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Rodney isn't the first person Elizabeth Weir asks to join the Atlantis Expedition - should that Expedition actually come to pass, of course - and neither is he the second, or the third. He isn't worried that she'll never ask him, though; after all, she made those idiots at the SGC admit that he was wasted in Siberia and got him re-assigned to the newly discovered Ancient outpost in Antarctica. She knows he is the foremost expert on Ancient technology, on at least the same level as Samantha Carter, and she also knows that no way in hell will she get Carter. It galls Rodney to come second to her, but if he has learned one thing during his exile, it's that if Carter doesn't agree with someone, the higher-ups will inevitably side with her. He hadn't been the only one ending up semi-exiled after coming to blows with her. Once the shininess of the Antarctica outpost wore off, other wayward scientists who hadn't backed down from an argument with her either got to come.

The truly annoying thing about it is that Carter probably isn't even aware of what is going on; she flits from one exciting discovery to the next, off-world missions and new tech capturing her attention until she has either managed to use it somehow or decided it isn't going to be of immediate use against the current ultimate threat to the planet and hands it off to somebody else. It's those around her who make sure people like Rodney don't distract or keep her from doing what they want her to do. Really, he should pity her for being a pawn and not even noticing.

It isn't really a concern of Rodney anymore, though. During the nine months spent in Russia, he had faced facts and made peace with them as best he could. Samantha Carter is one of those things. Rodney had decided to best her from a distance, and when Elizabeth Weir had picked him to lead the research and exploration of the new outpost, it had presented him with a great opportunity to do just that. There is no doubt in his mind that Dr. Weir won't choose him to join the expedition - to lead the science team.

Naturally, he turns out right. She does ask him, and she doesn't only want him to be her CSO, she actually wants him to be her second in command. "I had to fight to be able to offer you this position," she tells him; of course, Rodney thinks bitterly, only to be surprised a moment later when she tells him that the higher-ups had been reluctant to let him go. Apparently they first had fought her against putting him in a position of power, and then, once they had found he thrived there and spurred everyone under him on to new heights, they had fought her against taking him away again.

But Rodney knows to whom he owes his loyalty to more, and it certainly isn't those morons who put him away to bury him under tons of snow and vodka.

Besides, only an idiot would let an opportunity like this get away. The city of the Ancients, those who built the Stargate and unnumbered more amazing inventions? Rodney would have gone if they had hired him as a cook. Which they haven't, naturally, because he's so much more qualified than that.

It's not all puppies and roses, of course. While Dr. Weir is the leader of the expedition, a Marine, Colonel Marshall Sumner, is the military commander, and he barely makes a secret of the fact that he doesn't agree with the IOA's decision to make the Atlantis expedition a civilian one. He doesn't even make that concerted effort to hide that he believes scientists are useless at best and usually a lot more annoying and in the way. To say that he and Rodney don't get along would be an understatement.

It puts a serious damper on Rodney's excitement; he just knows that he and Sumner will come to serious blows within the first week of the start of the expedition. Right now they're both muzzled, not really able or required to fill their positions completely yet, and the higher ups are still there to settle any disagreements one way or another before they can really brand up. Besides, there's Elizabeth; she's still both of their boss, and they both submit to her authority, though Sumner more unwillingly than Rodney.

Rodney has no idea what the actual expedition is going to be like – the conflicts that will arise. He has a feeling that depends a lot on how welcoming Atlantis really is going to be, and whether or not they'll be able to establish regular contact with Earth.

*

"What do you think they want?", Sora asks, not for the first time. Boredom swings in the question as well as mild impatience; they aren't supposed to enter the connection hall, much less activate the ring with the strangers occupying it, and John hadn't supported her when she had tried to argue against it. All she wanted was visit Teyla, and they would see her soon anyway.

John ignores her inquiry; they've been speculating ever since the newlings came through the connection ring, watching them closely. At this point, it's fairly self-evident that they want control of the city – what for is now the important question. It's not something they can find out through watching, though, not unless they'll actually allow them access to Atlantis' systems, which they won't. She wouldn't let them even if they wanted to, John knows, reaching out to caress the metal frame of the window he and Sora are hovering above, looking down at the new humans, milling about the connection ring.

They first came three days ago; as is standard policy for connections they don't know for a fact to be hostile, Atlantis didn't raise the shields. The humans walked into the city and soon had to learn that they were not able to leave the connection hall, nor were they able to get access into Atlantis' systems. They couldn't even activate the ring.

It probably is a little cruel, John muses; these people think that they are trapped, unable to get out. He can see the desperation in their faces, the fear.

Also in the face of the one he had been watching closely from the beginning; he with the animated hands. He isn't the leader; that much is obvious – the leader appears to be the red-haired woman with the pinched mouth – but he is the one everybody looks to, the one they orient on. And he is good, John would have figured that out quickly even if Atlantis weren't purring it in the back of his head. He doesn't know her systems, but he learns fast, and he is intuitive and creative to the point where he is almost dangerous. Atlantis and John are fascinated by him equally, focusing on him and watching when he takes apart her consoles, crawls halfway inside to move her crystals and wires, try to force her to let him in. He is intentionally brutal with his coding the more desperate he gets, but never violent; takes care not to damage her, runs his hands over her very much like John tends to. It makes John shiver.

"Look at him," he murmurs, feeling Atlantis' agreement vibrate in his mind. She likes him too, likes him a lot.

"What is it with you?", Sora demands, moving in close to look at the man as well. "I've never seen you act like this. Is she finally taking over your brain?"

The question is ridiculous, of course; Atlantis can't and wouldn't influence a person in any way. But it's a common joke among their people, John's affinity with the city being somewhat legendary. Mostly, it's because she clearly likes him back. She treats all their people, old and new, the same, doesn't refuse anyone once she has approved them, but nobody can deny that she is especially eager to cater to John's wishes.

"Just look," John croons, moving closer to the window, all but pressing his face against the clear metal. They're lucky Atlantis has polarized the window so those inside can't see them.

The man is gesticulating wildly, arguing with the red-haired leader and the sandy-haired, hard-eyed man who commands the military personnel. His position isn't entirely clear; he obviously isn't the leader, but he just as obviously isn't content to let the red-haired leader make decisions by herself. His obvious disrespect makes John wonder why she chose him, but he has the face of someone who has seen combat, and that might be the actual reason he's here – maybe they're planning to fight wars in Atlantis, or they expected to have to fight for control over her. If the latter is true, the animated man is much more likely to actually succeed than the sandy-haired man with his primitive projectile weapons.

Not that he will, either.

*

Rodney rubs his temples, letting his head fall back against the console he's leaning against. He's tired; his head hurts and right now he just doesn't have the energy to argue anymore. Sumner has acquiesced for now, but Rodney is well-aware that that's only because Elizabeth so far is siding with Rodney – in a couple of days she won't have a choice and will have to give in to Sumner's demands, let the Marines try their luck and open the doors with explosives.

That's not an option for Rodney, letting them damage the city in such a way – she's even more amazing and awe-inspiring than he expected, at least form what he can tell without actually having access to her systems. And they can see her from the wide windows of the gate room, how far she actually expands, her beautiful structure and spires. Not to mention that she's at the bottom of the ocean and still in top condition.

For over three days now Rodney has been trying to break through her programming, to access her consoles; at first he had suspected it was his lack of gene that prevented him, but when no gene carrier had had any success either, he had to consider that maybe none of their genes are strong enough. That maybe they're completely cut off and are going to starve here.

So far, he's been able to convince Elizabeth that he's going to access the city's systems eventually, but the truth is, he isn't any closer than he was at the beginning. Every time he thinks he's got it, that he's finally made a breakthrough and that soon he's going to finally have access, he's proven wrong – it's gotten to the point where he's about to give in to his paranoia and believe the city is actively working against him. It's a thought not as far-fetched as he'd like; the same people who built this city built the gate system, after all. Who can really say they know what the Ancients are capable of?

Of course, he hasn't given up yet. He's just taking a break, because it's not like he can really afford to give in to his emotions like not a few others have done by this point. They look at him for direction; as a leader he has to make sure his scientists are busy somehow so they have less time to get hysterical. He has assigned Radek to the door systems, him and a couple of other scientists. Others are trying to access the water systems of the bathing facilities that they're very lucky they have access to. Circumstances would be a lot worse if they didn't even have the opportunity to piss and shower in relative privacy, Rodney thinks dryly.

Suddenly, somebody screams in surprise; everybody jumps up, confusion and fear branding up. The soldiers look around wildly, searching for the threat; Rodney pushes his way through the masses towards where Miko is pointing towards the window.

Outside of which, a man is hovering. A man with a fishtail, his short, dark hair swaying gently in the current. He's upside down, looking in on them curiously and absolutely unafraid. Immediately, guns are pointed at him; Sumner and his officers are barking orders, pushing the civilians back and forming a line of defense. The man watches this all curiously; he doesn't seem startled at all by their actions.

"Oh my god," Elizabeth says faintly when Rodney gets to her. Rodney is inclined agree with the sentiment; if he were alone he would doubt his eyes or sanity, but it seems unlikely that they're all collectively having the same hallucination – unless the city led in some sort of invisible, odorless gas. If the city is starting to work against them, though, they're all doomed, so Rodney prefers to believe that the man is actually there.

"Well," he says weakly. "Maybe the city is uninhabited, but the ocean apparently isn't." He's starting to have his doubts about the city too; if there are people in the ocean, they maybe – probably – have access to the city somehow, even if they can't enter it, what with the tails and the breathing water. Perhaps there are even flooded parts of the city that they are able to access directly.

The man watches their actions for a moment, until the soldiers have developed a defense parameter and the yelling transference of orders has calmed down. Then, with a twitch of his tail, he swims down further from the top of the window, where he appeared, to the bottom of it.

And he reaches through the window. Immediately, people start to yell again; Elizabeth is yelling at Sumner that they can't shoot, can't threaten the alien who so far hasn't made any hostile movement at all, and Sumner is yelling at his soldiers to keep their weapons trained on him. Rodney is busy staring at the window and wondering. How the fuck is this possible? Because all laws of physics tell him it's not. Besides, as soon as they had realized that they were at the bottom of the ocean, they had established that the window really, really wasn't made of glass. If the window had any actual kind of give, the water pressure should have smashed it in, and they haven't figured out yet what the windows are made of, but it's not glass. It's not relevant to the current issue, though; no matter what the window is made of, the guy shouldn't be able to reach through like they're in a scifi movie or something. Rodney has no fucking idea how the fuck this is possible. None.

After he has taken hold of the window frame from the inside, the guy pulls his body through the not-glass and into the room. With a few last twitches of his tail - his tail - the guy pushes in completely. He immediately starts to cough, choking up water - that's when Rodney first notices the gills at the side of his neck, two on each side. A moment later, they vanish, melting into his skin, the same way the fish tail melts away, slowly forming legs while the man hacks up water and takes rattling gasps of breaths that sound extremely disgusting and painful.

The whole thing takes about two minutes; afterwards, a wet, naked men is lying on the floor in front of the window, breathing air in steadily. Nobody moves while he takes deep breaths, and then he just gets up, apparently not at all concerned by his own nudity, and heads towards one of the exits, pushing through the crowd that tries to hastily make room for him. He completely ignores the soldiers who undo the safeties on their guns, Elizabeth's sharp orders not to shoot or harm the alien in any way in the background, overlapped by Sumner's equally sharp orders to be ready. He walks by soldiers who back out of the way, pushing the civilians behind them back, and heads towards a door that just slides open smoothly before him. He walks through, and the door shuts, too quickly for anyone to follow or put something in the way, despite Sumner's quick order.

Silence reigns for a moment after he is gone, and then everybody starts talking at once. Rodney ignores them, walking over to the window and touching the smooth not-glass; it feels exactly the same way as before, and if it weren't for the puddles of water in front of it, silent proof that what they saw really happened, Rodney would doubt his own mind. Behind him, Elizabeth is shouting at Sumner how they can't alienate the alien, can't afford to seem hostile if possibly this guy is one of the inhabitants of the city, something that seems rather likely the face of recent events. Sumner is shouting back that they can't risk anything, not with the weak position they're in already, and Elizabeth argues that that's exactly why they can't make any hostile moves.

Rodney stands up from where he was crouching by the window and reaches out to touch Atlantis' walls, not knowing anymore whether or not he's really just imagining the flutter brushing against his mind, like butterfly wings.

And suddenly, the man is back, wearing clothes now and looking a lot drier than when he left, his hair standing up on ends ridiculously. This time Elizabeth doesn't let Sumner push her aside. Quite the opposite; she pushes past his soldiers that haven't given up their defense parameter and walks towards the alien, a hesitant smile on her face. The man pauses and looks at her curiously, but doesn't react like he understands what she's saying when she greets him, first in English, then Ancient, Latin, and lastly all the other languages she knows. When she's finished, he just gives her a small smile, touches his fingertips to her shoulder, turns away and walks past her. Elizabeth looks confused, but nobody is more surprised than Rodney when the guy walks straight towards him. At first Rodney thinks he wants to get back to the window, but when he backs out of the way, the guy adjusts his path, finally coming to a halt right in front of Rodney. He gifts him with a bright smile, and, more than confused now, Rodney flushes nervously.

The man's smile turns a little cheeky, and he reaches out to touch Rodney's shoulder very much like he touched Elizabeth's. Then he says something, in no language Rodney has ever heard (which, well, isn't that surprising, considering they're in a different galaxy).

"Uhm," Rodney says, starting to panic a little, sending Elizabeth a helpless look, trying not to pay attention to the fact that dozens of guns are pointed in his general direction.

"Talk to him, Rodney," Elizabeth encourages. "You obviously have a rapport with him, make use of it."

"A rapport?", Rodney squeaks. How can he have a rapport with the alien when he hasn't even said a thing to him?

The alien says something again, and Rodney licks his lips. "Uhm, hi?"

It earns him a wide grin, and then the guy says, "Hi."

"Did he understand me?" Rodney demands of Elizabeth, who looks faintly exasperated under her tense excitement. "Say something to him, Rodney!", she hisses.

"Er, hi, I'm Rodney," Rodney says lamely.

The guy tilts his head, mouthing the words, and Rodney repeats his name, and repeats it again when the guy gives him an encouraging look. He mouths Rodney's name along with him the second time, then grins and says, "Rodney." His pronunciation is a little off, he's drawling the vocals, but Rodney figures that it's pretty good, considering it's a different language.

Then the guy points towards himself and says, "John." He does pronounce it a little weirdly as well, rounding out the o, but it's clearly John.

Rodney blinks. "Did he just say his name is John?", he asks Elizabeth, who looks equally dumbfounded.

"John?", Rodney repeats, aware he's sounding a little skeptical.

"John," the guy says firmly. "Rodney," he drawls, touching Rodney's shoulder with his fingertips, and then touching his own shoulder, saying his own name again. Which apparently is John. Rodney feels a little like this is a giant joke.

"Are you sure you don't understand me?", he asks the guy – John – suspiciously.

But John just smiles and steps closer again, carefully taking hold of Rodney's elbows, and then leaning in as if he means to kiss him. Rodney is just about to panic, but then the guy tilts his head forward and closes his eyes, stilling. So, no kissing, then, but what the hell else does he want?

"Rodney," Elizabeth hisses, not helping any, and then she makes a forward motion with her head. Rodney figures she means for him to mirror John's gesture, which does seem sensible, now that she suggested it. Taking a breath, Rodney tilts his head forward, closing his eyes as well, hoping that he's doing it right. He hears a huff, but before he can open his eyes and panic that he's doing it wrong John brings their foreheads together, keeping them in contact for a moment before he pulls away again, letting go of Rodney's arms and stepping away. He gifts Rodney with another smile and then takes another step back before turning away and walking towards the gate, which activates.

Immediately, the hushed calm that fell over everybody breaks apart to make room for new, barked orders from Sumner and his officers, who push the civilians away from the gate, not just out of the splash zone, and then they establish a new line of defense pretty similar to the one in the SGC gate room when there is an unscheduled off-world activation.

John watches this all with a slightly amused expression, walking by the soldiers, who send unsure looks towards Sumner, who had given them the order not to engage the alien. John.

The wormhole establishes, and John speaks a couple of sentences at it. A moment later, a woman steps through, a small child of maybe two years sitting on her hip and another of around five holding her hand. The woman is frowning, saying something to John, glancing at the other people in the gate room, the soldiers who are pointing their guns at them. John is holding his arms open for the child, who runs towards him and jumps into them.

"Colonel, tell them to take down the guns," Elizabeth orders very firmly.

Sumner, of course, protests, citing that this is a military situation and that they can't just stay defenseless in case they are attacked. Elizabeth returns that this is a woman and children, they're hardly going to attack them. Besides, they're the strangers here, and if this John truly controls the city, as he seems to, they really, really can't afford to make him their enemy, to threaten his potential wife and children. Behind them, by the gate, John and the woman have taken hold of each other's elbows and are leaning their foreheads together very much like John did with Rodney earlier, only Rodney apparently did it wrong after all, having kept his arms stiff instead of cupping John's elbows in return. They step apart again, John picking up the two-years-old the woman put down for the greeting, and saying something to the other child.

The woman turns to look at Sumner and Elizabeth, watching their argument with a frown on her face, when more children come through the gate behind her, five ranging from the ages of between around four to maybe eight. Rodney has never been good at guessing people's ages, but it's a little easier with children because they haven't reached their maximum height yet. The smaller they are, the younger they are, logically.

The wormhole winks out, robbing Sumner of the argument that they don't know who or what might next come through the gate, and he reluctantly gives the order for his soldiers to lower their weapons. The children mostly ignore the other people; they're too busy greeting John with exuberance, calling his name loudly and hugging him. His name really appears to be John, which is just so weird.

John and the woman pick up talking again after John has greeted all the children, the woman sounding less unhappy. She seems to be speaking a different language than John; the inflections sound different, as does the melody. Rodney figures it's due to the gate system that they can communicate with each other without learning each other's languages, and he wonders why they didn't get that ability too. They did step through the gate, after all, but maybe that is a feature reserved for galactic travel, not inter-galactic travel.

*

"Come on, Teyla, you know Atlantis would never let them hurt us," John coaxes, carding his hand through Babaeh's curly hair.

"Nevertheless, I would have appreciated some warning – before we were about to step through the gate," Teyla emphasizes, preempting John's argument that he did let her know that they had visitors.

"Who are these people, Uncle John?", Jinto asks, eying the strangers and their way of clothing and weaponry curiously. The only time he has seen this kind of weaponry was at a Genii museum; projectile weapons are not that common in their galaxy.

"I don't know, they're new," John replies. "We can't talk to them yet, they don't speak our languages. They didn't yet go through a gate here."

Jinto frowns. "Where did they come from?"

"From another galaxy – remember when we talked about galaxies?" John waits for Jinto's nod, which comes, but some of the other children look dubious, so for their benefit he explains it again. "All the peoples we are in contact with – the Genii, the Hoffans, Dagan – live on different planets. You remember that part?" This time, they all nod. "Good. So all these planets, with their peoples on them, have different suns. The suns are at the center, and the planets circle around their suns. And if you count all these suns with their planets together, they build a galaxy. Do you understand?"

"So all the people we know are from the same galaxy," Mara says. "And we don't know them, so they're from a different galaxy?"

"They're from a different galaxy, so we don't know them," John corrects. "There might be people in this galaxy that we don't know, maybe because they don't have a connection ring, or maybe because they don't want to use theirs, or because they don't want to know us. But we know these people are from a different galaxy because the access dial is different if they are from another galaxy. Not all gates can dial or receive dials from another galaxy; they need different parts."

"Are they the first people from a different galaxy ever?" The idea clearly excites Jinto and his friends, who look around to stare at the newlings with wide eyes.

"Not technically, but we haven't met anyone from another galaxy for thousands of years," John replies.

"Will you talk to them soon?", Mara asks excitedly.

"I hope so," John replies. "I already tried, but it's difficult. I met one of them, though, would you like to meet him?"

"Yes!", Jinto and Mara exclaim in tandem, and the other children chime in.

"Come on then," John grins, sharing a look with Teyla, whose eyes are narrowed, despite her obvious curiosity. But they grew up together and she knows him very well; she knows there's more to this than just John showing off the newlings to the children.

John ignores it for now; he'll talk to her later. For now, he has something else to do.

*

Uh-oh, Rodney thinks when John turns around, focusing in on him and walking straight towards him. The children look wide-eyed with excited curiosity, following closely on John's heels, with the woman behind them, all of them heading towards Rodney.

Elizabeth figures it out too; she quickly makes her way over to Rodney, coming to a halt next to him. She sends the new arrivals a nice smile, murmuring from the corner of her mouth, "Rodney, I don't know why, but it's obviously that he likes you. It would be good if you could introduce me to him so I can try to establish contact with him as well. These people might be our only hope at finding out how the city works."

Rodney frowns. He sure hopes Elizabeth isn't suggesting he befriend John and his – friend? Girlfriend? Wife? Sister? – so they can take Atlantis from them. To him, it looks like they have control of the city, and it's impossible that they're primitive, that they know only how to use it anymore. Not with how well the city has been maintained. It's bad luck and certainly nothing they expected, that the city is already being inhabited by someone, but that's obviously how it is, so they're going to have to figure out how to go from there. Without using trickery or force like they're nothing but thieves or Goa'uld. "Elizabeth-", he starts, intending to tell her just that, but that's when John and the children reach him.

"Rodney," John says, gifting him with a grin. Rodney feels himself flush a little, which is probably a little silly, but seriously, not many people have ever looked at him like that. Like they're genuinely pleased to see him.

"John," Rodney replies. It causes some of the children's eyes to widen; they stare at him and whisper among themselves.

Making a chiding noise, John says something to the children, who immediately stop and just look at him. John says something else, and somewhere in there, if Rodney isn't completely mistaken, there's an "Hi Rodney". When immediately after John has finished speaking, the children chorus "Hi Rodney!", it's not all that hard to figure out.

