’t even finished the translation yet,” I complain to Dr. Weir.

          She crosses her arms and raises her brows at McKay. “Is that true, Rodney?”

          “Well,” he waves a hand in the air. “Partially…yes.”

          I toss a grin over my shoulder to John who’s waiting outside the closed door. He wasn’t invited into the pow-wow by yours truly because I didn’t want Dr. Weir to think he was coming to my rescue…and therefore thinking I would use him against her.

          I offered the woman solid advice to go after the man…gave her plenty of time too. And she did nothing. I can’t feel guilty any more. I can’t deny that I want him as much or more than she does. After all…she didn’t go after him, did she?

          McKay’s fumbling through an explanation of why he needs me to go right now, but it all comes down to one fact. I hold up my hand in his face. “Ancient lust-o-rama device. The gift that keeps on screwing up my life. Remember that little debacle? Hmm. I warned you.” I point a finger so close to his nose his eyes cross. “Never again.”

          “But‒”

          “No!”

          Dr. Weir shakes her head. “Rodney…Jax is a civilian…not a scientist. She can’t be forced into service outside her parameters.”

          “But that’s why she’s here,” he whines.

          I cover a chuckle. “Not really.” Dr. Weir shoots me a look that tells me to keep quiet on that front. So, I smack my lips together and stifle the grin.

          Dr. Weir raises her hands. “How ‘bout this. Rodney, you stay on Atlantis to finish the translation while the archeologists continue excavating. As soon as you complete the translation, Jax will join you at the site. I understand the temple is only a fifteen-minute walk from the gate.

          “But that could take days.”

          Dr. Weir flashes a half smirk. “Then I suggest you get started.”

          “And how can I be certain she’ll actually come when I need her?”

          I take a deep breath. “I promise to track my ass all the way out there to start your little doohickey once you can tell me exactly what it does…and if there are going to be any side effects.”

          “It’s just a control panel.”

          I nod, glowering at him. “Yeah, and that pretty opal rock was just a communications device according to you.”

          “Well…I wasn’t completely off.” I glare at him and he huffs stiffly. “Fine.”

          I grin at Dr. Weir. “I’ll be sure to pack the duct tape.” Then I glare at McKay again. “Just in case.”

          Dr. Weir covers her mouth and coughs to kill the laugh. McKay sneers at me, but I grin and head out the door to where John is waiting. “I’m starving.”

          He grins, full dimples and I nearly melt right then and there.

 

14.5

          John glances through the glass door into Elizabeth’s office as Angie argues against Rodney. She’s got some serious lungs on her.

          Elizabeth didn’t look the least bit upset to see him arrive with her. And Angie surprised him by relinquishing his arm the moment they came down the corridor. He questioned her with a look, but she smiled softly and started to walk ahead of him. Then she refused to let him come into the office to help argue her point. He’s not used to standing on the sidelines like this.

          Angie flashes him a quick grin over her shoulder and he relaxes. It’s not like he went to a whole lot of trouble for the night. But he has been looking forward to it since he suggested they have a real date. Of course, keeping hands off over the past few days has been all kinds of difficult. He just needs to be in her vicinity to be overcome by wanting her. But as she once said, that’s what self-control is for.

          And chaperones.

          Angie doesn’t know it, but John’s scheduled a sort of double-date to try and keep their hormones in check. He talked Ronon and Teyla into joining them for dinner in the mess—not terribly romantic, but that’s kind of the point, he wants to learn about Angie, not seduce her…yet—and the movie later. John even picked a chick-flick from the new stash of DVD’s brought back from Earth.

          She finally comes out of Elizabeth’s office, smiling slyly. “I’m starving.”

          John grins and ushers her away, not realizing for a moment that he has his hand on the small of her back. She shivers subtly from the touch and he gets a flash of memory from the last time they were together. He has to mentally scold himself as he takes a deep breath and calms his racing heart. This is going to be tough.

          Ronon and Teyla are already seated when they arrive in the mess. They’ve chosen a table on the deck overlooking The City and ocean below; away from the noise of the dinner crowd. John leads Angie to the chow line, his hand again landing at the small of her back. She turns slightly to him, looking up with wide eyes. “You do realize this is killing me,” she says huskily.

          John closes his eyes for a moment and breathes through his nose. “Not just you.”

          They grab trays and get in the buffet line, Angie in front of him. She ladles some food then turns to him again, her eyes locking on his. “So, on the first date, it would be…wrong.”

          Even if the smoldering gleam wasn’t in her eyes, sending all kinds of jolts through his body, he’d know exactly what she was getting at. “Not…wrong. Just…okay, yeah, wrong. For us.”

          She nods, catching her upper lip with her teeth then sighs. “Self-control?”

          John nods. “Exactly.”

          They join Ronon and Teyla, sitting side-by-side, their thighs grazing each other is enough to heat up John’s libido. Damn, what she does to me!

          As in the infirmary, Angie pokes at her food a little before digging in. It’s not bad and she doesn’t make a face, but he notices she’s taken large portions of everything and before eating her eyes open wide and she sighs. “If I get fat…blame Beckett.”

          Teyla and Ronon exchange amused glances. “Have you been feeling well, Jax?” Teyla asks.

          John does a double-take on Teyla until he remembers she doesn’t know about Angie’s story. It’s getting harder for him to call her Jax when he no longer thinks of her by that name. But given the secrecy she still lives under, John has to remind himself to do just that. Besides, she did ask him to call her Jax during their intimate meetings. Someday he hopes she can cast aside her past life in witness-protection and just live as Angela Peterson. He knows everyone on Atlantis would love to meet Angie.

          “Better. Not hungry though…which I’m guessing is the whole point. But, I still have plenty of energy to dance and skate.”

          “You should see the…ariel?” Ronon says, looking to Angie as he pronounces the last word.

          She nods. “That’s not in the skate routine, sorry to say.” She bobs her head. “I’m too chicken.”

          “I have not seen you dance or skate,” Teyla sighs. “I look forward to such a day.”

          Angie smiles at her. “Soon, I hope.” She pokes at the sliced white meat that looks like slimy chicken then she turns to John. “What’s the one junk food you miss most out here?”

          “Pizza,” he says easily. “With everything on it.”

          She shoves a huge bite into her mouth and chews. Her face takes on a dreamy quality. “Mmm,” Angie hums. “Pepperoni and pineapple.”

          John watches her. “What are you doing?”

          “Eating pizza,” she swallows flashing a satisfied grin.  “No mushrooms…extra sauce,” she adds a wink.

          “Right,” he nods. “Or anchovies.” That sounds really good right now. “You can do that?”

          “Do what?” Ronon asks.

          “Substitute memory for what I’m actually eating.” She nods to the side. “Comes in handy, especially with the green vegetables Dr. Beckett insists I eat a lot of from now on. They always taste so bitter to me. Only way to scarf ‘em down is to substitute.”

          “Weird,” John says softly. Her smile falters and he instantly qualifies his statement. “Not you…just…that must be weird. In a cool way.”

          “Good catch,” Angie grins. “Doesn’t always work, but sometimes, I get lucky.”

          “When did you learn to do this?” Teyla asks.

          Angie eats some more and bobs her head again as she swallows. “College.”

          “Oooh, interesting topic,” John adds, nudging her elbow. “So, Angie…what sorority did you pledge?”

          She chuckles. “Just because I was a high school cheerleader doesn’t automatically make me a sorority sister.”

          “I still can’t get over you being a cheerleader,” John sighs trying his best not to re-imagine all those naughty thoughts that plagued him the first time he gleaned this information from her the other day. “Thought you’d be a shoo-in.”

          She shrugs. “No time, even if I had the inclination, which I never did. Besides, I was too young…they would have hated me.”

          “Too young?” Teyla asks.

          “Yeah… I...ah... graduated from high school early.” She motions to her head. “Memory came in real handy with that.”

          “What age?” Ronon asks.

          John leans forward. After all the questions and all their time together, he still doesn’t know how old she is. She’s never offered and though he’s tried to wheedle it out, he hasn’t been successful. John’s starting to worry he’s robbing the cradle with this one. After all…she was heading for the Olympics in ’98…teens do that.

          Oh, man…what if she’s younger than Teyla? I’m a dead man.

          She doesn’t seem to notice his thought process though because she answers the question quickly. “Fourteen.”

          “Is that young?” Teyla asks.

          Angie nods. “Earth kids usually graduate at seventeen or eighteen.”

          “I see.”

          “Aced my SAT’s and entrance exams... Got a full ride to University of Southern California.”

          John chokes on his drink. “USC?” She nods and he nods with her. “Oh... Good... I mean... great school.”

          Angie blushes prettily.

          “Full ride?” Ronon asks.

          “She didn’t have to trade for it,” John says.

          “Oh…like a present,” Teyla says. “Yes?”

          “Yes,” Angie nods.

          “What was your major?”

          She narrows her eyes at John. “I think it’s someone else’s turn to ask a question.” John gives her his best puppy dog face and she shakes her head, but smiles. “Math, English and Political science.”

          Now his brows shoot up. What? “Three majors. Really?”

          She nods as she takes a drink. “Mmhmm. Math comes easy to me, helps with dance and skating. English because I considered being a book editor since I love reading so much and PolySci…thought maybe I could use Math and English to clean up the political corruption that plagues the US. Plus, it looks good on the bio for the Olympics.” She looks to John before he can ask another question. “When did you decide to be a pilot?”

          “The first time I rode on Space Mountain.”

          “I love roller coasters!”

          John’s grin hurts his cheeks it’s so big.

          “So what movie are we viewing this evening?” Teyla asks as the four of them stroll into the rec room. Ronon and Angie are carrying two bowls of popcorn, poking at each other with their elbows, just like regular siblings. John’s the last one in and places a handwritten ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door before letting it close. He signed the note Lt. Col. Sheppard just to be on the safe side. “It’s a romantic comedy,” he says, picking the DVD up off the table.

          Angie eyes him suspiciously as she sets the popcorn down. “You like romantic comedies?”

          “Well…I figured….you‒”

          Angie grins. “That I’m a girl.” John nods and shrugs a shoulder. Her smiles widens. “Why don’t you pick something you’d like to watch.”

          “I do…want to see‒”

          That single brow arches. “John?”

          He grabs the box from the corner and digs through it. “They’re all pretty old. The PTB on Earth don’t like to spend a whole lot on these things…hey…Alien.”

          “Cool,” Angie squeaks and he does a double-take on her. She shrugs as he stares. “What? I can’t be a sci-fi fan? I’m living on an alien planet in a whole new galaxy…doesn’t get more sci than that.” With a big grin, John grabs the movie and gets it set up to play.

          “What’s this about?” Ronon asks as he drops heavily onto the sofa near the middle, already stuffing a fistful of popcorn into his mouth.

          “You’ll see,” Angie slides a sideways smirk to John with a quick shake of her head stopping him from giving away any of the plot.

          John nods, grinning to himself. Before the movie starts, he opens the ice chest he stashed earlier. “Beer anyone?” Both Teyla and Ronon take one, so does John.

          “Oh,” Angie says. “No thanks.”

          John’s brows rise. “You don’t like beer?” Important life issue. Good to know.

          She shakes her head, her upper lip curling a just a little. “Sorry. Got any sodas or water?”

          John grins, pulling out a couple cans. She chooses a Dr. Pepper with a satisfied smile then plops onto the sofa next to Ronon. Teyla sits on the other side of the big man which leaves Angie’s left side free. John hits play then turns off the lights before joining the others.

          The couch is pretty big, but as soon as John sits down, Angie scoots away from Ronon so she can prop her feet upon the big man’s knee and leans into John. She glances up. “Do you mind?”

          John smiles, taking a sip of beer. “No.”

          Her brows rise. “You’re sure. I could always‒” she starts to edge closer to Ronon but John grabs her around the waist with his right arm and tugs her close to him. “We’ll be fine,” he whispers and she chuckles lightly. John catches a smirk from Teyla to Ronon. As the movie starts, he whispers into Angie’s ear again. “Okay, what I’ve learned so far. You’re a closet geek who doesn’t drink.”

          She looks up at him again, this time with wide eyes. “Oh…I like to drink…just not beer.”

          “Really?”

          “And not tequila.” She waves a hand. “Unfortunate margarita incident in college thing.”

          “Do tell.”

          “Shhh. Movie’s starting.”

          As they watch the movie, John notices Angie is more interested in seeing Ronon and Teyla jump at various scary parts, which they do, though both try stoically to hide their reactions. Alien is a classic horror flick for that exact reason. Plus, the creature’s awesome. Whenever Ronon gets a good shock, Angie giggles silently. “That’s not nice,” he whispers.

          “Are you kidding me?” She whispers back. “It’s better than the movie. And I love this movie.”

          Both of them catch sight of Teyla nearly jumping into Ronon’s lap at the end when the alien attacks Ripley. Her hand flies to clutch her heart as well. When the credits roll, Teyla sighs heavily. “Who knew such creatures exist!”

          “They don’t,” Angie says. “It’s movie magic.”

          “Magic?” Teyla asks.

          Angie wrinkles her brows at John and bites her bottom lip. “You wanna explain special effects, or should I?”

          “Special effects,” Teyla says. “This is what that other movie…Galaxy Quest explained.”

          “Exactly,” John says with a grin. He’s glad she remembers. The last conversation lasted longer than the movie itself.

          Angie slips her feet from Ronon’s leg and leans over to touch his arm. “Ronon? You’re awfully quiet.”

          His brows are tightly creased and his jaw muscle twitching. “I would not have beaten that creature,” he growls with a hint of anger.

          Angie raises a brow towards John, smiling slyly. “Me neither, man,” John says, patting the guy on the shoulder as he gets up to turn on the lights. “Aren’t you glad we only have to battle the Wraith?”

          Ronon nods firmly. “Yes.”

          “Do we have Aliens?” Angie asks full of hope.

          “There are more?” Teyla asks, her voice a bit shaky.

          Angie nods enthusiastically. “Sequel. Totally cool. The Marines kick ass... or try to.”

          “Not the Air Force?” Teyla’s brows shoot up as she looks to John.

          John makes a face and nods. “I’m sure the Air Force would have done just fine.” He smiles at Angie. “I’ll look…for next time.” She grins and nods. “So,” he starts, settling back onto the sofa. “Tell me about this college incident involving tequila.”

          Angie tells the story in such a way that even Teyla and Ronon are able to picture exactly what happened. She equates tequila to the Athosian spiced wine, though not in taste, only after effects.

          John holds up a finger and his brows knit in confusion. “Didn’t you say you graduated high school at fourteen?” Angie nods, her eyes filling with amusement. John watches her carefully. “And when did you graduate college?”

          “I just turned seventeen.” Her smile is small but playful.

          Okay, so she graduated college before entering witness relocation…which didn’t happen until ’98. Add eight years…so the youngest she can be is 25. Not too terrible…cradle robber! “And what year was that? You’re graduation year.”

          “Hhmm…you know…?” She clucks her tongue. “Can’t seem to recall that particular information.” Her smile is slim and her eyes full of challenge.

          John decides to change tactics for now. “And this…tequila incident happened…when?”

          “Senior year.”

          John narrows his gaze at her. “How’d you get so drunk…being underage?”

          “Oh, that…” She quirks her mouth into the cutest pucker. “Fake ID.”

          With mock indignation, John says, “That’s illegal, you know.”

          “How do you think I met Tony?” She tosses a glance to Teyla. “My first boyfriend was a cop.”

          Teyla’s eyes widen. “Cop? Oh, law enforcement?”

          Angie nods, but her smile has lessened with the mention of her boyfriend and Ronon’s not thrilled by the name either.

          Wait a minute…first boyfriend was the cop…that shot her? That means she’s only been with one other…

          Oh, boy. John shakes off the thought. He clears his throat and hopefully the slight tension in the air. “So, what was the date of birth you used?” Angie grins again and shakes her head slowly, playing with him. She’s not going to give up her age anytime soon. It’ll probably be the one secret she never voluntarily gives up.

          Maybe he could work it out of her…one of these days he’ll have to try that. He has his ways of making her...say things. Before getting carried away with the memories of a naked Angie, John decides to give up on the conversation for now. He shrugs and concedes the point about tequila being evil. “I can’t drink it either,” John says. “Similar incident.”

          Angie’s brows arch and a sly smile plays at her lips. She glances at Teyla and Ronon then back at him. But it’s Teyla who asks the question that turns him red and makes them all laugh. “You celebrated with many women, sang karaoke and hit on men as well?”

          “No…what I mean…” He turns to her for help. “Jax, c’mon.”

          She holds up her hands. “You dug yourself into that one, Sheppard.” Her eyes twinkle with delight, it’s a look he hasn’t seen before, but one he hopes to see again. He laughs at his own expense. He hasn’t been this relaxed in ages. He feels like all the weight of the galaxy has been lifted from his shoulders for a little while and it’s really nice.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

15

          Okay, it took me three dates to figure the man out, but now I’ve got his number pegged.

          Date number one went amazingly well, in my opinion. We learned tons about each other, plus, ohmygawd, we have so much in common it’s funky. Love of rollercoasters, action-packed flicks, good books—though, he’ll never see me pick up War & Peace—and food preferences. He did kind of wrinkle his nose at my pizza toppings of pepperoni and pineapple. Dad didn’t like that combo either, but I got it from mom and two against one…Daddy always gave in.

          Memories like that, make me giggle…sometimes snort a laugh.

          I think my folks would have liked Ronon and John. Mom would have had them kneeling at her feet while she elegantly played the piano while Dad would have put Ronon on his fire team, probably rushing into those blazes with the most hot-saves a fighter could get. And John would’ve been piloting one of the choppers, either dropping suppressant loads or rescue from rooftops.

          I may not have been on the whole John-n-me bandwagon from the get go—except for the fleshy parts because we so rock in that area—but now I’m convinced some higher goddess has blessed me with this man.

          Don’t jinx it!

          Right. Forgot who I am for a moment.

          Anyway, date number two went off without a hitch. John’s surprise double-daters also made a cameo, but this time they left right after the movie. I think it had something to do with Ronon needing to beat the crap out of something or someone. He got a little upset during the movie, Aliens, when everyone found out about Burke being a futuristic version of the sociopathic, money-grubbing politician/lobbyist, Ronon was with Hudson on killing the guy right away…then he got especially pissed when Hudson got taken down by an alien under the floor.

          At the end, when Ripley came out in the power-walker to kick the queen’s butt, Ronon actually growled: “Yes!”

          It was so funny to watch and hear him, he gets so into the movies! John had to cover my mouth because he instinctively knew I’d burst out laughing. I got him good, though. I tickled his palm with the tip of my tongue. That’s probably why later he moved away from me as quickly as possible while trying to discreetly adjust his suddenly too-tight jeans. He purposely dressed in civvies for the night. Those jeans and a tight, white T-shirt sculpted to his chest just added to my aggravation. I’m all for this get-to-know-my-mate ‘dating’ thing, but this abstinence policy is beyond frustrating.

          Teyla, of course, went with Ronon leaving John and me alone…all alone…but in a public place where anyone could walk in at any given moment. As soon as our chaperones were gone, John made a bee-line for the far end of the sofa, putting his feet up next to mine. The only thing we touched was shoes and even that seemed terribly sexy to me after all this time of not doing anything else. Damn, I miss his hands, his lips, his…I miss his everything!

          I want the man naked like now.

          Two nights ago, date number three was just the two of us. We had dinner in the mess as usual then went for a romantic walk around the city holding hands and chatting about silly things, like what kinds of cheers I did during my two-year tenure as a high school cheerleader. Or if it’s possible to do a 360-degree flip with a helicopter like I saw in Blue Thunder. John says no, something about not enough thrust. But he liked that movie too.

          A couple of hours later we ended up at my door. I made all kinds of openings and invitations, this being the ‘third date’ and all those rules back on Earth. But the man refused to go along. Since when did he become the master of restraint? He kissed me and I let him have it. I know he wanted to come in as much as I wanted him to, and yet…he left.

          Two days I’ve been thinking about that kiss! Two days I’ve been going out of my mind wanting him…but no… He had to go off-world on some mission to get all dirty and sweaty and…he looks so hot covered in dirt!

          Well, like I said, I figured the man out. I know what I have to do to get what I want. I have to make plans. Good plans. Special plans. Something he cannot say ‘no’ to. So, I called in reinforcements. It’s the only way to go with these sorts of situations.

          Laura couldn’t believe it when I asked her for help. She nearly fainted when I told her exactly what I needed. Then she jumped up and down clapping for a good five minutes. That woman never runs out of energy!

          Teyla couldn’t stop giving me that knowing smile she has. I didn’t want to offend her with my colloquial Earth language, but Laura didn’t have a problem telling the Athosian woman exactly what I was up to. “She wants to have sex tomorrow night.”

          At first, I think Teyla was a bit thrown, possibly thinking I meant it to be with her. But then understanding flashed in her eyes. “With Col. Sheppard.”

          “Of course, with John,” I said, glancing back at Laura.

          “The problem is,” Laura started. “He’s being…uncooperative. So, Jax here needs to give him some incentive.”

          Teyla’s smile widened. “You wish to mold him to your will.”

          “We use the word ‘seduce’. But I like the way you think,” I grinned.

          Her brows arched considerably. “This will take some planning.”

          Laura and I exchanged glances. “Exactly.”

          Teyla can be a single-minded machine sometimes. I like that about her. I wonder if Ronon does. “Teyla?”

          “Yes, Jax.”

          “Has there been any…molding between you and Tarzan?” I glanced and smirked at Laura, then turned back to Teyla. “Do you have a secret name for him yet?” In her usual manner of deflecting questions that could be potentially embarrassing, Teyla tilted her head and raised her brows, but said nothing. So, I persisted. “C’mon. Is his will yours?”

          This got me a piercing stare of ‘mind-your-own-business-or-I’ll-kill-you-with-my-pinky-finger’ so I waved a hand and told her “never mind.” Laura nudged my arm and when I looked at her, she winked and nodded, giving me the impression she was mentally saying: oh yeah, they’ve done it…a lot. Which made me snicker under my breath.

          A moment later, we were back on task. Teyla is nothing if not forgiving. She had some ideas about one area while Laura called in the big guns…meaning she went to get help from Dr. Beckett. I, however, had the hardest job of all.

          I dragged myself to my room at the end of the day ready to collapse onto my bed in defeat. I couldn’t believe I failed. Both Teyla and Laura caught up with me during my travels throughout the city and told me everything was in place. I almost pulled out my hair when I had to confess I didn’t live up to my end of the deal.

          Laura wrapped an arm around my shoulders, gave me a big squeeze and guaranteed me I’d persevere…I still had until tomorrow night to find exactly what I needed. I should not give up hope.

          Surprisingly enough, as I stumbled into my room…I found what I’d been searching for all day lying neatly on my bed with a note attached. ‘Embrace the butterflies’ it read in fancy handwriting. I spun around, knowing no one was in my quarters, but I was so dumbfounded that someone…some woman had managed to get in here—Atlantis is my girl, she wouldn’t let just anyone in my sanctuary—and left me such a beautiful gift, my jaw hit the floor.

          I raced to Laura’s quarters and dragged her back to mine to show her and she squealed with delight. “Ohmygod this is perfect!”

          There wasn’t a signature on the note, leaving Laura to wonder who my benefactor could be. I have a sneaking suspicion, and I’m taking it for what it appears to be…her blessing.

          Even Atlantis has been helping me, it’s so weird to think that, but how else can I explain the music selection that was generated onto its own playlist: Date Night. A playlist I didn’t create.

For All We Know - The Carpenters

Believe - Elton John

Somebody - Depeche Mode

          It’s unsettling and exciting at the same time. A truly unique artificial intelligence thinks I’m a great match for her favorite person.

          So here I am, waiting for my date to make his appearance. Teyla and Dr. Beckett were quite clever in their efforts to keep him from me all day while Laura helped me get ready. I’m even wearing makeup, thank you very much.

          There’s a click in my ear and Laura’s voice comes in loud and clear. “Operation ‘Willpower Overload’ is a go,” she whispers with a chuckle.

          “Copy that.” I smile and take off the headset, hiding it inside the vase of wildflowers on the table. I quickly strike a match and light the candles. Then I wait.

          It’s not long before his shadow looms in the doorway.

 15.5

          Laura’s leading him down a corridor toward the South Pier. She’s barely spoken since they left the transporter, except to tell him to stop fidgeting.

          John’s been searching for Angie all day, only to be headed off by someone in the process. It took a while, but realization finally hit him between the eyes when Lt. Cadman showed up at his quarters dangling a burgundy tie in her hand. “Courtesy of Carson.”

          John looked her over quizzically. “You do have a white dress shirt, correct?” She asked as if knowing the answer already. He nodded and she said, “Good. Black slacks and a jacket to match?”

          “Yes…why?”

          She cocked her head slightly. “I’m just curious…what made you bring that to the Pegasus Galaxy?”

          He shrugged. “I brought all my clothes when we came back from Earth. Why pay for storage?”
She nodded in understanding, but there was a new smile tugging at her lips. A sly smile she couldn’t hide. John watched her for several moments. “What’s going on?”

          She held up a hand. “Please, sir, no questions. Would it be possible for you to follow my orders for a short time tonight?”

          John narrowed his gaze at her. Obviously, she and Angie were up to something, but he was eager to play along. Whatever this is, it took some planning. “Just this once, Lieutenant.”

          “No rank tonight, sir. Call me Laura. I’ll be your host.”

          “Okaaaay.” He raised a brow.

          She glanced at her watch. “Could you be ready to leave in forty-five minutes?”

          “Leave? And go where?”

          She smiled politely. “You have a seven o’clock dinner reservation, sir. Trust me. You don’t want to be late.”

          John glanced at his bedside clock. Forty-five minutes would make it six o’clock, which means it could possibly take an hour to get to his destination.

          And that’s exactly how long it took them to walk to the South Pier. About ten or fifteen minutes ago, Atlantis’s romantic side kick into full gear, playing love song after love song.

          Laura remained in the lead, forcing him to take the walk slowly so as not to get ‘mussed up’ as she said. “Mr. Sheppard,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. “You have a strong heart, am I correct in my assumption?”

          “Yeah…as far as I know.”

          She smiled broadly. “Good.” Then she started walking again. “You’re gonna need it.”

          Dinner reservations on the South Pier…needing a strong heart? What are you up to, Angie?

          Unfortunately, Laura was quiet the rest of the way, until she made him put the tie on ten minutes ago. He feels like he’s choking. He’s never liked ties. He keeps pulling on the knot, trying to loosen it, but then it gets messy and she stops to straighten it in for him. She holds out her hand. “Relinquish your headset, please, sir.”

          John’s not sure that’s a good idea. “I have to be‒”

          “Should an emergency occur, we have protocol in place to retrieve you in a puddle jumper.”

          “Really.”

          “Dr. Beckett is on standby should the need arise.”

          “Carson, huh?” John shrugs then hands over his headset. “So, it’s a conspiracy.”

          She doesn’t say anything, but her eyes shimmer with amusement.

Crashed - Daughtry

          A few yards from the door that leads to the actual pier, Laura holds up a hand, stopping him in his tracks. She turns her back on him as she clicks her headset and says something he can’t quite make out. After a second, she faces him and nods once then motions to the door. “You’re on your own now, sir.” John takes a few steps towards the door when: “And, Mr. Sheppard?”

          John turns. “Yeah?”

          “Remember to breathe.” Then she grins mischievously and starts walking back the way they came.

          What the hell’s that supposed to mean? John shakes his head then goes to the door. It slides open at his arrival just as Daughtry hits the chorus of the song as if on cue. ‘I crashed into you…’

          John’s heart nearly explodes from his chest like in a cartoon.

          He doesn’t notice the sky full of stars and the music floating through the air fades as his pulse pounds in his head. He’s light-headed. He might even pass-out from shock. Remember to breathe. Yeah, John…that’s some good advice.

          Standing not ten feet from him is the most beautiful woman he’s ever set sight on. Her dark curls piled high onto her head, leaving long spirals about her face and neck and she’s wearing a form-fitting Mandarin dress or Cheongsam…he hasn’t seen the like since his time in Beijing. It’s nearly the color of his borrowed tie, though with a floral design weaving throughout in black stitching. Not that he knows a lot about dresses…but he does know what he likes. And John has always been fond of those form-fitting silks best found in China. He looks her over head-to-toe. Head to high-heeled shoes!

          He looks back up, catching her gaze. And she smiles.

          God, she’s smiling. He didn’t think she could torture him more but that smile…he just might have that heart-attack after all. He has to will his feet to move. It takes a moment but he’s finally able to get some motion and he makes his way to her side. In those heels, she’s nearly as tall as him. They’re practically standing eye-to-eye. He’s shaking his head at her. “You look… amazing,” he gushes. Her smile brightens sending delicious, thrilling tendrils of electricity straight through his libido.

          Angie links her arm through his and leads him to a candlelit table with two place settings covered by silver lids; he has no idea where she got those. There’s even a tablecloth! John’s finding it hard to process the whole scene, but mostly because he can’t take his eyes off his date. He hurries around the table to pull her chair out for her. “Thank you,” she says softly.

          He takes his seat across from her. “You’ve been busy,” he says, grinning so much he’s sure his face will freeze that way.

          She raises one brow suggestively. “I had an important goal,” she says then picks up a pink jar of Athosian wine and pours their drinks.

          “If it was to take my breath away…you succeeded.”

          She grins again, demurely dropping her eyes from his for a brief moment before catching his gaze again. “Okay…I had several goals.”

          John’s not so sure he can handle another one of her shocks, but he’s all for trying. She removes the cover from his plate, revealing dinner. A gleeful chuckle escapes: “Turkey sandwiches!”

          She nods side-to-side, revealing her own sandwich. “Couldn’t get pizza…sorry.”

          Small packets of potato chips are the perfect side to the still cold sandwiches. How’d she manage that? He mentally nods, puddle jumper. “This is...perfect.”

          They eat and drink, talking about all the things they have in common and finding out more of what they don’t.

          John’s not surprised to learn Angie isn’t a football fan or ever intends to be. She is surprised to find out he’s secretly into watching ice skating. Angie knowing how to ride a motorcycle makes it hard for John to get the image of her in some sleek leather outfit out of his head. He tells her how he managed to get sucked into coming to Atlantis—minus the parts about Elizabeth. And then she tells him about the first time she saw him at the SGC and her opinion of how everyone reacted to his presence. The way she describes him actually makes him blush.

Almost Paradise - Eric Carmen

          After they’re done eating, she reaches across the table and takes his hand. “Dance with me?”

          It takes him a moment for the music to register again. Having been so distracted by the goddess before him; so intoxicated by her and their conversation, he almost forgot they were outside. Once he gets her in his arms the evening feels complete. They stare into each other eyes as they move, his left hand pressed into her lower back, her right on his shoulder, their opposites gently clasped together.

          “Wow,” she chuckles. “You’re good.”

          She giggles as John dips her dramatically. “I have my moments.” As he has her bent backward, he grazes a kiss against her neck, catching a whiff of perfume. When he pulls her back up, they’re eyes lock again. He’s beyond ready to kiss her but decides to spin her away, making her laugh again, at least until her heel gets caught and she nearly stumbles. John catches her in an instant and her arms go around his neck.

          “That’s the only thing high-heels are good for,” she says with a smirk.

          “What’s that?”

          Angie tilts her head, “The rescue factor,” and then she kisses him.

          He’s been a good boy for far too long and she seems to be agreeing with him a hundred percent until she suddenly pulls out of the kiss, leaving him hungry for more. “Isn’t it a beautiful night?” She asks looking up at the sky. John doesn’t notice. All he can see is her. But she’s pulling away from him, and there’s a cool emptiness where her warm body once resided.

          She shivers slightly and he whips off his jacket, draping it around her shoulders. “Suppose we should go,” she says softly.

          John motions to the door with a tilt of his head. “Nice night for a stroll.”

          Angie pours the remaining wine into their glasses then sits and takes off her shoes.

          “What are you doing?”

          When she gets up, she’s dangling the shoe straps from her fingers. She hands him his glass then picks up hers. “It’s a long walk back. I’m not so eager to break my leg,” she grins. “That’s not one of my goals.”

          John frowns. “How are we supposed to hold hands if yours are full?”

          With a sly half-grin, she drops the shoes onto the chair then takes his free hand. “I have to come back to clean up anyway.”

          So, they sip their wine as they walk hand-in-hand back to the city with Atlantis keeping them company in the corridors by playing more music. John stops Angie several times to taste her lips. They stand there, making-out for what seems like hours, simply enjoying each other.

          She’s leading them to her quarters, and John has a suspicion about one of her goals. It’s about time! He’s been trying so hard to get her to make the first move. The last three dates have been so frustrating. Even though all this was his idea and he enjoys the ‘wooing part’ he didn’t want to be the aggressor again. Finally, she picked up on that.

          Once they reach her quarters, Angie kisses him quickly on the cheek then slips her hand from his and takes his empty wine glass. “Goodnight,” she says softly.

          John’s jaw drops. What?! Wait a minute…what was all this tonight if not…what the hell was all this?

          It’s payback! She’s getting me back for that kiss the other night. Has to be. She’s trying to kill me.

          “Are you all right?” She asks, watching him carefully.

          He’s sure disappointment’s written in bold letters on his forehead. “I’m good. This has been…”

          “Fantabulous?” She grins, sticking the tip of her tongue between her teeth.

          Oh, yeah, she is trying to kill me. “Exactly.”

          Angie waves her hand over the crystal and the door slides open, Atlantis starting another song.

