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Jouer ses cartes

Chapter Text

Chaque joueur doit accepter les cartes que la vie lui distribue.
Mais une fois qu'il les a en main, lui seul peut décider comment
jouer ses cartes pour gagner la partie.

Each player must accept the cards life deals him. 
But once they are in hand, he alone must decide 
how to play the cards in order to win the game.

(Attributed to Voltaire.)

* * *

Everett stands at parade rest while Kiva crosses the mess and bends down to whisper something in Rush's ear. He stares at Rush, bound and bent almost double on that damn table, made filthy by what's been happening to him for the last three days. His eyes are open, but he doubts that the poor bastard is taking in Kiva's words or what's going on.

Not anymore.

Rush is never going to be the same again. The man is tough, Everett knows that, knows that he's been through shit that would have shattered most people. Torture by the Nakai, torture by the Alliance.

This is so much worse. Everett takes in the looks on the people standing or sitting in the mess, some of them trying to choke down a bowl of paste. Pity, terror, anger, disgust, horror. The crew can't look away from Rush or one of the Lucians will use their fists on them. Chloe is crying again. Greer has a murderous look on his face. He asked with his eyes and with subtle gestures if Everett would let him take his place in the line to shove his dick inside of Rush, but Everett had shook his head. He was the commander; he had let this situation happen through hesitation and it would be him that paid the price of compliance. He could still do at least that much to protect the crew.

He feels sick with disgust. He doesn't know how he's going to be able to look himself in the mirror anymore without feeling this overwhelming sense of loathing, but it had been better to hurt the man than to see him killed.

They need Rush. They need him to keep the ship running; no one else has the skills he does, in understanding Ancient, in coding and writing programs that interact with Destiny in a way that no one else has managed to do, not even Eli.

He needs Rush.

He needs him to help him take back the ship. Everett is going to be locked up but Rush is going to be free to work and move around the ship, and he's a devious little shit who can outwit his guards.

He needs Rush because they were not done with each other. The fighting, the truces that didn't hold, the way Everett sometimes wanted to put his hands on him and not beat him down. They weren't done with wherever they were going. Rush would look at him sometimes, and Everett would feel his mouth become desert dry, his palms damp, a heavy feeling settling in his groin.

Kiva would have killed Rush, sacrificed him despite his skills, he has no doubts about that, if one of the crew hadn't joined her band of thugs in hurting Rush. She's brutal, and has already proven to have no hesitation in shooting a crew member to make her point. With Rush, forcing him to be raped over and over, the insults, the degradation, the humiliation of knowing all of Destiny's crew was watching him, she wasn't satisfying a kink. She was using psychology like a sledge hammer.

She's made them all complicit in this crime, especially him, since it was his body used as a weapon against a helpless man. She's crushed any thoughts of resistance out of the crew, he can see it in their faces.

No one wants to take a chance on earning Kiva's ire, and finding themselves taking Rush's place on that table. The crew is as broken as Rush is, and that was what Kiva had wanted. Why she'd forced them all to watch Rush's punishment.

Kiva straightens up, slim and straight in her long black leather coat, and she actually is beautiful, if you examine her features, but there is nothing about her that is lovely. She is a warlord, and she's conquered this ship. She's conquered the man who had continued to defy her.

She takes one gloved hand and lifts Rush's head by yanking what's left of his hair upwards. Rush hardly seems to notice. She gazes out at the crew and everyone's attention becomes focused on her immediately.

“People of the Tauri. You will find that I am a reasonable person, as long as my orders are followed. I have generously allowed many of your transgressions to go unpunished, but that generosity ends now. This... man... has been what I believe in your language is called a scapegoat. Your defiance, your disobedience, he has paid the price for that, as well as paying for his own sins.”

I warn you. Do not disobey me, or my lieutenants, or you will find yourselves given justice as this man has been judged.”

For the crime of willfully refusing to work on the dialing problem and causing the deaths of over a hundred of my people; for continuing to lead a rebellion against us; for his willingness to cause unnecessary deaths of both my people and yours, this man was punished.”

I have learned a great deal about this crew, and it is common knowledge that this man took pride in the title he had earned. He will no longer have the name he was given at birth or that title. From now on, his name shall be, 'Kresh'ta.' It means outcast.”

Everett recognizes it. It's Goa'uld. The Alliance planets had been held by the Goa'uld before their downfall; many words had been assimilated by the humans of those planets.

“Kresh'ta will have a place on this ship, granted by my generosity. His skills as a scientist will be utilized, and I give permission to my people to use him as the whore he is if they so wish. I am, however, a merciful commander, and he shall have a month to recover before anyone is to take or touch him.” She directs this at her own people, accompanied with a forbidding stare.

“Colonel Young and the military personnel will be confined together. I intend to use your lives as bargaining chips with your IOA for the release of Alliance prisoners and the removal of your military from our worlds. Disobey me at your peril; you will be treated as Kresh'ta was treated and then either killed or abandoned on a planet. Cooperate, and perhaps a day will come when the military can rejoin the crew; you must prove yourselves worthy first.”

Or more likely, Everett thinks, they might try brainwashing them as they did David.

“The civilian crew and the medic will be allowed to return to their quarters and continue with their assigned duties. However, my people will be monitoring you. There will be guards and our own scientists assigned to the key stations. Obey them, and you shall live. Defy us and suffer the consequences.” Kiva slams Rush's head down on the table in emphasis.

“It is a great honor to be on Destiny, one that I believe most of you did not understand. You have been given a second chance to embrace that honor, and I suggest that you all take it.”

She beckons for TJ to step forward. “After Kresh'ta is taken from here, the civilians are free to go to their quarters or work stations. If you are unsure of your duties, report to Wray.”

Turning her gaze towards Camile, she says, “You are in charge of the work schedules for your people. If you have a problem you may come to me, but I warn you to be brief and precise. Do we have an understanding, Wray?”

Camile straightens her shoulders. “We do.”

“Unchain him,” she orders Varro. “The medic can decide if he's to be taken to his quarters or the infirmary.”

Camile and TJ do what they can to help Rush. The poor guy catches his eye after the chains are off him and the women are massaging his legs and moving his joints. He's back in his body from wherever he had gone to escape in his mind, that's clear. He knows Everett is looking at him and shame shatters his expression. Tears start to roll down Rush's face and he looks so exhausted. He wasn't allowed to sleep much, Everett knows. They'd shock him awake with one of their hellish pain sticks. It was a wonder Rush hadn't broken his own spine from arching up while bent and restrained like that.

He'd seen them smash Rush's head down hard against the table, causing him to black out for a while. Rush had opened his mouth the next time he was told to give a blow job, no hesitation at all.

One of the Alliance's men, Simeon, he thinks he's called, comes up to Rush. Camile tries to stand between them so Rush won't have to look at him, but he shoves her away. “I'll be back for you in a month, Kresh'ta,” he says. “And you know you'll enjoy it. Everyone saw you come all over yourself from being fucked. You liked being treated like a dirty whore, didn't you, sweetheart?”

He reaches out to grab Rush's dick, but TJ moves fast and stops him, her hand compressing his so hard he hears the bones crackle. “Kiva said he had a month to recover. Don't touch him.”

She shoves his hand away and Kiva says evenly, “You would disregard my orders, Simeon?”

Sullenly, he shakes his head and stalks away.

TJ goes back to helping Camile and finally Rush is able to lower his legs, close them. He trembles and whenever one of the women touch him he startles. He is filthy. Semen and piss and blood cover him, from his hair to his feet. Tears have made tracks on his face, and his hands are opening and closing, opening and closing. He is biting his lip and his eyes slide away from Everett's finally and close. He doesn't say anything. Everett's not sure he can make any sounds after all the screaming he had done. He is destroyed, devastated, and Everett is filled with a terrible, terrible pity and anger.

TJ says, “He won't be able to walk.” Everett comes out the trance he'd fallen into and steps forward, unzipping his jacket. “I'll carry him,” he says and pulls it off.

TJ and Camile help Rush to sit up, holding him in position. He obviously doesn't have the strength to do it himself. Everett clumsily fastens the jacket around Rush's waist, tying it tight with the jacket arms.

Varro raises his eyebrows and calls to Kiva, “Young's offered to carry him; I say let him get covered with Rush's dirt, rather than one of us.”

“Agreed,” Kiva says. “Take a detail along.” Her eyes rake him and Rush and she adds, “Our Kresh'ta's own clothes were destroyed and I see that Colonel Young has given his uniform jacket to him. He may keep it as a reminder that the Colonel, his own leader, also fucked him.”

The crudity of the word seems jarring when she says it. Everett grits his teeth. She's probably right, that the comfort he intends for Rush will be perverted into an ongoing torment.

TJ shoots him a look and Camile brushes her hand alongside his own. He gets the message. Don't show how much this is effecting him. Don't react to her words.

He can button it down. And he needs to do something to help Rush.

TJ says, “Take him to the infirmary,” and he nods. He steps closer to Rush, stoops down so that he's at eye level.

It's futile because Rush keeps his eyes closed.

He speaks quietly, hoping that Rush will understand him. “I'm going to touch you, okay? I'm not going to hurt you or do anything to you except carry you.” He clenches his fists, then, a new thought shaking him up; he might be the last person Rush wants to touch him. “But if you don't want me to, shake your head, or tell me 'no.'”

Rush doesn't react. Doesn't shake his head or whisper the word. Everett hopes that it won't make him even more miserable to be handled by one of his rapists, if that is even possible.

Varro is listening and he's frowning. “I suggest you stop talking, Colonel. For your own sake.”

He gets the message. Kiva won't take kindly to his showing any more compassion to Rush. Look at how she'd twisted his gesture to give Rush back some of his dignity. He'll stay quiet for now.

He stands back up, Camile giving him space, and puts his arm around Rush's back. He can feel the terrible tension in the muscles, feel Rush's trembling advance to shaking. “Put your arms around my neck,” he suggests, and he hopes for an argument, a denial that he needs any kind of help, fuck you very much, but Rush just obeys him quickly, even though it obviously hurts him to move his arms so fast.

Swallowing hard because seeing Rush being so compliant has brought home just how much the hell that he's experienced has effected him, Everett slides his arm under Rush's thighs and hefts him up high. Rush opens his eyes in startlement.

The expression on Rush's face as he sees that everyone is looking at him is heartbreaking and he apparently chooses the lesser of two evils because he buries his face in Everett's shoulder.

TJ leads the way. Kiva calls for Wray to join her and with an apologetic look, Wray turns to comply. Everett follows TJ, and Varro and three other men follow him.

They make a strange procession down Destiny's curved corridors; TJ still recovering from the gunshot wound in her upper arm, her belly more full and rounded every new day with his son or daughter. Himself carrying a man he once left for dead, and armed marauders bringing up their six, ready to shoot them all if they say or do the wrong thing.

It has been a week since the Lucians boarded Destiny. Varro told him that Rush had been confined to a room with nothing to eat and very little to drink for several days before he was brought struggling to the mess. He'd kicked and twisted and managed to headbutt one of the Lucians, but he didn't have a chance in hell of saving himself, poor bastard. Guns were held on the rest of them; if he'd yelled for his people to attack they'd have been massacred. Bitterly, he remembered the greater good philosophy Rush espoused and doubted that the man very much cared for it anymore.

Everett and the rest of the crew, civilian and military, were forced to watch as he was finally subdued and held spread-eagled on a table by four men who each outweighed him by probably seventy pounds. His shirts, those grimy T-shirts, were cut off him while a fifth Lucian, an olive-toned woman with her black hair in a high twist and proud of her skills with a knife, apparently, held a blade to Rush's neck. His boots and belt were claimed by two Lucians, and his jeans, which were beginning to fade and fray and wear thin at the knees, were cut into ribbons. His bare legs were streaked with blood from where he'd been nicked by the knife.

Kiva cut his boxers off. Kiva was the first to put her hands on Rush's privates. Kiva ordered him to be bent and chained so that his legs were pulled wide, so he was open and easy to penetrate.

Everett would very much like to choke the life out of Kiva.

He notices that his shoulder is damp and realizes that Rush has been silently crying against him since they left the mess.

“I'm sorry,” he says quietly. He takes a chance that he won't be overheard or if he is, not entirely understood. The Alliance know the man he's carrying as Nicholas Rush, so maybe they don't know the shortened form of his name. “Nick, I'm so god damn sorry about this. I'm sorry I had to do that to you. I figured you'd rather live than die, that's why I did it. So you would live.”

Against him Rush's tears continue to wet his shirt, and he wonders not for the first time if he'd made the right choice.

Maybe Rush preferred to die.

* * *

Before they arrive at the infirmary, Rush's body grows lax, and one arm slides down Everett's chest. The man has fallen asleep. Everett hopes he will be able to stay asleep while he is cleaned up. Rush is a mess, and he stinks. Not only did some of the Lucians empty their bladders on him, Rush had been forced to piss himself, to the catcalls and crude remarks of the Alliance assholes. As if anyone could keep from pissing for three days. Besides, after denying him water until he was desperate for it and willing to not bite the dicks that were thrust into his mouth, they practically drowned him with it, making him swallow so much that his stomach was bloated. Of course he couldn't hold that much for long.

Everett had spent many, many hours watching Rush on kino footage and he knows his expressions. He knows when Rush is lying, he knows when Rush is amused, he knows when Rush is upset. Rush is an open book to him, and what he read on Rush's face when his bladder won the battle of wills he'd been fighting with it was profound humiliation.

It was dark despair he'd seen on Rush's face the times when he became aroused and climaxed. Some of the Lucians had cackled with laughter, and David, damn him, had also brought Rush off. TJ would explain to Rush that just because he'd orgasmed didn't mean he actually enjoyed or consented to the rapes. Bodies could be triggered, Everett knew that. Truth to tell, he was surprised any arousal had occurred since Rush had been in such obvious pain the entire time, but maybe his pain and pleasure nerves had become crossed-wired. It wasn't his fault. Everett would have to check with his people and make sure they all understood that, and when they took the ship back he'd make damn sure the civilians knew it, too.

None of this is Rush's fault. None of it. He'd been doing what he could to regain the ship and save them. Everett regretted blowing up at him, that stupid argument they'd had in the control interface room, as they planned their strategy to defeat the invaders. Rush had only said the truth, that they might have casualties that couldn't be avoided, and Everett hadn't wanted to accept that any of the hostages or any of the civilians or military personnel might die because he hadn't vented the air immediately out of the gate room.

No, what happened to Rush was his fault and he hopes someday that Rush will forgive him for it.

When they enter the infirmary TJ directs him to a gurney hooked up to the bio-scanning Ancient monitors.

He carefully lays Rush down, straightens his arms and legs. Rush stays asleep. His hair was butchered by that little red-headed Lucian girl, and it's a hodge-podge of long and short strands. There is semen in it, and he knows some of the Lucians spit in his hair. TJ brings over a large basin of water and some rags, a spray bottle under her arm.

“It's the same stuff from the showers, just more concentrated,” she explains. She sits down the basin on the bedside table and looks him in the eye. “Sir, I've got this. You don't have to help.”

Glancing at Varro, he can tell the man is in no hurry to escort him back to the storage room turned holding cell. TJ follows his gaze and her expression hardens. Varro had shoved her out of the way when bullets were being sprayed where she'd treated the Lucian wounded. She'd still been hurt, but he'd saved her life. TJ had softened towards him because of that, and Varro is smitten with her. Everett can tell.

Seeing Varro rape Rush had been a gamechanger for her, judging by the expression on her face.

Everett just takes one of the rags from her hands, and says, “I'll clean him up. You've been on your feet way too long, so, go, rest. Unless he needs medical attention first?”

She glances at the reading from the bio-scanners attached to the gurney and shakes her head. “I'll need to check him for tears, maybe do stitches on some of those cuts, clean and bandage others, but it can wait until he's not covered in all of that. If he wakes up, he's probably going to be frantic to be clean again.” Her eyes are sad, and she blinks hard. TJ has always felt for her patients, probably much more than is wise. Rush is no exception. He often has exasperated her, she's told Everett, but when he's been here because of exhaustion and passing out, or from the surgery to remove the Nakai tracker, or from the consequences of sitting in the neural interface chair, she's done her best to take care of him. She'd been so worried about infection from the surgery, concerned his heart was permanently damaged after sitting in the chair.

Taking the spray bottle from her he starts on Rush's torso, spraying the solution and then wiping him clean with a rag. “Go. I'll take care of him.”

She ends up sitting on a gurney across from them. Varro steps close to talk to her but her eyes blaze and he holds up his hands and retreats back to where their guards are watching them, weapons in hand.

He works carefully, methodically, being as gentle and as unobtrusive as he can be as he sets into a rhythm of cleaning and then rinsing out the rags in the water. Rush is bruised, fist sized dark marks and reddish-purple places where hard fingers have held him down, pinched him, damaging skin and muscles.

Everett frees him from the sticky sheen of sweat, blood, dirt, semen, tears, spit, and piss that has covered his front and face. Finally, he gently unties his jacket and removes it. There are several light blankets at the foot of the gurney and he covers up Rush's legs and chest with them. He cleans Rush's genitals and thighs, and moves his legs apart so he can clean between them. His rag comes away with fresh blood, and he takes the remaining clean rag and folds it into a small square and presses it against Rush's anus. He's sure that TJ probably will have to do stitches inside him.

I did that, he thinks bleakly. He'd tried not to think at all while he was fucking Rush, but instead he'd found himself remembering Rush at various times, how his hair had felt under his hand when he'd ruffled it that one time, the way he'd worn his belt slung low on his hips, the way he'd play with a marker, holding it in his mouth while he wrote on the whiteboard back at Incarus.

He'd come inside Rush, and David, busily fucking Rush's mouth and jerking him off, had known. They'd shared a look of acknowledgment, hard men having to do fucking hard things that were distasteful and wrong but necessary. David had to maintain his cover as one of the Lucians. He was Everett's ace in the hole, his secret weapon. David had fucked Rush more than once to prove his credentials and for now, his cover was safe.

He turns Rush onto his side and finishes wiping him clean. He smells only of the herbal scent of the cleaning solution now, except for his hair. Everett covers him with both blankets while he washes the mangled mess. Someone with better hair styling skills than his will have to trim it for Rush.

Rush's skin is badly cut under his beard, and his beard is red with blood despite already wiping him clean once already. He might need to be shaved in order for TJ to treat him, and possibly stitch the cut.

He turns to look at TJ. She's lying down on her side, her feet up on the gurney, but she's watching him, and gets up from the gurney.

She takes over then, examining Rush, rubbing an oil scented with leaves from several planets ago into his skin where the bruises are showing, or she feels the heat of them rising. She bandages some of the cuts, leaving others to heal open to the air. Where the chains had restrained him, the skin is abraded and raw looking. She gently dabs something on the damaged skin and wraps one of her homemade cloth bandages around his thighs and arms.

TJ shaves Rush, who still has not woken up. It's a blessing, Everett thinks, but the rest of what she needs to do is going to be painful and he doubts that Rush can sleep through that.

He needn't have worried because TJ injects him with another of her homemade drugs and while his eyes open for a moment in confusion and incoherence, they close again.

“Colonel,” she says. “You don't have to stay.” She holds a suture kit. He shakes his head. Rush won't know he's here, but he wants to be be present, at least. He slides a hand into one of Rush's.

Rush doesn't grip his hand back, of course. Still, Everett hangs on to him as TJ stitches the ugly cut on his cheek. “I think this was made by a ring, originally,” she says. “It's still oozing blood, it must have been aggravated since it didn't start to heal.”

Dannic's ring probably. He had been next in line after Kiva was through and he'd hit Rush about the head until he was dazed and limp. Everett wishes he could beat the bald-headed bastard down, and he worries for his scientists. From what he'd been told by Rush, Dannic would kill the Lucian Alliance's own scientists if he thought they weren't constantly successful at their duties. He fears for the Science Team and the other scientists in his crew.

They have to retake the ship.

TJ stitches a cut on Rush's thigh, and one on his bicep. Then she lifts the blanket off his legs and says, “Help me scoot him down.” He does so as gently as he can, and Rush is limp and lax still when TJ straps his legs into metal extensions from the gurney. Stirrups, he supposes. Emily called them that when she would mention seeing the doctor. TJ says apologetically, “I have to fasten him into them. Unconscious like this, his legs won't stay otherwise.”

She changes the gloves on her hand for a fresh one, and Everett grips Rush's hand tightly again when she puts her fingers inside of Rush, feeling for the damage. When she pulls them free, they're wet with blood and glistening with other fluids. He shudders a little, and TJ catches that.

“It wasn't your fault, Colonel. You were coerced. That's rape, too.”

“I don't feel like a victim,” he whispers, not wanting Varro and his men to hear him. “I feel like a god damned rapist.”

“You're not, sir,” she whispers back. “She would have killed him, you know she would have. She's a sociopath, not just a woman fighting for her cause, for her people. She's very, very, dangerous. You did it for us, because if you hadn't agreed to join in with the Lucians, she'd have killed him, and she'd have found some way to punish the rest of the crew. Ru-- he'll understand that.”

“Will he?” he asks doubtfully and strokes Rush's hair away from his forehead and eyes. It was always falling in his eyes and Everett's hands usually did itch to push it away, to tidy him up a little. Rush was usually a hot mess, something Chloe had called him once. A hot mess. It had suited Rush, he'd thought at the time, and he frequently tagged him with that term in his head.

Rush would have flayed him alive if he'd ever said it out loud to him.

TJ puts something else into Rush that spreads his internal walls wider. She uses a light so she can see inside him and stitches him up, treats him with an antibiotic ointment. He grips Rush's hand, smaller than his own, his fingers thin and agile. He doesn't care if Varro and his men see him.

Finally, she is done. Quietly she asks him to pick Rush up so she can change the bedding on the gurney.

He scoops Rush back into his arms and she does what she needs to do. “I'm sorry,” he whispers to Rush again, as he places him down on clean sheets and covers him with the blankets.

But Rush doesn't hear him.

Varro takes him back to where the military has been stashed since surrendering, his expression pensive. TJ has given him the cold shoulder again before they left.

Everett thinks he deserves TJ's disdain. Sure, he probably would have been given some sort of punishment, too, if he'd declined that little bonding experience from torturing Rush, but he joined Kiva's crew, worked his way up the ranks. He could have gotten out. The man knows English, he'd been undercover on Earth; he chose to stay with the Alliance.

Everett steps inside the storage area that is filled with his people. Marines, Airmen. Good people, he thinks, as the Alliance soldiers with their weapons step back, and the door cycles closed and locks.

Matthew steps up to him. “Sir,” he says, “How's Rush?”

“Asleep,” he says, but what he means is drugged into unconsciousness.

“Is he okay?” Matthew is a fine young man in most ways, although his handling of his affair with James was botched. Everett lives in a glass house, though, and he won't be throwing any stones.

Greer hears the question and steps closer. James does, too.

“Sir,” Matthew repeats. “Is Rush going to be okay?”

He shakes his head. “I have no idea, Lieutenant. No idea at all.”

* * *

Chapter Text

Rush knows he's dreaming, but he can't stop it; he has to endure being bound helpless on a table and people with no faces are hitting him, or pinching him or biting him, and his mouth and his arse are being invaded by fingers and cocks. There's a voice crooning to him as his own hard penis is stroked. “You like this, you do. See?” and he feels himself orgasm. “See, this is who you really are. Just a toy. They're going to have such fun playing with you. Everyone will see. Everyone will know. They won't forget.” With horror he realizes it's his own voice he's hearing.

He wakes up screaming, a hoarse sound that shocks him with the terror he hears in it. His voice is raw and wretched and he feels his stomach heave. He tries to sit up, but he can't, his muscles are like water, and then he's choking up bile. He's going to foul himself with vomit, with the leavings of his tormentors' semen, and it's no more than he deserves.

A strong arm pulls him up and a basin is put under his chin and he empties himself into it. The waves cramp his belly again and again as he remembers his dream, and then remembers that his dream was based on reality and that he has been shamed over and over again in front of his crew and the men and women who have taken his ship.

He looks down, deliberately avoiding looking at the person who is helping him. He can see that he's in the infirmary, on a gurney, and knows he's naked under the blankets. They took his clothes, ruined them or gave them away. The belt that Gloria had bought for his birthday, before the cancer returned, some Alliance bastard has it now. He hears voices and he can't bear to see who it is, who's here watching him like this. He just can't. Can't face them. Can't face anyone. He wishes they had let him die.

Tears escape his eyes and then sobs, and he's reduced to dry heaves. He is shamed all over again that he can't control himself, vomiting and crying like this. Just like he couldn't control himself from shooting his spunk all over his belly from what they did to him. Or from pissing himself like a baby. He covers his face with his hands and while he tells himself to shut up, to be a man, the tears won't stop. He's still held captive by the emotions from the nightmare, from what happened on the table, from knowing that people are seeing him like this. They will always see him like he was on that table.

He shuts his eyes, so he doesn't see the basin taken away, or see the hands that pull away his own shaking ones from his face or the cloth that wipes his face free of tears and snot.

He does recognize the voice of Lieutenant Johansen when she asks him if needs a urinal. He nods his head, still keeping his eyes shut, crying more tears, those endless rivers of his misery and she puts a container in his hands.

He just holds it. He feels paralyzed, unsure of doing even this simple thing without an order, a command.


There is a warning sound from someone else in the room.

“You don't have to call him anything, but you can't use his name. Someone will report it to Kiva if you do and she will see it as defiance. You don't want to see again how Kiva handles defiance, Tamara.” It's a male voice, with a subtle accent that tells him the man is one of the Lucians.


“I'm not going to turn you in. But if you slip up in front of most of the others, then not only will you be punished but Kresh'ta will also. Look at him. If she puts him back on the table then he'll crack like a Mella egg and go insane. He's fractured now.”

“Hey, buddy,” the Lieutenant says awkwardly and he feels her hand on his back, but Varro interrupts her.

“No endearments. At least, no Tau'ri ones.”

He hears heavy footsteps coming closer and draws his legs up to his chest. He still can't bear to open his eyes. He covers his mouth with the hand that isn't holding the urinal, trying to stifle the sobs that keep escaping.

“We have a creature on my world, shy, timid, very small. It hides mostly, but if it's caught in a trap it cries. You see, it's the tears that make people hunt it. They taste exquisite. It's an intelligent little thing, smart enough to keep itself safe from most predators. If you can't make yourself call him by the name Kiva gave him, then call him Dinn. Kiva will not mind; she will be amused.”

A fist cuffs him gently above his ear. The blanket is pulled back to expose his nakedness. “Dinn,” Varro says. “Open your eyes and use the urinal. Now.”

He obeys, his face flushing, knowing this man who raped him is watching as he fills it. Lieutenant Johansen takes it from him when he is finished.

“Are you in pain?” she asks, after pulling his blankets up around him.

He looks away and nods, wipes the tears off his face again. He hurts where they forced themselves. His muscles are so sore, and there are bruises on his skin, a cut on his face. He has a bad headache. He remembers one of them slamming his head into the table over and over when he wouldn't open his mouth for the man's cock.

She shines a light in his eyes, takes his blood pressure, holds her fingers against his wrist. He's not sure why. The gurney has Ancient bio-tech; the monitors will tell her his status.

“I want you to drink some water, and try to eat something,” she says, sounding kind, and he knows he doesn't deserve that from her. But he will do as she says, even if he chokes it down. Just the thought of disobedience engulfs him in terror, even though he knows she wouldn't do to him what they did. But they might find out if he refuses and punish him, so better to comply.

He feels a bubble of hysterical laughter rising within him. Colonel Young has wanted his obedience since he'd met the man; now he knows how to compel it from him. From Dinn. From Kresh'ta. Doctor Nicholas Rush died on that table in the mess. He exerts herculean control over himself and forces the laughter back down and locks it away.

Colonel Young had raped him out of kindness. The irony of it doesn't escape him. He doesn't remember much about leaving the mess, but he knows the Colonel wrapped him in his own jacket and carried him out. He'd seen pity and fascination in the crews' eyes from seeing him destroyed, and amusement, avarice, and cruelty from the Lucians. He remembers Kiva's cool, thoughtful gaze, and he knows he is only a pawn on her chessboard. Young's eyes had bored holes into him, but he couldn't decipher what message the Colonel was sending to him and he hadn't been able to look away. We'll never be done he'd said to the Colonel, before the man had beat him into unconsciousness on a far away planet of heat and rocks. We'll never be done, We'll never be done, We'll never be done he screams in his head, not now, not after they'd been joined together like two dogs in heat.

The Colonel will be killed soon, or abandoned on a planet like Rush had been left. But even when the Colonel is off the ship for good, the feel of his hands, of his dick, was going to always, always be with him.

He knows the Colonel had been forced to rape him or watch Kiva finally kill him. He knows the Colonel sullied himself to save him. He remembers Young's whispered words of apology and he is torn between believing the man meant them and a dark thought that he fucked him, raped him, to teach him a lesson for hiding the gun, the work around he'd done so he could finally do some useful work with the neural interface chair.

It still feels like a betrayal of the agreement they'd tacitly come to after his and Camile's little attempt at mutiny. He, Doctor Nicholas Rush, would work with and cooperate with the Colonel, and in return, the Colonel will let him stay on Destiny and will protect him as he would protect any of his crew. He'd begun to trust the man, even knowing that the Colonel was fighting off his own demons and was not the ideal leader for this mission. He didn't know exactly why the Ancients had sent Destiny out among the stars, the galaxies, but the ship most certainly had a mission of great importance to do. A mission that deserved the best from all of them, and Colonel Young had never given his best to Destiny. He'd given enough to get by on, though, and Rush had hopes that once he discovered Destiny's true mission, the Colonel might really commit to it. The man had joined Stargate Command, hadn't he? Somewhere within him might be the desire to know, to find out, just like that desire was in himself. Or it had been. It felt like it had died on that table, too.

The Colonel had raped him right along with those other bastards, and it had been the final blow to shatter him, that betrayal of their agreement. He'd felt all resistance evaporate away, and he'll never get it back. He'll do what anyone, anyone, Lucian or the crew, asks of him, anything, to keep from being put back on that table. Work for the Alliance, let Volker run the science team, anything. He can't trust anyone anymore at all. The crew was made to watch him be fucked like that as a lesson to them to not cross any lines Kiva has drawn. They could inform her of his noncompliance, if he doesn't obey them, too. He can't trust any of them. Not even Lieutenant Johansen, or Chloe, or Camile.

He thinks that Varro nicknamed him well. He feels small, and scared, and he will hide away as best he can.

He eats the protein paste, drinks the water. He does everything Lieutenant Johansen asks him to do, as she checks on his injuries. Varro watches her, but shows only indifference to him. He is grateful to be ignored. He is grateful to be clean again. He is grateful not to have a dick rammed down his sore throat or to have fingers shoved up into him.

The Lieutenant steps close to him, heavy with the baby that he's heard is the Colonel's, and that hysterical laughter wants to break free again, knowing that both of them have been on the receiving end of the Colonel's dick. He smothers it; laughing like that would bring unwanted attention to himself.

She wouldn't appreciate his observation, if he shared it, and her displeasure would surely cause Varro to teach him another lesson. He may not be able to stop himself from crying, but he can stop himself from talking.

It will be safer for him that way.

She hands him a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, things he has seen the crew wear when running around the ship in Lieutenant Scott's civilian exercise class, and helps him to dress. She explains that he should practice tightening internal muscles he's never given much thought to before three days ago. She tells him, her eyes warm and concerned, that he's recovering from a mild to moderate concussion as well as everything else that injured him. She tells him that tomorrow she will see if he can stand up. Then she gives him a green-colored brew that smells of mint and something foul and he drinks it. He doesn't ask why she gave it to him or what it will do. He hasn't said anything since he woke up; he doesn't think he can even if he hadn't decided silence was a good strategy. Words are stuck in his throat and cannot pass into the air.

When he's choked the noxious drink down, she tells him to lie down, that the medicine will help with the pain and his headache and it will help him to sleep. He doesn't want to do that. He's afraid of his dreams, of being back on the table.

Once he would have staggered out of the infirmary, would have buried himself in work, dismissing the medic's concerns. Once he would have avoided sleeping for as long as he could.


Now he collapses back against the gurney and shuts his eyes. A man who's raped him is in this room, and his heart beats too fast, his breath is too shallow. If Varro wants to do it again, he can't stop him.

Dinn can not stop him.

The Lucians have won. They will most likely kill the military on board, and the useless civilians. He must remain useful to them because maybe, possibly, hopefully, there is a way he can escape. He can make his way to the chair and let Destiny take him into the ship. He thinks that's what happened to Franklin, and there is some data to back that theory. A massive program he hadn't seen before the day Franklin sat in the chair for the second time, but he'd hesitated to share his thoughts with Young until he knew for sure.

Maybe then he can help whoever is still alive to be freed of Kiva and her soldiers. As he is now, he can't even look them in the eyes.

It comforts him, to think of being code. Like that, with his body subsumed by Destiny, they can't harm him again.

He pictures it over and over, sitting in the chair without the buffering program he'd devised, of feeling the heavy press of too much information expanding his mind, of asking Destiny to save him, until all thoughts fade away and he sleeps.

* * *


Before Lieutenant Johansen releases him from the infirmary two days later, Kiva pays him a visit.

She makes him walk around the room, assessing him. She purses her lips at how he has to hold onto the walls or the equipment to hobble from one spot to the other before she tells Varro, Lieutenant Johansen's constant companion/guard, to boost him back up on a gurney.

He stiffens when Varro touches him, lifts him so easily. He is trapped between them, Kiva and Varro, like the small creature Varro named him, but he clamps down hard inside himself, so they do not get to have his tears. Kiva would lick them from his eyes, he fears.

She hands him a tablet with a problem on it, and he can see it has to do with the power relay stations. He suspects the radiation from the binary star has something to do with the reduction in efficiency that's he's analyzing from the data.

“Solve this,” she orders, and he nods, avoiding looking at her.

He sends himself away, to a place where there is only numbers and algorithms and parsing out solutions in a mathematical format. Numbers are safe; they do not judge him, they do not look at him with pity or with malevolence.

When he is finished, he slides the tablet to her waiting hands, eyes down. His feet are bare. There are no shoes or boots that have been given to him. Camile has asked for them, but was told by Kiva that Kresh'ta had no need of any footgear. If they required him to go off world, only then would he be given boots for the trip from the surplus uniforms they used for their gate missions.

Everything Kiva has orchestrated has been about stripping him of power. Even in this, not allowing him to have shoes.

He knows this. He understands Kiva, her goals, her strategies.

It doesn't help, knowing why she has ordered these things done to him. He is a lost soul, lost to himself, and knowing the path into the dark forest of his emotions doesn't mean he can find a way out again.

Kiva beckons the young woman with the long red hair, dressed in the leathers the Lucians adore, to come to her from where she had been quietly standing by the door. She hands the girl the tablet and orders her to check his work.

The girl does so, her lips moving in silent concentration as she examines his solution. He watches her, with quick sideways glances.

“Well,” Kiva asks, impatient. “Has our Kresh'ta found the answer?”

“Yes, I think so,” she says, carefully, and he hears fear in her voice. He has seen Kiva allow a scientist to be strangled in front of him, one of the first lessons she taught him in compliance and usefulness before they gated to Destiny. This girl, one of the ones who abused him, probably has reason to believe she also could die at Kiva's whim.

He does not hate this girl, but only because he is too afraid to hate. If he lets himself feel that powerful emotion it will be an act of defiance; if he hates them for what they've done to him then they will be able to tell and they will act to quell his rebellion.

He can not go back to that table. He prayed while he was on it, that alter to depravity. Prayed for ascension, that he would leave this plane of existence. He can't remember who he prayed to, but it was futile. No higher power helped him; no advanced aliens heard his screaming. His genetics did not mutate allowing him to escape by becoming pure energy. God, who Caine and Gloria and Lieutenant Scott all believed in, did nothing. He prayed that the Nakai would board the ship and take him back with them. They, too, invaded his body and they invaded his mind, but they did not destroy his soul like Kiva has done.

“I have learned what I wished to know,” Kiva says. “You, Kresh'ta, will work with Ginn. The other scientists as well, but Ginn will be my eyes and ears. Obey her as you would me.”

He nods, eyes still down.

“Ginn,” Kiva says. He looks up through the hair that has fallen over his eyes, a curtain to hide behind. He watches Kiva hand Ginn the tablet. The girl makes a slight bow towards Kiva, her body language submissive.

“See that this problem is resolved quickly. I will have Kresh'ta brought to you in the control interface room.”

“Yes, Commander,” Ginn says quickly and scurries from the room.

Kiva turns to him and he hunches his shoulders, looks downward. He doesn't do it on purpose and that knowledge that his body shows his submission to her so readily fills him with despair. He supposes he's lucky he's not pissing himself right now, or showing her his belly, like some small scared dog.

Kiva grasps his chin, brings his face up, and steps as close to him as the gurney will allow, causing him to open his bare legs wide to accommodate her.

She runs a finger across his cheek and frowns. “Shave daily.”

He nods slightly. She frowns again and turns to shoot a displeased look at Lieutenant Johansen. “Can he talk?”

“His vocal cords are damaged from all the screaming. I've given him orders to be silent and not aggravate them while they heal,” Lieutenant Johansen says, and she's lying to Kiva. She hasn't said one bloody word to him about his inability or unwillingness to talk. He feels a wave of gratitude along with a paralyzing fear that Kiva will know the lieutenant has lied to her face and will punish her.

“Very well,” Kiva says. “Bring me a comb and a sharp pair of scissors.”

Kiva cuts his hair, running her hands through it, yanking through tangles with the comb. She stands between his legs, her hands sometimes resting on his thighs, or on on the shorts he wears, and he can feel her breath, spicy with the tea Becker makes; she brings the scissors close to his throat, to his eyes, as she trims the mess into something shorter and neater that he can not hide behind.

His heart is pounding and he's trying to control his breathing so he doesn't have a damn panic attack. He doesn't move a muscle unless she tells him to turn his head to the side or to look down. She doesn't ask his opinion on how short to cut it or ask him if he wants to look in the mirror.

She gives the scissors back to Lieutenant Johansen and puts her hand on the T-shirt he's wearing, over his heart, smiling when she feels how hard it's beating.

“Will he make an attempt to kill himself?” Kiva asks, moving her hand back to his chin and forcing him to look her in the eyes.

“He might. Precautions should be taken. He shouldn't be left alone or with the means to hurt himself. Camile Wray has offered him counseling.”

Camile and Lieutenant Johansen have tried to talk to him several times over the last few days. They have told him that what happened wasn't his fault, that rape is about power, not sex, that the orgasms wrung from his body had also not been his fault, that bodies, nerves can be stimulated without consent. That he has experienced a severe trauma, and that nightmares, and possibly flashbacks, are something he'll probably keep experiencing as he comes to terms with what was done to him. That talking about it will be helpful. He did nothing wrong to bring this on himself.

It all feels like lies to him.

Kiva looks from Lieutenant Johansen back to him, her eyes narrowed, before returning her attention to the Lieutenant. She says brusquely, “No counseling. You may see him daily to check his injuries, but he returns to work this afternoon. I will assign a guard to collect him. He'll stay with the military prisoners at night until he is no longer a suicide risk.”

He dreads walking into that makeshift cell full of Airmen and Marines. Greer. Scott. Dunning. James. Barnes. Becker. Riley. Destiny's military will stare at him. Ask him questions. Smirk at him, remembering how he looked while he was Kiva's playtoy. He swallows down the lump that's formed in his throat. He'll see Young.

“He's been having trouble sleeping. I'd like him to take some medication at night to help with that and with the pain he's still having,” Lieutenant Johansen says evenly.

“Agreed. I won't allow his ability to work to be affected by poor sleep. Make up the medicine; Koz will take care of administering it.” Kiva says and steps back. He lets his gaze drop downward in profound relief.

She leaves then, and Lieutenant Johansen helps him brush the hairs off his shirt. It itches where some have fallen on his neck and under his shirt, and on his legs. When one of the Lucians arrives to take him to the control interface room, she has a brief, quiet conversation with the friendly looking man before introducing them.

“This is Koz. He helped me treat the wounded; I've asked him to let you go to the shower room first, but you can say no. He's given me his word that he won't harm you or touch you.”

He won't say no.

They leave, after he shaves with the electric razor she gives him, and it's a very slow walk to the shower room and he uses the corridor walls to lean against at times.

He has clothes in a bag with him to change into after washing himself. Lieutenant Johansen altered the boxers that once belonged to Franklin and the soft legwear that's like Chloe's. Yoga pants, Lieutenant Johansen called them. They belonged to Andrea Palmer, before she went through that first planet gate and was lost. Now he wishes he had gone with her. The Lieutenant talked quietly about her father and the skills he taught her as the needle flashed in her hand, piercing the clothing over and over. Fucking it, he thought, watching her, and wonders if he will see everything in sexual terms now.

He wants to be clean. He can't stand to feel dirty. The man with him will do what he wants and nothing he can say will change that, so he will go with him to the showers where he will be naked and this man might see him or touch him. He shudders. He wants to feel clean, even with that risk.

The memory of how filthy he was hits him and he shudders again. Koz notices.

“Dinn? What's wrong?”

He wants to laugh at that question, but he stifles the impulse. He makes a hand gesture indicating he's fine, and keeps on walking until he's in the outer room of the showers, where there are benches to sit upon and hooks for clothing and a stack of towels and a bin for wet ones.

Koz stares at him when he takes off Colonel Young's jacket. Lieutenant Johansen washed his stink off it before giving it back to him. Kiva wants him to wear it, so he will.

He hangs up the jacket, because while he is careless with his own clothes, usually just tossing them on the nearest chair or on the floor, the Colonel strikes him as a man who has been trained to carefully fold his clothing into neat stacks of organization or to hang them up in precise formation.

Kiva thought it would torment him to wear Young's jacket, but it doesn't. It's not the symbol of rape that she expected it would be; it's a symbol of Young's kindness instead, so he will be careful with it.

Koz is still watching him, though, so he picks up a towel, still dressed in the T-shirt and shorts he's been wearing for days now, and tries to step into the shower enclosure. Koz moves in front of him and takes the towel out of his hands.

“No,” Koz says. “Take your clothes off out here.”

He obeys. He feels the blood drain from his face, feels light-headed, but he obeys. He pulls the shirt over his head, dropping it. Koz moves closer, examines him.

“Your medic has taken good care of you,” Koz says. “Well, our medic now. As Kiva has said, your crew will join us, willing or not, and together we will work to solve the mystery of the Ninth Chevron. Finish, please,” he says, with a small tug at Rush's shorts.

Pulling down his shorts before Koz does it for him, he slides them free of his body and Koz says, “Wait,” before he can step away into the shower.

He starts to tremble, feels tears start to rise again, but he doesn't move. Koz looks him up and down, but it's not because he wants to see for himself how the healing is progressing because Koz makes a hum of appreciation, and it's predatory, not clinical.

“You are a pretty man, Dinn. Kiva has said you can be claimed again in a month, and her word is good. It won't be like the last time, not with me. I'll be gentle when I fuck you; you'll like it.”

He squeezes his eyes shut; he will not cry, he will not cry, he will not cry.

The towel is pushed against him and he opens his eyes. “Hurry now. You walk too slowly. If you can't go faster when we leave, then I'll carry you.”

He hurries as he washes himself, hurries to dress himself under Koz's gaze, and pushes himself to go faster as he stumbles to the control interface room.

He is already exhausted when he enters the room and sees the Science Team there at various monitors. Eli. Park, Brody. Volker.

Volker sees him first, his eyes widening. The man blushes a furious red, and he rubs the back of his neck, looking away.

Rush stumbles to a monitor and stands in front of it. His hands are shaking and he tucks them under his arms. Volker will never again see him as a scientist, but as the Alliance's fucktoy, bent double on that table and begging for a cock in his mouth in exchange for food and water.

He feels nauseous, but after staring at the displays and doing calculations in his head for a while it goes away. Brody ignores him, for which he is grateful. Park keeps shooting him horrified looks of pity, and Eli looks angry. More than once, Eli looks like he wants to say something, to him, to the guards, to the red-headed girl, Ginn. Brody catches Eli's eyes frequently, shakes his head.

Volker's gaze keeps darting back to him, and the man flushes each time, shifts uncomfortably. He wonders if Volker wants to fuck him. Take revenge for the way Rush has thrown disdain at him for his wandering attention, his stupid jokes with Brody, for his inability to be precise, and his reluctance to stand up to Rush.

He must, Rush thinks. Volker must be picturing his own cock stabbing into Rush, forcing out cries and screams and whimpers. It makes him feel dead inside.

It's a relief when the others on his team have gone with the guards to the mess for the evening meal. They have left him with Ginn, who has assured the other Lucians that she can handle Kresh'ta.

She touches her pistol, and gives a nervous laugh of assent when one of the guards says to just shoot Dinn in the leg if he tries to escape. It's ludicrous, of course. He can barely shift from one foot to the other, he's so stiff, and it is painful to sit on the monitor stool.

He checks the power flow rates for stations eight and ten, loses himself in maths again. He startles when sometime later the girl steps next to him.

Keeping his eyes focused on the monitor, he hardly dares to breath. He doesn't look at her. He remembers what she did on that first day in the mess, how she made him lick the sticky paste off her fingers. He'd been so hungry after the previous days with no food.

She'd done things with her other hand, breached him, to the orders of that bald headed Lucian.

She'd hacked at his hair with a knife. The inappropriate laughter wants to come out of hiding again. He wonders if she likes how Kiva tidied up her mess.

In a whisper, she says, “Doctor Rush?”

Is this a trap? Is she trying to earn him more punishment by reporting him responding to his forbidden name? He starts to panic, grips the console, and he can't get enough air.

“Oh,” she says. “No, please. I'll call you Dinn, please don't get upset,” she whispers still.

He begins to calculate Pi, to see how many decimal places he can string in his mind. He doesn't realize he's softly muttering his calculations until the girl continues saying numbers when he falters finally. His trick has worked though; his breathing is more controlled, his heart doesn't feel like it will burst free from his chest.

She stops and takes a deep breath. “Dinn, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for what I did to you. What we all did to you. I was afraid. You don't know. You don't know what they will do if you don't...” she swallows hard and bites her lip.

He thinks that he does know. But she's not talking about him; she's talking about herself. He stays silent and still. A good listener, he mocks to himself. How many people have pointed out to him how lacking he was in that particular social skill? But now, he will listen. He will pay attention. His life might depend on it.

The lass hugs herself. She says, “It doesn't excuse me, I know. But I didn't want to do those things. Dannic, he hates the scientists, and he thinks I'm suspect because the Alliance took me from my home. I didn't join willingly. He looks for reasons to get rid of me. I'm sorry. I heard how you resisted the pain sticks when Kiva took you from Earth. I could tell you were defying her, at the base. I was reviewing your work and I said nothing. I didn't tell her you were stalling still. I hoped that maybe the Tau'ri would find you and I could ask for asylum.”

She takes in a shuddery breath.”I'm sorry. I thought you could withstand it when Kiva made you an example. I didn't know she would make you stay there for days. And, and, there's something you should know. You couldn't help it, when you--”

Suddenly she steps away.

From the corner of his eye he sees her studying the monitor nearest to him, and then there are other people in the room again. Eli, and guards and other Lucians who take places at the monitors. Their scientists, he supposes.

Eli is carrying something as he approaches and stands next to him. He doesn't ask Eli what new contraption he's designed. What the lass said to him has thrown him into turmoil, and he's fighting so hard to keep his face blank. Does he believe her? Does it matter? She did those things to him, made him humiliate himself, made him lick her fingers like he was her pet. Would he do those same things to someone else if Kiva put them on the table, to keep himself safe?

Before this week he would have said no. Now, he knows he would. He is not the person he thought he was, that Gloria thought he was, that Mandy thinks he is. He is weak.

“Hey,” Eli says. He wants to step away. Eli is too close. He never paid attention to Eli's build before, aside from thinking the boy could stand to lose a few pounds. He is excruciatingly aware now that Eli is a good bit taller than him and built more broadly.

He knows that he can't win a fight against Colonel Young, who's twice his size even if he's not that much taller. He learned that lesson on the planet Young left him on. He's never considered how it might end if he and Eli were to scrabble around like he and Greer have done. But now, especially now, with his body so weak, Eli could pin him down and hurt him. Take him, if he wanted to.

Eli doesn't want him that way, he knows that. He thinks he knows that. He doesn't know anymore. He swallows down his anxiety. He has to focus, be useful. Not be noticed because he's throwing up or crying in hysterics.

“Hey... Dinn?” Eli says, when he doesn't respond to the boy's first greeting.

He glances once at Eli and boy's face tightens. “Camile told us you were having trouble walking. We made you something to help you get around. And by we, I mean Brody and Park and me. It's sort of like the kino sleds, only more like a scooter.”

Eli rights the scooter and flicks on the kino remote strapped to the handles. “See. Just start it up and step on.” He places both feet on the thing. “And then you can make it go as high as you want and forwards or backwards. Watch.”

Eli rides his invention around the control interface room, switching from a few centimeters off the floor to half a meter.

He can't picture himself riding it, flitting around like that.

As it turns out, when Kiva walks into the room and Eli almost bowls her over as he's demonstrating how it can go backwards, Kiva can't picture it either.

“No,” she says, after Eli has been grabbed by the guards and hauled off his invention and he's stumbled out an explanation. “Mr. Wallace, find better uses for your ingenuity. Kresh'ta will walk, or he will crawl, or if he can do neither, he can beg to be carried.”

Let the humiliation continue, he thinks. Being carried would just reinforce how helpless he feels. The shaking that never truly leaves him ramps up, so that it must be obvious to everyone.

“Kresh'ta,” she says to him, coming over and grabbing his chin again so he's forced to look at her. “Or I hear Varro has given you another name.” She smiles, but it doesn't make the corners of her eyes crinkle in genuine amusement. “Do you prefer “Dinn?”

He can not lie to her. He nods slightly. “I will allow it, as long as you are...” she lets go of his chin, runs a finger along his jaw. “Good.”

“Ginn,” she says, turning abruptly to the girl. “Has he been good?”

“Yes, Commander,” she says rapidly. “He's found and fixed problems with four of the stations. Efficiency is up thirty percent because of his work.”

“Then, Dinn, continue,” she orders, and strides out of the room.

Eli parks the scooter, and crosses his arms, that tight look on his face again. He tells Ginn that he's going to stick around and finds a console to work at, and it is quiet as the Lucian scientists and Eli and he run diagnostics on the ship's systems.

He notes that all system interactions are restricted to the control interface room; there's no way to use a console in a different lab to steal control away as he did during the mutiny and when he was trying to stop these invaders from taking his ship.

Hours pass, and he is so exhausted. But he feels incapable of asserting himself, of announcing that his shift is over and he's going to bed. It requires all his courage to just indicate he's taking bathroom breaks.

Varro radios, but he doesn't track what is being said. At this point the flickering numbers and Ancient language are meaningless to him. He's slipping into a daze. Not even the increasing ache of his muscles and his other unspeakable pain keeps him feeling alert. His knees buckle when he abruptly drops into REM sleep.

The sensation of falling wakes him and he stumbles before regaining his balance. He leans as much against the console as he can.

“Drink this,” he's ordered, and Koz is holding a bottle under his nose. He didn't notice the man even entering the room. “You're to go to the prisoner's quarters now.”

He obeys, drinking down the potion he's had every night since waking up that first time in the infirmary. It will start to work very soon. He hopes that the medicine dulls the pain so he can walk more rapidly to the storage room turned holding cell before sliding him into unconsciousness.

He hands the bottle back and shuts down his console. He lurches toward the wall so he can use it for support, but his traitorous muscles stop working and he ends up on the floor. He tries to get back up, but after two attempts he concedes defeat.

He begins crawling towards the door. Kiva is efficient; Koz will know of her recent orders regarding his methods of locomotion.

A pair of running shoes block his way, and Eli crouches down. “What's that?” the boy says loudly. “You're begging me to carry you?”

Eli hauls him upwards, and swings him up into his arms. “If you can, hang on to my neck,” Eli says quietly, and he obeys. Eli follows Koz out of the room.

He closes his eyes. He is so tired, and that wicked green brew is impossible to resist. He's torn between wanting to twist free from being held against another body and just accepting the comfort Eli's offering. Some mentor he's turned out to be, with the student taking charge like this. But, if he has to be carried, he prefers Eli over Koz. It's not quite as humiliating as he'd imagined, with Eli, but he still feels his face flush with embarrassment.

Eli chatters about how he'd carried Chloe through the ship, and that he'd decided that was an exercise program he could get behind, so thanks for helping him out, and anyway, it's not like it's really hard, because, Dude, you just aren't that heavy.

“And you know, it was really cool when Samwise Gamgee carried Frodo up the side of Mount Doom, not that you're Frodo Baggins, except man, he was really, really wiped out, and you are too. Are you even awake still?”

In a whisper, Eli adds, “I hope you are asleep. Please don't hate me for picking you up like that, but I can't stand what they're doing to you.”

In a louder voice, Eli resumes the smokescreen of his obnoxious chatter about that atrocious film he loves so much, and how Sam was always there for Frodo, and he thinks Eli is trying to give him a message, but he no can hold onto his thoughts any longer.

He falls asleep, to the rhythm of Eli walking slowly down Destiny's corridors.

* * *

Chapter Text

Everett stares up at the ceiling of his prison and tries to stop his mind from replaying his part in Rush's torture. He's not very successful, and his hands form fists as he lays on his back, a thin blanket tucked around him. He's heard nothing about how Rush is recovering. If he can recover. Everett's seen traumatized people before, but no one who was as bad off as Rush looked.

It's been days since any of them have been outside of this room, and his people are anxious and bored.

Some of them try to sleep as much as possible, others, like Greer, wait by the doors like coiled springs. There are Rock, Paper, Scissors competitions going on – Barnes is uncannily good at it – and pushups and crunches challenges.

He has Greer's unquestioning support, but even Matthew and James have looked at him uneasily at times. The rest of the military, they obviously have conflicted feelings about what happened between Rush and him. Some stare at him, speculation or pity on their faces. Others won't make eye contact or talk about what happened in the mess this past week. Quite a few of them do have discussions, in quiet corners, but he still makes out enough to know the gist of their thoughts. Most feel sorry for Rush, but some are angry at him for stranding them on the ship; if he hadn't, they wouldn't be here, wouldn't have seen the disgusting things they have, wouldn't be prisoners right now. A few think he deserved what he got.

About himself, there's also divided opinions. Mostly people think he raped Rush to save him, doing a terrible thing for a good reason, but a few have accused him of taking advantage of Kiva's demand for a crew member to join them in the rape orgy so he could hurt Rush under the guise of helping him.

Greer and Matthew and James spend a lot of time calming the waters.

They aren't being given enough food, or water, or blankets. He's pretty sure Kiva has lowered the temperature settings in this storage room, too. Especially at night. Not because the ship is low on power, no, it's just another way to demoralize them.

People share their blankets and body heat. Holding their noses while they do it, too, because the other things Kiva hasn't supplied has been clean clothes or anyway to freshen up.

He supposes they're lucky she did at least supply them with buckets for their waste.

The stench of their misery is growing stronger every day.

The sound of the doors opening brings him to his feet. It's always dim in here, never the artificial brightness that mimics daylight, never darkness that would make it easier to sleep. The lights in the corridor are brighter, silhouetting the figures standing outside the doors.

Weapons are pointed at them as someone moves up from behind the guards and into their jail cell. It's Eli and he's carrying... Rush?

Everett intercepts him, but not so fast as to trigger the guards into spraying them with bullets.

He reaches out to help carry Rush, but Eli shakes his head. “I got him; he's not very heavy. He's dead asleep, and it would be better if we don't jostle him and he can stay that way.”

There is a grim look on Eli's face. From the doorway one of the Lucians calls for Everett.

“Put him down over there,” and Everett points to his own blanket. They'd found enough packing material in the Ancient crates in the room to provide some relief from the hard cold floor, and Eli, accompanied by a handful of curious people, takes Rush over and kneels down with him.

He doesn't see if Rush woke up when Eli transferred him to the pallet because Koz is telling him why Rush has been sent in here.

TJ is afraid Rush might try to kill himself, so he's on suicide watch and not to be left alone for now. Rush has been cleared to work since early this afternoon, Koz says, and Everett asks if Rush has eaten this evening.

Koz shrugs. “I don't know if he went to the mess or not. Kiva has not forbidden it.”

“Is he capable of walking?”

“Slowly. But I think he became too tired and then the medicine he took makes him go to sleep. I will return for him in the morning. Tell Eli to come out.”

Greer has his hand on Eli's shoulder, squeezing it. “You did good, my man,” he's telling Eli when Everett joins them. Rush is a few feet away, asleep with the blanket wrapped around him. Even in this light Everett can see that Rush's hair has been cut. It's shorter now than when he worked at Icarus, but it still flatters his face, the short bangs, the other strands almost long enough to touch his ears.

“Eli, you're wanted,” he says.

Eli grimaces. “Yeah, okay. Just... he's not so good. He's not like Rush at all. Take care of him?”

“Yeah, of course we will. Don't worry about it, Eli.”

Eli laughs then, and it's bitter. “You're stealing his lines, Colonel,” he says, shooting a look downward at Rush. “Just, when he wakes up, tell him that Sam has his back. He'll know what you mean. Maybe. Unless he really was asleep the entire trip over here. Anyway, just tell him.”

Eli leaves then, and Riley and Greer and Scott punch him on the shoulder and fist bump with him and clap him on the back before Eli walks through the doorway and they are locked in again.

“Eli bring us any new intel?” Everett asks, forcing his attention away from Rush to look at at Greer and Scott.

“Yeah. He said that there's no way they can do what Rush did when he locked out the controls so only he could control the systems on another console. They've got their own people monitoring every shift, and all the systems are permanently locked to the control interface room,” Scott said, trying not to look glum. “He said that Chloe was okay, nobody else has been hurt.”

“Anything else?” Rush turns on his side and starts to curl up. The cold must be effecting him, Everett thinks.

Riley spoke up. “Sir, Rush is having trouble walking, and Eli said that Kiva wouldn't let Rush use a kino scooter they'd made for him. He said if Rush can't walk, he's supposed to crawl, if he can't or doesn't want to crawl, then he has to beg to be carried. Eli faked Rush asking for that when he picked him up. He says the guy hasn't said a single word to anybody.”

“Okay. Listen. We need to keep an eye on Rush while he's in here. TJ's afraid he's suicidal.”

“God, can you blame him?” James mutters.

Nobody has anything to say to that.

Arrangements are made then. Rush is cold, he's shivering now, and James suggests that people lie down on either side of him, but not close enough to touch him. With blankets thrown over all three of them, there might be enough body heat to keep him warm.

No one suggests that Everett should be one of the ones to do this. Instead, James and Barnes drag over bottom bedding and blankets. After they slide under the covers, Greer sits next to Everett and shares his own scratchy blanket. Greer knows exactly where Young's jacket is, but he doesn't make any comments. Young is thankful for that.

It seems to work. Rush doesn't wake up at any rate, and Young is still watching him the next morning when Rush screams his way into consciousness.

There is chaos as Rush struggles to free himself, still screaming, and Barnes and James are jolted awake, throwing off the top blankets. They try to free him, but the blanket wrapped around him alone is hampering their attempts and he shakes so violently when they have to touch him.

By the time Rush is really awake and silent everyone else is up, too, moving around, gravitating towards Rush. They don't mean to cause him further distress, Everett knows that, but Rush is standing with his hands held palms out, amidst the pool of bedding at his feet, and he looks terrified.

People move closer and Everett, who made a split second decision to let James and Barnes untangle Rush, steps around him and puts himself between his people and Rush. He takes charge, sends everyone else away and back to their beds.

He turns around when it's quiet again. Rush is still shaking and has crossed his arms around himself, holding himself tightly.

Barnes has moved the extra bedding away and James is talking softly to Rush. Everett can't make out her words, but he trusts that James will be able to reach him. She's kind, and full of empathy; she'd taken good care of Franklin, saw him as a person and not just an obligation to feed and wash and dress. She and Rush aren't close, not like Rush and Chloe are close, but Everett is sure she'll do her best to help Rush feel safe right now.

It had been a long night, sitting with his back against the wall, still feeling the cold despite Greer's solid warmth along his side. A long night to mull over the incredibly long list of poor choices he'd made over the last two years, both personal and professional.

He watches Rush, and he thinks that he fucked up even when he thought he was being helpful. He should have given the nod to Greer to take Rush to the infirmary. The choice he'd given Rush to tell him no, that he didn't want to be handled by Everett, in reality had been no choice at all. Rush had been too traumatized to be able to voice any opinion. He can see that now.

And now the man is stuck wearing a jacket with Everett's name on it. It has to be such a cruel reminder of what Everett did to him.

Rush is nodding to James and she turns to Everett, beckons him to come closer.

He makes sure that he's giving Rush plenty of personal space when he joins the other two.

“Sir,” James says. “He agreed on a tour of this place.” She nods towards the far corner where they'd set up a latrine area, shielded by crates stacked high.

For a brief moment, Everett catches a hint of an eye roll from Rush, but then it's gone again, and his expression is locked down into a blank shield.

“Yeah,” he says mildly, figuring James already asked Rush if he wanted to go with her or with one of the men. He's honestly surprised that James called him over, but she gives him a significant look and nods, and he takes that as Rush had settled on him.

Anyway this is about Rush and not him. The guy couldn't walk last night, and might need a hand. “I could use a tour myself.”

Rush nods, and lurches free of the blankets. His gait is unsteady and slow. He looks at the walls, but the areas in front of them are staked out by the other crew members.

Everett says in that same careful tone, “I'll make sure you don't fall.” Rush has avoided looking at him, but he darts a quick, brief glance at Everett. Whatever he sees on Everett's face seems to be acceptable, and he nods again.

Everett wonders if Rush has said anything at all since he woke up here. He keeps his hand near Rush's elbow as they make their slow painful way over to the buckets. Sometimes people get up from where they're huddled together and move towards Rush, but Everett shakes his head at them and they back off.

“I get the feeling you don't want to talk, and that's okay,” Everett says quietly. “But you should know that we're all worried about you. Eli says to tell you that Sam has your back.”

Rush looks puzzled for a moment, then a complicated expression of comprehension, gratitude, and worry crosses his face, with another hint of an eye roll. Everett doesn't know what the Sam reference means, but obviously Rush does.

Everett says, “I've been waving people off that want to talk to you, but if you want to see them, I'll send them over one at a time.”

Rush shakes his head hard.

“Right, so that's a definite no. Are you okay with me being with you? Because you do have choices. James or Greer or Scott or Barnes or Riley, any of them would be glad to take my place.”

Rush darts another quick glance at him, and then pulls on the jacket he's wearing.

That gesture is harder for Everett to decipher. “Umm. Okay, you know, I was never that good at Charades so let's try this again. Are you okay with me being near you, helping you if you start to take a tumble?”

Rush nods, and again tugs on his jacket.

“You keep doing that, but I don't know what you're trying to say. Do you want to take it off? It's cold in here, but you could wrap up in a blanket instead. Nobody is going to tell the guards, don't worry about that. You must hate wearing it.”

Rush shoots him an exasperated look, before shaking his head and it's so normal, that “Why are you so dense, Colonel Young” expression, so, so... Rush, that he wants to smile in relief.

Maybe he does. Rush looks away from him.

“Okay, so do you want to keep my jacket?”

Another nod, but Rush looks conflicted.

“Do you want to keep it because Kiva ordered you?”

Rush bobs his head once, and a look of shame crosses his face.

“I get that. Is that the only reason?”

A shake of his head this time. Puzzled, not really believing he could be right, Everett asks gently, “Because I gave it to you?”

This time Rush whispers, “Yes.”

“Why?” Everett blurts out before he stops to think that maybe Rush doesn't want to say. They're getting into some murky territory here. “You don't have to tell me, though.”

Rush takes a deep breath, and stops walking. They are only a few feet away from the latrines now, and the stench is not pleasant.

“I... he starts, and then falters. “You were... kind. When you gave it to me. It helps, a little.” The honesty in Rush's voice is excruciating for Everett to hear, because it's just not like Rush to admit anything involving feelings. It took him a long time to realize that Rush wasn't an unfeeling self-absorbed bastard. He just played the part of one.

“Why did you tell me that?” Everett whispers, because he's got this horrible feeling about this new found honesty of Rush's.

“You asked,” Rush whispers back, and starts shaking again.

Oh my God, he thinks, and hurries to say, “Okay, all right. You're okay, you're doing good. I'm not mad, okay?” Because while he was never the brightest in the class, if he thought about things long enough he could puzzle out answers.

Rush has been conditioned to obedience. All the torture, even before he was held down on that table, it's screwed him up so badly that he'll do whatever he's told, and not just with the Lucians.

God, it makes him feel sick. Even telling him he didn't have to answer didn't over ride that first compulsion to do what Everett told him.

And this means that he can't share with Rush any plans they come up with to take back the ship. If Kiva asks him anything about what they discuss in here, Rush won't be able to lie to her.

Even asking Rush to tell them about what's going on outside this room could backfire, because the types of questions Rush would be asked could be enough for Kiva to figure out how they might try to free themselves.

“You're okay, and I'm not going to be asking anything of you. I get it, Rush,” Everett says and is puzzled again when Rush shakes his head, a panicked look on his face before he presses both palms over his eyes.

“Rush?” he says again, and blanches when Rush chokes out in a rough voice that sounds thick with tears, “Say “Dinn,” not my...” He stumbles past Everett into the latrine and Everett hears him retching.

God, what a number Kiva's done on him, that he can't even stand to hear his own name, Everett thinks, appalled, feeling that same awful pity again that he had in the mess when he'd helped Rush.

Rush, not Dinn. In his head and to the other crew members, when the Alliance guards weren't in earshot, he was going to call him Rush, but he'd use “Dinn” when he was talking to the poor bastard. He wondered who had named him that and he guessed Kiva was okay with it. Rush couldn't defy her. Not now. Maybe not ever.

If Rush couldn't work behind Kiva's back then their chances of regaining control of the ship had just dropped like a rock.

* * *

The next night when Koz brings Rush, he's walking on his own, but he's unsteady on his feet. James has a place all ready for him, with the same arrangement as last night and she leads him over to it. He lowers himself down gingerly, and she hands him a pair of socks.

They're not much; they're his and they're smelly and have a couple of holes in them, but Rush's feet were bare last night. On some of the worlds the Goa'uld ruled, slaves were kept barefoot and that sounds like something that's just up Kiva's alley, another one of her psychological tricks. Not only would Rush's slave-like status be reinforced to her crew, who grew up within Goa'uld society, but it had to be demoralizing to Rush. And his feet are probably freezing.

Rush puts a hand to his mouth and Everett's close enough that he can see his throat working as he swallows hard a couple of times. He turns the socks over and over in his hands, and he's obviously debating with himself over what he should do before pulling them on slowly, reverently, and then draws his legs up to his chest, wraps his arms around them. Even injured like this, Rush is pretty damn flexible. It's one of the things he's noticed about him. If he didn't know better, he'd think Rush must be a regular attendant at Chloe's yoga classes.

Rush ate this morning with them, a small dollop of paste and a piece of dried fruit, a handful of toasted beans. James doesn't ask him if he ate any supper, just puts two small half pieces of fruit next to him. Riley and Scott had saved them for him.

Rush eats one, and then puts the other in a jacket pocket. He scrubs at his eyes; presumably the medicine is starting to take effect now, and he pulls the blanket tightly around himself as he lays down. Rush put in a really long day, since it's almost midnight now. That hasn't changed, at least, since being in the Alliance's custody.

James motions to Barnes and they finagle things like they did last night, and things are quiet again.

Scott looks his way and nods before sitting down against the wall next to Riley. They volunteered to stay up and keep an eye on Rush, although Everett's not sure what Rush would do to kill himself in here. Climb up on a stack of crates and take a swan dive? Nobody has any weapons or anything that MacGyver could have whipped together to defeat the bad guys. Maybe steal people's shoelaces to hang himself?

He and Greer are bunking together tonight, and he's tired. Last night was a long one, so he hits the sack. He wakes up sometime in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep, despite Greer's steady breathing. Something's been nagging at him since he and Rush had that strange conversation this morning. Rush had been grateful for Everett's jacket, but he should have been steaming mad and disgusted with him for botching defending Destiny from the Lucians' attack. If Everett had vented the gateroom as planned, he and his people wouldn't be locked up in here, Kiva wouldn't have shot one of the hostages, and Rush wouldn't have been raped and tortured for three damn days.

Why wasn't Rush angry with him? As much as he doesn't look forward to Rush's scathing analysis of his mistakes, it bothers him much more that Rush hasn't even thrown a glare his way. He pictures all of the seething rage Rush must be feeling being locked down inside that slight frame. Jesus Fucking Christ, he raped him. Rush should be throwing punches at him, accusing him of doing it for revenge and not because Everett wanted to save his life.

If Rush can't unleash that incandescent anger on him, on Kiva and her people, then he thinks TJ is right to worry about suicide.

He turns on his side, distracted by thoughts of TJ. She could have the baby any time now. He wonders if he'll ever get to see his son or daughter, and shudders to think of his kid growing up as part of the Lucian Alliance. Kiva had threatened to shoot TJ at first. She won't be doting on the baby.

He has to come up with a way to win back the ship. He doesn't know if Kiva has been negotiating with Homeworld Command or not, using their safety to force the Tau'ri to stop attacking Lucian Alliance worlds, but he knows Homeworld Command's policy. They don't negotiate with terrorists. Once Kiva accepts that, she's going to either kill them, strand them on the first planet Destiny takes them to, or try to flip them.

He has no idea if the brainwashing drugs the Alliance uses were brought on board. He suspects maybe they were, as a backup plan to deal with the crew. And since a lot of her people hadn't made it through the gate, she could use Destiny's military, or at least some of them, to fix the ship, to handle gate missions. The scientists she probably figures she can cow into obedience, after destroying the one scientist who would have kept opposing her.

So, there's that. And there's another reason they don't have much time left to act. If one of them gets turned, David's ass is grass. David hasn't been able to free them yet, so Kiva or Dannic or Varro must still be suspicious of his loyalty. Enough doubt must be there to keep him from being free to act.

He sighs because David and Rush together, they could have pulled something off, if Rush wasn't so damaged and David free of his leash.

There's something else. Another reason, a fucking good reason to turn the tables on the Alliance. Kiva had declared it would be open season on Rush in a few weeks, even with him doing everything he was asked.

Maybe she wouldn't put him back on that table. Maybe it wouldn't involve chains and beatings this time. But it would be rape.

Maybe Rush can get past what happened to him, come to terms and start to heal, but could he do that if every fucking day he didn't know if he'd have to use his mouth or bend over for some guy's dick or some girl's fingers?

They have to take back the ship, and he has never been so helpless to save his people as he is right now. Not even on that fucked up mission where David, poor brainwashed bastard, had let all those people die and he hadn't been able to stop the slaughter.

He can't do anything at the moment now except get up and relieve Scott and Riley and let them at least get some sleep.


* * *

Rush sits up abruptly several hours later, breathing hard, and runs his hands through his hair, disarraying it even further. He looks miserable, and his hands are shaking when he drops them back down. He huddles in on himself, making himself smaller, and there's no way he can get out of the blankets without disturbing Barnes or James.

Everett watches him for a while, to see if he'll work up the nerve to shake one of them awake, or call their name, but he just stays small and still. It's doubtful that he would have been able to relax enough to sleep near them if he hadn't been drugged.

Dark thoughts rise up, seeing Rush like that. The man had never fully answered any question Everett had put to him, and of course he'd lied before to Everett, to them all.

Everett could get the truth out of him now, though. Find out if he'd dialed the Ninth Chevron to save them, as he'd said, or if they could have gated safely to Earth when Icarus was attacked. He'd admitted he'd faked the entry in the data base about an Icarus type planet out here, Eli had caught him in that lie, but how many others were there? How many secrets was Rush keeping from him?

Kiva would do it. She'd do it in a heartbeat. So would David Telford.

It would feel like raping Rush all over again, forcing him to open up, to spill his secrets, and in his current state Rush had about as much chance of stopping him as he had when Everett had pushed into his body.

He could do it. He had enough ruthlessness in him; he'd left Rush on a planet to die, had given the order to suffocate the life out of Rush's body to free David from the Alliance's brainwashing.

But he wouldn't.

Rush eventually was let out of his prison of blankets by Barnes and he made his way to the latrines without falling on his face. He was getting better, at least physically. When he came back and found a place by the doors to sit, Everett dropped down an arm's length away, and said good morning.

It was still early, mostly people were still dreaming, or pretending to be sleeping. Rush's glance was brief, before dropping back down. Everett had noticed Rush had done that a few times before the Alliance had boarded, during arguments when Everett had found himself way too close to the other man. Rush would look downward, not meeting his eyes, and it had felt sweet to see him chastised, his body language submissive.

Remembering it now makes him want to vomit, but he fists his hands instead and concentrates on breathing until the urge passes.

Rush stays silent, staring at the knees he'd drawn up to his chest.

Everett clears his throat and Rush's attention subtly shifts towards him, waiting.

“You might not remember what I said to you on the way to the infirmary, so I'm saying it again. I'm sorry, really sorry about what I did to you. I didn't want to see you killed by Kiva, R- ah, Dinn.”

Rush ducks his head a little, but doesn't look his way.

“I don't want you to kill yourself, okay? We're going to get through this, things are going to get better.”

He waits for a skeptical laugh or sound of derision from Rush, but all he hears is the sound of Rush's breathing picking up speed.

“I had a talk with the men and women in here yesterday, after you left. They're going to give you your space, all right? And they've been ordered to be respectful. If anybody says or does anything that isn't respectful, I want to know about it, okay? I'll take care of it.”

Rush gives him one of his quick, birdlike glances, then looks away.

“Dinn, can you give me your word you're not going to harm yourself?”

Rush thinks about that for a few moments, and Everett can see the wheels turning in his head as he takes that statement and looks for loopholes. He's instantly suspicious, because he's seen Rush do that before and he recognizes it for what it is.

“Whatever it is you're thinking of doing, don't, okay? Just don't do it.”

He's not imagining it, the brief look of annoyance that Rush shoots him.

“Don't hurt yourself, don't use whatever loophole you figured out. Please, ah, Dinn. Give me a chance to make things right.”

Rush's glance around the room seems involuntary, not done deliberately to taunt him, and Everett gives him a wry smile.

“Yeah, yeah. I know how it looks right now. Still, stay alive, okay?”

Rush shrugs and it's tired and sad and if he didn't think it would scare Rush to death he would have hugged him.

“So...” Everett says, and falls into silence. He wants to ask Rush if he's seen TJ, how she's doing, but if Kiva questions Rush about what Young has asked him, he doesn't want to put TJ in her sights. Kiva might not know that he's the baby's father.

He lifts his hand to run through his own greasy feeling hair, and looks at Rush's with a bit of envy.

“They're letting you shower every day? We haven't been that lucky. It's getting pretty ripe in here. Reminds me of the early days on the ship, you know. I'm really missing being clean.”

An expression crosses Rush's face, one of fear and shame, and he looks away.

Oh, crap. Something's not right. Something to do with Rush getting to use the showers, maybe.

“What's wrong?” he says, before he remembers that he wasn't going to make Rush feel compelled to answer his questions.

Rush looks alarmed, and his hands open and close a few times but then he whispers, “The guard, Koz. In the shower room. He says things.”

Well, he might as well find out, now that he asked in the first place. “What things? Is he molesting you, because Kiva ordered her people to leave you alone for now.” He'd be fine with letting her know her people were flaunting her commands.

Rush puts his fist to his mouth and Everett doesn't press him. Seconds tick by, then minutes before Rush whispers, “He's not... touching, just looking. Going to wait. Says he'll make me like it.”

“Not going to happen,” Everett says, and thinks he might be a bigger liar than Rush ever was.

The look Rush gives him says he thinks the same thing.

“Do you have to go to the shower room?”

Rush shakes his head no, then whispers, “Worth it, to feel clean.”

Ah, God. Poor bastard. Everett has nothing he can say, and to his relief, the guards arrive with their morning rations.

Rush pulls the socks off his feet, after a shocked glance at the door. He's scared, Everett realizes. Scared because wearing them had been an act of defiance against Kiva's orders, he guesses.

The guards aren't looking their way. He casually extends a hand and calmly balls his threadbare socks up from where Rush had dropped them like they had burned his hands. He tucks them in a pants pocket. Rush is staring at his knees again. He looks like the last thing he wants to do is get up and rub elbows with the Marines and Airmen who are lining up for chow.

“Just stay here,” Everett says, and goes to claim their breakfast.

* * *

They fall into a routine for the next week. Rush comes very late every night, James and Barnes sleep next to him, and he wears Everett's socks till morning. Rush had looked directly at him when James had given him the socks again, and he nodded and then shrugged, hoping to convey his apologies for them being in such a sorry state. Rush nodded back, and it was like those times when they'd actually worked well together, sharing information and coming to agreements with just looks and nods.

Usually Rush wakes up in the morning with nightmares, after the medicine TJ is still giving him has worn off. He'll scream or jolt up in the makeshift bed. Sometimes he wakes up crying. Once James put her arm around him until he was able to stifle his sobs and push away from her.

Rush eats in the morning with him after Everett has gotten their rations, and then leaves with Koz. Always Koz, and Everett feels impotent knowing that their next stop will be the shower room. Rush is a paragon of cleanliness next to the rest of them, even manages to shave daily, and there's been growing resentment about that with some of his people.

He won't share with them what Rush has told him about the price he's paying in exchange for Destiny's cleansing mist.

Rush says very, very little, preferring to communicate with nods and gestures. Everett has had another talk with his people, and on the rare occasion someone other than Greer or Barnes or James or Scott or himself say anything to Rush, they mostly remember to call him Dinn.

Rush doesn't smile, avoids eye contact. He's always been a short, slight guy, but now he seems small, shoulders hunched, and instead of striding through the room he walks softly, hesitantly. He goes out of his way to avoid people. Most people. He tolerates a few. Him and James, mostly.

James, he can understand. She's tactful and her natural manner with people who are sick, in need, and hurting in some way is kindness without being condescending. She tried to help Spencer; she volunteered to nurse and care for Franklin. There isn't a mean bone in her body, and she's protective. She's a good soldier, a good person, and has really proved herself on this mission. He needs to let her know that, he reminds himself. His approval is apparently important to James, from what TJ has told him. He resolves to talk to her today, commanding officer to a promising junior officer.

He can't understand why Rush tolerates him and his attempts to help the guy. If it seemed to distress Rush, he'd back off, he would. Actually, it's more than just Rush tolerating his presence because Everett queries him about that every so often, and Rush affirms with nods or gestures that, yes, he wants him to be nearby. It's fucked up as hell, and if they get rid of the Alliance – not that any progress has been made on that front – they're going to have to bring in a whole team of therapists with the stones.

Then one night, Rush doesn't return, and the guards won't answer his questions in the morning.

He's been asking Rush to not hurt himself every day, to the point where Rush actually rolled his eyes at the statement once.

He immediately shut down afterwards, but Everett had been happy to see a glimpse of the real Rush.

He doesn't know what's happening now with Rush, with the ship, with David. Camile and the civilians. The Science Team. TJ. Or even if his baby has been born.

He gathers his patience and waits. Knowing all of this is his fault eats at him, and he thinks of that old story of the god who was punished by having eagles tear out his liver every day after he'd grown back a new one. Prometheus had been chained and helpless to stop it from happening. He knows how the guy must have felt, but he'll try to be the commander his men and women need right now, here in this cell. On this ship.

Something will change soon. It has to. Their food supply is getting low, and Homeworld Command has probably been stalling Kiva, hoping Everett can take back the ship. She won't buy it for much longer.

Something is going to happen and he begins drilling his people on their plan to kamikaze their guards as a last resort. They'll lose people, but not as many as they will if Kiva vents the air out of this room.

But that's a last resort. For now they drill and wait.

Chapter Text

“Dinn, you must stop now,” his Alliance guard dog says, and opens the opaque glass doors of the shower stall. Koz sounds impatient, and his eyes sweep up and down Rush's naked body. He freezes under that gaze. Koz smiles at him and beckons him to come out. When he does, Koz wraps a towel around him, stepping close, so close, but not touching his bare skin. “You must get dressed quickly. I indulge you too much, and I have other duties.”

Koz escorts him from the shower room through the corridors; he walks easily now, bruises are fading, cuts healing. Some will scar.

He is thinking only of the ship, of the broken systems that he's trying to repair, the unexplored areas. Of the algorithm he designed to identify Destiny's master code. He stopped the search, buried it behind fire wall after fire wall, before he and Brody had scurried away as part of Telford's plan to cheat Kiva out of controlling the ship.

He will not think about Koz's daily ritual with him before he is released to stand in Destiny's warm mist, the towel swaddled around him afterwards. He wishes he could stay in the shower forever, alone, safe. Clean skin and hair, and if sometimes tears escape to mingle with the cleansing mist, only he knows about it. He has been working hard to not cry anywhere else, although his dreams sometimes betray him.

