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Lord John Sheppard Versus Earth

Chapter Text

Prologue

John watched Dr. McKay read his computer as he shoved food in his mouth. Lieutenant Anders slipped into the spot next to him. “So,” she said, “either you’ve decided to be unapologetically gay and have decided to start your staring with a strange man or you have a plan.”

“There’s nothing strange about staring at McKay.”

“The military says I’m allowed to drool over men, and I can promise you that he’s a solid six—not stare worthy. He’s not bad, but he’s not heartthrob material. You’re in the middle of a base filled with tens. I don’t even care what kind of guy you like, we’ve got the geeky and floppy haired, we have the lithe, the muscle heads, and the distinguished older gentlemen type. If the SGC ever runs out of money, they can rent their men out as porn stars and make a mint, and I’m including you in that as the bad boy, undisciplined sort.” Anders grinned at him, and John felt a sort of mild horror run through him. No way was one of his coworkers thinking of him as porn material. Shit. Why did the men always get the sexual harassment lecture when clearly the women were just as bad?

Anders laughed. “So, now that you look mildly terrified, do you want to tell me why we’re staring at Rodney McKay?” She stuck a forkful of chicken casserole in her mouth and then made a little circling gesture with her fork to encourage him to speak.

“I think I can tell you why you can’t find a gate team to take you on,” John said.

She swallowed about half her mouthful before answering. “Excessive honesty and a lack of a penis. I know it’s the penis because no one has ever accused me of lacking balls.”

That was true. John suspected that some of the crude and rough behavior was a defensive mechanism. Like John, she had been cursed with striking good looks. They were both dark haired and lanky—similar enough that when they went out in their civvies, people mistook them for brother and sister. John knew he’d developed his own bored, disrespectful attitude to distract people from his own looks, so he could imagine her doing the same. “I asked about us starting a new team.”

Anders sat up. “You did? Really?”

John nodded. “Colonel O’Neill says that if I can find my own geek, he’ll let me go out to poke at Ancient things that are too big to bring home.”

“So, totally science, no blowing things up?” Anders sounded a little disappointed.

“You’ve been hanging out with that new woman Marine too much,” John accused her.

“Cadman,” Anders said, filling in the name. “If I were gay, I would so go there. That woman is brilliant, beautiful, and talented at blowing shit up, and she is still stuck teaching because no one wants an explosives expert with a vagina.”

“I wouldn’t care,” John pointed out, and he wouldn’t. If he could get a gate team together, Anders would be his first choice. He could care less what she had between her legs—the brain between her ears and her skills with a weapon mattered more.

“Yeah, but you’re the rare man who isn’t an asshole.”

John looked at her. “Colonel O’Neill’s second is a woman.”

“Have you heard what he said when he first met her?”

“Do I want to know?” John liked having respect for his commanding officers—he wasn’t totally used to feeling, but he liked it. Ever since a routine physical had turned up his genetic link to the Ancients and he’d been pulled out of Afghanistan, John’s whole attitude toward the military had improved.

Anders gave him a deadly smile. “Like I said, you’re the rare man around here who isn’t an asshole.” She looked over at Rodney. “I hear he’s a grade-A, prime sort of ass himself.”

That worried John. He wanted McKay on his team—the man had a brain that went light speed, but if Anders refused to work with him, that could prove awkward. Given that she was a bit of an asshole herself, they might have too much attitude to fit on one team.

“Hey, I’m fine with that,” she added. “He bases his hatred for people on the fact that they’re people—he doesn’t target women or gays or blacks for his brand of verbal torture. So if his default setting is on rude, I’m okay with it. If even half the stories I’ve heard are true, I wouldn’t recommend we visit any inhabited planets, but that’s up to you, sir.”

John leaned back in his chair. “That’s up to Colonel O’Neill.”

“So, we get McKay and we get a team, huh?”

“Maybe,” John said. He knew O’Neill had a bad history with McKay, but he’d struck out with every other scientist on base.

Harriet Hewston and Jim Meyers had shot him down cold, Radek Zelenka had started cursing at him in something that definitely wasn’t English, and John would have to be a lot more desperate before offering to take Jay Felger or Bill Lee into the field. All the other scientists specializing in alien tech were already claimed by teams.

O’Neill had the mother lode of brilliance on his team with Carter, but after watching them work, John suspected McKay might give Carter a run for her money in the brains department. Better, McKay seemed a little more careful with safety protocols. John understood that sometimes you took risks on the front lines, but one or two of SG1’s stories nearly turned his hair gray, so caution would be a nice bonus in a scientist.

“So, are you going to keep staring or go over and talk to him?” Anders asked.

“Has anyone ever called you pushy?” John asked.

“They usually skip the small insults and go straight for bitch. Now go bag us a scientist before we both die of boredom being stuck in this mountain, or maybe you like lightswitch duty.” Her look dared him to say that. She knew he hated being ordered around in the labs as much as she hated being relegated to guard duty.

Resolve in place, John stood. “Wish me luck.”

“Good luck, sir. And do us both a favor—don’t try to charm him. Your charm comes off a little slimy, so go with honesty.”

For a second, John could only stare at her. Sometimes her honesty was a little too much. “Gee thanks. That does great things for my self-confidence,” John complained as he stood. He headed toward McKay’s table anyway. So no charm, all honesty. John could do that.

John sat across from McKay and gave the man his best smile. “Hey.”

McKay just ignored him. John waited to see if McKay was finishing some important equation that he couldn’t interrupt, but the silence just dragged on. John looked over at Anders and she made a “go on” gesture at him.

“So, um, you’re Rodney McKay. I’m John Sheppard. Major John Sheppard.” Well that didn’t sound awkward, not in the least. John might have gotten up and fled, but McKay finally turned to look at him.

“Yes, yes, say whatever you have to say and then leave me alone.”

That was pretty high on the rude scale, and part of John wanted to snap right back at this guy. But if he did that, he was going to die of old age before he’d get onto a gate team. He was nearly due for his promotion to lieutenant colonel, so he was too high in rank to easily fit in as a junior team member, but he didn’t have off-world experience, so he couldn’t be a gate lead. He needed McKay. Even if their team only got to visit uninhabited planets with dead tech, it would give John the off-world experience that he needed—that he and Anders both needed.

“I wanted to say thank you for helping to stop the world from blowing up. I didn’t like the idea of an overloading Gate in the middle of the mountain.”

Instead of reacting normally to a compliment, McKay seemed to get his hackles up. “Fine. You said it, now go away.” He turned back to his computer, and John was at an absolute loss as to what to say. He started to wonder if he wanted this guy for a team, but the thought of spending the next ten years as a lab rat wasn’t pleasant. Okay, so he just needed to go with honest. He could do this. He might sound insane, but he could do this.

“How would you like to work with Ancient technology?” John asked.

McKay snorted. “Like you have any.”

“Hey, I’m ATA positive. Next to O’Neill, I have the strongest expression of the gene.” Personally, John thought he had more control over Ancient tech than O’Neill, but it wasn’t nice to show up your commanding officers, particularly when you respected them.

The withering look McKay gave him was answer enough. But then he had to add, “That makes you a lightswitch. You can’t offer me anything that I couldn’t request through channels at Area 51.”

“I could offer you other planets,” John said. That finally got McKay’s attention.

“What?” He narrowed his eyes, and John could almost feel the bait get snapped up. Yep, McKay wanted this as bad as the rest of them.

John smiled. “You heard me. I want to put together a team, and since I’m the ATA lightswitch around here, my team would be focused on Ancient tech—outposts with pieces too large to bring back, identifying Ancient tech, visiting ancient buildings. Who knows what sort of things are laying around out there.”

McKay’s eyes narrowed. “We have very few sites with active Ancient technology.”

John pointed his finger at McKay. “Yes, and none of them have been properly explored by an expert in alien tech and a resident lightswitch. We’re talking about having a couple of weeks to poke around Ancient crystals.”

“And you’re telling me because…” McKay was a suspicious bastard.

“Right now, I’m one alien tech expert short, and you’re an alien tech expert, so I thought we might be able to help each other out.”

“You want me? On your team?” The disbelief was pretty strong and kinda sad. McKay was brilliant, but he was acting like he expected John to tell him about this and then tell him he couldn’t come along. There was hope in his face, but it was overshadowed by the doubt. After a few seconds, he started to shake his head. “My brain is too valuable to risk in the field. I’m of more use in my lab,” he said haughtily.

John wasn’t buying the act. “Come on, McKay. You’ll get to see the really cool toys, like the command panels on that PX-whatever world—the one with the ruins and the mist. It’s supposed to be a great place to sightsee.”

“Sightsee?” McKay’s voice rose.

John leaned forward. “McKay, I’m going insane. I’ve been stuck inside this mountain for seven months. I don’t get to go through the gate because I don’t have a team. I don’t have a team because I can’t find a scientist who has brains and common sense, and when I find someone with that rare combination, like Radek Zelenka, I get cursed out for even suggesting he might want to go through the gate. I’m offering you a chance to be the scientist on a purely scientific SGC team. Our whole purpose would be to provide you with cover and with a personal ATA lightswitch so you could explore alien tech and we could get out there and do something instead of sitting around waiting for some goa’uld to blow up our planet.” There. That was honest. That was more honest than John usually got.

McKay looked curious at least. That was better than the cold suspicion from earlier. “So, you just want to use me so you can get in the field?”

John cringed. “I didn’t mean to make it sound like that.” It was true, but John had wanted McKay to focus on the parts with all the pretty, pretty science stuff to explore.

“At least you’re honest,” McKay said. “And I want people with guns to make sure I’m safe. You don’t look like you can handle a weapon.”

“Hey!” John gave McKay an indignant look. “I am fully qualified with every weapon on this base.” Training was the only excuse for avoiding lightswitch duty, so John was passionate about it. However, the look McKay gave him made it clear that John did not live up to his standards.

“And who else is on this team?” He crossed his arms over his chest, and John could feel McKay’s worry overpower his interest. Damn it. Well, if he was that close to losing McKay anyway, he didn’t have much to lose. John signaled for Anders to come over. She nearly jumped out of her seat.

“Dr. Rodney McKay, this is Lieutenant Joan Anders,” John introduced them.

“And can you keep me alive?” McKay demanded.

Anders gave McKay a dangerous smile. “I am looking forward to killing the first son of a bitch you takes a shot at you. And if you want my sharpshooting scores, I’ll provide them. That way you can see statistical proof that I am not going to miss when I take that shot.”

That seemed to impress McKay. “Send me your file.” He looked at John. “I’ll consider it.”

John nodded. “Good. I think we could make a great team. The goa’uld are out there, and I’m ready to take the fight to them.”

McKay didn’t seem terribly impressed with that logic, but he did look interested. John would take that as a victory. “McKay,” he said with a nod, and then he got up.

McKay was already focused on his computer. He didn’t offer a word as Anders and John left. However, Anders was grinning like a loon. “We are so going to get out of this mountain,” she predicted as soon as they were safely away from McKay’s table.

“I hope so,” John said. McKay was interesting, and John did like interesting people.

Chapter Text

John watched Rodriguez verbally spar with Rodney. John and Anders had learned to enjoy Rodney’s viciousness, and his complaining had become white noise. As long as he was unhappy about the weather or the length of the walk or the food or the sunlight, that meant nothing serious was wrong with the world. When Rodney got quiet, that’s when you expected something to blow up.

John missed Davidson. He’d appreciated Rodney’s personality. Ever since he’d transferred out, they’d had trouble finding a fourth that really fit. Hopefully Rodriguez would be it. So far, he was giving Rodney as much shit as Rodney was giving him. The two were in the middle with John on point and Anders on rear.

John clicked his radio, and everyone fell silent as they approached the ruins. John understood the dangers, and he never let himself forget that they were on an alien planet, and he was responsible for protecting Rodney, and Rodriguez and Anders—although those two would tell him he was full of shit if he said he felt responsible for protecting them. They would probably point out that he was the lieutenant colonel and the one with the valuable DNA, so they would rather protect his ass.

The best way to avoid that fight was to stay sharp and pull out of any situation that seemed dangerous. This world had a few scattered tribes, but they weren’t in this area during summer—at least that’s what the anthropologists promised. John liked to double check.

He kept his weapon up as he cleared the first room of the temple. The stone walls were solid, but inside the crumbled walls of some internal structure worried John a little. Hopefully those weren’t support beams for the ceiling. He clicked his radio for Rodriguez’s pattern, and the captain moved silently into the room.

“Is the ceiling stable?” John asked. Rodriguez did his engineer thing quickly and efficiently.

“We’re clear,” he announced. When John poked his thumb toward the exterior door, Rodriguez moved into position and John moved into the inner room. He felt for any active technology, and the walls sluggishly responded, glowing dully. However, nothing gave him any warning twinges or threatened to blow up. That was always a plus.

“We’re clear,” John said into his radio. “Rodney, I have some juice in here, but not much. Work fast or we can set up generators.”

Rodney had moved silently since John gave the caution warning, but now he charged through sounding like a stampede. “Work fast,” he said derisively as he gave John a dirty look. “Do you have any idea how much effort it takes to get ten thousand year old computers to work?”

“Nope,” John said, smiling at his favorite scientist.

Rodney narrowed his eyes, but then he turned to his beloved technology. Rodriguez was grinning, so John really had hope they’d found their fourth. Now if he could just talk Radek into joining them on a permanent basis, they could have a five man team. Landry seemed to prefer the five to six person structure, but Radek twitched like a nervous cat every time he came through with them.

“Captain, you and the lieutenant cover the exterior. Make sure nothing is likely to fall down while we’re in here.” John had discovered they were generally in more danger from structural collapse than goa’uld.

“Yes, sir.” Rodriguez headed out, and John settled in next to Rodney.

Immediately, Rodney poked a finger in his direction. “Oh no. I am not here to amuse you because you’re bored. You wanted off world, so you are off world. Go be off world on the other side of the room.”

“But Roooodney,” John complained in a drawl.

“I will electrocute you,” Rodney warned.

At least he was issuing warnings. Last time John had gotten on his bad side, Rodney had sabotaged John’s music to play all Johnny Cash songs at quadruple speed. The man in black did not sound good as a chipmunk. John did love how beautifully vicious Rodney could be, but it was more fun when that attitude got turned loose on someone else.

John moved to the far side of the room and sank down to the floor, his weapon up where he could cover the door. But that was precaution. His team would warn him if anyone showed up.

Hours later, John was half dozing while Rodney happily muttered about broken and dirty crystals. The man did love to fix things. A slight rumble in the ground brought John to his feet. Before he could move toward Rodney or radio for a report, a set of rings rose up in the middle of the floor, trapping John against the wall. In seconds, a half dozen jaffa with Yu’s mark stood between John and Rodney, their staff weapons pointing at both of them.

John had his P 90 up and ready to fire, but half the jaffa had staff weapons pointed at Rodney. “John?” Rodney asked with deep fear in his voice.

One of the jaffa spoke. “Lower your weapons. You are prisoners of Lord Yu.”

John tightened his grip on his weapon, but he couldn’t see a way out of this. He couldn’t fire fast enough to keep them from firing back, and three of the jaffa kept their weapons trained on Rodney despite the fact he was unarmed. That meant that Rodney would die in the first volley.

“Now!” the jaffa leader said loudly.

“Right, I heard you the first time,” John drawled as he slowly unhooked his weapon and bent down to put it on the ground. He added his side arm and knife to the pile and stood with his hands up.

“Oh God. Oh God,” Rodney started to chant.

“Rodney, stay calm and breathe, buddy,” John said. However, the fact that jaffa grabbed them and shoved both of them into walls on the opposite side of the room wasn’t helping Rodney calm down. John had heard stories from other teams, and they implied that jaffa were stupid and careless, that is when they didn’t say it outright. But these guys searched John so carefully that he didn’t have a stick of gum left when they were done, and they might have done a prostate check somewhere along the way.

The jangle of chains warned John a half second before his hands were pulled up and fastened into shackles. Then a bar was put across his shoulders and a collar locked around his neck. The jaffa then locked John’s wrists to the far ends of the bar so his hands were spread wide. It was awkward and uncomfortable, and utterly effective at making John helpless.

He glanced over, and they had Rodney in a similar restraint system. John hoped that Rodriguez and Anders had gotten clear. They could at least tell the SGC which system lord had them.

“You don’t want to do this. I’m an important man. The SGC will come for me, and you guys don’t have great track records with them,” Rodney was babbling.

“McKay!” John snapped. The last thing he needed was the goa’uld taking too much interest in his geek. Rodney looked over, his eyes wide. “Let me handle this,” John said firmly. The jaffa behind John jabbed him with the staff weapon, and John headed for the door.

“But…” Rodney stopped, and John assumed that he had gotten prodded into motion. John focused on trying to navigate the rooms with his arms outstretched. It was harder than it looked. He stepped out into the sun, and his heart sank. Rodriguez and Anders were both chained and on their knees. Anders had a nasty bruise along one cheek and Rodriguez had a dazed look that suggested he’d taken a partial charge from a zat. So much for plan A. The jaffa herded John closer to his teammates, and when he reached Anders’ side, John sank to his knees without a protest. These guys were soldiers with orders. It wouldn’t help his case to argue.

Lord Yu had never targeted Earth. He had even helped them once or twice when it benefited them. Teal’c had been on his ha’tak, and the reports John read suggested that his first prime, Oshu, was as much in charge as Yu. Apparently goa’uld could age, and Yu was getting up there. This had possibilities.

Rodney didn’t kneel fast enough and one of the guards hit him in the back of the leg to he half fell. With his closer hand, John grabbed for Rodney to help get him upright, but he carefully didn’t make eye contact with any of the guards.

“Crap,” Anders whispered. “I hoped you’d get away.”

“We kinda hoped the same of you,” John said. “Rodney, are you okay?”

“Am I okay?” Rodney’s voice went up and a couple of the guards turned toward them. John bowed his head and looked at Rodney out of the side of his eye.

“Rodney, these guys are not kidding. They have orders so maybe you should avoid aggravating them.”

“We’re going to die.” The words came out so small, which sounded so very wrong. Nothing Rodney did was small.

“No, we aren’t,” John said firmly. “We’ve never had a major conflict with Lord Yu. It could be that he’s pissed we’re on his territory and we just need to apologize. It could also be that Lord Yu will ask Stargate Command for a ransom, but there’s no reason to think we’re in danger here.”

Rodney gave John one of his patented looks that suggested that John had suffered serious brain damage as a child. “Colonel, this is feeling like danger.”

“Yeah, but they didn’t do any serious damage to any of us. Let’s keep it that way by cooperating.” John didn’t add that they only needed to cooperate until he saw a chance to escape, but when he traded looks with Anders, he could see that she understood. They had to convince the jaffa they were a science team—harmless even. Then when they let their guard down, John could act. But for now he planned to play nice.

One of the jaffa stepped right up in front of John and thunked the end of his staff weapon into the ground. John had never understood why Teal’c insisted on carrying a staff, but now he got it. They were intimidating. “How many of you are there?” he demanded.

John kept his gaze on the ground. “Normally I wouldn’t tell you, but since there are four of us and you captured all four, it doesn’t seem like I’m losing that much to tell you as much.”

The jaffa signaled to his buddies and two of them went trotting off.

“Where are they going?” Rodney asked.

“McKay,” John growled, but that didn’t prevent the jaffa guard behind them from giving McKay a swift jab with the staff weapon.

Rodney seemed to curl up on himself, as much as he could with his arms outstretched on the bar like a scarecrow. John hunched over and spoke low. “They aren’t going to take our word. They’re checking the woods for any sign that someone else came through with us. You have to follow orders and answer questions, nothing else.”

Rodney looked at him with wide eyes, and the guilt nearly killed John. He’d promised Rodney a nice safe science team.

“You! Come!” The lead jaffa pointed to John. Struggling up to his feet awkwardly, John tried to model for Rodney how to be a cooperative prisoner. “Take him to our lord,” the jaffa ordered. John tried to turn toward his team, but the jaffa attached something to the back of the collar and shoved John forward. Since he had no other choice, John went without protest, and he prayed that Rodney could just keep his mouth shut and follow John’s lead.

Chapter Text

“This is another fine mess,” John complained as he looked around the cell. In two years, they’d never been captured. They’d had to hide out in the countryside—one time for so long that they’d resorted to local berries, catching fish, and tree fruit. Rodney had been convinced that one of them would kill him with their foraging skills, but they’d gotten through.

They’d found abandoned puddle jumpers, energy weapons, and two partially charged ZPMs. Rodney had disassembled and reassembled so much Ancient tech that he could do it in his sleep, and if the IOC ever pulled their collective heads out of their asses and authorized Daniel Jackson’s south pole expedition to search for the lost city of Atlantis’ coordinates, John just knew that his team would get the mission to explore the new outpost. They were good together—him, Rodney, and now that they’d been captured together, John could say that Rodriguez was fitting right in.

“I thought the planet was supposed to be empty,” Rodney complained for about the twelfth time. John could feel the shame of having failed his scientist, and that made him want to verbally strike out. He had to tamp down that urge because one wrong word, and Rodney was going to go into a full panic.

“Hey, you aren’t a real SGC team until you’ve been captured, so this is just like an initiation,” Lieutenant Anders suggested with a smile. Rodney turned such a withering glare her way that she retreated. When Anders went into retreat, that was some serious glaring.

John gave her a smile for trying. “Rodney, we’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, we’ll get home,” Rodriguez said with supreme confidence.

Rodney whirled around. “You are an idiot. Do you know the mortality rates of the SGC teams? Do you? Your odds of dying are higher than an asthmatic 75 year old with a heart condition. Don’t tell me that we’re going to be okay because statistically, we have a 43 percent chance of dying or at the very least, never showing up again. We can’t actually say those missing teams are dead, but they’re not home.”

“SG1 gets captured all the time,” John pointed out.

“Oh, right. And is that supposed to make me feel better?” Rodney demanded. “If you take SG1 out of the statistics, our chance of disappearing forever goes up to 61 percent, because the only team that seems to get out of prison on a regular basis is SG1, and you’re no Jack O’Neill.”

“O’Neill isn’t SG1 anymore, so someone has to pick up the slack on the getting captured and escaping front or our statistics are going to go downhill,” John said. He had hoped Rodney would see some humor in that. Instead, Rodney looked so horrified that he was apoplectic. Great.

John looked over at Anders and Rodriguez, but neither of them seemed to have any answers. John walked to the bars and leaned on them. The fact was they weren’t getting out of this unless something changed. Yu’s jaffa took paranoia to the extreme. Luckily, they lacked any interest in roughing up the prisoners.

The guard at the end of the corridor straightened up, and John signaled that someone was coming.

“Right. And exactly what does it help to know that?” Rodney asked. John remembered on O’Neill had nearly spewed his Fruit Loops when John had come to him with the plan to take Rodney out on missions. O’Neill had opened questioned John’s judgment, his taste in team mates, his sanity, and his masochism. Up until now, John had thought O’Neill was being unfair. In this exact moment, John was starting to reconsider Rodney’s ability to handle stress in a combat situation.

John ignored the outburst.

The guards were led by a jaffa with the gold mark of a first prime. So this was Oshu. Fear made John want to make one or two unkind comments about the man’s fashion sense, but he needed to play this smart and bide his time.

Oshu studied all four of them, and John held his breath and prayed that McKay’s speech about being important hadn’t caught anyone’s attention.

“Which of you has the blood of the gatebuilders in him?” Oshu demanded, and John felt almost giddy with relief that it was him they were after.

The others were silent, but John said, “We call it the ATA gene, and that would be me.”

“Sir!” Anders hissed.

John shrugged. “A blood test would have told them anyway. Don’t make things unnecessarily confrontational.” Then he gave her and Rodriguez a look before glancing toward the guards. Hopefully they caught his meaning. Play nice until any counterattack had a chance of working.

“The others will move to the back of the cell and face the wall. You will step to the bars and put your hands behind your back.”

John hesitated for the second it took him to get his fear under control. None of the SGC stories had ever included security this good.

“Yeah, sure. Why not?” John turned his back to Oshu and watched his team. They were slower to move into place, but eventually Anders got a hand under Rodney’s arm and pulled him to the back. Rodney was about two seconds away from a full meltdown.

“What are the odds I could speak to Lord Yu, maybe apologize for trespassing?” John asked. Maybe some sort of plan would help Rodney calm down.

“I am taking you to him now,” Oshu said as he locked restraints around John’s wrists. Only then did he unlock the door and pull John out.

“I’ll be back soon,” John said to the others. He gave Anders a nod. Rodriguez had rank, but she had more experience and she understood Rodney. She’d guide the captain around to the right way of thinking if he got his head up his ass. Oshu walked in front with two guards escorting John. He’d be complimented at the implication he was still a threat with his hands chained behind his back, but he was busy thinking of how screwed they were.

They reached the throne room, although John was a little disappointed. Yes, the place was done in red and gold, but Yu sat on a pillow in front of a table no higher than a coffee table drinking tea. The whole table was on a dais and tapestries were hung behind him, but it came off less godlike than John had expected for his first goa’uld meeting. Oshu bowed and the guards stopped John. The one gave him a slight push, so he was already sliding to his knees before the more aggressive guard kicked the back of his knee.

“My lord, here is the one who activated the Gatebuilders temple at Kunlun.”

“In our defense, we didn’t know it was yours. We’d be happy to apologize and go home,” John said hopefully.

Lord Yu slowly turned his gaze toward John.

“Sir,” John added. That was not a happy expression. Yu stood and pulled his robes around him before coming down the stairs to the main floor.

“Leave us.”

Oshu went stiff. “My lord,” he protested.

Yu raised his ribbon device, and Oshu backed away bowing. “Yes, my lord.” He paused long enough to give John a glare that was hard to mistake. If John did one thing against Yu, Oshu was going to skin him alive. Maybe Yu was even weaker than the SGC suspected because under normal circumstances, John wasn’t much of a threat against an armed system lord. The guard marched out, and now John turned his attention back to Lord Yu.

He looked down at John for a second before he turned and headed back to his tea, leaving John on his knees. Figuring that this might be a while, John squirmed around to ease the pressure on his kneecaps and then settled his ass on his heels.

“You seek weapons.”

“To fight the Ori, yes,” John agreed.

Yu grunted. Maybe he knew the tau’ri had brought the Ori down on them by poking around in the Ori galaxy. Some people tried to lay that at Daniel Jackson’s feet, but John figured if Earth wasn’t always trying to explore something new, that woman wouldn’t have brought Daniel the device in the first place. But she had. She brought it, Daniel had activated it, and now the Ori knew there was a whole new galaxy ready for conquest.

“If the Ori win, you’ll lose as much as we will,” John said, appealing to Yu’s sense of self preservation. He was about the only system lord to come through the Anubis affair with this empire intact.

Yu put down his cup. “I will lose nothing.”

“They’re not going to let you keep your planets and people.” John stopped. His tone was definitely getting disrespectful. He needed to watch that.

“Death will solve that problem for me,” Lord Yu said.

John narrowed his eyes as he studied the system lord. Maybe this was some mysterious Chinese saying.

Yu took another sip of his tea. “What do you hope to gain from the gatebuilders outposts?”

“Weapons. Knowledge.”

Yu nodded. “What would you sacrifice for access to more weapons and more knowledge?”

John could feel the danger swirl around him. He didn’t like to talk of sacrifice, but he knew he would give his own life for the mission. No question. He had a lot of people he cared for on Earth, and he had people he didn’t like but he wanted to protect, like his brother. His life was a small piece compared to the stakes the Ori were playing with.

Lord Yu looked up at him, and John realized the goa’uld expected an answer.

“I can’t answer for my commanders, and I owe my loyalty to them.”

Yu nodded. “A proper answer. Follow me.” He stood and headed toward the back of his platform. He pushed a tapestry aside and looked at John. John got on his feet and headed up the stairs feeling a little like a man walking to his own execution. He walked into the corridor ahead of Yu, going where Yu directed.

Again, John was a little disappointed. This palace felt more like a wealthy man’s overdecorated house than a megalomaniacal parasite masquerading as a god. Yu sent him through a perfectly round arch into a large room with windows that overlooked the valley. When Yu walked past him to a desk, John wondered if he was supposed to kneel, but there weren’t any guards to hit him, so he didn’t bother. Yu wasn’t paying him much attention as he worked the computer, typing slowly and pausing several times before he opened an image.

“Come and look,” Yu ordered. He stood and moved away from the desk. Even with all his suspicions, John was curious. He inched closer and looked at an image of a storehouse of some sort. He moved even nearer to the screen and then sat down so he could put his nose right up to the screen. “Are those Ancient weapons?”

“Some,” Yu said. “Some are communication devises, toys, amusements, musical instruments, scientific equipment, transportation equipment. The others dismiss any technology they cannot immediately adapt for their own use. Most of the Ancient equipment has ended up in my warehouses.”

John turned to look at Lord Yu. “Are you researching it?”

“I was, a few hundred years ago,” Lord Yu said. “I am no longer able to perform such difficult mental tasks. I am aging,” he said with a lot more honesty than John had expected. “Now it sits in warehouses like that one.”

John frowned. “The SGC would offer a lot in trade for access to that, and if we defeat the Ori, you already know that we are not going to start a war with you.” Landry might want to, but John was fairly sure the IOC didn’t want any more wars. John could just imagine Rodney’s face if he got to play with entire warehouses of Ancient equipment. It would mean John would be stuck on Earth playing lab rat again, but it would be worth it.

“I want only one thing in trade.”

“Okay,” John said. “Tell me what you want, and my team will take your request back to Earth.” This might turn out pretty well.

“I want a host,” Yu said.

John’s stomach curled into a little knot when he saw the avarice in Yu’s expression as he stared at John. “You can’t mean me.”

“Hosts with the blood of the ancestors are highly prized.”

John had to take a few breaths as the horror washed through him. To live for centuries and see your hands torture and kill—it was the worst nightmare of almost everyone who worked at the SGC. “You have a lot of men around here who would love to play host.”

Lord Yu came closer, and John’s skin crawled as Yu raised the hand with the ribbon device. Instead of torturing John, he ran his hand along John’s cheek. John clenched his fists and tried to push down the nausea that rose. “I am no longer strong—I need a host strong enough to stand against the other system lords when I suffer my weakness. My servants have been raised to defer to their betters. I need one with enough fire to stand against Ba’al.”

John’s vision seemed to gray out from fear. His throat was so dry that it hurt, and he struggled to find any words. “Not to encourage you or anything, but I didn’t think you needed to ask permission.”

“When I was young, I would not have needed permission, but even then I never took a host who did not yield.”

“Then I’m going to have to decline the offer, no matter how complimented I am,” John said. He tried to get that flippant, sarcastic tone just right, but he sounded more pathetic than cool.

Lord Yu reached over and turned the computer off. “Then you will receive none of the payment. Your life and the lives of your team are mine, as are all the treasures I’ve collected over millennia.”

Helpless fury washed through John. “That doesn’t make sense. You said you aren’t researching the technology, and that could help Earth defeat the Ori.”

Lord Yu backed away. “If I am to die, what difference does it make who inherits my empire? I have a motive to stop the Ori only if I can expect to live long enough to fight them at my borders. Accept my offer, John Sheppard, and you will save your team and lead my forces against the other system lords and the Ori.”

“Actually I think I’d be locked in my mind while you do all that.”

Lord Yu shook his head. “You already know the truth. I know Teal’c has carried tales of my infirmity. Even now Oshu must make decisions when I am too weak to lead my armies because my host is old enough that he cannot speak for me when I am unable to.”

“So, you’re body sharing instead of taking over?” That was unexpected. “Yeah, I’m still not really interested. I don’t even handle roommates well. Rodney lived with me for one week while he was looking for an apartment, and I thought we were going to kill each other, and I like him. I don’t actually like you.”

“Then you will suffer the price of that denial,” Lord Yu said. He raised his hand and two jaffa stepped out from one of the side rooms. John took a deep breath and prepared for the searing pain of the staff blast to end his life. Compared to being forced to host, death was a mercy. However, the blasts didn’t come. Lord Yu turned on the computer and changed to internal cameras. Suddenly John could see the cell with his team. A dozen jaffa stood outside the cell, staff weapons pointed into it. Rodriguez and Anders were standing in front of Rodney, both looking defiant as they faced death. All John could see of Rodney was one hand wrapped around Anders’ belt as he held on to her.

“No,” John said. This hurt so much worse than dying. “Don’t do this.”

“I will not have my weakness known outside this palace.”

John turned to Yu. “They don’t know. They don’t know any of it. Send them back to fight the Ori if you won’t.”

Yu looked at him coldly. On the screen, the jaffa fired, and John gasped as he watched the flesh burnt away as multiple blasts hit Anders and Rodriguez. All three of them collapsed in a pile, but John could see Rodney weakly moving. The others had shielded him just enough to prolong his pain.

John shot out of the chair. “I’ll do it. Heal them, heal all three of them and send them home, and you can have me as host.” He turned to Lord Yu. “Please.”

Lord Yu smiled, and the men on screen lowered their weapons. One brought out a zat and fired it at Rodney, and he went still before the jaffa opened the cell door and went in to retrieve them.

“They will be healed, and you will be prepared for the ceremony.”

John didn’t comment as a group of servants hurried into the room. They pulled John out of the room. He was going to be prepared for a new prison cell, and this would be one cell he would never escape. Closing his eyes, John went where they ordered him and didn’t even try to fight, not even when the guards unlocked his wrists and the servants stripped him and bathed him. All Yu needed to do was interrupt the sarcophagus’ healing cycle and his team would die. If someone had to make a sacrifice, it was a matter of simple math—it was better for John to give up his one life than for his team to lose all of theirs.

Chapter Text

John lay stomach down on the platform. He twitched as the knife cut through the back of his neck, but honestly the knife was so sharp that it didn’t hurt much. It would later, but John figured that was Yu’s problem.

“My lord,” Oshu said reverently.

“If this fails, kill the host and release his friends to the tau’ri,” Yu ordered.

“Yes, my lord.”

John closed his eyes. Either way, his people would be free. However, he hoped it failed. He hoped the damn worm died writhing in pain and that Oshu shot John. Hands pinned his shoulders down to the platform, and John took his last few free breaths. After this, he would never be free again. There was a sharp pain at the base of his neck where the servant had cut the skin, and then John gasped as images flooded into his brain.

He remembered Earth, fresh and green rolling under the ship as he flew over it. He remembered battling on horseback, reveling in the strategy of two sides meeting head to head. He saw space, and a beautiful woman with almond eyes. He heard the screams of children and watched Ra prance around in gold, the god king who always chose the bodies of young children.

He saw Lord Yu, but it wasn’t him. This man wasn’t a goa’uld. The human warrior led his forces against Lord Yu, swinging a blade and cutting through jaffa until he fell to a zat blast. He had been defeated, and in defeat his life belonged to his captor. He too would have died if he could have chosen. Given a blade, he would have ended his own life due to his failure. But instead he knelt as Lord Yu claimed him as host. Information screamed through John’s head, leaving in its wake a blinding pain and flashes of a long, long life John never lived.

And then came the confusion, the shame, the realization that he was dying, only it wasn’t John dying—it was Yu. His eternal life was suddenly less than eternal, and he realized he had to change if he wanted to save his legacy. But those lucid moments came less and less often. Each time he went into the sarcophagus, he earned an hour or two of lucidity, but his host was more and more damaged. So now when Yu could no longer hold the host, the host was bewildered, issuing orders randomly.

