Chapter 1: Prologue: Seek the Joining
“This device was created for the purpose of measuring the compatibility of souls, by accessing their previous corporeal energy signatures.”
P3X-9917, Pegasus Galaxy
The outpost on P3X-9117 lit up sluggishly, lights flickering, as the team entered.
“It looks like everything in here is gene-activated,” said Rodney, sounding half-annoyed and half-impressed.
John nodded. “Ronon, Teyla, why don’t you go check the perimeter? Radio every fifteen minutes.”
“Of course,” said Teyla. She was more patient at exploring than Ronon was, but she was sometimes still a bit uncomfortable reconciling her people’s ‘ancestors’ to actual Ancients. “We will also contact you if we find any more technology.”
“And don’t touch any of it!” Rodney called after them, as they left. Then, he frowned. “Sheppard, come over here and touch this.”
Rodney was standing by a half-lit console, set in a little alcove apart from the others. It had two weakly-glowing square pads on the front, clearly designed to fit a human hand, that looked like they were made of the same stuff as the arm rests on the control chair. Rodney pressed his palm flat to one of the pads, and a hologram flickered to life above the console, the still image of a female Ancient, from the shoulders up. She looked sort of middle-aged, with short gray hair and crow’s feet at her eyes. Her mouth was moving, but there was no sound to go with the image.
“I think she’s saying something,” said Rodney. “C’mon, Sheppard, make that mutant gene good for something.”
John shot him a dirty look, but placed his hand on the other pad.
The hologram came to life again, this time in motion. “Hello, my children,” she said. “Have you come to seek the joining?”
“Joining?” Rodney repeated.
“The union of souls,” the woman replied. “This device was created for the purpose of measuring the compatibility of souls, by accessing their previous corporeal energy signatures.”
“Wait,” said John. “This thing can look at our… our past lives?”
“Correct,” said the hologram. “Do you wish to proceed?”
“Of course we—” Rodney began, but John interrupted, “Will we leave this room? Will the machine harm us or change us in any way?”
“You will not be harmed,” said the woman. “Your bodies will remain here, and any changes will be to your innermost selves and cannot be predicted.”
“Okay,” said John. “Let’s go.”
For a long moment, nothing happened. Then, the lights on the console began to flash. The hologram vanished, replaced with a swirl of color— then everything went dark.
Chapter 2: Faithful Service
Rodney is a prince of Egypt and John is the captain of his guard.
Non-Warning! This chapter contains nothing particularly offensive.
Tanis, Lower Egypt
1006 B.C. (21st dynasty)
Rodames did his best to look like a Royal Prince, second son of the great pharaoh, but his fingers itched to go back to his calculations.
Was all this pageantry really necessary, he wondered. Yes, his father was king of all Lower Egypt, good for him. He had fifty-foot statues with his face on them, did he really need all of this… noise?
At least he was the younger son, and he’d never have to do any of this. Jumoke, his elder brother, would be pharaoh, and if the gods had any mercy, Jumoke would leave Rodames to conduct his experiments in peace.
Rodames’s mother, in the throne beside her husband’s, caught his eye, scowling, and Radames forced himself to be still again.
Then, one of the pompous officials who had been making announcements said, “Captain Jahi, of the Prince’s Royal Guard.”
‘Captain’ was practically an honorary title— Radames’s guard only had two soldiers, Jahi and a man named Geb who mostly painted while Radames worked. They rarely left the palace, except to visit the market for supplies, and the entire kingdom knew that Radames had no interest in the throne, so he hadn’t had to worry about assassination attempts, the way Jumoke did.
Except for last week, when an extreme political faction had tried to kill the entire Royal Family. Radames had never seen Jahi look so terrifying or so beautiful, flushed from the fight and spattered with blood that wasn’t his.
He looked almost as good now, in his full ceremonial uniform, as he dropped to one knee before the throne. “How may I serve, my Pharaoh?”
Radames’s father smiled. “You have already served, and faithfully. We have you to thank for the safety and health of our son.”
He waved a hand to Radames, who straightened, trying to look royal.
“I was only doing my duty, sire,” said Jahi, eyes fixed on the base of the throne.
“That may be,” the pharaoh agreed. “But such service should still be rewarded. Name your prize, captain, and you shall have it.”
Jahi looked up, surprised. “I—” he began, then lowered his eyes again. “I need no prize for fulfilling my obligations, sire.”
“Oh, don’t be an idiot,” Radames snapped, before he could stop himself. “There’s got to be something you want. A dangerous horse, a ridiculously fast chariot, a promotion to the pharaoh’s guard…”
“An excellent idea, my son,” said the pharaoh. “Captain Jahi, if you will accept the position, we will promote you to the head of our own personal guard.”
There was a murmur from the crowd. The pharaoh’s guard were the most elite soldiers in the kingdom, with more power and privilege than any who wasn’t noble-born. To be admitted to their ranks was an honor, usually hard-won, so for his father to offer Jahi command…
Jahi squared his shoulders— Radames knew that look, the one that said that Jahi was about to do something stupidly noble. But before he could do anything, Jahi said, “My Lord Pharaoh, I do not deserve such generosity, and yet… I must ask you to indulge me further. I cannot accept a position in your guard. But if you will permit me to humbly remind you, sire, you offered me a reward of my own choosing. And if I must choose, then the only reward I could accept is to remain in my current position as captain of the prince’s guard, and when the time comes that I can no longer perform that duty, that I be allowed to name my own successor.”
The crowd murmured again, louder than before. Most people considered assignment to the prince’s guard— especially assignment to Radames’s guard— as the worst a soldier could get, but Jahi was choosing it as a reward? It didn’t make any sense.
“What?” Radames blurted, but his father smiled.
“You are indeed brave, Captain Jahi,” the pharaoh said. “It shall be exactly as you say.”
Jahi bowed. “Thank you, Lord Pharaoh.”
The ruler waved a dismissive hand, and Jahi left the hall, cloak swirling behind him. Radames waited half a heartbeat before following him.
“Are you an idiot?” he hissed at Jahi, catching up to him by one of the brightly-painted pillars that held up the hall.
“According to you, or everyone else?” Jahi asked, smiling.
“You are an idiot,” said Radames. “Do you know how often my father gives people open-ended offers like that? Neither do I, because I can’t remember it happening before!”
“Well, it’s not like you pay attention during those audiences,” said Jahi. “Maybe you missed it.”
“Don’t try to distract me,” Radames snapped. Somehow, they had ended up back at the palace, in the hallway leading to Radames’s chambers. “You could have had anything, Jahi, do you understand that? Anything. And you waste it on keeping a job that nobody else wants!”
“It’s not a waste!” Jahi said, fiercely. “For once in my life, I did something I wanted, so don’t you dare tell me it was a waste.”
Face flushed, fists clenched at his sides, Jahi looked just as dangerous, just as beautiful as he had the day of the assassination attempt.
“Why?” Radames asked, pleadingly. “Just… why?”
Jahi’s fingers uncurled, slowly. “I…” he began, then took a deep breath. “Being in the pharaoh’s guard is what every soldier aspires to. The men are respected, and the officers are as good as noble-born men, anywhere. But when your father offered me command, I couldn’t remember any of that. In that moment, all I could think was, Don’t let them take me away from Radames.”
“Oh,” said Radames. “Oh.”
Jahi flushed, the tips of his ears going pink, and he ducked his head. “I won’t let my personal feelings get in the way of my duty, Your Highness,” he said, oddly formal. “I swear it.”
“Oh, gods,” said Radames. “I’m an idiot. I mean, no, I’m a genius, but just now, about this… I wasn’t afraid I was going to die.”
“I— What?” said Jahi.
“When I was attacked, the assassination attempt. I knew there was a chance that I could die, but I wasn’t afraid of that. I was afraid you would die.”
“Oh,” said Jahi.
Radames snorted a laugh. “I just didn’t realize… I’ve never had anyone I was afraid of losing, before.”
“Me, neither,” said Jahi.
“So, you really want to stay?” Radames asked, slowly. “With me?”
“Yes,” said Jahi, stepping closer. “Yes.”
Radames closed the space between them with one long stride to cup his hands around Jahi’s face for a long, deep kiss.
“Yes,” Jahi said again, breathless.
Rodney McKay as Radames, second-born prince
John Sheppard as Jahi, head of the prince’s guard
Jeannie Miller (technically) as Jumoke, first-born prince
Evan Lorne as Geb, member of the prince’s guard
Chapter 3: When in Cymru
John is a Roman centurion and Rodney is a Celtic princess.
Warning! This chapter contains mentions of historically-accurate arranged marriages that don’t actually happen in this chapter.
Gobannium, Cymru (modern-day Abergavenny, Wales)
It was raining. It had been raining, and Iohannes was sick of it. He knew it was part of his punishment, being sent so far from Rome, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.
“There you are,” said an irritated voice, and Iohannes looked up to see a woman striding toward him, scowling. She was broad-shouldered, wearing a plain linen gown that matched the blue of her eyes. There were smudges of ink on her hands, and several strands of honey-blonde hair had worked loose of her simple braid.
“Good morning, Princess Meredydd,” he drawled.
Her scowl deepened. “And what’s so good about it? It’s been raining for three days straight. Mark my words, centurion, we’re all going to catch some horrible rain-borne disease and die slow, agonizing deaths.”
Iohannes couldn’t have stifled his smile if he’d tried. “Gods, I missed you,” he said.
Meredydd flushed faintly pink. “You did?”
He waved her into the headquarters building. Once, Meredydd would have been accompanied by at least two of his soldiers— not to mention the guards her sister, Queen Bethan, sent with her— but after three years, Iohannes’s security had gotten admittedly lax.
Meredydd plopped onto the couch beneath the window. It was the best seat in the room, she often said, and she’d claimed it as her own the very first time she’d come barging into his camp to call him an idiot. At the time, he’d found it infuriating, but now, Iohannes thought it was endearing.
He found a lot of things about Meredydd endearing.
“Where have you been?” she demanded. “I’ve had to deal with your moronic subordinates for months now. Even Bethan was starting to get annoyed with me.”
For all that Romans were taught about foreign ‘barbarians’, and especially foreign women, Iohannes had a great deal of respect for Queen Bethan. Not only did she rule one of the most peaceful Celtic tribes in Britania, she had negotiated a fair trade agreement with the local Roman governor— and on top of that, she dealt with Meredydd.
Iohannes set his helmet on the desk and glanced over the neatly-rolled parchments his lieutenant had left for him. “I had to go back to Rome,” he said, even though he had told her all of this before he’d left. “To report on my cohort’s progress in Britania.”
“Technically, this isn’t Britania,” said Meredydd. “This is Cymru. It’s just that you Romans are too stupid to tell the difference.”
“Gee, thanks,” Iohannes drawled, sorting through the parchments.
“No, I—” Meredydd began, then she sat up, suddenly. “Wait, why did you have to go to Rome? You send them messages with, well, military precision. And they write back. So what could they actually need to see you for?”
Iohannes kept his eyes on his desk. “The emperor feels his soldiers are spread too far,” he said. He probably shouldn’t have been telling her this, but it was Meredydd. “The outermost forces are being recalled. Cohorts in Hispania, Africa… Cymru.”
“You’re leaving!?” Meredydd gasped, surging to her feet.
“As I recall, you didn’t want us here in the first place,” said Iohannes.
“That was you collectively,” said Meredydd. “You personally…”
“Yeah?” he asked.
“Well, yes,” she said, pacing the empty space between his desk and the hearth. “Despite your hair, and your apparent inability to stand up straight when confronted by an entranceway, you are reasonably intelligent. There may even have been a few things that Bethan and I couldn’t have been able to accomplish quite as well without your help.”
“Happy to be of service,” said Iohannes. He began looking for a blank sheet of parchment.
In theory, Roman army camps could be disassembled and moved at a moment’s notice, but his camp had been in the same location for three years now, and he had fewer men than when they’d set it up. There was a lot they could leave behind, but a lot they would have to take with them. With fewer men, they’d have to set up smaller camps along the way, and they had no auxilia to support them. Plus, they’d need boats to reach Gaul, before they even started thinking about camps and marching.
Iohannes looked up, intending to ask Meredydd if there were any merchants leaving Britania who would trade passage for a bit of security duty, but instead he blurted, “I don’t want to go.”