It is harder to banish thoughts of the Colonel. Young has continued to be kind to him, and Rush has been bloody grateful and it is difficult to reconcile that with being beaten and left on a planet to die, with the mistrust and arguments, and Young's lack of making the fucking hard decisions that would have saved them. With how he'd entered Rush's body on Kiva's command.

Cognitive dissonance aside, he knows that Young is feeling guilty, and is trying to make amends. He wants Rush to live and is annoyingly persistent about telling him that.

His breath comes too fast when he thinks, as he often does, that Young will probably die before he does. Kiva's patience is wearing thin, he hears. The guards talk to each other and pay him no attention. He would have told Young what they say, but the man already knows their time as prisoners is coming to an end; he's heard Young talking to Scott and James and Greer. They will make some sort of suicidal attack, as a last resort.

Young isn't making plans with him about re-taking the ship. He doesn't think Rush is strong enough to manage it or withstand being interrogated. Rush doesn't think so, either. He's weak, and he knows it.

“Dinn,” Koz warns, and Rush looks up. Dannic is ahead, hands on his hips, staring at him.

Dannic waves him to approach, and he veers towards him, his heart drumming frantically in his chest. It is never, never good when Dannic takes an interest in him.

Grabbing his arm, Dannic shoves him into the observation deck and says, “Here.” He pulls out his gun, shows that it's loaded and puts it on top of a table that Rush has sat at and played chess with Eli or had worked on his laptop when he'd wanted to stare out at something other than the walls.

“Go ahead, Kresh'ta. Kill yourself. Or get down on your knees if you want to live. Either way, I'm tired of wasting my people's time on you.”

He begins shaking. Dannic's voice and his posture are full of contempt. He has no fear that instead of killing himself, Rush will shoot him. He's far enough back that he won't be able to reach the weapon before Rush does, if Rush is quick and decisive.

But he's not, and Dannic will take the gun from him and kill him with it if he tries.

He doesn't want to die like this. He sinks to his knees and bows his head. He hears Dannic pick up his weapon and re-holster it. “That's what I thought.” He strides to Rush and kicks him hard. “You go to your own quarters tonight and be locked in like the rest of them. Koz isn't going to hold your hand anymore. He's needed. Get up and check in with Ginn in the control interface room for your assignment today.”

Ginn has become the scientist's leader; she determines who will work on what projects, and she sends them in teams quite often, one of his scientists paired with one of theirs. The Lucians have discovered what the kinos are capable of and have substituted mechanical eyes for human ones, so there are rarely guards with them anymore. The exception had been for him, either out of fear he will kill himself if not constantly watched – and they initially wanted his skills as they familiarized themselves with Destiny – or they thought he would do something to sabotage them. Apparently neither is something to concern themselves with anymore. He is expendable, obviously. And no threat.

He gets up and follows Dannic out of the room, limping. Koz shoots him a relieved look before the two Alliance men go down one way and he goes another to get his assignment from Ginn.

People pass him in the corridors. One of the Lucians smirks at him and blows him a kiss. Park and one of the Lucian scientists, Chen, are together. Park has been working in hydroponics, so he imagines they are headed there. She looks surprised to see him walking alone, and then hopeful.

He can't stand to see that expression on her face, so he breaks the brief eye contact they had.

Stealing in to the control interface room, no one notices him. Partly it's his bare feet, mostly it's because he's so quiet. He always did gravitate to the outer edges of rooms, slipping in to observe and usually being the first to leave. Now he feels more like a ghost come to haunt the places where Doctor Nicholas Rush used to wield authority.

There are still guards stationed here. The control interface room is the hub of their systems, the place most likely to be attacked. One guard watches video feeds from the kinos that trail work parties and are stationed where people might congregate, like the mess and the observation deck, and in most of the corridors. They haven't bothered to put one in the prisoner's quarters.

Guards are also stationed outside of the neural interface room; when he'd learned that he'd felt his last hope of escaping from this hell dissipate away like mist. None of the Lucians have tried to use it; it's not clear to him how much Kiva understands about it. Telford knew of it, of course, but it had been some time between his last contact with the Alliance and Rush idiotically swapping bodies to prove Telford was the mole. He might not have reported very much at all.

Telford is no longer brainwashed; he did send partial control of the consoles to Rush before he apparently was at risk of being discovered and had scurried away. But he might have decided it was better to stay a member of the Alliance instead of just pretending to be on Kiva's side. He's a pragmatic son-of-a-bitch, a quality they share. Had shared. He's not sure about himself anymore. Raping him had strengthened Telford's credentials, if he's still playing the part of an undercover agent, but if he really is still on Young's side, why hasn't he done anything to take back the ship?

There will not be any rescue for them from Homeworld Command. They are on the far, far side of the universe.

He starts to work at a console, just checking major systems, waiting for Ginn to give him his orders for the day.

She has not talked privately to him since that first time. Varro had not been pleased when he found out only Ginn had been left to guard the room; since then a full detail is stationed here at all times. Rush wonders what else she meant to tell him.

Ginn does not send herself out on work details, instead she co-ordinates and monitors, besides doing her own work here. She's curious about the attempt to dial within a star and she and Eli have been working on it together. Their heads are bent over one of the consoles and from what he hears they are absorbed in their pet project again.

He has his own opinions about it, and he's fair sure that these children aren't considering all the many variables of what could go wrong when dialing within a star. He doesn't share them.

He doesn't interrupt them as they discuss Eli's solution, but Ginn catches sight of him. She smiles at him, and his stomach twists, because he can't forget what she did to him, even if she did it out of fear for her own life.

Eli looks vaguely like he just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He must like the girl; she's a bright Little Miss, but she's the enemy.

He suspects that working together is starting to blur that line a little for the scientists on both sides.

She asks him to go with Calvos to run on site diagnostics on the FTL engines. There's discrepancies that can't be reconciled, and they might need to get Brody down there as well. This is really more of an engineer's task, but he's more than capable of getting his hands dirty.

The rest of the day passes and Calvos exchanges places with another one of the Lucian's technicians. Rush doesn't ask for a meal break. He can't go to the mess. Koz took him there once, and he had a panic attack when he forced himself to look in the door. It felt like his heart was dying, and he couldn't move or breathe. He almost passed out, but Koz grabbed him.

Koz wants to fuck him, but he's not sadistic, unless he's under Kiva's orders. He pulled Rush away from there and let him regain his control. For the last week he usually saved something from meals to hand to him on the way back to the holding cell. Between that and the morning meal, he's not starved.

He's hungry now, but he'll live with it until he figures out some other way to find food. Maybe he can snatch something out of hydroponics, if he can come up with a plausible reason for being there.

It's very late, and he's told to finish up his repairs and start packing up the tools he's been using to take down panels and access wiring and conduits. He knows that all the crew quarters are kept locked down once they are entered until morning when they are unlocked again so people can start their work duties.

He could program a work around for that. His door would register as still locked even if he were to open it himself from the inside. It's like a worm in his brain, that thought, and it won't leave him alone.

Risky, though. Very, very risky to try that. If he was caught while programing, Kiva would not be pleased. He shudders at the thought, and pulls Young's jacket a little tighter around himself.

Jasor is working at a console, monitoring and running diagnostics on the repairs. Ginn had transferred control to this remote console so the work could be done more efficiently. The kino floats above them, and he imagines whichever guard is watching them must be absolutely bored.

He's just completed his task when the radio erupts in the silence. Jasor is to report immediately to the neural interface room. Telford has killed the guards and gone inside, he's jammed the door controls by shooting them.

Jasor acknowledges that he's on his way, and shouts at Rush to pack up the tools and bring them over, and for him to finish up the diagnostics.

He is thinking furiously as he complies, that this is a distraction that he could use, that he will be alone here at an active console, that it is terrifying to think of defying the Alliance again.

Telford has made his move, but he doesn't know how to use the buffering program. Most likely, he will only fry his brain when he sits in the chair, unless he's willing to ask Destiny to take him into the ship like Rush has been longing to do.

He glances at Jasor, but the man isn't watching him, and he makes an instinctive split second decision and shoves a small slender screwdriver up his sleeve. From this angle, the kino can't see his hands.

Young's jacket is looser on him, the sleeves a little longer. Long enough to conceal that he's holding the handle of the screwdriver by one bent finger, as he finishes throwing the rest of the assorted paraphernalia of tools into the Ancient tool caddy and locking it. It's awkward, though, holding it like that and the thought of dropping it looms in his mind.

He tells himself to keep his grip on it, that it might be the key to his freedom, of one sort or another.

Hurrying over to Jasor, he hands the caddy to him, and Jasor takes off running. He slips the screwdriver along with his hands into jacket pockets, as if he wanted to warm his hands. It's a plausible reason. The ship is even colder down here.

The kino is still there, of course, but Rush would bet his life – and he is, he realizes – that whoever is still watching is not paying much attention to him.

He was ordered to finish running the diagnostic on the repair; he has a creditable reason for standing at this console and he sees where Jasor has stopped. He needs more time to be here, jabbing at the controls and coding, so he deliberately crashes the program. He fakes his annoyance, and sighs deeply and tiredly as he mutters just loud enough for the kino to pick up that it's going to take forever to re-run the bloody diagnostic.

His palms are sweaty, his heart drumming hard and fast, and his mouth is dry. He tries to remember not to lick his lips, a giveaway that he is anxious. He tries to not remember being grabbed and dragged to the mess.

He is better than the wreck of a human being that he's become.

He. Is. Better.

He is better, he is, and yes, he's had a serious shock, emotional and physical trauma, as TJ and Camile phrased it, but for the first time since he was thrown into a room to wait for Kiva's judgment, he has some bloody agency.

It is frightening, it is glorious, it is freeing, it is one step from being a disaster, what he's going to do in this deserted part of the ship.

He's going to do it. Defy Kiva. Defy the bloody fucking Lucian Alliance.

He earned a Ph.D that he clawed his way out of Glasgow to have and he had been loved by a brilliant woman. There are people who care about him here and on Earth. There are people he cares about. A few, like Chloe and Mandy, even know it.

There's a fucking puzzle of a man to decipher here, and they were not done with each other.

He's been given the chance of a lifetime. The ship was named Destiny for a reason and he needs to know why the Ancients sent her out so long ago. Like breathing, he needs this. Although he's willing to actually give up breathing if it's the only way to still be a part of this mission. And to save himself from being put back on the table. He can't go back there again, and the thought of the screwdriver in his pocket is reassuring; if he can't get to the neural interface chair he'll jam it in his carotid artery and bleed out before he's bent into a pretzel for fucking once more.

Maybe they'll catch him again, the bastards, but he'll put up a fight first.

His way. What he's doing right now, actually, using the smoke screen of the diagnostic he's restarted. There's limitations on what he can do with this console but he'll do all he can. First he sets his search for the master code to running again, but hidden this time, where not even Eli will find it, and when it's done it will cause a minor crash, looking like a glitch. A glitch only he will be able to solve, with the correct input. Once he does so, the master code will be revealed.

It could take weeks though. Or maybe just hours. With the master code, he can fully unlock Destiny's systems. He's not sure exactly how that will happen, but one bridge at a time.

A narrow rope bridge with no fucking sides over the deepest chasm ever seen, is what it feels like, but he's set foot on it now.

He checks the diagnostic, makes some adjustments, then does the work around for altering his door lock. He debates doing the same for the holding cell Young and his military are confined in, but there are guards always on the outside of the door. Not just two or three; from what he's seen when he was brought there it's a half a dozen or more. It would be a blood bath if the guards are rushed and maybe it will come to that. But not yet. Colonel Young with his suicidal tendencies to always put himself first into danger would almost certainly be killed if they did it now.

He does a little delicate exploring with his console until in a small window on the screen he can see what the guard monitoring the kinos in the control interface room can see.

Ah. It's not looking good for their side. They're dragging Telford out of the neural interface room and forcing him to his knees in front of Kiva.

Her expression is merciless and he shudders. Kiva won't take well to betrayal. It almost makes him feel sorry for Telford, but the memory of how the bastard had stroked him until he'd come while raping his mouth prevented that.

Young had patted his leg in apology when he'd been about his business. Telford had decided to be an over-achiever to impress Kiva.

Telford is bleeding slightly at the temples so he did make it into the chair. But he's not seizing and shaking like poor Franklin did, and his eyes look coherent.

Kiva is handed a pain stick and proceeds to make Telford experience the agony of the bloody thing. His own muscles tighten in involuntary sympathy. The worst had been when he'd been chained on the table and Dannic or Simeon had jabbed him when he'd start to fall asleep, bringing him screaming out of REM and back into the waking nightmare his life had become.

He watches until the diagnostic is completed and Telford is unconscious. Kiva orders Telford to be taken to a different holding cell, and he's dragged away by two men.

It's time for him to disappear. He does not want to cross paths with Kiva, not tonight, not ever again, really, and he shuts down the programs, deactivates the monitor.

He's fair sure that he's erased any traces of this evening's dangerous activities that would lead to this console. To him.

Quietly, carefully, he picks his way to his quarters, the kino following him, and steps inside. The door locks. From what he can tell, the kinos are recalled after they escort the crew to their quarters. He counts to five thousand, and his hands are trembling when he pushes the control. The locks spin open and he takes his courage in hand and looks out into the corridor, then steps outside of his room. It is quiet and he feels his heart thudding, wild with fright and ready to jump out of his chest. There is no sign of the kino. He waits until his heart calms, and his breathing is slow and regular, then steps back into the room and shuts it once more.

Keeping on Young's jacket, he climbs into his bed. He feels cold and now the adrenaline rush of defying Kiva has given way to exhaustion.

He shudders under the covers and curls into a ball. The animal warmth of the body heat from Barnes and James and hearing their breathing, that's something he never thought he would miss, but right now, he does.

He continues to shake, and he knows it's from his nerves, not the usual coolness in the room. He's become disobedient and plans on staying that way and it's a fight between his will and his body. Fear of not doing as he's told, fear of the consequences have been so deeply ingrained in him by Kiva's reprogramming method that it's changed him probably all the way down to his mitochondria.

But he isn't his bloody body, now is he? His body has never been a bulwark for him, protecting him due to innate size and strength. He'd been a clever tot, a smart lad, and he'd used those attributes instead for the most part, although he'd still been in plenty of scrapes as a wee boy and young man.

“The mouth on you, Nicky,” his father would growl. “When you gonna learn to shut it and keep your head down.”

Sometimes his old Da would then teach him himself the consequences of having a bold tongue, but more often when Nick would come home bruised and bleeding, when being clever hadn't saved him from a drubbing, he'd been trying to give him advice.

And here he is, about to flaunt Da's advice again. Because he's more than his body; he has a mind and a will, and he's found a way to fight back.

But his body is afraid. Deeply, intensely afraid, and the hairs rise on the back of his neck and sweat breaks out when he thinks of continuing to defy Kiva.

He must stay out of her sight, because he doesn't trust his body to not give him away to her. He must stay small and walk softly, and not look her or anyone in the eyes.

Bloody eyes. He's terrified of what he might give away now. No one must see into his soul, no one. Not Kiva or Dannic or Simeon, the worst of them. They punish him and torment him at a whim, and if they catch a hint of defiance-- God. Not Varro or Calvos or Jasor, who treat him disdainfully but won't hurt him unless he gets out of line. Not Koz, who for some unfathomable reason wants him sexually and has made him feel dirty even as he allows him to enter the showers, but who has also shown him some kindness. Not Eli, who whispers things like “Are you okay?” and “I've got your back, Frodo,” to him when he thinks no one is watching. Not Ginn, who does see and hear Eli, but who chooses to pretend that she doesn't.

He's always found it compelling to look into Young's eyes, they've been so many things already to each other, but if Young is turned by the Alliance, then he dreads what will happen when Young looks now. He will certainly know Rush is being deceitful.

There are those who have been kind, Lieutenant Johansen and Camile and James, and others, but he can't risk them or any of the others who have looked at him with pity seeing the truth and perhaps giving him away.

Another truth. He's ashamed that he's earned their pity; he doesn't want to see it in their eyes when they look into his.

He wraps his arms around himself tightly, still cold, still too wound up to try to sleep. For the first night since Young carried him away from the mess, he hasn't drunk Johansen's green brew. It's forced him to sleep whether he was frightened or sad or busy hating himself.

It's going to be a long sleepless night, he fears. He's had many, many of those, but usually he gets up and walks and finds something useful to do to occupy his mind.

Not even calculating large numbers and then deciding if they're prime or not helps lull him into drowsiness; instead he finds himself calculating the many ways he's failed himself, failed Gloria, failed this crew.

Holding the screwdriver in his hand is somewhat comforting though, until he hears the door unlock and spin open and knows that morning is here.

Chapter Text

Three mornings after Rush walked out of the cell and left with Koz, their already skimpy rations are cut in half. Everett isn't surprised. The ship has not dropped out of FTL since they jumped away from the binary pulsar and its deadly radiation. They were low on supplies even then, due to being on the edge of the new galaxy they'd jumped to after their problem with the FTL engines had been solved. There aren't as many suitable planets in this part of space for them to replenish their stores.

He wonders if the Nakai are still tracking them. He wonders when they'll need to stop at a star and refuel.

Five days and twelve hours after he last saw Rush, David Telford is dragged into the storage room, his head bent, feet ineffectively trying to take steps as he is supported by two of the bigger Lucians. A kino flies in with them and zooms up to the roof.

David is dropped unceremoniously onto his hands and knees and the Lucians back out of the room, covered by the rest of the guards pointing weapons at them.

Everett waits until the doors spin shut again, locking them in, and then goes to help David. He and Matthew sit him down by the closest wall. David looks like his nose had been broken days ago; there's a dark bruise there and across his upper cheeks, but they're already starting to fade.

“What happened?” Everett says, as he crouches down in front of David, and he hasn't forgotten the kino that's recording his words.

“I tried to sit in the chair. I don't even know what the ship could have done to help you, Everett. I didn't get the chance to find out. I was pulled out of it right after I finally figured out how to remote start the thing.”

Everett looks at David's temples and sees the healing marks of the neural probes. He's seen them on Rush, on Franklin.

“When did you make your attempt?”

“Yesterday.” David touches one of the scabs, and frowns.

“So Kiva knows you aren't brainwashed anymore, that you've been playing her?”

“Yeah. And believe me, she isn't happy about it.” David winces and rubs his arm. “She had me tazered until I passed out.”

“What's going on out there, David?”

“Everybody's on short rations, even the Lucians. You know we haven't dropped out of FTL, and people are antsy about that. The crew is... adjusting. Nobody's made any attempts to take the ship back.” David laughs then. “Except me. I tried to divert control to a console so I could maybe get Eli to use it, but that trick's not going to work anymore. The Lucians took care of that little loophole. That's why I went for the chair, thought maybe I could get the ship to release all control to me. That I could order the Lucians to stand down, or lose their air.”

“Eli know you were going to try to get control to a console?” Everett asked.

“No. I was watched for quite a while. Dannic especially didn't trust me. When I saw my chance I took it and figured if it worked, I'd let Eli know. But it didn't work, and then I tried for the chair. I fucked up, Everett. Kiva caught me.”

“What about Rush? Couldn't he help you?”

“Rush? That poor bastard is broken so hard he's useless.” David tries to look suitably concerned about that, but the thing is, that Everett knows David pretty damn well. It's not convincing, that concern, but then, David and Rush have never gotten along.

“TJ fix you up?”

“Nah. I straightened my nose myself, and anyway, she's in labor, I think. I saw her walking the corridor with Chloe and Park when I was being dragged down here. They were hovering over her.”

God. He should be with her, and he clenches his fists, hard, behind his back. He doesn't want David to see how that news is hitting him.

“What's Kiva planning to do with us?” Everett says and stands back up.

David looks up at him. “The IOA is doing the negotiating between Homeworld Command and Kiva, mostly to drag it out, I think. Homeworld Command has surrendered two of the stones to the Lucian Alliance in return for all of you being kept alive so far. I think that's as far as O'Neill is willing to go, though.”

“So is she going to shoot us, let the stargate vaporize us, or maroon us on a planet?”

“She's still thinking about it.”

Everett raises his eyebrows. “Kiva never struck me as the indecisive type. She's got a plan. I think I know what it is.”

He addresses the kino, looking upwards at the ceiling. “Kiva's going to brainwash at least some of us, like she just did to Colonel Telford again. You should come and get him. We've got a lot of cranky people in here, and I can't guarantee his safety.”

David struggles to his knees. “What? Everett!? How can you say that? You freed me yourself, and almost killed Rush to do it!”

Everett taps his own nose. “I've had my nose broken before. That didn't happen yesterday, and you didn't sit in the chair yesterday, either. The marks on your head, David, those are from a couple of days ago at least.” He lets David see the compassion he's feeling for him, poor bastard. “I think you did sit in the chair and got caught and she's re-snared you.”

David stares at him and then smiles and stands easily. “Kiva didn't brainwash me, Everett. I'm just being practical. C'mon, O'Neill is never going to agree to Kiva's demands. Giving the stones to the Alliance was just a stalling technique. Your only hope is to cooperate with us. Kiva's crew, your crew, they're going to be together for a long time.” He gives Everett a challenging glare. “You really want to know Kiva's plan?”

Crossing his arms, he says, “Sure.” Matthew has beckoned to Greer and they are close enough to take David down if Everett makes the slightest wave of his finger.

“Kiva believes in rewarding her people. That's why she's got such a good, efficient bunch. Out here, she's a little low on her usual currency. But she's got your crew. She's going to let the best of us pick out who we want from your people. Call it an incentive plan. Right now, it's hands off the merchandise.”

He can barely speak, he's so angry at this callous plan. But he forces himself to keep asking questions. They need the intel, even if the source is David's screwed up head.

“So nobody's being molested?” He controls his tone, makes sure it's mild, neutral sounding.

David shakes his head. “Kiva's forbidden it. She says she won't start rewarding for a couple of months. Really stringing things along, but then, as I'm sure you've figured out, Kiva's a control freak.”

“And the Lucians are just falling into line?”

“Mostly. She's already had to punish Simeon for trying to jump one of the women. Guy's a real horndog.” David sounded and looked disgusted, and Everett hopes his friend is still in there somewhere. Kiva's brainwashing might be less than perfect this time around.

“Is she all right? Who was it?” He clenches his fists again behind his back. He never believed in Kiva's assurances to the crew that they would be safe as long as they followed her orders. Rush was just the first to be hurt after their surrender, not the last.

“That red-headed scientist. The short one, hangs around with that tall, long haired, blonde woman who looks like one of the Valkyrie? She's pretty shook up, but Varro pulled Simeon off her right away. For his disobedience he's at the bottom of the list to pick a playmate, besides earning a beating and getting stuck with scut work. Guess he'll be using Rush a lot when he's open for business again.”

There's a roaring in his ears, and an accented voice in his head saying, with skepticism, “So we're to be rewarded at your whim?” He wants to choke the life out of David, but he knows it's not his fault. His hands clench again, and he grits out, “And just who gets to be your prize?”

David licks his lips, subtly pushes out his chest. “Ideally, you, Everett. I think we'd be good together, and we are friends.”

He chuckles at the expression Everett is making. “No, really, I'd just as soon have fucked you as your wife. But I didn't think you'd ever go for that. But, unless you were turned you'd never cooperate. You'd strangle me in my sleep. Don't think I haven't been able to tell what you were just thinking, either. You've really got a thing for people's necks, don't you?”

David is smirking, and Everett feels Greer step closer. “Sir?” Greer says. “Say the word and I'll shut his damn mouth.”

Everett bites out, “Stand down, Sergeant.” He takes a deep breath. “And if I was turned?”

Shrugging, David says, “Then you're on the side that gets rewarded. Only, I think I should let you know that TJ is going to be snapped up by Varro. He's playing it slow. Probably going to court her so she thinks it's her decision.”

Everett says nothing. Scott though, blurts out, “What about Chloe?”

“She's popular. A little young for me, though. There's a lot of competition for her, and for Park and the other pretty women of child bearing years. They have more value." David looks thoughtful, the same expression Everett's seen in briefings and in the field. "I think Kiva's going to take Camile. Ginn has asked for Eli, I hear. Now that one's more dicey. The Alliance doesn't really value scientists, and if that little red-head doesn't find us a planet to stop at soon, Dannic's probably going to try to strangle her again.”

“So the civilians are going to be sex-slaves?” He forces himself to say those words, to just lay it out.

David shrugs again. “Probably, but some of the Lucians are already in relationships, so some might get picked just to be like, personal servants. Do grunt work, scrub clothes, that kind of thing.”

“And Rush?”

“He's still gonna be the town whore. I expect a lot of Kiva's crew are going to release their frustration with waiting by fucking him. Although Koz is kind of sweet on him. Still, Koz isn't that high up, you know, and I don't think Kiva wants him given to just one person.”

David looks speculatively at him. “She might give him to you, if you're turned successfully and prove yourself. Not everybody can have their loyalties realigned. It helps if there's a hook; he could be your key. You know, I always wondered if you had a thing for him. You were pretty quick to volunteer to fuck him.”

He wants to tell David to shut the fuck up, but he stifles the urge. Let him keep running his mouth, maybe he'll say something useful. “Let's leave him out of this. Has Kiva shared her master plan with the crew?”

“No. And her people are under orders to keep their mouths shut. She wants to let your crew settle down, get to know her people.”

“How's the ship functioning? The damage from the pulsar?”

“All fixed. You know, Rush is really good at what he does. Even looking like a zombie case of PTSD, he's been able to keep his focus when it comes to his work. I hear it was his solutions that kicked the systems efficiency back up.”

David looks up at the kino. “Okay, my cover's blown and I think I've demoralized these people sufficiently. Open the doors and let me out.” He chuckles again. “It's pretty ripe in here.”

Nothing happens. David shakes his head, looks up again at the kino. “What, are you people out to lunch? I said I was ready to leave. They know I'm not one of them anymore.”

Kiva's voice comes through the kino. “You killed three of my loyal men, Colonel Telford. There's a price to pay for that. I'm not entirely certain now if you truly belong to the Alliance again, so consider this a test. For you, it's if you'll recant your loyalty to me when faced with a mob of hungry, angry soldiers. For Colonel Young, it's a test of his leadership. Can you keep your people from killing this traitor, Colonel?”

David straightens his shoulders, and gives a furious look at the kino.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here,” Greer says, and crowds right up against David.

David glares at Greer, and Matthew shoots Everett a look that begs for guidance.

He is so tired of all of this. He wishes he could just tell Matthew to take over, but instead he orders Greer to back off, and picks eight of his best, most stable people to form a protection detail for David. He hesitates over Greer. There is history between David and Greer, but Greer is one of his absolute best. He deserves every bit of Everett's trust, so he waves him over to Matthew's side. He briefs them on the situation and gives orders, lets them know that he's handing over his trust to them. They stand a little straighter to a chorus of “Yes, sirs,” and Greer salutes him.

He orders David to move into a corner and the detail into guard formation; he calls the rest of his people together and explains what they have learned. It's better that they hear it from him than having scuttlebutt run rampant through the ranks, based on hearing snatches of David's conversation.

He stays awake for hours, to keep an eye on the situation. His people are outraged that the civilians are going to be used as prizes for the Lucians, and there has been a lot of uneasy glances between them. Their own fate is still unknown; death, brainwashing, collaboration. Kiva can't possibly have enough drugs to brainwash all of Destiny's military. He wonders if that's one of the purposes of the kino, besides watching what happens to David. To start assessing who to choose to pickle their brains with their damned drugs.

TJ is in labor and it's eating him alive that he's not with her. Their personal relationship is ended and there's no going back to it, but he's the baby's father. He wants to be in the baby's life, be a father to his son or daughter. TJ will be a great mom, their child couldn't ask for a better parent, and as for him, he'd vowed when TJ had told him about the baby that he'd do his best for his child and for TJ.

Now it's looking like his child will grow up thinking of Varro as its father. He wants to hit the walls; he wants someone to hit him, to punish him for his failures as a commander and as a man. He never should have allowed what happened between him and TJ. It's his fault, all of this.

He wants to get drunk. God, does he wish he had a thermos of Brody's alcohol right now. He sits against the wall and scrubs his hands over his face, hoping that he just looks tired to his people, not like he's having the breakdown he can't allow himself.

Becker approaches him with a blanket. “Sir, I know you usually bunk with Sergeant Greer, but my bunk buddy is on guard duty, too. I thought I'd ask if you wanted to try to get some sleep.” Becker gives him a sheepish grin. “I've been told I give off heat like a furnace in January, sir.”

Everett wants to bury his head in his hands and laugh till he cries. Instead, he nods at Becker and together they fix up a bed and huddle up close for warmth.

Becker wasn't kidding about the body heat. The man's huge and very warm and despite not thinking he'd be able to actually sleep, Everett finds himself giving in to his exhaustion and drifting off.


* * *

“Sir!” He comes awake fast, an old habit from his time as a SGC team leader that has stuck with him.

“Report,” he says, his voice rough, and sits up. It's James.

“The doors just unlocked,” she says, “We thought the Lucians were going to enter, maybe to take Colonel Telford out, but nothing's happening. It's too early for rations.”

He glances at his watch. Almost 04:00. Is this some kind of test? Or has someone managed to give them an advantage?

He shakes Becker awake and orders him and James to get the rest of their people up and into the formations they practiced to rush the guards.

“Tell them this is not a drill, they're to stay sharp and focused. We don't know what's going on out there, but we're about to find out.”

He trots over to where David is sitting. “Anything you forgot to tell me, David?” he asks, a little dryly.

“I'm as curious as you are, Everett.” David stands. “But I don't suppose I'll be going with you to find out.”

Everett shakes his head. “Greer, tie him up, leave two men to guard him.”

“Yes, sir,” Greer snaps out and pulls out shoelaces from a pocket. “You,” he orders David. “Turn and put your hands behind your back.”

After David's secured, Everett takes his place in the front line. Matthew throws him a look that he's going to classify as questioning if this is Everett leading the way or Everett following suicidal impulses.

The two aren't exclusive of each other.

“Let's move out,” Everett orders, and Dunning hits the door control.

* * *

Chapter Text

He's hungry. Rush never had been one to pay much attention to regular mealtimes or regular sleep; if he was busy working, he'd just drink another mugful of black, hot coffee and power on through until he was satisfied with his progress. Used to fair drive Gloria into exasperation with him, and sometimes she'd plop herself down in his lap and run fingers through his hair, thoroughly derailing him until it was pointless to try to go back to work, and they'd eat and tumble into bed and make love and sleep. He misses her desperately, but he's glad she's not here to see what he's become. A slave for the Alliance.

It's been a day and a half since he last ate anything. He's tried to go to the mess. He's tried multiple times and he's felt a panic attack coming with each step closer he takes to the doorway. Like right now, when he tried to talk himself into giving it another go. He turns and runs down the hall, stopping when he's two corridors away and panting to catch his breath.

He just can't face going in there and seeing that table. He feels like such a coward, but he can't do it. He'll just have to figure out another way to get food.

Maybe try asking for help. See if someone he knows would get his rations for him and bring them to him. He tried to ask Eli this morning. The boy said he had his back, but the words stuck in his throat and he didn't say anything after all. He thinks it wouldn't have worked anyway. Their food is strictly rationed, and he's sure Eli would be told Rush needed to come in himself. If they can't find a planet soon to replenish their stores, then their food and water will be reduced even further.

At least he does have water. It's brought to the control interface room and passed out there to all the scientists by Ginn. She never forgets to give it to him, even though he hangs back and doesn't crowd up with the rest of that thirsty bunch.

He walks by hydroponics and stops outside the door. He's not assigned to work here; he's to go to the number two shield emitter and take a look at what's making the outflow waver around. Calvos will meet him there.

They let him walk around the ship on his own; no one, not the Lucians or the crew, think he's anything but a broken compliant thing. He glances up and down the corridor, there is no kino here spying on passerbys. He glances inside the room, checking out the high domed ceiling, looking around at the walls. No kino, and he clenches and unclenches his hands before daring himself to just get this done. To do his best to not be what they all think he is now.

He slips inside, hoping to snare something quickly and leave again, but as he softly treads on the paths between the beds he sees Park through some of the foliage, examining some of the plants.

Not wanting her to notice him, he retreats, heading back towards the doorway. He's about to snatch a handful of those awful little tomatoes and gulp them down when the sound of someone talking on a radio snaps his head up and his arm down. He sneaks closer to the end of the row and his heart seems to skip a beat. There's a guard at the door now.

Of course he should have realized that Kiva wouldn't leave one of the most important resources on this ship unguarded. The Lucian must have been momentarily called away, or had taken a bathroom break.

He's trapped. If he doesn't show up soon for his own work detail, a search party will be sent out. He'll be caught and punished. He puts a fist to his mouth and begins to shake. He has to get out of here without being seen by the guard.

Think, he orders himself. Bloody well think, don't stand there shivering in your non-existent boots, think of a diversion, something to get that guard away from the door.

He could ask Park to be the diversion. But she'll look at him with those big eyes and he knows she won't actually see him standing there, she's going to see him tied up and being fucked on that table. The woman's eyes practically brim over whenever she looks at him across the control interface room, and he can't handle seeing her cry because of him.

He's got to do something right now. He spots a tall stack of tilted pots on a bench and they look precarious, as they don't fit well inside each other. He calculates the path the guard and Park are most likely to take if he knocks them over, finds rocks some sentimental fool has picked up from a planet and arranged with quite a few others so the bed of plants is decorative as well as practical.

He takes three fist size ones and positions himself. He grips the first one, a rather nice chunk of granite, pink and black and white, and a memory surfaces and then is shoved away, for he has no time for this nonsense, of a trip to the Highlands as a boy for his great-grandmother's funeral and some old man showing him the feldspar and quartz crystals within the rocks that lined the path to Granny's small cottage.

He takes a deep breath and plots out the projection needed and hurls the stone at the pots. They fall over with a satisfying amount of clatter and he hears Park say, “Oh!” in startlement. He drops the other rocks into a bed and crouches down; the guard heads toward the back of the room. When he's certain the guard can't turn around and spot him, and the man is talking to Park about the pots all over the floor, he moves stealthily towards the door, unzipping Young's jacket.

His heart is racing, but well, in for a penny, in for a pound, and he grabs handfuls of tomatoes, making a container of sorts out of the front of his T-shirt, and then he's peeking around the door. The corridor is deserted and he walks quickly away.

He ducks into an empty room and eats them as fast as he can and they are too tart and bitter and wonderful.

He rezips the jacket and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, licks his hands clean. He shudders as he does it, remembering licking other hands, the laughter of his tormentors. Fear sweat has left him feeling uncomfortable and not clean. He needs to be clean, he needs it, he needs it and now he has no time to go to the showers. He promises himself that he will go later, when he is done with working. Kiva has not ordered him to work sixteen or more hour days, he's done it to keep his mind busy and he has always done that when faced with other horrible things in his life. Gloria's illness, her death, failing to find the Ninth Chevron solution. Today he will take time to go to the showers before being locked in his room.

He jogs to shield emitter two and removes the control panel near the floor. He is sitting staring at it, tracing wiring patterns with his eyes, when Calvos arrives with tools.

Calvos looks down at him and says, “By Hathor's tits, you're a flexible one. I couldn't sit that way and look half as comfortable.”

He doesn't know what to say to that observation, so he just shrugs and waits for Calvos to put down the tool box.

“I can see that you'll do well at riding cocks, Dinn, being so limber. I'm going to enjoy you that way when it's my turn.”

Rush feels his stomach lurch at that. He tells himself to not throw up; he needs those nutrients and calories.

He keeps his eyes down, breathing slowly and carefully, and Calvos goes on to talk about the things he usually likes to expound upon; the age of the ship and its barely tapped potential due to the damage from battles and worn out parts; bemoaning the tools and supplies that never made it through the gate; what secrets and power will be unlocked by Destiny.

Rush never says a word to him about any of it. He's never been one to join in idle chitchat while working, as the Science Team well knows, to their collective chagrin. Perhaps he's not been the most tactful at requesting they take their inane chatter somewhere other than his vicinity.

He wouldn't mind it so much now, if things could ever go back to normal. But he doesn't think they ever will.
* * *


There are disadvantages to not having Koz escorting him to his work station and to his quarters. The other Lucians mostly ignored him when Koz was his guard. But now... He learns to avoid the corridors when there are groups of Lucians walking together. They keep to the letter of Kiva's law, true. They don't touch him. Instead they force him to move backwards until he's pressed back against Destiny's walls. They enjoy recounting how he'd cried for them. How they'd pissed on him. How he'd pissed himself.

He is trapped again when he is sent to check a power relay and he recognizes two of them; they've harassed him before.

These men are loud and boisterous when they corner him. His only defense is to be silent while they laugh at him, describing what they'll make him do.

“He can walk; Kiva should let us have him again,” one of them grumbles.

The complainer is slapped on the back of the head by one of the other thugs. “Fool. Do not voice dissent against Kiva's rulings. She'll reach down your throat and pull your balls up and make you swallow them back down.”

The other three erupt in laughter, then turn back to him.

“Kresh'ta, you can suck my cock.”

“Me, I'll make him piss himself again. And then I'll drench him myself before I let him put his mouth on my precious jewels.”

A sputter of amusement from one of them. “Your precious jewels, my ass. But for my turn, I'll fuck his hole.”

“When Kiva allows,” a new voice says. Varro shoves at the four men. “You have time to waste, soldiers? Report to Dannic in the gate room.”

The others leave and Varro sighs and pulls him away from the wall. “Go. And learn to not attract attention, Dinn. Be more like your namesake.”

Varro walks away and Rush pulls himself together. Varro is right. He has to be more wary when he has to walk the corridors.


* * *

Three days since he last ate in the prisoner's holding cell, and Kiva announces on shipboard communications that the short rations have been cut in half. Brody gives him an apologetic look after going to the mess and returning, but says nothing. He doesn't bring a bowl partly filled with paste this time, so Rush assumes he was no longer allowed to take it from the mess or go to the still.

Yesterday evening Brody hadn't made eye contact with him, just parked the cup three quarters filled with his dreadful moonshine and the small bowl of protein mash near him and had not said a word to him.

It was kind of Brody to do that and even more of a blessing that he hadn't insisted Rush talk to him.

What can he say to him? That he's so terrified of going into the mess that his body rebels and he feels like he's dying of a heart attack until he runs away?

Afraid someone would come and take Brody's gift from him, he'd gobbled down the mush before knocking back the moonshine in three gulps; he felt his thoughts become fuzzy as the alcohol hit his blood stream and found that he just didn't give a fuck.

Brody's terrible booze made him feel flushed and warm. It had been rather nice, being that vague and unable to be much concerned about anything.

After a while, though, he'd stumbled to a bench along the wall and slept for who knows how long. Ginn had allowed it, thank fuck.

It had been stupid to do that, he scolded himself when he woke up with a headache. He vaguely remembered Eli pushing him onto his side and telling him it was safe to go to sleep, that he wouldn't be left alone. He's a good lad, Eli is, and if he could get the words past his throat Rush would thank him.

Volker was the only one of the crew in the control interface room, aside from the guards, when Rush pushed himself to his unsteady feet. Their eyes met and Volker flushed.

It's Rush who turns away, though, goes to a console along the wall and goes back to work after he guzzles what's left of his water. He rubs the back of his stiff neck and shoulder and pretends Volker isn't standing there at his own console and hasn't seen Rush pathetically pass out, like some wino on a park bench.

* * *

“Hey,” Volker says as he leans close to grab Rush's water bottle from its perch, and fuck, Rush had been absorbed in his work and had apparently wiped Volker's existence in the room from his mind a little too thoroughly, because bloody hell, he didn't notice him approaching and now his heart thinks he's running a marathon. He loses his balance from startling like that and starts to fall off his stool; Volker grabs him with his free hand and fuck, he's got a stronger grip than Rush would have imagined, as he prevents Rush from tumbling to the floor.

“Whoah!” Volker says, and he's close enough that Rush can smell him and he's trapped between the body behind him and the console. “Don't move!” He waits a long few moments, one arm wrapped around Rush's side before letting go.

Rush stays still and hates himself for doing so. Fucking Volker has just given him an order and his body obeyed without any input from him.

“Hey, umm,” Volker says awkwardly and Rush shifts around and glances at him. The man's face is red again, and he's twisting Rush's water bottle over and over in his hands. “I didn't mean to scare you like that. I was just going to give you some of my water.”

He must look perplexed, because Volker goes on stumbling out an explanation. “Ah, I know Brody – well, he meant well, but that was, you know, we know you're not that much of a drinker, and the way you got so loopy so fast, the alcohol had to hit you pretty hard. Brody said if he knew you were going to guzzle it like that he would only have given you one shot's worth, and uh...”

Before he'd met Kiva, he'd have cut Volker off by now and demanded a short, coherent explanation out of him. He just listens now to the man ramble. He surreptitiously checks on the guards and yes, they're watching them from across the room. Marvelous. They're attracting unwanted attention.

Thank fuck Volker finally seems to find his words. “I was giving you some of my water to counteract the dehydration effect of the booze. That's all.”

Rush glances at him again. God, even Volker feels sorry for him, although it's not the first time the man thought Rush was an idiot at taking care of himself. During his attempt to help him understand the loss of power when the ship was going dark during those first days on Destiny, he'd made it clear that he thought Rush needed to get some sleep.

Well, yes, as it turned out, that was a fair fucking point.

Volker walks away with the water bottle and pours some of his own allotment of water into Rush's bottle, then comes back and hands it to him.

Their fingers touch and then, Volker's blushing again.

Does Volker want to fuck him? He pulls away from him as much as he can, perched on the stool like this, which is to say, not far enough. Volker looks stricken. “Hey, I'm not… I'm not going to hurt you, Dinn.”

Is he like Koz? Does he think he can fuck Rush so nicely that he'll enjoy it even if he doesn't want to be touched, to be handled, to be made to fucking come against his will?

He can't ask those questions of Volker. It's all he can do to whisper, “Thank you for the water,” and hope like hell that Volker will let him go back to work now.

“You're welcome,” Volker says, and there's this intense look of pity on his face, vying with the embarrassment.

He goes back to work, to analyzing the power grid, sussing out the weak spots where maintenance is required, and if he sometimes can tell that Volker is staring at him, he pretends not to notice.

* * *


It's been three days now since he stopped eating with Colonel Young in the prisoners' area; he's only had that small amount of mush from Brody and the tomatoes he stole, plus whatever calories resided in the moonshine. He doesn't require as much food as the larger crew members, being short and built lightly, but that's not sufficient even for him. He feels like he's starving to death.

That evening Koz gives him a handful of dark chewy things that look a little like large raisins but taste like smoke and fungus. The Lucians must have brought them, because he's never seen them before and every crew member is painfully aware of every item of food Becker has ever served.

“You must go to the mess, Dinn,” he scolds as he drops the fungus pieces one by one into Rush's cupped, waiting hands. “I can't spare you any more rations after tonight.”

Rush shakes his head. Doesn't Koz realize that if he could go in to that hellhole then he would? It's not like he enjoys starving.

He eats half of them immediately, puts the rest in his upper jacket pocket.

Koz steps closer to him, and Rush looks down at the floor. “I think you are stubborn, Dinn. Listen. We have a saying on my world. Hunger masters all. When you are starving, you'll agree to anything. Eventually even to crawling to the mess, if you are too weak to walk to claim your share of the rations.”

Rush shudders at the thought of going inside the mess, at seeing the table again. Do people actually sit there and eat, he wonders.

“Dinn,” Koz says, and Rush looks up.

“I have been generous to you, but tomorrow things change. No more gifts of food. But there is another way. If you will not go to claim your meal, then several of my friends would scrape a little of their meal into a bowl for you to eat where you like, if you will barter back.”

Barter? he thinks. What have I got to barter? Then he understands and sucks in a breath. He says softly, “It's not time yet.”

“I know. You're still not to be touched, Varro says, but you can touch yourself and we will watch. It will make us hungry for the day you can be taken again. Varro has approved it.”

He shakes his head. Touch himself? Take off his clothes while a bunch of these Lucians watch and catcall him and... No. No, he's not that hungry. He'll never be that hungry.

“Your thoughts are easy to read, Dinn. You don't think you'll ever agree to our barter, but you're wrong. Hunger masters all.It has mastered you before, or have you put from your mind what you did on the table?”

He'd begged for cocks to be put in his mouth so they would grant him the privilege of licking food from their hands. He shakes his head. No. He hasn't forgotten; he'll never forget it unless he can sit in the chair. He'd rather be taken by Destiny than by the Alliance again. He hears Young's voice in his head, Just don't do it, whatever loophole you figured out. Stay alive.

Koz looks around, then tugs gently on a wayward strand of Rush's hair, tucks it behind his ear, and says, “It will master you again, like the Alliance has mastered you and your people. It's what the Alliance does, how it survives and grows.”

Koz steps back, touches his own chest. “I wasn't born to the Alliance. I converted. My entire clan joined them so we would not starve. Our crops were burned when the Alliance first came through the gate, ringed down from their ships. My clan survived, like you and the Tau'ri crew will learn to survive, by acknowledging our strength and joining with us. There are no Tau'ri ships to rescue you. Adapt, and survive.”

It could take weeks still for his program to give him the code needed to unlock Destiny's systems.

Adapt or survive, he thinks. Koz isn't wrong, but maybe he can come up with another way to adapt. Hydroponics is more heavily guarded since the discovery of his theft of tomatoes, he can't risk going back there. He has to find another way.

* * *

His will is stronger than his body, or so he hopes. But his thoughts drift away and he finds himself holding tools or staring at a console, not sure of what he was trying to accomplish. He feels irritable, which he struggles to suppress. He simply can't afford to let his temper fly, not now. He daydreams about bangers and mash, Gloria's favorite comfort food, and other dishes he's enjoyed from his childhood and adult life.

Koz gives him nothing anymore. He's eaten all the rest of the smoky mushroomy things, slowly, one at a time, chewing each one as long as he can stand it.

Later, he has another full blown panic attack outside the mess, when he tries again to force himself to go in. His breathing turns faster and faster and he can't make himself slow down. It feels like all his chest muscles have turned to concrete, and his heart is thumping frantically. He has to escape, he has to run, he thinks. His mouth is dry, and he is sweating. He comes to away from the mess, in another corridor, and can't remember passing out.

Kiva is watching him. “Get up,” she says. He complies, feeling dizzy. She says, “Perhaps I should have you dragged into the mess, if you can not manage it on your own.”

He says nothing and keeps his eyes down. He prays she will not order him to look at her. He's paralyzingly afraid of what she'll see.

“Not yet,” she says. “But soon, if you don't take Koz's offer.”

He startles and glances up briefly before directing his glance downwards again, as if Destiny's floors needed all of his attention.

Kiva takes a fistful of his hair and tugs on it. “My word is good and your Colonel Young kept his end of the bargain for your life. You aren't allowed to change that as long as I have use for you, so you will eat, one way or the other. But you'll be punished, Kresh'ta, if I have to force you to the mess. Now go. Report back to Ginn.”

He nods and walks away as fast as he can manage. He tries to not think about what Kiva would do to him for punishment. He is not successful. He thinks about Koz's offer of barter. How he usually decides between two terrible choices is not helpful right now. There is no greater good to weigh, just himself.

With Koz as his escort he'd only been permitted one shower a day, but since he's been allowed to walk on his own he's used them several times daily. It helps, to be outwardly clean. He ducks into an empty shower room and hurriedly undresses, grateful to be alone.

The warm mist condenses on his skin, less and less bruised now, and he runs a hand down his side. He's losing weight. He wishes he'd stashed away food back when it was more plentiful. Sergeant Spencer had done it, probably others as well. Spencer had been found out, during the search for the supposed water thief, before they'd realized it was tiny alien bugs sucking up their supply.

He thinks about that, wonders if all of Spencer's hoard had been discovered. He certainly hadn't seen anything lying about when he'd gone into the sergeant's room after hearing a gunshot. After discovering Spencer's body, Greer had conducted a search of the room, and the man would have been thorough. He'd found nothing. But Spencer might have made a second, more private hiding spot for any new items he might have pilfered after the slap on the hands he received the first time.

It's worth looking for, he decides, drying off and pulling his clothes back on. Spencer's quarters, like his, were in a section a fair distance from the others. There had only been three of the crew on the corridor, himself, Spencer, and Rivers. Now it was only him. He'd search the other rooms, see if Spencer had hidden any more power bars, or dried fruit, anything really.

Brody and Volker are working at a side monitor when he steals into the control interface room. Brody gives him an impassive look, and Volker blushes again when he catches sight of him, looks away. Rush ignores them both.

He goes to the main console, the applecore, as some moron has named it, and the nickname has stuck. Even the Lucians call it that and he rather doubts any of them have seen an apple in their lives. Maybe the ones who'd taken him from Earth have had the pleasure.

He finds himself obsessing on the texture of a crisp apple, the bite of tartness and sweetness.

Ginn is nervous, bites her lip quite often as they work. The reason why becomes obvious when Dannic comes in and demands that she find them a planet now. From his comments, he'd been there earlier and had expressed his displeasure with their lack of progress.

He feels a surge of annoyance, having been in her position more than once. Bloody ignorant soldiers, with no understanding of the complexities of what they ask for, as if shouting for a scientist to come up with a solution will suddenly produce it out of thin air.

The lass tries to explain again that Destiny chooses when to stop, not the other way around, and Dannic roars at her that if that's the case, what use is she?

He puts one hand around her throat and squeezes. It's not enough to strangle her, but he's hurting her and she makes a terrified squeak. He wants to help her, but then Dannic will turn his attentions to him, and he well remembers what the man is capable of doing.

The rest of the guards are useless, although they give each other uneasy looks.

Varro or Kiva are the only ones capable of stopping Dannic. He has no idea where they are and of course he doesn't have a radio. The guards aren't using theirs, so he turns on shipwide broadcasting and allows Dannic's threats to choke the life out of Ginn to be heard throughout the ship.

He triggers an alarm. It's just a test, but Dannic won't know that. Brody shoots him a look that he ignores. This is all he can do. It would be suicidal and pointless to attack Dannic. It wouldn't save Ginn and would probably result in his own death or at least serious injury.

The loud piercing shriek of the alarm stops Dannic from choking Ginn and he throws her to the floor.

“Fix that!” Dannic roars at him, and he nods submissively and stalls, pretending to check systems. Ginn pulls herself back to her feet and staggers over to his console. He steps back and lets her turn off the alarm. She knows it was just a test, but she tells Dannic as she returns to her own console that the number two shield emitter is fluxing. It's a believable lie. The bloody thing is touchy and been adjusted back to normal specs a number of times already.

Kiva's voice comes through on the radio, and Dannic responds. He glares around the room at all of them as he tells Kiva he'll meet her in her quarters. Rush steps back to the monitor and does meaningless busy work so he can unobtrusively turn off broadcasting.

Dannic gives Ginn once last intimidating stare, and she swallows convulsively and touches her neck, where the pressure marks of his fingers can be seen. He points to Brody and Volker and tells them to go fix the shield emitter. They leave, Brody carrying a tool box, and Dannic waves a guard to go with them.

Rush is keeping his head down, staying quiet, but that doesn't save him from Dannic grabbing him by his hair and slamming his face down on the console several times before striding out of the room. Pain explodes and he feels dizzy and leans against the console.

He touches his forehead and his fingers come back covered in blood.

That's the last thing he sees as his vision tunnels down into blackness.

* * *

When he comes to, he's lying on his side on one of the benches that line the control interface room and Ginn is holding a cloth to his head, kneeling on the floor.

“Thank you,” she whispers to him, and he feels confused for a moment, then he remembers Dannic had been here in one of his murderous moods. He looks for the guards and sees them on the other side of the room. “Chloe is coming with a med kit.”

He closes his eyes. He doesn't want to see Chloe, see the concern and tears in her eyes. He's managed to avoid her so far. He remembers her sobbing loudly when they first held him down. On the table. He hopes she closed her eyes for most of it, but knowing Kiva's penchant for creative tormenting, he doubts she'd allowed that.

“Dinn,” Ginn whispers. “There's something I need to tell you. Maybe it will help to know this. The food you were given when you were...” she falters, and then, sounding like she's forcing herself to say it, “when you were being raped, it was drugged. In composition it's close to Kassa, but not as addictive. It's a sex drug, makes you respond to being touched. It makes you climax. You couldn't help it when they – we-- I-- stimulated you. I'm so sorry.”

He shoves as much of his fist as he can into his mouth, not sure at all what he's feeling. Is he grateful to know this? To know that even more of the control he had over his body had been taken from him? To have an excuse for looking like he'd enjoyed what they'd done to him?

She touches him on his shoulder, leaning over him, and he's on the table, and he's shamed beyond belief, and he tries to scramble away and he's grabbed as he tries to escape and he's being held down and he's screaming, oh, God, he screams and screams and screams and he fights them off, he tries, he's trying so hard, then he's free and he's fallen off the table and crawling away.

They block the open doorway when he staggers to his feet, these Lucians in their leather clothing, like some space biker gang, pointing guns at him, and he's scrambling backwards toward the applecore and looking for a weapon, something he can use to defend himself to take these bastards out, to take them all out, to keep them off of him!

He finds nothing and he pats down his jacket frantically, looking for something to use to keep them away from him and then he remembers the screwdriver he's hidden in the cuff and he pulls his hand up into the jacket sleeve, and he can feel it, and, and... he's feeling confused, he's... He's wearing Young's jacket. The jacket that Young had tied around him and he is wearing clothes, and they took his clothes from him; he'd been naked until Young had given him his black jacket and he touches the name tag. He's, he's not in the mess.

He's not in the mess, but there are Lucians here and they have guns pointed straight at him.

“Get down on your knees and put your hands on your head,” one of them says, and he obeys, panting, and still feeling confused and so, so tired. He feels blood dripping down his face.

“Do you know where you are?” the red-headed girl asks, dropping down on her knees in front of him, and he nods.

“What's my name?” she says and she looks upset. Did he hurt her?

“Ginn,” he answers, very quietly.

“What's your name?” she comes back with and that wild laughter wants to break free again. Well, that's a bit more difficult to parse out, then, isn't it?

“You call me Dinn,” he hedges with. It's not the name Kiva christened him with and it's not the name his family called him when he was a wean, and it's not the name he had been known by on this ship and it's not the name Gloria and Mandy called him. It's not Nicky, or Doctor Rush, or Nick or Nicholas. It's not the outcast name of Kresh'ta.

“Do you know what just happened?”

He shrugs, and his eyes flick over to where the bloody rag is draped on the bench.

“Yes, you were on the bench; you fainted after Dannic hurt you. Then you went a little crazy,” Ginn says.

“I... forgot where I was,” he says finally, and Ginn leans closer to hear his quiet words. He flinches again and she pulls back, looking upset.

He hears Varro's voice in the corridor and the guards step away.

Varro comes in with Chloe. He listens as Ginn describes what happened with Dannic and how Rush had acted after he came to on the bench. Like a demented person, apparently. Well, that's just fine, isn't it. Will it happen again, he wonders.

He avoids looking at Chloe. “He had a flashback,” she says. “It's not his fault. Let him up and let me check his injuries.”

“He defied the guards, and Ginn,” Varro says.

“No, he didn't,” Chloe snaps back, and she sounds stubborn and he's afraid for her. He looks at her, willing her to be silent, but Chloe crosses her arms instead.

“Then explain,” Varro says.

“Ginn triggered him, I think. She said she touched him and leaned over him and in his mind he was back in the mess, on that horrible table, and he was only trying to get away. We call them flashbacks; I've seen them before, when I visited VA hospitals with my father. It's not something you can control.”

“My brother had them after his Goa'uld master was killed and he returned home to us,” one of the guards volunteers. “The smell of certain herbs would trick him into thinking he was back with that monster. I agree with the Tau'ri girl. Dinn should not be punished, Varro.”

Varro waves Chloe towards him and says, “Treat him, and then return to the infirmary. Tamara has need of you.”

Chloe moves towards him at a snail's pace and slowly extends a hand down. He doesn't want to take it, so he staggers to his feet by himself. She makes a face, and he's relieved that she hasn't burst into tears at the sight of him. She looks faintly annoyed instead and it relaxes him. She says, a little tartly, “You helped me up, when you took me out of the Nakai tank. It's okay to let me return the favor.”

He rolls his eyes at her, but wavers on his feet, he's that unsteady, and she pulls his arm over her shoulder and walks him back to the bench. She's not limping from being shot in the leg and he wonders about that.

She treats the cut, shines a light in his eyes, wraps a blood pressure monitor around his wrist, moves his arm so it crosses his chest. His head throbs. Varro has left, the guards have put their weapons back into holsters, and Ginn is working at a console. Chloe answers his unspoken question. “TJ has been teaching me and Lisa a few things. She's in labor, by the way.” She frowns when she sees the reading, and takes it again.

“Breathe out,” she says, and he does so. The daft girl smells his breath and says, “Okay, TJ's got some power bars for medical emergencies. You're in ketoacidosis and you need to eat right away.” She rummages in the large bag she'd dropped on the bench and hands him two power bars and a large bottle of water. He sips from it and looks askance at the bottle. “It's an electrolyte solution. Like Gator-aid, only it doesn't taste as good. Drink it, you need it, and eat those.”

His hands shake as he peels the paper wrapping from the bars, and he eats them slowly, taking sips of the solution in between bites. They are the most marvelous thing he's ever tasted.

“How was Matt?” Chloe asks, very quietly. “How was Greer and the Colonel and Vanessa when you last saw them?”

Cold, he thinks, hungry, dirty. Frustrated at being kept like animals in a cage. Worried about you and the other civilians.

“Doing their best,” he whispers back to her. “Your boy misses you.”

She makes a soft choking sound and he puts his hand over hers.

* * *

Chapter Text

People come and go from the control interface room, Eli, Chen, Brody, Volker, Boone, Park, Jasor, Calvos, Morrison. It's a busy place, and Ginn is becoming desperate enough to find a planet they can scavenge for food that she's considering deliberately disabling the FTL engines. She's asked the scientists to work the problem, to see if they can find a planet in the database that will meet their needs, and drop out within shuttle range. It's extremely unclear if the countdown clock will engage if the engines are down. Fixing them would be tricky, to say the least. Such a plan is fraught with problems. It's a gamble, of course. If they just hold on, Destiny will eventually stop at a planet with a working gate that they can gather food on.

Ginn has relented her previous policy of not allowing him into the database or to communicate with the ship via coding. No one has found a planet yet, so now he's been designated to search the database, and he does have the most expertise with Ancient. If he is wrong, if he chooses a planet that is not what they need, he suspects Dannic will kill him.

He keeps his head down, doesn't participate in the sometimes heated arguments about Ginn's plan. To his bemusement, his usual role of pointing out the negative aspects, the risks, the probability of deaths resulting from this plan is taken up by the others.

They'd all been quite content to let him bring up the hard truths with the Colonel, let him shoulder the man's outrage over pointing out it was better to only lose one of them, not both, when Lieutenant Scott had been trapped in the ice. Or that more hostages and crew would die taking back the ship from Kiva.

Interesting, but not relevant to the current problem.

There is one fairly suitable planet that will be in range in three days. Ginn and Eli have both missed it. He studies the information sent back from the seed ship that had passed this way ages ago. The planet is not going to be locked out, not from the data he's reading, but whether or not the gate is still functioning is questionable.

He queries Destiny, and no one can do this as well as he can. Not Eli, or the Science Team, not Ginn, or the Lucian scientists. He asks the ship to stop at the planet no matter what the status of the gate is; he has been telling Destiny all along how short of resources they are, and she has rescued them before.

He hopes Destiny will save them now, because blowing one of the FTL engines is perilous. They will hang in space till the engine is repaired, if it even can be repaired, and he's fair sure that Mandy won't be allowed to come on board this time to save their necks. They left the Nakai behind, but he knows those obsessed aliens are still looking for the ship. They could catch up to them again, wear the shields down, and board them. Without being able to jump away to safety, they'll be helpless soon enough.

His head still aches, and he's very tired. It seems like he's exhausted from the moment he wakes up, if he did manage to sleep for a few hours before nightmares send him clawing his way back to consciousness and sometimes throwing up anything he has in his stomach. Mostly it's just bile, and it's a foul way to wake up. He's not had any real rest since he stopped drinking Johansen's green brew.

He's aware he should ask her for more of it, or some version anyway. He can do without the painkiller that had been added to it. He's not walked himself into the infirmary, though. The medication takes away his choice to sleep.

He's sick of not having autonomy, enough that he'll take the sleepless nights.

“Dinn?” the girl asks, her eyes worried. “Have you found anything?”

The compulsion to answer her kicks in before he can censor himself.

“Yes,” he says, almost inaudibly, and feels despair rising at his inability to not respond to direct inquiries. He'd wanted to keep this secret, at least for a while. Hug the knowledge to his chest, because knowledge is power, and maybe he would have found a way to lever this into an advantage.

He'd felt that compulsion to let out words he would have kept to himself with the Colonel, too, but that had only felt surprising. He found he didn't mind the Colonel's questions.

He decides not to analyze why that would be the case.

After sending Ginn the data, he watches as the others crowd around the console. Calvos asks him if the ship will stop there and he shrugs. Calvos narrows his eyes at him and Rush explains enough about asking Destiny to stop within shuttle range if the gate is not functioning to satisfy him and the rest of that lot.

They're all still debating the problem, reading out loud the planet's specs, debating how the red dwarf star will influence the vegetation when an alarm goes off.

He jumps when it does and then realizes that it's the smokescreen he set up to mask that his program has found the master code and it's crashing all the system consoles.

He waves nonchalantly at Ginn as he shuts it down, hoping his expression conveys that it was nothing to concern herself with, that he's handled it as he's handled so many other problems. The consoles unfreeze and go back to normal status.

She smiles at him, so relieved at his news about the planet that she takes his actions at face value. He volunteers that he reset the number three and four air purifiers alarms and they've got another month to change it out with fresh chemicals. It feels odd to say more than three or four words at a time. Brody notices and nudges Volker. Rush hopes they don't take that as an invitation to talk with him and he drops his eyes back to the console. Thank fuck they don't say anything to him.

He's afraid if Ginn asks what that alarm was about, he'll tell her the truth. Better to say the lie first, then, and hope it satisfies her.

He memorizes the master code and deletes his program from the databank.

Tonight, he's going to open his locked door and find out what the code is hiding.


* * *

Most of the rest of the science staff, Lucians included, have gone to the mess. He follows behind them for a time, and they continue their spirited discussion on what their priorities will be if Destiny stops at this upcoming planet. Then he quietly drops back further and further and not a one of them notices. He's fair sure that if asked later, they'll all swear Dinn had come to the mess with them.

He heads toward the showers. He is anxious, jittery, and he can't run down the corridors as he used to do in better days when he felt ready to jump out of his skin. The Lucians would probably shoot him. He pulls Young's jacket tighter around himself. He needs to feel clean. He thinks he'll wash his clothes first this time. They'll be mostly dry when he's finished showering.

He hears voices from the cross corridor and flattens himself against the wall. It's better to not be noticed. Colonel Telford walks along, joking with two Lucians. From their conversation it's obvious he's not a prisoner anymore; he's either been brainwashed again or he's decided to throw his lot in with the Lucians. Be a collaborator.

It's bound to happen with some of the others before too long. Especially once Kiva decides what to do with the military. Kiva will reward crew members who inform on their former shipmates, when it becomes clear that there will be no retaking of the ship by Young's people. It will come down to survival.

Right now, he supposes the civilians are remembering their own futile mutiny against the military, how easily their rebellion had been crushed. They might be waiting to see the same thing happen now, with these intruders. They haven't seen what Rush has seen, how little food the military has been getting all along in their cells. They will do their best, but a lot of them are going to be killed if they rush their guards.

Kiva is more ruthless than Young, but he'll get there in the end, decide that losses on their side will have to be accepted.

Rush knows Kiva, though. She has been stringing the military along, waiting for something to occur that will keep them cooperative. He can't imagine what it is, though.

Telford and his friends walk by without noticing him and he wonders if Telford will ask to fuck him again. He shivers thinking about what Ginn told him about that sex drug. It does explain why he came despite being in such pain.

He doesn't dare hope that the master code will save him from ever feeling its effects again.

When he is certain the cross corridor is empty, he makes his way to the showers. He needs to feel clean.


* * *


He is almost too tired to think, so after his shower he goes to his quarters, a kino falling in behind him as he walks slowly down the dim empty corridors, the curved walls giving him the feeling of being in a tunnel. His door is open when he arrives and the kino waits for him to enter his small room; after he does the doors lock together without his once having touched the controls.

It's practical, it's pragmatic, it's being realistic, making this choice to rest and sleep now. He'll wake up hours later, refreshed, or so he hopes, and when most of the Lucians and the crew are asleep, he'll play scavenger hunt with Destiny.

He doesn't bother to undress, just wraps up in his comforter and tucks his cold bare feet together, and closes his eyes.

Of course sleep won't come for him, now that he's invited it. That's nothing new, but it's very irritating just the same.

He does five hundred of those internal muscles exercise Lieutenant Johansen told him to do. He imagines that he's back in the shower, alone, feeling warm and clean and safe.

That helps, and he's starting to feel drowsy, not just exhausted. His mind though, jumps to thinking about what will happen to him after two more weeks of Lucian occupation.

Will he be given a schedule, told to report to whichever Alliance member was given permission to fuck him that day? Will he have to stay with them in their quarters, or will they come to his? Or will there be a room designated for sex? Will there be more than one a day to service? Will they take him back to the mess, put him back on the table? Will the crew be invited to watch him be fucked again? Will the crew ask for turns also? Kiva would love that, might make that part of an initiation ceremony for crew members asking to join the Alliance.

His rapists, will they hurt him besides fuck him, fuck his mouth? Burn him, shock him with the pain sticks they liberated from the Goa'uld? Cut him with knives, hit him with their fists? Tie him up, tie him down?

Make him like it, like Koz has been promising him?

That would be the worst thing that could possibly happen, and if they find a way to make him enjoy being raped, he thinks he'll truly go insane. Retreat to a place in his beleaguered mind and never, ever return. He'd visited there, after hours and hours of being on the table, and in a way it's a very beckoning option.

But none of this will happen, he reminds himself. He's just being a child, scaring himself with nightmare talk. He's got a way out, if the master code is useless for him, if he can't get to the chair for Destiny to pull him out a corporeal state and transform him into code.

He's got his sharp, lethal little screwdriver and he pulls it free from its hiding place that he made in Young's jacket cuff, and he holds it in his hand. He rubs a thumb up and down it, in a soothing cadence, like counting off prayers on a rosary, and he's finally able to relax and fall asleep.

* * *


He opens his door and checks the corridor for kinos or any Lucians, and it's still quiet and dim and deserted. He leaves his room, and heads for one of the elevators although that's not really a very comprehensive term because they travel laterally as well as horizontally. Destiny would have a system in place so that these travel cars wouldn't crash into each other. The Ancients designed their systems with safety in mind. Redundancy is built into every inch of the ship, and he's fair sure that's why Destiny has survived all these years.

He knows this ship better than anyone does, and he chooses a route that will keep him out of sight of kinos or Lucians. There's a life signs detector program that only he knows about, the Lucians' science people haven't found it, and there had been no pressing need to share that information with the Science Team or with Young as he's sure locating his whereabouts would be the primary reason it would be used. Not that he's been up to the nefarious agenda Colonel Young always seems to think he has. Not usually, at any rate. The Colonel should understand, actually. He's hidden himself away at times, but then he balances that with ridiculous amounts of socializing with the crew. He's finally given up on trying to get Rush to join their impromptu little parties, thank fuck.

It's just the way he's made, and to transform the nervous buzzing in his head into useful work he requires time away by himself to think and he always has; there's a unused hallway where he likes to work out problems on the walls in peace and quiet. Mostly it's urgent problems with the ship that he scrawls on Destiny's smooth metal, but sometimes he'll take a look at other unsolved problems to unwind. P=NP, thinking about L functions and Z functions. Yang-Mills theory. Riemann zeros.

He's almost to a section where several corridors come together and an elevator car is waiting when he thinks he hears something. He looks around, but sees nothing. He's cautious as he walks down the halls, close to the wall, ready to duck into an empty room if need be. The doors are all open along this hall way. More crew quarters, a meeting room of sorts, a few rooms with consoles.

He hears it as he passes an open doorway, a muffled scream, and he whirls around in time to recognize Simeon before a fist knocks him backwards. He hits the deck and can't move, he's dazed, and then he's pulled into the room and there's tape being pressed across his mouth and his hands are caught and pulled behind him and more tape wrapped around them. He starts to shake as his head clears. This is not good, this is not good. Simeon is a maverick, and he doubts that Kiva's orders will save him from what Simeon has in mind.

“Kresh'ta,” Simeon says and pulls him up to his feet. “Now I have two birds in my net.” He reaches into an alcove and pulls out a woman, her hands taped together in front of her.

Park has a cloth gag in her mouth, her long dark hair in disarray, and she's been crying. Her clothes are still on, so he must have stumbled upon her and Simeon before he's raped her.

Simeon pulls out a gun and motions them towards the door. “Let's go.”

He herds them into the elevator car and takes them into a more remote part of the ship. He keeps his gun in Park's side, and her eyes are terrified.

Simeon is grinning, and it's an evil, monstrous smirk that Rush has seen before. It's going to happen again and his two weeks of sanctuary that he thought he still had turns out to just be an illusion.

He's got his screwdriver, but he can't use it, not with his hands taped behind his back.

Don't go away, he tells himself fiercely. Don't go to the safe place in his mind where nothing can touch him. Park is here, and she's one of his, one of his science team, and he has to stay focused, stay alert for an opportunity.

They are in a large storage room, with containers in neat stacks. He doesn't think they've explored this room before, but he can't be sure, not with the panic that is trying to take him over. His breathing is fast, and he's afraid he's going to hyperventilate himself right into passing out.

Simeon locks the door, motions for them to move to the back, behind a tall block of crates. He pulls the gag out of Park's mouth and she starts to sob.

“Cry, little bird, little ha'tra,” Simeon says, almost soothingly. “Scream, if you like. No one will hear you, except this one.” He kicks Rush hard in the thigh and he falls prone to the deck. He rolls to his side and looks up. Simeon is pointing the gun at him now.

“Do you want to live, little ha'tra?” He swings the gun towards Park now.

She sobs out a yes to that.

“Do you, Kresh'ta?” Simeon puts his boot between Rush's thighs and nudges at his crotch once, then laughs and orders him to kneel in front of him.

He gets to his knees and bows his head. He doesn't want to live, not if this is going to happen, but he can't leave Park here alone, even if he can't free his screwdriver.

He hears Young's voice in his head. I want you to live. Young is patient; Young would wait, look for an opportunity to turn things around. There are two of them and one of Simeon. He needs to have his hands free.

Simeon rips the tape from his mouth. Rush licks his lips, and whispers, “Yes.”

Laughing, Simeon says, “Beg then. Make it sweet, you cock-sucker. Not so important now, are you?”

No, he thinks, I'm not. Never again. Possibly I never was.

He look up at Simeon through his lashes, and it's not that he's trying to act submissively, he's not trying, God, he's not but his body wants to and he has to fight to not let it be real. It's an act, only an act, he lies to himself.

He licks his lips again, slowly, and what the fuck does he know about acting seductively? He's not a flirt, has never been one, and the nuances of such things usually fly over his head.

His hands, he needs his hands to be free.

“Please,” he settles on, “Please, I'll make it good for you, and you can have me anytime; Kiva doesn't have to know.”

Simeon takes the gun and runs it down Rush's jawline.

“A bargain, then. You'll suck me, Kresh'ta, and if you get hard doing it, then you can live.”

A tidal wave of horror drags him under, because how, how can he feel the least bit aroused by this?

He must look as stricken as he feels because Simeon chuckles at him. “This is better than what I planned, with her on the bed in that room.”

Simeon puts his gun behind his back and unbuttons the sweater Park is wearing, then the blouse until both are hanging free and her pink bra is exposed. It closes in the front and he manipulates the fastenings until it, too, is hanging off her shoulders and her breasts are freed. Rush doesn't want to see this, but he has to watch Simeon, has to look for any chance. He mentally apologizes to Park for seeing her being degraded.

Simeon takes her breasts in his hands and squeezes them and Park is sobbing loudly now. “What about you, woman? If you tell Varro or Kiva that I took you earlier than they've planned to give you away as a prize, then I will find you and kill you. I'll make it look like an accident.”

Park bobs her head up and down. “I won't tell,” she chokes out.

“Good,” Simeon says and looks down at Rush. “All I want right now is your mouth. You get hard, then you live. Then I'll fuck her, then you, and I want to see you come with my dick up your ass, you little whore.”

Simeon reaches into his pocket and brings out a small flat container and opens it. He wets his little finger and dips it into the powder and sucks it off, smirking down at Rush, and suddenly it clicks for him what that must be. The sex drug Ginn told him about. Simeon is dosing himself so he can have staying power.

Rush swallows, because this is so, so debasing, but he leans his face against Simeon's thigh and asks, in a strangled voice, “Please? Can I kiss you? Please?”

Simeon pulls him up and then tugs Park closer to him. They're all touching each other but he doesn't look at her, just tilts his face up towards Simeon and tries to look like he's dying to be kissed.

He must be spectacularly unsuccessful, because Simeon snorts, and the look on his face is amused and knowing, but he crushes Rush closer and plunders his mouth.

This is what he wanted, this is what he wanted, what he needs, he tells himself and forces his mouth to open wide, uses his tongue to explore Simeon's mouth, hot and wet, licking at the other man's tongue, the inside of his cheeks, along his lips.

He does it for as long as he can stand it, but when he tries to pull away, Simeon won't let him. He keeps their mouths fused together, and Rush can't help it, he begins to whimper into Simeon's mouth. The man's arm is a vice around him and maybe he could fight his way free, he's thin, yes, but he's strong, but that's not part of the plan.

The tears that start overflowing from his eyes aren't either. Simeon lets him get a breath, and licks the tears off his face. “Dinn, your tears are sweet,” he says, and kisses him again, hard, like the fucking space pirate raider that he is, taking what he wants, and Rush can't stop him. He clenches his fists hard behind his back and concentrates on how he can feel the blood pumping through them, and doesn't fight when Simeon's tongue claims his mouth or when Simeon leaves teeth marks and pain behind on Rush's lower lip when he finally turns him loose.

It's Park's turn then, and Simeon rapes her mouth and her eyes don't close when he's frenching her; she looks at Rush instead, and he doesn't look away this time, although he can see that she doesn't believe he can help her. She doesn't look like she's condemning him for that; he feels her lean into him, a message that he's not sure he can decipher.

Simeon laughs when lets go of them. “The Tau'ri are soft. You and the rest of your people deserve to serve the Alliance.”

He feels Simeon's erection against him before the man's hands on his shoulders forces him to his knees. Simeon takes Park's bound hands and pulls them down to the bulge in his leather trousers and makes her palm it, rubs her hands up and down while she bites her own lip.

Protecting her isn't something he can do, not really, but he does what he can anyway. He pushes her hands away from Simeon's dick with his face, and that must really be funny to the other man because he lets him stake a claim by mouthing Simeon's dick through the leather while dark chuckles rumble above him.

“Greedy boy,” Simeon says and lets go of Park to unfasten his trousers and pull out his dick. “Lick it.”

He does, tears still running down his face, and the taste of cock makes him panic, makes him breathe too fast.

He doesn't know how long he can stand to do this, to move his mouth and tongue and lips on his own, so when he gets to the tip of Simeon's penis he take the whole thing in his mouth. Simeon lets out a curse, sounding pleasured, sounding pleased.

He makes it slide out of his mouth, like he couldn't hold onto it. He again takes it back in, goes up and down on it a few times and then lets it fall out of his mouth again.

“Rush,” Simeon growls, displeased and this time the man guides his cock into Rush's mouth with his own hand. Simeon goes back to fondling Park's breasts and just as he's pinching her nipples Rush makes the damn thing slither out of his mouth again, like a hose with a mind of its own.

He whimpers, like he's a dog that just had a bone taken from him, and Simeon curses in Goa'uld, and produces a knife from somewhere under his jacket and cuts Rush's hands free.

“You lose it again, and you'll be punished,” Simeon says and turns the knife back and forth a few times before making it disappear under his jacket. “Show me your dick.”

He obeys, slipping his hand down into his soft trousers, feeling his penis harden as his hand closes around it and he feels a flush of warmth and something dark and despairing skittering under his skin. He takes his time, using his other hand to push the elastic waistband of the trousers and his boxers under his balls so that his dick is exposed to Simeon's gaze.

The bastard laughs when he sees that Rush is erect. “Leave it like that. I knew you had to have liked what we did to you, Rush. Telford told us you were an arrogant prick, but see what we've uncovered? The real you, and you're nothing but a needy, dirty, slut.”

Simeon grabs Park by her hair, and wraps the strands several times around his fist and forces her to look down.

“Do you agree, little ha'tra?”

“Yes,” Park says, crying harder.

“Say it then, so this piece of shit can hear you.”

“He's a, a needy, slut,” she parrots back to Simeon, and Rush knows she's been forced to say it, that she doesn't mean it, she probably doesn't mean it, but maybe she does, because look at him now, look at what he did when they touched him on the table and was it all the drug? Maybe the drug just opened up something within him, some inhibition lifted, and Simeon is correct and this is really who he is.

“That's right,” Simeon croons. “You're starting to believe it now; I want to hear you say the truth about yourself. Say it right now, Rush.” The bastard shrugs and says, “Kiva's not here, and I like saying your name. I like seeing the flinch that crosses your face when I do it.” He nudges Rush's erection with his boot, and he can't help the shiver that runs through him. “Now say it,” Simeon demands.

“Aye, I'm a needy, dirty slut and I want to suck you off,” he says, improvising that last bit, because he'd rather do that then hear Simeon expound on his character. He hears Glasgow strong in his voice, the way he spoke as a wee boy and young man, and it always comes back when he's stressed.

“Needy boy,” Simeon's tone is smug and vicious and victorious. “Go ahead.” He releases Park's hair and starts fondling her breasts again with both hands. “Make it good, Rush.”

Rush uses his hands to guide Simeon's cock back into his mouth and he cups the man's balls with one hand and with the other he slowly starts inching Simeon's trousers down until there's a canvas of thighs and groin that he can paint with his fingers, arousing the other man.

He intends to drive Simeon straight into such lust that that bastard will be seeing stars and not what Rush is doing with his hands.

He's not sure of how time is working anymore, it seems like that maybe he's been on his knees like this forever, that what he remembers of his life was just a dream, Gloria, the university, teaching, his research, Destiny.

The taste of salt in his mouth, the feel of a hair that wants to make him gag, the rhythmic motions he's making, altering them so that no predictable pattern happens, so that Simeon's breath catches and the muscles of his thighs tighten, he focuses on all of that. He can learn to be good at whatever he turns his hand to, he knows this about himself and is this arrogance? Is that what people see when he uses his mind and talents to be the best he can be? He's failed so many times, it doesn't feel like arrogance when he finally does well. Do they not notice, not see, the fucking hard work he's done? He never claims to be a genius, not like McKay, and he doesn't crow about how awesome he is when a solution comes to him, like Eli. Is it because he doesn't enjoy being in crowded social situations? That he refuses to sit down and make jokes and laugh with Young and his Marines and Airmen, that he'd rather study his notes in the mess than sit with Brody and Volker and put up with their inane pointless quipping back and forth?

His eyes close in despair, and he wishes he was far away. He wishes that Young had never freed him from the prison of water the Nakai had kept him in, that he'd sat in the chair instead of Franklin and become part of Destiny.

He wishes he'd cut open his veins with the screwdriver and bled out into his bed.

I want you to live he hears Young saying in his head. It had sounded like an order, like a plea, like a prayer, like a request, like a wish.

Park is here, he can't abandon her. You abandoned Gloria, he hears his own voice telling him, heavy with judgment and disgust, and he remembers the dream interface with Destiny, holding Gloria's hand, Destiny's hand, as she begged him to be a better man than what he has become.

He will not take the easy way out here. He will not leave Park in Simeon's hands.

He forces his eyes open, sees the freckled skin under his hands, the red grizzled pubic curls and thinks wildly, half crazy maybe, that this proves Simeon is a natural ginger.

Maybe he's going insane.

Glancing upwards, he sees that Simeon is looking at Park, hands stilling on her breasts for a moment as Rush's tongue does clever things to the man's penis, and he's rewarded by a bitter fluid on his tongue. Apparently he has the makings of being an excellent cock sucker, a skill he's learned in the school of pain and fear and he's fucking well close to a Ph.D in it now.

Simeon's balls are tight and drawing up, and Rush readies himself.

It's going to happen, he can feel it, and the penis in his mouth is so hard and round and he glances up again at Simeon's face.