John felt all this in a heartbeat, and his head pounded with the force of it all. Four thousand years of life were now crammed between his ears. But John still felt like John. He understood Yu’s frustration, but he still hated the damn snake for what he’d done to John’s team. John focused on Yu’s memory and tried to sort through his thoughts well enough to see whether or not Yu had really had the team revived. He thought Yu had kept his word, but John was having trouble understanding even a fraction of the information that had just landed in his head.

“My lord?” Oshu asked, and John waited for Yu to take over and use John’s voice. He didn’t. If moving hosts had weakened Yu, John had a very limited amount of time to work here.

“It worked,” John said, his voice a rough whisper that he hoped would cover for the lack of reverberation. “Release the prisoners.”

There was a long silence. John turned his head to find Oshu sitting at his side. “I am aware of the difference between you and my lord. You would not be wise to try that on me again.”

John pushed himself up on one elbow and reached back to touch the bleeding cut. His fingers came away red, and a servant rushed to wipe them clean while another tended his neck. Since bluffing didn’t work, John went with honesty. “So, what now?”

“We wait to see if Lord Yu has survived the transfer.”

So John still had his neck on the chopping block. Great. “You gave your word that my team would go free either way.”

“They will, but if Lord Yu awakens, he will give that order. Have you received any of his memories?”

John narrowed his eyes. “Some. It seems like the thousand year old memories are a lot clearer than anything recent.”

Oshu nodded. “His host’s failing faculties limited our lord. Hopefully you will help remedy that.”

John looked around, but the servants had already removed the body of the last host, a man who had fought with a sword on horseback. For thousands of years he’d been locked inside his own head by his greatest enemy. John had a lot of sympathy for the warrior. “Yeah, I’m still not fond of having a snake in my head.”

“You are free to say that in this palace. Everyone here understands the nature of our Lord and his difficulties with his host. They are also aware that you are not our Lord. If you attempt to leave the palace, you will be placed in a sarcophagus to weaken your mind and give our Lord better control. If you act in our Lord’s best interests and in ways he approves when he is strong enough to exert himself, and you will be honored just as our Lord is.”

John shivered. So he had to play system lord when the real system lord was napping. This just got better and better.

“Anyone who discovers the nature of Lord Yu’s disability is banned from leaving this palace ever again.”

“Believe me,” John said, “this kind of secret gets out. Someone tells a wife, and the wife has to tell her mother, and from there, it’s pretty much town gossip. I was married for a very short period, so trust me when I say that’s just not going to stay secret for long.”

Oshu stared at John for a time, frowning.

“What?”

“Do you not understand the service of these men?”

“What do you mean?” John asked, but even as he asked, he found the memory floating up through the sea of images. These men gave up their lives once they entered the palace. Each knelt as a physician placed a metal tube in their lower back. If they went past the public throne room, the vial would release a poison to kill them. They all carried the scar of this surgery with pride because they had made the ultimate sacrifice for their Lord. Many had avoided ever taking a wife or having children because they hoped it would improve their chance of being chosen for the honor. They proved they could set all else aside in favor of serving Yu. Others kissed their wives and children and walked away knowing that they would never see them again.

“That’s messed up,” John said.

“They are proud to serve our Lord,” Oshu disagreed. “Since you clearly have shared thoughts with our Lord, I have hope he will recover, so we must review tactical information so you are ready to handle any situation if Lord Yu is not available.”

“Tactical information?” This was the strangest prisoner of war situation ever, even stranger than getting taken over by a goa’uld. Others had suffered that, even Carter—although hers had turned out to be a sorta good guy. John was on O’Neill’s side when it came to the Tok’ra. They were creepy. But John had no idea how he was supposed to handle being the stand in for a system lord.

“John, this way, please,” Oshu said. He was polite, but his hand tightened around his zat. John might be carrying Oshu’s lord, but he was still a prisoner. He stood and followed Oshu, aware of the guards at his back, even as Yu’s servants rushed to arrange John’s robes and generally treat him like a system lord. He was going to need a team of psychiatrists to deal with how messed up this was going to be.

“We have some information on the goa’uld who have infiltrated Earth, but very little. The information we have makes sending any Gatebuilder technology to Earth problematic as long as this group has power.”

“The Trust,” John filled in. They had nearly caused the US and Russia to go to war, but O’Neill had cut that off in time. “The SGC hasn’t been infiltrated, so it’s safe to send tech there.”

“And do they keep all this technology inside their fortress or share it with others?” Oshu asked. “Even if you lie to me, our Lord will know when he awakens. Please keep that in mind as you decide how to handle this situation.”

John clenched his teeth. He didn’t need reminding that even his thoughts were not his own anymore. However, his objectives hadn’t changed. He needed to cooperate until he could strike back at the enemy. John just had to face the fact that he might have trouble forming a plan to strike back at Yu when the snake could pick the thoughts out of John’s head. For now he decided to focus on attacking the Ori. “Area 51 is the research facility, and I know it has been compromised at least once.” And if he woke up, Lord Yu would know his suspicions that it had been infiltrated a lot more than that. Rodney had been consistently rated low on his ability to get devices to work, but in the field, he was a genius. John suspected someone was taking devices that Rodney got to work and siphoning them out of the program by reporting them unfixable.

He’d told O’Neill as much.

“However, we are the best option to find weapons that would defeat the Ori. I do believe we’re the ones who ended up destroying Anubis.” John smiled at that, but his grin quickly faded when he realized that Lord Yu would know Rodney’s value the second he woke. If John had any idea how to hide the information, he would, but keeping intel away from the snake that had moved into your head was not one of his training classes. Given he worked for the SGC, maybe it should have been.

“You would have been destroyed by Anubis before finding that weapon if it weren’t for the jaffa and Lord Yu’s good graces,” Oshu said. “We have a number of reports of information on the Ori. They have advance scouts to these planets.” Oshu turned to the computer on Lord Yu’s desk and turned it on. “We need to review the current state of all treaties with other system lords as well as tactical placement of our troops. Second priority would be assessment of planetary weaknesses. Our Lord has not visited some planets in several generations, and they may be more susceptible to corruption by these Ori.”

“You expect me to know all this tactical data?” John looked at the computer as Oshu showed him different menus. “You do know I kinda hate your boss, right?” John still sat down at the computer and started to flip through information. O’Neill would kill for some of this stuff.

“You will serve him and help preserve his empire or you will be damaged to the point that Lord Yu has exclusive control of your faculties, and if that happens, you will live with knowing that you have delivered millions of souls to the Ori because you failed to protect them.”

“Wait. Millions? I thought the goa’uld kept strict population controls, usually by killing the extra people.” Most planets in the Milky Way never advanced into industrialization for that very reason. Without enough people to do the world of feeding people, there was very little time for art or developing new technologies.

“Lord Yu has never embraced the policies of other goa’uld; however, most major cities are located far from the chapa’ai to prevent the others from learning of this. Lord Yu’s worlds will prove the most valuable to these Ori as soon as they discover this secret.”

“And they will have millions more fanatics to send at us. Great.” John rubbed his face. “This day just keeps getting better.”

“There is one more thing I would have you tell Lord Yu when he awakes. Lord Ba’al has come to me suggesting that I should serve him. I have told Ba’al that I will never act in ways that would displease my Lord. However, in the field of battle, I have taken instruction from him when Lord Yu has been unavailable.”

John turned in his chair and looked at Oshu. “You know that means Ba’al thinks he owns you, right?”

“I do,” Oshu agreed. “Lord Yu may use that to his advantage or he may choose to kill me for my betrayal. I accept that I am his to do with as he pleases. The same is true of you John Sheppard, but until he awakes, I suggest you acquaint yourself with as much information as possible. Lord Yu will need your help and your memory to get through this difficult time.”

“And if he doesn’t wake up, you’ll kill me so it doesn’t matter what I know,” John finished for him.

Oshu lowered his head in a half bow. “Very true, John Sheppard. The servants will remain to serve you. Please understand that if you attempt to leave this room, the guard will render you unconscious and place you in the sarcophagus.”

“Right, cooperate or lobotomy. Got it,” John said unhappily. This capture was not going according to his plans at all. “Is my team okay?”

“They are all healed. They have theorized that you gave in to some request in order to earn their lives.”

John turned back to the computer. “Yeah, well they can keep on wondering.” If Anders found out he had a goa’uld in his head, she would blame herself forever. Better to let her think that John had broken and given Lord Yu information. Landry wasn’t a big fan of John or Rodney, so he’d be happy to assume the worst. John could keep dwelling on all the ways his life sucked or he could focus on the information in front of him. If, by some wild chance, he escaped, this would be invaluable information.

After a few minutes, Oshu walked away, leaving John with Yu’s servants and guards, and a snake in his head. John poked the computer and sighed. He could read goa’uld, but he could already feel the headache forming.

“Someone find me paper and a pen,” he said. A servant hurried away.

“Would you care for tea, my lord?” another servant asked.

“No, but if someone can find a beer, I think I need one,” he said. The servant bowed low and rushed out of the room. John settled in with his chin on his hand and started reading.

Chapter Text

John was taking notes on Ba’al’s treaty obligations with Selkhet when a stray emotion interrupted his reading. Anger. Unfairness. Arrogance. John stood so fast that his chair slid backward and all the servants looked at him.

John turned around, but in his heart, he already knew where the feelings were coming from.

One of the guards stepped forward. “My Lord? Do you have orders?”

“Get Oshu,” Lord Yu said in a reverberating voice, and John realized he had no control over his body.

The jaffa bowed deeply. “Yes, my Lord.” He turned and headed out of the sleeping chamber, but John found himself riding along as Lord Yu headed for his audience room.

“Prepare my tea,” he ordered a servant. The unpleasant aftertaste of the beer bothered him.

‘Hey, that was good beer,’ John objected.

‘Beer is the drink of commoners. You are not a commoner,’ Yu said, but the words were not audible as much as they simply formed in John’s head. And then suddenly John was dragged along as Lord Yu rummaged through all John’s memories of the SGC. He quickly dismissed John’s work in the labs as a lightswitch, but the moment he found the day that John had watched Rodney save the world and had then asked him to join a gate team, Lord Yu slowed and explored each minute of the interaction and all the team’s work since then. ‘Dr. McKay is the best person to examine the artifacts.’

John groaned as Lord Yu focused in on the one person John had hoped to hide.

‘You cannot hide anything from me, just as I cannot hide from you. We share thoughts, which is why so many of the goa’uld choose hosts with weak minds. The young are much less likely to bother us with their opinions.’ Lord Yu also sent a general sense of amusement at John’s strong opinion that Yu should drop dead.

Yu was nearly to the first room where John had seen him when Oshu came hurrying down the corridor. “My Lord. How may I serve you?”

Lord Yu stopped. John could feel such strong emotions. Oshu was the perfect replica of the son Yu had fathered with a human woman—the woman with almond eyes who smiled in John’s memory. She was brilliant and difficult and beautiful and loyal and all things Yu found perfect in humanity, and her son had carried so many of those same traits. Oshu was the last bit of that beloved son left, the last in a line of clones. But he had turned to Ba’al for leadership. Yu felt both the furious anger of having been betrayed and the shame of having driven his Oshu to such an act.

Oshu stood with his head bowed.

“What punishment would you recommend?” Lord Yu asked. John pushed with everything he could toward mercy. Oshu had been trying this whole time to protect Yu.

“Death, my Lord,” Oshu said without hesitation.

‘That’s not helping matters,’ John complained, but only Lord Yu could hear him.

Lord Yu spoke to John, and John had the feeling that he was supposed to be grateful that his captor graced him with conversation. ‘He failed to uphold his lord before all others.’

‘Actually, I think he was trying to hold you up.’ John didn’t form the actual thought, but he did know in his heart that if Yu was cruel enough to kill someone who loved him as much as Oshu loved him, that John would do everything he could to destroy Yu.

Lord Yu had a moment of amusement at John’s temerity, but John pointed out that Yu was weak and he had to get along more than he had with his last host.

‘You gave yourself to me,’ Lord Yu said, clearly considering John’s threat a form of going back on his word, and his thoughts immediately turned to John’s team.

‘And you have me. That’s the deal. But if you want me to help you hold your empire together, if you expect me to actually work for you, I have to know that you are someone worth working for,’ John pointed out. He expected Lord Yu to dismiss his concerns, but his thoughts went quiet as he considered John’s words.

Lord Yu finally spoke Oshu’s sentence. “You will report to discipline for 45 lashes,” Lord Yu said.

Oshu fell to his knees and put his forehead to the ground. “Your mercy is endless, my Lord.”

Lord Yu turned away, and that meant that John choice but to look where Yu was walking. “Bring the prisoners,” Yu ordered as he stepped out from behind the tapestry and took a seat at his tea table.

‘No. No, you can’t do this. Absolutely not,’ John cried out silently, but Lord Yu ignored him. Slowly John became aware of Yu pushing certain facts and conclusions toward him. If the other three returned, they would argue to retrieve John. The tok’ra likely had operatives inside Lord Yu’s kingdom, and they would carry stories of Yu’s new host. And the first time Yu used the Gatekeeper’s technology using John’s ATA gene, spies would carry word to the other system lords, and the tok’ra. There was no way to keep the secret.

John settled down as he realized that Lord Yu was right about all of it, but he didn’t like it. This would kill Anders, and John was fairly sure it would kill Rodney. He played at keeping his distance emotionally, but in two years, they had shared some moments. John would miss making fun of bad science fiction with him. Every time Rodney lost a bet, John made him watch Back to the Future. The movie wasn’t half as entertaining as Rodney’s rants. And he loved racing cars, even if Rodney always cheated by souping up his car. John would never forget the day O’Neill had caught them in one of the back corridors. John had expected a formal reprimand. Instead O’Neill had confiscated one of Rodney’s backups and made it a three way race.

But that wasn’t his life anymore. John really hated the triumphant glee he felt from Yu. ‘Fine, you’ve won,’ John complained, but given that he was locked inside his own head until Yu fell asleep again, there wasn’t much else he could do.

Yu drank his tea, and John amused himself by blasting Yu with thoughts of how horrible it tasted. John could tell that he was starting to annoy Yu, but then the guards escorted John’s team into the room. All three had their arms chained to long bars across the shoulder just like John had been wearing when the jaffa first brought him to this planet.

“Sheppard,” Anders whispered, horror in her voice. “Oh Christ. That’s what he wanted.”

“Why did you do that to Sheppard?” Rodney demanded, but then the guards forced them to their knees. John silently pleaded with Yu. He didn’t actually make any promises, but he did stop complaining about Yu’s beloved tea.

“You bastard,” Anders snarled. John was afraid to do anything for fear that Yu would retaliate against his team.

“You trespassed on my planet. Our treaty does not protect you when you are within my territory,” Lord Yu announced. Anders and Rodriguez had gone stone faced, but Rodney kept looking at John like he couldn’t understand what had happened. “However, by taking this host, I have learned a number of interesting facts,” Lord Yu said. “Your people seek to fight the Ori, so as with Anubis, we may have a common enemy.”

Anders spoke up. “Give Sheppard back and we might be able to talk about working together on that.”

“Sheppard is mine. He surrendered himself in return for the use of the sarcophagus for you three.”

“Sheppard, you’re an idiot,” Rodney snapped, which from Rodney was a sort of declaration of love. “You have a masochistic streak that a professional hooker would envy.”

Rodriguez gave Rodney an odd look.

“Dr. McKay,” Lord Yu said, and now he turned all his attention to Rodney. “My host feels you are the most qualified expert on Earth when it comes to the gatebuilders and their technology.”

“He does?” Rodney sounded surprised, but he quickly shifted into arrogance. “Of course I am, not that everyone understands my greatness.”

“McKay,” Anders warned, her voice low and dangerous.

Lord Yu smiled and put his tea cup down. “Lieutenant, I assure you that nothing Dr. McKay says will change your situation. Colonel Sheppard has already paid for your lives.”

John mentally cringed. All three of them would be in therapy after that. Lord Yu was really a dick of the first degree.

“From me, Colonel Sheppard learned that I have entire warehouses of Gatekeeper technology.”

Oh no. No, no, no, and more no. John furiously sent mental waves to Rodney, ordering him to stay away from the bait Yu dangled in front of his face. John mentally begged him to just shut up.

“You have Ancient equipment?” Rodney asked with that greedy tone he got when someone else had toys he wanted. He definitely hadn’t been hugged enough as a kid. John silently sighed as Rodney did exactly what he shouldn’t do.

Lord Yu smiled at him. “Release the scholar,” he ordered the jaffa. One stepped up with the key and unshackled Rodney. Anders tried to stand, but the guard shoved her back to the floor. “Perhaps it is time to discuss new alliances. I will have my guard prepare a ship to take us to one of my laboratories.”

“Rodney, no!” Anders said. Lord Yu stood.

“Dr. McKay will have time to make choices later. Right now he will come with me.” Yu turned and headed back to his rooms, but John could hear the servants rush to fulfill Yu’s commands. Yu wished Oshu was the one coordinating the travel plans. The others inevitably forgot some comfort that Yu enjoyed.

‘And you nearly killed him,’ John pointed out.

Yu ignored him. John had a feeling he was going to be ignored a lot.

Chapter Text

John was slightly seasick by the time Lord Yu reached the oversized tel’tak. When he’d been a kid, he’d gotten ill on his father’s boat, but once John grew up, he figured out that he just needed to drive. As long as he was in control and new what maneuvers to expect, he never fell off-balance. But now he was forced to ride along in his own body, and he really wanted to throw up.

“Where are we going?” Rodney asked, and he finally had the proper fear in his voice. John couldn’t protect him—not now.

“Learn to ask fewer questions and your life will be more pleasant, Dr. McKay,” Lord Yu advised.

“See, that's not going to happen. You took over Sheppard's brain, so you know that I'm not good at not asking questions. Questions are what I do,” Rodney said, and for that moment, his normal arrogance overrode what little common sense and proper fear he had.

Lord Yu turned and looked at Rodney. “Do fewer then. And do them in a more respectful tone.”

John could feel the emotional panic, but the adrenaline he counted on to allow him to pull off the impossible on a regular basis simply wasn't there. It wasn't his body anymore, and it didn't react to him or his needs. 'Rodney doesn't know how to stay on someone's good side. Send him home,' John asked, and he did his best to stay respectful. The vague sense of amusement he got back from Lord Yu was not reassuring.

"Your Sheppard would have you returned to Earth."

The pain that flashed across Rodney’s face nearly broke John’s heart. But then Rodney lifted his chin and put on his most stubborn look. "I would hope so. He's supposed to be my security, and I questioned having a pilot be the head of a reconnaissance team, but O'Neill is a pilot, and up until now, I had good evidence that Air Force pilots are fairly good at missions that do not involve airplanes."

John got taken as a host and he got his credentials as a team leader questioned. Great. He was having a red letter day. If his father showed up to throw a few insults around, he could call the day perfect.

"Now, why are we getting on a ship." Rodney asked. His chin was still up, but he crossed his hands over his chest defensively.

"You are getting on because I command it.” Lord Yu gestured to a jaffa.

The guard shoved a staff weapon into Rodney’s back. Rodney went where the guards directed him. John would have been proud of him for controlling his mouth, only it was hard to feel anything but horror for this whole situation.

"Very good point," Rodney said after they were all inside. John hated all the insecure twitches that had reappeared. This was the Rodney John had first known--defensive and angry and so damn prickly, and John feared that if Rodney stuck the wrong barb into Lord Yu, bad things were going to happen.

'I have seen such temperaments before,' Lord Yu silently assured John. 'I value his intelligence, and I would not have it destroyed under the weight of fear.' Lord Yu settled onto a throne where he could oversee the jaffa controlling the small ship. Rodney was shoved to the ground near Lord Yu's feet.

'Then send him home.' John begged. He might have lost his own body, but he had to save his team. That was all he could hope for at this point.

'Should he not have a chance to decide that for himself?' Aloud he said, "I have many resources which could aid the tau'ri in their battle against the Ori."

John had no idea if that comment was for him or for Rodney. John could feel himself saying the words, but he couldn't feel the emotion or intent behind them. Unfortunately, Yu seemed able to sort through John's thoughts with ease.

"So, you're going to give us stuff?" Rodney asked without hiding his suspicion. He squirmed around to get more comfortable on the floor.

"I am going to offer a trade."

Rodney’s gaze snapped up to Lord Yu’s face. "Is there any chance we could get Sheppard back?"

Rodney's concern warmed John, but he was fairly sure that ship had sailed. Lord Yu chuckled. "None."

Rodney flinched.

"But,” Lord Yu continued, “you might gain access to the Gatebuilder technology I have gathered over the last millennia."

John expected Rodney to jump at that, but he curled his hands around his knees and pulled them close to his chest.

‘He’s frightened,’ John pointed out. He longed to offer some reassurance, but he could feel himself pushed back to where his senses dimmed and the world existed only as a two-dimensional image view through gauze. Everything was muffled, including his seasickness which was a minor comfort.

‘You will not interfere,’ Lord Yu ordered, the words floating into John’s awareness without having any sound or substance.

‘But—’ Fire engulfed John, burning his flesh away until he couldn’t breathe without the pain invading every cell. It destroyed his ability to think or form even a single word. John writhed in pain, his screams silent as his raw nerves slowly calmed. Waves of agony swept over him, each time receding a little more until John could perceive the edges of the world outside this twilight where he’d been locked in his own mind. Lord Yu was showing Rodney technical specifications of some object on his computer.

Rodney’s body language had shifted from terrified to interested, so John knew a significant time had passed, but he had no way to judge how much.

“Have you determined the power source?” Rodney asked as he flipped through the technical information.

“I believe it is a variation on the energy source that utilizes what the tau’ri call the quantum foam.”

“A ZPM? It’s a form of a ZPM? Older or newer?” Rodney’s voice had that sharp edge it took on when he didn’t care about anything but the problem in front of him.

‘You see?’ Yu asked John. ‘I can handle this one. His needs are for a challenge and the respect of those who should honor his intelligence. I can provide him both.’

‘Please. Send him home,’ John begged. A frisson of pain ran across his nerve, and John lost another small chunk of time.

‘Do not become a nuisance,’ Yu warned, and John tried to keep his thoughts quiet. If the pain he’d suffered had done any good, he would suffer that much and more, but Rodney sat at Yu’s feet unaware that the battle was even going on. The helplessness terrified John more than anything else.

The tel’tak landed without a single bump. Whoever was driving was a lot better than John or Colonel O’Neill. Lord Yu stood, and Rodney scrambled to his feet, all the small twitched back now that he wasn’t focused on the computer. “You shall have twenty assistants. If you find them unacceptable, I shall find you replacements,” Lord Yu said before he headed for the door. John couldn’t see Rodney because he followed, but John really hoped Rodney saw all the traps here. If Rodney didn’t like someone, Yu could kill them. The guilt would kill Rodney.

John tried to avoid projecting that thought toward Yu. However, the next time Yu left John in charge of the body, he needed to speak to Rodney about that. As much as Rodney fussed about not liking people, he tried hard to avoid hurting them. The most famous of his screaming matches with Carter had been over some safety protocols she’d disabled. John had agreed with Carter’s decision, but Rodney had been so furious that everyone, including John, had avoided him for days.

‘You will say nothing to him. You will not be allowed to speak to him until you have proven that you can carry out orders. Until then, you will deal with the other system lords,’ Lord Yu told John. John wanted to argue. He wanted to fight, especially since it looked like Rodney was going to choose to stay with Yu. However, he was a prisoner. He had fewer choices than Rodney.

“You may choose five pieces to send to Earth with your former teammates,” Yu told Rodney. “Each month we will review your progress and send to Earth whichever pieces we agree will most likely help the tau’ri against the Ori.”

Yu turned, and now John could see Rodney. His mouth hung open as he stared at the technology. They had been in the field for years, and they’d found abandoned posts and broken bits of tech. Rodney had damn near orgasmed over a twenty percent charge on a ZPM, and a puddle jumper so damaged that they’d had to take it apart and carry it through the gate in pieces had led to a drunken party. And now Yu offered this.

In just the quick look John had gotten, he’d seen multiple puddle jumpers, some in one piece. He’d seen weapons and spare parts and mysterious bits that would be more than Rodney could resist.

“And I could research anything?” Rodney asked.

“All the information I know is contained in a crystal next to each artifact. It is all yours. I have three other warehouses, two larger, and one of this size. I have spent thousands of years collecting this.”

“I bet,” Rodney said quietly. “But I have a couple of conditions.” When Rodney turned to look at Yu, he had his lips pressed together in a downward curved, stubborn line.

“Careful, Dr. McKay,” Yu warned. John was busy trying to have a heart attack. If he ever got Yu out of his head, he was going to read Rodney the riot act and then make him retake every hostage training class since he clearly hadn’t listened to even one of them.

“We can discuss what to send to Earth each month, but I want a guarantee that I can send one artifact of my choosing.”

Lord Yu didn’t answer, but John could sense a battle between admiration and indignation. As the silence drew out, Rodney crossed his arms and lifted his chin. That pushed Lord Yu toward the side of admiration. “Very well.”

“And I want some way to occasionally communicate with SGC to see where their research is.”

“Do you expect them to share anything with you?” Yu asked with amusement. He sorted through John’s memories of Rodney—Rodney yelling at staff, his demand that they purchase proper equipment regardless of cost, his condemnation of Carter for balancing military necessity with scientific methods. Rodney never compromised, not even when compromise would make his life easier, and he expected others to live up to his standards. They should work with Rodney because Rodney was still the smartest. John squirmed as he felt Yu shuffling through his memories and reaching each of these conclusions. Yu and John agreed on one point—Earth would never again trust Rodney if he did this, even if Rodney got them weapons.

“Communication can be arranged,” Yu said. Yu suspected that Rodney actually wanted to confirm that Yu was allowing the technology to reach Earth, but John disagreed. Rodney didn’t manipulate like that—he just demanded. Yu decided to wait and see. “So do you agree to stay of your own volition?”

Rodney took a deep breath and braced himself. Whatever he was going to ask, it was going to be big, John could tell that. Because John knew it, so did Yu, and John could feel the goa’uld’s aggravation growing dangerously. “What does John say about this?” Rodney asked, which seemed like it was out of left field.

Yu hesitated before answering. “He wants you to go back to Earth and is in danger of earning another punishment for his loud and profane objections,” Lord Yu said. Until that point, John hadn’t considered that the silent mantra of ‘fuck no’ was no longer his and his alone. He forced his mind to quiet.

Rodney snorted. “That sounds like the idiot. He can give up everything—even his own body—but let someone else make a small sacrifice, and he’s suddenly morally offended.”

A small sacrifice. Rodney was going to be an exile—a traitor. O’Neill would never forgive him. No one would. Did Rodney not understand that?

Lord Yu hushed John again, but by now John was nearly trembling in rage. He was going to kill McKay.

“I will work for you, but I want John to get two hours a day.” Rodney flinched back as though prepared for physical violence. And still he said it. John was so shocked he couldn’t find any words at all. Even in his own mind he went quiet. After several seconds, Rodney added, “I know symbiotes can let the host surface, but I also know John Sheppard, so if you think you can impersonate him—well, it might work for a while, but not for long. I would figure it out. I’m smart you know. And the one thing you don’t want to do is piss off the man that’s researching weapons for you.” Rodney was absolutely still, his arms stiffly at his sides and his jaw thrust forward.

Lord Yu was shocked. Hundreds of years of predictable human behavior, and Rodney McKay upended everything Lord Yu knew of human reactions.

“And what would you or John Sheppard hope to gain from two hours?” he asked.

Rodney wilted a little. “He shouldn’t be locked up all the time. He gave you enough. Let him have a little back.”

Lord Yu considered the request. John could feel his restlessness. “I will give him two hours a day if we are in a secure location and if he has behaved.” Lord Yu felt a rush of pleasure at this idea, and John could only groan. Lord Yu now had the perfect leverage over Rodney, and Rodney didn’t know that John would be in charge of the body far longer than that out of necessity. He’d traded away his freedom for nothing.

‘And you shall not tell him,’ Yu warned, and another bright flash of pain enveloped John. John felt like he was gasping and twisting, but he was no more than the stray thoughts at the back of Lord Yu’s head. No wonder the last host had faded to almost nothing.

“And I want a cat,” Rodney blurted out just as Lord Yu was about to agree. A wave of amusement pushed aside the remnants of pain still singing along John’s nerve.

“A cat?” Lord Yu asked.

“Yes. Two hours with John, sharing technology with Earth, and a cat.”

“Agreed, Dr. McKay. You may begin your work. My jaffa will send several assistants for you to question regarding their ability to assist you, and I will inform your team. You have two days to choose the artifacts to send to Earth.”

“But… I thought I’d go back with you,” Rodney said, his voice small. Now he realized that he was losing everything. However, John could feel Lord Yu’s hold loosening. The goa’uld was weary, and he sent John a firm warning that this was his first test. Either John sent the rest of the team off with this deal, or the lives of John and Rodney would be forfeit. Without answering Rodney, Lord Yu turned and headed for the tel’tak.

By the time Yu sat down in his throne, he was already drifting off to sleep. With his last thought, he showed John how to reverberate his own voice. Without Yu awake and aware enough to guard his thoughts, John could look around at the jaffa around him and sense each’s name. “Niu, do we have a tel’tak that could make it to Earth within the day?” John could not give Rodney back what he’d traded away, but he could try to save as much of Rodney’s world as possible.

“Yes, my lord, if the jaffa fly at full speed.”

John gave a nod. “Good. I shall give them directions. They are to retrieve the scholar’s belongings and his cat, but they are to avoid being seen by anyone. They will go first to an unpopulated area and take Earth clothing so they can move unseen in the more populous area where Dr. McKay has his housing.”

John picked up the computer and began to write out instructions. He was ordering an enemy ship to violate Earth airspace. If he ever got out of this, Colonel O’Neill was going to put him up against a wall and shoot him for treason.

That’s assuming John didn’t shoot himself for it first.

Chapter Text

John sat on his dais and drank Lord Yu’s tea. A year or so of the piss water, and he was getting used to it. While he could order a beer in the privacy of his quarters, when he was in Yu’s audience chamber, he had to be more careful to imitate the system lord. John couldn’t afford any errors.

Rodney came hurrying in, not even looking up as he rushed. One of the jaffa put out a hand to detour Rodney around a pillar, and Rodney’s latest assistant trailed behind him with a look of panic. Completing a month with Rodney before being allowed to work in the warehouses gave academics a status they could not hope to claim any other way, but few made a full month. Rodney put the jaffa master to shame in his willingness to demote and humiliate anyone who failed him.

Luckily the shamed academics simply returned home. A few had committed suicide, but John tried to discourage that.

“Is he here?” Rodney asked, finally looking up from his computer.

“No,” John said, speaking for Lord Yu since he hadn’t woken yet. With Rodney and Teal’c in the same room, John assumed he would want to take the meeting, but so far, John didn’t even have a tickle at the back of his head. One of these days Yu was going to die and take John with him. Sadly, that might take a century or two.

But at least John wouldn’t have to endure what the last host had. There was no way Yu would make it longer than a couple of hundred years. John frowned as he realized Rodney wasn’t leaving.

“Your presence is not required, Dr. McKay.”

Rodney got one of his stubborn expressions. “I’m the one who found the recording device with the coordinates.”

John continued to stare at Rodney. He was ashamed of how good he had become at intimidating others, but being inside Yu when he looked at others with contempt had allowed John to find the exact combination of facial muscles that allowed him to project Yu’s disdain. Rodney started to shift from foot to foot as the discomfort set in. However, Rodney was not one to back down.

“It’s not like I’m going to rush him and ask him to take me back,” Rodney said mulishly. He walked over and sat on the edge of Yu’s dais. “General Landry is not my biggest fan. I thought O’Neill hated me, but Landry…” Rodney made a face.

Sadly, John agreed. If there had ever been a window where forgiveness could happen, that window had closed. Rodney had no place on Earth except the inside of a jail cell because the various officers who answered their communications made it clear they considered John a prisoner and Rodney a traitor. John hated that more than he hated his own captivity.

Two jaffa came in and bowed deeply. “My lord, the shol’va comes.”

John raised his tea, Yu’s gesture to his guards that all was as he expected. The two guards took positions on either side of the door, and here came Teal’c. He wore the clothing of a free jaffa rather than an SGC uniform. That made no sense. For not the first time, John wondered what was going on back home. Their confrontations with the Lucian alliance certainly didn’t make for a good tactical position; however, Lord Yu didn’t care as long as it kept those vultures away from his planets. And since Lord Yu didn’t care, there was little or nothing John could do.

Teal’c stopped in front of the dais and inclined his head respectfully. “I come under a sign of peace and as an emissary of the Free Jaffa.”

“Hey, Teal’c,” Rodney said, but he didn’t seem surprised when everyone ignored him.

John put his tea down and pulled Lord Yu’s personality around him like a cloak. “I invited the tau’ri to send you.”

Teal’c twitched an eyebrow, and John was immediately homesick. “They declined to send a messenger. They felt that anything you had to say could be relayed using the communication devises.”

“Such gratitude, and after I have shared such bounty with them,” John said as though disappointed. In all honesty, he was. Lord Yu had sent a number of weapons back to the SGC, along with schematics for power units and a number of Ancient tools. Lord Yu remembered more than one disaster that resulted from the head of weapons research being unhappy, so he was willing to indulge Rodney’s desire to help the tau’ri. In return, the tau’ri were strengthened. That mattered little to Yu because his empire was growing even stronger. They had even pushed the Ori off one world and destroyed an Ori mothership.

True, the Ori had retaliated by killing three million people by obliterating the entire planet, but since then, the Ori had kept out of Yu’s territory. They would not risk such losses while the tau’ri posed a threat. John hated the loss of life; Yu barely registered it. He really was an asshole.

However, they both agreed that they needed more effective weapons, and they needed the tau’ri to have more effective weapons.

The one nice thing about Teal’c was that he had patience born of serving the goa’uld. John needed time to figure out what to say. Lord Yu did not take failure well, and he wanted access to the Earth gate. Unfortunately, this was not a good start. The communication device they used was nothing more than a flat screen, proper for Rodney and Radek to compare notes on some piece of tech as long as a wormhole connected the planets, but system lords spoke in person. Landry had to know that.

John leaned back and considered his options. Earth expected goa’uld to be selfish—which was handy because they were. So John needed to lead with that. “Penglai was destroyed by the Ori.”

“I had heard,” Teal’c said calmly. If he worried about the guards behind him, he gave no sign of it.

“The university there provided technical experts.” John let the silence fill in the blanks. No doubt Teal’c would believe that was the only university doing such work. The other goa’uld kept their people ignorant, educating only the bare minimum required to maintain their technology. Lord Yu did not believe in keeping people ignorant, and many planets had educational facilities equally as able to prepare technicians. However, by implying that Penglai was more important than it was, John provided a motivation the SGC would understand.

“And you destroyed an Ori ship. Your new host appears to have improved your tactics.” Teal’c raised an eyebrow in challenge.

John stared at Teal’c. Another goa’uld would kill him for even suggesting the host mattered. Yu might do the same. However, John had no idea what he was supposed to do. The last thing he wanted to talk about was himself, so he chose to ignore the comment.

“Earth has suffered more losses. You have few allies left, and much of the galaxy looks to Origin.” John put his tea cup down and gave Teal’c all his attention. “Much of the Free Jaffa nation looks to Origin.” John could tell he had scored with that. There was a subtle tensing of the muscles around Teal’c eyes. He was watching their hard fought freedom vanish. John hated that he had to hurt the people he respected the most, but his feelings didn’t matter. Nothing mattered as much as the real goal here. Atlantis. Rodney had found Atlantis.