John speaks in a tone of voice that suggests he's telling them something along the lines of "well done", and then he looks up at Rodney from between his eyelashes, a glint in his eyes. "Rodney," he says, then puts his hand on the tallest child's head, introducing him, "Jinto", and then one after the other, the remaining six children: "Sym, Nollah, Tirimeh, Cante, Diestel, Babaeh," ending with the two-years-old with the curly brown hair he's carrying on his hip. The child looks like a hobbit, Rodney thinks randomly. There's no way he'll ever be able to remember all their names – he'll be lucky if he remembers one. "Uhm, hi," he says when they all look at him expectantly, which earns him beaming smiles from all of them. Then he remembers Elizabeth's request and, a little nervous, points towards her. "Elizabeth."

They all turn to look at Elizabeth, who smiles at them widely. "Hi."

The children turn their heads to look at John, who gives Elizabeth a vague smile, takes a step back to brush his knuckles over the shoulder of the woman who came with the children. "Teyla," he introduces. Then, with one last glance at Rodney, he leads the children past him towards the window.

"Well," Elizabeth says, appearing both taken aback and a little disappointed. "He really seems to have picked you out of all of us."

"But why?", Rodney asks, watching nervously as John crouches to explain something to the children, who listen earnestly. And what for? From what he has read in reports of SG missions, it's not always a good sign to be picked by the native people. Maybe they want to eat him; it would be just his luck.

Suddenly, the children erupt into cheers and action, practically ripping their clothes off. John and Teyla help undo knots or buttons where it's necessary, John also helping the youngest child out of its shirt when it doesn't manage on its own. Once the children are all naked they are obviously told to put their clothes into individual piles, as orderly as they are able. While they do that, Teyla takes her clothes off too; Rodney thinks he isn't the only one who gets a problem with blushing and looking away. Teyla says something to John, who hesitates, replies; she says something else, and John, inexplicably, turns his head to glance at Rodney before sighing and nodding, starting to strip as well.

After they're both done, they all turn to stare at the window, apparently waiting for something – a woman with red hair and a fish tail, obviously, who swims into their line of vision at just that moment. She waves at the children and smiles, they smile and wave back wildly, and then, after a permitting nod from John, the oldest child takes a few steps back and runs for the window, throwing himself into it with his arms spread.

It basically reacts like a pool would, if pools could be vertical; water splashes everywhere, which the children comment with thrilled shrieks and applause. Rodney starts to consider the fact that maybe the whole expedition has indeed been drugged and are seeing things, because that's just not possible. The water pressure not only makes it physically so, but also biologically.

The boy in the water chooses that moment to start to cough out air, apparently breathing in water; gills appear suddenly at his neck, and his legs melt into a fish tail. Without the scales, so it looks more like a dolphin tail, but it's a tail. The woman watches his change attentively, and all in all, it only takes about two minutes until the boy looks like the perfect mermaid. Without the maid part, of course.

While Rodney can only gape, the children comment this with loud cheers and more applause, the boy in the water grins, swimming a little closer to press his hands against the glass for a moment before he makes room, making an inviting gesture. A second child makes a run for the window, throwing itself out very much like the boy did, and after she's done, one after the other, all but the youngest child do the same, jumping out of the window into the water and changing into mermaids like they do this every day. Which, for all that Rodney knows, they might.

Once they're all through, John and Teyla make some gestures; the children wave and grin and swim around while Teyla and John start picking up their clothes. John takes them all into his arms and heads out of the gate room again – one of Sumner's soldiers tries once more to stop the door from closing, but he doesn't manage. Teyla ignores them, picking the youngest child up and stepping close to the window, poking a hand through the window. The child copies her gesture, and the two of them touch the water for a while, hold their hands out for the other children to touch, until John comes back, joining them. He says something to the child, who nods and grins; the woman outside swims close to the window, holding out her arms, and Teyla pushes the child through the window into the water.

It looks brutal, from their admittedly limited point of view; like she's drowning the child, but she obviously is not. Nobody can say they're seriously thinking that's what she's doing, not after what they've just witnessed, and so, while there's some surprised exclaims from the members of the expedition, nobody makes a move towards Teyla and John.

The woman outside catches the child, who doesn't look very happy; she pats it gently on the back and it starts to cough, and two minutes later, it looks just like the others, with a perfect little tail and gills. Rodney hasn't even realized he's holding his breath until he lets it out in a relieved sigh when the child starts to swim, looking ecstatic; he doesn't think he's the only one in the room.

The rest is anti-climatic; Teyla steps through the window, changing as well. The way she greets the red-haired woman seems a little homo-erotic, especially with the naked breasts; once she's changed, the two of them swim together, twining their tails for a moment. Maybe she isn't John's wife after all.

That thought really doesn't make Rodney happy; it doesn't. And even if it would, it would be totally stupid and useless, because seriously. For some reason, John has picked him as the person he spoke to first, but soon, Elizabeth is going to develop a rapport with him and Rodney can go back to being the Chief Science Officer while Elizabeth handles the negotiations with the aliens, just the way it was meant to be.

And he's really not going to draw any wild conclusions out of the fact that John turns his head to send him one long, intense look before he follows Teyla, stepping out of the window and changing back into a merman. He does wave back, though, when John waves at him one last time before he follows the two women and the children, who quickly fade into the distance.

"Well," Elizabeth says again.

*

John manages to ignore Teyla's pointed curiosity while they swim the children to school. She won't ask in front of the children, who have already moved on from the newlings to chattering about chasing fishes and going to visit the underwater volcanoes. When John was young, he used to love the volcanoes; he and his friends, Teyla among them, would capture bubbles of carbon monoxide and make bets on who could keep theirs the longest, catching and recapturing them again and again with nothing but their hands.

If he is honest with himself, he still loves the volcanoes, their continuous emission of bubbles and smoke and heat, never fading, more constant than anything else he knows. Sometimes he longs back for those years when they were children, when things were simple; when they hadn't yet known that being of different peoples meant having to one day make a decision – to live primarily in the water, or on land. He isn't the only one who found that decision difficult, and everybody had the opportunity to reconsider once as adults – but only once.

John knows that he had been skirting on the line of being made to make a final decision a second time for years; for his father's taste, he leaves the water way too often, and leaving to pick up children or visitors doesn't even count. But the city calls to John, always had, and he just can't see why as an adult, he shouldn't be allowed to visit her as often as he had been able to as a child. He really, really can't understand why not more people see the city as something else than just a gateway between the earth-bound and the water-bound people. She is beautiful, Atlantis; she doesn't deserve the off-hand dismissal many people regard her with.

Thankfully, John isn't completely alone in his regard for the city, even if he is alone in his need to visit her often, to walk her halls on his two legs. There are others, always had been, who know how to keep her safe and intact, who are almost as fascinated with her as John is – or at least with the way she is made up, the way she works. It is a little different to the way John feels about her – more clinical, less emotionally invested. Sometimes, John thinks he is the only one who can feel her in his mind, or maybe just the only one who knows how to listen. And sometimes, it doesn't just feel like a treasure but makes him sad.

Sora calls for him to pay attention, pulling John out of his gloomy thoughts, and he holds his arms out for Babaeh, who is too small to swim long distances. She swims over from Sora's arms into his, still a little clumsy with her new tail; she isn't yet used to swimming, wasn't born underwater. John personally thinks that it might be less stressful for a child to be born underwater; birth alone is stressful enough without adding to it the strain on the body that change brings, he figures. But it's really, really none of his business how a woman gives birth to her child, and John really is not interested in discussing his opinions. Women tend to get really disgruntled when men have opinions on things that are considered female matters and that they thus have no personal experience with.

Probably deserved, John thinks with dry amusement, pulling Babaeh closer to his chest so her inevitable wriggles won't disrupt the flow of his swimming. This is only the third time she's been let underwater, the first time without her parents there to guide her; everything is still exciting and wondrous to her. Thankfully, she does listen to firm commands, even if she isn't used yet to underwater speech.

Once they finally arrive at the meeting point, where a couple of volunteers who regularly teach the earthborn children about the underwater world and rules are waiting, they hand off the children for a day underwater. In the evening, John and Teyla will be there to pick them up again and take them back to the city, where Teyla will lead them through the ring and take them back to their parents.

John sort of hopes to escape Teyla before she can pin him down; he figures she won't make much of an effort once he's out of her line of sight – she has a whole day free to spend with Sora ahead of her. John figures she'll consider him low priority in comparison.

Apparently, he's wrong about that, because Teyla catches up with him quickly, scolding. "John," she says, aligning with him and making him slow down until they're less swimming and more drifting along, pushing against a current.

John winces. He hates that tone of voice. It's quite fascinating how Teyla manages to make it sound exactly the same, no matter which element she's currently in and how it changes the way of communication. "Teyla," he replies. "Aren't you going to spend the day with Sora?"

Teyla frowns a little. "I wanted to spend some time with you. Besides, Sora is going to come back with me today."

Swallowing down the sarcastic "of course" that tries to escape, John focuses on something else than the fact that ever since Teyla and Sora formed a pair, Teyla only ever had a few minutes to spare for John before she left him for Sora whenever she came underwater. "Has she finally made a decision, then?"

The frown on Teyla's face deepens. "I do not know why everybody thinks one of us has to."

John rolls his eyes, having little patience left for the two of them. "Come on, Teyla, everybody knows you two are as close to mated as one can be without having made it official. One day, one of you is going to have to make a second decision. The only question is who it's going to be."

Teyla looks away, the frown still on her face. "Both of us had reason for deciding as we did when we reached adulthood. Those reasons still hold true." Then she looks back at him. "You cannot distract me. Tell me what is going on with you and the newling, Rodney."

"Nothing," John says, vaguely hoping but resignedly aware that she won't let it go. They are still friends, despite the fact that they haven't spent much time together recently.

Teyla doesn't look happy with him. "John," is all she says, but she says it in that tone of voice that could rein him in even when they were children.

John frowns and swallows a bit of water. He likes the feel of it on his tongue, breathes mostly through his mouth when underwater, and sometimes the taste of salt makes him hungry for it. "There is nothing going on," he says. "We've only spoken enough to introduce each other. Besides, they haven't gone through the gate yet, so actual communication with them is impossible anyway."

"I have never seen you react to a person that way," Teyla says eventually, after a moment of silence. "You seemed very... focused on him."

John pulls up his shoulders, forgetting as he tends to that that impedes his breathing underwater. Then he resigns himself to the fact that Teyla won't let it go and tries to explain. "They came through the ring three days ago. They're trying to access the city's systems. We've been watching them, trying to figure out what they want. They can't be just explorers, not with all the soldiers and weaponry they brought."

"Maybe their galaxy is more dangerous than ours," Teyla suggests. "Our galaxy used to be very dangerous, once upon a time."

"Can't be that dangerous, those bullet-spewers wouldn't be very helpful against a Wraith," John half-agrees. "But, yes, we considered that. They haven't shown sign of violence yet, though there clearly is some discord among them. The way they reacted towards my appearance wasn't great, but they did stay peaceful."

"Highly defensive, though," Sora throws in, having swum up to them while they were drifting along. "On the edge to offensive. Did he tell you yet about his massive crush?", she addresses Teyla, reaching out to graze her fingertips through Teyla's floating hair, brushing through John's shortly after.

"I don't have a massive crush," John immediately protests.

"He does," Sora disagrees, tilting her head towards Teyla as if conspiratorially, even though it's nearly impossible to whisper underwater. "He stared at him for hours, even while he was sleeping."

"Atlantis likes him," John half-heartedly defends himself. "She made me."

Teyla looks at him with raised eyebrows. "I am well-aware that this is not how your connection with the city works."

John frowns, and with a few powerful flaps of his tail swims ahead, ignoring Teyla calling his name and the fingers sliding along his tail.

"John," Teyla says again, catching up with him; Sora stays behind, but John knows she's still with them. Touching his shoulder, Teyla slows him down, aligning their bodies and bringing their foreheads together. Forehead to forehead is the only way to whisper underwater, and it's not polite to do it in public or when with company. Sora is their friend, though, she won't be offended. "I know you," Teyla whispers. "We're friends. Please, tell me what is going on with you."

"I'm fine," John whispers back unnecessarily. They both know it's not entirely true anyway. "He just... he treats her like she means something." And it's possible that in this instance, John has let himself identify with the city a little too much, which he knows is not healthy. That she does it too, treats him like he's part of her, doesn't help either.

John wouldn't trade it for anything.

*

"Fact of the matter is, this is not a military situation," Elizabeth says, voice clipped. She and Sumner have been arguing for half an hour, and she's clearly had enough. "You have no grounds to base this on. We have not been attacked, we haven't even been threatened."

"We have been invaded!", Sumner protests. It's the one argument he has made again and again, like repeating it until exhaustion will make it true. That is the sort of thing that clearly labels him an idiot in Rodney's books, and he doubts the man will ever manage to say or do anything that will make Rodney reconsider that.

"Actually, we are the invaders," Rodney involves himself, not able to keep silent any longer. So far, he has mostly stayed out of Elizabeth's arguments with Sumner; he is on Elizabeth's side by default because he's her second in command, because he's a civilian and simply because he hates Sumner (though he can't be sure Elizabeth does, too; she diplomatically keeps her personal opinions on people hidden), but until now he hadn't been willing to get involved in politics, in their power struggle. Now, though, he's had it with that dumb dickhead trying to take control of the expedition. "It's clearly obvious to anyone with half a brain that this city is not uninhabited, as we had originally – and, admittedly, naïvely – expected. Now, it doesn't matter if those people who are living here are Ancients or not; they live here, and we don't have the right to chase them out and take over. We'd be no better than the Goa'uld if we did, and I for one would prefer not to be viewed as thieves and warmongering dictators in this galaxy, thank you very much. Obviously, they're keeping us out of the city's control systems; that explains why we haven't been able to get into the systems or access the gate remotely. The only thing we can do now is wait and hope they'll come back and be willing to communicate with us. If we're really, really lucky, they might let us stay and explore. If not, hopefully we'll at least be lucky enough for them to let us use the gate to go back to Earth."

Sumner clearly does not like that; in his opinion, they came to this galaxy to find a super weapon to beat the Ori with, and so far this galaxy has pitifully let him down. Rodney doesn't give a damn, though; he has said his piece, and he's not willing to listen to Sumner's whining. They've all been disappointed, he thinks, storming out of the bathroom they took over for their "discussion". Elizabeth is of the opinion that seeing the leadership fight will not be good for morale, as if anyone could have avoided noticing the way Sumner at least considers protesting against every command Elizabeth gives.

Though, really, Rodney himself hasn't been all that disappointed yet. Quite the opposite; his biggest fear had been that all that was left of the great city of the Ancients would be ruins, that the archeologists they had brought would be of more use than anybody else. Atlantis is bigger and more amazing than he ever let himself imagine in his wildest dreams, and the only disappointment has been that he hasn't yet been able (or rather, allowed, and yes, that part is rather irksome) to explore her systems and the way she was built, her magnificent engineering. Maybe he will be allowed to explore her eventually; even limited access would teach him so much, for example how she's able to stay at the bottom of the ocean, under tons of water pressure, without looking like it's affecting her in any way.

That's not to say that Rodney isn't bothered that he's being kept out, that he's content to wait until someone comes to grant him access; it quite frankly pisses him off, that he hasn't been able to slice through the coding. He has no idea whether these people even have any inclination of how important this city and its treasures are for the expedition and, even more, for the whole Milky Way galaxy. The Ori are a serious threat, not just to Earth but to all the people in several galaxies. Eventually, they'll probably also arrive in the Pegasus galaxy. They need to be stopped, sooner rather than later.

So, for all his respect for the fact that the city is inhabited and not theirs to do with as they please, he's not going to let himself be turned away if they refuse.

*

"The Council wishes to speak to one of the newlings," his brother informs John. His mouth twists dryly. "They picked you to arrange a meeting, I'm sure it comes as a great surprise to you."

"Right." John rolls his eyes. He catches a teelas his brother pushes over to him and pops it in his mouth. The rich sweetness of the juicy fruit mixes with the salty taste of the ocean on his tongue, enhancing both and underlining the smooth taste of the fruit underneath. He loves teelasi.

"Oh, please." His brother rolls his eyes and hands the bag over to him. "Take them. You can share them with your new friends."

"Yeah, no," John replies, catching them. Maybe he'll give one to Rodney. Or maybe not, he's getting a little too fixated.

"John," Dave catches his attention, intonation unusually serious. "What is really going on with you and that newling?"

John swallows the teelas together with the mouthful of ocean water. Dave is probably the only person around who'll ever really understand him; even his closest friends, like Teyla, can't really understand. All she knows is that John has always been fascinated with Atlantis.

But Dave and John grew up together, with their mother, who hadn't just been enamored with the city – she had frankly been obsessed with everything about her, especially her little ones scattered all over the universe. That's where John and Dave got their weird names; their mother had kept a close eye on the little ones' protocols. Not many of them happen to be on worlds that are technologically so advanced that the little ones can send back information to Atlantis that isn't about changes in climate. Consequently, she had cherished those few even more, the one on Terra in particular. It was a shame, really, that she had missed its most exciting developments, particularly the past decade. She would have been over the moon – John had been nearly as excited himself, really.

In contrast, Dave managed to establish a distance in the years since their mother's death. John never did, but if he's honest with himself, he never really tried anyway, never wanted to. But Dave still understands, has never judged John for wanting to keep in close contact with Atlantis.

"They're from Terra," John gets to the crux of the matter. Not even Teyla would understand; she knows that John and Dave's names are from that outpost, but she doesn't understand the deep emotional connection to that and other little ones their mother passed on to them.

His brother says nothing for a long while, lost in his own thoughts and memories. John nibbles a hole into another teelas and sucks the juice out, waiting patiently. Eventually, Dave says hesitantly, "Now I sort of want to see them too. You didn't mention that before."

"I didn't know for sure until today," John says. "I didn't hear their names until today. Besides, you know how father reacts."

Dave grimaces. Indeed he does. Their father had always hated any reminder of their mother, but the memory of her passion for the city and especially her little ones he absolutely loathes. John figures that's one of the reasons why he's so hard on John. Not that understanding that makes it any easier for him.

"What are you planning?"

John lifts his shoulders. "Nothing. I want to know more about them, but I'm not partial to them, if that's what you're asking. I'm not going to go with them when they leave." It's out of question that they won't leave eventually – unless they plan to settle down on one of Pegasus' empty worlds, or join their peoples. John doesn't really think that's what they intend to do here, though. They don't at all make the impression of fugitives.

Dave nods. "I know that." Then he reaches out and pulls John close, presses their foreheads together. "I know you love it here," he whispers. "Despite what others say, I know you want both worlds."

John does. If he had to choose either underwater or earth-bound, he'd lose something, no matter which side he would end up choosing. If he chose the earth-bound side, he could stay on Atlantis, but he'd not be able to go underwater even half as often as he'd want to. The same if he picked underwater – he'd be able to touch Atlantis from the outside, but he'd only get an echo of what he gets from her when he actually goes inside. Both would make him really unhappy eventually.

The brothers separate, and John swims back to the city, to the window he and Sora had been watching the newlings through for the past couple of days. On the way there, currents curling around him as he glides through the water, John thinks about who he will pick to speak to the Council. He's tempted to choose Rodney just because he's sort of enchanted with him, but he figures that wouldn't be such a good idea. Rodney doesn't look like someone who has much patience or an inherent, in-born diplomacy; both things that in John's opinion are absolutely mandatory to be able to endure a meeting with the Council.

None of the newlings really looked like they were capable of that, John ponders; it's unfortunate that the newlings' leaders were too busy fighting among themselves. Normally, they might even be good leaders, but it so far has been impossible to tell. Nevertheless, John is well-aware that he has to stop snubbing everyone who isn't Rodney. It will only lead to discord, amongst the newlings and between them, John and his people.

When John gets to the window, the first person he looks for after greeting Atlantis is Rodney. He finds him with his back to the window, sitting in front of one of Atlantis' consoles, not moving. John swims to another window so he gets a better view on him, trailing his fingers over Atlantis on the way there. She sends him the sort of information that lets John know that the leader, Elizabeth, and the leader of the military are fighting again. Furthermore, she lets him know that Rodney's heart rate is accelerated. John wonders about that; Rodney is frowning, staring at the circuitry of the console, but John doesn't think that that's what got him so worked up.

John hovers there for a while, just watching the newlings, trying not to focus too much on Rodney – and failing. He's mostly decided that he won't drag Rodney before the Council; he'll probably pick Elizabeth, the red-headed woman. He just hopes they won't want the military leader to join her; that would probably not end well. Fairly entertained by the idea of the hostile military leader speaking to the Council, John pops another teelas into his mouth and watches some more.

*

By the time everyone has calmed down, it's evening – or at least what they call evening; it's hard to tell what time of day it really is because there's a constant, luminous glow lighting the bottom of the ocean that's probably being emitted by algae. The surface of the ocean is pretty far away, and they can only tell if it's dark or light, not what time of light. They've established a day night rhythm similar to Earth, but both Rodney and Sumner have kept some of their people up – Sumner had his soldiers stand guard, and Rodney had his people keep working on trying to get into Atlantis' systems. Not that they had anything even approaching success so far, which is why Rodney barely sleeps himself, choosing instead to work and take catnaps whenever his concentration starts to fail.

The other members of the expedition were very excited at John's appearance; they're still talking about it, and Rodney got quite a few comments, some teasing, some not so much. He honestly has no idea why John chose him out of all the people in the room, why he shunned Elizabeth so.

Well, he's not going to get any answers soon, he knows, and decides to get something to eat. He's lucky they're not rationing yet – at least not really; everybody gets three MREs a day, but that's enough to keep Rodney's hypoglycemia at bay, and due to his condition he's allowed to get more if need be. Even knowing that helps already, at least psychologically.