Blind Faith - Warrant

          “Oh…shoot. I forgot to clean up,” she says with a pout and sets the wine glasses on the desk next to the door. She turns to him with a full-blown grin, removes his jacket from her shoulders and sets it over the desk chair.

          John’s jaw drops for probably the hundredth time tonight. Her quarters have been re-arranged and lusciously decorated with colorful, silky materials hanging from the ceiling around the bed. Flickering candlelight plays over the walls and the faint aroma of vanilla makes his mouth water. “Wow,” he sighs, looking down at Angie with wonder. “You’re a girl!

          She smiles slyly at him. “Sometimes.” Then she’s pulling him into the room by his tie. The door slides closed behind him and he reaches back, ordering the lock to engage. Just before guiding his lips onto hers, she adds in a husky voice, “Sometimes I’m older.”

          John’s beyond relieved, he didn’t know how he was going to make it to his room without spontaneously combusting from the fire she lit tonight. Seems Angie has no problem being in the driver’s seat and he has no problem enjoying it.

          He rests his hands on her hips, urging her body closer in line with his. She smiles against his lips. Slowly, her fingers work at undoing the tie, taking all the time in the world, actually.

          Then she starts in on his shirt buttons one by one, all the while plaguing him with soft, sumptuous kisses, occasionally darting the tip of her tongue into his mouth or against his sensitive lips, teasing him.

          His hands have desires of their own, roaming over the silky sheath that’s keeping her perfect warm skin away from his touch. He only has access to her bare arms and neck. He runs his fingers up her arms, tickling light, trying to elicit a shiver before cupping her face and pulling her in for a deeper kiss.

          But as he tries to encourage more, she shrugs away. She locks her eyes on his and smiles, running her tongue over her bottom lip. She doesn’t say anything, she doesn’t have to. The way she’s looking at him, tells him all he needs to know. She’s going at her own pace and he has no choice but to follow along and suffer through each excruciatingly pleasurable second.

          His shirt’s unbuttoned and she tugs it free of his pants then gently pushes it off his shoulders. He’s wearing a T-shirt underneath and he grips at it to tear it off but her hands on his arms stop him. Then she lifts the T-shirt up, driving her hands underneath it, caressing his chest and stomach with her flat palms, her fingers spread wide. John’s heartbeat kicks up a notch as his breathing staggers.

          As she lifts the front of his T-shirt, she brings her mouth to his stomach and up his chest, grazing him with feather-light kisses.

          “J..ax…” he groans as all his muscles tighten with anticipation.

          She looks up at him with a smile in her eyes then places a finger over his lips to quiet him. A moment later her mouth dances over him again, tongue tangoing with a nipple. John nearly loses it…but remembers Lt. Cadman’s: “Remember to breathe.”

          Well, as good advice as that was a couple hours ago…not as easy to accomplish right now.

          Angie’s hands work the T-shirt up higher until she lets him strip it off over his head. Then she pulls his mouth down upon hers again. Her warm hands attack his chest once more only to descend at a leisurely pace to the edge of his trousers. Her fingers work on his belt and ever so slowly pull it free from his waist. Angie holds it out to the side and lets it drop.

          With her hands on his waist, she turns him then backs him up until his legs bump the bed and with a gentle push against his chest, he drops onto the mattress. “Are you trying to seduce me, Jax?” he asks with a smirk.

          She grins, again poking the tip of her tongue between her teeth. She sits on his lap, pressing her hands against his shoulders so that he lies back onto the bed and she’s hovering over him. “There is no try,” she chuckles softly.

          The kiss she plants on him this time takes his breath and most of his control away. Her tongue teases his and she nips at his bottom lip. At the same time, her fingers dig into his shoulders before gliding over his exposed skin again. Her mouth travels from his lips over his jaw, down his neck, teeth nipping at his skin, tongue burning a hot trail towards his stomach.

          Self-control…self-control…make it my motto for…Fuck! What’s she…

          He lifts his head in time to see her grin wickedly at him. She’s got his zipper trapped between her teeth and she’s pulling it down.

          That has to be the hottest thing I’ve ever seen!

          But then she’s gone. She’s taking off his shoes and tossing them toward the door where they hit with a dull thud. The socks go next; she twirls one over her head like a stripper might. He laughs out loud and she jumps on him, straddling his waist.

          Her dress has two hidden slits, one on each side and they part over her bare legs…his hands instantly go to the found flesh. But as he tries to skim under the material, she bats at his hands. Settling on him, pressing her heat into his trapped hardness makes him groan deeply at the contact. Death by seduction…catchy title. Probably be on my headstone.

          She’s staring at him with utter amusement and determination. Her hands go to her hair and she pulls out two slim sticks, the motion instantly releases her curls and they fall about her shoulders. She is a goddess, it’s the only explanation. She has complete power over him. He’s helpless to resist her.

          Of course, any heterosexual man in his right mind would be crazy to do so.

          Angie folds herself over the top of him, rubbing the silky dress against his chest as her hands find his hair and her mouth covers his again. John wraps his arms around her, pulling her closer. His fingers dive into her luscious curls. Moments later he’s rolling them over and trapping her beneath his weight even against her murmured protest. He just wants to feel her, hold her and kiss her for as long as he can.

          She gives in. But as soon as John’s hands start to roam over her, she pushes him off and slips out from under him. John crashes face first into the bed with a frustrated groan. Angie takes a deep breath and straightens the skirt of her dress. “That was interesting,” she sighs, touching up her lips a little.

          “Here lies Lt. Col. John Sheppard. Killed by a tease.” He growls, rolling himself over onto his back. “They will investigate, you know.”

          She has her back to him and glances over her shoulder, flashing that wicked grin. “You’re not dead yet.” The faint sound of a zipper gets him to sit up. She’s deliberately easing down the fastener on the side of her dress, slowly exposing only a glimpse of flesh beneath and his breath catches.

          Someone knocks on the door making them both jump.

          “So sorry to disturb you, young miss,” the heavily accented Dr. Zelenka calls through the door.

          Angie looks at John, eyes widening. “I thought these rooms were soundproof,” she whispers. John shrugs and raises his brows. So did he.

          “How can I help you, Dr. Zelenka?”

          “Can you speak up…I can’t hear…”

          Angie leans into the door. “How can I help you?”

          “So sorry, Jax. Is Dr. McKay. He needs you on PXT-705…saying translation is finished.”

          “Can’t he wait until tomorrow?” John asks quietly.

          Angie replays the question through the door and Zelenka replies: “Unfortunately, is tomorrow there. Planet is twelve hours different.”

          She turns to John, her brows wrinkle with frustration. Eager to fulfill her goal, he offers: “I doubt a couple hours would matter.”

          But then Zelenka adds something that lands Angie’s forehead right into the door. “Dr. McKay wishes you remember…you promised to go when he called.”

          She motions for John to unlock the door. Everyone now knows they’re dating, but they don’t want to show anyone…everything. She takes a deep breath and zips up her dress to John’s ultimate dissatisfaction. He grabs both his shirts, swipes his hand over the door control, then hides in the bathroom before she opens the door to Zelenka. John peers around the corner.

          “He had to remind me I promised,” she growls at the Czech.

          “I am forever sorry,” Zelenka shakes his head, pulling off his glasses and cleaning them quickly. “For you as well, Colonel.”

          John sighs as he returns to the bedroom. He only had a chance to pull on his T-shirt, but who cares anyway. He drops heavily onto the bed. “This sucks!”

          Angie tosses him an ‘I’m sorry’ and adds: “It’s only a few hours, I’m sure.”

          “Actually.” Zelenka holds up a hand. He looks terribly embarrassed by the whole situation. “Dr. McKay said you to pack for a couple days.”

          “Days?!” Angie and John echo together.

          “Seems excavation crew found something…more. And though more needs uncovering, Dr. McKay does not want to wait for your going and coming.”

          “No one likes to wait on coming,” Angie growls, sliding her eyes to John with another sorry look.

          “Don’t I know it,” John hisses.

          Zelenka returns his glasses to his face, mumbles another apology then rushes away as if he’s afraid one or both of them might try to kill the messenger.

          Angie grumbles about scientists and their discoveries. She pulls out her duffle and tosses in some clothes. John comes up behind her, wraps his arms around her waist and hugs her from behind, he’s still hard and rubs himself against her perfect ass while gently kissing her neck. The tension in her body melts away as his lips connect with her skin, but just as quickly, she regains her composure and groans. “I had to promise.”

          John chuckles, trailing kisses behind her ear. “It’s not written in stone.”

          She spins around to face him. Her lips attack his hungrily for several moments, but she breaks away and stares at him. Passion and lust glimmer in her eyes. “I keep my word, John. It’s all I have.” And she starts packing again.

          As his heartbeat slows—though the tension in his body is beyond repair—John nods his understanding. “I’m going to kill McKay.” With a grunt, Angie pulls a piece of paper from the desk and hands it to him. He unfolds the sheet. “What’s this?”

          “Ways I’ve already thought of…and discounted.”

          John hangs his head, laughing.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

Haskin

 

16

Amen - Halestorm

          I don’t think I’ve ever been so ready to commit murder. 

          Dr. Nileson meets me at the gate. He’s one of the pasty, young archeologists that usually hangs out in a lab on Atlantis and only gets to see sunlight on occasion. He’s very excited and can’t understand the scowl on my face that even my music can’t erase.

          Well, ya see here Sparky…I was all kinds of excited myself for decidedly different reasons…

          Stop dwelling.

          It’s no use. I’m irritated, tired from two days of intensive planning, and horny as hell! You stop dwelling!

          John’s probably back in his quarters by now, ready for bed, but doubtfully sleeping. The poor man.

          He escorted me to the gate, though we didn’t hold hands once we left the corridor and I didn’t get a much longed-for goodbye kiss. That’s my thing. No reason to fan the flames of the rumor mill. Not that I mind if everyone knows I’m with John. I’m just not sure he likes everyone to know. Besides that, I don’t like flaunting my ardor in Dr. Weir’s face. She’s been so kind to me.

          Gawd, don’t start feeling guilty now!

          Yeah, but here I am, without John and I left him for god-knows-how-long, terribly turned-on and alone with an available Dr. Weir. Shouldn’t I feel a little concerned about that?

          Maybe.

          Then why don’t I?

          Because we trust John.

          That elicits a huff. No, he’s a guy. But Dr. Weir would never do anything to hurt me or anyone else. Except herself, maybe. I still can’t believe she gave him over so easily. Encouraged me even. I just know I’m not that good of a person. Give up without a fight.

          You almost did.

          Yeah, well, I was seriously delusional at the time. I’m much better now.

          Gawd…I was soooo close! I worked so hard. Dammit. I deserve a Sheppard induced orgasm!

          Yes, I do!

          Dr. Nileson offers to carry my bags, but he looks skinnier than me and it’ll probably topple him. I brought a sleeping bag, pillow, a few changes of clothes: jeans and T-shirts and I’m wearing my MP3. But the real weight comes from all my snacks and some MRE’s Dr. Beckett handed me before I entered the gate. Plus, my laptop, no reason to be completely bored once I’m stuck doing absolutely friggin’ nothing for the next few days. I’m really gonna give McKay the worst week of his life if I don’t throttle him with my bare hands.

          Or stab him?

          Right…

          Teyla gave me a present before I left. She felt bad for me, I could tell, but I never expected such a lovely parting gift. It’s similar to hers, only it fits snugly at my waist instead of the ankle. It clips to the two belt loops at my back. I never wear belts, but I will wear this. It’s a double-leather sheath for two knives. For best effect, all I have to do is reach behind me with each hand and pull them out simultaneously. Quite the sexy look if I do say so myself, especially if I roll them around my wrists showing off.

          I usually don’t carry weapons around since they’re only for practice and I’m completely safe on Atlantis. But when Teyla found out I’d be stuck off-world with Dr. McKay, she insisted I take weapons I could conceal. “He tends to instigate…problems.” I’m still not sure I understand her meaning, but it did make me laugh. Perhaps she has a kill-McKay-list of her own. I wonder if anything’s been crossed off as undesirable yet.

          It’s not an unpleasant jaunt to the site. The gate’s located at the edge of a golden meadow of ankle tall, soft grass. The sun’s shining high in the sky and encircling the area are yellow-orange-reddish leafy trees amid lots dark-green pines that make up a dense forest. Quite picturesque, in fact, but that doesn’t mean I’m in a good mood.

          Hope the chocolate made it into the bag, ‘cause I’m so gonna need a pound or two.

          As my guide leads me through the forest, I get the familiar feeling of being watched. My ‘whiskers’ aren’t picking up human eyes so much as ‘other’ eyes keeping tabs on us. Plus, I don’t hear any twitters of lower creatures or birds, which tells me a predator is quite possibly searching for food. Now, I’m glad Teyla told me to bring the knives. Given my own predilection for trouble…

          Let’s not go there.

          We break through the other side of the trees and my jaw hits the ground and gets dragged an inch or two. That’s the temple! A large, two-story castle-like wreck! Okay, maybe castle is pushing it, but the damn thing is huge, taking up two-thirds of the clearing. If it had a moat, then maybe castle would be a little more fitting. Instead, I guess, it’s just a stone church, steeple and all, or what’s left of the steeple.

          As I step inside, I realize I’m back outside because—hello—there’s no roof in the place but there are three entrances/exits because of the number of large holes in the walls.

          What’s holding this place up, force of will?

          There’s no way this should still be standing. And given that…there’s no reason anyone—namely, me—should be inside it!

          Dr. McKay’s snarking at one of his minions, “Wrong–wrong–wrong. Was your diploma written in crayon? Did you ever actually pass—never mind…you!” He points at another minion and then snaps his finger at the young man. I find a corner empty of debris, without too much airflow and set my bag down, churning up a plume of dust. Maybe I should reconsider and stay near one of the walls with a convenient escape route.

          Coughing and waving my hand through the dust draws attention from the ‘Almighty Annoying One’ and he waves to me. “Ah, Jax, so nice of you to grace us with your presence.” I sneer and wave back with a single stiffened finger that elicits chuckles from everyone except McKay. He glowers at his followers and they quiet. Then he struts over to me, all smiles. “It’s a fascinating place, don’t you think?”

          “It’s a hunk of junk, doctor. And don’t forget, this, right now, is my bedtime.” And the plans I had didn’t involve much, if any, sleeping! “Don’t even think about being cheerful with me.”

          He tilts his head back and looks down his nose at me. “Fine. Over here then.”

          With a huff, I trudge after him through the muckity-muck of crumbling stone and dirt and he stops in front of a large, angled table. It looks like one of the many Atlantis consoles, only not as bright. And for some unknown reason, it doesn’t look the least bit damaged by whatever disaster struck this place. I cross my arms and stare at him. “What exactly does it do?”

          McKay cocks his head. “It’s the power station of the outpost. This panel turns everything else on. System readouts, heads-up displays. Everything.”

          Not dropping my arms, I twist my torso, looking around the dilapidated temple. The others follow my gaze. “I don’t see anything else worth turning on, doctor.” Every time I use his title, I kind of spit it at him. I’m mentally saying “dickwad”. Hey, I’m entitled. I left a perfectly pliable, half-naked, very aroused John Sheppard for this.

          Amen!

          Not that I’m going to share that tidbit of info with the ornery scientist. But I do level a searing glare in his direction and he does have the sense to look away. McKay motions to the console and I set my hand on it. Nothing happens. I let out a deep breath and turn to leave. “Well, I’m useless here. See ya‒ ”

          “Wait!” He calls. I stop and twist back to face him. He raises his brows. “Our power supply may not be connected correctly just yet. Come back.” With another heavy exhale, I take two large steps back to the console. McKay motions to one of his posse. “Well?” A woman, Dr. Lee, darts her head under the console then a couple moments later pops back out with a thumbs up. McKay looks to me. “We didn’t find a ZPM so we had to bring a naquadah generator.”

          I point to my unimpressed face. “Does this say: ‘I care’?”

          McKay scratches his forehead. “Just try again.”

          I set my hand on the panel and once again, nothing happens. Instead of leaving this time, I cock my head at the mad scientists. “Am I done now?”

          “You’re not concentrating.”

          “I don’t have to concentrate, doctor. It’s a natural thing.”

          “Well, maybe your natural-thing needs some concentration. Just ‘think’ turn on.”

          I already did my turning on dammit…

          That must be the problem. I’m still obsessed with someone, not something.

          I close my eyes for a few seconds until I’m able to push aside images of a shirtless Johnny lying face up on my bed waiting for me to do all sorts of pleasurable, naughty things to him and…oh hey, the lights came on. There’s a gentle hum in the air as well then, a violent shaking rattles the ground. Almost everyone’s running for cover as the minimal stones left in the pointed ceiling start crumbling and crash to the floor; seemingly aiming directly for those of us stupid enough to be out in the open!

          McKay’s holding his hands overhead, frozen in place as a huge chunk of stone makes a target of his large cranium. Don’t ask why—maybe instinct, I don’t know—but suddenly I’m tackling the guy out of the way of disastrous brain trauma while I get pelted in the back of my thigh by the falling rock.

          Nice.

          “Son-of-a-bitch!” I roll away from the quivering mass under me and try to inspect the damage. There’s a patch of dust on the back of my jeans, but nothing is torn. However, I do have a hell of an ache across my semitendinosus and biceps femoris. “That’s gonna leave a mark.” I smack McKay hard on the chest because I feel he’s earned it.

I may have a high pain threshold, but my body does not take abuse lightly. I bruise so easily that as a kid my parents were terrified I’d turn purple. It’s not a blood disorder or anything serious, just thin skin, I guess. Or maybe not enough vitamin K‒or is it H? I can never remember. Anyway, that mark on my leg’s gonna be all kinds of pretty colors in a few hours and for a long time after that.

          I really despise this man.

          The shaking subsides and everyone comes out from hiding.

          “Who touched it!” McKay looks around at his team, but they all hold up their hands in defense.

          “Thanks for the trip to hell, McKay.”

          “What? It wasn’t my fault,” he whines and I glower at him. But then he does something that irks me to the core. He says: “Um…thank you?” He points to the no longer falling stones. “For…uh…saving me.”

          Getting to my feet, I offer him a hand and he takes it. As he gets up, I say: “If I had to do it over again? Might think twice.”

          “Yes, yes…” He sneers. “No need to get sentimental. Let’s get back to work people.” But I catch him grinning slightly before he returns to the panel, intent on learning all he can from the blinking lights.

          My leg aches pretty good, so I drag my bruised self to my bag and drop, draping my arms over my bent knees. Just as John said earlier: this sucks!

§

You Can't Walk in Your Sleep - The Go-Gos

          Day two and three quarters. I’ve been up for about forty hours. I don’t understand why. Possibly because I didn’t get my jollies back home before coming here. Or maybe my system is still outta whack and this is one of my many energy spurts, or perhaps I’m afraid to sleep in a crumbling building and—I don’t know—not wake up?

          I’ve never been a wilderness enthusiast. My idea of ‘roughing it’ is a Motel-6 for one night. I didn’t sign up for this. I do think ahead, however. I brought my very own TP just in case. Dr. Lee showed me the outdoor ‘girl’s area’ within the tree-line. Two fallen tree trunks plus a couple of wood slats and we’ve got ourselves a makeshift potty. I swear if I get a splinter in my butt, those sharp knives of mine are gonna be poking someone with too much soft flesh around his middle.

          I’m so bored I’d get a rush chewing on rotten nails about now. I’ve played so much solitaire I swear I’m seeing diamonds in the sky…hey with Lucy! Okay, so I’m a little worn around the edges. I haven’t slept going on three days. Sue me.

          The ‘something more’ Dr. Zelenka alluded to turned out to be ‘nothing more’ than a big old hole in the dirt ground. It’s by, what I assume, used to be the only actual door to the place because of the rectangle shape and the tell-tale signs of wood stuck in some of the stones and off-set diagonally from the occasionally working console on the way-way other-side of the temple.

          Now that all the rubble’s been cleared out and left all over the floor nearby, the fascinating hole is about six feet deep, three feet wide and five long. Couldn’t they have considered taking some of the rocks, I don’t know, outside? I’ve stared into the dark pit a couple of times—betcha that’s where the toilet used to be. McKay wasn’t thrilled when I made that assessment. At least they had an indoor facility, unlike us. He grumbled something about my heritage after that one.

          There’s only six of us here today: our military contingent, Sgt. Elliot and Lt. Fisk standing guard, though they look as bored as I feel, Nileson, Lee, McKay and myself. When I asked about the minimal security—I’d always assumed the scientists were well protected when off-world—McKay set me straight. According to the long-range sensor on Atlantis, this planet isn’t in the path of any Wraith ships…yet. The gate is close, if there is an emergency, we can double-time it back home. And they haven’t seen any local visitors since arriving.

          I still don’t know why I’m stuck out here, but McKay refuses to let me go home. The others got to go only because they had some ‘important lab tests to run’. Like my work isn’t important? Well, not so much, I suppose.

          But I had plans! And I waxed, dammit!

          Okay, so it has been slightly necessary for me to hang around and turn on the panel every hour or so for some unknown reason. McKay thinks it might have some kind of kill-switch like a car so it doesn’t stay running all the time and that no non-Ancient can hi-jack it.

          Whatever it is. Even McKay’s stumped on this thing.

          Could it possibly be because there’s nothing else freakin’ here!

          He doesn’t want to hear that. So, I keep telling him over and over just because I can. I don’t get why his gene doesn’t work on it. Why is it only mine? I feel so ‘special’…Not!

          “What is that? A diary?”

          Damn, Maybe I should change the names to protect the guilty…huh?

          I glance up; McKay’s munching on a power bar over my shoulder. So, I instantly close my laptop and glare at him. “Don’t do that.”

          “It’s just that your constant tapping on the keyboard is…distracting. I was wondering what was so important.”

          “None of your business. And if I’m so distracting, send me home.”

          He laughs as if I made a joke. “You don’t want to go home.”

          “Uh…yeah I do. Right now, would be great.”

          “Well, you can’t,” he says folding his arms and staring down his nose at me. He can be so…ugh!

          “Why not?”

          “Because I said so. This is my project‒”

          “Look, McKay, I’m not one of your little toadies you can push around and be all superior with…I’ll kick your ass.”

          “You would not.”

          I stand up, clapping my hands and rubbing them together. “Is that a dare?”

          He backs up a step, almost slips on a small stone but keeps himself upright. “Why…don’t you go for a walk into town? Get some fresh air.”

          “There’s a town?”

          He points out the hole in the wall behind me. “Through the tree line, just over the hill…not ten minutes away. Kind of cowboyish.”

          “And you’re just mentioning this now?” I stuff my MP3 in my pocket, the tunes already set on random play.

          McKay starts talking rapidly with his hands. “Well, we haven’t really explored there, trying to keep a low profile, you know, don’t want to draw unwanted attention to our little… not to mention…you didn’t threaten to beat me up before.”

          “Do they have a saloon?”

          “I…don’t know. Possibly.”

          Turning my back on him, I unzip my duffle and retrieve two chocolate bars. I catch McKay greedily eyeing my stash. I zip my bag and get in his face immediately. “Touch my stuff‒”

          “You’ll kick my ass.” He nods.

          “Inside-out,” I tell him without blinking while sticking earbuds in. McKay swallows hard, nodding again. I think he gets it.

Twilight Zone - Golden Earring

          I take my time with the walk, still wary about whatever creatures might be living in the forest. Plus, I want to ease my way into the town. Like McKay said, no point in drawing attention.

          That’s gonna be a problem.

          The place does have a western feel to it, though no real cowboy hats, more straw, and some floppy Amish ones. But the boots are pretty close. It’s so weird coming across people that evolved one way or another in a completely different galaxy only to be reminded of Earth.

          I guess I don’t blend in very well since I’m wearing combat boots, black jeans, a longish light-yellow T-shirt to hide my knives and have wires coming out of my ears. I don’t conform to the Atlantis norm either. I wear the uniform when I’m working as a masseuse and I used to wear one in the kitchen, but I’ll be damned if they’re gonna stick me in one of those military things when I’m being forced off-world. I will be comfortable or I won’t go. Dr. Weir saw my blue jeans and white T-shirt the other day and chose not to say anything, so I take that as a pass on dress code.

          My hair’s back in a ponytail and I’m awfully dusty. I certainly don’t look like most of the women in town. Talk about taking time in front of the mirror. And, man, those dresses must be seriously uncomfortable. They look like Little House on the Prairie was filming just minutes ago. Or Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman.

          It’s a burgeoning place, not as quiet as I expected. Several people from off-world have trading stations set up along the main drag. I don’t match any of them either, but it looks like this place isn’t unfamiliar with travelers. It’s kinda like going to an outdoor swap meet. I loved going to the Orange County one in Southern California. Dad would drive us down for a day. We’d go shopping, eat junk food and people watch. Then we’d spend some time at the beach. I’d be exhausted and fall asleep in the car on the ride home.

          Some of my best childhood memories. And of course, Disneyland before it got all corrupted and money-grubbing. When I was a kid, we had to actually use tickets to get on rides. The best were E-tickets for the roller coasters. I remember the cars were a C-ticket.

          Shaking off the past, I stroll by some of the sellers, the wares catching my attention. I’m not looking to buy anything, especially since I don’t know what kind of trade happens here. I’ll have to get Teyla to help me next time. Maybe I could get her to come along for a short visit, that’d be fun.

          I find the saloon easily enough, manage not to get molested on the way through town, though I do spark interest, I blow it off with a couple friendly waves. “Keep your eyeballs to yourself, grandpa,” I grumble but offer a polite grin. I stuff the buds in my pocket and hit the side button to pause the music as I enter the building.

          It’s a large room with many tables and chairs. The place is busy, but mostly with townsfolk, it seems. I don’t spot any of the off-worldly dressed. People drinking and chatting. There’s a staircase at the back and a balcony upstairs. Possibly rooms for rent like a motel? Or maybe the owner’s home?

          I pull up to the bar, getting a few turning heads as I do, some of the chairs even squeak as the asses in them twist too quickly for a look at the newest stranger. The chatting dies down too. That’s okay, I don’t like having to talk over other voices.

          Keep eyes open at all times, girl.

          No kidding.

          The bartender looks like he could be right out of the movies, suspenders and all. He’s tall, bald and beefy with a huge black mustache. Tiny eyes with long black lashes look like a multilegged bug burrowing through day old bread. He lifts his chin in acknowledgment of my presence but doesn’t ask me what I want.

          “You got any booze here?”

          “Huh?”

          “Booze…whiskey…alcohol?” The man just stares at me like I’m insane. Well, I’ve looked at myself that way several times, so why not some complete stranger. I point to the brown bottles behind the man’s shoulder. “What’s in that?”

          “To’r-tug,” he says firmly.

          “To’r-tug?” I raise my brows. “Sounds yummy. Let’s have some.” A cackle of laughter from behind makes me spin on my toes. I rest my elbows on the edge of the bar and raise my don’t-fuck-with-me brow, staring down my would-be heckle group.

          Four men sit at a table about ten feet from me, sharing a bottle. Three 20ish-or-30something men are the ones laughing, but the fourth man’s older, maybe in his fifties. He has a distinctly weathered face; many scars and he’s watching me with dark eyes. Not only dark in color but dark in soul too, instantly raising my hackles and twitching my ‘whiskers’. This man’s seen a lot of unnecessary death in his time, possibly been the cause of some of it too. He raises his shot glass to me then downs it, his eyes never leaving mine.

          Ignoring the knot of doom in my gut, I turn back to the bartender. “How much for one drink?”

          “What’ve you got to trade, little thing?” he asks with a grin and a wink.

          “Little thing,” I repeat. “Now that’s not supposed to be insulting is it?” The man simply stares at me. I sigh, shaking my head. Men are men no matter where you go. And for some reason, I didn’t notice until just now that there aren’t any women in this here saloon. Curious.

          I pull out one of my prized milk-chocolate Hershey Bars, keeping it below the counter and out of the man’s sight as I rip the paper off and unfold the foil. I break off one piece of the chocolate, lift it up to the man and hand it over. He glowers at me. “Crazy female. We don’t trade for food.”

          I push the piece toward him. “Just taste it. You don’t like it, I’ll go.”

          The bartender glances at the still chuckling trio then shoves the candy in his mouth. Instant bliss crosses his face and I know I’ve got a winner. “How much you got?” he asks.

          I break the bar in half and offer him the one with the missing piece. “Gimme a double, you get all this.”

          His tongue’s playing over his eager mouth as soon as I show him the chocolate. He quickly turns and grabs a not so clean glass and pours out at least a double shot for me. His greedy hand snatches the candy as I reach for my glass. I quickly stuff the remainder into my pocket.

          Hope it doesn’t melt.

          I hold up my glass and turn to the snickering trio again. They silence when they see my grip on the To’r-tug. The older man, however, is smiling at me. Not in a nasty way, but as if he approves of me somehow and the knot in my gut unravels slightly.

          It’s been a while since I’ve downed firewater. I just hope it doesn’t taste like tequila. I shoot the whole thing in one gulp, leaving the youngins over there gaping and gasping. And I instantly know why.

          Damn fine vodka! “Wow.” I turn back to the bartender. “Nice juice, mister.” His lips are covered in chocolate remnants and he grins at me with coated teeth. I look over the rack. “How much for a bottle?” He blinks at me as if I’m some…well…alien. I wonder if he’s ever seen a woman drink this stuff before and not fall over dead.

          He shakes his head. “Not for you.”

          Deciding not to get into a battle with a sexist over this, I choose the higher ground: bribery. I pull out the second half of the candy bar and lay it on the counter. Then I pull out the second bar, still intact and place it on top of the first. The bartender’s beady eyes open wide and his tongue darts in and out of his mouth. He reaches for the candy but I’m faster and I cover it with my hand. “Uh-uh.” I lift my chin. “Bottle first.”

          With a grimace, the man turns and grabs a full bottle from the shelf and sets it on the counter. As I wrap my hand around the glass neck, I lift my other from the candy. I turn on my toes, lift the bottle in salute to the men at table number four. The dark-haired, older man’s busy with another shot. His eyes catch mine and he grins into his glass with a shake of his head. I flash a half smirk and head out. “Gentlemen.”

          All the men in the room nod to me. “Young miss.” Wow, that almost sounded polite. I grin to myself.

          Yeah, I kick ass wherever I go! Hoo-ra!

          I saunter over to the trade area again and get a good look at the jewelry, clothing, tools etc. on display. Lots of stuff to consider. Especially the lady with the pretty cloth. “Do you like?” she asks.

          “Very much.” I finger some fine satiny-silk in a dark blue. “These are gorgeous. Do you sell here often?”

          “Yes. Every third moon.”

          Definitely, need Teyla to translate.

          I nod and smile at the older woman. “I’ll see you soon.”

          I plop the earbuds back in and hit the music for the walk to the site.

I'm All Right - Kenny Loggins

          It’s starting to get dark, but it’s a short walk back over the hill and through the woods… ‘to grandmothers house, I go.’ I giggle at the thought, but at the same time, I’m watchful—a left-over from witness relocation—but my whiskers aren’t twitching. There is distinct movement it the trees and on the ground…critters going about their business without worry. However, my hair does feel a little funny. Oh, and now my feet are tingling.

          Wow…alien vodka has a real kick!

          I start dancing to my music as I go, the fun tingles moving up my legs. I could get used to this. I laugh out loud as the tingles slowly move up my entire body. Cool! I consider sharing this with the girls at poker night, but first, I have to share this stuff with John when I get back. He’s so going to owe me big time.

          When doesn’t he give me back double or triple time?

          Very true. Johnny is the most unbelievably generous lover.

          As soon as I cross the hole-in-the-wall threshold, McKay waves frantically to me. “It’s about time.”

          I’ve been gone less than an hour, dickwad!

          I pause long enough to stash my booty in my bag then make my way over to the console and touch the stinking thing. Nothing happens. I touch it again. Still nothing. I shake my hands as if that might be the problem, but that only increases the fabulous tingles and I giggle.

          McKay turns and stares at me. “What’s so funny?”

          I let out a huge burp and laugh again. Fisk and Elliot chuckle to themselves. I smirk at McKay and play at saluting him. “Sorry, sir. Had a bit of a drink in ye ole town…kinda kicked my ass.”

          “Are you drunk?”

          I flap my hand through the air, missing his face by a hair’s width. “No.” My eyes wander over the ruins and I can see the stars falling through the big hole in the ceiling. Oooh, pretty. I blow air through my lips, making like a car engine and nod at McKay. “Probably…I think so. Yep.” McKay sighs as if I’ve just pressed the button that will destroy the universe. “Hey!” I snap my finger in front of his face. Or at least I try to, they don’t really work so much right now. “You’re the one who sent me there.”

          “Oh, yes, blame me for your bar-hopping, beer guzzling ways.”

          I hold up my finger. “One drink! One bar, no hopping. And I hate beer.” And I suddenly find that finger the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a bit wobbly and it bends. And dances.

 

16.5

          Rodney grabs Jax by the shoulders, jarring her into looking at him and not her undoubtedly fascinating finger. “You need to concentrate.”

          She hangs her head slightly, narrows her eyes, pressing her lips together into a firm line. “You’re right.” Taking the earbuds out, she twists out of his grip, spins around him in a strangely fluid manner, though obviously intoxicated, and stands in front of the console. She claps her hands together, rubs them quickly then spreads her fingers out, wiggling them in the air and attacks the panel as if she’s about to play the piano. Her eyes close. She takes a deep breath. One eye opens and she looks at the non-functioning panel. She closes the eye again and takes another deep breath. And burps…again!