Teal’c waited, his anger poorly hidden, and John drank more tea.

“Aren’t you going to tell him about—”

“*Doctor* McKay,” John snapped out in his best imitation of an annoyed Yu. Rodney immediately fell silent. Much as John had predicted, Yu’s willingness to allow John to spend two hours a day hanging out with Rodney had given him the perfect leverage. One warning, and Rodney swallowed all his complaints and bitching rather than risk having Yu ban John from spending time with him.

And the one time John had decided to ignore Yu’s orders and go drag Rodney out for dinner and an hour of television picked up by their spy satellite orbiting Earth, Yu had been furious when he’d next awoken. John spent the next day hanging from chains in pain and Rodney had to endure a good month of Yu’s bad temper without ever understanding why. He’d ask John what he’d done wrong, and John could only promise that Yu was angry at someone else and Rodney was the nearest person he could yell at.

John glanced over at Oshu who watched—always silent, always ready to step in if John failed in his task.

None of this was going to plan, and John wasn’t sure how Yu would react, but if the damn snake wanted to handle this differently, he could wake his scaly ass up. John lifted his hand, and a servant brought him an elaborate scroll with information John could just as easily get from a tablet. However, appearances would be maintained. John read the information slowly.

“The Lucian Alliance has made exploring Ancient outposts particularly difficult,” John observed. Yu had spies in the Alliance, so John knew how much trouble they were making for earth.

“It is no more troublesome than our inability to explore sites within your borders,” Teal’c observed.

John gave Teal’c a slow, cruel smile. “That did not work well for you last time.”

Rodney flinched, and John regretted that, but he enjoyed getting a little dig in. Teal’c and O’Neill—they always got rescued no matter how impossible the situation. No rescue was coming for John. Even if O’Neill wanted to do something, there’s no way the IOC would give up Yu’s steady flow of technology.

“No,” Teal’c said, “it did not.”

John leaned forward. “You still hope the technology of the Gatebuilders can save you from this new threat.”

Teal’c didn’t disagree.

“What would the tau’ri do with access to the lost city of Atlantis?” John asked. Teal’c stared back as though waiting for some sort of punchline. John waited as the knowledge settled into Teal’c. Yes, Yu had the keys to Atlantis, but the tau’ri had the only doorway that would lead them there. It was a difficult situation, to say the least.

“I am unsure,” Teal said eventually. It was as much of an answer as he could give because he wasn’t the IOC. John understood that.

John gestured for the guards, and after a respectful bow, Teal’c left, his honor guard trailing behind him.

“But, what about Atlantis?” Rodney asked in a bewildered voice. John ignored him. When he had to play Yu, he really disliked dealing with Rodney. It hurt too much to pretend disinterest when it came to his only friend—the one friend who had given up his own freedom rather than abandon John to this prison. With another gesture, John had one of the jaffa take Rodney by the arm and escort him back to his labs, his nervous assistant still trailing behind.

Chapter Text

John felt Yu stirring several minutes before the familiar sensation of Yu sorting through John’s memory preceded Yu taking full control. Yu’s aggravation at missing the meeting soured John’s stomach, but John kept his complaints to himself. An annoyed Yu was a dangerous thing—dangerous to John above all others.

‘You allowed the shol’va to leave.’

‘He will prime the well for the IOC. They want Atlantis,’ John said with some confidence. Unfortunately, he had a few fears as well, and Yu could pick those out of his mind. It made bluffing difficult.

‘We could take the Earth chappa’ai.’

‘We could,’ John agreed. Between his own understanding of Earth’s defensive structure and Yu’s warriors, they could take the mountain. ‘However, if we do, we destroy any chance that they will continue to underestimate us.’

Yu sent a wave of contempt through John’s awareness. Yu did not appreciate John’s attempts to protect Earth. However, he did accept the basic premise that it was best for the tau’ri to dismiss them as ineffective and harmless. Yu had defeated more than one enemy that had turned a back to him.

‘Tau’ri have proved flexible in their thinking and quick to adapt. They are more likely to succeed in Atlantis than an expedition of jaffa,’ John pointed out. He couldn’t deny that the blind worship of the jaffa worked when it came to guarding Yu and his territory, but going out and exploring required a different skill set.

‘They will betray us.’

‘Yep,’ John agreed. ‘O’Neill would put a bullet between my eyes in a second if he had a chance.’

Yu considered that for a time. He stood and headed for his quarters, and John retreated to the back of his mind where his senses were dulled and he lived in a twilight where the motion of his own body didn’t leave him vaguely nauseated.

Once in his rooms, Yu abandoned ceremony and allowed his servants to strip him of his outer finery before he sat down at the computer to review the reports John had read earlier. After years in officer school and various training seminars, John thought he knew military tactics. Sitting in the backseat while Yu arranged all the various pieces of his empire, John realized he didn’t know shit. Yu had a dozen plans running, all at once. His strategies were like those Russian dolls that nested inside each other. He believed in sitting still and watching the world, but he was always prepared to take advantage of any weakness. The fall of Anubis had brought three mineral rich planets into his empire. When Ra had vanished, Yu had gathered his breeding queen. Apophis’ library and Camulus’ secret base on Ferwa—they had all quietly disappeared into Yu’s empire.

He never bragged or even allowed others to speak of his success. And John knew Earth had badly underestimated the cagey old bastard.

But now Yu feared losing it all to the Ori if the tau’ri fell. Yu’s empire was the next most logical target. However, Yu feared Earth as well. ‘If they gain weapons too powerful, they will turn them on us.’

John didn’t see a problem with that, so he kept his thoughts quiet.

‘Your scholar would be among the first to die or suffer unimaginably in the hands of his former allies were we to fall,’ Yu said, and that bothered John more than he wanted to admit. Maybe John didn’t smother that emotion fast enough because it caught Yu’s attention. John felt the familiar slipping sensation of Yu going through his memories. It was like when he’d been a kid and sledded downhill, only to lose the sled and slip the rest of the way down on his face. That’s what it felt like. And the harder Yu dug, the more off balance John felt. Right now he wanted to flail his arms, and as he felt the memories and thoughts involuntarily pulled up, John groaned. Fuck. The universe hated him. Hated. Him.

Yu explored the time when John had seen Rodney sitting in the cafeteria. Anders had said, “Either you’ve decided to be unapologetically gay and have decided to start your staring with a strange man or you have a plan.” Panic had slammed into John because he was apologetically gay in deep in the closet. Yu knew that. He had not realized John had been sexually attracted to Rodney. He was intelligent, demanding, fair. He was terrifying, but John liked Ferris wheels and jet planes and anything that had a reasonable chance of crashing and killing everyone aboard, and Rodney fit that description.

Yu ripped through John’s memories of trying to desensitize himself. He’d started a friendship with Rodney out of a masochistic need to prove he could be near the man without being attracted. He’d focused on every flaw, complained about Rodney’s PT scores, done everything to cultivate a brotherly rivalry, and then buried his own interest so deep that even he didn’t think about it.

And now, after all that work, Yu pulled all those thoughts to the forefront. And maybe because they were sharing a brain and the events were so similar, Yu’s own thoughts turned to Sun Tzu’s mother—a woman so brilliant and so dangerous that Yu had both desired her and desired to keep her far from his empire. Oshu was the last of the Sun Tzu clones, and Yu regretted that he had lost the fire and edge of his progenitors. John was shocked as he felt the almost human emotions come from Yu.

‘Admiration of strength is not a human characteristic, but how arrogant of you to assume it is,’ Yu said with a sharp edge to his voice.

‘I don’t think you have much room to talk when it comes to arrogance. You know you’re not a god and you let people worship you. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than Ra and Nirrti and all the other nutbags who think they’re gods,’ John countered.

‘Power is of value in all forms. Their belief is a form of power.’

‘But you’re not a god.’

‘That would depend on how you define god,’ Yu said, and he sent wave after wave of memory at John until he was reeling with it. Thousands of years of experience, of researching, of failures and fleeing and building and scheming. Thousands of years of life. ‘What is godhood if not the ability to live for so long that one may reasonably know all?’

‘Trust me, you don’t know everything,’ John shot right back.

‘I know much more than the tau’ri with their pitifully short lives, and yet they do not seek my advice in the war and they antagonize me even as I attempt to assist them. They are disobedient children.’

‘They resent you taking tau’ri hostages.’

‘Which proves they are children, crying over a lost toy instead of moving forward,’ Yu said, and John flinched at the image of himself as a toy to be lost by his own people and then claimed as Yu’s property. Maybe in a few decades that wouldn’t hurt, but for now it was like a hot lance through his chest.

‘Let us find the scholar.’

‘Or not,’ John said. Yu had some time left before he had to sleep again, and John really didn’t want to think of the damage he could do with this information. ‘Rodney might not react well.’

‘Your life is so pitifully short that you have no understanding of the obvious.’ Lord Yu showered John with memories. Rodney stammering, turning away to hide his face, smiling at John with such unguarded love that John had trouble believing he hadn’t noticed it. ‘You fail to see what you fear,’ Yu said with even more smugness than usual.

‘How does this help any of us? We aren’t going to have a relationship with you in here,’ John said angrily, but as usual, Yu ignored him. Yu might have claimed he wanted a host who could stand up to goa’uld, but he sure as hell didn’t care to do any listening himself.

John’s horror grew as he realized what Yu wanted. If Rodney knew how much John cared about him, he would never leave. He’d sacrificed his freedom for John and to get weapons for Earth… that and his cat. However, if he knew John loved him, he would never turn on Yu. John knew he was right when he felt the gleeful tang of victory from Yu.

‘I hate you. One day I am going to celebrate your death.’

‘If I die, you shall die with me.’

‘Not a problem,’ John said.

‘And likely Earth shall fall.’

John stayed quiet. He was not as laid back about that.

Rodney’s quarters were in a lower level of the palace. He had a balcony large enough for him to work on repairing a puddle jumper while still leaving room for a tel’tak to land and shuttle him to the warehouses. Two twitchy servants and his latest assistant had rooms directly across from his, but Rodney maintained his privacy and wouldn’t allow anyone in. He claimed they upset the cat.

John had his doubts.

Yu reached the door of Rodney’s suite and entered without announcing himself. Rodney was sitting on his bed with a dozen pieces of ancient tech around him.

“John?” he asked, clearly startled. Cat hissed and Yu closed the door behind him. That’s when Rodney knew. He fisted the small part in his hand and looked at the floor. “Lord Yu, is John going to have his time tonight?”

Yu walked to the windows. These suites once had a flourishing garden; now it was all gone to furnish Rodney with a sterile, metal patio on which he could work on large projects. On the far left side of the balcony, a waterfall cascaded over rocks, but that was all that was left of the lost beauty. Yu didn’t even know who had once held these rooms or planted the flowers that his engineers had ripped out under Rodney’s direction.

“John has held a secret from me. I have not yet decided if this is an important issue.” Yu looked over the valley and let the silence provide the threat.

“He… okay. John’s sort of secretive. I’m pretty sure he assumed you knew whatever he was keeping secret. I mean, you’re in the same head.”

Yu turned to look at Rodney. “I understand why he would put you in the same category with a Ferris wheel, but hiding it is less logical.”

John could see the confusion written all over Rodney’s face. ‘Don’t do this,’ John begged. ‘He’s no threat to you. You don’t need him on a tighter leash.’ But of course Yu wanted as much control as he could get.

Yu walked to Rodney’s side. “When he first saw you, he knew you were dangerous, temperamental, likely to explode if handled wrong. He thought of you as a Ferris wheel or a jet—alluring, powerful.”

Rodney frowned.

“But he would not risk his career by allowing his interest in you to be known. He told everyone including himself that he was interested in you only as a scientist, and then a friend. I dislike that he hid this from me so effectively.”

That’s when Rodney’s eyes went wide as saucers, and John wanted to crawl into a hole and pull the dirt in over him.

“He likes me? Likes me, likes me?” Rodney asked, his voice little more than a whisper.

“He hid this from me.”

“From you?” Rodney’s voice went up to a near screech. “He hid this from me. I’m the one he supposedly likes. Don’t you think that’s something he should have talked to me about?” Rodney tossed the gadget in his hand on the bed and leapt up. “He’s my best friend, so what does it say that he wouldn’t even tell me this?”

John felt Yu retreat, and he cursed the old bastard out even as he was forced to take control of the body back.

“Whoa, hey, Rodney. It’s not like that,” John said, holding his hands up.

Rodney froze and stared at John. “It’s not like what? You don’t like me? Is this a game?” He narrowed his eyes. “I can make you very, very sorry.”

John took a step back and dropped into a chair. “It’s not… I mean. Crap.” John ran his fingers through his hair.

“Well at least I know it’s really you—as articulate as ever,” Rodney said drily. “So, was any of that true?”

Part of John wanted to lie. It’d make things easier. “Yu told you because he thinks it gives him more control over you.”

“No shit,” Rodney said. “Thank you for pointing out the obvious.” Rodney sank back down onto his bed. “Seriously, you always liked me?”

John shrank in on himself. “You were passionate and kinda scary when you went after Carter.”

“And you like scary,” Rodney finished for him as he stared at nothing. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“You’re on my team. I’m not supposed to have feelings like that for teammates,” John said. “And I liked being friends. I thought sex would mess that up.”

“So, you’re assuming I’m bad at sex?”

“No, I assumed that you’d throw yourself into a relationship the way you throw yourself into pretty much everything. You don’t hide much,” John pointed out. “And while the SGC tried to be a little more understanding what with alien rituals and the large number of teams who end up getting stoned on something, there is something called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“You assumed I would out you?” Now Rodney sounded hurt.

“I assumed that you would wear your emotions on your sleeve and that I would fuck something up and hurt you, and that eventually someone would notice we were together, and then the team we’d built—the life we’d built—would be over.” John stopped when Cat started rubbing on his ankles. Somehow the thing always knew the difference between John and Lord Yu. John reached down and scratched his ears. He had the good sense to hate Lord Yu, and John kinda loved the cat for that.

“So you never told me? We could have had this conversation.”

John didn’t say anything, but he knew full well the conversation would have gone very differently. Rodney would have started coming up with solutions—making arguments. While John’s resistance to Rodney’s persuasion was low anyway, it would have crumbled under the illusion they could keep their jobs and have a relationship. And then John would have been a co-conspirator in fucking up the best friendship he’d ever had. As a bonus, he could have torpedoed the SGC’s best tech retrieval team. Yeah, that would not have happened.

“So you just suffer in silence?” Rodney demanded before he sighed. “Of course you did. That is so like you.”

When John looked up, Rodney was giving him that exasperated expression that John knew so well. John shrugged.

“And now?” Rodney asked softly.

“With Lord Yu around? Just no,” John said firmly. He planned to never have sex again.

Rodney nodded slowly.

“And you can’t let this change anything. If you have a chance to save Earth—to really make a difference in the war with the Ori—and I’m standing between you and that chance, then you’d better kill me and go for it,” John warned.

Rodney’s expression turned sad. “I couldn’t do that to my best friend, even before I knew the depths of his idiocy.”

“Then Lord Yu wins—he gets what he wants,” John said fiercely.

Rodney’s expression stayed the same. “Yeah, he does.”

Something in John’s expression must have alarmed Rodney because he rushed to John’s side and crouched down in front of him. “Hey, we send more tech to Earth in one month than we used to in a year. I’m getting close to recharging a ZPM—I know it, and I wouldn’t be half as far without the QFMs. They’re like a Model T to the ZPMs Ferrari, which makes learning the basic function a whole lot easier. And we’ve done all that because we’re here. So we’re getting what we want. We’re working to save Earth.

John clutched Rodney’s hand and he really tried to hold onto that belief. He felt like he’d given up too much of himself—more than if Yu could hold the body all the time. And Rodney could never know how complicit John was in all this.

Rodney awkwardly patted his shoulder. “We’re okay.”

Cat didn’t like being ignored and he let out a yowl. Rodney picked him up and shoved him into John’s lap. “Here. Pet him,” Rodney ordered.

John looked up and realized that for Rodney, true love was sharing the cat.

“We’ll get through it, right?” John asked softly. He really needed someone to lie to him.

“We’ll kick Ori ass—especially after we get to explore Atlantis. It’ll be great, you’ll see,” Rodney vowed in such a serious tone that John had to believe him.

Chapter Text

Yu walked through the Stargate, and for the first time since this whole fucked up mess began, John was glad he wasn’t in charge of the body. He had no idea what he would do. General Landry and General O’Neill waited at the bottom of the ramp, and soldiers John knew—that he’d trained with—lined the walls.

Yu quickly sorted those old memories, deciding which soldiers were most dangerous and which most likely to want revenge. However, John knew full well that his life was not worth risking Earth, so Yu was likely safe. Likely.

‘I had best be safe or your planet and your scholar will suffer,’ Yu told him.

‘Yeah, yeah, I got it.’ Sometimes John wondered if Yu liked repeating himself or if he just thought John was too stupid to keep orders in his head for more than ten minutes. ‘I still can’t believe you’re walking into this alone. This feels dangerous.’

‘We must have faith in each other to preserve us in enemy territory,’ Yu said firmly. He gave John a series of equally bold and borderline suicidal moves he’d pulled when he’d been much younger and his host far healthier. Yu was actually enjoying this drama.

“New outfit?” O’Neill asked, his usual sarcasm in place.

Yu gave him a condescending look, but then he decided he had a better way to counter such impertinence. “It better suits my new body.”

O’Neill didn’t flinch, but his expression hardened into something cold and dangerous. ‘Yes, he is the real enemy,’ Yu told Sheppard. ‘Keep him off guard or he will steal the kingdom while you watch the jewels.’

Landry gave O’Neill a quick glance before focusing on Yu. “We’ve prepared quarters for you.”

“What level?” Yu asked. John groaned as Yu began screwing with the SGC people before stepping off the ramp.

“VIP quarters on level 25,” Landry said with a wary look in O’Neill’s direction.

“I prefer the isolation suite on level 22.”

That made both generals hesitate.

‘I remind them that you have provided tactical information. They cannot afford to underestimate me.’

‘I don’t think that’s a problem,’ John said, ‘but right now, you’re in danger of pissing off O’Neill, and he’s not a nice man when he’s pissed.’

‘I prefer genuine emotion. Humans are so easily manipulated when their emotions are riled.’

John sent a wave of pure hatred, but as usual, Yu found his emotions amusing. Worse, he found them proof of his statement regarding the ease of manipulating humans.

‘Yeah, but you like our bodies,’ John complained.

‘I do,’ Yu agreed in a tone that was far too smug given they were speaking inside John’s head.

Landry spoke. “We don’t have those rooms prepared for you.”

Yu ignored Landry and focused on O’Neill. For a time, John and Yu both thought O’Neill might stick to his guns, but after a long and painfully awkward silence, O’Neill said, “What the hell. Knock yourself out. If you’d prefer, we could even house you on level 16.” His smile was not friendly.

Yu raised his eyebrow. Level 16 had a secondary command and holding cells. Yu would never understand human humor.

‘That’s because you don’t have a sense of humor,’ John said, but Yu was moving toward the elevators. The SGC staff scrambled to move into position, but Yu cared little for them. If these humans intended any serious threat, they would have tok’ra here. Yu strode through the corridors, and John ached with every familiar sight. This had been his home—the first place he’d felt part of for a long time. In Afghanistan, he’d been caught between officers who cared more for politics than their people, and soldiers who had so much anger and hatred that John had trouble relating to them. He’d been a rescue pilot. He didn’t want to shoot anyone.

At least he hadn’t until he’s come to the SGC and developed a very real urge to shoot all the goa’uld he could find, and a few Ori on the side, although from the reports he’d read, shooting them didn’t really work. And now… his hatred for the goa’uld hadn’t exactly turned out the way he’d expected it.

John thought he might see some of his old team, but nope. Evan Lorne stood next to the elevator, his hand on his weapon and a thunderous look on his face.

Yu stepped into the elevator, waiting as Lorne and the two generals stepped on with him.

“So, you found Atlantis,” O’Neill said. “Any chance you’ll share the address? I could have a team there in minutes, and I’ll make sure we let you know what we find.” From O’Neill’s flippant tone, he didn’t expect to actually get an answer, and Yu remained silent.

‘Do not react to his taunting,’ Yu advised John. ‘He seeks to put us off balance, and when I am gone, you must not allow him to play on your emotion.’

Usually Yu slid into sleep without much concern, but John could feel his disquiet at the very thought of John having to handle these people.

‘You know the consequences of failure,’ Yu said.

‘Yep, I heard it the first dozen times,’ John said. He’d get more upset, only he couldn’t afford to suffer some punishment right now. O’Neill was too sharp, and if he saw any weakness in Yu, he would attack. And then Oshu would counterattack, and then Earth would never find Yu’s warehouses or the address to Atlantis. And John didn’t even want to think what would happen to Rodney. He would play his part—not for Yu but for Earth. It just pained him that he was going to have to give up Earth to save her.

The elevator stopped, and Yu strode out without waiting for the guards to take point. He knew the SGC as well as any man here, perhaps better. John and Rodney had snuck off to many unused corners to plan practical jokes and play with toy cars. Yu stopped in front of the door to the isolation suite and waited for someone to open it. Lorne did, and Yu stepped inside without giving the major a second look.

O’Neill and Landry followed, as did two anonymous airmen John didn’t recognize. John could feel the weariness in Yu as he pulled his sword. Both airmen drew their weapons, but Yu put the sword down on the table before pulled out a chair so he could sit.

“Your men appear undisciplined,” Yu noted.

O’Neill shrugged. “Yeah, well we don’t normally see swords that big around here. Compensating for something, are you?” O’Neill gave Yu a nasty look.

Yu studied him. This was a man who would make the choice that would best serve his world, no matter the consequences. Yu had some respect for this sort. “Dismiss the others, O’Neill, and we shall speak.” With that, Yu pulled a small data recorder and display out of his gauntlet and began to review information Rodney had found on the same data crystal with the gate address for Atlantis. It appeared the Gatebuilders had destroyed themselves with their own greed. First they created a species that turned into their great enemy and then they created a virus—all in the quest for eternal life. Yu feared his own people had done as much damage to themselves.

John felt a little rush of glee at that, and Yu pushed wave after wave of information at John—humans destroying their own planet, religious wars, atrocities the likes of which even the goa’uld would not consider—humanity was no better.

John withdrew with a grumble, but he could feel the threads of fatigue pulling at Yu. Soon it would be his turn.

It took a while before the others realized Yu had no intention of acknowledging any of them until they complied with his request. Eventually, O’Neill chased the others out and then came over to the table and pulled a second chair around so he could straddle it.

“If you kill me, there are going to be lots of people who are cranky,” he warned. “And yeah, a few celebrations, but that won’t keep them from yanking your snaky ass right out of Colonel Sheppard.”

“And if you move against me, Oshu will land two ha’taks on earth—one outside Moscow and one in the Chinese countryside.”

“Land?” O’Neill asked suspiciously, “not attack?”

Yu smiled. “They will land and explain how the Americans have conducted an exploration of the universe.”

O’Neill sucked air through his teeth. “Nasty. You’ll tie us up in a political fight on the ground, but wouldn’t that put you in a difficult position? As soon as we stop being thorns in the side of the Ori, they’re going to go after you.”

“True,” Yu said. “That is why I am offering to collaborate on an expedition to Atlantis.”

“Right. Collaborate the way you’re collaborating with Colonel Sheppard?” O’Neill asked. John felt like the temperature of the room dropped about ten degrees.

Yu studied O’Neill for a long time, sorting through John’s memories of him to compare every detail to those in John’s memory. “He yielded.”

“To save his team. I got that. I’m smart that way,” O’Neill said. “You’re still stealing his body.”

“Then save him. Call the tok’ra, and allow him to watch the consequences of that decision.” Yu didn’t say anything more, but John figured that O’Neill could see the truth here as well as the rest of them. Landry was a politician, but O’Neill—he was something more. He saw truth. Without Yu, Earth was in real trouble, and if those ha’tak’s landed and outed the program, the trouble might not be the sort soldiers could fix.

Yu chuckled. “You and Sheppard are much the same—both too pragmatic to put your own lives ahead of your world. So let us dispense with the posturing and accusations and discuss the logistics of this mission.”

“This mission.” O’Neill grimaced like he’d bitten a lemon. “Exactly what do you want from us?”

“Access to the tau’ri gate—nothing more. We will assume all risk.”

“And keep all the fancy toys. No.”

“Have I not already demonstrated an ability to share?” Yu was amused and struggling to stay awake because he enjoyed this duel with O’Neill. It had been many centuries since he felt strong enough to debate a worthy opponent. His host’s failing faculties had forced him into silence, and he resented having to leave now when he was appreciating a rival.

“I’m pretty sure McKay is building you a lot of toys that you’re keeping for yourself.”

“And as I have no interest in expanding my borders, it does not affect Earth in the least,” Yu said. “However, I doubt you would be as quick to share with me.”

“Seeing as how you’re a snake who stole the life of one of my favorite colonels, you’re right. I’m not about to let you go through that gate. And the fact that you’re here asking means you can’t get to Atlantis from any other gate.”

“And you cannot hold out against the Ori forever.”

“We have a few tricks left to try,” O’Neill said.

“The fact that your allies fall one after another means you do not have others options,” Yu said, and he started to fade. Sleep pulled at him, and John’s senses sharpened as he was allowed out of the twilight where Yu had held him since returning to Earth.

‘You couldn’t finish the damn conversation?’ John silently demanded. ‘Bastard.’ Unfortunately Yu was gone, and John was left to play a very difficult hand. O’Neill considered John coldly, probably plotting Yu’s death. Since John didn’t know what to say, he said nothing.

O’Neill eventually leaned back, his fingers gripped around the back of the chair so hard that his fingers turned white. “So, you stroll in here and think that we’ll cooperate?”

John considered his former commanding officer. “I have learned many things from this host—including the lengths to which the tau’ri will go to preserve their world from the Ori. Sheppard’s memories tell me that you will cooperate. To gain weapons to defend your world, you will pay much more than I would ever ask. So when you are prepared to discuss specifics of the expedition, return.” John stood and turned his back on O'Neill in order to explore the suite. Being back on Earth hurt so much more than he’d expected. He heard O’Neill leave, but he went into the sleeping area and then the bathroom before returning to the table and settling in for a long day of reading.

And he didn’t even have a servant to bring him a beer.

Or tea.

Chapter Text

John stood at the controls of his cloaked tel’tak. Below the ship, he could see the puddle jumper stocked with supplies uncloak right above the access tunnel that led to the gate room. He would rather pilot the jumper himself, but he had lost that point in the negotiations. And when Yu had woken, he had found a way to turn even that to his advantage. O’Neill had his ass handed to him on a plate, and John couldn’t warn him about one thing. Certainly the human half of the expedition would not be pleased to find a goa’uld mother ship with 42 death gliders, 700 jaffa, and a full staff sitting in orbit over the city. After all, O’Neill had only obtained an agreement that no jaffa would go through the chappa’ai, and a human pilot would control the puddle jumper to ensure that. Nowhere in the contract did it say neither side could fly a ship there. And while humans had ships they could use as well, they didn’t have enough to hold off Yu’s forces

John just had to hope that Yu continue in his willingness to share.

“Major Lorne requesting access to topside,” Evan said over the radio once he had the puddle jumper hovering over the shaft doors.

Rodney stood next to John and whispered softly, “I can’t believe this is working. Everyone at the SGC is clearly stupid.”

“Ensure that door does not close once it opens,” John said in Yu’s voice. This was a dangerous game they were playing, more than the negotiations with O’Neill, more than walking into the SGC. The tau’ri had made a poorly worded agreement, and John would have to drive the truck through the loophole Yu had designed.

“On it,” Rodney said, typing madly. He had access to Ancient computers he’d repaired and he knew the SGC systems, so John didn’t doubt that he could override the tau’ri computer. However, the tau’ri reaction might be more violent than Yu imagined. Yu insisted that O’Neill was too desperate to risk losing Atlantis, but John wasn’t convinced.

Walter answered from the SGC. “Major Lorne, you have clearance. You are to go straight down and then through the gate without landing. Attempting to land your vehicle will result in destruction of the gate ship.”

John found that ironic. Lorne had volunteered to pilot Yu’s puddle jumper to prevent Lord Yu from piloting a dangerous ship into the heart of the SGC. The specific contract allowed the use of the topside access to the Gate room, bypassing standard security, but it did not forbid others from walking through on foot.

John watched Lorne’s ship go straight down into the long missile tunnel. It was straight, and perfect for use by rings, not that anyone on the SGC side had thought to ban the use of them.

“Major Lorne, we are unable to close the topside hatch. Did you hit something on the way in?”

“Negative,” Lorne answered. “Descent is smooth. Do I ascend or continue on mission?”

There was a long pause. “Continue on established flight path,” Walter finally answered. John could imagine O’Neill yelling for someone to get the hatch closed. He’d be calling for soldiers to guard the gate, and Carter would be madly typing. It made John homesick. However, it was time for him to play Lord Yu.

Rodney’s computer chimed. “Okay, I have control over the wormhole, and it’s not disengaging at Walter’s command. Carter’s going to be working on the other end, so don’t delay too long because I don’t know how long I can hold their computers hostage.”

“Do not deviate from the plan,” John ordered Rodney before heading toward the rings.

“Right. Like this plan isn’t suicidal enough already? Trust me, I plan to let you handle this.”

John agreed with Rodney about the suicidal nature of this plan, so he ignored Rodney’s muttered complaints about John’s suicidal streak infecting Yu. That seemed unfair since it was Yu’s plan. John signaled the jaffa at the communication board.

The jaffa announced. “SGC prepare for Yu the Great, also known as the Jade Emperor, the exalted Lord Yuhuang Shangti.”

O’Neill’s voice came over the computer. “Whoa, you know, we don’t have the red carpet out and we haven’t had the cleaning lady in, so it’s not a good time.”

John signaled and the rings rose up and enveloped him. When the bright light faded, John stood in the gate room, surrounded by crates and armed Marines. He turned toward the observation window and saw General O’Neill. In a field uniform.

Well, Yu had not been the only one holding out during negotiations. Landry and O’Neill were having a few words, and John waited with dozens of P90s all pointed at him. Hopefully they wouldn’t take too long to settle this because John wanted the rest of the supplies through the gate. Yes, he could wait for one of Yu’s motherships to bring the rest, but John worried that even a week delay could mean the difference between life and death.

O’Neill finally left the control room, and John waited for him to come down to the gate. The blast doors opened a crack, and O’Neill slipped inside with two more Marines right behind him. One was a full colonel and the other a major. That seemed like a lot of officers for a relatively small mission, but then John suspected that an Earth ship was already headed to Atlantis with more people than the agreement allowed for. Hopefully the Daedalus and Yu’s Zhulong wouldn’t start firing on each other.

“Manners suggest you should call before dropping in,” O’Neill said with obvious anger.

John raised an eyebrow. “The agreement allows me to take as many supplies as I deem necessary.”

“In a gate ship. One gate ship. One gate ship that already went through,” O’Neill said firmly.

“The gateship is the only transport allowed through. You did not limit how many might walk through,” John said, “and I will not allow this expedition to fail for lack of resources since I am going along as well.”

O’Neill appeared speechless, and John tapped the main stone in his kara kesh, and the rings came down again. When they left, two shepherds started urging a sizable group of pigs toward the event horizon.

“Hold on there,” the colonel John didn’t know exclaimed, but O’Neill was considering John with a cold expression.

“Let them take their bacon, Marshall,” O’Neill said. That was a familiar name. Colonel Marshall Sumner. He was head of security for the beta site and had led a number of rescue missions. Since John had led a purely scientific team, he had never crossed paths with Sumner, but he had a reputation as a commander who made love to his rule book and who never left someone behind. John respected one of those. Yu generally respected the other, but John didn’t know how Yu was going to having this many officers to deal with. O’Neill turned back to John. “I assume you’re the reason why the doors won’t close. So, what do you have up there? Another gate ship?”

John didn’t answer because Yu would not have. They had a half dozen tel’tak loaded with ancient equipment, animals, silks and fabrics for trade, furniture for Yu’s throne room, and one air conditioned crate for Rodney. John knew his friend wanted to see the city. Yu feared leaving Rodney behind and having him get into mischief without supervision. Yu knew that revealing John’s love would make Rodney more loyal to John, but it would also make him more determined to free him. Yu planned to carefully balance those motivations.

“Stargate Command, this is Major Lorne. We have pigs coming through the gate. Literal pigs.”

O’Neill touched his radio. “Major, Lord Yu has added a few supplies. Keep on your toes.”

“Yes, sir,” Lorne answered.

“So, are we ready to go now?” O’Neill asked.

“Not for a while,” Yu said, and the rings deposited a second group of pigs with a tender.

“For crying out loud,” O’Neill blurted out as one of the young pigs made a run for it. A startled Marine grabbed the squealing animal, surrendering it when the tender came to claim it. More rings brought goats herded by more servants.

The first of the crates appeared with a tender who had a pack of Chongqing and Xiasi hunting dogs.

“Seriously?” O’Neill demanded.

“I shall not want for meat if the technology fails us,” John said calmly. Personally he worried about taking animals into unknown territory. It seemed unfair to the creatures, and considering that Rodney had elected to leave Cat behind with his servants, John wasn’t the only one that worried that they might be taking the animals into a situation where the environment or some unexpected virus could kill all of them. However, Yu did not move without his entire household moving with him, and the hunters disguised as tenders and the animals were part of that household.

O’Neill turned to the window. “Carter, do you want to get that door closed before Yu decides to bring an elephant along?”

“Working on it, sir,” she called back. John didn’t point out that she had no hope until Rodney left his computer to ring down with the rest of the supplies.

O’Neill threw another fit when a throne appeared on a wheeled carriage, but he didn’t order anyone to stop the servants from pushing it through the gate right in front of huge piles of fabrics. The next crate that came down was large and red, and when servants began to push it up the ramp, John itched to follow. That was Rodney. John’s greatest fear was being separated from him, but he couldn’t indicate too much interest. So when the next crate came down, Yu moved to a spot next to it.

“Are you done yet?” O’Neill asked.

“I am,” John said as he strolled up the gate. A thousand times he had walked this very ramp as a major and then a lieutenant colonel representing the United States and Earth. Now he walked it as Earth’s enemy. The irony was painful.

John heard O’Neill order his people into formation, but he didn’t check to see how many followed. Earth was allowed to bring one hundred soldiers, and Yu was allowed none. However, Yu was allowed as many personal servants as worked in his household, and each of them was as deadly as an Earth soldier. And the mother ship would provide for any additional security Yu would require if Earth broke her agreements.

When John went through the event horizon, he knew immediately that this wasn’t a standard trip. The cold sank into his bones and the sense of movement went on so long that when John was spit out on the other side of the wormhole he nearly stumbled. The shock woke Yu, and he looked around the room, each of his pieces lined up neatly.

John was relegated to the backseat as Yu took stock, but that was fine. John was too busy listening to the city. It sang. John distantly noted Evan Lorne standing beside a lit staircase with Ancient script, but John was more interested in the sense of cold weariness that surrounded him. The city was tired. Yu walked up the stairs, ignoring the calls from behind him. When he reached the consoles, he placed his hands on the controls and felt them struggle to life for him. Not for Yu, although Yu would be able to take advantage it. No, they woke for John.