He's just settled down on the stairs and started the heating process when commotion brands up; Rodney looks up to find John coming in through the window again, carrying a small bag and coughing up water. Rodney hesitates, not sure whether he should acknowledge his arrival, but he figures John will get dressed first anyway, and so he stays, waiting for the water for his MRE to boil.

He's right; just as the first time he came, John leaves rather quickly after having finished changing. This time, no soldier tries to keep the door open. Rodney really doesn't know if that’s because Sumner ordered them not to out of his own volition, or if he finally submitted to Elizabeth's command as he's supposed to. Not that it matters; it’s not like it did them any good anyhow.

"Rodney," Elizabeth says, startling him; he hasn't even noticed her come up, too focused on the door John vanished through.

Rodney looks at her questioningly; he really hopes John will come back quickly, because he's not looking forward to what Elizabeth has to tell him. There is a reason he tries not to get involved in politics; there's just too much double-meaning, hidden motives. He prefers honesty – doesn't have the patience for anything else, really.

"Hopefully, he will come back to seek contact with you again," Elizabeth continues; she makes it sound like it's something shameful, John's fixation on him. "You should try to establish a relationship with him, maybe he will get you access to the city. Once you have access, you can make the systems available to everyone. They surely have ZPMs somewhere, we should send at least one or two back to Earth as soon as possible."

Right, that's the sort of thing Rodney does not want to hear, much less do. "Elizabeth-", he starts, intending to tell her just that, but, just like before, John's return interrupts him.

As expected, John is dressed; he's still carrying the small bag. He walks straight towards Rodney, giving him a wide grin. "Hi, Rodney," he says, waiting until Rodney has replied "Hi, John" before taking a seat next to him on the stairs. He digs something out of the bag, a sort of ball the size of a coin and of a milky, vaguely see-through color. He pops it into his mouth and closes his eyes for a moment before swallowing, visibly enjoying the taste. When John opens his eyes and catches Rodney watching him, he takes another ball out of his bag and offers it to Rodney, nattering off in his language.

Rodney blinks, looking from the ball in John's palm to John's face and back again; he's aware that everybody is watching their interaction, even if at least some of them have the courtesy of trying to pretend they aren't. Elizabeth is standing in front of Rodney, her expectation almost a tangible weight on Rodney's shoulders.

Tentatively, he takes the ball between index finger and thumb, taking care not to squeeze; it earns him a beaming smile from John, who then takes another ball out of his bag and pops it into his mouth. Rodney carefully eyes the ball; it feels and, excepting the perfectly round shape, looks a lot like a grape, now that he's looking at it closely. He brings it to his mouth and flicks his tongue out, but he only tastes salty water. Trying really, really hard not to think about the mutated germs this thing (and he fervently hopes it's a fruit and not fish eggs) might have caught underwater and that totally could kill him even if they're completely harmless to inhabitants of this galaxy, Rodney pops it into his mouth. Nothing happens, and so uses his tongue to carefully press it against the roof of his mouth. It pops open suddenly, faster than a grape would, releasing a sweet kind of syrup that tastes a little like honey, with a faint hint of mint. It's not a strong, dominating taste; Rodney doesn't think it would mix well with other fruit or other kinds of dessert; their taste would drown out the subtle taste of this thing.

Rodney opens his eyes, unaware when he closed them, to find John watching him closely. "It's good," he says, a little helpless, because how can they really communicate?

"It tastes even better underwater," John says.

Completely stunned for a moment, Rodney blinks, wondering whether he heard that right. The gasps among the others of the expedition make him realize that he truly heard what he thought he just heard; he's not hallucinating.

"You speak English," he says dumbly. Suspiciously, he eyes the bag with the balls inside.

Noticing his look, John lifts the bag. "Not these," he says. Reaching inside his shirt, he pulls out a chain with a small talisman attached, not bigger than the not-grapes, but flat. It's of what looks like the same grayish-blue-green metal that Atlantis is also made of, and it's glowing faintly green. "It reshapes the input your ears transfer to your brain into words you can understand, once it has a baseline. And, of course, the other way around."

Zelenka mutters something, and it makes the hair on the back of Rodney's neck stand up – he's sure Zelenka is speaking Czech, but he can understand him. It doesn't bear repeating, but Rodney whole-heartedly agrees with the exclamation. John only acknowledges Zelenka's words with a twitch of the corners of his mouth as he puts the talisman back under his shirt.

"You-" Rodney starts, but Elizabeth speaks over him, saying something diplomatic and welcoming and sort of sleazy, in light of what she's just said to Rodney.

John looks at her for a moment, then gives her a bland smile and says, "You may speak to the Council and explain what it is you're seeking tomorrow." He sounds weirdly formal, like he's relaying another's message, or quoting.

Rodney knows Elizabeth must be taken aback, but her diplomatic smile stays professionally fixed. "Perhaps you could explain more about what it is the Council expects, and who this Council is."

Returning her smile with another bland smile of his own, John says "No." Then he takes two not-grapes out of his bag, pops one it into his mouth and then offers the other to Rodney, who takes it, carefully not looking at Elizabeth.

Elizabeth takes a deep breath. "Maybe I didn't make myself clear. I wish to learn about your culture and people."

"You may convey that wish to the Council tomorrow. I wish to speak to Rodney," John replies earnestly.

"Rodney has his duties as a scientist," Elizabeth returns; Rodney starts to feel like a toy two siblings are fighting over, both pulling on each side.

"I know." John nods and gives Rodney a smile. "He is a very good one. She likes him."

"Who?", Rodney asks before Elizabeth can say something else.

"Atlantis," John replies off-handedly, absently stroking his fingertips over the stairs in a move that looks a lot like a caress before he reaches into his bag again, offering Rodney a third not-grape.

Rodney hastily pops the second one into his mouth; he can't prevent the small noise of enjoyment he accidentally makes. It tastes even better the second time. When he opens his eyes, he finds that John is looking at him with amusement. "They're called teelas. They are grown in the shallow waters of Legd. They have to be kept safe from fish and bird."

"But they're... fruit, right?", Rodney asks tentatively, not sure if he really wants to know.

John's eyebrows rise. "Of course. I would not offer not-plants without letting you know."

Oh, great. It looks like this galaxy has also been taken over by vegetarians; never mind that Rodney much prefers knowing in advance if he's going to eat a weird insect or not.

"John," Elizabeth says; there is no mistaking the demanding undertone in her voice.

"Tomorrow," John says firmly, straightening up and looking at her with a glint in his eyes that even Rodney recognizes as a warning. Then he sighs and stands, ignoring the way it makes several soldiers move in closer, hands tensing on their weapons. "Come, I'll show you." He turns around and heads back towards the door. Rodney hesitates, glancing at Elizabeth, who raises an eyebrow and tilts her chin towards John, indicating that Rodney should follow. With an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his belly, Rodney follows John.

The door doesn't close immediately after John is through, staying open for Rodney; when one of the soldiers tries to reach through, though, he finds he is repelled by an invisible shield. It doesn't seem to harm him, acting more like a glass barrier, but it clearly startles him and those who are watching.

Made cautious by the soldier's experience, Rodney reaches out, only to find that the barrier is not there for him. He shares a wide-eyed look with the soldier, who reaches out again, only to find that he is still being repelled. Where Rodney doesn't experience any sort of repellant, the soldier is clearly not being let through. Biting his lip, Rodney steps through the door, not surprised at how it closes after him immediately.

John is waiting for him, standing a few meters away from the door and looking at him expectantly. Rodney gives him a hesitant smile that John returns a thousandfold, heading off with a spring in his steps towards the end of the corridor.

"So, what is this Council?", he asks, figuring that when he gets back, he better have something to offer Elizabeth; she didn't seem happy with the way things were developing, even if she did encourage him to go.

Giving him a dry look, clearly well-aware of why Rodney really is asking, John nevertheless replies: "A bunch of people who decide over other people's lives." At Rodney's wide-eyed look, he amends, "Well, and a lot of other things, too. They don't kill anyone, if that's what you're thinking. Nobody will kill you."

A door at the end of the corridor opens as they near it; it pretty much looks like a cupboard, and Rodney is reluctant, but doesn't hesitate much when John directs him inside with his fingertips at the small of Rodney's back. The door closes behind them, and when it opens again, Rodney's mouth drops open; they're clearly somewhere entirely different, and he didn't even feel anything. He knows from reports from O'Neill and a bunch of other people that you definitely feel both Goa'uld ring and Asgard transporters, even if you aren't able to hear or see. This transporter didn't make a noise, the light didn't change, and Rodney didn't feel a thing, and yet they're undoubtedly in a different place than where they started; not in a corridor anymore, but in a wide room.

After giving him a moment to adjust, John directs him out of the transporter with a gentle push to the small of his back, and Rodney finds that the room they're in is made entirely of glass. There are no frames, nothing to support the glass – that is clearly not glass but the same material the windows in the gate room are made of – and it basically looks like a reverse-fishbowl; air and people on the inside, water and fish on the outside. Rodney can't see anything but water, the occasional fish and its surface high up over their heads; he can't see the city at all. It should be terrifying, the knowledge of all that water pressure coming at it from all sides, but it's not – it clearly is safe, having been here like that for thousands of years at least.

Stepping closer to the edge, Rodney finds the city – it seems they're at the top of the highest tower, made to give you a stunning view over the city and its surroundings. It certainly succeeds in that; Rodney does feel pretty stunned.

It's beautiful. Rodney knew that before, it's not like the view from the gate room windows was bad or anything, but like this, it's absolutely breathtaking, and he feels awed and small and he wants to know how it all works, wants to take it apart and put it back together again, wants to know what it looks like from the inside. He knows it'll be even more beautiful there than on the outside, he just knows.

"What is this made of?", he asks, voice quiet and probably betraying his wonder, but he couldn't care less. Reaching out, he hesitates touching the not-glass until John steps close to him and brushes the tips of his fingers over it as well, leaving no mark.

"I will tell you if you show me a kiss," John says.

Rodney whirls around and stares. "You- what-" he splutters, completely taken off-guard.

"I would like to know," John explains calmly, focused completely on Rodney in a way that is unsettling in how much it excites Rodney. He feels like his heart is about to jump out of his chest.

"You... you don't know what a kiss is?", he finally manages to croak.

John shakes his head once. "I know what it is, but I have never experienced it – at least not what you understand under kissing. We don't put our mouths to each other like that."

"You don't?" Rodney frowns. "But how do you..." He flaps his hand helplessly. He can't imagine how people can get really intimate if they don't kiss.

"Underwater, you breathe mostly with your mouth," John explains, stepping close to Rodney. "You would suffocate if you would stop. On land, we don't do it either." He raises his hands taking hold of Rodney's elbows pretty much like he did before, when he greeted him. This time Rodney knows to touch his elbows in return, like Teyla did when John did this with her. "We used to all live underwater, maybe that's how we lost it. Maybe we never did it in the first place and your people invented it." John tilts his face forwards, and Rodney copies the gesture, bringing their foreheads together.

"Like this?", Rodney asks after a moment. "This is how you kiss here? You kissed me earlier today?"

"No." John sounds amused. "This is a polite greeting. It depends on where your hands are." He slides his hands down Rodney's arms, taking Rodney's hands into his. "It depends on who you're with. Acquaintances. Friends. Family. Mates." After squeezing, he lets go of Rodney's hands and slides his up Rodney's arms, pausing on his shoulders for a moment before moving higher, over Rodney's neck until he's cupping his face before he suddenly wraps his arms around Rodney's neck, pushing their bodies close. They're both breathing irregularly, completely into each other's space, and okay, it feels more intimate than some of the kisses Rodney has shared. He thinks he might actually be feeling John's heartbeat somehow, even though that clearly isn't possible through the thick uniform jacket he's wearing.

"It's also important what comes after," John adds, sounding a little shaky as he lets go, steps away a little. His pupils are blown wide, and he looks as wrecked as he sounds.

Unsteadily, John reaches out, fingers brushing against the see-through material the windows are made of. "It's an alloy of metal and super-compressed carbon, heated and formed. It's very durable. Of all the materials the city is made of, this will decay last – it will take many millions of years."

"Super-compressed- are you telling me the windows are made of diamonds?!", Rodney demands, voice shaky and not just with the recently gained knowledge.

John shrugs, the name obviously not meaning much to him. He doesn't seem to understand why the idea excites Rodney so. "Partly, yes."

Rodney looks at him for a moment, taking in the sudden tension in John's body, and thinks fuck it. He can be careful some other time.

Reaching out with both hands, he slowly frames John's face, aware of how intently John is watching him, like he's afraid Rodney will do something to break this fragile thing building between them. He knows he really, really shouldn't allow it to develop, shouldn't allow this to happen at all, but Rodney decides to take a chance and damn the consequences for once. He's not allowing it; he's initiating it. And it feels great.

He pulls John's face close, focusing in on his lips until his eyes cross for the fracture of a second it takes Rodney to press his own lips to John's. Just before he closes his own eyes, he catches how John's eyes flutter shut as well; the touch connecting them is tentative, as delicate as this other thing, and John is holding his breath.

Pulling away, Rodney whispers, "Breathe through your nose." John seems startled, but obeys; Rodney moves back in and presses a soft kiss to his lower lip, and another, and again. John's eyes are closed, he's breathing unsteadily, and Rodney sort of wants to wrap around him and keep him. Eventually, John purses his lips a little, trying to return the kiss, copy the gesture; it thrills Rodney and he gets a little too enthusiastic, flicking the tip of his tongue out to lick at John's bottom lip. John startles, his eyes open to blink at Rodney.

With a small huff, Rodney pulls away again. He takes in John's expression, pupils blown wide and breathing heavily, and decides that this should be enough for now. John probably isn't a virgin, he doesn't seem like it, but Rodney can't be sure, and anyways this is John's first mouth to mouth kiss. He really doesn't want to take advantage of him.

"We should...", he starts, not really knowing how to finish, putting some distance between them. Not much, not enough to seem like he's regretting this, but so much that he has some room to think, to breathe.

John licks his lips, glancing down at Rodney's mouth and up to his eyes again. "Alright," he finally gives in with visible reluctance. Flicking his tongue out to once more lick his lips, John takes a further step back, bringing them into a respectable distance again.

"You wanted to show me something?", Rodney finally prompts after they've spent a suspenseful moment just staring at each other.

He receives a dry smile in return. "Is this not enough?", John asks, almost playfully.

Struck, Rodney looks around. "Oh, no, this is wonderful!", he hastily assures. "Really, really beautiful, fascinating, uh..." He breaks off when he catches John's teasing grin. "Oh, you!" With a huff, Rodney rolls his eyes and turns around, walking a few steps towards the middle of the room. He doesn't really know what to do with this, the camaraderie – not that he likes it, but he isn't exactly all that skilled at smalltalk, making people feel at ease.

Tilting his face up, he gets the impression like there's nothing at all separating him and the water. He can look up all the way to the silvery surface; absently, he notes that it doesn't really look like it's approaching evening yet, despite the day/night rhythm the expedition established. "What time is it?", he asks absently.

"It's the twentieth hour of the fourth day of the week," John replies, unexpectedly close to Rodney. When he blinks and looks down to see where John is, he finds him standing rather close to him, not looking up but staring at Rodney. A blush stains John's cheeks when Rodney inadvertedly catches his gaze and he quickly tilts his face up to look at the surface as well. With an answering blush warming his cheeks, Rodney looks back up again.

But, wait. "The twentieth hour? It looks like it's the middle of the day."

After a thoughtful pause, John explains, "The middle of the day was six hours ago. We're now almost at the middle of the second half of the day."

"So... one day is twenty-eight hours long?" Hah! Rodney had known it. He had argued that they really couldn't expect the days here to be as long as on Earth when they had been establishing a day/night routine, but nobody had cared. That would show them not to listen to Rodney.

"With the way you count time, that is," John says off-handedly.

Rodney tilts his head, not sure he heard that right. "You count time differently."

One eyebrow raised, John looks at Rodney like he's an idiot. "Of course. The way you count time is unique to your planet in your solar system, after all."

"Yes, I know that." Impatiently, Rodney flaps his hand. "So you still count in hours and days and weeks et cetera, they're only of different length than ours."

"Yes," John confirms. "Minutes and seconds. They're only called differently."

Involuntarily, Rodney's gaze slides to John's chest, where under his shirt the talisman lies in a small bump. "This translation thing works really well, apparently."

"It works best for me, I can also hear the words you say in your language, along with their translation," John explains. "You really need to go through the connection ring."

"The... stargate," Rodney translates. "You call it connection ring?"

John tilts his head. "Stargate? That's cute. Sort of poetic."

"Yes, well, blame the archeologist. Stargate, gate to the stars, it's not even correct, because we'd all die if we actually went through to the stars instead of to the planets orbiting them." Rodney flaps his hand. "Why connection ring? Because it's a ring that establishes a connection, I gather. Connection to what? I mean, I know, of course, but what part of it is important?"

"Other planets, people." John shrugs, then he winks. "We actually do have rings that open to stars. I can show you one, maybe."

Of course Rodney is interested, even though he knows he shouldn't let get himself too involved with John and the things he wants to show him, but. "I prefer myself alive and breathing, thanks."

"Right, because I'd throw you out through a space connection without any kind of protection." John rolls his eyes. "But we can't yet, anyway. First we're going to have to find out why you're here. You don't happen to be fleeing from a race who wants to eat you all to extinction, do you?"

That last part was probably meant as a joke, but it falls flat. "Well." Rodney shifts on his feet, trying not to meet John's gaze. "Not so much the eating part, but."

John stares at him for a moment before he grimaces. "Great." Then he mutters something that sounds vaguely like, "You get rid of the one, and another comes to take their place" but that can't be right. Maybe that translation talisman doesn't work as great as Rodney thought, after all.

"Tomorrow," John waves it all off after a moment. "Elizabeth can explain it all to the Council."

Rodney bites his lip, debating whether to ask or not, but then he decides it won't do any harm. "Are they going to let us stay on the city?"

"Depends on what you want," John replies, abruptly sitting down and pulling out another grape-thing. He offers one to Rodney, who, after a moment's hesitation, sits down as well and takes it. "The city doesn't belong to you, you have no right to her."

"I know that." Rodney takes a closer look at the grape-thing, peers at it from all sides and tries to look through it. "Though we do have some Ancients in our genetic history, so one might argue the point." He certainly won't, though. Not unless they throw him out and he has to.

"Yeah, you're somewhat the descendants of those who left ten thousand years ago," John agrees. "It's pretty diluted, though, and very few of you have it."

Rodney frowns. "How do you know that? Actually, how do you know about a lot of stuff? The way we tell time, whose descendants we are..."

"I know about your genetics because Atlantis can tell, I know about whose descendants you are because it's in her history annals, and I know about how you tell time because of the little one." John pops another not-grape into his mouth and closes his eyes blissfully.

"What is a "little one"?", Rodney asks, trying to process all that information.

"The..." John circles his hand, eyes still closed as he swallows the grape-thing down. "The Alteran outpost on your planet."

"Wait wait wait." Rodney reaches out to grab John's arm. "The outpost? The outpost in Antarctica? You have a connection to it?"

John opens his eyes and blinks. "Yes, of course. You didn't think they'd plant outposts in several galaxies and then not keep track of them and what's going on around, did you?" He squints, taking in Rodney's expression. "You really didn't know."

"No! So you've been spying on us the whole time?" Rodney really has no idea how to react. He wants to be indignant, angry, maybe even betrayed, certainly should feel threatened, but it's obvious that there have been no consequences to them. If John and his people meant them any harm, surely they would have already started? Especially now that they're so vulnerable.

"More the city than anybody else," John explains, tilting his head to carefully watch Rodney's expression. "She records everything, us too. I wouldn't know how to prevent her even if I wanted to, which, frankly, I don't." He shrugs. "It's her primary purpose nowadays. She hasn't gotten all that much from you until about two hundred years ago, when you invented the radio." He smiles faintly. "My mother used to take me and my brother with her to listen; it's also where she got our names. But it really took off when you put up the first satellites, and then the internet..." John sits forward, eyes wide and delighted. "The Internet is awesome! Never have we gotten so much detailed information, especially not with the ability to look something up that we don't understand. The archive for Terra has tripled in size, especially during the past couple of years, it's amazing."

Honestly, Rodney does not think so. He had never really thought about it, but the idea of aliens trying to find out more about mankind via the internet... it's nauseating. "Don't tell me you've watched porn," he blurts out before he can stop himself. Immediately after, he blushes a furious red.

"I did, but it was sort of boring." John shrugs. "It was all set in one element, and that's sort of... monotonous, don't you think? Besides, it often focuses only on penetration and humiliation, and there's really a lot more to sex than that."

"And that," Rodney says, pointing a finger at John, "is why one should not look at porn and expect it to be a real depiction of the actual sex life of us. The Tau'ri."

"Is that also what you call yourselves?" John tilts his head. "I thought that's only what the Goa'uld call you."

"How do you... that is not on the Internet," Rodney says, frowning. "Radio?"

It earns him a look from John. It's the sort of look that Rodney gives his minions when they've just said something that makes him want to revoke their right of contribution to the gene pool. "Rodney. The little one doesn't need the Internet when you bring the information right to her on your computers. Which you then directly connect to her."

"Right." Rodney blushes. It's possible that for the fraction of a moment, he did deserve that look John sent him. Temporarily. A change in topic is clearly expedient. "Uh, no, we don't really... have a name for us, actually. We call each other humans – well, homo sapiens – but that's a label that technically should be applied to everybody of this species. We all have common ancestors, after all."

In agreement, John tilts his head. "True. In this galaxy, the peoples usually name themselves after the name they gave their planets."

"That would be Earth... at least in English." Rodney dryly shakes his head.