His eyes are shut, and Rush darts out a hand and tugs at Park's trousers. She looks down at him, and he hopes it's enough warning, because Simeon lets out a groan, sounding as tortured as Rush has felt on the table, and he's coming, flooding Rush's mouth with semen and at that moment, when Simeon's attention is totally on the sensations flooding his body, Rush acts.

* * *

Chapter Text

He can do this, he can do this, he can do this, Rush chants frantically in his head, giving himself sage advice, and he feels the hard cold deck of this deserted storage room under his knees, hears Park's breath hitching with the sobs she's trying to stifle, and he swallows down what is being pumped into his mouth instead of pulling Simeon's dick out and spitting the semen on the floor. He must not jar Simeon from his dazed orgasm-induced state.

He jams the screwdriver, that fine, small tool that has become his lodestone, into Simeon's groin and rakes it deeply across where his fingers have mapped out Simeon's femoral artery under the guise of arousing touches. He bites down hard on the penis that has invaded his mouth at the same time, hoping that the pain of that will distract Simeon from noticing right away that he's bleeding.

He yanks the screwdriver out as Simeon screams and gives him a ringing blow on the head. He scrambles backwards, freeing Simeon's mutilated dick, and he tastes blood in his mouth.

“Rush!” Simeon yells, furious, “I'm going to kill you!” and he draws his leg back to give a vicious kick and then stumbles. He looks down and Rush knows he's seeing a flood of red dying the skin of his leg and leathers.

A flood, but not a geyser of arterial blood spraying up into the air. He might not have cut Simeon deeply enough to cause his death in mere moments.

Standing up, swaying, trying frantically to regain his sense of balance and clarity of thought, Rush readies himself to attack Simeon again, to try to puncture the carotid artery.

Simeon's expression is grimaced, hateful, and one hand is pressing down hard on the wound. He reaches behind himself, and Rush has calculated that this might happen, that the bastard might not bleed out fast enough before he pulls his weapon and shoots him.

Simeon comes up empty-handed and Rush shoots a panicked glance at Park. He'd given her that warning by tugging on her trousers so she could be ready to get back, get away, and she's backed up, yes, but not far enough.

Bloody fuck, not far enough, and Simeon lunges at her, grabbing for the weapon in her hand.

She fires it, and the bullet grazes the top of Simeon's shoulder, but he slams into her and they crash to the deck.

They struggle for control of the weapon and Park is screaming; Simeon is on top of her. Rush throws himself onto Simeon's back and stabs at his neck, the screwdriver hot in his hand from gripping it so tightly.

He's thrown off by Simeon, and the gun skitters across the floor during the struggle.

He's not sure if Park managed to do that or if it was accidental on Simeon's part. He crawls towards the gun, then staggers up and Simeon is roaring at Park to let go and Rush can't see what's happening behind him, but Park can't match Simeon in strength, she can't hold onto him for long.

He scoops up the gun and turns; Simeon is on his feet and charging towards him and Rush fires.

* * *

He's not a violent man, doesn't attack first, unless you count pointing out the inconvenient truth to people who don't want to hear it. He didn't start the fight with Colonel Young on that planet, that hot and dry world where his calculations about the repercussions of framing the Colonel had been sadly proven wrong.

He'd tried to communicate with the Nakai before realizing that to them he was just a conduit to their favorite obsession. They were not interested in a true dialog, just in ripping out knowledge from his mind. He'd strangled the Nakai who'd switched with the Colonel, but the alien had moved to attack him.

Greer had infuriated him, on the way back to the gate after Rush had given up looking for the mineral they so desperately needed for the air scrubbers on board. He had no idea the Sergeant was planning on going back out to look for Lieutenant Scott, that he was going to save his water allotment for that trek. All he knew was that he'd given up his own water ration to Scott, to help him, and Greer hadn't done that, so Greer could bloody well let him have a drink.

Their scuffle had ended with Greer pointing a gun at him, but Rush hadn't been concerned. Greer would have shot him long before that except the man knew Rush was needed, regardless of his penchant for shoving a gun in Rush's face. Still, what had that smack on Rush's ass been about? At the time, he'd thought Greer was just showing him who was in charge by treating him as a child who needed a spanking to behave. Since the table, though, he'd revisited that occasion and wondered if Greer, too, had thought he needed fucking, but had been too restrained to do anything more than slap him on his ass.

He's not a man who can use his size and strength to bully others into doing as he wants. He doesn't even want to do that, but he does want to protect what's his even if he knows in his bones eventually all he cares about will be taken from him. It's the law of the jungle, and he's not given to self-delusions. He's not strong enough, doesn't have allies who will watch his back, stand shoulder to shoulder with him to repel those who want to take what he cares about from him. It's happened before, in Glasgow, in academic circles. His belongings. His research. His position.

He always loses the people he cares about. Gloria would say that God called her home. He says that she was taken from him, not by God, he can't really warp his mind into believing in Gloria's God, but by the uncaring universe. Mandy's health is always fragile, and he does feel love for her, muddled as he is about exactly what kind of love. He dreads the day he learns she, too, has been taken.

He feels an obligation to the people he brought here, even if it was the right call in a crisis, to eventually find a way to return them to Earth, although he doubts anyone believes him on that point. Lieutenant Scott hadn't, had thought it necessary to plead with him to not abandon them.

He doesn't want to go back to Earth. There is nothing really there for him, not even Mandy's company is enough to make him want to leave Destiny. The ship needs a crew, and these people who found themselves here are important to whatever Destiny's mission is about, but he doesn't think he'd deny his crewmates the right to return to their homes. He hasn't been tested on that, though, so he doesn't know really. Telford's plan to dial home within a star would have blown them up; he was protecting the crew and himself and Destiny by foiling it, so it wasn't a true test.

He is not a violent man, but he will protect what he cares about.

There is a gun in his hand, there is a man dying on the floor in front of him, sneering up at him. Blood surrounds Simeon, like a river that floods over its banks into surrounding fields.

Simeon is a dead man, knows he is, and his gasped words are the last weapon he will ever use.

“Kiva will avenge me when she finds out what you did. She'll put you on your back again, Rush, on a table for all to enjoy and I die knowing that you'll be the ship's whore for the rest of your days. All of you, you're to be prizes for the Alliance. You all will be our willing slaves, especially the soldiers, in and out of bed or Kiva will wring your medic's brat's neck.”

He coughs then, spits a bloody froth onto the floor. Rush hears Park crying but his eyes are fixed on the man bleeding out on the floor – but not losing blood fast enough to keep him silenced.

“You felt so hot and willing, Rush, when we fucked. I sank right into you, and you came for me. You came for me, and I want you to remember that. You tightened around my cock and I made you feel so good, little whore, that you dirtied yourself all over your belly.”

He hears Simeon's words and feels them sink into his heart like poisoned barbs. He can't listen to any more of them.

Numbly, he steps closer and closer to the man on the floor spouting such filth about him until he's standing directly over him and aims the gun pointblank at his head.

Simeon blows him a kiss and Rush pulls the trigger.


* * *


Rush cuts Park's hands free with Simeon's own knife and pats her on the back, asking her if she's all right; he gives her the knife while he sticks the gun into the back of his trousers. She looks at the knife blankly, sobs shaking her body, and he thinks she's a bit in shock, poor lass, and then she lays it on the deck.

Her arms coming round him are a surprise and he flinches. She's not fixed her clothes back yet and he doesn't think she realizes that and he's torn between wanting to shove her away and hugging her back.

He hugs her gingerly because she is one of his, and she's just been assaulted and apparently his comfort is better than none and maybe, maybe, this is something he needs, too.

She's having none of his being tentative and draws him tight against her. He finds that he doesn't want to let go, after all, and holds her as strongly as she's holding him. After long, long moments, as they cling to each other like shipwrecked sailors clutching a life ring, her sobbing starts to die down and his breathing slows. They pull apart and he looks to the side so she won't think he's staring at her breasts.

Park startles him by choking out a tortured kind of laugh. “Too late for modesty, Do-- Dinn. But thank you.”

He nods, still keeping his eyes averted as she fixes her bra and buttons up her blouse and sweater. She's seen him give their rapist oral sex and expose his own erection, so yes. A bit silly to worry about the niceties now, but he's never been one to oogle people.

He's trembling, he notices, and wonders for how long he's been shaking like this. Still. They need to work the problem before them.

He says as much to Park, and together they partly empty out a large container. They can't lift Simeon's body into the container, it's too tall and they'll get blood all over them, but Park finds the Ancient version of a forklift and they use that to dump the body into the container and cover it back up with the contents. They fasten the container's lid and take it to a back wall and move a row of other containers to hide the blood on the floor.

Park grabs his hand when they're done. He lets her hold onto him, reminded of when he and Chloe escaped from the Nakai.

“They're going to use us as prizes,” she says to him, her eyes intent. “Kiva is going hold TJ's baby as a hostage for everybody's good behavior.”

He raises his eyebrows and she says, “Yes, TJ had the baby. A little girl, and she's healthy and beautiful. I was helping, and after TJ got settled in her room, with Chloe and Camile to stay there with her, I was on my way to my quarters when Simeon--”

She puts a fist to her mouth, and he squeezes her hand.

It's rather brilliant of Kiva, he admits. Forcing the assimilation of the Tau'ri crew by handing them off to her people to be bedpartners. When the Earth women start having babies fathered by Alliance men, or the other way round, those connections will erode away at any resistance. He can see it happening now, with the way Eli and Ginn are drawn to each other. There will be others. He would have said Lieutenant Johansen and Varro might have a future together, but Varro's raping him has blocked that. But will that block hold as time goes by? Will the Lieutenant forgive Varro? Have children with her enemy turned lover?

It's an old story to him, these space raiders come to plunder and seize the ship, like the Vikings had come to Scotland and in the end mingled their bloodlines with the people they'd come to raid.

In fifty years, if the Nakai and other dangers don't stop them, their children's children will be an entirely different culture and society, if the Alliance doesn't find a way to dial Destiny with reinforcements. Not drug warlords, but spacefarers, explorers, because Kiva is dedicated to discovering Destiny's mission. At any rate, the Tau'ri will be absorbed into the dominant culture. The Alliance.

Kiva is also using the crew to control her people. Instead of a free for all where the Lucians just grab and rape those they want, she's dangling them as prizes for good behavior. Simeon most likely had screwed up and so he took Park out of frustration at being dropped from Kiva's list of those who had earned rewards.

Park says, still holding tight to his hand, “What can we do?”

He doesn't know what to say to her. He's not going to explain about the master code and at any rate, what's to explain? He doesn't know what it will mean for them. It might not help their situation at all.

Still. Something should be done. Young might sacrifice some of his people in order to take back the ship, but to ask him to sacrifice his newborn daughter? He doesn't think the man can do that. So, at any rate, the baby must be protected so that if Young makes the attempt to free himself and his people he's not hampered by that fear. He'll have to think of a way to get him to understand that. Maybe fake a suicide attempt so that he's thrown back with the military prisoners at night once more.

Park is looking at him, and he feels a wave of fondness for her. She's trying to pick herself back up again, and he appreciates that. She's always been one to not dwell on negative aspects of their life on the ship. She's been a good foil for Brody's pessimism and Volker's whining.

“We've got weapons, now, aye?” he says, and lets go of her hand and takes the gun out of the back of his trousers and hands it to her. “You'll go back to Lieutenant Johansen, hiding the gun and the knife, and you give them to her. Stay with her. Tell her what you've learned, that the baby will be a pawn for Kiva. She's a mother now, and I warrant as fierce as a bear with a cub. And she's military. She'll take it from there.”

He feels in his jacket pocket and brings out the pouch of bullets he'd taken off Simeon's body. He'd also found the knife and the small box that held the drug that caused arousal. He'd tucked that away, although he couldn't explain to himself why he'd done that.

Park takes the bullets from him and puts them in her pants pocket. For the gun, she imitates what he had done and secures it in the back of her trousers. The knife she ties to her leg with the cloth Simeon had gagged her with, and she looks more steady now that there's a plan to follow.

“Simeon is going to be missed,” she says, and he nods, then shrugs.

“He took care not to have any kinos about when he took you and me. The gun had a silencer, and if anyone had heard the shots they'd have come by now. It'll be a while before they realize he's disappeared. And if they find the body, who's to say that he didn't piss off one of their own? He was an asshole, eh?”

She gives him a choked sort of laugh again, then looks intently at him. “Are you going to be okay?”

He shrugs again and doesn't answer. He can taste blood and semen in his mouth, although he'd spit out as much as he could. He's shaking still. Maybe he always will now.

“You're talking a lot more. Maybe it was therapeutic to shoot him?”

He shrugs again. Scrubs his hands over his face, remembering his tears and how Simeon had licked them from his skin. He shudders.

She steps closer and her arms open up.

He could step back and evade the hug.

But he doesn't.

* * *

He sees Park back to where a kino notices her walking down the corridor away from a mostly not used shower room and drops down behind her as she heads towards Lieutenant Johansen's quarters. She'll be safe now, with eyes on her.

For himself, he makes sure there is no kino watching as he ducks into the shower room and starts stripping off his clothes. He swears he can still feel Simeon's hands on his shoulders, smell him. The taste of that bastard's cock and semen, he needs to scrub it out of his mouth, and he wants to clean his clothes again; they stink of his fear and there's blood droplets and what looks like cum on the jacket.

He can't let Simeon's filth ruin Young's jacket. He needs to take care of it, make sure nothing remains of what happened tonight on the fabric. He doesn't want Young to see any stains and ask about them. He doesn't want anybody to know what happened between him and Simeon. Park said she'll keep quiet about how he'd had to give Simeon a blow job in order to attack him; she'll say that she grabbed the gun when Rush distracted Simeon by going at him with the little screwdriver. From that point the true narrative can be told.

He pulls the screwdriver out of its hiding place, and it's stained a rusty brown. He's gotten blood on Young's cuff, too, with it.

Over and over, he rubs the wet material together until he's satisfied nothing remains of Simeon on Young's jacket and then he washes his other clothes as well.

He lets the cleansing mist gather in his open mouth, and of course it tastes horrible, but he relishes that, is relieved to have the taste of Simeon obliterated. He spits and spits and watches the last trace of Simeon disappear down the drain.

He scrubs at his skin until he's made himself turn bright pink with the friction. It always helps, scrubbing himself down, but even so the feeling of filth on him is only a slide into memory away.

Simeon's words eat at him. Park told him not to pay attention to what Simeon had said, that it was all lies, but he knows what he did on the table and while the drug may have been totally responsible, it's possible it was not. What if it was the result of some depraved, dirty part of himself that his subconscious had always locked away, and the drug only opened the door? He knows he's obsessing about these horrible thoughts but he can't stop himself. He wonders about it every night as he tries to sleep. His own fucked up bedtime ritual.

He's not even sure if the erection he got tonight that Simeon had demanded was because of the traces of the drug he took from Simeon's mouth, or if that was all him. Again.

It's getting late, he knows, although probably not as much time has passed as it feels. He dresses again, his clothes still somewhat damp, and he shivers in them. There are no kinos in the corridor, so he is free to try again to make sense out of the master code.

Warily, he makes his way back to where he had been before Simeon had grabbed him and punches in the code the ship gave him. The elevator car moves up, and then sideways, and releases him in a section of the ship that had been off limits due to damage.

The schematic Destiny showed him earlier when he looked at the algorithm's result is a bit of a treasure map, it seems, and he looks carefully along the walls where the ship has directed him. The Ancients tended to be rather cryptic and fond of proving one's capabilities before allowing access to their tech or outposts. He'd read all of Stargate Command's mission reports that dealt with the Ancients, and they'd had their share of unraveling clues left by a people long dead. SG1 had the most experience, but then they had Doctor Jackson to pave the way for them.

Brilliant man, Daniel. Rush had enjoyed their discussions on the Ancients. A good teacher, too, and he had benefited greatly from learning Ancient directly from him, the acknowledged master of a language that hadn't been spoken aloud in countless, countless years. Daniel had been rather impressed with him, actually, and had told him that Rush's talent for languages had been sadly underutilized.

He'd avidly read everything that was allowed about Atlantis. He would have loved to have seen it for himself, but the Icarus project had demanded his full attention and all of his time.

Atlantis is lovely, full of graceful towers and colorful windows; Destiny is scarred and worn, still quite beautiful, mind you, but she has lived her years. Atlantis had been safely cocooned away while Destiny sailed on, taking on damage but never faltering with her mission.

He loves the ship, and this is his place. Atlantis doesn't need him; Destiny does. He understands the ship, and rather irrationally, he feels that she understands him. They communicated via the chair, after all. She watched him struggle to make sense of the clues she had given him in the dream interface that pointed the way to unlocking the master code.

She could have just given it to him, but that wasn't the Ancient's way. One had to prove oneself, and he'd passed Destiny's test. He hadn't failed, after all. He'd thought when he'd been floundering in the dream simulation that he should have sent Eli in his stead, but he knew what he was doing was risky. He hadn't wanted to see the boy hurt. Perhaps, if he was being honest with himself, he also hadn't wanted to share the ship with anyone else like that. He hadn't followed his own advice to others about the greater good, but in the end it had worked out. He'd deciphered Destiny's message and had only suffered a mild cardiac problem. Lieutenant Johansen had been quite firm that he not sit in the chair again for some time and had insisted on that to Colonel Young.

He wonders what it had felt like for Franklin to dissolve away, for his mind to transform into code, to realize he was now a part of Destiny. Or at least, he thinks that's what happened. Did Franklin ask that of Destiny? Or did the ship just take him like a sacrificial offering in order to agree to save them.

His eye catches on a keypad and he examines it. He doesn't remember it being here, when they'd sent kinos on search mode. Perhaps it had been hidden from their eyes before and only now, when he found the code, was it revealed. Hidden by a hologram or a covering had slid up, revealing it.

At any rate, he jabs at the Ancient numbers and what he'd taken earlier as a wall slides away and a more ornate door is revealed.

He's trembling again, but at least this time it's not a reaction from trauma but from excitement. He pushes down on the door control knob and the door slides open.

He cautiously enters the room, stretches his arms out against the high balcony rails and takes in the sight of multiple consoles, chairs, monitors, and in the hub is what must be a command chair, surrounded by easily reached monitors.

He steps slowly down into the heart of the room. He grew up in a port town, with the smell of the sea never far away, and the sight and sound of boats and ships traveling the waterways or docking. He absorbed knowledge about boats and engines and the hard life of sailors as effortlessly as he learned to walk and talk and read and figure maths.

This is the bridge of this great ship, and the master code has granted him access. To him. He is the only one who knows this, and he feels humbled and awed that he is standing here now.

This, this is power, and he will decipher Destiny's systems and he will use what he learns and no longer will they just be castaways swept into this ship and helpless to affect any changes. He will not be helpless any longer.

They will be the crew that Destiny has needed all these long years, finally, able to navigate and plot and stay the bloody hell longer on planets to gather what they need so they don't starve than what Destiny allows them now.

He's sure that he will have more access to the database, open those locked cyber doors that have frustrated him so much. He can finally learn Destiny's mission, why the Ancients launched her so long ago.

He prowls around the bridge, and begins his journey of learning by recognizing how to turn on the most basic of systems. As golden lights flood everywhere, and window covering recedes so he can look out onto Destiny's hull, he comes back to his present dilemma. The wonder of his discovery had made him forget for a time their situation.

The Lucian Alliance must not be left in control of Destiny.

He sits himself down in the command chair and begins to carefully explore the systems the bridge controls.

* * *

The sheer amount of information to absorb is overwhelming. He knows that it would be impossible for him to become proficient in understanding everything in one night, or even a week or two to three weeks.

The thought of his scientists and the military bumbling around with these delicate systems without any direction from him is migraine inducing. It would be a repeat of the first days on the ship, with unqualified people wrecking havoc with their keyboard smashing.

He won't allow that to happen.

But this is not where his priorities lie, not for tonight.

He works the problem with the greater good as his moral compass. Yes, he's been tortured and raped by the Alliance. All of them. Every single last person from Kiva to Koz invaded his body, humiliated him, debased him, made him beg to suck cocks and fingers for the privilege of a sip of water. What they did to him was barbaric. Kiva and her people must be stopped and he's not just thinking of himself.

It feels academic to him, the problem of how to proceed, an equation that needs to be balanced.

He can't touch the rage that he's locked away, not even here where there is no one who could find him. He pictures himself hitting walls and screaming and throttling Kiva but it's just pictures in his head, outlines waiting for the vibrant colors of his justified anger to complete them.

He's numb. Like he's almost frozen and he knows he needs heat but there is none to be found within him. But he can't think on that now, so he leaves off trying to play psychologist to himself.

He works diligently and finds everything he needs. First of all, he puts the ship back on autopilot. Later, there will be time to decipher navigation and propulsion.

The bridge supersedes the control interface room, so any actions he takes will not be countermanded, and can not be traced back to here.

He has not made his decision yet. He closes his eyes because he is so very tired. Absolutely exhausted, utterly drained.

There is a small sound that brings him back to alertness, makes his eyes fly open. He sits up straight in the command chair.

The woman smiling at him can't be there sitting at a secondary console and he accepts that he's probably lost his mind.

“Gloria,” he breathes out, and it's brilliant to see her like this, his beautiful girl, not sick or in pain, and he wonders if he can touch her, this hallucination come to haunt him. He failed her miserably, and perhaps his mind conjured her in order to punish him further.

Does she know, this vision of his wife, his best friend, what he did on the table? Will he see utter disgust on her features?

“Hello, darling,” Gloria says, looking serene, her hair up in the way she'd wear it during concert performances. He'd always loved pulling it down afterwards, when they'd returned home and he'd make love to her, his clumsy way of trying to express how much he loved watching her play her violin. “Your program worked. You've unlocked the master code.” She tilts her head towards him, and he could never obfuscate with her, she was always so very insightful. “And you're not going to tell anyone, are you?”

He shakes his head. This is his secret, his place, and it's too soon to share it.

She smiles at him again. “You have a decision to make, love. Best crash on with it.”

He nods, still too taken aback to say anything. She's not wrong, this hallucination or Destiny using his dead wife's form to communicate with him.

His fingers hover over the console, and his mind assesses his options. The situation has to be contained, Kiva can't be allowed to proceed. Young and the crew. Chloe, Park, his Science Team, Lieutenant Johansen and her baby, he can't allow them to continue to be hostages, prizes, killed. He can't ever, ever, ever again be forced back on that table and fucked like he's the Alliance's toy.

Decision made, he enters commands to the ship, then slumps back when he finishes and closes his eyes again.

He's so very, very tired.

* * *.

Chapter Text

The doors to their makeshift prison slide open and Everett leads the charge out into the corridor, his people executing the plan to take down their guards, and he knows, they know, that this is their last chance to save themselves, to save the civilians and TJ.

They are soldiers. They are at war and some of them will die, but they will stop Kiva from enslaving their people. They will stop her or they will be dead. There is no in-between.

There are no battle cries, just the silent deadly horde behind him, splitting into three groups to seek out their enemies.

Their enemies. And someone has unlocked the doors for them.

Everett raises his hand up and clenches his fist, the sign copied by Scott and James and Greer, and the soldiers at his back freeze into place.

Their enemies lie sprawled on the floor in front of him. He counts seven of them, and points at Dunning and Becker and Marsden, motioning for them to investigate.

They kick the bodies and get no reaction; they bend down and feel for pulses, roll them over and check for breathing.

They shake their heads and begin gathering up the Alliance weapons that are scattered on the floor. They search the bodies, remove knives and handguns and radios and pass them out.

The expressions on the faces of these dead men and women – they did not die easily.

He thinks of the death grimaces on their faces and he knows how they died. There are no wounds on them. Their eyes are bloodshot, and he's seen that before, too.

“Sir,” Scott says quietly. “I think the air was vented out of this corridor.”

“Yes,” Everett says, remembering that Scott, too, had seen what Rush's body had looked like when the air had been sucked out of the room and David had suffocated on his orders to break the brainwashing. “I agree, Lieutenant.”

He longs to find TJ right now. She was in labor, David had said, and he'd told her that they would make this work, having a child together. He wants to be there, to help her. To watch his child take its first breath. Not quite friends again, not lovers anymore, and he doesn't see it ever working that way for them again, even without the fraternization problems, but they are family. Their child makes them a family. He wants to meet his son or daughter, hold them and feel their fragility and marvel at how perfect they are.

He wants to find Rush, his own cross to bear. He pummeled the man on that desert planet. A civilian, a scrappy one, sure, but not trained to defend himself or to take out an aggressor. Everett had had all the advantages in that fight: weight, strength, longer arm reach, training. Rush had still managed to bounce a rock off his head, and wasn't that just like the man, always seeking out whatever advantage he could to even the playing field. It hadn't been enough, though, and after Rush's defiant words to him – We'll never be done – he'd put him out and dropped him like a child throwing down a rag doll.

He'd left him there in anger, an impulsive decision, and it was the wrong thing to have done. How he wishes he'd picked Rush up and packed his unconscious ass back to the ship instead of leaving him marooned on a planet that he couldn't survive on. But he didn't, and to compound the guilt he feels over that was what he did to him in order to save him from Kiva's revenge. TJ can tell him all she likes that he was also a victim, but it doesn't help. He'd raped Rush and the guilt is crushing him.

Difficult as Rush is, he's one of his, and he needs to see him for himself, assess him, physically and mentally. Keep trying to help the man cope, if Rush will let him.

He's somewhat afraid that Rush has managed to kill himself after all. Except David would have told him that, probably, to see the regret and guilt flash on Everett's face. Unless Kiva kept that knowledge from him.

These impulses, to find his stray sheep and let the rest of the fold manage without him, he stifles them. This is what being in command is, and he embraces it because he must. First, secure the ship. Then he can give in and check on TJ and Rush.

He addresses the three teams. “We're going to the armory first, and then we'll split back into the same teams and search out these bastards and take them out. Take prisoners if you can, but do not put yourself or your teams in jeopardy.” He knows Homeworld Command would want to force intel out any Lucians they can capture, but he's not in love with the idea. He won't risk his people for Homeworld Command's wish list. “If you need backup, use channel four. Drag these bodies into the room, and shut the door.”

No sense in prematurely alerting the remaining Alliance that they were under attack, and when the door is closed again he moves them out, those with assault weapons taking point.

* * *

The same scene is repeated in front of the armory, and he wonders if one of the scientists was able to do this from the control interface room, as these four bodies are also stripped of their weapons and radios. The door to the armory is unlocked and they outfit themselves and drag the bodies inside. Everett leaves five men on guard.

Eleven dead. He's not sure how many Lucians had entered the gate but at least three dozen. Maybe more.

He goes with Greer's team to take back the control interface room, leaving Scott and his team to start checking the quarters on the corridors that the Alliance had claimed. TJ had given him that information when they'd all been herded together into the mess to watch Rush's punishment.

James he sends to the other communal areas. The mess. The exercise room. The observation deck. She salutes him, her face set and grim and takes her team down the corridors towards the mess.

Greer and he take point as they stalk through the corridors, but they meet no one. The doors to the control interface room are closed, but not locked, and they get into position to storm inside once the door slides open.

It is quiet in the room, and dark, but the glow from the monitors and the central systems core brighten up the room enough to see the bodies on the floor. From the clothing they are Alliance, except for one light-haired man in a button down shirt and khakis. He's lying face down, and Everett can't identify him without seeing his face.

“Greer,” Everett says, and flicks his eyes toward the bodies.

“Yes, sir,” Greer replies softly. He does what is necessary while Everett motions Riley over.

“I need you to take over in here,” he orders Riley, and the kid nods and goes to the applecore. Everett watches him scroll through monitors, waiting for what Riley can tell him about the ship and their people.

Someone vented the air from this room and left them with a puzzle. Everett had assumed one of their scientists in the control interface room had vented the other areas where the Lucians were concentrated, but could they have set up some kind of delayed venting from here and then left the room? If so, where were they?

Who was the man dressed in civilian clothing?

Greer reports back to him and at least one question is answered. There are six people dead in this room, five of them Alliance and the other is Doctor Boone.

Did Boone sacrifice himself so that Everett could take back the ship? Or was he just caught in the same trap as the Lucian Alliance's people?

Everett tells Greer to pick a detail to guard the room, and strides over to Riley. He needs answers and he needs them now.

“Sergeant, what the hell happened in here?”

Riley is one of his best, a promising young man with skills that Everett knows he'd hoped to one day hone in college and become a Ph.D. More than that, Riley wears his ethical heart on his sleeve, and he's been a moral compass during this mission.

Riley is not Rush, though, doesn't have the man's familiarity with Destiny. They need to find Rush, get him up here to help. Find Park and Eli, Brody and Volker, too.

He hopes they are okay, especially Rush. But he can't be sure until he has verification that the man is still alive and still healthy. If ever there was a person who could piss off those in authority, it was Rush, and with Kiva he'd be tortured again or killed.

“This is mostly over my head, sir,” Riley says. “But I can't find anything in the logs about venting air from corridors or rooms. There are kinos set up around the occupied sections of the ship, though. They're on real time and also go to recordings. The Alliance must have set those up, Eli would have told me if he'd done something like that.”

Everett crosses his arms. “Can you bring the real-time kino footage up? And are the civilian quarters still locked down from here?”

Civilian crew were escorted into their rooms in the evening and locked in till morning. Another thing TJ and Camile had managed to let him know about, during those three days when they'd been herded out of their cell and into the mess to watch Rush's torture.

“I'm looking, sir,” Riley says. Everett forces himself to back off and let the man work. He knows he wouldn't have done that if it was the Science Team searching for answers, especially if it was Rush. He'd have stayed on their backs, hell, if it was Rush he'd have almost climbed on his back.

Hell of a time to gain insight into his own behavior, but he realizes that he's willing to back off with Riley because he trusts him to be honest with Everett and with the civilian scientists he's not that sure. They might be holding back. So he's pushed them to keep himself in the loop. Harassed them, he's sure Rush would say. Or would have said. He doesn't think Rush is probably saying much at all about anything anymore.

Maybe the mutiny influenced him about this bias against the civilian scientists, but he thinks it goes back further than that. And with Rush's history of lying and deception and basically having his own agenda no matter what Everett as the Icarus base commander and Destiny's commander had asked him to do, yeah. He's never fully trusted Rush; the Science Team, despite their own internal feuds with Rush, will back him against outsiders, so he's never felt the bone deep trust with them either that he does with Riley. Except perhaps Eli, who came into this situation as an outsider. Still, even with Eli, he has had doubts.

He thinks David was being an ass when he insisted on trying to dial home within the star, but it didn't escape his attention that it was the scientists who banded together to pull that fast one on him, with Rush as the ringleader. They didn't involve the military on that, and maybe it was to protect them from the wrath of a superior officer, or maybe it was because of a lack of trust on their part.

They'll be time to sort through all of this later, though. Right now, he needs to find out what is happening on the ship so he radios Scott and James.

“Scott here, the quarters the Alliance claimed are locked down. We can't open them. Can they be opened from the inside?”

“Checking on that. Stand by.”

He strides over to the applecore. “Riley, what can you tell me about the locked rooms?”

“They're all controlled from here. Our guys and theirs, right now all the crew quarters are locked down. Nobody can get out from the inside.”

“Can you open individual ones?”

“Yes, sir.” Riley's hands hovered over the console, waiting for his orders.

He thumbs down the button on his radio. “Scott, this is Young. Leave four men to guard the Lucian's quarters, but we'll hold off on opening those doors. They're not going anywhere. I want you to escort the Science Team to the control interface room. That's Eli, Park, Brody, Volker, and Rush. Do you know where their quarters are? And check the infirmary and TJ's quarters, too. ”

“Eli and Rush and TJ, yeah. Not sure about Park or the others. Let me ask my detail.”

There is radio silence for a minute, and then Scott confirms that they can retrieve all of the scientists.

He needs to find out if TJ is okay. For personal reasons, obviously, and he can't afford to dwell on them right now, but she's been the only military that had had relative freedom while the rest of them were incarcerated. He needs her report.

James has cleared the mess. It's empty, she reports, but judging by the mugs of tea on the table, some of which were still warm, people had been there recently and had left in a hurry. Most likely, they were Alliance.

“Sir, I'm heading to the observation deck,” James radios.

“Copy that, Lieutenant. We're locking down the mess since you cleared it. Keep me updated, Young out.”

He turns to Riley. “Sergeant,” he says.

“On it, sir,” Riley replies, and adds after fiddling with the monitor, “I've set up the kino feeds on that monitor over there,” and points to a wall where additional stations are located.

Everett strides over and sees that the large screen has been split into twelve smaller screens, each focused on a different part of the inhabited areas. He registers the detail left to guard the armory, locates Scott's team heading towards the corridors where crew have quarters, sees James with her group clearing the corridor that leads to the observation deck.

He straightens and radios James to warn her. He has spotted a group of six Lucians in the observation area, colors streaming against the shields in the background, weapons ready, in position to ambush her team

“Riley, lock down the observation room. Prepare to vent the air from there.”

Riley's eyes widen and he swallows. Everett is struck suddenly by how young he looks, and he doubts the young man has ever had to deliberately cause someone's death before.

“Do it,” Everett commands. “It's on me.” Riley nods and bends over the console.

He radios James to relay the new intel. On the screen, one of the Lucians jerks his head up and suddenly the room is emptying out, the last man barely getting through the door before it shuts and locks.

Everett curses under his breath. That Alliance group must be monitoring radio channels. He calls off six names, and points towards the door to the corridor, leaving Barnes in command. He communicates to James using code that he's coming with a detail to cut off the Alliance stragglers. Between them, they'll box them in.

* * *

Firing off bursts of gunfire, Everett and Greer cover for Reynolds as he scrambles to safety. Everett's killed one of the bastards, and James got two of them when the Alliance stragglers made a run for a cross corridor. These remaining three will not give up, despite there being nowhere they can run to without crossing paths with his people. Unless they try to hide in the shuttle, but again, where would they go? Still, better to block that option and he thumbs his radio to bring that scenario to James' attention, but she contacts him before he can warn her.

“Sir,” James reports, sounding calm, cool, even if her breathing is rushed. “They've gone into the shuttle. We can't gain access.”

Damn. He acknowledges her and radios Riley. “Can you open the shuttle from there? Three of them have ducked in and locked us out.”

“No, sir, I can't. We've tried before, when Senator Armstrong locked himself in,” Riley says.

“Well, try again. The door was damaged before, it's not now,” and he radios James next.

“We can wait them out, Lieutenant. They're not going anywhere.”

Riley cuts in. “Sir, they're powering up the shuttle. If they unlock the clamps, they're-”

Everett cuts him off. “James, tell them--” There's turbulence suddenly, and he loses his footing, staggers and grabs at a wall.

“Riley, status now!” he shouts into the radio.

“The shuttle's gone. Vaporized against the shields. We fluxed for a moment, but we're okay now. Shields are holding steady,” Riley replies, sounding professional.

Fuck, he thinks. They've just lost their remaining shuttle. Either those Lucians didn't know what would happen if the shuttle undocked while they were in FTL, or they decided to die taking out one of Destiny's greatest resources. Either way, no use worrying about it now.

“James, continue sweeping for Alliance groups.” He directs her to take certain corridors and areas and tells her where he'll be doing the same with his team.

He radios Scott, who had just rounded up Volker and Brody and Eli and was escorting them to the control interface room. Park hadn't been in her quarters and they hadn't gone for Rush yet. He's alive, according to Brody.

He will end up much closer to Rush than Scott or James. He decides he can legitimately take the time and do what he'd been longing to do.

“Start unlocking the Alliance quarters and keep me apprised. We'll get Rush and check in with TJ,” he orders, and Greer takes point as they set out to clear any remaining Alliance from the ship.

* * *


Greer pounds on Rush's door again. “Rush, the Colonel and I are gonna get you out of there. Say something, man, so we know you're ready.” There's only silence from within the room, and Greer glances at him for orders.

“Try again,” Everett says tiredly, and Greer tries again to rouse Rush.

He waits for Rush to respond; he doesn't want to startle the man by having armed soldiers burst into his room while he's sleeping.

But Rush doesn't acknowledge them.

He radios Riley again. “Riley, are you sure he's in here?”

“Yes, sir, according to the logs. He was escorted into the room by a kino yesterday in the early evening and it was locked down. It hasn't been unlocked since.”

“Open it.” The door unlocks with a familiar whir. “Greer, you're with me.”

Greer takes point, his weapon ready, and the rest of his team fan out in the corridor to keep watch.

“Go,” Everett says, and Greer enters the room, the light on his gun illuminating the corners of the room, before spotlighting a motionless figure curled up in the bed.

“Clear,” Greer reports and lowers his weapon. “That's Rush, I can tell by the hair. Maybe you should wake him up. He pretty much avoided me when he was in the storage room with us, but I noticed he stuck pretty close to you. Sir.”

Everett hands his weapon to Greer and slowly approaches the bed. Standing by the edge, he calls Rush's name. No response. He calls his name again but Rush doesn't even twitch.

Fear rises up and Everett shakes Rush's shoulder, then slides his hand to the side of Rush's neck when Rush doesn't move, leans over him to check his breathing.

He's alive, but his breathing is soft and slow and his pulse seems low. Everett looks to see if there is an empty jar with the remnants of TJ's sleep potion, but finds nothing.

Shaking Rush again, a little more urgently, he calls his name once more. Rush still doesn't wake up.

He pulls back the covers, hoping the cold air will help Rush wake the fuck up, and sits him up in the bed, pulling his legs forward and placing his bare feet on the floor. He shakes him again, a little harder this time. Rush is like a rag doll between his hands, his head lolling.

“Rush,” he growls, because this is taking too long and he needs to be out there making sure the ship is secured, and Rush had better fucking be okay.

He pulls Rush to his feet, to see if standing will trigger him into waking up, but has to grab him as he starts to collapse.

Just as he's deciding to pick him up and take him to TJ, Rush's eyes flutter open; he looks at Everett and smiles. “Colonel,” he murmurs and yawns.

It throws him, that smile, and why in the hell would anything about Everett cause Rush to smile like that?

His arms are tightly wound around Rush; he starts to loosen them, to step back and let Rush hold his own weight up, but he quickly tightens them around the other man. Rush might have his eyes open, and have correctly identified Everett, but he's still somewhere else.

“Rush, wake up. You're needed,” he snaps, shaking Rush. The last time he'd seen Rush this out of it, aside from the surgery to take out the tracker next to his heart, or sitting in the chair, Rush had collapsed due to working himself into exhaustion. He'd never bought the flimsy excuse of Rush being in nicotine and caffeine withdrawal as a reason for his passing out. Nobody else on the ship had done that, and there had been plenty of cranky people jonesing for their drug of choice.

No, Rush had just worked himself to the point of no return and he hadn't woken up while being carried to a bed, or being examined by TJ. He hadn't even come to by himself some ten hours later; TJ had to shake him until he started to respond.

Rush puts his head on Everett's shoulder and sighs out, “'M tired,” and Everett can feel his entire body going lax again.

“Greer, see if there's some water in here,” and when Greer shows it to him he dips Rush back enough so Greer can pour it slowly over Rush's face.

Rush scrunches his face up and a hand haphazardly tries to wipe the wetness off, but Everett catches his fingers, holding Rush's weight with just one arm, and Greer pours the water a little harder over Rush's face this time.

It works; Rush sputters into full consciousness and fear overrides the sleepy expression on his face. He starts to scream, and Everett puts a hand over his mouth, while setting him back on his own feet.

“Shhhh,” he cautions, still keeping his arm around him. “You're okay. Don't scream. You with me?”

Rush nods, the confused look on his face giving way to understanding. Everett takes his hand away from Rush's mouth and lets go of him.

“We're taking back the ship. C'mon, let's get you to the control interface room. Most of the Science Team is already there.”

Rush is already dressed, still wearing Everett's uniform jacket, and he walks to the open door. Everett can see energy revitalizing the other man, as he turns to wait for him and Greer. So Rush hasn't hit rock bottom yet, but Everett guesses he must be pretty close. He looks exhausted, with dark circles under his eyes.

He's not talking, but his expression is easy to read. He wants to know what's happening. Everett nods at him and an odd expression crosses Rush's face. He looks down, not meeting Everett's eyes anymore. Something about that action twinges at Everett, but there's no time to figure out what's going on now with Rush.

“I'll update you on the way. Let's go.” Everett tells him quietly and steps out into the corridor, with Rush right behind him.


* * *


As they stride along, side by side, the thud of his boots accompanying the soft patter of Rush's bare feet, Everett gives Rush a brief synopsis of what Telford had told them. Rush doesn't look surprised to learn that Telford has been brainwashed again. He moves on; David is a problem that can wait, and so can asking Rush what he knows about it.

He goes on briefing Rush, tells him how the door to their cell had been unlocked for them and that they'd found dead Lucians outside their prison cell and by the armory and in the control interface room, how some had escaped and been shot or had destroyed themselves along with the shuttle.

Rush looks haunted, grim, avoids looking him in the eye. His tormentors are dead, but Rush doesn't look relieved. But what the hell does he know about how people respond to the sort of things Rush has been through? He only really knows how he himself feels now, has felt in the past when missions have gone south and people he cares about have been hurt or killed. That mission, the one where David with his scrambled brains had sacrificed so many good people, it still gives him nightmares, makes him want to lose himself in a bottle.

Wish that maybe it had been him who had paid the price instead.

He tells Rush that a lot of the Lucians are apparently trapped in the quarters they'd taken over, but it's unclear if they are dead or alive.

Rush has nothing to say, but when Everett tells him that Doctor Boone had been trapped in the control interface room and is a casualty he halts in his tracks. He puts a fist to his mouth and hunches over, and Everett can't see his face like that.

“Hey, keep it together,” he tells Rush and although the words are brusque, his tone is not. Maybe Boone was a friend. They'll mourn for their dead later, though. There is a mission to accomplish now. “We have to go.”

Straightening up, a bleak look on his face, Rush gestures for Everett to move ahead.


* * *

Rush's gaze rakes the room as he hovers near the control interface doorway, but the dead are gone. When Everett asks Barnes, she had the bodies moved to an unused room off the corridor. Her team is guarding the corridor, leaving the scientists alone in the room. Ordering his team to join them, he motions Greer and Rush to enter.

All eyes turn to them when they step across the threshold. Riley looks relieved, Brody gives Rush a sharp glance and Volker looks away. Eli, though, leaves his console and jogs over to them.

“God, Rush, are you okay?” Eli says, and reaches out to touch Rush on the arm, but the other man blanches and flinches away. “I'll take that as a no, then,” Eli says softly, and Everett wonders if Eli thought all the damage to Rush would have been lifted just because they are taking back the ship.

“I'm not calling you “Dinn,” Eli says stubbornly. “That's a slave name, and you aren't, we aren't, going to be their property anymore.”

Everett does not have time for this kind of dramatics from the boy wonder. “Eli, I have to go. Any problems?”

“The ship is fine. We're waiting on Matt to tell us which doors to open in the Alliance quarters,” Eli says, and then looks at Rush. “So, Frodo, how about you take over my station?”

Rush gives Eli an incredulous look.

“What? If I can't call you by your name, and I refuse on principle to call you Dinn or Kresh'ta, then Frodo works for me. You're the size of a hobbit, except way, way too thin, except Frodo was pretty skinny by the time he got to Mount Doom, despite the lembas bread, and I know you haven't had enough to eat, nobody has, so that fits, but actually, you don't really have the kind of personality that I would consider very hobbit-like, although they don't wear shoes either, but you've been through a lot, like Frodo, and I have to call you something--”

Greer breaks into Eli's monologue. “How about just “Doc?”

Everett looks at Rush, but he isn't panicking about that name. “You okay with that one?” he asks Rush.

Rush nods, casting a baleful, exhausted look at Eli.

“Okay, I can do “Doc,” Eli says. “So, Doc, you can have the console I was working at and I'll monitor the kinos. I know you're not big on talking a lot right now and we'll need to communicate with Matt and James and their teams.”

Rush nods to Eli and gives a quick glance at Everett before looking downward. Something about that glance twinges at him again. There's something off about Rush, but then, what the hell is his baseline now, after all that's happened to the guy?

Everett decides he needs to cut Rush a lot of slack. He'll just keep an eye on him; maybe Camile can help him figure out just how traumatized Rush is, and what's the best way to help him.

Still, there's things…

Everett stops him before he can walk away by gently laying a hand on Rush's arm. It's a calculated move, but after Rush's reaction to Eli doing the same thing, he has to know if Rush would back away from him, too. Granted, he'd mostly been asleep, but Rush had laid his head on Everett's shoulder, so Everett's hopeful that Rush is able to be more at ease with him.

Rush startles a little at the contact, but he doesn't pull away. He just looks at Everett, waiting, a questioning look on his face.

“We need to talk,” Everett says very quietly, making his tone nonthreatening. A request, not an order. “After this is over, we need to talk. Okay?”

Rush worries his lip, but hesitantly agrees, nodding. Rush hasn't spoken a single word since he woke up enough to realize who was in his quarters. He'd been pretty quiet when he'd spent time with the military in their storage cell, but he'd at least had mostly responded to Everett's questions verbally after the first few days. How much is he actually talking to people now?

Everett lets him go and collects Greer and Riley, telling the Science Team that they're going to TJ's next. The infirmary is deserted according to the kino surveillance.

Hopefully Park is with her, since she wasn't in her quarters and David had said that Park was helping her with the baby's birth.

Rush is already busy at a console, when Everett gives a last look into the room. He's safe now, and Everett feels relieved.

He breaks into a jog, his team matching him, as they head for TJ's quarters.


* * *

They're almost to the crew quarters when Brody's voice crackling on the radio demands his attention.

“Young here,” he responds, still moving rapidly.

“Colonel, stop,” Brody demands and Everett raises his fist and gives a downward motion; his team freeze into place.

“There's an unknown subject in the cross corridor ahead. Could be a Lucian,” Brody says, and his usual laconic steady tone has a tinge of urgency.

“If you can see him on the kino, why can't you ID him?” Everett demands.

“There's no kino in range. Rush found a life signs detector program and we can identify your group and the crew in their rooms; there's five life signs in TJ's quarters, but we don't know who this other one is.”

“Understood. Send some kinos up this way and keep me advised on the subject's movements.”

He orders Greer to take half of the team and circle around through other corridors so they can box in this guy. If they send a kino in, they'll alert their subject that they know he's there. And if he's a Lucian...

“Don't shoot unless I give the word. I'd rather not have casualties from friendly fire,” he orders Greer.

“Yes, sir. So Rush found a life signs detector program in less than five minutes?” Greer's eyebrows rise.

“Oh, I don't think so,” Everett says wryly.

“Yeah, that's our Doc,” Greer says, rolling his eyes. “Such a secretive bastard.” He doesn't sound like it bothers him, though.

“Probably thought we'd use it on him if he told us about it,” Everett says, with an eye roll of his own. “Well, we can drag the truth out of him later. Move out.”


* * *


He still hasn't identified who is shooting at them from the shelter of an open doorway, but one question has been answered. It's a member of the Alliance. A man, and he's got one of their door lock breakers with him. Rush and the others can't force that door to shut and lock, not when that gadget is attached to the door.

The Lucian returns fire at Everett's team when the guy zig-zags to another doorway and forces it open. Greer's team is in position, and the shooter is headed his way, but Everett hasn't ordered Greer to give away his position by spraying bullets at the man.

There's no tactical advantage to be gained by the invader in this part of the ship. So why did he choose to make his way here, to where most of Destiny's crew had been quartered?

Everett tries again to get the man to surrender. He may be the only Lucian alive, and Homeworld Command could use his intel, if they can get him to cooperate.

For an answer, he receives another round of bullets. He radios Greer.

“We'll hit him again, and then yell that we're out of ammo. When he comes your way, take him out,” Everett orders and Greer acknowledges him.

It's a good plan, but that old saying about battle plans not surviving contact with the enemy proves true again. O'Neill had his own version of it, and Everett had heard it more times than he wants to remember. He can just hear Jack yelling that they've switched to plan F.

F as in fucked, as the Lucian hurls a round sphere at them that Everett recognizes as a Goa'uld concussion bomb and then also throws one down the other end of the corridor.

He tries to shield his eyes, his ears, as he thunders out to his team to do the same.

The bright light, the deafening noise, penetrate his senses anyway, and he can feel himself blacking out.

TJ, is his last thought.

* * *

Chapter Text

The sound of distant weapons discharge penetrates the foggy mire that is his brain, and somewhere in the depth of that tangled mess of neurons he remembers that he is a soldier, an Air Force officer, and there are people depending on him.

He is lying on a metal floor and he is cold.

His name, he knows his goddamned name, Everett Youngand this is Destiny and one of the remaining Lucians threw a Goa'uld concussion bomb at him. His team! TJ, the civilians, his baby girl!

He opens his eyes and sees nothing but black with flashes of white, like some bizarre mono-colored fireworks show.

Hearing comes back first, then the ability to move again. Sight will be last. This isn't his first rodeo with these style of bombs and he had loved going to the rodeos and country fairs with his uncles and older brothers and sisters, loved racing his horse. It had felt like flying to him. He'd won state champion at the 4-H pole bending race when he was eleven at the state fair, the wind rushing past him, urging Queenie with hands and thighs to shift around the tall poles, to go faster, to soar towards the finish line.

Shit. He drifted into the past; the bombs messed up your ability to concentrate, and he needs to focus.

What does he have? What does he need?

He's alive. He has a science team and Rush, who had been monitoring them with kinos and life signs detectors. He can hear, even if sight is not working just yet. He has military guarding the control interface room, and James' and Scott's teams checking the Alliance quarters and looking for any more enemy soldiers. He's not relying totally on the life signs detector program Rush magicked up.

He needs to find out if he can talk, move. He tries to sit up, but all his muscles do is tremble. Okay, so he's grounded right now. It will pass. He needs to send Scott and James and their teams to take out that Lucian bastard. He needs to get help to Greer and the rest of his people who'd been hit with the concussion waves from the bomb. He needs to make sure TJ is all right, to see for himself that the baby is safe. That Lucian had been moving towards crew quarters, instead of trying to retake the control room. That worries him.

He hears no movements near him, the firing was not in this corridor. Safe to talk then, no point in playing possum until he'd regained muscule control.

His first attempt to talk is little more than a slurry of sounds. Fuck.

Trying again, he manages to actually form coherent words this time. “Sit rep,” he demands and god bless Eli for figuring out what the kinos can do, because he hears Brody's voice.

“Colonel. Hi. Rush sent James and Scott to guard everyone in TJ's quarters after you guys took that hit; he said they were in danger, didn't elaborate. Scott and his guys are on the way, James is there with her team and they're exchanging gunfire with Dannic. He's the one who threw the bombs, we got a look at him with the kino we sent to TJ's corridor. He's the only Lucian left alive, except for someone still locked in their quarters. Everybody on your team is okay, we think. But Dannic shot some of Greer's team when he ran past them.”

Christ. He tries again to move, and succeeds in shifting his arms.

“Sir,” Barnes says through the kino, “I've sent half my team to your position. Uh, Rush is almost there, we're tracking him with the kinos. He grabbed a gun and took off like a bat out of hell after you and the others went down. We weren't sure what he was doing, but I figured you didn't want me to have him shot.”

“Affirmative, Corporal.” He blinks hard and is rewarded by blurred vision; he can see the corridor walls.

Barnes continues updating him, and around him he begins to hear low groans. He orders himself to raise his head, to move his feet and hands, to not just lie here when he is needed. But a seductive thought whispers to him, you wish you could just let someone else handle your responsibilities, don’t you?

He doesn’t answer that siren, because like sailors of old, if he begins to listen he will be lost, and the weight of his unwanted responsibilities will sink him and he will drown. Probably in Brody’s alcohol.

He hears the slap of bare running feet coming towards him, and is able to force himself up on his elbows. Rush skids in next to him, on his knees, gun in hand, breathing hard and fast, a kino remote in his hand. He looks haggard, looks guilty, but doesn't say anything, just gives him an assessing look.

“I'm recovering. Go and check Greer's team. Brody said some of them have been shot,” he orders. “Dannic's at TJ's quarters and James and her team are exchanging shots with him.” Rush shoots up and flies down the corridor and out of sight.

In a few agonizingly slow minutes, his people begin regaining their sight, and ability to talk and move; he's able to sit up, then get to his knees. Corporal Baras, and Airmen Dunning, Atienza, and Becker arrive and he sends them down to aid Greer's team.

There is no more gunfire and he's afraid that Dannic has used another concussion bomb to take out the other teams. He's not willing to radio James, Dannic might be listening on a stolen radio.

“Brody, report,” he says, “Do you have a kino on Dannic?”

“We did, Colonel, but he shot it down. We're blind right now. Eli is flying another one into position, but it'll take a few minutes.”

He frees his radio, hands shaking. “Baras, report.”

“Baras here, Colonel. It's bad. Hamilton and Deacon are dead. Smith is seriously hurt, shot in the thigh. Rush is getting the bleeding under control, but Smith's gonna need surgery.”

“Have Becker carry him to the infirmary, I'll have a surgeon meet you there. What about Greer?”

“He was lucky. The bullet creased the side of his head, makes him look a bloody mess, but it's superficial. He's recovering. Nobody else was shot, Colonel. Looks like Dannic just sprayed bullets as he ran past them-- Hey! Where are you-- oh. Sir, Rush is headed back your way.”

Everett gets to his feet, looks straight at the kino. “Brody, can you spare Volker?”

Brody's steady voice broadcasts out from the kino. “Already on it, Colonel. Volker volunteered to switch on the stones with a Homeworld Command doctor and left after we flew a kino in there and saw the situation. Barnes ordered Mackie to go with him, and bring the doctor to the infirmary.”

Riley staggers over to his side and says, “Sir, Cole's helped out in the infirmary a lot.”

Nodding at Riley, he raises his voice. “Barnes, send an escort to Cole's quarters, take her to the infirmary and tell her to prep for surgery. Camile, too.”

He takes an experimental step or two, and winces. He's going to fall on his face if he tries this on his own, but he needs to get to TJ. And he needs to talk to Rush.

Addressing his team, he says, “Rush is headed this way, make sure it's him, and don't shoot him. Any of you who are recovered, come with me to TJ's corridor. The rest follow when you can.”

He hears someone running towards them and the man in question rounds a corner and runs straight to him, looking a little nonplussed at the guns that were leveled at him for a moment before he was identified.

A familiar exasperation floods Everett. God, the man has no sense of how the military works. If they hadn't had a heads up he was coming back, he could have been shot.

“Start talking, Rush,” he snaps at the other man, taking in the blood all over his hands and staining the black jacket that had once been his own with darker splotches. Rush is pale, his eyes wide, and god, he's a civilian, he should be out of this, but Everett needs him.

He motions for Rush to come with him as he starts to stagger down the halls; Rush freezes for a moment, and the expression on his face makes him look lost, but then he's against Everett's side and pulling his arm over his thin shoulders and hefting some of Everett's weight, his other arm around Everett's waist, and they make their way down to Greer's team. Everett feels dizzy but it begins to pass.

Greer has a bloody torn T-shirt wrapped around his head, and he looks like something from a zombie movie, but his eyes are clear and he's moving better than Everett is. He motions that he'll take point and Everett waves him to scout ahead.

Rush hasn't answered him yet. Everett waits until they're moving at a good pace, Rush’s wiry frame still mostly supporting Everett; close like this, he can smell the shower scent mingled with sweat and blood on Rush and he repeats his order.

“Talk, Rush. Explain what you told Brody right now. You said TJ was in danger. Why? Why her? How do you know that?”

Rush makes a frustrated sound, and then blurts out, “Simeon told me and Park. The details why and how are no important, Colonel. Kiva made your wee baby a hostage for the crew's behavior. She was gonnae announce it to the crew today that if anyone flouted her authority – aimed at you and the rest of the military most likely – she'd kill the child.”

“God!” Everett bursts out, and a murderous anger fills his belly with heat.

“Lieutenant Johansen knows. Park went to her quarters last night to tell her and she smuggled in a knife and a gun. Dannic, he's a crazy man and he's following Kiva's command, I'm that sure of it. He won't stop until he's dead, they'll be no reasoning with him.”

“Who's with TJ? Do you know?”

“Chloe, Park, and Camile.”

He wants to shake this infuriating man. Why hadn't he told him this he'd woken him up?

Snarling at Rush, knowing that this isn't helping, but damn that man for not explaining this sooner, he explodes. “If anybody in that room is hurt, if Dannic so much as touches my daughter, I'm going after you, Rush. God damn you for not telling me this sooner. We would have made getting TJ out of there the priority!”

* * *

He hears gunshots seconds before he gets to TJ's corridor and fear is roaring in his ears and he channels it, like he always does, into anger and he focuses on what the mission is and what are his assets and where is the enemy and what is his weakness. David would understand, Scott and James are learning, and he has no idea if Rush's mind works the same way. He can't, he doesn't dare, imagine what is happening right now to a woman he cares for, and the child he loved before she was even born.

James and her team sprawl unconscious in the cross corridor. He shoves at Rush's side, growling, “Check on them,” but Rush ignores that order, holding tight to him and pulls him even faster down the corridor and they catch up with Greer just down from TJ's quarters.

He sees the Lucian door breaker attached to her door and frees himself from Rush's embrace, shoves him hard away.

Scott is moving up from the other end of the corridor and in the brief glance Everett gives him he understands that Dannic has not gotten past Scott and his team.

Dannic is inside this room. He hears nothing inside, not the wail of an infant, not crying or screams or the sounds of a struggle.

A look, and Greer is in position, a nod, and the door is opened, fast, Greer covering him as he takes point on entering the room.

TJ is pointing a gun at him; Chloe and Park are kneeling next to a bleeding unconscious man on the floor, attempting to restrain him with what looks like a strip from a sheet. Chloe looks up at him, startled, and Dannic violently erupts upwards and grabs her, pulling her down on top of him ready to snap her neck before Young can shoot the bastard.

Greer's, TJ's and Young's weapons are all trained on Dannic.

“Let her go, and live,” Young says. “Homeworld Command is begging for intelligence about the Alliance.”

“Back away, and you, medic, slide my weapon to me,” Dannic says, forcing himself and Chloe up to their knees. Park is still kneeling at his side, looking frozen.

“You have nowhere to go,” Young says, using all of his will power to sound reasonable. “Give it up.”

“Do as I say or the little bitch dies,” Dannic says. “And I'll take the rest of you with me, if you come at me. My weapon, now. And lay yours down on the floor.”

If he does as Dannic has ordered, the five of them will be shot where they stand. He doesn't know where Camile and the baby are. Maybe they'd gotten out somehow. Someone had opened the doors to their cell, after all. Not Brody. Not Eli. They'd have told him.

“Tell your men in the corridor to stand down, Young,” Dannic orders, standing up and pulling Chloe up with him. “I know you have reinforcements out there. Get me a kino remote and get me Rush.” He tightens his hold on Chloe's head, and she gives a little sob.

“Don't, don't try to save me, Colonel, Ronald. Shoot him before he hurts anyone else,” Chloe says and it guts him to hear her sacrifice herself.

“I'm not giving you a weapon, Dannic. I'm not surrendering ours. We're at a stalemate, and you're injured,” he says, with a pointed look at Dannic's arm and leg, blood saturating his clothing. “You need medical attention. I can just wait until you pass out, and then take you prisoner.”

Dannic glares at him.

“Use your head and give it up now. Because if you hurt another crewmember, I'm going to disregard my standing orders to take Alliance prisoners and kill you.”

“No! Where's Rush? He can get me off this ship. I know there's a planet ahead, one that can support life.” Dannic's eyes look wild, and sweat is running down his round face and glistening on his bald head.

“I'm outside the door, Dannic,” Rush yells, louder than Young has heard him since he had screamed for help when he was being raped in the mess. “I've got the kino remote and you can see for yourself that there's no any soldiers to hinder you. Take the shuttle, and you'll be at the planet in a day's time.”

“Don't try to trick me, Kresh'ta, because you're coming with me. How will you keep Destiny from tracking the shuttle?” Dannic's expression is desperate, and he wavers for a moment on his feet; Chloe stands as still as a statue and Park shudders at times at Dannic's feet.

“Obviously, I'll put the shuttle slightly out of phase. Standard procedure, as I'm sure Ginn has explained to you.” Rush's voice drips with condescension, and inexplicably Everett flashes on Volker complaining about how Rush treats him like he’s an idiot.

“She said nothing,” Dannic growls.

“I don’t blame the lass,” Rush says, his voice pitched to carry inside the room and it sounds wrong, off, to hear him asserting himself like this. He's gotten used to Rush being silent, or whispering, not calling attention to himself, not sounding disdainful anymore. “How many times have you tried to choke her for trying to explain something to you about how this ship works? I'd not say anything not necessary at the time either. But you can ask her yourself.”

“How?” Dannic shifts on his feet, tightens his hold on Chloe, and Everett, TJ, and Greer all ready themselves to shoot.

“With the kino remote. Don't get excited, I'm gonnae slowly open the door wider than this crack and step inside. I've got the remote.”

“Go ahead,” Dannic says, “Then you stop once you're inside.”

“All right, then. I'm coming in and I'm alone.” Rush slowly opens the door and steps inside, holding a remote.

“You, woman,” Dannic says, nudging Park with his food. “Get up, open up his jacket and frisk him for weapons.”

Park gets to her feet unsteadily, and silently makes her way over to Rush. She does as Dannic asks, slowly unzipping the black jacket and holding it open, exposing Rush's brown T-shirt. After Dannic is satisfied that Rush doesn't have a weapon under his jacket, he has Park pat Rush down, feeling his arms and legs and at Dannic's order, his ass and crotch.

Rush flinches a little at her touch. His eyes meet Everett's and he stares at Everett as if Everett was on the other end of a lifeline as Park's hands touch him over and over.

“Bring me the remote,” Dannic orders and Everett wonders what Rush is playing at with this business of the shuttle being able to phase shift. Rush god damn well knows the shuttle was blown up and if Ginn is the one Lucian alive in crew quarters, how can he trust that she's going to go along with his nonsense?

Park carries over the remote and toggles it between views. Dannic is apparently satisfied that the corridor is empty. “Put Ginn on,” he orders and Park fiddles with the controls then holds it up so
Dannic can see it.

Everett can't see Ginn, but he can hear her. He doesn't know her, but he has the impression that she's young, bright, and not a die hard Alliance member. “Are you a prisoner?” Dannic asks.


“Everyone is dead?” Dannic says.

“I think so. I'm not sure why I'm alive.” Ginn's voice sounds very young, and Everett can hear the tremors in her tone. “Everyone…” there is a pause, then “the Taur'i, they told me when they took me out of my quarters that the air had been vented in the other rooms. They said that Kiva is dead, Varro is dead.”

“I'm not dead, and you answer me truthfully, girl, can the shuttle phase shift, can we use it to get to the planet ahead without Destiny tracking us, like Kresh'ta says?”

Ginn doesn't hesitate. “I swear by Baal's testicles that Rush is right. But you have to enter the correct equations, did he tell you that? It's tricky and you have to match the shield's frequencies exactly when you phase shift or you'll vaporize the shuttle. Once outside of the shields the shuttle can use FTL and beat Destiny to the planet. Destiny has to use the star to repower the ship first. They'll be ample time to hide the shuttle until they go.”

“Why did you never tell me about this?” Dannic looks angry, and there's a vein throbbing on his temple.

“I told Kiva and Varro,” Ginn says placatingly, sounding scared.

“And why not me?”

Rush cuts in. “Because she didn't want to be strangled when you couldn't understand the science and math o' what she was trying to explain to you, you ignorant ass. But I'll give it a go, if you want. I assume you want to pass on the formulas, but in layman's terms, it involves the movability of singularities for harmonic functions, in the resonance domain, whereby the wavelength of the wave incident on the cloak is about the same size as its diameter, well, you actually need to vector in Maxwell’s equations to account for effects of polarization--”

“Shut up!” Dannic screams.

“So, then, you can understand why the girl didn't want to burden you with all o' that,” Rush says, and God he sounds normal. He sounds irritated, but that too sounds normal. “All you need to know is that I can make it work. So I'll take Chloe's place and we'll go.”

Rush shoots him a look, his fingers tapping on his wrist nervously, and Everett has no idea what message he's trying to send.

He has to trust Rush. He has to trust that the other man has a plan in mind. Somehow he's gotten Ginn to go along with him on this, and if she will trust him, then he will, too.

“Take him,” Everett growls. “He's been nothing but a pain in the ass, and I'll gladly swap you him for Ginn. I'll say one thing for you Lucians. You've figured out how to keep him in line.”

Dannic glares at Everett. “That's because you Taur'i are soft. You should have done as Kiva did, Young, and broken him down. Then you wouldn't have had a mutiny on your hands. So you agree to our bargain?”

“I do,” Everett says.

“Then we are in accord. Kresh'ta, I think you're forgetting your lessons with the Alliance, but I'll retrain you, put that mouth to a better use. You, woman,” Dannic says, meaning Park, “stand in front of me as a shield and the rest of you put your weapons down and slide them out of reach. Then I'll lock you in and by the time they get you out, Kresh'ta and I will be on the shuttle and off this ship.”

Park obeys, looking miserable and scared, giving the kino remote to Chloe, and Everett says quietly to TJ and Greer, “Do it.”

They lay their weapons down and kick them where Dannic motions and then Rush slowly moves till he's standing next to Chloe. Everett sees him slide his hand into hers, briefly, before letting go, and taking the remote from Chloe.

Rush holds up the remote so Dannic can check the corridor again and suddenly Dannic shoves Chloe in front of him, making her crash into Park and he grabs Rush and starts pulling him backwards towards the door.

Dannic dwarfs Rush, he's a tall, stocky man, with bulky shoulders, and a thick neck. He doesn't keep as tight a hold on Rush as he did Chloe, but his arm is around Rush's neck.

Rush's mask of irritated, superior scientist slips and Everett can see how terrified he actually is, and he thinks he won't be fooled ever again by Rush trying to hide his feelings with that facade. For him to take Chloe's place doesn't make sense, not according to the greater good, Rush's rubric for making decisions. Chloe is a sweet, wonderful girl and a real help on the ship, but Rush's skills should have trumped that, and he shouldn't have offered to take her place. He should have run like hell and let the military take down Dannic.

Not that they'd managed it, and Park has grabbed Chloe's arm and is pulling her out of the line of fire, and Dannic and Rush are through the open door, and then Dannic is out of his sight, but Everett can hear him working the door locker.

He moves forward, fast but stealthily, waiting, waiting for Rush to do whatever he was going to do. He hears Greer and TJ behind him scrambling for their weapons.

Then all is chaos as he hears Dannic scream with rage and he's rocketing into the corridor and Rush is still held in Dannic's grip, his back to Dannic's chest, but he's stabbing at the man's thigh with something small in his hand and it's a crap shoot if Dannic will remember that Rush is his ticket out of here or if he'll become so enraged that he'll snap Rush's neck. He lifts Rush off the ground as he's choking him. Something small drops from Rush's hand and clatters on the metal deck.

Everett tackles Dannic, bringing the three of them to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs and pries Dannic's arm off of Rush's neck. Rush crawls away, coughing; Everett's got his hands around Dannic's neck, he's well matched with him, and Dannic is under him, trying to roll him over, but he's not letting that happen, he's going to kill this bastard, fuck Homeworld Command and what they want. He's going to choke the life out of Dannic for threatening what is his, what he cares about and loves. For TJ, for his baby, an innocent life that Dannic would have snuffed out like stepping on a cigarette, for what he's put the crew through, for the men who he killed on his way here and for Rush, brave, inexplicable Rush, who gave him the opportunity to do this and attacked the man with something the size of Emily's nail file.

Under him Dannic is gurgling and his face is blue. Then he grows quiet and Everett lets go, not caring if Dannic is still alive or not.

TJ and Greer are next to him, and Greer is helping him up. TJ is taking Dannic's pulse, her fingers at his throat, her gun in her other hand. Rush is lying on his back, breathing hard.

It happens so fast. Dannic grabs TJ's wrist, struggles for the gun. It wavers back and forth and then a shot explodes and Dannic falls back, blood bubbling from the hole in his forehead. His eyes stare up, unblinking.

“He really dead now?” Greer asks, training his gun on Dannic's undoubtedly deceased form. “Cause one little twitch and I'll shoot his ass again.”

TJ looks shaken, but determined, and once again feels for a pulse.

“He's gone,” she said. “Colonel, is the ship secure now?” She moves over to where Rush is still sprawled on the deck, takes his pulse, asks him a few questions too low for Everett to hear except for the low murmur of their voices. She helps him sit up, and then pulls him to his feet. He leans against the wall, looking exhausted.

Scott trots down the corridor towards him, James approaches more slowly from the other end. He confers with them, then answers TJ's question.

“We're secure, Lieutenant. And you're not needed in the infirmary; a Homeworld Command doctor is here and taking care of the wounded.”

She smiles at him. “I have some things to report, Colonel, but they can wait for a little while. This can't wait any longer.”

She takes his hand and pulls him back into her quarters. Park and Chloe are sitting on the bed, and he can tell that both of them are shaken up, but they aren't crying.

TJ tells them, “We're good. It's time.”

Chloe reaches down and knocks five times on the bed frame, then she and Park stand up and tug at the mattress till it's lying on the floor.

“It's us. Rock a bye baby,” TJ says and Camile Wray sits up from a narrow, small space in the center of the frame. She holds a knife out and Park takes it from her.

Then TJ reaches towards Camile and a small bundle is passed over. “She sucked on my finger until she went back to sleep,” Camile says and the look of wonder and fierce love on her face is one he's never seen before. “She stayed as quiet as can be when that maniac was here.”

TJ kisses the baby and then she's putting her in Everett's arms, and suddenly he's aware that he's so filthy and must stink to high heaven and he shouldn't even be touching her right now, but whatever he's babbling TJ just shushes him and he's rocking his daughter in his arms and crying at the absolute perfection of her nose and tiny adorable fingers.

* * *

Chapter Text

He should go, Rush decides. Walk back to the control interface room, make sure Brody has things well in hand. But instead he's sliding down the corridor wall outside of Lieutenant Johansen's quarters until he's sitting on the deck, and lets Destiny support him. His head is pounding from Dannic's attentions and his muscles are on strike. The adrenaline that helped him run all over the blasted ship and drag the Colonel with him is dissipated and his baseline of almost total exhaustion has re-established itself.

He watches Chloe and Scott hug and kiss and looks away to give them some privacy, not that they care, and finds that Park is holding onto Greer for dear life and sobbing.

Greer leads her down the corridor, and he's quite sure she's telling him about what happened with Simeon. He hopes she keeps his part in it to a minimum, but he won't be angry if she doesn't. The desire to unburden herself to someone like Greer, who cares a great deal about her, must be very strong.

He touches the tiny screwdriver again back in its hiding place in Young's jacket cuff. He'd secured it after the Colonel had stopped Simeon from choking him, patting the deck almost blindly on his hands and knees until he'd felt its familiar contour.

He really should have told about Kiva’s threat to the child when he woke up to find himself held by Colonel Young, but he had felt panicked, raw, and – and he hadn’t thought of it. When it did occur to him that the lone Lucian who was so determined to get to crew quarters might be carrying out Kiva’s threat he had felt fear sweat breaking out all over himself.

Young had threatened him, once again. Intellectually, rationally, he knows the Colonel would not treat him the way Kiva had done. But his lizard brain, where primal emotions lurked, ready to overwhelm him with fear and anxiety, hadn’t been so sure.

Colonel Young has no idea what a leap of faith he took by ignoring his fears, responding to Dannic’s demands, taking Chloe’s place. And yes, he didn’t want to see the lass hurt, of course not, but to be honest, maybe he wouldn’t have exchanged himself for her if he hadn’t trusted Young to go after Dannic once Rush had given him the opportunity.

If Young hadn’t attacked that mad Lucian with his bare hands Rush might now be dead, with a snapped neck.

He shudders. Young is probably still angry with him. It might be best to stay out of his way for a time.

For himself, he just wants to shove it all down, all of it, and not think about it ever again. Simeon raping him in the bowels of the ship, every last Lucian degrading him and raping him over and over in the mess, the catcalls he'd faced walking down corridors, the casual comments about his official designation as ship's whore, and what positions they'd use when he was open for business again, he doesn't just want to forget about it, he wants to obliterate it. He wonders if he could use the chair to purge those horrible memories.

He drifts for a little while, leaning against Destiny’s walls; he's so tired, and he finds himself remembering Koz watching him undress, the lustful looks of appreciation he'd given him, the food he'd shared, and how he'd warned off some of the others to leave him alone. The advice he'd given him to adapt or die.

He still doesn’t understand why Koz had wanted him. He understands why Kiva had forced her people to rape him; it had been a sick way of bonding between them, and it had reinforced her dominance by utterly degrading and demoralizing him, to show the crew what happens to those who defy the Alliance. He bloody well understands why she'd demanded a volunteer from the crew to join in the rapes, making Young the stand in for the crew. For everyone else, just by witnessing it and not demanding it be stopped, Kiva had made them complicit with her punishing Rush.

Kiva is dead. He expects to feel relieved but instead he feels numb. He had been the mouse to her cat; she had toyed with him like the predator she was and he'd been desperate to escape from her attention. He shudders, remembering the overwhelming fear he'd experienced just from being forced to look her in the eyes. How she'd taken such an ordinary thing like a hair cut and terrorized him with it. He'd outwitted her in the end, though, but the damage she'd done would be with him till the end of his days.

Remembering Kiva has him clenching and unclenching his hands, and he wrenches his thoughts away from her to the Lucian who had interacted the most with him. Koz had been attracted to him and while it was hard to see why – he was no one's idea of handsome or cute, and his personality usually put people off – Koz had liked him, in his own twisted way. Had no one taught the boy that forcing people to undress in front of you while making suggestive remarks about how much they were going to like being fucked by them was not the way to court a sweetheart?

Koz had seen nothing wrong with sharing Rush with his pals, either. Rush was no anthropologist, like Daniel Jackson, blasé about other cultures and societies’ practices, but he rather thought even Daniel would have raised an eyebrow at that.

He doesn't understand himself, how he can sit here and even be thinking about Koz. It wasn't as if he'd wanted the boy to live. He could have arranged that, like he'd arranged for Ginn to be spared. He didn't vent the air from Koz's room to punish him or for revenge or because he was too traumatized to see him again. No. He'd done it because Koz was a strong young man and committed to the Alliance and he didn't know if he'd had weapons with him that might have killed one of Young's people if they'd tried to pull him out of his quarters.

He'd done it for the greater good.

Ginn didn't want to be Alliance. She'd told him she regretted her actions, the only Lucian to do so, and yes, maybe it was a gamble to leave her alive, but it had paid off. The girl had backed him without missing a beat about that utter nonsense regarding the shuttle. It had been a bit of a risk on his part, but he thought it likely that Dannic didn't know the shuttle had already been destroyed.

She was a bright little miss, and she would fit in on the ship. Eli would champion her, and the bloody IOA and Homeworld Command would have their source of intelligence about the Lucian Alliance.

He was a mass murderer.

He'd done what needed to be done, what Colonel Young should have done when the Lucians had poured in from the gate. And yes, Doctor Boone was an unintended casualty. His life had been sacrificed for the greater good, but it feels a hollow victory because of that. Still. A necessary sacrifice and if he’d known the man was in the control interface room, most likely he would have still sealed the door and vented the air.

It doesn’t mean he’s not sorry that the man was caught up in the trap Rush had laid for the Lucians. His life had value, to himself, to the ship, to the people who cared about him. And he acknowledges that, he does. Colonel Young, the crew, they never understood that about him, that he could value a person and still understand that sometimes their life had to be exchanged so that the majority of lives could be saved.

It’s all about context, really. The people who have the intelligence, the skills, to contribute the most to everyone’s survival are more valued as crewmembers. Their survival helps ensure the survival of the rest of their people. For those who don’t contribute in critical ways to the ship, well, it doesn’t negate their value in other areas, in other contexts. But, he has to focus on their survival on this ship. For this mission. He knows that Destiny was created for a purpose, something so important that the Ancients allocated so much of their time and resources to launch the ship out into the universe.

Colonel Young, he has difficulty with ordering others to lay their lives down for the good of the group, although he must have mastered this a long time ago, to have stayed in the military and risen to the rank he holds. Something has happened to him that retards this command ability, it must have. Although Rush has noticed the Colonel has no problem with trying to sacrifice himself. The man is practically drifting, nothing to anchor him to a real purpose, other than his often repeated mantra that he needs to get these people home.

He pictures what the Lucians' and Doctor Boone’s death throes must have looked like, felt like, from how he'd felt when it turned out Colonel Young had been suffocating his body to stop Telford's brainwashing. How he'd arched up, how painful it had felt, choking to death in a room filled with air.

It was for the greater good. Well, that was a bit subjective; it had been for the greater good of his side. The scientists and civilians and soldiers, Young's people and his people.

You did it for yourself an odious voice whispers to him. You didn't want to share the ship and you didn't want to be raped anymore. Be honest about this. You don't care a jot about any of the rest of the crew, what they would have faced, being hurt and raped and parceled out like prizes.

Shut it, he tells the voice. It's behind us now. Things will go back to normal and I won't have to think about the last couple of weeks at all anymore.

There's a derisive laugh in his head about that. You poor sod. Don't you realize it's all you'll ever think about, every time you lay down to sleep, every time you undress in the showers, every time someone touches you, or stands next to you and oh, by the way, when you try to walk into the mess. Kiva put her brand on you and there's no way to remove it. You're pathetic, and everyone knows it. And what about how you reacted to touch you didn't even want? You're desperate to believe it was because of that sex drug, but what if the drug just let the genie out of the bottle, eh? You'll never be able to have intimate relations again without wondering just how depraved you really are, not that anyone would want you after being the Alliance's fuck toy. Every one knows just how weak you really are, do you honestly think they're going to let you forget it?

He closes his eyes because of course the voice is right. The practical, pragmatic, tell the unvarnished truth part of himself is right about this. He's been changed and he'll never be the same again.


* * *


Maybe he dozes for a while because he doesn't know when Greer came to stand in front of him, nudging him with his foot.

He wants to feel outraged about this disrespectful gesture, but Greer's calling his name and there's no derision in his tone, so he doesn't say anything, just blinks up at the man.

“Doc, wake up. I know you're tired, man, but we gotta do this and then I'll take you to your quarters myself.”

Greer holds out a hand, and Rush doesn't want to take it, but he's a mass of inertia, and every time he flinches from an innocuous touch, not that he was ever wild about people hanging on him, then Kiva wins again.

He doesn't want her to win, to have her ghost leveling a knowing look at him when he avoids something as harmless as a crewmember helping him to stand up when he's totally knackered.

So he gets ahold of himself and grasps Greer's warm hand and levers himself up. He can hear the Colonel talking to Lieutenant Johansen, their voices an indistinct murmur through her doorway. Rush doesn't begrudge him taking time to meet his wee baby girl. He glances down the corridor and he can see Camile and Scott and James talking together. They can handle the clean up, he supposes. Let the new family spend a few more minutes together. Alone. Without him there to remind the Colonel of his failure to tell him about Kiva’s threat.

Greer moves closer, standing in front of him so that Rush is forced to be aware of him.

“You and me, Doc, we're not gonna make Lisa take a detail to go get Simeon's body. Are we?” and Greer throws in a bit of the menacing tone he likes to utilize, but it's unnecessary.

He's heard the mutters and complaints about him from the crew, starting back at the SGC and traveling with him to Icarus, and on to Destiny and for the most part he even agrees with his detractors.

He's been a jerk, an unfeeling bastard, and a devious son-of-a-bitch, or he can see how he comes across that way.

He hadn't cared. He doesn't care now what Greer thinks of him, but he, too, doesn't want to cause Doctor Park any more sorrow. She doesn't need to go to that storage room, watch Simeon's corpse being retrieved from where the two of them had hidden him.

Once he might have said something cutting to Greer, something that let the man know Rush understands where he came from, even if Greer hasn't figured out Rush knows because he, too, came from the same sort of situation. Like knows like, and Greer will realize it sooner or later.

Instead, he stays quiet, just nods his head and gestures for Greer to follow him. Greer motions for three of his people to come along with a kino sled, and they all follow Rush down corridors and into the elevator car and down more corridors until they come to the storage area Simeon had forced Doctor Park and himself to enter.

Panic starts to flood him at the thought of taking a single step inside the room, but he closes his eyes and clenches his fists and starts multiplying six digit primes, whispering to himself, while another part of his mind gives himself a stern lecture. He will enter this room; Kiva and Simeon will not take this away from him.

He opens his eyes to find Greer watching him thoughtfully. “You can stay out here, Doc. Just give me some directions.”

Shaking his head, he gestures towards the door.

“All right, man. Just you and me for now, though,” Greer says, surprising Rush with his tactfulness.

Greer gestures for the others to stay put and he pushes the door control and the large, heavy doors slide back, revealing the cavernous room and the rows upon rows of storage crates, stacked almost to the high ceiling. Rush steels himself and steps inside and Greer makes the door shut. They're alone in here, now.