“Step away from the controls,” O’Neill said in a cold voice. Lord Yu looked up to see O’Neill and Sumner pointing weapons at him. Radek Zelenka stood behind him, and the chappa’ai was quiet.

“Do you plan to betray our alliance so soon?” Yu asked mildly. That lack of bluster appeared to bother O’Neill.

“I was thinking about it, yeah.”

The city started to shake, and Yu looked down. Imminent shield failure.

“What, what did you do?” Radek demanded as he rushed forward. Yu stepped back to allow the nervous scientist access.

“The city is out of power. We can continue our alliance or I can allow you to drown as the ocean crashes in on us,” Yu told O’Neill coldly, and he meant every word.

“If we die, you die too,” Sumner said as he raised his weapon.

“No, I shall not,” Yu said. He touched his kara kesh. “Are you in position to retrieve your god?” Yu asked loudly. The answer came back through the device.

“Yes, my lord. Your ha’tak stands ready. We will pick you up as soon as the shield fails.”

Yu smiled cruelly at Sumner. The shock in the officers’ faces was more satisfying than Yu could express in words, but John was there to share it with him. Yes, Yu had his ha’tak in place already. He and as many of the servants as the ha’tak commander could target would be saved, with Rodney at the head of that list.

“He is right. The shield… it is failing,” Radek said. “The ZPMs are too old. We have minutes.”

“Well crap,” O’Neill said. “We have the generators. Zelenka, find the power room and get them hooked up.”

Radek looked at O’Neill. “What? Is like asking me to splice a car battery to a nuclear reactor. Hard. We will all be dead much before I finish that work.” The main room was now loud. Animals explored, the dogs were whining as they reacted to the stress of the people around them, and the tau’ri were all clutching weapons as though that would save them. They were frightened children flailing in the dark.

‘You need them,’ John thought at Yu. ‘They are more resourceful, more creative.’

‘If they will not bend, they will die and I will explore myself,’ Yu thought back at John.

O’Neill clenched his jaw. “Same agreement?”

“Yes,” Yu said.

“Fine. Save the city and we keep to our agreement,” O’Neill said.

Yu turned to Oshu and nodded. His servant hurried to the crate with Rodney and opened it.

“It’s about time. So, are we there?” Rodney asked.

‘He fills the air with pointless questions,’ Yu thought with frustration.

‘He’s nervous,’ John answered, and he understood why. Everyone from Earth was staring at him. Oshu got a hand under Rodney’s arm while the servants who had come through with crates of chickens and ducks, herds of goats and pigs, moved to their new tasks. Several moved to Oshu’s side. Below their cloaks they had weapons and personal shields. Others move to retrieve the two partially charged ZPMs.

“We are in danger of being destroyed when the shield fails. We must install the power sources,” Oshu said. Rodney looked to Yu, but he didn’t react. However when Oshu pulled on Rodney again, he seemed to find his voice.

“Okay, I need a command station and my computer. We don’t have time to search for the control room and I don’t know how much time we have,” Rodney said as he hurried up the stairs. He flinched when he passed O’Neill, but other than that, he didn’t react.

“Between ten and twelve minutes,” Yu said.

“Oh great. No pressure there. I did mention that this was a suicide mission, yes?”

“Many times,” Yu said. It was such a John thing to say that John was surprised. However, Rodney didn’t react. He hurried up the stairs to the controls.

“Map. I need a map. Someone find me the power generation room. Now, people!” Rodney snapped. Lord Yu moved to one side, carelessly running a hand along a second console so that another might help Rodney search.

“This might be the shortest expedition in stargate history,” Sumner said.

“Nah, this is nothing,” O’Neill said. He continued to watch Yu with undisguised hate. “We’ve been in worse situations, and we always came through. Now the snakeheads? A lot of them are dead.”

Yu gave O’Neill an amused look. The man was clearly underestimating Yu’s ability to plan if he believed that. Yu was in Atlantis, and he planned to stay.

Chapter Text

O’Neill looked around at Yu’s impromptu audience room. Yu had elected to leave most of that tapestries down so he could appreciate the architecture of Atlantis herself, but the floor was covered in rugs and Yu had his standard tea table set up on a dais. He had a second throne room for more formal meetings, but he suspected O’Neill would not appreciate the symbolism of a gold and ruby encrusted throne. “Well, you have the place fixed up nice,” O’Neill said.

Yu didn’t react, but that might be because he was sliding off into sleep. He sent one more unnecessary warning about guarding against O’Neill before he slid away and John was left to speak to his ex-commanding officer.

“So, are we going to talk about the ship you have hovering over our heads?” O’Neill asked, pointing up toward the high crystal ceilings.

“There is nothing to discuss,” John said.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’d like to discuss your violation of our agreement. You have troops up there.

“Yes, I do. But as our agreement states, they may not come to Atlantis. That is why they remain in the ship.” Instead they took their leave on the mainland. Yu knew how to twist that treaty with Earth until the thing looped back on itself. John had to admire Yu’s ability to torture the truth, even if he hated the damn snake.

“And all the people you transported into the city?”

“Essential staff,” John said before picking up his tea.

“Right,” O’Neill said disbelievingly. “You need six hundred staff to run your household?”

John smiled. “That is a small portion of my staff. I left my silk weavers, stone cutters, and artisans behind.”

“Oh, well as long as you only brought essential personnel,” O’Neill snapped with more sarcasm than required.

John carefully put his tea cup down. “I define essential as all those required to ensure my comfort. My tailor and tea farmers and hunters are all essential.” That wasn’t true of how John saw the world, but it described Yu’s attitude pretty well. John had many memories of Yu going into the field. Unlike most goa’uld, he had commanded from the head of his armies. He knew what it was to sleep in a muddy field and to pilot a ship as it crashed, leaving him stranded on a dying world as he struggled to get back to the stargate. However, when circumstances permitted, Yu preferred to be a hedonist and wallow in all the luxuries wealth and godhood brought. And as he grew older, the need to fight faded and the enjoyment of pleasure became much more important.

“So, we’re playing word games?”

“From the beginning, we have,” John agreed. “Shall we discuss the great enemy?” Yu had made his feelings abundantly clear on that issue. He had ordered John to keep everyone inside the city to minimize the risk of encountering yet another enemy. Humans were far too cavalier in their dealings with others to wander the Pegasus galaxy. Besides, the best weapons were likely to be found within the city herself. Here is where John could feel the city like a song in his head. Even when Yu pushed John far back into his own mind, John had her to keep him sane, so John—who normally would have been all about exploring—kinda liked the city.

O’Neill came up the dais steps, and Oshu moved to intercept him, but John held up a hand to stop him. When O’Neill grabbed a pillow and sat across the table, John simply raised an eyebrow. He’d always known that O’Neill had balls made of brass, but he had underestimated how large they were. “I’d rather discuss why the gate doesn’t seem to be working.”

“I understand we can dial Earth,” John said calmly. But then he could order Rodney to undo the lock at any time. No one on Earth had the years of experience Rodney had with Gatebuilder technology, and none of them were as intelligent. Their stupidity was proven by the way the other scientists ostracized Rodney. Only Radek offered any sort of friendship.

If the day came that Yu decided to turn on Earth, John did not give most of the scientists good odds at surviving because Rodney’s guards kept track of every insult, and Yu had a mental tally going. At this point Kavanagh better pray for decapitation if he didn’t have the American military to hide behind. Yu wanted to extract a price for every insult he’d offered Rodney.

“I’m more interested in dialing some of the other planets and figuring out if this great enemy is still around.”

“That would be a mistake.”

O’Neill narrowed his eyes. “And you think it’s not a mistake to hold us hostage in the city?”

John hated that O’Neill felt that way. “Feel free to return to Earth,” John said. Honestly, his life would be a lot easier if he didn’t have to deal with people from Earth. Being forced to play Lord Yu in his temple had been a level of hell John had not expected when he’d agreed to their deal; however, dealing with the people from Earth was worse. They were, by turns, pitying and hateful, and John didn’t deal well with either emotion.

“Right, and leave you with Atlantis. I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen.” O’Neill reached over and stole some of Yu’s fruit. “However, we will be exploring this galaxy.”

John studied O’Neill and waited for the other shoe to drop. O’Neill stole more fruit, and John wondered if that was a stalling tactic or just a desire for fruit. Earth didn’t have the energy to dial them and provide supplies, so the human half of the expedition had to be down to MREs and dried food. Yu had put hundreds of workers onto cleaning out greenhouses and starting crops, and he’d had his ship ring all the animals over to a settlement on the large continent. The wives who had travelled on the ha’tak had gone to the continent as well to start building a city. In five weeks, Yu’s people had taken remarkable steps towards creating permanent supply settlements.

Yu intended to be here for hundreds of years, so he approached the city differently. O’Neill rushed to lay claim to more of the scientific towers than he could reasonably defend, but Yu had the gardens and fresh food sources. And that would explain O’Neill need to explore the universe far more effectively than any idle curiosity about the great enemy of the Gatebuilders. Maybe John should offer a share of food. He certainly had enough, and a second ha’tak with fresh supplies would replace his current one in less than a month.

O’Neill grinned. “So, since the gate isn’t working, we’ll be taking an X-304 out to check on the neighbors.”

Ah, so Earth was sending a ship. John wasn’t surprised. Atlantis had already sent Earth a number of interesting devices including a long range communicator and a personal shield that could prove invaluable if their people could reverse engineer them. Yu had expected them to react by sending more resources.

Rodney was busy trying to get the city running and hiding his research on the Quantum Foam Matrix. He was convinced that these simplified ZPMs held the secret to recharging them, which is why Yu had forbidden anyone to speak of the QFMs on pain of death, but that meant that Rodney was not always available to research Earth’s priority projects. No doubt they suspected that Yu was not sharing the best toys, and it was reasonable to send more scientists and more defensive assets. Reasonable, but difficult. John felt like this whole expedition was one giant tightrope designed to make him fall.

“No comment?” O’Neill asked as he narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

“We are both free to bring ships,” John said calmly. He gestured to Oshu, and he sent a servant up to remove the fruit. John gazed at O’Neill.

“And do you plan to order your ships to open fire on our ships?”

That was unexpectedly direct.

“That would be counterproductive.” John would say more, but he didn’t expect O’Neill to believe any of it. O’Neill saw Yu as his arch enemy, which was ironic since Yu was endlessly amused by his verbal battles with the general. And of course, John liked the general. At least he did when he wasn’t endlessly frustrated by the situation. After seeing how Earth had prepared for this expedition—or not prepared for it—John was pretty sure no one would have survived without Yu.

They came through without a ZPM, they had inadequate food supplies, and the supplies they had were not sustainable. Once they ate their canned meat and MREs, they were just done. At one point O’Neill had even tried to push through having a civilian as the leader, some diplomat who would mediate between Yu and O’Neill. Apparently she had been scheduled to lead the team if Daniel Jackson ever found the address. Yu had been horrified. John was a little more pragmatic because he’d seen how civilians had come up with some good solutions. Jackson was proof of that. However, Earth would have created a situation where a civilian was in control of a base that was in the middle of potentially hostile territory. John was pretty sure that would have ended badly.

“So, if we head out to explore?”

John studied O’Neill for a long time. He wanted to sit down and talk to him, soldier to soldier, but that wasn’t possible. Even if O’Neill believed him, Yu wouldn’t be pleased, and this mission needed Yu. “Try to avoid inciting a third intergalactic war,” John suggested. He could tell his barb hit from the way O’Neill went utterly still. It was like he could see O’Neill plotting Yu’s death in a cartoon bubble above his head.

After a long pause, O’Neill stood and looked down. “Yeah, I’ll get on that,” he said. He turned and strode out.

Oshu came to the edge of the dais and waited. Once he could tell in a glance if John or Yu were in charge and he would act accordingly. It was probably a bad sign that he seemed less sure these days. “Track what planet they approach, but do not allow our ships to fire,” John said.

Oshu frowned for a moment, but then he gave a small bow, nothing like the one he would have offered Lord Yu, so he clearly had figured out John was in charge. “I’ll contact the jaffa.”

“Do.” John stood and shrugged out of his outer robe, allowing it to fall to the ground. Someone else would pick it up. Without the robe, he was dressed in fine clothing, but it was missing any frills. This was a fighting uniform, and Yu had several made for John. The black embroidery on the black fabric told the story of one of Yu’s great battles, but John was fairly sure that only the shy Japanese woman who worked in engineering could read the tale of Yu’s defeat of Anubis at the head of the combined forces of the System Lords. Even Ra had admitted that Yu had the superior tactical mind, although Ra’s jealous hoarding of technology had prevented Yu from challenging Ra as leader.

But that was all old history. John was just happy he got to wear something that looked relatively normal. As long as no one asked him to go through a metal detector, anyway. In addition to the zat that John openly carried, Yu had returned to his earlier love of Chinese weapons now that he had a host healthy and physically able to handle them. John didn’t carry the oversized ceremonial sword he had carried into the SGC, but John did have a nine section metal whip and a pair of matched daggers hidden under the loose shirt as well as a variety of small knives and emei needles sewed into the sleeve seams. Even Yu’s highly decorated fan had sharpened metal spines and titanium edges that would kill a human. John hadn’t been this well armed when he’d carried a P-90 as the head of his own gate team.

With O’Neill on the move, John knew he had to make sure Yu’s people were ready to respond if O’Neill did stir up the ancients’ old enemy. He headed for their armory. O’Neill might make fun of the old fashioned weapons Yu’s jaffa preferred, but he didn’t know the advantages of the ji. John ignored Yu’s servants as he headed to the workshop.

The second he stepped into the room, the lower ranked jaffa went to their knees, and the more highly ranked bowed. Of course all of them were dressed as animal tenders, but John knew that Yu would end that charade as soon as O’Neill admitted he had broken their agreement. John didn’t know how O’Neill had broken the truce, but he and Yu both knew O’Neill had. He would do whatever was needed to protect Earth.

“Have you finished the new ji?” John asked the closest servant. He wasn’t actually sure who was in charge of the armory. Yu’s staff worked without much supervision, so Yu paid them little attention.

“Yes, my lord.” One of the servants took a tall staff from a work table. Unlike the traditional jaffa weapon that John had made fun of more than once, it had a cruel curved blade attached to a spear point. The weight of the weapon would allow it to decapitate an enemy in a single swing. However, it should also have some of Rodney’s upgrades. The man with the weapon signaled to one of the servants on the floor and he stood.

“If the metal touches skin, a stunning bolt runs through the victim,” the jaffa explained. He put the flat of the blade against the other servant, and he collapsed. It was silent, quick, and non-lethal. Of course if a jaffa was swinging the blade at a foe’s neck, the stun charge was the least of the dangers.

“Excellent,” John put out a hand, and the jaffa surrendered the weapon to him. “Do not use these against those of Earth or allow them to be seen. The tau’ri believe staff weapons are ineffective, and I want them to continue in that misconception.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“The ranged weapons?” John asked.

Another servant hurried to bring John a weapon that bore a passing resemblance to Turbiaux Palm Pistol. John could see Rodney’s sense of humor in the small circular weapon with a single barrel. “The scholar was able to use Gatebuilder technology to increase the projectile speed.”

John took it from the servant. “How many shots does it carry?”

“Twelve or one may connect a rope of ammunition and use the weapon until the entire rope has been fired.”

This was the line between captive and treason. Rodney had made Yu’s guards a weapon small enough to fit into a palm with enough firepower to act like an automatic rifle. It wouldn’t have the same accuracy, but it would be more accurate than a staff weapon, and as a bonus, the enemy wouldn’t be able to tell who was firing because it was so small. O’Neill would slit Rodney’s throat in a heartbeat if he saw this, but John agreed that if Earth fell, Yu’s empire was next, so Yu needed to produce weapons to distribute on Earth if the Ori attacked. And he needed to have enough to stage his own defense if that failed.

“Send orders back to the weapons master and tell him that I want five hundred before the next full cycle of the moon,” John ordered. He turned and headed out without another word. Behind him, jaffa agreed.

John hurried down the corridor, ignoring the distant shadow of his guards. They would avoid getting too close, and John needed some privacy. How had he come so far from the lieutenant colonel who had led an SG team? At one point O’Neill liked him, and now look at what had become of his life.

Almost as if the city was trying to comfort him, Atlantis’ voices murmured. John caught a wisp of a warning, something about water, and a faint sense of confusion that he assumed were corrupted computer files. The words came through in Ancient, but Yu had studied the language long enough that John could understand the computer’s feverish whispers. He stopped and put a hand against the wall and wished.

He wished he could have come here without Yu, not that humans would have found it all without him. He wished he could protect Rodney instead of asking him to make weapons that would turn his home planet against him. He wished he could betray Yu and run for the human doctor—Carson Beckett—and beg to be sedated, but not only would Oshu intercept him, but John wasn’t convinced the tau’ri could survive here without Yu. Their food would run out, they were focused on quick solutions instead of long-term success, They simply had too few strategies in play.

John hated Yu, but he could see the advantage of his choices. And now O’Neill was going to go running around the universe poking at rocks to see if an enemy powerful enough to defeat the Ancients happened to still be around.

They were.

Yu believed that with his entire snakey soul, and John couldn’t see any flaw in his logic.

Apex predators only vanished if some great catastrophe struck or if a more efficient predator came along. Either this Great Enemy was out there waiting to destroy any descendants of the Gatebuilders or something bigger and scarier had taken over. Either that or this galaxy had been struck with a catastrophe strong enough to destroy all life. That was a possibility, especially given the carelessness of the Gatebuilders to secure their weaponry; however, Yu doubted it.

No, the enemy was out there and O’Neill was about to catch their attention.

John needed Yu because he had no idea how he was going to handle whatever shit was about to hit this fan.

Chapter Text

Yu strode into the main gate room. ‘Do not overdo it,’ John advised.

‘I can tend our scholar more effectively than you. Your avoidance harms him,’ Yu said back. There was something disturbing about having a snake scold him for being a bad friend. John and Yu spotted Rodney under one of the consoles.

“Scholar!” Yu called as he walked into the room. Every SGC soldier twitched, but they held to the agreement and didn’t stop Yu. He was pleased to see two technicians and a guard all standing close to Rodney. The only tau’ri near him was Radek. Rodney’s head came up.

“What?” he asked, his voice shrill. Someone had been upsetting him, but Yu would question the others later. Now he had to complete his mission before O’Neill reached his destination.

“You have ten minutes to fix the gate, scholar, or I will have you whipped.”

“Now hold on,” Colonel Sumner said as he stepped in front of Yu. “You will not come in here and threaten people.

Yu considered the tau’ri. If O’Neill was an emei needle, always distracting the enemy and seeking a small opening, then Sumner was a mallet, blunt and easily countered by a skilled opponent. Yu didn’t have to say anything. Simply by staring at Sumner, the man’s emotions began to rise. His cheeks reddened and the anger was there, right under the skin. One prick of the right needle, and it would all spill out and ruin this alliance. John had to admit that he found Sumner’s aggravation a little amusing. But then Sumner took shots at John personally—making comments about how no real American would ever agree to host. So John had a few issues with Sumner.

Yu moved forward, stopping right in front of Sumner. “The agreement under which we operate gives me all rights over my people. I will discipline any of them in any way I choose.”

Sumner narrowed his eyes. “One of these days I’m going to kill you.”

“No, one day you shall attempt to kill me, and on that day you will discover why I am still alive when my enemies have spent the last five thousand years dying in horrible agony,” Yu said with a smile. And then he turned his back on Sumner to look at the gate. “Scholar, you have eight minutes remaining.”

“This is ten thousand year old equipment. I can’t just replace the crystal that cracked and hope that fixes it. I have to figure out where the power surge came from that cracked the crystal,” Rodney said. He did not have any real fear in his voice, but hopefully the tau’ri would not recognize that.

‘This ruse is unnecessary,’ Yu complained.

‘If you want Rodney to keep any credibility with the SGC it is. If they know Rodney was only delaying on your orders, they’re going to suspect every bit of his science. Threaten him and they’ll feel sympathy and believe that this sudden ability to fix the gate comes from fear.’

Yu didn’t answer, but John knew he’d won. Yu would not have his chief scholar undermined in any way. Sometimes John wondered if his own love for Rodney wasn’t wearing off on Yu. Yu sent a lash of fire through John’s nerves, and John retreated farther into his mind. Yu allowed him certain freedoms, but never did he let John forget he was a prisoner.

“Seven minutes,” Yu said.

“Local addresses use a slightly different pattern of crystals,” Rodney yelled. He was under the console, so he probably thought he needed to yell to make himself heard. “The first person who walks through could overload the system and burn out a dozen more crystals.”

Yu didn’t answer.

“Whoever goes through the gate could have his atoms spread out over the entire galaxy.”

Again, Yu waited.

“This is ten thousand year old equipment, and it’s not like we understand all the energy requirements or the tolerances for the crystals,” Rodney said after a long pause. He was getting either angry up upset now. Yu wondered if his acting was improving or if he was simply aggravated by the lack of response.

Radeck spoke up. “He is right. System is complex. We test too soon, and we may damage much. Intergalactic dialing system has taken less wear.”

Yu looked at the two assistants tasked with supporting Rodney. “Heshuo, you will go through the chappa’ai once the scholar has opened it.”

Heshuo stood and bowed deeply. “Yes, my lord.” However Radek caught him by the arm before Heshuo could head down the stairs.

“Need testing first,” he said, his emotions clearly interfering with his grammar. “Cannot send Heshuo before testing inanimate and then animate and seeing connections hold.”

Yu looked at Radek. “Five minutes remain, scholar.”

“Geez, I’m working. Keep your gold plated pants one,” Rodney snapped.

Radek turned to Sumner. “You cannot allow people to test the system.”

“They’re Yu’s people. If he wants to get them all killed, that’s his business. Let that one go,” Sumner said, and then he gave Yu a particularly hateful smile. Humans. They were so predictable when their emotions rules. John had a small whisper of complaint about that generalization, but he kept himself small and unobtrusive.

Heshuo came down the stairs and Yu signaled for two of his guard to escort him. They moved into positions, their ji looking archaic against the tau’ri’s automatic weaponry.

“Three minutes,” Yu said.

“Fine!” Rodney stood up. “I’ve put it together, but I haven’t tested all the circuits, so if someone dies horribly, that is not my fault because using untested equipment is stupid. Using untested ten thousand year old equipment is a level of stupidity that even the SGC has never aspired to.”

Yu gestured to another guard who ran up the stairs to enter the address for the world the human ship was approaching. Yu would not allow the humans to speak for him or run headlong into the great enemy with their eyes closed. While Yu had been equally as rash when he had less than a hundred years of life in him, he despaired at a species that regularly died before reaching any age that allowed reasonable judgment.

‘That’s a little harsh,’ John complained.

‘It is true, and if the truth is harsh, your unwillingness to acknowledge reality does not change it.’

John still didn’t agree, but he quieted his thoughts rather risk more punishment.

The chappa’ai opened and the surface shimmered. Without any hesitation Heshuo and the two guards stepped through the portal. Soon their voice came though one of the communicator’s Yu’s people wore. “It is mid-morning, my lord. This world is simple with no structures near the gate, but markings on the ground suggest peasants on foot and rough carts travel the area frequently. There is a well-worn path.”

So there were prey on this world. The only reason humans in the Milky Way had not advanced further was because the other System Lords inhibited their development. The humans on Yu’s own worlds had levels of development similar to the tau’ri. They were more advanced in some areas such as genetics and agriculture, and less advanced in others such as transportation, but the species had a rather predictable evolution regarding technological development. If these humans had not evolved in ten thousand years beyond peasants with carts, Yu could see the enemy’s hand in that.

“Come,” Yu said as he headed toward the chappa’ai.

“Wait. You are not going through,” Sumner said.

Yu ignored him and continued to walk away. The man could bluster, but he would not begin a fight. Now O’Neill would begin a fight, but he was on a ship headed to this primitive world.”

“Don’t get John’s body killed!” Rodney yelled just as Yu went through the chappa’ai. The portal opened on a world that could be any in the Milky Way. The Gatebuilders had favored certain conditions. The ground cover was hardy, not showing a worn track, but Yu could see the signs of a regularly used path leading into the woods. He headed that direction, his guards and Heshuo following behind.

“My lord,” Zhenguo said. Yu held up a hand to stop him. Zhenguo was the best of his guard, one of the inner circle jaffa who knew everything about his lord and still gave his utter loyalty. However, Yu knew he wanted to council caution or offer to go ahead. For too long he had served a master who would fail at inconvenient times. However, with John as a host, that restraint was unnecessary.

Instead, Yu sent a blast of thoughts toward John—hundreds of years of diplomatic betrayal and verbal games.

‘No way am I going to manipulate people like that.’

‘If you do not, then when I return, they will be unprepared for the lengths I am willing to go to. These people are not under our protection, so we must determine if they are to be exterminated, enveloped, or dismissed.’

‘They’re people with their own opinions on the matter,’ John pointed out, but that thought was so ridiculous that Yu didn’t even bother to punish John. The amusement at John’s naiveté soaked into every cell of John’s awareness.

Yu saw the small village when the trees thinned. A number of children were playing, which suggested a certain success. These children were not needed in the fields. Animal hides were drying on racks, suggesting they had hunters, but most of the technology Yu saw suggested that these were farmers. Wicker drying baskets and clay storage jars suggested an agrarian society not dissimilar to much of the Milky Way.

“Welcome strangers,” a man said. He’d been working at a grinding stone, but he stood now. He had clothing with decorative trim that indicated a level of wealth and leisure time, but it was all from rough woven material, nothing like the durable silks and close knit cottons that Yu favored. Even now this stranger studied them, and his expression was one of caution. “I am Halling. Are you here to trade?” He sounded unsure about the question.

Yu stepped forward. “I may trade, but for now I wish to trade names and exchange stories. I am Lord Yu.”

Halling looked around at Yu’s guard, clearly nervous at the weapons they openly showed. Perhaps these people were more practical than the SGC who largely discounted the damage that could be inflicted by bladed weapons.

“Teyla will wish to greet you. She speaks for the Athosians,” Halling said. He backed away, and Yu gestured for his guard to wait. This was not one who would instigate treachery. And if he did, all of Yu’s guards had personal shields he had scavenged from a millennia of searching the Milky Way.

Halling had vanished into a well-constructed, domed tent. That was another sign of the skill of these people, but it also suggested they were travelers. A society that could provide such quality tents could more easily produce permanent structures. Wood lent itself to shelter more readily than fabric or hides. Almost immediately a woman came out. She was dark and had strong features that reminded Yu of Aruru before she had fallen in her battle against Ra. The smile this Teyla offered was small and guarded.

“I am Teyla Emmagan, daughter of Turghan,” she introduced herself.

Yu did her the honor of providing his own introduction. She struck him as the sort that would understand the implied insult if he had his guard introduce them. “I am the exalted Lord Yuhuang Shangti, known as Yu.”

Her eyebrow went up, and she continued to look at them as Halling followed her out of the tent. “They wish to trade in stories.”

“Do they? Words are not our normal trade goods,” she said. “And we do not trade with strangers. I do not know your name or recognize the symbols your warriors carry.”

This one would not be fooled into believing these men were animal tenders pressed into service as guards to meet the requirements of a treaty. ‘I like her,’ John said. Yu agreed, but his thoughts were unformed. She could be an enemy or an ally, but she was not one to dismiss.

“My warriors carry the ji. We did not know whether to expect enemies on the other side of the chappa’ai.”

“The chappa’ai?” she asked.

“The ring or gate of light,” Yu explained, offering up other names for the technology.

She offered up her term for it. “The ring of the ancestors. Would you like to share tea?”

That was more civilized than Yu had anticipated. He gestured for Zhenguo to accompany him. “I would enjoy that.”

She stepped to one side. “Come,” she invited him. He tucked his hands into his sleeves, finding the emei needles hidden inside. He had no doubt that he could kill both Teyla and Halling before either could move against him, but Zhenguo was projecting his fear through aggression. Yu stopped and considered him for a moment.

“Stay with the others,” Yu said, contradicting his previous order. “Heshuo shall come.”

Heshuo’s eyes grew large, but then he was not a fighter. Like all those who served in the palace, he knew how to defend himself and his lord, but he was a scholar. Even his name meant four sides, suggesting he was cautious and intelligent enough to study all sides of a matter.

“My lord,” Zhenguo protested. Yu cut him off with a gesture that promised future punishment. Zhenguo stepped back immediately, and Heshuo moved to Yu’s side. Teyla watched it all with a shrewd expression. She noticed more than most. When Yu came close, she ducked down to enter the tent first, offering Yu her back. Yu suspected she intended that as an offer of trust rather than any insult, but Heshuo did suck in a quick breath. But then he was one of Rodney’s staff and he had heard that one offer more insults than Yu normally endured in a century. Were not his mind as brilliant as he claimed, Yu would have whipped him until his back was a mass of scars.

John shivered in horror and tried to send out calming thoughts.

“Your guards worry about your safety. You must travel difficult paths,” Teyla said as she took a seat at a low table. An older woman brought a container of hot water, and Teyla thanked her.

“I have many enemies, and my allies search for weakness in my rule,” Yu said. “Your people appear to hide from trouble.” He nodded toward the basket near the door. It was full of water skins and dried food. It was the sort of preparation one made when one expected to need to flee.

Teyla inclined her head toward him and poured the tea. “Those who flee survive to grow stronger. There is no honor in fighting a battle that cannot be won.”

“In my youth I would have argued that I could win any battle.”

Teyla gave him an amused look. “It would appear you are still in your youth.”

“Far from it,” Yu said. This one would not forgive him deception, so he decided to treat her with honesty. At worst, she would become an enemy who understood the danger of crossing him. At best, she might become an ally before O’Neill could even arrive.

Chapter Text

Yu took a sip of tea, aware of the ease with which poison was incorporated into the drink. However the tea was mild. He carefully put his cup down. “I am actually two individuals.”

“Do you mean that you are of two minds?” Teyla asked.

“No, I am two creatures. You see the human John. He had a life before I met him; however, we had a shared enemy who threatened our existence so he allowed me to enter his body through the back of his neck. Now we share his body since my body is too small to protect my empire but his experience is too limited to mount an effective defense.”

‘That’s not exactly true,’ John pointed out, not that Teyla could hear him.

‘Close enough. I know you John Sheppard, and if Ba’al had made the same offer, you would not have agreed.’

‘He wouldn’t have asked first.’

Yu didn’t answer. He turned his attention back to Teyla.

She tilted her head to the side. “You speak with John now?”

“Yes,” Yu agreed.

“And this enemy of which you speak… is that the Wraith?”

Yu felt a flash of glee. To get information from another without paying was like uncovering treasure. John thought that was a little arrogant, but Yu sent little painful flares of warning, so John schooled his own thoughts. “No, our enemy are called the Ori. What are the Wraith?

Teyla considered Yu for a long time. “I have never met anyone who did not already know.”

“They have not reached my borders so there is no reason for me to have concerned myself with them. However, now that I have come to this new part of space, I seek information so I can defend myself against them.”

Teyla gave him a sympathetic smile that made Yu want to hurt her. He was Yu the Great, and sympathy was never the correct attitude toward a being of his greatness. When she spoke, she even had pity in her voice. “There is no defense from the Wraith. If they have never touched your world, you should return there.”

“I have defeated enemies you cannot conceive of. I am here to search for the tools left behind by the Gatebuilders—the Ancestors. I believe that I can find weapons that will defend us from both the Ori and the Wraith.”

“I do not wish to offend, but your weapons do not appear sufficient to take on a Wraith.”

“My weapons are more than they appear,” Yu said smugly.

“So I assumed.” Teyla picked up her tea and drank slowly. She was one to weigh her words carefully, and her youth belied her analytical mind. Yu was sure of it. “If you seek the relics of the Ancestors, do you come to visit the city?”

“Perhaps.” Yu was unsure what had drawn the humans to this planet—whether it was something in the database on Atlantis or some information gained from a scan. If there was another Ancient city here, even in ruins it could provide valuable resources and raw materials.

“It is said that the Wraith will come if we venture into the old city.”

“That presumes they watch.”

“It does,” Teyla agreed. She put her cup down, every movement measured and deliberate. “We have not tested that belief for some time, but I am loath to take the risk when my people are camped so close. However, I can tell you that I played there as a child and I do not remember seeing any relics, so I must then believe you have another reason for coming.”

Her insight was truly impressive, and Yu found so few humans could impress him anymore. Yu put his own cup down, mirroring her motions.

“Because a difficult ally is coming here. The ring of the ancestors in our city failed, and so they travel in a ship.”

“A space ship?” That startled Teyla badly, and she did not hide her reaction. “That sort of technology will cause the Wraith to target you.”

Yu had already assumed as much. These Wraith appeared to have a strategy similar to the goa’uld. It was an effective way to weaken an enemy, but it also weakened the armies of the goa’uld themselves. Yu still believed it short sighted. “I believe my allies can defend themselves.” And Yu would tell his ships to keep to the known pathways and avoid exploring. If someone were to aggravate the enemy, Yu would rather see the battle reports from an Earth ship’s encounter with these Wraith than he would risk his own ship.

“You show great faith in these allies, and yet you call them difficult.” Teyla allowed her observation to ask the question she was clearly too polite to ask.

“When we are not united against the Ori, we are competitors.”

“Not enemies?” Teyla asked.

Yu considered the answer. Teyla was not one to take an easy or simple answer, and the fact that O’Neill was coming complicated the issue. “No doubt they see me as an enemy because I was allied with their enemies before I knew they existed. For my part, I have no strong feelings about them. I do not want their territories. However, I find it useful to ally myself with them against our enemies because I respect their strength. John was one of the tau’ri before he agreed to host me.”

Teyla sat up. “John your host was one of these uneasy allies?”

“He was.” Yu saw where this was going, and he sent a sharp warning to John. If John said anything to make Teyla uneasy, Yu would kill her and her entire village before he would have the tau’ri turn this galaxy against him.

‘So, I shouldn’t tell her you’re considering genocide?’ John asked. Yu was such an egomaniacal monster, and yet he claimed to be reasonable. When the fire burned across John’s nerves, he wasn’t surprised. The pain drove him back farther into his mind, but then it was as if Yu had grabbed him by the neck because John felt himself being drawn forward.

‘As an ally, I can protect her. If O’Neill makes her my enemy, she will never be safe,’ Yu warned him.

John stayed still, letting the familiar pain wash through him.

“You say you are two creatures. Does that mean that I can still speak with John?” Teyla asked.

Yu pulled John forward, but this time there was no sense of Yu retreating or fading. Instead John felt like was being swallowed and enveloped by Yu. It was funny the tricks the mind played on him when he didn’t have a body because it was as if every bit of him was tied down.

“You can,” Yu said easily, but John could feel the unease echoing through Yu’s being. Teyla was insightful and she did not have prejudice and anger to cloud her judgment as O’Neill did. John would show more caution when speaking to her.

And with no more warning than that, John was back in charge of his body, although Yu’s presence curled around him like a rope. “Um, hey. Hi,” John said with an awkward smile. Teyla’s smile softened.

“It is very nice to meet you John. I am Teyla Emmagan, daughter of Turghan.”

“Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, US Air Force, which is the group that’s coming with General O’Neill. Not that I’m with them now.” John frowned. This was awkward on a level he’d never before encountered, and he was very familiar with awkward.

“You left his group to join Yu?”