“Then stay,” she said.
He snorted— if only it was that simple. “Meredydd—”
She moved around the desk to stand beside him, the fabric of her skirt brushing his bare knees. “Stay, Iohannes,” she said, softly.
“I thought I’d resigned myself to a marriage of alliance,” she said. “Even though the men in the other clans are complete and utter morons. Bethan has been able to work out other agreements, and I’ve, er, persuaded a few would-be suitors.”
One corner of her mouth quirked into a smile and Iohannes couldn’t help smiling back— he’d been on the receiving end of Meredydd’s ‘persuasions’, which had more in common with tidal waves than conversations.
“And to be honest,” she continued, “I was hoping never to marry at all. I… I just wouldn’t make a very good wife. I talk too much and I don’t listen well. A husband would expect me to stop doing my natural study experiments, so that I could keep house and make babies. But I…” Meredydd took a deep breath, fingers twisted into her skirt. “I think I might like that. Babies. If their father was you.”
Iohannes’s brain struggled to keep up, but he was still a few sentences behind. “I would never—” he began, and Meredydd took a step back, expression clouding. Iohannes caught her hands, tugging gently when she resisted. “I would never stop you from doing your experiments,” he said. “I would never make you do anything you didn’t want to.”
“What about something I do want?” Meredydd asked, stepping closer again.
He stood, bringing both of her hands, still in both of his, to his heart. “Name it.”
“Kiss me?” Meredydd tried to make it a command, but it came out as a question— and one that Iohannes was happy to answer. She kissed him back just as fiercely, and flushed a flattering pink when they broke for air.
“So,” said Iohannes, settling his hands comfortably on her hips. “How many babies are we talking about here?”
“About a dozen, if you keep kissing me like that,” said Meredydd.
And, really, he had no other choice after that but to lean in and kiss her again.
John Sheppard as Iohannes, Roman centurian
Rodney McKay as Meredydd, celtic (Welsh) princess
Elizabeth Weir as Bethan, Meredydd’s sister, celtic (Welsh) queen (this could also be Teyla, since her character never appears in the story)
Aidan Ford (technically) as Iohannes’s unnamed second-in-command (this could also be Lorne, but he was in the last one)
Chapter 4: An Unexpected Wife
Rodney is a European weapons designer and John is a Chinese princess.
Warning! This chapter contains historically-accurate sexism, and an arranged marriage that works out better than expected.
1294 A.D. (Yuan Dynasty)
“So, you’re leaving.”
Rodney jumped at the sudden sound, but didn’t turn. He continued packing his books carefully into the straw-lined crate. “You know I am.”
He heard two swishing-silk footsteps before Princess Jin appeared on the other side of his workbench. “Why?”
There were guards outside the door— there was always someone outside every door— but none of them had ever done anything to prevent the princess from spending what appeared to be nearly all of her time in his work room. Rodney had protested, at first. He didn’t need an audience, let alone a useless girl, but even he knew better than to actively insult a member of the royal family, and she stayed.
Princess Jin was quiet, watching him fill scrolls with strings of Arabic numbers, her face hidden behind her fan. Then one day, she had smudged out a chalk number on one of his slates and written another in its place— and she had been right.
Rodney had put her to work after that. Jin was smart, very smart, and her brain would have been wasted learning to dance or arrange flowers or whatever young ladies were supposed to learn, when she could easily do the tedious math Rodney hated.
He hadn’t known he would end up liking her, feeling lonely in the work room when she had other responsibilities, encouraging the increasingly-occurring slips when she said something clever and biting. Rodney tried to think of her like any other assistant, if a little shorter, but he caught himself noticing the curve of her shoulders as she bent over an equation, or the hint of her smile before she hid behind her fan.
Rodney put the lid on the crate with a bit more force than was necessary. “Because my service to your father is finished, Your Highness,” he said. “I’ve completed all the tests for the new weapons— all he has to do is produce a few more of them, and he can defeat his enemies, or rule China, or whatever else he wants.”
Jin took a step closer to the other side of the work bench, slender fingers sliding over the leather cover of one of his notebooks. “So, you’re leaving,” she said again. “After the wedding.”
“I didn’t come here looking for a wife,” said Rodney. “I didn’t even know that was an option. But it’s not like I can refuse, princess. In my experience, when royalty says We would be greatly pleased if… they really mean Do this or we will kill you.”
“I wouldn’t let him kill you,” Jin said, although they both knew she had no real influence to stop the emperor doing anything.
Rodney sighed. “I will be good to your sister, Your Highness. I’m not a patient man. Or tactful, or thoughtful, or… But she won’t want for anything, as my wife. I’ll do my best to make her happy.”
Jin smiled. “I know that you will.”
Enlai was Jin’s only full sister, both daughters of the same mother, who was said to have been the most beautiful of the emperor’s wives. Jin had once told Rodney, matter-of-factly, that the emperor blamed her for her mother’s death in childbirth and had barely laid eyes on her since. Rodney had only met Enlai once before, but she was lovely and charming, and if she was anything at all like her sister, he would be able to like her.
Rodney closed the crate, and straightened. “Thank you, Your Highness, for all your help. I could have done it without you, of course, but it wouldn’t have been nearly so… satisfying.”
Jin bobbed into the odd curtsy that was the custom here, and Rodney bowed back. He turned and was almost at the door when Jin said, “Professor Rodney?”
He froze. “Yes, Your Highness?”
“Thank you,” said Jin, softly. “For… for seeing me. For treating me like a person.”
“You are a person,” Rodney snapped. He took a deep breath, his back still to her. “If I had known the kind of ‘reward’ your father had in mind, if I had been allowed any say in the matter… I would not have chosen Princess Enlai.”
Jin didn’t answer, and when Rodney finally turned around, she was gone.
Rodney didn’t even try to sleep that night. He sat in the cushioned seat beneath his window, looking up at the stars and trying not to think about Jin’s ridiculous laugh or her sharp mind. He was still sitting there when the servants came to wake him the next morning, and he let them dress him in the elaborate and cumbersome wedding suit without a word of complaint.
The entire ceremony was in Chinese. A scribe, or some kind of minor official, sat beside Rodney to provide a running translation, but he ignored it. Rodney could only hear Enlai’s soft breathing from under the heavy silk veil, feel the warmth of her fingers where she had placed her hand over his.
Rodney fumbled over his part of the ceremony, probably mangling the pronunciation of the unfamiliar words, and he didn’t realize it was over until the crowd let out a cheer.
“His Imperial Majesty’s royal astrologer has foreseen that you will find great fortune if you depart at once, Professor McKay,” said the court official, still at his elbow. “Come, change your clothing into something more appropriate for the journey. Your bride will be prepared.”
“I— All right,” said Rodney.
Leaving immediately was for the best, he thought, changing back into his western-style clothes. He hadn’t seen Jin at the wedding, and if he didn’t see her now, before he left, he could pretend that the goodbye in his work room had been enough.
A servant came to lead him out to the wagon caravan, and the ornate carriage at its head.
“His Imperial Majesty sends his regards,” said the same minor official. “And his wishes for a safe journey. Your belongings are already loaded, and your bride awaits you.”
“Right,” said Rodney. “Um. Thank you.”
The official bowed, and left.
Rodney took a deep breath. This marriage might not have been his idea, but he had agreed to it. He had an obligation to Enlai, to her welfare and happiness, and he was going to do his best to fulfill it. With another deep breath, he opened the carriage door.
There was a woman sitting on the cushioned bench, still in the red silk brocade gown, but without the veil, and perhaps a few other layers, as well. She had her back to the far wall, knees drawn up to her chest, her long dark hair a curtain over her face. She looked up as Rodney stepped up into the carriage— and he froze.
It wasn’t Enlai. It was Jin.
“I’m sorry,” said Jin, before he could speak. “I know you didn’t want to get married. I know that Father forced you into it. But you said you wouldn’t have chosen Enlai, and I thought This is my chance. She didn’t want to go, to leave here, and I didn’t want to stay. So, I took her place.”
“You…” Rodney began, throat suddenly dry. “You switched places before the wedding?”
Jin nodded, her eyes on the floor. “Please don’t be angry. I know I’ll never be as good a wife as Enlai would have been, but I’ll try, I promise. I’ll—”
“Jin,” Rodney interrupted, breathless. “I’d have chosen you. If I could have, I’d have chosen you.”
Jin smiled, so bright that it made the carriage lantern seem dim. “Rodney,” she said, getting to her feet.
He took a step closer, reaching out to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear— when the carriage lurched into motion. Rodney let out a surprised yelp and toppled into the pile of cushions. Jin landed on top of him, a sudden blissful warmth all along his right side. His arm went around her automatically, and for a long moment, neither of them moved.
Then, Jin’s lips curved into a smile. “We’re married,” she said, softly.
“Yes, we are,” Rodney agreed, and kissed her.
Rodney McKay as a western weapon-maker
John Sheppard as Jin, a princess
Elizabeth Weir as Enlai, Jin’s sister, a princess
Chapter 5: The Dragon and the Unicorn
John is a medieval French princess and Rodney is her maidservant.
Warning! This chapter contains mention of a historically-accurate and unwanted arranged marriage, which is set to happen after the events of this chapter.
Joan had the fastenings of her gown undone by the time she entered her chamber. She yanked it over her head and threw it onto the floor behind her, before falling onto her bed, face-first, wearing only her shift.
“I take it your audience didn’t go so well,” said a voice, with a familiar Scottish cadence.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Merry,” Joan muttered.
“Please. Like that little display just now didn’t tell me exactly how it went.” From the corner of her vision, Joan could see Merry shake out her gown and fold it into the wardrobe. “Your father and Prince What’s-His-Name made decisions, you got ignored and… His Majesty agreed to the wedding, didn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Joan agreed, and pressed her face into the bedclothes.
She heard shuffling from the foot of her bed, then there was a rough hand shaking her shoulder. “Get up,” Merry demanded. Joan rolled over, and Merry tugged another dress over her head, pulling her arms into the sleeves.
“You are the worst servant ever,” Joan grumbled.
“And yet, I am still serving,” said Merry, dryly. “Come on, princess, we’re going riding.”
“Riding?” Joan repeated, even as she slid off the bed and tugged her gown straight.
“Yes, that thing where you sit on a horse and it walks?”
“But you hate riding,” said Joan.
“But you love riding,” Merry countered. She pulled the jeweled combs from Joan’s hair, not particularly gently, and dropped them onto her vanity, then twisted Joan’s braids into a knot on her head, even less gently. “Have someone saddle a horse for me. I’m going to get us a snack.”
Joan grinned after Merry as she left, then laced her own boots and headed for the stable, where she saddled both horses herself.
Merry really was a terrible servant. She did things her own way, no matter how specific her orders were. She talked too much, if anyone was listening or not, and she called everyone, including Joan, an idiot at least once a week. There were days that Joan was so mad she just wanted to hit Merry, but she couldn’t for even one moment imagine life without her.
“Aren’t you finished yet?” Merry asked, coming into the stable with a cloth bag in her arms. She tied it to her horse’s saddle, then frowned. “Are you sure these straps are tight enough, princess? Because if I fall off and crack my head open, where are you going to find someone else to wait on you hand and foot?”
“Is that what you’ve been doing?” Joan teased, helping Merry up into the saddle.
She threw herself onto her own horse— astride, skirts bunched up to her knees— and wheeled him out of the stable. Muttering under her breath, Merry followed. Out in the Royal Forest, Joan kicked Jumper to a gallop, feeling the wind on her face and trying not to think. They didn’t slow at the narrow creek, just leapt over it and kept going.
Finally, she stopped at the crest of a hill, and waited for Merry to catch up. “Do you have a death wish, princess?” the older girl grumbled, as her mare sidled up to Joan and Jumper. “This is beyond even your usual reckless—”
“I have to marry the prince,” Joan interrupted. “He and Father have an agreement, and I’ll have no choice. But when I ride, sometimes I imagine that if I can just go fast enough, I can leave all that behind.”
“You’re the dragon,” said Merry. When Joan just blinked at her, she added, “All those fire-screens and tapestries and whatever that your mother makes you embroider. You always sew a dragon and a unicorn. I thought the unicorn was supposed to be you— a noble maiden, ‘purity’ and all that— but you want to be the dragon. You want to fly.”