"Right, we rarely have the languages problem," John agrees, voice equally dry. "The rings take care of that for us. Occasionally, we stumble over a settlement of peoples pretty far from the ring, and then we do have language differences, but that's what this thing is for." John touches the talisman-thing under his shirt.

"It does seem pretty handy," Rodney agrees. "How does it actually work?" He stares at John's chest until John pulls the talisman-thing out again with a twitch of the corner of his mouth.

"It makes you hear the meaning of what I say instead of the words. And since the meaning makes the most sense to you if it's in your language, to you it seems like I'm speaking your language."

Rodney rolls his eyes and moves in closer to stare at the talisman-thing up close. "I didn't mean the explanation for idiots, I meant the one for really, really, really smart people. Like me."

"Can't give you that, sorry." Carelessly, John shrugs. "There might be someone among my people who does, though, maybe they will explain it to you."

Quite frankly, Rodney is appalled. "You don't know how it works."

"No."

"Then how do you repair it if it breaks?"

"It doesn't break. And even if it would, there are more than enough others where this one came from." John raises an eyebrow at Rodney's expression.

"Please tell me there is someone who knows how everything works in this city," Rodney pleads.

It makes John grimace. "Sorry, I'd be a liar if I did that. People..." John trails off and looks away. "They aren't really interested in finding out how the city works. She self-maintains and only needs a minimum of actual maintenance work. If something breaks and we don't know how to repair it, she'll tell us where to find instructions, and she lets us know if we do something wrong."

Rodney rears up. "The city is sentient?!"

As if it had never even occurred him that anybody could think otherwise, John blinks. "Yes, of course." He crunches his nose up. "I'm sorry, I should have realized you wouldn't know."

All Rodney can do is gape at him.

John pulls up his shoulders and ducks his head. "In my defense, everybody here knows that."

"So, is she like... a person?", Rodney croaks, trying really hard not to look around suspiciously.

"Kind of." John tilts his head. "It would be wrong to say she isn't, but she's not like a human. She's different. Also, she's what you would call an Artificial Intelligence, though that doesn't fit exactly, because with the way you usually use it that implies an absence of emotion, which with her definitely isn't true."

"So she... she's a she? And she's an AI with feelings?" Rodney usually is very proud of how fast his brain works, but this is pretty hard to grasp, so he thinks he deserves some leeway for his shock.

"Well, yes." John reaches out to brush the tips of his fingers over the floor, pretty much the same way he did when they were sitting on the stairs in the gate room. The gesture now makes a lot more sense, though it does make Rodney vaguely nauseous, the idea of her feeling everything they do on her, every point of contact. "She doesn't have a gender, of course, but we've always referred to her as female. She doesn't mind."

"And she... speaks to you." Rodney tries really hard not to sound incredulous, but it's difficult.

"Of course. She speaks to everyone, though many don't have the ability to understand her. You and your people seem to be at a big disadvantage in that area. She says she can reach some of you, but it's weak, and most of you are completely out of reach for her."

It must have something to do with the gene, Rodney realizes. Not many of them have the ATA gene, and most of those who do have it, have the recessive expression of it – Rodney among them.

And yet... Rodney suddenly distinctly remembers the flutter against his mind he felt more than once when he was working on the city, and even sometimes when he wasn't. It seems that wasn't his imagination, after all. He has no idea what to do with that knowledge – has no idea at all what it means that the city is actually sentient. It's certainly not something they could have expected.

"So what does that mean?", Rodney decides to ask. "Does she decide who lives on her?" Though it does explain why they couldn't do anything with her systems and programming, no matter how hard they tried. If she herself is a program… of course she won't let them mess with her.

"Nobody really lives on her, though I guess you could say that I live more on her than I don't," John replies. He seems to not really understand what Rodney is asking, but suddenly, his face brightens. "You don't need to worry, Rodney. She likes you."

He had said something like that before, Rodney abruptly remembers; he hadn't really understood it then and admittedly not paid attention. It had seemed like one of the batty things aliens say that you don't get but politely ignore in order to maintain some form of rapport. It happens a lot when communicating with Asgard, Rodney understands. "'You' as in me personally or 'you' as in my people?"

"You as in you personally," John clarifies. "She was curious, that's why she let you people through the gate. She doesn't really have much of an opinion on most of the others, but you she likes."

Rodney can't say he isn't flattered by that. Of all the people in the expedition, which are around eighty all in all, she picked him out and favored him. On the other hand, of course she did; he's by far the smartest of them all and the one who knows best how to treat Ancient tech. Which in the grand scheme of things doesn't say much, probably, but in relation to what Rodney's people do, it makes him the foremost expert.

"So...", Rodney forages slowly, trying to find a way to say it without sounding insane, "When she's..." He makes a circling motion with his hand, "In my head, that's her trying to communicate?"

John nods enthusiastically, beaming at him. "Yes. Over time, you'll learn to understand her."

That makes Rodney frown. "What does that mean?" If the ATA gene allows you to understand her, and continued exposure to the city allows a person to understand her better, does that mean she's changing a persons DNA? It's a logical, but worrying conclusion.

"You have to learn to listen," John says, looking puzzled. "Most people don't care to; they're satisfied with the shallow contact they have with her. And some people aren't able to hear her at all. Teyla says their hearts are closed," he explains, seeming a bit helpless.

That does sound promising, even if it confuses Rodney again why some people can and some people can't be understand the city. "So... you don't automatically learn to hear her by being close to her? You have to want it."

"Yes." John gives a satisfied nod, then suddenly starts to look worried. "You do want to learn, don't you? You want to be able to understand her?"

"Of course!" Rodney feels almost offended that John would doubt him, but of course, John doesn't know him very well yet. After all, they've only met for the first time a couple of hours ago. "I do want to learn. I want to learn everything." Jesus Christ, he stepped through a gate into another, unknown galaxy. He has to be either pretty dedicated or crazy, and he's certainly not the latter.

John beams at him.

*

By the time John takes Rodney back to the rest of the newlings, Rodney has asked an abundance of questions about the things on the internet John looked at, and from there they moved on to how realistic TV shows really are in depicting how the Earthlings live. Rodney did try to ask a couple of technical questions, for example how the little one – the outpost – manages to transfer such huge amounts of data to Atlantis without it showing anywhere, not even as energy loss, but John couldn't really answer that. Some other questions, like where this data actually is stored, John was reluctant to answer; it's one thing to favor Rodney to the others, it's quite another to hand him the key to the city. As much as John doesn't like it, he can't trust Rodney yet – and it isn't comforting at all that Rodney certainly doesn't trust him yet either.

Still, they talk about a lot of things; Rodney is very curious when John explains his theory that Earthlings are terrified of a lack of emotion – many of the enemy species in science fiction are either a race propagating a lack of emotion, or a species that mainly functions on instinct, with little sympathy or thought for the feelings of others. They spend most of their time together debating this, with Rodney bringing counter examples and John explaining how really, his core theory still holds true. John doesn't know everything; the more obscure movies, TV shows or books are harder to find on the Internet, especially since John can't really pay for them (when Rodney had asked about that, John had blinked innocently and said, "Pay? Is it a requirement to offer currency in return for something you can get free at another place?" though of course he isn't that oblivious). They're both relieved that neither of them asks a more substantial question that will be difficult to answer. Rodney especially gets uncomfortable when John asks for information, so John sticks to safe topics.

Eventually, though, he has to take Rodney back; Rodney looks tired and a little unfocused, but only when John makes a concerned comment he explains about hypoglycemia and that John took him away from his dinner. John feels pretty bad about it and, unhappy with it, tells Rodney to mention something like this immediately as he leads him out of the transporter. He doesn't want it to be his fault if Rodney comes to harm. As a sort of apology, and maybe because he somewhat feels responsible for Rodney's well-being though he chooses not to explore that notion of his, he offers Rodney his remaining teelasi. Rodney babbles a bit, but eventually he takes them. The color in his cheeks deepens when, as they come to a halt in front of the door to the connection ring, John cups Rodney's face and presses their foreheads together. He knows Rodney isn't capable yet of understanding his whispering, so he uses his mouth to say, "I enjoyed spending time with you, Rodney."

"Me too. With you, I mean," Rodney replies, looking a little flustered, clutching the bag of teelas close to his chest.

John grins at him, then tilts his face the other way, carefully pushing his lips against Rodney's. He figures he doesn't really have the hang of kissing yet, but with a little practice, he's sure he'll figure it out. And he'd like to practice with Rodney.

When John pulls away, Rodney's face is colored a deep red. John can't help but grin at him again, even as he takes a step back, puts some distance between them. He motions towards the door. "She'll let you through when you're ready." After a moment of hesitation, he decides not to add that she won't let Rodney go anywhere else, and that she won't let anybody in the connection hall out. He wants to see what Rodney will do, wants to see if he's right with his instinctive belief that he can trust Rodney – eventually.

Turning around, John then heads back the way they just came. Just before the transporter's doors close, he turns around, catching Rodney staring after him. He manages to smile, but he's not sure Rodney got to see before the doors cut them off from each other.

While he walks over to the cathedra, John thinks about everything that just happened. He feels like he's coming from a negotiation meeting, and not one for peace or goods either, but for a mating. It's going a bit too far he figures and makes an effort to calm himself down; he can't become too partial to the newlings, no matter how curious he is, no matter how excited to be finally able to speak to a Terran about all the things he has up until now only read about. The Council already won't be inclined to listen to him because they know about his interest in other peoples. Really the only topic they respect his expertise on is Atlantis; they trust him to relay her wishes better than anybody else is able, even though it's a requirement of becoming a member of the Council to be able to hear her. People who really can't are generally considered so narrow-minded and occupied with something they can't sympathize properly to other people anymore, much less Atlantis. It's a highly negative point to the newlings that they have a number of such people among them, no matter that their genetics probably play a role in that too.

The good news for them, John figures, is that one can learn to listen to her again. The bad news is that it takes long, a lot of patience and a strong wish to learn to understand her; it's a lot more work than furthering one's ability to already hear her, learning to understand her better.

Absently, John wonders who it is they fled from – the thought makes him comfortable, because he knows about the Goa'uld, and while especially Anubis was bad, none of them were so bad the Terrans abandoned their planet and came here. Maybe that's just because they didn't yet know how, though, it's difficult to tell. The information John and Atlantis are privy to is spotty.

It's obvious that the time delay between information being sent from the little one to it actually arriving at the city is bigger than John expected. Something must have happened in the past couple of months that prompted them to take such a step as stepping through the ring into the complete unknown, a new galaxy.

Honestly, John hasn't kept too up to date with the recent developments on the planet (and really, the whole galaxy); he was too busy exploring the things their cultures offered on the Internet. Obviously, he should have paid better attention, and as he enters the access room, he considers just accessing the information from the computers they have brought. In the end he decides to wait until after the Council meeting, to hear what Elizabeth actually has to say before checking up on it. He probably will, anyways; not necessarily, but he gets a slightly hinky feeling from her. Not the kind of feeling he gets from Kolya of the Genii; more the sort of feeling he gets when women try to flirt with him because he's a descendant of who they call their Ancestors. Elizabeth isn't flirting with him, isn't trying to bed him to receive a child from him (or at least John is reasonably sure that's not what she wants from him), but her motives aren't clear, and she makes John uncomfortable.

That's something to think about another time, though. Now he has something more important to do.

Leaning back into the cathedra, John simultaneously sinks into Atlantis' conscious, her awareness wrapping around him like an embrace. While he communes with her, she informs him that Rodney entered the ring hall; in the short time John has spent with Rodney (not even two hours) she seems to have grown even fonder of him. It's pretty easy to figure out why; she holds John's opinions in similarly high estimation as John holds hers, and while he can't influence her any more than she can influence him, they do trust each other.

When John separates from Atlantis and sits up, he finds he's not alone in the room; Teyla is with him, patiently waiting. John wonders why she or Atlantis didn't make her presence known, but he figures she hasn't been waiting for long and probably let Atlantis know that she was comfortable waiting. Still, he wonders why she's here at all.

"There you are," she greets him with a smile, holding out her hand and helping him up.

"Here I am," he replies, "But why are you here?" At her sad look, he hastens to add adds, "Not that I'm not happy to see you. I just thought you were going to be underwater with Sora."

"I decided to spend some time with you instead," she says, but not in the way that indicates she and Sora had a disagreement. "Let's go eat."

She leads him to the room-that-isn't, the one he brought Rodney to, where she's set up a nice meal that she hopefully didn't make herself. "It's from the freezers," Teyla tells him dryly, probably suspecting his line of thought; she is aware that she really can't cook, though occasionally she gets these insane moments where she tries to prove everyone, her own experience included, wrong. Thankfully, this apparently isn't the result of one of those moments.

They both take seat and fill their bowls with mix-all; it's warm and smells delicious. For a while they're quiet, eating silently, until Teyla puts her empty bowl down and reaches for the fruit. As she peels a culb, thoughtful and making sure not to go against the grain, she says slowly, "I wished to speak to you about Rodney."

The frown John immediately pulls makes her give a small, slightly sad smile. "No, not like that. I'm sure you're well aware of the situation you're putting yourself in. What I wish to speak to you about..." Her smile turns teasing as she leans forward. "How did your first meeting go?" She says it in a way that clearly implies that she doesn't view it as the kind of diplomatic meeting between two members of different peoples.

It makes John turn red. "Teyla!", he protests, ducking his head. "It's... it's not like that."

"No?", she teases, clearly not believing a word. "Then why did Atlantis advise me to stay away from this room earlier today? She seemed pretty excited about it, too."

John groans. "You two are awful."

"Out with it," is all Teyla says in return, still grinning at him.

"So it's possibly I might have... we might have kissed."

Teyla's eyes widen and she inches closer to him. "Oh? In what way?", she asks, looking immensely curious.

The first time John had started to suspect that when the Terrans wrote or spoke of kissing, they didn't mean the same thing a kiss was for everybody John knew of, he had spoken to Teyla about it. Together, they had conducted extensive research in the archives, but they had never been entirely sure whether the results of that research were correct (it just seemed too weird, pressing your mouth onto another's) or not until years later, when films became available to them and they were able to watch two Terrans kiss. Very confused by what they were seeing, Teyla and John had tried to copy it, but it hadn't been all that exciting, and Teyla had reported that it hadn't felt any more exciting when she had tried it with Sora. They had deduced that they were doing something wrong, because clearly, the Terrans liked it a lot, so there had to be something that the two of them were missing.

"Uh, both." John allows himself a small smile.

"You must tell me everything," Teyla demands, holding out half of the peeled culb. "What did we do wrong?"

"There must be more tension to the lips," John explains, managing to sound factual for a moment before he blushes again. "It sort of... builds. And I was right, you really use your tongue outside of sex."

Teyla scrunches up her nose. "I still cannot help but find that disgusting. I mean, they obviously like it, but there is nobody I know that I love enough to be willing to touch their tongue with my mouth."

"It wasn't bad," John defends. "Sort of... you know. Intimate." He raises his eyebrow and sends her a look when she continues to look doubtful. "And your mouth has been places I would never want my mouth to go."

That startles a laugh out of Teyla, and for a moment they both descend into giggles. "Tell me," Teyla eventually gasps. "Tell me how it came to pass."

John doesn't bother pretending he doesn't know what she means. "I, ah." He blushes again. "I brought him here to show him Atlantis. He asked what the windows are made of, and I told him I would tell him if he showed me a kiss. He asked about kisses – he asks many questions." John stares off into the distance for a moment, remembering. "I explained how kisses here are different than on Terra, and then I showed him our kind of kiss." He gives a small laugh. "He asked whether I had kissed him when I greeted him, so I showed him in detail the difference between a greeting and a kiss. Then I told him what the windows are made of, and then he gave me a kiss with his mouth. Or," he amends, flushing again, "many kisses, though I believe he still considers it one kiss."

Teyla grins at him widely. "Many kisses?"

"I would show you, but I wouldn't want to put you into the danger of coming into contact with my tongue." Teasing, John rolls his eyes.

"So he used his tongue?", Teyla prods, nudging him with her elbow. "Do not be so tight-lipped, tell me everything." John knows she's mostly joking about him being tight-lipped; they both know that nobody else would have gotten that much detail from John to begin with. He just isn't one to volunteer much information, except with a very few, select persons.

"Just a little bit." In demonstration, John flicks the very tip of his tongue out.

Teyla grins widely. "And you liked it."

"Well, yes." John ducks his head. "You should try it with Sora. The kissing thing, I mean, not the tongue thing. It gets better the more often you do it."

"Did you do it often, then?", Teyla inquires curiously.

"No, just the once. Then we... talked. About science fiction." John ducks his head again, but this time not because he's embarrassed. "Because... you know."

It sobers Teyla up as well. "Yes." She moves closer to John until their sides are pressed together and puts an arm around his shoulders. "I worry about you, John," she admits quietly. "I know you make your own decisions, and I know that you know what you are doing, but... he is going to leave again when his people do. You can not expect him to stay any more than he can expect you to come with him."

"I wouldn't go with him," John says quietly. "I couldn't."

Teyla squeezes his shoulders. "I know that, John. It is not... it is not very likely that they are here to stay, is it?"

"They're not." John shrugs and leans into her just the tiniest bit. "I don't know details, didn't want to know, but they have an enemy that they fled from. If they had come to stay, they would have brought a lot more people. I figure they're here to find a weapon." He frowns. "Unless they're here to explore the galaxy and find out if they can evacuate all their people here."

"We do have several uninhabited worlds," Teyla says thoughtfully. "Even more, if they do not mind not having access to a connection ring. Do you believe that is why they are here?"

"I don't know. Either they're here to find a place to live, or they're here to find something they want to take back with them. If they do have a powerful enemy, though, it's possible that enemy will come after them, if they're strong enough to chase the Terrans out of their galaxy. Which would suck."

Teyla frowns. "Indeed it would. I do not fancy having to fight another enemy after we have only just managed to get rid of the Wraith."

"Yeah, so let's hope it's none of that." Wrapping an arm around her waist, John leans into her, bringing their temples together.

*

When Rodney finally is able to roll up in his sleeping bag and go to sleep, his heart is pounding furiously in his chest, and he isn't entirely sure if it's from anger or fear. Though fear is a bit much; he isn't scared of Elizabeth and of what she wants from him. It just makes him severely uncomfortable, how she hounded him about every little detail of his interaction with John, her disapproval and disappointment that he hadn't managed to get anything more out of John.

Mostly, though, Rodney is uncomfortable, because he had had to tell her about how the outpost was connected to the city, though he had managed to downplay the actual magnitude of what it transferred. Still, Sumner had gone ballistic, and something very uncomfortable had started to coil in Rodney's belly; he still refuses to believe it was fear. He knows what his people are capable of when they feel threatened, though, and it already makes him very uncomfortable, the way they talk about John. Like he is an idiot who only knows anymore how to use a few trinkets of the Ancient tech, who doesn't understand how it works; who possibly even considers it magic. They were actually discussing whether and how they could get the city out of John and his people's hands, since (or so Sumner argued) they weren't using the city all that much. They don't need her like Earth, nay the whole Milky Way Galaxy need her.

Sure, so far it was mostly Sumner who argued that way; Elizabeth hadn't seemed to agree with him much. She first wanted to find out more about the people in this galaxy. What worries Rodney, though, is that she hadn't completely discarded Sumner's suggestions.

It makes him feel less uncomfortable about how he hasn't been telling them exactly the truth; he has told them that John considered the city sentient, but he hasn't told them that he is inclined to believe him. Elizabeth already looks at him like she's questioning his loyalty, even though it had been her who encouraged him to go with John and establish a rapport with him. Not that that's why he did it, anyway.

Rodney is conflicted, that's the core problem. He knows Elizabeth expects him to relay to her everything John tells him, but he isn't sure he'd be capable of doing that – actually that's wrong, he knows he isn't able to. Already, he is keeping things from her, and it makes him uncomfortable, but even more uncomfortable is the idea of telling her about the more private moments between him and John. The mere idea makes him shudder with disgust. No, he'll keep that to himself. It's private.

Curling up to create some warmth, Rodney hesitates for a moment before he reaches out and tentatively brushes his fingertips over Atlantis' floor in pretty much the same gesture he had seen John use. In return, he feels a flutter brush over his mind – and this time that he can expect it, he clearly feels it, and it makes him feel better, like he isn't completely alone.

He falls asleep quicker than he had thought he would be able to.

The next morning, there is a barely suppressed tension in the air; everybody pretty much waits for someone to come pick Elizabeth up to go meet the Council, and Elizabeth is having the same argument with Sumner again and again. Sumner wants her to refuse to go without an escort, while Elizabeth wants to make a gesture of good faith and go alone; after all, Rodney had gone alone too, and nothing had happened to him.

Rodney himself manages to keep completely out of it; this will be Elizabeth's show, and he has the suspicion she's fairly glad that finally, she will have the opportunity to properly interact with the aliens. She's managed to keep a professional front, but he has gotten the feeling that she had been pretty pissed off that John had dismissed her so completely and had instead concentrated on Rodney. Rodney himself is fairly glad she'll finally get her turn too; maybe it will keep her focus off him for a while and make her stop trying to use him as an infiltrator. He doesn't really believe it, but he hopes so.

Eventually, the door to the gate room opens and John pokes his head in. He doesn't even need to call for Elizabeth; the soldiers who had kept watch of the door do it for him, and then John tells her that the Council will be ready to receive her in thirty minutes. He is diplomatic enough to make it sound like a request, but they all know it's not, Elizabeth most of all; she smiles tightly and tells him that she'll be ready. Without once glancing in Rodney's direction, John vanishes again, but Rodney feels Atlantis brush over his mind again, so he doesn't consider it a bad sign.

He also doesn't think about how he seems to consider yesterday's meeting with John a date; his thoughts will just run in circles again, wondering what the hell he's doing, what the hell he'll do if. Rodney is aware that worrying is one of the thing he does best, but he has decided to just not think about John or the kissing or what they're doing at all.