John paused, and he could feel Yu tighten—it was a feeling that existed only in his head but that didn’t make it one bit less real. However, if John didn’t offer her some of the truth, she’d find out from O’Neill. “I wouldn’t say I left,” John said slowly. Yu was wary of John’s intentions, but John really didn’t want to put Teyla in danger by making her an enemy.

“Before the Ori, Yu and my people from Earth sort of ignored each other. Only then the Ori came and we started searching for anything left behind by the Ancients—the Ancestors. I had a teammate who was really good at getting their weapons to work.”

“You had a teammate? Is he no longer alive?” Teyla asked.

“What? No. No, Rodney’s fine. He’s back at our base.” John rubbed a hand over his face, and Yu’s contempt was a stain that colored everything. Taking a deep breath, John started again. “I’m really bad at telling the story. I mean, Rodney was there and no one else has actually asked for my point of view about why I joined Yu.”

Teyla frowned. “Have you not spoken to those comrades you had among the people of the U.S. Air Force?” she asked, pronouncing the last part carefully.

John sighed. “Not really. Yu is arrogant and sometimes he’s a bit… or a lot… of an ass.” John flinched as Yu sent sharp pricks of pain along with his disapproval. “However, he’s smart, and we need him if we’re going to beat the Ori. The problem is that a lot of his people take arrogant and move right into unforgivable. They enslave people and when they take hosts, they don’t give the host much of a choice. O’Neill tends to assume that Yu is like those other goa’uld.”

“Go-wah-uld,” Teyla repeated after him. “And are all Yu’s people so cruel?”

“Nah. There are tok’ra who ask before hosting, but O’Neill doesn’t like them either. He’s not really good with arrogance, and Yu’s people are all arrogant. He seems to think that because he’s been around for five thousand years that he’s seen everything, and honestly, he does have a lot of tactical skills I never anticipated. I just knew that if I didn’t host, it was going to be bad.”

Teyla looked confused. “I believe the ring is providing an incorrect translation of year,” she said. “Can you provide a more specific meaning for this term?”

“A year?” John was about to say that was how long it took for the seasons to go through one full cycle, but Yu quickly pointed out that every planet had its cycles that did not match Earth. He told John to use the length of time it took humans to grow up and die since that tended to be constant over many planets. John hated taking Yu’s advice, but he was right. “Um, okay, so a year has twelve months, and it takes nine months for a baby to grow inside a woman before it’s born.”

Teyla seemed more confused.

“That didn’t help, did it? Okay, it takes about sixteen years for a baby to grow as tall as he’s going to get, but people keep changing until they’re eighteen or twenty.”

“People change throughout their lives,” Teyla corrected him. “How long might a person live?”

John consulted with Yu quickly because he really only knew the averages in the US. “Anywhere from sixty to a hundred and ten years,” John said.

“A person lives sixty years and Yu is five thousand years old?” Teyla asked, her emotional calm clearly rattled.

“Roughly,” John agreed. “He’s been around a long time.”

“How?”

“By changing hosts and using a piece of technology called a sarcophagus, which has a few drawbacks of its own, but…” John shrugged. He really didn’t want to get into the way the technology made people batshit crazy.

‘It affects those who are not hosts because humans cannot control their hormones.’

‘Oshu warned me that if I went in a sarcophagus, I would be weaker and you could have more control.’

‘True only because if you were disobedient I would refuse to balance the hormones and your ability to mentally focus would suffer,’ Yu explained. ‘Now focus on the woman.’

John refocused on Teyla.

“You were speaking with Yu?” she asked.

“More like getting a lecture about how I don’t understand the sarcophagus and how it works.” John shrugged.

That made Teyla laugh. “At five thousand years old, I imagine he becomes quite frustrated with us for not knowing what he knows.”

Yu definitely agreed with that.

“Seriously, don’t feed his attitude,” John pleaded jokingly.

Teyla laughed again before turning to Heshuo. “I assume that you are not a guard. Are you the trader?”

Heshuo’s eyes grew comically large and he looked at John for some sort of direction. He just shrugged. After years of pretending to be the all-knowing Yu, John was enjoying the ability to play up his own ignorance.

“I am one of my lord’s scholars who studies the artifacts of the gatebuilders.”

“Like this Rodney that John and Yu speak of?” Teyla asked.

Again, Heshuo looked to John before answering. “Yes. He instructs me and often yells at us for careless and ignorance.”

“Does he have one of these go-wa-ulds?” Teyla asked.

John had to laugh. Maybe that was a little mean, but it was hard to tell the difference between Rodney and a system lord. “No, he came that way. It’s part of being smarter than anyone else. Even Yu respects how smart Rodney is. But you don’t usually see too many goa’ulds in one place. The combined arrogance can get a little…” John was tilting his hand from side to side when Yu took the body back over and put the hand back down.

“Insulting my species is not a proper discussion for tea,” Yu said calmly.

“I do not think John intended any offense,” Teyla said with an undercurrent of merriment in her voice.

John braced for punishment, but Yu was actually pleased that John’s lack of charm had somehow charmed her.

“So, I understand that you have come here to introduce yourself before this US Air Force can provide an unflattering introduction. For what reason have they chosen to come here?”

“No doubt they have many reasons.”

Teyla picked up her tea. “Then let us discuss a few possibilities.”

Chapter Text

John was fiddling with his music player when he heard a commotion at the door. He looked up and Rodney was pushing past the guard on John's door... or Yu's door really. Yu had claimed one of the large public spaces and had it furnished as an elaborate private chamber.

"What's wrong?" John asked. There were so many things that could have gone wrong. O'Neill had been less than pleased to find Yu already sharing a meal with the Athosians and none of them had been thrilled at the description of the Wraith. The only advantage they had was that the Wraith largely slept, but John and Yu agreed that given human luck, they'd wake up sooner rather than later. “What’s the emergency?”

Rodney stopped two steps into the room. “Seriously?”

And suddenly John felt the ice thin below him. He gestured for the guard to leave because an outraged Rodney sometimes said things that John really didn’t want others to hear. That had been true even back when John had been Major Sheppard, newly minted gate team leader. Anders had put up with Rodney’s attitude only because Rodney had taken it out on John more often than her.

“Um, yes?” John guessed. He wasn’t sure what the right answer was.

“Oh, that’s you. So Yu is giving you time off, and you’re just sitting in here being depressed instead of spending time with me.”

“What? No I’m not.” John cringed. That sounded like a lie, even to him.

Rodney crossed his arms. “You’re playing Johnny Cash at decibels guaranteed to cause inner ear damage.

It wasn’t that loud. However, John reached over and turned it off.

“Thank you. Now, we are going to watch a movie and if we have time, play a few video games.”

“But I should be… there are… um… emergencies…” John let his words trail off.

“Oh no,” Rodney said. “I don’t have any emergencies. Radek is almost competent, and Heshuo is at least marginally intelligent and able to call me if the SGC does something more stupid than usual. And I know you don’t have any emergencies because Oshu is in his quarters and if something is wrong, he’s always the first to come get you, and O’Neill is off having some fight with the SGC over the fact that they lost Daniel Jackson.”

“Dr. Jackson died?” Horror ripped through John. Jackson was one of the good ones. Sometimes when they found sites that had a lot of archeological looking things, he would come with them, and Daniel never tried to kill Rodney. That was not true of everyone who joined them for a few missions.

Rodney gave him a disgusted look. “Did I say dead? And actually, when it comes to Daniel, even dead isn’t really dead. However, he’s not dead, he’s missing as in that idiot who now heads up SG1 can’t find him. But the end result is that O’Neill is not up to making trouble for Yu right now.”

“Wait. How do you know that?”

“I have surveillance on all O’Neill’s communication.”

“You what? Christ Rodney, now Yu is going to know that. Why would you tell me that?”

Rodney looked at John for a few seconds, a deep frown on his face. Then he gave a casual shrug. “Hey, I trust Yu to do fewer stupid things than O’Neill. In case it escaped your notice, O’Neill was trying to undermine this joint mission with that hot alien chick.”

“Her name is Teyla, and please never again call her a hot alien chick,” John interrupted. If Teyla ever visited Atlantis and heard Rodney say that, she would take her bantos rods to him and beat him black and blue. John was pretty sure that Yu would let her.

Rodney just snorted. “She’s hot. You may have sworn to never have sex again, but I happen to find the beauty in all sorts of different human forms, and shrewd, big-breasted women are still on my list. And that’s the real problem here. Yu made you admit that you’re a giant idiot who put the Air Force ahead of figuring out if I’m as passionate about sex as I am about physics and now you don’t want to be anywhere near me.”

John ran his fingers though his hair. “It’s not like that.”

“Yes it is.” Rodney came in and dropped down on the couch next to John. “And I tried to give you space for you to have your freak out, but enough is enough. Something could have happened, but first you had the Air Force and then you had Yu, and I was too caught up in Ancient technology to notice that, unlike most of the human race, you actually appreciated that I am a superior example of a human being.”

“You’re actually making yourself sound less attractive.”

“But you still like me. And I get why you aren’t going to take it any further because the idea of being in a threesome with Lord Yu is really not hot. I’m a sexual being and I’ve had as many haram fantasies as the next man, but being the haram girl was not part of the fantasy. So I’m saying I give you permission to feel unfulfilled lust, and we are going back to being best friends. And by the way, I now understand why you made me move out after apartment had that fire.”

“Because you left Dorito dust all over the couch and cut your toenails at the kitchen table,” John said. Honestly, Rodney was not the best roommate. If anything, those days of forced cohabitation had cured John of the worst of his lust.

“And still you lust over me. When someone looks at my ass and wants me, that’s just normal, but you listened to me bitch for three years and still lusted over me. I’m impressed. Now, are we watching Wallace and Gromit, Batman Begins, or Shaun of the Dead, and do not ask about the newest Star Wars because I saw bits while I was downloading it through our weekly link to Earth, and it was not pretty, so it is not an option until I am in the mood to shred someone’s incompetence.”

John just stared at Rodney.

“Okay, Batman Begins it is. If I get bored, I reserve the right to turn it off.”

“What? No. I hate it when you turn movies off in the middle,” John said, but Rodney was already going to the view screen and accessing the movie through the database.

“And your tolerance for stupid plotlines is embarrassing. I’m saving you from yourself.”

“Seriously, McKay, if you start that movie you had better be prepared to finish that movie.”

“Bitch away, Sheppard. I stopped listening to you years ago.”

“Like I couldn’t tell. You never did follow orders in the field.”

“I did when they were logical as opposed to your fueled by your paranoia.”

John thought that was unfair, especially given that they ended up getting captured. His paranoia had some basis in reality. However, as much as he wanted to avoid conversation with Rodney, he really didn’t want to go down that path. The movie started and Rodney came back to the couch. “Send your people out for snacks,” Rodney said.

“My people?”

“Yep. You have servants to bring food. I am not one of those servants, so send someone out for munchies. And also, thank you very much for having the second ha’tak bring more coffee. The SGC does not appreciate the scientific brain and its requirement for more caffeine. So when they’re getting food, have them bring some good strong coffee.”

John stared at Rodney, and for a second, he considered making some objection, but with Rodney it was usually easier to go along with the flow. “Food and coffee,” John called out.

“Seriously, do you think that’s going to work?”

“It will,” John said. “Around here, any illusion of privacy is just that… an illusion.” John didn’t point out that the same was true of Rodney. He had a huge workroom with a balcony larger than the Gate room and sleeping quarters to the side. A half dozen of Yu’s people were always within hearing distance of him, either to provide what he needed or to alert Yu if Rodney’s behavior turned dangerous.

“So, are we going to talk about your incredible powers of avoidance?”

“I was hoping we could avoid it,” John said with his best smile.

Rodney looked at him with an utterly blank stare before declaring, “You are an idiot.”

“Nice.”

“But you’re a halfway intelligent idiot who’s clearly infatuated with me, so I forgive you.”

John grunted and let his head fall back. “This is why I’m avoiding you, McKay.”

“I’m just getting it all out in the open.”

“No, you’re torturing me.” John sucked in a startled breath when Rodney grabbed his hand.

“You’re my best friend,” Rodney said, and all the bravado and arrogance was gone. “You gave up everything to save me, to save the team. I know you still push Yu to play nice, and yes, I think he listens because it’s the logical thing to do and not because you’re particularly persuasive. Your charm is less than charming.”

John thought about how Anders had told him he came off slimy when he tried charming people. “Gee, thanks. Sadly, you’re not the first to tell me that.”

“But you’re the first person I haven’t driven away with my awkward attempts to be friends. I trust you, and you’re getting all weird about this, but you shouldn’t. We could have had something, but life got in the way. I could have earned a Nobel Prize, but my confidentiality agreements and recent acts of treason make that unlikely. It happens.” Rodney shrugged.

“No!” John said fiercely. “Don’t ever call yourself a traitor or listen to those assholes up in the gate room.”

Rodney grew still. “You know?”

“I want to kill them. I broke regulations. I was a career officer, and I knew what was and was not allowed when captured. However, you are a civilian. More than that, you continued to follow mission protocol and seek out more Ancient equipment to be used in the defense of Earth. You never turned your back on your commitments.”

Rodney looked down to where they were still holding hands. Now John was holding as tightly as Rodney. “I turned my back on Earth for you.”

“No, no you saw that warehouse.”

“It was a good excuse. I never had many friends, and I wasn’t going to leave you behind—not when you never had left me.”

“It was my job to protect you.”

Rodney’s mouth quirked up into a lopsided grin. “When I started the self-destruct on Laridia, you refused to leave. And don’t tell me that was because I was your responsibility because a sane person would have left and waited to see if I could disarm it, and they would have done that from a safe distance. You couldn’t do anything sitting on the other side of that door, and whether you were there or not didn’t change the odds that I was going to die in a horrible naquida-fueled explosion. But you sat there and talked to me. And at one point I thought, well at least I’m not going to die alone. That’s better than I really expected to get out of life. That’s why I wouldn’t leave that day. The warehouse… that was just a really nice bonus.”

“Oh Rodney.” John had no words. He had no idea how much that moment had meant to him. Later O’Neill had bought him a beer and slapped him on the back… right after telling him to get the hell out of the temple next time. However Rodney hadn’t said anything. As usual, he acted like he expected the military to bend over backward, and it was all beneath his notice. At the time, John’s feelings had been a little hurt.

“Yeah, whatever. We’re both idiots, but you will not shut me out again. I can put up with a lot, including Yu’s attitude, but I will not be ignored.”

“Yu’s attitude?” John asked, eager to escape the emotions that swirled around them. This was too much and he needed time to process. “Most of the time, people can tell if you have a goa’uld or not.”

“At least Yu has a better fashion sense than some goa’uld, although the red and gold number is really over the top. But at least that has some historical significance. Ba’al looks like a poser trying to get into a BDSM club.”

“New rule. Discussion of BDSM clubs are off limits.”

“You do not get to make rules. Well, Yu does, but you don’t, and you know exactly which one of those was capitalized, and which one wasn’t.”

“Watch your movie,” John ordered.

Rodney huffed, but he did settle down to watch. Soon a servant came with food and drinks—beer for John and coffee for Rodney. They ate fried cheese and fruit and made fun of Christian Bale. John actually thought the movie was pretty good, but he wasn’t going to contradict Rodney when he explained, in detail, exactly why certain sequences defied the laws of not only physics but common sense.

Before the end of the movie, Rodney was asleep and drooling on a pillow. John gestured for a servant to come take the uneaten food and bring him a computer. He’d read reports until Rodney woke, and maybe for a short time he could pretend they were two guys just hanging out on each other’s couches.

Chapter Text

John sighed as he reviewed the tactical data from the Milky Way. the Ori were targeting the jaffa nation, and worse, they were falling so quickly that John suspected they were going the route of the true believer. When jaffa wanted to hold out, those bastards were tough enough to hold out for a damn long time. but it was harder to overcome the result of millennia of slavery and service to gods.

He was selecting the information to pass along to O'Neill when his radio went off. "Lord Yu, get to the gate room," Rodney said. From a distance away, John could hear O'Neill bellow McKay's name.

Leaping to his feet, John responded. "I am coming." His guards were on alert before John reached the door.

"John?" Oshu asked.

"McKay called for us to come to the gate room and O'Neill sounds angry. Have someone standing next to the ring controls." By the time John reached the transporter, he had eight guards with him, all carrying the ji and more weapons that couldn't be seen. It was a crowded transporter.

When the door opened, John couldn't see any trouble. Rodney and Radek stood by the dialing computers with O'Neill hovering nearby. However nothing looked worthy of a panicked call. Actually, Rodney hadn't sounded panicked, John realized. John had been the one freaked out when he heard O'Neill's bellow.

"Scholar?" John called out. Rodney looked up. "Oh thank god."

O’Neill moved to the rail. "He's not actually God, McKay. He's a snake with a god complex."

"Ha ha. I never heard that one before," Rodney said with a cold sarcasm. "They are going behind your back and Teyla called to complain," Rodney said.

O'Neill rolled his eyes. "That's a little melodramatic. I gave a simple order and she showed some concern, which is why I sent gate team two in order to back up Major Lorne and gate team one."

"Which is not the same as listening to Teyla," Rodney said.

John had no idea what was going on, but luckily Oshu was there to ask the obvious question.

"What has happened?" he asked.

"Nothing," O'Neill said disgustedly.

At the same time Rodney said, "He sent Lorne into the ancient city that Teyla asked us to stay away from."

That was a problem. "And if the Wraith have passive surveillance, how will you avoid the enemy?" John asked O’Neill.

"Seriously? It's a ruin. We aren't picking up any energy signals, so it's not like we're taking a risk." O’Neill was treating this with his usual disregard. John knew that was pretense—knew it better than most. When you led a gate team, you learned to pretend that nothing mattered because at some point you were going to lose more than you could emotionally handle losing. So John suspected O’Neill had a ship in orbit and more teams standing by, but this nonchalant attitude was not amusing.

"They why go?" John asked.

"To explore. That's what we do. You know, explore..." O'Neill looked over at Rodney and then back to John, "Sending out gate teams, looking to see what's gathering in the dark corners of the universe. I remember a certain major who was almost mad with a desire to get out there and explore."

Maybe O’Neill thought that would sting, but it didn’t. "John Sheppard never went out of his way to provoke enemies," John added, speaking for Yu, not that Yu would have bothered responding to that taunt.

"Well that's unnecessarily negative." O'Neill turned toward the office he had claimed in the tower. "We're just going to poke around and see what we see," he said over his shoulder.

"Dial Teyla's planet," John ordered. Rodney moved to the dialing computer, shoving the SGC tech to one side. The tech looked to O'Neill, but O'Neill was walking to his office and the drapes were closed to give him privacy in there.

"Dialing," Rodney said. "There are two SGC teams there, so please don't shoot our people by mistake."

John didn't answer. Even if Yu was in charge of the body right now, he wouldn't randomly open fire on an ally.

Oshu answered for John. "Do not advise others how to perform their tasks and do not correct your lord."

Rodney didn't answer, and John was staring at the ring so he didn't know how Rodney took that order. However, he was grateful that Oshu was around so he didn’t have to say it. Oshu moved to John’s side as the wormhole engaged.

“My lord,” Oshu said slowly and deliberately—his way of making a point that John was not actually his lord. “I would advise against going. Allow us to handle this.”

John gave Oshu his best imperial glare. “I shall handle this myself. If there are enemy, I will look them in the eye, not you.” John stopped there, glaring at Oshu. Many of the servants and guards who had come understood the nature of John and Yu’s relationship, but not all of them did, and of course none of the humans knew. So Oshu eventually backed off, bowing as he did.

By this time, O’Neill was coming down the stairs, adjusting a field pack as he walked. “It’s so hard to find good help that doesn’t remember when you were a senile and helpless old man,” O’Neill said cheerfully. The man was an ass.

“John Sheppard is a much stronger and more invigorating host,” John said. His barb sunk deeper although O’Neill attempted to hide his reaction. John looked up at Rodney. “I will offer evacuation to any of Teyla’s people who wish sanctuary while O’Neill commits this act of foolishness.”

“Hey!” O’Neill protested.

John looked at him. “I have promised Teyla that our appearance will not endanger her people, and I will defend that promise one way or another,” John said firmly. The human guards tensed up as John and O’Neill faced off.

“Well we’re not ready for guests, so you can put them up in your guest room,” O’Neill finally said.

John turned to Oshu. “Have the kitchens prepare a feast—pheasant, braised duck, seasoned hams, flavored ices and sweets.”

“Yes, my lord,” Oshu agreed.

John smiled. If O’Neill wanted to act like an ass, two could play that game. These soldiers would go to the mess and eat overly processed and dehydrated foods while Yu’s people feasted. That would make a few people unhappy, and from the look on O’Neill’s face, he understood exactly what John had just done, although he attributed it to Yu. Worse, John suspected Yu was going to be more than amused when he awoke.

John strode toward the event horizon, and several guards hurried to get through before him. They would send back warning if anything were amiss. When John came out on Teyla’s world, she stood next to the dialing pedestal.

“Lord Yu, John Sheppard,” she greeted both of them, bowing her head in respect.

“Sheppard’s not home right now,” O’Neill said as he came out behind John and started toward the village. “Major Lorne, this is General O’Neill. Report your position,” he said into the radio, but because John did not have one of their radios, he didn’t hear the response.

Teyla watched him go, sadness in her face. After a moment, she turned her attention to John. “You have much more experience than I, but this is my home. Stories do not rise from nothing, and I would ask that you respect the ways of my people and avoid the city. You have no need of it, and I assure you there is nothing there.”

John stared at the direction where O’Neill had vanished while behind him the wormhole closed. “I have no power to tell an ally how to act,” John said in Yu’s voice. “However, I believe it is time for our two peoples to properly meet. My servants are preparing a feast for all your people. I hope you will consent to bring your people.”

Teyla raised her eyebrows. “Perhaps my people should bring the best of their crafts to trade skills with your artisans.”

“And flocks should not be left untended. My herders would enjoy showing you the resources we have available on our mainland.”

Teyla bowed again. “Your calm insight is welcome as always. I shall speak with my people, but we are always ready to move. If we leave our tents behind, we shall be able to get our herds and supplies through the gate within an hour.”

John turned to one of the guards. “Dial the city and inform the scholar of the timeline.”

“Yes, my lord.”

John headed toward the village, confident that his orders would be followed. However, this was Teyla, and he indulged in the one luxury he rarely allowed himself—he fell back into being himself. Rodney and Teyla were his only contact. Oshu would often speak to him, but John thought of Oshu as a jailer more than a point of human interact.

“O’Neill really isn’t as much of an ass as he likes to pretend,” John said.

“I had assumed, John. It appears that mention of you upsets him. He dislikes that you were taken from his command.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t have a way to stop the Ori, and Yu does.”

“Sometimes survival requires sacrifice. However, I don’t understand why the tau’ri are so interested in that city.”

John considered his words carefully. “Often times the Ancestors disguised the most powerful weapons. I think that O’Neill assumes your stories were true centuries ago, and he hopes that the Wraith watched this place because it was important.”

“Oh. So they do have cause. And do you assume that because some of you carry the blood of the ancestors, you can turn the equipment on?”

“If it’s there, we can,” John said. “But if we turn something on, the Wraith may come running.”

“The risk seems unnecessary,” Teyla said, which from Teyla was a pretty severe condemnation.

“Both O’Neill and I face losing all our world and all our peoples if we cannot find something to defeat the Ori. I think he is willing to take that risk.”

“And you’re not?” Teyla asked.

John smiled. “Lord Yu assumes that any clues to great weaponry would be found in the main city. When you get there, you’ll see why he thinks that. It’s beautiful and amazingly well preserved. Rodney is in heaven with the computer systems.”

“Ah, your friend who is now the scholar for Lord Yu. I shall get to meet him.”

John stopped and put a hand on her arm. “Do not take his insults seriously. Just, don’t. He’s been hurt so much that he tends to assume you’re going to say something shitty to him, and he sort of races you to reach the finish line first on the whole inappropriate insults thing.” John’s expression made Teyla laugh.

“I remember your stories. I shall judge him by what he does and not by the ways in which he comments on my many features.”

“Many features. That’s a way nicer way of putting it than boobs,” John said.

Teyla punched him in the arm.

“Hey!” John complained.

“I should ask Lord Yu for permission to teach you the bantos rods,” Teyla said with a teasing look that made it pretty clear she would kick his ass.

“I don’t know. You haven’t seen a meteor hammer,” John pointed out, and he carried one everywhere. Ancient Chinese weapons might look crude, but they were effective. And with a little goa’uld and a few Rodney upgrades, they were as dangerous as the SGC weapons with the added benefit of not looking all that dangerous. In fact, John wore his meteor hammer as a belt and no one had every commented on it.

“I shall look forward to sharing our talents,” Teyla said. They reached the village, and Teyla hurried to Halling where the two of them had a hurried conversation. When Teyla finished, Halling hurried off, and began to spread word.

O’Neill was on the far side of the village with Lorne, Ford, and a number of other soldiers. John was just glad Sumner got left behind for Oshu to deal with because the man was a menace. John understood why he was search and rescue rather than a first contact team leader. O’Neill was an ass, but at least he was an amusing one who could tone down the sarcasm when the situation required it. Sumner always said exactly what he thought, and he rarely thought anything that wasn’t dictated by the regulations.

O’Neill came striding over, and Lieutenant Ford was right on his heels. “Are you panicking the nice villagers?”

“I have sent my invitation. Teyla says they will be through the gate within the hour.”

O’Neill rolled his eyes. “This is a little much for one visit to a ruined city. We’re probably in more danger from falling rocks than mythical monsters.”

Teyla moved to a spot between John and O’Neill, equidistant from both. “I assure you the Wraith are not mystical. We no longer suffer the great cullings of the past, but there is not a man, woman or child above the age of four who has not seen the ships come through. Those who cannot run fast enough will become victim to their hunger.”

“We can run fast,” O’Neill promised her, but then he looked over to where a young man was helping Charon. She was an old woman, and the young man had to walk slowly and support her as she moved. O’Neill’s expression softened. “If we thought this would attract anyone’s attention, we wouldn’t do it, but that structure is old and it’s still standing. There may be raw materials there that we need. Our city is dangerously low on weapons and we don’t have the right raw materials to make more.”

Teyla put a hand on O’Neill’s arm. “And if the Wraith posed a danger or you needed a place to hide, I would not hesitate to show you to the city myself. Sometimes we must do that which we would normally avoid doing.

“So, one hour for you to evacuate your people?” O’Neill asked.

Teyla bowed her head. “It is all we ask.”

“The chances are that you’re going to have to turn around and come right back.”

“Then the only price paid will be the cost of the food Lord Yu has promised us. I would very much like it if you and your people could join us at that feast.” She looked over at John. Lord Yu would not be amused at sharing food, but he did value Teyla, especially since she was his way to present himself to this galaxy as a being deserving of respect.

After a brief hesitation, John nodded. “The tau’ri are welcome.” John turned to a guard. “Contact Oshu and have him prepare more food.”

“That’s mighty neighborly of you,” O’Neill said suspiciously.

Teyla sighed unhappily.

By the time the hour was up, Teyla’s people had stripped the town and brought in all the grazing animals so that only abandoned tents remained behind, the door skins flapping in the wind because no one had taken time to secure them. However Teyla remained behind, and O’Neill refused to leave until John did. They all stayed, along with two SGC teams and nine of Yu’s warriors. They were a formidable group, but Lord Yu would still hesitate to put them up against Wraith given that he did not have any information on their weapons or defenses. Worse, Lord Yu might be royally pissed at John’s decision to be here. If that was the case, John could count on a long period of intense pain. Hell, Yu might even leave John with seared nerves, writhing in the dark while he went back to sleep, which could lead to ten, fifteen, or even twenty hours straight of torture.

It was worth the risk, though. John was not going to stay home while Lorne and his team poked at an unknown enemy. John respected Lorne—they’d trained together and he knew the man was good. He also knew that Lorne was wildly underestimated because his background in civil engineering got him stuck in some pretty crappy jobs. However, he didn’t have the frontline experience John had.

When the last herder ushered his sheep down the path, O’Neill clapped his hands together. “Alright kids, are we ready for this?”

“This way,” Teyla said with a gesture. O’Neill signaled for Lorne’s men to take point, and then he fell into step beside her.

John allowed them to get ahead before followed with his guard holding the rear.

Zhenguo moved to John’s side. “My Lord, they shall reach the destination before us.”

“And spring any traps,” John said. Having been one of the tau’ri who liked to be up front, he’d sprung more than a few of them in his day. “Fear is an enemy,” John said, and he was tempted to go into a speech about how it was the mind killer and how one had to permit it to pass over and through, but Zhenguo definitely wouldn’t get the joke. “Do not fear, but do not rush into anything without an abundance of caution.”

Zhenguo lowered his head respectfully. No doubt he had meant to volunteer to race ahead, but instead he got tactical advice from his lord. He was definitely going to brag about this. John gestured for Yeung to move closer. He did.

“You must remember that the best allies can still make errors in judgment. By keeping a distance between you and any ally, you have a better chance to see the error before it affects you,” John said. He had to move carefully. If he said anything Yu directly disagreed with, he would either make a point of reeducating the guards later or simply kill them. However, John wanted to plant seeds that would encourage Yu’s guards to work with Earth instead of seeing them as enemies.

Both guards offered respectful, “Yes, my lord.”

“The one to watch is always the enemy in the shadow. We do not know the Wraith, so we cannot judge their strengths and weaknesses. Do not allow your caution regarding these uneasy allies to distract you from watching the darkness. An enemy will often show you the left hand before attacking with the right.” Seriously, John had been listening to Yu for way too long because impersonating him was getting a little too easy.

“Yes, my lord.”

The path was rough, and more than once John was grateful for the stronger body and quicker reflexes that Yu provided even when he was asleep. Without them, John definitely would have gone face down in the dirt. When they caught up with the SGC people, Teyla stood outside the entrance to an underground cavern with a lit torch in her hand already.

“I used to play here as a child. I believe this is where the survivors hid from the Wraith during the last great attack, but there is nothing of the Ancestors left.”

“I think you’re probably right.” O’Neill looked at the tall wall. “I’m not getting any Ancient tinglies. Major?” O’Neill turned to Lorne.

“No, sir. I don’t feel anything.”

John had the most intuitive control over Ancient technology, but O’Neill didn’t ask him. However, John agreed with them.

“Well, since we’re here, let’s look around,” O’Neill said.

Teyla sighed, but he headed into the old structure. O’Neill followed, but when Lorne attempted to go next, John pushed ahead. John had to look away to avoid the look of hatred on Lorne’s face. He knew that Lorne was upset for him and not at him, but it still bothered him to be around humans and play the part of Yu.

“Nice wall art. Danny would be in heaven,” O’Neill commented. John turned on the light he carried and he could see the stone was covered in dozens of different scenes, clearly painted by different people.”

“The drawings in the caves are extensive. Many must date back thousands of years -- or more. This chamber is no different from the others.”

“And the upper levels of the city?” O’Neill asked while John looked around the room.

“They are unstable. Floors and beams have rotted, leaving only the outer walls, and some of those towers have collapsed.”

“What’s this?” John asked as he bent down to pick up a small decorative piece of jewelry.

Teyla gasped. “I lost this years ago. How did you spot it?”

“Good eyesight. It reflected the light.”

“Thank you, John,” Teyla said with a bright smile, but O’Neill’s expression was best described as murderous. She took the pendant from his hand and fastened it around her own neck. “The drawings show what I have told you. The Wraith allow our kind to grow in numbers, and when that number reaches a certain point they return to cull their human herd. Sometimes a few hundred years will pass before they awaken again. We've visited many, many worlds -- I know of none untouched by the Wraith. The last great holocaust was five generations ago, but still they return, in smaller numbers, to remind us of their power.”

O’Neill was still giving John the look of death when he said, “That’s almost as bad as some aliens enslaving your entire world.”

“We teach our children not to live in fear, to enjoy the time they have, but it is hard.” Teyla watched Lorne as he moved into the next chamber with an energy scanner.

“Major?” O’Neill asked. Lorne came back out.

“I’ve got nothing, and these ruins are unstable. I wouldn’t recommend staying here.”

A voice came through John’s radio. “My lord, strange ships have flow through the gate. Three of them and they fly in your direction.”

“The tau’ri?” John asked.

“Are confused, my lord.”

Now O’Neill was giving John all his attention.

“Shéng biāo, full deployment,” John ordered. Immediately O’Neill and Lorne both had their P90s pointed at John. John’s guards pointed their ji toward the officers.

John held up his hand to stop his guards. “Strange ships have come through the chappa’ai. I’ve called for reinforcements.”

Teyla’s eyes grew large. “The Wraith. They come.”

“Okay, let’s stay together and head to the gate. Yu, feel free to get yourself lost.” O’Neill edged toward the door, his P90 still pointed at John.

“Enough!” Teyla snapped. “Both of you.” She turned and glared at John as well, although he hadn’t said anything. “The Wraith will make you see things that are not there. Their ships will send out a light, and you will vanish into it. We do not have time to argue with each other. Lord Yu, I respect your experience, but I ask that you trust that I know these Wraith better than you. Some of my people, including me, can sense them coming, so they are not close yet, but they will come.” With that, she turned and raced out the door.

“After her,” O’Neill ordered Lorne, although he didn’t look too happy about it.

John signaled for his guard to follow. The race back to the chappa’ai as long, and the sun had fallen far more quickly than John had expected. A narrow ship screamed overhead, and everyone dove for the safety of the trees.

“One of yours?”

“My darts are much smaller,” John said. Shéng biāo were ancient weapons that only the most skilled of fighters used. They used heavy spikes on the end of a long rope. A master could swing it to crush and enemy’s skill or flick it out to send the sharpened end into the enemy’s body. However, Rodney had developed an ultralight fighter using the same name as the rope dart. It fit easily through the ring, holding only a pilot and a small engine. The main weapons were energy pulse, and the dart size meant that the same energy supplied both the engine and the weapons.

“Those are mine,” John said as he gestured toward the dim sky. The shéng biāo had climbed high before turning their nose toward the ground. Allowing gravity to provide acceleration, the engine output went to the weapon. The charge built along the edges of the prism shaped nose of the ship and then discharged in a silent burst. The first several missed as the enemy ships evaded. They were also dart shaped, but they screamed along the ground and the light swept along the open paths.

One of Yu’s guards failed to run fast enough, and he vanished into the light. John was horrified to realize he didn’t even know the man’s name. His ji fell to the ground and Zhenguo grabbed it. “Go, my lord!” he yelled.

John realized his people would not retreat as long as he was in danger. He shrugged out of his ornate jacket, and began to run. He quickly caught up with O’Neill who was hampered by his equipment. O’Neill had hunkered down next to a tree and was firing at the enemy ship. The enemy were so close the biāo could not fire without hitting people on the ground.

“If you say ‘I told you so, I’m going to shoot you,’” O’Neill threatened.

“You acted logically,” John said. He pulled out his kara kesh and waited until the ship passed overhead again before pointing his hand up into the air and firing. His aim was true, but the enemy ship only rocked a bit before it continued. Luckily the great speed sent the ship past them, and a fleet of tiny biāo descended on it, their angular noses glowing with energy charge. A dozen fired at once and the enemy ship faltered and then headed for the ground.

John was already running for the chappa’ai, and he could hear O’Neill just behind him. Despite his age and heavy weaponry, he kept up. Others ran through the trees, and another cry went up when the second ship made another pass. John whirled around, caught O’Neill by the waist and flung them both into the bushes as the light swept the area.

One of the SGC soldiers stood and raised a rocket launcher to his shoulder. His aim was true and the second ship went down with an ungodly scream.