Joan had thought she couldn’t love Merry any more than she already did, but she’d been wrong, because Merry understood it, understood her. “Yeah.”
“Well, sometimes, I do think you might start breathing fire,” Merry said, and Joan let out a surprised laugh.
“Don’t ever change, Merry,” she said. “Let’s have that snack.”
Merry gratefully slid from the saddle. “But wait,” she said. “Who is the unicorn?”
Joan untied the bag of food. “C’mon.”
Late that night, Joan sat up in bed, watching Merry put out all the candles in their chamber. Years ago, Joan had asked her father to give Merry a room of her own, at the far end of the servant’s corridor. Merry had immediately filled it with tools and half-built gadgets, and had never spent one night not sleeping on the pallet beside Joan’s hearth.
Tonight, Joan was grateful.
“Merry?” she called, softly.
The last candle went out, leaving only the pale moonlight to illuminate the room. “Yes, princess?”
“I want…” Joan began, twisting the bedclothes in her hands. “I just… I don’t want you sleeping on your pallet tonight.”
“Oh,” said Merry. Her shoulder slumped, and she kept her back turned. “I… I understand. Things are going to change and you need to… yes, I’ll just go—”
“Don’t leave!” Joan said, scrambling out of bed to catch Merry’s arm. She could feel the heat of her body through her nightshift, and moved closer. “Please, don’t leave.”
“Joan?” Merry breathed.
“Sleep in my bed,” said Joan, pleading. “Don’t make me sleep alone. I just… let me have this, please. Just this once.”
“Yes,” said Merry, still breathless. Then, she blurted, “Take me with you.”
“When you marry, take me with you. Your father can’t refuse you a servant to take with you. I’m not pretty enough to be a lady-in-waiting, but I’ll never leave you, I swear it.”
“I—” Joan began, then leaned in to kiss her, gently. “Come to bed, Merry.”
Joan was almost asleep, sometime later, when Merry sat up. “I’m the unicorn,” she said.
“Yes, you are,” Joan agreed, and tugged her back down.
John Sheppard as Joan, a princess
Rodney McKay as Merry (short for Merriment), her servant
Chapter 6: Worth a Thousand Words
Rodney is a renaissance painter and John is an ex-soldier-turned-model.
Non-Warning! This chapter contains nothing particularly offensive.
“What now?” grumbled Rodney. He set down his palette and brush, and slid from his stool to yank open the door. “What?”
The man on the other side looked surprised, but recovered quickly. “Signor McKay?”
“That’s me,” said Rodney.
“I heard that you were looking for a model, for your paintings” said the man, a little hesitantly. “And I’m looking for a job.”
Rodney looked at the man again. He was of average height and slim build, with a tangle of dark hair which was pulled back from eyes that couldn’t decide on green or brown. His clothes were worn but neat, carefully mended, and he carried a single battered satchel over one shoulder.
“All right, you’re hired.”
“What?” said the man. “Don’t you want to know my name, or where I’m from, or if I plan to murder you in your sleep?”
“Do you plan to murder me in my sleep?” Rodney asked, dryly.
“Then you’re hired. I’m doing a series of paintings depicting human motion, so I don’t actually care what you look like. You seem to have good musculature, although I might have to worry about being distracted by that hair.”
“What about my hair?” the man protested.
“My hours can be unpredictable,” Rodney continued, ignoring him. “I paint when I get an idea, or when the light is good, or when I’m very far behind on a deadline. I’ll need you to be available at any time to pose for me, but in exchange, I’m prepared to pay a daily wage, so you won’t have to worry about if I do any painting on any given day. Does that sound acceptable?”
“That sounds fine. But—”
“I’m just finished for the night,” said Rodney. “So, I’ll show you my studio and—”
“Hey,” the man interrupted, catching Rodney’s arm. His grip was firm but careful, not intended to hurt, though he clearly had the strength to. “I’m Sheppard. John Sheppard.”
“Rodney McKay. But you knew that already. Do you want to see the studio or not?”
Sheppard grinned. “Sure.”
There really wasn’t much to show him, but Sheppard seemed impressed. He complimented the paintings that Rodney had out drying, and even followed his somewhat rambling explanation of how he mixed all his own paints. Finally, they stopped at the foot of the stairs that lead to Rodney’s apartment on the second floor.
“Where are you lodging?” Rodney asked. “In case I get an idea suddenly and need to call on you?”
Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck. “Um, nowhere,” he admitted. “I came straight here when I got into town, mostly because I didn’t have enough money for a room anywhere. But that’s fine, I can just—”
“You can just stay here,” said Rodney. “My apartment is upstairs, and there’s plenty of room.”
“Do you always invite strangers to move in with you, McKay?” asked Sheppard, smiling.
“I know your name, and that you don’t plan to kill me. What more do I need to know about a man?”
Sheppard laughed. “Plenty,” he said. “But I suppose we have time.”
“I see,” said Rodney, even though he didn’t. “Well. You can take the room at the end of the hall. It’s mostly empty, but feel free to move any art supplies you find to… anywhere else.”
“Thank you,” said Sheppard, and Rodney waited for the door to close before he turned to enter his own room.
Rodney forced himself to wake early the next morning, to take advantage of the spring sun, and found that Sheppard was already up.
“Sorry,” the other man said, raising his mug of ale apologetically. “I went for a run, and I got hungry. But I kept some warm for you.”
Rodney blinked. There was an actual fire going in his hearth, and a cloth-covered plate sitting to one side. Under the cloth were slices of the pork that had been left over from his supper the night before, and for a long moment, Rodney simply looked down at his plate.
“I usually just eat things cold,” he said. “Or go to the tavern. Where did you even get firewood?”
“There’s a stack of it in the courtyard outside the kitchen,” said Sheppard, slowly. Then, he snorted a laugh. “You’re one of those absent-minded artists, aren’t you?”
“I’m a genius,” Rodney protested, but he smiled, too. “All right, enough small talk, there’s work to be done.”
“That was small talk?” said Sheppard, as he rose and began clearing away the dishes.
Rodney ignored him, sorting through a pile of papers and other assorted supplies, until he found his sketchbook and a few sticks of charcoal.
“What’s that for?” Sheppard asked. “I thought you were a painter.”
“You can’t just start painting,” said Rodney. “You need a sketch first, to get the proportioning right, and the angles… Didn’t I mention that I was doing a series on human muscle movement?”
“You did,” Sheppard agreed.
“Then go move some muscles. Over there, by the window. This needs plenty of light. And take your shirt off.” When Sheppard hesitated, Rodney added, “In the incredibly unlikely even that we get visitors, I’ll give you some warning so that you can make yourself presentable to polite society, all right?”
“Fine,” said Sheppard, and pulled his shirt over his head in one smooth motion. “How is this?”
It took Rodney a moment to realize he’d been asked a question. “What? No, that’s fine. That’s… Can you hold both arms straight and use them to lean against the window? There’s something about the curve of your shoulders…”
Rodney trailed off, bent over his sketchbook, charcoal scratching over the paper. Every so often, Sheppard shifted his weight, which should have been a problem, but the new angles of his body were just as interesting, so Rodney sketched them, too. It was only when the light began to change that he realized he had been sketching for hours.
“Sorry,” he said, setting down his sketchbook. “You must be tired. And I think I have enough to begin with.”
Sheppard smiled, pushed off from the window, and dropped into the chair beside Rodney’s work table. “I’m fine. This is much easier than marching all day. I was a soldier,” he added, at Rodney’s blank look.
“Oh. Well, anyway, thank you. I have ideas already for the poses I want to include in the series.”
“Great,” said Sheppard. “Can I see what you drew today?”
Rodney hesitated, then handed him the sketchbook. “These are very rough,” he said. “And I didn’t really try to make them look like you.”
“What are you talking about, McKay?” said Sheppard, flipping carefully through the pages. “These are amazing! They look just like me.”
“I’m glad you approve.”
“These are really, really good. The only time I’ve ever seen anything close is that guy in Florence, Leonardo.”
“What, that hack?” said Rodney, outraged. “I’ll admit, he’s had a few good ideas, but most of his work—”
“Your work is much better, McKay,” said Sheppard, smiling.
It took three more days of sketching before Rodney was ready to move onto a canvas, which was actually two days fewer than he’d thought. Sheppard seemed to understand what he was trying to capture, and Rodney found himself talking more and more while he drew, not just about the work, but about anything and everything. The other man was surprisingly knowledgeable, for an ex-soldier, and seemed more amused than annoyed when Rodney began rambling.
He gave Sheppard the next day off, while he organized his sketches, and the ex-soldier came back just after nightfall with a basket of food he’d traded for with an afternoon of manual labor.
“Have to keep in shape, right?” Sheppard joked. “Your paintings won’t be as good if I get fat from just sitting around.”
“You could never get fat,” Rodney scoffed, and Sheppard just laughed.
In the middle of the night, Rodney woke with a painting already half-formed in his mind, and he hurried downstairs to find a canvas. He didn’t bother lighting any candles, just stood beside the open window, sketching and painting by moonlight, until a cloud passed overhead, and he paused. Rodney looked at what he’d drawn and took a long, shaky breath, then folded a cloth over the canvas and slid it behind the small pile of blank ones.
Still feeling a little unsteady, he went back to bed.
The next morning, Rodney started painting the first of his motion series, and asked Sheppard to stay, in case he needed more references.
“I feel stupid just sitting here when you’re not drawing me,” Sheppard complained, after an hour. “I’ll stay within shouting distance.”
Rodney waved a dismissive hand, already absorbed in his work, but when he looked up again, hours later, he nearly dropped his paintbrush. His entire studio had been cleaned— jars of paint and pigment were lined up on his desk, cleaning rags were folded in neat piles, canvases were stacked in even rows— and Sheppard sat by the cold hearth, sweeping ashes into an old jar.
“What did you do?” Rodney asked, surprised.
Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck. “It didn’t seem right, getting paid for not doing any work, so I cleaned up a bit,” he said, and just as Rodney remembered his canvas sketch from the night before, Sheppard added, “I didn’t look at anything, and I didn’t get rid of anything. I just straightened everything up a bit.”
Rodney looked around, relieved. There wasn’t really anything that wasn’t in the same place he would have put it, if he’d ever gotten around to cleaning up himself. “Oh,” he said. “Thank you.”
He had never considered taking on an apprentice or hiring an assistant, but he couldn’t have found one who was better than Sheppard. While Rodney worked, Sheppard kept the studio tidy, reminded Rodney to eat, and even stretched canvases and mixed up paints, after Rodney had shown him how.
“Looking good, McKay,” he said, whenever he passed by, as the series slowly took shape.
Rodney worked on all the paintings simultaneously, six canvases on six easels, and he darted between them, brushes flying. Then, suddenly, he slowed to a stop in the circle of flickering candlelight.
“I’m finished,” he said, surprised.
“Really?” said Sheppard. “That’s great!”
He came over to see the paintings, grinning. Rodney had been focused on the motion of the human body, but the figure did look a bit like Sheppard, sun-tanned skin and wild dark hair.
“These are amazing,” said Sheppard. “Lady Weir will love them.”
“Lady Weir, right,” said Rodney. She was his patron, the only child of wealthy and indulgent parents, who had surprisingly good taste in art. “Right. I’ll need… I’ll need to box these up, have them sent to her…”
“They need to dry first,” said Sheppard. “And you’ve been up for two days straight. Get some sleep. I can set these out to dry, you’ve shown me how.”
“All right,” said Rodney, too tired to argue. “Good night.”
Rodney woke late the next morning, long after the sun had risen. And now that he was rested, he felt the high spirits that came with finishing a long project— which evaporated the moment he came downstairs to find Sheppard standing beside a half-built crate, and holding a familiar canvas.
Rodney had never seen it in the daylight— he had painted it by moonlight and put it away immediately. “I can explain…” he began.
Sheppard set the canvas on an easel with shaking hands. “Is this really how you see me?”
The painting, rough scratches of color mixed with meticulous brushstrokes, showed Sheppard lying in a grassy field, completely bare except for a carefully-placed drape of night-black cloth, skin glowing in the dappled sunlight.
“I’m sorry,” Rodney breathed. “I should have asked, I shouldn’t have…”
“I don’t think you got it quite right,” said Sheppard.
Rodney’s heart stuttered. “What?”
“In fact,” said Sheppard. “I think you should paint another one.”