          Rodney shakes his head and pinches the bridge of his nose. This is some sort of cosmic punishment. It has to be. Blow up one tiny solar system and get stuck with…black-haired Barbie on a booze binge. He exhales loudly.

          “Stop distracting me,” Jax snaps, peering at him through one open eye. She turns her attention back to the board. “Aaaaannnnddd…” The lights come up with an audible hum. “Voila!” Jax pulls her hands away and blows on her fingertips as if they’re smoking. “I’m hot tonight!”

          The soldiers covering the front and back entrances chuckle, getting a stern glare from Rodney in return.

          Jax waves her arm. “Back to work everyone. Ohh, hey, what’s this‒”

          “No don’t‒” Rodney reaches for her but not fast enough and she presses the blue button on the top left of the console.

          The temple shakes again, causing more rocks to fall from the ceiling. Jax looks up and yells—as if she’s having a jolly good time— “Earthquake!” Then she dives under the board.

          Rodney joins her an instant later. The rumbling stops and they all come out from hiding. Or rather, the others slowly come back inside the temple, having run out for safety. He should have thought about that. Jax is still under that panel. Rodney squats and sees her grinning and for a fleeting moment, he thinks ‘Carter who?’

          She giggles. “That was fun!” Then takes his offered hand and comes out.

          “I’m so relieved you’re having a good time. Do you think it’s possible—however unlikely—that you don’t touch anything unless I tell you?”

          Her hands land on her hips as a pout hits her mouth. “You told me to touch the panel.”

          “The panel yes, specifically. I made no mention of the big blue button. I don’t even touch the big blue button.”

          With exasperation, she folds her arms and scowls at him, a lot like Elizabeth does sometimes. Strangely, it’s not the first time he’s noticed similarities between the two women. They obviously have the same bad taste in men. “Well, why not? Are you afraid?”

          “What, no.” He thinks about what the translation said. “Well, actually…of that, yes.”

          “Why?”

          “It’s too complicated to go into right now… let me get back to work.” It’s not really all that complicated, he just doesn’t want to get into a discussion about the possible variations of meaning in Ancient to English translation. The blue button either means: Enlightenment or Ultimate Destruction. And given the fact that it nearly caused the building to collapse several times, Rodney’s thinking it might be the worst-case scenario.

          “Fine,” she says testily.

          “Fine.”

          “I’m going for a walk.” She tries to step by him, but wobbles on the debris and nearly falls over. She holds out both arms for a moment like a surfer. She steadies and heads for the ‘front’ door. She taps one of the soldiers on the chest before going past him. The young man’s eyes follow her as a silly grin lifts his mouth.

          Dr. Lee and Dr. Nileson get back to work on the panel. The other day, they found a way to hook up the console to Rodney’s laptop, the only problems came when the Ancient machine would inexplicably shut-down; causing whatever program that was running to halt and defrag. So far, he’s come across limited data about Ancient technology, but most of the information has been corrupted somehow because it comes out as gibberish. Rodney just wishes he could find the pathway that disables the damn kill-switch. It must be like a password protection or something. He needs more time.

          “Um, Dr. McKay?” The soldier watching Jax calls.

          “What?”

          “I think you should…”

          McKay looks up from his data. “What!”

          “She’s spinning and dancing in the moonlight.”

          “She’s drunk. At least she’s not puking.”

          “She just fell down.”

          “Is she dead?”

          “Uh…no sir. She’s laughing.”

          Rodney waves a hand. “Then let her laugh.”

          “Shouldn’t you‒”

          He huffs and groans. “If you’re so worried about her…”

          The soldier swallows hard. “It’s just that…Ronon‒”

          “What?” The slight fear in the soldier’s eyes makes him realize the problem. No one crosses Ronon Dex. Or touches his things. If Jax could be considered his…anything. Rodney’s far more concerned with the Sheppard factor.

          The Colonel behaves strangely around the woman. Happy. Rodney’s seen the man have fun before, but always with reservation…the wary soldier constantly on guard. But in the time Rodney spent working on the translation back on Atlantis, he occasionally saw them interacting in his City and though he’s not one to watch the train wreck that is Col. ‘Kirk’ Sheppard’s love-life unless it affects him personally, Rodney found the two…intriguing. Cute even.

          A shudder racks him at that thought.

          He understands the attraction from Sheppard’s part; Jax is aesthetically pleasing—within the Golden Ratio—and, as it happens, a pheromone-rich facility that Rodney’s partially responsible for creating. He’s noticed, in fact, more than a fair share of people—men and women—find her pleasing to be around despite her annoying and grating personality. Since this wasn’t the case prior to the ‘incident’, Rodney has concluded that there are too many people on Atlantis with a bizarre ‘pheromone-induced’ crush on Jax. According to them, she can do no wrong.

          He’s going to have to find a way to counter-act that. He’d ask Carson for help, but so far, the Scot’s high on the list of pro-Jax supporters. And so is Elizabeth. Kavanaugh hasn’t shown any indication…but then again, he’s Kavanaugh. He doesn’t like anyone because no one likes him.

          But there has to be more to it than that for Sheppard, however. Rodney thought that Sheppard had a thing for Elizabeth and he knows Elizabeth cares far too much for the errant flyboy, so what’s changed on that front?

          “Dr. McKay?” The soldier says. “She might…get hurt.”

          Rodney grumbles expletives under his breath. He’s not one to cuss, generally, he prefers using his biting wit to get a particular sentiment out. But, of course, if something does happen to the drunken mess, Rodney would not only be killed by Ronon but surely Sheppard would want a pound of flesh as well. And they’ve got devious, little minds. They’d find a way to make it hurt and last a long time. With another huff, Rodney sets his laptop on the panel and heads out.

          He finds her easily enough; this planet’s moon is quite close and very bright in the night sky. She’s sitting in the meadow near the tree line, legs splayed out in a ‘V’, holding her hands up and taking imaginary pictures of the night sky, giggling. If he wasn’t so pressed for time, he might find the whole thing amusing. For a short while Rodney did have a bit of a crush on the young lady even pre-pheromone enhancement, but as he’s gotten to know her a little better he’s discovered she’s so not his type. She’s a whiny, grumpy, pain in the ass. “Jax!”

          She turns her head, seeing him coming at her. She gets up, rushes to him and grabs his arms in a fierce hold. “You have to let me go home.”

          “What?”

          She squeezes hard. “I’m going crazy here. I have to go back…please.” She drops to her knees and clasps her hands together. “Do I have to beg,” she sobs.

          Rodney doesn’t know what to do. He glances back at the soldier who turns a blind eye. When he looks back down at Jax, she’s rolling on her back laughing hysterically. “And the Oscar goes to…”

          “Very funny.”

          Jax sits up, still laughing. “You’re no fun, McKay.” She sighs. “And I really am bored.”

          “Tough.”

          “Tough? Did you just say ‘tough’?”

          Rodney crosses his arms glaring down at her. “Yes. I did. Now start behaving like an adult‒”

          She gets to her feet, plants her hands on her hips and scowls at him. “Why should I…you don’t.”

          “What?!”

          “You’re always ordering people around, pushing your IQ down their throats,” she pokes him in the chest. “But inside you’re a scared little boy, McKay. Afraid the bullies are gonna figure it out and pants you.”

          “Am not!”

          “Or was it wedgies? And probably a swirly or two?”

          “Jax…” he points at the temple. “Go to your room and lie down.”

          Her brows rise as her eyes open wide. “I’d love to. But it’s that way.” She points toward the forest and the gate beyond. He’s surprised she got the direction right in her wobbly state.

          “You can’t leave. That’s an order.”

          “Would you like fries with that?” She pokes him in the chest again, harder. “I wanna go home!”

          “You have to calm down.”

          Jax slides her jaw to the side and glares at him. “You’re mean. You know that? And short.” She growls through clenched teeth. “You’re a mean, short…old man!”

          “Thank you for…hey! I’m not old.”

          Jax wags an accusing finger at him. “You’re mean and…short and…nasty and….OLD!” She takes a step closer, her eyes dark and hard. “And you seriously need to get laid.”

          “What‒”

          “That wasn’t an offer. Merely an observation.”

          “Well keep your observations to yourself! If anyone needs that…it’s you!”

          Her arms sweep out into the air. “I know! And I was this close!” She squeezes her thumb and finger together. “I had him right where I wanted him.”

          “Oh, whoa…too much information.”

          But she’s on a rant. “You just had to screw me over with this whole‒” she’s motioning to the temple when there’s a sudden crash of rocks inside. A plume of dust rises into the night. “Huh…well…” she tilts her head. “If they’re dead can I go home?”

          Rodney grabs Jax’s hand, dragging her back to the temple where he releases her once they go inside. Doctors Lee and Nileson are on the ground with the two soldiers checking on them. Rodney makes his way over. They’re covered in dust and Dr. Nileson has a gash on his forehead.

          “What happened?” Rodney asks accusingly.

          “We went to move your laptop…” Dr. Nileson starts.

          Dr. Lee coughs. “And it hit the button.”

          “Just great. You could have been killed. Do you realize what kind of setback that would be?”

          “We’re fine, by the way,” Dr. Nileson says as he wipes the blood from his head.

          Rodney sighs. “No…you’re not. Both of you go back to Atlantis and have Beckett check you out. Come back tomorrow if he lets you.”

          One of the soldiers offers to walk with them to the gate. McKay waves all three off. He checks the board. Surprisingly, none of the raining debris has managed to hit the workstation. Well, except for the dust.

          Rodney watches the scientists leave and wonders if they all should go back tonight, get a good night’s sleep and return in the morning. Or even a day or so down the line. If what Jax yelled at him has any merit, Rodney suspects there’s a really pissed off Colonel just waiting to ring his neck.

          Maybe going back right now isn’t such a good idea. He could send Jax…let her deal with some ‘issues’ and have her come back tomorrow. Yeah. He’ll do that. Rodney looks around, finding her in the shadows near the front entrance where he left her. She’s staring into the hole that she grossly named the doody pot. Her head’s tilted to the side as she contemplates something in her alcohol-induced haze. Rodney pulls up next to her.

          Now, I know I’m not drunk. And yet he too is mesmerized by what he sees. Steps. Stairs actually, a short flight of stairs has somehow appeared in the hole.

          Jax points at the stairs. “Do you see that?”

          “Yeah.”

          She backhands his chest. “Good. Thought I was hallucinating.” She toes the first step before putting her weight on it.

          Rodney grabs her arm. “What are you doing?”

          “Following the white rabbit.”

          “What rabbit?”

          Jax huffs and shakes her head at him. She points again. “Hole…steps. Follow the steps into the hole…door. Open door, go through door.”

          Rodney squints and sees what she’s pointing at. True enough, a dirt camouflaged door is set deep in the hole directly across from the steps. Before he can stop her, Jax is down the steps. He follows quickly. Both of them search the door for a way to open it, but it’s solid.

          “Looks like the sliding doors on Atlantis,” Rodney says. He starts digging into the dirt along the right side, searching for a crystal panel. He motions at Jax to search the left.

          Surprisingly enough, she does without complaint. In fact, she’s giggling as she digs through the dirt. “This is fun,” she squeaks. “Hey, McKay,” she calls and he turns to face her. “Mud-pie.” She slams a palm full of dirt into his face.

          He manages to wipe most of the dirt from his eyes and spit it out of his mouth. “What’d you do that for?”

          “Because it’s funny.”

          “Because it’s…what is wrong with you—aside from the obvious being that your nuts!”

          “Like that’s news. You really need to lighten up, McKay.”

          “You need to take this more seriously.”

          “You’ve got a ginormous stick up your butt, you know that.”

          “I’m sure you’ve had Sheppard–”

          “Don’t make me kill you.”

          “I’m starting to think that might be preferable to actually spending time with you.”

          “Lt. Cadman had the same feeling about you when she was stuck in your head.”

          “I never asked‒”

          “You never ask for anything McKay, you just order. Let me guess…only child.”

          “No. I have a sister.”

          “Really? How many times has she tried to kill you in this lifetime?”

          Rodney actually takes a moment to think about that before realizing his answer should be: “Never!”

          “Ah uh. You hesitated.”

          “Did not.”

          “Face it, McKay. You rub people the wrong way.”

          “I don’t rub anyone‒”

          Jax chuckles. “According to Katie Brown, that’s a big problem right there.”

          A muffled chuckle echoes from above and Rodney realizes the other soldier overheard their conversation. His face grows hot and his jaw nearly hits the ground. He holds up a hand, too flustered to argue any further. “You just…Shut up!”

          “Great comeback. I thought you were a genius…not so much with the words, huh?”

          Huffing and unable to think of something really scathing, Rodney glares at her. Holding his mouth in a firm line, he points to her side of the door then pulls out his flashlight and searches his side again.

          After much searching, he finds a blue button similar to the one on the panel upstairs covered by a hard plastic-like cover. Popping the latch open, he presses the button but nothing happens. He turns, flashing the light in Jax’s eyes making her howl and turn away while slamming her fist into his shoulder. Great, that’s going to bruise. “Look here.” He aims the light at the button again.

          “Oooh, a PHD,” she says, blinking rapidly, seemingly trying to focus.

          “A what?”

          “Press here, dummy,” she says, pointing a finger at him. And so, he does by roughly grabbing her hand and slamming her palm onto the button. “Hey!” She pulls out of his grip. “You could’ve just asked, dickwad!”

          “And you could’ve said no, wasting time.” As they argue, the door groans and shakes—probably from being sealed for 10,000 years or more—then grudgingly slides open from right to left.

          “Some WD-40 would make that smoother,” Jax observes even as Rodney thinks about grabbing a good lubricant from his lab on Atlantis. Jax steps forward, but Rodney holds out his arm blocking her. She grins evilly at him. “Let me guess…the aged before all else.”

          Rodney growls. “I am not old.” He pushes his way ahead of her.

          “Tell that to the receding hairline,” she says in a sing-song voice as she backs up to the stairs. Going up a couple of steps just enough to lift her head above the floor-line, she calls out: “Elliot, we found the basement and or the sewer…we’re goin’ in.” She looks down at him. “Standard military grunt of approval.” Then hops off the stairs and follows Rodney through the door.

          There’s no natural light, given the underground status of the area, and Jax’s presence does nothing to ameliorate the problem. Luckily, Rodney’s tac-light is a flashlight/lantern combo deal. He slides the outer cover toward the bulb and the inside LED illuminates the short corridor.

          Not surprisingly, the floor inside isn’t dirt but the same substance used to create Atlantis. Even the walls have identical panels, architecture, and aesthetic design. The standards for the Ancients in building materials far exceeds even the highest quality on Earth. Considering Earth’s human population is in its infancy even now compared to the oldest of the Ancients work, Rodney can only hope humanity can grow up before being destroyed by outside forces like the Goa’uld, Wrath, or worse and more probable by themselves.

          The first tunnel is merely ten paces in length from open door to another closed one. Jax is on his heels, looking around and touching whatever she can see. Rodney stops in front of the new door and Jax bumps into him from behind. Shaking his head at her, he holds the flantern (his word) up, examining a door similar to the first, but no blue button, just a regular set of crystals on the right side. He waves his hand over it; nothing happens. Reaching behind him, he takes Jax’s hand again and swipes it over the crystals.

          “Hey…take it easy, McGrabby.”

          The crystals light up and the door slides open. A large single room lies beyond, dark, with a very low ceiling making Rodney fight the sudden onset of claustrophobia. He takes several deep breaths, trying to ignore the stale smell and taste of the air.

          The flantern beam plays over the first few feet inside the room. But he no longer needs it the moment Jax steps inside with him. Just like with Sheppard, the room senses her presence and blue lights come up within the walls. The boards don’t turn on, but he’s sure she just needs to initialize one or two of them to get the desired results.

          Rodney looks up at the ceiling, back at the door then toward the far wall and quickly calculates the first place they have to go. Taking Jax’s hand again, ignoring her squeaking rant, he drags her farther inside the U-shaped room. He pulls her around to the other side and finds what he expected: an exact replica of the panel from upstairs…in the same spot. He points to the blue button in the corner. “PHD,” he says, setting the flantern at the top of the console.

          Jax takes a deep breath then gives the button a good punch. The panel lights up as do the others in the room. A heads-up display on the hanging screen spews several random numbers and letters in Ancient for a few moments. When it clears, two words pop up that Rodney translates quickly. Welcome Janus. Rodney glances at Jax then at the screen and back at Jax. No…can’t be.

          Can it?

          Rodney jumps from console to console as each comes to life. On a different counter under a hard-transparent casing lay several Ancient devices, all labeled for identification and use. He recognizes the personal shield—though he loathes trying that again—small data pads, a life-signs detector, and medical scanner. In the wall that makes up the middle of the ‘U’ section of the floor plan, there’s an empty, stasis pod like the one they found the alternate, old Elizabeth in two years ago. Rodney throws out his arms in glee. “Do you know what this is? It’s amazing. It’s stupendous. It’s‒”

          “Disneyland?” Jax asks with a roll of her eyes.

          Rodney tisks her and wags his finger. “Disney World. This is huge!” Rodney can’t keep his delight or excitement out of his voice. But in just a single moment, she’s able to steal his joy.

          “Can I go home now?”

₪†₪

Chapter Text

17

          I got to shove dirt into McKay’s face. That was a blast. We bicker like a couple of school kids, but I know how to get him flustered. Use the sex card, of course, because it’s the only way to get to a man like McKay. I can’t call him an idiot or anything absurd like that because, let’s face the facts the man’s a genius and lets everyone know it over and over and blah, blah, blah. Pulling out the old performance anxiety play is low, but…I never said I don’t play dirty.

          Anyway, we found the tunnel. Fun…looks like home. My tingles took the high road about five minutes ago and left me almost completely sober and very frustrated…again. The moment I get back, John had better be waiting naked for me, otherwise, I’m gonna attack him in public and give the whole City a free show.

          There’s an end to the tunnel and Dr. McGrabby’s pulling me along like his own personal valet. Lovely. Another room. I was in a room. My own room! And John was there…and John was half-naked, looking so yummy and…oooh, lights. That still gets me; that a room can know when I come in. It’s strange that McKay can’t get things happening around here. Maybe he’s not rubbing something right here either.

          Mental snicker.

          Oh, I’m hungry. Time for a snack. But McGrabby’s pulling me around the room again. “PHD,” he says with a crazy looking grin. Okay, so I didn’t wait for any kind of translation this time ‘cause you know, looks kind of straightforward now that I notice it. The board is exactly like the one upstairs. So, I push the button. And voila! Blinky lights, actual screens full of gibberish and a little vibration too. Mmm, interesting.

          Obviously, the console upstairs is a big old nuttin, like a red-herring. Unless…? Doesn’t matter; let the big brains figure it out.

          “Can I go home now?” I know I sound like a whiny child, but do I care? That would be a ‘NO’, big letters, neon sign. McKay’s so keen on his new toys he doesn’t seem to notice me at all until I ask the fateful question.

          With a wave of his hand, he shoos me toward the entrance and I’m all giddy, clapping my hands and rushing with new found energy toward freedom. I want a shower and some John and some more‒”

          “Wait!” McKay calls as soon as I step into the tunnel. I turn to see him coming out of the dark room holding his lantern again.

          “What?” He motions to the room. I shrug. “Again? What?”

          McGrabby pulls me back inside and a bucket of cold water slaps me in the face: the lights and computers come back up…but only if I’m in here. “Fuck!” 

§

          With the moon still high in the dark sky, the four of us: McKay, Elliot, Fisk and I are standing outside the engaged wormhole, but McKay refuses to return to Atlantis. He’s on the radio talking to Dr. Weir. “The power only engages if Jax is here. It has to be gene specific. I have a theory it has something to do with Janus. Fascinating really‒”

          He listens to something I can’t hear. “She’s fine, Elizabeth, tell Carson not to worry so much.”

          I reach for the headset and he bats my hand away. I would run for the wormhole, but he told me the shield is active for security measures. I’m not so sure I believe him, but I can’t risk being a bug on a windshield, now can I.

          He tried unsuccessfully to keep me imprisoned in the underground lab that apparently only my ‘special’ gene can manipulate. As it turns out, only I can press the blue button for the passageway to open or close as well. McKay got stuck in there for a good fifteen minutes until Fisk urged me to let him out. So, I made a deal with McKay before releasing him—okay, I blackmailed the man. He had to contact Atlantis and let them know what’s going on and have Dr. Weir tell me I had to stay and help.

          We left the door open so that McKay could go in without my assistance—my idea because I’m hoping not to stick around—but covered the hole with plastic sheeting held down by stone debris then tossed a whole lot of dirt on top of it, just in case any townies got interested. Being uncharacteristically optimistic, I grabbed my bag of goodies and trucked it back to the gate. If anything, I need to do laundry and get more clothes. I figured bringing my stuff along would be an incentive for McKay to relent. But it turns out the man’s not really human. He’s a machine with one program constantly running.

          “No, I want to stay and start work immediately.” Dr. Weir must say something else because McKay’s face falls. “I’m sure she can sleep in there just as easily as upstairs.”

          “What sleep?” I growl.

          McKay sneers at me. “How’s my team?” He gets his answer and glances at me, nodding. I guess that means they’re fine. “Okay, here’s what I need. Zelenka, Lee, Chung, Harris and that brit…uh, Dr. Morgan.” He stops. “No, Nileson can stay. Have him work on some of the tablets or…whatever.” He listens. “Because he’s an archeologist, not a physicist. I’m talking top of the line material here. Besides, his head’s a little banged up, he could use the rest.” Dr. Weir says something and he makes a face. “Of course, I can be magnanimous.”

          I cross my arms and glare at him. “Give me the radio.”

          “What?”

          I step into his personal space. “Give me the radio,” I say slowly, then raise my ‘don’t-fuck-with-me’ brow. McKay takes a step back but does as I say and hands me the headset. I settle it on my ear. “This is Jax.”

          “Hello, Jax, how are you?” Dr. Weir asks.

          I sigh heavily. “Is Col. Sheppard there by chance?”

          “Right here,” he says. Oh, his voice is so delicious.

          “Do you have that list I gave you?”

          He chuckles lightly then clears his throat. “Uh…I haven’t added to it.”

          I close my eyes, imagining him pliable in my hands. I glare at Dr. McKay. “I’m going to go with number-six in just a couple minutes.”

          John chuckles. “You have a hatchet handy, do you?”

          “I’m resourceful,” I say with a snort.

          Everything’s silent on the other end for a brief moment then Dr. Weir returns to the line. “Jax, let me speak with Dr. McKay again.”

          I tear off the headset and thrust it back to him. Dr. Weir says something and McKay’s eyes widen and he takes another step back from me. “But‒” He’s obviously cut off. “Fine.” He scowls at me. “We’re going home…for a rest.”

          I glance at Elliot and Fisk, both grin back at me and give me fist-bumps.

          “The shield’s down,” McKay relays.

          He doesn’t have to tell me twice. I grab my bag and rush up the wide stone steps and through the wormhole. I’m on the other side instantly. The City’s bright with morning or afternoon light and it’s slightly jarring so I have to cover my eyes for a moment. 

          When I can focus, I see Dr. Weir coming down the steps to meet me with a polite grin. She nods. “You sounded like you needed a break.”

On Top of the World - The Carpenters

          I nod to her. “If I wasn’t so gross, Dr. Weir, I’d hug you.”

          As music starts over the entire City, Dr. Weir motions overhead. “You were missed by someone else too.”

          “Someone?” I ask with a smirk.

          “Kind of hard to fight it when she’s got her own playlist for different emotions. And she’s got thousands of songs to choose from…in all different languages. She’s been busy.”

          “Really. Not just my room then?”

          “Apparently, ‘Bad Karma’ is on a repeat cycle in Dr. McKay’s room and lab. Not too loud but enough that everyone now knows the words. I’m guessing that’s from your stash.”

          I have to laugh at that. Can’t wait to see McKay’s face when he hears it for himself. “Yeah, well, Bad Karma’s a bitch.” I chuckle as I say the catchy lyrics.

          Behind me, McKay, Elliot, and Fisk stroll through the gate, having to adjust their eyes as well. Surreptitiously, I glance around The Gateroom but don’t find the face I want.

          Dr. Weir catches my gaze. “He just went off-duty,” she says offering a quick smile. She pulls the list from her pocket and hands it to me. “Very… inventive.”

          “What the hell is this music!” McKay protests.

          “The Carpenters,” I say with a grin.

          Ignoring me, McKay stomps up to Dr. Weir. “Who’s playing this? Who’s been messing with the system while I’ve been gone?”

          Stuffing the note in my pocket, I bob my head at Dr. Weir. “Well…it’s McKay…has to have that something extra, you know?”

          “With what?” McKay asks. “What was that?”

          “I’ll let you get cleaned up and rested. Dr. Beckett would like to see you first though. Briefly.”

          I expected that much. “Thank you…again.” And then I hustle down the corridor towards the infirmary.

          I hear McKay yelling after me. “Eight hours! No more. And someone turn off this goody-two-shoes song!”

          Beckett gives me the usual once over, it takes less than ten minutes. He hands me more supplements and makes me eat two granola bars as I sit in front of him then orders me to bed for at least nine hours. I sigh gratefully. “After my shower…that’s the plan.” Before leaving, I glance back at him. “Dr. McKay expects me back in eight hours.”

          Beckett flashes his dimples. “I’ll have a word with him.”

          Some people are just so cool!

          At my door, I know he’s in there even before I palm the crystal. It’s like the whiskers twitching, but not. More like a flutter in my belly and that tell-tale tingle that hits me a bit lower. He’s standing in front of me, fully clothed…in his black shirt... I love that shirt. I drop my bag, practically drooling at the sight of him. He grins at me, showing the dimples and I sigh happily. “Can we get naked now?”

Open Arms - Journey

          John grabs me up and kisses me hard. “That’s the plan.” He caresses my face with his hands, studying me as though I’m some sort of apparition. His eyes are so green today, though I can still catch the subtle blue and brown mixed in. He looks so pretty.

          Ugh! And I must look like crap!

          Yet, here he is, holding me close, peering at me with that smoldering gaze that gives me all kinds of tickles. But as he tries to run his fingers through my hair, they get tangled in the mess. I groan with disappointment but he simply chuckles, sexy as hell. A moment later, he’s leading me into the bathroom to a tub full of bubbles.

          “Oh yeah,” I sigh and he takes his time undressing me. Oh heaven.

          He sits in the tub behind me and reminds me how attentive he can be to a task. Especially as he washes my whole body with soothing, gentle strokes. He’s exceptionally benevolent in his ministrations and it makes me melt. Later, he massages my hair and scalp with tons of lathery shampoo. His strong hands and fingers, usually so powerful, are amazingly tender. I close my eyes and enjoy the sensations.

          I don’t realize I’ve fallen asleep until I feel myself floating through the air. Dr. Beckett must’ve slipped a sleeping pill in with the vitamins. Damn. I vaguely remember John standing me up and plying a towel to my whole body. Yes, I do remember because he asked me about the bruise on the back of my leg. I don’t think I got out much on the topic though…very fuzzy.

          But I’m in his arms and that’s all I care about. Then I’m settled between my crisp, expensive sheets and I’m alone. My eyes pop open. John’s getting dressed! “Stay,” I manage groggily. “Please.” I hold out my hand and he grabs it. Leaving on his boxers, he slides into bed next to me and I actually snuggle up against his warm chest, my hand still holding his. “You make me wanna cuddle.”

          He chuckles lightly, now able to comb his fingers through my damp but nicely conditioned hair. “I do, huh?”

          Oh, that feels so nice.

          “Yep…bastard.”

          The rumble in his chest makes me smile and then I’m gone.

 

17.5

          John slips out while Angie sleeps deeply and for once peacefully. Beckett must have slipped her something because she was just as eager to see John as he was to see her.

          He told Elizabeth he was taking a couple hours off-duty and she didn’t argue. She had to know he planned on spending that time with Angie, but if it hurt her, he couldn’t tell. Ever since he and Angie openly started dating, Elizabeth’s been more closed off to him. She’s not unfriendly or hostile, just…cooler, more professional. She still banters with him, but with reservations. And if he touches her even a little, she pulls away.

          That’s what she’s doing. She’s pulling away. She’s pushing him toward Angie so he’s happy. She’s stepping back so she’s safe.

          Damn, how’d this get so complicated?

          It hurts that there’s this wedge between them. He loves Elizabeth, he knows it. But he also realizes that if he isn’t in love with Angie already, he soon will be. He can’t help it. She’s amazing. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. They are great together. And he relaxes around her in a way that he can’t with anyone else…not even Elizabeth.

          Angie doesn’t make any demands on him. At least none he doesn’t want anyway. They have an amazing number of things in common, plus she gets his sense of humor and he likes her dry wit as well. She’s clever and doesn’t let him get away with things…unless she wants him to. He doesn’t have to be on-guard, worrying about her stress level or if she’s working too hard. And they laugh…a lot. He likes to laugh. Since coming here, he hasn’t done too much of that.

          But there’s still a secret part to Angie he can’t reach. He feels it. She’s not totally open to him. She holds back. He knows on some level she’s afraid of him.

          But Elizabeth trusts him…completely. He needs that. Relies on it. And they’re good together too. Strong. And she’s been there for him, even if only during one of their silent balcony sessions, he felt her there. They need each other.

          ...that’s it!

          Elizabeth needs him and he needs her. Angie…he may need her because of their new connection… but he’s not so sure it goes both ways. That’s what she holds back from him. He still gets the impression that she could walk away in a moment’s notice. Turn her back on him even now.

          Elizabeth would never do that…

          Except she did.

          Damnit!

          It’s like he’s choosing between two runaway trains and each has only one passenger. If he chooses Angie, Elizabeth crashes. If he chooses Elizabeth, Angie crashes. Either way, someone’s gonna get hurt.

          Including me.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

18

          I stretch my arms languidly overhead, arching my back and straightening my legs to the tips of my toes as I wake up. Opening my eyes to darkness, I realize it’s nighttime on Atlantis.

          And I’m alone.

          A strange zap stings my stomach and it’s not from hunger…though that is kicking in. I’m pretty sure I know what’s wrong; I just don’t want to admit it to myself.

          Disappointed he’s gone.

          I said I didn’t want to admit it!

          I can’t believe I fell asleep on John. I didn’t even get a chance to enjoy it, I simply crashed. How ironic is that? All those days being wide awake and wanting nothing more than to bang the daylights out of the man and the moment I get him, I’m dead to the world.

          I blame McKay.

          Yep.

          Grumbling, I toss aside the top sheet, pull on my robe and go brush my teeth. My eyes are still sleep heavy and my brain’s completely mush, pretty sure I could fall right back into unconsciousness. So, after getting rid of the nasty mouth and dealing with bodily functions, I give in to the heaviness and flop face-down onto my bed, comfy in my old robe. I’m pleasantly drifting off when I hear my door open. I don’t bother opening my eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired after spending so much time doing nothing.

          Where’s all that extra energy I’m supposed to have?

          “She’s still asleep,” John whispers. He’s checking on me. That’s so sweet. I wonder who he’s talking to, though, not enough to open my eyes. “Sorry, Rodney, you’re going to have to wait.”

          Ah, he’s talking into the headset. McKay must be looking for me, wondering why I’m not on my way back through the gate with him. Well, that’s just too bad McSnarky. Do as the man says, wait. I’d give an evil laugh, but that would spoil the whole pretending to be asleep thing.

          “Then I’ll just have to tell Dr. Beckett you’re trying to override his medical orders. I’m sure Elizabeth would be very interested in hearing that…possibly making a report about it to the SGC.” He waits. “That’s what I thought. You’ll see her when she gets there. Sheppard out.”

          He comes over to my side, I yawn and roll over. “You lied.” When I open my eyes, he’s standing over me holding a tray of food.

          “I misspoke,” he says with a grin. “Big difference.” I stretch like a cat again then sit up, propping a pillow behind my back. John sets the tray on my lap then he picks up the fork. “Carson wanted you to eat up. Lots of protein. I made the omelet myself.”

          It’s pretty good size, John must have used the eggs we’ve acquired from Belkin. Those birds are weird-looking—remind me of a miniature velociraptor covered with feathers—but apparently very gentle and make good pets. However, they are hard to breed and they are lousy parents when they do make a chick, subsequently, they aren’t used for food themselves (probably taste as weird as they look). The best part about the non-fertilized eggs, they’re the size of potatoes. The expedition biologists are conducting experiments with cross-breeding Earth chickens transplanted to the mainland and the Belkin birds. Might help with the breeding and easing hunger out here in Pegasus.

          Maybe the scientists should consider cross-breeding with the enormous Ostrich five-pound egg…though I doubt they’d be pet-like if they kept the nasty demeanor of the Ostrich in the DNA.

          As for my immediate needs; there’s the pretty pink omelet (I said weird-looking), a variety of native and Earth fruit and several strips of crispy bacon, which smells like the real thing. I may adore animals, but I am a carnivore first and won’t apologize for it.

          “Mmm. A man who cooks? Mom would be so proud.”

          John smirks. “You should probably taste it first.” Using the fork, he cuts off a piece of omelet and lifts it to my mouth. “Open says me.”

          He’s so adorable, I have to play with him a little. Ever so slowly I part my lips, lean in and cover the fork with my lips and pull back, letting my tongue slip out to caress my top lip. His eyes don’t leave my mouth the whole time I chew; probably because I’m making ‘mmm’ sex noises to drive him crazy. When the food’s gone, John sets the tray aside and gently wipes my mouth with a napkin.

          “You back on duty?” I ask.

          “Nope. Bedtime.”

          “Really.”

          “Why?” There’s a twinkle in his eyes.

          I exaggerate a lip pucker. “Oh, no reason. I’m still hungry.”