“Damn my knees are too old for this shit,” O’Neill complained, but he was quick enough to get himself out of the bushes.

“Sir, are you okay?” the sergeant with the rocket launcher asked.

“Peachy. Good shooting, Bates.”

The man grinned. “Thank you, sir.”

Lorne came back toward them from farther down the path. “Sir, it’s clear for now, but we only have twelve minutes before the gate closes again, and I don’t know if we’re going to be able to reestablish our own worm hole before we have more of those in the air.”

“Double time!” O’Neill shouted. “Get back to Atlantis, people!”

John was more than happy to follow those orders. Overhead, his biāo silently swarming, guarding the sky until John could get through. He wondered if Rodney would have the group come through to Atlantis or if he would disable the city gate long enough to let the secondary gate in the pyramid ship accept the incoming wormhole. O’Neill was not going to be amused that John had brought a stargate, but then O’Neill was unamused by many things. A feast with some real food would hopefully improve his mood.

Chapter Text

When John stepped through the Gate, he nearly ran into the back of the SGC airman in front of him. The humans all had their weapons up and were pointing them at the ring of jaffa guarding Lord Yu’s ring in the heart of his ha’tak.

John pushed past the SGC people and focused on Yu’s. “Kree. Weapons down. These are our allies!” Immediately forty or fifty jaffa snapped their ji up and into formal position.

“My Lord,” Sunzi said with a bow. “What is your command?”

John looked back at the SGC people. “Right now, I would suggest clearing the area so no one is crushed by the shéng biāo,” he said drily before walking toward the huge arched exit. Most goa’uld had any ship gates in ceremonial spaces or in storage. Yu had his installed in his in the belly of the flight deck. Rows of death gliders rose above them, and guards stood on every level.

Lorne was the ranking officer on this side of the gate, and he gave the others a hand gesture to order them to the side, but none of those from earth lowered their weapons. John could see Yu’s jaffa almost twitching with a need to engage their own weapons. Luckily they feared Lord Yu more than they feared getting shot by a P90.

Bates came stumbling through a half second before General O’Neill. The general stopped and looked around with that laconic expression of his. “Well, this isn’t quite where I thought I was going. I should talk to my travel agent about these unexpected detours.”

John didn’t bother reassuring the general of his safety. “If you stand in front of the chapa’ai, the ships are likely to strike you when they return.”

That made O’Neill move quickly. He joined Lorne to one side. “So, you have your own Stargate?”

One of Yu’s people came through with Yu’s ornate coat. Of course they’d saved the coat. John barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. The servant came over and offered John the garment. “All three of the enemy ships are down. Our people are attempting to retrieve some pieces of the technology for the scholars and our guards hold the chappa’ai until they return.”

“Of course you’re putting your people in danger for some pieces of damaged junk,” O’Neill said dismissively.

John gritted his teeth. O’Neill had risked his life for intelligence on an enemy, so John knew it was more of O’Neill’s needling, but sometimes it got to be too much. “The shéng biāo?” John asked. He’d kill to pilot one of those fast little ships, but Oshu and Yu had vetoed it. The ships were blindingly dangerous. If they put too much energy into the weapons, they simply wouldn’t have enough energy for the engines to pull out of a dive. Humans had nothing as perilous to fly.

“One ship lost, my lord. The pilot collided with the third enemy ship and they both crashed.”

John felt a flash of guilt. Then again, it was O’Neill’s fault any of them had been on the planet. “Teyla?” John asked as he suddenly realized he hadn’t seen her.

“I am here,” Teyla said from far behind the jaffa. “The size of this ship is impressive, but I fear such a show of strength will attract the attention of the Wraith.” She stepped between the jaffa, and they moved to allow it. So clearly the only confrontation was with the SGC people. Teyla had been allowed to wander the flight deck. John wasn’t surprised.

“And hey, he has his very own Stargate installed. How’s that for a surprise?” O’Neill asked as he eyed John coldly.

“Given that the tau’ri have a history of damaging their chappa’ai, I thought it prudent in case you chose to blow up yet another one,” John said. O’Neill narrowed his eyes, and Teyla looked from one to another with a weary expression.

“My lord,” Sunzi said before anyone could come to blows. “We have an unknown energy signature from inside the ship.”

John bit back angry words as he glared at O’Neill. “Isolate it,” he ordered.

“Hey! Don’t glare at me. I don’t have any unknown energy sources. I just have known ones from zats and C4 and all sorts of other weaponry I’d be happy to demonstrate,” O’Neill said.

“General!” Teyla sounded scandalized. “We are all allies here—allies against the Wraith and allies in helping your people find weaponry to defend themselves against the Ori.”

O’Neill grimaced, but he didn’t say anything else. John expected as much. While O’Neill was the best commander officer John had ever served under, he still had a touch of the chauvinist in him. He didn’t want women or civilians too close to the danger, and he never snapped at women the way he would at another male soldier. There was something ironic about that since half his gate team had been made up of people O’Neill would rather keep out of the fight. Luckily for Earth, neither Jackson nor Carter were particularly easy to sideline.

Yu’s technical staff hurried into the room, their scanners running. Eventually, they congregated around Teyla.

“I have nothing,” she said in her own defense, but Yuan who had the most precise of the sensors focused on her necklace.

“My lord, the necklace puts out a signal much like that used by the enemy ships.”

Teyla pulled her necklace off so fast that for a half second John thought it had started to burn or something. Instead she held it out away from her body, and they all watched as it dangled from her fist. “Are you sure?” she asked.

Yuan answered, “Yes.” He looked over at John.

“It is a trinket, decorative and nothing more,” she rushed to say.

John held up his hand. “To place tracking devices in objects which will attract the enemy’s attention is an old trick. More than once Nirrti placed weapons or tracking devices within children, knowing that fleeing refugees would gather up the orphans and thereby reveal their sanctuaries.”

“Yeah, she was a real sweetheart,” O’Neill said. “I was so sorry when she got ripped to pieces by the people she’d turned into Guinea pigs.”

John felt the same, but he didn’t know how Yu saw Nirrti or her death, so he didn’t respond. He turned to Yuan. “Place the device in the shielded labs. Prepare a report for McKay, and he may choose to come up and do the work himself if he feels it is incomplete.” If John knew anything, he knew that the technical staff would kill themselves to do a good enough job that McKay stayed on Atlantis.

“Yes, my lord,” Yuan said. Just then, the rest of Yu’s staff came through the chappa’ai, carrying chunks of the enemy ships with them. Hanging wires and charred edges showed where they’d roughly hacked off as much as they could carry, but at least this would give the scientists some place to start. The last man through had a bag made from folding material. The stench made it clear that the guard had retrieved body parts, although the thick fluid dripping from the fabric was too viscous and too dark for human blood.

“Contain the biological materials, and clear the deck for the return of the biāo,” John ordered, and then he strode toward the exit. The servant with the coat hurried after him, and all the other jaffa scrambled to complete their tasks. “General, we can ring down to Atlantis from the next deck.”

“Right. Have I mentioned how much I hate surprises? Shouldn’t you have at least mentioned that you have a stargate up here?”

“I have many weapons I have not told you about,” John said. It was about all the warning he could give his own people because if they thought they could beat Yu, they were so very wrong. The old snake had plans inside plans, and some of the weapons he used weren’t on the SGC’s radar.

O’Neill stared at him, and behind dozens of shéng biāo began to stream though the chappa’ai, O’Neill turned to watch the tiny ships return. Each came in at incredible speeds, was caught up in the force field Rodney had designed. It cradled the craft and lifted it up to the racks where they rested. Up close, the nose of each ship was iridescent, the crystalline structure that channeled the weapons beautiful as they were deadly.

“Nifty,” O’Neill said. “New design?”

He might as well ask if Rodney had made them, and John knew exactly how O’Neill would react to that. It was better to keep him thinking that Rodney was focused on reverse engineering Ancient technology.

“I have many weapons I have chosen not to reveal because there was no enemy worthy of it; however, with Ra dead, the System Lords began to move, and I took steps to ensure I would not have inferior beings encroach on my territory,” John said in his best Yu voice. The best part was that he was telling the truth. Yu had been very proactive in defending his borders, long before the Ori appeared on scene.

“Right,” O’Neill said sarcastically.

“Research the blood dripper, and you will find a fearsome weapon used centuries before you were born, and yet no diagram, no instructions, no picture of the weapon was left for others to find and imitate. My people are much more aware of the power of secrecy than you.”

“Your people? Goa’uld?”

John stared at O’Neill for a long time before answering, “Chinese, O’Neill. I chose the Chinese people over the goa’uld centuries before you were born, and I have never wavered in that.” Turning his back to O’Neill, John walked toward the ring room with his stomach in knots. He had never been a fan of confrontation, choosing to leave home and join the Air Force rather than live in the toxic blend of disappointment and conflict. However, he couldn’t walk away now. Teyla moved to his side.

“He misjudges your loyalties,” she said softly.

That was more true than she could ever know. “His anger and fear cloud his judgment,” John finally said. It was true enough.

“Are the other goa’uld truly so horrible?”

John walked down a wide set of steps and thought about that. Yu had loved humans, admired a few, killed many more. However, he had seen them as children who might grow to stand with him. So while he’d never treated them as equals or valued their lives as much as his own, he had never slid into the depths of depravity the other goa’uld had.

“Many are,” John said. He couldn’t say more without angering Yu too much. He couldn’t tell her that Yu had once loved Sun Tzu’s mother. When he had found a goa’uld he had believed worthy of her, she had embraced her chance to be with him forever. Instead the symbiote had taken over, and when Lord Yu had removed the offending snake, it had ripped out her mind in revenge. Yu had buried the first human who had impressed him with her loyalty and wisdom. He remembered the warriors who rode horses against him, brave to the end. Yu remembered when the goa’uld began to call themselves gods, and he remembered his anger when the other goa’uld had turned against the first queens. That is when he had withdrawn from the company of other goa’uld except for councils.

He had seduced one of Ra’s engineers and built his own ships, the first of the goa’uld to challenge Ra’s monopoly, but he had given his word he would never move against Ra or any goa’uld allied with Ra, and that had earned him his freedom from the goa’uld who had led their people to Earth and then seemed intent of making sure they all forgot that they were predators—fighters. Goa’uld became bloated with gluttony and weak in their own certainty that they ruled the universe.

John didn’t have access to all Yu’s memories, but as Yu watched the humans try to get Atlantis to sing again, he spent more and more time remembering those ancient conflicts. Goa’uld as Yu remembered them in their youth would have rallied against the Ori. They would have allied themselves with humans until the fight was over, and then they would have schemed to best the humans. They embraced strong enemies and reveled in defeating the worthy. Unfortunately, Yu remembered, and he knew his people had become something worthy of O’Neill’s contempt, although Yu would never say as much.

“It must have isolated you to have so many of your people act in such a way,” Teyla said softly. John turned to look at her, and for a moment, he was lost in Yu’s memories, in his grief for a way of life that the goa’uld themselves had destroyed long before the tau’ri.

Without answering, he turned back to the arch in front of him, realizing that they had reached the ring room while he was lost in memory. How had Yu’s old hold held on to himself as long as he had? Some days John felt like he was drowning in the memories—thousands of years of memories all in a wave that would crash over his head until he couldn’t find himself. His own life—his own losses—were pale by comparison, and John found his own feelings fading in a way that scared the shit out of him. Luckily Yu was pretty reticent so that when John went silent, no one noticed any difference.

Yu stood in the center of the ring platform, and Teyla joined him along with two of Yu’s informal guard. By this time, O’Neill likely knew they were temple jaffa masquerading as herders, but as long as both sides could plausibly deny any treaty violations, they would.

Sometimes John wondered if that was what was happening with Yu. Maybe the cagey old snake was taking over and John was using any excuse to deny the reality where Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard was quickly fading away to nothing.

Chapter Text

John let his shoulders droop the second they were in his quarters.

Rodney promptly shoulder butted him. “You should tell O’Neill to take a long walk down a nuclear reactor core,” he suggested.

“He’s not that bad.”

“The man makes me look nice. His passive aggressive humor is enough to warp the fabric of space.” Rodney threw himself down on the couch and John had to smile. A knock at the door caught his attention and Teyla stood in the open doorway between two guards.

“Hey! Teyla! How are your people doing?”

She stepped into the room, and the guards stayed outside as the door closed. “They are settling in. My people are very grateful for Lord Yu’s generosity,” Teyla said. “We shall not stay for long, but we wish to take our time to find a new world.”

Given that the Wraith were crawling all over the Athosian home world, John figured that was pretty much a given. The ugly bastards were not amused at losing three ships. The SGC was equally cranky about the fact they’d lost two men, and O’Neill had his extra special asshole attitude going, but John got it. He knew what it was like to lose men you knew. Captain Parker had been a good man. The one the others called Smitty had joined after John’s capture, but he still deserved better than to die at the hands of space vampires. According to Teyla, dying of an injury was a blessing compared to those who were fed upon.

“Feel free to leave if you aren’t going to stand up for John and Yu,” Rodney suggested.

“Rodney,” John said in warning.

“Oh, please. She just stands around and looks beautiful while O’Neill treats you like shit.”

“I assumed Lord Yu did not require my assistance,” Teyla said. She turned to John. “However, if you would like me to take a more active role in attempting to mediate this difficult relationship, I am happy to do so. I actually came here to thank you, John. I know that you advocate for us with Lord Yu, and I appreciate your intervention.”

“Try telling O’Neill that,” Rodney said unhappily.

Teyla sighed. “I actually have. He is a good man, but his desire to protect his people has made him much like the ked fruit—all spines prepared to damage the unwary traveler.”

John laughed. “Yep, that’s O’Neill for you, and he doesn’t have Jackson around to file off all those sharp edges.”

“Jackson was one of his teammates?” Teyla asked.

Rodney snorted. “He was a walking invitation to trouble. If curiosity killed the cat, then it obliterated Jackson molecule by molecule. Multiple times, even.”

John sighed, and Teyla gave John an amused look. Yep, John had not exaggerated Rodney’s blistering tongue. The more threatened Rodney felt, the meaner he got, and right now the whole city was on edge. The first encounter with the Wraith had reminded humans that they weren’t at the top of the food chain in this galaxy any more than in the Ori galaxy or… if some weapon didn’t turn up soon… in their own galaxy. That was making Lord Yu more short tempered than usual. He’d spend seven thousand years quietly building an empire that could withstand almost any threat, and the tau’ri had gone and stirred up the Ori.

“Rodney disapproves of certain people’s lack of caution,” John explained.

“Lack of caution?” Rodney’s voice rose. “Jackson and Carter are the same, always out there taking risks, exposing the rest of us to mortal danger.”

“Saving the world,” John added. Rodney glared at him.

Teyla cleared her throat, and it sounded suspiciously like a laugh. “Jack has offered me a position on one of these teams as a local liaison.”

“Good for you,” John said. It was a good call—one he would have made if he’d been in charge of the military.

“I asked to have a member of your staff on the team as well.”

John cringed. “Oh, not so good.”

Teyla considered him for a second. “How can your peoples learn to have respect for one another if you never work together?”

“If we do work together, it’s going to get ugly.” John could tell from her expression that he hadn’t convinced her.

Rodney jumped in. “Look, people are stupid. Don’t expect more of them, and they can’t disappoint you. Now this is John’s break time, and I have a video game ready for us to play, so go ponder the stupidity of the SGC somewhere else.”

Teyla’s eyebrows went up, and John moved closer to her, touching her arm to keep her attention on him since Rodney seemed to be trying to break some rudeness record. “The SGC people have lost a lot to the goa’uld. I’ve lost people I cared for to them too, so I get it. If someone asked you to work with the Wraith, would you feel any different?”

“The Wraith see us as food,” Teyla said softly. “But if I found one that would speak with me respectfully and listen to my concerns, I like to think I could set aside my previous conclusions.”

“You like to think that, but could you really?” John asked. He didn’t wait for Teyla to answer. “But look, when Teal’c joined the SGC, he helped build a bridge between his people and those of Earth, and both sides really benefited. I hope you stay and join one of their teams. Maybe you can keep them out of trouble.”

“That’s not likely,” Rodney said in his crankiest voice.

John rolled his eyes. “Ignore Mr. Optimist.”

“I shall,” Teyla agreed. “And if some of my people wished to stay, either on Atlantis or Beianasau?”

“They would have to follow the rules of the community,” John warned. That would be particularly difficult in Beianasau on the mainland. Because no one could predict whether the Wraith would find this world, the community lived in a series of caves that Yu’s servants had helped expand using laser cutters. Farming required planting along natural features so that fields would not be obvious, and grazing areas were far from the actual settlement. Yu had taken puddle jumpers over the area to make sure that from the air Beianasau was undetectable. The rock and sensor disrupters Rodney had designed would hopefully protect them from Wraith scanners, but that was far from certain, and the people’s homes were dark and more crowded than John liked thinking about.

Teyla put a hand on his arm. “Atlantis is beautiful, but the dangers are difficult to understand. My people might be used to tents, but they find Beianasau logical and comforting in its many preparations to hide from the Wraith. We can adapt to living by artificial lights, and there is plenty of sunshine outside. Many of my people would prefer Beianasau, and they would embrace rules that would make the community safer.”

“Then you would be more than welcome,” John said. He mentally rearranged the work schedules to allot more time for the engineers to work on expanding the settlement. People should not have to cram together in small spaces, especially considering how many resources Yu used for his own pleasure.

“Thank you. Well, I know this is your time with Dr. McKay, so I will leave you.” Teyla lowered her head respectfully and then left.

“Huh. Teyla on an SG team. Maybe they can avoid poking any more mortal enemies,” Rodney said. John went over to the couch and claimed the second controller. Rodney had chosen a car racing game. John started setting up his player.

“You could cut them a little slack. It’s not like they knew they were going to poke the Ori.”

“It’s not like they hadn’t done that exact same thing before. They uncover the gate, and do they have academic discussions? No. Do they open this to the world and consider their options? No. They decided to open it and just poke their heads through while carrying a nuclear weapon. They drew the goa’uld back to Earth, and then they did it again with the Ori, and now they’ve done it for a third time with the Wraith. How many mortal enemies do they plan to poke with a stick because sooner or later, someone is going to poke us back.”

John looked over at Rodney. “If the SGC hadn’t started to explore, what do you think would have happened?”

“I don’t know, but you wouldn’t be a hostage in your own body, and I wouldn’t belong to a snake and the Earth wouldn’t have faced destruction about a million times.”

“We were sending signals out into space, Rodney. Someone would have heard us eventually. And then we would have been sitting ducks. Ra would have come, and let me tell you, from Yu’s memories, I can tell you he wasn’t the sanest goa’uld in the mad house. He would have turned Earth into a burnt cinder. So don’t assume that the SGC caused any of this.”

“They brought the Ori down on us.”

“The Ori are power hungry assholes who need human worshippers to use as batteries. They would have found us eventually.”

Rodney put his controller down. “Are you this insanely forgiving naturally or did your mother drop you on your head when you were a baby?”

“Hey, that’s the personality trait that lets me forgive you.”

“That’s because you love me.” Rodney said the words and then let them hang out there while he sat, tense and wary.

This is the line John had always avoided crossing. “Yeah, I do,” John admitted. “I wish I didn’t because maybe then you wouldn’t have put yourself in this spot for me.”

“You’re an idiot. I didn’t realize you loved me until way after I agreed to work for Yu, not that it mattered. Most of the time when I fall hard for someone, they don’t know I exist. Or worse, they hate me. You’re just the first one of my obsessions that actually likes me back.”

“You’re weird, McKay.”

“Tell me something I don’t know. Now play.” Rodney waved at the controller, and John focused on the game. There was something easy about being with Rodney. No matter what he did, Rodney would complain, but he would always stick with John, even when he shouldn’t. John had just finished kicking Rodney’s ass when he heard a disturbance in the corridor.

“What’s going on?” Rodney stood and turned to face the door. John wasn’t sure he wanted more drama, but he hit the pause button and got up to head over to the door. He hadn’t covered have the length of the room before the door came open. Oshu came in first followed by O’Neill and then Lorne.

John stopped.

O’Neill gave John a searching look. “So, this is what you do when you aren’t playing system lord.”

“I apologize,” Oshu said. “He insisted on interrupting your private time.”

John was caught between going to attention or donning the personality of Lord Yu. O’Neill was closer than he knew when he talked about John playing system lord. However, before John could do anything, Rodney jumped in.

“Oh no. No, no, no. This is our time, the only time John gets, and you can just go to hell.” Rodney started poking his fingers in O’Neill’s direction.

“Hello to you too, McKay,” O’Neill said. He stepped into the room, and Major Lorne followed, which made Oshu all sorts of twitchy. “Why don’t you give me some time with old Yu-ey here.”

“Okay, I know you have a very small brain, but try to understand this—Lord Yu runs an empire, John plays video games. This is John.”

“Right,” O’Neill said without pretending to believe Rodney.

“Hey,” John said softly, “it’s okay. It’s a military thing. Give us a little time.”

Rodney got that hard expression, the one that said he hated this, and John got it. He did. They had so little time together. Rodney believed that was because Yu only gave him one hour a day, but the truth was that John couldn’t afford to be John too much. It hurt. At least when he played Yu he got to push back when everyone he used to respect treated him like crap.

“You don’t have to put up with his attitude,” Rodney said. He crossed his arms over his chest and pressed his lips together. If John were in O’Neill’s shoes, he would worry about the availability of hot water.

John shrugged. “If Yu didn’t want me to talk to O’Neill, he’d take over. I guess that means he wants this to happen.”

“Yeah, well he sucks.”

John laughed. “Yeah, we agree on that.” Rodney was the only one who could get away with saying that, and sometimes John worried that Yu would take it in his head to discipline Rodney. “I’ll catch up with you tomorrow. Remote control car races?” Too late John remembered that had been something the three of them—him, Rodney, and O’Neill—had all once shared.

Rodney looked over at O’Neill, and then he stomped out of the room without another word to anyone. Oshu gave a nod, and John figured one of Yu’s guards was following. Hell, several probably were. Yu did defend his territory.

Turning his back on O’Neill, John went back to the couch and dropped down. “Whatever shitty thing you have to say to me, just go ahead and say it.”

O’Neill followed him and sat on the chair farthest from John. “So, are we going to pretend that you’re Sheppard?”

“Oh, no pretending required. I am Sheppard,” John said. How was that for irony? It usually was him, but the only commanding officer John had ever liked and respected couldn’t tell that.

“Right, and Yu let you out for good behavior. We’ve seen that ploy before, Yu. So what? You play nice with McKay and make sure he’s a happy little slave?”

“I don’t think Rodney has been happy two consecutive days in his entire life, slavery or not,” John said. It occurred to him that this was the first time he was getting to really talk to O’Neill without having to pretend to be Yu. “But he enjoys screaming at his assistants, so maybe he’s happy in his unhappiness. So, how is everyone back on Earth? Anders? Is Rodriguez working out? I never got a chance to write a report on that last mission from hell, but both of them faced death without begging and put themselves between the guards and Rodney, so they both deserve medals.”

O’Neill shook his head. “What are you playing at?”

John looked at the screen. “Grand Theft Auto. It’s a little violent, but it has good gameplay.”

“If you think you’re going to win me over with this act, you’re not. If anything you’re making me more suspicious because I know how it works with goa’uld and hosts.”

John bolted to his feet, and Oshu and Lorne both reached for weapons. “Do you really think you know how this works, General?” John demanded. He wanted to put it all out there, to tell the whole truth, but if he did that, the alliance would be destroyed forever. But he could give O’Neill some part of it. “If I say something Yu doesn’t like, even if I say it in the privacy of my own brain, he can turn every nerve to fire. He can leave me screaming in pain for days as he goes about his business like I’m just the tickle at the back of his head. I can be in the middle of doing anything, and he can just take over my body. I can’t take two steps or say two words without wondering if I’ll be punished or if the control will be taken away. I’m a fucking dog on a leash, and the only reason he lets me out on the leash is so that I remember what it means to have a life so that when he takes it, it breaks me a little more. And if I’m disrespectful enough or insubordinate enough, he can lock me away from my own senses. He effectively traps me in a perfectly silent, perfectly dark, perfectly formless box in my own head where I slowly go insane as I wonder if I’ll ever get out again. But yes, tell me what it means to be a host. Educate me, General.” John hadn’t meant to say as much, but once the anger started to come out, he couldn’t contain it.

O’Neill’s face had turned to stone. “I’m sure that’s exactly how Sheppard feels. I know you snakes can take thoughts from the host. One of these days we won’t need each other, and I’m going to put a bullet between your eyes. And when that day comes, Sheppard will be in the back of your head thanking me.”

O’Neill turned and walked away, his back stiff. Whatever he’d come to discuss was clearly going to wait for another day. Lorne gave John a distressed look, and then he turned and left without a word. They’d trained together—laughed together. They’d both despaired about finding a gate team where they could get some experience and get in on the real fight. Lorne had been stuck on a mining mission—supervising dirt digging hadn’t been his life’s ambition, and now Lorne wouldn’t even exchange two words with him.

John collapsed onto the couch and covered his eyes with his arm.

Next to him, the couch dipped. “John?” Oshu asked.

“Some days I wish Yu really could just take over. I have to go to meetings with O’Neill tomorrow and pretend to be Lord Yu when I just want to hit him over and over until he stops acting like he knows everything.” The worst part was that O’Neill was so angry because he liked John. He liked John so he treated John like absolutely shit. There was irony in there. Hell, O’Neill would enjoy the joke if John could tell him about it.

“Should I cancel the meetings?”

“And say what? Lord Yu can’t make it because the slave who’s impersonating him is having a small nervous breakdown?” John laughed at how that would go over in the Earth camp.

“You have a place of great honor,” Oshu said slowly.

John could have cried. Oshu would have given anything to host Yu, and instead the old bastard had chosen John—had stolen his life. And any pieces of a life he gave back were mere fragments. And the weight of those broken little pieces were starting to kill John as surely as it was killing him to watch Rodney buckle under the weight of hatred from the earth scientists, as surely as it was killing him to feel Yu’s memories crowding out his own. Some days John wondered if they wouldn’t all be better off if he killed himself when he had control of the body.

But then Oshu could just bring him back, and John’s mind would be damaged by the sarcophagus.

“I’ll bring some soothing tea,” Oshu said before he stepped to the doorway.

Soothing tea. That would be a tea with sedative in it, but John was too tired to argue.

Chapter Text

Teyla came into the audience room and stood in front of Yu’s table, waiting until John was finished reading his current report. He’d thought being an officer came with a lot of paperwork, but being an evil galactic overlord buried him the stuff. When John finished reading production reports from one of his border planets, he gestured toward the pillow on the opposite side of the table. “Come, join me.”

“Thank you,” Teyla said with a bow of her head.

“How are your people setting in at Beianasau?”

“Quite well. Our peoples have many similar traditions, and where the rules are different, each of us is learning to adapt.”

John nodded. Teyla’s people were teaching Yu’s staff to have a little less blind faith, but Yu didn’t mind. Teyla’s brand of pragmatism was much more palatable to him than O’Neill’s blind nationalism or Sumner’s arrogance.

“And how are you doing with your work with the tau’ri?”

“Major Lorne is a good man. It pains him to speak of John. He misses his friend.”

John felt a stab of grief, but he’d given up his life a long time ago. It was hard to believe, but he’d been Lord Yu for over three years. Yu considered that nothing, but for John, this was about to become his longest ever posting. A servant brought Teyla tea, and she thanked the woman and took some time to enjoy the drink.

“Have you reached an agreement with the Ro?” Teyla asked. She had escorted two of their traders back to Atlantis days ago.

“We have,” John said. “We are providing cloth in return for the spider silks from their planet.”

“I thought you would both benefit from a friendship,” she said. Since the SGC seemed determined to prevent Yu’s people from travelling, and since Yu did not wish to explore a potentially hostile galaxy on so little information, Teyla had taken it on herself to bring the galaxy’s representatives to Lord Yu. It annoyed O’Neill, and that was enough for John to appreciate the gesture. The general had never come back after their rather loud disagreement that one night, and John hated O’Neill for making him face all the ugliness John felt and usually repressed.

“I was hoping we could speak in private,” Teyla said.

John raised an eyebrow.

“It is a matter that concerns me, but it is not an issue that concerns the city.”

John looked over to the guards. Yu would insist they speak here, but it was a small enough request, and Teyla rarely requested anything. Signaling for the guard to remain at the door, John stood and walked toward the balcony. Teyla followed, but she didn’t speak until after the doors closed behind them.

“Am I speaking to John or Lord Yu right now?” The wind stirred her hair.

John gave her his most imperious look, but he didn’t want to lie outright.

Instead of backing away, she smiled. “So, I assume that means I am speaking with John.”

“Why would you assume that?” John made sure his voice reverberated.

“Lord Yu is much more direct about condemning mistakes.” Teyla leaned back against the rail so that the city towers framed her. “However I do not understand why you would allow the others to believe that Lord Yu controls the body most of the time.”

Now John was starting to panic. “This is not a conversation you want to have.”

“I think it is,” Teyla said kindly.

John grabbed her by the arm and sent a thought out to the city to give them privacy before he hurried her farther down the balcony where the guards couldn’t see them through the doors. With his luck, the guards could read lips. “Teyla, this is not a safe conversation. The second Lord Yu wakes up, he’s going to know that you can tell the difference, and you won’t be safe. You need to get out of Atlantis and not tell anyone around here where you’re going.” John expected Teyla to panic or get angry. After all, Lord Yu had a lot of warriors ready to kill at a word.

Instead Teyla smiled. “I will take that under consideration. However, I have more faith that you and Lord Yu have the best interest of this galaxy in your hearts, and I want to be a part of this. So you will have to explain why you believe I should leave.”

Shock kept John for answering right away. “Lord Yu has nothing but greed and arrogance in his heart, and I should know. I get to share his thoughts, and they aren’t nice.”

Instead of doing the normal thing, and panicking, Teyla gave John one of her compassionate looks, one that managed to convey the idea that she liked him, even when he was an idiot. Yu would not have been amused. “I have led my people for many years, John, and I can promise you that there have been times that I have not been nice. I have driven the ill away from our homes rather than offer them comfort. I have ordered men to their deaths in order to allow the retreat of our families from danger.”

No way did John think that approached the level of evil Yu had achieved. “Lord Yu has killed thousands—hundreds of thousands,” John said. “He thinks he’s better than everyone, and he’ll kill anyone who questions him.”

Teyla looked out over the ocean. The silence weighed on John, but he didn’t know what words would make Teyla understand the danger she was in. Eventually she turned back toward him. “Lord Yu has lived for thousands of years while I know very few people who live as long as fifty years. I have to believe that his years of experience do give him insight.”

“So, you think he should be worshipped?” John demanded. “Back home, people spend a lot of time kneeling and worshipping him as a god.”

Teyla took a deep breath. “Then I am very glad he has changed his policy because as much as I respect him, to worship another being as a god would prove difficult for me.” Teyla took both John’s hands in hers. “However, I still do not understand why you have such concern for my wellbeing.”

“It’s not safe.” John shook his head, unwilling to put her in more danger.

“Life is not safe, John. When I saw the power your Lord Yu brought to this galaxy, I knew that he was not safe. I understood that before I finished my first greeting with him. However, to fight the Wraith, a little trust is a small price to pay, and I am asking that in return for my trust that you offer me that same respect.”

“He’ll kill you.”

“For knowing that you have control of the body more often than the others know?” Teyla raised her chin. “Then I suspect the secret is that Lord Yu is weakened by age. Has he threatened to kill anyone who knows this?”

John closed his eyes and nodded miserably. “As long as I convince the others that he’s strong and that any weakness he showed before was a flaw in the host, he’ll make certain concessions for me. But don’t mistake that for mercy. Lord Yu has very little of that.”

“And you must offer up your body to earn these concessions. You have made a great sacrifice for you people, and I am sad that they cannot know of this.” Teyla put her hand on John’s arm, but the sympathy was too much. If he allowed himself to feel it, any of it, he was going to lose all control. John shook her hand off and stepped back. “Does Rodney know?” Teyla asked.

John shook his head. “He believes that our hour together is the only time Lord Yu allows me and that he has the strength to take that time away if either of us fails to obey.”

Teyla let her gaze drop to the floor for a time before she looked at him again. “I assume Lord Yu’s staff knows.”

“His closest guard, yes.” John rubbed his hand over his face. “Teyla, when Lord Yu emerges, he’ll have you killed. You have to leave Atlantis and run as far and as fast as you can.”

“That is the one thing I must not do,” Teyla said. “That would make me an enemy of our Lord Yu and he would have to suspect every Athosian, every Athosian ally, and every tribe we trade with of knowing his secret. It would turn this galaxy into his enemy, and we are not. Even those who choose to live outside his protection will have respect for a creature who has lived five thousand years. So I will sit with you, John. Together we will wait for Lord Yu and I will speak with him. If he deems me a danger, at least he can rest easy knowing that the other Athosians are still his allies.”

John considered Teyla one of the smartest people he knew, but that sounded pretty damn stupid. “Do you really think they’d follow Yu after he killed you?”

“I believe he could find a way to make my death appear an accident if that is his choice. However, my job is to lead my people, John. Lord Yu offers them protection from the Wraith, and we will pay the price of that gladly as long as he does not decide to ask us to worship him. After all, you have made that same choice.”

“I don’t make many choices these days.” John went to the bench at the end of the balcony and sat. The sunlight glittered on the ocean and the air was so fresh that he could close his eyes and imagine this was heaven. But nothing would ever get the snake out of his head. He would live the rest of his life waiting for the moment when Yu woke and locked him inside his own body.

Teyla sat next to him and threaded her fingers between his. “I disagree. You could easily tell your people the truth. One of the soldiers from earth said they have equipment that can pull a snake out of a host, and that he wishes he could zat you and drag you through the Stargate and use it. You could find a way to make that happen. However, that would require you to earn your own freedom at the cost of sending your people to war with Lord Yu’s empire. Your galaxy and ours are under attack from far more dangerous forces, and you are placed to provide a way for two great peoples to make an unlikely alliance. You have paid a great price, so do not ask that I place my own safety above the needs of my people.”

“I wish I could take it all back. I wish I could go back and say ‘no’,” John confessed in a whisper.

“Where would you be had you done that?”

John sighed. “Dead. Worse, Rodney would be dead along with my two other teammates from that mission.” John closed his eyes for a moment. “I really miss Anders. You would have liked her.”

“Where would your people be?”

“I have no idea.” He really didn’t. Could Daniel have found a way to Atlantis without Lord Yu’s texts? John had no idea. Maybe. Daniel had been convinced that the answers were in the Antarctic base, but with the budgets so tight, the IOC never would have approved a long-term research mission on Earth. They considered Daniel a bit of a dreamer, and they didn’t fund missions without clear objectives and potential profits. John wasn’t sure why they’d agreed to the joint mission to Atlantis, but sometimes he suspected O’Neill had played a little fast and loose with the truth. He knew O’Neill had a plan to kill Yu and take the city for himself. John would feel guilty about giving Lord Yu that information, but the snake had already figured that one out on his own.

“Why did Lord Yu choose you?”

“A healthy dose of self-hatred with a side of malicious sadism?” John guessed.

Teyla gave him a disappointed look, and John sort of wilted. He’d dragged her into this, and now she was going to die and there was nothing he could do to stop it. If only she’d run he’d feel a lot better about this.