“Another one?” Rodney repeated.
Sheppard nodded. “Maybe several.”
A smile slowly crept across Rodney’s face. “I’ll need a model.”
Sheppard— John— grinned, and reached for his hand. “As it happens, I know someone who might be interested.”
“Might be?” Rodney asked, closing his fingers around John’s.
“Is,” John corrected.
Rodney McKay, as a painter
John Sheppard as an unemployed soldier
Elizabeth Weir as Rodney’s patron
Chapter 7: Privateers
John is a
pirateprivateer and Rodney is a ladyshipwright.
Warning! This chapter contains brief mention of historically-accurate racism, which none of the main characters believe.
Somewhere off the English coast
John Sheppard, captain of the privateer Atlantis, stood on the quarterdeck, watching the debris tumble past his ship, bobbing along on the rough waves.
“Definitely a wreck,” said Ronon, coming up to stand beside him. “Lots of crates, but that’s from a hull.”
A large chunk of barnacle-covered wood floated by, and John nodded. “Anything worth salvaging?”
Ronon shrugged, and they both continued watching the water.
“Sir!” cried a voice. Ford raced up to them, his single remaining eye wide. “Sir, there’s somebody in the water!”
“Alive?” John asked, and Ford nodded. “Then get him out!”
John’s men scrambled to throw ropes over the side, and moments later, they had hauled a bedraggled bundle of fabric onto the deck. After a heartbeat, John realized it was actually a woman, soaked skirts tangled around her legs and hair plastered to her face.
Lorne, Atlantis’s de facto first mate, crouched to help her, but she slapped his hands away. “Get off! Don’t you touch me! I know what you are, in a ship like this! You’re— you’re pirates!”
“What’s wrong with my ship?” John growled, but Ford said, “Technically, ma’am, we’re privateers.”
The woman fixed him with a withering stare. “Oh, that makes me feel so much better. Does that mean you had a reason for attacking the Prometheus?”
“We didn’t attack your ship,” said John. “We just came upon the debris and picked you up. You’re welcome, by the way.”
“Oh,” said the woman. She looked around her, as though seeing Atlantis for the first time. “Yes, I suppose you did. I only got a brief glimpse of the ship that attacked us, but it didn’t have rigging anything like yours… So, thank you.”
John nodded. “You’d better get out of those wet clothes, Miss…?”
“McKay. Meredith McKay. And if you think I’m going to undress in front of a boat full of—”
“It’s a ship, Miss McKay,” John interrupted. “And I don’t think that at all. Teyla, our guest can use my cabin.”
“Aye, captain,” said Teyla, with a nod.
“Captain?” Miss McKay repeated.
John tipped his hat. “Captain Sheppard, of Atlantis, at your service.”
He watched Teyla help Miss McKay to her feet. The woman stared, and John fought a smile— Teyla was an American savage (not that his crew thought that, she was the most dignified and cultured of them all, for all that she could trounce any of them in a fight) and continued to wear the buckskin breeches she preferred, along with a silk waistcoat that revealed rather more bare skin than an English woman would have dared.
John hardly noticed, anymore.
“Any other salvage?” he asked, when his cabin door had closed behind the two women.
“A few odds and ends,” said Ford. “We’ll store them in the hold when we’ve got it all aboard.”
“Excellent,” said John. “Carry on.”
He retreated to the quarterdeck again, gazing out at the sea. As the sky began to turn pink and orange, Ford returned to report that they’d retrieved six crates of mostly-edible foodstuffs, a crate of sailcloth and canvas thread, and a small chest of paper and ink, but no other survivors.
“Should I tell Miss McKay?” Ford asked.
John shook his head. “I’ll do it. I should properly welcome her aboard, anyway.”
Ford saluted, something John had yet to break him of, and John headed for his cabin. He knocked, lightly. “Miss McKay?”
She opened the door. “Captain?”
“May I come in?”
“It’s your room,” she said.
John shook his head. “As long as you’re our guest, it’s yours. The bottom desk drawer is locked and will remain so, but anything else is yours to use. May I come in?”
“What? Yes, of course.”
John took off his hat, and entered. Teyla had found Miss McKay a clean gown, of a pale blue fabric that made John suddenly realize just how blue her eyes were. He coughed and looked away. “Miss McKay,” he said. “My men report that there were no other survivors from your ship. You have our condolences.”
“What?” she said, again. “No, I hardly knew them. “I’m sure they were good men, capable sailors and whatnot, but I was only a passenger.”
“What was your destination?”
“The Americas. I have an uncle there and I… I was being sent to live with him.”
“I’m afraid we’re not going that far,” said John. “And we won’t be returning to any port for some time, yet. You shall be our guest until then.”
“Guest,” repeated Miss McKay. “You mean prisoner.”
“No, I mean guest,” said John. “You’re free to go where you please, speak to whom you please. But try not to interfere with the ship’s running. I’ll have Teyla bring you something to eat. Good night.”
John ate his own supper quickly, in the crews’ mess after the others had finished, and went back up onto the deck, watching the stars come out. He heard the swish of fabric behind him, but didn’t turn.
“You have flowers on your ship,” said Miss McKay, without preamble. “You have window boxes, with flowers in them.”
“Mr. Parrish grows them,” said John. “He also grows the herbs we use to cook.”
Miss McKay came to stand beside him at the rail. “Miss Teyla says you saved her life. As does Mr. Dex, Mr. Lorne… They all respect you greatly.”
“Because I respect them,” said John, glancing sideways at her.
“Yes, I can see that,” she said, then looked at him, hard. “You really mean to let me go ashore at the next port?”
“On my word,” said John. “Even a privateer is not without honor. Perhaps the queen could never say that we are serving our country, but even Her Majesty can see how much England needs us.”
“I see,” said Miss McKay, slowly. “Thank you for the conversation. Good night, Captain Sheppard.”
John set up a hammock on the deck, and his sleep was easy— but short. He was woken before even he was customarily up by Miss McKay, clutching his own battered chess set.
“Do you play?” she demanded, instead of saying ‘good morning’.
John rolled out of his hammock with practiced ease and reached for his coat. “I do.”
He had only won one game out of three, sitting on coils of sail rigging up on the deck, when Chuck, in the crow’s nest, cried, “To starboard! A ship!”
“What colors?” John demanded.
“French, sir!” said Chuck.
“Excellent,” said John. “Bring us around, Mr. Lorne. Miss McKay, it would be best if you stayed in my cabin.”
“You’re not going to attack them,” she protested.
“Yes, I am,” said John, calmly. “That is a French merchant ship, Miss McKay, bringing French goods to the Frenchmen fighting our English troops. If I can sink her, the enemy will be deprived of vital supplies. If I can capture her, our boys can use their own supplies against them.”
“That… that makes a certain amount of sense,” Miss McKay admitted. “But aren’t they armed?”
John smiled. “Of course they are, ma’am. That’s what makes this fun.”
He waited until the cabin door had closed behind her, then began shouting orders. Looking across the deck, John could hardly tell which of his men had once served in Her Majesty’s navy. Even Teyla now moved like she’d been born to the sea, though John knew for a fact that she’d never seen a European ship before the one that had destroyed her village.
“Gun crews ready, sir,” said Lorne, coming up beside him. “The French ship has spotted us. She’s the Prospérité and she outguns us, but we have the greater range and the wind appears to be on our side.”
“Then let’s use it,” said John. “Have the gun crews fire as soon as we’re within range, then turn us bow-on to them, present a smaller target. Have Teyla and Ford collect a boarding party.”
“Aye, sir!” said Lorne.
The crew of the French ship was inexperienced or incompetent, or both. While the Atlantis swung around for another broadside pass, the French guns fired at random and only landed a few lucky hits.
Then, the winds shifted. The Prospérité’s sails billowed and she leaped away from Atlantis, trailing broken planks and jagged debris.
“Status, Mr. Lorne!” John bellowed.
“The frogs are badly hurt, sir,” his first mate reported. “At least three of our shots hit them at the water line— they’ll have to dump some of their cargo if they want to make it back to France in one piece.”
“And us?” John prompted.
“We lost the secondary mast. It cracked evenly, or so Mr. Halling says, and he should be able to repair it.
“A day, at least,” said Lorne. “If he doesn’t need more timber.”
“I can fix it in six hours,” said a female voice, suddenly.
John only just managed not to jump. “Miss McKay.”
“Six hours,” she repeated. “If your carpenter is even halfway decent.”
“Mr. Halling is the best,” said Lorne. “And I believe the captain told you to wait below deck, Miss McKay.”
“That’s all right, Lorne,” said John. “Miss McKay, can you really have us back under sail in six hours?”
Her chin rose defiantly. “Yes, I can.”
John smiled. “Then Mr. Halling is at your disposal.”
Five hours and forty-five minutes later, John watched his crew hoist the newly-repaired mast. Lorne directed them to get all the rigging back in place, then gave the order to unfurl the sail— and John swore he felt Atlantis shudder beneath his feet as she caught the wind.
“That was astounding, Miss McKay,” he said, not bothering to hide his smile. “I can scarce believe it.”
“I said I could do it, didn’t I, captain?” she replied, challenging. Then, she looked away. “In all honesty, I expected you to stop me. After all, what would a silly girl like me know about ship engineering?”
“Quite a lot, apparently,” said John.
Miss McKay flushed faintly pink. “Oh.”
“I value courage and loyalty and intelligence much more than where a person comes from, or the color of their skin. Or what they cover with their unmentionables.”
“Captain, really!” she protested, turning pinker.
She was wearing one of the gowns that Teyla kept to be less conspicuous when they were in port, pale blue with pink flowers, and she’d tied back her hair with a scrap of sailcloth. And John suddenly realized how beautiful she was.
He cleared his throat, awkwardly. “The French ship is lost to us by now, if not lost to the sea. Would you care to join me in a game of chess?”
Miss McKay smiled. “Of course, captain.”
For the second night in a row, she found him at the ship’s railing as the moon rose. “Don’t pirates sleep?” she asked.
“Privateer,” he corrected.
She made an unladylike snort. “My apologies.”
“The mast is holding strong,” John told her. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” said Miss McKay. There was a long moment of comfortable silence, both of them gazing out at the ocean. Then, she said, “I was to be married, in Boston.”
“What?” said John, surprised.
“My father never actually said that, of course,” she continued. “He said I was being sent to live with my uncle, who happens to know several ‘very nice gentlemen’ he wants to introduce me to. I’m sure Father thinks that if I marry, I’ll finally give up this ‘notion’ that I’m capable of scientific thought.”
“It’s more than a notion,” said John. “Even from just today, I know you’re the best shipwright we’ve had aboard. And certainly the prettiest.”
“I—” Miss McKay began, then scowled. “Captain, I realize that flirting comes as naturally to you as breathing, but I would appreciate if you could restrain yourself, in the future.”
“Oh,” said John, softly. He was surprised at how much such a direct rejection could hurt. “Of course. My apologies.”
“Wait,” she said. “Were you flirting with me on purpose?”
“Yes,” John admitted.
She sounded completely perplexed, and he wondered if anyone had ever flirted with her and meant it before. “Because you’re beautiful,” he said. “Because you’re smart, and engaging. Because you can fix a mast and beat me at chess.”
“Are those things you find attractive in a woman?” said Miss McKay.
“I find them attractive in you,” he replied.
She was silent for a moment, then said, “Meredith. That’s my given name. I would hear you say it, before I decide anything.”
“And what will my saying your name tell you, Meredith?” asked John. She shivered, and he shrugged out of his coat to drape it over her shoulders. “Are you cold?”
Miss McKay shook her head. “Say it again?”
She nodded. “Once more, if you please.”
“Meredith,” he said, then added, “John. If I’m to use your given name, you should use mine.”
“John,” she repeated, and this time, he shivered.
“Don’t go to Boston,” said John, before he could stop himself.
“And where else should I go?” Miss McKay asked.
“Anywhere,” he said. “You could go anywhere you wanted. Or… or you could stay here.”
“Here?” she repeated. “As the lovesick concubine of a pirate?”
“Privateer,” John corrected, automatically, then softened. “No. As the wife of a lovesick captain.”
“You… you love me?” Miss McKay— Meredith— asked, in a small voice.
John reached for her hand, rougher than he expected for a woman of her standing. “Is that so hard to believe?”