Instead, he has something else to worry about; now that he knows trying to break into Atlantis' systems is futile, what should he have his scientists do? They're all pretty close to panic attacks as it is, though now that something is actually happening, it's getting a little better. Rodney can't really tell them to stop doing what they're doing – analyzing the windows, the floor, the gate, trying to break into consoles and door systems. On the other hand, he knows now that Atlantis is sentient and that nothing happens with her without her permission. They won't be able to do her any harm.

However, and Rodney thinks that with a fair amount of guilt, just because John thinks so doesn't mean it's actually true, does it? Rodney isn't ready to question John's opinion that Atlantis is an AI with feelings, not when he feels her brush over his mind and not when it explains how it's possible that nothing they try to get into her systems is working out, not even ATA gene carriers. And it's a logical deduction that she'd be able to control all her systems and even her programs to a point, but there must be some way to switch her off or turn her power off. Rodney just can't imagine that someone, even the Ancients, would build a city as amazing as this and then give the complete control of it over to an AI – especially an AI with feelings and, consequently, illogical, less controllable and predictable decisions. There must be some way to get around the AI's control, override her, control her, reprogram her.

Those thoughts make Rodney uncomfortable, but he knows that it must be true. He doubts, though, that they can figure out how from here, especially not when the systems are completely in Atlantis' control, and even if they could – Rodney wouldn't want to. Not without knowing and understanding the AI's programming better, and especially not knowing that Sumner at least is planning to steal Atlantis. They don't know enough at all to make any kind of decisions, not about this galaxy and its various peoples, nor about the city and her meanings. Sure, having the city on Earth could and probably would be the turning point in the war against the Ori, depending on how good Atlantis' defense and offense systems are, and if Atlantis really means nothing more to these people than a left-over relic, a record system and perhaps a doorway, Rodney will be tempted to borrow her. But not without permission, not without giving her back – he just can't do that, with the memory of John's smile and the way he touched and spoke of her bright in his mind.

So maybe Rodney isn't as cold and uncaring for other people as he'd like to think, but that can't be such a bad thing if it means he doesn't agree with Sumner's idea of stealing something like Atlantis from her people.

To distract himself from these problems, Rodney calls a conference of all his scientists to discuss what they've found out so far. The results are disappointingly meager. All they can confer about is the things they've tried and that haven't worked; Atlantis just doesn't react to anything they do. Systems won't power up, no matter what they do, and if something looks like it's about to work, the flicker will die immediately and it won't work anymore, not with that console nor with any other. It's another argument for the theory that John is right, that the AI really controls everything, even if it's staggering to consider that everything, truly everything is connected to that artificial conscience.

Rodney really isn't sure what he would prefer; for John to be right, proving him to not be a superstitious fool, or for John to be wrong. Considering that, if John is wrong, they might actually end up going along with Sumner's idea or something similar, Rodney tends towards hoping for John to be right, even if it does make him feel guilty that he wants his own people's plans not to work.

The scientist meet-up devolves quickly into a soft of coffee klatsch, but people relax a little, so Rodney figures that one way or another, it was a successful meeting, even if sort of pointless. Rodney ends up secluding himself with Radek, discussing whether or not hooking up all the naquadah generators they brought to the gate – if they actually do manage to access it, which so far they haven't been able to – would be enough to establish a wormhole to Earth, however brief, and how to compress and send through enough information to let the SGC know what's going on. Then they descend into complete speculation, discussing how the Daedalus, when it's finished in a year and if by then they're still in the same situation as they are now, would get them out of here, especially if the Asgard beaming technology won't work. It's entertaining, if not particularly fruitful, which by this point is probably all Rodney can ask for.

Eventually, though, people start getting anxious; hours have passed, and Elizabeth hasn't come back. Thankfully, she has left orders behind for them to adhere to; they are to wait twenty-four hours for her to come back before they are allowed to start using brutal force to get through the doors. Brutal force in this case meaning C4, which up until this point, she has forbidden them from trying, much to Sumner's disgust.

Unfortunately, Sumner starts eying Rodney in a way that suggests he's going to put him under pressure sooner rather than later; it's no secret that Sumner doesn't have much respect for him, but until those twenty-four hours have passed, Rodney is technically in command. Sumner will probably try to get him to give the orders to start using force sooner, something which Rodney is not at all looking forwards to. The guy has the military mindset deeply ingrained to the point where he doesn't accept any other ways of thinking and considers people who don't think and act the way he would as inferior and weak. Rodney can stand him even less now than he could at the beginning.

It's mid-afternoon by the time Elizabeth finally comes back, if you're counting in the twenty-four hour days of Earth, that is. She gives everyone a tired smile and answers the simple questions – yes, she's fine, no, she wasn't threatened in any way. But the way she evades the bigger questions – will they get thrown out? Will they be allowed to stay? What about access to Atlantis' systems, especially the gate? – tells Rodney enough for him to gather that she doesn't have news to her liking.

While eating a MRE, Elizabeth explains the simpler things – the Council is made up of seven people, not necessarily old ones, though certainly not young ones either. John wasn't a member of the Council; he didn't even sit in on the meeting, he just accompanied Elizabeth to a room within Atlantis and then left, only coming back to pick her up and guide her back to the gate room after the meeting. She also mentions the transporters, though Rodney had explained about them already the previous evening, and says that she hasn't seen anyone in the halls of Atlantis. Rodney can practically see Sumner file this information away to be examined strategically later.

After she has eaten, Elizabeth takes Rodney and Sumner with her to have a meeting in the relative privacy of the toilets. At any other time, Rodney would be more amused by this, but he feels the tension vibrating in his nerves, and it's all he can do to stay calm and fake milk curiosity. If asked, he wouldn't even be able to explain why he's so worked up.

Elizabeth sits down and looks at both of them. "I explained about our situation," she explains.

*

"The Ori?", John repeats, voice tight.

Alina nods grimly. "They are apparently threatening their whole galaxy."

With a curse, John turns his back to her and walks a few steps away. He knows about the Ori; of course he does, everyone does, just like everyone knows about the group of Alterans that went back to Terra, fleeing from the Wraith, or about their own origins. Neither story is a particularly happy one, but the one of the Ori is an especially dark and scary one.

What John dislikes most about stories of the Alterans is that it seems that they eventually just gave up, packed their things and fled, and not to regroup to fight another day but to instead hide and find a way to ascend, to shed themselves of all responsibility once and for all. Sure, they did some amazing things, but instead of going out with a bang they chose the most pitiful ending available apart from outright suicide, and not just that – they left everybody to fend for themselves, all the cultures and peoples they had helped flourish, all those planets they had terraformed, and they left them to the Wraith. No, John doesn't have much sympathy or understanding for the Alterans.

The idea, now, of them but with the need to subjugate and conquer, to be worshipped... it's anything but comforting. With another muttered curse, John turns around and walks back to Alina, wondering absently how many other fires the Ancients left behind that they will be left trying to get rid of.

"So, the Ori," John says again. "Their whole galaxy, huh?"

She nods, mouth pinched. "They've built giant ships, and if a peoples refuse to worship them, they destroy them." With a muttered "thank you", she takes the cup of tea Teyla hands her. "They – Elizabeth and her people – have come to find a weapon to help them defeat them."

"That is not a good sign," Teyla says.

John nods unhappily. No, it's not; they must be desperate. And desperate people are dangerous.

"They have come with many weapons," Teyla continues, sending John an apologetic look. "We must take into account the possibility that they might be considering taking the city by force."

"She wouldn't let them," John replies quietly.

"Of course not." Teyla reaches out to brush her fingers across the floor. "But they might refuse to leave. They might, if they get desperate, start to threaten anyone who comes through the gate. I know that she would never let anyone come to harm within her," she adds with a glance towards John, "But we must consider her well-being as well as that of those who come to visit. Especially the children will get scared if strangers threaten them, but they will not be the only ones."

Alina nods in agreement, taking a sip of her tea. "That is what we considered also." She grimaces. "Elizabeth was very insistent, trying to get her people access to Atlantis' systems, or the ring, or at least to be allowed to leave the ring hall. She is a skilled negotiator."

From Alina, that's not a compliment. Alina believes in negotiations that take their time so that everyone can get to know each other, and she fancies that everybody has to give something for an agreement to be totally fair. The more insistent someone is, without offering a compromise or without giving people time to think, the less she approves of their tactics.

Alina's people never were made refugees by the Wraith, so John thinks she can't really understand being in the kind of situation where your survival depends upon the goodwill of others. He can't say he doesn't understand Elizabeth's impatience, even if it's not the most diplomatic way to get what she wants.

"So the Council is now going to debate what to do with the newlings?", John asks. It's sort of obvious that that's what they'll be doing, but it won't hurt pandering to her a little. She's nice, but overly traditional at times.

Inclining her head in confirmation, Alina adds, "And we're going to talk to some other peoples, maybe even the Pegasus Council. Nobody wants to just give them the codes to the weapon system."

John snorts and shares a look with Teyla; that really wouldn't be a smart decision, no matter who is asking. And it would be useless to boot; there's no way Atlantis would let complete strangers just make off with her arms.

"The Council is looking for independent confirmation that the Ori really are threatening their galaxy," Alina relays further. "We have asked Atlantis to search through her archives, and we will wait for her report before we discuss further what to do."

"You want me to co-ordinate with her?", John offers. "You know how she is." They do. Atlantis is different than a human, and she doesn't really involve herself in their business. When she's asked to give a report, she would include everything, unable to prioritize, to tell what would be more important to them, at least where the details are concerned.

Alina inclines her head. "That would be good."

Later, after they have moved on to talk about different topics, Alina and Teyla plan go to pick up the children; John hesitates for a moment, contemplating whether to stay behind and visit with Rodney, but in the end he goes with them. He would like to speak to Rodney in private again – not about the Ori, not about anything that is going on between their peoples, between their galaxies because that could only lead to problems. He wants to talk about other things, like they did before. However, he figures he better go visit him in the evening, after he and his people had some time to talk about the meeting.

The pick-up goes okay; the Terrans don't react quite so hostile anymore, though they still stare unabashedly as John and Alina make the change, go get dressed, and then help each of the children through the window. Teyla is the last to come through, after saying good-bye to Sora, and then, once they're all dry and dressed, Teyla and Alina go through the gate together, heading for Athos first to then bring the children to their respective homes.am

John waits until the connection flickers out before he looks for Rodney. Finding him among the crowd, he smiles when their eyes meet; Rodney ducks his head and pretends he wasn't staring at him. For a moment John debates walking over to him, but then he decides to leave it until the evening; he doesn't want to appear too clingy. So he leaves it at that and heads back underwater to spend some time with his brother and friends.

A couple of hours later, he comes back only to find that the Terrans have dimmed their lights and appear to be sleeping, even though it's barely evening yet. Naturally, some of them are awake, especially the soldiers; John raises his eyebrow at them. It seems they don't like him all that much because they avoid looking at him, though who knows. John has spent a couple of days watching them interact, and to him they had seemed strange at times with the way they interacted. They couldn't possibly all be associated, but they seemed to touch a lot in a very casual way that had seemed strange and alien to both Sora and John.

Rodney, however, he finds awake, sitting on the stairs as he often seems to and quietly talking to another man who is wearing glasses and has fuzzy hair. Their faces are illuminated by the screen of one of their weird, unpractical computers. They both look up when John walks over to them, and then their faces take on the same wide-eyed expression before they simultaneously evade their eyes. It's very weird and amusing.

"Uhm," Rodney says, cheeks coloring.

"Hi," John returns, making a point to look at both Rodney and his friend before crouching down in front of him.

Rodney's friend clears his throat and pushes his glasses up. "Hello," he says.

For a moment, John considers his course of action; he could go on as he has before, only being friendly with Rodney and ignoring the other Terrans, but he figures that even if he isn't required to be diplomatic, he's got to start somewhere. Besides, unlike Elizabeth, whom he spoke to almost as much as to this guy as far as John could tell while watching, Rodney seems to be friends with this guy.

"I'm John," John finally tells the guy, who looks at him for a moment with wide eyes before he curses, in a language sounding very different than Rodney's.

"My apologies," the guy says then, still in that language. "It's very disconcerting to hear you speak my mother tongue. It's been many years since I've heard it from anybody in person. I'm Radek Zelenka."

Rodney looks puzzled for a moment before his face clears. "So you hear him speaking Czech?", he asks his friend.

"Yes, it's a little disconcerting at first," Radek confirms, now in Rodney's language; John isn't sure, but he thinks he hears the traces of his other language in those words.

"Fascinating," Rodney murmurs, staring at John's chest – no, at the translator he's still wearing. John hasn't taken it off since he first put it on to talk to Rodney. Then Rodney seems to realize what he's doing, because he flushes and averts his gaze again. "So, uhm. Aren't you cold?" Immediately after he's said that, his face turns deep red while Radek coughs.

John blinks. "No," he replies slowly. "Why?"

"Uh, you're a little," Rodney waves his hand, pointedly looking at the ceiling, "naked."

John tilts his head. "Yes. Atlantis keeps herself at an ambivalent temperature. Is it a lot warmer on Earth?" He hasn't noticed the Terrans acting like they're freezing, and they're also not wearing many clothes. In fact, some of them are wearing short-sleeved shirts, leaving their arms bare.

"Ah, no," Rodney says. His voice is a little high, and he still avoids looking at John. "At least not... at least not where most of us are from. Of course there are warmer areas, but there are also colder areas. And, well, in-doors is always different than outside."

John narrows his eyes, scrutinizing Rodney, looking back and forth between him and Radek and the way they're avoiding looking at him directly. "Are you... embarrassed?", he asks, completely surprised. "Why?"

"Uhm, with the... naked." Rodney makes a circling hand motion, turning completely red.

They seriously are embarrassed because he's naked, John has a hard time grasping it. He's never encountered anyone who would have thought to mind a naked body – which okay, is probably because many of them regularly get naked in company of others when they change, or because they are friends with those who change. It's not even something people notice, in this galaxy. It almost makes John laugh, but the idea of how restrictive Terra actually must be is sobering.

"Would you like me to put some clothes on?", he asks.

"Er, if you want." Rodney gives him another quick glance.

"You could come with me," John suggests, and Radek makes a strangled noise while Rodney looks like his eyes are bugging out. "I could show you something else."

Rodney starts coughing, covering his face with his hands, and Radek mutters, "I believe he has already seen everything" in his own language. That's when John realizes how suggestive he's being; for a moment he wants to clear everything up, but then he decides to have a little bit of fun. Raising one eyebrow, he offers Radek, "You could come too."

Now Radek is the one whose eyes bug out, while Rodney sounds like he's about to choke. "It would be fun," John adds, affecting his most innocent expression when both Rodney and Radek raise their heads to stare at him with wide eyes. John isn't able to keep the guileless face for long before the corners of his mouth twitch, but while he manages, the way Rodney and Radek stare at him is hilarious. He can practically see them thinking about how to politely tell him that they're not interested in having a threesome at this time.

When they realize that he's joking, Radek mutters a curse – something about a holy mother – and wipes his face with his hands while Rodney gapes and stutters, "You!"

John smirks and winks at Rodney. "Actually, I meant I would show you another room, but interesting suggestion there."

Rodney starts sputtering, making John grin widely. It's been a while since he's had this much fun; he wonders how often he can do something like this before Rodney will stop falling for it.

For now, though, he'd like to show Rodney something else; standing up, he puts one hand on his hip and looks down on the two of them, one eyebrow raised. "If you want to, you can come with me." Then he turns around and heads out of the hall, noticing absently the way people look at him and then quickly avert their eyes; now that he knows that it's the nudity, he notices it more, and it also makes more sense.

It's silent behind him for a moment, but then he hears Rodney and Radek scramble to follow him; it makes him smile. Outside of the hall, Rodney catches up with him. "You are going to get dressed, right?"

John gives him an innocent look, which makes Rodney narrow his eyes at him. "I'm not going to fall for that again, you know," he informs John archly.

They enter the transporter; Radek hesitates for a moment, looking around a bit before entering as well. The door closes behind him and opens again in the residential area. Radek curses colorfully when he finds that they're in a completely different corridor, which prompts Rodney to say, voice not a little smug, "I told you about the transporters."

As they follow John down the corridor, Radek replies waspishly, "But I believe you will agree, Rodney, that there is a difference between hearing about something and actually experiencing it." They arrive at John's quarters, and Rodney first follows him inside but when he realizes that John is going to get dressed he backtracks out again fast and he and Radek wait outside the door, clearing their throats awkwardly and shifting. Highly amused at their antics, John puts on a shirt and some pants, his naked feet curling against Atlantis' warm floor. He hopes nobody will be offended at his naked feet, because he sure isn't going to put on shoes unless he leaves the city for dry ground – he hates having his feet covered in the city. His connection to her works perfectly fine even if he does wear shoes, but he just feels better, closer to her. Besides, he finds footwear constricting, dulling. He doesn't like it.

Once John is dressed, Rodney and Radek seem to relax a little and they start chatting about the transporters. This is the first time John is experiencing their rapport up close; it's highly amusing, the way they finish each other's sentences and spend as much time theorizing as they do insulting each other. John can tell that they're good friends.

He leads them back through the transporters to the lowest part of the city, as low as the transporters can go.

"Are the lights on all the time?", Rodney asks curiously when they step out of the transporter.

"She turns them on where we go," John replies, leading them down the stairs into a round room with see-through walls all around. It's deep underwater, and since it's evening, just after sundown, it's just the right time – the glowing fish start to wake up, like a different sky under their feet. To see them, they'll have to wait for a moment, though, and so John waits while Atlantis polarizes the floor, making it possible to see through it as well. Rodney and Radek make surprised noises, and then they gasp.

"They're im olala, glowing fish," John tells them. They're only just waking up, points of light that blink alive like stars in the darkening night sky, none of them moving yet. "Come." Putting the tips of his fingers to the small of Rodney's back, John gives him a gentle nudge to encourage him to step further into the room. Rodney does, and Radek follows him; John leads them into the middle of the room, where he sits down. The two Terrans follow his example, staring down at the dark blue ocean with the white dots of light popping up.

"Is that all they do?", Rodney whispers.

"It's a swarm," John replies. "The biggest swarm we know of. They only thrive under a certain water pressure and temperature; Atlantis warms the ocean just enough for them to be able to live here comfortably. Soon, they will start to swim, looking for food."

"What do they eat?", Radek asks.

"Tiny plants, too tiny to see."

"Ah, plankton. Is what we call those kind of living organisms," Radek adds when John sends him a puzzled look.

John gives a nod. "We used to watch whenever we could, when I was a child," he tells them. "The children still come here to watch often. We give lessons," he adds a moment later. "Children from all over the galaxy come to the city to learn. That's what the children you saw yesterday came for."

They all turn silent when the im olala slowly start to move in gentle slopes, congregating in groups and separating again like dancers at a solstice festival. It's an enchanting view every time anew; John feels the thrill of watching them thrumming in his veins. He's half-tempted to go out and join them, but it's no use anyway; at the slightest disturbance in the water they flee, turn dark. Anyways, he has Rodney here, who is at least equally as fascinating, even with his friend there.

In the end, they don't talk much at all; after they have watched for a long time, John takes them back to the ring hall, where they join the other Terrans. John walks thoughtfully to the access room, not tired yet, and sits in the cathedra to commune a bit with Atlantis.

*

It happens about half an hour after they have gotten back to the gate room. Rodney and Radek haven't really talked about what they've seen, except to wonder how it's possible to make the floor go from looking like ordinary floor to going see-through like that. They had seen not only how fascinating Atlantis was, but also that she was an integrated part to Pegasus culture. "I am not sure I am comfortable with stealing the city from these people, Rodney," Radek had said quietly.

"Me neither," Rodney had replied just as quietly.

Then hadn't said anything else, just quietly settled in front of their laptops.

Pretty soon after, chaos breaks out. It starts with a strange sensation like a deep bass thrumming through Rodney's body; it's too strong for him to make himself believe he just imagined it, especially since everybody else seems to have noticed too. All around him members of the expedition are waking up collectively, sitting up and looking around with wide eyes, soldiers immediately reaching for their guns, alert and tense. Barely a second after, the lights in the gate room turn on brightly, blinding most everyone who had been adjusted to the dimmed light, not to mention that up until that point, they had had to use their own lights. At the same time as the light goes on, the gate suddenly starts to dial.

The soldiers who were on watch look startled and spooked, especially when Sumner rises and demands with a hoarse voice to know what the hell is going on. Naturally nobody has any answers. Before Sumner can go ballistic, the door opens abruptly and John comes running in. He's wearing shoes.

Rodney doesn't know why he specifically notices that; everything that is suddenly happening is startling, but he has never seen John wearing shoes, and for some reason it only further impresses on him how urgent the situation suddenly is. John runs up the stairs and into the control room in which Rodney has spent hours upon hours trying to break into the consoles.

John touches one control, and it lights up; at the same time, the gate finishes dialing, and a wormhole establishes – but it looks different than any other wormhole Rodney has seen so far, brighter, even the splash. It's goes so bright for a moment that they all have to avert their eyes before it goes to looking like a normal wormhole, but Rodney wouldn't step through it if his life were on the line. The members of the expedition in front of him are looking distressed and scared, especially when other people suddenly start trickling in, coming in from the windows, curling up on the floor and coughing up water as their tails melt into legs. Sumner looks like he's about to have a coronary, he and Elizabeth are yelling at each other, the Colonel apparently convinced that he finally has his military situation and yelling orders at his soldiers while Elizabeth tries to order him to tell his soldiers to stand down and stop pointing their weapons at the aliens.