“He wanted someone who could hold things together when he had to sleep.”

“The aged require more rest,” Teyla agreed. “But he must have great faith in you to choose you for such a task.”

John thought about Yu’s last host. “Actually, he has a fetish for turning his enemies into hosts.”

“So, he chooses to share his thoughts with one who would challenge him rather than a follower.”

“If you’re trying to make me consider his point of view, don’t. We have a mutual hate thing going on.”

Teyla smiled at him. “If he hated you, I doubt he would allow you to handle so much of his business. I know that Yu rarely handles the audiences.”

That was worrying. “You can really tell when it’s me?”

Teyla nodded. “I can. I have spent my life learning the bantos, the fighting rods of my people. It is a precise discipline that requires and understanding of how the body moves. You and Lord Yu use your body differently. It took me longer to realize that the others could not distinguish between you.”

“O’Neill would shoot me in the head if he knew.” John felt a bubble of hysteria press against the bottom of his throat. “The only reason he tries to play nice is because he thinks I’m a hostage and he wants to save me. Well, that and he wants his share of the weapons we find around here.”

“He is a good man, but he is unreasonably confrontational with Lord Yu.”

“Confrontational.” John gave a dark laugh. “Yeah, that’s one word for it. He’s killed more goa’uld than anyone else in the last thousand years… well, if you’re talking about the actually bad guys who’ve taken hosts. The unhosted goa’uld in their snake form die a lot easier. The ones in hosts have no trouble killing the young.”

“That is rather disturbing.”

John gave her an incredulous look. “Of all the fucked up things you’ve seen, that’s the one that bothers you? Not the fact that you’re going to die or that there are huge secrets that could blow this whole alliance out of the water?”

Teyla laughed, her voice light and easy. “The people of Pegasus are more difficult to horrify, John. We live with an enemy that consumes us.”

“It’s made you all weird.”

“Most likely,” she agreed. “So shall we go inside and share our tea? I have information on the two new settlements who would like to make an alliance with Lord Yu.”

“The second Yu wakes, I can’t stop him from taking control. This is your last chance to save yourself,” John warned her seriously.

Teyla tightened her hold on John’s hand. “I understand that you came to this alliance from a difficult place. Lord Yu asked more of you than you had wished to pay, and that has stained your perceptions.”

“In other words, you like Lord Yu.”

“I do not know him well enough to like him. Most of the time, I interact with you, John. However, I have great respect for him, both his strength and his wisdom. I respect that he asked too much of you and I grieve that these secrets have proved even more of a burden. However, I will not allow that to stop my people from gaining from his wisdom.”

“And if he kills you?”

“Then Halling is the natural choice as leader, and he has not studied the bantos.”

“You’re making it easy for Lord Yu to order your death.”

“Perhaps,” Teyla agreed. “Perhaps I am showing faith in an ally who has offered much and has earned my loyalty.”

John snorted. “I wish I could believe that Lord Yu would repay that.”

“We shall see. Come, let us see to our tea.” Teyla took him by the hand and led him back into the audience room. Oshu had appeared, and he watched John cautiously. Lord Yu would appear soon, and Oshu was always here for his lord. He was probably wondering if John had just done something to earn himself punishment. John settled down at the table and studied Teyla. He would give his life to save hers, but the choice wasn’t his.

John was in the middle of swallowing when Yu woke. The sensation of Yu sorting through John’s recent memories always made John feel dirty. No matter how much he wanted to protect his friends, he never could. In the end, he was a host and he had no more choice than any other host.

Teyla bowed her head. “Lord Yu.”

John felt the shift as Lord Yu realized that Teyla had discovered what no one else had. John couldn’t expect Rodney to figure it out. The man was as clueless with people as he was brilliant with machinery; however, it was ironic that Teyla had noticed John’s lies when all the SGC people who’d known John before all bought his act.

Lord Yu slowly put his tea down. “You honor those who trained you to observe.”

“I try,” Teyla said. “John really is quite good, so for a time I was not sure of my own perception.”

John felt a wave of regret so strong that he wanted to cry. All she had to do was not mention it to him. That’s all.

“He has served with honor,” Yu said. He sent a wave of condescending approval toward John, and John could only curl up and let the emotion pass. ‘I would rather cut you into small pieces and feed you to fish,’ John thought.

‘Your opinions have always been clear. Do not bother me by repeating yourself or I will lock you in darkness,’ Yu said. It wasn’t even a threat. John could keep his thoughts quiet or Yu would, with a simple thought, lock him away where he couldn’t see or hear anything. He would be helpless, his body left to pass out when Yu fell asleep. Sometimes John worried that if Yu did that and then died, then John would be cut off from his senses forever, left to float in utter darkness until he went mad.

Teyla clinked her cup against her saucer. “He is a good man who struggles with the burdens of leadership. I struggled just as much as a young woman.”

“You still are young.”

Teyla smiled and bowed her head toward him again. “My lord, before you came, few of my people lived to grow old. I have hope that we can change that. But until then, for my people I am perfectly middle aged.”

“You suffer such short lives.”

“Shorter for the Wraith,” Teyla agreed.

Yu studied Teyla. John could see everything Yu could—the subtle tension in her shoulders, the way she gripped her cup too tightly, the way she kept her hands away from her belt where she hid her weapons. She made a show out of being comfortable at Yu’s table, but she was far from it. She feared, and yet she tried to make it clear that she did not intend to turn to violence. Yu felt admiration for the woman’s control over her own emotions. If he had symbiotes ready to mature, she would make a formidable queen, able to rule even after he had passed.

Fear hit John like a fire catching in gas-soaked kindling. He tried to control it before Yu followed up on his threat, but he knew that he was only partially successful. Yu would feel every ounce of pain John suffered at the thought of Teyla locked behind a younger symbiote, one able to take control all the time.

Yu smiled. “John is distressed because I wonder if you would prove worthy to carry a symbiote.”

Teyla paused. “Are you asking that I submit to this, opening a discussion of terms, or providing information either on John or on the possibility that I could earn such an honor?”

Yu leaned forward. “Would you consider it an honor?”

“If I could serve as John does, absolutely. I would have many years to help lead my people. However, General O’Neill has a much different description of what it means to host. I would not want to be locked inside my own mind, unable to affect change while my body harmed those I wished to lead. Which would be more likely?”

Yu didn’t answer, but young symbiotes were aggressive, quick to seek some path to glory. Teyla’s grace would be lost under that all-consuming need for achievement. Even Yu had felt the urge to seize territory and kill enemies when he’d been young. Only after a few thousand years had wisdom tempered his more avaricious nature. If Yu chose a queen, she would spend the first thousand years of her life undoing the work he had done to bring calm to his empire. War with other goa’uld was in their nature. However, a young goa’uld would turn his own empire against itself by encouraging unhealthy competition and fear within the borders.

Yu raised his tea and considered the problem of Teyla. John tried to quietly push that respect for Teyla to the forefront until Yu lashed out with searing pain. John silently screamed and retreated to the back of his consciousness, aware that he had gone too far. His master had given him an order, and as usually, John sucked at taking orders.

“You will not carry tales to O’Neill. He will turn this city into a battleground between our forces.”

Teyla relaxed a little. “Of course not. Our enemy is the Wraith and the Ori in your galaxy. We do not have time for fighting within our alliance, no matter how uneasy we may be.”

“And are you uneasy with this alliance?” Normally Yu would not care, but his forces were divided, and age forced him to rely on John and Oshu more than he wished.

Teyla didn’t offer any quick answers. She studied her tea for a time and allowed the silence to fill the room. “I am uneasy with how much John struggles under the weight of leadership. I am uneasy that his former allies have driven him away so completely. Even when he allows his personality to show through, none but Dr. McKay interact with him. And he is uneasy with your people despite Oshu’s attempts to make leadership easier for him. There is great animosity between you, and I wish I could help ease that.”

Yu sent a derisive thought toward John, an inquiry about whether Teyla might ease his hatred for all things goa’uld. As far as John was concerned, he would be easier with Yu about the time Yu dropped dead, taking John with him. John could only hope that came sooner rather than later.

“John will work harder at his tasks,” Yu proclaimed, and that was that. John had to fake being a happy prisoner, or Yu would punish him. John withdrew farther into the back of his mind to a spot where the world faded. It was as far as he could escape.

Chapter Text

Oshu hurried into the audience room. “My Lord, Teyla calls for you to come to the gate room.”

John had been on the verge of taking over as Yu started to grow weary, but now Yu took full control again. “What has happened?”

“O'Neill was visiting an ally, and the Wraith took him and several of his guard,” Oshu reported

John wanted to panic, but Yu had control over the adrenaline glands, so the best he could manage was a dull horror. Without access to his own hormones, John had found most of his emotions were blunted and incomplete.

Yu was amused by John’s reaction. ‘He is capable of handling himself. Is he not the warrior who defeated Ra?’

‘No one has ever escaped the Wraith,’ John pointed out.

‘Before O'Neill, no one had ever defeated Ra. The great queens Hathor and Nut lost in battle, so I am not overly concerned.’

John wrestled with his hate. Yu never responded well to threats, but sometimes John could talk him around a corner. ‘You can't ignore a request for help, especially not from Teyla.’

Yu could, but John felt the old bastard's cold calculations. If Teyla asked for his assistance, he would damage their relationship to ignore her. Since she had made it clear that she knew his secret, he had watched her more carefully, and he was sure that she was the key to holding an empire in the Pegasus galaxy without having to control the population or defend the borders. The Wraith were a formidable ally, but over the millennia, Yu had learned that the enemies within one’s own empire posed more of a risk. Most goa’uld fell not to the tau’ri, but to disloyal jaffa, lax guards, ignorant populations, and information provided by spies. Without those internal threats, the tau’ri never could have defeated Ra or the other System Lords. The Pegasus galaxy provided a chance to create an empire without those forces.

Sadly, John agreed. ‘If you refuse her assistance, she will not trust you,’ John told Yu with a great deal of conviction. Teyla was honest—too honest to do business with a goa’uld—and she would not forgive an ally who refused help.

“Come,” Yu said as he strode past Oshu. Oshu bowed and followed, and two guards fell in behind him. Yu arrived in the gate room to find a scene of controlled chaos. Colonel Sumner was on the floor, ordering men to fetch equipment, while Majors Lorne and Teldy were near the controls. Yu ignored Sumner. If he took note of the man’s offensive nature, then he would have to address it, and now was not the appropriate time. Instead, Yu focused on Teyla who stood with the majors.

“Lord Yu,” Teyla said with a respectful bow of her head. “General O’Neill has been taken by the Wraith. One of the townspeople has brought us the address the darts used to cull his group, but the planet is one that I know little about.”

“Defenses?”

“None that we know of. Colonel Sumner sent a machine through, and it reports nothing near the ring,” Teyla said.

Yu looked at Lorne. He grimaced, and for a second, Yu thought he might refuse to speak, but then he let out a long breath. “We sent a MALP through, and we don’t have any life signs near the gate, but the MALP has a limited range, and we don’t have any aerial surveillance. Teyla suggested you might be able to help with that.”

Yu looked down at the gate room floor, and Sumner showed no interest in Yu’s presence. That suggested that he had not supported Teyla’s decision to ask for help. Helping Teyla could have multiple advantages.

“Contact the ship,” Yu ordered Oshu. “Have three àndilei prepared.”

“Three what?” Lorne asked, and despite his obvious discomfort, he gave Yu all his attention.

“Three ships, similar to the shéng biāo, but they have cloaking technology and scanners instead of weapons,” Oshu explained to Lorne.

Lorne studied Yu for a second, and then nodded. “I’ll get McKay up here to translate the data that’s sent back.” He looked at the female major. “Teldy?”

She nodded. “I’ll convince the colonel to wait for the report.”

Teyla gave Yu another small bow. “Thank you for your assistance. General O’Neill’s loss would be significant, and if the Wraith take information from his mind, I know they will target Atlantis.”

That could pose a problem. Yu had two ships that mirrored Apophis’s mothership, each five or six times larger than an ha’tak, and Rodney’s understanding of Anubis’ mothership was allowing him to create a similar ship, one that incorporated everything Rodney knew of ship design. That would be the flagship of Yu’s empire, and it was the only ship that might stand against an Ori warship. Yu intended to keep them near his homeworld, but there was so much technology in Atlantis that he was unwilling to abandon it. The containment unit they’d found with the shadow monster gave Yu good hope that the Ancients had possessed weapons that could take on the Ori directly.

Yu nodded in Teyla’s direction and then walked away, Oshu and his guard in close proximity. They returned to their section of the city before Yu spoke. “Have the Propriety report here and position the Fidelity at the edge of the Pegasus galaxy. Planet 194 would make a good colony.”

“Colony design?” Oshu asked.

Yu considered the options. John pointed out, ‘This galaxy makes heavy use of the gate. The people need access to it.’

‘And that reliance on the gate makes communities too easy to find,’ Yu told John privately before he told Oshu, “Design four.”

Oshu bowed.

“I shall observe the tau’ri,” Yu said, and he trusted Oshu would tend the details. ‘And you shall ensure he does not make an error,’ Yu told John.

‘They should be closer to the gate.’

‘They will have limited technology. They can reach the gate in an emergency.’

‘And they’re isolated from the rest of the galaxy most of the time,’ John objected. Colony design four called for the use of subterranean building far from the gate.

‘Much as the tau’ri were isolated,’ Yu said as he walked back up the stairs to the gate controls. Rodney was present now.

“I wanted to do more testing on the stealth ships' cloaks. I haven’t had enough time to assess the Wraith technology and we have too limited a sample for me to ensure that the cloaks will hold against them,” Rodney complained. Yu ignored the complaints and studied the readouts.

“Oh my God,” Rodney whispered, and Yu felt a cold horror as he read the scanner reports that the ha’tak was relaying using their open chappa'ai.

“Colonel!” Lorne called, “You need to see this.”

Yu turned his back to the computer and walked toward the balcony rather than start a conflict with Colonel Sumner. As he stared out at the water, he could hear Rodney, Lorne and Sumner talk about the readings. Sumner questioned the accuracy of the data while Rodney questioned Sumner’s intelligence, but Yu understood the reading. The enemy ship was 5800 meters. That made the ship larger than Atlantis—larger than anything Yu possessed.

Yu had no illusion that size implied power. Ra’s pyramid ships were some of the smallest, but he had powerful weapons that had kept the other System Lords at bay. As Yu started to fall asleep, he warned John to get intelligence on the enemy. If the Wraith had ships larger than the Ori, that could suggest inefficiency, but it could also mean the enemy was more dangerous than any of them had prepared for. His last thought was that he hoped O’Neill and the others died quickly and with no opportunity to reveal critical information. With that, he slid away into sleep.

John turned back to the small crowd gathered around Rodney’s computers. “Kree,” John called, and the two jaffa in their herdsman guard disguises turned to look at him. Sumner also turned, and John made a point of using English. While the gate allowed Sumner to understand goa’uld, John didn’t want any confusion. “Follow the tau’ri though to this world. Do not engage the enemy, but retrieve any technology you can. Scholar, find them proper sensors,” Yu ordered.

Rodney turned to the huge box of tools he kept with him at all times. One of his guards tended it, and that guard stepped to the side so Rodney could rummage through it.

“Now see here. You are not going to send your goons with us,” Sumner said.

John was actually pretty grateful he had a System Lord to back him up because Sumner was the sort of rule lover that John had always hated. Lorne knew how to be flexible, and O’Neill was so flexible he was like a slinky, but men like Sumner never trusted their gut enough to risk breaking a rule.

“The treaty allows full use of the gate, and my men will go through,” John said firmly. “However, they will not help you or interfere with your mission. They will collect technology.” John turned away. He felt a flash of pressure, and he realized that Sumner had tried to grab his arm. However, John used a personal shield. John stood at the rail and nodded at his two guards. Rodney had outfitted them with a number of scanners, and they both had their ji as well as a number of less obvious weapons. It would have to be enough.

Sumner was still angry and shouting, but now Rodney added his own voice to the cacophony, and Lorne was trying to settle them all. John didn’t care about any of it, because Yu was right. If O’Neill or any of the people with him were forced to give up information, they were all so very, very screwed. 5800 meters. 5800 fucking meters. Fucking 5800 fucking meters long. John prayed that meant a whole lot of inefficiency because if that was a lean, efficient ship, they were all so very dead. On the good side, John knew who could stop the Ori.

Chapter Text

John had walked the exterior balcony, struggling to stay away from the gate room. His guards had returned, and John had sent them to the labs with their pilfered technology and scans, but O’Neill and the rescue party were still MIA. Under normal circumstances, John struggled to stay in character. Under these circumstances, he was ready to climb out of his skin. Oshu had tried to get him to return to the audience room, but that was not happening.

John had taken a short tea break in O’Neill’s office, and then he’d returned to pacing the outside balcony and fighting his instincts. Yu was afraid for his empire and afraid of riling an enemy he didn’t yet know how to fight. John was afraid for his friends. Sure, O’Neill wouldn’t call himself a friend at this point, but John had served under the general for a long time, and he respected the man.

Unable to fight his own instincts, John headed back into the gate room. Rodney was gone, probably off poking the new data on the Wraith. Hopefully the scans and small pieces the jaffa had brought back would provide some insight into the enemy.

“Any word?” John asked.

Lorne was standing guard. “None yet. I’m going to contact Earth soon.”

“And tell them what?” John asked.

Lorne gave him a confused look. “That we need the Daedalus out here. Missions through the gate have been unsuccessful, and we need to approach the planet from space.”

The ship wouldn’t reach them before O’Neill and the others had broken and then died, so John guessed that Lorne was subtly trying to ask Yu to send his ha’tak. However, John agreed with Yu that tactically that was a bad move. “So, you’re going to ask Earth to send one of her three ships up against a Wraith hive?”

“The hive is hibernating.”

“And you don’t think having the Daedalus show up on sensors would wake anyone?” John asked.

Lorne visibly sagged. “What else can we do?”

John knew, but if he got involved, Yu was going to kill him. Okay, Yu wouldn’t actually kill him, but John was going to lose any illusion of freedom. The alliance was going well enough that Yu could afford to have John chained in a closet and writhing in pain. But if John didn’t act, people could die. John activated the private channel Rodney had created on their radios. Hopefully Rodney had never mentioned it to Oshu because one word and that bastard was going to zat John’s ass and drag him to a sarcophagus. The irony was that Yu liked their private channel—liked any gesture that tied Rodney more closely to John, and by proxy, to Yu.

“Rodney, send private messages to Zhenguo and Yeung to come to the gate room,” John ordered.

“Am I your messenger boy?” Rodney demanded.

“You will be the latest guest in the dungeon if you don’t obey,” John threatened him. They didn’t have dungeons, and he assumed Rodney knew that, but hopefully it would get him away from his toys. Zhenguo and Yeung were both good guards, but they weren’t part of Yu’s inner circle, so they wouldn’t know to suspect their lord of going rogue on their true lord.

When John tried to move to the dialing computer, Lorne stepped in front of him. “Sheppard, what are you doing?”

John stared at Lorne, speechless.

Eventually Lorne rolled his eyes. “Yes, I know. Lord Yu isn’t as chatty or as sarcastic. So talk to me. What’s going on, John?”

Panic was the first reaction, but luckily, John had learned to panic very, very quietly. He couldn’t destroy the alliance between Yu and Earth, and if the IOC knew Yu was weak, they would never stop trying to take Atlantis. There would be war. “Apparently someone wanted to give me a chance to help the general, but I don’t know how long the sedative in the tea will last. I need to get the general out before our position is compromised. You saw the size of that ship.”

“We need to send you back to Earth. Now,” Evan said. “Before any of Yu’s guards realize there’s a problem.”

“That's the last thing we need to do, Evan. Even if the SGC could get Yu out of me, it would destroy the alliance here, and you have no idea what sort of contingency plans Yu has.”

“You could tell us.”

John gave Lorne a sad smile. “I don't know, Evan. I'm not always aware of what's going on.”

“But you can’t…” Lorne stopped and grimaced. John figured that Lorne knew the truth. He could save John or save the general, but he couldn’t save both. Worse, saving John could end up costing more lives than either of them were willing to sacrifice. “John,” Lorne said softly.

John shrugged. “We play the hand we’re dealt and we protect Earth. That’s the job.”

“Christ,” Lorne said softly, but then the two jaffa appeared.

“My Lord?" Zhenguo said, and both bowed deeply. John gave Lorne one last look and then he focused on the jaffa.

“We are going to the planet where the tau'ri have disappeared. We will gather information and remain unseen.”

“I’ll get some Marines to go with you,” Lorne said.

John gave him a cold and condescending look. “Your training is inadequate for any mission which requires finesse, a flaw which my men do not possess.” Zhenguo and Yeung were almost trembling with pride and both stood straighter as John strode past them. “Bring down a puddle jumper for my use or I shall ring up to my ha’tak and use one of my ships.” John didn’t add that he would pray that none of the guards realized that John was hijacking their system lord.

“This is a horrible idea,” Lorne called after him, but the mechanics started to groan as the automatic system guided an empty puddle jumper into the gate room. John rarely flew the craft, but his Ancient gene made control easy. The second he sat behind the controls, he radioed Lorne.

“Dial the gate,” John ordered.

John stepped out of the cloaked puddle jumper feeling almost like the team leader he had once been. However, he didn't have his team. He had two jaffa who watched him. John signaled for them to take point. Both moved silently into the forest. John touched the meteor hammer at his waist and then moved after them, struggling to use all of Yu's skills. He suspected he sounded more like a drunk elephant than a silent whisper through the trees. However, the two jaffa were silent, and John trusted them to warn him if they were running into any trouble.

They followed the path Yu's last pair of guards had used. They reported that Sumner's group had breached the massive ship using a poorly secured door, and John could only hope that no one had plugged the hole. So far John was getting the feeling the Wraith had grown a little sloppy without any enemy to fight. He also knew that Yu was going to torture John to just this side of insane for pulling this because John was working off assumptions and precious little evidence.

They moved through the darkness, and every second John expected to see a monster jump out at him. Teyla's people had described the Wraith, and the children had masks. That was enough to convince John that he really, really didn’t want to see a live Wraith.

The found the ship easily, but seeing the massive size in person was much more impressive than looking at readouts. And John had been pretty damn impressed to start with. This thing was so huge that trees were growing on it.

Yeung turned and looked at John, and he nodded to signal they should continue. “Wait here and observe,” John ordered Zhenguo. The man appeared unhappy, but he stepped backward into the foliage and crouched down. And then there were two.

John pulled out the life sign detector. There were two large clumps of signals. One had four dots, the other seven. Either way, that did suggest that some of the tau’ri had died. John closed his eyes and pushed back the all too familiar grief. After signaling to Yeung that they had four potential enemies, John headed for the smaller of the two groups.

The hive ship corridors curved and divided and widened and narrowed in a way that spoke of biological structures. That was actually good news because biological structures were always less efficient. Goa’uld had experimented with a number of living ship designs, and they all required two and three times more space compared to crystal based technology.

So their nearly 6000 meter ship probably had the firepower of a 2000-3000 meter ship. That would put it at roughly on par with an Ori ship. Maybe the Wraith wouldn’t win so easily against those bastards. However, this ship would definitely destroy any standard ha’tak. Only Yu’s three largest ships would have any chance of going toe to toe with the Wraith, and that meant that human ships wouldn’t have the brute force to win. They needed to find weaknesses in the technology.

Yu knew too well that the best technology would crumble if faced with the perfect attack. He had taught John that through any number of history lessons. John signaled for Yeung to be silent as he heard voices.

“You must feel hunger by now.”

John ducked into a side corridor as footsteps approached. Yeung crouched low, his ji on the ground ready to attack. However, the tall, faceless monster walked past them without pause. If any of Yu’s guards had been that careless, Yu would have killed them on the spot.

Once the corridor was clear, John moved toward the three dots still ahead of them.

“Your mind is so much weaker. You will give us all we need to know.”

“Name, rank, and serial number is all you’re getting, lady.”

John recognized Colonel Sumner’s voice.

“I want to know how to reach this world of yours, and you will tell me the gate address.”

Sumner didn’t answer. John inched out and realized he was on a balcony above some sort of audience chamber. There was a buffet table set out with a number of foods, and Sumner was there with a female. She looked like a weird cross between a Wraith and a human with blue skin and terrifyingly red hair. Clearly the females were more brightly marked, which generally meant they were more dangerous. Color was generally a warning in the animal kingdom. John remembered the flashes of deep burgundy and gold in a queen goa’uld when she swam free of the host.

“All living things must eat. In this I'm sure we are similar. You feel hunger even now -- I can sense it. Yet you resist. Why? You are welcome to my bounty.” The female moved closer to Sumner, her movements sexual.

Sumner gave her the same cold look he often gave John. “Why do you care?” Sumner asked.

“Hunger is distasteful,” she told him. Considering these Wraith ate people, that was a little disturbing. “This world called Earth—how did you hide such food from us?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sumner spoke slowly, clearly struggling with each word as it was pulled out.

“Is it among our stars?” the woman asked.

John loosed his blood dripper from the fastening on his back. This was the most difficult of all his weapons, even modified to be more efficient with technology. The metal hoop had no attached bag to catch the decapitated head, but it had razor sharp blades hidden within the wide mechanism. However, John had to get the opening over the Wraith’s head before triggering the device.

“No,” Sumner eventually barked out, clearly struggling now.

“What weapons has your world developed?” she asked. Sumner’s whole face twisted with pain, and John couldn’t wait any more. He threw the blood dripper, watching it arc through the air. Sumner registered confusion first, but his tortured expression camouflaged the expression for a vital half-second. The blood dripper hit her head. Had John hit a human, the ring would have fallen down around her shoulders where he could trigger the decapitation mechanism.

Instead, she exploded into motion, her hand pushing the ring up before it could even come to rest. John triggered the blades, and they closed with a loud clack of metal hitting bone. Black blood sprayed across Sumner, and he collapsed to the floor, clearly released from the Wraith’s hold. A second Wraith, one of the faceless guards, rushed to the woman’s side, but when Sumner turned to run, the guard grabbed him.

John signaled for Yeung to move down the corridor. There had to be a way to get in there and help. Yeung ran silently down the organically curved hall, and John followed. When he came around the corner, the guard was holding the blood dripper. He’d gotten it off the female, although her face was mutilated and torn right across the bridge of her nose. But instead of showing as a fresh wound, the skin was puckered and well on its way toward healing, and Sumner lay on the ground, a dried and shriveled corpse.

Shit.

So much for the rescue. The female looked up and began to scream. Yeung opened fire with his ji. It fired a lesser charge than a zat, but still… it should have stopped the Wraith. It didn’t. When the guard came close enough, Yeung swung his ji, driving the pointed end deep into the enemy before triggering more energy charge. The Wraith still tried to reach for Yeung, and John brought his sword down on the Wraith’s arm. The metal sliced through ligament and the hand dropped to the floor.

The female screamed. She threw her head back and honestly screamed. John brought up his zat and fired two of three times before pain hit him between the shoulder blades and he pitched forward. Worst rescue ever, John thought to himself before he fell unconscious.

Chapter Text

John groaned as he came back to consciousness. He felt for Yu, and the goa’uld was still sleeping, even deeper than he was before. The weapon seemed to have affected him, but if John spent too much time in this cell, Yu was going to wake up, and he was not going to be amused.

“I can’t say I expected to see you,” O’Neill said.

John rolled over onto his side, and froze. “Um. General…” John stopped, not willing to sound crazy. Maybe the Wraith weapon was making him hallucinate.

“Yeah, yeah. It turns out Wraith can give years back,” O’Neill said as he ran his fingers through his dark blond hair. He didn’t have a wrinkle on him. John rolled over to get a better look. “It also turns out that the more they suck you dry and then shove the live force back into you, the harder it gets to concentrate because it feels too damn good.” O’Neill rubbed his chest like it hurt. “So, I’m assuming you slipped the leash?”

John struggled to coordinate his muscles well enough to sit up against the wall of the cell. He ended up tilted to one side and slumped, but it was the best he could do with his muscles screaming in pain. “Don’t expect it to last. Someone thought you were worth taking a risk for, so they slipped Lord Yu a sedative.”

“Who?”

“People who do things that Lord Yu wouldn’t appreciate don’t generally tell me who they are. I’m not good at keeping secrets from him.”

O’Neill shrugged. “Probably Teyla. She tells me that she finds me a noble and compassionate leader when I’m not acting like a whiny child who’s lost his favorite toy.”

“Huh. That actually sounds like Teyla.”

O’Neill nodded. It was so very odd to see him looking so young. “You know I’m not letting Yu near her until I can get her safely out of Atlantis.”

“I would never hurt Teyla,” John protested.

“Yu, Y. U. Not you like Colonel John Sheppard you.” O’Neill waved his hand dismissively, and that was the same man who had once been John’s commander, even if he looked like a refugee from the University of Colorado.

“Oh. I think Yu’s going to be too busy being pissed at me.”

After a quick grimace, O’Neill said, “We’ll get you back to Earth, Sheppard. I may hate the Tok’ra, but they have some really nice goa’uld killing toys.”

“And then what?” John asked. “You’ll destroy the alliance on Atlantis.”

“And, but, or…” O’Neill made a ‘go on’ gesture, inviting John to finish the sentence.

“We can’t afford to get in a war with Yu. We need the technology to fight the Ori.”

“Oh. That.” O’Neill grimaced again. John was really starting to hate that particular expression.

John narrowed his eyes as he tried to figure out what was going on in O’Neill’s head. “Have you suffered some sort of brain damage?”

“Considering how the butt-faced bad guys keep wiggling their fingers in my brain, probably,” O’Neill said. “However, I’m not really worried about the Ori because Danny put together an Ancient weapon that killed them. I mean, we’re still cleaning up the mess. Danny is throwing around words like genocide, and we have some pretty damn powerful Priors using the ships and their hold over certain populations to set up their own kingdoms, but they aren’t all powerful anymore.”

John frowned. None of his intelligence had suggested such a monumental shift in the war. O’Neill could be lying, but he sure seemed to believe it.

“Danny only pressed the button a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve kept it pretty hush hush. I was trying to figure out a way to get you off planet so we could rip Yu out before he found out that the Ori threat is much less serious.”

John stared at O’Neill, not even able to process that. Earth was safe from the Ori. Okay, if Priors had ships and were setting up their own fiefdoms, the rest of the universe was in danger, and that was bad, but Earth was safe. Relief crashed over him like a wave, soaking him to the bone. Earth was safe.

“Thank God,” John said softly.

“Thank Danny,” O’Neill corrected him. “Only, maybe don’t thank him any time soon because he’s having some trouble with it. But that means we don’t need Yu all that much. And the second he figures that out, he’s going to drag you and McKay back to his home planet and put enough guards on the gate that we’ll never get you back.”

“You were planning a kidnapping. That’s why you were off planet,” John said as the pieces fit together. The general never left Atlantis. Lorne led the top exploratory gate team, and Sumner did any of the heavy lifting, like rescue or combat.

O’Neill made a face. “There’s irony in there. The universe loves irony. But if we can keep Yu under control until we get back to Atlantis, the Daedalus is in orbit behind Atlantis’ sun, and we can use a cloaked jumper to get you over to her. Then we just have to wait until the ha’tak heads out toward the edge of the solar system to meet the incoming ship, and we have a flight path that allows us to get you out unseen.”

“The second I go missing, Oshu is going to order his forces to take the city.”

“And we’ll deal with Oshu.”

“And his ships?”

“Hey, I’ll put the Daedalus up against Yu’s ha’tak. I’ll even put them up against two ha’taks. We have a few surprises up our sleeves and the shield will protect the city as long as we disable the ring transports. Trust me, we have it covered.” O’Neill grinned, and John realized that the general must have had a whole lot of company in bed when he was younger because his snark turned into something devilish and damn near irresistible on a man thirty years younger.

John struggled to cross his arms with all his back muscles still twitching from the Wraith stunner. “Would you put the Daedalus up against Apophis’ mothership?”

O’Neill’s smile faded and he narrowed his eyes.

“Yep, Yu has two of them that he just hasn’t shown anyone, and then there’s his new flagship, the Valor.”

“Nifty name,” O’Neill said cautiously. “Do I want to know what class of ship it is?”

“The closest design would be Anubis’ mothership.” At 2200 meters wide, it was the largest ship the goa’uld had ever produced, and Yu was sure that the improvements Rodney and the other engineers had made would make the Valor the most dangerous ship in the Milky Way. Hopefully. Yu hadn’t been willing to put the ship up against an Ori vessel, especially since there were many Ori ships and only one Valor.

O’Neill scrubbed his hand over his face. “This is just peachy. And I suppose Rodney got in there and helped with a few improvements.” O’Neill made air quotes during the word helped.

“Rodney is focused on saving our galaxy from the Ori.”

“McKay is dangerously close to being guilty of treason. How much tech has he given Yu?”

John surged to his feet. “Leave Rodney out of this. If you want to go after someone, then you come at me.”

Holding his hands up, O’Neill stood. “Hey, I’m not going after anyone. I’m just pointing out that his morals are a little questionable.”

As much as John had always heard the phrase ‘seeing red,’ but he had never before been so angry that he felt like a veil was dropped over his eyes. “He has sacrificed everything for Earth.”

“Funny enough, the way I hear it he didn’t sacrifice much at all. You gave up everything, and he packed up all his belongings and his cat and took them with him.”

“I asked Yu to send for his things.” John raised his voice. “I did. But if you want to talk about questionable choices, I’m the one who gave in to terroristic threats. That’s against the regs, right? Yu threatened my team and I gave him what he wanted.” It was true. If anyone had committed treason, it was him. At the very least, John had betrayed his oath as an officer. But Rodney had never broken the law, and he had put his country first in a way John wouldn’t have thought possible when he’d first seen the man in the mess hall in Cheyenne Mountain.

“Yu took you as a host. You didn’t have a choice,” O’Neill said in a voice that managed to convey annoyance and sympathy—or maybe that was what John was reading into his expression.

“Actually, I did. He’s old enough that changing bodies isn’t that easy for him, but I didn’t fight. I could have, and I didn’t. I gave up to save my team, and in the process, I gave Yu every bit of intelligence on Earth that I had in my brain.”

O’Neill’s face was cold and emotionless. Yeah, if he wanted to go after someone, John would be the one in the crosshairs, not Rodney. “I broke before Yu put a hand on me, but not Rodney. He didn’t agree to stay until he saw Yu’s warehouses of Ancient tech. Our mission was to find Ancient technology to help against the Ori, and Rodney never lost sight of that mission. In return for helping to get the stuff working, he negotiated for the right to send the stuff back to you.”

“And gave even more to Lord Yu.”

“He did more work for Earth than for Lord Yu, which worked because Yu would rather have the tau’ri for neighbors than the Ori, but the risks Rodney took are enough to make my hair go gray, and you can’t even give him any respect.”

O’Neill threw his hands up in the air. “He works for Yu. He runs around in gold and red outfits with a jaffa guard, and don’t tell me those are Yu’s goat herders because I can spot jaffa when I see them.” O’Neill’s narrowed eyes just dared John to try to defend the lie.

Ignoring the bait, John shouted, “He wouldn’t need guards if he didn’t have Marines making shitty comments to him. But he gave up his freedom and risked his life to finish the damn mission. You wanted Ancient tech, and he found it for you. It wasn’t his fault that Lord Yu had spent the last five thousand years stripping the universe of all the useful tech he could find. He’s the hero here, and you’re too arrogant and too fucking stuck in your ways to give Rodney a fair shake. He let you down once, and you won’t stop holding a grudge.” John didn’t realize he was shouting until he stopped and the room went unnaturally silent.