“Yes, actually,” she said. “Even my parents could hardly stand my company for more than a few hours at a time, and I’ve never had a single one of my suitors— not that there were many— who cared about my personality when he could discuss my father’s business holdings. And that was if they bothered to talk to me at—”
John interrupted her with a kiss, soft and gentle. “Marry me?” he breathed, and leaned in to kiss her again.
“All right, yes,” said Meredith, when they broke for air a second time.
“Yes, what?” asked John, too distracted by how blue her eyes were at so close a distance to remember his own question.
Meredith kissed him again. “Yes, I’ll marry you. Idiot.”
John knew his grin was ridiculous, but he didn’t care. “Love you,” he muttered.
“Some pirate you are,” Meredith scoffed, smiling.
“Privateer,” John corrected, and kissed her again.
John Sheppard as captain of the Atlantis
Rodney McKay as Meredith McKay, an upper-class lady/ship-builder
Evan Lorne as a member of the Atlantis crew
Ronon Dex as a member of the Atlantis crew
Aidan Ford as a member of the Atlantis crew
Teyla Emmagan as a member of the Atlantis crew, a Native American
David Parrish as a member of the Atlantis crew
Chuck as the lookout of the Atlantis
Halling as the carpenter of the Atlantis
Chapter 8: Bedside Manner
Rodney is a medical doctor and John is a soldier in Washington’s continental army.
Non-Warning! This chapter contains nothing particularly offensive.
outside Philadelphia, PA
Dr. M. Rodney McKay was not happy. Not that he typically was, but his current day had been particularly bad. No, not just that day, but every single day that had passed since he’d let that irredeemable optimist Carson talk him into coming to the ‘New World’.
It didn’t seem that new. It seemed to be trees, trees, trees and oh, more trees, with great amounts of mud and dirt, just for variety. Rodney had been perfectly content to view them from his seat in the (mostly) comfortable hay wagon, until the horse pulling it had gone suddenly and inexplicably lame.
And, perhaps, he could have taken care not to insult the wagon’s driver so completely, but he was a medical doctor, not a veterinarian, how was he supposed to know what was wrong?
Muttering about vindictive farmers and unsafe travelling conditions, Rodney grabbed his medical bag and set off on foot. He didn’t bother to keep his voice down in the woods, slinging the strap of his bag over his shoulder and gesturing wildly at the birds and squirrels he could see darting in and out of the trees.
Then, suddenly, a man emerged from the woods. “Don’t move!”
Rodney froze. The man was leveling a musket at him, scowling. He was wearing a patched and dirty coat and a tri-corner hat— the seemingly standard uniform of the American rebels. “Don’t move,” the man repeated. “I heard you talking. You’re English.”
“I am not!” Rodney protested, outraged enough to forget his fear. “I’m Scottish, you uncultured hooligan!”
The man’s scowl turned into a frown. “Then you’re not working for the Redcoats?”
“Of course not! I was just foolish enough to get convinced into coming to this miserable continent to see the ‘fascinating new medical techniques’ that are supposedly being developed here. I’m a doctor,” he added, when the man didn’t move.
“A medical doctor?” he asked, slowly, lowering his musket.
Rodney held up his bag. “You can look for yourself.”
“Actually, I was thinking about a demonstration,” said the man. He winced and put one hand to his side— and it was slick with blood when he held it out.
“Oh, my god, sit down, you idiot,” said Rodney, striding forward to catch the man’s arm. He always seemed to forget his fears when there was work to be done, and an injured soldier was unlikely to hurt him, anyway.
The man allowed himself to be led to the base of a large tree and he sat, but he curled into himself, warily.
“I’m a doctor,” Rodney repeated. “We don’t hurt people, as a rule. My name’s McKay. Dr. M. Rodney McKay.”
“Sheppard,” the man replied, tersely.
“Wonderful,” said Rodney, without much enthusiasm, and reached forward. “Take off your shirt and let me have a look at—”
“No!” cried Sheppard, catching Rodney’s wrist.
His fingers were slender, but strong and callused. Up close, Rodney could see that his eyes were hazel, framed by dark lashes, and the left eye was still healing from a blackening bruise. Sheppard’s dark hair was pulled back with a scrap of twine, but a few curls had escaped their tie.
Sheppard took a deep breath. “I mean, please, take a look, doctor, but I can’t undress. Not here.”
“All right,” Rodney said, slowly. He’d come across much less rational requests than not wanting to be half-naked in the woods with a stranger. “What happened?”
Sheppard smiled, which turned into a wince as Rodney eased his bloody shirt away from the wound. “There was a battle, doctor. They were shooting at us. I got shot.”
“Oh, how very helpful,” said Rodney. “Do you write reports to General What’s-His-Name like that?”
“General Washington,” said Sheppard. “And I don’t write reports. I just fight.”
“And apparently not very well,” said Rodney. “You appear to be lucky, Mr. Sheppard. The bullet stayed close to your skin, away from any internal organs. It looks like it may have hit your ribs, though, and it definitely needs to come out, along with whatever bits of your shirt it happened to take along with it. Unless you want to die a slow and painful death from unnecessary infection?”
Sheppard blinked at him. “You have the worst bedside manner ever,” he said, though he sounded more impressed than upset.
“Yes,” Rodney agreed, easily. “But I have the highest survival rate of any medical practitioner outside of— well, anywhere. Can you walk?”
“Can you walk?” Rodney repeated, slowly. “I know you were holding me at gunpoint a moment ago, but you’re still losing blood, and I’d really prefer not to carry you if I don’t have to.”
Sheppard winced, but clambered to his feet, leaning heavily against the trunk of the tree. “I can walk.” He flinched at the hand Rodney settled under his elbow, but Rodney tightened his grip, and after a moment, Sheppard relaxed a little. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure,” Rodney said, dryly. “Now, where are we going?”
“I have a small campsite, not far from here,” said Sheppard.
“I’ll need a sturdy table, or at the very least, a flat and bare stretch of ground. Clean cloth for bandages. Alcohol of some kind, and somewhere to build a strong fire.”
He half-expected Sheppard to question him, but the soldier simply nodded. “It’ll have to be the ground, but I’ve got the rest of it,” he said. “This way.”
Sheppard clearly intended to stride off confidently into the woods, but he stumbled on the first step and Rodney had to catch him before he fell.
“Constant, even pressure,’ said Rodney, moving Sheppard’s right hand to the cloth bandage over his wound. He pulled the man’s left arm carefully over his shoulder. Sheppard stiffened again, then seemed to force himself to relax. “Don’t die on me,” Rodney told him, sternly. “I have a reputation to uphold.”
Sheppard cracked a smile. “Hadn’t planned on it, doctor.”
“Excellent,” Rodney said, dryly. “Can we get going before you bleed to death?”
They had been walking for almost a quarter of an hour when Rodney began fervently wishing for his new patient not to die— both because of the increasing pallor of Sheppard’s complexion and because Rodney had lost his bearings almost immediately after they had left the main trail.
Then, suddenly, Sheppard stopped.
“What—?” Rodney began, but Sheppard had already swung his musket to bear, firing into the trees. There was an anguished cry, then a sudden ringing silence, broken when Sheppard let out a muffled whimper and sank to the ground.
Rodney knelt to check the bandage. “You’re bleeding more,” he said. “I need to operate immediately.”
“Check on the redcoat,” Sheppard said, voice tight with pain.
“Go! Need to know if he’s gonna come after us.”
Rodney scowled, and pressed both of Sheppard’s hands to his wound. “Constant, even pressure,” he said. “And don’t move.”
A few yards away, Rodney found a man wearing the red jacket of a British soldier, sprawled in the undergrowth. He was dead, a single musket shot to the heart, and Rodney couldn’t help but be impressed— a flintlock musket was difficult to aim, so Sheppard was either very lucky or very skilled. Possibly both.
Rodney took the dead man’s pistol, ammunition and provisions before he could come to his senses, and returned to Sheppard. The soldier looked paler still, and didn’t stir when Rodney touched him.
“Mr. Sheppard?” he said, worried. He scrabbled to find a pulse, and let out a breath of relief when he found it. “Mr. Sheppard, wake up! He’s dead, we’re safe, or at least, I’m safe. You’re still bleeding to death, so wake up!”
Sheppard moaned faintly, and Rodney risked peeling back the bandages to peer at his wound. The bleeding had slowed again, but maybe that wasn’t Sheppard’s only injury? Rodney swore to himself and reached for the hem of Sheppard’s shirt.
The soldier thrashed, suddenly, batting at Rodney’s fingers. “No, don’t,” he said, glassy eyes trying to focus on Rodney’s face. “No, no…”
If he kept moving, he would hurt himself, so Rodney nodded. “Very well,” he said, as calmly as he could. “Can you walk? I still need to get that bullet out.”
Sheppard nodded, breathing hard. With Rodney’s help, he managed to get slowly back to his feet. They had gone a few yards when Shepard said, “Promise me that you won’t remove my clothes when you operate.”
“Promise me,” Sheppard repeated, firmly, even as he was swaying on his feet. “On your honor—”
“I will not,” Rodney snapped. “I am a doctor, Mr. Sheppard, not a voyeur, but you are my patient and I will do whatever is necessary to ensure your wellbeing.”
“No,” Sheppard repeated, weakly, like he hadn’t heard Rodney at all. There was a sudden flush to his too-pale face, and he swayed even more. “No, no…”
Sheppard kept walking, but Rodney was taking more and more of his weight, until the soldier finally collapsed, just as they reached a break in the trees. Beyond was a farmstead— or, it had been. The house had burned to the ground, but most of the barn still stood, so Rodney hoisted Sheppard into his arms and ducked inside.
There was a bedroll against the most intact wall, and he laid Sheppard on it, then gathered his supplies. He found a tattered petticoat on the clothesline that he could use for bandages, a bottle of something that smelled like homemade whiskey, and the stub of a fat candle, which he lit before kindling the fire Sheppard must have laid earlier.
The soldier didn’t stir as Rodney knelt to remove the blood-stained bandage, and he was grateful— operations always went more smoothly when the patient was not an active participant.
“This is going to hurt,” Rodney said, in case Sheppard could hear him. “Stay still, if you can, or it’ll be worse.”
Carefully, he peeled Sheppard’s equally blood-soaked shirt from the wound. He was lucky— it looked like the shirt hadn’t torn too much, which meant that fewer fibers would need to be removed from the wound. Rodney could feel the bullet under Sheppard’s skin, which meant it hadn’t done as much damage going in and wouldn’t do much more coming out.
Rodney dipped each of his instruments in alcohol, then heated them in the candle flame, before he used them on Sheppard. Most of the medical community had a hard time believing in invisible contaminants on tools that looked clean, but Rodney would take no chances. He removed the bullet with steady hands, then sewed up the wound with three perfect stitches.
Sheppard whimpered, but didn’t wake, and his breathing evened out as Rodney wrapped a clean bandage around his middle. Carefully, he eased Sheppard’s arms out of his jacket, then started on his shirt. Rodney’s fingers brushed fabric where he had expected skin, ad he froze.
“You idiot,” he said, to his unconscious patient, gentling Sheppard out of the shirt and revealing another set of bandaging wrapped around his upper torso. “You might have thought to mention a second injury to your doctor, but no, that would be probably be ‘showing weakness’ and a stoic soldier would never want to do something like— Oh.”
Rodney sat back on his heels, stunned. Sheppard didn’t have another injury under those bandages— he had breasts.
“Miss Sheppard,” he said, in surprise, then settled his— her— jacket over him— her— and went to look for some clean clothes.
Rodney had managed to scrounge enough food to make a passable supper by the time the sun began to set, and Sheppard stirred.
“Careful,” said Rodney, resting a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t pull your stitches.”
Sheppard blinked up at him, clearly still in pain, then her eyes widened as she realized she wasn’t wearing the same clothes as when she’d passed out.
“You!” she began, voice hoarse, and tried to sit up, but Rodney held her down.
“Yes, me,” he said, scowling at her. “I thought you had another injury! And I did not spend three hours removing a bullet and stitching you back together just to have you die from something I could have easily treated.”
“You… you sound offended,” said Sheppard, stunned.
“Yes, well, stupidity is always offensive,” said Rodney. “No doubt you thought that I would march off to wherever it is that General What’s-His-Name has his headquarters and tell him that one of his soldiers— one of several thousand, no doubt— has committed the egregious act of being female and should, I don’t know, be put to the firing squad?”