“Which one?” Greer asks, and there's a grim look on his face.

Rush walks over to the row next to the wall and points to the highest one.

“How?” Greer starts, then looks to where Rush is pointing at the wheeled contraption that he and Park had used to move the containers. He's too tired to think of what the name of the thing is, although he'd used the Earth equivalent of them many a time, when he'd been a lad working on the docks in Glasgow.

Greer is as handy with it as he is at making outlandish contraptions. Possibly the fire weapon he'd devised against the alien water-drinking bugs might come in useful again, and in the back of his head he makes a note to see if Brody will work with Greer, see if he has some potential for mechanical engineering. Lord knows they could use more crew with a bent for it.

He leans against a container and thinks of what might be found within the others, and he does his best to not think about what's in the container that Greer has moved down to the deck. Greer opens the top to peer inside, tossing out the wrapped bits and pieces of replacement parts for consoles and power relay stations that he and Park had used to cover up Simeon. He reaches inside the container, and Rush can't see what he's doing, exactly, but he can guess.

Greer stares down at the body and then walks over to Rush. There's an odd look on his face, like he's contemplating doing something that's right, but still unpalatable. Like a lad deciding to eat his vegetables, but not relishing the taste of them.

“She's not a good liar, you know,” Greer says. “I knew she was leaving things out, but I wasn't going to make her tell me. You don't have to tell me either, not if you don't want to. I can see for myself what happened.”

Rush sighs and uncrosses his arms, ending the self-protective gesture he hadn't quite realized he'd been doing. He scrubs at his face with both hands, and then kneads his shoulder with a shaking hand; Greer's words have brought it back, what he'd been resisting thinking about.

Kneeling on the deck, Simeon's cock in his mouth, letting him spew his filthy come in Rush's mouth, just to have the best tactical advantage to attack him.

Hearing Simeon's words wash over him again, and the sick feeling that the bastard was right about him.

“Doc. Don't look like that, man. You did good. No, you did great. You took him down. You took a position of disadvantage and turned it around on him.”

Suddenly Rush has had enough of Greer's attempts to pat him on the back, well, not literally, not yet, but Greer's moving his arm like he's contemplating it.

It's not like Rush hasn't noticed before that the way to Greer's softer side is to make an honest struggle with something, and not whine about it, but be brave even if it's hurting you. Probably why he's so protective of the Colonel. Why he's so fond of Chloe. Why he's drawn to Park, other than her other obvious charms.

He never thought that Greer would want to take him under his wing, too, and he doesn't want it, not really.

He doesn't want to feel a warm solid arm around his shoulders, pulling him in tighter. He doesn't want to just let go for a moment and soak up that human touch, to lean against the man. He fights against the sudden tears that want to break free.

“You saved her. You saved you,” Greer says, and Rush shakes his head.

“He touched her anyway, put his filthy tongue in her mouth. I couldna stop that,” he mutters, and he's so tired. “He opened her shirts, undressed her like she was his doll. She's a good lass, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Greer says, and he’s warm and solid and the kindness in his voice is breaking Rush down.

He babbles on to distract himself from that kindness. “She’s brave and smart and quick. She didn't let what that bastard was doing stop her from taking advantage when she could. Did she tell you she grabbed the gun right off of him? Shot him, and when he lunged for her she held onto him and made him lose the gun so I could have a chance at grabbing it and shooting him again.”

“Yeah. She told me, and she told me how you stabbed him with a little screwdriver in his neck which gave her the chance to get the gun. I saw that injury, Doc. I saw what happened lower down, too.”

He doesn't want this comfort, he doesn't, it shows how weak he is, to let Greer hold him like this, like he was someone who deserved Greer's concern. He doesn't know how Rush got erect for Simeon, how he'd begged to suck his cock. It's dishonest, to keep letting Greer act this way, like Rush is somebody he's looking out for, like he fucking earned his care.

Suddenly he's spilling all of that out, angry, so angry that Greer thinks he merits a kind word, a friendly arm. He shouts how he'd begged and demeaned himself, how he'd asked to kiss Simeon, how he'd gotten hard from it, that he's a damn good cocksucker now, because he wants Greer to push him away like the dirty slut he must be.

Tears are flooding down his face. Greer, the bastard, hasn't shoved him away, so like most things in his life he'll have to take care of it himself. He tries to pull away, but Greer just says, “Doc,” and his voice is warm and accepting and he brings up his other arm around Rush, and the man is actually hugging him now and he's so tired. He fists his hands in Greer's T-shirt and he's sobbing, ugly, loud, wretched sounds, like he hasn't done since those early days after the mess when he was in the infirmary.

He cries like that until he can barely stand on his feet, and he feels simultaneously awful, with his eyes swollen and his belly tight and the huge lump in his throat, and better, like he'd been carrying a weight that had bent his back and slowed his steps and now it's been taken from him and he feels lighter.

When he's calmed down, with only occasional shudders and hitches in his breathing, Greer says quietly, “I would have taken your place on that table, if I could. I would have taken the Colonel's place, too, to spare him. I'm a soldier; I'm here to protect this crew. I couldn't protect you, or him, but I'm here now.”

Greer's voice sounds a little speculative as he squeezes Rush in a tighter hug. “You're not quite the little shit you want us to believe you are, Doc. I don't care how cranky you get, how much of a jerk you try to be, I know you now. You're a good man.”

“'M not, you know. Not a good man,” he chokes out, his eyes focused on Greer's stained shirt, and the bastard gives out an aggravated sigh.

“For a genius, Doc, you can be kinda dumb sometimes. You don't get to pass judgment on yourself, at least not about what's happened to you since the Alliance invaded Destiny. You want to head back to your quarters now?”

Before he can say he ought to go to the control interface room, Greer says firmly, “That was a rhetorical question. You're too wiped out to work. I'll radio Brody and let him know you're off shift.”

“Shower room, first,” he mumbles against Greer's chest, and wishes for a rag to blow his nose. He's dirty and there's still blood on his hands from that injured soldier; he can't remember his name. And Young's jacket, it's soaked with blood, too. He supposes he'll have to give it back now and the thought makes his heart clench a little.

Greer lets him go, and lifts an arm and smells himself. He makes a face. “Yeah, okay. Man, I can't wait to take a shower myself. Let's go, and the guys can haul Simeon's dead ass to the gate room. That's where all the bodies are being taken; we'll incinerate them with the gate when we get to the planet.”

* * *


It's a slow walk back up to the reclaimed areas of the ship. The Alliance had made some repairs to these areas, including the way to that storage room, or this would still be impossible to travel through without one of the suits. He wonders what these other rooms hold, but exploring will have to wait. He can barely put one foot in front of the other and when Greer asks him a question he can hardly string two words together. After the first five minutes of trudging along, Greer put an arm under his elbow, solid and strong. Rush is tempted to lean on him, and he knows Greer would let him, would pull Rush's arm over his shoulder, or even carry him like Eli and Colonel Young have done, but he doesn't want him to and Greer must be picking up on that. He's just there in case Rush goes down.

Which, yes, there's a high probability of that happening.

They're almost back to one of the more isolated shower rooms, and Rush can feel again the filth and dirt and sticky body fluids he'd rather not specify covering his skin. Most of that's in his head, he knows, some sort of tactile hallucination, but he is uncomfortably aware that's he's got actual sweat and blood on his skin and clothes.

Static erupts from Greer's radio, and the Colonel's voice comes through. He's ordering everyone except the injured in the infirmary to meet on the observation deck in a half hour. That's civilians and soldiers alike.

Greer raises an eyebrow as he gives Rush an assessing look. Then he takes the radio from his belt and requests the colonel go to channel two.

“Young here.”

“Sir, I've got Doc with me and he oughta be in bed. Permission for him to skip the meeting?”

“He needs to be there, Sergeant. See to it. Young out.”

Greer turns to him. “Sorry, Doc. There's still time for us to hit the showers, though. But once the Colonel gets a good look at you, I'm betting he takes you off shift for the next two days.”

Rush doesn't answer, he's taking things one step at a time. Literally. But a few days off the official duty roster would give him time to decipher the bridge systems, with no one breathing down his neck wondering why he'd wandered away from the control interface room.

He feels trepidation at seeing the Colonel. Once again, scenarios runs through his head, all of them involve the Colonel punishing him by fucking him. He takes a deep breath and reminds himself to think rationally. Colonel Young might give him extra duties, might not allow him to access areas of the ship, might lock him in a room, might beat him or abandon him on a planet, but he wouldn’t rape him again. He wouldn’t.

You’ve been wrong about that man before, says that same hated voice from within himself. You didn’t think he’d beat you down and leave you unconscious and condemn you to die by thirst and starvation on that desert world, so are you that sure about what he’d do to you now, to punish you? He’s seen how well it worked for Kiva to have you raped, after all.

Shut it, he orders that voice. Just fuckin’ shut it because you’re bloody well wrong about this. He wouldn’t use his dick as a weapon to force anyone to his will. Not even me.

He wouldn’t. Rush clings to that thought. Colonel Young would not ever rape him, unless it was in order to save him from something worse.

He wouldn’t blackmail Rush into having sex, he wouldn’t demand it of him in exchange for certain privileges. He wouldn’t because while the Colonel has been a weak commander at times, has certainly made mistakes with his personal life, fundamentally he is a decent bloke. Since Kiva broke Rush, he’s stopped looking at Rush like he’s a wolf out to attack Young’s flock, instead, he’s been guarded like he’s a lost lamb.

Still, the Colonel had been angry for not telling him immediately about Kiva’s plan for the babe. He’s not looking forward to attending this mandatory meeting. If he was by himself, he’d certainly go hide somewhere and claim to have been too busy working to come along or he forgot about it, but he knows that’s not going to be an option with Greer staying by his side.

Best face him and get it over with, then. The yelling, perhaps a beating, accompanied by a lecture on his failings.

He almost starts crying again when he spots the shower room he'd gone to after escorting Park back to where a kino could follow her to Lieutenant Johansen's quarters. God, but he's rubbish right now. Greer is right, he does need to sleep. For once, he thinks he'll fall unconscious without nightmares waking him up, he's that exhausted.

Three soldiers start to come out of the shower room, and call to Greer. They stand in the bloody way of the door, and Greer steers him to a wall, leaving him to prop himself up, while he goes and has a chat with them.

He should just walk past them, push them aside, so he can get clean again, but he's reluctant to do that. Conditioned, he realizes, by the Alliance soldiers to avoid groups of men in authority.

He can imagine the small smile of triumph on Kiva's face, the roll of Varro's eyes, the disgust on Dannic's face, Simeon's look of derision at his cringing away from contact with his own people.

He's expecting them to hurt him, treat him the way the Alliance did.

Maybe they will.

Maybe the disgust over what they saw him do on the table will express itself in shoves, catcalls, and groping him. Maybe they'll just turn away from him, not acknowledging him. Shunning him. In the cell where the military had been confined, some had been derisive, he'd overheard them. But most had just looked at him with pity, and he'd been protected by Young, by Scott, by James, by Barnes. By Greer, too.

Greer's here now, he won't let those soldiers say or do anything, but Greer won't always be with him.

Well. Begin as he means to go on, then, if he doesn't want Kiva to win. He pushes himself off from the wall and from somewhere within himself he finds the energy to stride forcefully towards them, channeling how he used to walk purposefully down Destiny's corridors, always heading to somewhere where he was needed, when he was still the chief scientist and Young's chief pain in the ass, but he had been the best Young had to understand the ship, and they both had known it. He keeps dredging up that earlier incarnation of himself and forces himself to keep moving toward the four men.

The soldiers part for him like he was bloody Moses, but he can't quite make himself look them in the eye and he ducks into the shower room, and into a stall and orders his churning belly to settle down.

He hears the others leave, hears Greer come into his own stall.

“You okay, Doc?” he asks, and damn it, he doesn't think he's fooled Greer one bit, not judging by his tone of voice.

“Yes, fine.” He leans against the wall, and makes himself calm the fuck down. Deep, slow breaths that stop his body from making adrenaline. Fooling himself, really, but it works. “'M tired,” he adds, a bit later after a pointed stretch of silence from Greer. He strips off his clothes and turns on the shower, and starts rinsing the blood out of Young's jacket, letting the warm, steady mist condense on his skin. He hears Greer get undressed.

“Mmhmm,” Greer says. “Ohhh, mannn, I have missed this, I have missed this so much,” he practically moans over the sound of the shower spraying its jets, and Rush's mouth quirks up a little.

He's not worried about Greer being so close to him, naked, just a shower stall away. He thinks he'll count that as a victory over Kiva.

* * *

Chapter Text

On the observation deck, crew members were sitting on the benches and couches, leaning against the railing, talking in small groups or with each other, or just staring out at the everchanging flow of colors that streamed against the shields.

It was almost time for the meeting to start, to let the crew come together again, to exorcize the Lucian Alliance from Destiny. To grieve their losses, to introduce the youngest member of the crew, to explain the role David had played, to let them know visitation with the stones would begin tomorrow for those who would like to visit their families, and that counseling would be available, both individual and group.

He watches Camile hand the baby back to TJ and make her way over to his side. Carmen Johansen has been admired by half the crew, and TJ has had multiple offers to babysit. The story of how the baby had been protected from Dannic's murderous rampage had spread like wildfire through the crew; it was sure to become one of the stories repeated as ship legend over cups of Brody's moonshine in the future.

“Colonel,” Camile says, and gives him a small smile. “You must feel better after getting a chance to clean up.”

“You mean smell better,” he says drily.

“That, too,” she shoots back, looking mischievous for a moment, but she's suddenly serious again. “We have to talk about Ginn.”

He'd shut her out about what he was going to have to do to end David's brainwashing the first time. He'd considered explaining, but ultimately, David was military; it was military business, not civilian. Still, he'd had a lot of time thinking about all the mistakes he'd made while he'd been locked up. He could have done a better job with her. And Scott. From their point of view it had probably looked like another Mutiny on the Bounty situation was blooming. He would include her on this, at least.

He inclined his head towards her, saying quietly, “She's locked in her quarters and not going anywhere. She's willing to give us information on the Alliance, she says. I'm not sure I trust her, but Rush seems to; she did back him on the horseshit he was spoonfeeding to Dannic about the shuttle. What's your take on the girl?”

“I didn't really interact with her, but I gathered from Kiva that she was doing a fairly good job running the science teams. She can be a valuable asset, Colonel.”

“Oh, Eli's already bent my ear all about how much she could contribute. How do I know she won't double cross us?”

“Rush might vouch for her; if he thinks she can be trusted then she probably can. She was saved for a reason.”

“And that's a mystery that hasn't been cleared up yet. Who vented the air from the Alliance quarters, all but hers? Dr. Boone? Did he sacrifice himself or was he just caught in the trap set for the Lucians? Did Destiny do it?”

“What about Rush?” Camile offers, but her expression is shadowed.

“I took him out of his locked quarters myself, but I asked Eli to look into it again. A few minutes ago he told me that he'd checked the kino footage and it showed Rush being locked in his room last night, like Riley had told me.”

“After what happened with him and Lisa and Simeon?”

“Yeah.” Poor bastard, Everett thinks. Rush hadn't said anything to him at all about it, but TJ and Camile had told him. They also told him they thought there was more to the story, but they weren't going to press Doctor Park about it. Everett doubts that Simeon had dragged Rush along just to have an audience. He remembers how the Lucian had acted when Rush had been released from the mess. He'd promised him that he wasn't done with Rush. af No, Simeon had tried something with Rush, he was sure of it. Another sin to add to Everett's account, for not stopping the Lucians immediately by venting the gate room.

He shrugs. “Anyway, it couldn't have been Rush. Eli went over the program that kept the crew locked into their quarters at night, and it was working for Rush as well as everybody else.”

Camile sighs. “Another unsolved mystery to add to our growing collection. I wonder if we'll ever know what happened to poor Franklin.”

“We're not quite a modern day version of the Mary Celeste, Camile,” Everett says. “There's a reason why Franklin disappeared and a reason why those compartments were vented. Let's downplay the spooky aspects while we get it figured out.”

“You mean, while Rush gets it figured out,” Camile says and nods her head towards the doors.

Greer and Rush are entering, and Rush finds a spot against the wall as far from the rest of the crowd as possible and as near the doors as to almost be out in the corridor. Everett catches Greer's eye and glances meaningfully at Rush and crooks a finger. Greer gives him a dubious look but goes over to Rush and slides a hand under his elbow. He talks to him for a minute before they start to make their way through the crowd. He's not sure if Greer is dragging Rush up to the front of the room or making sure he doesn't collapse on the way.

When Greer deposits Rush next to him, he decides it's the latter reason. Rush looks terrible; his eyes are red, and the circles under them are even darker and larger than he remembers from waking the man up earlier today. He's shaking a little and he looks profoundly exhausted. He runs both hands through his damp hair and just looks at Everett. It’s not hard to read him, not when he’s ready to fall over. He’s anxious, and there’s dread in his eyes. Everett’s got a feeling he knows why.

He gives Rush a reassuring look, smiles at him. A real smile, not the one that David calls his shark smile, and slowly reaches out and puts one hand on his shoulder, squeezes it gently.

“Hey,” he says quietly. “I’m glad you’re here.” He can literally feel some of the tension leave Rush’s body as the man sways just a little. Copying Greer, he moves his hand to support Rush’s elbow.

“You're not to go back to work for a couple of days, after we're done here,” he tells Rush firmly and is a little baffled when Rush looks amused for a moment. “I mean it, R… uh, Doc,” he amends.

“Fine,” Rush says, and the lack of argument alarms him.

“Do I need to get TJ to look at you?” he asks, ready to call her over.

Rush looks confused. “Why?”

“You said, 'Fine,'” Everett says, and puts a palm on Rush's forehead to feel for fever. His skin feels cool and he drops his hand. Rush rolls his eyes at him, but doesn't say anything.

“You want to sit down?”

Rush shakes his head so Everett keeps his other hand under Rush’s elbow.

He'd felt so angry with Rush earlier, when Rush hadn't told him about the danger to Carmen until Dannic was making his way to TJ's quarters. But Rush had sent James and Scott to help, had raced down there himself to Everett's side and had practically carried him until he'd recovered from the concussion bomb and had used his wits to trick Dannic into leaving TJ's quarters. He'd attacked Dannic and been choked by him giving Everett the opportunity to jump that bastard.

And now he'd learned that Rush had been kidnapped by Simeon last night and probably sexually assaulted. And Rush had been so out of it when Everett had woken him up.

“This morning you should have told me right away that Kiva was going to make Carmen a hostage,” he tells Rush, then when Rush looks perplexed, like he's not taking in what Everett is saying, he clarifies, “the baby. Her name is Carmen.”

Rush nods, looks down. “Sorry. I'm sorry, truly.”

“Between being exhausted, and what ever happened with Simeon, you weren't thinking straight. I get it now and it's okay. I didn't want you to worry about what I said to you.”

“All right,” Rush said softly, still looking down at the deck. “Can I go now?”

“I still need you. I want you and Camile to stand with me while we talk to the crew. Camile's going to handle talking about the memorials for the people we lost, and about the counseling she's setting up and the stones schedule.”

Rush looks at him, wide eyed. “I have nothing to say, Colonel,” he says, and Everett hears panic building in his words.

“You don't have to say anything. Just be next to me. Please. We need to show the crew that despite everything that happened we are working together and that things are going to go back to normal.”

In other words, he's asking Rush to show the crew that he forgives Everett for raping him in front of them.

Rush shoots him a complicated look and glances longingly towards the doors; he clenches his hands, but he nods.

Everett decides that he'll walk Rush back to his quarters when the meeting is done himself. They can have that talk Rush had promised him. Rush has agreed to make the crew believe they've put what happened between them on that table behind them, but Everett wants to know the truth.

Maybe, he thinks, he and Rush will sleep better by not putting it off. They need to be straight with each other, now more than ever.

* * *

Everett tells the crew what they need to hear from him about how the ship was retaken and Rush keeps to the unspoken promise he made him; he stands next to him, almost shoulder to shoulder. Camile is on his other side, addressing the crew. She's also standing close and he's not sure why either of them are doing this for him.

Well, not for him. Not really. It's for the good of the crew; the people on this ship, especially the civilians, have always been Camile's first priority, and for Rush he's pretty sure that the good of the crew translates into more efficient worker bees for the hive that is Destiny.

Destiny has enthralled Rush, something he's known since he regained consciousness after landing on the deck of this ship. The man is a bit of a jealous lover, too, only grudgingly teaching the rest of the Science Team what he learns so they can work independently without him.

Rush probably had a point in the beginning that it took too long to bring the others up to speed, and he couldn't spare the time to teach them what he himself was learning in leaps and bounds.

But that's not the case now, and Rush is valuable, is certainly needed on the ship – as Everett learned after leaving Rush behind – but the Science Team can do without him for as long as it takes for Rush to really rest and sleep and stop radiating the profound, deep exhaustion he's fallen into.

If Rush could hide it, he would. The fact that it's just so evident, judging by the looks the crew shoots his way, proves that he needs time off.

Even Rush knows he can't work like this but truthfully, it worries Everett that he hadn't even made a token protest again Everett's order. Rush has followed his orders before, but he has a way of letting Everett know that the reason he is doing it is because he just happens to agree with him.

After the surgery to remove the tracker from the man's chest, Rush had gone back to work too soon. He could barely walk, stayed hunched over the console, and it was clear he was in pain. Everett had been worried about him, but had decided to give him enough rope to hang himself. He'd wait till Rush collapsed, or fell off his stool before ordering him back to the infirmary.

Except Rush didn't collapse. By sheer bloody mindedness, he'd kept on working and Everett had to respect that about him.

So Rush agreeing to be on down time now felt off kilter. Was this Kiva's doing? The conditioning to obey directives immediately and without argument, was that still effecting Rush? He'd lied to Dannic, he'd defied him, he'd killed Simeon; Everett assumed that Rush's true nature was reasserting itself.

Maybe this is a one step forward, two steps backward kind of thing. He’ll watch Rush, watch out for him, watch over him. He owes him, but it’s more than paying back a debt. They are entangled, in so many ways, and their relationship is probably the most complicated one he’s even been in. They’d hit bottom once before, when he’d left Rush to die on a hot, dry world. When he’d gotten him back from the Nakai, he’d sworn to make things better between them. He’d never envisioned raping him to save his life.

Camile is explaining to the crew why debriefing after a traumatic event was helpful, and that a schedule would be posted in the mess for the mandatory individual sessions. Also, and she gives Rush a quick glance, a support group would meet every night after dinner for the next week and she’s encouraging everyone to come to it who was experiencing unsettling feelings. Individual counseling sessions with her or with a counselor from Homeworld Command will be arranged for anyone who wished it.

She looks over at Rush again, but if she thinks Nicholas Rush would voluntarily come to any sort of counseling sessions, where he'd have to talk about feelings, then she is deluding herself.

Rush has a glazed, far away look on his face, and it tugs at him. He's seen that expression before.

Crap. Rush isn't taking any of this in. He's sent himself off to wherever he'd gone sometimes when he was being tortured on the table. It was time to end this meeting.

Catching Camile's eye, she nods and turns things back over to him. He explains that Colonel Telford was currently confined to quarters until they could undo the effects of the brainwashing.

He is not looking forward to that. Watching his friend die in Rush's body had been hard enough. Watching him do it in his own would be worse.

There are several more things he needs to wrap up before dismissing the crew.

“Ginn is the only Lucian left alive, and she's agreed to cooperate with us. From what she's told us, she was forced to join the Alliance or they would have killed her family. I'm sure none of us have difficulty in believing that. She will be interrogated by Homeworld Command, and placed on probation. From what Eli and the Science Team tell me, she'll willingly work with us and her skills are considerable.”

Looking into the eyes of this crew, Eli, James, Chloe, Becker, Brody, Park, Volker, Airmen and Marines, these people who were forced to come here, who have almost died from lack of air, been on short rations with water and food, have been ill from alien bugs, who have been forced to watch torture, with some of them being tortured themselves or raped, hurt by the Lucian Alliance, he knows some of them will need more to have closure.

Some of them have worked with the Alliance scientists, some of them, like TJ, were protected by individuals in the Alliance. For good or bad, his crew had become entangled with the Lucians.

“The bodies of the Lucians have been carried to the gate room. When we reach our next planet, they will be incinerated by the gate. We simply do not have the time or manpower to dig graves. Until that time guards will be posted at the gate room and no one will be allowed in, except those who would like to either pay their respects or who need to find closure. The bodies are to be treated respectfully, however, due to our situation, some clothing and other personal items of the Lucians have become property of Destiny, to be given out as needed. This is in no way intended to be for revenge or for trophies. The Lucian Alliance is our enemy, but they are a practical people. I believe they would not begrudge our actions.”

“Airman Smith is recovering in the infirmary, but we have suffered casualties. Doctor Boone, and Airmen Hamilton, Deacon, and Rivers, and they will be buried or incinerated by the gate according to the wishes they left on record. On board memorials will be planned after we leave the planet. Ms. Wray will be in charge. Lieutenant Scott will have your assignments for the planet excursion once we determine it's safe to go.”

“The mess will open in an hour, and for today, at least, Becker is authorized to give everyone double rations. Dismissed.”

He slides in front of Rush, earning a curious look from Camile, and deflects the few people who come up to talk with Rush by small shakes of his head when they try to peer around him. Eli starts to protest, but Chloe takes him by the arm and they leave. Most people are gone in a few minutes. Scott's in charge of the guard detail for the gate room and Everett hears him ordering Dunning and Baras to stand first shift.

TJ is sitting on a bench, nursing the baby. His daughter. Carmen. He thinks it's the most wonderful name he's ever heard. Finally, TJ, Camile, Rush, and himself are the only ones left in the observation room. He turns around to check on Rush and finds the man is still lost somewhere else.

“Doc,” he says, and pats him awkwardly on the shoulder. He remembers the time he'd expressed feelings of fondness that had fountained up for Rush when he'd saved their bacon and he'd put a hand on his shoulder, ruffled his hair.

He'd lost that feeling soon after, of course. He just couldn't be neutral about his obstinate, brilliant, devious chief scientist.

Awareness comes back into Rush's eyes and he looks out at the empty room.

“It went okay,” Everett tells him. “C'mon. Let's take that walk to your quarters. Unless you want to wait and go to the mess. Double rations, and not just for you. I think we all need a break, and I'm gambling the planet will be a good one for us for replenishing our supplies.”

Rush shakes his head. Wraps his arms around himself and Everett frowns. “You okay?” Rush looks pale and his features have sharpened since he'd spent nights with Everett in the detention cell. Well, probably every one has lost weight lately. Rush never had any to spare, though.

He's interrupted by TJ coming up to them. She smiles, but it's sad, all the same. “Camile, would you watch Carmen for a while. I... Well, I'm going to the gate room and that's no place for her.”

Varro, Everett guesses. He saved TJ's life, and it was obvious he'd fallen for her.

Camile is murmuring her assent, but he surprises himself by reaching for Carmen. “I'll take her. She's going to have to get to know her old man, after all.”

It's the first time he's said something to Camile that directly acknowledges his paternity. Back on Icarus, she would have reported him for the rules he'd broken with TJ.

Now, though, she just looks thoughtfully at him. “Yes, I think this little girl does need to be with her daddy.” She'd known, of course. The entire ship knows, but no one except TJ had ever talked with him about being the baby's father. “Colonel, Homeworld Command wants to speak to Ginn. I'll go over the stones protocol with her and she can go now.”

He nods, and radios Greer to meet Camile at Ginn's quarters and she leaves, after patting TJ on the arm. Rush goes with her as far as a bench that faces the large window and collapses on it. Camile sits down next to him with an earnest expression on her face, murmuring to him. After a few moments, Rush shakes his head, and Camile leaves.

TJ's face crumples as she settles the baby in his arms; she must find it hard to leave her. She's so tiny, after all. “If she starts to cry you can radio me. She's been fed and changed, so she should sleep.”

Well. Might as well tell her what else he'd been thinking. He'd told her that they'd make this work, and he wanted desperately to be a good father. “You know, I was thinking, if you wanted to do this, that is, that we could have Brody cut doors from my quarters to the one next door, and that you could move into the quarters next to that one, with internal doors, too. Carmen's room could be the one in the middle.”

TJ says, “Like a family suite?”

“Yes. I can't feed her, not until she's ready for baby food, but I can maybe hold her at night and let you get some sleep if she's fussy?”

Her eyes growing wet, TJ says, “I'd like that, sir.” She slips a bag over his other shoulder. “That's got spare diapers and clothes, in case you need them.”

He wants to ask her about Varro, but doesn't. He's got no right to do that. TJ had been furious and disgusted with the man, after what he'd done to Rush, but Varro had also saved her life. Saved Carmen's life, too.

“Meet you back in the mess, then?” he asks instead.

“Yes. Unless you need me to take the baby before it opens,” she says, and touches Carmen's cheek. The baby makes a small soft sound, and TJ smiles down, looking so beautiful, so loving. Carmen has been blessed to have a mother like her.

He hopes he can live up to being a good father. He's going to try with everything he has.

“Before I go, I want to talk to Doctor Rush,” TJ says. “He doesn't look well, and I'm concerned.”

“Yeah, I told him he was off work for the next couple of days and he didn't even scowl at me. TJ, he's lost weight. He's really exhausted.” He shifts the baby a little and feels her squirm against him. He's known for months that Carmen was on the way but the reality that he has a child didn't hit him until he'd held her. He would do anything for this little human. He feels rage building back up towards Kiva and Dannic and the rest of the Alliance members that would have allowed his baby to be used as a hostage, and killed. He tamps it down, because what if the baby can sense that anger? He buries it, but he knows it will always be there.

TJ goes over to Rush and drops down on the bench beside him, talks softly to him; when TJ puts the stethoscope around her neck into her ears and unzips Rush's jacket Everett turns away to give them more privacy. He walks his daughter closer to where the shields splash color as Destiny sails through this galaxy and whispers promises that he will give his life to keep.

* * *

They walk to Rush's quarters in silence. Everett is thinking about how to say what he wants to say and anyway, Rush looks like he needs all his concentration to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

When they make the last turn into Rush's corridor, the man clears his throat. Everett look over at him, and sees him fingering his jacket sleeve. His uniform jacket is large on Rush; where it was snug across Everett's chest, there's fabric to spare on Rush. He's not that much taller than the guy, maybe has a couple of inches on him, but Rush is small framed. Everett's built like a brick outhouse, a charming observation that David liked to make about him.

“You'll be wanting this back, then,” Rush says, and it's not a question.

He remembers what Rush had told him, when they'd both been prisoners in the cell. Young's jacket had helped Rush to cope with what had been done to him. A symbol, maybe, of being taken away from the hellhole that had been the mess.

“You can keep it,” he tells him. “If you want.”

“Won't that be against Air Force rules, then?”

“I've broken more important regulations. It's helping still? With what you told me?”

Rush looks away, nods.

“It's yours then. Anybody says anything, send them to me.”

Rush doesn't answer him, doesn't thank him. He's looking down at the deck as he walks, and God, it must be so hard for him to accept this from Everett.

He's saved from the awkwardness by Carmen scrunching up her face and letting out an outraged bellow that startles him. She's wiggling and one little arm has come loose from the blanket and she's flailing it around.

“Ut-oh,” he mutters and shifts her so she's against his chest. He pats at her back softly. She wails louder.

He looks over at Rush, starting to feel out of his depth but damn it, he doesn't want to have TJ come rescue him not twenty minutes after she'd left the observation deck.

Rush lifts his eyebrows and a hint of a smirk is playing on his lips. “I see you have things well in hand, Colonel, as always.”

“Shut up, Rush. I suppose you could do better,” he says, and he's not annoyed, well, maybe a little, but it feels good to hear the snark in Rush's tone. He jiggles Carmen, but she's not appeased by what he's doing.

Rush snorts. “As a matter of fact, I'm certain I can do better. Better than you, at least. Give her to me,” Rush says, and he holds out his arms.

“You're so tired you'll drop her.”

“I would do no such thing. Give her to me and I'll show you what to do. Unless you want your wee girl to keep screaming like that.”

They're almost at Rush's door. Maybe there's room for compromise. “I'll let you hold her if you sit on your bed. Take it or leave it.”

“I wouldna drop her; I'm no tha’ tired,” Rush complains as they entered his quarters, but the way his accent has gotten stronger tells Everett the opposite. He sits on the bed and looks expectantly up at Everett. “Give her over, 'fore she becomes so wound up it takes forever to calm her down.”

Everett chews his lip, deciding, but the baby keeps doing that tiny baby wailing and the sound is goddamn heartbreaking. He places the baby in Rush's waiting arms.

“Okay, smart guy. Let's see what you got,” he says, and sits down next to him.


* * *

Rush is actually a decent teacher once he stops giving Everett superior looks because Carmen calmed down after he wrapped her blanket tightly around her. He does some sort of crooning song-sounds while she's snuggled up high on his shoulder and pats her firmly, about twice as hard as Everett had been doing, and tells her she's a good lass for burping like she's been chugging beer. Before she falls asleep, Rush gives him a lecture about swaddling and demonstrates various positions to hold her in to help her relieve gas and have a nice poop. Rush's words, not his. Rush is kind of laughing at him, but it's good, really, to see him like this.

And then he has to go and spoil it by asking if Rush had ever wanted children. Rush's expression closes down, and Everett doesn't know if he should apologize for asking or just change the subject.

Rush gives him the baby. Sighs, while Everett is preoccupied with getting her into a comfortable position against his shoulder.

“We did,” he says, finally. “But when my wife had cancer the first time, the doctors had to...” he stops. “Well, she couldn't have children after that.”

“I'm sorry,” he says, and yeah, it's something you say when you're told something like that, but he means it.

Rush looks at him, smiles a little. It's a real smile, not his sardonic smirk. “Gloria, she mothered many a violin student. Now, lay that baby down and let's see you swaddle her this time. Mind you tuck the bottom of the blanket up before wrapping the other side round her.”
* * *

Both of them had been focused on the baby and Everett missed till now that there's a bowl of protein paste and a water bottle on Rush's small desk amidst the clutter of his notebooks and other paraphernalia.

Everett stands up, holding Carmen, and tries to hand the bowl and water bottle to Rush, figuring he might as well learn how to do things one-handed. Now that Rush isn't playing teacher, his eyes are drooping and he's yawning. He's not tracking what Everett is doing.

“Hey, Rush,” he says. “Someone brought you dinner. Eat it before you crash.” He hasn't talked about anything he meant to, not yet, and by the looks of things, he doesn't have much time before Rush just passes out.

Rush looks up at him sleepily and then catches his breath. “You said my name. You said my name, and it was all right.”

His eyes are so intense. So dark. He puts a fist to his mouth and a few tears slip down his face.

Everett puts Rush's dinner on the bed next to him. “Yeah, I guess I did. I think I did earlier, too, you just didn't notice. You're getting better, aren't you? The way you talked to Dannic, you sounded normal.”

Rush wipes the tears off his face. “That was play acting. I'm a right mess, I'm afraid.”

“I wouldn’t call it play-acting. It was you breaking through the constraints from every God-damn thing they did to you. Things will get better.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I’ll help you. TJ, Camile, Eli, Chloe, we’ll all help you.”

Rush gives him a puzzled look. “How can anyone help me? No, I think this is something I have to do alone.”

“That’s not what Camile says. That’s why she’s arranging for counseling for the crew. I’m not sure you actually took in that part of the briefing. You weren’t there, not mentally, not for all of it.”

Rush looks away. “Yes, well. . .” he begins and then trails off.

“Are we good? Don't get me wrong. I'm not sorry I did what I did, because it meant saving your life. But I'm so sorry it had to happen. I'm sorry that you were ever put in that position.”

Rush looks up at him. “I don't know, Colonel. I know you did it to save me and I'm not afraid you're going to rape me again. But you made mistakes, and I paid the price. I should feel angry; maybe I will later. I don't know, I just don't know.”

“Fair enough. Would you give counseling a try? It might help you sort things out.”

Rush snorts and shakes his head. “It's hard enough talking to you and Greer. I don't want to talk to Camile or some stranger.”

“Okay. I'm not going to push you.”

Rush rolls his eyes. “You've been pushing me to fall into line since we met, Colonel.”

“That was different. That was for the program; it wasn't personal. Not until you made it that way.”

“Are we doing this now?”

“No. No, you're exhausted. And we don't need to rehash the past. Do you want to talk about Simeon? What happened with him before you killed him?”

Rush gives a lackadaisical wave of his hand. “I did what I had to do.”


“No, once today is enough to talk about that bastard. Greer heard all about it, ask him.”

A look of relief crosses Rush's face. “I can say no again.” His eyes grow wet and he looks at Everett like he's hoping he can stop it. He's not used to seeing such honest expressions from Rush, but he's pretty sure Rush doesn't want to cry any more. He probably wouldn't if he wasn't so god damned exhausted and worn down.

“Saying 'No.' That's a skill I'm sure you'll be using on me frequently,” Everett says lightly, and Rush laughs, his hand covering his mouth, like he's trying to hold it in.

There was a tinge of hysteria to that laugh, and Everett decides he needed to let the guy eat and go to bed.

“I'm gonna go. One last thing; where did you learn to take care of tiny babies?”

“That'll be my secret, Colonel.” Rush smirks at him, then picks up the spoon and starts shoveling the paste in his mouth.

“Seriously? It's not like it's classified information. Tell me.”

Rush pauses, spoon filled with paste, and looks panicked.

Fuck. He's an idiot. He didn't think about Rush's conditioning to obey directives, whether he wanted to or not. “Forget it. You don't have to tell me. You can keep your secrets.”

“Thank you,” Rush whispers, and he feels like such a jerk. “For now, I'd like to keep things to myself. Someday I'll tell you about them. When I'm ready.”

“Sure. Get some rest. And Carmen thanks you for giving her old man some tips. TJ's gonna be impressed. I'm sure she expected me to call her in a panic by now.” He takes a chance and squeezes Rush's shoulder again, like he had before the meeting started. Rush lets him without flinching.

He goes to the door, Carmen a warm limp weight against him. He watches Rush finish the paste off in record time and drink some water, setting the bottle and bowl down on the floor next to the bed. He dims the light, pulls the covers down and gets in, still fully dressed. They're going to have to find him some shoes or boots.

“You won't be locked in any more,” Everett says, and leaves, pushing against the door control once he's out in the corridor.

Rush and his secrets. Still, he'd talked about his wife, and that was a first. He supposed eventually whatever he was keeping to himself would come out.

* * *

TJ is waiting for him at the mess, and she eagerly takes Carmen from him, while he tells her that the baby had gotten a little fussy but went back to sleep after burping. He sheepishly admits that Rush, of all people, had given him a hand. TJ's arched eyebrows had risen, but she hadn't commented.

It's crowded. There are people sitting at tables, talking to each other, playing cards, drinking tea, waiting for Becker to bring food out.

He notices that nobody is sitting at one table, and thinks that's odd. He walks over and feels like he's been sucker punched in the gut.

It's Rush's table, the one that he'd been chained to, like an animal. The one where he'd been fucked by the Alliance and by David. By him. It's filthy, dust has adhered to where sticky fluids had collected, and he can see bloodstains.

Nobody has cleaned it up. How could these people just sit here, have come in here for weeks and just ignored where a man had been tortured before their eyes, and not washed the evidence of rape and humiliation away.

He clenches his fists, and then TJ is at his side. “Sir,” she says. “Everett, don't say anything yet. We weren't allowed to clean the table up. Kiva kept it this way so we all would have to see it and remember what happens to people who defy her.”

“Kiva's dead,” he tells her, gritting the words out.

“Kiva's dead,” he roars out to the people are watching him, some being nudged by their neighbor to turn around. “Kiva is dead, and this table is an abomination. Some of you,” and he points at the people sitting at the table closest to the kitchen area. Brody, Volker, Riley, Eli, Chloe, Scott. “Get a bucket and some rags from Becker.” When they sit, there, looking shocked, he adds, “Now, people. Move.”

He stares at the table and remembers how Rush had fought against being held down, how he'd cursed at his rapists until his voice had faltered, how he'd cried, how he'd bled, and how he'd been forced to piss himself.

The jeers and taunts of the Lucians, the way they'd made Rush beg for food and water. How they'd humiliated him, cut his hair, pissed on him. Raped him.

He remembers vividly how it had felt to fuck him, how hot his passage had felt around Everett's dick, how David had looked at him across Rush's body when between the two of them they'd made him come. How after he'd orgasmed for him and David, how dead Rush's eyes had looked, before he slipped away to somewhere in his mind where he wasn't being degraded and hurt by people who should have been protecting him instead of participating in this fuck orgy.

It was his fault, what happened to Rush. To the crew. The deaths, the injuries, the sexual assaults, the helplessness of being held prisoners on their own ship.

He should have stuck with the plan to vent the gate room. Maybe they could have revived David, when he came through the gate with the Lucians, but he'd hesitated and this was the result. A crew that had been traumatized, his chief scientist damaged and left fragile, and faith in his command probably beyond repair.

Chloe hands him a bucket and a rag. It has Destiny's version of dish soap in it, some chemical that evaporates after you've wiped it on a surface. She's crying, but she's also holding a rag, and next to her Volker and Brody, Riley and Scott, James and Greer with his arm around Park, Barnes and Eli are also there, holding their own rags.

“Sir,” TJ says again, Carmen on her shoulder, and he reads a multitude of messages in that one word. Don't take your anger at yourself out on the crew. Remember they were conditioned to avoid that table. They're sorry, of course they are. Let them help, it will be healing for them. For you.

He takes a deep breath. “Kiva is dead. Let's do this. For Rush. For ourselves.” He dips the rag into the bucket and exchanges it for Chloe's dry one. He does the same for everyone who's volunteered to help.

He nods to them and they all find spots to scrub, the bench seats, the legs, the top of the table.

The table looks like the other ones when they're finished, but he still feels revulsion towards it. Judging by the looks on the faces of the crew, he's not the only one.

They are short of resources on Destiny, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made.

“I don't think any of us ever want to sit at this table again,” he says to the room. “Take it out of here and to the gate room; we'll incinerate it when we reach the planet.”

Other volunteers step up and grab the sides and he watches with the group who helped him clean as the table is taken out of the mess.

“Thank you,” he says to them. “Thank you.” Eli takes the bucket from him, collects the rags, walks out of the mess with them. Chloe wipes her face free of the tears that had dripped down her face and Scott takes her hand. He nods to them and the others and they wind their way back to their places.

He sits down next to TJ, but finds himself staring at the space the table had occupied. He'd hoped that removing it would free him of his memories.

It hasn't. Over and over, the refrain in his head is chanting, accusing, judging.

This was all your fault.

* * *

Chapter Text

Everett came back to his own body, with the familiar disorienting wrench that accompanies swapping consciousness with the stones. Apparently Captain Malloy had not napped while Everett had been on Earth reporting to O’Neill and the IOA, because he feels more exhausted now than when he’d exchanged bodies with the man five hours ago.

He supposes TJ and the baby are asleep; he isn’t going to chance waking his daughter up just so he can kiss her goodnight.

He stands, nodding at Sergeant Riley.

“Welcome back, sir,” Riley says.

Riley has always been honest, a good soldier, and a perceptive young man. Everett needs to take the pulse of the people under his command, and so he smiles at Riley. Riley gives him a questioning look back.

“Sergeant, permission granted to speak freely or you can tell me no. How do you think people are doing, now that we’ve retaken the ship?”

Riley looks troubled. “This is just me, sir, what I’ve thought about. Of course everyone is glad to be free again, and those of us that were in that cell are thrilled to be out of it, to be able to get clean, and have a good meal. Everyone I’ve talked to is happy that TJ – er, Lieutenant Johanson’s baby is okay.”

“What about Ginn? What’s the crew saying about her being spared to join the crew?”

“Some are suspicious of her, but the Science Team are on her side. It’s weird that she was saved, out of all the Lucians,” Riley says. “There are two theories about that, and how the rest of the Lucians were killed. Some people think Doctor Boone did it and sacrificed himself for us. Other people think that it was the ship.” A complicated look crosses his face. “I hope it was Doctor Boone. Because, sure, if it was Destiny then what else can she do to us? It’s super creepy, like Eli said.”

“What else, Hunter?”

Riley stayed quiet, his blue eyes thoughtful. “People are counting on this planet coming up to refill our supplies. They’re wondering how we can keep invaders from coming through the gate again.” He hesitates, and then says, “There’s been some talk, about who had it rougher, us, or the civilians. And some of the civilians are – well, not accusing each other, not exactly – but making some comments that some people seemed to be getting along really well with the Lucians.”

Ah. He’ll have to try to put a stop to that. He doesn’t need talk of collaboration with the enemy dividing the crew.

“Dr. Rush . . .” Riley begins, and trails off.

“What about him?”

“He didn’t look very good at the briefing. Everybody noticed. I talked with Eli, and he said that Rush had a really hard time of it, after he was released from the infirmary. That he was harassed, that he was too quiet all the time – not like before, when he was quiet because he was above responding to what people were jabbering about, like he had more lofty important things to do with his time and the rest of us sounded like jabbering monkeys to him – this was Rush being terrified of people. Even us. Even Dale Volker, for God’s sake. It really bothers Volker, too.”

“He’s pulled himself together when it counts, though. He proved that with the whole Dannic situation.”

“Eli said that Rush has flashbacks sometimes.”

“What about the crew? We all saw what the Lucians did to him.”

“I can’t really speak for everyone. But a lot of people felt really bad for him. And . . .? For you, sir. For what you had to do, too.”

He does not want to open that personal can of worms with Riley, so he ignores what he said about him. “But some people think what? That Rush got what he deserved, finally? For bringing us here?”

Riley nods, looks solemn. “Yes, sir.”

“What about Colonel Telford? What’re people saying about him?”

“A lot of people think he can’t be trusted, even if the brainwashing is fixable. If it can be fixed. Twice like that? He’s not trusted, not like you are, sir.”

“So I’m trusted, then, to do the right thing for the crew?”

Riley hesitates. “The people in your command are with you, sir.”

There’s something about how Riley said that. “Out with it, Hunter. This is off the record, and I’d like to know. I’ll say it. Some of the crew, military and civilian, think I bungled this whole Lucian situation by not venting the air in the gate room until it was too late to make a difference.”

Riley nods. “They understand why you didn’t, because Colonel Telford, or at least his body, came through with the Alliance. Still, a lot of people think you made a mistake by not venting the air anyway. Sir.” He looks profoundly uncomfortable.

What is he doing, he asks himself, to put Riley in a position of confidence about his commanding officer. He’s strayed from gathering intel on the crew to having a conversation with a junior officer that he shouldn’t be having. Jack O’Neill would be giving him the stink eye right now if he was here.

“Okay, Hunter. Has Camile told you when it’s your turn to use the stones?”

He turns the conversation back into safe pathways, and leaves Riley to finish his shift with the stones in peace and quiet.

* * *

He’s tired, sure, but four hours of tossing and turning has gotten him up and out of bed, pulling on his uniform. There’s nothing like counting up all the mistakes you’ve made in life to make sure insomnia chases away any decent rest. He wants a drink, but he’s holding off on that for now.

For now. Tomorrow evening, he’ll make sure to stop by the makeshift bar that Brody runs and take some of his rotgut home.

He doesn’t want to stare at his walls any longer so he goes to the observation deck. It’s always peaceful to watch the colors streaming against Destiny’s shields and at this time of night, practically dawn back on Earth, it’s deserted.

Except for when it’s not.

Greer gives him a half-wave and points to where Lisa Park and Rush are asleep on a couch that faces the large windows. He motions for Everett to meet him where the refreshment stand is located, where there is always hot water and tea leaves available.

The bandage on Greer’s temple is not large, but Everett asks about it anyway, once he and Greer have settled on stools and are waiting for their tea to steep.

“It’s fine, sir. That doctor who switched with Volker, he rounded up everyone who’d been stunned or hurt by Dannic, gave everyone a check up. You’re probably on his list, too.”

Everett shrugged. “I’m fine. I’m surprised to see Rush here. I thought he’d sleep round the clock.”

Greer nods. “He needs to. Lisa couldn’t sleep, so we were walking around the ship; when we went past Rush’s room we heard him screaming. He was having a nightmare, flashback, something pretty bad, and he was kind of wild-eyed when he opened the door.”

“You talked him into coming here?”

“Nope. Lisa did. First we walked all over the damn ship for a good two hours. Finally tired them out enough that they were ready to take a break. That’s when we came here. Those two fell asleep pretty quickly and I was dozing off myself when I heard you coming down the hallway.”

“How’s she doing?”

“What happened with Dannic and Simeon shook her up pretty good. I don’t know how’ll things will go, but I will be there for her, sir.”

Everett reaches out and clasps Greer on the shoulder. “She couldn’t ask for a better friend to help her.”

“She’s more than a friend, sir. I think we got something good going on, and we’re not gonna let any bastard Lucian wreck it for us. She’s pretty adamant about that.”

Everett fishes out the handmade tea ball and takes a sip of his tea. It tastes vaguely medicinal and a little bit like mint. Probably something that’s supposed to be relaxing, since there’s a supply of it here. He’s stalling. He needs to know what happened with Simeon and Rush.

He clears his throat. “Greer, Rush said to ask you about what happened with Simeon.”

Greer looks surprised, casts a glance at the sleeping man. “He did? Huh. Well, it was pretty bad, from what I pieced together and what he was shouting about.”


.“Yeah. He. . . uh, well, he kind of lost it for a while, when we were retrieving Simeon’s body. Yelled a bunch of stuff putting himself down and that I shouldn’t be nice to him.”

“Being nice to him?”

“I put an arm around him, because – well, if you’d seen the look on his face when he realized I knew he’d given Simeon a blow job, you’d have done the same.”

“So Simeon did rape him.” Everett flashed back to Simeon pawing at Rush after Kiva had put him off limits. He sighed.

“Yes, sir. And while Simeon’s attention was on getting off, Rush stabbed him with a little screwdriver in the groin. From there what Lisa told TJ and Camile and me was accurate.”

“Poor son-of-a bitch,” Everett said, filled equally with pity and admiration. “But, damn, he’s good at keeping his head and finding workarounds for problems.”

“That’s our Doc. But he hates himself right now, he doesn’t give himself credit for coming up with solutions. And Lisa said that Simeon dosed himself up with something from a little box. She’s pretty sure it was something to give him staying power, so he could keep fucking them. Rush, he begged to kiss Simeon, and I think he got some of that drug in him. On purpose. But, he seems to think that because he got hard from the drug, it means he’s some kind of slut.”

Everett frowned. “Why would he want the drug?”

“Because if he didn’t get hard, Simeon was going to kill him. Bastard got what was coming to him.” Greer’s expression hardens.

“Ah,” Everett says, and they both fall silent, drink their tea slowly. When Park stirs and sits up and joins them, Everett tells them he’ll stay with Rush.

He settles on another couch after the couple leaves, their hands clasped, and watches a man he once left to die on a planet sleep. When Rush curls his body tighter, Everett covers him with his new – well, somewhat new – jacket and feels absurdly satisfied when Rush seems to settle deeper into slumber.

He thinks about his culpability in what happened to Rush, oh, not just that he raped him along with Simeon and the rest of the Lucians and David, but in all that went wrong for the crew after his decision to hold off on venting the air in the gate room. He knows it’s pointless to do this to himself. This isn’t one of Eli’s sci-fi movies, he can’t go back to that point in time and save himself from making the wrong choice. He has to move on, because while he might not be the best commander, had declined O’Neill’s offer to lead this mission because he knew he wasn’t up to it, he was here now and he is the best they have to lead these poor, castaway people.

He thinks about the conversation he had with Matthew, on the ice planet. He thinks about how a desire to not be in charge of all these lives translated into recklessness with his own life, as if his being killed would finally solve the problem of his not wanting to have this command.

It’s not fair to Matthew, or TJ, or James, to expect them to shoulder this burden. He has the experience, he has the training, and he has to just fucking get it done. Camile, maybe. But she’d let Rush have his way with the chair and look what had happened to Franklin because of it. Camile’s input is valuable, but she’s not right to be in command, either.

Rush murmurs in his sleep, and a panicked note starts to thread its way through the softly mumbled words. Everett moves silently to his side and drops down next to him, makes shushing sounds and rubs Rush’s back and shoulder.

It works, and the man subsides into sleep again. Everett sits down with his back against the side of the couch and thinks about Rush taking command. Once, maybe he could have, but not now. And anyway, Rush is too quick to give up on people, to make a sacrifice when other solutions haven’t been tried. He, on the other hand, will stall a decision that means someone’s life is going to be given for the greater good, to see if any other solution can save them without the cost of a life. Sometimes, he stalls too long.

Together, they could be a balanced command, and he wants that, wants Rush’s quick mind and quick hands working with him. He wonders if he’ll ever have it.

He’s tired himself, but he can’t sleep. There’s one major problem left to deal with and it was the reason he’d spent so long on Earth, while the IOA argued with itself over what exactly should be done with Colonel David Telford.

* * *

Eli and Chloe come in after the ship’s lighting starts to brighten into artificial morning. They’re carrying makeshift yoga mats, and they look surprised to see him sitting where he is, on the floor next to Rush. He gets up and motions them over to where they can speak quietly.

“Hi,” says Eli. “What’s up?”

Everett explains, and Chloe lays a hand on his arm. “We’ll make sure nobody disturbs Doctor Rush. Why don’t you go to bed, Colonel. Did you get any sleep at all last night?”

He shakes his head no. He can’t sleep yet, not until he talks with his brainwashed friend.

“Got some things to take care of first,” he says. “How’s your leg wound, Chloe?” He hasn’t had the chance to ask her about the gunshot wound she acquired during the Lucian’s take over of the ship till now. “You seem to be moving around okay.”

Chloe smiles, but it’s a little bewildered. “I am. It healed really fast. Really, really fast.” She shrugs, and he makes a mental note to check in with TJ about it. More than a decade with the stargate program has taught him to be wary of things that don’t make sense.

He leaves Rush in their hands, and wonders how the man will feel about waking up to find out he’s had multiple people keeping an eye on him while he recovers.

Actually, he’d love it if Rush was his usual annoying sarcastic and snide self about it.

He shifts mental gears when he comes to David’s room. James is on guard duty and he motions for her to cover him when he unlocks the door.

David is awake, prowling the room, looking like a caged jungle cat, and Everett knows he’s just as dangerous.

* * *

Waving his arm in an expansive gesture, David welcomes him in, and casts an amused look at James, who has her weapon aimed right at his heart.

“There’s no need for that, Lieutenant. Colonel Young and I are old friends, aren’t we, Everett? He’s perfectly safe with me. Even alone.” David shoots him a smirking grin. “You given any more thought to being alone with me? We could. . . do something entertaining, something fun.”

Everett cast him an unimpressed look, remembering how he’d tried to seduce Everett’s wife while under the influence of the Alliance’s mind control.

Or maybe that had just been David with his politer side stripped away. Maybe he’d wanted to see if he could take Emily away from him for a while now. They’d competed for women and even the odd man before, when they were both young and stupid with testosterone; it had been a friendly competition back then. The people they’d flirted with at bars, they were just passing flings, amused at their attempts to out charm the other one.

David was eyeing him, being flagrant about it. “Yeah, something entertaining is what you need, Something to give you a break from being in command. I know you don’t want to be in charge, Everett. All those lives depending on you? I’d take that problem off your hands.”

He laughs then, inviting Everett in on the joke of letting an admitted Lucian Alliance commander take over. ‘But I know you won’t step down on your own, and for some damn reason O’Neill won’t replace you. So, something amusing to take your mind off your responsibilities. Poker, maybe.” He stepped closer, and said in a loud whisper that he intended for James to overhear, the bastard, “Strip poker, Everett. What about it? Satisfy my curiosity about you, maybe let you scratch an itch, too?”

Probably this conversation has nothing to do with David’s supposed sexual interest in him, but is intended to throw him, fluster him.

Not a chance.

“Cut the horseshit, David. I’m not in the mood to play games with you.”

David’s gaze is assessing, and somehow real, honest, this time. He frowns. “You’re barely on your feet, Everett.” He sounds worried, and David has always taken a faintly big brotherish tone with him, laying a solid hand on his shoulder, earnestly tying to talk him into doing something that David thought would be good for him. Going out drinking. Taking leave. Not marrying Emily.

“That’s not your concern.’

“You’re wrong there. We’re friends, Everett. I care about you.”

David, poor brainwashed David, looks sincere, with no trace of the smirk he’d had when he’d been giving that blatant come on and all Everett sees is the man he’s known for a long time, who’s been in tight spots with him, who has to live with knowing what he did while he was Kiva’s puppet.

He’s still Kiva’s puppet. But he can choose not to be.

Everett lays it out for him then. What the IOA had been chasing its tail about while Everett was debriefed about the Lucian Alliance’s take over.

He’s got strict orders this time, no leeway to act to save Rush’s life, to save Destiny from being invaded. Colonel David Telford can choose to have his brainwashing dissolve away again by risking his life, or he can stay the way he is, guarded, restricted to his quarters for the most part.

David gets to choose.

Unsurprisingly, David chooses to not be suffocated again.

Everett leaves him in his quarters under guard.

* * *

The first order of business after recharging in the star and gating down to the planet, was the removal and incineration of the bodies. It was a grim business, sending them on kino sleds through the gate, arranging the bodies on the ramp so that when Destiny was dialed back, their atoms and souls would be consigned to the universe.

The idea of doing that on Destiny’s side had been repellant. It was cleaner this way. Ginn had asked to attend this quasi ceremony and she stood next to Eli, her face pale, their hands clasped, while Everett said a few words that Daniel Jackson had provided that the Alliance commonly used when burying their dead.

Rush doesn’t come, but Everett saw him watching the table being carried through the gate, standing high above the gate room where the double staircase met, hands gripping the railing tight. Everett catches his eye and nods, and he nods back, then disappears into the ship.

The planet, thank god, has enough Kind-of-Berries, Sort-of-Nuts, and other assorted vegetation that was edible and christened by Eli to restock their supplies and then some. Greer takes charge of a scouting party and finds herd animals and large lizard-types that are edible. Not wanting to use up their ammunition unnecessarily, Everett asked Corporal Baras, with his fascination with hunter-gather societies, to lend a hand and he directs one group to drive the animals over a forty foot cliff, while he shows another group how to camouflage themselves to hunt the long tailed animal that isn’t exactly a reptile, but is close enough. The lizard catching crew waits with clubs for their quarry to show up for the bait, a large, slow wormlike lifeform that normally are above the quasi-lizards’ tongues’ reach.

It would have been great to be able to use the shuttle, but they make do. Almost everyone has been pressed into service, either sorting things out in the now empty gateroom, or down on the planet.

Destiny has been generous to them, allowing over a week of time. Time to replenish their supplies, water and food. Time to bury their dead, to express their sorrow over their losses. Time to allow every crewmember to spend hours and hours on the planet, to feel sunshine on their faces and skin. TJ had insisted on that, once the initial reports indicated the planet was reasonably safe. Lack of Vitamin D, she says, is a health issue and one that exposure to sunlight can alleviate.

There are only two crew members who haven’t been to the planet. David will not be coming. He was just on Earth, there’s no health reason to include him and every reason to continue to make his incarceration boring. He can’t be trusted without going through whatever version of the Rite of M’al Sharran, they use, suffocate him, electrocute him, to the point of death and then pray he can be brought back with his mind his own again.

David hasn’t agreed, and the IOA won’t sanction a non-consensual attempt. There is nothing to learn from him regarding the Alliance that hasn’t already been given. So, David sits in his room. Alone.

Rush has not been to the planet. For the first several days Everett figures he’s still recovering since he hasn’t shown up in the control interface room and that’s fine, he’s supposed to not be working. He hasn’t shown up for meals, though, and when he queries Becker about it, Brody interrupts and asks for a word.

So, he knows now that Rush won’t step foot in the mess. Brody tells him he takes food to him twice a day, leaves it in Rush’s unlocked room, takes back the empty bowl or plate. Proof of life, since Brody hasn’t seen him either for the last two days. Turns out, nobody has. Not since they carried the table off the ship. He’s not staying in his quarters, or visiting the inhabited areas of the ship or slipping off to do clandestine work at stations or labs he’s used before. He’s gone to ground somewhere, is what Everett thinks. But where? According to the Science Team no code is being altered, there are no system changes being implemented.

He’s torn because he wants to do what’s right for the man, but what is the right thing to do? Leave him alone and let him lick his wounds in peace? Talking with Camile and TJ about it doesn’t help much. They say that Rush needs to feel in control. Okay, he can see that. The man had every choice taken from him. But, is letting him stew on his own really what he needs?
What about safety checks, counseling? They agree that he needs to be seen, be evaluated.

He’s not sure that Rush has a radio with him, but he calls him anyway, tells him to go to channel 2. Expresses his concern, well, it might have sounded like an order, when he thinks later about his phrasing. Rush has to report to the infirmary and TJ, at a minimum. In hind sight, telling Rush that if he didn’t show up within an hour, that search parties would start looking for him probably wasn’t the best way to handle things.

But Rush does come to the infirmary. He looks so tired, he’s obviously still not sleeping well. He agrees to the suggestions made by TJ and Camile, and TJ puts him on light duty, restricting his hours in the control interface room to half a day for the next two days, since he just shakes his head when they suggest he stay in the infirmary and drink the sedative TJ’s concocted. Everett wants him at least part of the time where other people can observe him, make sure he’s okay.

The expression on Rush’s face is puzzling, like he’s bemused by a private joke. Everett’s suspicions are inflamed, because keeping Rush out of the hub of the ship, he should have thrown the mother of all fits about it.

Has Kiva changed him that much? Where is he spending his time? When Everett asks him, he says the observation deck, walking in the halls, working at an engineering station, in hydroponics. But his eyes slide away from Everett’s steady gaze and he knows Rush is lying.

Everett suggests Rush join the teams on the planet for some short shifts, thinking that it would be good for him to get off the ship and breath fresh air. Rush agrees and Everett turns his attention to other matters. His daughter, David, more exchanges with the stones to Homeworld Command and a trip to see Emily.

Looking into Emily’s disillusioned eyes, he can feel his marriage slipping from his grasp; the tighter he tries to hold onto it, to Emily, tries to persuade her that this is just a rough patch and they will get through it, that he will come home to her and they will have the life that she wants together, the more Emily withdraws from him. There is a heavy weight in his gut that grows even more when she refuses to go to bed with him or kiss him. She’s relieved when he has to go with his escort back to Washington.

He told her about Carmen.

When he finds out that Rush hasn’t gated down to the planet yet or even helped in the gate room with sorting the planet’s bounty, he’s puzzled because Rush is not a shirker when it comes to anything that means their survival. He has, in fact, earned respect from the military for not taking numerous breaks like some of the civilians do when faced with hard physical work on missions to planets.

He checks with the rest of the science team. Since his meeting with Rush in the infirmary the man has spent maybe thirty minutes in the control observation room at a time before diffidently, quietly heading out the door. When Brody asks where he’s going, he tells them he’s going to the bathroom. It’s hours before he might show up again, or even the next day.

Maybe Rush is just sitting in some forsaken corridor of the ship and having his panic attacks in privacy, maybe he’s found some small hole of a closet and is hiding away. But it’s been days now since they emerged from their jump and Rush is not getting better, not with hiding away like this.

And maybe Everett’s feeling a load of guilt for his part in Rush’s trauma, and he’s not sure what to do about it.

The bottle of Brody’s rotgut he pours down his throat at night doesn’t have an opinion on that or what a fuck up he’s been, just helps numb him to the point where he doesn’t care for a while.

TJ’s face tightens when in the middle of the night the baby awakens and he stumbles through the door Brody fixed for him into the nursery and offers to hold Carmen and soothe her back to sleep after she’s nursed. She turns him down, and he knows it’s because she smells the alcohol on him, and that he’s failing already as a father.

He tells himself he won’t stop by the makeshift bar the next night.

But he does.

* * *

Neither Rush nor the Science Team has pinned down exactly how the air was vented from the Lucian’s quarters. As Rush explains it, without using the master code no one can get past the firewall that is protecting that information. Eli and Ginn and Park concur, Brody just shrugs, and Volker shoots Rush a look that Everett is going to classify as doubtful. When Rush realizes Volker is watching him, instead of shooting him a withering stare that would have intimidated Volker into looking away, it’s Rush who looks uneasy and wraps his arms around himself and lowers his gaze. When that happens, Volker blushes bright red.

Rush mutters something about going to the bathroom and leaves the room quietly.

Everett moves over to Volker, who is looking mortified and ashamed. “Walk with me,” he tells him and they slowly make their way down empty corridors.

Mildly, Everett asks, “You didn’t seem convinced that Rush is right about the firewall.”

Volker shakes his head. “No, he’s correct about that.”

“Then what was that look you gave him about?”

Volker sighs. “I was thinking that the old Rush would never have just given up on trying to figure something out. He’s different now, and while I don’t miss the way he used to be towards me, I really, really hate that he can’t even look at me now.”

“He seems okay with the rest of the Science Team,” Everett pointed out. “Something else going on with you and him?”

Volker blushes again. Everett waits him out as they walk past a power relay station and turn down another corridor, past unused laboratory spaces and conference type rooms.

“I can’t stop seeing him on the table,” Volker finally blurts out. “Now, I mean. I look at him and that’s the first thing that I think about, him naked and people, uh,” he glances at Everett and swallows, his face pinking up again, “doing things to him. Sexual things. He’s so damn smart but that’s not what comes to mind when I look at him anymore or he says something. I can’t seem to get past remembering him crying and so helpless and being like a sex toy for the Alliance. He’s one of the toughest son-of-a bitches I’ve ever met and to see him so broken down and them using his mouth and his. . . I can’t even say it, and I don’t watch porn, hell, I get uncomfortable with Playboy, and now I’ve got my very own porn movie in my head and I hate it. I hate it! I know I’m making him uncomfortable and it makes me feel like absolute shit when he flinches when I come close to him and I think he thinks I want to do those things to him. And I can’t tell him any of this crap, and I can’t even tell Brody, because I should be better than this. I get so embarrassed and I hate that I blush when I look at him and I don’t know how to stop it.”

The man is bright red now and he’s staring ahead, not looking at Everett. He damns Kiva again for the trauma she’d inflicted on the entire crew. “It’s not your fault, Dale,” he says. “That reaction is exactly what Kiva wanted from the crew. And I don’t know what to tell you to do to get over this, but it’s not your fault. It’s not his fault, either.”

“I’m going to go to a counselor,” Volker says. “I already decided that. But, I keep dithering about talking to him directly about it or just hoping that I’ll stop having this reaction. And it kills me when he looks down or hunches in on himself when I do something as innocuous as reaching for a water bottle that’s next to him.”

“What’s the worst that would happen if you did just tell him why you get so uncomfortable when you look at him?”

“I’d die of embarrassment? No, I mean, yeah, I probably would, but you’re right. I could maybe stop him worrying that I want to treat him the way the Alliance did. I guess I won’t actually die from blood rushing to my face.”

“All of us, we’ve all got to move on from what Kiva orchestrated. She wanted the crew to feel guilty, to feel involved, to be intimidated. Rush keeps telling me that he won’t let Kiva win. He’s fighting really hard to not let himself be less than he was because of the torture she inflicted.”

“Torture. Yeah, torture. Maybe I can reframe what I saw from something sexual to just torture. He was being tortured on the table. He was being hurt, and I knew that, but the sexual parts, it kind of-- and he came, he had orgasms, which was weird and, and confusing but, well, I’m going to practice thinking of what happened to him as torture.”

“Rape is a tactic of war,” Everett says, feeling disgust for the human race. “Kiva wasn’t the first to use it and she won’t be the last. He was drugged, Dale, into having orgasms. Ginn told us the Alliance put some kind of sex drug in the food they made him lick off their fingers. Even without something like that, a person’s body can be triggered into orgasms without their consent. He couldn’t help that part, either.”

“Oh. Drugged, God, the poor bastard. He must hate us so much for watching him.”

“I don’t think he does. I think he hates himself. He’s certainly come to terms with Ginn from what I’ve been told and what I see for myself.”

“Yeah. He’ll even talk to her sometimes. He can’t say two words to me, though.”

“Give it more time and have that talk with him. Go to counseling. We can’t change what happened to him, to us, but we can try to mitigate the effects as much as possible. For you, and the rest of the crew, for Rush. For us all.”

“Thanks for talking to me,” Volker offers. “I couldn’t talk about this to Brody or anybody on the team. But you, you had to-- well, I figured you might understand better.”

He claps Volker on the shoulder. “I’ve got to go. You gonna be okay.”

“Yeah. I’m just going to keep walking for a while and figure out what to say to Rush.” Volker motions towards a cross corridor and they part ways.

* * *

“Rush,” Everett says, stepping out of the doorway of the room next to Rush’s. “This is the last day on the planet, and TJ’s orders are for us both to go down and get some sun.” That’s not quite true. Certainly TJ had said it was her medical decision that Dr. Rush should go. Everett’s already been down to the planet several times, did his share of picking fruit and slaughtering the QL’s as the quasi-lizards have been named.

Rush doesn’t know that, though, since he’s become such a hermit. Everett feels a bit like a lion waiting at the watering hole for his prey to be forced to come near because of physical needs. He’s taken a load of paperwork with him to work on while he waits for Rush to come and get his morning rations.

“Colonel,” Rush says, his eyes wide with startlement, and he looks exhausted again, with dark circles under his eyes. “What? Oh, yes, the planet. I’m...”

“Too busy to come and replenish your Vitamin D levels? Doing what?”

Rush sighs, and capitulates. “I’ll be along shortly. I’ll need to change into BDUs.”

Shaking his head, Everett says, “You’ll have to go in those. All the spare uniforms are taken. There’s a lot of the crew working on the planet. So, now that you’ve eaten, let’s go.”

He gestures down the corridor and Rush shuts his door slowly. Every inch of his body is screaming his reluctance to come with Everett, and he doesn’t know if that’s because Rush doesn’t want to leave the ship or because he doesn’t want to walk alone with Everett. After the friendliness between them when he’d walked Rush to his quarters and in turn had been given baby care advice, it feels like a step back.

Maybe. . . maybe Carmen had been a buffer. Maybe Rush had felt more relaxed because Everett had been carrying his newborn child with him and obviously wasn’t going to attack him. He hopes that this trip to the planet and working alongside of Rush will help ease that tension again.

Camile said there would be steps forward along with sliding back, in any recovery from trauma. She counseled patience and communication and from the way she had been studying him, he was pretty sure she wasn’t just talking about Rush.

They gate down and it’s hot and sunny and the air smells like flowers. They’re directed by Corporal Barnes to where a new type of edible fruit has been found and given instructions on how to pick it and given homemade mesh sacks to fill. Once they’re done, they’re to radio for a kino sled to come by and take the fruit to the ship and be given new sacks to fill.

Rush isn’t paying much attention. Instead, he strips off his black jacket, and Barnes takes it from him and lays it next to the ramp.

“Yeah, you’re not going to need that,” she tells him, and Everett removes his own replacement jacket and lays it on top of Rush’s.

Rush rolls up his short sleeved T-shit to his shoulders and all he needs is a pack of cigarettes to tuck into the folds to give him a kid from the wrong side of the tracks look, with his hair growing out again and unruly and the stubble on his face. He squints up at this world’s sun and then rolls his shoulders, rubs at his temples and stifles a yawn.

He catches Everett looking at him and shrugs. “Best to get all the sun I can, as I’m sure Lieutenant Johanson would tell you.”

Everett nods, and then peels his black T-shirt entirely off and tosses it on top of his jacket. “Good point.” In fact, a lot of the crew have done the same thing, and some have suffered sunburn because of it. He, though, never burns, only tans. He still caries a rifle, though, in case they run into trouble from predators.

The patch of bushes they’re assigned to is about two miles away, and Barnes gives them directions. It’s a pleasant walk, following a track that reminds Everett of deer trails. Apparently, some of the wildlife on this planet also enjoy the white fruit that tastes like bananas.

He talks casually about the baby to Rush, more to keep disarming him than because he’s a new father and overflowing with love and amazement about his kid. It seems to work, as Rush seems to lose more of the tension in his shoulders and even makes a comment or two back to him.

They each work diligently at the bushes they’ve claimed, stripping the lower branches entirely before moving onto new ones. Several hours pass and they share a water bottle that Barnes had handed to Rush before they left the gate area. It’s quiet between them, and Everett is enjoying this. Being outside, hearing the noises of insects and the call of other animals, never too close, though. The feel of the sun on his back and shoulders, hearing the breeze rustle through leaves and watching the sway of the branches.

“The research on the effects of nature on the brain is fascinating,” Rush throws out. Everett glances at him. His head is slightly tipped back and his eyes are focused on the uppermost branches of the large bush in front of him. Sweat drips down from his forehead and he wipes his face with the hem of his T-shirt.

“Yeah?” Everett says, a little curious, and resolutely not looking at Rush’s belly that he’s just exposed.

“EEG readings show more Delta waves after being out in a peaceful nature situation. Tests show increase in creativity and problem solving, too.”

“But not if you’re being chased by a bear,” Everett says, tongue in cheek. He gets the reaction he was aiming for.

Rush rolls his eyes. “Were you not listening? I did say peaceful.”

He can’t suppress the small snort of amusement that escapes him. Rush narrows his eyes at him, but Everett distracts him by tossing him one of the fruit. Rush catches it, but before he can fling it back, Everett says, “Let’s take a break. I’m hungry, and you have to be, too.” He takes a bite out of the fruit in his hand and waves Rush over to where there’s shade from a larger plant that resembles a willow tree.

They eat several fruits and Rush wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. Everett hands him the water bottle, and watches Rush swallow. He turns away for a moment, flashing back to Rush on the table, being forced to swallow so much water, or worse.

They return to the bushes and Everett takes a deep breath and tries to clear his mind from memories of Rush swallowing David’s spunk, bent double on the table. Grasping for anything else to think about, he remembers what Rush had said about nature.

“I agree with you, with what you said about being out in nature and its effects on a person. I saw it a lot, back when in my SGC days with my team. We spent a fair amount of time on planets walking from the gate to the towns, through woods or pastures. Or camping out. I saw how my team would work together better, come up with amazing ideas. And I’ve always loved to camp. I was a Boy Scout.”

“O’ course you were,” Rush says, with a hint of a smirk.

“And you weren’t one, I take it?”

“Hardly. You would have been told to steer clear of me and my lot.” Rush stretches to pick several of the fruit that are barely out of his reach.

“Why? Were you juvenile delinquents?” Everett finishes filling his sack and ties it off, picks up a new one.

“Aye, I suppose we were. Most of the lads I knew back then are dead or in jail, or doing things they ought to be in jail for.”

“But not you. How’d you end up going to Oxford, then, and getting a Ph.D?”

Rush shrugs. “My father. He took the work I’d been doing on my own and me to a mathematics professor in Glasgow and practically forced the man to take time to read them over. He gave me a load of tests, then, and told my Da that if he could keep me out of trouble then I had a future, could go to university.”

“How old were you?”

“Nine.” Rush frowns at the fruit on the higher branches and Everett moves next to him and by stretching manages to pull the branch down and let Rush pick it clean.

“So they put you in accelerated classes, gave you scholarships?”

Rush snorts. “No. But Professor Allan did let me sit in on his classes and his colleagues’ in the afternoons and evenings and gave me access to textbooks. That was the carrot, I suppose, and my Da was the stick.”

Everett raises his eyebrows. “What, did he take away privileges, ground you?”

Rush gives him an exasperated look. “I’m quite sure you’re describing your own punishments. No, if Da found out I’d been hanging out again with the older lads, or had skipped Professor Allan’s class, he’d knock me about.”

“You got spankings.” He moves to another branch that was out of Rush’s reach and pulls it down. They actually make a pretty good team, and the work is going very smoothly. Rush efficiently strips it.

“Beatings,” Rush says. “Not a few taps on the bum. He broke my arm once.”

“That’s child abuse.”

Rush frowns at him. “Enough of this. We should call for the kino sled soon, after we fill these last sacks.” He drops to the ground and sits cross-legged, and Everett joins him.

Everett lets the conversation drop. He can’t say he’s surprised to learn that Rush had a tough childhood. There had been something about the way he’d approached Everett after they’d gotten him back from the Nakai, that willingness to just let the fight on the planet and Everett’s abandonment of him be their little secret, that had twinged at Everett. Dysfunctional family secrets. He’d bet his paycheck that Rush hadn’t admitted to anyone in authority that his father was hurting him. He’s not sure now if Rush even understands that while his dad’s motives in wanting his son to get an education and a better life were admirable, beating him into compliance was wrong. He feels a rush of guilt for trying the same thing. He flashes on the defiant expression on Rush’s face when after beating him up and asking him if he’s going to submit to Everett’s authority and stop his manipulating, if they were done. But Rush tells him they’ll never be done. And then Everett had left him to die, furious and raging and sure that they were all better off without Rush on the ship. That feeling hadn’t lasted long; he hadn’t even made it out of the gate room before feeling like his guts had turned to stone with regret.

He never thought he’d see Rush again. He’d been filled with such conflicting feelings when he’d seen Rush on the Nakai ship, floating unconscious in that bizarre tank of water.

Yeah, he decided. He wanted him back. The crash of the glass, the water rushing out, washing Rush out on the deck, it had felt like he was washing a sin from his soul.

But not really. Nothing really would ever make up for what he’d done, callously leaving a man to die from thirst and starvation and exposure because he was difficult and treacherous and impossible to rein in.

Kiva had done it, though. Reined Rush in. But she’d had to break him first. Everett, he’d just gotten rid of him.

Things had gotten better, after the mutiny. Rush seemed to be honestly trying to work with Everett. But now. . . it’s all so fucked up.

Rush is looking at him, a little puzzled, He’s waiting on Everett to respond to him. Everett clears his throat and his mind. Focus on the mission, even if it’s just picking fruit and making sure the two of them don’t get eaten by some alien predator.

He says, watching Rush, “We’ll have to find a new bunch of these bushes. We’ve picked all that we can.”

“Not true, Colonel.” Rush casually points up to the upper branches, where there are several sack’s worth of fruit.

“Those are out of my reach and we can’t climb up there, those skinny little branches won’t hold us, not even you.”

Rush scowls at the implication that he’s smaller, lighter than Everett but it’s the truth.

“I expect Volker to make those kind of obvious statements, but I had higher expectations of you, Colonel,” Rush says, and he throws him a challenging look. “Excluding climbing the branches or making a ladder out of materials, because there is no suitable material on hand, how would you suggest that those fruit that are out of our reach be picked?”

“I bet you were a terror when you were teaching, weren’t you?” Everett grumbles, feeling a bit stung. “Okay, I can boost you up better than you could boost me up, but do you want to do that? It might, uh, bring stuff back up. Have you considered that? Because someone else could do what you’re suggesting.”

Rush looks both scared and fierce for a moment, then locks down his expression. “I won’t let Kiva stop me from doing one bloody thing. I’ll sit on your shoulders, Colonel. Kneel down.” Rush gets up from where they’ve been sitting together and grabs the bags, loops the drawstrings around his wrist.

Rush climbing up and sitting on his shoulders reminds Everett of high school days, of chicken fights in the pool, of outdoor concerts where his girlfriend would sit like this to see the band better.

He gets up slowly, feeling Rush’s thighs against his neck and holds onto Rush’s legs as he walks carefully to the bushes. Rush feels tense to him.

“You okay?”

“Yes, fine.”

“You want down, just say the word.”

“Not until I fill these sacks.” Rush starts picking, and Everett holds the man’s legs tightly, his own knees bent slightly, feet planted apart to better counterbalance when Rush stretches upwards or tilts to the side to reach the fruit.

One sack is nearly filled when Rush drops one of the fruit and Everett automatically catches it, unbalancing Rush for a second or two.

Then Everett looks closely at the white fruit whose skin is dotted with pin sized blue spots.

Blue spots. Ut-oh.

He tosses the one in his hand away, but before he can warn Rush the entire sackful of fruit dangling from his hand explodes.

Rush lets out a startled yelp and starts to lose his balance, and Everett doesn’t bother with trying to stabilize him; instead, he pulls Rush down and forward, catching him in his arms, cradling him for a long moment before setting him on his feet.

They are both covered in gunk. It’s cloying and in their hair and dripping from Rush’s eye lashes. It smells peculiar, but familiar and Everett identifies it as the scent of sex in the air, the odor of sperm.

Rush is breathing fast, and his eyes are panicked. He uses his T-shirt to wipe his eyes, but this stuff is sticking to their skin like glue. Rush’s movements became frantic as he tries and fails to wipe the stickiness from his face, his chest and arms.

“No,” he screams and he’s breathing too rapidly to say anything more and his eyes are wide and scared and dammit, he’s having a flashback, he must be.

Everett grasps his arms, pulls him forward. Their faces are very close now, but Rush’s eyes are shut. He’s shaking like he’s got malaria.

“You’re safe, you’re safe. I’ve got you. Prime numbers after ten thousand, start calculating, open your eyes and breath with me.”