“Colonel…” O’Neill said softly.

John held up a hand. “No, don’t. Just don’t. If you want to mend fences, then you get your Marines under control so Rodney can feel safe in his own home, and then maybe I won’t hate you quite as much.”

“I know that being a host has screwed with your perspective a little—”

John laughed. “It’s fucked me up so much that there are days I start to wonder where I stop and Yu begins. I see something and think about how much I miss the artist who made it, and then realize I never knew the woman and she died a thousand years ago. Don’t tell me I’m screwed up because I know it. But don’t tell me Rodney’s a traitor. Without him, you wouldn’t have personal shields or puddle jumpers or genetic sequencers or any part of Atlantis. Rodney bought you that.”

“I get it. Geez you’re a single-minded bastard. Fine, McKay has done some good.” O’Neill walked to the back of the cell and sat down.

“And you let your people treat him like a traitor.”

“First, I didn’t know it was that out of hand. I figured if someone was giving McKay shit, he’d complain loud enough that we’d all hear him. Second, I do respect McKay’s work, even if I think he’s an ass. I am still allowed to have an opinion, right?” he asked sarcastically. The cell was silent for a long time. John understood that O’Neill wanted to do the right thing, but he no longer trusted the man to see the best path forward. O’Neill might be a general, but John had access to a few thousand years of memory. For example, Yu had memories of a captured Reetu ship, and this ship looked more like Reetu organic tech than anything humans or goa’uld produced.

John started unwinding the rope dart that he wore as a silken trim on his robe’s neck. “What do we know about this door?”

“It doesn’t open,” O’Neill said.

“No. Really?”

“You used to be more fun, Sheppard.”

John turned and gave O’Neill a dirty look.

O’Neill moved to the door and pointed to a section across the hall. “Guards touch that and the webbing retracts. The Wraith killed a few of the men trying to get information, but the Atlantis posting is in the middle of hostile territory, so most of them didn’t have any technical information. It didn’t stop the bastards from draining them of all life. But Marshall and I are the only ones with any tactical information. They separated us from the others.”

“Sumner’s dead,” John said as he stretched his shoulders and tried to work out the last of the pain from the Wraith stunner. They were harder on the body than zats.

“What?” O’Neill’s voice was low and dangerous.

John stopped and stared out at the hall. “The female was interrogating him, and I attacked. The blades would have killed any human—any goa’uld. It mutilated her, but I think she drained Sumner to save herself.”

“Well, isn’t that sweet.” O’Neill sighed and rubbed his hand over his face.

“I’m sorry,” John offered. He had indirectly caused Sumner’s death by trying to take out the queen.

“Not your fault,” O’Neill said. “Let the Wraith take the blame for this.”

John nodded and palmed the sharp weight at the end of his shéng biāo and judged the distance to the control panel. With a flick of his wrist, he sent the weapon out, and it sank into the wall with a disturbing squishing sound.

“Holy crap. What is that and where can I get one?” O’Neill asked as John pulled the weapon back.

“A shéng biāo, and they’re very hard to master.” John took the weighted end in hand and eyed the control panel and let it fly a second time.

“I thought that was the name of your fancy little ships.”

“It means rope dart, and the ships are designed to mimic this.” John held up the rope he was pulling back. The third time John sent the weapon flying, the door controls activated and the webbing retracted so fast that John didn’t have a chance to retrieve the shéng biāo rope and the weapon was caught in the door mechanism. John gave O’Neill a smile. “I’ve learned a thing or two from Yu.”

“Let’s get out of here,” O’Neill said. He moved past John and down the corridor to the right.

“General!” someone called.

“Anyone feel like getting out of here?” O’Neill asked.

The next minutes passed in an adrenaline fueled haze. John took his knife to the door controls for the next cell, freeing five humans, but Yeung was nowhere to be seen. O’Neill bitched at him the whole time, but John checked the others cells, finding only a family of dried mummies in native clothes in one and a pile of Genii coats in another. No Yeung.

“Can we go now?” O’Neill asked as he stood with the others guarding an intersection. Stackhouse was the only one John knew.

John stood in the middle of the corridor, torn between getting the hell out and going back to find his man. He took out the scanner he’d hidden in his robes. When he turned it on, there were no life signs outside of their small cluster. Shit. That implied that Wraith had some way to interfere with signals because John knew there were a few Wraith running around.

O’Neill came over and put a hand on John’s arm. “Colonel, we can’t save everyone. We need to get out.”

It was the truth, but the words hurt. “We can’t leave him.” If the scanner was being blocked, then Yeung might still be alive.

“We don’t know where to find him, and in case you haven’t noticed, this thing is terrifyingly large,” O’Neill said. “Colonel, I get it. I do. But we don’t know where to start looking. We need to make the smart play here.”

John nodded.

“Right, so let’s head home before our local system lord decides to make a reappearance. Cooper, you have point.”

“Yes, sir.” Sergeant Cooper looked each way. “Sir, do we know where the exit is?”

O’Neill looked at John. “Any clue?”

“Yes, sir,” John said. He checked his scanner. “The exit is this way,” John said. Rather than give up the scanner to Cooper, he started walking. The Wraith had taken his sword, but they’d left him any number of other weapons. John took the meteor hammer from around his waist and looped it around his hands. “These guys get an F on searching prisoners.”

“Don’t look a gift monster in the horse,” O’Neill suggested. It was so weird hearing his cynicism coming out of a twenty year old mouth. “So, that thing…”

“Just because it’s old fashioned doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. My sword did more against these guys than a zat.”

After that, they moved quickly, ducking into side corridors once when a pair of faceless Wraith came striding down the corridor without hesitation. Like the jaffa of most goa’uld, they were arrogant. They definitely weren’t used to having enemies who fought back. They were thirty or forty meters from the exit when the life signs detector showed three figures ahead. John signaled the others, and everyone fell back. Well, everyone except O’Neill who crouched next to John and held out his hand, palm up.

John pulled out a large knife and put it in his hand. O’Neill gave it a dirty look as if blaming the knife for not being a P90, but then he grasped it. John pulled another one out and handed it to Cooper who was closest.

O’Neill poked his thumb in the direction of the others, but before John could retrieve any more weapons, the Wraith were on them. John and the others were pressed into the shadows in a side corridor, and before that had been enough to keep them safe. This time, not so much.

The female stopped right at the junction of the main hall and the shadowed one where John hid with the others. Her head tilted to the side, her red hair swinging free. Now that John saw her, he suspected he knew where Yeung had gone. The brutal scar that had divided her face was now a series of fine white lines that marred he blue face. She had something that looked like poison glands or pits on her face, and the long white scars started just above that on her right side and then went over her nose and turned into a line of solid white across the left part of her forehead. However, the smooth skin didn’t show any of the deformation John had seen in the room, so the Wraith clearly had pretty powerful regenerative powers.

Beside John, O’Neill had stopped breathing. When the female put her head up in the air and sniffed, John figured they were screwed. There was no way to hide the stink of unwashed, frightened men. So instead of waiting for her to reach the most logical conclusion, John flung the meteor hammer with all his might.

The heavy weight flew in a curve, guided by the rope. It hit her on the side of the head just about the time she realized something was wrong. O’Neill cursed and with Cooper rushed forward. That made it too dangerous for John to try to hit the queen again, but he turned his attention to one of the guards. A well placed attack put the weight between his eyes, and the guard collapsed without a sound. When John pulled the hammer back, it was slick with black blood, and he held it by the rope where he could get a grip.

Stackhouse and the others had swarmed the other guard, and he fired into the wall of the ship, missing everyone. John shouted Stackhouse’s name and tossed him a knife. The man caught it neatly, and John turned his attention to the queen.

It all happened into a few scant seconds, so he expected to see Cooper and O’Neill grappling with her. Instead Cooper was collapsed against the ground where he’d been obviously thrown, and O’Neill was trapped against the wall, her hand on his chest. The years were draining from him, white appearing in O’Neill’s all hair and then quickly taking over. Even though the hammer was slick and hard to hold, John flung it at her. The heavy weight slammed into her head so hard that her hair was flung around, but she did little more than turn to look at him.

John ripped his emei needles needles out of the seams of his sleeves and rushed forward before the queen could complete her feeding. She reacted to the threat, turning to face him with a wordless scream. John drove one sharp needle deep into her abdomen, but the other scraped across her arm as she dodged. Before he could react, she had clamped her hand over his chest.

Pain seared through John's body, but that was a familiar enough feeling. He felt Yu wage and rage forward. Then O’Neill was on her back, wrenching her neck to one side in a move that would have broken the neck of another creature. It only annoyed her, but she pulled her hand away. John rocked forward, his vision darkening.

“You dare this!” Yu roared. John felt himself fading, not the usual thrust of Yu’s will against his, but a mutual pain that pushed both of them toward the shadows of their share mind. John felt himself lunge forward, uncoordinated and desperate. He drove the emei needle into her hand, or maybe Yu did it. The pain wrapped around them, tying them together.

‘So great a fool,’ Yu thought, but the words were weak and with a morbid sort of amusement as the shadows swallowed them. John heard shouting, and someone yelled Stackhouse’s name.

“They wake!” the queen screamed, her voice wet and rattling as though her throat were cut, but John couldn’t see anymore. The pain was so great, that all he could do was curl into the back of his mind and silently scream.

Chapter Text

John panicked when he realized that someone was wrong. Something was missing. “Settle down, lad. You’re okay,” someone said in an accent. John struggled, but his wrists were tied to something.

“Stop being an idiot and let me through!” Rodney cried out, but John started to sink back down under the weight of sleep. They’d drugged him, and John didn’t know what was going on with Rodney. He wanted to panic, but like usual, he was denied control over his own body.

The second time he started to wake, John stayed quiet and felt for Yu. Even when the snake was sleeping, there was some part of him John could feel, and if John was a captive, he needed Yu’s years of experience to get himself free.

A woman said, “It’s okay, none of them are around. You can open your eyes.”

John slowly opened his eyes and realized he was in the SGC infirmary on Atlantis, and next to his bed sat a woman wearing leather. She wasn’t wearing a lot of leather, but then she wasn’t wearing a whole lot of anything. John gave his wrists a tug, and they were still restrained. And John couldn’t find any part of Lord Yu.

“The name’s Vala,” she introduced herself.

“Vala, huh? SG1?” Lord Yu had kept track of them.

“Yep,” she said brightly. She tilted her chair back to look past a curtain before leaning close again. “Because I was a host, they thought I might be able to calm you down before you strangled anyone with your bare hands.” Vala shrugged like it didn’t matter to her and then she propped a boot on John’s bed.

Maybe he still had drugs in his system because only then did it occur to John that Lord Yu was silent because he was gone. John was alone in his mind again. There was no sleeping monster ready to wake up and punish him, but there was also no Yu to apply his analytical mind to some problem and find a solution that John never could have predicted. The memories of the Wraith ship slowly filtered into his mind.

“Am I old?” John asked. The queen—she had fed on him.

Vala ran her fingers through John’s hair. “You have a little gray at the temple, but it’s distinguished.”

“Lord Yu?” John asked. He’d spent years fantasizing about

“It’s hard. I get it. Mine was named Qetesh, one of the underlords to Camulus.” Vala took her foot off his bed. “Yu couldn’t survive the Wraith feeding.”

John had a faint memory of burning pain, of agony searing his nerves, but he’d thought that was some punishment Yu had subjected him to. Now other images attached themselves to that pain—a queen Wraith with red hair, Yu’s fury as her feeding started the irreversible process of decay. His bitter vengeance when he poisoned John’s hormones enough that the queen died screaming in pain herself.

“I know. The others, they don’t get it,” Vala said.

John looked at her, unwilling to say anything.

“When I had Qetesh, I escaped the beatings, the being looked at like I was garbage. She gave me power, and yeah, it wasn’t mine.” Vala wrinkled her nose for a second. “But being close to power felt a lot better than being a hungry street waif. It wasn’t all bad, and that’s something that most of the humans don’t want to hear.”

John looked at her and then studied the ceiling to try and find the camera. He’d never been in human controlled areas of Atlantis, but he did know how humans thought. “So what? You’re here to get me to incriminate myself before my court martial?” John asked. He knew he didn’t have a legal leg to stand on, but if John admitted that there were times he’d appreciated his captor and even liked him, that would add years to any prison sentence he might get.

“What?” Vala gave him an incredulous look. “Why would anyone put you on trial? You were the victim.”

John gave a bitter laugh. “I know what I did. So go back and tell O’Neill I’m not going to fight him as long as he leaves Rodney alone.” John had no idea if that would be enough to protect Rodney, but he didn’t have a lot of options.

“Rodney McKay? The loud one?” Vala asked. “Because he’s the one who destroyed the entire surveillance system. And then O’Neill threatened him, and then Oshu threatened O’Neill. Daniel finally had to yell at all of them, which he is rather good at.” She made another face. She was very expressive, but John didn’t trust any of it.

“Where is Rodney?”

Vala shrugged. “Probably telling the humans how their stupidity nearly blew up the universe. When Sam used to tell stories about him, I thought she was exaggerating. It turns out, she was underplaying it. He’s threatened to blow up Atlantis a couple of times, and Oshu and O’Neill are starting to work together just to keep him from doing it. You like ‘em scary, don’t you?” Vala looked amused.

“I don’t know what you mean.” John wiggled some so he could get his elbows down on the bed and lift himself.

“Let me,” Vala said. She reached for his wrist and unbuckled it.

John quickly unfastened the other side. “Were you supposed to do that?”

She shrugged. “I have no idea, but I often do things I’m not supposed to. It’s part of my charm.”

John gave her a suspicious look, and she smiled brightly.

“Besides, they brought me here because I was a host, so I know how you feel, and you feel like you haven’t controlled your life or your own body for so long that the idea of being restrained sends you into a near panic. At least, that’s how I was.”

John didn’t correct her assumptions, but he had controlled the body more often than not. He swung his legs off the bed and looked around for clothing. Of course there was nothing.

“I was a little out of my mind after being tortured for information Qetesh carried. Maybe the torture you suffered with the Wraith wasn’t that bad.”

“How did I get back here?” John asked as he tried to sort his thoughts.

“O’Neill,” Vala said. “Once the queen was dead, he ran like hell, dragging you with him. The good news is that you’re both okay. The bad news is that apparently the queen woke up a whole lot of sleeping Wraith. Daniel is fascinated by the idea of a culture that hibernates and has virtually immortal societies, but O’Neill promised to throw him back through the gate to Earth if he even thinks about the Wraith too much.”

“That I did.” O’Neill pushed the curtain back, and John saw the general with two guards right behind him. John gripped the edge of his bed, but he didn’t stand.

Carson came hurrying over. “Now, I haven’t had a chance to check his vitals now that he’s up and about. How are you feeling, Colonel?” Carson asked in a friendly tone that didn’t match the overall atmosphere of hostility in the room.

“Fine,” John said shortly. He kept his gaze on O’Neill, waiting for the general to order the two airmen to take John into custody.

“Do you mind giving us some time?” O’Neill said to Vala.

For a second, John thought she might refuse to move, but she finally stood and put a finger right in O’Neill’s face. “Play nice, or I’ll get Daniel.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve been dealing with Danny long before you came along.”

Vala narrowed her eyes and then gave John a wink before she strode out of the room leaving John with the general. Part of John wanted to salute the general and pretend they could all go back to the way things had been, but it was way too late for that. John was really regretting mouthing off to O’Neill in the Wraith cell, but if his sacrifice distracted O’Neill from targeting Rodney, it was worth the price.

O’Neill gestured to the two guards, and they moved to the door while O’Neill moved closer to the bed and pulled the curtain closed. “So, how’s the patient?” O’Neill asked Carson.

“Since I have na examined him yet, there’s no way for me to know.”

“So, Colonel, how are you?” O’Neill asked.

John could delay this by claiming he was physically incapacitated, but he was a pulling the band aid off fast kind of person. “As long as I don’t have to run any marathons, I’ll be fine,” John said.

O’Neill nodded at him and then turned to Carson. “Give us some time, doc.”

Carson hesitated. For a long time, he looked at John as though expecting an objection, but when John stayed silent, he retreated. Then John was left with the human commander he’d spent the last seven months aggravating.

O’Neill headed over to the nearest bed and sat on the edge. “How are you really? And don’t bullshit me.”

“Why do you care?” John asked. If he was going to get court martialed, he didn’t feel a need to play nice with O’Neill.

“Okay,” O’Neill said slowly. “I’m assuming that means you’re not doing well, and since you had a snake in your head, I’m calling that normal. By the way, three years, five months—that’s almost three hundred thousand in back pay and hazard pay, so you’re set if you want to retire right now. No one is going to make you wait until your paperwork gets processed.”

“But…” John took a deep breath and tried to collect his thoughts. “You aren’t going to press charges?”

“For what? Saving your team by screwing yourself over? Risking your life to save you commanding officer? Those are requirements for gate leaders, and there are a lot of colonels who have been told in no uncertain terms that they failed to live up to the standard set by Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, the war hero. But it’s possible that more recently I acted like an ass because I hated Yu. That doesn't mean that I would ever court martial you for protecting your team.”

This felt like too much good luck for John to trust it. “And Rodney?”

“Is a bigger ass than I am,” O’Neill said quickly. “You really need to talk to him before he sinks the city in one of his temper tantrums.”

“Is he legally in the clear?” John asked sharply. O’Neill gave him a very odd look.

“Yep. He's sent enough tech back to Earth that I couldn't make a case of treason against him if I tried, and I would be more likely to pursue charges against him than you.”

A weight lifted off John’s chest and for the first time in years, he could breathe. “He's a good man,” John said. His voice came out weaker than he intended, but that had nothing to do with his feelings for Rodney. He loved the man, and he’d given up any chance of ever having that love. But now the world had shifted again. But the fantasy of Rodney was a lot less scary than the reality.

“He's a good engineer,” O’Neill said in a tone that suggested that was the nicest thing he could manage to say about Rodney. “And if you like him, you can have him. But right now, we need to talk about your future.”

And some of the weight returned. “You want me to retire,” John said softly. Retirement would mean losing Atlantis, and for all of the horrors Yu had brought into John’s life, Atlantis was the one beautiful gift he’d given John. Worse, John couldn’t imagine Rodney giving up Atlantis.

“No, that's one option, and if you want to take it, I'll support you.” O’Neill answered. “You can go find a cabin in the middle of nowhere and enjoy a little time to yourself. I even know where there's a pond with absolutely no fish so your fishing won't be interrupted. Or you could go back to your family. I'm sorry to have to tell you, but your father died during your time in captivity, but your brother knew you were missing, assumed dead. If you go home, I'm sure he'd be thrilled to get you back.”

Dave. Fuck, John hadn’t thought about him in years, but if he knew one thing, it was that his relationship with his brother was over. “I'm not so sure about that, and even if he was happy at first, eventually he would remember why we hate each other.”

O’Neill made a face. “I understand that better than you know.”

“Are you telling me I should retire?”

“Nope. You can stay on active duty.” O’Neill held up a finger as though stopping John. “But if you do, the head shrinkers are going to have a field day. You're going to be on medical stand down until your hair is gray, but after they sign off, we'll find you a quiet duty station.”

“Not a gate team?” In every fantasy John had nursed, he’d thought of going back to his old life, but his old life was gone. And John wasn’t sure he knew how to move forward.

“After all this? No. You will, however, have a very busy schedule because all the politicians will want to shake your hand.”

“That sounds like a level of hell," John said as he ran a hand though his hair.

“It could be worse. They could promote you to general." O'Neill said dryly, not even hiding his own disgust for politics, but then he shrugged. "But I should probably tell you about the other thing.”

Something in O’Neill’s tone put every threat-assessment nerve in John’s body on full alert. “Other thing?”

“Apparently Yu knew he was getting old.”

John nodded. He could admit as much without making O'Neill change his mind about the court martial. John suspected that if the military knew how often John had been the one aggravating O’Neill, it would not end well. "He didn't have the strength he did in the past.”

“Yeah, well, while you were locked in some mental linen closet, Yu made arrangements with Oshu for how to handle it if you survived him. That really sounds very un-goa’uldish to me, but Daniel has accused me of being closed minded on the issue. You got me in trouble with my geek, Sheppard.”

“I thought Jackson was Cameron Mitchell’s geek.”

O’Neill shrugged, which seemed to be his answer for a lot of things. “Daniel will always be my geek. I had him first, and I’m the one who had to teach him not to cross the line of fire, and let me tell you, I earned every gray hair.”

“I had to do the same with Rodney.” John had nearly had a heart attack or two in the beginning.

“And if someone told me that Daniel would die if I didn’t trade my life for his, I would have made the same damn bad deal.” O’Neill stared off into space for a moment. “But that’s neither here nor there. Apparently Yu had some signal and if he used it, it meant that he considered you a proper heir.”

“A what?” John frowned because he had to have heard that wrong.

“Yep, you’re the crown prince. The lord is dead, long live the lord. Oshu wants to come in here and talk to you, and if he has his way, you’ll keep doing Yu’s job.”

“What?” John was almost sure he was delusional.

“Yeah, that was my reaction, and Danny got all pissy about how I was disrespecting someone else’s culture. So, do you want to talk to Oshu or do I have permission to drop him off a pier?”

“You haven’t tried already?” John asked.

“I tried. I did mention that Rodney is a little pissy right now, yes? He might have sabotaged a few systems, and Radek and the other scientists have declared a sick-out and are refusing to fix what he broke, and Teyla told us to suck it up and learn to get along instead of trying to strong arm the universe.”

Now John knew he was delusional. “A sick-out?”

“Yeah.” O’Neill made a disgusted face. “I had no idea my science department was going to end up being that loyal to McKay. When Yu offered to let him work with our guys, I thought he would piss everyone off so much that they’d kill him. I can’t even get Kavanagh to look at the dialing computer.”

“Rodney broke the dialing computer?”

“McKay broke everything,” O’Neill said and that was his unhappy face.

“Maybe I should talk to him… him and Oshu.” Whatever was going on, John go the feeling that he needed to fix it. Fast.

O’Neill stood up. “You sure?”

John nodded.

“Okay, but remember—you’re one of us. I don’t care what Oshu or McKay or the fucking man on the moon wants. Don’t trade yourself away again. I do enough stupid shit on my own without you helping out.” O’Neill put his hand on John’s shoulder.

“Yes, sir,” John agreed. “And thanks.”

“Yeah, well, you’re one of mine. I thought I was coming out here to rescue you. Turns out I wasn’t.” After a brief moment of silence, O’Neill left. John had a few moments to himself. Alone. In silence. It felt strange and uncomfortable in ways that John didn’t want to think about.

“John?” Oshu called.

“In here,” John said.

Oshu came in, and John was struck with the changes in the man. His burnished armor was gone, as was the red amulet he wore to show he had Lord Yu’s favor. In their place were white mourning robes trimmed in blue. And Oshu didn’t try to hide his tears.

John stood. “Are you okay?”

“My lord is gone,” Oshu said, and another tear slipped free. He then went to his knees, and John scrambled backward to get away from him, but he didn’t actually have much room to retreat because the space between the two beds was fairly small. “The exalted Lord Yu named you his successor, and I would hope to be worthy of serving you, Lord John.”

“Whoa, hold on, my memory is a little fuzzy, and I’m not sure why you let the tau’ri remove Yu, so maybe you can give me a little information.”

Oshu nodded, but he didn’t rise from his knees. “Of course. General O’Neill carried you through the gate. I wished to put both of you in the sarcophagus, but Lord Yu said that the Wraith had damaged him in ways that could not be repaired. He was in horrible pain and he could only escape through death.”

“So he gave the tau’ri permission to kill him?” That didn’t make a lot of sense.

“You misunderstand.” Oshu looked up, and the tears flowed freely. “Lord Yu would have died during the feeding, but he suffered to save you. You are his heir, the one who understands how he has structured his empire and can protect us from the predators that would rip apart our world. Lord Yu endured hours of torture and pain in order to give the tau’ri time to save you, but they had to do the work here because there was no time to bring in the tok’ra. Lord Yu hoped the tau’ri would agree to keep his death quiet in order to give you more time to prepare your forces, but General O’Neill said he would make no agreements without your approval.”

“Lord Yu sacrificed himself?”

“He was dying. He knew that, but his pain purchased your life, Lord John.”

John rubbed a hand over his face. This was too much.

Oshu stood and took a step closer, and John put his hand down so he could keep an eye on him. At this point, he was thinking this might all be some elaborate Wraith scheme to get him to give up information. “John, Lord Yu wished nothing more than for you to continue in the work you have done. I know your life will not be as long and we will need to train others or prepare each of our planets to operate independently—you shall help determine much of that. However, Lord Yu suspected he did not have the years required to protect his empire through the Ori threat, and his thoughts were too disorganized to take the required steps.”

“So, you want me to step up and be a goa’uld system lord?” John asked. He was feeling a little hysterical.

“No,” Oshu said. “We wish for you to be Lord John. We wish for you to help hold our world together, and we will give you all our loyalty and work hard to make the changes required to live without our lord.”

“I don’t know that I can.”

“You are his heir—his son.” Oshu took a step back. “How can you turn your back on his final wish?”

John sat on the bed and rubbed his hand over his face. “Right now I don’t know what I’m doing. All I want is to go back to my room and sleep for about a month, and then maybe my brain will start working again.” John gave a bitter laugh. He doubted anyone would offering him that.

“Yes, my lord. I shall inform the subcommanders that you are giving them one month to prove they can function without supervision while we grieve, and we can reassess their competence after that period. Your rooms are prepared. Shall I get the scholar?” Oshu took a step to the side and held the curtains back.

“What?”

“You said you wished to go to your rooms.” Oshu looked confused now.

“Yes, but I have to deal with all this.” John waved at the room.

Oshu gave him a small smile. “The wording in our treaty with the tau’ri makes it clear that you are one of us until you choose otherwise. The city is secure, and we can resume normal city functions as soon as Scholar McKay agrees to undo the damage he has done to the city systems. We will defend your rooms while you rest and mourn.”

John shook his head. “I wish it could be that simple, but it can’t.”

“Why?”

John barked out a laugh. “For one, O’Neill would break down the door.”

“No,” Oshu said firmly, “he would not. However, if you wish to take an audience with him, we will arrange that.”

“And if I go back to Earth with him?” John asked.

Oshu dropped the curtain. “You are our prince, the chosen of Lord Yu, the exalted heir trusted to guide us through this difficult time. If you choose to go to Earth, I will accompany you and listen to whatever advisors you choose for us. You are not a prisoner. I will die before I allow anyone to imprison you again, John.”

“So I could just go back to my room?”

“Yes, of course.”

Maybe it was the coward’s way out, but that was exactly what John wanted. He wanted to hide in his room and watch a movie with Rodney and pretend the rest of the universe could wait for just one minute because John couldn’t get his breath. “My room. That sounds good. Tell O’Neill I just need a little time to think about things, and tell Rodney that he’d better fix whatever he broke before he shows up in my room.”

“Yes, my lord,” Oshu agreed. “No doubt the tau’ri will be very grateful to have control of the city again. They underestimated Rodney’s vindictiveness.”

“Now that’s just not smart.”

“No, it is not,” Oshu agreed. He pushed the curtain back, and John noticed the SGC guards were gone. Zhenguo stood there with another jaffa John recognized from the audience room, both in white.

“Yeung?” John asked.

Oshu grew quiet for a time before answering. “He gave his life to save the exalted heir.”

John closed his eyes and let the grief flow through him. “Make sure his family knows how honorably he died.”

“Yes,” Oshu agreed. He didn’t say anything else, but he held the curtain back until John got off the bed. Then Zhenguo came forward and offered John a robe. It was much simpler than any of Lord Yu’s robes with white embroidery on white silk. John put it on and followed his jaffa out of the room.

Chapter Text

John sat in his rooms… in Yu’s rooms… and stared out at the Atlantis ocean. For years, his brain had been in utter overdrive. How did he keep Earth safe? How did he keep Rodney safe? How did he push Yu toward alliance and compromise without getting tortured into insanity? These things had obsessed his every waking second. And now. Now he couldn’t think of anything. He stared at the water blankly.

“John?” Rodney called.

John turned and Rodney was standing in the door, Oshu next to him. Rodney didn’t have all the white robes, but he had changed into a cream colored jacket tailored in the style of the Earth science team’s uniform. “Rodney,” John said softly. Rodney stepped into the room, but then he stopped and frowned. That was wrong. Rodney was never hesitant.

“So,” John teased, “I hear that you’ve been giving O’Neill some grief.”

Rodney snorted. “They were talking about taking you to Earth, so I removed some pieces of the gate. I can fix it.”

“Well that’s good. I would hate to think you stranded us out here.” John grinned, but he could feel the strain between them. How is it that this was more difficult than when Yu had been in the middle?

Rodney gave him a look that made it clear he questioned John intelligence. “You have a giant ship with ring transporters hovering over us. I don’t actually have to fix the gate at all, only if I don’t, Teyla might hurt me. She’s a little scary.”

Oshu bowed. “I shall tell Dr. Zelenka that Rodney wishes for the gate to be repaired.”

Rodney turned as though ready to leave. “I should do that. Who knows what Radek is going to screw up.”

Oshu blocked him. “I will show Radek where the missing crystals are. I have no doubt he can tend this.”

Rodney might have argued, but Oshu stepped back and closed the doors in Rodney’s face. John took a step toward Rodney, but he didn’t know how to start. He had hidden his bisexuality for his entire career. Hell, he’d done that before he’d ever joined the military. Patrick Sheppard would not have approved of a gay son. It turned out there were more than enough other parts of John that his father had reasons enough to disown him. And now he was dead. That plucked at a host of old regrets.

Slowly Rodney turned around. “So, is this where you tell me that you were never really interested in me, but telling me that you cared was a good way of controlling me?”

“What? No!” John had to scramble to collect his thoughts. “How did you even make that illogical jump?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because you’re not talking to me.”

“It’s not like this is easy.”

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. “I know.”

“No, you don’t. That’s the problem.” John walked over to the couch and dropped down. He’d lied, and he’d helped Yu keep Rodney prisoner, and John had some evidence that he was an unforgivable ass. “I wasn’t honest, and I don’t want to lie,” John said softly.

Rodney moved to the end of the couch. “Is this about the fact that Yu slept through big chunks of time, and you were running the body?”

John’s head snapped up. “You knew?”

That earned a patented Rodney snort of derision before Rodney dropped down onto his end of the couch. “Oh please. Of course I knew.”

“There’s no ‘of course’ in that. You suck at reading people.”

“Yes, but I’m very, very smart, and you are not nearly as smart as I am. That’s why you made mistakes like telling me that Yu would find out if I told you something. He can’t find out in the future tense if he’s listening at that exact point in time. Therefore, Yu was absent, and prolonged periods of sleeping was the most logical conclusion.”

John stared at Rodney, too shocked to say anything for a long time. And the longer John was silent, the more smug Rodney looked. “I know how smart you are, and I still end up underestimating you.”

“Of course you do. Everyone does. So how much of the time did Yu sleep?”

Now was the time for honesty. “More than you know,” John said with a sigh.

“I don’t know about that. You always overacted. Lord Yu liked me more than most people, but when you were playing him, you didn’t get that.” Rodney shrugged like it didn’t matter much.

“What?”

“Yu. He liked me. I assume you like me too, but you were always more standoffish when you were playing Yu that Yu was when he was just being Yu.”

“I was trying to protect you.” John said weakly. He felt like reality kept getting ripped up and rearranged, and his brain was getting tired of trying to figure out the new patterns. “Do you think anyone else knows, anyone other than Teyla?”

“Teyla knows? How did she find out?”

“Apparently I hold my body differently.”

“Huh.” Rodney’s face showed some admiration. “She’s almost not stupid. If you want to pass on your genes, she might be a reasonable consort.”

“Rodney!”

“What?” Rodney had the audacity to look at John all innocent-like.

Some days John didn’t know where Rodney’s lack of social graces left off and where his truly offensive sense of humor began. “Seriously, don’t ever say that again. In fact, let’s not talk about all this empire stuff at all. I can’t believe Yu made me the crown prince.”

“He made you the new king,” Rodney corrected him.

With a groan, John leaned back and covered his face with his arm. “Exactly, and what am I supposed to do with that? Other than telling people to stop giving Yu everything—” John stopped. Yu was dead. After thousands of years of running his kingdom, Yu was dead because John had gone running off on the world’s worst rescue mission. And John couldn’t even feel guilty because he’d saved General O’Neill… and woken the Wraith. That wasn’t good. John wasn’t sure if he was emotionally numb or overwhelmed. Or both.

“I know what I’d do.”

John lifted his arm enough to glare at Rodney. “I won’t tell them to worship you,” he said dryly.

“You’re an idiot.” Rodney picked up a pillow and hit John.

“Hey!” John kept his arm over his face to defend himself while he tried to grab the pillow Rodney was using to wildly flail in his direction. Eventually John confiscated both it and the second pillow Rodney started using as a weapon.

Finally disarmed, Rodney stared at John and proclaimed, “I love an idiot.” He had a defensive look on his face, almost like he expected something bad to happen.

John shoved both pillows behind him where they were safely out of the way. “That’s fair,” he said. “I love an arrogant asshole.” Somehow saying it while insulting each other was easier, but John figured it still counted because Rodney grinned wildly.

“I might be arrogant, but I know that sometimes I need to hire a job out when it’s not in my wide and impressive area of expertise.”

“Meaning?” John asked. He didn’t know who you were supposed to hire when you needed help running an alien empire with strong Chinese influences. And John had no idea how to handle Earth. Yeah, he had the feeling that O’Neill would back him, but he had bosses, and John suspected that American senators would not appreciate John accepting a job as a human System Lord. In fact, he was pretty sure that would end badly.

Rodney reached out and ripped one of the pillows out from behind John. “You have a soft sciences problem, so get someone with a soft brain. Jackson would probably love to help out.”

“Dr. Jackson?” John thought about what O’Neill had said. Daniel had killed the Ori and he was still feeling guilty about that. Would he want to help figure out how to fix this mess.

“Yes, Dr. Daniel Jackson,” Rodney said. “He’s almost not stupid for someone who chose to go into archeology. Who bothers with century old technology buried in dirt?” Rodney wrinkled his nose. “However, I don’t want to talk about Yu’s empire. I don’t want to talk at all, and I know you’re never going to get around to doing anything, so I will.” Rodney sort of lurched forward, and then he was on top of John, pinning him down to the couch. Rodney pressed his lips to John’s.

In the back of his head, John had expected Rodney’s kiss to be awkward and sweet. It wasn’t. Rodney fisted John’s hair with one hand and stroked his jaw with the other, all while nipping at John’s lower lip and using his talented lips to turn John’s brain to mush. Rodney’s kisses were the fucking answer to the meaning of life.

“Is that okay?” Rodney asked after he drew back.

John grabbed Rodney by the shoulders and pulled him close. “That’s wonderful.” When John pressed his lips to Rodney’s, it really was.

 

 


And this is the official end. John is going to become the new Lord John, guiding Yu’s empire while leading his forces against the Wraith. And Earth’s politicians don’t like it, but O’Neill is endlessly amused by their annoyance. Daniel sticks around and helps guide Oshu into creating a meritocracy, and Vala discovers that she can drive Rodney crazy in under two seconds, meaning Teyla has to play den mother to the whole crazy mess.