Sheppard turned faintly pink, which was much more attractive now that she wasn’t about to keel over. “Something like that,” she muttered.
“As if I care that you’re a woman,” Rodney continued. Satisfied that she would stay lying down, he went to check on the pot of stew he’d set over the fire. “I should be much more concerned that you saved my life, earlier. And grateful. I ought to have been grateful. So, um, thank you, Miss Sheppard.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, softly. “But you saved my life, too. So we’re even.”
“Hmm,” said Rodney. He dished the stew into two bowls and held one out. “Sit up, carefully, and try to eat. You need energy to heal.”
Sheppard propped herself against the wall. “My father is a loyalist,” she said, after a long moment.
“What?” said Rodney.
“A loyalist,” Sheppard repeated. “We’re— he’s fairly wealthy, and he does a lot of business in England. He wants— I heard him planning, not long after Mother died, to marry me off to some titled English lord, just to increase his social standing.”
She said it like it was a curse, and maybe it was. “So you joined the army?” Rodney asked. “That seems a bit extreme.”
“You don’t know my father,” Sheppard said, darkly.
Rodney closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He really shouldn’t… he’d known this girl, mostly as a boy, for less than a day. And yet…
“Will you go back to the army?” he asked.
Sheppard shook her head. “I can’t. I’m… in the last engagement, two of my fellows were cut off, behind the British lines. I went back for them, against orders… well, Colonel Sumner said that if I left, I shouldn’t bother coming back.”
“That sounds brave,” said Rodney, and he meant it.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Sheppard. “They were dead, and I was shot. And the army moved on without me.”
“Then you have nowhere to go.”
She snorted a humorless laugh. “Thanks for that, Mr. Tactless.”
“That’s Dr. Tactless,” said Rodney. “But you’re reasonably intelligent, familiar with this godforsaken country, not prone to swooning at the sight of blood… Miss Sheppard, I was wondering if you would consider accompanying me?”
“Accompanying you?” she repeated, her smile returning. “Without a chaperone?”
Rodney snorted. “Miss Sheppard, if the last twenty-four hours have taught me anything, it is that you are both highly capable of looking after yourself should any trouble arise, and entirely able to find that trouble without any help.”
Any other woman, Rodney thought, might have been insulted at that, but Sheppard grinned. “From soldier to doctor’s assistant?” she said. “Then perhaps you should call me Johanna.”
Rodney McKay as a Scottish medical doctor
John Sheppard as Johanna Sheppard, a disguised revolutionary soldier
Carson Beckett, mentioned as a friend of Rodney’s
Marshall Sumner, mentioned as Johanna’s previous commanding officer
Chapter 9: Home on the Range
John is the new sheriff and Rodney is the town blacksmith.
Warning! This chapter contains mentions of historically-accurate racism and homophobia, which the main characters do not believe.
Lantea, Colorado Territory
It was dark when John rode into the frontier town of Lantea. He hadn’t intended to arrive so late, but when the full moon had risen, he’d known he would never be able to sleep, and he had given his horse enough time to rest, so he decided to press on.
The town was dark, too, houses shuttered against the cool night air and businesses closed until the morning— except for one large building, where John could see a flickering light.
He tethered Jumper to the hitching post outside the empty sheriff’s office and walked down the equally-empty street toward it. As he neared, John could hear a steady metallic clang, which made him frown suspiciously, until he saw the horseshoe hanging above the open door. This must be the blacksmith’s shop, and the man at the forge must be the blacksmith— he was too old to be an apprentice.
John opened his mouth to call a greeting when the man twisted the metal in his tongs and raised his hammer, bringing it down with another clang that John barely heard, too distracted by the shift of muscle in those broad shoulders.
John took a deep breath and shook his head to clear it. Getting caught staring at another man would not make a good first impression.
“Shouldn’t you be asleep at this time of night?” he asked, suddenly, as the blacksmith raised his hammer again.
The man whirled. “Do you mean to give me a heart attack, sneaking up like that?” he demanded, then seemed to realize there was a stranger standing in his workshop in the middle of the night, and tightened his grip on the hammer. “Also, we’re closed. So if you need horseshoes, or bullets, or some such nonsense, you’ll have to wait until morning.”
John grinned. “Nah, though I might take you up on those bullets, someday. I’m Sheppard, the new sheriff.”
“You’re early,” said the blacksmith, turning to put his tongs back in the fire. “You can meet with Elizabeth— Miss Weir, our mayor— tomorrow. There’s a cot in the sheriff’s office, if you think you can find that by yourself.”
John worked hard to suppress his smile. “Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he said, pointedly.
“What? Oh, yes. McKay. Rodney McKay. Blacksmith, carpenter… the only man in this town capable of making anything with his own two hands, judging from the amount of work I have to do.”
“Sounds like you’re pretty important,” said John.
“Yes, I am,” McKay snapped. He seemed to be waiting for some kind of insult or punchline, and when John just continued smiling at him, his expression softened, just a bit. “I really should get back to work, sheriff. Good night. And welcome to Lantea.”
“Good night,” John said, reluctantly, and left.
John found the small stable behind the sheriff’s office and settled Puddle Jumper for the night. The office itself had two rooms— a large one, with three wooden desks and two iron-barred cells, and a much smaller one, with a wooden bed, an empty chest of drawers and a little cast-iron stove. John hung his hat on the bed post, set his boots within easy reach, and was asleep within minutes.
He woke with the sun the next morning, but he’d barely stepped outside when he was approached by a smiling, well-dressed woman.
“I’m Elizabeth Weir,” she said. “Welcome to Lantea, Major Sheppard. I’m sorry there was no one here to meet you— we weren’t expecting you until tonight.”
“That’s quite all right, ma’am. I didn’t want any fuss. And it’s just ‘sheriff’, now.”
“Of course,” she agreed, still smiling. She was a beautiful woman, charming and self-assured— she’d have been just John’s type if he wasn’t a confirmed bachelor. “Ah, here’s your deputy sheriff. I’ll leave you in his capable hands.”
John could see why Aidan Ford hadn’t been offered the post of sheriff, and it wasn’t just his age. He smiled, a little nervously, until John shook his hand firmly, then drawled that he’d fought on the Union side, and that he didn’t judge a man on the color of his skin, but by what kind of pie he liked.
Ten minutes later, armed with slices of cherry cobbler, a grinning Ford took him on a tour of the little town. John had been a bit worried when the kid had headed for the apothecary at the mention of pie, but apparently Cara Beckett could keep her cooking and her chemistry separate.
Lantea seemed like a nice place, and John found himself beginning to relax, until he made the mistake of asking what had happened to his predecessor.
“Sheriff Sumner was killed by the Wraith,” Ford said, grimly. “There’s dozens of them in the gang, and they attack everywhere. Most places pay ‘em protection, but Miss Weir refuses.”
“Good,” said John, which was apparently the right answer, because Ford’s smile was back. “So, if they do attack here, it’s just you and me?”
“And Miss Teyla,” said Ford, then flushed slightly. “Miss Teyla Emmagan of the Athosian tribe. Her people don’t go along with the Wraith, either.”
“You’ll have to introduce us.”
“I will, sir,” Ford promised. They had reached the large open door of the blacksmith’s shop, and he paused. “This is Doc McKay’s place. He’s—”
“Blacksmith, carpenter, only sane man in town?” said John, intentionally loud enough for McKay, back turned and stoking the forge fire, to hear him. “We met last night.”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” said McKay.
“I’m told I can be very charming,” John said, as innocently as he could, just to see the blacksmith scowl.
He wasn’t disappointed. “Don’t you have anyone else to annoy, sheriff? Some people actually have a living to make.”
“I’ll just come back later, then,” said John, and strolled out of the shop again, while McKay yelled after him, “Working, Sheppard! Maybe you should try it!”
One day, John woke up and realized that he’d been in Lantea for four months. He even had something of a routine— riding patrol through the outlying farms as the sun came up, then back to town for breakfast with Miss Weir. Often, Miss Teyla joined them, bringing news from the other nearby tribes before she took the afternoon patrol with Ford. If they’d been back east, John would have been required to send them out with a chaperone, but he had the bruises to prove that Teyla could take care of herself.
Still, it left John with most afternoons completely free, and he’d taken to spending them in McKay’s workshop. The blacksmith complained that John was a distraction, loudly and often, with tangents to complain about John’s hair, his choice of career and his intelligence. He’d actually stopped working when John had mentioned he played chess, to go and find his chessboard, shouting his moves to John between hammer blows.
That was fine with John, because when McKay was distracted, he couldn’t see that John spent much more time watching him work than he did studying the chessboard. He knew nothing could ever come of it— even if his predilection wasn’t immoral and illegal, McKay had a very specific type and John wasn’t blonde or female enough to fit it. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t look.”
Of course, being sheriff wasn’t all losing at chess and oogling blacksmiths. Mostly, it involved settling disagreements between townspeople, which could take a few minutes or a few hours, depending on who was disagreeing. That morning, he’d broken down and called in Miss Weir after ‘that idiot Kavanaugh’ (as McKay called him) had the usually mild-mannered Parrish so upset he looked about ready to throttle him. John escaped when Miss Weir had their full attention and headed for McKay’s shop— only to find it dark and empty.
“Have you seen McKay?” he asked, sticking his head in at the general store.
Zelenka looked up from his inventory. “Not since this morning,” he said. “He and Deputy Ford took a wagon of goods to the train depot. They have not returned?”
“No,” said John, and he started to worry. He worried more an hour later, when Teyla rode into town, alone.
“I was supposed to meet with Aidan, for our afternoon patrol,” she said. “But he did not come.”
“He’s with McKay, at the train depot,” John told her.
Teyla frowned. “They would have left early, and it is not a long journey.”
“Yeah,” John agreed, and went to saddle Puddle Jumper. “Up for a ride with me, Miss Teyla?”
They followed the wagon trail toward the depot, hoping that McKay and Ford had merely been delayed. That hope was dashed when they came across McKay’s empty wagon. It was riddled with bullet holes, three wheels broken, and half overturned in a ditch, but McKay’s horse was unhurt. John untied it and sent it back up the path with a gentle swat.
“The Wraith?” he asked.
Teyla shook her head. “They would have taken the horse. Or killed it.” She paused, then held up a scrap of gray wool. “The Genii.”
“The town on the ridge?” John said, frowning. “They’re… hang on! McKay mentioned them. Their sheriff, mayor, someone like that, wanted him to… build something? But he didn’t have the time.”
“He would not have done it,” said Teyla. “The Genii were once allies to the Athosians, but in their desire to defeat the Wraith, they have gone against every law sacred to my people and theirs.”
She paused. “I do not believe they would greatly harm Dr. McKay, as they require his cooperation, but they will not be kind to him. Nor to Aidan.”
John rested a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll find them.”
She nodded, expression softening briefly, then she was all business again. “Then we must hurry. There is a passage through the ridge, leading to the Genii, but it is difficult.
John swung himself into Jumper’s saddle. “Lead the way.”
The pass was very narrow— Teyla’s mare didn’t even hesitate, but John leaned low over Jumper’s neck to whisper encouragements until the trail opened to a tall, wooden stockade.
“I was once welcomed here,” Teyla said, sadly, and pushed open a door that John hadn’t even seen.
The town of Genii was… fortified, there was no other word for it. Crouched behind the general store— which more resembled a jail than Zelenka’s open, cheerful shop— he could see that every building had heavy shutters, and most of them were closed. There were no chickens pecking though town, no children running or laughing, no women gathered outside the apothecary or men at the saloon.
John didn’t like it.
Then, suddenly, there was a loud crash from a dark building and a familiar voice cried, “Of course I did that on purpose! If you want me to blow things up for you, then I need to know the yield of your explosives. Get rid of these idiots, Kolya, and send Ford in to help me.
“McKay,” John whispered, smiling.
“And Aidan is alive, as well,” Teyla added.
He was, but he didn’t look good— two gray-uniformed Genii had him by the arms as they crossed to the warehouse, and even from a distance, he looked feverish. As they disappeared into the building, John turned to Teyla.