          “Still?”

          “Mmm hmm.” John gets up to get me more food when I grab him by the collar of his lovely black shirt and pull his face so close to mine I see the bits of blue and green in his dilated eyes. “For you.”

          It seems like forever since I last kissed him. He’s so sweet and his lips so full. And I still see stars the moment his tongue rubs mine. I hope that never gets old. I could stay like this forever…well until we get to the even better part, then I can stay like that…

          John breaks the kiss to strip off his shirt that sexy way men do by grabbing at the collar behind his neck and pulling the shirt over his head; then his mouth is mine again even as he tosses the shirt aside. Before I know it, my robe’s gone and he’s gently positioning himself on top of me, using those beautiful arms of his to hold most of his weight. He stares into my eyes and grins, showing those lickable dimples. “Sleep is over-rated.

          He gladly takes on the task of easing my hunger. His mouth burns a trail of kisses across my jaw and down my neck to my chest where his hand’s teasing…yesthere. “Joh…nny,” I manage weakly.

          “Mmm?” The murmur vibrates against my sensitive skin and all the way down to my hoo-ha where his other set of magic fingers is already taking a toll on my higher brain functions.

          “I never…” Oh boy…

          Speak girl, just …okay that feels really good.

          Suddenly, he stops all the stuff that turns me into a whimpering idiot and stares down at me with lustful eyes. “You were saying?”

          I shake my head and blink the fuzzies away. “I…um…never got to finish my goals.”

          He grins sideways at me. “Isn’t that what we’re trying to do now?”

          I frown a little. “For me to seduce you. Thought that’s what you wanted. Why we had to wait so long. Right?”

          “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

          “Not anymore?”

          “You tell me…” he says as his lips and the tip of his tongue attack that spot between my ear and jaw, that spot that instantly makes me…ohgawd…and then his magic fingers start that stuff again and he’s growing harder, so ready for me. And I’m more than ready for him. I swear I’ve been wet for days just waiting…and waiting!

          “You’re…right,” I gasp. “…ummm…some…uhhh…other time.”

          His eyes lock onto mine. “Agreed.” And he seals it with a searing kiss just before slowly joining with me. His tongue mimics what’s happening between us, sending starburst of pleasure straight through my body.

 §

          He finally falls into blissful sleep after our third round. I’m resting my chin atop the back of my hand on his chest, simply staring at his beautiful face. The scruffy jaw leaves me feeling like I’ve been rolling around on sandpaper…but damn he looks so sexy with that shadow. I really enjoy a good stare, especially when it involves someone so… well, okay when it involves John.

          It’s probably wrong to compare, but I don’t remember spending this much time staring at Ryan. I mean, he was strong, built and damn handsome…but I’ve been thinking, okay, dwelling on the fact that nothing ever happened back then. Maybe I wasn’t in the L-word with him. I was definitely dependent, lonely and he was ridiculously gorgeous. He was also the only man I was permitted around for years. And he did everything in his power to make me feel as normal as possible given the circumstances, as well as make me feel safe…but does that constitute the L-word?

          I think the fact that I can’t even say it must be quite telling. I can tell Ronon because that’s family stuff. But fluttery, sugary, hugs, kisses and making…nope can’t say it.

          Tell John.

          What! Nope…however…

          Figuratively speaking, I’m still hungry, but I’m not out to kill the poor man. He’s an amazing lover, and as it turns out, quite the role player. It’s this insatiability that has me worried, for my sake as well as John’s. What if I never tire of him, but he does get tired of me? It is in the genetic make-up of all males to be fruitful and multiply with any number of females. Monogamy is biologically unsound…that’s where the L-word comes in to keep the status quo, well, status-quo.

          But the L-word has its own drawbacks. It can fade…get stale. People get bored and move on. Isn’t that why the divorce rate is so outrageous back on Earth? Not only that but it’s a four-letter word that can easily change into another four-letter word: hate. That’s where obsessions come from. People end up enjoying causing pain on those they previously claimed to L.

          Biology and the L-word don’t make sense. It can’t be trusted.

          So, when John whispers softly to me from the depths of dreamland—“I love you”—my body tenses, my heart races and I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of dread. But at the same time, I get that flutter in my belly and my brain tingles with joy…until he adds, “Elizabeth” on a sigh. And my breath disappears.

          My mind spins and my heart thumps hard against my ribs before, quite suddenly, seeming to stop completely. Now I know that’s stupid, if my heart stopped I’d be dead.

          I’m not dead.

          I’m…numb.

          My brain is quite blank. I really can’t think. Isn’t that the strangest thing in the world, not being able to think? I mean really, if I could show the inside of my head, I do believe it would be nothing more than a big empty black space right now.

          What does that mean? Am I pissed? Am I relieved? Have I gone completely bonkers?

          Am I dead?

          Since I have no answer, I slide out of the bed and go take a shower. I really don’t remember getting dressed, but somehow it happened. As I’m heading out the door, I take a glance back at the sleeping form in my bed.

          He’s so beautiful inside and out.

          I wish to my bones he was mine.

 

18.5

          It’s in her voice, in the way she calls his name that final time that he knows he doesn’t have to hold back and can enjoy his release. Angie isn’t excessively vocal when they’re together, but somehow John can tell the difference between the next to last and the last time she calls him Johnny.

          His mouth latches onto hers at the moment before he gives in. Her kiss makes it a thousand times more spectacular. He doesn’t know why. Maybe he doesn’t need to know.

          She never has to tell him what she wants because his every touch gets her trembling with excitement. He can kiss her anywhere, touch her anywhere and she’s his. He knows it. And he loves it. John figures it has to have something to do with the pheromone device’s lasting effects. He’s not delusional enough to believe his carnal talents can undo every woman this way. It’s different with Angie.

          Because she has the same effect on him.

          Panting, they break from the kiss but not from each other. John smooths away the sweat-matted curls from her cheek. She’s studying his face again. As if she’s memorizing every detail. Her fingers dance over his scruffy chin then delicately graze his bottom lip. John kisses her fingertips and she smiles.

          When they started going to the mess hall for dinner and she linked her pinky finger with his under the table, he’d get a tickle through his body. If her hand brushes his arm even innocently, he has to go over as much sports trivia as he can recall. And when she kisses him…all bets are off.

          John brushes his lips lightly over hers. She responds by threading her fingers into his hair and pulling him closer, eagerly welcoming him.

          Being apart for only a few days previously left them nearly deranged with headaches and pent-up passion. But now, everything’s different. Not that he doesn’t want her with him every second of every day, but she doesn’t have to be…physically anyway. Whether she knows it or not, Angie’s inside him. He feels her presence even if he can’t see her. Like when she came through the gate. He’d already left the Control Room but felt her return to The City even before the music started.

          The music. Atlantis seems happy to have him and Angie together. Lots of romance in the background of their endeavors. It’s never too loud but John still hears it when his mind isn’t otherwise occupied.

          Tonight, they were serenaded by Foreigner, Cher, Phil Collins, Air Supply and a ton of others. Even a few in French that came from someone else’s computer.

          John wraps his arms around Angie, lifting her and he rolls so that she’s lying flat on top of him, but then she’s rolling away and out of bed. She’s so visually stimulating that seeing her naked gets his blood pumping all over again. He’s not as tired as he should be. Somehow, she does that too him too. Usually, by now, he’d be halfway to unconsciousness, but everything changed when this woman came into his life. “Where are you going?” he pants.

          She steps toward the bathroom, glancing over her shoulder at him. “I have to get back. McSnarky’s waiting.”

          John’s out of bed in an instant and grabs her wrist, pulling her against him. “Let him wait.” Kissing her, he turns, pinning her into the corner where the wardrobe meets the bathroom wall. “He made me wait.”

          “Us,” she says huskily.

          “Right.” He kisses her hard, demanding and she’s battling him with the same fervor.

          Her arms snake around his neck and she hikes one leg over his hip, rubbing enticingly against him. Her teeth tug on his bottom lip then her tongue makes a slick trail down his neck to his collarbone. “There’s a question looming in girl’s poker night.”

          John looks into her eyes, passionate yet playful. “What question.”

          “Well,” she bats her lashes. “Two actually.”

          He kisses her neck and she coos with delight. “First one?”

          “On a scale of 1 to 10, how considerate a lover is John Sheppard?”

          He pulls back, raising an eyebrow. “And?”

          She grins. “20, easily.”

          John smiles back. “Second one?”

          She hesitates, then: “How alpha can The Lt. Colonel be?”

          “Alpha? As in…dog years?”

          She laughs heartily and John joins in. “Silly man.”

          “I’m guessing you are referring to that time in my room when we…”

          “Fucked like it was the end of time,” she grins at him.

          Considering how he lost hold on his inner animal and let it take over completely, he’s unsure why this would be an issue. Surely, she’s had enough of that, right? In all seriousness, John asks, “Do you really want to know?”

          She doesn’t blink or take her eyes from his. “Definitely,” she says breathlessly.

          He’s searching for any sign that she’s not one-hundred percent sure about this. She’s excited. Watching him with intrigue and a naughty smirk. He’s not going to hurt her, that’s assured, but he wants to be certain she knows that what she’s asking isn’t his usual game plan. He has to let go of restraint and just…give in. It’s a dark side of him he wasn’t prepared for that other time. It just happened. But if he actually considers…

          She waits for some sort of answer. Maybe the moral battle debating in his head shows in his eyes because her hands grasp his face and she kisses him lightly. “It’s okay, John,” she says. “I trust you.”

          There’s no fear in her eyes as there once was, no panic mounting. And for her to admit this, he knows that has to take a toll. Angie doesn’t offer her trust up easily, that’s for certain. How he managed to earn it, he’ll probably never know.

          It was beyond difficult the night she left…well the whole time she’s been gone hasn’t been a picnic, that’s for sure. Someone probably complained about the lack of cold water in Atlantis because John couldn’t get her off his mind.

          He still has her trapped in the corner. John pushes her leg down so she can stand on her own then pulls her hands from his face. The look of confusion will only increase as he starts to work on her. But as she should already know from past experience, he aims to please. Keeping his voice low, intimidating, John asks, “How old are you, Jax?”

          Her brows crease. “What?”

          He pulls her close, pushing her arms behind her back before pressing her into the corner again, effectively trapping her hands. “How old are you?” he demands.

          She narrows her gaze; a hint of a grin lifts the corner of her mouth. “Don’t you know it’s rude to ask a woman her age?”

          John raises a single brow and burrows his eyes into hers. His hands grip her shoulders tight before moving down and cupping her breasts, kneading them, pinching her nipples. “Before I’m done with you…you’ll beg to tell me.”

          Defiantly, she shakes her head and quirks a half-smirk. “Never gonna happen.”

          Damn, I’ve always liked a challenge. “Oh…but it will.” He hardens his gaze on hers. His right hand catches her behind the neck, gripping tight and a tremor shoots through her body. “And you’re gonna love every second of it.”

          “Is that a dare, Colonel?”

          His left hand skims over her tight stomach and the muscles flutter at his touch, arousing him even more. He’s so hard, he’s pulsing. He takes an immediate two-finger plunge making her gasp. “It’s a promise.”

          His mouth’s on hers in a hard, bruising kiss. She’s resistant, pushing him to take total command of the situation. He nips at her bottom lip, her breath catches, her mouth opens and he rather unceremoniously shoves his tongue inside, savagely tasting her, attacking her tongue in a battle of wills as her resistance continues even as she moans with pleasure.

          He’s not as rough as that other time, but he does pretty much manhandle her about the room. He takes her this way and that: hard against the wall, demanding on the floor, furiously against the desk, even back on the bed, turning her, twisting her into a pretzel, grinding hard any way he can without actually hitting that secret spot deep inside.

          Each time, he takes her to the brink but never lets her go over the edge. He pulls her back …leaving her whimpering and moaning for more. Then after her tension ebbs without fulfillment, he starts all over again. And every time he takes her to that spot he asks her the same question. “How old are you?”

          But she refuses to answer. She laughs. “I forget.” Egging him on to continue his torment.

          John’s out of options and practically drained from the exertion. He decides the Colonel in him is tired and certainly isn’t the way to tame this woman. He’s going to have to use more coercive techniques. She’s sprawled out on the bed, glistening with sweat, her legs over the side, one arm on her forehead, the other on her stomach, breath slowing. He stands above her, simply staring at the unbelievable combination of strength and vulnerability.

          John leans over her, careful not to let his skin touch hers. She’s staring at him with amusement. “You really think you can break me?”

          He studies her face. “I must admit, you are stubborn.”

          She grins. “Lots of practice.”

          “How’s that score by the way?”

          Her brows rise. “I’d go with 15.”

          “Hmm,” he sighs. He hadn’t been willing to let go completely on that front. “We’ll have to work on that.” Then he smiles at her. “Later.”

          Her eyes narrow. “What do you mean…later?”

          But he simply grins and starts kissing her neck, gentle, feather-light grazes. Only his mouth and tongue touch her skin and anytime she tries to get more of him, he firmly pushes her back down. He traps her hands under her, not effectively, but it does work for the most part as he feasts on her breasts again. She moans, lifting herself up toward him, giving herself to him…but at the same time, not giving in. He knows what to do, what makes her lose herself completely. His tongue dips into her belly button and she coos. But as he continues his travels even lower, planting a deep kiss on the inside of her right thigh, her head pops up. “That’s cheating!”

          She doesn’t have much time to protest, however, as her body trembles at his intimate invasion. She arches against him, murmuring incoherently. At one point he does hear the word ‘bastard’, however, and it makes him chuckle.

          Angie writhes under his attack, panting and crying out. When he knows she’s almost there, he stops once again, climbs over her, positioning himself so that she can feel him so close but still out of reach. “Tell me, baby,” he moans. “How old are you?”

          She’s trembling with need and tears drips over her temples. “Okay,” she gasps, fiercely catching his gaze.

          He lowers himself just a touch…exactly a touch and her hips vainly rise to meet him. “So,” he whispers against her mouth, teasing her lips with his own.

          “Finish first…then I’ll tell you.”

          “You first.”

          “Please, Johnny…”

          He’s lost in that dark chocolate gaze. Capturing her mouth, he does as she begs. She clings to him, wrapping her legs around his, her fingers digging into his back and they move together hard and fast. He grips her hips, pulling closer even as he lunges forward. He’s grunting into her neck and she’s moaning against his shoulder as they continue to collide. Then she’s crying out for him and he’s calling her name in a rush of bliss.

          They stay a tangle of limbs and he nibbles at her neck. “You’re turn.”

          Her fingers rummage through his hair, playing with it at the base of his neck, knowing how tantalizing that is to him. She takes a deep breath and sighs. “I can’t believe you gave up so easily.”

          “What!” John’s astounded. She laughs, her eyes ablaze with delight. He groans. “You said you’d tell me.”

          She laughs harder. “I didn’t promise, silly man.” Her fingers caress his pout.

          He face-drops into her mess of curls. “You’re evil.”

          She kisses his ear, still laughing. “I know.”

          John rolls away and they re-position themselves on the bed, her head resting on his shoulder. He plays with her hair as she tickles his chest. “So, you’re never gonna tell me?”

          “Is it that important?”

          “I’d prefer not being a dirty, old man robbing the cradle.”

          She gazes up at him with the most honest eyes he’s seen on her yet. “You’ll never be old, John.” Then she tosses her right leg over him and rolls so that she’s lying on top and can look right into his eyes. “And you’re impossibly sexy when dirty.” She rubs her breasts against him. “Does it really matter when we’re so good at this?”

          He laughs at that. “No, but‒”

          “Would you drop me like a hot coal?”

          “Hell no.”

          “Then what’s the problem?”

          She’s definitely got him where she wants him. He still can’t believe she lied to him so easily. How could he not have seen that? Seen something in her eyes to tell him she was still hiding from him. She spent years learning training secrets from her FBI handler, reading all sorts of books, even some about CIA techniques she mentioned. She’s also been playing roles practically her whole adult life. Sure, she says she trusts him, but…can he trust her?

          She’s watching him again. Her single brow arches and all he thinks is: damn that’s hot! She licks her lips and cocks her head. “How old do you think I am?”

          Oh, that’s a trick question aiming to get me in trouble. “I don’t know,” he chuckles. “That’s the whole point.”

          “What do you think?”

          “Well, I’m assuming, given the information…”

          “No, John. How old do I seem?”

          He sighs heavily and stares at her for a long moment. She’s not a kid, he knows that. She’s had too much life taken away. “Physically…I’m going the safe route with 25. But…”

          Her eyes widen with curiosity. “But?”

          “Don’t hit me. You seem older…like early 30’s maybe.”

          She sniffs, puckers her lips in the most adorable fashion and seems to consider his answer thoughtfully. Then she leans in and tempts him with a feathery kiss. “You’re 36. So, you can’t possibly be robbing the cradle…right?”

          “Depends on if I’m right or not.”

          Before she kisses him, she smiles. “Pretend you are.”

          John’s lost in the taste of her kiss. They’re making up time. At least that’s how he’s going to rationalize this in the morning when he steps into the briefing room barely awake, sore everywhere but wearing an enormous grin plastered on his face.

          She starts to move, rubbing her glorious chest against his again and one hand dives lower, gently teasing him. Even after the last workout, his body instantly responds to her touch. His excitement builds to the point of no return. Angie breaks away from his lips. Her hands rest on his chest as she pushes herself up until she’s sitting on his lap, rocking in slow circles, driving him nuts as his arousal hardens to the point of pain.

          John has to hold her, touch her all over. He sits up and wraps his arms around her back, squeezing her body tight as his mouth finds the pulsing artery on her neck. Her head falls back and she moans with pleasure as her fingers dig into his hair again.

          Angie smiles, kisses him before gripping his shoulders and moving with definite purpose. His hands glide to her hips as she rises and drops with increasing speed, massaging him with those all-powerful internal muscles. He captures a taut nipple with his mouth and she pushes at the back of his head, crushing him to her chest so he can devour even more of her.

          John moves to the other side and she gasps a hollow ‘yes’ as she continues to drive them into a pleasure-filled frenzy. It’s not long before they both cry out again, this time completely spent. John drops back onto the bed as his whole body spasms and Angie collapses on top of him.

          Moment’s later, she’s lying beside him, smiling as a soft golden glow appears behind her dark hair, encircling the top of her head. She looks unbelievably beautiful in that light, ethereal even. He’s amazed by her, how she makes him…he feels warm, calm and full of peace as Angie touches her lips to his in a gentle kiss. As she pulls away, their eyes lock and the words rush forth before he even thinks about them. “I love you.”

          There’s a gasp and they both turn to the suddenly open door. And there she stands, watching, tears staining her face. “Elizabeth,” he sighs.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

19

          “Dr. Weir?”

          Elizabeth jerks up when a hand touches her shoulder. There’s a piece of paper plastered to her cheek. Damn, fell asleep here again! Her blurry vision takes a moment to clear. “Oh…Ja..Angie.”

          The younger woman chuckles as she carefully peels the paper from Elizabeth’s face. “All work and no sleep makes Dr. Weir a cranky leader, you know.”

          Elizabeth tries not to blush as she leans back in her chair. “I was sleeping,” she says with a bit of irony. “You woke me.”

          Angie folds her arms as she leans a hip against the desk. “You know that’s not restful. You’ll get a kink in your neck that’ll last a week. I’ll set up a time for some deep tissue,” she adds with a wink.

          A twinge in Elizabeth’s right shoulder zings upward, proving the new masseuse right on target. Ignoring the sharp pain, Elizabeth asks: “Why are you up so late?”

          “Early, actually. I’m on my way back to PXT-705. It’s nearly lunchtime there. My pals in the kitchen even put together a goody basket for me.” She motions to Chuck sitting at the dialing device. “He’s just waiting for your OK.”

          “Right.” She looks Angie over. “Are you feeling better?”

          She offers a slight smile, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “Sure. All kinds of relaxed.”

          “No more homicidal tendencies, I take it?” Elizabeth grins.

          “Not right now…but Dr. McKay is…well…”

          “Dr. McKay,” Elizabeth finishes with a nod. “I’m sure you can keep him in his place.”

          “Dr. Beckett’s ordered me to return in a max of sixteen hours. I don’t think even McKay can drive me to murder in that time.”

          Elizabeth’s brows rise. “You obviously don’t know him very well.” They chuckle at Rodney’s expense. Elizabeth senses something’s unsettling Angie. “Is everything all right? You’re not ill‒”

          She holds up a hand. “No, no. Dr. Beckett’s just being a mother hen…you know. Not that I mind. He’s a sweet man.”

          Elizabeth agrees. She gets up and straightens her shirt with a sharp pull on the hem. “So…ready to go?”

          Angie sighs as she slips away from the desk and clasping her hands behind her back. She seems pensive; troubled.

          “Angie?”

          With a twitch of her head, the office door swishes closed. “You once mentioned we could talk…as friends.”

          Elizabeth spreads her hands. “Of course.”

          Angie nods, taking a step closer. “So…can I call you Liz?”

          Elizabeth grimaces. “Beth works for me.”

          “Okay. Beth.” She takes a deep breath and holds it for a long moment. Her eyes narrow and seem to be searching Elizabeth’s. “As your friend, I’m telling you: don’t let him get away.”

          “What?”

          Angie presses her lips together before taking another step closer and even with the door closed, she keeps her voice low. Her dark eyes full of emotion…caring. “You mumble in your sleep.”

          “Mumble?”

          “About John.”

          Oh God! She’d been dreaming about him again. She thought she had herself under pretty good wraps, but if she’s talking in her sleep…damn, anyone could have heard anything!

          “It’s okay.” Angie smiles softly.  It’s not like you were yelling or making sex noises.”

          Now she’s uncomfortable. Elizabeth’s always embarrassed easily. It’s not like she’s had a lot of practice with girl-talk. Especially with someone so…young. “Good to know.” Her eyes widen. “What did I say?”

          Angie’s eyes close then and again she takes a deep breath. She brings her arms around her front in a tight hug... a hug of comfort? “Same thing as him, actually.” Her eyes open and there’s a flash of such intense sadness and then…nothing. Somehow, Angie flips a mental switch; her eyes lose all emotion and her face gets slack. Kate’s right about that Jax-thing she does. Do not play poker with this woman.

          “What’s happened?”

          “It’s not important…to me. But it is to you. To the both of you.”

          “I don’t understand.”

          She hugs herself tighter, drops her gaze and stares at her feet, tapping her boot toe on the floor. “I won’t come between you.” From under her brows, Angie catches Elizabeth’s gaze again. “I can’t.” She bites her bottom lip, a little too hard and Elizabeth’s sure she’ll see blood in a moment. “Whatever reasons you have for not being together…” She shakes her head. “They’re not worth it.”

          Elizabeth sucks in air as her heart slams into her chest. “But‒”

          Angie holds up her hand. “They’re. Not. Worth. It,” she says again with definite emphasis.

          “What are you saying? Are you and he not…”

          Angie hangs her head, again studying her feet. “Together?” She bobs a nod. “Physically…and I’ll stay with him as long as I’m welcome. But...I’m not who he wants.”

          “I don’t believe that. I’ve seen you together. And trust me, he’s happy with you.” Elizabeth comes around her desk, closing the distance between them. “And I know you’re happy with him.”

          She lifts her head, sucking air through her nose then sighs heavily. “I think…he settled for what he could have. Because you denied him.” Their eyes lock for a long moment until Elizabeth has to look away. “Tell me I’m wrong.” When Elizabeth doesn’t say anything…can’t say anything, Angie turns toward the door, as it opens for her, tossing a glance over her shoulder. “Friend to friend, Beth, just kiss him…once.” She narrows her gaze, her mouth quirking into a wicked half-smirk. “I dare you.”

 §

          I dare you.

          Those three little words kept Elizabeth from sleeping the rest of the night. She tossed and turned when she finally landed in bed, getting the sheet tangled up in her legs.

          Angie said nothing more as she went down the stairs and waited for the wormhole to engage. But as she stepped up to the event horizon, she glanced back at Elizabeth. And in much the same manner as John, she waved and smiled: a friendly smile with a hint of mischief in it that sent a shiver down Elizabeth’s spine.

          She actually means for me to do it. In that dare, she was practically ordering Elizabeth to take the chance. Risk everything in one moment. Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea. One kiss. Could mean nothing. Could mean everything. How long has she wanted to do exactly that? Just to know what it’s like to touch John’s lips, feel him close.

          But she’s also been terrified of that exact thing. What if she realizes she can’t go on without him…but he can without her? Their friendship would never be the same. He would forever look upon her with pity.

          He said he loves me.

          Weeks ago. And then I walked away. He could hate me now for all I know.

          But Angie wasn’t lying. She covered it up quickly enough, but the sadness in her eyes was real. She told Elizabeth the painful truth. She threw down the gauntlet basically. Giving Elizabeth the opportunity to fight for the man she loves.

          But I can’t! He’s my second in command. Caldwell…Landry, the IOA they’d use this to take away Atlantis from at least one of us. And this is our home.

          What have I done?

          In her effort to push John into Angie’s arms, has she made things worse for the other woman? She clearly adores him. But to love someone and know they don’t love you back…it’s worse than being alone. And just like Elizabeth, Angie feels John would only be happy with someone else and is willing to give him up to ensure his happiness.

          Elizabeth can’t fathom he would have said or done something to hurt Angie, not consciously. But subconsciously? She hinted that he’d said something, probably in his sleep. He’s more than likely not even aware of it.

          The gate activates as Elizabeth’s on her way out of the office. The technician, Rosemary, gives her the affirmative on the IDC. “It’s the research team ma’am. They’re bringing back the removable artifacts from the lab for study.”

          “Lower the shield.”

          Everyone comes through the gate except Rodney and Angie. Rodney wants to stay as long as possible and squeeze all he can from Angie’s ability to jump-start the lab power. His theory about Angie being a descendant of Janus is not only fascinating but quite logical given Atlantis’s ‘crush’ on her.

          Maybe that’s why I like her so much. Of course, according to Rodney, it could just be the pheromones. He does have a point about her popularity since that incident. Seems quite a few people like her now. Elizabeth would go so far as to say they adore her and feel that she can do no wrong.

          Except Rodney.

          Elizabeth has to smile at that one. Of all the people in The City not to be affected by Angie’s pheromones, it’d have to be the one person who made it all happen… accidentally of course.

          Still. Elizabeth liked her before it all happened and so did many others like Carson, Jack, and Ronon. Even though she managed to keep a low profile, Angie seemed pleasant enough to be around. Well, for the most part.

          Downstairs, the others stroll in. From the looks of it, the scientists are excited about the discoveries. They’re chatting incessantly as they head toward the labs with their boxes. Elizabeth waves hello to them and she’s spotted by Dr. Katriana Morgan who rushes up the stairs. “Dr. Weir?”

          “Yes.”

          “Dr. McKay and Jax are remaining, of course. He’s inclined to download the database into the portable hard drives as much as possible.”

          “Good,” Elizabeth smiles and nods ready to leave the doctor to her work.

          “Your pardon, doctor…Jax did wish me to relay a message.” Elizabeth’s not sure she wants to hear it. The brit’s brow wrinkles in confusion. “She said: ‘Tell her, I double-dare her to get a full physical.’” The blush immediately rises up Elizabeth’s neck and into her now burning cheeks. Dr. Morgan’s confusion turns to concern. “Are you quite all right, Dr. Weir? You aren’t ill, are you?”

          “I’m fine. It’s a…personal joke…between friends.”

          Dr. Morgan nods, but her eyes narrow. “I see. Very well. I’m quite certain you have much work to do.”

          Elizabeth jabs a thumb over her shoulder at the briefing room. “Meeting, actually.” Dr. Morgan nods again then quickly heads down the corridor. Elizabeth doesn’t know if she should laugh or start making a homicide list of her own. Angie might become quite the handful as a friend.

          A double-dare indeed!

          Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth counts to ten then goes into the briefing room in a rush. Two teams of eyes turn to her immediately; the only set missing is, of course, Rodney. Major Lorne’s team and Col. Sheppard’s are preparing for two separate off-world missions.

          His eyes settle on her the moment she enters and before he has a chance to cover, she sees guilt there. She knows that look, seen it countless times when they’ve lost a member of the expedition. John always takes those losses personally, as does Elizabeth. But this look is different, fleeting, and Elizabeth gets a sharp pang in her chest.

          Clearing her throat, she starts the briefing as she takes her seat. “Major Lorne. Doctors Brown and Nileson will be joining your team to planet M2Z-546 to study the resources and ruins you found on the last trip. The planet’s unpopulated, correct?”

          “According to the scan, yes. I might add, if all parameters are met, 546 would make a decent beta site since the gate is on the planet and it’s quite tropical actually. The Wraith ships have already passed it by.”

          “Good to know.” She glances at John but doesn’t meet his gaze. Her eyes continuously lower to his lips. I dare you. She has to shake her head to remove Angie’s voice from inside. He does have great lips. No. Stop it. This is business. “Col. Sheppard. I understand you don’t believe a second trip to M7D-343 is necessary?”

          He leans back in his chair rather slowly and a slight wrinkle in his forehead tells her he’s stiff, probably from sparring with Teyla or Ronon. “It’s a wasteland. Literally.”

          “How do you mean?”

          He cocks his head. “Seems it’s actually used as a dumping ground for a lot of other planets. Garbage.”

          That’s a first. Elizabeth never realized some of the populations out here could be as destructive to natural environments as they are on Earth. “Really.” He nods, making a face. She asks, “Any signs of civilization?”

          John shakes his head. “We circled the planet, ran scans. There’s nothing there. Just lots of sand and the aforementioned garbage.”

          “Very well. I do have another address. P4T-320.” She shows them the gate symbols. “Initial recon only, nothing overt.”

          “I know this planet,” Ronon says. “We don’t want to go there.”

          Elizabeth’s eyes widen. “Why not? Wraith?”

          Ronon glances at Teyla and she smirks slightly before shaking her head. Elizabeth catches the looked between them. “Teyla? What is it?”

          The Athosian woman sighs trying to hold in a chuckle. “I know of this address as well, Dr. Weir. The planet is named Phobos. It is not a place to send…” she clears her throat. “Men.”

          Now, Elizabeth’s intrigued. She looks around at the confusion coursing through the men in the room. “Please explain.”

          Ronon and Teyla share another interesting glance then she leans forward and rests her arms on the table, clasping her hands together. “The population is primarily female. They are spirited warriors, healers, and farmers. However, they are not as inclined to… associate with men as we are used to.”

          Elizabeth’s brows wrinkle. She can tell that Teyla’s doing her best not to offend anyone. “Just tell me straight out.”

          Teyla clears her throat again and a little smile curls her lips. “Men are quite rare there and are considered…property on this world. Slaves. Many stories have told of young men being stolen from other planets, as well.”

          Ronon’s face turns crimson... something she’s never associated with the hardy warrior. Obviously, the ‘slave’ part isn’t the entire story. “As in…?”

          Ronon sighs heavily and Teyla’s hand covers his. She looks Elizabeth directly in the eyes. “For means of pleasure and procreation…only.”

          Ah…“I see.”

          “One male may be required to service up to ten females,” Teyla adds for clarification, but Elizabeth already got it and gives Teyla a slim smile as silent permission to stop explaining.

          John leans in, staring hard at Ronon. Obviously, he understands Teyla’s explanation. “And you left there? On purpose?”

          The men on Lorne’s team chuckle but a glance from Ronon stifles them. “When I convinced them of the tracking device, they permitted me to leave. Yes.” He growls. “But there were others who could not escape.” He glares at the snickering soldiers. “Many would have preferred a Wraith culling.”

          That silences the snickers instantly. Elizabeth claps her hands. “Okay then. No P4T-320.” She starts to rise. “Then, Colonel, your team’s on stand-down for today. Unless you have‒”

          “No…” he looks to Teyla and Ronon. “We’re good.”

          “Very well. Major…your team should be ready to leave in an hour.”

          Lorne nods. “Yes, ma’am.”

          “Dismissed.” Everyone disperses and Elizabeth heads to her office. John’s following, though he seems a little indecisive about it. She glances over her shoulder; he’s moving slower than usual, but there’s a silly grin on his face. Shaking her head, she continues to her office. By the time she’s sitting at her desk, he manages to arrive at her door, looking sheepish.

          He knocks even though the door’s open. “Can I come in?”

          She waves him forward. “Something I can do for you, John?” That guilty look flashes in his eyes again but is quickly displaced by another grin. “John?”

 19.5

          Sitting in the briefing room, John can’t get the dream out of his head. At first, he hadn’t even realized it was a dream, until things got…weird.

          The look on Elizabeth’s face when she stood in the doorway—hearing him declare his feelings for Angie—made his heart hurt. And then the players switched on him. Angie was in the doorway and Elizabeth was lying next to him in the bed and the same feelings were clearly for Elizabeth, but the look on Angie’s face made his heart hurt. It’s the runaway trains colliding with him standing in the middle of the tracks and he’s powerless to stop the ensuing bloodbath.

          John has no illusions that if he chooses to stay with Angie, Elizabeth will slip further out of his grasp, their friendship will remain, but on a different level. And should she find someone else—he can’t…no he won’t be able to see her with another man—it would kill him! But at the same time, if he ends things with Angie, she’ll cut herself off from him completely and he can’t even consider losing that connection. He wants them both. And he knows that’s wrong. It’s unfair to all three of them to be torn this way.

          Damn, Dr. Heightmeyer could probably write a book based on my indecisiveness.