At the console, John starts pressing buttons, and suddenly the ceiling above the gate opens; a huge, brick-shaped thing floats down. At that point, someone – or something – solves the problem Sumner and pretty much the whole expedition poses; suddenly a shield establishes, separating the members of the expedition from the rest of the gate room. Rodney isn't sure, but he thinks he can actually see some of them leaving the gate room through the door John apparently left open, giving at least one possible escape route when there suddenly is a lot less space available for the expedition as the shield closes in on them. Those members who stand in the way get pushed gently, but firmly to where the bulk of the expedition is residing, over to the right of the gate and by the stairs. All except for Rodney, who is still sitting on the stairs, frozen in place and staring at the organized chaos around him. He's outside of the shield, he suddenly realizes.

Only now he can see how many new people are actually already here; they're wet and naked, more and more arriving and others mid-change, pulled out of the way and helped up by those who are already finished. A bunch of them, joined by John who jumped down the stairs to join them, enters the brick-shaped spaceship; as its backdoor closes, Rodney can see them pulling on the clothes inside, and then the spaceship shoots off through the gate, only for another to take its place. The whole process repeats another four times, and then the gate winks out, leaving a couple of people behind and waiting, staring at the gate with expressions varying from worry to narrow-eyed expectation.

Behind the shield separating the expedition from the rest of the room, Rodney can see utter chaos; panicked people being pushed back by soldiers who are trying establish a defense perimeter along the shield. Rodney can't even hear them; the shield apparently mutes all noise – he only hopes they still get air, though now he can tell that the door to the hall is letting them through and that people are milling about outside. He feels a pang of worry and only hopes that this doesn't mean that they now have access to the whole city. Hopes that this won't mean that he'll have official access to some place where he could actually succeed in breaking into her, and it's probably very screwed up that in a situation like this Rodney worries just as much about an artificial intelligence as he does about his own people.

At that thought, he feels another flutter in his mind, the feeling he has already come to associate with Atlantis contacting him, and he feels comforted all of a sudden, something he consciously decides not to question right now. He starts to look around; the hole in the ceiling is closed, the gate lies dormant, and the new arrivals – wet, naked men and women, and seriously, what is it with this galaxy and the nudity? – who are standing around, varying degrees of tension in their body languages.

Suddenly, somebody calls out; some guy comes down the stairs, in his arms pieces of clothing that he shares with the other people around. Rodney counts seven, but he thinks he sees other ones out in the water – it's difficult to tell because it's so dark, the bright light from the windows barely illuminating the water. Until Atlantis' lights had turned on, the ocean hadn't seemed so dark.

The people start to put on clothes, nondescript pants and shirts; the guy hops up the stairs again, completely naked, before he comes back and starts handing out shoes. They look a lot like the boots the Tau'ri soldiers wear, at least the soles.

Inside the shield, Sumner has succeeded in putting every civilian out into the hall, with only soldiers remaining inside the gate room. Rodney doesn't like it at all; they look tense and on edge, clutching their P90s tight, barely refraining from aiming at the people outside the shield.

A third time, the guy comes back down the stairs, now dressed himself and handing out finger-long, oval sort of brooches that his people slap onto their chests. They don't seem to be doing anything and they don't look like the translator thingy John was wearing, but Rodney doesn't make the mistake of underestimating them. For all he knows, they could be weapons.

"Rodney?", a voice rather close by says.

Rodney jumps and looks up to find the guy who made sure his friends were dressed standing close by, looking at him. Around his neck, he's carrying one of those translator-thingies just like the one John was carrying.

"Uhm, yes?" Rodney finally stands up, looking around worriedly. He hopes he's not going to be in trouble for being outside the shield.

"It's nice to meet you," the man says, moving in towards Rodney a little like John did when he did the head-thing, except John stood closer to him. Maybe the way John greeted him at the beginning wasn't as innocent as John had wanted to make him believe when Rodney had asked.

The man takes hold of Rodney's elbows and tilts his head down; a little nervous, Rodney returns the gesture and their foreheads touch. He really hopes he's not making out with a stranger right now.

"I'm Dave, John's brother," the guy says once he's moved away; Rodney's hope that they didn't do anything inappropriate magnifies roughly by the factor of a thousand. "I've been looking forward to meeting you."

"John talked about me?" Rodney really hopes he's not blushing, especially when Dave looks at him with a familiar twinkle in his eyes.

"Since you appeared," Dave tells him, corner of his mouth twitching for a moment before he sobers up. "You should probably go out of the way. We don't know how many will come back. You could go up there or join your people." He motions towards the balcony overlooking the gate room.

Rodney doesn't have a feeling Dave – and what's with that name? Though he vaguely recalls John mentioning something about their mom having gotten their names from Earth radio, and how weird is that – means anything deeper than what he said, but Rodney still gets the feeling that this is a choice preceding a choice he'll likely have to make at one point. He glances at the shield holding the members of the expedition – rather, the soldiers; Elizabeth is the only civilian standing among them, wearing a pinched expression, arguing, as usual, with Sumner. She doesn't notice Rodney looking at her, so Rodney quickly looks away again and makes his way up the stairs towards the balcony, telling himself it doesn't have to mean anything. He just wants to know what's going on.

He stays there for a while, watching as Dave heads towards the shield and speaks to a soldier (a part of Rodney's brain is very curious as to how it's possible to adjust the shield in such a way that it suddenly lets noise through), who is immediately pushed aside by Sumner and Elizabeth. Dave speaks to them for a while; whatever he says, Sumner looks like he's about to spit fire, and Elizabeth's pinched expression morphs into one that makes her look like she just bit into a particularly sour lemon. The whole conversation ends with the soldiers retreating into the hall and the shield retreating completely. Rodney really, really hopes they don't have access to the rest of the city, because he isn't the only one on the expedition who could manage to break into any kind of code – for example the one that gave the Ancients access to the AI. It would take others significantly longer, of course, but still.

Once again, he feels the brush against his mind; it feels less like an infinitely fragile butterfly wing now and more like very soft down feathers. It comforts Rodney, even while he can't help but be a little freaked out – does Atlantis monitor his thoughts constantly, does she monitor everybody's thoughts? Or only when someone thinks about her? He's not sure he likes either idea, but at least the latter must be true.

Suddenly, he has a new thought, one he doesn't like much either – does she record and file away people's thoughts like she does information she gets from her outposts? Rodney has no idea how she would, but she must be able to – if she's able to monitor people's thoughts, recording them the must be easy.

She brushes against Rodney's mind again, and it feels a little different than before, but this time, Rodney isn't sure he feels comforted.

Thankfully, he doesn't have much time to think about it and all the possibilities, because suddenly the gate engages again. It doesn't appear to alarm anyone, and Rodney understands why because next a brick-shaped spaceship comes through. The hatch opens; from this angle Rodney can't see into the interior, but John jumps out. Nobody else, though; the hatch closes again and the spaceship floats up into the ceiling.

People now start coming through the gate, but Rodney is too busy staring at John – he doesn't look like he's hurt, but there's something in his expression, in the way he holds his body... Rodney can't tell, he doesn't know John well enough, but there's something in it that worries him. He's so occupied with it that it takes him a moment to take in what John is wearing – and this time it's not the shoes that capture his attention but the thigh holster John is wearing, with a futuristic looking gun inside. Around his hips, there is a belt that has the grip of something on his other side that to Rodney looks a lot like a knife, and another gun. He too has a brooch attached to his chest; it's glowing a faint green, clearly visible against the black clothing.

It appears to Rodney that John went out to fight, something that sparks worry in him; not the fighting itself, but the fact that John had to go out and do it. It can't have been John and his people attacking others, because it was obviously an unexpected emergency situation that caused them to leave the city. But if John and his people are fighting a war... it's a scary thought; who could they be fighting against that has a chance against the Ancient technology?

John is speaking quietly to his brother and the other people who waited, and then he turns around towards the people who are coming to the gate – Rodney looks at them for the first time. Their expressions range from shell-shocked to grief-stricken, and more and more come through the gate. John speaks to them, tells the injured ones to go to the left, where his people are waiting, while the others are supposed to go to the right and wait. They're filling the places that not an hour ago were filled by the people of the expedition; Rodney notices for the first time that all the things that were lying on the ground are gone as well, apparently also taken along by the shield.

More and more people come through the gate, some of them crying. There is a woman among them who can barely walk, needs to be supported by two other women because she's sobbing so much her whole body convulses. Some of the new arrivals are directed out into the corridor, so Rodney loses track of just how many of them there are, but he estimates that it must be at least a hundred by the time the last ones trickle through. After them, there is a short pause before the other four spaceships come through, one after the other and immediately rising through the hole in the ceiling, except for the last one. That one pauses; the hatch opens and three of the people inside, similarly armed to John, come out. Between them on a free-floating stretcher is a small, curled up old man, his thinning white hair reaching to his shoulders, his bony shoulders poking against his shirt.

It's utter chaos down there, people hugging and crying and patching each other up, but as soon as the old man on the bed comes out of the spaceship, people turn silent, some averting their eyes, other staring blatantly. John walks towards the odd formation and directs them aside while the spaceship floats up and the gate winks out behind them.

The procession of John, his three people and the old man come up the stairs into the control room behind Rodney, where they direct the bed towards the ground. John sends Rodney a shuttered look before he focuses on the old man, kneeling by his side and taking his hand, talking to him too quietly for Rodney to make out the words. Two of his people step away and walk downstairs while the third gently directs the old man to lie on his back; Rodney can now see that he's injured, his shirt is torn and he is bleeding a little at the chest. The guy with John does something in the hole of the old man's shirt; Rodney can't see what, but the man sighs and relaxes visibly, his breathing evening out. He's blind, Rodney can now tell as the old man's eyes flutter open; they're covered by a white film.

The near-silence downstairs gets broken suddenly by the sobbing woman, who turned completely silent like the others when the old man was brought out of the spaceship; now she starts wailing loudly, and Rodney turns around to see that the two people who brought the old man are with her, speaking to her intently. She's shaking her head and crying, and one of the women who helped her gets involved in the discussion too, talking to her insistently, but she keeps shaking her head. Eventually, though, she appears to give in and lets John's people guide her upstairs; she's visibly trying to contain herself, shoulders hitching.

When she gets to the door leading into control room, she hesitates; her face is a mask of grief and pain and she visibly struggles to keep her composure for a moment.

The old man, whose hand John is still holding, apparently notices her even though she doesn't make a sound; he slowly turns towards her and asks, voice hoarse and scratchy, "Mom?"

Rodney at first thinks he must have heard wrong, or maybe there is no translator thing around and it's the language difference, but then the woman says, "Yes, I'm here, baby," so apparently John must still be wearing his.

It doesn't make any sense, unless something very weird is going on – the only explanation Rodney can think of is that the man must have dementia or perhaps Alzheimer and mistakes the woman for his mother. He's obviously very old.

The woman slowly walks over to the bed and sinks to her knees next to John; slowly, she reaches out. Her hand is trembling so violently John covers it with his own free hand and together, they touch the old man's forehead.

"It doesn' hurt 'nymore, mommy," the old man croaks, his eyes fluttering closed.

"I-I'm glad, baby." The fingers of the woman's other hand hesitantly reach out for the old man's shoulder; there is so much grief on her face that Rodney feels uncomfortable, has to look away. A moment later he decides to give them more privacy and walks several steps away, keeping his back towards them. He tries to find something to look at down in the gate room, but everywhere he finds expressions of devastation and grief. Rodney has no idea what's going on, but it must be bad. Frankly, he's terrified.

"He's dead." John's flat voice comes from behind him some time later. Rodney flinches in surprise; he was so sunken in his thoughts he hadn't even heard him come up.

He turns around to find John standing behind him, looking down into the gate room as well; his face is shuttered and blank, his shoulders stiff.

"Ah, I'm sorry," Rodney stutters, not really sure what to say.

John only glances at him, but he reaches around Rodney and takes hold of the railing. He leans heavily into it, his shoulder pushing into Rodney's. Rodney thinks he maybe should step away to give him some room, but he doesn't want to. Somehow, the contact with John makes him feel a little better, which is bad, very bad, but right now he doesn't care, not with all these devastated people everywhere around. And maybe, hopefully, John feels the same. He must, doesn't he, since he's not moving away either.

"He was eleven," John says. "He often came to play with the ocatapei."

Rodney turns to stare at John; he's not sure he heard right. "The... the old man?"

John turns his head to look at him. "He wasn't old. Aram was... he was eleven." He abruptly sags, hangs his head, fingers around the railing tightening until his knuckles turn white. All of a sudden he looks lost, young, and before he knows what he's doing, Rodney reaches out and takes his free hand. John sends him a grateful, if still somewhat haunted, look and entwines their fingers.

"Come," he says out of the blue and pulls Rodney along with him, past where the woman is crying desperately, still kneeling by the bed; Rodney tries not to look at her nor the old man. John leads him to the side of the gate room opposite the hall, where there is a balcony. They had seen it, but it was underwater – that is, had been the last time Rodney had looked, and he was sure someone would have told him if that had changed. But changed it obviously had, because John leads him outside, away from people. The floor of the balcony isn't even wet; neither is the railing, not a single drop of water in sight anywhere. There is a visible shield, holding the water back; Rodney hesitates stepping outside completely until John pulls gently and says, "It's completely safe, I promise."

Rodney carefully follows after him, eying the shield with distrust. A snort makes him turn his head, and he finds that John is watching him with amusement. "Here," he says, taking the brooch he has attached to his shirt off and pressing it against Rodney's chest; it sticks there like it had with the others. "It's a personal shield," he informs Rodney. "It will activate if necessary. I promise that, if the shield fails, this one will activate, and then I will get you back into the ring hall."

"But you'll-" Rodney stops mid-sentence, rolling his eyes at himself. Of course John will be fine, he can change into a merman and breathe underwater, for heaven's sake.

John leads him out of view from the gate room into relative privacy. They sit together on the floor; John pulls his knees up and wraps his free arm around them. He's still holding Rodney's hand, and now he squeezes and says, "It's the Wraith. I gather you have never heard of them?"

Rodney shakes his head silently. Wraith is not a very promising name at all.

"They're a cross between humans and an insect that used to be native to a planet in this galaxy, a bug..." He holds out his hands – and Rodney's hand along, because he doesn't seem at all inclined to let go – indicating a distance about the length of his underarm. Rodney shudders involuntarily; insects of that size... that sounds unpleasant, to say the least. In his opinion insects should be squash-sized. "They're called Iratus bug, and as far as we know they're mostly extinct. At least we did our best to make sure, at the time, and without a food source they can't be breeding all that much. They... they would attach themselves to a person and slowly suck the life out of them." John shudders and rubs his neck with his free hand. "The Wraith... they're taller than humans, stronger, faster. They have psychic abilities that can cause hallucination in some humans, make them paranoid and panic. They... they hunt us, suck the life out of a person like the bugs do, only way faster. The result is... well, you saw Aram."

Rodney feels sick. So the old man... He covers his mouth with his free hand and closes his eyes, making a concerted effort to breathe calmly and to not vomit all over the floor. John presses close to his side and lets go of his hand, wraps his arm around him. "Shh," he murmurs, "Breathe."

Once Rodney has calmed down a little – at least physically; mentally, the horror is just starting to sink in – John whispers into the side of his head, breath warm on Rodney's scalp, "We killed them. We killed them, Rodney. Not all of them, but..." He takes a breath. "Let me start at the beginning. When the Alterans decided to go to Terra, a fraction of them decided to stay behind, to try something different. It took them many years, but they found a way to change the human body so you could survive underwater. The Wraith can't go underwater, especially not salt water; they avoid it actually, it harms them and their ships. Knowing that, my ancestors slowly convinced the other peoples of the galaxy to join them in safety, and one after the other, they all came to live underwater. To take away the food source for the Wraith," he adds with a nasty little chuckle. "Once everybody was safe, they waited. The Wraith aren't a united society; their hives – that's the ships they live in; they don't have a home planet. Their hives are headed by one female; the Queen. All the other Wraith are male." John presses a kiss to Rodney's temple. "Better?"

It takes Rodney a moment, not just due to the abrupt change in topic but also to process what he's just heard, but eventually he nods. He rubs his hands over his face before he lets them sink into his lap. This... aliens who suck the life out of people, make an eleven-years-old boy look like an old man... the Goa'uld are almost harmless in comparison. Even the Ori... at least they don't eat you. Enslavement or death is pretty bad too, but at least you have a choice – at least you have the chance to fight.

"The hives fight among themselves," John continues after a moment. "When they had less and less humans to feed from available, they started to fight for what was left. They mostly decimated themselves. While they were busy fighting, we armed ourselves, advanced the offensive weaponry the Alterans had left behind, and then we killed the rest. Nowadays, there are very few of them left. The peoples moved back to their home planets generations ago, and if the Wraith attack, we come and help them. That's what we did just now."

"Are there..." Rodney has to clear his throat, his voice is so hoarse. "Are there many of them left?"

John shrugs. "We don't know. It's a big galaxy, and we don't have any big ships to chase them. A couple of years ago, there was an uprising; all the Wraith who were left banded together." He smirks. "Now, there are even less of them."

Rodney nods slowly, still feeling a little sick. Now at least he knows one thing for sure; they can't take the city away, can't steal her from these people, not if there still are Wraith around. There is nothing Elizabeth can say or do that will convince Rodney otherwise. No way.

He leans a little into John, who still has his arm wrapped around his shoulders. "I'm sorry." He's not sure what he's apologizing for; the Wraith, that he's one of the people who considered – or rather, are considering – stealing Atlantis from John and his people, or that at one point, he himself was considering letting them – was considering not refusing if Elizabeth ordered him to try to break into Atlantis' programming. Maybe all of the above.

John squeezes his shoulders again and tells him it's not his fault, but it doesn't comfort Rodney much. Right now, he doesn't feel so guilty for being so close with John, doesn't feel at all guilty for not telling Elizabeth everything; instead, he now feels guilty for not being entirely honest with John.

Now is not the time, though, he knows.

Turning his body a little into John's, Rodney wraps his arm around John's waist; John leans into him in return and Rodney just lets himself for a while, not thinking about anything. It's not important who is comforting whom right now – they both need this, he knows, and that's all that matters. He doesn't know how long they stay like this, because eventually he drifts off to sleep.

*

John doesn't know how long they've been sitting by the time he finally notices that Rodney has fallen asleep. He doesn't mind; in fact, it delights him, this obvious sign of trust on Rodney's part. He tightens his hold on Rodney's shoulders for a moment before he rearranges him into a position that will be more comfortable, with his head pillowed on John's thigh.

The adrenaline from the fight is still coursing through John's veins; he is too wired to sleep. It wasn't too big or spectacular a rescue because nowadays, the Wraith are more desperate than anything else. But the Schepact had lost some people, including Aram, and every loss was one loss too many in John's opinion. Especially Aram.

The memory of the eleven-years-old boy as he had been in life pulls at John painfully; he sighs and curls his fingers in Rodney's short hair. They hadn't lost a child since the uprising, since the destruction of Sateda, after which many peoples had banded together, joined the Lanteans to help chase the last of the Wraith down. John and his people hadn't had enough weaponry and shields to arm them all, however, and as a result, there now is still a pitiful number of Wraith left, though thankfully at least no Hives. Some of them even come through the gate on foot because they can't power their darts anymore; it's a great source of amusement to everyone.

Well, when they don't manage to do more than inflict material damage, that is. The Schepact had separated from the Lanteans and their affiliates generations ago, almost as soon as it had been deemed relatively safe again to live on land; few of their people had the ability anymore to survive underwater. Aram had been one of them, but John is fairly sure he would have refused to leave his mother, if there had been the time to flee at all. They had had the time to alert Atlantis, though, so it's at least likely – maybe if they had reacted a little faster, if the Schepact had kept up with their training drills and managed to sound the alarm sooner...

Not that it matters anymore, now. It had happened, there is nothing left to do about it. The Schepact will stay in the city for a couple of days; John is sure that help is already arriving from all over the galaxy, supplies to stock up Atlantis' supply rooms and freezers and people to talk to. He should go out there and talk, but he doesn't want to yet. Atlantis keeps him up to date with what's going anyway, and she'd let him know if his presence were required. Right now, for example, she's letting him know that the Terrans are locked in one half of the corridor in front of the ring hall and quite agitated; the Schepact are being directed towards the residential area. Most of them had only shallow injuries, except for one broken arm. It will all heal quickly – the mental injuries, however, not so much.

Still, it's only a matter of time until someone comes to look for him; he hears the door to the balcony open and footsteps come towards him. It's his brother, who takes one look at the two of them and sighs, crouching in front of John. "John," he says, glancing down at Rodney. "You need to do something about the Terrans. Either they're a security risk and have to go, or they aren't and may stay, but now is not the time to keep them locked in a small area until the Council has made a decision."

"They're a security risk," John says, curling his fingers in Rodney's hair again. "But we can't throw them out. They don't know a thing about the Wraith, their weaponry is less than sufficient even just for defense, and they're from a different galaxy. They want Atlantis." John looks up to meet Dave's eyes. "Leaving them on some planet in this galaxy would cause discord, one way or another. Not to mention that they couldn't go back home if we did that."

Dave sighs. "What do you want to do with them, then?"

"Put them in the residential area, the south tower. Atlantis will watch them. By the time the Council has made a decision one way or another, the Schepact will be gone."

"What about Rodney?", Dave asks. "I know you like him, but..."

"I know," John interrupts. "I know. I'll talk to him. Anyways, you know that Atlantis wouldn't, there is no danger at all of her being taken from us."

"I know that." Dave rolls his eyes. "It's just that even if he likes you back, he's still a Terran. He won't just give up his own people."

"I wouldn't want him if he would." John has no doubt about that.

The corners of Dave's mouth twitch up. "You never took the easy way out," he says, then leans in and touches his forehead briefly to John's. It's true, not that it was any conscious decision on John's part.

John waits until the doors to the balcony close behind Dave before he starts running his fingers through Rodney's hair, putting his other hand on his shoulder and shaking gently. "Rodney," he says when Rodney starts to wake up, which makes Rodney wake up completely, blinking and looking around in confusion before he realizes where he is.