Rush’s expression when he opens his eyes is so lost that it’s another stab of guilt in the gut for Everett. This is his fault, that his chief scientist is experiencing horror again. All his fault.

He encourages Rush to breathe with him, and Rush starts murmuring numbers. It’s over in a few minutes. Rush sighs and there is sweat running down his face, and he’s still trembling, a little.

“Thank you,” he says, quietly and humbly.

“Usually I give people two digit multiplication problems or to start prime numbers sequencing after one, but I figured for you we’d better jump ahead. The trick to stopping a panic attack is to make the brain do something logical. Like calculating numbers. Can’t be something you’ve memorized though, not counting by fives or doing the easy times tables.”

“You’ve done this before.” It’s not a question, but Rush is looking better. Calmer. He raises a hand to his face to try to scratch away the drying film, but Everett catches his hand.

“Stop. It’s gonna need soap and water to get it off. Lucky for you, I’ve got soap with me. We’ll go back to that creek we crossed to get here. There was a nice pool a little ways down, we can take a bath. And yeah, I’ve done this before, oh, maybe twenty times or so. With my team. It wasn’t always just pleasant hikes through alien woods.”

“You knew something was wrong with the fruit I was picking. You threw away the one I dropped.”

“Yeah, genius. I knew because Barnes warned us about them. She said, and I quote, ‘Don’t pick the ones with blue spots, they’re over ripe and rancid and if they’re in close contact with each other they’ll all explode.”

Rush looks stunned for a moment, then chagrined. “I didn’t hear her.”

“No shit, Sherlock.”


“Forget it. It’s pretty obvious that you’re still exhausted. Lack of sleep means making mistakes. We’ll radio for the kino sled to come and do a pick up and then go get cleaned up.”

Rush smiles ruefully at him, and something in Everett’s chest tightens and then warms. He doesn’t want to think about what that means, though, as they wait until James swings by and they load up the sled. After she’s gone he points towards where the path is and picks up his weapon, takes point. Rush follows him without a word.

* * *

Chapter Text

There are ghosts on the ship. To a certain extent, they haunt everyone. Rush isn’t blind to that, he’s seen for the past weeks how the survivors on this ship have been effected by Kiva’s reign. The crew is off kilter, there is anger and anxiety in the voices he overhears. There is tension and speculation between people as the past weeks under Kiva’s reign are re-examined.

There are ugly rumors that Camile collaborated with Kiva. That she’d been groomed to become Kiva’s bedmate as well. Rush knows from Simeon that, yes, Camile had been Kiva’s prize, but that had hardly been Camile’s fault. It’s also not her fault that a lot of the crew look at her with suspicion now, military and civilian. Gloria has informed him of that; he’s hardly spoken two words to Camile Wray himself.

He looks over from the bridge command chair to see Gloria – the holographic body that Destiny’s AI has chosen as appropriate for communication with him – gazing at him with feigned concern.

“Nicholas, you need to sleep,” she says, and out of habit he’s nodding absentmindedly, having no intention of actually following his wife’s concerned advice.

“Nicholas,” she says again, disappointed admonishment strong in her feigned voice. Do his ears actually hear vowels and consonants or is the impression of speech something that the AI deposits directly within his brain?

“What?” he snaps, and if this really was his Gloria, the look of hurt on her face would have had him rising and taking her hands, apologizing and kissing her, for while he’s a thoughtless bastard he loves this woman and he’s hurt her too many times already.

This is the ship, though, and she’s bloody well been reading the crew’s thoughts. His included. He’s got some very mixed feelings about that, and no very clear idea of what he’s doing with Destiny’s avatar.

Or much of anything else, for that matter.

* * *

He slips into a dream where he and Gloria are walking through well ordered gardens on a planet Destiny has stopped at, and off to the sides he can see some of the crew picking fruit and nuts from trees and bushes, while his Science Team cuts and places in mesh sacks vegetables from the colorful plants in rows, never mind who these orchards and gardens belong to. They have to eat. Starvation is always just around the corner for them, and so they’ll take what they want. What they need.

Koz would approve, he knows.

He and Gloria walk on, hand in hand, and he pulls her into a kiss under a tree that very much reminds him of a Weeping Willow, with its long fronds hanging down to provide a curtain from the curious eyes of the crew. They’re always watching him. Wondering where he wanders off to from the control interface room. Telling them he’s off to the bathroom no longer appeases them, from the suspicious looks on Volker and Brody and Eli’s face. Park’s expression is fearful. It’s not safe, her eyes tell him, to be away by yourself in isolated parts of the ship. Bad things happen in places like that.

Gloria tastes of tea and sweetness, and he closes his eyes when the kiss ends and lets go of her arms. When he opens his eyes he knows she will be gone.

She’s just a ghost, her death still a bleeding open wound, one that he doesn’t want to stanch because he deserves that pain. When she needed him most, he wasn’t there.

He opens his eyes to find himself back on Destiny and a gauntlet waiting for him, Lucians are on one side of the corridor and Destiny’s crew on the other. They beckon him, holding out food, and call him Kresh’ta and whore. Dirty little slut. Their hands are outstretched, ready to snatch him to their sides, strip him of his clothes, touch his dick and arse and pull his hair, put their filthy tongues in his mouth, jam fingers up his hole. At the end of the gauntlet he can see it waiting for him.

The table.

Simeon holds up chains that attached to the legs of that hated surface. “I’ll fuck you first, Rush. And you know you’ll like it.”

He can feel it happening, his erection swelling at Simeon’s words and he flushes hard from shame. Then there are arms behind him, pulling him back into a broad chest. “It’s not your fault what happened. I won’t let them hurt you. You only need to be honest with me, Rush.”

He’s listening. Young whispers in his ear, “What are you up to, when you disappear for practically a day? Where are you going, because you’re not in your quarters and I know you won’t go to the mess.”

Shaking his head, he whispers back, “You said I could keep my secrets, Colonel. I’m not ready to share what I’ve found. I don’t have a clear understanding of how the systems work. You can’t expect me to turn it over to the likes of Volker. And I feel safe there. I can control the whole ship and nobody can get at me.”

“Excuses, Rush. And I’ll keep you safe, if you’ll let me.”

He wants to trust the Colonel. But he’s been hurt by him and so he pauses, uncertain and unable to make that leap of trust.

The Lucians and the crew grasp at their throats and make harsh choking sounds. They fall to the ground and their backs arch and they are dying, they are dying, they are--”

His eyes open and he shudders, feeling so cold with his stomach tied in knots. He fell asleep in the command chair again. It’s occurred quite frequently since the day the bodies of the Lucians were vaporized in the event horizon Destiny provided.

Not that he’d watched the disposal of the bodies happen himself.

Perhaps he should have joined the others on that planet and witnessed his rapists utter destruction; well, most of them. Three are still on the ship, Ginn, Telford and Young, but he’s forgiven two of them.

He’s absurdly grateful to Young for ordering the table to also be shattered down to atoms. He pictures it, the roar of the gate opening, the explosion of energy forming that intense wave moving out from the huge circle, destroying anything in its path before the wave subsides into the blue placid water-like ripples of the event horizon. The filthy thing gone, although he was told by Chloe that the crew had cleaned it in some quiet ritual under Young’s direction.

In his mind it will always be covered with tears and blood and sweat and piss and come. Testament to his degradation.

He’s glad the bloody thing is gone.

The ghosts, though, they’re still here. Koz, Kiva, Varro, the other Lucians who had worked with him, fondled him, fucked him.

He never knows when one of those apparitions will make him stiffen in fear, when he enters the shower room, in the shadows of a darkened corridor, when he’s about to fall asleep.

And Simeon’s ghost. He jolts awake with the feel of the man’s blood on his hands, his screwdriver held tight in his hands. He gets it out in his sleep from its hiding place in Young’s jacket cuff, and it’s both weapon and security object, like a child’s teddy bear.

He’s not the only one being haunted by that particular Lucian.

Simeon had sexually assaulted Park and also Amelia White. He had never been able to remember her name till now, the short, red-haired woman who was usually with her lover, the tall blond Valkyrie. There had been others, men and women, who he’d groped. Some of them meet for the counseling groups held twice a week now. The crew knows he, too, was raped by Simeon. When he’d been screaming out his rage to Greer in the storage room where Simeon’s body had been abandoned by Park and him, he’d been overheard by the men outside the door. They’d talked.

Eli tries awkwardly to speak to him about it, when they’re alone in the control interface room, Brody and Volker having gone to fix a fluctuating power relay to the shields, and Park is working with her plants in hydroponics. Ginn is on Earth, being questioned once again about the Alliance. Eli gets up from his station and walks over to him until he’s standing close enough to touch him. Rush checks himself to see if he feels panicked, but he doesn’t. It’s just Eli. He’s not going to hurt him or want to fuck him.

Eli’s expression is hesitant.

“What is it?” Rush says, but from the look on Eli’s face he’s quite sure he actually doesn’t want to know. No point in avoiding this little chat, though. Eli will just keep trying to talk to him about whatever this is. He’s quite sure it’s nothing to do with the ship.

“I, um, heard what happened to you and Park and if you ever want to talk or, I dunno, just hang out, play chess or like, work on a Millennium problem together for distraction or when you can’t sleep, then I’m your guy.”

He feels hot and then cold, and wraps his arms around himself before realizing how much he’s signaling with that sort of body language, and instead grips the console and stares at the tangle of conduit and wires, the nerve center of the control interface room that reaches from floor to ceiling that the team has nicknamed the Apple Core. Ridiculous name, Apple Core, and he focuses on that and tries to ignore how it makes him feel to know that Eli thinks he needs – something from him. Protection, distraction from himself, bollocks, he doesn’t know and doesn’t want to think about it.

“I’m fine, Eli,” he says.

“Sure you are,” he gets back. “That’s why you’re gone for hours and hours and it’s so obvious you’re not sleeping, dude.”

He tries to glare at Eli, but his efforts must fall a fair bit short, because Eli just looks sad and worried and a little lost.

“Look. You and me, we’ve had our problems, mostly because you lied to us, but you’re. . . I don’t know what you are but you’re important to me, so I’m going to keep looking out for you because you need people on your side. I mean, Frodo had Sam, and Gandalf, although he did send Frodo into danger and nearly got him killed, but, man, that was like for the greater good, which you would have approved of, sure, but the point is that without Sam, Frodo wouldn’t have made it. Well, to be truthful, because I bet you’ve never read the books or saw the movies, Frodo never really healed. He had to go with the elves to their lands to finally get peace.”

“So, what?” Rush mutters, getting to his feet. He needs to leave here and get away from Eli’s concerned eyes. He is not going to break down in front of him, he absolutely forbids himself to shed the tears he can feel building. “I should hope for the Ancients to ascend me?”

“No!” Eli looks aghast. “No, just, let us help you. Talk to us, be with us. It can’t be good for you to be so alone all the time.”

“I’m fine,” he mutters as he passes Eli, intent on getting out of the control interface room and taking refuge on the bridge.

Eli lays a hand on his arm, and he stops. “Just, think about it. Our whole team is worried about you.”

He swallows hard. Eli has been nothing but kind to him and tried to protect him from the Lucians. He remembers Eli carrying him through the halls to give him over to Young’s care, when he was falling unconscious from the pain and sleep medication he’d had to drink.

“Eli, I know, all right? And. . . thank you. For--” He can’t talk anymore, so he pushes Eli’s hand off of Young’s jacket and walks quickly out the door.

* * *

He’s not asked to come to the counseling groups anymore. Not since he’d bowed to what TJ and Camile and Young had called an intervention – ambush was certainly a more accurate term – and agreed to try it at least once and they in return gave their word to leave him alone about it. They’d promised he wouldn’t have to talk. He hadn’t said a word when he went to the room designated for counseling, some sort of conference place, he supposed, just stood by the door quietly as the counselor who had switched with Camile introduced herself and said some things about recovering from being sexually assaulted. Apparently, though, he was like a raven on a killing field to the others, a symbol of torture, and his mere presence inhibited the others from talking about their trauma. Perhaps they saw him on the table, being raped over and over as they all just sat or stood in the mess and watched. Yes, from the looks on their faces, they’d felt guilty and it had inhibited them from getting on with their recovery.

He’s certain they were relieved when he walked out. He doesn’t blame them.

* * *

He decides he’d best spend more time working where the rest of his lot can see him to dampen down their suspicions, and he’s quiet when he’s working in the control observation room. People forget he’s there and they talk. They talk a lot, and he’s like a gleaner in the fields, picking through the scraps of conversation for data on how the crew fares.

He can’t make himself ask outright.

They can’t know that he’s concerned for the people he brought to this ship. Chloe has been found after wandering off, apparently in some sort of an unaware state. The gunshot wound in her thigh has healed much faster than it should have done, puzzling Lieutenant Johanson.

He’s aware from the cryptic conversations between Brody and the other members of the science team that Young has been drinking Brody’s moonshine heavily at night. The few times he’s tracked down by Young when he’s spent too much time away from the others, the man looks haggard and his hair is becoming unruly. Rush honestly doesn’t care much for the spit and shine look of soldiers but Young had always been shaved, his hair cut quite short. Rush hadn’t even known the man actually had very curly hair till he’d started to let himself go. When he queries Destiny he learns that Young is ducking meetings with his junior officers, and he spends much too much time talking to that bastard Telford, attempting to persuade him into trying to end the brainwashing. Telford has a way of hitting below the belt, as Rush well knows from all their interactions at the SGC and Icarus and Destiny. He’s quite sure Telford is not helping with Young’s slide into this depression that has the science team so concerned.

Lieutenant Johanson has moved back to her old quarters, taking her wee babe with her. The news of that had spread like wildfire amongst the crew. Young’s expression the day after had been set in stone; Rush had observed him but hadn’t talked to him. Young has been kind to him since those three days on the table, protective even, but he’ll not chance being his scapegoat and have the anger that is simmering under that locked down expression rain down on himself. He remembers what it felt like to have Young’s fists pounding him, and there are old resentments and trouble between them. It would be too easy for something about Rush’s behavior or just for being the way he is to trigger that anger.

Coward he sneers at himself, Is that really why you avoid him at all cost? What happened on that planet picking fruit has nothing to do with it, does it?

He refuses to answer rhetorical questions with himself, that’s daft, and he shoves down the confused feelings he has about Everett Young.

He won’t think about how it had felt to sit on the man’s shoulders, to feel that sturdy body holding him securely, or the feel of Young’s bare skin under his hands as he’d scrambled atop him.

Or how it had felt to be falling, panicking, and then to feel strong arms cradling him like when Young had carried him out of the mess. You’re safe, You’re safe now, But no, he hadn’t been safe at all, not with Kiva alive, but that was what he’d felt at the time when he’d turned his face into Young’s shoulder and wept, and he did again. He looked into Young’s eyes, confused about what the fuck had just happened, but he felt protected. Until the flashback took him over.

He won’t admit that the sight of Young naked except for his boxers, smiling and wet from their dip in the small brook on the last planet, had twisted something in his gut. He’s always been able to put off eating, and sleeping, in order to get the job done and he bloody well can do the same for whatever nonsense his body is trying to get up to with this new fascination about Young.

Oh, that’s brilliant, he argues with himself. Fascination, is it? Admit it to yourself, man, and then move past it. You felt desire for Young.

No, no, well, possibly. Probably. All right, yes. But it was a one-off. It won’t happen again. Itcan’t.

Yes, he’s going to put it behind him, lock it up with all the other things he refuses to feel or think about.

Are you quite sure about that, Nicky, lad? his bloody, cheeky mind shoots back and he blows out his breath in vexation.

Cursing to himself he leaves the control interface room and ignores the looks from Volker and Park and Brody and stomps his way back to the bridge. He can’t deal with whatever he’s feeling for Colonel Bloody Young.

* * *

He leans forward in the command chair, and checks the systems displays that surround him, and knuckles his eyes, as if that would stop his exhaustion. He’s wandered away again from the control interface room with the excuse of needing the bathroom. He’d been there for three hours, three hours he could have been doing something useful with the bridge systems. He pretended he didn’t hear Volker’s snide remark about Rush needing to get his prostrate checked. Bloody Volker. It’s because of him and all the other crew that would just be exploring the bridge, indulging in pointless key smashing that he’s doing this. He’s protecting the ship from the crew, and the crew from the ship. When he does finally show them the bridge, though, and teaches them how to use the systems, he doubts very much he’ll get the thanks he deserves.

He wants to keep delving into Destiny’s unlocked data banks, and there had been so, so much hidden away behind firewalls before he’d entered the master code, but learning the ship’s systems has to be his priority.

Bloody, frustrating systems. He’s made some blunders and yes, it’s avery steep learning curve and there isn’t a single other crew member on board that could have done a tenth as well as he’s done, but he’s still feeling like beating his head on a console whenever he makes a mistake.

Mandy’s input would be helpful. Her work on Ancient hyperdrive engines was brilliant. Little Miss Brilliant. He misses their long talks about science and mathematics, her clever wit, her friendship.

The kisses they’d shared while she’d exchanged bodies with Camile had been. . . complicated. He’d had no idea that she had been attracted to him; he’d thought she just felt sorry for him and that was why in her kindness she’d spent time with him. He’d had to wrap his mind around the idea of moving towards being lovers, and he just couldn’t at the time. His entire being was still grieving for Gloria, thanks to the bloody ship’s engineering that intense dreamscape while he’d been in the chair searching for the master code. He’d hoped that memory might be sacrificed, so he wouldn’t ever have to relive his wife’s death but instead the ship had amplified it and he’d woken up feeling her loss so keenly.

Gloria, with her eyes and her mouth and the way her hands would move while playing the violin. The way she’d snuggle next to him in her sleep, always reaching for him when he came to bed late. The constant way she’d misplace her glasses, the long walks they took, the way he could talk to her about anything.

Anything except for her approaching death. He puts a fist to his mouth, as if to stop the words that would implore her to continue her treatments.

The sound of a violin begins to play softly, and the ship has drawn that from his mind, and he curses his ability to remember music in its entirety.

He leans forward in the command chair, torn between wanting to leave and wanting to never stop hearing Gloria play her favorite song. The emotions build and build in him and there’s no escape, not really, and he drops his head in his hands and weeps.

When his sobs finally dwindle down, he looks up and sees Gloria watching him. He wipes his face clear of tears, and wishes futilely for a tissue or a handkerchief.

“Why did you do that to me?” he asks, and Gloria smiles at him, looking so understanding and he misses her so much.

“You required it, darling,” she says simply. “Human tears cried from emotion contain stress hormones. You needed that release, Nicholas."

He hadn’t known that, about tears. So how did Destiny know it?

“You’ve been reading minds again. Who did you learn that from?”

“Dale Volker, when he was comforting Lisa Park.”

“Volker?” He and Lisa were very close, yes, he knew that. It was obvious that Volker had romantic feelings toward her, and someone should talk to him because Lisa saw him as a friend only. She was with Greer now, probably would stay with him, if he had to make a prediction.

“He has conflicting thoughts about you,” she offers, and he feels shame. Bloody Volker. He knows that the man always, always remembers Rush doing such degrading things when he looks at him.

He holds up his hand. “Can you do something useful instead poking around in the crews’ minds and tormenting me?”

She smiles at him, again, the smile she used to bestow upon him when she was amused that he was being an ass. “Perhaps. What did you have in mind?”

He hooks his hand over his shoulder, attempting to ease the ache that’s taken up residence, and says, “The countdown clock. We need to control it.” No more jumping back into FTL when they’ve still got people trapped on a planet or they are desperate to gather supplies or they need to do repairs.

“Actions have consequences, Nicholas.”

He pushes himself out of the command chair and moves until he’s near enough to touch her. He wants so badly to touch her. “Are you going to be any use to me or not on this?”

She wrinkles her nose, looks a little bit regretful. “Can’t help you.”

He steps back and says sharply, “Yes, then, fine. Could you send Dr. Franklin out to see me?”

“Tired of my company, darling?”

“He tends to be more useful when it comes to technical matters.”

There’s a sound behind him and he whirls, afraid, suddenly, that’s he’s been found out, that Young is there, angry, fists ready to teach him another lesson.

It’s Franklin, though. When he glances back at Gloria, she’s gone.

“It’s too much for one man,” Franklin says, and as usual his voice has a metallic overtone.


“This ship was designed to be run by a crew. It’s too much for one man, even if that man is a genius.”

This is not the first time Franklin has scolded him on this point when he’s appeared. “I’m no a genius, as you bloody well know. Eli, yes. But I can’t let the rest o’ them in, not even Eli, because they’ll just trample through these systems like a herd of elephants. You know that, Franklin. So help me learn what I need to know so I can teach the rest o’ them.”

“You’re making mistakes because you’re exhausted. Dropping out of FTL when there’s no planet with a gate; reprogramming the long-range sensors but not restricting that change to the bridge consoles.”

Yes, well, Franklin’s not wrong. Especially about the long-range sensors. That had mystified the Science Team to no end and it would only make it worse if he changed it back.

“Yes, yes, I’m aware--”

He’s interrupted when Franklin says “Nick,” and he sighs. Franklin always was intent on sharing his opinions on the idiocy of others. Franklin gestures toward him. “The biggest mistake you’re making is lying to yourself. You’re not keeping the crew out because you’re afraid of the mistakes they’ll make; you’re keeping this to yourself because it’s the one place on the ship where you feel absolutely safe. No one is here or can find you and you don’t have to worry about being hurt.”

“Shut it, man,” Rush says, and God he’s tired. He’s not going to respond to Franklin’s rubbish attempt at therapy. “The countdown clock is the problem here, leave me out of your calculations. Now, these algorithms are extremely difficult to parse out.”

He spends several hours in intense conversation with Franklin, pulling up the programming that previously had been locked away from him. Locked away, but no longer. The master code has opened so many doors for him and there is no time, never enough time to learn all that he needs to know.

"Going back and checking the programming when the clock begins may prove useful,” Franklin says.

“Yes, I was thinking that myself.” Backwards engineering, from the beginning of Destiny’s flight. The data would be massive, and he needs to be able to see it spread out in front of him, he needs to feel chalk in his hand, white dust coating his fingers and the smell of it in the hallway he’d claimed for his own use as he carefully covers Destiny’s walls with one of her most closely guarded secrets.

He’s not been there, in that deserted corridor, since before he swapped with Telford on Earth and ended up Kiva’s prisoner.

He looks up from his musings to see that he is alone on the bridge. He stumbles to a seat at a console that faces the bridge’s windows and sinks down, too tired now to even walk to his quarters. He closes his eyes and falls asleep between two breaths.

* * *

He returns with Brody to the control interface room to check back in from the two of them finishing a repair job where he’d had to remove an access panel and slide in between the walls and the hull of the ship. They are both dirty, but instead of only filthy hands like Brody has, Rush is filthy all over. He goes to his station and settles in, checking the readings again. He tries to ignore the feel of the grease and the look of the smudges on his skin but it’s becoming intolerable.

He gets up abruptly and heads toward the door.

“Going to the bathroom again?” Eli asks and Rush shoots him an annoyed look and a nod before ducking out the door. Yes, well, he’d already used that excuse once today and hadn’t returned for six hours.

Coming out of the shower room, his hair still wet and sticking out in all directions from his badly done attempts to finger comb it, he sees a kino hovering and growls, “Eli!” at it.

“Oh, sorry,” Eli’s sheepish voice echos in the corridor. “But can you blame me? I thought you were fibbing to us. You weren’t that dirty. And anyway, are you taking, like, six hour showers twice a day now?”

“None of your business,” he snaps at the floating spy ball and takes it and throws it with a lot of force down the corridor.

He wants to go directly to the bridge, but he’s aroused the suspicions of the team for today. They are much less tolerant of his disappearances than they used to be. He decides he’ll go to hydroponics and help Lisa for a time before going to the bridge. It’s peaceful there, anyway, among the plants, and he believes Chloe is with her. Since she started having blackouts, Young ordered that she not be left alone. He’s worried about the lass.

* * *

His bloody mind must have decided that he deserved payback for all those hours he deprived it of sleep because now when he wants to sleep he fucking can’t. Sometimes it’s the nightmares that he falls straight into when he closes his eyes, REM stage ambushing him immediately, and he wakes up screaming and unable to make himself try again for hours and hours. Other times, he. Just. Can’t. Sleep.

He tosses and turns, unable to get comfortable, trying everything he can think of to lull himself into actually falling asleep, but his mind just keeps coming back to the powerpoint slide show of his torture and he obsessively analyzes what he remembers of his reactions to being fucked or the feel of a cock in his mouth, sucking and sucking, and he thinks maybe he sometimes lost himself in the repetitive motions, his entire world narrowing down to a basic instinct every infant has at birth.

”Cocksucker,” he hears Simeon say, or would say if he could. You’re a natural, Kresh’ta.”

He sits up in bed, throws off his blankets and stands up, resigned to another night of no sleep. It’s not to the point where he’ll need to ask Lieutenant Johanson for her green brew, or rather, that he allows one of the others who’ve made his lack of sleep their concern to drag him to the infirmary and her careful scrutiny.

He despises having to rely on medication, so he won’t take himself to the infirmary until he’s at the point of becoming psychotic from lack of REM, or he’s ordered to go.

Colonel Young had done just that, ordered him to accompany him to the infirmary two days ago, after apparently watching him attempt to work in the control interface room. He hadn’t even been aware that the Colonel had come into the room, and really, this was the pot calling the kettle black, because obviously Young hasn’t gotten any decent rest either for a while. The man looks exhausted every time Rush catches a glimpse of him.

Young hadn’t tried to be tactful with him, or couch his orders as a suggestion. He’d just pulled Rush off the stool he’d been sitting on, his hand clamped around Rush’s wrist, and said, “Christ, you’ve been staring into space with nobody home for the last fifteen minutes, Rush. What if we were attacked, you’d be useless the way you are now. A Nakai could have been doing a tap dance in front of you and you wouldn’t have noticed. Infirmary, now.”

There are other words hurled at the science team, but he only recalls a few of them. Call TJ or me if he gets like this again, and He’s off shift, and Pick up your damn feet, Rush.

He wants to talk to the man, tell him to bloody well let him go, to stop pulling him along, but the words are blocked from forming, maybe because he’s so tired, maybe because Young is angry.

He can’t track where they are going, and he stumbles over and over again, until Young growls something at him and then swings him up into his arms and tells him he’s a lotta work.

Perhaps he passed out then, because he comes to the next day in the infirmary.

Lieutenant Johanson informs him that he’s slept for seventeen hours, only leaving his bed once for the bathroom and then falling right back to sleep. And no, she tells him, she didn’t drug him with the sleep compound. All of that time spent asleep was purely his own exhaustion catching up to him. He doesn’t remember coming in here, or her. Just Young.

He still feels tired, but at least he can function again, so he dresses and leaves, wondering who exactly had stripped him of his outer clothing, taken off the trainers that had once belonged to Andrea Palmer.

He’s not quite at that point again, presently, as he works on the Bridge, but he’s very, very tired. He’s been here for the rest of the night after that latest nightmare awoke him. He’d vomited up his dinner, another charming side effect those horrible dreams have afflicted him with at times.

Gloria has been hovering over him for hours and he wishes she’d find something else to do with her time.

He slowly chews one of the few power bars left from Spencer’s hidden stash that he’d unearthed in unused quarters near to the Sergeant’s own room. Afterwards, he can’t even remember what it had tasted like.

“Nick. Nicholas Rush, you’re exhausted. Let someone else help you with this, darling. You’re making a mistake right now because you’re so tired.”

He stops the programming he’s doing, and scowls after scanning his work. Gloria is correct, unfortunately. He goes back and fixes the code, and then in a fit of petulance throws the stub of his pencil across the room.

“Nicholas,” Gloria says again, and he seethes.

“Stop saying my bloody name, Gloria.”

“You’re upset, darling. Try to calm down.”

“Calm down? Calm down! You know why I can’t ask for a research assistant, not after what Andrew Kovel pulled. They’ll take my work, Gloria, and fix it so that I can’t even make a complaint about it without finding myself kicked out of the department. I won’t have my hard work stolen out from under me again. Not again, Gloria.”

“Nick,” Gloria says, and she looks worried and sad.

He’s a bastard. He should try harder to keep his frustration at departmental politics away from her. She’s not well, and he shouldn’t be worrying her.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. I truly am. I promised myself I wouldn’t bring up Andrew Kovel anymore. Just, don’t worry about me, all right. I’ll handle those research stealing bastards in the department without getting myself fired.”

“Nicholas,” Gloria, his beautiful darling says, and there’s heartbreak in her tone.

“What is it?” He’s been so focused on her, only seeing her.

“Do you know where you are?”

“Don’t be daft, love. I really should go back to the university and finish my work.”

“Nicholas,” she says, and shimmers and disappears.

His heart starts pounding madly and he looks around for her, sure that his mind has just played a trick on him because she can’t just disappear like that, he must have closed his eyes and she’s moved behind him.

For a moment, he’s as lost as he’s ever been, until his bloody mind starts working properly again.

He’s on the bridge, of Destiny.

Gloria is dead. Has been dead for years.

It was the bloody AI he was talking to, not his wife. He’d. He’d. . . God. He’s losing his fucking mind.

He can’t stay here right now. He gathers up his notes and stalks off the bridge. He’ll work this latest problem out in his hallway.

* * *

The next few days are a constant roundabout of working in his math hall, the control interface room and the bridge. Park’s worried eyes, Eli’s exasperated comments, Volker’s intermittent eye contact and sarcastic asides to Brody that he probably doesn’t think Rush can hear, Brody’s shrugs and scrutiny, Ginn’s guilty looks, he’s fed up with all of it.

He’s slept once in the last 70 hours, for about six hours. It isn’t enough, but it was enough to let him keep at this. He’s so close to figuring out one of the essential elements to the clock.

He’s startled when he comes back to the control interface room from his hallway to see Colonel Young waiting there.

“Colonel,” he says and tries to step past him to go to a console and back to ship’s business.

“Where have you been?” Young asks, and it’s deceptively mild. The rest of the science team are watching him, and he rather feels like they’ve just collectively pinned him to a board for study.

Perhaps for dissection, too.

He shrugs and tries to move past Young. “Working,” he says, truthfully.

Young laughs, and it’s rueful as he shakes his head. “I don’t doubt that, Doctor Rush. But where have you been working and what are you working on? Because this bullshit has got to stop. You can’t keep disappearing like this. I’ve given you a lot of slack because I thought maybe you needed. . . Never mind. Time’s up.”

Rush is silent for a moment, and then he looks into Young’s eyes. Probably the man will assign one of the military personal to stay with him if he doesn’t give something up, and he’d rather not go back to having his own escort accompanying him everywhere. Like Koz had done for those first few day, and, God, he doesn’t want to think about Koz and his unique blend of sexual harassment and protectiveness.

Young’s expression changes abruptly from mildly annoyed to concerned and suddenly he’s right there, a hand on Rush’s shoulder. “You okay there, champ?” he says.

Rush is a little surprised to see that he’s shaking. He tells himself to stop it at once. He’s not successful.

Young pushes him onto a stool and thumbs the rest of the team out the door, telling them to wait outside.

“Nick,” he entreats him and his hands are rubbing up and down Rush’s arms. “Just tell me, okay? Get it out, get it over with. You’re not as subtle as you think you are, the entire ship knows you’ve been off on your own hiding.”

Young sounds tired, and Rush studies him for a moment, and gives in to the impulse to tell him. It’s not because it’s an order, Rush can talk himself out of following it. It’s, well, Young looks exhausted, and, really, he’d planned for this.

He sighs, and capitulates. The smile Young gives him as a reward makes something turn over in his chest, something he knows he should lock up again, but he doesn’t.

* * *

“Where are we going?” Eli says, as the entire science team troops along behind him and Young.

Rush doesn’t answer. Young says something about Eli holding his horses, and Rush smirks a little. He’d told Young but he doesn’t feel like explaining it all over again to the rest of the team. Besides, making them wait seems only fair, since he’d been forced to divulge a secret.

A secret, but not the secret, as he leads them to his math corridor. The team spirals away, examining different sections of his workspace. He sinks down against a wall and watches them examine the equations and problems laid out on the corridor walls. He isn’t surprised to find Young sliding downward so that they’re sitting side by side.

He’d told Young that he’d claimed the space ages ago, that he sometimes needed a quiet place by himself to work out problems.

“Is all that,” Young makes a wave that takes in all the chalk scrawls, “about Destiny?”

“Most of it. I did write out a few other things, Millennium Problems, mostly.”


Rush shrugs. “For fun. I am a mathematician, Colonel.”

“What else do you like to do for fun? Chess, right?” Young asks, and Rush swallows, feeling unsettled.

“I haven’t had much time for chess.”

“Maybe we should make time.” Young smiles tiredly, and Rush thinks to himself that if he knew how Rush was hiding the bridge, he wouldn’t want to play chess with him, he’d want to pummel him instead.

“Perhaps one day, Colonel.”

“Afraid I’ll kick your ass?”

Rush’s sense of competition comes roaring out of hiding, and he scowls at Young. “I highly doubt that, Colonel.”

“So, we’ve got a date, then.”

He scowls even harder. “Yes, all right, when we both have the time.”

Young smiles at him, smugly, and Rush looks away, feeling like he’s been played. Probably he has. The science team is milling together, pointing and comparing notes. It’s a wonder they haven’t come to bother him about it all.

He stands up abruptly and sways a little, a bit dizzy. “Is that all then, Colonel? I do have work to do.”

“Actually, I didn’t come to the control interface room to harass you. I’ve got something to discuss with everybody, and I’d rather do it there. And Nick, just tell somebody next time you want to disappear down here, okay?”

“Yes, yes.”

“And bring a radio.”

“Yes,” he snaps. ‘All right.”

“With working batteries.”

“Are you quite done, Colonel?” Rush says, feeling flustered. Annoyed. Maybe a bit amused, too.

“Yeah.” He smirks again at Rush and holds up his arm. Rush pulls him up, and Young asks the team to return to the control interface room.

* * *

Young sits down on a stool and runs a hand through his curly, unruly hair. The scientist have scattered back to consoles, checking on Destiny’s systems but Rush stands by the Apple Core, and waits. Whatever this is, Young is reluctant to do it, he can tell that much, at least.

Young clears his throat, and gathers the teams’ attention.

"Colonel Telford has agreed to the Rite of M'al Sharran. I want your help, both to document that this is being done as safely as possible, and to actually do it as safely as possible. Eli, I’d like you to rig up some kinos, one for in here, one in his room, and one for the hallway outside his room."

"Brody, last time we did this, you handled venting the air out of the room. I heard there were some protests at the time, but you kept your head and followed my orders. I’d like it to be your finger on the button this time, too, but I’m not going to order you to do this."

"Colonel?” Park says, in the quiet that’s fallen in the room. “He’s really agreed to be suffocated?”

“He doesn’t believe he’s brainwashed, of course. Probably he thinks that he can pretend to be cured, and we’ll give him free reign on the ship.”

“So,” Brody asks, his arms crossed over his chest, “How will we know that it does work? There isn’t gonna be any Lucian Alliance news to give up, to prove he’s back on our side.”

Young looks at Rush, and he says quietly, “The chair. Destiny can analyze his brain, tell if he’s still brainwashed or no.”

Volker looks like he’s been sucking lemons, but he grits his teeth to have his say. “You’d be risking his life twice over. Did he really agree to this, or has he gone nuts from being locked up for weeks and weeks.”

“At this point, I don’t care if agreeing to this means he’s gone round the bend or not. I know him. I know the real him, and he would not want to be kept in a locked box for the rest of his life. Sure, he thinks he can double-cross us, that’s his motivation, but I’m gonna run with it. But I want it done as safely as possible. No last minute mistakes. However, I’m not ordering anybody to do this. Riley can handle the consoles, and it doesn’t take a Ph.D to push a button. Greer will do it, if I need him to. So, are you guys in, or out?”

Brody glances at Rush, then at Eli and then turns to Young. “I’ll handle the venting. Just like last time. And Colonel, I don’t have a Ph.D. so I guess I do fit your criteria.”

Eli says, quietly. “I’ll set up documenting. Um, does Camile know about this? Cause she was pretty upset the last time, I heard.”

“We’ve talked. She’s having Colonel Telford sign release forms. She’ll want you to catch that on a kino, too. Why don’t you get with her later today about it,” Young says.

“When’s this happening?” Park asks, looking perturbed. “Because we should run systems checks on every system that’s going to be involved.”

“Tomorrow, after you guys give us the green light,” Young says. “TJ’s gonna be there, for the resuscitation.”

“What about getting a doctor in from Earth,” Volker says. “I don’t mind switching again.”

Young shakes his head. “We’re not involving Earth. They gave us the conditions for this to happen weeks ago. Colonel Telford has to agree. He’s agreed. I’m not giving the IOA or anybody else a chance to stop it for some other reason. We’ll tell them after it’s over. Doctor Rush?”

Caught with the murmured phrase he had intended to not be overheard, he starts a little.

“Aye, what is it? I’ll handle the chair, and Eli and Brody, and, and Mr. Volker can assist. You’ll not want to put him into it until he’s recovered, at any rate.”

“Thanks,” Young says, and adds, “What were you saying over there, under your breath?”

Rush shrugs. “Better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.”

Young eyes him before turning to the rest of the team and thanking them for their help. He stops in front of Rush before he leaves, and says quietly, in a sardonic tone, “Better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission? Except in your case, you do neither.” He claps Rush on the upper arm, and tells him, a much firmer tone to his voice. “Get some sleep, Nick. You’re the best I have and I need you sharp tomorrow.”

“Pot, kettle,” Rush fires back. “Shall we meet at the infirmary later, to have a nice swig of Lieutenant Johanson’s green swill?”

“Tell you what, smart guy. I’m gonna check your quarters before I head to bed, and if you aren’t snoring away in there, yeah, we’ll go to the infirmary.”

Rush pushes his chin up. “Deal. Except, if I have to drink it, you do, too. You’re just as exhausted as I am, Colonel. Do you agree?”

He surprises a chuckle out of Young. “Okay, I agree,” Young says, and he claps Rush on the shoulder and then tousles his hair, shooting him a smile from the doorway when he leaves.

Rush smooths his hair back down while cautiously looking round the room to see if any of the team caught that. Ginn has, apparently, judging by her widened eyes, and he brings a finger to his lips. She nods, and he’s certain she’ll not tell Eli. The reverse would certainly not be true, he thinks, if Eli had seen the Colonel do that.

He hadn’t flinched away this time. He’d been shocked the first time the Colonel had done that, so long ago. But now, he hadn’t ducked away in reflex or felt panicked at all.

He’s not sure what that means, exactly, so he won’t think about it anymore. He’s got a program to look over and adapt before heading to his room, hopefully to sleep. He finds he doesn’t mind if the Colonel does look in on him.

* * *

He’s not asleep when the Colonel softly opens his door. It’s near midnight, he sees, as he glances at the phone on the bedside table. It isn’t his phone, that was blown to pieces when Icarus exploded. Young had tossed this one at him ages ago, in a futile attempt to have him join Camile and Young for morning meetings.

He’s tried, he honestly has tried to sleep. He’s so tired now he can hardly stand it.

Sighing, he gets up and slides his loose trousers over his boxers. He doesn’t bother with his shoes. He hopes that he can convince Lieutenant Johanson to let him take her sleeping potion back to his room, but he wouldn’t put money down on such a bet.

Lieutenant Johanson’s there when the two of them stumble into the infirmary, looking bleary-eyed herself, her baby in her arms. He’s not seen Miss Carmen for a week or two, and she’s turning into a bright eyed little miss.

“If I might have a word, sir,” she says to Young, and points Rush to a chair, rather a comfortable one. “Doc, will you hold Carmen for me?”

He sits down and makes a baby sized circle of his arms and occupies the next fifteen minutes with holding the baby and humming to her. He doesn’t want to know what Young and Lieutenant Johanson are discussing so intently, and really, he wishes they would have had this conversation without him in the room.

The baby is sweet, though, and smells milky and it’s unbelievably soothing to hold her warm little body against his own. She looks at him, her eyes blue, and he wonders if they will stay that way or if they’ll change to Young’s brown ones. Or perhaps green. Really, it depends on the recessive genes Young may have passed down to his daughter.

Gloria had had beautiful blue eyes. His eyes are dark, but maybe he carries some recessive blue eyes genes. He doesn’t actually know much about his family. It had just been him and his da, and Da hadn’t been keen on talking about his family or Nick’s mother’s. It would have been anybody’s guess what his own children’s eyes would have looked like.

He shifts the baby so she’s on his shoulder and softly starts singing an old, old song that had helped put many a wee one to sleep, rocking his body in time to the slow tune.

Carmen is asleep by the time he finishes the last verse, and her mother hands him a mug full of the green brew.

“I don’t suppose I can just take it with me,” he tries, in his best cooperative tone of voice, but Lieutenant Johanson shakes her head.

He makes a face but downs it quickly. She takes the empty mug from him first, and carries it to a sink, collecting Colonel Young’s from him along the way.

The Colonel stands in front of him, a look on his face like Rush is cupping a precious, delicate vase that his own hands would be far too clumsy to attempt to hold, and Rush rolls his eyes.

“Come on then, take your wee girl and give her a kiss goodnight. If I stay here much longer I’ll be asleep in this chair and I don’t fancy doing that or sleeping on one of those gurneys. They’re damn uncomfortable.”

He turns Carmen so she’s cradled in his arms and holds her up up towards Young. The man takes her and cuddles her close, and smiles down at his baby.

“What were you singing to her?” Lieutenant Johanson says, and she runs a gentle finger along Carmen’s cheek. Young seems in no hurry to give the baby to her. “That wasn’t English, was it a Scottish lullaby?”

“It was Ghaidhlig. Scott’s Gaelic. And it wasn’t a lullaby, although many a child’s been sung to sleep to that tune. A woman waits on the cliffs, looking out to sea for her lover, a boatman. A fisherman. Some say he’s found another, and laugh at her for waiting and she’s tormented by that thought, but she hopes he’ll be true to her and return with the wedding dress and ring he promised her.”

“Does he come back to her then?” It’s Young that asks, as he reluctantly turns his child over to her mother.

“The song doesn’t say.”

“Oh,” Lieutenant Johanson says, looking a little enthralled. “I love old songs like that. What do you think happened then?”

Flashes of memories rise up, of people he’d once known. “I think the sea is treacherous. And goodnight, Lieutenant Johanson.”

He pushes himself up from the chair and heads for the door.

“Wait up. I’ll walk you to your room.”

He waves Young off. “Not necessary, Colonel. I promise I’m going to bed, not to work.”

“I know that. I’m coming anyway.”

Rush sighs and waits impatiently by the door for Young to kiss his child goodnight and to come along.

They don’t speak as they walk down Destiny’s quiet corridors, the lights dimmed to represent night time on Earth.

Rush knows he’s in trouble when his vision starts to double, and he staggers. “Oh, tha’s brilliant,” he mutters, and puts a hand up against the wall to help him keep steady as he starts staggering along.

“What’s the matter?” Young says, and he finds his arm has been draped over Young’s shoulders.

“Tha problem is that witches brew has kicked in, and tha’s your fault for delaying me with your questions and for no trusting me to come back to ma room on my own. I’ll be sleeping in the hall, for I’m no anywhere close to ma bed.”

Young has the nerve to laugh at him. “I’m not feeling it yet, and I had just as much as you. You this much of a light weight when it comes to drinking, too?”

“Oh, shut it.” He meant that to be cutting, to put Young in his damn place, but instead it comes out in a slurred grumble.

“Okay, Nick, change of plans. We’re almost to my room, you can bunk there. And since this is my fault, I’ll let you have the bed.”

That sounds fair to Rush, so he tells Young to proceed. Well, in his head he did, what came out of his mouth was something that sounded vaguely in agreement.

He’s not very coherent by the time Young yanks the covers down and shoves Rush onto the far side of his bed. Young is swaying next to the bed, and Rush laughs, because it’s the funniest thing he’s seen in a long time. Young sits down abruptly and Rush feels bad for the poor sod, because Rush took his bed and really, how is Young going to fit on that couch? He makes an enormous effort and sits up enough to grab Young around the waist and pulls him down.

The room is dark, the bed is soft and comfortable, and Young makes a half-hearted attempt to sit up again, but Rush throws a leg and an arm over him. He hears Young mutter, “Okay, you crazy bastard, but you’d better remember this was your idea in the morning.”

He slides into sleep, lulled by the sound of Young’s soft, steady breathing.

* * *

Chapter Text

Everett wakes up slowly, still mostly disoriented from a dream. It was something about David and Emily, seeing them together in the mirror in his old bedroom, and then watching as Emily faded away and then David blurred until he was looking at his own reflection.

Emily isn’t. . . She doesn’t want to sleep with him, she’d made that quite clear, but there’s this warm weight against him, cuddled close and where is he?

He blinks hard and rubs his cold hands over his face, and stares up at the ceiling. In the dim light he can see – okay. He’s on Destiny.

Who is sleeping with him?

It isn’t T.J. The hair and scent and shape aren’t. . . God damnit. He’s sleeping with Rush.

Right. He’d done the guy a favor and let him take ownership of Everett’s bed since it probably is his fault that Rush had gotten too groggy to make it back to his own room.

Maybe not all his fault. He’d had T.J.’s potion half a dozen times, and it had never been this strong before. Either it had been made to be more potent – a distinct possibility since T.J. had concocted it with Rush in mind – or maybe she’d used a stronger batch of plants without realizing the increased doseage? He’d pass along their reactions to her.

Rush is quiet against him, still sound asleep, and that’s good. No matter how many hours they’d been passed out on his bed, it couldn’t have been long enough for Rush. Everett has never seen a guy so consistently sleep deprived in his life, and that includes watching Jackson and Carter and McKay while they pulled another world saving solution out of their asses.

Everett shifts over, to give some space between them, but Rush wiggles closer to him. The room is cold, and they hadn’t managed to pull blankets over them when they’d conked out. No wonder Rush is like a heat seeking missile right now.

He should get up, move to the couch. Split the blankets between them. He really should.

Instead, he pulls off his boots and fishes around for the elusive blankets until he’s covered them both up. Rush is cold and he’s underweight and he’ll be warmer and more inclined to keep on sleeping if Everett adds in his own body heat.

Besides, this was Rush’s idea. He’d pulled Everett down and had pinned him with an arm and a leg. Not that Everett couldn’t have gotten free, but damn, the bed had felt good and he’d been tired. He wasn’t sure if he was looking forward to or dreading the face Rush was going to make when Everett reminded him that sleeping together was Rush’s idea. That, and it was going to be nice to not wake up with a hangover.

Lately it has been taking a lot of Brody’s swill to silence the accusing voices in his head about how much and how many times he’s been fucking up.

Rush makes a wounded sound; Everett pulls him tighter against him and rubs his back slowly and in the dim light watches as his expression smooths from tense to relaxed. Probably a nightmare. God knows Rush isn’t the only one having them. His damned memories of the Lucian’s take over and the dead bodies of his crew are only the latest to torment him. He still dreams of the fucked up missions and the deaths from his days of taking his team through the stargate.

He doesn’t want to dream about any of that, hell, he doesn’t want to wake Rush by shouting out in his sleep. He needs to think about something nice, something pleasant, something that will make him fall back asleep. Or else, he might as well get up, and he knows he needs more sleep. He feels better, sure, but he’s still dog tired.

The man sleeping next to him sighs out a soft, relaxed sound, and Everett feels a sense of contentment. It’s nice to know Rush is okay for the moment, after all the fucking crap that happened to him. He yawns, idly sifting through memories of other pleasant times that won’t trigger any regrets, avoiding thoughts of his wife or TJ. Maybe. . . Yeah, he’ll think back to when he and Rush had picked fruit together, working as a team for once without any problems. Rush is a hard worker, and Everett appreciates that. His quiet presence as they’d stripped the tall bushes of fruit had been relaxing. So much of Everett’s time on board the ship was peppered with persistent interruptions from everyone; being with Rush had been like stumbling into an oasis after being constantly tormented by thirst and continual sand blowing up into his face.

The time they’d spent at that little pool after the fruit Rush had picked exploded over the two of them had been nice, too. Well, it had been awkward when they’d arrived, when he’d courteously told Rush he could go first and Everett would wait. He just knew having that gunk on his skin was bothering Rush a lot. Rush shook his head and stared down at the ground for a long moment. Everett waited him out.

Finally, Rush said, very quietly and still not meeting his eyes, “Colonel, we should do it at the same time. Umm, bathing together, that is.”

Everett didn’t care. He’d leave his weapon within easy grabbing range on the edge of a rocky ledge, but being mostly naked together in this deep pool in the creek? Would that trigger Rush into a flashback or something?

“Hey, it’s fine by me, but you sure you’re okay with it?”

Rush shrugged. Everett waited until Rush eventually looked up at him from staring at the ground. “Colonel, I’m no sure, but I do know when I think about you with your gun and your clothes on, and me down there in the water trying to get clean, it reminds me of what Koz and I --” He broke off abruptly.

“Nick. I’m not going to oogle you or touch you or anything, I hope you know that.”

“Aye, I know you won’t do what he used to do, but . . .”

“I can stay back in the woods a bit, you won’t see me,” Everett offered, and tried to look as non-threatening as possible.

“That’s worse. I’ll still know you’re out there, but I won’t be able to see what you’re doing.” He clenched his fists and Everett could see the frustration and anger flare up, in his expression, in his body language. “Just get in the damn water, Colonel. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” He knelt down and started unlacing the gym shoes that somebody had donated to him.

Everett walked over to the edge of the deep pool and checked it over. Maybe they’d be lucky this time and nothing would ambush them. Other people had been using this spot and they’d been fine. Fishing his precious bar of soap out of his pants pocket, he glanced at Rush who was undressed down to his boxers. Everett ditched his boots and quickly stripped his dirty trousers off and dropped them into the water. He would rather have pulled his own boxers off, but he didn’t want to spook Rush.

When they both were in the water he moved slowly closer until he could safely hand the small piece of soap over. The pool wasn’t very large, maybe fifteen feet wide, but the water was deep enough to come up high on his chest.

Their fingers touched, and Everett said, “Hey, you okay?” and made sure Rush had a good grip on the small, lilac scented bar before letting go.

Rush took a deep breath and started soaping up his chest. “Yes. I think so. Thank you.” He gave Everett a small, relieved smile and Everett grinned back at him.

“Good. Keep an eye out, would you? I’m gonna dunk myself.” The water was cool and refreshing as he immersed himself and he was not bitching about Destiny’s showers because they were a god-send, but this was wonderful.

He floated on his back after resurfacing, waiting for his turn with the soap. The sky was a shade more towards purple than Earth’s sky, but high thin white clouds still blew across it, reminding him of home and his boyhood and times spent staring up at the sky, wondering what it would be like to pilot a jet plane.

“I’ve never gotten the knack of doing that,” Rush says, sounding envious.

“Doing what?”

“Floating like that. I always sink like a bloody stone,” Rush says, and he’s definitely grumbling about it.

“Yeah, you’re made of bone and muscle, no fat on you at all. I used to teach swim lessons when I was a teenager. I could show you some tricks to get around that.” Everett kept his eyes focused on the sky, listening for any trouble approaching, but except for something like birds and insects making background sounds, it was still peaceful. The air smells wonderful, so fresh, and it makes a nice change from the canned air on Destiny. Not that he’s really complaining about Destiny’s air, not after experiencing the clogged filters when they’d first tumbled through the gate.

Rush sounds regretful. “I never learned to swim. Ocean was too cold, didn’t go to swimming pools.”

“You should learn. Everybody should know how. You never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where swimming or at least floating might save your life. My cousin’s kid, her dad accidentally drove off the road into a deep creek, deeper than this one. It killed the dad, but the girl was able to swim free and lived. Just sayin’ you know.”

“Yes. Well. . .

“I can at least show you how to float, after we’re both done scrubbing that stuff off; I can still feel it sticking to me.”

Rush looked at him for a long moment, looking serious, looking like he was weighing everything Everett had ever said to him or done to him, before saying, “All right, yes.”

Smiling sleepily to himself in his now warm bed, with another human being close by filling a primal need for comfort, Everett felt himself falling back to sleep with memories of how Nick had successfully floated on his back and his belly – and yes, he had needed every trick Everett knew, from dropping his lower legs down while on his back and spreading his arms out wide and arching his back – and had sculled his way from one side of the pool to the other. The smile he’d given Everett as they’d pulled their wet clothes back on to go back to picking fruit had been. . . really kind of sweet.

* * *

Rush’s expression when he wakes up in Everett’s bed isn’t what he expects. Mostly he’d thought he’d see disgust, or maybe a wry acceptance of the circumstances. Instead, Rush looks almost shy, his cheeks pink as he sits up amidst the tangle of blankets.

“Hey, good morning,” Everett says. He’s quietly been catching up on reports and paperwork at his desk while Rush slept in.

Rush makes brief eye contact with a small smile he rubs off his face with one hand.

“You remember what happened last night?” Everett asks cautiously.


Everett gets to his feet, shoving his hands in his pockets, looking apologetically at Rush. “We both slept in the bed. You remember that part? It was your idea.”

Yes, Colonel. I said I remembered. It’s all right, but there’s no need to mention it to the rest of the crew.”

“Our little secret?”

“I would prefer that.”

“Sure. You look a lot better.”

Rush slides out of bed and runs his hands through his messy hair. He gives Everett an intense head to toes gaze. “I can say the same about you.” His face flushes suddenly, and he looks away. “Excuse me, please.”

Rush flees into the bathroom. Afterwards he stands in the doorway to the corridor, not talking, but he does nod at Everett before striding off. He isn’t upset or angry, at least, so Everett counts it a win. Also the fact that the man slept until almost lunch time is a win. He needs Rush sharp and on his game today, of all days, for David’s sake.

* * *

Finally, it’s time. He’s standing outside of David’s room, waiting for the science team to give him the go ahead. The radio crackles and he hears Brody’s steady voice.

“Colonel, we’re ready. Eli’s got all the kinos up and running.” The kino floating in the hall dips up and down in response to Brody’s words.

Everett turns to Camile, who has been waiting with him. “This isn’t going to be pretty. You sure you want to witness it?”

Camile nods, her expression, her brown eyes, are as serious as he’s ever seen on her face. “Absolutely. I’ve talked with David and gotten his consent on record and witnessed. I hope to God this works but if it doesn’t I’m making sure charges won’t be brought up against you by the IOA, Everett.”

He squeezes her thin shoulder, and thinks that he was an idiot to make an end run around her the last time he’d broken Kiva’s brainwashing of his friend. He’d wanted to keep her and Scott out of it, so the back blow if it went sour wouldn’t land on them. Instead, he’d alienated her and in his anger that Scott would question his orders – did not implicitly trust that he was doing the right thing – he’d come off sounding like a mentally deranged despot. He didn’t need a yes man as second in command. He needed someone who would see the pitfalls he couldn’t and help Everett avoid them. Scott was trying to be that person for him, and Everett had stepped on his efforts. Scott was young and lacked experience in the role and saw him as a father figure anyway, which wasn’t helping. What Everett had demanded of him – unswerving obedience without voicing concerns – had set the kid back in his attempt to be a good second in command.

Rush could have filled that role for him, if they’d trusted each other. He hadn’t been afraid of angering Everett, and their ways of seeing a situation could balance each other. Well, once maybe. It hadn’t escaped Everett’s notice that when one of his frequent black moods swamped him that Rush made himself even more scarce from Everett’s presence.

He seemed fine with Everett, even accepting casual friendly touches, when Everett was in a good mood. Hell, he’d wanted Everett to sleep with him, had let him touch him, hold him up in the water in that small pool when learning to float. But he was still scared of him if Everett was angry, even if he wasn’t angry at the man himself. Rush was still too damaged to step up to being his. . . what? His chief councilor maybe.

Camile was a great advocate for the crew, and he was pretty sure that her loyalties were firmly on the side of Destiny and the crew, especially the civilians. Now, she was. Somewhere in the past months, after the civilians had tried to take control, she’d stopped putting the IOA first, giving up her own political ambitions regarding that organization. He hadn’t trusted her back then, before her change of heart. He did now, and he wants her input, but she doesn’t have Rush’s brilliance or his ability to lay out a problem with all the options, especially the repugnant ones, the ones Everett instinctively would reject, but might have to implement.

Rush can’t do that for him now. But David could, once he was free of being brainwashed. He and Rush share that same ruthless pragmatic ability regarding solutions to problematic situations. With David comes a whole new set of problems, though. David had made no secret of his feelings that he’d been shortchanged out of control of the expedition. He wasn’t above maneuvering Everett out of his command, and hell, as Everett had told TJ and Scott, he probably was right about Everett’s abilities as Destiny’s commander. But David was too authoritarian for a hybrid crew of civilians and soldiers, and a little too ruthless to have the final word on decisions. Still, he’d make a good foil for Everett. And they were old friends, and David cared about him. Everett would have said he’d cared about him as a good friend, and only as a friend, but now he wondered if David’s ridiculous propositions while brainwashed had held a grain of truth.

David had never said or tried anything in the years they’d been friends to indicate he wanted a sexual relationship. Still. . . But no. David just had an instinct for going for the soft underbelly of an enemy. Saying he’d like to fuck Everett had just been his way of knocking him off balance.

“Colonel?” Brody’s voice interrupts his internal dialog and he shifts his hand from Camile’s shoulder and thumbs his radio to respond.

“Yeah, Brody. Give me a sec.” He motions to the guards to cover him and asks Brody to unlock the door. He steps inside and David is standing there in the middle of the room, frozen, not in fear, but like a predator pauses before making a killing leap.

“David,” he says, and walks close enough to extend a hand.

Giving him a sharp edged smile, David gives him a firm handshake. “Everett,” he responds, clipped and decisive.

“You ready to do this thing?” Everett asks, looking up at him, and he’s stalling but David could be dead in the next few minutes and he knows this is their only real option, but God, he’s not looking forward to watching his friend suffocate. It had been bad enough doing it when David had been Rush’s body.

Had he ever talked to Rush about what had happened to him in David’s body? When his own smaller body had stilled, not breathing, and Everett had pushed down hard on his chest over and over until David had woken back up and grabbed him, to warn him of the Lucian Alliance plan to board Destiny and take control?

If he had, he doesn’t remember it. He makes a note to follow up with Rush about it, because he needs to know if his actions had hurt Rush. It would be another tally mark on the mental list he was keeping of how his decisions had harmed the man. He should have disrupted the stones and had Rush returned to where he belonged, on Destiny. And if he had, he still would have known what the Alliance was about to do, since Rush had been taken to the very site where the Alliance planned to power a gate the same way that Icarus had powered its gate.

David was trained in subterfuge. He would have convinced Kiva that he was still on her side. And he had nothing new to share with her, so security wouldn’t have been compromised.

He’d have been faced with the same dilemma when Kiva sent her people through the gate, though. This time it would have been David in his own tall, strong body that stumbled through the gate, not Rush in David’s body. Would he have sacrificed David then or made the same call to try to get the Lucians to surrender without suffocating them?

Realizing that their handshake has gone on a little too long, Everett pulls his hand back and David sighs, then puts a friendly hand on his shoulder and gives him a little shake.

“Stop stalling, Everett. You always did agonize over the tough calls, but you used to do it afterwards, not beforehand. Now get out of here, and let’s get this done.” He gives Everett a sardonic grin. “See you on the flip side,” and drops his arm down and shifts into parade rest stance.

Everett wants to make some smart ass, cool comment back, matching David’s own bravery, but he can’t think of a thing. Instead, he nods his head, turns deliberately around with his back to David in a show of trust, and walks out of the room.

“Brody. Lock the room down.” When Brody tells him it’s done, he gives the order to vent the air out of the room, making sure his voice doesn’t sound rough or strained.

He watches through the window as David suffocates, falls to the floor and lies gasping like a fish out of water. He times David’s dying with his watch, and it is with dread that he gives the order to replace the air and open the door.

That dread is nothing to what he feels when Brody’s deadpan voice tells him that Destiny is not complying. There is no air whooshing in through the vents, and the door remains locked. Helpless, he works at the door handle, and sends an airman scrambling for one of the Lucian’s lock breakers from the armory, cursing himself for not already having one at hand.

David is going to die, and it’s all his fault.

* * *

Chapter Text

“Oh my God!” Eyes fixed on his kino monitor, Eli says urgently to the rest of the science team, “Telford’s not breathing and they can’t get the door open!” A part of Rush notes how Eli announces it, no panic in his voice. The boy has seen too much for that these days.

“Go,” Rush snaps. “Brody, you too. See if you can force the door open. Park, Ginn, Volker, you work on the door from here, I’ll handle the oxygen.” His fingers fly over the console, and he’s hacking into Destiny’s code, searching for some anomaly that’s causing the venting system to freeze up like this. Fruitlessly, he wishes he was on the bridge, not here in the control interface room, but he can’t leave without raising a lot of questions. Besides, there’s no reason he can’t fix this right here.

Eli’s fingers dance on his console and a large holographic screen appears in the air. As Brody grabs a tool bag and he and Eli run out of the control interface room, he hears Young order the guard at the armory to run a Lucian door breaker to the airman he’s sent to intercept it and Camile yelling that she’ll meet the airman on his way back and finish running the door locker back to Young.

Camile is a fast runner, as fast as he is, he thinks, as he scans the code for the venting system. He’s glad she’s helping. Doing a relay should shorten the time needed to get the tool to the door.

His eyes scan rapidly down and he is not seeing a reason for blocking the air to the room where Telford is currently dying.

A minute passes.

Two minutes and from their urgent comments Park and Ginn and Volker are as puzzled as he is, for there is no damn reason why these systems are not working. The door should open, oxygen should be pouring through the vents. Young should be in that room, performing CPR on a man who is on the brink of permanent death.

Three minutes and Brody and Eli have pried the door control panel open, and seconds later cursing from Brody fills the air. Rush looks up at the screen hanging in the air and his eyes widen. A blue energy field has enveloped the controls. Destiny is actively impeding their attempts to save Telford.

Camile flies into the view, handing over the lock breaker to Young, bending over, her hands on her knees, her feet bare, panting for breath. Young fits the Lucian contraption to the door and the force field suddenly envelopes the entire door, and Young is pushed backwards. He charges at the door and predictably, due to Newton’s Third Law, which the Colonel must have not have taken into account, he’s thrown back into the corridor a fair distance away. Idiot. But Rush doesn’t blame him, that’s his friend dying in there.

His eyes widen again when Gloria appears next to him.

“Hello darling,” she says.

“Is this your doing, then?” he demands, with a wave of his hand towards the frantic scene being played out on the screen.

“What?” Ginn asks, sounding bewildered.

“I’m no talking to you, lass," he snaps. He needs to speak to the AI, but Ginn is watching him closely. Probably thinks he’s a tad psychotic. He orders, ”The three of you go down to the nearest engineering station and see if you can stop all of this from there.”

Ginn and Park and Volker look at him like he’s gone round the bend, and yes, he can see why, because without setting up the station to be the primary control for the ship, as he had done during the mutiny, the control interface room would supersede it. This is a meaningless task and they know it, but he needs them out of the room.

“Go!” he orders. “Now!”

Park frowns but complies, and Volker mutters under his breath but also leaves. Ginn stays at her station and shoots him another concerned look and he glares at her. She drops her gaze and leaves her console. He waits until she’s running toward the door before turning his glare on Gloria.

“What the devil are you playing at? Are you trying to kill the man?” he demands of Gloria, of Destiny. He’s aware of the difference between his wife and the ship, at least for today he is.

“Do you want him to live, Nicholas?” she asks calmly.

He stares at her, taken aback. “Are you making this about me?! Is this some kind of bloody test?”

“Yes. If you want him to live, then inputting the master code will override the settings that are locked down. Or you could go to the bridge and unlock them. It’s your choice, Nicholas. The man has hurt you. If he dies, no one knows that you have learned the master code. So, what will you do?”

What will he do, what should he do? He has no love for Telford, the man has been a thorn in his side for quite a while, after that falling out they’d had even before Rush had gone to Icarus. He knows for a bloody fact that the man had tried to block his appointment to that post, citing that Rush’s personality would cause dissension and dissatisfaction within the Icarus project. At least he hadn’t been able to say that Rush didn’t have the mathematical ability to solve the problem of the ninth chevron, although he’d been very critical when the final solution had evaded Rush.

Telford has questioned his motives ever since they’d come to Icarus, trying to get him in trouble and removed from the project.

Telford raped him. He’d raped him and he’d done it more than once, just to prove to Kiva his loyalty. Or maybe he raped Rush because he wanted to finally have some power over him, to see him submit. He’d made Rush come, and that had not been necessary, not at all, but he’d done it, he and Young had fucked him at the same time and between Young’s gentle thrusting against his prostrate and Telford’s god damned hands skillfully jerking him off, he’d come, he’d put on a show, a shameful show for Kiva and her thugs and for his crew. The crew had seen him respond like that and he’d wanted to die. He didn’t remember much after that, just feeling Telford’s hard dick in his mouth, not for a long while. When he’d come back to himself, Telford and Young had been replaced by other members of the Alliance. He’d not come for them.

There’s no time to run to the bridge, not before Telford is beyond being saved. But if he puts in the master code here, he might be found out. Young would be angry with him, the science team, too.

But Telford would be alive.

He’d killed all those other people. That bastard Simeon. Lucian Alliance members and Dr. Boone, although Dr. Boone’s death had been an accident, but he’d killed them. He’d rationalized all those deaths as necessary, so that the ship could be taken back by the crew with the highest chance of success without harm or death to them. And to stop Simeon from killing him and hurting Park.

He’d hated doing what he’d done, but he’d done it for the greater good. Allowing Telford to die would not serve the greater good, just his own twisted revenge.

He looks at Gloria, his Gloria, and tears stream down his cheeks. He wants to be the kind of man that his Gloria thought he’d been, a man of honor. His word was good, if he gave it. He’s hiding secrets, yes, but he’s not a murderer. Except he was, but he won’t be one today. He despises Telford for how he’s treated him, for how he’s continually trying to oust Young, for the bloody stupid, foolhardy way he’d risked the lives of everyone on this ship with his harebrained scheme to dial home while within a star.

But he won’t kill him. He jabs at the control panel and once the master code is inputted, he again orders the ship to vent oxygen into Telford’s room, and unlocks the door. On the holographic screen he watches as the forcefield dies, and doors slide open and Young and TJ rush into the room, drop down by Telford’s side and while Young does CPR on the man’s chest, TJ places a mask over his mouth and starts forcing oxygen into his lungs by squeezing the bag attached to it.

He doesn’t know if the man will live or die, or if he’ll be brain damaged now, maybe critically, unable to walk or talk or even control his bodily functions.

He turns to Gloria. “Why?” he says aloud. “Why did you test me like that?”

Gloria gives him a one shouldered shrug, and a look of speculation crosses her face. “I needed data, darling.”

“You almost caused a man to die. If you need any more bloody data for whatever algorithm you’re running, find a way to do it without real life consequences.”

She looks at him gravely, nods, and then she’s gone.

He wipes the tears from his face, and orders himself to stop producing any more. Quickly, he does his best to bury the data on his console so that it won’t be so evident that he’d used the master code. What he’s doing won’t stop anyone from finding it if they even do a cursory search of the records, but at least it won’t be there glaring out, “Hey, look at me.”

He watches on the screen as Brody and Eli stand in the entrance way of Telford’s room, as Young pumps frantically on the man’s chest. Ginn steps back into the control interface room hesitantly, and he’s aware of her eyes on him.

On the screen Telford moves feebly, and Young stops CPR. TJ slips a small device on Telford’s finger, and looks at the findings, then drops the mask on the floor and checks him with a stethoscope.

He’ll be all right then, hopefully. Rush closes his eyes and puts his head in his hands as he leans heavily on the console. He’s saved the bastard, not that any of his lot will ever know it.

Ginn gives him an odd look. She approaches him cautiously, and he doesn’t know if it’s because she’s afraid he’ll bark at her or because she’s wondering if he’s in his right mind.

Since the girl had been regularly choked by that bastard Dannic and managed to keep quite on point with her work, he sincerely doubts that she’s afraid of him.

“Doc? Are you all right?” Her eyes are wary, worried.

“Yes, fine.” He busies himself with starting diagnostics running, so he can report truthfully to Young that he’d done so, although he knows perfectly well what happened. It’s not like he can explain what Destiny had done. He’s fair sure the diagnostic will show the systems for the door and oxygen just locked up without any reason, and that as inexplicably as the problem occurred, it was resolved.

Ginn lays a careful hand on his arm. “I didn’t go to the engineering station. I heard everything you said. Who were you talking to?”

Damn. He looks away, scrubbing a hand through his hair, trying to recall what exactly he’d said aloud. “No one, lass. Just fussing at the ship.”

“It didn’t sound like fussing. It sounded, well, like a heated conversation, even if I only heard you. You said it was a test. You said ‘You almost caused a man to die.’ You were upset, I could hear that in your voice.” She turns so she can peer at his eyes. “You’ve been crying.”

She’s much too perceptive. He’s starting to feel trapped, but he tries to misdirect her. If he storms out right now she’ll be more convinced he’s hiding something. He laughs a little, and wants to wince when he hears himself, because he just sounds tortured instead of amused. “Leave it alone, Ginn. I was just blathering out loud. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“I’ve known you for a while, Doc. You don’t blather. Eli does; Doctor Volker does sometimes, but you don’t. If you tell me, I’ll keep it to myself.” Ginn smiles encouragingly at him. Christ, no wonder the lass has Eli wrapped round her little finger.

He can’t do that, he can’t trust her with this. He shakes his head, still avoiding looking at her. “I was just frustrated and vented a wee bit. It was nothing.”

She sighs, and moves closer to him. “To survive living with the Lucian Alliance, I had to learn to read people. My life depended on it.” Her voice drops down to a whisper. “I know when I’m being lied to. But I can see why you wouldn’t trust me. I did terrible things to you. I let other people do terrible things to you. And I’m sorry.”

“I know you are,” he says, his voice suddenly thick. “I know. Ginn, I was just talking at the ship.”

It’s a partial truth, but it’s the only one he can give her.

There’s a flurry of commotion on the holographic screen that drags their attention away from each other. Eli is narrating what’s happening. A kino sled has been brought into the room. Telford has regained consciousness but he appears confused and his speech is slurred.

TJ asks him to smile, to try to move his arms. He can’t do it completely.

Young is shouting, of course he is. The man demands answers when he’s afraid, when he doesn’t know what’s happening. As if that ever helps; he needs to be quiet and let Lieutenant Johanson get on with her work.

Rush owes Lieutenant Johanson a great deal.

Abruptly, Rush slides off his stool. “I’m going down there. Someone needs to distract the Colonel so he’ll stop bothering our medic. I’m running diagnostics, take over for me.”

He runs, practically bowling over Park and Volker as they come round a corner on their way back to the control interface room. He’s fast, he’s always been fast, and even as he skids to a stop by Telford’s door, panting hard, and orders Eli and Brody to return to the control interface room and to take the blasted kinos with them, he’s afraid of the Colonel’s anger.

He’s afraid, but that’s neither here nor there. Young is already on the brink of losing control of his command, and he’ll not have that, not if he can help the man retain his sanity. Young is better for Destiny than anyone Homeworld Command would replace him with, certainly better than Telford, if he lives and is fit for duty.

Camile grabs his arm. “I’m going with TJ. David may have suffered a stroke, we just don’t know yet. Can you-” she jerks her head toward where Colonel Young is hovering over TJ, who is trying to take Telford's pulse as he lies on the kino sled.

“Yes, go.” and he steels himself and moves toward Colonel Young.

* * *

“Answer me, TJ!” Young roars. “What’s wrong with him?!”

He doesn’t want to do this, not one whit, but someone needs to take the Colonel in hand so Lieutenant Johanson can work without his distracting her. He gets in front of the Colonel, and he’s much too close to him, his own panic at being so near an angry man trying to take over, but he’s not going to let that happen. He owes Lieutenant Johanson, for her lying to Kiva on his behalf, for the merciful care she gave him when he was a sobbing mess in the infirmary.

“Colonel. Colonel Young!” Rush grabs Young by his biceps and pushes him backwards with all of his strength. Young wasn’t expecting that and he stumbles as Rush redirects him out of the way until they are practically in the corner of the room. The Colonel grabs hold of Rush’s arms in a mirror pose to the way Rush’s hands have closed around Young’s upper arms. The Colonel has been startled temporarily into silence for a few seconds but he opens his mouth to no doubt start bellowing again.

“Shut yer gob!” Rush says forcefully, in a loud whisper. “You’re no helping the situation by yelling at her. She’ll tell you when she can, stop distracting her, man! You’ve got your bloody radio with you, I know.”

Young narrows his eyes at Rush and pushes back. Rush braces himself and they start a silent struggle, force meeting force, and if the Colonel uses all of his strength, or actually attacks him, physics and experience predicts the outcome. Rush will be tossed aside, and Young will return to his hovering and shouting.

Without really thinking it through, he darts one hand up to the Colonel’s neck, letting his arm crook around it, and lifts his feet. The Colonel is startled to suddenly be supporting Rush’s weight and he draws him up against his body rather instinctively.

It is a strange parody of a hug, and Rush has both of his arms around the man’s neck and he is plastered to his chest; Young’s arms move down to Rush’s waist and he’s burying his head into the side of Rush’s neck. Rush lets him, lets the man hold him like this, lifted off the ground. Lets the man channel his fear and anger into this quieter way of using his muscles to siphon off the adrenaline.

Young holds him like this for long moments, and Rush hears Camile and Lieutenant Johanson leave with the airmen who are maneuvering the kino sled. When he’s sure they’re far enough way, he moves one hand into Young’s thick curls. Tugs at them softly.

“Come with me, Colonel. A long walk is what you need, and I’ve been meaning to do a bit more exploring on level ten. Seems that there might be a section for manufacturing replacement parts for the ship over there.”

Young gives him a squeeze that has his ribs protesting, and then sets him back down on his feet. “Rush,” he says, and his expression is pure wrecked. “Nick.”

Rush takes a step backwards and gives him a glare. Young is a pain in the arse, but he’ll not let him be alone right now. “You’ll just be in the way in the infirmary, and you know it. Having been on the receiving end of your blasted hovering and shouting when the science team is trying to work, I know Lieutenant Johanson doesn’t need that right now. She’ll let you know as soon as she can about what’s going on with Telford. In the meantime, you can do something useful instead. You’re always telling me not to go off exploring on my own. Well, then, come with me. It’ll keep your mind occupied and the walking will do you good.”

Young shudders. “I might have killed David. He might still die, or at the least be seriously hurt. This is my fault.”

“No such thing,” Rush scoffs back at the man. “Telford gave his consent, and it was just a glitch, apparently, that kept the door shut. An accident. Not your fault and this crew doesn’t need you moping about something that wasn’t your doing. Now, are you coming?”

Young stares at him and then, much to Rush’s surprise, laughs.

It’s a poor excuse for one, ragged and hurting. “A ‘glitch.’ A god-damned glitch?” Anger is building in his voice, in the way he’s clenching his fists, in the way he begins circling Rush. “A man almost dies, may still die or be permanently hurt, and you call it a glitch?”

Anxiety floods through him, but he’s not going to panic, he’s not, he’s not. He will control himself, he will not cower in front of Young like a beaten cur.

“It was a malfunction, Colonel, but we don’t know why it happened or how it resolved. The entire team was working on it, you can ask one of them if you don’t believe me.”

Young is staring hard at him. “Would you kill him, Rush? He fucking raped you, he’s not on your side, hasn’t ever been as far as I know. Would you do that?”

Young is grasping him by the arms again and it feels like he’s looming over Rush, which is ridiculous, he tells himself. The bloody Colonel isn’t that much taller than he is, but he’s pushing Rush against the wall and he’s trapped, he’s trapped, he’s trapped, he’s-.

He hears a small, scared sound, and he despises himself when he realizes he is the source.

The sound stops the Colonel in his tracks. His hands ease off from their punishing grip on his biceps, and he’s fair sure he’ll find bruises there later. There’s a sick look on the Colonel’s face, his eyes are glistening.

Quietly, he says, looking straight into Rush’s eyes like the answer to all the unsolved mysteries of the universe can be found there, “Did you sabotage the door and the venting?”

“No!” he whispers back, willing with all his heart for the Colonel to hear the truth in his voice, see it in his eyes. “I didn’t.”

“He’s hurt you.”

“You hurt me. You left me on a planet to die. You raped me on that table. I didn’t get revenge on you, or on Ginn.”

“You forgave me and Ginn, I know you did. Are you saying you’ve forgiven Telford, too? That you don’t want to see him dead?”

“I. . . “ Rush falls quiet, because truthfully, he doesn’t know how he feels. He needs a god damned moment, everything happened so fast. He looks down and away.

Young won’t let him, he’s gently turned his face up and their eyes lock together. Fucking Everett Young and his fucking eyes and his fucking face with that fucking relentless expression. He waits and Rush knows he’ll wait until he get the truth out of him.

“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Rush says, because it’s true. He doesn’t want to take human lives, even if sometimes he has to do that. “I don’t want to see Colonel Telford dead. I didn’t make the malfunction happen. I, I. . .”

Tears have started rolling down his face. “I know he did what he did to me because of his cover. I know that, and even if he was getting a bit of his own back at me, because I stopped him from blowing up the bloody ship, I wouldn’t kill him for it. Gloria, she, when I think of her, and what she said to me, she’s not my conscience but I want to be the man she thought I was, and I’m not denying it’s hard sometimes, but I didn’t hurt the man. I swear it, Colonel. You have my word on that.”

The Colonel is watching him, and his bloody hands are running up and down Rush’s arms in a soothing gesture.

“Okay, Nick. Okay.”

Rush brings his hands up to his face and scrubs off the tears. “I didn’t know before but I do forgive him. I forgive him.”

It feels freeing to say it, to let it go, to let the anger and hurt and hate rise away from him, the emotions that had been bonded to his soul separating and releasing from him. “And you were right, I already had forgiven you and Ginn, but that was easier, because I knew you didn’t want to do what Kiva made you do, you did it to save me, and as for the girl, once I saw how things really were between her and the Alliance, I knew she only followed along to save herself. I can understand that, being caught like that, and I forgave her. She didn’t want to rape me, either.”

“But you weren’t sure about David. You thought he maybe made it personal.” Young’s voice is quiet, and encouraging and Rush should shut his own gob now, but instead words are piling up behind his teeth and he finds he wants to let them loose.

“Yes. We. . . Well, we had a falling out, years ago now. It doesn’t matter about what.” He gives Young a hesitant glance. He really should just shut up but the words still want to gush out, like water from a broken pipe. “And you’re his friend.”

Young nods. “We’re friends, but that doesn’t mean I’m blind to his faults. He can be a real jackass. And he’s got a way of hitting below the belt, to get what he wants, if he decides it’s important enough.”

“He wanted. . . me. My support, really, but I think. . . he never actually asked me, and fuck knows I’m no good at any of that shite, but Gloria, I was grieving for her and it just felt like he was trying to get his hooks into me, and I’m no for having any of that, so I told him off, and he went from trying to recruit me to trying to discredit me.”

“Recruit you?”

“Aye, that’s what it felt like. And seduction, maybe, hell, I don’t know. He’d. . . touch me a lot. Harmless, on the back and shoulder, he was fond of slinging an arm around me. Stood too close to me, gave me small presents. Brought me a lot of good coffee, not that swill the SGC had on hand.”

“Good coffee, eh? Guess he had your number,” Young says, a smile trying to twitch free. “Don’t think I ever saw you without a mug of the stuff nearby when we were at Icarus.”

Rush sighs. “You know, I have dreams about coffee. Hot, black. Brilliant stuff. I rather missed Colonel Telford bringing it by all the time after our row.”

“Probably he was already brainwashed by Kiva when he was trying to buy your affection with coffee beans.” Young eyed him, and shrugged. “It’s possible that he was attracted to you, but even if he was he would have had a bigger agenda. That’s David’s MO. He likes to build alliances, get people indebted to him for favors. That’s why he’s on such good terms with the IOA. He’s a natural at all of that. But he’s loyal, when he isn’t brainwashed, and he’s saved my life a few times. He’s got that same pragmatic streak you do.”

“I know.”

“But he knows how to lay on the charm, which you don’t.”

“I know, Colonel.” Rush shoots him an irritated look.

“And he’s much better at social skills and team work than you are.”

“I bloody well know all of that, are you done now?” He’s feeling back on firmer ground, and yes, he knows the Colonel is teasing him, but he prefers this feeling of annoyed amusement over the soul wrenching emotions he’d just experienced. This, he thinks, is what keeps Young’s people loyal to him. This way of being careful with them, cajoling them when they need that, or giving clear orders, or joking, even. He steps away from the wall, giving Young a friendly elbow in his side as steps past him.

Young smiles at him, like the sun coming out from dark clouds. “Yep, I’m done. And thank you.”

Rush eyes him. “You should still come with me. I was serious about wanting to check on those areas. And you still need a distraction.”