          It’s odd for Elizabeth to be the last one into a briefing. She looks tired and on edge which shoots to the core of John’s protectiveness. She’s not getting enough sleep, not eating enough…she’s under too much stress. She needs to relax. If she’d only let him help…

          Elizabeth clears her throat and starts the briefing as she takes her seat. “Major Lorne.”

          God, what is wrong with me! I just spent several hours with another woman doing a whole lot of relaxing and yet here I am, staring at my boss and contemplatingsomeone just shoot me now!

          Elizabeth nods. “Good to know.”

          He tries to meet her gaze. Sometimes he can tell just by looking at her what’s wrong. But she’s not being cooperative. She’s straightforward with everyone else, but with him, she’s avoiding his eyes. Where is she looking, his chin?

          The meeting progresses rather quickly, and he’s pretty much on autopilot through the whole thing; answering when required, but not really listening. His attention is split between wanting to look into Elizabeth’s eyes and determine what’s wrong versus thinking about why Angie didn’t say goodbye when she left—and why didn’t she take her bag of supplies this time? Or even her laptop?

          When he woke in Angie’s room alone, he wasn’t surprised to find she’d set the alarm on her way out. He’s noticed little things about her: she worries about others, does the unexpected to make their lives easier.

          Like with Teyla and Ronon. John knows how attached Angie is to Ronon. She relies on him more than anyone. Their TV show ‘dates’ are one of her biggest joys in life besides skating. Something she admitted to John during their bubble bath yesterday. At the time, John didn’t think much of it. She was exhausted and babbling about a lot of things. Including giggling about getting almost orgasmic tingles from a bottle, which he really wanted her to elaborate on but she fell asleep.

          This secret attention to others sheds a lot of light on Angie’s priorities. John knows, from Ronon, that Angie has canceled the last couple of dates, choosing instead to turn in early—though John seriously doubts she slept—which required Ronon to find something else to do with his time. And somehow Teyla happened to be available at exactly those times. John’s sure that the sacrifices on Angie’s part are precisely why he now catches Teyla and Ronon discretely holding hands or giving each other significant glances.

          Like now. What’s this about a planet full of women and male sex slaves? “And you left there? On purpose?” he asks Ronon.

          In his usual gruff manner, Ronon explains the hardship then Elizabeth adjourns the meeting. Having nothing to do for the rest of the day leaves John with…nothing to do, actually. He sees the look Teyla gives Ronon and as the two leave, John catches Ronon’s hand firmly on Teyla’s upper arm, guiding her away and down the corridor.

          Looks like I’m not gonna be the only one getting a workout.

          If things were normal, he’d follow Elizabeth and bother her for a while. So why doesn’t he? She obviously needs some distraction from work. I could get her to play hooky. He knocks even though the door is open. “Can I come in?”

          She waves him forward. “Something I can do for you, John?”

          Her voice spins him back into that dream. It’s not the words she used, but close enough. As Angie turned to leave, the door closed and Elizabeth’s hand skimmed his chest so delicately his breath caught. “I have something for you, John,” she said, then kissed him.

          “John?”

          He shakes his head, clearing the cobwebs. “No…I’m good. I was wondering…you hungry?”

          She points to the half-eaten muffin on her desk. “Not really.”

          John cocks his head. “That’s not a decent breakfast. You need real food.”

          She flashes her professional ‘I’m-humoring-him’ grin. “I have real work to do.”

          John scratches at his head. He’s in a bind and knows it. She must see something’s wrong because she gets up, closes the door then leans a hip against her desk; her eyes full of concern. “What is it?”

          He takes a deep breath and then spills. “Here’s the thing…I’m in an impossible situation and I need advice, so like any guy I’m supposed to go to my best friend. The problem is is that my best friend is part of the situation, the impossible one...” She starts to say something but he’s too fast and cuts her off. “And so, going to my best friend for advice may be in my best interest, but not necessarily the thing to do because said best friend could get hurt...and I can’t live with that.”

          John closes the gap between them, capturing her eyes. There’s a combination of worry and panic in her jade gaze. She licks her lips and his eyes instantly go there, but a moment later he’s staring into hers again. “You’ve been pulling your best friend card out of the deck since I told you I love you.”

          “I’m sorry, but it’s the only‒”

          “Dammit. It’s not the only way!”

          “John…”

          “I only started seeing Angie because you told me to.”

          “But I’ve seen you together. You like her.”

          “I’m in love with her,” he says rather quickly, forgetting for a moment who his best friend really is. “Oh, god, Elizabeth I’m sorry.”

          She’s obviously shocked by the announcement but shakes it off as she leaves her desk and moves towards the back of her office, far away from him. “It’s all right. I already figured that out, remember.”

          John follows her. “Well, I just realized it. And…it’s driving me crazy.”

          “What…why?”

          He grabs her by the upper arms, holding her firmly. “Because I’m still in love with you.” Her hands flatten against his chest. She doesn’t even try to pull away. Her eyes won’t meet his; she’s focusing on his lips. John leans in closer until she’s forced to look at him, see him. “Do you want me to kiss you, Liz?” Even to him, his voice sounds like a husky growl.

          “I…no…I‒”

          But he does anyway and it’s…amazing. Innocent and timid, but so right. And she’s kissing him back. A tiny whimper escapes from her throat and her hands grip his collar, pulling him closer. He immediately releases her arms and one of his hands goes to the back of her neck as the other finds the small of her back. He brings her body in line with his; she’s so soft against him, fitting perfectly. John moans with longing. Their lips part and each welcomes a deeper, more passionate kiss.

          When they finally separate, they’re both panting. John doesn’t release his hold on her; instead, he grazes her cheek with his lips until he reaches her ear and whispers. “Tell me how to choose…please.”

          Her forehead hits his shoulder and her body’s shaking. She’s crying silently and he gently grasps her face then lifts her head so he can look at her. She sighs as tears drip down her cheeks. “Tell me you don’t love me, Elizabeth.”

          “I…can’t.” She exhales hard; a shudder runs through her.

          “Then tell me you don’t want me like I want you.” Her eyes drop and she shakes her head. John sighs. “So, the only reason we aren’t together is because of work?”

          Her gaze meets his again, this time full of fire. “I love my job, John. I love Atlantis. But I can’t do it without you. Without your support and your expertise. I can’t risk losing you…not for anything.”

          Taking a deep breath, she steps away, turns her back on him and wipes her hands over her face to clear the tears. But John’s not ready to give up just yet. He clasps his hands to her shoulders, squeezing slightly and presses his mouth to her cheek. A shiver runs through her at his touch. “What if we could make it work? Make everyone see that our feelings won’t get in the way.”

          She spins out of his grasp. “But they already do, John. Don’t you get that? Everyone knows I worry about your team more than the others. Whenever you get into trouble…get hurt‒”

          “Is that ever going to change?” Elizabeth shakes her head and his heart does a happy dance. Not that he enjoys making her worry, but the fact that she does makes him feel special. “Does it affect how you run things? How often you send my team off-world?”

          “No.”

          “Does it make you question your judgment and give me special treatment?”

          “No.”

          “Does it keep you from kicking my ass when I make a call you don’t agree with?”

          She gives a little smile. “No.”

          “Then there’s no problem.”

          She bites her lip and closes her eyes. With a shake of her head, she asks, “And what about Angie?”

          And there it is. It’s rather a sharp pain, that icicle that stabs right into his heart, nearly stopping it. The entire reason for coming in here was to figure out how to solve his dilemma and yet there’s still no solution. He is in love with Angie. He can’t walk away from her any more than he can walk away from Elizabeth.

          “She’s so in love with you John.”

          She is? He catches Elizabeth’s haunted gaze. “She said that?” Would that make things easier, knowing that I have two women voicing their love for me?

          “She didn’t have to.” Elizabeth drops to the edge of her sofa. “She practically offered to give you up.”

          “What?”

          “I don’t know what happened, but…something did. She thinks you chose her as the consolation prize. That you don’t really want her.”

          A sudden return to the dream and he remembers his exact words. I love you followed by Elizabeth. God! If he said that out loud…if Angie heard that…!

          Elizabeth sighs, flashing a strained smile. “And by the look of shock and terror you’re sporting, I’m assuming she’s wrong.”

          John scrubs his hands over his face and groans. “This whole thing is wrong!”

          Elizabeth comes over and rubs his shoulder sending electric jolts right through him. “I’ve told you that I’m not willing to risk losing Atlantis…not even to be with you. Shouldn’t that make it easier?”

          “You’d think, huh.” But it doesn’t. He can see the pain in her eyes. He knows what’s in her heart as well as his own. And he knows what she tastes like now. And he wants more…all of her. John shakes his head. “Women!”

          And Elizabeth chuckles coolly. “Can’t live with ‘em…can’t shoot ‘em.” Off his raised brows, she adds: “That’s what my dad always used to say.”

          “I think I need to go…talk with Angie.”

          She smiles, all professional again. “That can easily be‒”

          The City-wide alarm blares jarring both of them. “Unscheduled off-world activation!” Rosemary declares over the speaker system. John and Elizabeth rush out of her office to the Control board. Rosemary glances at them. “It’s Dr. McKay’s IDC.”

          “Lower the shield.”

          Moments pass with no one coming through. Elizabeth clicks her headset. “Rodney?” She looks at John and shakes her head. “Dr. McKay…are you there?”

          John turns towards the wormhole. Suddenly, two bodies fly backward through the event horizon and land hard on the floor. John races down the stairs; Elizabeth following on his heels. McKay’s howling and gripping his right shoulder. There’s an unknown man lying unconscious next to him, a gun in his hand. The gate squad immediately disarms the man and keeps him under guard.

          John gets to McKay’s side. He’s writhing in pain, his face beet red and his arm dangling oddly. John recognizes a dislocated shoulder on sight. “Beckett, medical emergency in the gate room,” he calls into the headset.

          “Rodney, what happened?” Elizabeth asks.

          McKay’s dazed and in too much pain to pay attention. John kneels next to him, grabs his face in two hands and forces the scientist to focus. “McKay! Where’s Ang..Jax? Where’s Jax!”

          For a moment there’s no recognition in the man’s eyes. And then they widen, alert and horrified and John’s heart leaps into his throat. With his free hand, McKay points at the other man. “He shot her…she’s dead!”

₪†₪

Chapter Text

Who's in Control

20

           Acastus watches from the tree line as the group maneuvers around and within the ruins of the old temple. They all dress alike; a uniform not seen among travelers to this world, but he recognizes it. He also knows who to look for. He was surprised to see them return in such numbers considering he and his men had found nothing of interest among the debris once their post was abandoned the other night.

          Two nights ago, he’d followed the young woman from the spirit house and watched from a discreet distance within the trees. He saw enough to convince him there was something worthwhile about the ruins to draw such attention. After they left through the Ancient ring, Acastus returned to the temple with his deputies and they searched, finding nothing of interest aside from the useless console, dirt, and rocks. Disappointed, he figured the small group had taken their findings and left for good.

          Until they arrived en-masse early this morning.

          “Commander?” He lowers the long-range glasses and clicks his communication device. “Go ahead, Lucia.”

          “A traveler has come through the Ancestral ring. I believe it is the female from before.”

          Really. Acastus was under the impression she was not a willing participant in the excavation. He wonders why she would return. “Is she alone?”

          “Yes, Commander.”

          Without a further word, Acastus leaves his post and rushes through the woods toward the Ancestral ring. The woman intrigues him, as well as his men. They’ve never seen a female drink as they do without losing her stomach in the process. No woman in town goes into the spirit house for refreshment.

          Her attire marked her as a traveler; her dress not previously seen worn by traders, however. And interestingly, she does not match the others in her group. Something’s different about this woman…he could tell from her eyes and the way she carried herself, always aware of her surroundings; unlike most females he has met. Though, at the same time, something about her gnaws at him. Something familiar.

          Something impossible, of course. Still, that feeling drew him to follow her into the night, watching in amused silence as the drink made its way through her blood and she became intoxicated, dancing and falling in the field, laughing. Then she attacked the man who refused to let her go home. The man he would just as soon kill…and still might.

          The ruins have been abandoned for so long most of the town’s people don’t remember they exist. Not being a native of this world, however, Acastus made a point of surveying the land for various reasons before choosing to settle here on a permanent basis with his small troop of men. The town’s people work hard and keep to themselves, don’t ask questions and easily accepted his authority once an off-world trader became violent. Acastus ended that dispute easily and with the thanks of the vendor. He and his men have been welcomed ever since.

          Acastus and his men live outside of town, within the woods where they are safe from potential enemies who might find it necessary to follow them here and make trouble. Acastus does not tolerate trouble-makers.

          He hits the field of the ring; the woman begrudgingly makes her way in the direction of the temple. Dressed as before—unlike those in the ruins— her attire dark as night and her eyes covered by something equally dark. She’s carrying a wooden basket by a handle and looking up at the sky, talking—no, tuning…something strange he’s never heard.

Don't Let Me Get Me - Pink

          “So, doctor, doctor…Won't you please prescribe me something…A day in the life of someone else? 'Cause I'm a hazard to myself…”

          Acastus moves further through the trees so that when he approaches her, she will not ascertain the direction of his origin. She walks at a leisure pace while he moves with precision and speed giving him the advantage.

          “Don't let me get me no…I'm my own worst enemy…It's bad when you annoy yourself…So irritating no…Don't wanna be my friend no more…I wanna be somebody else…

          He comes out of the trees and waves to the woman. “Good day, ma’am,” he says, offering a sincere grin of greeting. She stops, letting out a gasp, yanking something out of her ears and turns toward his voice, placing a hand above her covered eyes. Hesitantly, she waves back but makes no effort in his direction. Wary, this one, which intrigues him. She truly reminds him…

          …of the impossible!

          Acastus takes long strides toward the woman so she does not continue on her journey. She may be wary, but he has the impression she does not mind the interruption in her walk. “Fair day. How are you?” he asks as he approaches.

          “I’m well,” she says, finally dropping her hand, but not removing the cover from her eyes. Her voice strikes him. So similar.

          He stops an amenable distance from her, offering his hand in greeting. “Commander… Acastus… I am the authority in Haskins.”

          Tilting her head to the side, she smiles…very alluring. “Oh. The Sheriff…” she says. He does not know the meaning until she adds: “You protect everyone…keep the peace.”

          Acastus smiles and nods in agreement. “Yes.” She takes his hand in a firm grip, formidable. He is duly impressed. “I do not mean to intrude on you. I simply observed you coming through the Ancestral ring…”

          She glances back over her shoulder. “Riiiiight.” Then she looks at him. This time, she lifts the eye covers onto the top of her head, pulling dark curls from her face. She is the exact image he has carried in his mind for many years. “I saw you…in the saloon,” she says. “You were with those three guys who were laughing at me.”

          “I assure you. My men were not laughing when you left. We were…astounded by the feat.”

          Her smile wavers and her brows rise. “Don’t women drink that stuff?”

          “Not that I have seen.”

          With a shake of her head, she starts walking again. “Yeah, well. I’ve been known to be a bit…off from the norm. And they don’t know what they’re missing.” As he joins her on the walk, she switches the basket to her other hand, keeping it between the two of them. “So, is there anything I can do for you, Commander?”

          “I was wondering…could you tell me what is happening at the old temple? Some queries raised in town…”

          She stops walking again and looks at him with dark eyes. As if delving into his mind but try as he might, he cannot do the same to hers. After a moment she smiles again, but the wariness remains. She does not feel safe with him…which he can understand easily enough. He facial scars tell of a hard life and he is surely twice her age. She could easily be…

          No! Not possible.

          The fact he is not being completely honest may be hidden inside his mind but those eyes…she may have the means to know his thoughts. Yes, she is a singular female, this one.

          She tilts her head again, watching him. “My husband and I are historians,” she says finally.

          “From what world?”

          “I-zoola.” She lifts a shoulder in some form of gesture he does not recognize. “We only recently uncovered our Ancient ring after many years of searching. This is our second destination. When we arrived, we found ourselves wandering in the woods for many hours until we came upon the ruins. My husband believes they are similar to those back home where we discovered our ring.”

          He spreads his hands. “We have met many travelers who believe this. I have never heard of I-zoola, is it comparable to our world?”

          She smiles and the skin around her eyes wrinkles. “Much different. Colder. No direct starlight. But very beautiful. I truly love it there.” By the way she speaks of this I-zoola, he believes her words are truthful.

          “Perhaps we could trade with your people. Girsh spoke highly of your trade skills, though more so of the food you brought. What is it named?”

          “Oh…chocolate. Unfortunately, it is a delicacy we found on the first planet we went to. And our supply is…pretty much gone.” She shakes her head. “Had I been at the negotiations, I would have done a far better job than our leaders.”

          “I would not disagree.”

          She motions with the basket. “I should continue to the temple. My husband gets fussy if I do not feed him on time.” After a moment of consideration, she adds: “If you are concerned about our research, you should join me on the trip. You could speak with our team.”

          Acastus shakes his head. “I do not believe that is required. I am grateful for your offer, shows that my efforts at peacekeeping are not necessary.”

          “All right then.” She covers her eyes, smiles politely then resumes her walk.

          He is about to let her go without further thought, but the feeling of familiarity strikes from deep in his gut and he feels compelled to ask. “How long have you been on I-zoola?”

          She turns to face him. “Since birth…why do you ask?”

          Acastus looks at the ground, toes a loose stone. “And your kin…are they from I-zoola as well?”

          “Of course. We did just discover our portal.” She takes a step closer to him. That he cannot see her eyes, now, makes him wary. “Is something wrong?”

          “Not at…does the name Mylea mean anything to you?”

          “Mylea?” She shakes her head then tilts it again. “I’m sorry, but no. Someone you knew?”

          “Long ago.” Though he tries to hide it, Acastus can hear the sadness in his voice. “I apologize. You…”

          “I remind you of her.” He pokes at the loose stone, watching her from under his brows. She nods slowly, understanding. “One of those faces, I guess.” She smiles softly, comforting. “You were close, I take it?”

          “Yes.”

          “I am sorry for your loss.” He believes her. He knew it was impossible. The Wraith do not take only to let go. Mylea is long dead as he has known forever. But when he looks at this woman… She offers another soft smile. “It is a beautiful name. She must have been very special.”

          “Yes.” It has been so long since he thought about that. “It means born of the sky.”

          “Born of the sky,” she repeats then looks up. She uncovers her eyes for the second time as she stares at the midday glow above. “A gift from heaven,” she says almost to herself, again that soft familiar smile tugs at her mouth. Then her eyes catch his, a glimmer in them. She smiles wider, this time with an amount of wonder. “That is odd.”

          “Odd?”

          “My name, Angela, means a gift from heaven.” She smiles warmly, her guard falling and she suddenly places a hand on his arm. “Our names have similar meanings.” Just as quickly, her hand drops from him and she takes a slight step back. “I apologize. It struck me as an interesting coincidence. That I remind you of her…and our names…”

          “Yes…” Acastus nods understanding what she is saying. “That is a wonder.” He has never believed in Ancestral intervention, but perhaps all these years he has been misguided. Why else would he have stumbled upon this woman now and not on the previous occasion? This woman who clearly is meant to remind him of his lost love.

          If he was a weak man, he would eagerly wrap his arms around this stranger, call out her true name and beg for the forgiveness he does not deserve and shall never receive. She, of course, would immediately take offense and rightfully extricate herself from his presence. Acastus is not a weak man but a Commander. And she is a stranger to him. There is no Ancestral intervention, simply…wishful dreaming. Probably feeling the weight of his gaze, she edges toward the temple. “I apologize again. But I really do have to go.”

          Acastus offers his hand in the parting. “It was a pleasure to speak with you, Angela.”

          “Same here…Acastus.”

          And then she rushes toward the tree line with her basket. As soon as she is out of earshot, Acastus clicks his communication device. “Let her pass. Remain in silent watch on the ruins.”

          “Yes, Commander.” 

20.5

Funhouse - Pink

          “Jax!” Dr. Morgan calls making everyone look up, including Rodney.

          Jax trudges into the temple carrying what looks like a picnic basket. She stops to put her shades on top of her head then grins at Morgan.

          “How they hangin’ Kat?”

          “Defying gravity, Bless the Queen.”

          Rodney grimaces at their female humor. He’s never been one to indulge in crude or delinquent ‘locker-room-talk’ Sheppard always seems to find humorous. He’s even more put-off when women indulge in it.

          Unfortunately, Morgan, Cadman, and Jax became quite close after the pheromone device caused such an uproar in his City. He still remembers Morgan bursting into uncontainable laughter when she found him taped to his desk chair.

          Rodney didn’t find any humor in the situation, he merely got dizzy and nauseated. Cadman and Jax actually spun him in the chair after strapping him to it.

          “What’s the word?” Jax asks as she sets down a basket.

          Dr. Lee grimaces, “It’s a hoot. Fun-fun-fun.” It’s almost a snarl.

          “This used to be a funhouse…” Morgan starts singing.

          “But now it's full of evil clowns…” Jax sings back terribly off-key.

          Rodney doesn’t understand his team’s lack of enthusiasm. Dr. Nicolas Harris and Dr. Sofia Chung should be as excited as he is, but they keep mumbling along with Zelenka about being able to work better on Atlantis.

          “It's time to start the countdown…” Chung chimes in with a grin.

          This is maybe only one of possibly many of Janus’s secret labs. The Ancient was a genius, after all, and he didn’t seem to like being told what to do by the others. Rodney finds him a kindred spirit. Could be literal if Janus ascended like so many others. The database is huge. Not as big as Atlantis itself, but definitely worth exploring, though Jax does need to be here for that.

          But even without her here, they’ve been able to get a lot of research done on the artifacts and the stasis chamber. For all he knows they may find out how to create ZPM’s or something even better.

          “I'm gonna burn it down down down…” Jax looks directly at Rodney. “Gonna burn it down.”

          Rodney glares at her. “Do you mind, your tuneless rendition’s grating on my nerves.” He exhales heavily. “Now…what took you so long?”

          “Oh, you know, had to stop for gas, get air in the tires, check out the local prostitutes…pick up snacks.” She toes the basket on the last remark.

          “Where’s your stuff?”

          Jax squats, pulling a sandwich from the basket and taking a bite she grins coolly at him. “Exactly where Dr. Beckett requires my butt to be in sixteen hours. In my quarters.”

          “What!”

          “Face it, McKay. You’re not the top dog. Beckett out-ranks you by like…a billion rungs,” Jax assures him, adding a nasty self-satisfied grin.

          Someone snickers behind him. He spins to catch the perpetrator but only gets faux-innocent looks from the others. Turning back to Jax, he waves a hand. “Fine. Well, at least you won’t be distracting everyone with that annoying typing.”

          Her face falls as realization dawns that she didn’t bring her laptop. “Shit.”

          For a moment Rodney feels sorry for her. He’d be lost without his computers. Of course, his laptop has important information on it whereas hers…just a diary. And a lot of solitaire games as it turns out. He flicks his hand again. “Just…go downstairs and start lighting things up. And take the cackling group with you.”

          “C’mon everyone. Operation Christmas Tree is here.” Grabbing a water bottle and a bag of chips from the basket to add to her sandwich, Jax grudgingly drops down the steps, leading the pack. Rodney waits as Lee finishes removing the naquedah generator from the fake console. She hands it to him and he carries it—very carefully—downstairs.

*§*

          Rodney can’t concentrate. Jax and Morgan enslaved the rest of his team in their ridiculous music game nearly an hour ago. It’s very annoying. Probably more so because I don’t have the musical memory of the rest of the team. Jax’s unending knowledge of song titles and lyrics must be draining on her brain at some point. How can a person have so much mental storage?

          Wish I could remember everything the way she does.

          It started innocently enough. Even though she’d forgotten her laptop, the woman never left her quarters without that headset and mp3 player. It might as well be surgically attached to her. She’d been humming (the woman should never sing or hum anything!) and Zelenka of all people recognized the song.

          “Do you know all words,” Zelenka asked her. “I can never get all song words.”

          Jax nodded as she took out the earbuds and paused her player. “I always do. Never forget them actually.”

          That got Harris and Morgan intrigued. Rodney gets the impression that Harris really wants to dissect Jax’s brain.

          But right now, it’s non-stop trivia time. And it’s giving Rodney a headache.

          “Play That Funky Music,” Chung adds quickly to Morgan’s last title.

          The game rules are arbitrary to Rodney. Title or lyric line with the last word the other person says. They should stick to one or the other but not both.

          Jax seems on top of it though. “Music and passion were always in fashion…”

          “At the Copa!” They all sing and laugh. Even Rodney wanted to chime in on that. Barry Manilow was one of his favorites when he was younger.

          “I got one,” Zelenka yells. “Fashion, turn left. Fashion turn right.” He grins. “David Bowie my man!”

          Jax high-fives Zelenka. “Right here, right now…Right here, right now.”

          “Now that I can dance,” Harris says with a grin.

          Morgan pipes up. “Dance with me, I want to be your partner…”

          Rodney glowers at them. “Do you have to keep playing? There is work to do.”

          Chung says, “Partners in crime, caught between what's right and wrong.” She grins at Rodney. “We can work and play at the same time. The system is recycling the last command. It’s looking specifically for ZPM info. Might take some time.”

          “There are other things to work on,” Rodney claims.

          “Wrong side of heaven, and the righteous side of hell,” Jax says, completely ignoring him.

          Morgan’s no better. “Hell is for children.” She gives herself a pat on the back. “Title and lyric.”

          “Children of the Damned,” Jax says. “Iron Maiden. Told you my tastes are eclectic.”

          “Damn Right I am,” Harris adds.

          “I am the Fire!” Jax sings.

          “Isn’t that cheating?” Rodney says with a nasty snort. “You used two words.”

          “I love that song,” Morgan says.

          Jax rolls her eyes. “Seriously, McSnarky. It’s just a game. Besides…that song’s been stuck in my head for three days. I just needed to let it out.” She motions to the others. “Up to you guys. Did I cheat?”

          Each one of the team members shake their heads, even Harris, the only one not part of the pheromone-drunkards all over Atlantis. “Like you said. It’s just a game. Besides…” He turns toward the monitor to his right. “I think the computer’s done cycling. McKay…look at this.”

          McKay stares at the screen, not sure he’s really seeing what it says. But undeniably excited. “The ZPM plans are on Atlantis…in that file.”

          “Guess the Ancients really wanted to hide it for some reason,” Morgan says.

          “So… we can go back home?” Jax asks with a happy face.

          “Hardly,” McKay says. “There’s lots of tech in those cases we should work on.”

          “Don’t look at me, McKay. You can activate them all on your own. Don’t need me.”

          “But that’s why you’re here!”

          She moves ridiculously fast and suddenly she’s standing nose-to-nose with him, her hands on her hips, eyes full of defiance. “Not until they’re all translated. I heard about that whole personal shield incident from Dr. Beckett. Not gonna happen. Plus, there are things in there you’ve never seen. Can’t possibly know what they do just from a single tag. So, I suggest…you do your homework, doctor.”

          “You turned on the computer.”

          “It’s a database, McKay. Not likely to cause side-effects…unless you keep on me, then it could very well result in—I don’t know, maybe—your death.”

          “Very funny.” She’s not laughing and raises that brow of hers. He doesn’t like that brow or the look that goes with it. It twists his stomach into knots. “Fine.”

          “Fine.”

          He turns to his team. “Pack everything up…take ‘em home.”

          Lee’s brows go up. “But...not the consoles.”

          “Of course not. Only the removable items. And Zelenka, search the Atlantis database for that file Janus hid. I want that ZPM info ASAP.” He looks back at Jax. “We’ll be taking care of this database.”

          Half her mouth twitches into a smirk. “You will. I’ll watch.” She plops her earbuds back in and takes the player off pause.

*§*

          “Where are you going?” Rodney yells as Jax heads for the exit.

          She points to the departing scientists. “I’m gonna walk back to the gate with them. I need to get out of here for a while. Actually…I need to get away from you for a while.”

          Rodney mocks a laugh. “But if you leave, I have to stop working.”

          Her brows crease. “Pity that.” She heads out and the lights turn off, leaving him with just the flanters. Rodney follows grudgingly. On the way up the steps, Jax starts talking again. “Have a snack, man. I’ll be gone less than twenty minutes. I’ll even jog on the way back, how’s that?”

          “As if I can trust you‒”

          She raises her right hand. “I promise. I need to burn off some excess energy. It tends to build up and make me jittery if I don’t unleash it. And just so you don’t forget‒” She turns on him, hands planted on her hips again. “It’s all your fault.”

          “You know, not everything bad that happens to you can be traced back to me.”

          “If it’s related to that damn lust-o-rama device it sure as hell can. And I’m gonna make sure you get at least one reminder a day for the rest of your sorry little life.”

          Rodney narrows his eyes and lifts his chin. “Doesn’t that mean you have to thank me as well?”

          “For what?”

          “Oh, I don’t know, perhaps a bit of attention from a particular Colonel?” Her hands drop into tight fists at her sides and she sucks in a deep breath, two signs that should have been enough for Rodney to back off. “I’m guessing you dealt with some issues while away.”

          Jax stares at him for a long time and, though, the other two things didn’t register in his brain until now, he can’t mistake the look in her eyes as anything other than a definite signal she’s ready to do him bodily harm.

          She takes another breath and her body shudders with tension. Then the intensity vanishes, her eyes cool considerably and her hands open and she stretches her fingers. For a second, she reminds him of his cat as it would unfurl his claws on occasion, though his cat never gave him a look intending to turn him into stone. Getting away from her with a side step, Rodney goes to the basket and lifts the lid. “What’s good in here?”

          As she’s heading out, Jax snarls. “Try the lemon chicken.”

*§*

          Rodney sifts through the basket, finding another power bar. He loves these things. Just as he’s about to rip it open he hears: “Don’t touch that!” and he jumps, dropping the bar back into the basket. He turns; Jax laughs at him from the entrance. “Couldn’t resist.” Rodney mocks her laughter then retrieves the bar and tears into it. “Get any work done while I was gone?”

          He nods, motioning to his laptop. “Actually, I was‒”

          Jax holds up a hand. “Not interested in the details, McKay. I was just being polite. Yes or no will suffice.” Something sparks her interest and she looks outside then goes to the other openings and checks.

          “What are you doing?”

          “Where’re Elliot and Fisk?”

          “Who?”

          “You don’t know the names of the soldiers covering your ass?”

          “Oh.” He looks around too. “They went with you to the gate.” Rodney flashes a smirk. “Thought you had a photographic memory.”

          She sneers at him. “You’re hilarious. They left before me. I was busy talking with Kat so they returned first.” Her eyes narrow. “And I didn’t see them on the way back.” She’s got her hands on her hips, twisting this way and that. “My whiskers are twitching.”

          “What?”

          “Something’s wrong.”

          Rodney shakes his head. “Maybe they had to make a pit stop. It does happen. You’ve had several.”

          “I drink a lot of water,” she says defensively. “No. Something’s up. I’ve had this…feeling all day.” Rodney finishes his power bar. She’s still looking around. “Ever since I met the Sheriff.”

          “The who?”

          Jax sighs heavily and tells him about her greeting from Sheriff Acastus and about all his questions. There’s something familiar about that name but he can’t quite place it. “What questions did he ask?”

          “You know, where I came from, what I’m doing here, stuff like that.”

          “What’d you tell him?”

          She huffs as if that’s the stupidest question she’s ever heard. “I lied.”

          The memory kicks in as the power bar hits his bloodstream. “Wait a minute. What did you say his name was?”

          “He said Acastus. Why?”

          “What did he look like?”

          She shrugs. “Fifties maybe. Dark hair, eyes, gravelly voice.”

          “Scars?”

          Her eyes narrow on his. “His face is a bit weathered…scarred.”

          Oh no! Rodney taps his headset, calling out to the soldiers, but doesn’t get an answer. He closes his laptop and shoves it under his arm. “We have to get out of here.” His heart’s hammering and he’s afraid he’ll black out from fear. She doesn’t question him. He knows he must look scared, which would be an understatement considering how terrified he actually is, but Jax seems to pick up on it instantly. Her eyes widen and she’s on instant alert. She rushes toward the console. “What are you doing?” Rodney asks heading for the nearest exit.

          “Hiding the tunnel.” Her hand goes for the blue button but doesn’t reach it before one of the soldiers is thrown through the opening next to the panel. Rodney jumps back, but Jax seems unfazed. She instantly checks the man. “Fisk?” Her eyes seek out Rodney’s and he knows the soldier’s dead.

          “We have to get out of here now,” Rodney whispers.

          “But we just arrived to get reacquainted, Dr. McKay.”

          Jax stands up and looks from Rodney to the man who just spoke. “Kolya,” Rodney spits and Jax does a double-take.

          “Kolya?” She echoes, her eyes widening. “The Genii?” She looks to the other man.

          “Not anymore. But I will be again…thanks to the presence of Dr. McKay here.”

          Jax sighs and scrubs her hands over her face. “For crying out loud.” She stares hard at the man. “And for some crazy ass reason, I got the impression you were a man of honor.” Kolya seems struck by that, but for all Rodney knows he could be suffering from a painful bout of gas. Jax cocks her head, looking to Rodney as if the information is completely beyond her comprehension. “The Genii…really?”

          “Yes,” Rodney hisses through clenched teeth.

          She groans. Shaking her head, she looks up as if talking to a higher power. “So much for not being a jinx.”

          Kolya seems slightly amused. “What is this word?”

          “Jinx…someone who brings bad luck to others, causes problems...” Rodney offers but quickly lets the thoughts subside when he catches all color fading from Jax’s face.

          I’m a dead man.