"Oh!", he says and sits up, flushing. He looks like he's about to apologize, or maybe jump up and run away, so John takes hold of his chin and leans in to kiss him gently on the lips. It makes Rodney still and take a couple of breaths, calm down as he leans just a little towards John – there's really something to this whole lips-kissing thing; John likes it.

"Rodney," John starts, a little reluctant but knowing that the time for playing is over, "We need to talk about something."

Rodney pales almost dramatically, so John takes his hand and squeezes. "It's alright," he says. "It's about your people. I know you need Atlantis very urgently. I know..." With a sign, he leans in to kiss Rodney on the lips again. "Rodney, I know everything. I'm not angry at you, or disappointed. But you need to know that it's completely impossible to take over the city. You can't break into her code, you can't switch the AI off – the only way for the AI to go away is for her to kill herself. She isn't just a tool; she's never been just a tool. She's a member of our society, that's the way it was supposed to be. And if she killed herself, it would wreak havoc over all the codes and programs because she's intricately woven into each of them. All the tech would go dormant, and only someone with a strong genetic connection to the Alterans would be able to activate it. Rodney." John leans his forehead against Rodney's for a moment. "I know you owe loyalty to your people, I'm not asking you to betray them. But you must be aware that for now you're guests here, while the Council debates what to do. If any of you do anything, however... people are already very unhappy about how your soldiers keep waving around their weapons. If they get any more aggressive, you will have to leave the city. You won't be allowed to come back."

Rodney nods slowly, carefully not to dislodge where their foreheads are touching. "We're desperate," he says quietly; he seems very tired. "We're not... we don't usually steal from others. But the whole galaxy is at stake, and... we're trying."

"I know that, Rodney. I know you're a good person." John kisses Rodney on the lips once more before he pulls away and gets up. "Come on now, your people are being moved to a residential area so they'll be more comfortable. I'm going to show you where."

He brings Rodney into the big room surrounding the quarters in the south tower where the rest of the Terrans currently are, minus most of their things. They took what they could carry, but Atlantis informed John that Dave had told them that they couldn't come back to get the rest for the time being, and that they couldn't spare anyone who would do it for them either, at least not in the immediate future. In John's opinion, they don't look too happy about that, but John neither has the time nor inclination to care at the moment, so he just says good-bye to Rodney and tells him he'll come soon to visit him. Then he goes to talk to his people, check on how the Schepact are doing as well as how the relocation went, but thankfully, none of them are arguing yet. Apparently they're still too shell-shocked to protest their staying at Atlantis much.

After that, John checks in with the databank and finds that all his soldiers have, as they are supposed to, sent in their reports; he briefly considers reading them, but it's so late it's almost early again and he's completely knackered. With bleary eyes, he barely manages to write his own report – with Atlantis help, he doesn't mind admitting it – and goes to bed.

*

"No," Rodney says firmly. He feels tired and a whole lot of other things he doesn't dare touch right now, but of this, he's sure now – at least of this.

Elizabeth's expression tightens. "If you think you can't do it, maybe the decision to make you CSO was wrong."

"I didn't say I can't do it – I said I won't," Rodney replies sharply. "Did you not notice what was going on earlier? These people need the city to defend their whole galaxy. She's needed here."

"All I saw was some people arming themselves and running through the gate, and they brought a bunch of traumatized, obviously scared people with them."

Rodney shakes his head. "I won't try to break into the city's consoles, programs or codes anymore, Elizabeth, and that's final." He shakes his head again. "Listen, Elizabeth, think for a moment about what you're considering. Can it really be the right thing if I of all people have to tell you that it's immoral? You need to stop thinking about a way to prevent Sumner from mutinying and take a step back to think about what this expedition's mission objective is. I know that the Ori are a great threat, but our main goal still is exploration, isn't it? Not starting a new war in another galaxy. Not stealing the city of the Ancients from their descendants, from people who need it to fight against aliens who eat people."

When Elizabeth doesn't look all that inclined to listen to reason, Rodney throws his hands up and says, "I won't do anything to help you take control of the city, and now I'm going to bed. Maybe you should too; a good night's sleep seems to be something we all need. Good night." He whirls around and stomps off, almost forgetting his bag. He ignores the way Elizabeth sharply calls for him, but in the corridor in front of the small room Elizabeth pulled him into to discuss this after his first refusal he falters. He has no idea where to go sleep, doesn't know which rooms are already taken or even if he can have a room for himself or will have to share. Everybody else had already been on their way to sleep by the time Rodney had shown up; the halls are empty except for Sumner's soldiers, and Rodney isn't too thrilled at the idea of asking one of them.

Just as he thinks that, he feels the touch to his mind he has come to associate with Atlantis. He still isn't sure how he feels about it; it's obvious now that Atlantis actually monitors people's thoughts – or, well, at least all their conversations; that's a possibility too. One that Rodney prefers a lot to the other one.

She brushes against his mind again, and maybe Rodney is only imagining it, but it feels a little more insistent. Actually, all things considered, Rodney probably isn't imagining it. A third time she brushes against his mind; she's obviously trying to tell him something, because he's never touched him this much.

"Uhm. I don't know if you can hear me, but I really have no idea what you want from me," Rodney whispers, looking around to see whether the soldiers have noticed him talking seemingly to himself.

The light in the corridor to his right flickers out and on again, which in the way of messages isn't much; does that mean Rodney is supposed to go there, or to the left? He takes a step towards the right, and the light flickers out again, this time staying dark for a little longer than before. Okay, left then.

Atlantis leads him into a transporter, and once he's stepped out he finds himself in another corridor that has less doors than the others. A door on its left side opens, and Rodney tentatively steps towards it, peeking into the room it leads into, only to find himself in a wide room with a big bed. One of its walls opens towards a corridor, and when Rodney steps in and looks around a little, he finds a big bathroom with a bathtub. A shiver runs down his back at the idea of taking a hot, long bath instead of the hurried semi-public showers of the last week. It hasn't even been that long since he left Earth and his flat, but god, it feels like an eternity.

If he does it now, though, he'll probably fall asleep and drown, which doesn't sounds like the kind of end Rodney wants to meet, so all he does is take a quick, hot shower before he falls into bed, immediately drifting off to sleep.

About eight hours later, he's sitting in the big conference room that has enough space for the whole expedition and is housing most of it currently. He's eating a MRE for breakfast and staring at the reports on his laptop when Elizabeth comes to join him. She looks tired, like she hasn't slept a wink; Rodney really hopes that's not the case. "Could I talk to you for a moment?", she asks.

Rodney nods and picks his MRE up; he and Elizabeth go back into the room they had their fight in earlier. She pinches the base of her nose for a moment before she says, "You were right, Rodney. I wasn't thinking clearly earlier, probably haven't been for a while. We can't steal the city from these people – I'm not sure I would have done it even if I could have, but."

"I know that, Elizabeth," Rodney murmurs. "You're not that kind of person. Look, we're all alone out here. I know you're under a huge amount of pressure, everybody expects you to do something, and it looks like there isn't anything we can do. And then there's Sumner." Rodney takes a breath. Elizabeth has always made a point out of being independent, but this isn't the kind of situation where any of them can afford to be loners. "This isn't what we expected to find. It's both better and worse than what we were hoping for – worse because people are here and need the city and everything in it so we can't just do with it what we want, and better because since they're here, everything is in perfect working order, nothing is broken." At least Rodney hopes so; so far, he hasn't seen anything that didn't work, but it's not like he has seen all that much of the city. He'll have to rectify that as soon as possible.

Elizabeth is looking at him tiredly, taking in everything he says, but Rodney isn't sure he's really getting to her. He doesn't know what else to say, though, except something like "get your act together", and even he can tell that's a bit too harsh. So instead he turns to his MRE and continues eating.

He's almost done when Elizabeth suddenly speaks up. "Do you think they will help us?"

Rodney swallows. He wants to say yes; John has been so nice to him, but they haven't really talked about anything professional. And while he trusts John and believes him the things he said, that John and his people helped their whole galaxy against the Wraith doesn't mean they will help them against the Ori in a whole different galaxy, one they have nothing to do with. The only thing that connects them is a bunch of common ancestors ten thousand years ago, which in the grand scheme of things isn't all that much, really.

"I'm not sure," he thus says reluctantly. "I think they're good people, they help everybody in this galaxy who needs it. But I believe that, even if they won't actively help us, they'll at least let us study some tech here. Especially if they don't have to be afraid anymore that we'll try to steal Atlantis from them."

"They know?", Elizabeth demands sharply.

Rodney blinks and realizes he hasn't told her a thing about what John told him yesterday. A little guiltily, he nods. "Yeah. I told you that John thinks the city is sentient, right? I'm almost... no, I'm sure that's a fact. It's another reason why stealing her would never work. John told me some things yesterday..."

Elizabeth looks ill after Rodney has told her about the Wraith; she covers her mouth with one hand and asks, "Is... do you think he's telling the truth?"

"Yes. I have no doubt about that, I... I saw that boy." Rodney pushes the remains of his MRE away, not at all hungry anymore. "It's impossible that was a trick. I might not be all that good with people, but it's impossible that wasn't real."

All Elizabeth does is shake her head, looking pale and distressed. She looks in over her head; it makes Rodney very uncomfortable to see her that way. He's always seen her as a strong woman and leader, and the past couple of days have both confirmed and debilitated this impression of her. Thankfully, a moment later she excuses herself.

About an hour later, Rodney is talking with Miko about whether or not Superman would manage to lift Atlantis when Elizabeth makes a small speech to them all. She tells them that this isn't what they expected, but they have to make do; Earth is relying on them for help in the war against the Ori, but they can't give up their basic principles. She says that their situation is insecure right now and that she understands that that must be frightening for some people, but they just need to have patience; she says that she has been reassured that they can leave anytime if they want to.

Rodney notices Sumner's expression, but at least the Colonel has enough discipline not to start an argument with Elizabeth in public – at least not like this. He does pull her aside later, but Elizabeth tells him off with a few sharp words before she turns around and leaves. Sumner doesn't look at all happy with her, and Rodney unabashedly enjoys the soldier's pissed off face.

A couple of hours later, just as Rodney is thinking about having a MRE for lunch, John comes in. His arrival still causes a stir among the people of the expedition, but not nearly as much as it did at the beginning. "Hey, Rodney," he says, giving Rodney one of his devastatingly charming smiles.

"Hey, John," Rodney replies, trying really hard not to blush. "How are you doing?"

John makes a waving motion with his hand that Rodney is not familiar with. "I'm okay. You?"

"Me too." John hesitates and tilts his head. "Wanna come with me?" He doesn't bribe Rodney this time, doesn't tell him that he's going to show him something.

"Yes," Rodney says; he doesn't hesitate at all.

John's smile is blinding. The two of them get into the transporter at the end of the corridor outside the hall; just when Rodney is about to exit, John puts a hand on his arm to halt him. "Are you hungry?"

Rodney nods. "What, are you taking me out for lunch?", he jokes, belatedly realizing that John probably won't get it.

"Yes." John raises one eyebrow. When Rodney doesn't protest, he grins and brings their foreheads together for a moment before he opens the door of the transporter and leads Rodney out into chaos.

It's a different chaos than the one in the gate room the previous night; this is a number of people eating. Rodney recognizes some of those who came through the gate that time – or rather, he recognizes their style of clothing, it had been pretty bland, tending towards greens and browns. There are other people among them dressed in different styles, and maybe some of them are John's people; Rodney has no way to tell, but he thinks he maybe sees Dave seated at one table.

John leads him to one side of the room that has a buffet laid out on a long table; people come through a doorway and add to it. It's different than the buffets Rodney is used to; instead of having several big dishes, it has countless small ones that look to be no more than three portions each. At Rodney's confused look, John tells him, "It's much more practical than everybody cooking their own food. We have a couple of volunteers who cook for everyone."

"No, it's not that – I'm familiar with buffets," Rodney explains, taking a plate from the stable. "On Earth they're just different – less variety, bigger containers." They fill their plates, Rodney making sure that there isn't any citrus in anything (John appears quite upset when he's informed that a small yellow fruit and its relatives could kill Rodney, and has Atlantis somehow analyze everything for possible harmful content), and then John leads him to a table with some people sitting there. Rodney recognizes the woman John introduced him at their first meeting, Teyla, as well as the red-headed woman John was swimming with and maybe one of the three children with them, but that's it.

"Guys, this is Rodney," John introduces him. "Rodney, these are Ronon, Melena, Sora, Sei and Kaness; you already met Teyla and Jinto."

Right. "Hey," Rodney greets, feeling a little awkward; they say their own greetings back as John directs Rodney to take a seat.

"It is nice meeting you again, Rodney," Teyla says warmly.

"Uh, yes, you too, I mean." Rodney takes his fork and pokes dubiously at some mashed something that John had suggested to him. He had been wearing that smile that possibly makes Rodney a little stupid, so Rodney had gotten a spoonful. Now he's not so sure anymore; it's a weird pale bluish brown color.

"That's mushy burun," Melena tells him warmly. "I made it earlier today."

"It's a vegetable," John explains. "It grows on trees. Mostly the children collect them."

"I help," Jinto interjects enthusiastically. "Well, not today, but sometimes."

"That's great," Rodney says helplessly, snatching glances at John. He hates having to interact with children; they make no sense at all, and they tend to look at him like they want something from him. He never knows what that really is.

"Hey, Jinto, how did your lessons go?", John asks, and Jinto launches into a lively retelling of all the things he learned under the sea recently. Thankfully, he mostly tells it all to John, only glancing at Rodney on occasion, so Rodney doesn't feel pressurized to feign too much interest.

The foods John suggested to him turn out to be good; Rodney likes most of them. They do taste weird, naturally, but nothing is too strong, and it's been way too long since he last got any real meat that wasn't highly processed. Rodney actually goes back for seconds.

After they've eaten, John takes Rodney away from his friends; to be honest, Rodney is glad about it. He is flattered that John actually introduced him to them, but to say that Rodney feels a little out of his depth would be a massive understatement. They don't put him under any kind of pressure, but every time one of them asks him a question – for example when Melena asks him how he likes the burun – he feels like there's a right and a wrong answer, and he's not always sure which is which (the burun had been easy, though).

"They like you," John says as they get into the transporter.

Rodney snorts. "Really? How could you tell? Don't tell me you can communicate telepathically too."

"No." John appears amused, guiding him out of the transporter with a hand on the small of his back. "They like you because I like you and because Atlantis likes you."

"Oh." Rodney flushes. "Uhm." Then he blinks. "Where are we?"

"Residential area. Well, technically fifty-five percent of the city are residential areas; this is where my rooms are."

Right, Rodney has been here before. Everything sort of looks the same though, at least the residential areas. "Your rooms?" Rodney feels his flush deepening. "Uhm."

John shoots him a look. "I thought you would like to watch a movie together."

"Uh, okay." Rodney clears his throat and makes to go through the door that opened as they approached, but John's hand on his arm stops him.

"Rodney," John says, looking at him intently. "If you want to, we can go somewhere else. I don't want you to be uncomfortable."

"No." Rodney shakes his head quickly. "I'm not uncomfortable, just... nervous."

"There's no reason to," John promises, letting his hand fall off Rodney's arm and stepping back a little.

Fuck it, Rodney thinks, going after John, cupping his face with one hand and leaning in to kiss him. John hesitates for a moment before he returns the kiss, a little clumsy; it serves to remind Rodney that John doesn't have much practice at kissing, and he keeps the kiss level.

When Rodney pulls away, they're both breathing heavily a little. There's a charming flush coloring John's cheeks; Rodney's sure he himself looks a lot less fetching, especially right now. When his face turns red it tends to get blotchy, and besides, he's way less handsome than John. "I'm not uncomfortable," Rodney says again.

John nods quickly and swallows. "Okay." He clears his throat. "What movie would you like to watch?"

"What movies do you have?"

They end up watching Back to the Future; Rodney can't believe John likes crap like that, but apparently he does. It destroys a fair bit of Rodney's esteem of John as an alien who has access to amazing tech, which is probably be a good thing, considering that Rodney wants to nail John.

After the movie is over, John tries to needle Rodney into watching the second part; they start to snark at each other and it quickly develops into a lively conversation about time travel in the media and in reality. John doesn't know much about how the real thing works technically, but he does know enough to fascinate Rodney. When Rodney asks him directly, though, if they can travel through time, John gets a little evasive, shrugging and saying, "Not at the moment."

It brings to the forefront of Rodney's mind that they're not friends – or at least that that's not all they are. They're still members of two different peoples, peoples who aren't allies yet. There can only be a limited amount of trust between them while each other's alliances are with different peoples whose relationship isn't very deep yet.

Noticing how subdued Rodney suddenly got, John stills. "We used to be able to," he explains slowly. "But we destroyed our only means to when it turned out to pose too much of a danger."

"It's okay, you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to," Rodney says reluctantly. Naturally he wants to know, but John clearly tried to not get him into any conflicts of interest before, so he wants to return the favor.

"It's more that I figure it'd get you into trouble than not wanting to tell you," John explains. "We don't really... I don't get to talk to people much, about the media on your planet and about Atlantis. We lost a lot of knowledge about her – it's still there, in her database, but try finding anything without knowing exactly what you search for. I'm sort of rediscovering her again through your eyes."

Rodney hadn't looked at it from that angle; rather, he had figured John liked showing her off. "I won't run to report everything you tell me to Elizabeth," he says a little testily.

"But what about if she asks you?" John raises an eyebrow. "I don't want you to be conflicted."

"I'm not some child that needs to be protected. I can make my own decisions. Also, just so you know, I already have lied to her." Crossing his arms, Rodney huffs and scowls at the floor.

"Rodney, hey," John coaxes, moving closer to Rodney and putting an arm around him. "I'm not treating you like a child. Look... our situation is difficult. We're... maybe we shouldn't be doing this, getting close when... but, Rodney." John leans his forehead against Rodney's temple. "Rodney," he says again, voice rough, almost like he's pleading for something.

It makes Rodney feel bad – this is stressful, yes, but not just for him, and it's not John's fault. It's nobody's, really, and maybe John's right and they shouldn't be doing this, but… he wants to.

He turns his head a little so their foreheads are pressed together, reaching over to take John's hand. "Sorry," he mumbles. "It's just, you know. I don't know how it could work out." Rodney isn't even sure himself what he actually means – their relationship, the expedition's staying in the city, the relationship between Earth and the whole Pegasus galaxy, between each of their galaxies.

"I don't either," John murmurs. "But we can make it work out, if we want to. We can, Rodney."

"I just don't see how," Rodney says again. "The city is yours, you're not going to let us borrow it. You're not going to let our people stay here and do with her what they want. So there'll always be conflict between our peoples. Loyalties will always be questioned."

"Atlantis can make her own decisions," John says gently. "She isn't part of our council, but she is part of the Pegasus Council. Nobody is going to make any decisions within her jurisdiction without her input. If she decides she's fine with you being here, that's it. She's likely going to limit your access, but we won't just send you away – she won't, and we won't."

Rodney can barely believe it – he keeps forgetting what it really means that Atlantis is sentient. It does make sense the way John tells it, though, and he suddenly feels a lot more positive about everything. "Okay, good." He squeezes John's fingers.

John squeezes back. "So if you want to stay, we can work it out."

That makes Rodney pull back and frown. "Of course I want to stay! Don't be stupid." With his free hand, he cups John's yaw and leans in to kiss him.

John returns the kiss for a moment before he pulls away to look at Rodney carefully. "And you want to work it out?"

"Yes." Rodney pulls at John's hand. "Of course I do, John."

"Because I realize I have gotten somewhat attached to you, and it was pointed out to me that it might put you in an uncomfortable position," John mumbles, lowering his gaze and pulling half-heartedly on his hand.

"Oh my god, where the hell is this coming from? Look, I realize we don't know each other that well yet, but you should know me enough to figure out that I'd have no problem letting you know if you made me uncomfortable," Rodney huffs. "Now stop being an idiot and let's watch the continuation of this nightmare."

John grins wildly and kisses him enthusiastically before he pulls away and settles down melding into Rodney's side as Atlantis puts on the second movie. Rodney settles in as well, wrapping one arm around John's shoulders; it looks like their watching the second movie will be a bit more like the usual teenage movie date.

By the time the movie ends, they're both slumped back into the pillows and curled up together, John's head resting on Rodney's belly. They're still holding hands, resting on Rodney's sternum, and John has his other hand curled up on Rodney's belly. He's barely pretending to be watching anymore as the credits roll in.

"So, you're a direct descendant of a group of Ancients?", Rodney asks.

"Yeah – well, as direct as is possible after ten-thousand years." John shrugs. "Why are you asking?"

"Just wondering about physical differences, you know." Rodney gets a weird thought and frowns. "You're not, like, a thousand years old, are you?"

"Nah. Just fifty, going by your way of counting time."

Abruptly, Rodney sits up, dislodging John. Ignoring the resulting complaint, he gapes. "You're fifty years old?!"

John pushes himself upright as well, looking at him innocently for a moment – and Rodney knows that look, he's seen it before.

Narrowing his eyes suspiciously, he says, "You're messing with me, right?"

John maintains the innocent expression for a moment longer before he crumbles and starts to laugh. Rodney's resulting scowl doesn't seem to impress him at all, and when Rodney huffs and crosses his arms John only laughs harder, leaning into Rodney heavily. His amusement is charming, so Rodney doesn't manage to be annoyed for long, which is annoying all onto itself.

"I'm sorry, I couldn't resist," John apologizes, amusement still making his eyes twinkle. It makes Rodney's heart speed up, the way he looks. "I'm around thirty-five Terran years."

"Okay, good." Rodney breathes an exaggerated sigh of relief. "I'm not sure I could have dealt with you being my sugar daddy. I'm thirty-six."