“Yeah. We’ll go.”

Young radios Scott and tell him where he and Rush are heading and that Scott has got command. Then he hands his radio to Rush and gives him a significant look.

With a huff, Rush radios Brody and tells him that he’ll be with the Colonel on level ten. Brody sounds a bit surprised that Rush bothered to inform him of their plans, but says they’re still working on the diagnostics, trying to figure out what had happened with the door and the venting systems. They’ll let the Colonel know what they find out.

“Yes, fine, you do that,” Rush says impatiently. “Rush out.”

The Colonel still looks like shite, devastation still in his eyes, but he is calmer now, and Rush feels a wave of gratification about that because he did it. Young has been trying to help him since the takeover, he picked Rush up and carried him physically away from where he’d been tortured and Rush appreciates that and everything else he’s done to keep Rush from losing it. He helped stop a panic attack from overwhelming Rush on the planet of the exploding fruit. Being able to return the favor, so to speak, it’s a good thing. It’s a thing he would do again, he decides.

Young is eyeing him a little quizzically, and he waves a hand for Rush to take point. He follows him without a word as they leave Telford’s room.

* * *

Rush briskly points out the areas along the way to where they’re going where teams have already explored and marked doors as safe or not safe to open. Nothing has been done for months now, since before the Alliance had taken the ship. One entire section with multiple rooms is open to space, behind their doors, and the repairs will be costly in terms of resources and time. Rush fills Young’s silence with plans to use their robot and his hope that the area ahead that he thinks can manufacture hull plating will prove true.

“And how did you figure that out?” Young says. “The last time I received a report, this upcoming area was locked down and the data base not accessible about what the hell is in here.”

Rush curses himself for suggesting this little field trip, then, because he’s bollixed it up, not remembering that this was information and passageways the master code had unlocked for him.

He shrugs and avoids the Colonel’s gaze, reaching to rub at the back of his neck. “I’ve been telling Destiny in every way I can how desperate our situation is. The information became available.” There. Not technically a lie. Just leaving some rather pertinent bits out. He hopes the Colonel will be satisfied with his answer.

“But only to you, right?” The Colonel looks a mixture of suspicious and impressed. “You know they call you the ship whisperer, don’t you?”

Rolling his eyes, Rush says, “I can’t be held responsible for whatever nonsense the crew babbles about, Colonel. I’m just doing my job.”

“Right. You know, your job also includes sharing what you learn.”

Rush makes an indigent sound. “Which I’m doing right now.”

“No,” the Colonel says thoughtfully. “Or at least, it’s not the primary reason we’re down here. Thanks for that. I mean it. I, well, I wasn’t at my best earlier.”

He smiles at Rush. “You’re stronger than you look. Also, good job on the surprise move that had me hugging you before I realized what the hell you’d just pulled. If you ever want to practice some self defense moves, I’d be happy to show you. I think you’d probably end up using them in pretty creative ways.”

“Colonel Young, this is TJ.”

Young grabs his radio and has it up to his mouth with breathtaking speed. “Young here. Report, TJ.”

Colonel Telford is stable for now. He’s still showing symptoms that could be from a stroke at this point, but it’s too soon to tell if there will be permanent damage.”

“Do you need help from Earth?”

“No, sir. He needs rest now and to be monitored. No visitors at this time. I’ll let you know when that changes.”

“Ok, TJ. Take care of him.”

“Yes, sir. TJ out.

Young attaches the radio to his belt and plasters a stoic look on his face. “Okay, let’s go find this manufacturing room of yours.”

* * *

Rush is quite pleased to find that yes, there is a manufacturing plant, with 3-D printers and many enormous hoppers of various materials, some plastics, some metals, some minerals, and specialized instructions with the formulas needed to make all kinds of various things. He’s going to put Brody onto this straightaway. His engineering background will be quite useful.

They’ve been down here for hours and hours and Young has been poking around, looking at everything, but now he’s just staring uncomprehendingly at engraved words in metal at a work station.

Rush walks over to him and pushes him to the side a bit, so he can read what the Ancients had to say. He snorts when he’s finished. Bloody Ancients.

“What’s it say?”

Rush reads the language out loud and Young shoots him a look. “English, Rush.”

“Yes, well, when are you and your soldiers going to learn Ancient? Lieutenant Scott is the only one of your lot who’s even made an effort.”

“How about you set up a class schedule, and I’ll make sure you’ll have plenty of students,” Young fires back and his eyes look amused as Rush realizes he just smart alecked himself into extra work. Bollocks. As if he has any time to spare from learning the bridge and his regular duties.

“Colonel, I don’t have the time--”

Young interrupts him, says lightly, “You can let the science team in on your pet projects. That should free up your time enough to teach Ancient three times a week, for say, two hours.”

Rush shoots him a disgusted look and the Colonel out right chuckles. Well, if he’s got to have his time tied up like that, he won’t be in it alone.

“I expect you to be there as well, Colonel. To set a good example and all.”

The Colonel just grins. “Oh, I’m coming. If I’m not there, I’m betting you’ll dismiss class about fifteen minutes later. So, will you please translate this now?” He waves a hand towards the sign. It’s lovely, as is everything the Ancients have engineered.

“It’s a list of safety precautions to take, basically. Hard hats are to be worn, correct footgear, and so on.”


“Yes, well, it’s all written rather lyrically, but essentially, it’s the same as any, what agency is it in America? OSHA? Any agency that deals with manufacturing safety requirements.”

“Seems awfully mundane for the Ancients.”

“Aye, it does. But I suppose they could get themselves hurt. After hearing from McKay about some of the half-arsed ways they left their work places, with bloody booby traps for the unsuspecting person who stumbled across it, they needed reminders about safety as much as humans do.” Rush has some mixed feelings about the Ancients, and he doesn’t revere them as semi-gods, the way some people do. For a very intelligent race, they’d made some blunders. Ascension is fascinating, though. He’d like to learn more about the process someday.

“Want to have that chess game when we’re done here?” Young asks, elbowing him gently.

“I should get back to work, Colonel. See what my team has been doing.”

Young turns to face him and puts his hands on his hips, looks upwards, as if for guidance in dealing with him. “You’re always working. Take a break, Nick.”

“There’s so much to do.” It sounds like a weak excuse, even to him. And apparently to Colonel Young, because the man just gives a snort of amused exasperation.

“There’s always going to be too much to do, genius. You’re here for the long run, you’ve got to learn to pace yourself. Sleep when you get tired. Have some fun once in a while.” Young gave him a shove on his shoulder. “We done here?”

Rush nods, runs a hand through his messy hair. Blasted stuff keeps wanting to fall into his eyes. “Aye. I’ll need to come back with Brody, but then we can start manufacturing the hull plating. Fix the ship, that’s what you’re always telling me. Now I’ll have a decent shot at it.” Rush heads for the large doors and Young follows him out into the corridor.

Rush pushes the door console and the doors slide shut. “The corridor down this way needs to be examined.” He fishes out a piece of chalk from his pants pocket. “We can mark which doors are safe to open and which open out to space.”

Young holds up a hand. “Not so fast, hotshot. We don’t have the equipment with us to rig up safety lines.”

“There’s your belt.”

“Nope. It’s pretty worn out.” Young’s got a mulish expresssion, which doesn’t bode well for convincing him to help Rush. “C’mon. We’ve been down here for hours, and we missed lunch. Time to head to the mess.”

“You go on. I’m not hungry.” Rush can’t go to the mess, he just can’t. Sometime this evening, Brody will leave a bowl of protein slush for him. He’s tired of it, and he’s not sure why Brody hasn’t brought other food. He won’t ask him, though. He and Brody haven’t spoken a word together about their arrangement. Thank fuck. Brody is a solid man, someone Rush can rely on and he doesn’t question Rush. He’s different with Park and Volker. They have odd conversations sometimes, and Brody smiles and laughs with them. The three of them are friends.

He’s not friends with Brody. They are work colleagues, and there is respect between them. But Brody doesn’t try to make him laugh, or tease him or invite him to eat with him.

Does Colonel Young think of him as a friend? Certainly he’s talked more with Young about personal things than he has with anyone else on Destiny. Does he want to be friends with the man? He’s no sure. It would complicate things a great deal. And sometimes, when he looks at Young, he feels that wayward attraction that he has no earthly idea what to do with, except what he’s been doing. Ignoring it.

Young fixes a stubborn look at him. “If you think I’m leaving you down here to indulge in your curiosity and maybe get yourself blown out into space, think again. You can come back tomorrow, with a team, with the right equipment. This isn’t like when we first got dumped through the stargate and had to explore the ship right away. I heard the reports when I was back in command, and we were lucky we didn’t lose anybody. We’re doing this right, Rush.”

Rush wants to argue, but he knows he’s pushed one of the Colonel’s buttons, the need to make sure his people are safe. He’s quite sure he could manage on his own, but he’s tired and fighting with Young isn’t worth it.

Maybe a game of chess would be nice. He hasn’t played Eli since before the Alliance took the ship. If he manages this correctly, he might even get a decent dinner out of it.

“Colonel, I might take you up on your offer of a game of chess. If you’ll grab us our dinners from Becker, I’ll meet you at your quarters with the chess board.” He finds himself hoping the Colonel will agree. It’s sounding more and more like a pleasant way to spend the evening. He’s not quite caught back up on his sleep, despite the long hours he spent passed out in Young’s bed last night. Perhaps he’ll be able to sleep easier tonight if he has a relaxing few hours before laying down.

The look Young gives him makes him want to fidget, because there’s a knowing and gentle expression on his face, like he knows Rush won’t go to the mess. It makes him feel shame, because not being able to go near the place means Kiva still has the upper hand with him. Although even Kiva had gotten tired of his avoiding eating there. He remembers how she ordered that he start going, or take Koz and his cronies up on their offer of sharing their food in exchange for letting them watch him masturbate himself. That would only have lasted until Kiva approved him acting as ship’s whore; they’d have fucked him then, without his say-so. He shudders with the memories.

“Yeah,” Young says softly, looking kind, “We can do that. It’ll be fun.”

* * *

They walk along together, with no need to chatter, much like how they’d worked together on the planet picking fruit. Rush is thinking about the hull plating, estimating how many panels they’d need to fix the known holes in the hull, when Young’s radio goes off.

“Colonel, this is Scott. Go to channel two. I need a word, privately.”

Young answers him, and holds up a hand for Rush to stay put. “Give me a moment,” he says, and walks ahead far enough that Rush can’t hear their conversation.

It’s considerably longer than a moment before Young rejoins him. Rush has made use of the time and the chalk he has with him and is sketching out his estimates for time and materials to do the repairs on the corridor walls. He’s lost in thought, but he notes absently that the Colonel is walking towards him.

A heavy hand lands on his shoulder and spins him around violently. He’s shoved hard into the corridor wall, and he drops his chalk in shock.

Young is furious. Rush’s heart pounds in his chest, and fear ratchets up.

Young’s hands are clenched in front of him. “You lying son of a bitch!” he shouts. “Eli found it, what you tried to hide! Everything! The master code, the bridge, even the fucking power bars you stole and stashed there! You could have told us. You could have told me! I should beat the crap out of you for what you’ve pulled. And you did it, didn’t you? You tried to kill David! You set it up from the bridge!”

Young steps back from him, and Rush knows he’s one breath away from beating Rush to a pulp. He’s seen Young look like this before, when he used his hands and his head to knock Rush unconscious. The man is holding his hands down, he’s trying to control himself but Rush can’t trust that control. He can’t trust that Young won’t take his revenge for Rush lying to him. Oh, God, rape. He’s been beaten before, he can endure that, but he won’t be raped again. He can’t, he can’t, he won’t. Young might actually kill him afterwards, get rid of his body.

His mouth is dry, his hands are sweating, and he’s terrified. He touches the screwdriver hidden in his cuff and it slides out into his hand. Flashes of how he’d fought against the men who’d stripped him and tied him to the table in the mess overwhelm him and he has to run.

He doesn’t even realize he’s moving until he’s pushed Young so hard that he’s knocked him away. He’s sprinting down the hall. He’s flying as fast as he can and he’s got to find a way out or to hide until Young’s temper has cooled.

“Rush!” Young bellows behind him, and he’s running back past the manufacturing room, he needs to get out of Young’s sight, find a cross corridor, barricade himself in a room somewhere.

He dares to look behind him and Young is catching up. He ducks around a corner and thank fuck comes into a nexus where six corridors come together. He charges down one on his left and hopes Young will be delayed enough by checking the others to not see him, as he skids to a stop in front of a door. Panting, he hits the control. Nothing happens. Trembling, he enters two digits of the master code, then Young slams into him and they are rolling on the deck.

The impact knocks his screwdriver from his hand and he’s hitting Young with everything he has, sitting astride him, but Young flips him and he’s on top of Rush and his heavy arm is across his neck; he can feel his heart pounding, Young is holding him down, like they did, and he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe he. . .

His vision goes dark.

* * *

Chapter Text

Everett feels Rush’s body go limp under his, and he rolls off him, checks to make sure he’s breathing. God damn the man and his secrecy and his recklessness. God damn him for scaring the life out of Everett by running off into an unsafe area. When he saw Rush jabbing at a door control, willing to take a chance that he’d get blown out into space rather than face Everett, he’d been terrified.

It’s your fault, you asshole, that condemning voice in his head points out. You terrified him first. You laid your hands on him and you threatened to hurt him. When you know what he’s been through! You know that was the wrong way to get to bottom of this business of hiding the bridge and what happened with David.

Rush’s pulse is slow, his breathing steady. He’ll come around soon; and although he doubts Rush will believe him, he was careful with the hold that put him out. He didn’t crush his windpipe, just put enough pressure on his carotid artery so he could get the situation under control. A wrestler’s hold, common enough. Even though he’s sure Rush will be okay, he radios TJ, goes to a private channel and explains succinctly what he did and why and gives her coordinates to meet him and Rush so she can check him over. He asks her to brief Greer and bring him, too.

He’s not going to stay here. Not this close to where Rush had made that desperate, maybe suicidal dash towards danger.

He needs to secure Rush before he wakes up. He won’t take a chance that the man gets away from him and tries again to play Destiny Roulette by unlocking a room that’s open to space.

Sliding off his tired, old belt, he secures Rush’s ankles together with it. He decides to use Rush’s own shoelaces to tie his hands together, wishing he had some of the zipties he regularly carried when he was with his old SGC team. He unties the laces, yanks them free of Rush’s gym shoes. He doesn’t want to hurt Rush, no matter what he’d yelled at him when his anger had erupted at Matt’s report. He pulls Rush’s jacket sleeves down to protect his wrists from friction and efficiently ties Rush’s wrists together. He should have secured Rush’s hands behind his back, for maximum control and security, but he didn’t. It hurts to have your arms pulled back like that, as he knows from past experience.

He’s trying to make it up to Rush for his stupid, stupid comment about wanting to beat the crap out of him. He doubts that Rush will understand that he’s going easy on him. That’s okay. It’s what he deserves for fucking up once again on how to deal with the difficult man who’s lying on the deck.

Rush’s eyes are fluttering. Everett hauls him up and over his shoulder, holding him tightly as he jogs down the corridor towards his meeting place with TJ and Greer.

He can tell the moment when Rush actually wakes up. His body stiffens and he tries to throw himself off of Everett’s shoulder. He’s not going anywhere, but his movements cause his loose shoes to fall off his feet.

Everett lets them lie there. They can get them later. “Hey, you’re okay. I’m not going to hurt you, but I don’t trust you right now to not do something stupid and lethal. Do you even realize that you could be dead right now if I hadn’t stopped you from opening that door? Convince me that you’re rational and I’ll turn you loose.”

Rush is silent, but Everett can feel him trying to maneuver his hands free from where they’re pinned against Everett’s chest. Everett sighs and shifts Rush so he’s hanging even more down his back, so that he can’t reach Everett’s head with his fists. Rush is scrappy, he’d try to scratch or bite or use his fists to claw his way free.

“Settle down, I won’t hurt you. We need to talk.”

“Just talk, is it?” Rush sounds like he’s trying for a sneer, but instead what Everett hears is bravado and fear.

He says, a little breathlessly, “You’ve got a lot of explaining to do. And I meant what I said. I won’t hit you or hurt you.” He hears in his own voice anger at himself and frustration and guilt. He’s handled this badly, and tying the man up can’t be helping because that was what Kiva had done, but he doesn’t trust Rush not to run away.

“And I should believe you now? You threatened me with physical harm, Colonel. You’ve beat me down before, and done worse.” Rush is shaking. Still running his mouth, but trying so hard to be brave and belligerent.

Everett sighs and keeps up his fast pace, practically running, one foot in front of the other, because that’s what he does when he just wants to give up. He keeps on doing what needs to be done. “Are we never going to get past what happened on that planet, Rush? I was wrong to leave you there, I was wrong to try and settle our differences with that fight. But you’re not blameless. You framed me for murder, just so you could have your own way with the ship. I thought we moved on from there.”

“Yes, so did I.” Rush says nothing for a time, then mutters to himself, sounding dismayed. “Oh, fuck, no.” More loudly he demands, “Put me down. I’ll not run away this time, if you give me your word you won’t hit me or do worse.”

“What do you mean by worse?”

“Rape. Put me down, Colonel, please,” Rush gasps. “I’d hate to vomit all down your back.”

Everett flinched. Not about Rush upchucking, but did he really believe Everett would rape him? For what? Punishment? Revenge, anger? And to think that they had actually had been planning to spend time together this evening, acting like friends.

“This had better not be a trick so you can run off, Rush.” He slows down his pace.

“It’s not. I, I. . . you. I know you’re angry, but you caught me off guard, before. And I was. . . I was. . . It won’t happen now.”

Everett fills in the blanks with the words Rush can’t say. He does sound like he’s thinking now and not just reacting. “Give me your word to stay with me and I’ll give you mine that you’re safe around me.” He swallows and says, trying to get across his sincerity, “I would never rape you unless lives were at stake.”

“Fine, I agree,” Rush says hastily and Everett stops in front of the elevator and pushes some buttons, steps inside, still carrying Rush.

“Okay,” Everett says, “as soon as we step out, I’ll turn you loose. TJ’s meeting us here, to check you over. And then, I want answers. Truthful ones.”

Rush doesn’t say anything, not until Everett has deposited him on a bench not far from where they exited the elevator. He looks pale and sweaty, and the skin around his left eye is reddened. He’s going to have a spectacular black eye.

Everett makes short work of cutting the laces and removing the belt from Rush’s ankles. “Still nauseous? Lightheaded?”

Rush nods, and swallows convulsively over and over. Everett places a hand on the back of his neck. “Put your head between your legs, see if that helps.”

Rush’s skin feels warm under his fingers, and he does as Everett suggests. “Deep breaths,” Everett adds, and “This okay? My hand?”

Rush mumbles yes, so Everett leaves his hand in place. It had been something his mother had always done when he felt sick to his stomach as a kid. It had helped him, but he’s not sure why the feel of his palm would be comforting to Rush. The man is confusing and a lot of work.

His initial anger at Rush is gone, the adrenaline fueling it burned away by running to stop Rush from self-destructing and their fight and carrying the man here. He’s not big, light frame, small stature, but hauling him around hadn’t been a picnic, either.

They stay that way for several minutes, until Rush sits back up. He looks a little better. Everett stands up, moves so he can block the elevator if Rush does double cross him and tries for it.

Rush glances at him, and then shrugs. “Colonel, do me a favor and order the Science Team to keep their hands off the bridge controls until I can teach them the proper way to handle them.”

“I guess we know now where you’ve been spending your time. And Lieutenant Scott already did what you asked, except for Eli’s checking about the master code. What I don’t get is why? Why the god damned secrecy, Rush? Why couldn’t you have told us about this? I want to believe you about David, but, damn it, when you lie, either directly or by omission, you make it so hard to trust what you say.”

Rush is saved from having to answer by TJ’s and Greer’s arrival. While TJ checks Rush out, Everett motions Greer over.

“Sir?” Greer says with a casual salute.

“Once TJ clears Rush, she’ll be going back to the infirmary. I want you to stay, wait till Rush and I talk, and then keep him with you while I talk to the Science Team.”

“Got it,” Greer says. His eyes flick over to where TJ is examining Rush’s neck, her fingers carefully mapping out any damage.

“I was careful when I put him out,” Everett tells him. “Calling TJ down here was for his peace of mind, not because I hurt him. He’s okay, other than bruises from rolling around on the deck. If anything, he might have a mild concussion. And he’s gonna have a shiner.”

Greer gives him a sly look. “He’s not going to be the only one, sir.”

Great. The crew will know they’ve been in a fight. “Give us some privacy when we talk, but make sure you’re in eyesight.” He pauses, and then adds, although it’s probably not necessary because he’s sure that Greer understands why Everett asked for him to be down here, “And make sure Rush stays in one piece.”

“Yes, sir,” Greer drawls out. “Nothing’s gonna happen to Doc on my watch.”

“Lieutenant Scott and TJ briefed you about what he did?”

“I’m aware, Colonel. You know what else makes sense to me now? How the door to our cell was unlocked and how all those Lucians died by suffocation. Eli says that Rush was trapped in his room while all that was happening. I’m thinking Eli needs to dig a little deeper. The way I see it, the only reason we’re probably even alive is sitting over there with TJ.” Greer subtly nods towards the pair and Everett finds himself staring at his chief scientist. He’s sure Greer is right. He wonders if Rush will admit it.

TJ waves Everett over and Greer takes that as his cue to go stand down the hall.

“Well,” TJ says, when Everett joins her and Rush. “There’s no damage or bruising to his neck, nothing that should swell up and make it hard for him to breathe.” She glances down at Rush, who is sitting on the bench quietly. “He said he was having trouble breathing before he became unconscious.”

“Panic attack, most likely,” Rush murmured. “Understandable, since I thought the Colonel was going to kill me or worse.”

He’s trying for that sarcastic edge they’d all gotten used to hearing from the man, but he can’t quite pull it off.

“Otherwise, he’s going to have some bruises. No concussion. Would you like me to take a look at you, sir?” TJ asks, but he waves her off.

“You sure about the concussion? He got nauseous.”

Rush mutters, “Because I was being jostled upside down over your shoulder while you trotted here. I’m fine now.” His voice takes on a defiant tone. “You want to know why I did what I did, well then, let’s have a go.”

“TJ, any change in David’s condition?”

She shakes her head no, and he dismisses her.

Once they’re alone in the nexus that borders the elevator, Everett sits down next to Rush. He sighs, feeling exhausted. He wants to trust that Rush won’t take off again, but he can’t get the image of Rush frantically trying to open a door that could have killed him out of his head.

“I’m going to do my best not to get mad at what you have to tell me, Nick. But you’ve got a way of getting under my skin more than anybody I’ve ever met. Greer’s your insurance, you understand?” He’s tired. Tired of fighting with this man. Tired of being the one the crew looks to when things go wrong. Tired of knowing he’s become a shitty commander.

Rush shoots him a complicated look. “Greer’s your man through and through. He’ll look the other way if you decide to really strangle me this time, Colonel.”

“You’re right. . . and you’re wrong. It’s because he’s looking out for me that he won’t let that happen. He’s a hell of a Master Sergeant and he knows I need you. We all do, everybody on this ship.” He starts to elbow Rush in the side, but stops himself short of actually touching the guy. “Besides, he likes you. He won’t let you be hurt. The man does what’s right, and if that means knocking down an officer for a good reason, he’ll do it.”

Rush cocks his head a little, looking at him. “I didn’t pay much attention on Icarus about the goings on of the military, but he clocked Colonel Telford, didn’t he?”

“And he had a good reason.”

Rush scrubs his hands through his unruly hair and winces as he gently touches the skin under his left eye. “Ask your questions, Colonel.”

“I will.” He swallows, knowing that what he’s going to ask for Rush will probably turn down. But he can’t get the thought of Rush being blown out into space out of his mind. “Don’t take this the wrong way; I’m not hitting on you, but would you give me your hand first? I want to hold onto your wrist, just in case you get freaked out again and try for the elevator.”

Rush raises his eyebrows, but complies. He looks as weary as Everett feels, as he glances over, their eyes locking before Rush stares straight ahead. His wrist is thin, warm, and Everett grasps it firmly. Maybe Rush will actually talk to him about this mess, if he’s willing to indulge Everett’s anxiety this way.

“Let’s start with the master code. When did you break it?”

* * *

“How can you just forgive him?” Brody demands, leaning forward in his seat at a monitoring station on the bridge. The bridge is intriguing, with its command chair center and the different monitoring stations. And complicated. Rush is going to have a lot of work with training the crew to handle these controls.

Everett had chosen a place on the steps leading down to the center, sitting with his hands loosely clasped on his lap. He intends this to be a discussion, not a lynching party, and from the disgruntled expressions on the Science Team, they need to vent their own frustrations at being kept out of the loop.

Everett says, “Who said anything about forgiving him? What I want is to understand why he did what he did. I want to verify that the things he’s said are true.”

Ginn pushes her long red hair back over her shoulder, smooths it down. “Colonel? When we couldn’t open Colonel Telford’s door or replace his air, Doctor Rush sent us out of the control interface room to other stations to try from there to regain control.”

“Yeah,” Dale Volker breaks in, looking sour, “and he knew that was useless, but he sent us anyway.”

“So why did you go?” Everett asks mildly. “Why listen to him when you knew it was pointless?”

Lisa Park and Volker exchange looks, and Volker shrugs. “He, he was like he used to be, snapping out orders and taking charge and he said to go.”

“I guess we were hoping he knew something we didn’t,” Park says thoughtfully.

“Before he sent us out, he started talking to, I don’t know, but it seemed like he was having an argument with someone not there,” Ginn says, hesitantly.

“Hallucinating?” Eli looks up from the monitor where he’s been poring through code, trying to prove or disprove what Rush had told Everett about the program he’d inserted that made it seem like he was locked in his room when in reality he’d been holed up here in the bridge learning systems and initiating their take back of the ship. That and if he was responsible for David almost suffocating before he used the master code to unlock the door and to vent air back into the room.

“Maybe,” Everett says. “He claims he was talking to Destiny’s AI.”

All the scientists react to that. Eli looks positively jubilant at the idea. “Oh, far out,” he gushes, a look of wonder on his face. “Seriously, Destiny has an AI? Cool. I’m gonna get Rush to introduce me.”

Brody and Volker exchange glances, their eyebrows raised. “Hal?” Volker says under his breath to Brody, but Everett hears him anyway. “Skynet?” Brody mutters back to him, but before they can hijack this conversation into anecdotes about fictional evil AIs, Everett clears his throat and gives them a pointed look. They shut up, but Everett is sure they’ll pick that conversation back up later.

He looks at Ginn, and says, “Go on.”

“I didn’t go with Lisa and Dale,” Ginn says, her voice small. She reminds him of his niece when the girl was confessing to some transgression. “I stayed in the corridor where Doctor Rush couldn’t see me, but I could watch him and listen. He accused whoever he was talking to of making saving Colonel Telford a test.”

“A test of what?” Brody demands. “And how come you didn’t tell us anything about this?”

“I’m, I’m sorry, Brody. You’re right, I should have talked to the rest of the team and I should have gone to you, Colonel.” Ginn shoots him a wary look. “I apologize. I didn’t say anything because Doctor Rush was clearly uncomfortable talking about it and I owe him. I’m sorry. I knew he wasn’t telling me the whole story when I asked him about it. He said he was talking to the ship. Maybe he wasn’t lying after all, then, if he was talking to an invisible AI.”

“The test was about him,” Everett makes a gesture with his hands expressing skepticism, even though he wants to believe Rush. He owes it to the crew to make sure Rush wasn’t just blowing smoke up his ass. “Or so he says. If he would choose to save Colonel Telford at the risk of being found out that he was hiding the bridge, or if he would let him die in revenge for what David had done to him on Kiva’s orders.”

“He was crying,” Ginn says softly. “And he did choose to save Colonel Telford. But why did the ship want to test him like that?”

“Rush says the ship is trying to learn about us. Probably comparing us to the Ancients.” Everett looks around the room, at Park, who Rush had saved by killing Simeon; at Brody, who for weeks has been quietly making sure Rush won’t starve to death; to Eli, who braved Kiva’s wrath to try to help Rush, to Volker, who can’t stop seeing Rush being tortured on the table.

“Oh my God,” Eli blurts out. “When we took back the ship, Ginn, he saved you. He could have killed you like he did all those other Lucian Alliance members, but he saved you instead.”

“I know,” Ginn says, and then tears are spilling down her cheeks. “He forgave me for the things I did to him.”

“He was like the Angel of Death,” Park breathes out, sounding horrified. “He had to decide who to kill and who to let live.”

“He acted for the good of this crew,” Everett says sternly. “Of course, he also saved himself; Kiva’s intentions towards him didn’t make for a pleasant future.”

“He also killed Doctor Boone,” Volker says, looking conflicted, sounding resolute. “I guess it was accidentally, but that’s small comfort to his family.”

Rush told Everett that he hadn’t known Doctor Boone had been brought to the bridge by the Lucians until he’d seen the body. He’d sounded genuinely remorseful for the man’s death, but then had squared his shoulders and told Everett that even if he’d known, if he had no other way to get Doctor Boone away, he’d have still vented the air from the bridge. It would have been for the greater good, he’d explained.

Everett decides to keep that to himself. But he doesn’t hold it against Rush. In fact, he agrees with him.

“We probably couldn’t have taken back the ship with the low amount of casualties on our side if he hadn’t done what he did. I have zero problems with him about that,” Everett says. “If anyone else feels differently, let’s hear your reasoning.”

No one speaks.

“I understand,” Brody says. “But what I don’t get is why afterwards he kept it a secret and why he didn’t tell us about the bridge.”

“I think I know,” Park offers quietly, and her fingers are nervously tangling together.

They all look at her and Volker reaches out his hand and Park takes it. She bites at her lip and everyone just waits for her to say what is clearly troubling her.

“I’ve been going to the support group for people who were assaulted, sexually or physically or emotionally, by the Lucians. Actually, it’s kind of grown from that into talking about what’s happened to people before they came to Destiny. People are opening up about things that occurred to them as kids, or being date raped, or groped or molested. There’s been so much. . . Anyway, being violated in those ways? People want to feel safe. They want to feel in control. What happened to Doctor Rush was horrific, and not just when he was being raped on the table. Simeon, he. . . I know that Doctor Rush played along until he could attack him but the things he had to say and to do? To save himself and to save me?”

Park looks close to tears, but she swallows down the sob that clearly wants to break free, and her voice firms as she says, “He hid the bridge partly because he wanted a safe place where no one could find him and hurt him. A kind of sanctuary. I might have done the same thing, if it had been me who figured out the master code first.”

Volker clears his throat. “Colonel? What did Rush say was his reason? He didn’t say what Lisa just did, did he?” Volker and Brody were moving closer to Park, and she was still holding Volker’s hand.

“No. But I think what Lisa just said is correct.” He gives Park a nod, hoping he’s communicating that he appreciates what she said. It couldn’t have been easy for her.

He looks directly at Volker. “What Rush said was that while the Lucians still had control he used the time spent here to start learning about the systems so we could take back the ship. Afterwards, after he vented the air out of the Lucian’s quarters and unlocked our cell, giving us as much advantage as he could, he still kept it secret because he needed to learn everything he could so that he could teach the rest of you guys without you, uh, messing things up.”

“He could have told you, Colonel, at least. You could have ordered us to follow his lead on learning the controls,” Brody points out.

But Rush hadn’t trusted that Everett would agree to a hands off approach for the rest of the scientists. And honestly, Everett can’t say that he wouldn’t have given the go ahead for the others to start on their own to learn these systems.

“I think Lisa is right, but, well, he is Rush,” Eli chimes in. “Keeping secrets, that’s a way of life for that guy.”

“It’s so hard to trust again, when you’ve been hurt like that,” Lisa says. “If it’s a way of life for Doctor Rush to keep things to himself, then maybe it’s because he’s had a lifetime of experiences that have hurt him. Listening to everybody in the group? It’s very difficult to begin trusting again. You keep expecting things to go bad all the time; it’s just so very damaging to experience your body and your trust being violated, especially when it happens from someone you had trusted to care for you, to protect you even.”

Like the man who is in charge of the mission,” Everett thinks.

“Are you saying we should excuse him for not showing us the bridge?” Volker says, turning to her. “Because that doesn’t sit right with me. He made a decision to cut us out, and we are his team. Young is our leader. And we didn’t rape himmm. . .”

Volker trails off, realizing too late, obviously, that he’s just shoved his foot into his mouth.

Blandly, Everett says, “I did rape him. You all know why, so I don’t need to explain myself. And the rest of the time we watched him be tortured and humiliated. We didn’t stop them from hurting him.”

“Yeah, that’s not so great for that whole trust thing,” Eli says, his head lifting from where he’s still working with code.

“I raped him,” Ginn adds, soberly. “I didn’t do it to save Doctor Rush from Kiva, like the Colonel did. I did it to save myself.”

“Look, I’m not saying what happened to him wasn’t awful and terrible, but do we excuse people for their actions because terrible, awful stuff has happened to them?” Volker asks, frowning.

“No, but it does give us an understanding and a way to move forward,” Park says. “We have to trust each other, because out here, so far away from home, all we’ve got is each other.”

Everett felt a headache start to bloom and he massaged his temple with two fingers. Honestly, he was surprised one hadn’t ambushed him till now. “I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had trouble trusting Doctor Rush. And I want to trust him now. But his past actions keep getting in the way. He chose to bring us here, to Destiny, when he should have dialed Earth. He did it because he wanted to prove he was right.” He’d had his suspicions about Rush even before the Lucian attack, but when he’d blatantly disregarded Everett’s orders to dial home, and instead dialed the ninth chevron, any trust he’d actually had in Rush to make any decisions for the benefit of others, and not himself, had evaporated.

“Yeah, he did want to prove he was right. He also didn’t want to die, and incidentally, for the rest of us to die. Or Earth to blow up. Colonel, I told you before when you asked me to look into it, that Rush made the right decision,” Eli snaps out.

“Telford said that was in dispute by the science teams back at Homeworld Command. That he could have dialed Earth.”

“Telford said that? The guy who was a brainwashed puppet for the Lucian Alliance? That guy?” Eli says so sarcastically that Everett is sure he’s been taking lessons from Rush. “I guess you didn’t trust me either, then.”

Eli has a point about David and his intel. Maybe Everett hadn’t trusted Eli enough back then, not compared to the brainiacs at the SGC. He hadn’t talked directly to any of the scientists back on earth, though. Plus, he’d been suspicious of the influence Rush had on the kid. At times it had even felt like a tug of war between him and Rush over Eli. He’d suspected that Rush had convinced Eli he’d had to dial the gate, that any other option would have resulted in deaths.

But he totally trusted Eli now, both his character and his skills. “I trust you, Eli.”

“Well, gee thanks. So by the transitive property, if you trust what I told you, then you have to trust Rush about it, since we’re in agreement. What else haven’t you trusted Rush about?” Eli went back to his work, but his body language told Everett he was listening intently.

“He knew that Destiny was in no danger when it was flying towards that star, the first time we refueled. He knew and he kept it to himself. He could have put a lot of people’s fears to rest, and he didn’t care enough to tell us. He let us send out people in the shuttle and it’s only--”

“Only by his fast thinking and skills that we got them back,” Eli snaps out.

“He said he did it because we needed the supplies back.” It sounds like defensive nonsense now to Everett. Maybe because he knows Rush better than he did. Knows he stepped in front of of Eli and Chloe and Brody and shielded them from the guns the Lucians were pointing at them.

Eli snorts at that. “And you expected what? For him to hug it out with all of us who were celebrating in the mess? I told you then that he didn’t know about the star. I saw him right after he figured it out. He was elated; he said he was happy that he’d been wrong. He’s not that good of an actor, Colonel. We can all tell when he’s hiding something or if he’s upset or amused.”

Shaking his head, Eli sighs. “He was just being a grumpy ass when you wanted him to join in on the party and he didn’t want to hang out. You couldn’t leave it alone, trying to give him a reward, which yes, nice idea, but couldn’t you see that you having the authority to effect something as basic as how much food he can have just rubbed him the wrong way? You kept trying to compliment him, to force him to acknowledge that he’d been doing a good job and he just wasn’t in the mood. Of course he was going to keep shooting you down by making himself out to not care about the crew. He’s probably got some self sabotage thing going on about accepting compliments. I saw through him; I don’t get why you didn’t.”

“He admitted he knew we would be okay about the star. He admitted it.” Everett clung to his past perception, even as it was slowly breaking apart and reforming into something new. God damn it, figuring out Rush would be the job of a lifetime. He wasn’t sure he had the energy for it, but he couldn’t deny his fascination with the man.

“No!” Eli shoots back, sounding irritated. “You accused him of that and he didn’t deny it. So you, what, thought that was the truth? Maybe he just doesn’t care what people think about him, and decides it’s pointless to try to change their opinion of him.”

Brody says, “Sounds about right for Rush.”

Everett runs his hands through his hair. “He’s a lot of work.”

Eli snorts again. “Yeah, well, I think at this point we can all take that as a given. But don’t you think he’s worth it?”

“I do, actually.”

“Not that we aren’t mad at him for keeping,” Eli waves his hands expansively taking in the bridge, ‘all of this a secret from us. And yeah, annoyed that he didn’t trust us with it. But I don’t think he should be punished.”

“No,” says Brody.

Volker shakes his head and Park looks worriedly at him. Ginn seems to be holding her breath.

“No punishment,” Everett says. “And let’s all think about how to get the son-of-a-gun to trust us more.”

“What about you?” Eli asks. “Do you trust him now? Will you trust him in the future, believe that he’s not going to just screw us over for his own benefit?”

“I’m going to try. So, Rush says that these controls are dangerous in untrained hands. He promises to start training you all immediately, but I’m asking for a favor. He’s pretty tired right now, so keep it to reasonable hours, okay?”

“Sure,” Eli says. “And hey, Colonel? I’ve uncovered his hack job on the Alliance keeping tabs about who was locked in their rooms. He was telling the truth about it. That, and he didn’t set up Telford to suffocate. God, he’s fantastic with Destiny’s code. You realize that back on Earth he could have been one of the best hackers ever?”

“Back on Earth,” Volker says. “Except he doesn’t want to go back to Earth. I don’t think there’s anything there for him, and he wants Destiny to be his life’s work. He’s said that before, you know. That Destiny is meant to be his life’s work.”

“Yep,” and Brody nods his head. “He gets kind of passionate about it.”

“And since we’re talking about trust, that’s a problem,” Volker continues. “People on board this ship have a problem with trusting that he’s actually trying to find a way for us to go home. Sure, when he’s shot down, like, Telford’s scheme to dial home when we’re recharging in a star, he was right to do so. I was on board a hundred percent with him that time. But he was so damn smug about it, I know it planted a lot of doubt in people’s heads about his sincerity about getting us back. For me, anytime he says we can’t do something that would let us dial home, I know I’m going to doubt him about it. That’s just the way it is.” Volker has let go of Park’s hand and crosses his arms over his chest, looking mulish.

“His won’t be the only opinion in a scenario like that. And maybe, if we can find a reliable way to go back and forth, other people will stay,” Park says, glancing between Volker and Brody.

“Cross that bridge when we come to it,” Brody says, rolling his shoulders. “Right now, we don’t have the resources. If Destiny can get up past forty percent on the energy reserves, then maybe we can. The Ancients planned to use the stargate to go back and forth, we know that.”

“Speaking of the Ancients,” Young says, realizing that with all that has happened, that he and Rush hadn’t passed on the good news about the manufactory they’d explored. He smiles at them. “Let me tell you about what Rush and I found. It just might get us up past that forty percent, Brody.”

* * *

He sends the Science Team to the mess, stopping Brody with a hand on his shoulder and tells him he doesn’t need to get anything for Rush tonight, he’ll take care of it.

He feels exhausted even more than before his meeting with the Science Team, and after they leave, when it’s just him on the bridge, he sits down heavily in the command chair. He closes his eyes, but snaps them open again when an image of Rush’s terrified expression from earlier fills his brain. He never wants to see that expression leveled at himself again.

He’s got to find a better way to connect to his chief scientist. He wants what the best of the SGC teams have had with each other, a partnership between the military side of things and the scientific. O’Neill and Jackson. Shephard and McKay. Carter, and well, anybody she’d ever been on a team with. A faint grin crosses his face, remembering how Cal used to sing Carter’s praises.

When the respect between team members was good, they’d done amazing things. He had worked well with the scientists on his own team, back in his SGC days. They’d saved his life, he’d saved theirs. Until they couldn’t be saved, god damn the Alliance.

Make no mistake, he thinks to himself. Rush keeping the bridge a secret from him was not acceptable, no matter what his reasoning had been. He thinks he gets why, now, after talking to Rush and to the Science Team.

They need to move forward, him and Rush. Because for sure there are going to be new situations where Doctor Nicholas Rush, Ph.D, would have to make a decision to tell him about whatever he discovers, or to sit on it until somebody else, probably Eli, finds out his newest secret and outs him.

He’s such a fucking failure. If he was a better commander, Rush wouldn’t feel the need to be such a secretive bastard. He’d left him on that planet, he’d beaten up a civilian, and yeah, he’d kept it private, some kind of version of a boyhood scrap that ends with things sorted out and if not arms flung around each other’s shoulders, at least establishing who was in charge and who needed to toe the line. Except even when he’d lost the fight, Rush hadn’t submitted one little bit. And Rush isn’t trained to fight, he’s a scientist, and a little guy at that. When he thinks about that fight, he feels ashamed because it hadn’t been a fair fight at all, and he wasn’t trying to kill the guy, not like in a combat fight. He just wanted him to acknowledge that he was going to accept Everett’s authority. He should have exposed how he framed Everett, and let justice happen on board the ship.

He wishes intently for some of Brody’s shine right now. Beginning that fight had been a bad decision, how he’d ended it had been a much worse one. He’d knocked Rush out and left him to die, left him right out in the hot sun on a desert planet. Dying by thirst is a horrible way to end a life, and he wonders if Rush had wished that Everett had just finished him off instead of leaving him to wake up and realize he’d been stranded and would probably die of thirst. Probably not. Rush was a scrapper, and even the torture and rape and hunger he’d experienced under Kiva’s reign hadn’t stopped him from finding a way to save them all.

Not all of them. Rush may have accidentally killed Boone, but the fault, like all the other deaths from the Alliance invasion, is Everett’s. He made the wrong call by not immediately venting the air from the gate room during the Lucian incursion. Rush, switched with David’s body, had come through the gate and he’d hesitated, trying to save him. The not so funny thing about that is that both men would have made the decision to keep to the plan, no matter who came unexpectedly through the stargate. Practical, pragmatic bastards, the pair of them.

David is another weight on his mind. He should have known something was wrong, was off, about David. If he’d just been paying better attention, he could have realized that David was compromised. Hell, it was probably David who gave the location of Icarus to the Alliance and called down a firestorm upon the base.

His friend, one of the closest friends he’d ever had, had what looked like a stroke, TJ said. Too early, she’d said, to know what sort of damage had been done. Rush had saved him; Rush, who’d been raped several times by David. Who’d been on David’s hit list with the IOA. Rush had saved him, and had opened the door to Eli figuring out what Rush had been hiding. He owes Rush for that, on a personal level. So does David, if he’s still capable of understanding about it.

There’s others who Everett has wronged. Is still hurting. TJ. His daughter, who TJ won’t let him hold at night anymore, because he’s always drunk in his quarters once he closes his door at night. She’d told him that their daughter wasn’t going to grow up with the smell of alcohol associated with her father’s cuddling her. TJ had been adamant about that. One more thing to feel ashamed of, guilty about, but not guilty enough to stop drinking when the load on his shoulders starts feeling too heavy.

It’s different in the daytime. He can put off the longing to just let go of everything because he’s so fucking busy. But at night, in his quiet quarters, with Destiny’s shield throwing soft colors around his room, he has too much time to think. Every night, he thinks he’ll just take one drink. One drink to relax him. One drink to let the tension slide away. One drink to help him sleep.

It’s never one drink though. And it’s never enough to stop the memories and the guilt from torturing him. Sometimes, sometimes, he’s actually thought that he’d trade Rush all the torture the man had endured for three days on that fucking table for the torture Everett’s own mind puts him through every night.

He sighs, and heaves himself up out of the command chair. It’s a long shot that Rush would even consider this, but he and Rush had made plans for this evening and Everett would like to keep them. They need to move forward, him and Rush, and they need to be the leaders, along with Camile, that the crew needs.

He’d like to put off walking into his quarters alone and being seduced into intoxication by the numbness Brody’s moonshine promises.

He’ll radio Rush and see if he’s still up for dinner together and maybe a quick game of chess. Maybe not in his quarters, like they’d planned originally. Maybe in the observation room, maybe with Greer along. He’d make the offer, and let Rush decide. But first, he wants to see David.

* * *

David is a quiet shape under blankets when he steps into the infirmary. If he’s sleeping or worse, unconscious, Everett will just go. He orders the two guards out into the corridor. He doesn’t want any curious crew watching him and David.

TJ motions him to come speak with her, and he turns away from the sight of his friend of eighteen years looking small on the gurney, despite his actual size. He’s a good bit taller than Everett is, broad in the chest and strong as a horse. The thought that he might be disabled now, unable to use his muscles or his brain is . . . All his fault, all his fault, all his fault.

“Everett,” TJ’s voice is quiet but sharp, and it brings him out of the trance of recrimination he was falling into just now.

He steps to her side, putting back on his commander face, but he knows by how TJ looks at him that she saw him start to spiral down into one of his black moods of depression.

“Lieutenant,” he says.

“Sir,” she replies. There’s a whole conversation that doesn’t happen between them by his using their ranks instead of their given names. They’ll have that talk, he knows, but not now. It’s one of the many reasons he appreciates TJ, her sense of timing and her willingness to wait out what she needs to tell him until he’s ready to hear it.

David, though, David never gave a fuck if Everett was ready to hear what David had to say to him. David would drive right through any stop signs Everett had put up, until he said what he thought Everett needed to hear. Timing be damned, that was David’s style.

He doesn’t know if David is capable of doing that anymore. He might not even recognize Everett, or be able to speak.

TJ says, “Colonel Telford’s stroke symptoms have decreased; there’s a good chance that what he experienced was a TIA, transient and reversible.”

“But you’re not sure.”

“No sir, I’m not.” She smiles at him. “But he’s been trending that way. I’ve got him drinking a tea that has blood thinning properties. He’s still having some trouble with smiling, his speech is still a little slurred and he’s weaker on the right side of his body. But there has been significant improvement, and I’m hopeful, sir.”

“He’s asleep.”

“Because he’s bored.”

He shoots her a questioning look, and she outright grins at him. “It’s what he said, Colonel. That he was bored being stuck here and he was taking a nap. He said if you came by to wake him up.”

He laughed softly, feeling relieved. “I’ve always envied him his ability to nap like that. He and Jack O’Neill have that in common. Always made the rest of us at the SGC who don’t have that skill set jealous.”

TJ’s expression grows solemn. “Well, before you rouse him, I wanted to talk to you about Chloe. She’s been having blackouts.”

* * *

After agreeing that Chloe should stay with somebody all the time till TJ figures out a reason for her blackouts, Everett releases David from the restraints and shakes him awake with one hand on his shoulder.

David’s always had the ability to jolt back to consciousness and be ready to move instantly and this time is no exception. He snaps a hand around Everett’s wrist, forcing his hand down and away from David’s shoulder. His dark eyes lock with Everett’s and he lets go of Everett’s arm.

Glancing around the room, David’s eyes land on TJ, who is giving them space and privacy for this conversation. He must see that the guards have been sent out of the room, also.

“How are you feeling?” Everett asks, and David sits up, swings his legs off the bed and stands. Stretches.

“Look,” David says, sliding the word out like he’s had one shot of Jack Daniel too many. “You know that wasn’t me, the real me, talking to you in the cell, right?”

Everett waves a hand, implying that all he’d said was already forgotten. It wasn’t, not by a long shot, but there was no point in talking about it now.

“I’m not brainwashed anymore, Everett. God, I can’t believe that bitch put me through it twice.”

Everett crosses his arms over his chest. “That’s what you’d say if you were still brainwashed, David. You know I can’t just take your word for it that you’re free of it.”

David rolls his eyes. “I fucking died, or so I hear. You know that knocks it out of your head.”

“Lieutenant Johanson says you’re improving, that maybe you won’t have any problems at all. Got to say, you’ve had me worried. When she clears you medically, you’re going to sit in the chair. Rush says that Destiny will be able to tell if you’re still under any influence from what the Alliance did to you.”

David makes a noise of disbelief. “Rush? You gotta be kidding me. He’d tell the ship to fry my brain as soon as those electrodes are in my head. C’mon, Everett. You know you can’t trust him about that.”

“Eli and Brody and Park also give you sitting in the chair a thumbs up. And if Rush wanted you dead, he didn’t have to wait for you to be trapped in the chair. He’s the only reason you’re breathing right now, pal.” The look on David’s face is a masterpiece of confusion, denial, and amazement.


Everett puts a hand on his shoulder, looks up intently into David’s face. “The ship wouldn’t let air back into your room or unlock the door, until he gave the commands using the master code.” He pauses, and adds, “Yeah, he’s had it figured out for a while now.”

“So his gamble with sitting in the chair payed off,” David says. “Little son-of-a-bitch came through again. I was betting on Eli figuring it out first. I’m gonna owe McKay ten bucks.”

Everett rolled his eyes at that. David and his betting. “Him using it where he did, in the control interface room, meant it wouldn’t be hard to track down how he did it and expose that he knew the master code. And once that happened, his big secret would be revealed. He found Destiny’s bridge. But he did it anyway, he saved you.”

“What? So there is a bridge. I figured there had to be one. Every other Ancient ship has one. But he saved me? Why?” David looks confused, and Everett doesn’t blame him.

“Destiny made it a test about him, if he would help you despite what you’d done to him. Why, he doesn’t know.” He tightens his hold on David’s shoulder. “He thinks the ship wants to learn what makes us tick. Regardless, he saved your ass, and everything he was afraid would happen occurred. You owe him, David.” He lets go of his old friend and stands quietly, waiting for David to take all of that in.

“Rush.” David shakes his head. “Rush, really?”

“Yeah. We both owe him.”

“Crap. He unlocked the cell door, and suffocated the Lucians, didn’t he? God damn!, but he’s something else.” David runs a hand through his short dark hair. He looks a little proud of what Rush had done, and his lips turn up in a small smile.

“You wanted him off the expedition. Was that you or Kiva talking?”

David sits back down on the gurney. “I wanted him off the expedition because Kiva was going to have him snatched when he was back on Earth. They’d been working to get the stargate on that other Icarus type planet up and running, you know. Rush is brilliant, and she wanted him. I’m not sure why he got stalled on figuring out that last bit, where they had to bring Eli in, like a closer in a baseball game.”

He holds out his right arm, grimaces as he practices opening and shutting his hand. “But, honestly, I wouldn’t have picked him for the expedition because he’s such a son-of-a-bitch to get along with. Those complaints you got from the other scientists on Icarus, I encouraged them, sure, but Rush brought it on himself.”

Everett looks David straight in the eyes. “You hit on him, back when he was at the SGC, though. Was that for Kiva, or was that for you?”

“Jesus, Everett.” David laughs ruefully. “Rush actually told you about that?”

“He did. He wasn’t sure what your motive was for the attention you were paying to him, if you wanted to take him to bed or just have him as a supporter, though.” Everett shrugs. He’d known for a long time that David walked both sides of the street when it came to his sex life. “I figured it was for all of the above.”

“Well, you know me, old friend. Was I interested in him?” David looks intrigued, evidently remembering his early interactions with Rush. “I was looking at him, sure. Me. Kiva hadn’t ensnared me at that point.”

David laughs again. “It was fun messing with him; he was kind of adorable in his confusion when I’d bring him coffee from Starbucks.” He shrugs. “He’s attractive and I like smart scientist types, always have. You know that. Back then, he seemed. . . kind of vulnerable, like he needed someone. After he blew up at me, I asked around and Dr. Perry told me he’d just lost his wife. I decided the timing wasn’t good then to go after him; I wasn’t up for dealing with a grieving widower.”

“But you didn’t let it go. You started your campaign to discredit him.” Everett rocked a little on the balls of his feet, feeling ridiculously protective about Rush.

“Not me. Kiva. I was compromised shortly afterwards. I told you she wanted him, and in order to get him, he would have to be kicked out of the program, or it would set off too many alarms when he was snatched. But I don’t trust the guy, and that’s all me.”

David looks tired suddenly, and Everett figures he should let TJ check him out, let him get some more rest. But he’s got to ask this.

“One last thing. Did you make it personal, with Rush? When he was on that table?”

David’s back on his feet and he’s clenching his fists. “What the fuck are you asking me, Everett? You think I did what I did to him because he wouldn’t go out with me for coffee? I had no choice, not if I was going to keep my cover and try to save this crew. I raped him but it wasn’t personal! I could ask you the same god damn question. Did you fuck him for his sake, or for yours?”

“How many times did you have to prove yourself to Kiva? Wasn’t once enough? And what about when you made him come, David. You can’t tell me that was necessary.” Everett ignored David’s own question. He had nothing to prove to him.

“You didn’t know Kiva like I knew her. No, once was not enough, not to prove my loyalty. Making him come? That was because she was losing interest, getting bored with watching Rush get raped.” David steps closer to him, grabs him by his jacket, pulls him close. He leans down so his face is maybe two inches from Everett’s. He says, intently, “If I hadn’t spiced things up for her, she’d have come up with something much worse. I didn’t rape Nick because I was getting back at him; I was trying to save him, save all of you.”

David pushes him away, “God, Everett. I thought you understood that. You looked at me, your dick shoved up his ass, mine shoved down his throat, and we were two desperate men, doing what needed to be done. It wasn’t something anybody could do, but I did what I had to do for the fucking greater good. And you know what? Rush would have understood that. If the poor bastard had been capable of understanding anything at that point.”

“You owe him.”

David scrubs his hands over his face. “I know.” His expression becomes resigned. “And he’ll want to cash it in, I’m sure. Probably I’ll have to get the IOA off his case.”

“He belongs on this ship, David.” He says it like he believes it. And he does, he realizes, he does believe it and he promises himself, promises Rush, that he’ll do everything in his power to keep the man on Destiny.

“You can’t trust him, Everett.” David says that like he pities Everett. Like he just saw that silent promise play out across Everett’s face. “He may want to stay here, but he’s got no right to hold the rest of this crew hostage.”

“He’s not. There’s no viable way to get home.”

“And when we do find a way, he’ll do his best to hide it, or to sabotage it. You wait, Everett. I’ll be proved right.”

“Okay.” He takes a moment to center himself. “Okay. Here’s what’s going to happen. TJ’s going to assess you again. If she says you’re well enough, you’ll be taken to your quarters and locked in. Then when she’s sure you’ve recovered, and hell, David, you look so much better than I was expecting, we’ll use the chair and confirm that you’re yourself again.”

“Sure.” David says it carelessly, like he’s just agreed to let Everett borrow a pair of socks. “Hey, Everett? Let’s go drinking when all of this is over.”

He draws Everett in for a quick, hard hug, before sitting on the gurney again. He slaps David on the back. He hopes to God this is really David again, and that he’s not just sentenced his friend to death by Destiny’s neural interface chair.

* * *

Everett talks to TJ and gives orders for the two guards who he sent out into the corridor to resume guard duty.

His stomach growls, and he’s reminded that he said he’d pick up Rush’s dinner.

Rush will probably refuse to eat with him, if he does, he’ll still leave his dinner in his quarters. He hopes Becker has come up with something decent for tonight, and not just another variation of the mush.

Still, there’s, oh, maybe a ten percent chance that Rush will agree to eat with him, in the spirit of once again moving forward. For the sake of the crew, of course.

Ducking into a side corridor, he brings his radio to his lips, and when Greer answers, asks him to hand the radio to Rush.

“Rush here.”

He asks Rush if he’d still like to eat with him, maybe at the observation deck instead of Everett’s quarters, before Rush starts instructing the Science Team about the bridge. Greer can join them, if that makes a difference.

He cringes a little, knowing he sounded awkward as hell about this invitation. He half hopes Rush will turn him down.

There’s silence on the other end, and Everett waits for Rush’s decision.

* * *

Chapter Text

“Doc,” Greer yells, jarring him from the contemplations he’s been engaged in after giving Young an answer to his invitation to eat with him. He’s still sitting on a bench and he shivers, and yes, it’s colder in this section of the ship, where he’d discovered the manufactory and the corridors of unexplored rooms. Yes, he’s cold, that’s the only reason he’s experiencing these chills. Lying to yourself this time, are you, Nick? a more honest part of himself pipes up. He banishes those thoughts. He’s just cold. He’s not experiencing any emotional blowback about the last few hours. He’s just not.

He looks over to where Greer and the team the man has assembled are methodically exploring this new section of the ship he’d uncovered. He’d been assisting them until the Colonel had radioed him, then he’d trotted back to the nexus where the corridors met for privacy.

Young had surprised him by re-issuing his earlier invitation, given before Eli had unearthed the bridge and exposed that one Nicholas Rush had known about it for quite some time and had not informed the leader of this ragtag expedition or the colleagues he worked with daily.

Actually, he’s still surprised he’s not locked away or laid out in the infirmary. He pictures again the way the Colonel had backed him into the corridor wall, how he had clenched his fists. At the time he was sure Young was going to attack him and the ugly, awful fear that he’d be raped again had spurred him to escape.

Now, in retrospect, he thinks the Colonel was doing his best not to hit him. Maybe, if Rush could have extended what trust he did have in the man, if he hadn’t bloody panicked and ran they could have talked instead of ending up fighting and rolling on the floor first.

So he’s aware that Young could have hurt him a great deal, rather than just putting him out to subdue him. Still it’s hard to feel grateful for that or for the transition from terror upon waking up over Young’s shoulder to annoyance once he understood Young wasn’t taking him somewhere to rip off his clothes and fuck him. Being carried and jostled like that was humiliating. He supposes it could have been worse. Greer and Lieutenant Johansen could have witnessed him being carted around like an unwieldy sack of goods. Or he could have been sick, although it would have served Young right if he had vomited down his back.

“Doc, I ain’t got all day,” Greer yells to him. “You said you wanted to be there when we opened that one room and it’s the last one we’re doing for tonight. My guys need to get to the mess before Becker closes it down.”

“Aye, I’m coming,” he says, projecting his voice and getting up. In a morbid way, he’s curious to know if his gamble to hide in that room would have given him temporary refuge or caused his death when he was sucked out of Destiny and vaporized against the shields.

* * *

Young opens the door, gives him a slight smile when he sees the chessboard tucked under Rush’s arm. “Come in,” he says and ushers him inside the room. Rush gives a quick glance around the place. The bed is made, the room neat and tidy. Young’s comb and shaving kit are perfectly straight on the counter under the small mirror.

There is no smell of alcohol on the Colonel, and that’s a good sign, he thinks.

“We should eat first,” Young says, breaking the awkward silence that’s fallen between them. “Becker’s found some insulated containers, so dinner will still be hot.”

Rush shrugs. “Hot mush isn’t much better than cold mush, if that’s what you’ve brought.” He’s finding he doesn’t much care what it is, despite having wished for something more appetizing earlier today.

Young says, a little too gently for Rush’s taste, “It’s not the protein sludge. You’ve got to be mighty tired of it by now.”

Rush gives him a narrowed look, feeling suspicious that someone, namely Mr. Adam Brody, has told Young Rush won’t eat in the Mess and that Rush has relied on the man’s charity for food since the Alliance was defeated.

Young shoots him a complicated glance back, and a diffident smile. “It’s a kind of stew, I’ve been told. Meat and vegetables from the planet we picked those exploding fruits. Tea, and even some kind of pudding desert. I ran into Greer eating in the mess with Lisa, and the rest of the Science Team. We’d better get started before your team starts pounding on the door for you to show them the bridge’s systems.”

He’d hadn’t asked Greer to join him and Young. This was uncomfortable enough with just the two of them, he didn’t need to feel Greer’s sharp eyes on him, wondering if Rush was going to have a panic attack or break down again into a crying fit.

“Thank you,” Rush says, not making eye contact, “For inviting me over.” He sits down on the couch and lays the chessboard and the bag with the pieces on the coffee table. Young brings over their food, sitting opposite him on the other couch.

He still can’t make eye contact with the blasted man. It’s not that he’s scared to be here, not exactly. In his head, he knows the Colonel won’t attack him. There’s nothing left for the man to find out about and shout at him. Not anything that Rush can think of, at any rate. He doubts Young is going to bring up past grievances, not tonight, not when he’s so obviously extending the olive branch. Still, his body is tense, his body wants him to up and leave here, to hole away somewhere safe.

He’s not going to listen to his body, to his quivering nerves, to his flight reflex. Young has saved him before and that’s a powerful antidote to his current nervousness. They’d had several emotionally draining experiences today, together, and now Young is making this overture to him.

He’s not inclined to waste it, to throw it back in the man’s face. Maybe he’s tired of being at odds with Young. Maybe they can learn to work together as nicely as they did on the planet, picking fruit as a team. Maybe. Maybe not, but he’ll give it a go.

Clearing his throat, he says, “We’d best get started on our dinner, then. I suggest we play speed chess when we’re finished, Colonel. Say, no more than thirty seconds to make a move?

* * *

“Checkmate,” Young says, and leans back on the couch, meeting Rush’s eyes, a smirk playing on his lips.

“Bollocks,” Rush mutters. Young is a much, much better chess player than he’d imagined.

Young’s smirk gives way to a laugh. “Come back tomorrow for dinner and a rematch, see if tonight was just a fluke.”

Rush stills from dumping the queen back into his bag. “Colonel,” he says, and he knows Young hears the tired tone as well as he himself does. “What are ye doin’?”

“Looking to kick your ass at chess again,” Young says, but his tone doesn’t match his words. It’s gentle again, and Rush wants to drop his head into his hands. Fuck, he thinks. Fuck. Absolutely Young has talked to Brody and this invitation wasn’t a tentative outreach on both their sides to improve their professional relationship, and possibly build a friendship; no, this is Young taking care of him, making sure he had a decent dinner since Rush is too weak to fucking go into the mess and get it for himself.

Aye, that annoying git of a inner voice pipes up. Aye, he’s taking over for Brody. Because you need a caretaker so you don’t starve to death. Face it, Nicky. You’re pitiful.

“Brody ask you to do this?” He goes back to scooping up pawns and bishops and knights, letting them drop one by one into the bag he’d had sewn from discarded rags. “He tired of seeing to it that I don’t starve?”

“No.” Young reaches over and stills his hand. “He doesn’t mind helping you out. I’m offering, Nick. The way I see it, we eat dinner together, play chess, maybe talk about ship’s business. Get to know each other better.”

“Why do you even want to bother?” He feels Young’s hand wrap around his own.

When Young answers him, there’s no trace of condescension, when he looks up at Young’s expression, his eyes, he sees only sincerity. Rush stares at their joined hands and Young abruptly lets him go.

“I want what we could have, Doctor Rush. What we should have, what the SGC leadership has had. What O’Neill has with Jackson, what Shepard has with McKay. The military and scientific leadership working hand in hand. I mean, think about where Jackson came from and where O’Neill did, but that first mission they had, when they blew away Ra, it pulled them together.”

Rush reaches back over his shoulder and massages the muscles that have tightened there. “We’ve just gotten further apart since the day we met. You’ve distrusted me since Icarus, Colonel. And I’ve given you reason. I’ve provoked you, and not shared information. I’m no a team player, and the fights we’ve had. . . I’ve flat out told you to your face that I didn’t think ye were the man for the job. I’ve a hard time trusting you, Colonel.”

He sees Young’s face growing more stoic, and he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t, so he keeps on talking, although it’s fucking hard to say these words. But Young, he deserves to hear them, because Rush owes him. And tonight, after they got over being so awkward, it was nice. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to come back to play chess and share a meal again.

This time he’s the one to touch Young’s wrist. He bites his lip and says, “Although, I’m trying. With trusting you. You helped me, after Kiva was through making me an example for the rest of our lot. That meant. . . He feels his voice falter, but makes himself go on. “It meant a lot to me. It still does. If I hadn’t panicked and shoved you aside and ran earlier today, I don’t think you would have beat me if I’d stayed put against that wall. And . . .” He swallows hard, remembering Greer securing him on a line before opening the door he’d earlier frantically had tried to enter, when he’d run from Young. “I’d have been sucked out into space if you hadn’t stopped me from goin’ into that room today, Half the outer wall was gone.”

Young inhales sharply, then closes his eyes. “Jesus Christ, Rush.”

Rush gently touches the reddened, sore places under his eye that he knows will be showing black bruises by tomorrow. A small price to pay for his life, which he owes to this man. “So I’m sorry, all right? I’m sorry for a lot of things.”

“Yeah, me too. I shouldn’t have pushed you into the wall, I shouldn’t have spooked you so hard that you were willing to chance open space rather than me.” Young says, shaking his head.

Rush swallows. “Aye, we both made poor decisions today. But, I know there’s something about me that gets under your skin, Colonel. I make you angrier, I know I do. ” He sighs before adding, “Maybe it’s because I’m such a bastard.”

“You’re not a bastard, well, not all the time. You are a lot -- no scratch that.” Young’s eyes meet his, looking rueful, looking puzzled. “I don’t know why, but things that go wrong between us do seem more personal to me.”

Rush pushes a hand through his hair, noting how much longer the strands had become. He’s not inclined to cut it, though, partly to spite Kiva’s preference for the shorter, neater look of it. Kiva’s ghost has no say in any of his decisions, he thinks defiantly. He can’t help but think that thought was a bloody lie, not when he can’t even walk down the corridor to the Mess.

He looks down at the floor, feeling tired enough to just lay down on the thing. If he tried, he knew Young would insist that he rest on the bed, even if it meant Young himself was exiled to the cold metal flooring, or uncomfortably hanging off the small couch. Still looking downward he asks, “Are you sure we can make this happen, this partnership? After the fights and arguments we’ve had?”

Young takes his hand again, and startled, he raises his eyes to Young’s brown ones. It’s odd, what Young is doing, not a handshake, but a physical connection of a sort and he decides to just let Young keep hold of him. Maybe he’s afraid Rush will up and leave and he wants to make sure he’ll stay and listen.

“I think we can pull it off, Nick. It’s not like Jackson and O’Neill haven’t had their fights or McKay and John Shepard.”

“Oh, I’ve heard,” he says.

“Sure, they had their arguments but they only served to make their partnership stronger. We can get past, well, our past. You framing me for murder, me beating you unconscious and leaving you to die. I’ve mistrusted you when it wasn’t warranted. Eli set me straight on some of that tonight.” Young tightens his fingers around Rush’s, looks at him, and it’s almost a pleading look, and he can feel the man’s sincerity. Young says, in an urgent tone, “Let’s move forward, okay? You and me, I want us to trust each other, to have each other’s backs, so we can work together for the good of the people on this ship.”

“For the good of the crew, is it? That’s it, then? We’ve had that conversation before, Colonel. Had some trouble, though, didn’t we, with it.” A bitter, tired laugh escapes him. “The theoretical model didn’t hold up during the experimental phase.” He carefully pulls his hand free, feeling a roil of conflicting feelings. Gloria, she had trusted him, loved him, and in the end he’d failed her. What Young is asking for, he’ll likely fail him, too.

“Rush,” Young says, when the silence has grown between them and he scrubs his hands through his messy hair again, debating with himself what to do.

Thinking over what Young said earlier, he mutters defensively, “Well, I’m no Jackson, and how Colonel Shepard and McKay manage together has been frankly mystifying-” Young interrupts him.

“Yeah, you’re you and I’m me. We’re not the dream teams, okay? I’m still saying that we can build something together, something good. I need you with me, Rush.”

He sighs heavily, feeling tired, feeling like such a fucking failure. Him, unable to even walk into the mess. “Why me? Why not throw in with Colonel Telford for my removal, hell, why not just make Park or Eli your lead scientist? They’re capable. What is it you’re always saying about me, Colonel Young? I’m a lot of trouble?”

“It’s ‘You’re a lot of work.’ Yeah, I’ve said it before.” Young smiles at him. “Hell, I’m saying it right now. But I’m also saying you’re worth it. I don’t want Eli or Lisa and it’ll be over my dead carcass that the IOA body swaps some other scientist for you.”

Rush blinks at the vehemence in Young’s voice.

“And it’s not just for the good of the crew. I’d like us to be friends. Think about it, will you, about having dinner with me again tomorrow. It’s a start, and we can go slow.”

Rush raises his eyebrows and Young chuckles. “Yeah, okay, that did sound like I was asking you to date me. But you know what I mean, don’t you?”

Shrugging, Rush says, “Aye. I’d better be off. Lieutenant Scott’s orders won’t keep my lot from playing with Destiny’s systems much longer, and we’re liable to find ourselves dropping out of hyperspace in the middle of nowhere.”

“Oh, so that’s why. . .” Young looks like he’s suddenly consulting a mental list of odd goings on that happened in the past few weeks.

“Yes. And if I made mistakes like that, imagine what Volker could do.”

Young shoots him a measured look. “Two hours, and then put the ship back on automatic and get some rest.”

“Two hours will only whet their appetite.” He’ll have barely covered anything in that amount of time; he’s reminded suddenly of teaching at Berkely and classes of grad students.

“Two hours. I’ll be by to check on you.”

“What about that trust you were so keen on us developing?” he couldn’t help saying, although truthfully he feels exhausted and is fine with the two hour deadline.

Young just grins at him and stands up. “There’s trust, and then there’s common sense. Two hours, Doctor Rush.”

He ushers Rush out the door. It was only when the door closes and Rush starts jogging down the hall that he realizes he’s left his chess set with the Colonel. Maybe he will come back for another game tomorrow night. He’ll decide later, after he’d introduced the Science Team properly to the bridge.

* * *

There’s both scowls and smiles to greet him when he joins the group waiting at the bridge’s door. Chloe is one of the ones smiling at him, and before he can ask why’s she’s there she’s telling him she wants to learn the systems also, along with Matt and Greer and Vanessa and Barnes. He stops her pitch halfway into her well thought out reasoning. Yes, of course they’ll need to be able to have enough people to cover shifts and the scientists will be needed on other projects or to be fixing problems.

“Fine,’ he says. Then remembering Young’s bullying him into teaching Ancient, he adds, “and you lot who aren’t proficient in Ancient by this point will have to attend the classes I’m giving. That will be you four.” He points to Lieutenant Scott, Lieutenant James, Greer and Barnes. Scott has picked up a bit, mostly on his own, but not enough to trust him to understand the bridge systems.

Volker is frowning at him and for a welcome change of pace he’s not blushing and looking away. His annoyance at being shut out must be keeping him from thinking of how Rush had been raped over and over again. Rush almost smiles at him; having the man be ticked off with him was much more preferable.

He sighs, and says, “We have two hours before Colonel Young will be by to close up shop, so no questions right now. I’ll be speaking and you’ll be listening. Take notes, and I’ll answer questions tomorrow. Be here at seven, then. Eli,” he calls out. “Since you were the one to figure out what I’d done, you can have the honor of putting in the master code.”

“Some honor,” Eli mutters as he moves to the door control. “Welcome to the bridge,” he says to Chloe and Greer and Barnes as the doors glide open and the lights on Destiny’s bridge brighten, smiling at the looks on their faces. “And yeah, it is really, really cool.”

* * *

It’s three days later from that first lesson about the Bridge that Lieutenant Johanson declares Colonel Telford is cleared to sit in the Neural Interface Chair. Tomorrow they will make the attempt.

Rush has been working nonstop to keep the bridge crews from making serious mistakes, but they’re learning. Neither Destiny or Jeremy Franklin has deigned to make an appearance to the crew, despite Eli’s numerous invitations both through the consoles or spoken into thin air. Volker and Brody are skeptical about Franklin’s having transferred his consciousness into the ship, and Rush wishes the man would appear to them so they will stop looking askance at him whenever he passes along knowledge Franklin has shared with him about the systems.

He’s got problems, mental and emotional, he bloody well knows he does, but he’s not hallucinated the AI or Franklin and frankly it’s irritating him a considerable amount when his sanity gets questioned. Oh, Park is the most considerate, gently telling him that maybe he imagined Gloria and Franklin were there because of the horrible things that were happening to him with the Alliance; Brody gives him a deadpan stare that clearly shows his disbelief and Volker actually twirled his fingers near his temple when he thought Rush wasn’t looking, communicating to Brody his opinion that Rush was crazy for believing he’d talked with the ship in the form of his dead wife and with Franklin, who’d joined his mind with the ship’s systems.

At least Young believes him. Perhaps it’s because he’s been with Stargate Command a long time and has seen his own share of unbelievable things for himself.

He and Young are, well, they’re at least trying with each other. Rush has eaten dinner with the man and played chess with him nightly. Brody still brings him a bowl of mush in the morning, which is fine, but it has been more enjoyable to have some variety for his evening meal.

Rush is keeping score, and Young has beaten him three to one with their chess games. Once in bed, he finds himself thinking about strategies so he can reverse that trend and less about the torture and rapes he’d endured.

It’s a good thing, and he’s beginning to feel a little hopeful that maybe he will be able to reclaim his life. All areas of his life. He tries again to go to the Mess on his own, but once again that’s a disaster. Still, he’s sleeping better and he will someday walk back into the Mess and sit down at a table and proceed to ignore the carrying on of his shipmates. It’ll be normal again and he longs for that day. One day, he might even enjoy some physical contact, something that he hasn’t had since Gloria was alive.

After the rapes, and the threat of being the Lucian’s play thing again, he didn’t think he’d ever want or could engage in any form of sex willingly. But the thought has been in his mind lately that this, too, was taken from him by Kiva and he hates the thought that in this she will have won.

It burns in him, this desire to yank back from Kiva everything she took from him. Everything. So while he’s not eyeing anyone in particular, he would like to be able to chose to have comfort with a willing partner.

Trouble is, he doesn’t think he would be able to go through with it. He’s been conditioned by Kiva’s rape tactics, and he hates that with everything within him. Just like he can only go so far down the corridor to the Mess before a panic attack hits him, he’s afraid that a touch to his nipples, his belly, his penis, will bring a surge of horrible memories back, from Simeon’s dick fucking his mouth in the storeroom to being strapped back on the table, lines of men and women waiting to torment him, and he will fail.

One more failure to add to the long list.

* * *

“Checkmate,” he says to Young, and starts to beam a triumphant look at the man, when he stops his hand mid-motion from grabbing Young’s King and replacing it with his Queen. Young is looking at him with a soft look, looking pleased, and he bloody well shouldn’t be looking happy to have lost.

He let you win, the voice inside him sneers, delighted to be stirring up trouble again. He let you win because he feels sorry for you, he’s indulging you, because you’re weak and pathetic and need to be cossetted. He only trounced you those first few times to get you to play him for revenge. He’ll probably pat you on the head next, you loser.

Suddenly he’s boiling over with rage and he takes his Queen and hurls the piece across Young’s room, dashing it against the wall.

Young loses his gentle expression and snaps out a hand to capture Rush’s wrist before he can start throwing the rest of the chess pieces.

“Stop,” he commands. “Just stop and tell me what’s wrong.”

Rush shoots to his feet, upsetting the chess board and tries to yank his hand free. Young, too, stood up and has Rush’s other wrist firmly in his grip.

“Rush,” he says, “Nick. Calm down.” His voice is decisive, and he’s eyeing Rush like he’s handling dynamite. “Whatever just set you off, we can talk about it.” His strong fingers loose their steady clasp around his own shaking hands. “I’m letting you go now.”

Rush realizes his entire body is shaking, and he wishes the Colonel had blown up at him, that he could have expelled this adrenaline that’s wracking him by shouting back and striding away.

“You,” he says, anger rising again from where it had lulled, “you let me win that game. Admit it, Colonel, you felt sorry for me and decided to boost my ego or whatever by throwing the match. I’m no for having any of that, I’ll tell you that much!”

Young stares at him, and then shakes his head emphatically. “I don’t know where the hell you got that idea, but you won fair and square.”

Rush just glares at him, but a small part of himself is wondering if the Colonel is telling him the truth.

“C’mon, what made you think that?” Young looks bewildered, before dropping to the deck and picking up the scattered pieces and stowing them away.

Rush watches him and debates just striding out of the room, but in the end crosses his arms around his chest and says, “You were smiling. You were happy that I beat you.”

Young maneuvers up from the floor to the couch, sets the bag of chess pieces on the board, straightening it from where it had skewed sideways and looks up at Rush. He drapes his hands between his legs, and sits there. His expression looks a bit labored and once Rush would have been disdainful of that look, but he’s learned the hard way that Young’s patient exploration of options and thoughts doesn’t mean the man’s unintelligent.

“I was thinking that it was nice that you were having fun. You’re doing better, Nick. I’d been thinking of how things were with you when the Lucians tossed you in the cell with the rest of us military. I was thinking that you never could have sat and talked and played this way with me back then. But,” and his tone becomes serious, “I give you my word of honor as an officer that I didn’t throw this game. I did play to win.” He gives Rush a speculative look. “I think you’re just learning my style. Admit it, you were surprised when I beat you that first time.”

Rush shrugs. He’s underestimated the Colonel in quite a few ways, he’s come to realize. He sits back down and sighs, feeling foolish. He’s feeling jittery as the aftermath of the adrenaline rush leaves agitation in its wake, and that’s not lost on Young, judging by his expression.

“If you want to be able to sleep tonight, better find a way to use up that angry energy. Go for a run or something.” He looks over to where the Queen chess piece has landed. “You throw things when you’re frustrated, upset. You need a ball to bounce against a wall.”

“Rocks,” Rush says, remembering how he’d throw them as hard as he could if he was anywhere other than the middle of city. His walks with Gloria had often included stops at a pond or a lake where he’d indulge in taking out his frustrations with University employment by hurling fist sized chunks. When he’d calmed down, he’d skip flat stones across the surface of the water, explaining the physics of what he was doing to Gloria. Talking came easier to him afterwards.

“I heard you would go outside the base at Icarus and down to the desert sometimes, and throw rocks,” Young comments.

“Aye. Although your men never let me go too far.”

“Called you a hobbit, I believe. Because you were good at hitting what you aimed for.”

Rush stares, affronted, at Young, who struggles not to laugh. It makes his eyes crinkle, his lips twitch as he tries not to smile.

“You’re more of a hobbit than I am, Colonel. You’ve got the hair for it,” he grumbles.

“You’re shorter.”

Rush rolls his eyes. “And you’re not that much taller, Colonel. Short describes you, too.”

Young loses his battle and Rush finds himself reluctantly smiling, swept by Young’s mirth into sharing amusement.

Why, he wonders, do hobbits keep coming up in reference to himself. Eli had done the same thing, comparing him to the hobbit who’d carried the ring. He’d never seen the movies or read the books, but it was impossible not to have learned something of the story over the years. Still, while he well believes Eli would and will utter nonsense comparing Rush to Tolkien’s little people, he’s surprised Young has done the same.

Shaking his head, he says, once Young calms down from his laughing fit. “I think I will go for a run.” He hesitates, then adds, “You’re welcome to come along.”

He doesn’t miss the way Young’s glance shoots to the bottle of Brody’s moonshine on the ledge. He thought it likely that after leaving the last several days, when things were quiet, that Young indulged himself quite a bit with drinking before stumbling, drunk, to his bed. A quiet word with Brody had revealed Young frequently replenished his supply.

Holding his breath, he waits to hear Young’s answer, and feels a surprising sensation of satisfaction and contentment flood him when the man agrees.

* * *

Colonel Telford gives him a sardonic look when Young and Greer and Scott escort the man into the Chair room. Brody, Eli, Volker and Park have been waiting at the monitors, Brody ready to start the program for the laptop they’d adapted the chair to interface with, the rest at various stations to monitor the ship’s systems. Lieutenant Johanson is checking her medical supplies, a stethoscope round her neck.

Telford starts to walk over to where Rush is standing, but a quiet word in his ear from Colonel Young stops him. “Rush,” Telford says, his voice loud enough for all of them to hear. “I hear I owe you one.”

Keeping his expression calm, Rush gives a casual wave of his hand, wondering why Telford admitted that. It’s true, of course, but he didn’t expect David Telford to acknowledge he’s indebted to his nemesis on board Destiny.

Young looks to him, gives a subtle nod, and Rush nods back. Young has turned control of this procedure over to him.

He gives orders and soon Colonel Telford is sedated and restrained in the chair. “Mr. Brody,” he says quietly, standing next to him. “You may begin.”

* * *

“How much longer?” asks Colonel Young, crowding Rush a little in his attempt to see the lines of information sweeping down the laptop screen.