          Kolya motions for Rodney to come stand beside Jax. Considering the man to Kolya’s right has a 9mm handgun and the man guarding the entrance at the other end of the temple is holding a P-90, Rodney does as instructed. Kolya then grabs Rodney’s headset, drops it to the ground and stomps on it. He notices that Kolya isn’t holding a gun, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t hiding one. The other two obviously took the weapons from the dead soldier…what about…Elliot? Maybe he’s still alive. He could be getting ready to save them right now.

          No, Jax is a jinx which means I’m a dead man.

          Kolya’s spending a lot of time visually appraising Jax. It’s disturbing the way he keeps staring at the poor woman. Probably the pheromones. Rodney stands to her right, their backs to the console. As long as she doesn’t touch it, they should be all right. And as long as Kolya doesn’t notice the tunnel, everything should be fine too.

          I’m such a dead man. He sighs as he leans towards his jinx. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

          Her head turns sharply to him. “How was I supposed to know? I’ve never seen the man before. Besides, he was nice to me.”

          Rodney rolls his eyes. “Oh, he was nice to you? That’s how you decide whether or not to tell me if we’ve been discovered?”

          “Why are you making this my fault? You never said this was a secret. And you’re the one who sent me into town in the first place.”

          “Not to get drunk and draw attention to yourself. What is it with you?”

          “Oh? Excuse me, Dr. McSnarky…that neon sign in my brain that tells the future inconveniently blinked out.”

          “Just in time to get us captured by Genii spies.”

          “What do I know of spies you simpering old man!”

          “I’m not old!”

          “I didn’t even want to be here! I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you and your ginormous ego.”

          “Don’t start with that‒”

          “Enough!” Kolya orders. He turns to his gunman. “Wedded.” And the gunman nods in understanding.

          “What!? We’re not married, she’s just a civilian.” Rodney says quickly then instantly regrets it as Jax’s eyes dart over to his, shooting arrows of death.

          Kolya’s brows rise. He cocks his head, considering Jax. “You lie very well, Angela.”

          Angela…? Rodney’s about to pose another question but thinks better of it since he obviously just blew the last lie.

          She grimaces, still glowering at Rodney. “Thanks.”

          Kolya steps closer to her, his dark eyes full of rage. “I don’t enjoy being lied to.”

          Jax shrugs. “And I don’t like my friends being murdered or guns pointed at me…so who’re you to complain.”

          Rodney’s shocked by how calm she sounds. She knows this man is a murderer. And has to know that he plans on killing them in a minute or less? Why is she goading him? Then he remembers. That’s what she does. She’s planning on being a pain in the ass until the moment she gets us both shot.

          God, Sheppard’s gonna kill me. Wait. “You might as well just let her go. She’s only here to bring us lunch…” he points at the food basket. “She’s of no use to you.” Okay, I just saved her ass, why is she glaring at me again?

          Kolya eyes Jax a bit too pointedly for Rodney’s liking. “I was disappointed to see you remain behind, my dear. I had hoped this retrieval would be a surgical strike.” Kolya steps back and Rodney realizes why Jax gave him a look that should kill. “You’re correct, doctor, she is of no use.” He motions to the man on his right…the one directly in front of Jax. “Make it a clean shot. I don’t want her to suffer.”

          Jax exhales, folds her arms and glares at Kolya, but talks to Rodney. “See…nice.” Rodney doesn’t know her all that well, but he does know when she’s pissed. And she’s very pissed. “So much for keeping the peace, eh Commander.”

          “Wait!” Rodney steps forward. But Kolya pushes him back with a solid shove to the chest. “Not this time, doctor. You said it yourself…she’s of no use.”

          Jax stares at Kolya. “I’ll be sure to look up Mylea.” Then she smiles harshly. “I’m so going to kick her ass for all eternity.”

          Mylea? Angela? Who the hell are they talking about?

          Kolya places a hand on the gunman’s arm, halting him. He takes up the man’s spot in front of Jax, looking down on her, hard eyes locking. “Why are you not afraid.” Rodney would swear the man’s impressed.

          “Of death?” She chuckles coldly, dropping her arms. “I’ve been dead before. It’s not so bad.”

          Rodney looks over at Jax. “When did you die?”

          Kolya steps to the left of his man, motioning as he does. The assassin returns to his spot in front of Jax, maybe two feet from her. “Right now, doctor,” Kolya says as if answering Rodney’s question. The gunman levels his aim‒

          And all hell breaks loose!

          With lightning speed, Jax crosses her arms in an X-shape and shoves upward on the gunman’s arm, pushing the weapon up and away. He fires on reflex and the bullet bounces off stones overhead. Not a second later, her left leg shoots out and catches Kolya in the chest with a solid thump and he goes back hard, slamming into the stone wall and dropping limply onto a pile of rubble. Then she twists her arms and body, doubling the gunman over then ramming a knee into his stomach. Her right leg swings behind him, sweeping him off-balance and he collapses back onto the ground. Rodney hears a crack and knows the man’s wrist is broken when the guy screams and the gun easily slides out of his hand.

          An instant later, Jax reaches behind her back, pulling out something that flies through the air with an audible zip, hitting the second gunman in the throat as he hustles from the door—feebly trying to work the P-90—he falls back clutching his wound, gurgling. Jax smacks the first gunman in the face with the butt of his gun, crunching his nose, and he’s out.

          All in under a minute.

          She shoves the 9mil at Rodney then quickly jumps over the rubble and yanks the P-90 and the knife from the dead man at the door. The knife disappears behind her back as she leaps over the rubble and is back at Rodney’s side giving him a shove. “McKay…run!”

          Rodney looks over the damage. How! Where! He stares at her in awe. “Who the hell are you? Xena?”

          She shoves him toward the nearest hole in a wall. “Move!”

          As he climbs through, still clutching his laptop, Rodney catches sight of Jax leaning over the console…it lights up instantly and she slams her hand over the blue button, holding it down for a long count. The ruins start shaking violently and stones fall even as she dives through the opening, tumbles and gets to her feet with ease. She grasps Rodney’s arm and propels him into the dense forest.

          They rush through the trees toward the gate. Rodney’s holding Jax back but can’t scramble any faster. And even though it’s obvious she could ditch him, she doesn’t. In the distance he sees a body lying on the ground. Jax makes it to the soldier, checks for life then starts running again before Rodney is even halfway there.

          By the time he breaks the tree line, she’s nearing to the DHD, but he’s still running. He knows it’s the adrenaline pumping through him but he’s also afraid it’ll fail him before he makes it to the gate. Kolya obviously wasn’t interested in killing him…he was going to use him to get back in good with the Genii. Jax just saved him from a life of torture. Forcing his legs to move faster, Rodney’s determined not to let her efforts be for nothing. He’s going to make it. He has to.

          Who the hell is this woman!

          She’s at the DHD, dialing Atlantis. As soon as the wormhole establishes, she yells: “Enter your code.”

          Damn! His GDO’s in his pocket. Stuffing the gun into his waistband, Rodney clutches his laptop under his arm, grabs the GDO from his pocket and punches in the code as he reaches Jax’s side. She shoves something cool into his hand and pushes him toward the gate. “Go.” Then she turns to make sure no one is following.

          Rodney reaches the top of the steps and turns back. “Jax come on!”

          She races over just as he’s grabbed from the side, a thick arm wraps around his throat and a gun gets shoved against his head as his airway is cut off. Jax stops abruptly then climbs the steps almost casually, staring down the gunman. “Kolya wants him alive,” she says coolly.

          The man twists so that he’s standing behind and to the left of Rodney, the thick arm still threatening his air supply; dark spots plague Rodney’s vision. Don’t pass out, Rodney…don’t pass out!

          The thug turns the gun on Jax. “But you I can kill.”

          Jax stops about a yard away. “Hey McKay,” she grins. “Ever seen a Rockette?”

          For some reason the instant she asks that Rodney quickly maneuvers his laptop to his chest and tightens it under both arms. Before he can say a word, Jax’s right leg flashes upward, snapping the gunman’s head back and sending him right into the wormhole, unfortunately, he’s got that choke hold on Rodney and he gets pulled in at the same time.

          But not before he hears the gun go off and sees Jax fly backward off the top step of the altar!

          The next thing Rodney knows pain screams through his body. He hit the floor hard and something popped. His vision’s blurry with instant tears but the shadows of the Atlantis guards surround him and his unwelcome companion. The arm around his throat’s gone, but that’s the least of his problems.

          Sheppard grabs hold of his face and the desperation in the man’s eyes hurts Rodney’s heart. “Where’s Jax?”

          Rodney can’t think. He can’t process what happened. He points to the man lying next to him. “He shot her… she’s dead.”

          And then everything goes black.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

21 ≈

          “Has there been any…molding between you and Tarzan?” Jax had asked Teyla a while ago, with a twinkle in her eyes. Teyla remained stoic and silent which only caused Jax and Lt. Cadman—Laura—to smile slyly at her. They obviously read her face and Jax being ridiculously perceptive seems to know how to collect information from those who do not think they give any away.

          Teyla groans as Ronon clasps his strong hands to her hips, skimming his thumbs over her hot, sweat-slick skin, making it tingle. Pulling her down hard as he thrusts up, she tosses her head back loving the feel of him inside her. He fills her, stretches her.

          Despite their height difference, she knew they would be a good match in bed…or anywhere else they happened to find. His physicality impressed her the first time they sparred. She knew then it would not be long before she welcomed him into her body if he decided to stay on Atlantis.

          Her hands cover his and move them up over her taut stomach to her breasts, urging him to squeeze and possess, pinch her hard peaks. Ronon always follows her lead, reminding Teyla of Jax’s questions.

          “C’mon. Is his will yours?” Jax had joked.

          Absolutely!

          Teyla takes charge of their love-making even when she wants him pinning her down, loving her slowly, intensely…or behind her, driving as hard and deep as he can.

          After a sparring session following the first Alien movie, they came at each other like wild beasts in rutting season.

          His energy during the bantos tussle reminded Teyla of retrovirus infected Sheppard. She told Ronon how Sheppard pushed her into the wall and kissed her without asking. She forgave him…in a way, but she never forgot. Mostly, because: “I wished it was you,” she told Ronon quietly.

          Too stunned to move or speak, he simply stood there gaping at her. She dropped her bantos rods, stepped up to him, looked him in the eyes and said: “Do it.”

          “What?”

          “Do what he did,” she grinned at him. “I am telling you…take me to the wall.”

          Without further hesitation, Ronon dropped his bantos, grabbed her up in his arms, her legs instantly wrapping around his waist and slammed her into the wall making her gasp. His mouth covered hers in a hard, bruising kiss. She met his ferocity with her own; she had wanted him for quite a while by then. Her hands grabbing his mane, her tongue sliding into his mouth. Her teeth nipping at his lips.

          To the outside observer, it might appear Ronon was taking advantage of Teyla’s petite size, forcing himself on her, but she took what she wanted and gave back to him in return.

          It had been a very long time since her last intimacy.

          And she is happy she waited and had not settled for someone…less.

          Charin once told Teyla to enjoy life as much as possible. Hope to find a lifetime mate and create a strong family, but sometimes, relish in the pleasure of flesh against flesh to remind her that she is still alive.

          They slid to the gym floor with her remaining atop him as she is now. Her body engulfing his size, so tight but ready for him. Her thighs clutched his sides as she rose and fell over and over; forcing herself to adjust to him without pause. The power of his body colliding with hers gave her a sense of freedom she had not felt since losing Athos.

          In minutes she peaked with a guttural moan. Opening her eyes and locking onto his, she grinned. “Your turn.” Then, squeezing her inner muscles and pumping onto him hard, once then again, earning her a satisfied growl. He was so deep inside her she peaked again as he fell into the beautiful abyss, leaving his seed behind. Teyla moaned at the feel of it then kissed him once more.

          Carrying a child at this time would not be possible, but she would someday welcome one with Ronon if he so chose. Dr. Beckett and his staff had done many tests on her when she joined Atlantis. That young female doctor—Keller?—takes care of most of the female patients, determining they are physically healthy in their ‘lady parts’ as Jax calls them. Teyla was shocked to hear she should have no problems with her fertility.

          Being on AT-1, however, could be very dangerous and Keller suggested Teyla be on the same ‘birth control’ like other women who go on missions. Teyla can take care of herself but there are no guarantees she could not get hurt…in the worst possible way…so she agreed to have the injection every three months. So far, she has not had any ‘side-effects’ from the medication. Jax mentioned how much she hated extra ‘hormones’ because she already had enough in her body naturally.

          Ronon did not know about the medication until she told him, but he understood. It is sometimes difficult combining Earth’s values and views with those who have grown up in the Pegasus Galaxy. Dealing with the Wraith, living with the fear, every creation of a child is something to celebrate. However, Teyla deems some meshing not only inevitable but necessary. Especially given how much time she has been spending molding herself with Ronon.

          As soon as Dr. Weir put their team on stand-down, Ronon led Teyla to his quarters. All the talk about P4T-320 and the women of Phobos got her burning for his attention. Ronon may not have enjoyed being one of the male subjects there but Teyla makes sure he thoroughly enjoys being her subject.

          Exciting, spontaneous and with amazing physical prowess, Ronon has given her the fiercest gratification of her life. They are matched in passion and stamina. She likes making him so hard he hurts, begging for release; she plays with and teases his body to untold delights.

          And he has made her sob in ecstasy.

          She shocked him more than once after that first time in the gym. Ronon believed she was only interested in him for a time or two. But she admitted she wanted more if he did. Ronon stroked her cheek then kissed her so tenderly she almost whimpered. He also wanted a partner but was surprised she trusted him so quickly.

          He told her about Melena. How he loved her and that she remains sacred to his heart, but that he finds Teyla exhilarating and heart-warming too. Knowing how life can be cut short by the Wraith, they agreed to be as much to each other as they could in the time they had.

          She told him her secret desires, somehow knowing he would protect and care for her.

          Even though her people are now on the mainland, she is their leader. Sometimes she wishes to be led. Telling him how satisfied she gets when Ronon takes charge and uses his primal urges to sometimes over-power her was scary at first. But he kissed her again, letting her know he would never hurt her but understands she likes a certain amount of…freedom from choices, maybe even a slight reprimand. Sometimes.

          Other times…she gives the orders and takes what she wants. Ronon confessed he enjoys that immensely too. Given his size and strength, he is always seen as…a badass (Sheppard and Jax’s word). And because of his seven years running from the Wraith, he has had to forget about the possibility of being, not soft but gentle. Nowadays he relishes the times he can simply give and find comfort in another being.

          Freedom from leadership and hardship can be strong aphrodisiacs. Sharing such intimate details with the wrong person would only end up painful. She wanted him to know her, be a part of her. She thinks of him as her true mate. And her rapture has never been so sweet. So pure and all-encompassing.

          And he seems to like me too, she smiles down at him as he guides his mouth to her chest, suckling deep.

          Ronon is her true match.

          Riding him faster, she leans back, resting her hands on his knees as she undulates, swiveling her hips in a circle, driving his arousal to thicken and pulse…he should be close now.

          They have been at this for hours. Resting only moments after each intense apex, giving them time to catch their breath. Even the shower after their third round only ended up with them entwined under the water spray.

          Watching his face twist in bliss fills her with immense pride. She does this to him. She has this power over him…even as he thrusts up into her.

          Harder and harder.

          Until she cries out.

          Teyla falls forward, resting her cheek on Ronon’s impressive chest. Their sweat mingling. Ronon strokes his hands down her body. Their racing hearts slowing in tandem. He kisses her temple.

          “Have you thanked her yet?” His breath heavy in his voice.

          “No,” Teyla chuckles lightly. “But I am sure Jax knows how happy we are and that she was a prime factor in our finding kinship together.”

          “Without her, I never would have suspected you wanted anything more than friendship with me. I owe her everything. Because… I have found love again.”

          Teyla lifts her head and stares at him. “Love…for her…?”

          “And you. I do love you, Teyla. It’s all right if you–”

          “Yes!” She grins at him. “I love you too.”

          Ronon flashes one of his rare smiles which melts her heart. Their lips meet at the same moment, soft and sweet.

~ § ~

          “Ronon!” Sheppard calls from the corridor while pounding on the door.

          Teyla jumps from the bed, grabbing her clothes as she rushes into the bathroom. Ronon simply wraps the bed sheet around his waist. They have been circumspect with their relationship inside The City, but Ronon’s sure Sheppard knows and isn’t bothered by it. Teyla is not so certain.

          He swipes his palm over the controller and the door slides open. Sheppard’s leaning against the wall, pale and his face twisted with pain.

          “It’s Jax,” Sheppard gasps.

          Ronon’s heart slams so hard against his chest he’s surprised it doesn’t burst right from his body. “Teyla,” Ronon calls; his own voice a handful of breaths.

          She appears fully clothed. When her eyes lay on them, her face immediately falls and the warrior returns. “What has happened?”

          They make it to the infirmary within minutes. McKay’s lying on a gurney cradling his clearly dislocated right arm; Ronon knows that pain well. McKay’s obviously medicated because he’s babbling about someone named Xena, but not complaining about any pain. Dr. Weir paces frantically, her arms wrapped protectively around her middle.

          The moment Beckett sees Sheppard and Ronon, he motions them over. “He’s ready.” Beckett instructs Ronon to the right side of McKay’s bed, then for Sheppard to help hold McKay down. It takes just a few seconds and a loud pop to get McKay’s shoulder back into place and he screams. Beckett administers more pain medication and soon the scientist relaxes.

          Sheppard leans over him. “Rodney. What happened to Jax?”

          “I understand now, Colonel. She’s beautiful. Not that I didn’t see it before, I mean physically, let’s face it, she’s really…wow! But she’s Xena, man, or Wonder Woman. She’s just…hot when she’s pissed!” McKay’s eyes swim in his head. Clearly, he’s trying to focus but the drugs are making it impossible. He grabs Sheppard’s arm and stares directly into the Colonel’s eyes. “Kolya!”

          Sheppard’s eyes meet Dr. Weir’s and then Teyla’s. “Kolya?” They all say together.

          “She said he was nice to her…” McKay’s near tears as the memories surface or from the pain, it’s difficult to know with this man. “And was going to kill her… because of me. He wanted to take me back to the Genii.” McKay grips Sheppard’s hand. “I’m so sorry.” He glances up. “Ronon. Please don’t kill me.” McKay’s clearly afraid of that.

          Dr. Weir moves in and places a hand on his left arm. “Relax, Rodney.”

          “Where is she?” Ronon growls.

          McKay shakes his head. “She could’ve been a Rockette.” Everyone exchanges confused glances. Even in his drugged state, McKay must realize he’s not making sense. He takes a deep breath and stares straight ahead. “Two plus Kolya. Killed Elliot and Fisk.”

          “We know, Rodney,” Dr. Weir says softly and McKay looks confused that she should have this information already. She gives him a pat on the arm. “You were holding their dog-tags in your hand.”

          “That’s what she gave me,” he says to himself. McKay’s eyes hit Sheppard’s again. “She knew something was wrong…but it was too late. Then he came in.” His eyes and mouth open wide and he shakes his head. “She was so fast. And then we ran. She could’ve gotten away…but she waited for me.” He looks to Dr. Weir. “Why’d she do that? She could have gotten away!”

          McKay’s confused because he doesn’t truly know Angela, never has. Ronon understands completely. There was no way she’d leave McKay behind. Not because he’s important to Atlantis or that she even likes the man, but simply because she wouldn’t leave anyone behind to save herself. Not after what happened in her past.

          Sheppard leans in. “Rodney, focus.”

          He nods slowly. “The gate opened. I waited and she was running. Another one…the one who came through...grabbed me. She kicked him in the head and we fell into the gate…but he shot her. She’s…dead.”

          “She’s not dead!” Ronon growls loudly. All eyes turn to him. “I’d know if she is dead.” Sheppard looks at him, their eyes locking. The Colonel nods in agreement. Ronon heads for the door. “I’m going now, she could still be there.”

          “Ronon wait,” Dr. Weir calls.

          “We’ve waited too long.” He narrows his eyes on her. “You won’t stop me.”

          She holds up a hand. “It’s what Kolya would expect. You’ll be walking right into an ambush.”

          “They don’t know me.”

          Dr. Weir shakes her head. “But if you show up not ten minutes after it happened?”

          Ronon takes a threatening step toward Dr. Weir. “It should have been ten seconds!”

          Sheppard’s in his face immediately, blocking his path. “She’s right, Ronon.”

          He grabs Sheppard by the collar and slams him against the nearest wall. “Why did you hesitate to retrieve her? You could have gone‒”

          Both Teyla and Dr. Weir try unsuccessfully to pull Ronon off Sheppard. The Colonel’s gaze locks onto Ronon’s and there’s regret, guilt, and pain in the multicolored eyes. “She could have been in the path. Gotten hit with the wave.” Ronon loosens his grip and Sheppard sighs. “I wanted to…believe me. But I couldn’t take the chance.” Ronon hears pain in his voice. He looks at the Colonel…maybe for the first time, really seeing another man who loves Angela. Almost as much as Ronon does. Almost…

          “If she’s alive,” Dr. Weir starts. “Kolya has no reason to hurt her. She’s a civilian.”

          “Nononono,” McKay sits up suddenly, fighting the effects of the medication. “He was ready to kill her because of that!” Dr. Weir’s eyes widen in shock. “She wasn’t important enough,” he adds, his eyes once again swim in his head and he drops back to the pillows. “But he won’t believe that now…”

          “What?” Dr. Weir asks. “Rodney, what do you mean?”

          His head rolls over the pillows, his eyes getting heavy. “She took him and two of his men down in less than a minute, Elizabeth. Killed one.”

          “She what?” Her gaze shoots around the others, landing on Sheppard.

          But it’s Ronon who has the answer she’s looking for. “She was trained by one of your Earth government agents.”

          “And by you,” Sheppard adds. He seeks out Dr. Weir’s eyes. “If she’s alive‒”

          “She is,” Ronon says firmly.

          “He will hold her for interrogation,” Sheppard finishes.

          “Oh god.” Dr. Weir turns her back on them and trembles; trying to quell a gasp, she covers with a quick hand to her mouth.

          “Elizabeth,” Sheppard whispers, his eyes blazing. She turns to face him and tears threaten to spill. His voice deepens with restraint. “You realize Kolya’s not above hurting her…as he did with‒”

          “I know, John…but‒” Dr. Weir drops her gaze and shakes her head.

          Sheppard closes the distance between him and his commander as Ronon did moments ago. The energy radiating from the Colonel puts even Ronon on edge. Though his body is practically screaming for action, Sheppard’s voice remains low, intense. “He’s going to torture her for information she doesn’t have.”

          The built-up tears spill down the woman’s cheeks. Ronon realizes at that moment that he and Sheppard are not the only ones affected by Angela. She holds a great many hearts within her grasp…and probably doesn’t even know it.

          Dr. Weir’s spine straightens and she wipes away the tears. She leans over McKay and turns his face toward hers. He’s almost unconscious. “Rodney.” She lightly slaps his cheeks. “Rodney. Can a jumper go through to PXT-705?” His head rolls side to side, then a moment later changes direction and he’s nodding.

          She straightens and locks eyes on Sheppard. “Go in stealth. If they’re watching the gate, which I’m sure they are, the moment you come through, Kolya will know. That fact alone should convince him that Jax is worth keeping alive…for the time being.” Another shudder hits her body making Ronon wonder what happened to Dr. Weir at the hands of this man Kolya. He’s never seen her so unnerved before and it makes him worry all the more for Angie.

          “Use the sensors. Try to get as much detail of the land as you can.”

          “They’re like rodents…burrowing underground,” Sheppard grunts.

          “Energy…” McKay mumbles.

          Sheppard nods. “Right.” Ronon raises his brows and Sheppard quickly explains. “Energy signatures in unusual places…could locate a hideout.”

          Dr. Weir continues: “Get as much intel as you can. Radio us back. Following that, Ronon, we’ll send you through on foot as just another traveler.”

          “And Teyla and I will still be in stealth mode to cover your six,” Sheppard says. He looks to Dr. Weir. “When we dial out, they won’t know if we’ve actually left or not.”

          She nods. “Go.” Sheppard nods once and Teyla follows him out after giving Ronon a reassuring squeeze on the arm. Ronon follows but Dr. Weir catches him in the corridor.

          “Ronon, a moment please.” He stops and faces her. He doesn’t like the look she’s giving him, defeated is the only word he can use to describe it. “She’s not expecting a rescue, is she.”

          “No.”

~ * § * ~

          Elizabeth stands at the top of the stairs with her hands clasped behind her back. She looks over the crowd gathered in front of the Stargate.

          She made a city-wide announcement to all military personnel ten minutes ago. She asked them to come to the gatrium as quickly as possible. When she came out of her office, she found the area downstairs completely packed. Even some of the civilians had joined the impromptu meeting, probably to see what all the brouhaha was about.

          John and Teyla had left before she made the announcement and Ronon remains pacing in her office, awaiting the results of what she is about to ask.

          Raising her chin and swallowing hard, Elizabeth clears her throat. “We have a situation. Commander Kolya of the Genii task force that tried to take The City from us last year has killed two of our soldiers and taken someone hostage.” A collective gasp mingles with grunts of rage. She raises a hand to silence everyone. “The person being held is a civilian and therefore, I cannot order a military rescue mission where lives could be lost strictly to retrieve one‒” her voice audibly cracks, “‒layperson.” Elizabeth has to take a moment to regain composure. She never expected this to be so difficult. She takes another deep breath. “The reason I’ve called for this meeting is to ask for volunteers‒”

          As if banging a drum, there’s a concussion of feet stomping forward. Elizabeth’s eyes widen when all the military personnel step up, ready and willing to act…for someone they don’t even know. She hasn’t told them who it is. Elizabeth finds herself at a loss for words. She’s spent her whole life trying to curb military use, find other ways to solve conflicts, but here she is…begging for help to save one person. One young woman. And the military is ready, willing and able to do just that.

          “Major?”

          Lorne’s at the base of the stairs. He rushes up the steps. “Yes, ma’am.”

          “Could you put together a team to help Col. Sheppard in this matter?”

          “Already done ma’am.” He motions to the six people standing at the bottom of the stairs.

          Dr. Weir recognizes Lt. Cadman and Sgt. Sharon “Maddog” Fuller standing front and center of the group, they nod to her, their faces stern with quiet rage. Elizabeth turns to the Major. “You know.”

          “Yes, ma’am. Everyone does.” He offers a weak smirk. “Atlantis’ rumor mill is nothing if not efficient.”

          Elizabeth can’t hide her shock. “I know the motto: leave no one behind. But…she’s a civilian.”

          Major Lorne shakes his head. “No, ma’am. Like everyone else on Atlantis…she’s one of us.”

          Elizabeth swallows the lump in her throat and nods her thanks.

21.5 ≈

          She was barely conscious when he and Lucia arrived at the edge of the plane belonging to the Ring of the Ancestors. For every step she stumbled toward the dialing device she fell to her knees only to drag herself until she stood up again.

          Acastus applauded her resolve, though did not understand her lack of progress. He knew the pain of a flintlock wound to the shoulder; given her physical strength and inner will, she should have been able to dial the Ring and get away before they ever arrived.

          When she dropped unconscious just short of the dialing device, they moved in and he discovered a second injury. She must have hit the side of her head on the altar steps as she plummeted down from the force of Binnet’s flintlock blast. Blood stained the left side of her face and neck, almost as much as the projectile did the front of her tunic.

          Her fortitude and steadfastness astound him as much as her previous lack of fear in the face of certain death.

          Perhaps because she realized I had underestimated her.

          She managed to not only knock him and Lucia unconscious but to break Lucia’s hand and nose beforehand, as well as kill Stipple with a precision knife throw. Not that Stipple was a harsh loss; the boy could barely walk a straight line. Still, she killed one of his troop—he did not have many to spare—which meant he must take her life in exchange.

          They made it to the edge of the trees in time to watch her strike Binnet with an uncanny high kick to his face, sending him through the Ring with McKay. However, Binnet’s reflexive shot hit her. Acastus’ heart leaped into his throat when she fell backward onto the steps; believing she had been killed. In a brief time, she has weakened him. That must be redeemed.

          That is why he did not finish her off at the Ancestral Ring.

          He must prove not only to his men but to himself that he is not corruptible by a simple female. He must punish her…interrogate her as he would any other soldier, for she is not as she appears. Obviously, a personal guard assigned to Dr. McKay and very proficient in her duty. The strange attire, attitude, wariness…it all becomes clear in the aftermath. Acastus curses himself for not seeing it earlier. He was distracted by her pretty face…by a memory…

          Not anymore.

          They live within the mountains outside the town. The defunct mines abandoned many generations ago once the ore dried up. Acastus and his troop added re-enforcements to the walls, doors, support struts to hold up the roof as well as dormitories and quarters for him.  No one comes to this place except him and his men.

          Angela is the first female to join them. Even unconscious, she receives many interested glances from his troop. He carried her himself, cradling her as he had Mylea on several occasions. But then he dropped her unceremoniously onto the dirt floor of the room that would soon become her cell. As she lay there bleeding, four of his men erected a solid door which could only be opened from the outside.

          He sent one of his men to retrieve Girsh, not only the spirit house tender but the medicine man as well. Those wounds must be tended to so that Acastus may interrogate the prisoner without the threat of imminent death.

          She will die, but not before he gets the answers he wants.

          Girsh asked for a table and light so those have been added to the cell. The large man seemed shaken when he first laid eyes on the woman. For a man so gruff in the spirit house, he is surprisingly gentle when he ministers to the ill. He picked her up from the dirt and laid her on the table to examine her.

          Acastus watches as the man cuts away a portion of Angela’s tunic to get at the arm wound. The large man with the huge, rough hands seems timid when it comes to touching the soldier. Of course, he does not know her as a soldier, only as a female.

          Girsh’s weakness makes him easily intimidated and trained by women. Acastus met the man’s wedded mate many moons ago, a vile creature with an exceptionally shrill voice. Not a woman who makes men look in her direction either.

          Unlike Angela.

          Several of his men steal glances of her through the hole in the door, trying to get another glimpse of the beautiful young woman. It makes his stomach boil at the sight. They will not be led astray. “Commander,” a voice says over his communication device.

          “Yes,” he replies.

          “The Ancestral Ring activated and something came through…but then vanished.”

          Acastus grins. One of the Lantean ships, has to be. Perhaps the rumors are untrue. Perhaps Atlantis remains. Or the survivors escaped to another world with their ships. The planet Angela mentioned…I-zoola. She was truthful about that place. He will have to get the address from her…one way or another. “Understood. Maintain watch.”

          “Yes, Commander.”

          He moves to the opposite side of the table to where Girsh is working on cleaning the projectile injury. Angela is present enough to feel pain. Her brows wrinkle and her lips quiver as Girsh continues. Tears slip past her dark lashes and she murmurs something he cannot understand. He leans in and hears what she’s mumbling. “Hurts…Daddy…help me.”

          Acastus jerks back, staring hard at the woman who killed one of his men. He must remember: she is a killer. She is not some helpless—the look on her face makes his heart thump faster. “Give her something.”

          Girsh looks up from his work. “Commander?”

          Acastus glares at the incompetent fool. “For the pain.”

          Girsh shakes his head. “The head laceration is too severe. It is dangerous.”

          “She is going to die later anyway. Risk it.” Acastus would laugh at the horrified look on Girsh’s face if his own gut did not twist in knots because of his own words. But the man injects something into Angela’s arm. A moment passes and her head rolls to the side, her face a mask of death. No more murmurs of pain. Girsh presses his listening device to her chest then two fingers to her throat. “Well?”

          “She lives…for now.” He returns to his task.

~ § ~

          When Acastus returns to her a few hours later, she is alert.

          After Girsh finished, they left Angela lying on the table to come around on her own. Girsh stitched up the shoulder and treated the cut on her head. There had been so much blood it was almost impossible to tell where it originated. Girsh seemed uncertain about the damage her mind may have received.

          Sitting in the dirt across from the entryway, her back against the far wall, knees drawn up, her eyes never leave the door. Acastus looks through the porthole and stares at her. She stares back. Her face an impenetrable blank slate but her eyes are hard. Fiery.

          Good. Clearly, she remembers him. He motions to the guard and the door opens. Not rising or cowering, she merely stares at him as he enters. “How are you feeling, Angela?” Her eyes narrow considerably but she says nothing.

          The guard brings in a chair as Acastus ordered and places it next to the table. Acastus sits, crossing one foot over the opposite knee. “Are you hungry?” She stares, not even blinking. If her eyes did not follow him, he would not be certain she lives. He cannot even perceive her breathing, she is so silent.

          With a yank of her hand, something comes out of her ears. Acastus had not even noticed the device but now he hears something thumping from the tiny dots. She was not even listening to him.

Control - Janet Jackson

            It takes her a few moments to reach behind her with her good arm and make the noise cease. She grimaces against each minute movement, but the thin blanched lines and dots disappear.

          “If you are in pain, I can see about relieving that.” This sparks something in her and a slow smile pulls at her lips as her gaze on him flattens and then drops. After a beat, she meets his eyes again, revealing no pain. Somehow, she managed to disregard it entirely. She is an astounding female. “I see you are a very good soldier, Angela.” That gets him a grunt and a low chuckle. “I said something amusing?”

          She blows air out her nose. “I’m not a soldier. I’m a masseuse.”

          “Do not bother lying to me again.” She shakes her head, her eyes revealing nothing. Acastus opens his hands in friendship. “You are too skilled in combat to be anything other. You killed one of my men.”

          She takes a deep breath and her eyes drop from his. “Sorry.”