"Great. Now that we can both be reassured that nobody will be a kept boytoy, we can go to dinner." Apparently a man of action, John immediately gets up.

"I'm a little scared to know what exactly you watched that let you know what a sugar daddy and what a boytoy is," Rodney returns, letting John pull him up. John just winks at him and doesn't reply, which both excites Rodney and makes him worry. Seriously, internet porn is not what anyone would want someone who is trying to learn about Earth culture to watch.

On the way back, John asks him, "Do you want to go back to your people or eat dinner with me and my friends?"

Decide between an MRE and real, fresh food? That's easy. Rodney likes MREs alright, but not for weeks on end with nothing fresh in-between. Besides, the more you eat, the more the name the soldiers call them goes true; Meal, Reluctant to Exit.

"Fresh food," Rodney says decisively, earning an amused smile from John.

This time, Rodney feels a little surer of himself when John and he go sit with John's friends again. There are no children, anymore, which probably is also a factor; only Ronon, Melena, Teyla and Sora. Rodney gets the feeling that they're all couples, which admittedly does make his heart beat a little faster because of what it means in relation to him and John. Conversation goes a little smoother too; he's asked about Earth and he manages to remember to ask questions back, even though he's not all that interested in the social structure of the peoples of the Pegasus galaxy. He really hopes John will introduce him soon to someone who knows a bit more about Ancient tech – preferably Atlantis' database, really.

After dinner, John takes him back to the south tower – he kisses him good-bye in the transporter, for which Rodney is a little grateful. He doesn't want their relationship to be public knowledge yet, at least not among the members of the expedition. "Tomorrow the Council will discuss what to do about you people," John tells him. "If they come to a decision, I'll let you know."

"Okay." Rodney hesitates for a moment, still unsure about this, but John has been trying with the Earth way to kiss, so he sucks it up and tilts his head towards John's, bringing their foreheads together, his hands on John's waist.. John's smile is bright when they pull apart again.

*

After John has dropped Rodney off, he heads towards the access room, where he sits in the cathedra and leans back to commune with Atlantis about the Ori.

Several hours later, he and Atlantis are finally done. John doesn't just feel knackered because of the time he spent, but also because of the information he had gone through at high speed; when he and Atlantis do that, they can work a lot faster than they can when John isn't in the cathedra. And all he had found out just now... Atlantis and he had gone through everything she had, from all the information in the archives from the Alterans and the split with the Ori to the recent information they had gotten from the Terrans – Atlantis had even sped up the information flow from the little one just so she could be as up to date as possible. It was very worrying, all of it.

John goes to bed even though his head is whirling with all the new information; he spends some time mulling it over before he finally manages to fall asleep.

The next day, he goes on a swim around the city before breakfast; during the meal, he sits with Dave, who looks at him with raised eyebrows and asks how his yesterday was. It's obvious he's asking about Rodney – he was the one who told John to be careful, who warned him about putting Rodney in a difficult position.

"We talked," John tells him. "He doesn't feel pressured. We're fine."

"You talked about your feelings? I wish I had been there," Dave jokes, then turns serious at John's unimpressed look. "I'm happy for you, John. I really am. I wasn't trying to make you unhappy."

"I know that." John rolls his eyes. "It was good of you to bring it up, though."

"You can get a little lost when you're really passionate about something," Dave explains. "And I don't mean that in a negative way. I'm just looking out for both you and him."

"And I appreciate it." They can drop the topic anytime, now.

Dave nods. "So, you going to be at the Council meeting today?"

"Yeah." John waves his hand. "Have to be, I'm coordinating with Atlantis."

Dave nods again, then hesitates, taking a deep breath. "I think dad might actually come here soon." When John stills, he sighs. "A lot is going on right now. Maybe..."

"Yeah, maybe," John says quietly, poking his fork into his abka.

They don't talk any more during the rest of the meal, each lost in his own memories. After, John goes to his own room for a while, to finally check up on the reports he has received over the past couple of days. On his wall, Atlantis projects him a picture of Rodney, a freeze of him mid-talk, expression vaguely annoyed, eyes sparkling. She knows him a little too well sometimes.

She tells him when it's time to go to the Council meeting; he didn't join in at the beginning, because there'd be no point to before they have read Atlantis and his joined report. When he does join them, they ask him about his impression of the Terrans. John tells them that he considers them a generally honorable people, but when things get desperate they tend to get panicked and tend towards abandoning their principles for the hope of survival. Also, they're a little too convinced that their own goals are more important than somebody else's, and they're quick to dismiss other peoples as inferior because they tend towards a hierarchy thinking – who has the most powerful tools is the strongest and therefore the most important. He doesn't think they'd necessarily use it to their own advantage if they were stronger, but if they are, they definitely take it into consideration. They get insecure if they don't feel like they are the superior people, and that makes them dangerous. "We can trust them, to a point," John says. "Not unconditionally. They will try to stick to an agreement, but they won't consider it cast in stone."

Visne nods slowly. "What do you think about the Ori?"

"They're a threat, clearly," John says immediately. "Now we know that for sure. They will become our problem eventually, and the longer we wait, the stronger they'll be. They already have considerably higher numbers in everything – ships, soldiers, weapons, power. However, we can't afford to go fight them ourselves and leave our galaxy without defense. I think we should help the Terrans fight them." John pauses. "The question is, can we afford to give them access to our weaponry? They can't use it against us within the city, but outside they can. And there's nothing to prevent them from using our weapons for their own gain in their own galaxy. I don't believe they would use them to suppress any peoples, but if they really want something that somebody won't give to them, they tend to put their own needs first if they think they can get away with it."

He's dismissed shortly afterwards and wanders away to spar with Teyla – they haven't done anything in days, and John misses the physical activity. They spar for a couple of hours, including stretching and some katas; she tries to talk him into meditating, but John hates it – he always ends up trying to commune with Atlantis out of sheer boredom, and then he gets frustrated because in the cathedra it's just so much more efficient. After they've both taken a shower, they go have lunch with their friends; they stay long after they've finished eating, just talking. Ronon and Melena are now seriously thinking about having children – John is glad Ronon got off the "only when all the Wraith are dead" track. It had been dramatic and only hurt both him and his wife. The attack on Sateda had been catastrophic, but it had been years ago, and there was no point in dwelling on the past. Teyla and Sora, now, are finally starting to face facts; they tell them they're considering becoming an officially mated pair. They don't mention anything about making a decision one way or another, underwater or on land, even though it's highly unusual to remain settled within different elements while officially mated.

And suddenly, everybody seems to realize that they're all talking about mates and start asking John questions about Rodney – nothing too direct of the kind, "are you paired?", but skirting pretty close to it. They know John well, so they don't ask any concrete questions about his feelings, for which John is pretty grateful. This is all embarrassingly public enough without somebody making it worse.

John is still sitting with his friends when Hira comes to their table, sitting down with a huff. "I hate nothing more than rushed sessions," she complains, pouring herself a cup of tea.

"Keeps you on your toes," John quips, pushing his plate over to her, where he has a couple of tsove cakes left that he didn't eat. With a grateful glance, Hira takes the plate and peels away the vegonati leaves that the cakes are baked in, starting to nibble.

"Yes, well, I hope I die before the next rushed session pops up."

At that, John has to snort; Melena laughs her bell laugh and Teyla says, "We all hope that there won't be need for a rushed session again within our lifetimes."

"And you better watch out, or you're going to end up on the Council too. She's too nice," she tells John, leaning in conspiratorially, but making no effort to lower her voice. "All that diplomacy is going to do her no good."

John raises his eyebrow. "I don't see you having much diplomacy, and still you're a member of the Council."

"The follies of youth." Hira waves the argument away with a decisive flick of her wrist. Then she takes a tablet out of her cloak and hands it to him, saying "Anyways, you can tell your cute little friend that they may have access to the city however they see fit, as long as they don't take anything out without permission. Atlantis will restrict access by her own direction. Potentiae and drones are completely off the table, though, and their own weapons, well. We don't like them, they're crude and messy and deadly, and we don't want them to continue waving them around, especially not where the children are. If they're really that attached to them, they can keep them with them in the South Tower, but not outside."

"He's not my cute little friend," John protests, pointedly ignoring Melena and Sora's giggles and the fact that his ears are burning. Belatedly, he realizes he probably should have completely ignored that part and instead commented on the decision she let him know, but it's too late already – as Hira proves to him the next moment.

"Well, I wouldn't know about the "little" part," she says, "but cute, he certainly is." She pretends not to notice how John covers his face with one hand, telling himself firmly that he did not just hear that, and also the open laughter of John's friends, but the amused sparkle in her eyes gives her away.

A little later, John escapes, his ears still burning; he wants to go straight to Rodney, but he suspects Rodney would get into trouble if John went straight to him. The Terrans do have a chain of command, even if it's not a strong one, and if John doesn't start at least pretending to respect it, it's going to start internal conflict for Rodney.

So, instead of going to visit with Rodney, John goes to Elizabeth. On the way there, he looks at the tablet Hira gave him that holds the detailed decision the Council made. Once he's ready, Atlantis lets him know where Elizabeth is, standing in the lowest corridor of the South Tower, staring out of the window. The Terrans have posted their soldiers by the transporter, John isn't at all surprised by that because they seem to be very high-strung where encounters with the unknown are concerned. They let John through without batting an eyelash, though they do inform their commander of John's arrival via radio.

"The Council has come to a decision," John tells her. Elizabeth looks a little startled for a moment, but then she nods, firming her spine and leading John into a room that hasn't been occupied by a person. She sits down in one of the chairs by the table and looks at him encouragingly, wearing a tight, pinched expression.

"You're welcome to explore the city as you please," John says. "There are certain stipulations, though. You may not bring any kind of weaponry outside of the South Tower, and you're required to respect the limits Atlantis sets within the city and the database. There are some areas of the city you don't have access to. There are some technologies and information you don't have access to. If you make any attempt to go around these stipulation, you will have to leave."

Elizabeth nods slowly. "Fair enough. And if we want to leave, we can do so at any time, I assume."

"Of course." John shrugs. "You knew that already, though."

"How many people are we allowed to station here?", she inquires; it reminds John that this is her job, brokering treaties. It's not his, so he has to be careful.

"As many as the South Tower holds by your own standards," he thus replies, "Though you should take into consideration that you have to feed them by yourselves."

Elizabeth nods slowly, and then she sighs and sags into the chair. She looks like a huge weight fell off her shoulders; it makes John uncomfortable, and so he clears his throat, stands up and says, "I suggest the first thing you do is get the rest of your things from the ring hall and corridor. I'm going to go see Rodney now," he adds without really knowing why; it's none of her business.

"What do you want with Rodney?", she asks just before he reaches the door.

John pauses. He doesn't turn around, but after a moment, he does reply. "I like him." Then he leaves; she doesn't stop him again.

He finds Rodney speaking to the shy woman again; for a moment he hesitates, but then Rodney looks up and smiles. He immediately tries to curb the smile, flushing a little and looking around to check if anyone caught him, but John at least has seen it, and it makes an answering smile appear on his lips as he goes and leans against the table next to Rodney. With pleasure, he takes in the way Rodney's eyes glide up and down his body; when Rodney gets to his face he notices, and they share a heated look that makes John lick his lips and need to clear his throat.

"Hey," John says, voice a little lower than normal.

"Hey," Rodney returns, visibly trying to compose himself and appear normal.

"So, you guys are allowed to go out and play now," John tells him. "Wanna come with me and see Lantea from space?"

Rodney's eyes widen. "Yes," he says immediately. Then he glances at the woman and says, "Uh, Miko..."

The woman blushes and jumps up, bowing and backing away, all the while muttering something in her own language – a language different than Radek's, and one that John, thanks to the translator, understands. Rodney looks a little helpless and nods at her, and before he knows it John translates, "She says, "It is alright, I would let pretty man steal me too if he wanted to"." Rodney should have been able to hear the true meaning of her words still, but maybe he didn’t understand her acoustically.

Miko's words and especially Rodne's expression make John laugh, even while it sends color to his cheeks. She sends him a shocked look, her eyes widening, and then she squeaks and scurries away.

"What did you- what did she say?", Rodney asks suspiciously.

John grins, cheeks still a little red. "Wouldn't you like to know. Are you coming?"

Immediately, Rodney gets up and follows John into the transporter. "I don't get it, though. If the translator makes us understand what a person says in a different language, and if it works on everyone present, then why don't I always understand Radek or Miko when they speak Czech or Japanese?"

John thinks about that for a moment; he had thought Rodney understood them. "Because they don't want to be understood," he finally speculates; it's the only explanation he can think of. It's not like they've had much opportunity to extensively test the translators. "You have to want to be understood for somebody who isn't holding the translator to understand. Normally, if it's necessary at all, we put the translator on a nearby surface. I'm only carrying mine because we're changing location all the time."

"Oh." Rodney frowns, but then they step out of the transporter into the jumper hall, and his face clears. "These are the brick-shaped spaceships you sent through the gate two days ago, right?"

"Yes. They're called puddle jumpers." John walks towards his favorite one and touches it happily. He hadn't gotten the opportunity for a joyride in days.

"Puddle jumpers," Rodney repeats, sounding distinctly unimpressed. "Don't tell me the Ancients called them that."

"Nah. They're so factual sometimes. I named them." John pats his jumper, enjoying the enthusiasm he feels it thrilling with. "Come on!" He walks around the jumper to where the hatch is already opening and leads Rodney inside. Rodney barely hesitates before following him in, taking a seat in the chair John motions to, next to his.

"Are you sure this is safe to take underwater?", Rodney asks, nerves audible in his voice. "It's just, I have this thing with drowning. I'd rather not do it, you see."

"I'd rather you not do it either," John agrees with amusement, sending Rodney a fond look even as he lifts the jumper off the ground and directs it towards the watering room. "And yes, they're perfectly safe. We've been doing this for ten thousands of years. Nothing has ever happened, not even when they were still in the test phase."

"Okay." Rodney swallows and grips his armrests nervously when water starts to fill the flooding room. John reaches over to put a hand on Rodney's arm. It gets him a grateful look from Rodney, until Rodney's eyes suddenly widen. "Shouldn't you keep both hands on the wheel? I mean, not that there is a wheel, but."

"We're not even flying yet, Rodney," John replies, amused. "Also, I'm flying this not with my hands, but with my mind." The door to the ocean opens, and John directs the jumper out. Before Rodney can get even more nervous, he quickly directs them up and then tilts them downwards; Rodney squeaks and takes hold of the armrests, but when he sees the view they have on Atlantis, he turns silent.

It's a view even better than from the see-through room; they're higher up and the angle is considerably better. She's beautiful, absolutely beautiful; John will never get tired of looking at her.

"She's beautiful," Rodney breathes, and that's when John finally realizes that he's in love. He turns his eyes from Atlantis to Rodney, looking at him as intently as he looked at her before, taking in his sparkling eyes and the way he's at the edge of his seat, his nerves completely forgotten. Excited, Rodney turns to John, his mouth opening to say something, but he stills when he finds that John is looking at him, not the city.

Turning deep red, John lowers his gaze and clears his throat. His hand is still on Rodney's arm and he lets it fall away. "It looks even better at night," he says.

"I can imagine," Rodney replies.

Directing the puddle jumper upright again, John lets them rise, not too quickly so as not to disturb anyone or anything in the water.

"These inertial dampers are amazing," Rodney says after a moment. "How do they work?"

"No idea." John shrugs, then he grins and throws a look at Rodney. "You can find out for yourself, now."

Rodney returns the grin, and just like that, the awkwardness is gone. A moment later, they break the surface of the ocean, flying straight up into the blue sky, speed increasing considerably now. Slowly, the bright, light blue color fades, turning first pale and then darker and darker as they make their way into space. When John glances at Rodney, just out of the corners of his eyes, he finds him completely enthralled by the slow transition, flames dancing along the window shield. When the flames clear and they get into actual space, Rodney gasps.

John brings them into a level orbit in the shadow of the planet, tilted nose up so they can look outward. They stare for a long time, just at the stars and the black, empty space. Eventually, John clears his throat and says, "Want to look at Lantea now?"

Rodney nods slowly. "I've never been in space," he says, voice low and slightly awed.

"I can't get enough of it," John tells him, tilting them nose down so they can look down at the planet. "Flying in general, it's amazing. Like swimming in the air. I love taking away the artificial gravity so it's really just like that. I wish I could do it on my own, without the puddle jumper." Not that he doesn't love them; as far as he's concerned they're one of the best things the Ancients ever made, next to Atlantis, of course.

He turns his head to look at Rodney, intending to offer they try it right now, but he finds that Rodney is looking at him instead of the planet. Immediately, he turns red, figuring that this is maybe how Rodney felt when he caught John staring at him – this time, though, they don't avert their eyes. They just look, and when the tension between them is about to turn unbearable, they both lean towards each other at the same time, lips meeting in the middle between their seats.

John likes the Terran way of kissing more every time they do it; he wouldn't necessarily say it's better than their way, it's just different. It definitely has potential to be a lot more lewd, though, especially when Rodney takes hold of his face and tilts it in a certain way, making for a deeper kiss, especially when Rodney flicks his tongue out to lick along John's lower lip. This time, John isn't startled by it – actually, he was looking forward to trying it again. Eagerly, he pushes his face forwards, making their teeth bump; Rodney huffs a little and brings his other hand to take hold of John's face with both hands, holding him still. He moves the tip of his tongue along John's lower lip, and John eagerly opens his mouth a little, meaning it as an invitation – an invitation that Rodney hesitates to take until John makes an impatient noise low in his throat. Then Rodney pushes his tongue into John's mouth, slowly at first until John opens his mouth wider.

Rodney's tongue pushes against John's, and John takes that as an invitation to push back. From then on, things get messy very quickly. Messy and wet and delightful; John loves it. And he wants more – he puts his hands on Rodney's arms, pushing forwards with both his hand and face, getting out of his chair to straddle Rodney's lap. Rodney moans approvingly, and one of his hands moves from John's face to his hip, taking hold and pulling John down.

John feels the growing hardness in Rodney's pants against his own; it sends waves of pleasure through his body. Eventually, they have to pull apart a little to catch their breaths, leaning their foreheads together. John brings one of his hands up to card his fingers through Rodney's hair, his other hand sliding down to settle just above Rodney's heart. "We shouldn't," Rodney pants.

"Why not?" John pulls back to look at Rodney. "Why not?", he asks again.

Rodney looks at him for a moment and then he rears up to capture John's mouth once more, his hands going for the hem of John's shirt, pushing underneath to touch John's skin. John hums happily, rolling his hips forwards, making them both moan. One of Rodney's hands slides up into John's chest hair, carding through the curls and finding one of his nipples, brushing over it. John shudders happily and pulls back, hastily ripping his shirt off before he moves back in, pressing his mouth to Rodney's and thrusting his tongue in. Rodney moans, settling one hand in the small of John's back, the other moving back up John's chest, this time going directly for John's nipple, rubbing his fingertips over and around it, making John whine and gasp when he finally pinches it.

John doesn't think he's ever been so aroused in his life. He sucks Rodney's tongue into his mouth and moves his hands over Rodney's chest, taking hold of the zipper, pulling it down and immediately going for Rodney's shirt-covered chest underneath. They have to pull apart again to catch their breaths, and John takes the opportunity to push both Rodney's jacket and shirt off of him. Rodney raises his arms willingly, wrapping one around John's waist afterwards, pulling their groins together again. They both moan, and John slides his arms around Rodney's shoulders, rolling his hips down again. John does it again and doesn't stop, establishing a rhythm with Rodney's help, both of his hands on John's hips.

They don't get any more sophisticated; they're both too far gone. Rodney thrusts up every time John thrusts down, and the noises Rodney makes only push John higher, together with the feel of Rodney's hot, naked chest against his. That, combined with the hand Rodney suddenly sneaks between their bodies to pinch at John's nipple, is enough to push John over the edge; with a loud groan, he throws his head back and comes. He's vaguely aware of Rodney panting wetly against his neck, and then he feels Rodney's hand between their legs as Rodney cups his erection, squeezing. A moment later, Rodney is coming as well, moaning loudly into John's skin.

Not much time later they've both calmed down a little, but they're not moving a muscle, John's arms still wrapped around Rodney's shoulders with Rodney's face leaned against his neck, one of his hands still on John's hip. Rodney is the first one who moves; he takes a deep breath and lets it out in a slow sigh. That's when John becomes aware of the uncomfortable wetness in his pants, and, reluctantly, he pulls away. "We need to get cleaned up," he murmurs, pressing a short kiss to Rodney's lips before he gets up.

Rodney grimaces when he gets up as well, and then they both shove their pants down, Rodney blushing a little. With dismay, he then looks at his soiled pants. "How am I going to get back to my quarters without anybody seeing me?"

"I can lend you pants," John offers. When Rodney shoots him a quick, worried look, he sighs and says, "Or we could go to my quarters and get them cleaned."

"It's not that I'm embarrassed," Rodney tells him after a short pause. He steps towards John, feeling a little silly at his state of undress, and reaches out to touch John's arm, taking hold of John's hand. He's very relieved when John lets him.

"What is it, then?", John asks calmly. He doesn't look angry, but there's something different in his face – only now does Rodney realize that excepting that one evening, John would always have this twinkle in his eyes when talking to Rodney. It's gone now.

"I just... my people won't understand yet. They'll be suspicious that they can't trust me anymore, they'll... they'll make this something it's not. It's not... we have to be slow, let them get used to us being friends, with the potential for more even, but they shouldn't know yet that we're having sex. I don't intend to hide, I just... slowly, okay?" Rodney tries to make his expression as earnest as possible when John looks at him searchingly. Finally, John nods, moving in to lean their foreheads together.

"Slowly," he says quietly. "I can do that. But I'm not going to pretend it's nothing, that we're nothing. Because we're not."

"No," Rodney agrees, unaccountably relieved. "We're not."