“Not long now,” he answers and absentmindedly nudges Young as he reclaims his space. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Brody glancing over at Volker and Park, and involuntarily he looks at his team, too, puzzled by the looks on their faces. They look interested, speculative, and Park outright smiles at him when she catches him looking at her. She inclines her head and he realizes she’s indicating the Colonel. Abruptly, he gets it. There is no personal space whatsoever between the two of them, not with the Colonel practically glued to his side, and he’s not having a panic attack about it.

He shrugs at her and goes back to checking his work. Better to have the Colonel next to him and quiet than pacing the room and demanding updates by yelling about it.

That quiet attentiveness on both of their parts and the rest of the team and military onlookers is destroyed when there is a loud explosion that rocks the ship, people pitch to the floor and only the Colonel’s hard grip around both him and the chair keep him from falling. He and Brody both make a grab for the laptop but it falls to the floor with a crash and goes black. Brody curses and stoops to retrieve it. If the laptop has been too damaged, the data from charting Colonel Telford’s scan will be lost. They’ve got backups of the program, yes, but not the data that’s been streaming from Destiny for the last hour. Not that they can access, at any rate, if Destiny’s computer isn’t functional.

If they pull Telford out right now, they could brain damage him.

“Ships’ systems are going down!” Eli shouts. “It’s, oh, crap, we’ve lost the number twelve engine.” He shoots a bewildered look toward Young and Rush. “It wasn’t a malfunction! Somebody blew the sucker up!”

* * *

Chapter Text

“You got this?” Everett asks Rush, his eyes flicking down to where David is trapped in the chair. He doesn’t trust it, he doesn’t trust that humans can use Ancient technology like this without consequence.


He’s not sure he trusts Rush with the allure of that technology. He hasn’t in the past. And that’s David, whom he has known for a long time, fought with, almost hated at times, and loved him as a friend at others. He’s trusting Rush to save him.

Sometimes a leap of faith is needed, and really, he’d already made that leap when he let Rush engineer this sweep through David’s brain to see if he is freed of Kiva’s brainwashing.

Rush takes the laptop that had crashed to the floor from Brody and tells the man to go down and see about their blown engine, tells Eli to work with Volker about getting kinos outside the ship to map out the damage and sweep the hull, and for Park to stay right where she is, monitoring systems for him.

He interrupts Rush. “We’ve either got a traitor on board or intruders.”

Rush looks at him with irritated eyes. “I’m aware. That’s why I’m sending kinos out to look on the hull for unwanted guests.”

Everett tells Greer to get a detail together and go with Brody, and for Scott to organize with James and set up sweeps through the ship, centering on the areas where someone could have gotten access to the engines. He halts Eli and Volker and tells them to wait for him to escort them to the kino room that Eli has claimed for his personal quarters, and then to the Bridge.

Moving away from Rush to a monitor, he makes a shipwide announcement that all civilians not needed for critical systems are to go to their rooms and lock themselves inside. All military are to proceed to battle stations and await orders for searching for intruders or a saboteur.

He knows that T.J. radioed to check on Carmen right after picking herself up from the floor from the jolt they’d all had from the explosion and dropping out of FTL. Now she’s at David’s side, sliding a blood pressure cuff around his arm.

“The baby okay?” he asks her, and their eyes meet briefly as she nods. “Sir, I’d like Becker down here to monitor the Colonel; I’ll be in the Infirmary in case of injuries. Carmen,” and her mouth tightens, “is with Dr. Inman.”

He expects that T.J. is seeing on his face what he sees on hers, and his grandmother’s words swim up out of memory. ”You don’t know what fear is,” she used to tell family members, “till you have a child of your own.”

“Scott,” he says, and the young man pauses giving orders to James over the radio. “I’ll get Ginn and detain her. And give Rush your handgun.” Scott nods, and walks over to Rush while resuming his strategy session with James. Eli starts vehemently protesting Ginn’s innocence, and Rush glares at him.

“I know, Eli. Now shut it, you’ve a job to do and no harm’s gonna come to the lass.” Then Rush turns that glare onto him.

“It’s not her, Colonel.” Rush accepts the gun given to him and checks the safety before tucking it into the back of his jeans. “She’s no got anything to gain by such actions. She was glad to shed the Alliance.”

“I know all that.” Young says mildly. “Regardless, she’s Lucian Alliance, the only one on board, and Homeworld Command is going to demand that she be looked at for this. She is assigned to the Bridge today, isn’t she?”

“Yes.” Rush says, and curses, glaring at the laptop as if it were his born enemy. “Before you take the lass to a makeshift brig, have her find a replacement laptop and send it and the flashdrive with the backup program down here, fast as you can. I’m not sure what’s happening to Telford, but my guess is that his mind has been placed in a state of limbo while we fumble around to restart the program.”

Wonderful, he thinks and looks at T.J.

“He’s stable, vitals are within normal limits,” she says, and uses a penlight to check David’s pupils. She turns to Park, “Check him every five minutes, sooner if it looks like he’s in distress, until Becker gets here. Call me with updates or if he begins to have problems.” She swiftly hands Park her medical apparatus and checks her own gun before nodding to Young and opening the door. She and Scott leave together, and Young checks his own weapon, before motioning to Eli and Volker to accompany him.

Park tells Rush that life support has come back up, but that long range and short range sensors are still down. Everett thinks of the Nakai and cold fear sits like a stone in his gut.

Lock yourselves in,” he orders Park. “I’ll be on the Bridge,” he tells Rush and receives a nod back, the man’s scowling attention focused on the broken laptop.


* * *

Ginn looks at him with wide eyes, but doesn’t try to run away when he steps down into the Bridge. He had to get rough with Eli to keep him from flying in here intent on defending his girl. The kid doesn’t need the distraction from flying multiple kinos with Volker, both to see the damaged engine and checking to see if there’s a ship attached to them, like a lamprey to a fish, pouring aliens into Destiny. Eli had given Ginn a helpless look, then he and Volker took one of the side stations to monitor the kinos they’d released out the shuttle bay on the way to the Bridge.

He wishes the shuttle was still with them, it would have made checking the outside damage much easier. They might need someone to don a space suit and physically take a look, but not till he’s satisfied the ship is secure.

Ginn tips her chin up at him when he comes close, but stands her ground. “I know you have to consider me as the one who did this, Colonel,” she says. “But I didn’t damage Destiny. I’ve been here during this shift, the entire time, and the explosion was ordered from an engineering station near the engines.”

“Could someone have rigged it for a delayed reaction?”

Her shoulders slump a little before she straightens them and looks him in the eyes. “Yes, Colonel. There’s a possibility of that. Doctor Rush could find out, none of the rest of us know the systems as well as he does.”

She’s a survivor, this girl, this girl who looks like she should be a college student and her biggest worries finals week; she raped Rush for Kiva, but that was to keep the Alliance from turning on her like hyenas attacking a vulnerable packmate. “Are you willing to sit in the chair and let Destiny see if you’re brainwashed?” It’s the only scenario that he can fathom, that she is secretly programmed by Kiva to sabotage them.

“If Doctor Rush is in charge of the Neural Interface Chair, then yes. I’m willing.” Her eyes are determined, fearful, her lip trembles, but she makes good eye contact with him. He doesn’t think she’s lying to him about any of this.

“You’d put your life in his hands?”

“Yes. Despite what I did, he forgave me. I trust him, Colonel Young. I trust you, also. If you need to prove to Homeworld Command that I’m not a traitor, I will comply with what you ask of me.”

“All right. For now, you’ll be locked in your room. Before that happens, Rush needs you to find some things for him.”

He sits down heavily in the command chair after the laptop and flashdrive are sent to Rush and Ginn has been restrained and marched off to her room.

They need more bridge personnel, that’s clear. He resists the urge to radio Rush. Rush has communicated over their chess games just how irritating he finds Young’s “hovering.”

His military people check in with him in fifteen minutes segments, and Brody and Greer also report in. Eli regularly sends a schematic of Destiny to him updated with the areas he and Volker have cleared.

The number twelve engine is extremely damaged, according to Brody’s readings and the visuals the kino has sent back. He doesn’t know what it’s going to take to fix it. Until they do, though, they’re just going to be hanging in space, helpless.

The first clue as to who did this comes to light when Camile is found unconscious, arm broken, hidden in a supply room.

James and her team found her, and James sounds guilty as hell when she reports that Camile had been with Chloe after they’d both returned from using the stones. James had been on stones duty at the time.

“Sir, Camile came back first and I wiped her stone and replaced it, but when Chloe returned, she had one of her blackouts as soon as she blinked her eyes and I. Sir, I dropped her stone on the table and it fell to the floor and I forgot I hadn’t wiped it when I picked it up and replaced it in the case. I checked the kino footage for the stones room before I radioed you and confirmed what I did. The stone’s wiped now. I don’t know if it means anything or not, but none of the teams have seen Chloe and she’s not in her room. I’m, I’m reporting myself for dereliction of duty, sir.”

He runs a hand through his hair, James is a good officer, but she places a lot of weight on his good opinion of her and right now he doesn’t have time for hand holding. It was a mistake, one he’s sure she’ll never do again, but she’s right. She was careless, and in space, careless will get you killed.

“We’ll discuss it later, Lieutenant. Find Chloe. Either someone else hurt Camile and took Chloe, alien or human, or Chloe hurt Camile and damaged the engines. Over.”

He’s been suspicious about her blackouts since they started, that’s why she’s been paired with someone else when she wasn’t in her quarters with Matt.

He thinks of Sergeant Spencer and realizes there’s also the possibility that one of the crew has become deranged, maybe suicidal or homicidal and this is their way of getting revenge or killing themselves or the rest of them or maybe just one person that they’ve fixated on.

T.J. is responsible for the crew’s mental health. He lifts the radio to his lips to check in with her, when Scott’s voice interrupts him.

“Sir, We’ve found Chloe. She had another blackout and said she came back to herself a few minutes ago looking at ship’s systems at an engineering station on deck ten. But, sir, she said she didn’t feel like she’d lost consciousness and time, like her earlier blackouts; she said it was more like she was locked in somewhere dark, and she couldn’t move. Like she was restrained.”

“Take her to the infirmary, and Matt – she’s to be kept under guard. Keep on searching for intruders or anyone who’s acting suspicious.”

“Yes, sir.”

He waits, feeling the heaviness of command on his shoulders, until T.J. radios him that Camile has regained consciousness.

Chloe had stopped walking and attacked her; before Camile blacked out, she saw Chloe moving like she was just figuring out how to use her body, never saying a word, her eyes blank. Chloe had no idea what she’d done while in this state, but had been horrified to learn that she had hurt Camile.

When the teams and the kinos report no sight of intruders, Young orders the crew to return to stations, the science team to get new orders from Rush and drops his head into his curled hands, thinking about ancient history and unsuspecting cities taken down by subterfuge.

* * *

The sound of a soft, Scottish accented voice reclaims his wandering attention and Young straightens up in the command chair.

“Go ahead, Rush.” They’ve had to start over with David’s scans, and it’s been almost an hour since they began again. He hates the thought of how long David’s had to be subjected to sitting in that damn chair.

“Colonel Telford’s results will be available in a few minutes. Do you want to be here when Lieutenant Johanson wakes him up?”

“On my way. And we need to talk, Doctor Rush.”

“Aye. I think I know why Chloe did what she did. And I’ve a request to make about fixing the FTL drive. Rush out.”

Eli and Volker are not done yet with checking the hull for any intruders, but so far they’ve found nothing. Camile, despite her broken arm and concussion, has questioned Ginn and reported her opinion that the girl was innocent of sabotaging the ship. T.J. has given Chloe her green sleeping brew, letting her relax into sleep while running every diagnostic test Destiny’s medical equipment was capable of doing. Chloe has not been sleeping well, and T.J. hadn’t liked the dark circles under her eyes. James took over in the Infirmary so T.J. could come back to be with David when the scans finished. Luckily, there were very few injuries. Camile’s broken arm and head injury was the most serious and there were a few sprains from when the ship had dropped so abruptly out of FTL.

Pushing himself up out of the command chair, he turns the bridge over to Eli.

He wasn’t looking forward to his talk with Rush. He was afraid he’d lose all the progress he’d made in getting along with the man, but he couldn’t let that stop him.

Hoping like hell that David would come out of this experience with his mind intact, he left the bridge, steeling himself for bad news.

* * *

Rush looks up from the laptop he’d been scrutinizing when Everett crosses the room to stand next to him. The expression on his face is. . . odd. He looks like he took a bite of an apple, expecting a sweet and delicious experience, only to discover the inside was rotten, leaving a disgusting taste in his mouth.

He wants to know what has surprised Rush into that expression, but first he wants a report on David and then he intends to drag the truth out of his chief scientist and see if his hypothesis about Chloe is right.

“Rush,” he says, and tips his head towards David’s still form. T.J. is there, holding a blood pressure cuff.

“He’s fine. While the damage from the earlier brainwashing is there, both times, it’s no affecting him now. He’s clean, Colonel. Destiny should release him shortly.” Rush turns to Park. “Come and monitor Colonel Telford, Doctor Park. Colonel Young and I need to talk.”

Willing to let Rush show his hand before he lays his own cards on the table, Everett follows him back out into the corridor. Rush eyes him, and there’s a shadow of fear in those wide dark eyes, but he squares his shoulders and says, “I think it was the Nakai who used Chloe as their puppet to damage the engines, and she may have contacted them. They very well could have our position.” He pauses, visibly steels himself, swallows hard, and takes a step backwards from Everett.

Everett clasps his hands behind his back. He’s pretty sure he knows what Rush is going to tell him, and if he’s right about that, he has some mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, telling Everett about the communication stone without being forced to admit he’d taken it is a step in the right direction with building trust between each other. On the other hand, Rush even having it in the first place is irritating and annoying. He’s determined that he will not make any aggressive moves towards his chief scientist, though. “Go on,” he tells Rush.

“Colonel, I think they have one of the communication stones, and that would be my fault. I had one with me, when I was stranded on that planet. The desert one, where you --yes, well the point is that when they entered that derelict ship I had opened up, I tried to communicate with them, but they attacked. I ended up fighting them. I was able to get the stone out of my pocket and dropped it, kicked it under a console, but I’m thinking now that they must have found it. They must have studied it, fiddled with it and turned it on, figuring out its purpose after you switched with one of them and freed me out of that water tank.”

He stops, looking apprehensively into Everett’s eyes. “It is my fault. They must have had someone just waiting, restrained in the dark, on the off chance they could connect with us again.”

Young keeps his eyes trained on Rush’s dark brown ones, noting their almond shape, the steady eye contact, and gathers his thoughts. Rush is being honest with him, and that gratifies him immensely.


“I knew you had taken one of the stones once I heard about Chloe’s experience. It was the only thing that made sense. What I’d like to know now is why. Why did you keep one on you like that? Why take a stone in the first place?”

Rush sighed, and relaxed, apparently assured that Everett wasn’t going to try to throttle him. “It, umm. . . It felt safer to have one of my own. In case you barred me from using the others. And I just kept it with me after the searches for the gun that Spencer used to kill himself.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it sooner?”

“Honestly, I thought it was lost, and I didn’t think about it anymore.” Rush rakes a hand through his already messy hair. “I am sorry. Chloe’s had enough bad experiences with the Nakai, she didn’t need this on top of those blackouts she’s been having. And Destiny, the damages to her engines – I could kick myself.”

Everett loosens the tight clasp he has on his hands and grasps Rush’s shoulder and gives him a gentle shake. “Okay. You did right by telling me now. Let’s just move forward. But while you’re in a confessing mood, is there anything else you want to tell about? Before it kicks us in the teeth when we’re not expecting it?”

Rush shrugs. “Not that I can think of.”

“All right then. I already know you ignore the radio on purpose and duck out early from mandatory meetings or skip them entirely. You aren’t hiding your Hall of Mighty Math anymore-”

“My what?” The outraged look on Rush’s face makes his own lips twitch with a repressed grin. Rush grumbles, “Never mind, I’m quite sure Eli’s to blame.”

“Bingo. But we know about it and the Bridge, so there’s no reason to fib anymore when you go there.”

Rush rolls his eyes.

He eyes Rush, reflecting on the man’s expression when studying David’s scans. “What was that look on your face about, in there? Something happened with David or the program you used that you didn’t like very much.”

“Colonel,” Rush says, shooting him an uncomfortable look. “Nothing happened to Colonel Telford. I said he’s clean and all the readings indicate that stopping and restarting the program did him no harm.”

“There’s something, though. If I ask you to give me your word that it’s not anything that will hurt David, or the ship, I’ll let it go. I don’t expect you to tell me all your secrets. Just the ones that affect this crew and this ship.”

“You’ll trust my given word?”

Looking at this man who has been his nemesis, his victim, his colleague, the reason for sleepless nights and hangovers, he nods his head. He has to offer his trust if they will ever evolve to the tight partnership and friendship he hopes for.

Rush steps closer to him, and speaks in a low voice. “I don’t want everyone to know this. Just Colonel Telford, I suppose. Do I have your word on that?”

“As long as it doesn’t put the ship in danger, or the crew, than yes. You have my word I’ll keep your confidence.”

Rush wraps his arms around himself, and then blows out all his breath in a forceful sigh. He says softly, “When I was in the chair, looking for clues to the master code. I used a memory from my life to build a safe place to search from, you understand. I gave that to Destiny, because frankly, if I never had to remember that time in my life again, it would be a blessing.”

Everett remembered Rush saying something like that before, but he never told anyone what exactly that memory had been. He flashed to how angry he’d felt learning Rush had bypassed him to sit in the chair, not knowing how this would affect the ship, and the fear he’d felt for him. He’d looked small, helpless, without his personality blazing, limp and unconscious, restrained in the neural interface chair. It had roused pity in him, along with the desire to shake some sense into the man.

Rush had never given any of them details on what the dream-memory scape had been like for him.

“How does what happened to you relate to Colonel Telford?”

“The memory I used, of the time when my wife was diagnosed again with cancer and her, her,” Rush swallows and his eyes glisten. “Her illness and dying, Destiny used it to shelter Colonel Telford’s mind when the program stopped. I saw the readings and I believe he saw what happened to Gloria and to me. It’s not something I ever wanted to share with a man who set himself against me so many times.”

Strong feelings swept over Everett at Rush’s admission. He didn’t know what to call it. Sympathy, pity, or empathy, it made him want to wipe away the vulnerability exposed with Rush’s expression. “I’m sorry.” Awkwardly, he offered, “If you ever want to talk about her or that time, I’d listen.”

Rush ran a hand through his hair, and looked away. “It didn’t work, you know. I’d hoped Destiny would destroy what I remembered, but she didn’t. Sometimes, I wish with all my heart that she had ripped it out of my mind.”

“Are you okay?” He knows he sounds gentle and winces. It’s so hard to find the right tone to take with Rush. He hopes he won’t bristle and push him away because of it.

For once, Rush doesn’t turn and stalk away. Giving a hopeless, helpless kind of shrug, he says, “I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like it all happened so long ago and at other times the grief just takes me down. I can’t predict it, you understand. It comes in waves. Sometimes it’s steady, like the ocean lapping at a beach, and other times it’s like a tsunami; it sweeps you away before you’ve even realized you’re in danger of falling apart.”

I could be your lifeline, when you’re being being swept away,” Everett thinks, and then throws out the thought. He can’t even keep himself on an even keel, let alone another person. He’s failed Emily, he’s failed T.J. He’s failed the crew. He’s probably going to fail as a father as much as he failed as a husband and a commander. Offering friendship to Rush will probably be a disaster.

Despite all of that, he finds that he’s reached out and grasped Rush’s shoulder. Rush lets him and he squeezes the tight muscles before letting go.

Rush sighs, “Ah, well. Let’s go in and see if Lieutenant Johanson has things well in hand. It should be time to revive Colonel Telford. And I do have that favor to ask from you.”

* * *

Later, after Rush asked for his favor and was granted it; after releasing Ginn from custody, after T.J. gave him a report on Chloe’s genetic changes; after he’d made time to cuddle his daughter and think about how Chloe’s father had given his life for his daughter and how devastated her mother will be to learn that her bright, shining gift of a child is slowly transforming into an enemy alien; after dealing with the hundred and one things being commander of this ancient ship requires as she drifts in space; he watches David pour them both glasses of Brody’s shine from the flask on the table in between them, the light dim in his quarters, the blue flash from the shields lighting up the walls as it makes its orbit around his room.

David is in a strange mood. Oh, he’s happy enough, thrilled to know that he is indeed free of Kiva’s hold on him. But his eyes are still shadowed, and he’s made an earlier toast to all the people whose lives ended because of him.

Everett had countered that with a toast to all the people whose lives David has saved over the years, starting with his own.

The damage done to his friend won’t mend easily, but it will mend. David is as tough as an old boot, and too practical and pragmatic to avoid logic. It wasn’t his fault he was brainwashed. He was a victim, and had no more culpability than poor Chloe had in sabotaging the ship.

David’s admitted as much. He’s also apologized for trying to break up Everett’s marriage.

Abruptly, David raises his glass. “To Rush,” he says, and startled, Everett raises his own to clink against David’s.

“Son-of-a bitch’s saved my life twice over. And I don’t know why he did it the first time. I’d have bet good money on his letting me suffocate.” David throws back the rotgut and drains it to the dregs.

Everett follows his example, and wipes his mouth on his sleeve, shuddering at the taste. “He doesn’t want anyone to die, David. You know, he forgave you for what happened because of Kiva. He told me so.”

David looks at him, then says quietly, “If our situation had been reversed, I don’t think I’d have ever forgiven him.”

“He’s just full of surprises.” Quirking an eyebrow up, Everett asks, “How did he save your life a second time?”

David makes a sound that might pass as a chuckle, unless you knew him as well as Everett knew him. “That program. Probably he’s the only one on board who could have written it, or, well, Eli might have. But if Destiny hadn’t used his memories to shield me when the program was interrupted, I don’t think I’d have made it out of the chair alive. Or I’d have been brain dead.” He filled the glasses up to the brim again, and shook the flask, then tilted it and swallowed down what was left in it.

“So, it was unintentional that he saved me for a second time, but I still like the results.” David indicates himself with one hand. “And I owe him double now.”

“Rush told me about that. He figured it out from the scans. You saw him with his wife, right? Gloria? He said the memory was about her dying from cancer.” Everett toys with glass. He can feel the alcohol making things soft and blurry in his head. “Rush must have really loved her. You know, I used to think he wasn’t capable of loving anyone but himself.”

“Love himself? He hated himself in that memory. Felt that he’d failed his wife, failed to be the husband she needed.”

“Did he fail her?”

“I guess it depends on how you look at it,” David says. He pauses, and his eyes look faraway. “Gloria, she accepted that she was going to die and she wanted him to support her decision to not take any more treatments. She just wanted him to stay with her, be at her side.”

Everett nods, and after shooting him a measuring look, David sighs. “Nick, though, he’s a fighter and he wanted her to keep on trying to live. Even when it was going to just prolong her pain, he kept wanting to believe that a solution would be found, that science would find a way. She didn’t have his faith. He researched everything he could, you know, and they did beat the odds the first time she was sick. But this time, there was no coming back and she found the grace to accept it. Then when she was rapidly losing ground, he was offered a position with the program.”

“Jackson recruited him, right?” Everett says, fascinated by what David is explaining.

David nods. “Yeah, it was Jackson. They actually get along with each other. Here’s the thing, though, and I didn’t learn this from his memories. I found out from doing some snooping about Rush.”

“What?” Everett is not sure he really wants to know what David’s information is, but it sounds like blackmail material to him, and maybe he can do something for Rush to protect him. Unless he’s murdered somebody.

David cracks his knuckles. “I know he ransacked through our files, especially the ones he didn’t have any clearance to access. That’s actually something I have on him, that I was holding onto to use to get him kicked out of the program. From his memories I learned that Gloria wouldn’t let him reveal what he’d done and tank his career, said she would refuse any help from the program. It was a long shot that would have failed anyway because there weren’t any Tokra around to cure her, and it wouldn’t have been authorized even if they scared one of those snakes up from the back end of the galaxy, or even having Carter or Vala try with the Goul’d healing device. We’ve been down that road. Cancer won’t respond to the gadget.”

“Jesus. Poor bastard,” Everett says, and his chest tightens in sympathy for the pain Rush has been through.

David looks away for a moment, and Everett wonders if he, too, is feeling empathy pangs for their difficult lead scientist. Finally, when the silence has stretched into awkward territory, David says, “Nick feels like he failed her because he couldn’t convince her to keep fighting to live. He gave in to what she wanted, finally, but it hurt so much, I don’t know how he kept his sanity.”

“Did they have a good marriage?” It’s a bittersweet question, since his own marriage is now in ashes, but he finds he wants to hear that Rush and Gloria had been there for each other.

“Yeah,” David says quietly. “It’s weird, being inside of someone’s head like that. I feel like I know him now. He’s had it tough, you know. Rough childhood, had to fight for everything he’s ever had in life. Gloria made him so happy. And he made her happy, too. So, yes, they had a good marriage. He’s, ah, shit, he’s difficult.”

“Lotta, lotta work,” Everett says, and in one long swallow empties his tin cup.

“Yeah, I suppose he is. But if he loves you, he’s all in. I kind of envy him that. I’ve never felt that way about anyone. And hell’s bells, nobody has ever cared about me the way Rush’s wife cared about him.”

“After what Kiva and Simeon put him through, I don’t know if he can ever get close to anyone again.” Everett rolls the cup between his palms, thinking. Probably he should keep his thoughts to himself, but the alcohol’s tempting him to keep talking and he surrenders to the impulse. “But maybe he can. Because he’s a strong little bastard and he doesn’t want them to win. He’s done well with getting his life back so far, based on pure stubbornness.“

David stands up, says, “I wish now that I hadn’t messed with him so much, back at the SGC. We might have been friends, if I’d handled things differently and not let my dick do the thinking. He needed a friend, I see that now, and I just wanted to fuck him. If I’d been that friend first, who knows? I wouldn’t have believed it till I lived his memories, like a ghost looking over his shoulder, but there’s some sweetness to him, if you get past his guard.”

He stretches and says, “I owe the man. And I owe you, Everett. Thanks for not shoving me out an airlock when I got brainwashed a second time.”

“I’m glad you’re back. Even if you’re going to be a pain in my ass at times.” He stands up and moves to David’s side, pulls him into a tight hug.

David laughs, then says, “Might as well get talking to Rush over with tonight. Bet you my last pair of socks that he asks for me to get the IOA off his back.”

* * *

Everett wakes, shaking, running cold sweat, not sure if what he remembers is the dregs of a nightmare or a memory. He takes stock, he’s in bed, in his quarters, and the last thing he did outside of this room after leaving David was make his way to Brody’s still and replenish his flask. David had been medically benched by T.J. till the morning and a final checkup by her, so Scott had been on duty, making arrangements to get some help from Earth on fixing the ship.

He’d meant to have just one more drink, but somehow one drink became two, two multiplied to four and then he’d stumbled to his bed, blissfully incapable of running the ramifications of his decisions.

His mouth is dry, and foul tasting. His belly is roiling a little, but he won’t vomit, he feels. His head aches. He curses himself for being weak again and falling into the bottle.

And that dream. It had to have been a dream. Because he’s here and in the dream the compulsive bastards who keep dogging his ship had blown up Destiny due to his decision to not give the damned Nakai Chloe.

So, he hadn’t been able to protect her after all. And it had felt so real. He’d never had a dream like this one, one where the details stayed sharp and clear, not fading into hazy remembrance.

A dream, but one that could happen. They’re sitting ducks right now, without the use of their damaged engine. And Chloe could have sent a message to the Nakai. They could be on their way while he sits on his bed, hung over.

He lurches to his feet and stumbles his way through cleaning himself up and heads out to relieve Scott. Maybe Rush and his team had figured out how to deal with the engine problem, and they could resume their way.

* * *

There’s something different about Ginn, Everett notices, when he arrives on the bridge. She’s moving her hands on the console like she’s not sure exactly how to make them work. Then she smiles at Rush, and it’s shy and admiring and he can see a blush on her cheeks grow when he moves closer to her to make some adjustments to whatever they’re doing together.

Eli is watching them, and the expression on his face. . . He’s exasperated and halfway pouting. Ginn ignores him to ask Rush another question and the mystery clears up for Everett.

He makes his way over to them, extends a hand. “Dr. Amanda Perry, I presume.”

She turns and after a moment’s hesitation, extends her own hand and shakes his. Her grip is at first too strong, then too weak, and she breathes out a sigh of amusement. “I’m sorry, Colonel Young. I’m still getting used to having hands that obey me. I’m very glad to be here on Destiny. Nick has been showing me the systems and the engines.”

“I have, too,” interjects Eli. Brody and Volker chime in also, causing Rush to glance over at the rest of the team, looking vexed.

Park looks amused. “Dr. Perry is a team player, Colonel, but she and Dr. Rush--”

“Are having a professional consultation,” Rush blocks out whatever Park was going to say. “The rest of you lot get back to working on your own assignments. We’ll meet back here in two hours, and I’d best be hearing your suggestions on how we can resolve this problem and be back on our way.”

Park stops by Dr. Perry and somehow pulls her away to say something that has Dr. Perry nodding her head in agreement, and Park’s expression turning mischievous.

Rush is watching them, and his eyes narrow. “On your way, now, Dr. Park. Dr. Perry’s needed wi’ me.”

“Just what I was saying to her, Doctor Rush,” Park says, smiling. She starts chuckling as she makes her way to the door, and Rush shoots a suspicious look her way.

“Just a moment, Dr. Park,” Rush calls out and practically sprints over to her side, and escorts her out into the hallway.

Dr. Perry rejoins Everett at the console and smiles up at him. It’s always surprising to him, when consciousness are exchanged with the stones, how the mannerisms and body language change to match that of the person within that body.

He raises his eyebrows, and nods toward the door, and Dr. Perry flashes him a sweet smile.

“It’s nothing, really. Well, nothing that I don’t already know very well. Dr. Park was telling me not to mind if Nick gets testy, because he gets grumpy when he hasn’t had any sleep, and he was up all night clearing Ginn – she’s not under any influence from the Alliance – and helping to make the arrangements for me to come on board. I’ll be staying until we get this engine problem handled.”

“Any ideas yet?”

“I think using the robot Nick found to cut free the disabled engine will be the best solution, but that’s not definitely decided yet. There’s other data to consider first.”

“You didn’t look concerned about Dr. Rush’s temper.”

“We’ve known each other for a while, and I’ve seen him work himself to fits. He won’t scare me off. He’s stubborn, but I can usually talk him into taking a break.” She gave Everett a sympathetic look. “He must have been out of his mind when his supply of coffee and cigarettes were cut off.”

Everett couldn’t help himself. He snorted. “Add that to working without adequate sleep for who knows how long and with exactly no sleep the first days we arrived here and a long hike through a desert, and you have the recipe for one tired, overstrung scientist to land himself in bed for ten hours after ranting himself into passing out. He probably could have slept another ten hours, but I needed him awake.”

Dr. Perry’s hand covered her mouth, and she choked out, “Oh, my. Poor Nick.”

“Good luck, Dr. Perry. If he won’t take a break when it gets to the point that he’s going to start making mistakes, call me. Lieutenant Johanson, our medical officer, has a sleep potion that will drop him where he stands, and I’ll make sure he drinks it.”

“This isn’t a problem that we can power through in a few hours. It’s going to take days, maybe even weeks, before Destiny can jump back into hyperspace. Nick will just have to pace himself. I’m sure I can sweet talk him into getting enough sleep.” She glances over to where the man in question is re-entering the bridge, a flustered look on his face.

“Thank you for agreeing to come on board,” Everett says. “If you need anything at all, just contact me.” He gives her a nod and heads for the door.

Stopping Rush before he can resume working with the woman that he evidently has some kind of good friendship with, Everett tells him that they can resume their chess games and dinners after Dr. Perry has returned to Earth. Hoping he’s handling this delicately enough, he asks if Rush would like him to continue to grab a dinner tray for him and leave it in his quarters.

Rush shakes his head no. “Mandy will get one for me.”

“You told her why you can’t go to the Mess?”

“No. She was briefed, a bit, about the Alliance taking over Destiny. She knows I was, uh, tortured by them. She doesn’t know the details. I told her I don’t like to eat in the Mess, with the others. She won’t press me about it, that’s not her way.”

Everett lays a hand on Rush’s shoulder. “Don’t forget to get some sleep, genius. You’re no Prince Charming when you’re exhausted.”

Rush rolls his eyes. “Yes, yes. I am an adult, Colonel. I can set my own bedtime.”

“Sure. Until you become a walking hazard, then for the greater good, T.J. will put you under.”

From the tilt of his chin, Rush looks like he wants to argue that point, but Everett just shakes his shoulder a little and Rush gives him a questioning, exasperated look.

“So, you’ll knock off at a reasonable time and get some sleep?” Everett’s eyes flick over to Dr. Perry and Rush’s expression softens.

“Yes. Unless the ship’s about to explode.”

At the mention of that, Everett flashes back to his nightmare. “Make sure the long range sensors are being manned. If the Nakai are coming, I want to know about it as soon as possible. ”

Rush narrows his eyes at him, apparently catching something from Everett’s expression that he’d like to interrogate him about, for he says, “Of course we’re watching the sensors. Colonel, are you all right?”

“Sure,” he lies and lets go of Rush. Time to check on David and Camile and see O’Neill.

* * *

“What’s the news from Homeworld Command?” David asks him, over a nightcap late that evening. They are in David’s new quarters, one of the more spacious rooms and like his own, equipped with its own bathroom.

He shrugs, thinking about opening up the letter from Emily before meeting with O’Neill. He feels deeply exhausted. “I didn’t ask. Except for the briefing about the Lucian Alliance’s activities. From what Ginn overheard of Simeon’s conversations with the others in their clan, they were planning some sort of attack and that was confirmed by other intel. She’s still on Earth, going over what few details she knew again.”

David snorts. “Everett, I should go with you next time. You’ve got to know which way the winds blowing to weather the storms. I’ve got my sources with the nerds and the IOA and with the SGC and headquarters. We need to stay in the loop with the current politics.”

Pouring himself another few fingers of alcohol, Everett knocks it back and grimaces. “Most of what’s going on doesn’t seem relevant anymore. Out here, we’re on our own. And we’re just not that important to Homeworld Command, except for the connection with the Lucian Alliance. But if you want to waste your time, be my guest. You can switch on the stones tomorrow with a scientist Rush wants to consult about the manufacturing room we discovered.”

“Rush wants to talk to this expert?”

“No. He wants Brody to meet with him. He’s busy with Dr. Perry.”

“Busy as a bee sniffing around a flower,” David says, smirking when he refills his own glass.

“Leave him alone, David,” Everett says, surprising himself with the rush of protectiveness he’s feeling. “I gather they’re old friends, and it’s good for him, after all he’s been through, to reconnect.”

“I wonder if he’s finally catching on that Dr. Perry would like to be more than friends,” David says. “Talk about oblivious. Still, nothing much can happen with her on earth and him stuck here. Even with switching bodies, although it’s got to be wonderful for Dr. Perry to be able to move on her own, I doubt that Ginn gave permission for her body to be used for sex.”

“Camile would have gone over everything with her.”

“How’s she feeling?”

“Camile? Better, the headache is gone. But she’s not cleared to use the stones yet. T.J. doesn’t think it’s a good idea for at least a week.”

He stands up. “I should get some sleep. By the way, how’d it go with Rush earlier?”

David stands up also, draws him into a loose hug. “Not the way I thought it would.”

He can’t help but grin. “That man never jumps the way you think he will. So, he didn’t ask you to get him out of trouble with the IOA?”

“Nope. He eyed me for a long time, after I told him I wanted to repay him for saving my life, and finally said he’d think on it. I told him with the contacts and favors I’m owed with the IOA that I could get him off their shit list, but he just shook his head. I’m not sure what he has in mind, but I know for damn sure that he’ll think of something. Probably something I won’t be too thrilled with doing, I bet.”

Everett gives David a long long. “You won’t do anything you think is wrong or makes you uncomfortable, right?”

David shakes his head. “No. I owe him a big favor, but not my soul. I’d like to hold onto what integrity I have left, after what I was forced to do for Kiva.”

“Okay. Get some rest.”

“I’ll say the same to you. You’ve been looking like shit, you know.”

He shrugs again at that, not denying what David’s just said. “Let’s just hope the Nakai don’t show up before we’re able to jump back into hyperspace.”

David leans against a wall and says, “Sure, I’ll keep my fingers crossed right along with you. But there’s more, isn’t there.” It’s not a question, but then he asks, “What happened, on Earth?”

He feels his throat trying to close up, the alcohol leaving him for once more vulnerable to his feelings instead of deadening them. He debates telling David about Emily, about the divorce papers he’d signed sitting in the waiting room of O’Neill’s office. But it’s too raw, and David, even though he’d not been responsible for his behavior, had helped demolish the fragile rebuilding of his relationship with Emily.

His wife. His ex-wife.

Just another way he’d failed at life. But David has enough to contend with and it won’t make Everett feel better to share the news. Later, when the hurt isn’t so new, so sharp, so devastating, he’ll tell David.

He waves off David’s concern and leaves, taking his bottle of moonshine with him and once in his own quarters, finishes off the rest of it. He hopes he’ll pass straight out and not dream about blue aliens and their demands to take Chloe.

* * *

For days, Camile has dogged his steps until he agrees to talk to her later, in his quarters. That night, she expresses her concern about his state of mind, and it’s both a warning that he’s been served notice that his drinking has become unacceptable and an invitation for counseling with her. He turns her down, but a few days later, after another horrible nightmare about the Nakai, he finds himself at her door, sweat cooling on his skin, his mouth foul from his earlier binging. He tells her about the dreams, then, and she connects it with the recent orders he’s been giving. She offers her observation that he’s avoiding seeing Chloe, who’s locked in her room, with a guard stationed outside, and that his subconscious is punishing him for that cowardice.

He goes away considering Camile’s words. The changes the Nakai have engineered in Chloe’s DNA are becoming more evident, and she has long times where her staring can not be disrupted, and the walls of her cabin are becoming covered with numbers and symbols that Chloe never learned in college. He should see her, reassure her that they’ll find a way to save her, but he can’t force himself to say that lie to her face.

He’s afraid he’ll have to kill her or maroon her, and the thought is agony for him. He doesn’t talk to her, despite knowing Camile’s suggestion to face her is wise.

* * *

Two nights later he’s again wakened from those vivid dreams from hell. Destiny’s weapons were not sufficient to hold off the Nakai. The bastards had invaded his ship and killed his people and snatched Chloe away. He shudders, and gets to his feet feeling sweat pouring from him. The ship had been destroyed by the enemy, even though they’d gotten what they wanted.

He can’t stop thinking about the weapons array, and he pulls on his shirt and pants, jams his feet into boots minus his socks, feeling compelled to tackle this problem right now. They’re sitting ducks, and if they can’t run, then they’ll have to fight.

He needs Rush. Needs to have him change all their priorities into beefing up their guns. Everything else can wait.

Rush isn’t on the Bridge, but Eli is more than happy to point him to where the man has gone with Dr. Perry. He ignores Eli’s shouted question as he double-times it toward the hallway. Ginn will return when the IOA are done with questioning her about every facet of the Lucian Alliance, and Dr. Perry’s work on board is completed. Eli will just have to deal with it.

He’d have to be blind not to notice how miffed Eli has been with Ginn’s absence, and how he watches Rush like a hawk when he’s working with Dr. Perry.

He skids to a stop just shy of Dr. Perry’s open door because he hears their voices. Impatiently, he waits for Rush to say goodnight, kiss her or whatever, he needs to talk to the man right now. He can’t make out exactly what they’re murmuring about, but he hears Rush’s stressed voice, and maybe he’s more tuned in now to the sound of that Scottish lilt because he swears the man is on the verge of crying. Dr. Perry sounds soothing, and he chafes at their interaction, the memory of his dream impelling him to take action right now. He clears his throat as he steps inside the door. Dr. Perry has her arms wrapped around Rush, but this doesn’t look like a passionate embrace to him. Rush’s eyes are shut, and his expression looks agonized. Dr. Perry sees him, but doesn’t push away from the man she’s obviously comforting.

“Nick,” she says. “Colonel Young needs us.”

She drops her arms, as Rush jerks around, obviously startled. His expression starts to morph, vulnerability and sadness exchanging for irritation and exasperation. There are tears clinging to his lashes.

“What?” he says, his voice clogged and rough. “Is the damn ship on fire?” He steps closer to Young and the sweat and stink of alcohol being processed through pores must hit him, because he makes a disgusted face. Abruptly, Young breathes in the muddle of odors that shout that he’s slipping, he’s fucking up, that he’s a sorry excuse for a commander. He hasn’t bathed for the last two days, he’s been hung over every morning, and his hair, as he runs a hand through it, feels greasy and tangled and unkempt.

So he’s a mess. Rush needs to change their work priorities. “I want you to drop every other drain on our energy and time and focus on the weapons array. That includes the damn shields. I want it done tonight. I want to see the tests showing that we can destroy Nakai ships.”

“Drop power to the shields? Colonel, that’s how Destiny has held off the Nakai in the past when they’ve tried to board. We can’t do that!” Rush dashes the wetness from his eyes, and looks at Everett suspiciously.

“Colonel? The timetable for the work the robot is doing on the engines can’t be moved up anymore than it is, but I can comb through the systems to try for more efficiency. My preliminary work shows we can save maybe three percent of power usage.” Amanda Perry looks to Rush, who gives her a forced smile.

“Mandy, the Colonel and I need a few moments, but I’ll be right back.” He nods toward the open door, and lays a gentle hand on her arm for a moment, before striding off.

Everett feels his temper starting to rise, because he can read Rush’s body language like a billboard on a highway, and the man’s resistance to Everett’s order is written large in the jerking of his chin upwards and the quick pace of his step.

Everett catches up to him past the doorway and reaches out an arm to stop Rush. Rush whirls around and steps into his personal space. Everett takes a step backwards, toward the corridor wall. Rush steps forward again, and his hands fly up in exasperation, making Everett take another step backward.

“Are ye daft?” he demands. “Yes, all right, we can squeeze and scrape a wee bit of energy from what Mandy’s suggesting, and as I’ve told you we can hold off on starting up the manufacturing plant, we can shut off life support to some decks, although God help the poor sod who mistakenly goes to those areas, we can drop the temperature till our arses are freezing, but Colonel, we can not take any energy from the bloody shields!”

“You have to. The Nakai will tear through the shields, they’ll board us and take Chloe and blow us out of the sky.” He shivers, remembering his dream, and hopelessness floods his mind. “They’re coming. I know they are. Diverting more energy to the shields won’t stop them, they’ll be relentless. Our only hope is to take them out and pray their reinforcements don’t arrive until after we can jump once again.”

“Why now are you so damn sure? Two days ago, it was ‘Rush, make sure those long range sensors are working and make the shields stronger. We have to outlast the Nakai if they come.’ And we’ve done just that, thanks to Brody’s work on the power relays.”

He looks at Everett, takes in the disheveled clothes, and he falls quiet. Everett's being judged, those intelligent eyes are taking in everything about Everett and putting together a theory.

“Colonel,” he says. “I know. . . I know, things have been hard. You’ve a lot on your plate and I maybe haven’t paid close attention these past weeks, but you can’t do this. It’s obvious you’ve been on a bender and Telford, I suppose he’s told you he’ll cover for your drinking, but I don’t trust the git. You stay like this, he’ll be bending O’Neill’s ear about you being unfit to command. For God’s sake, Everett, man, pull yourself together. This crew needs you.”

“A pep talk from you, will wonders never cease,” he manages to spit out, because if David is plotting to get his command, it would probably be better for everyone. Hell, maybe he should just turn command over to him now and save David the trouble of bothering O’Neill.

“I mean it, Colonel. Telford is not the right man to take charge of the crew. Scott’s a good lad, but he’s young, he’s no got the experience to do this. Lieutenant Johanson is able, but she’s no ready for this command either. Camile and I, we’ve learned we’re not the right people. You are the best man for the job.”

“During the mutiny, you told me the exact opposite,” Everett points out, and even still drunk, and feeling like ten miles of hard road, he puts a sarcastic spin on it. Rush is unbelievable. He doesn’t know why he’s fighting against Rush’s elevated opinion, except he doesn’t see how Rush can really mean what he says. He’s not a good commander, not anymore. He’s made terrible mistakes. People have died, hell, Rush was tortured for his screw ups.

He shakes his head. “Just fix the weapons array, Rush. David’s willing to step up, and I’m ready to let him.”

Rush’s eyes snap and he throws his hands up in the air. “You’re pure dead wrong, but go on, drink yourself blind and ignore that we need you.”

Everett blinks. “We?” he asks.

Rush’s eyes widen, and he stares at Everett.

His attention snaps from Everett to the doorway when he hears a choking sound. He cries out, “Mandy!”

Rush dashes away. Everett finds himself running into the room and sees that Rush is pounding Dr. Perry on the back. Dr. Perry’s eyes are panicked, she’s clutching her throat.

Ginn’s throat. Her long red hair has come down from the loose knot Dr. Perry had fixed and something in Everett firms up and he surveys the scene, looking for clues as to what happened. There are two glasses and one of Brody’s flasks, but they’re clean yet, and the bottle is closed, ruling out choking on moonshine.

Maybe she ate something and it got stuck, although he doesn’t see any plates of food. He radios for T.J. describing the choking while Rush keeps hitting Dr. Perry’s back.

Everett pushes him away roughly after he’s called for help. “I’m going to try the Heimlich.” Rush nods as Everett gets into position and uses the training he has to try to save this crewmember.

He keeps trying until Dr. Perry passes out. He quickly lays her down and Rush drops to his knees on the other side of her limp body. “Do you know CPR?”

Rush’s agonized eyes bore into his. “I had a class a long time ago. Tell me what to do!”

In terse terms, Everett quickly explains what they’re going to do, as he’s checking for a pulse and sweeping a finger through her mouth. There’s nothing there, nothing was dislodged by Rush’s back blows and his using the Heimlich.

He starts chest compressions, counting aloud and then giving mouth to mouth before resuming chest compressions again. This time around, Rush is ready with locked elbows and straight arms to take over pushing down on Ginn’s chest, and Everett concentrates on breathing for her, listening to see if she’s breathing on her own.

The only sounds in the room are Rush’s soft counting and the sounds of the two of them working in tandem, trying to save Dr. Perry’s and Ginn’s lives.

* * *

Chapter Text

“Stand by to clear the stones and get Ginn back here,” the Colonel says into the radio he’s snatched up to his lips. Then he’s bending over the still body and forcing air down into her lungs.

The terror Rush feels as Mandy – Ginn – dies under his and the Colonel’s hands do not stop him from continuing to do chest compressions. Somewhere in his head, he’s observing that once again, when quick action because of danger of one sort or the other arises, he doesn’t still in panic, but acts. It’s how he’s wired, to respond by instinct, to protect himself, to calculate what must be done quickly to save others, to salvage what he can from disaster.

He gives himself no credit for this attribute. It’s not something that was practiced or learned, a skill that he’s attained by hard study, not like the mathematics. He was born this way. Same as he was designed by his DNA to be a short man with brown eyes and a mop of flyaway hair.

For him, the pause, the panic over what he did or did not accomplish comes later, along with the shakiness and second guessing himself.

His Mandy is dying, and brave little Ginn, who like him was born to a hard scrabble life that she didn’t let suffocate her desire to learn. Mandy, who battled courageously every day for what most people took for granted, even something as basic as breathing and eating, and who transcended her disabilities to soar into such high level physics and mathematics that few were her equal.

He’ll not lose them, either one. There is sweat running down his temples as he continues his exertions, pushing down on Ginn’s chest with locked hands, stiffly extended arms, the way the Colonel had shown him.

The Colonel locks eyes with him, after breathing for the lass. The man is calm and steady, having a task to do and not having to watch others do it for him, not like he’s been sometimes when they’ve been under attack, yelling and demanding answers. He’s glad the Colonel is here, with his knowledge of first aid.

He feels the lass take a breath; suddenly she’s choking, and they turn her on her side. His eyes fill with wetness as he’s swept suddenly with relief-- she’s breathing, his Mandy -- and as she coughs and spits on the floor and her eyes flutter open, Lieutenant Johansen runs into the room, carrying her medical bag and her babe.

She drops to her knees and thrusts the child into the Colonel’s arms, then starts examining Mandy. Or is this Ginn, now back in her own body? The lass, whoever she is, is not ready to speak yet. She seems confused, as her eyes fix on the Colonel and his daughter.

The Lieutenant is doing a whole raft of medical things with her stethoscope, taking vitals he supposes.

“Mandy?” he asks, and feels his heart in his throat before she looks at him and nods.

“Don’t speak until you feel ready,” Lieutenant Johansen warns, and helps Mandy to sit up, then moves the stethoscope to her back. She takes Mandy’s pulse and the child wiggles in her father’s arms, making a discontented grumble.

Mandy reaches out her hand and he takes it, brings it to his lips and kisses her knuckles. He slumps so he’s sitting back on his legs and holds her hand to his heart. “Mandy,” he repeats.

She still looks confused. “What happened?” she says. “All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe. I, I think I was. . .” She makes a flip-flop motion with her free hand. “I was back on Earth? I don’t know.”

The Colonel jiggles Carmen and moves her so she’s on his shoulder. She raises her head up, looking around and a small hand finds its way into her father’s dark curls. “I’ll send Camile to find out what’s going on back there,” he says, raising his radio to his mouth and waking Camile, and catching Carmen’s interest in the device.

Mandy grimaces and her eyes go blank. Then she seems to return and starts to gasp. “My chest – Oh, God! TJ?” She puts her hand on her chest and then her jaw. “It hurts, it hurts!”

Her hand goes limp in his own. “Don’t!” he urges, “Mandy, don’t you do this! You stay wi’ me, lass, you stay!”

But he hears the Colonel give the order to clear Ginn’s stone and a few moments later Mandy’s frightened expression shifts into Ginn’s sharp and pitying look, directed straight to him.

“Dinn, I mean, Doctor Rush? Doctor Perry is having a heart attack, they think. She, I, choked on a piece of meat.”

* * *

Waiting to find out Mandy’s condition brings back all the misery of Gloria’s death. Eli had swooped into Ginn’s room, his feelings blatantly exposed, and the look on Ginn’s face when she saw him was like a knife into his own heart. Once he and Gloria had looked at each other that way, and his stomach clenched as he flashed back to the simulation with Destiny, where he’d held Gloria’s hand and kissed it, much like what he’d done an hour ago with Mandy. With Gloria, or rather the AI who thought it necessary to test him with that grief stricken memory, it was to say goodby. With Mandy, it had been one of the first tentative steps toward feelings that were sliding into love.

He’s too edgy to sit on the bench and twists his hands together as he stares out at the shield’s colorful play of lights. The observation deck is deserted. Well, most of the crew are asleep, and the few that had seen his face or witnessed him smashing his fist against the corridor walls had wisely chosen to leave him the fuck alone.

Lieutenant Johansen wanted to keep Ginn under observation in the infirmary and Eli had picked her up, not waiting for one of his kino sleds to be brought to the room. He’d watched the tenderness, the care Eli took, and suspected there would be a wedding one day between the two of them.

Eli had carried him when the sleep brew he’d been forced to drink by Kiva was putting him under. He’d been crawling. Crawling, for fuck’s sake, because he’d been so exhausted he couldn’t even walk to the cell where the Colonel and the rest of the military were being held. Kiva had said he was to have no help in getting there, unless he begged.

He hadn’t begged. But Eli had helped him anyway, and he faintly remembers that the boy had pretended aloud to satisfy the guards that Rush – Kresh’ta, Dinn – had humiliated himself by asking for help.

Camile has told him over and over that it’s not weak to ask for help. That he is part of the crew, a member of this community and they all need to help each other.

Volker and Brody had helped Eli make that ridiculous hover board contraption for him. Brody and the Colonel made sure he didn’t go hungry. Park has hugged him and not made him feel like a baby about it. Greer also held him when he’d had a break down, let him cry himself out against his shoulder, and not treated him like he was a weakling afterwards. Volker had shared his water with him, and Chloe had defied the Lucians to tend to him and feed him power bars. In the military cell, James and Barnes had shared their blankets with him, but in a way that gave him the space he had so desperately had needed.

The crew had been there for him, and when he thinks back to those first days on Destiny, it’s like it had occurred to different people. Chloe had wanted him dead, and Greer would have shot him, if he hadn’t been needed for their survival.

He shivers, the memories bringing back some of the pain and humiliation from those days of captivity.

The Colonel had covered Rush’s naked and filthy body with his own jacket and had let him hide his face against his shoulder so he wouldn’t have to see the pitying and shocked looks of the crew as Young carried him out of the Mess to the Infirmary. Away from that table. Away from the Lucians forcing their dicks into his mouth and his arse.

Even now, months later, a wave of gratitude rocks him for what the Colonel did, and he fingers the jacket that had sheltered him. The Colonel’s actions still bewildered him. It wasn’t like they’d been friends.

Are they friends now? It is what the Colonel wants from him. Rush is not dense, after all. The Colonel would like Rush to be part of his inner circle, a trusted adviser, someone who will watch his back. Be honest with him, not keep secrets.

He’d forgiven the Colonel for raping him. He knew, even at the time, that the man had only done it with reluctance, to save Rush’s life, and to keep any other crew member from darkening their soul. The Colonel hadn’t enjoyed fucking him.

He’s still not sure about Telford. He suspects that Colonel David Telford could have enjoyed forcing him, even if he’d done it for the sake of his undercover status. He hadn’t asked Telford if he had.

The man had apologized to him, thanked him for saving his life and said he regretted how things had played out back on Icarus. He did seem sincere, but then, the man had fooled Kiva. He was a pure dead brilliant actor, to pull that off.

To Rush’s surprise, he’d offered to even things up between them, saying that he owed Rush. He’d suggested that he could get the IOA to drop their investigation into his behavior, influence Chloe’s mother to give up her vendetta against Rush for her husband’s death.

He’d considered it, but decided that having Telford owe him like that was worth holding onto for a while. He did recognize that in some ways they were alike, pragmatic, able to make the hard decisions. Telford could have his uses, and he’d not balk at any unpleasantness. Not after what he’d done for Kiva, even when he wasn’t brainwashed. Rush can’t conceive of anything he could request that would be even close to Kiva’s orders.

He steps forward and grasps the railing, holding onto it like it can steady him for what Camile will no doubt come soon to tell him. He regrets, with all his heart, that after the sweet kiss Mandy had gifted him with earlier, after she’d invited him into Ginn’s quarters for a nightcap, that he’d pulled away from her. Gloria’s death so recently relived, the rapes he’d endured, physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, it all seemed too overwhelming.

Now he feels he was foolish and stupid and cowardly, although Mandy had been her usual sweet and tactful self about it, and had hugged him, comforting him after his halting explanation of why he couldn’t respond the way she was hoping he would.

He had alluded to the torture, but hadn’t told her what had really happened. To his great surprise, no one on board had pulled her aside to tell her about those three days he’d been bound to a table and used over and over again and the disgusting things he’d done for food and water. Perhaps the crew felt it was their own secret to keep. They’d been a part of it, too, with their eyes on him as he was relentlessly raped. Maybe no one was keen to explain their own helplessness, that they hadn’t risen up and rebelled against the Lucians, to stop them from hurting him and starving him. Not that he blamed them, or well, more accurate to say that he’d forgiven them. Most likely, they’d have taken their own places on their own tables, for daring to try to stop their captors.

He’d have known if she knew. Mandy wouldn’t have been able to look at him without her eyes filling out of pity.

He hears the sound of footsteps, and stiffens. Tries to quell his fears and screw his face into a stone mask, when he turns to see who is intruding upon him.

Colonel Young. He still has his daughter with him. When he steps beside Rush, it’s evident that the man has bathed and shaved and changed into clean clothes.

Shrugging, the Colonel says, “Yeah, I cleaned up. I didn’t want my girl here to associate me with the stink of booze and the feel of stubble when I kiss her.”

For an instant, the Colonel’s words take him back to his childhood, and the rough hand of his father, the smell of menthol cigarettes and cheap whiskey.

He shakes those memories off. He’d moved on from all of that a long time ago.

The Colonel takes a good look at him, and puts a hand on his shoulder. “Camile’s not back yet.”

He nods. “Thank you. Take your wee girl off to bed, Colonel. I’m fine.”

“She is getting kind of heavy. Here.” Suddenly he finds himself cradling a sound asleep baby, his arms instinctively keeping her secure. Safe. He raises her a little, the better to see her. She smells of milk and sweetness and her dark hair might be curling a little. The Colonel’s DNA, since Lieutenant Johansen’s blonde hair was thick and straight.

The Colonel stretches and then steps back and lowers himself to the bench. “TJ says Carmen sleeps best when she’s being held. I tried to lay her down, and the little stinker woke right up. By the way, since you asked, Ginn seems to be fine. TJ’s gonna keep an eye on her till morning.”

He nods again. He’d raged, cursed the accident that had robbed Mandy of her mobility, cursed himself for being afraid of her feelings for him. He wished he had someone to blame, someone he could punish, pummel with his fists. Sheer, bloody bad luck she’d been so badly injured, with only an icy road to blame.

He’d walked, no, he’d pounded his feet again the corridor floor, hitting the walls till his fists were sore and tomorrow the bruises will shout of his anger and frustration. He feels exhausted now, and how long had it been since he’d slept well? Nightmares had plagued him these last weeks, after leaving Mandy at night. He suspected his subconscious had decided to punish him for daring to regain some small happiness.

He hadn’t deserved someone like Mandy. God only knows what she saw in him. He was bad tempered, nothing much to look at, and damaged, even back at the SGC. If he’d stayed on Earth, would their friendship had progressed? Might he still have that chance, if Mandy were to pull through?

God, he didn’t know.

The baby sighs in her sleep and squirms, arching her back, and he rocks his body back and forth, to pacify her .

The Colonel is watching him. He’s quiet, and seems somehow more settled. Rush can only hope that lasts. He well understands that sometimes a man needs to get pissed, but for the Colonel, Brody’s moonshine has become a crutch.

Maybe it’s because he’s so tired that he says aloud what he’d been thinking.

“Well, you’re not wrong, Nick,” the Colonel says mildly. “I know it’s a crutch. Tell you what, those evenings we played chess helped.”

“Need a project do you, keep your evenings full?” Rush asks, and deliberately keeps looking down at Miss Carmen. He doesn’t want the Colonel to see his eyes right now.

“You got something in mind? If you’re going to suggest I work more Bridge shifts, I don’t think that will help.” The note of wryness, of self-depreciation, helps him to decide to indeed ask for the Colonel’s assistance.

“I, Colonel?” He pauses and then tries to force the words out. “I, um, I . . .”

“Just ask, Nick. If it’s not illegal, and even maybe if it is, I’ll consider it. You want something from me?”

“Yes.” He takes a deep breath. “I no can get close to the Mess without a bloody panic attack taking me down and I’m fuckin’ tired of it. Help me get over it, be with me, do what you did on the planet with the rotten fruit, when it set me off. You got me to calm down, you handled me and part of me hates that you were able to do that, to know me so well that you knew how to stop me freaking out, but more of me was so damn grateful to you.” He pauses, a little amazed at how the words had just gushed from him after all. “I want my life back, Colonel. As long as I can’t even take two steps down the corridor to the Mess, Kiva has the control. That bitch shouldn’t be allowed to keep it.”

He finds the courage to look the Colonel in the eyes, him holding the man’s child and standing in front of him. He ought to go to his knees, since he’s begging. “Will you help me, Everett? At night, when the crew’s away to their bunks, when curious eyes won’t be watching, will you help me?”

The Colonel tugs at him to sit down beside him on the bench. “Of course I will, Nick. And save the thanks. To my way of thinking, you’d be doing me a favor by keeping me busy. It’s when I’m alone in my quarters but I’m not ready to sleep that I backslide into taking a drink. It’s always supposed to be just one, but then I start thinking of all the ways I’ve screwed up and then it’s two drinks, to four drinks and then I’m gone.”

He gives a sigh of relief and a nod, and they sit there in silence. He suspects it’s the same for the Colonel as for him, that he’s feeling a bit awkward now.

The Colonel puts an arm around him, and he doesn’t shrug him off. He’s exhausted and soon he’ll know Mandy’s fate. He’ll take this wee bit of comfort from a friend.

* * *

He feels a hand on his knee and his eyes open. He’d dozed off, but even in his sleep he’d kept tight hold of the baby.

Camile is kneeling in front of him. The Colonel’s arm around him tightens, and he looks apprehensively at Camile.

“Nicholas,” she says. “I’m so very sorry. Amanda died tonight of a severe heart attack.”

* * *

He ends up at Brody’s make shift bar the next night, where the crew is having a wake of sorts for Mandy. He stands against the wall and listens to his crewmates, the ones who had known Mandy, speak about her. He doesn’t say anything, and thank fuck no one asks him to say a few words.

Camile and the Colonel ganged up on him last night, taking turns staying with him while he absorbed the shock of Mandy’s death.

The Colonel had walked with him at first when he couldn’t bear to sit still. Then, after dropping Carmen off with her mother, they continued up and down Destiny’s halls, his striding slowing until he was just putting one slow foot in front of the other. Camile had joined them, and the Colonel had pulled him into a rough hug saying for him to try and get some sleep, and that he was sorry for his loss. He’d left, and Camile had become his keeper.

Finally, Camile had talked him into trying to sleep. When he woke up, he was alone and there was a sketch of Mandy, from the shoulders up, only part of the wheel chair visible, on the blanket next to him.

Her lips were curved in a sweet expression, and her eyes shone with intelligence. Later, after he’d cried himself out, touching the curve of her cheek while he’d sobbed, he’d placed the picture in his desk drawer. He used to keep Gloria’s picture in his dresser drawer, back on Icarus. When things became too much, he’d pull it out, caress her lovely face again.

Only shades of color on a slick piece of paper. All he had left. And it was gone now, along with the entire planet.

He’d nodded to the people who had expressed condolences, even let Eli and Park give him a hug, while he worked on directing the robot to free the damaged engine. He kept his tears to himself, immersed in his work.

But that was earlier and hearing so many people share stories of Mandy has caused his shields to fail. He should leave, but finds he can’t, not just yet.

In this sorry excuse of a bar, people are raising their mugs, a last call, a last toast for Dr. Amanda Perry. Some of these people had known her from her work with the SGC. Some had only met her on board Destiny, her body exchanged with Ginn’s.

Ginn is here, sitting with Eli and Matthew. Park and Greer are here as well. Brody and Volker, too. The Colonel and Lieutenant Johansen sit together, with Camile, who is holding Miss Carmen. The baby is clutching the necklace Camile always wears.

Colonel Telford is lounging at a table with some of the crew. He wonders about that, but he does remember the man used to make time to talk to Mandy, when they all were stationed at Stargate Command.

He ducks out when people start to rise. He’s not up for talking with them. He’ll go back to the engineering station.

* * *

An hour later Colonel Telford walks in to where he’s been hiding away and he looks up from his station. He rubs his head, right above his left eyebrow. He can feel a headache waiting to burst out, and he wonders what the fuck Telford wants of him. He’s no doubt not satisfied with his work or the Science Team’s efforts. Well, fuck that, they’ve all been working as hard as they can. Probably Telford will want to bring on board his own scientists from Homeworld Command.

The fuck he will. That lot have been nothing but trouble on board.

He turns around and glowers at the man. “If you’re here to suggest we bring some of your people on board since we lost Dr. Perry, I’ll not go along with it. None of them even come close to her level of expertise.”

Telford crosses his arms over his chest. “Oh, really? What about Carter or McKay or Zelenka?”

Bollocks. As if he could turn away help from those three. He’d be a fool not to agree.

“Fine, then. I doubt Homeworld Command can spare more than one. Who did you bribe or blackmail into using the stones?”

Telford snorts. “I wish. No, they can’t be spared. You assumed, pal. I just couldn’t resist tweaking you for it.”

The headache decides it’s a fine time to start hammering his brain.

The sigh that escapes his control is loud and even to his own ears sounds petulant. Telford grins at him, the bastard.

Then the grin leaves his face. “No, Nick. I didn’t come here to harass you. I just wanted you to know I’m damn sorry for Dr. Perry’s loss. She was brilliant, and sweet.”

A wave of grief sweeps through him. “Sweet. Aye, she was, although how you would know that escapes me. Everyone at the SGC knew she was brilliant. Tops in her field, creative, inventive. Her work on hyper-drives was ground breaking.”

“All of that, yep. And I know she was sweet and good natured because I used to talk to her.”

Rush stares at him bewildered, although, yes, he knew of several times it had occurred. “Whatever for? Were you trying to collect her as you collected your other pet scientists?”

Telford shrugs again. “I didn’t find her particularly collectible, as you call it. But she was very helpful to me.”

He bristles at that. “About what? Were you pumping her for secrets to give to Kiva?”

“Not initially. Later, after Kiva got her claws in me, yeah, I tried. Got nowhere. But she was helpful to me about you.”

That he wasn’t expecting to hear.

“What about?” he says cautiously.

“I’d noticed you were good friends and I wanted to know more about you. Now you, I was trying to collect. For personal reasons, as you guessed. Everett told me it finally dawned on you that I was interested in getting you into bed.”

He can’t think of a thing to say to that. It was one thing to suspect, and another to know for certain.

Telford holds his hands out in an open gesture. “You blew up at me, remember? It seemed like an overreaction, so I asked Amanda about you. She told me that you’d just lost your wife. I was only looking for some fun with you, and knowing you were grieving I decided to give up my Starbucks campaign to seduce you into letting me fuck you. Or you fuck me. I’m an equal opportunity kind of guy. I could tell she had strong feelings for you, not that you ever seemed to notice.”

“Why me?” he wonders aloud, and then wishes he’d kept his mouth shut as Telford gives him a smirk.

“Why was I interested or why was she? Probably she valued you for yourself; I was more shallow. You’re cute, Nick, and smart and a smart ass. That combination just clicks for me.”

He makes a strangled sound. He bloody well abhors being thought of as cute.

Telford chuckles. “Oh, even after I gave up on getting you into bed, if you hadn’t been such a pain in the ass, I’d have kept trying to get you to be – what did you call them, the scientists who are loyal to me? Pets? They aren’t, you know. Pets imply a master and my relationship with certain scientists is more along, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

Rush glares at him. “They all but wag their tail for you.”

Telford straightens and glares right back at him. “Wow. That was cold, Rush. And I think you know the difference between actually being someone’s pet and having a friend looking out for your interests, just like they look out for yours. Kiva taught you all about being her pet.”

Rush shut down his monitor. Bloody Telford, damn him for bringing up the truth. He had been Kiva’s pet and he’d have done more than wag his tail to keep her from hurting him anymore.

He tries to push past Telford, but the man catches his arm. “Crap. Look, that was out of line, and I’m sorry. I came here to give you my condolences, not to give you shit about Kiva.”

“Let go.” Telford is a big man, strong. He can feel panic wanting to rise up, and sweat breaks out on his skin.

Telford sighs and mutters something under his breath that Rush can’t decipher. He says, more clearly, “I will, but I don’t want us leaving on worse terms than when I came in. I owe you. I’m not trying to bug you.”

“And yet. . .” he sneers. He’ll be damned if he lets himself show fear.

“You make it hard not to jab back when you poke at me. Look, can’t we start over? When I met you, I genuinely liked you. I admire a lot of things about you, always have. You’re a lot of work, but if Everett can make a friend of you, there’s hope for you and me.” Telford lets go then, backs out into the corridor. “Consider it, okay? I’m part of this crew too, now. We may be on this ship for years, might as well get along.”

He leans against the wall, studies Telford, and feels the panic draining away, leaving him feeling both jittery and tired. Does he want something from Rush, other than to not owe him anymore? It seems unlikely. Nicholas Rush is persona non grata with Homeworld Command. Telford has more influence with Colonel Young than Rush will ever have, since they’re old friends. There’s no one he can think of that Telford might want him to put in a good word for him. He’s always been cosy with Camile, no need there for his help.

Well, then. Why not ask?

“What is it you want from me?” He looks up at Telford.

Telford spreads his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “I want you to know that I’m sorry for Amanda Perry’s death. I know she meant a lot to you, and I liked her, too. Maybe I just wanted to share that with someone who cared for her.”

“How do I know you’re being sincere?”

Telford rolls his eyes. “Can’t help you there, cowboy. You either trust I’m being honest, or you don’t. I’ll say it again, Nick. I liked you once. Be nice if we could get along. And I owe you. You saved my life, twice. That means something to me.”

“This isn’t another attempt to collect me?”

Telford’s lips curve into another bloody grin. “You’re too ornery and unpredictable for that. Besides, there’s no damn coffee on board to bribe you with.”

He laughs at that, surprising himself. “Ah, well. I’ll think on it. Good night, Colonel.”

“Before you go, I brought you something.” He steps further back into the corridor and returns before Rush has hardly gotten clear of the door.

“I noticed you didn’t drink anything tonight. So I brought you this. For Amanda. Let’s toast to her memory.” He hands Rush one of the metal mugs that serve as bar glasses and clinks his own against it.

“To Dr. Perry. She was one of the good ones.”

“Aye. To Mandy.” He throws down the moonshine in one long swallow and Telford does the same.

“C’mon. We both need sleep,” and Telford takes the empty mug from his hand.

Thank fuck Telford has the sense to keep quiet as they head to their sleeping quarters. He gives a nod to Rush when they part ways, and Rush nods back.

He’ll think about what Telford said.

* * *

Mandy’s memorial was held a week after her death. Camille had asked him if he wanted to attend the ceremony on Earth.

He never liked attending memorials, and if he went he couldn’t say who he really was to Mandy’s few relatives. He recalled some cousins, and an elderly great aunt she’d mentioned.

Telford makes a point of telling him that if he uses the stones to go, he can expect to have to answer to the IOP, and if there was anyone they were willing to experiment with for permanent body exchange, it’s him.

He stays on board, and the robot cuts free the disabled engine the next day.

Nothing happens. The FTL simply doesn’t engage. The chatter about the problem amongst the Science Team irritates him to no end, so he takes himself off to see Chloe and lay out their difficulties for her.

The girl is pale, and here and there on her skin he can see where the cells are mutating into blue patches. She’s staring at the wall covered in equations from earlier problems he’s given her to work when he comes inside her cell.

There’s something uncanny about her eyes when she turns to look at him. An alien look that she blinks away when she recognizes him.

“Doc. There’s a problem with the FTL, isn’t there? Matt told me the damaged drive was cast off, and that was hours ago. We should have jumped already.”

“Aye, we tried. We’re looking into the code, as we’ve deduced that’s the difficulty. Eli thinks that the bloody ship has made this into one of his useless games that we’ll be forced to play.” He waves his hands, annoyed all over again. “Solve a series of math problems before being allowed to engage the drives.” He gets out his small battered notebook from his back pocket and flips it open.

“Like the challenges in the game you devised that Eli figured out back on Earth.” Chloe watches as he begins chalking out equations on a different section of her cell walls. He’s already given her his work on how to plot a course for Destiny, and stopping the fuckin’ clock, and he sees she’s about where he is on the solutions.

“Yes, yes, like what I was forced to devise for the SGC to scout for talent. Blasted riddles.” He slides the notebook back into his jeans pocket.

Chloe looks thoughtfully at the new equations. “The Ancients liked riddles. On Atlantis, they were always protecting areas or research that way. And didn’t SG1 have to pass tests in order to get into Merlin’s stash?”

“Aye. So we’re being tested, that’s your theory, too?”

Chloe tucks her long loose hair behind an ear. “The ship learned all about you, didn’t it, when you sat in the chair? It could have gotten the whole testing thing from you. Or since it was designed by Ancients, and we altered the default settings with the FTL, this is the ship’s way of examining us to see if we’re worthy of being here? What about the mission, you told me that needs deciphering too?”

He sighs. “Bloody Ancients. Ah, well, maybe it’s both. See what you can make of this, lass. I’m off to do the same.”

She smiles at him. “You’re going off to your math workspace, aren’t you?”

“Between Brody and Volker and Park and Eli and Ginn chattering like a troop of monkeys, I can’t get a thing done on the Bridge.”

“Don’t forget your radio,” she teases, and he wishes with all his heart that the Nakai had not violated her with their DNA. Bad enough the kidnapping and torture they’d endured, but to know that he was losing her to them?

There’s nothing he can do for her, except what he’s been doing. Give her the work. They’ve changed her, the bastards, but she can use what they’d done, help the crew, help herself, maybe.

If nothing else, he’s given her the mathematics to keep her mind off her fate.

Chloe wouldn’t want his pity. He shoves down his feelings, as he’s done so many times, and projects the exasperation he knows she’s expecting.

“Yes, yes. You’re starting to sound like Colonel Young,” he complains, but he pats his side to make sure he does have the ruddy thing, and takes her leave for his math corridor. He’s never calling it his ‘Hall of Mighty Math.’”

* * *

He stares at the equations he’d scrawled on the wall, hand tucked under his chin, gently tapping it, his thoughts on the math having a thousand percent of his attention. He was aware of where he was, but not of time passing. Sometimes, he would take the chalk and scrawl more problems onto the wall, or fill in blanks as answers came to him.

“Nicholas,” a voice says, and he understands that his name has been repeated for quite some time now. “Nicholas, darling.”

Gloria stands at his side, hair up in an elegant twist, wearing the expensive clothing she donned for formal affairs her position in the symphony required her to attend.

She looks cool and detached, but her voice is warm. “Nicholas,” she repeats.

He feels disoriented, leaving that mental space where creativity flows and intuition flowers. “What is it, love?” he says.

“Nicholas, you’re needed.”

“What?” It’s the AI, he tells himself. Only the AI. Not his wife, not his love.

“You forgot to charge your radio. Colonel Young is trying to reach you.”

“Why, what’s happening?”

Gloria shimmers, seems to change from the image of his wife, although her features are the same. “The Nakai are coming. Tell Colonel Young if someone is directly connected with Destiny through the Neural Interface Chair, they can control the FTL. Whoever does so, though, will risk what Dr. Franklin did.”

“Are you stopping us from jumping? Testing us?” he asks sharply. “Gloria, answer me!”

“Destiny requires data. You are not Ancients, although you, Nicholas, are their distant child. Destiny was designed for Ancients to lead the mission. There are no Ancients who have survived, so Destiny must decide to share the mission or not with this human crew.”

“You’re testing us? With the Nakai? You’re gonna force someone to sit in the chair, like Franklin did? Going to convert his body, entwine it with your circuits?” He feels shocked, although he shouldn’t. Blast the Ancients. Ascended or extinct, still making him dance to their tune through the AI they’d programmed.

“Many rivers flow to the sea.” She disappears just as Greer comes running around the corner.

“Doc! Move your ass, man, cause we got trouble!”

* * *

Chapter Text

Rush hustles onto the Bridge like his feet are on fire, and Everett beckons him close to where he’s conferring with Eli at the long range sensors station.

The man is panting, sweat dotting his hairline. He catches Everett’s eye and Everett feels something loosen inside of him. This is bad, the Nakai popping up finally, just like in his damned dreams, but Rush is with him. Rush is on his side; it’s plainly written in his expression and in his eyes. He feels hope breaking through the depression that’s been dragging him down.

His chief scientist is a conniving, creative genius, no matter how he protests that it’s Eli who’s the genius, not him. Rush will come up with something to save their asses.

“Eli,” Rush snaps. “How long do we have?”

Eli comes out of whatever math trance he’d put himself into. “Thirty hours, possibly more if they drop their speed.”

“What if they go back into FTL? They could appear right next to us!” Everett throws out, but Rush just shakes his head.

“No, no. They wouldn’t.”

He needs a better answer than that from Rush but just then Greer dashes into the room; even from a distance Everett catches the eye roll he gives when he sees Rush standing there, next to him and Eli. He’s out of breath and just points to Rush.

“I see you left Greer in the dust,” Everett mutters, amused despite the seriousness of their situation. Maybe he’s just becoming inured to the danger living on this ship invites. Another way for them all to perish? Must be a day that ends in ‘Y.’

“Did I?” Rush says, distracted, motioning towards the corridor. “Colonel, we need to talk. I know how we can restart Destiny’s FTL.”

* * *

The lights are dimmer in the corridor, but not so dim that he can’t see every expression on Rush’s stubbled face. Everett listens as Rush outlines their options and feels a sense of resigned peace when he understands that if he sits in the chair and orders the FTL to work, they’ll escape and be safe. He’ll be like Franklin, disembodied, but his little girl will be safe, the crew will be safe, and David will finally have what he’s wanted for so long.

Rush stops speaking and narrows his eyes at him. “Colonel,” he says, a warning in his voice. “That would be a last choice and don’t think you’ll be sitting in the chair. We need you here, not wandering like a damn ghost through the ship’s circuits.”

“I wouldn’t ask someone else to give up their life,” Everett firmly tells him. “David can take over for me.”

“No!” Rush insists. “You’ll not give in to your damn suicidal impulses. Hell, Telford can do it.”

“Rush.” The soothing quality of his tone surprises Everett. Is he actually trying to comfort this man? Well, seems he is.

“Or Volker could.”

That cuts short the tender feelings that had escaped him. He snorts instead. “Nick, cut it out. And you need Volker, stop being an ass about him.”

“I need you.”

The look on Rush’s face after he utters that? Everett doesn’t have the words to describe all the emotions that flash across his chief scientist’s face.

“Didn’t know you were going to say that, did you?” he says gently, because right now Rush looks stricken and poised to run.

Rush only shakes his head.

“Do you mean it?” He thinks it only fair to let Rush have the opportunity to take it back.

Rush narrows his eyes at him again. “Yes. I’m not going to make it easy on you to leave us, Colonel. I do need you and so does your wee lass and her mother and all of the crew.”

“What about the greater good?”

A stubborn look settles on Rush’s face. “Yes, well, but it doesn’t have to be you! And it’s not going to come to that, because we’re going to find a way around using the chair. We’ll solve the blasted problems Destiny has set for us to do.”

He starts to pace, and in a tone of voice that sounds pre-Kiva, demands. “I want Eli, Chloe, Park, Ginn, and yes, Volker, and we’re going to solve these damn obstacles. Also, let’s bring in the talent from Earth. Not Teleford’s people though. I want the best from the program.”

“I can’t let Chloe out of her cell.”

Rush throws his hands up a little and snaps, “Fine, we’ll work from there.”

“Get started then. I’ll have Camile use the stones, see who she can bring on board.”

Rush steps past him, but Everett holds him in place by a grip on his bicep. “Wait. Explain why the Nakai won’t use FTL to jump closer to us.”

Rush stares at him and then taps the side of his head, and Everett remembers the communication device Rush had motioned for him to put to his temple when he was in the body of one of the Nakai. “I took in a great deal about the Nakai and their systems when you switched back to your own flesh and blood. They won’t jump.”

“That’s not a good enough answer.”

Rush’s eyes flash. “We’re wasting time. Trust me, their ships’ drives won’t allow it. I could explain the physics of it, but you’d still not understand and we’ve got a deadline.”

He lets go and Rush marches himself onto the Bridge. If Rush is wrong Everett will sit in the chair because the Nakai are not going to board this ship. His daughter is not going to end up a Nakai-human hybrid. Chloe’s father gave up his life to save her; Everett knows he would do the same thing, and in a heartbeat.

A gaggle of chattering scientists push past him, his chief scientist herding them into the corridor. Rush turns and gives him a hard stare, walking backwards, then goes on his way, his team with him.

Everett radios Camile, explains what Rush needs from Earth. He steps inside the Bridge and pulls Brody aside from where Rush has left him minding the ship and lets him know that if the Nakai are within firing or boarding distance, he’s to ignore Rush’s orders and ready the chair for Everett, and only Everett, to sit in it.

* * *

Camile scores by getting both Carter and McKay to join the whiz kids for the next twenty-four hours. It’s all the time the two can spare. He checks in on the scientists. Only Eli, Chloe, McKay, and Volker are in Chloe’s room. Rush took Ginn and Park and Carter down to the math corridor, Eli tells him, because they were falling over each other in Chloe’s room. McKay, who traded with Becker, gives him a distracted wave and returns to chalking symbols high on the wall. It must be strange for McKay, who was tall enough in his own body, to be even taller in Becker’s giant frame.

Eli rolls his eyes in McKay’s direction. In a low voice, he says, “He argued that he counted for two when we divided up, but the rest of us told him he was full of it. You know, Rush looks actually humble compared to McKay’s ego.”

“Rodney McKay does deliver, though,” Everett points out, equally quietly. “Believe it or not, he was more arrogant before he went to the Pegasus galaxy. Being on a team with Shepard mellowed him out, I’ve heard.”

“We’ve got bets on which team figures the four problems out first,” Eli says, projecting so everyone in the room hears him. “One bet per problem, of course.”

“And if your teams wins, what do you get?” Everett asks, skeptical that Rush agreed to go along with this.

“For one bet, all the music from Rush’s Ipod, which he never has shared with any of us,” Chloe says, looking mischievous. It’s a relief to see her this way, working with the others as if the genetic changes they all can see don’t matter. “If we win the second one, he has to dance with each of us for a whole song. And we get to pick what kind of dancing and the song. I haven’t decided between a waltz or swing dancing.”