          Acastus considers her for a moment. He believes her. “You are forgiven.” Her eyes meet his; shocked by his words. Acastus spreads his hands again. “I am not an unreasonable man, Angela.” He rises then and moves to stand in front of her, towering over her. She looks up at him, cradling her injured arm against her chest. “It would be best if you cooperate.”

          Angela stands by pressing her back into the wall and pushing up with her legs. So much smaller than him, but her presence engulfs the room. Energy, vitality and strength radiate from her. He once again finds himself drawn to her, wishing she could truly be his lost Mylea. Her sharp gaze locks onto his. “I’m not that bright. And I have a lousy memory.” She shakes her head. “Doubt I’ll be much help.”

          Acastus lowers his face close to hers and whispers. “If you think you can hold out until a rescue, you are sadly mistaken.”

          Her mouth twists into an ugly grin. “McKay was right. I’m not important enough for a rescue. You’re wasting your time.”

          “Exactly what I expected you to say.” Acastus turns from her, clasping his hands behind his back, slowly pacing toward the closed door. “Tell me…how did Atlantis survive the Wraith attack?”

          “Atlantis is gone. Poof. She go boom.”

          Acastus grunts. “Where is your shield device?”

          “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

          “The device for your code…to open the shield that covers the Ancestral Ring.”

          “Sorry. Drawing a complete blank on that.”

          They spend several minutes going over similar questions. Her answers remain the same, the same tone, same inclinations…very well trained. He cannot shake her. Acastus knew this would be the case. He is not a fool. The moment he stepped into this room, he knew what it would require to make her speak. She will have to be broken.

          The thought turns his stomach even as it intrigues him. When it comes to a soldier of such spirit, breaking that spirit will most definitely be a grueling task. And yet, part of him is looking forward to it. He wants to see her helpless, hopeless without that fire burning in her eyes. Though, removing that fire would make her less like Mylea. He will lose his last connection to her memory.

          “If Atlantis is truly gone, where did you send Dr. McKay in such a hurry?”

          “I-zoola. Want the address…you can walk right through and get him yourself.”

          Acastus turns on his toes and slowly retraces his steps back to her. “I do not believe so.”

          She raises a single eyebrow—a show of defiance—then she points to her face. “Does this say ‘I care’?”

          The back of his hand hits her hard across the mouth. Her whole body turns with the blow. She works her jaw as she returns to her previous position, leaning heavily against the wall. Her tongue darts out and she licks the trickle of blood from her cut lip then spits it at him. He hits her again.

          The next time she locks her eyes on his, she lets the blood drip. “Feel more like a hero now, Commander?”

          Acastus steps away from her. He opens the latches on his jacket, peels it off and carefully hangs it over the back of the chair. He returns to stand in front of her again. Her eyes full of fury. “Tell me what Dr. McKay was doing in the ruins. What was so important? What did you find?”

          With the back of her left hand, she smears the blood across her chin. “Wow. Those are three tough questions. Let me think.” She tilts her head and narrows her eyes. Her tongue plays at the cut on her swelling lip. “Hmm.” She holds up one finger for each word she says. “Go. To. Hell.”

          Acastus punches her in the stomach and she doubles over, gasping. He yanks her upright by her hair, slamming her into the wall and shoves his right forearm against her throat; pressing his weight into her until her gasps grow weaker.

          He lets up. “My soldiers are also trained to withstand many forms of interrogation,” he says coolly. “Do you wonder why I do not have any females?” He does not get an answer, not that he expected one considering her voice is under his restraint. “Females are more easily broken.” His left hand drops to the whole in her tunic and he rips it open, exposing the undergarment. Acastus grabs her breast and squeezes hard. “I have several men here, Angela. I could give each of them a turn with you.”

          And she laughs. She laughs enough to send a flash of pain across her face. Acastus backs away. She does not attempt to cover herself, she simply laughs at him. “Men! You all think with your dicks.” Her heated gaze burrows into his. “You’re a fool, Kolya. Do you really think threatening me with gang-rape is going to get me to talk about stuff I don’t know? I can’t tell you anything. I’m a nobody!” And she laughs again, her eyes wide with wild amusement. “I know nothing.”

          Acastus suspects the head wound has driven her mad. She rambles about being a masseuse, tending to injured muscles. She talks about cleaning dishes and picking up dead bodies. “Your dead bodies, by the way, if you’re at all interested. The ones Col. Sheppard took down during your futile hostile takeover.”

          Acastus’ blood boils at the mention of that name. Never has he been so enraged by a man before. But that man is no soldier. He has no honor! Killing over sixty men…

          “Boy, did you piss off the wrong guy,” she laughs again. “Younger, smarter…better than you on all counts.”

          He locks his forearm against her throat again, banging her head into the wall as before and the laugh cuts off into choking. But she does not struggle to pull him away. She glares at him. Realizing the threat of violation and pain did not persuade her; Acastus chooses to use the real thing. He slams his left hand into her shoulder, pressing on the wound until she screams.

          Her scream subsides into a caustic cry. “Son-of-a-bitch!”

          He eases the pressure and she locks her eyes on his again even as tears spill down her cheeks. Through rapid, pained breathing she hisses: “I’m gonna fucking kill you…I promise!”

          Acastus smiles. He believes she believes that. The look in her eyes actually makes him pause and lighten the pressure on her wound even more. “Good Soldier.” He does not drop his arm from her throat but does release the pressure to allow her to speak without straining.

          “Not a soldier,” she says hoarsely. “Just a chick from the wrong side of LA.”

          “What is LA?”

          “Los Angeles, California. Home of the Lakers, LAX, and drive-by shootings. I’ve lived in places crappier than this stink hole. And I’ve seen scarier things than the Wraith.”

          “Nothing is worse than the Wraith.”

          “You’ve never been to Hollywood.”

          “Stop talking nonsense. Tell me what I want to know. Tell me about Atlantis!” He crushes his palm against her shoulder again. Warm blood flows through his fingers. She screams: a low guttural roar and more tears drop from her eyes. “I will break you, my dear.”

          Through clenched teeth, she spits. “Somebody already beat you to that.”

          And suddenly a massive pain in his face jars him; stumbling back from her. Acastus opens his watery eyes, not realizing he closed them and brings his hand up to his nose. Pain shoots through his face again and the blood on his fingers is now his own. How did she manage this? Once his vision clears he sees her leaning against the wall, a look of triumph on her face and a smear of blood on her forehead.

          Closing the distance fast, Acastus crashes his fist into her jaw and she crumples to her knees. She spits blood into the dirt then looks up at him, smiling again, her teeth tinged in red. “If she could see you now.” She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and stands up, wavering until she leans against the wall. Not much fight left in her, but her fierce eyes remind him of the deadliest of soldiers. “Mylea would choose John Sheppard’s command, his honor, over yours any day.” His rage boils and he wraps his hands around her throat. She clutches at his wrists in reflex but does not truly fight except to speak. “I’m so disappointed in you…” The final word comes out as a whisper, “Daddy.”

          Acastus breaks his hold and she drops face down into the dirt, not moving. He stares at his hands, seeing her blood mixed with his. He looks down at her, not seeing a soldier or even a stranger…but his long, lost daughter.

          No! A lie. She is a lie.

          She made him angry…he does not get angry, lose focus. He is the Commander. He knows how to handle soldiers, deal with interrogation. He does not lose control. Not ever! Why with this…woman, with her babbling nonsense and her fiery eyes. She is nothing like his beloved Mylea. And yet she affects him, weakens him…

          He kicks her in the side, something cracks. But it does not make him feel better. Instead, he feels sick to his stomach. He drops to his knees and turns her over, searching for a breath, hoping he has not stolen the last of her life yet again.

          No…it is not her! Mylea is gone. This is Angela…a soldier.

          And yet her voice plays in his mind. Reminding him…Our names have similar meanings.

          He has to get away. Rethink his tactics. He will break this soldier. He will get his answers. And then he will give her the death she clearly craves.

          Acastus steps out of the cell and locks it, taking the key. He looks to the guard. “No one touches her but Girsh. Understood.”

          “Yes sir!” the guard salutes.

          Yes, he will send Girsh right away to check the wounds. He cannot have her bleed to death just yet.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

 

 

Lacking Control

22

          Weeping wakes him, but she’s not here. John wipes sweat from his face, tosses his covers aside and goes into the bathroom, splashing cold water on his hot skin, shivering at the contact. He grips the sides of the sink, clenching muscles tight as he did once before…when she was here. He turns his head, seeing her standing in the door frame, wearing his shirt and looking so gorgeous, healthy…alive.

          Please…

          Ronon and Teyla have been gone for several hours now. John and Teyla didn’t find anything; any sign of a settlement other than the town, no energy readings to follow…a dead end. Instead of staying, Teyla convinced him they should return to Atlantis with the scans of the planet and town and use the computer to analyze the data. She insisted he try to get some rest while she and Ronon returned through the gate as a trading couple. John didn’t like it—Kolya knows her—but she reminded him that Ronon may need some…handling.

          Elizabeth agreed the plan made sense. John still wanted to return with the jumper but knew it would not be of any use until they could discern something from the scans.

          Before stepping through the gate, Ronon looked back at John. “She is alive. She is coming home.” John nodded, wishing he could be as certain as Ronon. He too knows Jax is still alive, but he’s not sure she will remain for long.

          Embrace the pain, dear boy. It makes you stronger.

          It’s like a knife right to his gut. He knows Kolya…knows the man’s tactics. He’ll have no problem hurting Jax to get what he wants. More than that, should Kolya somehow learn of their relationship, Jax will be hurt to punish him.

          Unable to sleep, John heads to the infirmary to check on McKay. The poor guy isn’t taking this very well. He’s blaming himself, of course, having forced Jax into joining him on the planet. Though, in actuality, it is John’s fault. He didn’t argue the point when it came to security. After the initial sweep and recon, he accepted the analysis that a limited military presence would be enough. Now two of his men are dead and one of the women in his life might as well be.

          Don’t think that!

          McKay’s sleeping when he arrives, but Beckett’s still up, monitoring. He waves John over to his office. “How ya doing, lad?”

          John rubs his neck. “Honestly? I think I might throw up.” He drops into a spare seat and hangs his head. “What’s happening to her right now? What are they doing to her, Carson?” There’s a crack in his voice and a lump in his throat, but it’s not until Beckett rests a hand on his shoulder and he looks up that he notices his blurry vision and feels coolness on his cheeks.

          “You can’t dwell on that, John.” Beckett sits across from him, leaning forward and giving John’s shoulder a comforting pat. “You know better than anyone how strong the lass is. She’s a survivor, son. We’ve all seen it. To hell and back, that girl’s been…and she’s come through it.”

          He shakes his head. “But…Kolya…”

          “She can beat him,” McKay mumbles from the doorway. His arm’s in a sling and the rest of him looks like hell, but he’s up and talking. He catches John’s eyes. McKay’s blue ones are full of pain medication but also a new insight. “Just watch,” he grins. “She’ll totally kick his ass.”

          John straightens, cleaning up his face. “She’s going to have help.”

          McKay nods. “Damn right she is. What’s the plan?”

          “For you to get back to bed, Rodney.”

          “Sorry, Carson. I gotta do this.”

          “He’s right, Rodney. You need rest.”

          “Fine, I’ll lie down and work.” He looks at John. “Did you find anything? Any readings?” John closes his eyes, shaking his head. “But you took scans, right?”

          “Yeah.”

          “Get Zelenka to upload the data to my laptop.”

          John grimaces. “Your laptop’s not looking so good, Rodney. Kinda did a bouncing thing across the floor once you let go.

          “Then get me Zelenka’s laptop.” He snaps the fingers on his left hand. “C’mon. Time’s a-wastin'.”

          John glances at Beckett and the Scotsman nods agreement. “As long as you promise not to overdo it.”

          McKay snickers to himself. “Yeah, right.” Then he smirks at Carson. “Of course, I promise.”

~ § ~

          Ronon washes down another drink. He’s sitting in the same saloon McKay told Beckett about; where Angie must have been spotted by Kolya. Ronon knows from his own experiences with the woman that she can spark interest in anyone, simply by glaring or smiling. He wonders which caught the dangerous Genii’s attention.

          Most likely her smile if she had a drink. The local alcohol has an interesting effect on the limbs, a strange but pleasant tingling sensation. He’s had three such drinks in the past couple hours since arriving in the town. If Angie swallowed just one, she would not have been sober for long. And a drunk Angela is an amusing sight.

          Months ago, Lt. Cadman invited Angie to her ‘ladies’ poker night. At first, she turned the Lieutenant down because it was supposed to be a TV night watching Friends. He could see in her eyes she really wanted to join Lt. Cadman and the others. Ronon convinced her to go and that they would watch later.

          That same night, Sheppard called Ronon to a special meeting. When he arrived, he found McKay, Beckett and Major Lorne there. They wanted to teach Ronon poker. After a couple of hours of the card game, Sheppard called a time-out. McKay pulled open his laptop and placed it on the table; they had an all-access view of the women playing poker in another room.

          Apparently, McKay planted a camera ‘bug’ in the room the women use for their not-so-secret game. The other four men made a bet on who would be out of the game first, who would be drunk first, and who would start talking about sex first. Ronon knew only Angie personally and had no reason to think she would be the first to do any of those things.

          He was wrong.

          She was the first to get ‘plastered’ as Sheppard called it—Beckett won that bet; probably due to his inside information about her physical well-being. However, she was the last to talk about sex and she never left the game. She won. Ronon still can’t figure out how she managed that feat while plastered.

          She did start singing and dancing around the room, shaking and shimmying as before when she taught the class. In fact, when the women took a break in their game, they all joined in, doing a silly but seductive dance while singing to a strange little song: “I Want Candy.”

I Want Candy - Bow Wow Wow

{Eyecandy Vid (for some meta fun)}

          Once that started, Ronon couldn’t see the screen anymore because the other four men refused to move their rather large heads. Sheppard pushed McKay aside and Lorne pushed Beckett aside.

          Once the song was over, the women started talking about their ‘candy’ wishes. A woman named Lindsey, from the Daedalus, mentioned Ronon’s name and Angie spoke up rather fiercely. “He’s taken.” Ronon’s shock by the announcement must have registered on his face as it did on the other men when they all turned to him, questions in their eyes.

          In the other room, the boisterous women went crazy trying to get information from Angie, who surprised everyone with the announcement: “Unless you want your ass kicked by a certain healthy Athosian woman…I’d steer clear of Tarzan.” That started off a whole new buzz of conversation in the room and an exchange of more strange looks from the men staring at Ronon.

          Dr. Morgan made Lorne’s face heat up when she mentioned his name. From Lorne’s expression, he felt the same about the lovely British scientists.

          Someone mentioned Sheppard and all the women oohed and awed over the man, making his ears turn pink. Mostly because McKay and Beckett made a point of mimicking the women’s voices: ‘he’s so gorgeous’ ‘what a hotty’. All the women were staking claims and making predictions, all except Angie. She remained silent, keeping her attention on her cards. For some reason, that seemed to be the worst thing she could do in such company.

          The other women aimed all their attention on her, especially Lt. Cadman. “Someone’s got a serious crush, girls.” Angie protested, but they didn’t relent. “She’s turning red.” Lindsey said: “Quick get a cold compress, she’s getting hot.” Morgan added: “I think her heart’s gonna s’plode with the love any minute.”

          Finally, Angie tossed her cards onto the table, folded her arms, very upset and then a moment later burst out laughing. “Yeah, stick a fork in me, I’m a dead woman!” The others clapped, telling her that she makes an adorable corpse. She held up both hands. “It never leaves this room,” she ordered. The others vowed silence, but they didn’t know about the camera.

          Ronon wonders if that’s when Sheppard started seeing Angie differently. It wasn’t too long afterward that he sought out her company and their intimate friendship began. It still bothers him— though it shouldn’t—that Sheppard has such a hold on her. He trusts the man as a leader, but…not with Angela’s feelings. Not when the man has another woman on his mind. It’s unfair to Angie and Dr. Weir.

          While he’s sitting in the saloon, Teyla’s working her way through the town, using her negotiation skills to try and get some information about Kolya or Angie without bringing suspicion upon them. She politely informed Ronon he would best serve their purpose by watching and listening, but not speaking.

          She enters the establishment and joins him with news. He can see it in her eyes. But before she says anything, a boy rushes inside and grabs the large man behind the counter by the arm; speaking quietly but forcefully: “The Commander requires you now.”

          The large man’s face pales and his small eyes dart around the room. “The woman?” he asks in a hushed voice.

          “Now,” the boy says with urgency.

          Ronon glances at Teyla. She too witnessed the exchange. When the two leave, they follow.

22.5

          Girsh smooths the sweat-dampened hair from her damaged face; the left eye swollen shut and her bottom lip bulbous and tinged with blood. The red marks around her throat also tell a tale. He has never seen such horror done to so lovely a creature. Following Commander Kolya’s order, Girsh brought one of his son’s tunics to replace the woman’s torn one so she may be appropriately covered. Girsh is unsure of Kolya’s motives when it comes to this girl. She is young enough to be his child, and yet he beats her fiercely. It sickens him to be a party to this.

          Using cool rags in combination with ice should lessen the swelling; also, a poultice his father created when Girsh was just a boy will help. It smells horrific but does do the job. The bruises will only fade over time, but once the swelling lessens, she will not be in so much pain. Though at the moment, she remains blessedly unconscious—has been since he arrived—so pain is irrelevant.

          Arms folded and leaning against the wall, Kolya watches him from the corner of the cell. He has not approached the girl since Girsh arrived and lifted her onto the table. Her shoulder wound re-opened and blood flowed freely once again. After removing the useless sutures, Girsh re-stitched the wound. She did not stir during his work and he believes she may remain this way. When they first brought him to her, the head wound bled a great deal before his salve halted the flow. There is no telling what kind of damage she has because of the impact. And the obvious trauma she sustained since then has most likely increased the injury.

          “I must change her attire, Commander.”

          “Very well.”

          Since the man does not move from his spot, Girsh takes that to indicate he intends to watch the process. Girsh cuts the bodice away so he does not jar her shoulder any more than necessary. She has an undergarment he is unfamiliar with but leaves in place though it is stained with blood. A rather massive black contusion on her left side indicates broken ribs. His probes elicit a groan from the woman. She begins to wake. He will have to work quickly to keep the pain level low.

          His son’s large clothing will suffice. Women in Haskins do not cover themselves with trousers and men’s tunics but with thick flowing material fitted to the torso tapered at the waist and free falling from there. Arms and legs are covered equally as is the throat. That type of attire would be inappropriate here, however. Girsh manages to re-dress her torso before she fully wakes. Her one good eye opens and looks around, confusion wrinkling her forehead. He presses the cloth to her face. “S’all right.”

          Her voice is all but gone, merely a hoarse whisper. “Who are you?” She tries to move, but the pain makes her cry out. Kolya steps forward at that moment. Tears stream from her one good eye and into her hair. “Where am I? What happened?” She sounds so lost and confused it breaks Girsh’s heart.

          “Enough!” Kolya orders. “Get up Angela.”

          She does not respond to the name. Girsh looks to Kolya. When the Commander gets angry, he is very dangerous. He stomps over, grabs her by the left arm and yanks her off the table. She screams, dropping to her knees in the dirt clutching her side. Her erratic breathing causes wheezing that adds to the uncontrollable weeping. “Please don’t hurt me…” she begs, bringing her shaking left hand up to protect her face.

          Kolya hesitates. Then he reaches for her, grasps her throat in one large hand and urges her to her feet. Her body visibly shudders with pain. Her eye widens in terror as more tears slip down her cheek. Her broken lips tremble as she sobs. “Wh…what…did…I…do?” she asks weakly.

          The Commander remains holding her by the throat but turns to Girsh. “What is wrong with her?”

          “The head wound…the loss of air…many things could cause mind damage, Commander.”

          Koyla gazes hard at the woman he calls Angela. “No…she is lying.”

          She claws at his hand, gasping for breath. “…don’t…understand…”

          Girsh steps over to the Commander. “There is a way to speak with her…without doing so much damage.” Kolya releases his hold and the woman drops to the dirt like a sack of grain. Girsh kneels and checks for signs of life; unconscious yet again. “She will not survive much more of this, Commander.”

          Kolya’s eyes soften slightly as he looks down at the woman. Then his face reddens and he straightens his spine. “Tell me of your plan.”

~ § ~

          “Scooby-Dooby-Doo where are you, we’ve got some work for you now. Come on Scooby-Dooby-Doo, I see you, you’re ready and you’re willin’...” Her voice worn and hoarse, yet she continues singing regardless. Acastus was not amused at first, but the song soon took hold in his mind and he started humming along. A silly, nonsense tune, but something about it makes him grin. He wonders what it means…who is this Scooby-Doo? And what job can he do that no one else can?

          She lays on the table unaware of her surroundings. A while ago, Girsh rolled up the sleeve of her attire so he could reach the bloodstream of her inner arm. Once she regained consciousness again, he injected something into her. No longer in pain it seems and quite jovial; a stark contrast to the earlier horror Acastus saw in her pained face. At first, he truly believed it was a lie; playing mind games with him. But the fear in her eye as he clutched her throat made him reconsider. Angela had only shown strength…power in those dark eyes.

          But he has not broken her. He knows it is too soon. The last time, she fought, goading him into killing her quickly. Just like any good soldier. But Girsh explained the possibility of mind damage and memory loss. Perhaps Angela’s mind is not as strong as he believed.

          Her appearance has improved. The swelling subsided immensely, though bruising and blood still evidence of his earlier ministrations. Acastus cannot recall how many times he struck her, but the damage has been recorded in streaks of red blood and blue and purple pools under the skin’s surface.

          Girsh may be a weak man, but he does know his compounds. Acastus’ may be wary about this type of questioning, it intrigues him as well. Hurting this woman left him feeling ill deep inside. He knows it is the comparisons to Mylea. But that does not diminish the effect she has on him.

          He determined to free himself of those sentimental emotions and deal with Angela as he would any other prisoner. To prove his might and that no woman could derail him from what he wanted.

          He failed. And that makes him angry.

          However, watching her sing, seeing a smile tug at her wounded mouth, makes his heart race. He knows it is because of the memories of his dark-haired beauty. His baby daughter, who loved him dearly, clung to him whenever he returned from a journey. She was the true sun in his otherwise dark world. He had never known that kind of love for another...it rivaled that which he felt for Larl, Mylea’s mother.

          Mylea, intelligent beyond her years, eyes full of knowledge and wonder, yet wary of those around her. She looked upon most men with distrust, probably because of her mother’s wise teachings. But her eyes held nothing but love for Acastus…as did Larl’s.

          Until that day.

          He shakes his head, pushing the memory aside. Larl’s screams are the last thing he wants to have rattling around in his head. Screams so similar in pain to those he heard earlier. Acastus calls on the lovely face of his daughter as she once smiled at him. He imagined over the years how that face would evolve; mature into the beautiful woman she was meant to become. The woman he was never permitted to meet.

          Angela is that woman.

          He pushes that thought aside as well. She is a soldier of his enemy. She is his enemy. And yet her singing brings a smile to his lips.

          “She is ready, Commander,” Girsh says, moving aside so that Acastus can be closer to her, look down upon her.

          “Angela,” he calls softly.

          Her eyes remain closed as she giggles lightly then makes a strange buzzing noise. Her voice a rough whisper, unusually deep for a female. “I’m sorry, Angela’s not in right now. Would you like to leave a message at the beep? Beeeep!” Then she laughs again.

          “Who are you then?”

          Her good eye opens, the other only a slit and she searches his out, grasping on with the same tenacity he has seen before. “Jax.”

          “Jax.” Kolya grins, finally getting answers. “Why do you have a new name?”

          She shakes her head. “Shhh. Can’t. It’s a secret,” then she starts singing the song again. Shortly through it, she stops and stares at him. “You know? Whoever made up that show was totally high ‘cause how else would you create a talking dog unless you‘re hallucinating and saying… ‘dude my dog’s talking to me!’ And then there’s Shaggy. Always has the munchies! Total pothead!”

          Acastus glances at Girsh; the other man clearly confused by the babbling as well. Acastus looks down, finding her staring at him. “You look familiar. Where do I know you from?”

          He raises his eyes toward Girsh again who talks of memory loss once more. Kolya considers that then drops his attention back to the woman. He offers her a friendly smile, remembers what she mentioned before. “LA.”

          Her eye widens. “The Bureau?”

          “Yes.”

          “Figures.” She starts rambling then, her words running together in a hurry. Acastus follows what she says but not the meanings. “Don’t you hate that town? I’m so glad to be outta there. Not that this is all that great, mind you. You guys could at least spring for a place with windows. So, what’s it gonna be this time? Where’re ya gonna put me…I’m not going back to that convent. No way, no how. And you better be sure to get me a nicer apartment this time too. No more cockroaches or I’m gonna kill someone instead of the bugs.”

          “You tell me what you want…Jax.”

          She grins but it fades and her eyes drift away as if looking inside herself. “I don’t get what I want.”

          Acastus sees such sadness in her, an incredible amount of loss. She is not hiding anything from him, unable to according to Girsh. A pain stabs at his heart and he breaks contact with her for a moment.

          She is not Mylea.

          She has knowledge I need. Perhaps this sadness; those memories of loss will give him access that physical pain could not. “Where do you come from, Jax?”

          “Duh. LA. You should know…you guys know everything about me. You made me.”

          Made her? Ah…this bureau, whatever that is, trained her to be a soldier. “How did we make you?”

          A heavy sigh follows then she tells her tale. Acastus finds himself deeply intrigued by the story. He looks to Girsh to determine if the other man feels she is lying because Acastus does not believe she is. The fierceness in her eyes, the fire of her spirit returns when she speaks of the death of her parents. She mentions being killed by a man named Tony. This must be when she ‘died before’ only to be revived. She talks about learning of weapons from a man named Ryan. “I thought he was the one,” she sighs.

          “The one?”

          Her head lolls toward him, gaze soft and teary. “You know… For the longest time…” she chuckles just a bit. “I really believed it had been him. And then he was gone. Poof…no more love for Jax. But it wasn’t real…”

          Something in her voice, in her manner, strikes him. “When did you find love?”

          She smiles faintly. “Johnny…” Tears slip from her eyes, flowing over the side of her face. “But he doesn’t belong to me.” That sad smile reappears. “Poof…I’ll be gone. He’ll be happy with her.”

          Acastus understands. She loves someone who already has a mate. A man named Johnny. Her body shakes as sobs take over. She covers her face with her hands, oblivious to the wound in her right shoulder. She weeps silently for her unrequited love.

          He feels that pang in his chest again. He remembers this pain. When he lost Mylea to the Wraith beam, he could not be consoled. He gladly would have given his life in exchange for hers. Larl blamed him. She screamed for her only child as she rushed forth into the opening ring and disappeared as the wave of energy hit her. Acastus came close to joining her. But he found strength in work. Found purpose in destroying the Wraith any way possible. No matter what obstacles came before him.

          Acastus realizes what she told him earlier is true. She was already broken—recently—by this Johnny. Is this man the reason she’s not afraid to die? When Lucia aimed the weapon at her, she showed no fear, even stated as much. Someone with no fear of death has nothing left to lose in life, as Larl showed him. Nothing to live for.

          This cannot be true of Jax. If that had been the case, why fight back and run? Because it is her heart that aches, not her spirit. And it was not only her life she had to save.

          McKay. She did it to save McKay. Acastus does not recall the man’s first name, but he is certain it is not Johnny. Besides, this woman looked upon him with barely veiled hostility. She does not like him, let alone love‒

          Sheppard! John…Sheppard!

          Acastus’ mind whirls and he cannot help the smile that engulfs his face. This is truly a gift—No—it would be if Sheppard had feelings for her. Oh, how he could cut deep into that man if he had the woman he did want. He gently pulls her hands from her face; eyes are closed tears spill. Her breath shudders through her body. “He is not worth your sorrow, my dear.”

          Girsh places a hand on her forehead and then her neck. He catches Acastus’ eyes. “She is very warm…not well, Commander.” He quickly grabs a damp cloth and presses it to her skin, gently wiping away the dirt and tears.

          “Why can’t he love me,” she sighs. She’s drifting away, Acastus can tell. “Why daddy?”

          Again, that word strikes him in the heart. She used it previously to goad him into an abrupt killing. But now, aided by the compound Girsh administered, Acastus opened an old scar in her memory as he reopened the wound in her shoulder. He brought back thoughts of a father, long dead. Seems only fair considering what memories she stirs in him.

          Though it is uncharacteristic of him, Acastus finds it easy to respond soothingly to her. “He is a fool, this man.”

          Ignoring her sore throat, she hums to herself. Something familiar…what he heard when she first came through The Ring when they met.

Don't Let Me Get Me - Pink (reprise)

          “So irritating…hmm-mmm-hmmm…want to be somebody else,” she murmurs in a sing-song tone then her head lolls to the side, lost in sleep.

          A thought sparks in Acastus’ mind. He stares at her for a long time; intrigued by the idea that has taken root. Could it be possible? Though they did return, there was no search done for her. Perhaps they were looking, instead, to retrieve the dead soldiers. Acastus believes her now, she is not a soldier but someone trained to defend herself because of a difficult life…which he has nearly brought to an end. Had she been under his command, no rescue would be attempted.

          And Sheppard does not care for her. He will not come.

          For some reason, that particular thought fills him with rage. Seeing past the bruises, she remains a beautiful, spirited female. How could Sheppard not want this woman? How could any man not find her irresistible?

          Any man who tries to touch her now will answer to me.

          Acastus turns to Girsh and tells him the idea. The other man seems shaken by the thought, unsure and nervous. “Can it be done?”

          Girsh shakes his head as he watches the sleeping woman. He rubs his face. “She is very weak…her mind is as well.” He catches Acastus’ gaze with wide eyes. “I may find a solution to use. A combination of some chemicals. It will take time.”

          “Get it done.”

          Girsh steps away from his ward. “All respect, Commander. This is not the place for her. She needs warmth…cleanliness…and much rest.”

          Acastus studies the other man carefully. His drug did as promised; gave Acastus the opportunity to learn the truth about this woman. And had she been any other female, soldier or not, he would shoot her in the head and be done with her. But this idea plagues him…makes his heart beat faster.

          If it fails…so be it. If she does not survive, he will forget her. But if there is a chance that it could work? He must take it. In one stride, he goes to the table and easily lifts her into his arms; light as a large child. Her head rests against his shoulder and he finds himself staring at her again.

          Sheppard is a fool.

          Acastus orders the door opened and carries her to his quarters. It has a dirt floor as do all the rooms in the mine, however, he has a large, comfortable bed with heavy blankets. Girsh rushes into the room and pulls the covers from the bed so that Acastus can lay her down. He pulls the covers up to her chin before looking to Girsh. “I will watch over her. Go choose your compounds. I want this done as quickly as possible.”

          Girsh starts to leave then turns back. “A cool cloth will soothe her.” He pulls a bottle of pills from his pocket. “One of these every four hours for pain.” Girsh rushes out the door.

          Acastus turns back to the young woman. She seems restless in her sleep. In pain both physically and in her mind. Her forehead wrinkles and she jerks under the covers. He goes to his wash bin and soaks a cloth in the water, wrings it out then returns to the bed. Sitting beside her, Acastus gently presses the cloth to her exceedingly warm skin and offers soothing words of comfort.

          After a few moments, she calms and a soft smile plays at her lips. “I’ve missed you, Daddy,” she whispers in her sleep.

          Kolya finds himself caressing her dark hair away from her face. He jerks his hand back, realizing who he is thinking about. After a moment, a smile spreads over his face, even crinkling his eyes. His hand returns to her hair, then to her cheek and she leans into his touch. “I have missed you too, Mylea.”

          Perhaps he would not forget her so soon if she does not survive.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

23 ≈

          Teyla squats next to Ronon and shares the binoculars with him; though hidden a good distance from the mine able to see clearly through the trees. They have been watching for several hours now. “I count eleven,” she says.

          Ronon grumbles. “Thirteen. Plus, more inside we have yet to see. None matches the description of Kolya.”

          “He has rebuilt his strike force.” She glances at Ronon. “Perhaps he intends to come after Atlantis again.”

          Ronon lowers the long-range glasses. “He won’t get the chance.”

          Teyla turns to him. “You intend to kill him.”

          “I do.”

          “We must return to Atlantis with the information about the mine. Col. Sheppard can better plan the rescue. There may even be some data from the scans to help us.”

          “I’m staying.”

          She places a hand on his shoulder. “You can do nothing alone, Ronon. Except perhaps put her into more danger.”

          “I’ll watch and listen.” He looks to her again. “Only.”

          Teyla wants to agree with him, but precaution is the better way to go. “If the Stargate is being monitored, they will know I came with you only to leave alone. You will be sought.”

          Ronon hangs his head and the massive hair hides his face. “If I stay, she’ll know. She’ll fight.” He lifts his eyes to meet hers. “She must know I’ve come.”

          “I am certain Jax does, Ronon.” Though deep down, Teyla is not even certain Jax still lives. She refuses to dash his hopes, however. His or Col. Sheppard’s. Jax is very important to them and a friend to Teyla. But she has been badly wounded as they witnessed much blood near the Stargate and DHD. And Kolya has no qualms of hurting women. She knows this from Sora’s stories.

          Ronon grabs her, pulling her down into the brush; a moment later heavy footfalls crunch nearby forest growth. Two of Kolya’s men have come out into the forest to relieve themselves. “He took the female prisoner to his bed.”

          Ronon stiffens next to Teyla and she is afraid he might attack. She grips his forearm as a warning not to move and give away their location.

          “You sound jealous,” the second man says.