“All right,” he said. “There’s only the two of us, but we’ve got surprise on our side. If you take my spare revolver and sneak around—”
He broke off as a loud explosion rocked the entire town. The roof blew clear off the warehouse, crumbling into flaming pieces in midair and raining down onto the other buildings, most of which burst into flame, too. Genii soldiers were everywhere, trying to put out the fires, but they barely noticed John as he ran for the warehouse.
“McKay!” John yelled, into the smoke, pulling his bandana over his nose. “McKay! Ford!”
“Sheppard, get out of here!” called McKay. “Just go!”
John rounded a corner of charred debris, pistol drawn, and froze. McKay was kneeling on the ground, covered in soot but otherwise unharmed, beside the prone form of Ford, and glaring up at a grim, uniformed man who had a revolver aimed at the blacksmith’s heart.
“Yes, Sheriff Sheppard,” said the man. “Go. This business is between Dr. McKay and myself.”
“Like hell it is,” said John. “McKay? How’s Ford?”
“Drugged to the gills. I don’t even know what Kolya gave him.”
“Something to change the tide of battle,” said the man, Kolya. “Your deputy’s sacrifice will be long remembered.”
“You bastard—” John began, and Kolya calmly swung the pistol to point at him.
“I require Dr. McKay alive, sheriff. But you are only in my way. Put down the gun and leave, and I may be persuaded to spare your life.”
John tightened his grip on his revolver. At some silent signal, half a dozen Genii soldiers had entered the warehouse, surrounding them— John might have had a chance of out-shooting Kolya, but even if he’d had perfect aim, his revolver only had six bullets. But there was no way he could leave McKay here without doing something—
Suddenly, a shot rang out. Kolya’s gun clattered to the floor as he clutched his hand, blood seeping between his fingers, and John looked up to see Teyla, still holding his spare pistol trained on the Genii leader.
“Surrender, Kolya,” John demanded.
“Never,” he spat. Still keeping pressure on his wounded hand, he lunged, but John sidestepped and brought the handle of his revolver to Kolya’s temple with a sickening crack. As he fell, the six Genii soldiers snapped to attention, but none of them even managed to fire a shot. Three fell to Teyla’s bullets, John dispatched two more— and Rodney shot the last.
In the sudden ringing silence of the half-demolished warehouse, he didn’t move, hands shaking but gun steady. John holstered his own weapon and approached him, slowly, as Teyla knelt to check on Ford.
“Good shooting, buddy,” he said, gently, prying Kolya’s gun from McKay’s fingers. “You all right?”
McKay let out a shuddering breath. “I thought I’d never see you again,” he said, softly. “John.”
John had always thought he had the most boring Christian name in existence, but that was before he heard McKay say it. “I—”
“There will be time for this later,” Teyla interrupted, gently. She had gotten Ford back on his feet, but he swayed dangerously. “We must go.”
John handed her his revolver and slung one of Ford’s arms over his shoulder, while McKay took the other. “Let’s go.”
The Genii were too busy putting out fires to stop them, and they made it back to Lantea as the sun set. Miss Weir met them in the middle of the main street, for once not looking proper or elegant, and pulled each of them into a hug.
“Welcome home,” she whispered in John’s ear, and he relaxed enough to hug her back.
Miss Beckett took Ford to the apothecary shop, with Teyla to help her look after him. “And someone should stay with Rodney tonight,” she added, to John, before she left. “Just to be safe.”
“You don’t have to stay,” said McKay, when John walked him to the door of the blacksmith’s shop. “They… they didn’t hurt me.”
John took a deep breath. “I’d like to,” he said, softly. “I’d like to… stay.”
“Oh,” said McKay, nervousness and insecurity and hope warring on his face. “Oh. I, um, I only have one bed.”
John grinned, closed the shop door behind them, and leaned in to kiss him. “That sounds perfect.”
John Sheppard as Lantea’s new sheriff
Rodney McKay as the town blacksmith
Elizabeth Weir as the mayor of Lantea
Aidan Ford as deputy sheriff
Carson Beckett as Cara Beckett, town apothecary/baker
Teyla Emmagan as an honorary deputy, a Native American
Radek Zelenka as the owner of the general store
Acastus Kolya as the leader of the Genii, a bad guy
Marshall Sumner, mentioned as the previous sheriff
Chapter 10: International Operation
Rodney is a Canadian weapons expert and John is an American soldier.
Warning! This chapter contains mentioned of historically-accurate homophobia, which the main characters do not believe, and the deaths of these incarnations of the main characters.
Marne River, near Paris, France
Rodney cursed as he slipped in the mud for the dozenth time. This was not what he signed up for when he enlisted in the Canadian army— he was a genius! He’d been promised state-of-the-art labs, a staff he could pick himself, regular meals, dry clothes…
He sighed. Really, all of this was his own fault. He’d over-emphasized his own importance, apparently to all the wrong people. If he was the only one who could understand how the new gun emplacement worked, then he was the only one who could supervise the field test. But he was absolutely not taking the blame for their ‘secure’ testing site becoming the front line, or for his ‘crack’ team of soldiers to go haring off toward the action, leaving him— and the prototype— undefended.
Rodney had felt oddly numb as he’d set the charges that destroyed five months of work, rather than let it fall into enemy hands, so that he hadn’t even felt the falling embers singe his uniform.
He sighed again, feeling the mud squelsh between his fingers as he pushed himself back to his feet.
Rodney had only walked a few more yards when a voice from behind him said, “Halt! Identify yourself!”
“If you’re going to shoot me, go ahead,” he said, wearily.
“I’m Canadian,” Rodney protested. Raising his empty hands, he turned to find a single American soldier, looking just as muddy as he felt, holding a rifle on him. “Major Rodney McKay.”
The American lowered his weapon. “Captain John Sheppard.”
It figured that even as allies, no two countries could communicate with each other, Rodney thought, as he followed Sheppard to the American forward trenches, not more than an hour’s walk from their weapon testing site.
“Colonel Weir!” Sheppard called, as they approached a tall, dark-haired officer. “Major McKay, Canadian weapons expert.”
“Weapons expert?” Weir repeated, folding his arms and raising an eyebrow. “And you just found him?”
Sheppard grinned. “Yes, sir.”
The colonel maintained his scowl for a moment, then sighed. “All right, captain, he’s yours. I’ll radio HQ and see how much trouble that’ll cost us with the Canadian brass.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Sheppard, but Rodney frowned.
“Don’t I get a say in this?” he asked, belatedly remembering to add, “Sir?”
“This is the army, major,” said Weir. “Of course you don’t get a say. And since this is an American operation, you will temporarily be under the command of Captain Sheppard.”
“Under—” Rodney began, but he was too tired and too sore to manage a real argument. Besides, he hadn’t been making a lot of progress in his last assignment, and he couldn’t even have named any of the men in his previous unit. “Yes, sir.”
“Welcome aboard, major,” said Weir. “Captain, show the major where he can clean up.”
Sheppard saluted. “Yes, sir.”
Rodney followed him through the maze of temporary shelters and equipment. “I hope you don’t expect me to call you ‘sir’,” he snapped.
“Nah,” Sheppard drawled.
There was a mirror hung above a rain barrel, and Rodney had managed to remove most of the sweat and grime from his face when Sheppard, somewhere behind him, said, “Hey, guys.”
He was smiling at two more officers, neither of them in American uniforms. “Hello, John,” said the smaller man, smiling back
“McKay, this is Lieutenant Teylan Emmagan, of the French Army, and Liutenant Ronon Dex, of the Brazilian Army. Gentlemen, this is Major Rodney McKay. He’s Canadian.”
“Is he a weapons man?” Ronon rumbled.
“Yep,” said Sheppard.
“How fortuitous,” said Teylan, with a knowing smile.
Sheppard just grinned. “Let’s go plan our first raid.”
Three raids on German weapons depots later, Rodney could hardly believe that he was glad to have been co-opted into this unit. More often than not, he was tired and dirty and mildly injured, but when he collapsed into his cot after a mission, listening to the sounds of his teammates’ steady breathing, the risks seemed worth it.
Of course, sometimes, their raids also required lots of waiting, often hours at a time, unmoving, in a muddy trench. Rodney would have been much less fond of those missions if it hadn’t been for Sheppard. No matter how much space they had in the trenches, the captain always ended up next to him, pressed up tight against Rodney’s side.
He fit perfectly, too, in a way no woman ever had, and Rodney tried not to think about that too much. He knew there were men who… preferred, with other men, but Sheppard was his friend, and that meant more than any amount of sex ever could. Instead, Rodney ended up risking his life to save Sheppard’s, more than once, which was something he’d never even have considered a few months ago.
Further along the trench, Teylan gave a low whistle, the signal for them to get ready. Rodney eased up to peer over the edge of the dirt wall, and slid back down. “The lines are moving west,” he reported.
“Great,” said Sheppard. “Let’s go.”
They crept out of the trench, to the shelter of the nearby woods. Teylan vanished at once— he could move silently, even without trying— and Rodney stuck close to Sheppard. He had the explosives in his pack, the high-yield, low-weight model that Rodney had developed.
They had intel that the Germans were building something new, something big, and they had orders to stop it. With the main fighting directed elsewhere, it was easier for four people to sneak in behind the German lines and find a large, canvas-covered object.
“Teylan, Ronon, keep us clear,” said Sheppard. “McKay and I will set the bomb.”
There were six guards around the device, easily dispatched, and Rodney pulled back the canvas sheet.
“Oh, no,” he said. “No, no… Sheppard, we can’t blow this up.”
“What?” Sheppard said, frowning at the machine. “Sure we can.”
“No, we can’t,” Rodney countered. “See those canisters? Those are mustard gas. And if we blow this thing up, yes, there’s a chance it might incinerate it, but there’s also a chance— a very good chance— that it’ll just re-vaporize it and release a massive cloud. Which, with the prevailing wind, will—”
“—head straight for our troops,” finished Sheppard. “Options.”
“We dismantle the machine and release the gas here,” Rodney said, softly. “With the very great risk of vaporizing enough gas to kill us both. And if it doesn’t, this will take so much longer than just planting a bomb that the Germans will find us and shoot us.”
Sheppard was silent for a moment. “Teylan, Ronon,” he said, calling them closer. “Change of plans. Head back to our lines— keep a path open for us, and we’ll be right behind you, coming in hot.”
Teylan didn’t argue, just nodded and leaned forward to kiss Sheppard, then Rodney, on both cheeks. “Luck be with you, my friends,” he said.
Ronon clapped them each on the shoulder before they left, and Sheppard said, “How do I break this thing?”
“This machine, McKay. Tell me how to break it, so you can get out of here.”
“I’m not leaving you,” said Rodney, shocked. “Sheppard—”
“This is a suicide mission, Rodney,” Sheppard growled. “And I won’t let you—”
Rodney yanked open his pack and pulled out a wrench. “I’m the only one who can do this, and you know it.”
Funny, he thought he’d be more upset about his imminent demise, but he felt unbelievably calm.
Sheppard, apparently, didn’t. “You are under my command, major,” he snapped, “and you will follow orders!”
“I resign,” Rodney said, smoothly. He used the wrench to open an access panel and peered inside. “Now, go, Sheppard.”
There was silence, for a moment, as Rodney began pulling out wires, and he thought that Sheppard had listened to him until a body pressed suddenly against him, lips colliding into his— Sheppard was kissing him.
Rodney was quick to kiss him back, hands roaming inside Sheppard’s jacket, but the moment his palm slid over Sheppard’s heart, he pulled back. “Go, Sheppard,” he rasped, breathless. “There’s enough time—”
He was interrupted by another kiss, deeper and more insistent than the first. “I can’t,” breathed Sheppard, his voice ragged. “Rodney, please, I can’t.”
Sheppard’s hands, holding tight to the front of Rodney’s jacket, were shaking and as Rodney brought his own to close around Sheppard’s wrists, he realized that he was shaking, too.
“Oh,” Rodney said, as half-forgotten instances came together in crystal-clear focus, not just about Sheppard’s behavior but his own. “Oh,” he said, remembering how he would squeeze in next to Sheppard in every cold, muddy trench, no matter how much space was left; how Sheppard declined dances with the village girls to drink cheap wine under the stars with him; how for weeks, months, they had never been far from each other’s orbit… and how had he never noticed?
Rodney drew a deep, shuddering breath and turned back to the machine. “See if there’s another access panel,” he said, his voice much steadier than he felt himself.