          “Not at all. When he tires of her, he will give her to the rest of us.”

          Ronon’s rage boils to the surface. She tightens her hold on his arm to the point of digging her nails into his skin. His fists clench and a low rumble comes from his chest.

          “If she survives. Girsh appears concerned.”

          Ronon’s breath catches and Teyla leans close to whisper in his ear. “She is alive…that is what matters.”

~ § ~

          Elizabeth has never been so worried about the team.

          Two days have gone by since Angie was taken. Two days of trying to make sense of the scans the jumper took. Two days of watching both John and Ronon nearly tear everyone’s head off the minute someone speaks to either of them.

          Even Atlantis has been silent. Not a single song. The City must feel the tension within the inhabitants, mostly those with the ATA gene. John’s connection is the strongest with Angie not here, so perhaps The City is responding to him.

          Elizabeth doesn’t know Ronon well enough to know if his rage is a usual occurrence. But she does know John. He’s on a razor’s edge and can fall over any minute. She’s tried talking to him, but he’s stoic and silent. It’s his eyes that she’s afraid of, however. There’s something missing from them, something…human…missing. If the plan fails, if they don’t retrieve Angie—or should they make it to her too late—Elizabeth’s worried neither man will completely recover.

          Rodney hasn’t been much better. He’s supposed to be resting but refuses to do so. Carson’s decided not to drug the scientist because he’s willing to stay in the infirmary while he works. Both John and Ronon have taken up residence in there as well, at least for several hours at a time.

          None of them is sleeping, not even Teyla. She and Ronon returned from the planet with information about Kolya’s hideout and the town; including the fact that the people there do not care for Kolya’s authority and would prefer he leave with his men and never return. But Ronon and Teyla held something back. They know Angie is alive because they heard some of Kolya’s men talking about her. After they mentioned this, a strained look passed between them and silenced them from further discussion.

          Teyla has come to speak with Elizabeth a few times, though usually about the mission or trivial things, probably to keep her mind busy. But there’s a dark cloud over the Athosian woman’s features as if she’s about to lose her stomach at any moment. And for someone as disciplined as Teyla, it’s not a look Elizabeth finds hopeful.

          Elizabeth wonders if Ronon told John the information because the look in the Colonel’s eyes came on the same night after Teyla and Ronon returned. Whatever has caused this change in her second in command, she prays it can be reversed. She also wonders why they haven’t trusted her to hear the news. Perhaps they are protecting her from it given her history with Kolya.

          Even John doesn’t know the entire story on that front.

          Elizabeth looks up from her spot on her office sofa as Rodney clicks to a new section of data on the monitor and points to the screen with his left hand. His right arm remains in the sling and he’s wearing the red infirmary scrubs since rushing from there about ten minutes ago. John, Ronon, and Teyla stand on the sidelines at the back of her office carefully following Rodney’s detailed description.

          “It’s basically a maze inside there,” Rodney says. “From what Teyla discovered in town, the mine was depleted hundreds of years ago, maybe more. Kolya’s probably using the upper levels for living quarters.” Rodney grins. “So, I know something he, more than likely, doesn’t.” Everyone waits, looking at him expectantly. “There’s more than one entrance to the mine.”

          John stands up straighter, his arms dropping to his sides and he peers at the screen with more interest. “Show me.”

          The four of them discuss the possibility of getting inside through the lower levels of the mine and then out the front to a waiting jumper. It’s a risky plan considering they will have to climb through the mine shaft…a really, really old mine shaft. Elizabeth’s skeptical. “Colonel, when was the last time you went rock climbing?”

          His brows shoot up and he wobbles his head. “In a previous life, maybe.”

          “You think you can handle a two- or three-story climb like this?”

          “Ronon or I can take the lead, Dr. Weir,” Teyla says with utter confidence. “We have much climbing experience.”

          “I can pull myself up a rope, Elizabeth,” he says with a sharp tinge in his tone. “I’m not McKay.”

          Rodney sneers. “Thanks for that.”

          John nods but doesn’t take his hardened eyes off Elizabeth. “You’re welcome.” His jaw muscles work overtime as he returns to clenching his teeth, his recent favorite pass-time.

          Elizabeth nods but there’s a knot tightening in her gut, telling her this is wrong. Kolya has to be waiting for a rescue team to strike otherwise he would have already killed Angie and left her body for them to find. He wants them to come. He wants to grab someone of importance. How can she, in good conscience, send out their team, short one man and another team of six simply to save the life of someone who is most likely already dead?

          As if sensing her ambiguity on the subject, Ronon moves to Elizabeth’s side, his arms crossed over his massive chest and he stares down at her with that impenetrable gaze of his. “She’s alive, Dr. Weir,” he says. His face reddens considerably when he adds in a low, guttural voice: “The soldiers expect her to be… passed around…before Kolya kills her.”

          Elizabeth’s eyes widen in horror. She catches Teyla’s gaze, her face full of disgust and fear for Angie. Elizabeth’s stomach roils at the news. This is what they’ve been keeping from me. No wonder they’ve been behaving so…she takes a deep breath and it shudders through her body. John’s eyes latch onto Elizabeth’s again. She can practically taste the rage seething inside him. After another deep breath, she nods. “Go.”

* ~ § ~ *

          “Jumper three, ready for launch,” John says trying to keep the heat out of his voice. He hasn’t been able to get what Ronon told him out of his head. It’s worse than his skin crawling, it feels like he’s on fire and every pore is screaming in pain.

          What if it’s already started? Ronon kept something from him, some other information that has the other man ready to tear arms off. He can guess what else they learned and the thought of it makes him want to vomit. If Kolya’s willing to…then he’ll be the first.

          John grips the controls so hard his knuckles turn white. He knows to Angie—to any woman—it would be worse than death. He may even make it to her only to have her beg him to end it. To end the life he’s so desperate to save.

          No, that’s not going to happen.

          His head hurts from grinding his teeth for so many hours just waiting for the right time to put the plan into motion. It’s a risky attack, how he and Major Lorne chose to coordinate the assault. The fact that it took sixteen hours to put into action hasn’t helped his stress either. Ronon and Teyla sit behind him, filled with tension. It’s radiating off of all of them.

          John glances at Sgt. Stackhouse, coming along for the ride…in Ford’s old seat. As usual, Stackhouse is ready for action, but this one he’s going to have to sit out and he knows it. It’s odd seeing someone other than Rodney taking up that post. The three of them with Teyla…that’s how it was supposed to be…but now only he and Teyla remain.

          For now. Rodney will be back in shape in no time.

          But not Ford.

          John’s dwelling on the memory of his lost friend because he doesn’t want to deal with what’s coming in the next few hours. He knows the plan is solid. It’ll work. What he doesn’t know is what he’ll find. What will be left of Angie? If she is alive…how much of her will want to be? Will he be able to help her once she comes home? Will their strange bond keep him by her side, able to care for her?

          “You have a go, jumper three,” Elizabeth says over the com, breaking his dark thoughts. “Be safe,” she adds softly, as usual.

          John doesn’t respond with a flip answer this time, he simply commands the jumper into the wormhole. They emerge on planet PXT-705 and he instantly cloaks the ship. The gate’s most likely monitored so even if no one caught the jumper before it cloaked, they know the ring activated and someone came through.

          John pilots the jumper to the back entrance of the mine where he, Ronon and Teyla grab their gear and head out. Once they’re free and clear, Stackhouse takes the jumper to the pre-arranged destination on the other side, closer to the main entrance.

23.5

          Girsh soothes her face and neck with a cool cloth. The serum he constructed has been working on defeating her pain, but not the illness taking root in her body. But she is a fighter; he witnessed that much in the time they’ve spent together. Though, the illness-induced dementia is weakening her defenses rapidly.

          The Commander is mad if he believes she will survive this mental torment. But Girsh realized as Kolya made the suggestion it would be the only way to ensure he no longer physically abuses her. It may even prevent the madman from killing her.

          Though, Girsh finds it difficult to believe she will live much longer in any event. He is not as skilled a healer as his father before him. He can aid in pain and some sewing, but deeper problems as with the shoulder wound, those are beyond his knowledge.

          At the very least, he can keep her comfortable until the time comes. He already has a plan in mind to settle her into the darkness for good, should the need arise. Kolya will accept the inevitable, he will have no choice.

          However, Girsh suspects the man has grown attached to the young woman, in spite of his efforts to free himself from such sentimentality. He became strangely protective over the last few days. Even pummeling his own men after overhearing two of them talking with a third about their plans for the poor woman…as a group.

          Each of those men required Girsh’s sewing skills a few hours later…but no pain compounds as Kolya instructed.

          “Ronon…” she murmurs in her troubled, hallucinated, drug-sleep. The first word spoken in many hours and it draws Kolya from his statue-still post at the edge of the room.

          A crackle over the communication device jars both men. “Commander, that ship has returned once more.”

          Kolya’s eyes darken and his mouth sets in a harsh line. He depresses the button on his device. “Track it.”

          “Impossible, Commander. It vanished after it came through. However, it was heading toward the ruins.”

          Kolya paces the room. His shoulders tight and spine stiff as wood. Suddenly he stops, his head snaps around and eyes lock onto the woman. The first time there is anger in the Commander’s eyes in many days as he looks upon her: his prize. He strides over to the bed, yanks Girsh away and sits on the edge.

          The sudden gentleness in the man’s hand as it caresses the woman’s face astounds Girsh. Obviously, the anger is not directed at her this time. “They are coming for you, my darling daughter.”

          Her head wobbles on the pillow, her breathing increases. “No,” she sighs. “No more.”

          Kolya leans over and whispers into her ear, though Girsh is close enough to hear every terrible word. “They want to hurt you again. Brutalize you as only vicious men would.”

          She whimpers in her delirium. “…don’t let…please…daddy...help me.”

          The man presses his lips to her forehead before looking down upon her still bruised face. “I will protect you…Mylea.”

          For the first time since they started the conditioning, she finally reacts to the name by smiling. Girsh’s heart races. He did not believe it would be possible, not in such a short time. Though they have been at this for many days now, and she was not well to begin with; perhaps he underestimated his own abilities. Or, more likely, overestimated her will to fight the effects of the compounds.

          Not that it matters. The look on Kolya’s face is all he needs to see. The man has fallen into his own form of dementia…as if he believes the story they concocted for the woman. The fantasy he made may soon be cemented in his own mind as fact. This could become a more serious problem than Girsh foresaw. For when her body does fail to heal, Kolya will be enraged and blame him.

          Quite unexpectedly, the woman’s eyes open. She blinks several times before focusing on Kolya’s face still hovering above hers. “Daddy?” she asks in that gravelly whisper that seems to have become her permanent voice. Girsh suspects it is a result of Kolya’s strangulation.

          “Yes, my darling,” Kolya says, stroking her hair. “I am with you.”

          With a fluidity Girsh can only explain away because of the pain serum, the young woman launches herself upward, wrapping her arms around the Commander’s neck and hugging him close. Her body shakes with the effort. Kolya’s arms carefully encircle her, one hand supporting the back of her head. He presses his lips to her hair then rests her against his shoulder.

          Tears shimmer in the madman’s eyes.

₪†₪

Chapter Text

24

          Ronon leads the way into the darkened forest, up the mountain slope and to the back entrance to the mine. He’s moving fast, but Sheppard and Teyla keep up, probably because he’s carrying most of the equipment. He stops abruptly at their destination and curses. His companions appear moments later, both drawing up short with similar grumbles. The shaft has been blocked by a rock slide.

          “Guess we start digging,” Sheppard says.

          Teyla checks her timepiece. “Would C-4 not be a faster solution?”

          Sheppard starts reaching for the first stones. “Great, except someone would probably hear the boom, which would kinda blow our surprise.” Teyla dismisses his sarcasm with a firm nod, clearly not taking offense to his hostility. “Besides, we have other plans for that.”

          Ronon grabs the Colonel’s shoulder and pulls him back. “Let me.” He switches his gun setting and fires off a single round. Stones explode before them as they dodge away from the shards; the sound should not carry far enough to bring attention.

          Sheppard steps over and peers into a small round opening at the top of the rock pile. He glances back at Ronon. “Nice. One more should give us a decent crawl space.” Then he backs up and waits for Ronon to fire again.

          Teyla’s goes through first and reports back that the remaining tunnel’s free of debris. The men scramble through the opening and meet her inside. All three turn on their flashlights, Teyla's and Sheppard’s being attached to their P-90’s. “We must move quickly,” Teyla says taking the lead.

~ § ~

          “Report,” Kolya growls into his communication device.

          “The ship is not at the ruins, Commander, as far as we can see,” Reynard explains.

          Girsh has little care for any of Kolya’s men, but Reynard is one he wishes would die soon. He is one of the three who wanted to brutalize the young woman. If he and his friends said anything close to that now, Kolya would not stop with a mere beating. There would be nothing left to stitch together.

          Girsh sits in front of the woman helping her eat. He has been calling her Mylea as Kolya ordered but it does not feel correct.

          Alert for the first time in many days, she manages to sit up at an angle in the bed, many cushions supporting her. With a ravenous appetite, he insists she takes it easy. She smiles at him as he lifts the broth cup for her to drink. “Thank you,” she whispers after swallowing.

          He offers her a small section of roll. “My pleasure, Mylea.”

          She hums to herself, another of her mysterious tunes. Kolya gave Girsh her melody machine, unfortunately, he has not been able to make it work. It may have come in handy with her conditioning, but they were successful without it.

          Still, he would like to know what it is. If she survives, perhaps she will remember how to use it and show him.

          Her dark eyes study him as she has since he came in with her food. He senses her strength of spirit, her independence…and yet there is a child in there, an innocence needing comfort and caring. “Have we met before?” she asks.

          He almost mentions the spirit house but quickly suppresses it. The tale he and Kolya have planted in her mind is much different; the tale that might save her life should she get well. “No,” he lies.

          Her gaze sturdy and open, she smiles again and despite the horrible bruising, the smile sends pleasant heat into Girsh’s face and neck. Though her voice is quite different from that first time they met, the husky whisper is growing on him. If he did not know the origins of damage to her throat, he might have found it appealing even. “You have been taking care of me since I returned?”

          Girsh nods. “You have been very ill.”

          Her face falls and her eyes glisten with unshed tears. When she takes a deep breath, her body shudders, either with pain or the memory of pain, he is unsure. “He hurt me,” she gasps.

          Concern that the conditioning has not taken speeds up his heartbeat. Girsh feels more than sees Kolya join them near the bed. The Commander has a presence that lifts the hairs on Girsh’s body…an entirely unpleasant feeling. “Who?” Kolya demands.

          Her haunted, teary eyes lift to Kolya’s. Girsh reads fear in those eyes. “I don’t want to remember him, Daddy,” she sobs, the tears spilling.

          Girsh relaxes as he senses Kolya’s tension ebbing. Out of the corner of his eye, he catches a tiny smile from the Commander; one of understanding and compassion, completely alien to the man’s usual features.

          “You do not have to, darling,” Kolya says gently, moving closer so he can caress the young woman’s cheek. “You escaped. You are safe now.” Another soft smile appears as she presses her cheek into his palm, her eyes no longer full of fear but something Girsh does not recognize. Possibly happiness or contentment. “Rest now,” Kolya says gently. She nods, laying into the pillows. A sharp intake of breath and her tightly closed eyes alerts Kolya. “Are you in pain?” Her teeth catch her bottom lip and she nods. “Help her now,” the Commander orders.

          Girsh picks up the injection from the nearby table. He swabs her inner arm before administering the pain-stopping compound. “You will sleep soon,” he tells her.

          “I have slept so long…”

          Kolya motions to Girsh and takes the man’s place by her side. The Commander fingers a long curl. “You must rest, my darling. You need to heal.”

          She locks her eyes on to him. “You will not let him get me?”

          “No.”

          With a wince, she settles deeper into the pillows. “He returns in my sleep. Hurts me again.”

          “You are strong. Fight him. Hurt him,” Kolya encourages her with another caress to her cheek.

          She smiles again, softly, as if his words have given her renewed strength. “I will...I promise.” Then she closes her eyes and waits for the compound to take effect. It is not long before she drifts away, her head dropping to the side as consciousness leaves her.

          Kolya looks over his shoulder at Girsh, the Commander’s eyes filled with fire. “Why is she not better?”

          “Her injuries are severe, Commander. The ribs will take much time to heal.”

          That gets him a harsh glare. Kolya knows he is responsible for the pain she is in, even if he wants to believe the story he told her, realization that the tale is false still plagues the madman’s mind. Girsh wonders if Kolya will ultimately succumb to the delusion as the young woman has. It may take many years, but if she is able to get well, there is the possibility that the two will reinforce the story for one another, ultimately changing the past to suit their memories.

          The idea that Jax will be forced to live the lie makes Girsh’s stomach turn. He would send her to her people if he could. It is not in his power, however. This is the best way…the only way to keep her safe from Kolya’s rage and his men.

          Kolya sits with her for a long while, fingering her dark curls.

* § *

          John can’t stop thinking about what Elizabeth told him the day Angie was taken. She heard him talking in his sleep…believes he loves Elizabeth…

          Which he does. But he also loves Angie. Very much. Those damn crashing trains are going to kill him on impact, but he can’t help it. Two beautiful women. Both strong, independent, feisty, smart…great kissers!

          Head out of the gutter man! This is important.

          How could things have gotten so screwed up? A few minutes before that gate opened expelling McKay and the gunman; John could have been on the planet, possibly in time to save Angie from being shot.

          Or I would have walked right into an ambush.

          But he’d been spending that time kissing Elizabeth. Something he’d never trade…

          Except to save Angie.

          He really needs to get his priorities straight! That’s the biggest problem with this mission. It’s not a military action. Not like flying a chopper into enemy territory to save a few wounded men. No, this is personal.

          Kolya has Angie.

          His enemy has the woman he loves. And God only knows what he’s doing to her.

          John closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He can’t think about that, not right now. If he lets that take him over, he’ll be no good to anyone, especially not Angie. Later, he’ll take it out on Kolya later. When Angie is safe.

          Safe. Is there such a thing for her? She’s been through so much over the years. There’s no telling what effect this whole situation will have on her. No matter how Kolya hurts her…she’s going to be scarred by it. It’s going to change her in ways John can’t predict.

          He feels a hand on his shoulder and snaps his head up. Though the flashlight beams are lowered, he can see so much compassion in Teyla’s eyes it makes his heart hurt. She knows his pain. She’s lost countless people to the Wraith with no hope of retrieval. “We must keep moving,” she says quietly, giving his shoulder a squeeze.

          John nods. Yes…keep going. I have to save Angie. I have to show her…tell her…

          They make good time getting to the vertical shaft that will take them up to the main level. They each strap on a harness and pull on climbing gloves…even Ronon, though not without protest, but John makes it an order and the man acquiesces.

          Ronon starts climbing, trailing the military issue black rope in his wake. He’s sure-footed and moves with both skill and speed, using mountain rocks more than the wood frame. John’s duly impressed considering the guy weighs a ton; he moves with the agility of a cat going up a tree.

          Using his flashlight, John studies the wood structure he and Teyla are about to traverse. It looks like a large elevator shaft, though without the cables and boxcar, with rot in some places. That’s unsettling.

          “We should have two hours before the evening meal,” Teyla says. She pulls out the map McKay printed of the maze. The scientist even drew ‘start here’ and ‘end here’ marks with a line tracing through the tunnels. “Should we deviate from this path, I will maintain our position so we can find the route out.”

          John nods. Teyla’s resolve to find Angie surprises him. At first, he thought she was simply humoring both him and Ronon, not believing Angie is still alive. All that changed the moment she and Ronon returned from the planet with their news. John’s never seen Teyla so angry…full of rage and hate for someone other than the Wraith—or Bates. Hearing the report secondhand devastated him; he can’t know how she feels about what she overheard. How Kolya’s men spoke of Angie—of any woman—to be used in such a way, tortured…Teyla’s eager to cause some damage and he’s right beside her on that one.

          His skin’s crawling with fire ants again.

          If any of them has touched Angie…

          Kolya’s already a dead man. John warned him not to try something like this again. He must not have taken the threat seriously.

          Never figured him for being outright stupid, so it must be his arrogance that’s gonna get him killed.

          It’s that same arrogance that got him to try and take Elizabeth through the gate as his prize hostage over a year ago. Kolya underestimated John that day and again when he tried stealing the ZPM out from under them.

          Let’s hope he hasn’t learned that lesson, just yet.

          Given their track record on such journeys, John wouldn’t be surprised if Teyla gets a chance to whump some Genii ass.

          After a few minutes, Ronon flicks his light in John’s face to indicate the first safety piton has been set. John begins his climb up the wood frame. They intend to use the wood as much as possible and only rely on the pitons and rope as a last resort. The wood creaks and trembles under his weight, struggling to hold together. John realizes rather quickly the rope is going to have to be more than just a lifeline.

          Good thing I’ve been working out.

          His arms are stronger now, meatier since training with Teyla and Ronon. He’s got a fiercer grip and his muscles don’t tire as easily. His biceps and triceps bulge as he climbs hand-over-hand up the rope, using the mountain wall as balance against his feet. His shoulders tense and all the muscles in his back and abdomen tighten with the effort.

          Definitely going to need a massage after this.

          That thought sends him spiraling into visions of Angie smiling at him, calling him Johnny. He hasn’t realized how much he misses that. Misses hearing her voice…seeing her face.

          The urge to get to her propels him up the rope. It’s the same feeling he had when he sought her out in the therapy room that day. The day he intruded on Lt. Cadman’s session. The day John kissed Angie like there was no tomorrow because, according to her, there wasn’t. That’s the kiss that did him in. He hadn’t figured it out at the time, but somewhere deep down; he knew he was in love with her from the beginning. From the moment he stepped into her room that first night. Sure, he was a giant raging hormone…but there was something else pulling him into her orbit. Something stronger. Irresistible.

          And it had nothing to do with pheromones.

          When he started seeking her out in the city, following her, John’s mind was clear. He had no intention of approaching her or doing her harm. He simply wanted to adore her from afar. Her grace as she danced, her subtle beauty as she walked around in the shadows, her skill with weapons, all of it drew him in, called to him. But it was the smile she had for Ronon. The trust she gave only to him that sent John into a whirl. He wanted that smile, wanted that trust.

          And I got it…only to possibly lose it forever.

          By the time he reaches the first piton, Teyla has begun her ascent and Ronon is another twenty or thirty feet above him inserting another safety clasp into the rock face.

          Hold on Angie…please.

* ~ § ~ *

          They’re standing on an outcropping about ten feet below the lip of the main shaft. His arms sore and rubbery from the climb, but he’s ready to get moving. John pulls out the life signs detector. “Nothing.”

          “Less than thirty minutes,” Teyla whispers.

          John taps his radio. “Stackhouse, report.”

          “We’re all on schedule, sir. Second group leaving now, nine in all. Of the first group, four returning to stand station… five went inside, Kolya was one.”

          “Acknowledged, Sheppard out.”

          During the last two days as John, Ronon and Lorne worked on the assault plan while waiting for McKay to come up with some brilliant idea. Teyla returned to the planet with Sgt. Stackhouse—out of uniform—and scouted the mine. They watched for several hours at a time to determine any schedules. They found that half the group goes to their evening meal in town, returns and the other half goes. It is also customary for the men to have drinks with dinner and the local alcohol is known to be strong.

          Upon their return, four men take up posts outside while the others go inside, possibly to sleep. Taking that information into account, John and Lorne decided the best time to attack would be after the first group has returned and the second has left. Sated soldiers have been known to move slower and with less energy than hungry ones.

          Ronon climbs out first followed by Teyla then John. The dark tunnel doesn’t seem to have been disturbed by footprints, but John’s wary. Kolya is a military commander. Surely, he secured the entire level prior to taking occupancy. John wouldn’t be surprised to find that Kolya blocked off the lower entrance himself.

          That’s why the plans had to be perfect. John knew they’d probably get caught, but they decided that would not stop them.

          Taking point this time, John searches the walls and ground for traps or trips, finding nothing. That’s odd. They hit the first of many junctures and Teyla motions which way to go according to the map.

          Sometime later, after several twists and turns, flickering golden light appears at the end of a tunnel and John lifts his fist—the stop command. Teyla’s right behind him and checks her watch. She nods indicating they’ve made good time.

          Ronon hands over the crucial items and the three of them get to work.

          After completing their task in that section, John resets his watch and checks the life-signs detector before slowly creeping forward. Four solid life signs around the corner huddled together. He snaps a quick look, checking the lighted tunnel; gas lamps lining the walls but no warm bodies. There’s a door halfway down the passageway.

          John motions to Ronon. The man sets his weapon for stun and Teyla pulls out the Wraith hand-held stunner she brought. They have no problem taking Kolya’s men out, but the more silent the better, so stun it is.

          John slowly turns the knob so the door opens a crack and he can get a quick look. He indicates to Ronon and Teyla there are four men, two on one side and two on the other. Both take a stance on either side of the door, planning to shoot diagonally. John crouches low and shoves the door open going flat on his belly, gun aimed, startling the men inside.

          They’re down within seconds, no alarm raised.

          The team slips into the room, closing the door to a crack so Ronon can keep watch on the passage. John checks the detector, finding a lone signal further down and around a corner. Ronon takes point, Teyla the middle and John brings up their six. They make it to the next room without any hassle.

          That’s definitely off.

          Once again, John opens the door to scan the room, but he doesn’t see anyone. He motions to Ronon where the person should be inside, according to the detector. John shoves the door open as before and all three slip inside. Given the size of the room and the fact that there’s only one rather large bed, John suspects this is Kolya’s quarters. He doesn’t see her at first because she’s buried under a mountain of blankets. And she’s not moving.

          Teyla closes the door and keeps watch as both Ronon and John go to the bed. John’s breath catches and rage boils his blood. He’s sure, by the look of the man, that Ronon’s ready to kill. Angie’s beautiful face is a blotchy patchwork of black, purple, red and blue, not to be outdone by the cuts on her lips, scratches on her face and the large red marks around her throat. John’s surprised she’s not swollen given the vicious beating could only be a few days old.

          Holding his breath, afraid of what damage he might find, John lifts the covers, peering underneath. Finding her dressed in a rather large shirt and her black jeans, he tosses the covers aside. Before picking her up, however, he notices her left arm. The sleeve’s rolled up past the elbow. Gently, he turns her arm and sees tell-tale markings of many injections into her vein.

          Son-of-a-bitch!

          John touches her cheek. She’s burning up. “Jax?” She doesn’t respond. He brushes some hair from her face. It’s usually so soft; he’s disturbed by the dirty, sticky texture. Pulling his fingers away, black grime remains on the tips. Lifting her hair, he finds an awful gash on the right side of her head darkened with dried blood and something else, but it looks to be healing. “Jax?” he calls again. Still nothing.

          She’s alive. That’s what matters.

          Ronon moves in to pick her up, but John stops him. “You need your hands free.” Ronon glares at him so he adds: “To rip off arms.” That gets a grunt of approval and a firm nod. John scoops Angie up in his arms. She’s a feather as usual, but a feather in obvious pain because she groans in her sleep. “Sorry, angel,” he kisses her forehead.

          Her head rests against his shoulder and she’s humming softly. Something he should know…something very familiar. The tune gets stuck in his head, but the words are missing. Why do I know this song? Shaking off the thought, John carries her to the door.

          Teyla holds the life signs detector and the map. She indicates the route they need to take to the main entrance. She points to the detector, her eyes filled with concern. “Yeah.” Johns nods.

          Ronon darts his eyes to him. “It’s not as expected?”

          John grunts. “Exactly as expected.”

          Ronon grins, pulling out his gun again. “Let’s not disappoint them then.” And he takes point out the door; John follows carrying Angie as Teyla brings up their six.

* ~ §§ ~ *

          Acastus motions for his men to wait until the quarry is in the middle of the tunnel, away from any rooms they can hide within. They make the final turn into the passageway that leads outside the mine. With two fingers and a click on his communications device, Acastus alerts his men to move in from both directions.

          Five men on one side and five with Acastus surround the intruders. He does not recognize one of them, a rather large, muscular man with strange, long hair. But seeing Sheppard gives him a pleasant tingle in his spine.

          His men quickly retrieve the intruders’ weapons, except for Sheppard’s that are blocked by the limp body he hugs close to his chest. The large man and Emmagan are subdued with their wrists bound behind their backs. Sheppard is last. Acastus strolls up between his men, rather pleased by the situation. He can feel Girsh moving in behind him. The round medicine man held back until they had the upper hand…quite the coward. “Sheppard.”

          “Kolya,” the other man spits.

          “I must say I did not expect you of all people. This is truly a delight.” Acastus motions to Girsh. “Hand the female over to him.”

          Sheppard holds her even closer. “No…I don’t think so.”

          Acastus motions to his troops. “You are surrounded.”

          “How’d you manage that, by the way?” Sheppard asks, stalling. “We know your men left.”

          “Did you really believe I would have only one entrance to this facility? Or that I would not be able to track movement within it? I am disappointed in you.” His gaze narrows. “Hand her over.”

          “Why do you want her?”

          Something about Sheppard’s manner, his protectiveness gives away his true feelings.

          She is mistaken about him.

          That brings joy to Acastus now that he owns her. He considers how best to destroy a man…even one like Sheppard. As he watches Sheppard’s face, though considerably cool under the circumstances, he does not miss the telling signs that this man cares for the woman he holds. Cares deeply for her. Oh, how poetic life can be.

          All this time…I have had the means to destroy him within my grasp. And now she belongs to me.

          Kolya determines the most effective means of cutting Sheppard down now would not be physically, but emotionally. “I have been finding her company…” Acastus adds a lascivious grin, making it seem as evil and disgusting as possible. “Entertaining.”

          Sheppard’s eyes narrow dangerously, but it is the larger, long-haired man that makes a noise similar to that of a wild animal. “Any man who has hurt her will die,” he growls.

          Acastus tilts his head, his eyes shifting quickly to the other man; not someone to be taken lightly. Even with his hands bound, it takes three of his men to hold him back.

          The side of Acastus’s mouth rises in a smirk as he watches the young man strain against those barring his way. “Then I suggest you start with him,” Acastus says, pointing to Sheppard. He locks eyes with his nemesis. “It would have taken longer for me to break her, had you not done so already.”

          And there it is…horror in Sheppard’s eyes as they slide toward her face. Guilt.

          “She cried for you at first,” Acastus adds. “Then she cursed you.” Sheppard’s difficulty swallowing makes his day. “You will not stop me from taking her…how much punishment should I inflict on her for your insubordination?”

          Sheppard’s eyes lock onto Acastus’s but this time no emotion shows through.

          Just as when he shot me.

          Yet he still does not release his hold on her, in fact, his grip tightens and she groans in pain. Acastus nods to Tulol and a gun is placed against Teyla Emmagan’s temple. “How about now?”

          Sheppard glances at his female companion then Girsh holds out his arms. He says something to Sheppard that Acastus does not hear and reluctantly Sheppard hands her over. As she is pulled free and rolls against the other man’s body, she cries out with a pained sob making Acastus angry. Sheppard’s going to pay dearly for that. Acastus motions to Tulol and the gun is lowered. “Interesting to see where your priorities lay, Sheppard.”

          “That’s Lt. Colonel Sheppard,” he sneers as he is stripped of his weapons.

          “Ah, yes. She did mention that during our first…session.”

          The long-haired man grumbles again, his eyes hard on Acastus.

          Who is this? Why is he so protective of her?

          Girsh turns to step passed Acastus and return her to the bed. He grabs the rotund man’s upper arm. He has something special in mind for Sheppard. “Wake her,” he tells Girsh. A flash of worry crosses the weak man’s features but he nods nonetheless. Acastus returns his attention to Sheppard. The other man gives nothing away, but Acastus knows his weakness now…this is going to be very entertaining. “Where is Lt. Ford? Waiting in your flying ship?”

          “Dead,” John says coolly.

          Acastus believes him, though he has no reason to do so. Sometimes the truth is as simple as that, especially with the Wraith now culling. He nods understanding, that must be why they have the new recruit, this wild man with the rather predatory eyes. Acastus offers Sheppard a friendly grin. “Contact your ship, Sheppard. I want that thing off my planet…now.”

          “Your planet?” Emmagan says. “That is not what the Haskins believe.”

          Acastus ignores her. “Colonel.”

          With a heavy sigh, Sheppard double taps the communication device attached to his vest. “Major.”

          Just as with his own device, Acastus can hear every word. “This is Lorne, go ahead, sir.”

          Sheppard lets his gaze wander over the troop surrounding them then settle on Acastus. “Order Sgt. Stackhouse to fly the jumper to the pre-arranged address. Do you copy?”

          “Yes, sir.”

          “Have him remove the cloak prior to going through the gate, but do not, I repeat do not lower the shields.” Sheppard sneers at Acastus. “I don’t suggest you have anyone follow unless they can breathe in the vacuum of space.” He presses the device again. “If you do not hear from me inside,” he looks at his wrist. “Forty-two minutes, continue to rendezvous coordinates on schedule.”

          “Copy that.”

          “Sheppard out.” On Acastus’ order, Sheppard’s stripped of his vest and his hands are gripped firmly by one soldier as another binds his wrists behind his back, same as his companions. Sheppard does not flinch though Acastus knows the bindings are unnecessarily tight. That was his idea.

          They wait in the passage for a few minutes and then Acastus hears the crackle of his own communication device. “Commander, the ship has gone through the Ring.” Acastus grins at Sheppard.

          This is easier than I expected.

          He turns and moves through his men with his hands clasped behind his back, heading deeper into the mine. “Bring them.”

₪†₪