Sheppard darted in to kiss him again, then began circling the device. They found two more panels and pulled as many wires as they could, then paused.
“Okay,” said Rodney. “You’ll need to shoot it several times, right there.”
Sheppard drew his revolver and fired six shots at the place where Rodney had pointed. From inside the machine came a gurgle, a rush of liquid and an ominous hiss.
“The gas?” Sheppard asked.
Rodney nodded. “Sheppard— John, I—” he began, and then they were kissing again, bodies pressed tight, not even breaking for air. The mustard gas would only affect them if they breathed it in, and Rodney knew which kind of breathlessness he preferred.
They were so busy kissing that they never even heard the approaching soldiers, or the bullets that killed them.
Rodney McKay as a Canadian soldier, a weapons expert
John Sheppard as an American soldier
Teyla Emmagan as Teylan Emmagan, a French soldier
Ronon Dex as a Brazilian soldier
Elizabeth Weir as John’s commanding officer
Chapter 11: Wild Blue Yonder
John is a WASP pilot and Rodney is her mechanic.
Warning! This chapter contains the deaths of these incarnations of the main characters.
Jane peered at her reflection in the tiny mirror above her footlocker and pressed her lips together, making sure her ‘freedom red’ lipstick was spread evenly.
“Sheppard, what could possibly be taking so long?” said Meredith, before she’d even completely opened the door to their room. “We’re making a relay flight, not going to a cotillion.”
“Have you ever actually been to a cotillion, McKay?” asked Jane, grinning.
Meredith crossed her arms, and scowled.
The two women had been called ‘the odd couple’ from the moment they’d joined the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots program and been assigned as roommates. Jane was tall, dark-haired and slender, with a ready smile and a flair for fashion. Meredith was short and curvy, with honey-colored curls, a bad attitude and a tendency to wear her coveralls even when she was off-duty.
Jane smirked. “I’m sure it’s been a while since our boys over there saw a pretty dame, and I want to look my best.”
“And you say I have an ego,” Meredith muttered. “It’s a twenty-hour fight, Sheppard, you won’t ‘look your best’ by the time we land.”
“It’s for me, then,” said Jane. “So I feel prettier.”
Meredith waved a dismissive hand. “You, of all people, don’t need to feel prettier, Sheppard. Half of the guys here already want to paint you as the pin-up on the nose of their planes.”
“And you, Mer?”
“Me?” The shorter woman flushed pink, but said, “Why would I want to paint you on a plane when I could have you in one?”
“I like the way you think, McKay,” said Jane, leaning in, but Meredith put out a hand to stop her.
“Don’t get that goop all over me,” the mechanic groused.
Jane could feel the heat of her palm, even through the fabric of her uniform blouse, and shivered. “I’d like to get something else all over you…”
Meredith’s blush deepened, and she scowled. “We have a flight, Sheppard,” she snapped. “On which you are the pilot. So, get moving.”
Smiling, Jane slid her fingers around Meredith’s wrist and pulled her into a hug. She took a deep breath of motor oil, aircraft fuel and the perfume she’d bought Meredith for her last birthday, then released her.
“Okay,” said Jane. “Let’s go.”
The plane they were taking had already seen active service, so badly damaged in its last run that it had needed to be shipped back to the States for repair. It was also the only one even remotely ready to go out again, a sure sign of Meredith’s genius if Jane had ever seen one, and the runway crew had already towed it out onto the tarmac.
“You’d better have a real mechanic look this over, Miss Sheppard,” said Kavanaugh, one of the (civilian, male) mechanics. “I’m sure McKay’s useful for fixing stoves or curling irons, but she should leave the difficult work to the professionals.”
Meredith opened her mouth, no doubt to deliver one of her usual scathing diatribes on Kavanaugh’s intelligence or lack thereof, but Jane squeezed her hand and smiled.
“If Leading Aircraftwoman McKay says that a bird is ready to fly, we really shouldn’t doubt her. After all, we’re only civilians.”
Kavanaugh scowled, and stalked away.
“Jerk,” Meredith muttered, as Jane hooked a hand under her elbow and guided her toward their plane.
“Yeah,” Jane agreed. “And you notice that he’s never gone up in a single plane he’s repaired.”
“Really? Because that is just—”
“All aboard, McKay,” Jane interrupted.
Grumbling under her breath, Meredith climbed into the fighter’s rear seat, but Jane paused on the boarding ladder. The plane had already been painted with the name of the man who would fly it into combat, Lt. Col. Marshall Sumner, but just for a moment, Jane let herself pretend that it was hers.
“Sheppard!” called Meredith, impatient. “Are we taking off sometime today?”
The mechanic was already strapped into her crash harness, so Jane leaned in to leave a lipstick-stained kiss on her cheek, ignoring Mer’s squawk of protest, before she dropped into the pilot’s seat. The engine roared to life, then settled into a steady purr, and Jane turned a triumphant grin over her shoulder.
“Well, of course it works!” Meredith called over the noise, losing the fight with her own smile. “I do excellent work!”
“Yes, you do,” Jane agreed, and hit the throttle.
Meredith kept up a steady stream of curses, complaints and likely scenarios for their inevitable demise, through their refueling stop and their second take-off, until they were flying over the clear Atlantic Ocean.
“What are you thinking about?” she demanded suddenly.
“You,” said Jane, before her brain had even fully registered the question.
“Me?” repeated Meredith, sounding surprised. “Not… not wind speeds, or lift variances, or…”
“You, Mer,” said Jane, smiling. She couldn’t see the mechanic, in the seat behind her, but listening to Meredith’s voice, Jane had let part of her mind wander to memories of the last time she’d had Meredith in her bed— and maybe the dozen or so times before that.
“Oh,” said Meredith, and there was something odd in her voice that had nothing to do with being muffled by their flight gear. “I’m… I’m glad. I am, really, that I… that we can, can have something like this, something good, even if it is only…”
Resignation, that was what was wrong with Meredith’s voice, and Jane’s head snapped up. “Only what?”
“Only… temporary,” Meredith said, reluctantly. “Face it, Sheppard, I’m not exactly a ‘catch’, am I? But you… when the war is over, you’ll find some heroically stupid GI who shares your insane love of flying and you’ll live happily ever after.”
“No, I won’t,” said Jane.
“Of course you will. You’re beautiful, you can—”
“No, I won’t,” Jane repeated, knuckles white on the controls. “I could never be happy if I didn’t have you, Mer.”
“What?” she said. “But I’m… I’m…”
“You’re beautiful, Mer,” said Jane, fiercely. “You’re smart, and amazing, and brave… How could I possibly want anyone else after I’ve had you?”
“Oh,” said Meredith again. “Jane, I— There’s never been anybody else. There’s, there’s just you. Only you.”
“Mer,” Jane began, “when we land, I’m gonna—”
She broke off abruptly as their radio spluttered into sudden silence.
“The radio’s down,” said Mer, surprised. “I’ve been picking up chatter this whole time--- Army, Navy, Air Corps, even a few civilian channels— then, suddenly nothing.”
“Are we in some kind of dead spot?” Jane asked.
“There’s no record of one here,” said Meredith. “We’re over open ocean. But— Sheppard, what’s that?”
It was a plane, a bomber maybe, or some kind of transport. It was flying lower than they were, at about a thirty degree angle to theirs, and as the two aircraft closed with each other, Jane could see the large swastika painted on its hull.
“So, not one of ours,” Jane drawled.
“The radio interference is getting worse,” said Meredith. “At a rate consistent with that plane’s speed toward us. But how? A radio jammer that powerful shouldn’t fit into a plane that small.”
“It’s not exactly small, Mer.”
“No, Sheppard, but it’s… Look, making a radio is easy. Transmitter, receiver, they’ve even got wireless ones that fit into a knapsack. But a jammer— jamming only enemy frequencies, because there would be no point if your planes were suddenly deaf, too— has to be… well, bigger than that.
“A machine like that,” Jane said, slowly, “could make a difference in the war, right?”
“A huge difference,” Meredith agreed.
“Then we’ll have to destroy it.”
“What? Sheppard, we’re all alone out here. And unarmed! What are we going to do?”
“That thing is on a straight trajectory for a whole bunch of our European bases, McKay,” said Jane. “And we’re the only ones who can stop it.”
She heard Meredith sigh. “I was really hoping we’d get to have sex one more time before one of us died.”
“Sorry,” said Jane. “I’m sorry that I dragged you into—”
“Don’t you dare be sorry, Jane Sheppard!” Meredith snapped. “Do you really think I’d rather hear it, hours or days later, that you’d been shot down, that you’d died alone, that I wouldn’t have ever known that you…”
“That I love you,” said Jane, without any hesitation. “I love you so damn much, Mer.”
The enemy plane grew larger as Jane opened up the throttle, hurling their craft toward it at full speed. She heard a click from behind her, then felt familiar hands on her shoulders.
The other woman had unfastened her flight harness and wriggled into the space between Jane’s seat and the side of the cockpit. “We’re going to die anyway,” she said. “Kiss me.”
Jane fumbled with her own harness, watching the German ship get closer and closer. Finally loose, she twisted in her seat, then slid a hand into Meredith’s hair and pulled her in for a deep kiss, just as the two planes collided.
John Sheppard as Jane Sheppard, a WASP pilot
Rodney McKay as Merideth McKay, her mechanic, a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division
Kavanaugh as a civilian mechanic
Marshall Sumner, mentioned as the intended pilot of the repaired plane
(Also, in case you didn’t know, the real-life WASP ladies were amazing. Just looking stuff up on Wikipedia— here: WASPs— made me want to learn more about them, and I now have several new books on my To-Read pile.)
Chapter 12: Epilogue: Prosperous Union
The results are pretty conclusive.
P3X-9917, Pegasus Galaxy
John woke with a start, and sat up, feeling unused to his own body.
“Rodney,” he said, and was answered by a low groan. “Rodney?”
“I’m okay. What the hell was that?”
The hologram flickered back to life. “Your souls are compatible,” she said, solemnly. “All statistics indicate that you would have a long and prosperous union.”
“Union?” asked Rodney.
“She said ‘joining’ earlier,” said John. “I think this is supposed to be some sort of pre-wedding compatibility test. I mean, they were all trying to Ascend, right? They probably wanted to know if they should really spend all of eternity together.”
Rodney frowned. “So, it’s some kind of… soul-mate detector? Of all the—”
“Your union should be entered into the official records in your region of residence,” the hologram interrupted. “Blessings for your future together.”
Then, if flickered off.
Rodney continued frowning. “This is obviously some sort of hallucination-generating…” he began, peering at the controls. “There wasn’t anything in the database… well, that’s not new. The Ancients were terrible note-keepers, it’s a wonder any of them bothered to write anything down at all…”
John caught his arm. “Hey,” he said, gently. “Are we going to talk about this?”
“Do we have to?” Rodney asked, not quite looking at him. “Because if it was my hallucination, then I’m sorry for whatever you saw in there, and can we please never speak about this again?”
“I don’t think so,” said John. He put both hands on Rodney’s shoulders. “And I was really hoping it was my hallucination. I kind of liked that one where I was a wild west sheriff.”
Rodney really did have a terrible poker face— John watched his blue eyes widened as he realized what that meant, then clear as he came to the right conclusion. He smiled, and slid his fingers around John’s wrist. “I don’t know. I kind of liked the one where you were a Chinese princess.”
John grinned back, then asked, “And what about the one where I’m an Air Force colonel?”
“I think that might be my favorite,” said Rodney, and pulled John in for a kiss.
“John?” said Teyla’s voice, over his radio.
“Sheppard here,” he replied, reluctantly pulling back, but he left his other hand on Rodney’s hip. “Are you and Ronon okay?”
“Of course, John,” said Teyla. “We are merely checking in, and we have found nothing. Did you and Rodney have any success with the device?”
“Yeah,” said John. “Yeah, we did. But we should probably have a science team look at it anyway. We’ll tell you the whole story when you get back.”
“I look forward to it. Teyla out.”
John smiled. “Now, where were we?”
Rodney took a deep breath— and a step away. “Back to Atlantis,” he said. “For a complete physical, both of us.”
“And if we’re clean?” prompted John.
Rodney smiled. “After that? Your place or mine?”
John just leaned in to steal another kiss before the rest of their team joined them.