Everett raises an eyebrow.

Chloe smiles angelically at him. “I don’t think Doctor Rush was paying attention to that part of the deal, actually, but we’ve got witnesses that he agreed.”

Volker shrugs his shoulders when Everett looks at him. “What? I was thinking of doing the Limbo.”

“Okay. I’ll leave you guys to it. Keep me informed of your progress.”

He strides out and goes to check on Team Rush’s progress. If they pull this off, the crew deserves a hell of a party.

Carter looks up from where she and Ginn are discussing something about complex numbers. James switched with her, and Carter distractedly tucks James’ long black hair behind her ear. “Colonel,” she says acknowledging his presence.

“Colonel,” he says back. “Glad the George Hammond could spare its commander for a day.”

“Happy to help, Everett.” Her eyes flick over to where Rush is staring at the wall covered with math symbols. He moves quickly and fills in a blank area, than steps back and closes his eyes. “He’s close to solving that one.”

Everett watches, fascinated, as Rush opens his eyes and decisively adds another symbol that looks vaguely familiar to Everett. He nods his head, and turns to Carter, starts a little as he sees Everett standing there. “Colonel Carter, please check my math.”

“Sure,”and Carter walks over obligingly. Rush confers with her in low tones, then jogs away as Carter starts chalking out the proof in a bare section of nearby wall.

He looks over the work Ginn is doing, then Park’s calculations. His murmuring is too low for Everett to hear, but Park erases some of her work and rechalks it. He gives her an encouraging pat on the shoulder and stretches before joining Everett.

“God, I wish I had some coffee,” he tells Everett. “I’m off to take a quick lap around the ship, recharge my brain. Then I want to see how Eli’s group is doing.”

“Have you eaten?”

Rush shakes his head. “No,”

“Have they?” Everett nods his head toward the women working on the walls.

“Yes, they stopped at the Mess after we separated into teams. I came here, got to work.” Rush shifts from foot to foot, obviously feeling wound up.

“Okay,” Everett says. “Take your run and then meet me at my quarters. I’ll have some sandwiches or something for you. Can’t get you coffee, but I’ll have some of that awful tea you like.”

“You don’t have to, Colonel. I’m no starving.“

“I want to, and you do need to eat. I think we’ve established you don’t do well when you’re hungry and exhausted. Remember your ten hour nap after you passed out?”

Everett smirks at him, but actually, it was one of the first times that he’d looked at Rush as something more than a pain in his ass. The slight, brilliant loner whose earlier attempts to butter up the brass by stamping down his natural arrogance into something actually cringe worthy when you watched him was someone he was also responsible for, on this dark, derelict ship they’d found themselves stranded on. Someone who had vulnerabilities, even if he tried his damnedest not to show any of them.

Rush scowls at the reference to his spectacular collapse. “You’re never going to let that go, are you?”

“Not planning on it. It was pretty enlightening to realize you were actually human after all.” He grins more companionably at Rush, and really, he gets such a kick out of teasing the guy. Rush’s look of exasperation at him is pure gold.

Everett just keeps on smiling, and it’s not even a grin anymore, it’s an honest smile, because he likes this man. Difficult genius, hardworking and driven, he’s missed their chess games, placed on hiatus till the FTL is fixed. Maybe if he does end up sort of dying in the chair, he can still play chess with the guy when Everett’s joined up with Destiny.

* * *


The radio wakes him. “Colonel Young, this is Barnes. Come in. We’ve got a situation on our hands.”

Thank God he hadn’t fallen into temptation last night, had left the moonshine alone. The only slur in his voice as he answers Barnes is from the hold sleep still has on him.

Her news finishes yanking him totally awake.

Rolling out of bed, he orders her to get Rush to the stones room ASAP, even if it means telling Greer to break into his room and yank the man out of bed.

* * *

”Okay, Corporal,” Everett tells Barnes. “Go over what happened again.” They’re in the dimly lit stones room, and the only sign that Barnes is even remotely disturbed is the slightest widening of her dark eyes from their normal, ‘I don’t take any crap, so don’t even bother’ look.

“Yes, sir,” she snaps out. “Per the standing orders, we had a volunteer ready to swap with anyone trying to make contact from Earth. Camile took Airman Kelley’s place, who was on the scheduled rotation, because of the situation with the Nakai.”

Camile, who looks shaken, but determined, adds, “That’s correct. I wanted to keep the IOA informed as well as Homeworld Command.”

If she’d been military, he would have dressed her down for interrupting a status report, but she’s a civilian and he makes allowances for them. “That’s fine, Camile. Let the Corporal give her report, then I want to hear how things seemed to you.” Nodding towards Barnes, he says, “Continue.”

“Camile initialized the stones and was just sitting quietly. After about an hour and a half, she dozed off. I didn’t see any reason not to let her sleep, so I didn’t wake her up.” She shrugs. “She’s a civilian, sir.”

Everett understands the unspoken rest of Barne’s observation. If it had been one of the military ready to switch on the stones, Barnes would have kicked them awake.

He gestures with a slight movement of his right hand for her to continue.

Barnes looks at Camile. “She hadn’t been in maybe light sleep for more than a minute or two, when her eyes popped open. She sat up straighter in the chair and looked around, like she wasn’t sure where she was. I figured she was just a little out of it because of falling asleep, but then she looked at me and said, ‘Corporal Barnes? I’m on Destiny?’ I said, ‘Yeah, are you Camile or are you from Earth?’”

Camile breaks in. “It wasn’t me, Colonel, but I hadn’t switched with anybody at Homeworld Command. I remember feeling sleepy, but that’s it.”

Barnes continues in her matter of fact tone. “She said, ‘I’m Dr. Perry. What happened? I had switched with Ginn.’ She looked in that mirror,” and Barnes points at the small mirror that stays on the table so people who swap can see what they look like, “and she said, ‘I’m in Camile’s body now? I don’t remember exchanging with her. What about the damaged engine?’”

Everett hears a small sound escape from Camile and turns to look at her. Her eyes look bewildered. “Colonel Young? What’s happening? I must have blacked out for a moment. Where’s Nick? Oh, there he is.”

Everyone in the room glances to the door as the man in question runs into the room. His hair is tousled and the black jacket that Everett had given him is only partly buttoned up, hanging too loose on his thin shoulders, exposing most of his chest. He’s not wearing a T-shirt, and his pants are the loose yoga type ones he’d worn after Kiva had destroyed his own clothes, before they took back the ship. His feet are bare.

The woman who is using Camile’s body smiles in relief at the sight of him. “Nick, something’s not right. I’m loosing time, apparently. Weren’t we in Ginn’s quarters?”

Rush’s eyes are huge as he steps forward and takes Camile’s hand. He seems unable to speak, so Everett asks the question for him.

“Please identify yourself.” He reaches out and puts a hand on Rush’s shoulder. He knows what Barnes told him over the radio; he’s not sure if Barnes or Greer had told Rush the same thing.

“I’m Dr. Amanda Perry. Nick?”

Rush gives out a heartbroken sob. “Mandy?” Everett tightens his hand on Rush’s shoulder.

“Yes, it’s me. I don’t know when I switched with Camile. What’s the matter?”

She looks bewildered again and Everett can empathize. He looks into Rush’s face, sees the tears starting to flood his eyes, sees how he’s fighting against releasing them. “Corporal, outside. Wait in the corridor.”

Barnes looks relieved at that order, in her own deadpan way. “Yes, sir.” She scoots out the door in record time, jabbing at the controls to close it and give them privacy.

Rush brings Camile’s hand up to his lips, kisses it and he’s crying now, the tears having won that battle. It would be beyond cruel to let him be the one to tell Amanda Perry that she was dead. Or at least that her body had died. This is his job to do.

“Dr. Perry,” he begins. “I want you to brace yourself.” She looks up at him where she’s still seated at the small table. “There was a choking accident when you were switched with Ginn. It triggered a heart attack. We thought you had transferred back into your body. Amanda, we all thought you had died.”

The shocked look on Camile’s face gives way to one of utter desolation. “I’m, I’m dead? No, no, no, no, no!”

“There was a memorial on Earth. It’s been over a week since the accident. I’m very sorry, Dr. Perry. I’m guessing your consciousness did not return to your body, although Ginn’s returned to hers.” He sees Dr. Perry’s hand tighten around Rush’s fingers. He continued, “Camile had initialized one of the stones; she was waiting to swap with someone from Homeworld Command, and she dozed off. Then you made your first appearance and told Barnes who you were. Then Camile came back and you were gone, We talked with Camile, then you took over again.”

Rush lets go of Dr. Perry and wipes his eyes with both hands, and says, raggedly, “You’re sharing Camile’s body, Amanda. There’s a lot we don’t understand about the stones. Camile’s mind had let down her defenses when she fell asleep, perhaps, and you were able to engage. We don’t know for how long your consciousness will be able to be here or if you can keep sharing Camile’s body. Can you hear Camile? Feel her at all?”

Dr. Perry had been at Stargate Command a long time. She seemed to be taking in the news of her demise and current status better than most people would, Everett thought, probably due to her exposure with the weird crap that happened all the time with the different teams.

She took a deep breath. “I don’t hear or feel Camile. So, my consciousness might have suppressed hers?”

Rush nods, and a fresh batch of tears escape. She touches his wet cheek, and takes a deep breath, steels herself. “Nick, don’t cry. I’ve known since I woke up from my accident that my body was going to give out someday from my injuries. I’ve been living on borrowed time for decades. I don’t want to die, of course. But I don’t want to take Camile’s life away from her. I’m not going to be some kind of parasite. I’m going to try and let Camile come back. Then you should disconnect the stone.” Voice breaking, she adds, “That should end this.”

“No, I no want to lose you again!” Rush pulls her up out of the chair and hugs her tightly. Everett lets go of his grip on the man.

She hugs him back, and then kisses him gently on the lips. “I want you to take care of yourself, Nicholas Rush. Don’t keep turning away friendship when it’s offered to you, okay?”

He nods against her. She closes her eyes and after a moment her expression slackens. Then her eyes open up and she startles to find herself wrapped in Rush’s arms.

“Camile?” Everett asks and is not surprised when she nods. She pats Rush on the back and gently pushes back from him, gaining back her personal space.

“Yes, it’s Camile Wray. Colonel, did Dr. Perry come back again?”

“Yes.” He quietly picks up the stone and sets it back on the base. “Camile, I want someone to be with you at all times, at least for the next few days. Dr. Perry thought wiping the stone would stop her from taking over your body again, but really, we don’t know if that will work or not.”

Camile sits down in the chair heavily, then looks up at Rush. “Nicholas, I’m so very sorry.”

He nods, and then steps toward the door. He stops before hitting the controls, and scrubs at his eyes and cheeks. “Colonel,” he says, his voice rough with tears.

“I’ll let you know if Dr. Perry returns, Nick. Go back and get some sleep.”

Rush shakes his head. “I can’t sleep, not now. I’ll join the others working on Destiny’s math puzzles. We’ve been sleeping in shifts, so I’ll let one of the others get some rest.”

“Okay. Okay, Nick. I’ll come by later, see how things are going.” He feels an enormous wave of sympathy for the man, who looks tired, and drained, and more than a little lost. “I’ll bring you some tea.”

Rush gives him a sad little smile at that, and nods.

He’s out the door, then, and Everett makes a call to TJ. For now, he wants Camile to be checked out head to toe, and to stay in the infirmary. TJ can let him know if Dr. Perry makes another reappearance.

* * *

Everett decides he’ll make good on his promise of delivering tea to not only Rush, but to all of the exhausted scientists working in Chloe’s room and the math corridor. He also stirs up some protein mush and throws in pretty much the last of the dried fruit he and Rush had picked on that one planet into the unappetizing mess. Gathering bowls and cups and spoons and a tray, he thinks about the little expedition to the fruit trees and the panic attack that he’d helped Rush avert.

Rush is counting on him to do that again, to keep the guy grounded as another panic attack tries to take him down.

He might not be able to keep his promise to help Rush get over his terror of coming near the Mess. They are running out of time and only one of the four problems has been solved. It’s looking more likely that he’ll have to sit in the chair and give Destiny the order to go into FTL.

Eli is asleep on the bed when Everett hands out the pitiful snack he brought to Chloe’s room, but even though Everett was quiet something must have disturbed the young man because he sits up in bed abruptly and mumbles, “Lambda.”

Chloe laughs. “He must have been dreaming about what dance to pick if we win the bet on that problem.” She points to the symbols and numbers scrawled on the wall, the one Volker is staring at intensely. He looks exhausted and his usually neat grooming has gone out the window, with his bedhead hair and his shirt untucked from his pants.

Eli slurs out, “Lambdas dancing the Lambada.” His eyes are open but sleep fogged. Everett dismisses what he’s saying as just sleepy nonsense, but Volker suddenly chalks new symbols into the equation.

“Holy Crap!” Volker slides out, sounding hopeful and a bit amazed. He waves McKay over. “McKay, you’re better than I am, see if using the Dirichlet Lambda function here,” he points to where he’d put in the new symbols, “brings us through this step.”

McKay trots over and waves Volker out of his way. “Yes!!” he crows as he starts to rapidly add more and more math symbols and numbers. “Wake up Wonder Boy over there. I think he’s just pulled a Benzene dream out of his as- uh, subconscious.“

Eli had flopped back down and was breathing deeply and slowly. Volker shakes him awake, and Chloe joins McKay. When McKay pauses, crosses his arms and glares at the problem, Chloe takes the chalk from him and as if in a trance, her eyes focused on something beyond this ship, finishes McKay’s equation.

Volker and Eli stand behind Chloe; everyone in the room watches her work. No one is talking. It’s eerie, the way she’s smoothly finishing the problem as easily as Everett could use calculus to figure a fighter jet’s trajectory.

Volker’s radio cackles and he steps away to answer it. Eli scrubs at his face, and when Chloe finally steps back from the problem, he puts an arm around her and hugs her. The touch seems to bring her back from whatever Math planet she’d been on, and she looks a bit surprised to see a stick of homemade chalk in her hand. McKay snatches it from her and mutters, “I’ll do the proof, but this is right, I can feel it.” He starts on the nearby section of gray wall, and soon symbols are covering the surface.

“Congratulations,” Volker calls to the group, from where he’s stepped away with the radio. “And Carter and Ginn got the third problem.”

Eli yawns. “Three down, one to go. And hey! We rock! And we won this bet. Way to go, Math Team. Man, wait till Rush realizes he’s gonna have to make good on dancing. I’m gonna film it with the kinos and enjoy it to the end of my days. Which hopefully won’t be tomorrow.”

Volker claps Eli on the back. “And all thanks to you and your dream.”

“Huh?” Eli turns around, yawns again. “What dream?”

Volker raises his eyebrows in surprise, “You don’t remember? You woke up and said the Lambdas were dancing the Lambada. When you took your nap, we were all stuck on the problem. I put in the function when you said that, and it all fell into place after that. Just like Kekule and his dream of a snake biting its own tail.” Volker looks at Everett, and says, probably figuring that a military guy wouldn’t know what he was talking about, “Kekule had been working on the carbon structure of Benzene. His dream made him realize that rings of carbon comprised Benzene.” Everett knew the story, though.

Eli shakes his head. “Some people think he just made that up.”

Chloe says, “I heard that a brilliant mathematician from India in the early 1900s, someone who hadn’t had much formal training, used to wake up with solutions to his problems. I don’t remember his name, though.”

“Srinivasa Ramanujan,” McKay throws out. “His work was brilliant, visionary, really. Before he died of T.B- what an appalling waste of a genius -- he left some enigmas that actually relate to black hole theories. Of course, nobody in his time or for decades after that, understood how that could be applied.”

McKay looks at Becker’s watch, and then announces. “Sorry, group. My time is up. Good luck on figuring out the last problem, since Carter and I need to go. You’re going to need it, without us around.”

Everett hides a smile at the irked expressions on the other three. “McKay, you’re with me.” He picks up the tray with the snacks and tea for the other team, and McKay follows him to the door.

“Bye, Rodney,” Eli calls out, in a sardonic tone. “We’ll try to carry on without you.”

McKay waves a hand as he walks away, acknowledging Eli’s comment without turning around. Probably, Everett guesses, he never even noticed Eli was being sarcastic.

* * *

TJ radios him after he’s delivered the goodies to Rush’s team and has collected Colonel Carter and walked both McKay and her back to the stones’ room, thanking both of them for their assistance. They had replaced their stones on the device, and Becker and James return to their own bodies. He gives them permission to rest, but upon hearing that the Nakai will be upon them in the next few hours, they ask instead for orders.

He sends them to see Matthew and Telford, who have been running drills with the military to repel the Nakai if they board. He’ll join them, but first, he wants to see his baby girl. There will not be time later, if they are invaded by the blue aliens.

The message from TJ has him changing course for the Infirmary. When he arrives, he can tell it’s Dr. Perry who is using Camile’s short, trim body. Odd how features that are identical can look so different when another personality is living in that physical space.

“I want to help, Colonel Young,” Dr. Perry’s eyes are pleading with him to not deny her, to force her to stay in the Infirmary “I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but please, let me help Nick and the others solve the problems Destiny has given them.”

He glances at TJ. She looks exhausted, but she shrugs with a little smile. “She’s medically cleared, and Camile had said if Dr. Perry took over again, that we should ask if she’d help with the math problems Destiny gave us.”

“Okay,” he says. “Dr. Perry, you can help Rush and the others, but TJ, I want you there, with your kit, in case something goes wrong. I’ll meet you in the Math hall.”

* * *

He joins up with TJ and Dr. Perry in the corridor leading to Rush’s Math haven and escorts them inside it. Dr. Perry hurries over to Rush, and Everett has to shake his head at his younger self, for ever, ever thinking that it was impossible to know what Rush was thinking or feeling, because these days Rush’s body language is crystal clear to him. Or, maybe, Rush has stopped being so guarded when Everett’s around.

At any rate, the painful joy on his face when Dr. Perry says his name makes his own heart clench a little. He catches TJ’s eye and they move off to have a private conversation.

“I want to see Carmen,” he tells her, and it’s understood between them, from the kind and insightful look TJ gives him, that it might be for the last time.

She nods. “Dr. Inman is babysitting in my quarters.” Dr. Inman takes care of Carmen a lot, when TJ has duties. She’s raised four children, all in their twenties, and looks a decade younger than she actually is. Everett’s always wondered about that. Seems to him that anybody who had four teenagers at the same time should look a decade older, not younger. She’s been a good crewmember, working well with Becker to try to make their bland protein slush more favorable. She was only on Icarus for a temporary assignment, to cover while Dr. Cao had an extended leave due to her mother dying of bone cancer, but she’s accepted her fate with more grace than a lot of other crew members.

TJ presses a hand against her chest and a thoughtful look crosses her face. ‘Bring Carmen to me when she starts to fuss. She’s going to want to nurse.”

* * *

He holds his sleeping daughter on his lap and wonders if he’ll love her still if his consciousness is uploaded into Destiny. From what Rush has told him, Dr. Franklin came across as detached, although willing to help Rush with the technical problems he was struggling with when Rush was learning the Bridge systems. Although, Rush did tell him that Dr. Franklin had expressed concern that what he was trying do do was too much for one man. Rush said that Franklin had warned him he was making mistakes out of exhaustion.

Dr. Franklin hadn’t appeared for a while now. Rush gathered from their last conversation that their old crewmember was engaged in a research project of his own, although he’d hinted to Rush it was something that he’d find very interesting.

Franklin and Rush had worked together fairly well, Everett thought. Rush had been quite confident of the man’s abilities, but Franklin had seemed envious of Rush’s talents to Everett.

After rethinking things through, Everett had changed his mind, and now believes Rush hadn’t manipulated Franklin into sitting in the chair first. He thinks now that it’s likely that Franklin had been trying to steal Rush’s thunder by jumping the gun and sitting in the chair without the proper safeguards Rush and Brody had been working on. Still, the man had saved them from the Nakai by volunteering to sit in the chair, sparing Everett from doing it. Looks like his reprieve was up, though. He glances at his watch. Almost seven am, and by Eli’s calculation they had three hours left before the Nakai would be within firing range.

Maybe the shields will protect them for a while after the Nakai start bombarding them, but they wouldn’t have much time before the decision to sit in the chair had to be made.

He rocks his daughter and whispers to her promises he may never keep.

* * *


When Everett walks into the Math corridor, Carmen stretches her arms out to TJ, and her grumbling baby protests change gear into an outraged wail. TJ rolls her eyes and smiles at their child’s dramatics, takes her and walks her around the hall, soothing their daughter until she’s settled down. She sits down cross-legged on the floor far enough away for the illusion of privacy, as she breastfeeds Carmen.

Rush is talking to Camile. Everett is positive that it is Camile, but as he joins them, there’s a change in Camile’s expression, a frightened vulnerable look as she glances at Rush.

“Nick, what’s happening?” Dr. Perry asks. Rush takes her hand, and God, he looks anxious.

“Camile has agreed, Mandy,” he tells her. “I can make this work. The framework is already there, from Telford’s time in the chair. I just need to do some additional coding, and Brody and Eli can help. Trust me, love. I can make it work, I know I can.”

“Make what work?” Everett asks, practically into Rush’s ear.

Startled is much too tame a word for how Rush reacts. He manages to jump and whirl at the same time and something slides into his hand from under the rolled up cuff of the black uniform jacket he’s wearing.

Everett’s old jacket. You hardly saw Rush without it on. Everett’s hand snaps out and stops Rush from skewering him with what looks like a small screwdriver. Everett had known Rush used to conceal it, back when the Lucians had control of the ship. He hadn’t realized Rush still felt like he had to carry it for protection.

“Take it easy, Nick,” he says, and lets go. Rush tucks the screwdriver back into its hiding place and gives Everett a weary glare.

“And just wha’ are ye doin’ sneaking up like tha’ to me?” Rush demands and his voice is thick with his Scottish accent. It always deepens when Rush is bone tired and caught off guard.

“If you missed me carrying a squalling baby in here, that’s on you, pal. Now, what are you going to make work?” Everett demands, and makes sure his no nonsense tone conveys he expects some answers right the fuck now.

Camile answers. “Dr. Perry is getting weaker. She only can hold on for a few seconds before she’s gone again. Dr. Rush is afraid her – for want of a better term, her signal – is fading out and before long she truly will be lost. He has a solution and I’ve agreed to it.”

He feels irritated, as if the mutiny Rush and Camile cooked up just got a second wind. He tells himself to let it go. That was a long time ago; they’ve all put it behind them, and now they work as a team under his leadership.

His inner cynic gives a snort at that. Some leadership. Well, there’s always David to take over, if he gives himself up to Destiny.

“Colonel,” and damn if the wheedling tone to Rush’s voice doesn’t make every dormant suspicious bone in his body wake up. “We can use the chair to separate out Mandy’s consciousness and upload it to Destiny. I can make it work, I promise.”

Maybe he acts the way he does because he’s bone tired himself, because he blurts, “And what assurance do we have that you won’t upload Camile’s consciousness instead and blame Destiny?”

Rush stiffens in outrage. “You bloody bastard!” he says, and every syllable is snapped out like a pencil breaking in two. “You God damned bastard! I wouldn’t do that, but have it your way. Eli can check my coding. You do still at least trust him, don’t you?”

Abruptly his sour mood evaporates. “Nick, I’m sorry. That was out of line. Is this truly the only way to save Dr. Perry?”

“Yes,” and it’s Dr. Perry’s voice faltering. “Although it might not work at all. But please-”

Camile straightens up. “Colonel, I know the risks, and I’m willing.”

“All right. But let’s not lose sight of our priorities here. The Nakai will be upon us in about two hours. How’s that last problem coming? “

“Ask Eli’s team,” Rush mutters. “But it’s not solved, not yet.”

“Nick, I need you to focus on the math problem. Greater good, remember? Everyone on this ship is counting on you to figure this out.” He puts a hand on Rush’s shoulder, squeezes the tight muscle before letting him go.“You’ve got an hour and a half, then I’m going with Plan B. After we’ve jumped to safety, you and Eli can program the chair to separate out Dr. Perry and Camile.”

Rush gives him a wild, frustrated look. “You are not sitting in that chair, Colonel!”

“Then, genius, you’d better get to work. I’ll be in my quarters.” Maybe it was cowardly and selfish to want to spend his last hours alone without having to console friends and crew for his eminent loss, but he wants this time, needs this time to make sure he’s composed before taking his last walk through the ship. He doubts that there will be any last minute reprieve thanks to the Science Team. He tells himself that this will be better for the crew. Telford will be in charge, and he’s a good officer, a good man. He’s not likely to binge himself into drunken unconsciousness so he can go to sleep without the ghosts of his dead and the weight of his failures holding him back.

He walks away from this half of the Science Team, after wishing them good luck on their race to the solution. From the expressions on Park’s and Ginn’s faces, they don’t have much confidence they’ll beat the time constraint. Park hugs him, and Ginn kisses his cheek. They know what he’s going to have to do, when the clock runs out.

TJ is still sitting on the floor, Carmen over her shoulder as she pats the baby’s back. He doesn’t say anything to her, can’t, and really, wasn’t that a lot of the reason why their brief affair had died out? Squatting down, he cups the back of Carmen’s head tenderly.

Looking straight at him, TJ bites her lip, then says, “Okay. Okay, Everett.” She’s heard the conversation between Rush and him and Camile and Dr. Perry. She’s a good soldier, and while tears shine in her eyes, she’s not going to try and stop him. Instead, she salutes him. “Yes, sir,” she says, and he hears respect and caring in her tone.

Maybe not love, but then, their time together hadn’t been built on that, had it?

“You’re a good officer, Lieutenant, and a good mother. Take care of our girl.”

“Understood, sir.” Now a few tears are sliding down TJ’s cheek and he could wipe them off tenderly with his fingers, but he’s lost that right. Lost it long before Carmen was born, and TJ wipes her own tears with her free hand.

He stands and walks out, after a last glance at Rush and Camile. Rush notices and crosses his arms over his chest and gives Everett a furious glare. Camile smiles at him, and it’s resigned. He’ll miss her, and that does surprise him.

He radios Telford and Matthew, gives his last orders for them and asks for privacy. His conversation with his old friend is wry and full of understated meanings. He remembers the things David had said to him when he was still under Kiva’s influence, that he was attracted to Everett. If that had been the truth, David had decided to bury it with Everett, so to speak. Maybe once he has no body, he’ll ask David for the truth.

If he even can still communicate with the crew.

He checks in with the Bridge for a status report on the location of the Nakai.

They are coming closer, but Eli’s calculation seems to still be accurate.

He’s tempted to stop by Brody’s still, but he finds the backbone to ignore that craving. Greer falls into step with him, Lord knows how he found him, but he knows, it seems. They don’t say much, just some quiet words. Greer pulls himself to attention once they reach Everett’s quarters, and gives him his best salute. Everett watches him walk away and smiles at his back. Greer will be all right. All the crew will be, when Everett does what he needs to do.

But until then, just like when they thought they were all going to perish in a star, he will spend his final hour alone, writing out his last orders and expressing on paper the things he will not say to the people on board he cares about.

* * *

The knock on his door causes him to glance at his watch. Whoever this is, they’ll have to talk to him on the walk to the Neural Interface Chair. Time is up. He’d turned off his radio on purpose for his last hour as Destiny’s commander.

When the door opens Rush moves into the room. Everett raises his eyebrows. “Did you solve the problem?”
Rush shakes his head and steps close enough to Everett that he has to look up to meet his eyes. The close proximity makes him a little uneasy. “Nick?” he says, and wonders why Rush is here.

“I,” and Rush falls quiet. His eyes search Everett’s and the expression on his face seems conflicted. He says, a wry twist to his lips, “Well, better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and throws his arms around Everett’s neck drawing him down and then his lips are on Everett’s. He’s kissing him and God, he means it, his mouth on Everett’s, his arms tight around his neck.

Then he feels something stabbing into the back of his bicep, right through his T-shirt.

“Fuck,” he whispers, even as his legs turn to jelly and Rush’s embrace changes into shouldering his weight.

He can’t control his arms either, they fall away from Rush’s back and then he’s on his bed, Rush is lifting his legs, stuffing a pillow under his head and pulling off his shoes. He covers him with a blanket and says, “I’m sorry, Everett, but you left me no choice.”

Everett closes his eyes and the anger and annoyance and confusion he feels is being smothered by an unnatural drowsiness, and he wonders what the fuck did Rush give him during that kissing ambush.

Rush kissed him. Rush – Nick? Nicholas? Rush . . . why? What’s he up to, and what’s happening to his ship and crew now?

Lotta, a whole, whole lotta work, he tries to say, but all that he hears is a slurred mumble and then the drug wins this match and he’s out.

* * *

Chapter Text

Rush races through Destiny’s corridors and pushes aside any thoughts on the consequences of what he’s just done to Colonel Young. It wasn’t necessary for the man to sacrifice himself for the greater good, and only sheer pigheadedness prevented the Colonel from seeing that Rush’s plan was the much better option. The fool will sleep off the venom stolen from the Infirmary and wake up – well, to probably want to choke him, but Rush will deal with the Colonel’s anger. He probably won’t choke him to death. Maybe he’ll arrange to avoid the man for a while. He’s not sure what the Colonel will shout about more, being saved or Rush kissing him as a distraction.

He enters the Neural Interface Room and sees that Camile is waiting next to the chair, arms hugging herself protectively. She glances at him, then looks past him. “Where’s the Colonel?” she says sharply.

Ah, yes. “Coming soon. He was waylaid by Lieutenant Scott and Colonel Telford. The Nakai will be in range within moments.” He gestures to the chair and strides over to the monitoring station. The laptop connected to it is on standby, the program to transfer Mandy’s consciousness checked and rechecked, and checked a third time by Eli. As if to punctuate his urgency, the ship rocks with what must be a hit on the shields. “Camile, we’ve no time to wait!”

Camile throws a determined, frightened look at him, then lowers herself into the chair, hands gripping the armrests. She blinks, and Mandy is there, looking at him, the room. “Nick,” she quietly says, “I’m ready.”

“Steady, love,” he says, as he enters the commands that will separate her from Camile. The wrist and ankle restraints snap into place, and Mandy loses consciousness as Destiny connects to her.

The ship shudders again with another hit, and then Mandy appears looking like herself and standing so close that he can’t help but reach out to grasp her hand. It’s still a shock when he feels nothing and the joyous expression on Mandy’s face changes to one he can’t decipher.

“It worked, Nick.” Tears appear in her eyes. “Oh, my God, Nicholas! I didn’t know. Oh, my God!” She looks at him with pity and horror. She whispers, “Kiva was a monster.”

He forces his attention from her to his laptop and his fingers dance over the keys, disengaging Camile from the ship. With a welcome quiver, Destiny jumps to safety.

When he looks back up, Mandy is gone.

* * *

Camile is rightly suspicious when she awakens in the chair and sees only him. “Where exactly is Colonel Young?”

He lifts up his chin in defiance. He had made the right decision; Camile has to see that. “We’ve jumped to safety. Mandy’s consciousness is separated from yours, just as I planned. She’s with the ship and can appear anywhere she likes. Destiny accepted her order to jump, since we fulfilled her requirements that a crew member had to sit in the chair and be uploaded. She never said that the crew member’s body had to be destroyed in the process.”

“Yes, I’m glad to hear the plan worked, but you said Colonel Young had agreed to it.” Her voice rises. “What did you do, Nicholas?”

He shrugs, avoids looking at her eyes. “He’s taking a well earned nap in his quarters. I’ll let you explain the success we’ve had.”

He leaves her standing with hands on hips and an exasperated expression. She’ll be contacting Colonel Telford and it would be best if he avoids the military for now.

Jogging along, he decides that it wouldn’t do to go to his quarters, the observation deck, Chloe’s room, or the math corridor. They’d look for him in those familiar places. He debates where to ride out the next day or so, till tempers cool, and remembers with a rush of emotion another time he had looked for a hiding place.

Yes. He’ll go there. With luck, he might be able to scrounge something to eat as well. Probably both Colonels will think he’s gone to ground somewhere in the unexplored sections of the ship. They won’t think to look in Hydroponics.

He’s been deliberately not thinking about Mandy and that she’s learned in a micro second what he’d been concealing from her for weeks. Or he had. He can’t stop his anguished thoughts any longer. He’d known, of course, that once Mandy was with Destiny she would have access to everything Destiny knew about the Lucian’s takeover, but like children shutting their eyes to make something unwanted disappear, he’d refused to allow himself to think on what that would mean for him.

Knowing what he’d become on that table has scared her away. Destiny would not only have the factual knowledge, the ship would have read his mind and the Lucian’s and the crew’s. Would Destiny have shared that, also? Could Mandy read the crew’s minds, like the ship could? Franklin had never said anything of the sort. But even if Mandy wasn’t given access to what Destiny had learned from eavesdropping on his mind, she would know that despite the torment and humiliation, he’d managed to orgasm. She would know that he’d given in and traded sex for food and water. He disgusted himself, no matter that he’d been drugged and desperate. He should have made himself die instead of cooperating with his own degradation.

No wonder Mandy couldn’t stand to be with him. He wasn’t worthy of her, of being her friend or a lover.

And to think that she had once been attracted to him, had kissed him so sweetly.

If she could retch, she’d no doubt be doing that and scrubbing her lips, trying to get the memory of that kiss forever erased.

His throat is closing with the effort of not crying, and his skin feels filthy. He needs a shower, needs one desperately. There’s water in Hydroponics, he’ll scrub himself clean somehow and hide. Lisa won’t give him away, if she finds him there. Everyone else, he’ll program to keep out.

He runs faster, his heart pounding furiously.

* * *

Using the console in Hydroponics, he writes a quick program so that Destiny will monitor the doors and keep them locked to anyone who is not its chief caretaker, Lisa Park. Luckily, no one else was inside when he’d entered. He showers using some sort of plant mister and a wee bit of a liquid cleaner he recognizes as the same lot that’s used in the showers and laundry facility.

It’s warm in here and bright with the artificial lights and he hand washes his clothes, wrapping up in a towel type material Lisa and the crew assigned to work here must use to dry their hands after working with the plants. Most of the plants are in a water system, but there’s a few beds of vegetables growing in actual dirt. Lisa is advocating for another large room to be filled with earthen beds. He wonders if they can grow other vegetables and if they can if they’d taste all right. The tomatoes they’ve grown are bitter fruit, indeed.

The tears he cried while cold water fell on his bare skin and trickled down in runnels to the deck threaten to overwhelm him once more, and he shudders with the effort to not break down again. He gives himself a stern talking to and manages to get himself back under control.

What had he expected with Mandy, anyway? A fairy tale ending? There’s no happily ever after for Mandy. She’s alive, in a sense, but has no body. He can’t touch her.

He misses her, though. He supposes she’s diving through Destiny’s records, perhaps even discovering the mission the ship was launched to complete. Lord knows it’s what he would do, if he was only alive courtesy of Destiny’s circuits. Perhaps, in time, she’ll overcome her initial horror over what had happened with the Lucians, be able to hide the disgust she must feel towards him and appear to him again. Mandy is a kind person; it’s not in her to deliberately hurt another human being. But shifting in her eyes from a colleague, a friend, someone she was open to having a relationship with perhaps, to, to, well, whatever he is now, damaged certainly, dirty, an object of revulsion and pity, it wounds him.

He doesn’t love easily. There had been a few close friends from childhood and early adulthood. His father, certainly, although he’s got quite the mixed feelings about the old man. All dead now, as well as the person he’d come to care for the most in his life. Gloria. He never imagined he could feel the stirrings of love again after she’d died, but Mandy had planted the seeds of it after he’d lost his wife by the compassion she’d shown him. So kind and brilliant. Little Miss Brilliant, he’d called her, and had felt warmed himself when she’d get flustered by the name.

Colonel Young’s friendship was a defiant resilient thing, being planted among the stony ground of betrayal and mistrust and attempted murder. Frankly, it’s been a bloody miracle that he and the Colonel for one, hadn’t killed each other, and for two, had managed to come to a place where they enjoyed each other’s company. There’s a part of him that had bonded with the man and he knows exactly when that happened. The Colonel had risked Kiva’s wrath to wrap Rush’s naked, filthy body in his own jacket, and had carried him away from the Mess, away from where leering eyes watched him, or other eyes turned away from his shame. Sometimes, in nightmares, he was being carried away from it all, only to realize that it wasn’t Colonel Young after all that was striding along, it was Dannic or Simeon or even Kiva herself and they were taking him back to the Mess, to strap him again to the table.

The Colonel knew everything that had happened to him, saw it happening in real time, not abruptly having it thrust on her like poor Mandy. He knew, he’d seen, hell, he’d had to fuck Rush in order to save him, he was part and parcel of the whole terrible business. Deep down, or well, actually not so deep, he trusted the Colonel. Mostly. Unless Rush had pushed him too far, then Rush’s fight or flight reflex took over. The Colonel can get angry with him. Very angry. Much more angry than with other crew members who defied him or his rules. Really, after the mutiny, he’d been quite calm about the whole thing. Nothing like the reaction Rush had gotten when he’d defied him on that desert planet, saying to him they’d never be done. Most likely the Colonel would have given anyone, well, any man who had tried to frame him, the same rough justice with his fists, but he rather doubts that the Colonel would have then left them unconscious to die, abandoned to a horrible death from thirst.

Young had regretted his decision. He knows that about the Colonel, has seen it in the man’s eyes, despite whatever nonsense he’d said about not being sorry he’d punished Rush that way. When the man goes to drowning his sins with Brody’s moonshine swill, Rush is fair sure the Colonel’s actions towards him are well included.

No, he gets under the Colonel’s skin, and from what he’s observed, like nobody else on the ship. But he and the Colonel have come to a friendship despite that, although it’s interesting in a way, the strong reaction Rush gets from him.

There’s too much time to think in here, and he’s not got any chalk to scribble possible solutions to the last math puzzle Destiny had set for them.

When he’d kissed the Colonel, he’d done it for distraction, of course. The man is a soldier, he wasn’t going to let Rush get close enough to him to jab him with a needle without being wary of what he was up to. But the Colonel had kissed him back.

Was that just reflex or, or. . . No. He just startled the man, that’s all. He’d apologize after the Colonel had some time to appreciate that he was still alive, they all were, safely away from the Nakai, that Camile no longer shared her mind with Mandy. Mandy was like Franklin now. But also alive, in a sense. Her mind was at any rate, and that was a great, great asset for them.

He sighs and looks over the instructions for dealing with plants that’s posted for those assigned to work here. He might as well keep himself busy. He knots the towel thing tighter around his waist, and he goes to work.

* * *

He does his bit of gardening and finds it surprisingly soothing; later he cobbles together a meal of tomatoes and some bean like things that were much tastier after they’d been cooked. He redresses in fresh clean clothes, and, like others assigned to work here, adds his urine to the compost container. It would be sterilized, of course.

He finds he’s very, very tired. An adrenaline drop, probably, and sleep had been an elusive thing for all of them as they’d worked the problems Destiny had demanded they complete in order to jump without putting someone in the chair. He yawns, his eyes drooping. It’s too quiet in here and the automatic timers have plunged the room into a period of darkness. He lies down on the bench and pillows his head on an arm and drifts into sleep.

* * *

He comes awake slowly, feeling disoriented as he blinks his eyes at the greenery around him. He sits up and sees Lisa working at a bench, head bent over dried pods, opening them and dropping the seeds into small containers filled with a dark potting soil.

“Hello,” she says, calmly. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone sleep so soundly. I’ve been working in here for hours. All by myself, since apparently you wanted privacy while you hid out.”

He runs both hands through his tousled hair and makes a face. Lisa nods towards a tall bottle on the bench. “I’ve got that tea you like. Help yourself.”

He shoots her a smile, grateful she’s not turned him in when she discovered he was sleeping here. Helping himself to the tea, he drinks it thirstily.

“Awake now?”

“Aye.” He stretches and yawns. “I might come back some night, when I can’t sleep.”

“I was surprised you hadn’t marked up the walls with that last math problem and kept yourself awake.” Lisa takes another rack of containers from a shelf and continues planting seeds.

“No chalk with me.” He shrugs, “How much trouble am I in, then?”

“I don’t know. Actually, we’ve got a new problem.” The tightness in her voice alerts him.

He shoots her an assessing look, and realizes that her air of calm is a forced one. She’s gripping the bench now, and her knuckles are white. “What is it, Lisa?”

“It’s Dale. He collapsed during the jump. Amanda Perry, she appeared and helped TJ diagnose the problem. His kidneys are failing. He’s had high blood pressure and hasn’t been on any meds since we landed here.” She looks anguished. “He didn’t tell any of us. He didn’t tell TJ, either, and she said she could have tried to treat him with herbals from the planets we’ve visited, but the damage is too great now. He needs a kidney transplant. They’re running tests on the crew right now for a compatible match. If they find one, they can volunteer to give him a kidney. Without it, Dale’s not going to live more than a couple of months.”

Volker might die? A kidney transplant done here? It would put two lives at risk, and even if the surgery was successful, the transplant might still fail. What about infection? He looks at Lisa. He can’t say any of that to her. Volker is her friend.

She swallows and says, to the pile of seed pods. “Ronald is a match, although not entirely. He’s already volunteered.”

Greer? They might lose Greer also? A sound of dismay escapes him.

A sob shakes Lisa and he forgets his own problems and wraps his arms around her, as she dissolves into tears.

* * *

He goes to the Infirmary to get the mandatory kidney testing over and done, since Colonel Young is sure to ask him. After Lieutenant Johanson gives him an exasperated, terse lecture on staying out of her drug supply, she tests him, although he’s fair sure he wouldn’t donate a kidney and put two people’s lives at risk. Would he? What if it had been Gloria?

All right, he’d have done it for Gloria. He’d have done anything to save her. Luckily he doesn’t have to make a decision, the test results make it for him. He’s not compatible at all with Volker.

He’s found by Colonel Telford and dragged off for a private conversation regarding why exactly he had spared Colonel Young’s life. Irritated, he says something snarky and rude back, but instead of riling up Telford, he gets a long thoughtful look, a grin, and a hand on his shoulder. Shaking him slightly, he says, “Thanks, you son-of-a-gun.” He tousles Rush’s hair then, and laughs at the offended glare Rush gives him before he strolls away.

Well, that he hadn’t expected. Telford had been hampered by the chain of command, he couldn’t countermand Young’s orders, as it was clear someone had to sit in the chair. Now it appears having an unruly civilian sabotaging Young’s suicidal plan had been welcomed.

He supposes he might as well face the music, surely Colonel Young has gotten his temper under control by now. He turns toward the Colonel’s quarters and wistfully wishes he was going instead to have dinner and play chess.

* * *

The Colonel is sitting at his desk, glasses sliding down a little on his nose, but he looks up when Rush crosses the open threshold into his quarters. He doesn’t say anything, but his eyebrows climb when Rush shuts and locks the door.

“You hide out for hours upon hours – yes, I found out you were in Hydroponics – afraid of me, then you waltz in here and lock the door. Unbelievable, Nick.” The Colonel rubs his temples as if a headache was beginning to pound his brain.

“I’m not afraid of you, Colonel. I just judged it’d be best to allow you some time to, um, mull things over before we talked.” He crosses his arms around himself, but when he realizes what he’s doing and what kind of message he’s sending he abruptly stops. He clasps his hands behind his back instead, where they can stop broadcasting his feelings of insecurity.

Colonel Young gives him a sardonic look, pulls the glasses from his face and drops them onto the stack of papers he’d been working through. He stands up and walks towards him until he’s very close. As close as Rush had been before he’d kissed the man, the last time he was in these quarters.

Colonel Young takes another step forward and Rush feels anxiety sweep over him, feels himself start to tremble, but forces himself to remain passive as Colonel Young envelopes him in a hug.

No, not a hug. Young grasps both of Rush’s wrists and brings them in front of Rush’s body, stepping back a wee bit. His fingers have found the small screwdriver safely tucked into the hiding place he’d made where the extra length had been turned up into a cuff. Rush feels him fingering it, and looking up into Young’s eyes, he sees that same thoughtful look that Telford had given him.

Young drops Rush’s hands, steps forward again until they’re chest to chest. He puts a hand behind Rush’s neck, and Rush tenses and closes his eyes, sure that Colonel Young is going to kiss him.

But Young just stays like that, and eventually Rush reopens his eyes to see Young looking at him thoughtfully again.

Tears start to glisten in Rush’s eyes and he curses his body’s reaction. The Colonel nods, like he’s just found the answer he’d been looking for, and steps back, giving Rush his space.

“Okay. Okay. Let’s talk. And eat. I brought you an early dinner.” He points to the couches and coffee table. “Have a seat, Nick.”

Warily, he does so. This isn’t going as planned. He’d thought the Colonel would express his outrage over being drugged and then Rush would justify why he’d had no choice but to do that. He’d point out the obvious, that things worked out quite well without the Colonel having to give up his body for them to jump away from the Nakai. Then he’d leave the Colonel after apologizing for the method of drugging him.

“I’m no sorry,” he blurts out when Colonel Young drops down next to him. Next to him, not on the other side of the couch. It makes him feel unsettled again.

“Oh, I know you’re not. Pulling a fast one like that, Nick, I’m not even going to bother asking you why.” He takes the container sitting there and pours some of the liquid into the two cups waiting and hands one to Nick.

It’s water, not the booze he’d expected.

“I saved your life,” and damn his voice, for its shakiness and the unease he can hear in it.

“I know.” Then shrugging, he adds, “Well, saved my body, at least.”

“You weren’t going to listen to reason. My plan worked; it was win-win all the way, Colonel.” He takes a drink, and sets his cup back down. For once, he wishes it was Brody’s swill in the Colonel’s container.

“Win-win? Sounds like Eli’s lingo.”

That was true enough, and he scowls at Young. “Yes, well, maybe it is, but my plan served the greater good and yours – to willfully sacrifice yourself – was selfish and idiotic. And I warned you, I did. I told you I was no gonna let you sit in that chair and basically kill yourself. Yell at me, confine me to quarters, hell, beat me up again, I don’t care. You’re sitting there still, in your skin, we’re safe from the Nakai, poor Mandy’s existence isn’t at risk, and Camile’s alone again in her head.” He crosses his arms over his chest and glares at the stubborn idiot sitting next to him.

Who isn’t yelling at him, or preparing to teach him a lesson with his fists.

“True enough,” Young says, and sips at his own drink.

The concession infuriates him. “You weren’t going to listen to me! I told you I needed you, damn it!”

“You need me.”

“Of course we need you. No one but Telford wants Telford in command.”

“You know,” Colonel Young says, looking at him with the hint of an amused smile, and using his elbow to give Rush a friendly poke, “you look about five years old when you stick out your lower lip like that, despite the stubble. You can stop pouting. I agree your plan was better.”

“I do not pout, Colonel Young,” he says stiffly, with dignity. He takes a strategic sip from the cup. Unfortunately, he feels his face flushing. Damn it.

Colonel Young outright laughs at him. “Sure you don’t. Eli actually has some pretty good kino shots of you – not pouting. Want to see them?”

“I’m quite sure we’re both too busy for such nonsense.” He desperately wants to change the subject. “You said you’d brought dinner?”

For an answer, Young gets up and moves behind his desk, and when he returns he sits the warming container on the low table and sits down across from him.

He relaxes at that and their meal is consumed without straying into any more uncomfortable areas, that is, until Young stacks the dishes inside the container and gives him a somber look.

“Nick,” he says. “I do have something to point out to you, and then, I’m going to make good on a promise I made to you.”

He tenses up at those words.

“I get that you were distracting me when you kissed me – worked pretty good, too – but have you asked yourself why you picked that tactic, instead of, well, other choices?”

“I had to be close to you, obviously,” he says and he can hear the confusion in his voice.

“Yep, I get that.” Young is maddening, the way his voice is so calm, his eyes so, so intent. “Nick, you could have pretended to hurt your ankle or faint and it would have worked as well when I came to give you a hand. You could have acted like something was in the room, Destiny’s AI, maybe, or you spotted something outside the window flying around. When I turned to look, you could have jabbed me. But you chose to offer sex, in a way. And while you were in Hydroponics, I did a lot of thinking about that. What you did with me, you’ve done before. I just don’t know if you’re really aware of it.”

His stomach turns queasy. “I, what?”

Now Young frowns. “I think maybe I should just leave it there, let you connect the dots on your own.”

But his words have made the connection and he’s back there, Simeon’s dick in his mouth, and he’s sucking as if his life depends on it, and of course it does, and Lisa’s life, and the taste of come fills his mouth and he bites down and strikes with the screwdriver and blood spurts out from Simeon’s groin and then someone has him by the wrists and is pulling him away.

He comes to himself in the Colonel’s private bathroom, retching into the toilet.

The Colonel is holding his hair out of his face as he kneels, losing his dinner. “God, I’m sorry, Nick. I swear I didn’t mean to trigger a flashback. Christ, I’m no therapist. I should have just left it alone.”

He can’t talk, and after he’s done he just leans against the Colonel. He feels spent, and he doesn’t even think he can get up on his own. Colonel Young hands him water and he rinses his mouth and spits. He looses track of time. He feels clammy and shivery and sweat or tears have rolled down his face.

Finally, feeling like he’s a great distance away, he says. “You’re right. I didn’t know. I see it now. Kiva, the others, they’ve marked me, and I didn’t even- I’m sorry.” He ends in a whisper and tries to melt into the floor.

Colonel Young stops him. “You gave me permission once. Will you let me carry you again, Nick? You can rest, then.”

“Yes,” he mumbles and somehow Young hoists him until he’s resting against the man’s chest, strong arms under his knees, and then he’s being placed in a bed and his shoes – not his boots, no the Lucians took them, these shoes are charity – are pulled off and blankets tucked around him.

“Go to sleep, Nick,” Young says, and he does.

* * *

The sound of a knock on the door brings him awake from the light doze he’s been in since he first woke up and realized he was still in Colonel Young’s room.

In Colonel Young’s bed.

He has no idea how long he’s been asleep. God, he’d fallen apart, had an awful flashback to Simeon using his mouth. He’d killed the fucker, he’d stopped him from doing any more harm to Lisa or anyone else. That is what he’s going to focus on, not the humiliation the man had put him through.

It’s Greer’s voice he’s hearing, although he can’t make out what the man’s saying. The Colonel steps out into the corridor, and shuts the door.

Probably he assumed Rush was still asleep. Rush should get up and leave, but he’s so tired, still. He thinks about what he’s learned about himself, and he feels hopeless. He’d never thought much about his body, before Kiva had him strapped to that table and raped over and over. He tended to ignore being hungry or tired in favor of working on interesting things or since arriving here, on absolutely essential to their survival projects. He would let his hair grow out because he didn’t care a jot about the time and effort to keep it short. He never spent a lot of time looking for attractive clothes; he favored jeans and T-shirts or plain white button shirts. Gloria had bought him the vest he’d worn when he’d come through the gate to Destiny. He’d dressed up for her concerts, but that was for her, not him. Ties annoyed him.

Before the Lucians had captured him, he’d. . . not been paying attention, apparently, to other people being attracted to his body. Both Telford and Mandy had rather pointed that out to him.

The Lucians had changed that. He flashes to images of himself on the table, all eyes on him as he agrees to willingly let various Lucians use his mouth in exchange for food and water. He remembers Koz’s staring at his naked body before allowing him to shower and how he’d come so close to prostituting himself again for the rations Koz and his friends were willing to share if he masturbated, touched himself to orgasm, in front of them. That if he hadn’t found the Bridge when he did, Kiva would have required him to service the Lucians for his continued survival. Enough of them had told him they were eager for that time to come. He’d been afraid that the crew would also decide to teach him a lesson by taking turns fucking him. It would have pleased Kiva. He’s fair sure it would have happened, with some of the crew at least. Sometimes, on bad nights when he can’t sleep, he finds his mind playing the ‘will they or won’t they’ game, picturing various crew members asking and receiving Kiva’s permission to fuck him.

With Simeon, he’d used his body as a weapon. It had worked, and Simeon was dead because of it. Small price to pay, being raped again. What was one more time, anyway? And somehow, his mind had twisted things around so that using his body to distract the Colonel with sex, kissing him like that, had seemed the most natural and normal thing to do to accomplish his goal.

Colonel Young had been testing him when he’d first come into his quarters tonight. He knew it at the time, knew he’d failed whatever the Colonel had been on about. There had been no goal to accomplish, so he hadn’t tried to what? Kiss the man again?

Colonel Young had kissed him back, before the drug took him down. But he hadn’t kissed him when he’d put a hand on the back of Rush’s neck tonight. He’d been waiting, he now realizes, for Rush to take the initiative. Instead, he’d been anxious and fearful and tears had welled up.

He’s a right mess, he is.

Anger starts to burn in his gut. He might not want to kiss anybody, true, but if he does want to do it, or, or, have actual sex, his body’s fearful reactions shouldn’t get a vote.

This is a problem. Until he’s comfortable with sex again, Kiva has still won.

He thinks of Mandy and his odd friendship with Young. The man had also used his own body as a bargaining chip with Kiva. He’d fucked Rush under her cool gaze, so that Rush wouldn’t have his throat cut, or however Kiva had planned his death.

Had the Colonel had the counseling he’d pushed on Rush? Somehow, he doubts it. Brody’s swill had been his poor attempt at coping, although he seems better now. More centered.

For a while, the Colonel hadn’t cared much about his own body. On him, it had shouted of the man’s depression. Not shaving. His uniform a mess, like he’d slept in it. Letting his hair grow. Those curls had been a surprise, all right, but Rush rather liked them. It made him seem less a military drone.

He starts to think about Gloria, how he’d loved the intimacy between them, but instead of smiling at the memory, he feels tears start to dampen his eyes.

So no, he forces himself to steer his thoughts away from their lovemaking. He had never deserved her, she’d been a gift and not one he’d cherished enough, or he’d have done better by her. He’d never have let her stay alone late in the evening, in their quiet home, while he lost himself in maths at his university office.

He thinks of Mandy, imagines himself kissing her, her own lips, not those of Ginn’s or Camile’s, of touching her hair, her face. He’ll never have the chance now. He regrets backing away when she’d kissed him. Yes, he’d been muddled over his experiences in the chair, reliving Gloria’s last days, but he’d been a bloody idiot about, well, everything with Mandy.

He’d only thought of her as a friend, a kind person to whom he could express the devastation he’d felt over Gloria’s passing. He – he really wasn’t sure just what he did feel with her.

Colonel Young comes back, and runs a hand through his messy hair. He sighs and goes back to his desk, quietly resumes whatever paperwork requires his attention. He doesn’t look at Rush.

Rush watches him, eyes half shut. He’s quite willing to delay any awkward conversations. If he’s lucky, the Colonel will have pressing ship’s business soon and leave. He’ll make his escape then.

It’s oddly soothing, watching this man steadily work.

Studying Young’s features, he decides that he likes them. He wishes that they hadn’t gotten off to such a poor start back on Icarus. If they’ve managed to forge a friendship now, after all the problems they’d had between them, they could have done better back then. Ah, well. Pointless to feel regret over the past.

Yes, that’s a grand idea. Almost impossible for him follow his own sage advice, though.

His eyes keep closing all the way, and his last thoughts are on the problem he’s identified tonight. He’ll find a way to solve it.

He needs another variable, something to add to the algorithm of his life. He may never want a physical relationship again, but if so, it won’t be because he’s afraid of it, or because his body rejects a lover’s touch.

When he wakes up again, Colonel Young is gone, and Mandy is sitting next to him.

* * *

“Hello, Nick,” she says, very quietly. She’s wearing some gauzy, floaty blue-green dress, looking more like a university student than one of the top scientists at the SGC.

He pushes himself up on his elbows, feeling shame and shyness. “Mandy,” he softly says and then looks away, towards the wall. He takes a deep breath, tells himself to stop being a coward. He can’t bring himself to make eye contact with her, though. He says, more to his knees than her, “I never wanted you to know about all of that rubbish that happened with the Lucians. I’m sorry.”

“Nick, you have nothing to apologize about. It wasn’t your fault. I’m the one who needs to apologize. I shouldn’t have left you so abruptly. I didn’t know what to say and then Dale Volker collapsed and I used that as an excuse. I told myself that you needed some time to yourself, since I’d obviously made you feel uncomfortable. You were asleep in Hydroponics after Dale was stabilized, when I tracked you down. I didn’t have the heart to wake you up.”

“I must disgust you now.” He draws his knees up under the covers and wraps his arms around them.

“No. Of course you don’t. Oh, I wish I could hug you. Or, well, I would if you wanted me to touch you.” She blinked out for a moment, then reappeared several feet away. “Nick, I’ve learned so much about the ship. And, I know a way that I could hug you. Me, not using someone else’s borrowed body, but my own virtual one.”

He gets out of bed and stands before her. “What do you mean?”

“There’s a way we could be together, Nick. For a little while, anyway. I promise it’s safe.”

He’s intrigued, and also relieved, that his sordid experiences haven’t caused her to end their friendship. He stares at her, thinking, thinking very hard about what she could mean. Mandy can’t resume a human form, so he’d have to join her, in a virtual world. Could they use his memory again, of his time with Gloria before she passed? No. Even if it was possible, he just couldn’t do that.

Mandy is smiling at him. “I know how you like figuring out puzzles, Nick. But in the interest of time, I’ll give you a clue. Remember the dream simulation Destiny put Colonel Young through? Destiny has made a virtual replication of the ship and I can access it. It just took a few changes in the programming.”

It hits him like a ton of bricks. “Of course! You’re brilliant. Do you remember, I used to call you Little Miss Brilliant? Have you programed the chair yet, to upload my mind, but not convert my body to energy?”

“Yes. Nick, I can do so many things like this.” Her smile is wondering, amazed, and he’s glad of it. Mandy always did make the best of situations.

She says, “For example, I know that Camile is on her way to the Stones room, to arrange for a surgeon to switch with her tomorrow morning to operate on Dale Volker and Ronald Greer. I know that the two of them have gone to Hydroponics, Greer’s idea, as a substitue for Dale’s old backyard. I could listen to them talking, but out of respect for their privacy, I’m not. I know that Colonel Young is playing peek a boo with his baby. Brody is double checking again the instruments from Destiny the doctor will use tomorrow to do the kidney transplant. Lisa Park and Vanessa James and Becker are being briefed by T.J. on the procedure tomorrow. They’re going to be the doctor’s surgical team. I’m also searching the data banks for the mission information, and talking to Franklin through Destiny. He’s been very coy about the project he’s been working on, but I’m sure I’ll get him to show it to me."

He smiles at her, then crooks a hand over his shoulder, massaging the stiff muscles there and on his neck. They’ve been knotted up for days. Mandy starts to reach for him, then aborts the movement. “That’s marvelous. I envy you, you know, to be able to multi-task like that. And since I’m quite sure Colonel Young would forbid me to sit in the Neural Interface chair, tomorrow sounds like an excellent time to give it a go. Everyone’s attention will be on the surgery. But I want to see the program. Let’s go down there now and run through it, shall we?”

Mandy nods, and while she could just pop over there, she chooses to stay by his side and mimics walking with him through the corridors to where the chair waits.

Tomorrow, Mandy willing, he’s going to cross that line between them that had been in place for so long. Friends to lovers, even if it was in a virtual bed on a virtual ship.

Fuck Kiva anyway, and the entire Lucian crew who’d abused him. He was going to reclaim every bit of his life, just see if he didn’t.

* * *

He’s quite satisfied with the programming Mandy has done when they part. He has some business to tend to that’s been neglected over the last day or so, and he’d best see to it now, since he’ll be taking a day off tomorrow.

The only part of the set-up he hadn’t looked over had been how Mandy had set up the safe guards to return him to his body. The lass had looked a bit shy, and asked him to trust her with that part. She assured him that it was foolproof, but she wanted it to be a surprise.

He was trying to be better at this whole trust thing, and he did trust her. So, he didn’t insist. It would be something dead simple, he supposes. Mandy does elegant work when she programs, and her solution would reflect her.

She blew a kiss at him and asked him to close his eyes when it was time for her to leave, no doubt having picked up on how unsettling he found it when she would blink out of existence.

Sweet, sweet Mandy. He thinks of her kindness during his time at the SGC as he jogs down Destiny’s corridors.

He looks cautiously into the Infirmary to make sure Colonel Young isn’t there. He wants to talk to Greer before the surgery, and he supposes he ought to also have a word with Volker.

James is evidently babysitting the pair of them and she breaks off laughing over something Greer has said when she sees him, moving quickly to where he’s stopped once inside the room.

“Doc? Keep it short, okay? These guys need to get some sleep.” She steps away past him, giving him a clap on the shoulder. He remembers how she and Barnes had shared their bedroll with him when he’d been so cold in the cell the military had been corralled in during Kiva’s reign. The two women had been so careful not to touch him, but their body heat had warmed him. Had he ever thanked them?

He can’t remember.

Impulsively, he stops her with a touch to her arm. She looks at him quizzically, her long dark hair worn the way Gloria often would, some sort of swirled up knot on the nape of her neck. Her eyes are warm and dark and her eyebrows raised, waiting for him to say why he’d halted her.

“I can’t remember ever thanking you, Lieutenant, for sharing your blankets with me, back in that terrible cell. It was kind of you to do so, and I did appreciate it.”

She looks surprised, then smiles at him. “You’re welcome, Doc. I was glad to help you, and so was Barnes.”

He really needs to work on his manners if she’s so surprised by this simple thank you. He used to be much more polite to people. Once. Before Gloria died. He stopped having the energy for it, but really, that’s a poor excuse and he knows it.

Sincerely, he says, “It means a lot to me, what you and the others did back then. Sharing your food, blankets. Socks, even, when the Lucians weren’t paying attention.” His bare feet had stayed cold all the time, just another way the Lucians thought they were humiliating him. It didn’t quite work the way they had thought it would. He rather liked having bare feet at times. From what he gathered from the disparaging comments directed to him by the Lucians, in many of the worlds conquered by the G’ould, not being allowed to wear shoes showed your low status as a slave.

She leans in and gives him a peck on the cheek. “I wanted to take those bastards apart for what they did to you, to all of us. And you saved us all, Doc. We’re grateful.” She looks a little mischievous. “You need to thank Colonel Young for those socks, though. I always thought they were a mixed blessing, since they could practically stand up on their own, they were that dirty.”

They’d been ripe, certainly, but very welcomed. For some damn reason, the thought of wearing the Colonel’s clothing is making him feel over warm. He can feel his face flushing. Instinctively, he runs a hand down the sleeve of the Colonel’s jacket he’s currently wearing.

“The socks weren’t that bad,” he says, the words stumbling on his tongue. She gives him a grin. A rather knowing grin, and he wonders just what is it she thinks he’s revealed. Time to end this conversation.

“I’ll just have a word with your patients, then.” She continues to grin at him all the way to where she perches at Lieutenant Johanson’s desk, waving him over to where Greer and Volker have been watching them curiously.

* * *

He’s made the rounds, checked in on the Science Team’s progress, estimated how long they can travel before needing to refuel. Eli is yawning when he joins him on the Bridge.

“Lo,” Eli slurs, and shakes his head. His messy dark hair is getting a bit long, and his face is thinner than when they first met. Well, he supposes everyone has lost weight. He certainly has. “You just now popping up, like a gopher from its hidey hole?”

“Eli.” He rolls his eyes. “So, Brody said to check with you about the long range sensors. Have you found something interesting, then?”

“Maybe?” The boy yawns again. “It’s pretty far off still. Looks like a space junkyard, near as I can tell.”

The improvements Rush has made have worked out quite nicely. Before he’d upgraded the system, with Destiny’s help, they wouldn’t have been able to notice anything this far away.

“And so, what are you doing about it?” he fires at Eli.

“Why do you think I’m still up this late? I wrote a program to see if that giant jigsaw puzzle can be put back together so we can get an idea what happened. It’s dead quiet now. Still, we may be able to salvage some of the space junk.” Eli yawns again.

“Good job, then. When will we have results?”

Eli checks, and slides off his stool. “Not till tomorrow afternoon, according to my calculations. So, I’m off to bed.”

By the happy look that crosses Eli’s face, Rush is fair sure the boy won’t be sleeping alone. Well, they’re a good match, Eli and Ginn.

“Good night, then,” he calls as Eli leaves, feeling amused as Eli’s pace picks up as he heads toward the door. Eli waves his hand in the air, in response.

Lieutenant Scott is sitting in the command chair, obviously having been assigned the night shift. “Hey,” he says, in way of greeting.

“Yes, hello. I’ve um, not had time to stop in and see Chloe. How’s she doing?” He feels guilty that he hasn’t seen her since the ship had jumped.

“She’s still slogging away on that last math problem. I think it helps, having something to focus on to keep her busy. She’s, um, having those blackouts more and more.” Scott looks pensive, worried. He empathizes. He hates what’s been happening to Chloe.

Damn the Nakai for what they did to her. It puzzles him, that they hadn’t tried something similar on him. Not that Colonel Young had taken his word for it, that they’d not done anything to change him. He’d been examined quite thoroughly.

Scott looks tired. On impulse, he tells him that he’s talked with Greer tonight and the Sergeant seems quite sure of his decision. Scott and Greer are close, he knows. Odd, really, the two of them, all wrapped up in their military culture, something other than friends, more like a brother, but even that’s not right.

Maybe he’ll have Colonel Young try to explain it to him some night, over dinner.

Scott rather pointedly asks him how Volker seemed, and he remembers his decision tonight to be more polite. “Mr. Volker’s blood pressure is better, and he’s very grateful for Greer’s help.”

Giving him a skeptical look, Scott says, “You look like something’s bugging you, Doc. You might as well spill. I’m not going to rat you out.”

Behind that farmboy face is a rather astute man, something Rush has been surprised about a time or two. He’d backed Rush when they first arrived, correctly pegging him as necessary to their survival. Chloe had obviously seen something in the boy, something more than a good looking young man. He rather trusts Chloe’s judgment. Well, he did before the Nakai’s genetic changes began altering her.

He sits down at a monitoring station and spins the chair around so he’s facing Scott. “I don’t like it, this surgery. It’s very risky.”

Scott just gives a little mmm sound, and keeps eye contact with him. Impulsively, he ends up explaining his fears that instead of losing one crew member, they might lose two. He knows it makes him sound callous, that he doesn’t care if Volker dies from his malfunctioning kidneys, but that’s not true. It’s simply risk management.

“I hear you,” Scott says. “I’m worried about them, too. But there was no stopping Greer when he found out he was a match. And risk is our business. It’s a gamble, but if they can pull it off, a life will be saved. Were you a match?”

“No, I wasn’t. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have agreed to it if I had been.” He fully expects Scott to show his disgust at that, but Scott doesn’t. He just looks thoughtful.

“You’re a science guy, Doc. What I hear is you being logical. But you can’t tell me you don’t make some decisions based on emotion, despite it not being the best choice logically. You let Ginn live, when the logical thing would have been to kill her, too.”

He shrugs. “I’d seen she was sorry for her actions and that she didn’t serve the Alliance of her own free will.”

“But it would have been safer to let her suffocate. You took a risk with her, and it’s paid off.”

“Aye.” He’s not sure Eli would ever have spoken to him again if Ginn had been killed with the others.

“So let’s just hope for the best for Greer and Volker. And if Greer dies, then he died trying to save a friend, and that’s not a bad way to go. Protecting others, that’s the reason he wears the uniform. He’d do the same for you, Doc, or me.”

Rush tilts his head a little, studying Scott, thinking over what he had said. “It’s too bad you’re on duty, Lieutenant. I’d offer to buy you a drink.”

Smiling, Scott says, “Well, Doc, I’ll take a rain check.”

“Do you suppose Chloe would be awake still? I, um, I’m not sleepy, and I fancy we could make some progress on that last problem.”

Scott radios the guard stationed outside of Chloe’s door and upon learning that Chloe is awake and wanting Rush’s company, sends him on down.

They don’t solve the problem but they do get a bit further on it. When Chloe’s breakfast is delivered, she gives him part of it. He waits a bit longer, then leaves her yawning and climbing into her bed.

He checks the guard’s watch and the surgery should be starting any moment. He feels excitement building up in him, and anxiety, for Greer, and yes, for Volker, and for himself.

There’s a part of his brain that can’t help pointing out that he’s about to make a very emotional decision, one that isn’t one whit logical. He knows what Colonel Young would say about it, if he finds out. reckless, thoughtless, and just plain stupid to upload your brain into the ship and trust that you’ll be able to down load it again. And really, Rush? With no one to watch over your body, to monitor you?

“Shut up, Everett Young,” he mutters as he begins to fly down the hall. “You don’t get a vote.”

He’s so busy arguing with Young in his head that he nearly bowls over Scott. The young man manages to plant his feet and catch Rush before he crashed to the floor, hauling him upright.

“Hey, hey, Doc. Man, your feet were on fire. Is something up? I was going to go see Chloe before I crash.”

“No, nothing’s up, there’s nothing wrong.” Belatedly, he realizes he maybe should have told someone he wasn’t going to be available. “Um, if anyone asks for me, I’m taking the day off.”

Scott looks surprised, “Why? You feel okay?”

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. I even ate breakfast. I, um, I’m just taking a day off, all right?”

“Okay. Guess if anybody on board deserves a day off, it would be you. It’s just, usually when you’re not working, it’s because the Colonel or TJ have grounded you, because you’re ready to collapse. You sure you feel okay?”

Honestly, this is ridiculous. “Yes, I’m fine, like I said. So if anybody asks for me, tell them I’ve the day off and not to bother me.” He jogs away, but when he turns down a cross corridor, Scott is still staring after him.

He doesn’t care. He feels like running again and he does, and he’s out of breath when he arrives at the Neural Interface Room, but he feels calmer. He looks up and down the corridor before opening the door. The lights come on and shine down on the chair. He takes a deep breath. He’s going to see Mandy. He’ll be able to touch her hand. He’s going to take that step he’d backed away from before.

It’s going to be okay. He locks the door, starts the program running and sits down in the chair.

Silently he counts down with the program. Four, three, two, one and go!

His ankles and wrists are restrained and electrodes touch his head. He closes his eyes and goes under.

* * *

He finds himself standing on the Observation Deck, hands on the railing, looking out at the flow of colors streaming against the shields. He starts, and wonders what’s happened, he doesn’t remember coming here, and maybe he, too, is finally showing signs of the blackouts Chloe is experiencing.

He had sat in the chair, to upload his brain into Destiny’s data banks, so he could see--.

“Hello, Nick.”

He turns and sees Mandy, this time in a lavender, lacy dress that drapes her slim form to her knees and wearing white cowboy boots.

She’s looking at his chest and he glances down. He’s not wearing the cast-off charity clothing the crew had given him, after his own clothes had been destroyed by the Lucians. He’s wearing a white button down shirt, long on him and untucked, and an old comfortable pair of jeans. His feet are bare.

He has no such outfit on Destiny. He feels a smile break out on his face, impossible to contain. He reaches out and takes Mandy’s hand. It feels warm and alive and human. She squeezes his hand and laughs delightedly.

“Destiny’s virtual copy is so realistic, isn’t it? Would you like to go for a walk and see for yourself?”

“I would like that,” he says, his curiosity flaring. “Tell me, how are you getting along, now that you’ve had some time to adjust?”

They talk as they tour the ship, about Amanda’s new abilities, and her ongoing projects, about Franklin’s secretive project that he promises to share with her soon.

“I haven’t seen him since we took back the ship,” he says. “Do you meet here?” He waves an arm, encompassing the simulation. They’ve arrived at the Bridge and he sits down in the command chair.

Amanda startles him by sliding onto his lap. She shakes her head. “No, not like this, wearing our old bodies.” She touches his hair, pushes it out of his eyes. “We meet as code.” She leans down slowly and touches her lips to his. Suddenly, he feels trapped. Instead of opening his mouth to hers, his lips have tightened. Amanda feels it, and pushes away from him, stands up, eyes big and horrified. “I’m sorry. I should have asked you first.”

“Not your fault, lass. You surprised me, is all.” He stands up, too, retakes her hand. “Mandy, I’m--” He was going to say he was out of practice, but that wasn’t exactly true. The Lucians had seen to that. “I’m finding my way. But I’ve thought of kissing you quite often. Let’s walk some more, and then, shall we go to my quarters?”

She smiles at him, but he can still see her apprehension. He squeezes her hand. “By chance, did the ship also replicate Mr. Brody’s still?”

“I’m not sure.” She looks amused now. “Let’s go find out. I’ve missed its one redeeming quality.”

* * *

They do indeed sample the moonshine found in the makeshift bar, and when Rush wishes aloud that the ship had taken some initiative and improved the rotgut, Mandy chuckles.

They take a container with them, and their talk turns to their time at the SGC. Mandy had been up for another promotion, and they discuss the various projects she’s worked on. When he’d been stationed there, he had focused mostly on solving the problem of the ninth chevron, but he’d been borrowed more than once to pitch in on other projects.

Amanda had just finished telling him about one of Bill Lee’s disasters in the lab, and really, he doesn’t know how the man hasn’t blown himself up by now, when he stops dead.

“What’s wrong, Nick?” Amanda asks, and the ease they’d regained is gone again. He can’t tell her, not really.

He’s shaking and sweating and his breathing is fast, too fast, his heart is pounding in his chest and he wants to run away but his feet feel rooted. He can’t talk, can’t tell her that they’ve wandered next to the Mess, and he tries to tell himself that this isn’t real. Nothing happened to him in that room, those tables had never been used to torture him.

It’s not working. This looks real, it feels real, and he can’t convince his body that he’s not back there.

Mandy is pulling him away, stumbling with him, but it’s too late, he’s gone into a full blown panic attack.

It runs its course finally and he’s sitting on the deck, slumped against the wall, feeling exhausted. Mandy is kneeling before him, and tears are in her eyes. He wants to reassure her that he’s fine, but he can’t make himself say the lie.

“I’m so stupid, I shouldn’t have gone that way,” her voice shaky. “I thought you were dying, that something had gone wrong with the program, but then I remembered about--”

She’s crying now and he manages to do the right thing, finally, and pulls her against him. She sobs against his chest, and while he’s sure she’s crying for him, he wonders if maybe she’s crying for herself also, that her plans for their love making have been derailed. He’s a truly terrible partner just now. Maybe Mandy has had sex before, but he rather doubts it. Certainly, having her body, even if it was virtual, under her control would be a new experience.

And for her first time, she has a partner who flinches when she kisses him and falls apart because he can’t shake off what happened to him. How will he be when they’re lying on a bed together, and she touches his body?

Under the exhaustion, he feels anger stirring again, and he feels determined to take back control of his life. He wants to walk where he wants to walk, and he wants to kiss who he wants to kiss and have sex again with somebody he likes.

And he does like Mandy. He always has liked her.

“Mandy,” he says. “I’m a poor choice for a lover. I’m damaged, sweetheart. But I want to try, with you, if you’ll have me.”

She wipes her tears away, stands up. She pulls him to his feet. “I have wanted you, Nicholas Rush, for a very long time. We’ve had obstacles in our way, my injuries, your injuries. I don’t even have a real body anymore. If you want me back, then let’s try. Let’s go get cleaned up and just attempt to enjoy each other’s company.”

“I do, love. I do.” He takes her hand again, raises it to his lips and kisses her knuckles. “You’re way too good for me, you know.”

She slides into his arms, but doesn’t try to initiate anything. He hugs her, then touches his lips to hers, yes, rather tentatively, but he manages, and she’s warm, and tastes sweet and he relaxes.

One kiss, but he’ll take his victories where he can. He gently disengages from her, concerned that she hadn’t enjoyed it. She’s smiling now, and he feels better.

Maybe it will be all right.

* * *

Chapter Text

“Hey, Colonel,” Eli says, giving him a distracted wave before plopping himself down at the Bridge station he’s been using for the long range sensors. “I checked in with Brody. Surgery’s still going on.”

“I know. It’ll be a while yet before the doctors are done.”

Everett has the Bridge, and command. David went with Camile back to Earth, so that two doctors could do the surgery on Greer and Volker. David had been itching to talk to the IOA. Camile has distanced herself from that group, backing him and the crew during the IOA’s little power plays, but she also had some business with them. She planned to go visit her wife, afterwards.

Scott had the night shift and was probably still asleep. Or maybe he was with Chloe. God knows he, himself, should go and visit her.

Watching Chloe become more and more transformed reminds him of when his young cousin died of cancer. It wasn’t fair that someone like Chloe, bright, compassionate girl just beginning her adult life, is going to end up either abandoned on a planet or being killed to protect the rest of the crew.

He decides he’ll see her today. She’ll want to know how the surgery went for her two friends.

Eli is muttering self-congratulating words, as his fingers dance on controls. Everett tunes him out, until the verbal pats on the back change to words of dismay.

“What’s wrong, Eli?”

Eli is chewing his lip. “My program to put the pieces of the space junk yard puzzle back together worked, Colonel. I think you and Rush are going to want to see this.”

Everett radios Rush and is not surprised one little bit when the man doesn’t answer. Probably off working somewhere and once again neglected to tell the people who need to know where he is and what he’s doing.

“Any idea where Rush is?” he asks Eli, while getting up from the command chair.

Shaking his head, Eli waves him over to his station. “He talked to me late last night, here on the Bridge, before I went to bed. Maybe he said something to Scott about where he went or maybe he stayed on the Bridge and worked from here. Or maybe he’s sleeping in because he looked kind of fidgety when I told him about this program. I bet he stayed up pretty late doing something.” Everett steps up next to him, and Eli points at the console screen. “But watch now.”

Eli shows him the image of the scattered shapes, static, still. Then the figures rapidly animate and reassemble until Everett is looking at several large space ships and a number of smaller ones. Eli stops the program. “See those little ones. See their positions. Keep your eyes on them, when I restart the program.”

Eli begins, and they watch the slow simulation. It ends with the larger ships shattered. Everett thoughtfully rubs his chin. “Those small ones won the battle. And they stayed in one piece.”

“Yep.” Eli draws out his assent. “Now, I don’t have any analysis yet on how long ago all this happened. And they aren’t emitting any signals or anything that indicates they’re functioning ships. But, what if they’re just dormant? They blew apart those other ships.”

“I’m inclined to say we should just stay away. But I want Rush’s take on it. Eli, go see if you can track him down.”

Eli rolls his eyes. “Oh, goody. Playing hide and seek is my favorite game.”

Everett flashes to the last time he had played a deadly game of hide and seek with Rush. He’d found him right before the man had almost killed himself by trying to hide in a room that was open to space. God, that was a close call. He massages his forehead. “Check the usual places, check with the usual people. Is your radio working?”

Eli pats the radio hanging on his belt. “Yep.”

“And Eli, when you find him, don’t give him a hard time. He had a rough evening last night.”

Eli’s expression becomes thoughtful. “Was he okay?”

“Not sure. He was asleep when I left him and gone when I returned last night. I knew he needed some space for a while, so I left him alone.” Everett returns to the command chair, sits down heavily.

“He had a nap yesterday afternoon or evening? For sure then, he stayed up all night. Okay, I’m on it.”

Eli ambles out the door.

Everett drums his fingers on the chair arm, then gets up. It’s been hours since the surgery on Greer and Volker had begun. He resists the urge to call TJ and get a status update. She’s busy. She doesn’t need him hovering over her, as Rush would no doubt tell him.

So he waits. His thoughts wander to his missing-in-action chief scientist. He has unfinished personal business with Rush, interrupted by the flashback the man had endured last night in Everett’s quarters. God, he’d had no idea that was going to happen. His fists clench when he feels again the turmoil of emotions he’d experienced. Poor bastard. Nick really hadn’t realized that he’d used the same tactic on Everett that he had on Simeon, until Everett had laid it out for him.

Greer had told him what Rush had done with Simeon. Greer approved. It had been a desperately brilliant plan, concocted on the fly when Simeon had taken Park and Rush to rape them. A very successful plan, but at what cost to Rush’s soul?

So, he now knows Rush’s motivation for kissing him. It certainly wasn’t because Rush had been dying to do it and had used the need to drug him as an excuse. He’d given Rush the chance to kiss him last night. Instead of attraction, what he’d seen in the man’s face had been controlled anxiety. Tears had begun to form in Rush’s eyes, and he’d cut short his little experiment.

He didn’t know what he’d have done if Rush had kissed him again. No, that’s a lie. He’d have kissed him back. Maybe he’d have made the same mistake he’d made with TJ, getting involved with someone when his feelings for Emily were still in turmoil. Emily, passionate and demanding, had divorced him, but he hadn’t really accepted it. If she wanted them to try again, he’d agree. The affair he’d had when he and Emily had been having problems hadn’t been good for Tamara, or fair, and it wouldn’t be fair to Rush to start up with him.

Besides, Rush had asked for his help in overcoming his aversion to going into the Mess. In a way, he guessed that would make him some sort of, what? A therapist? Wouldn’t it be against some kind of ethics standard to be involved with Nick sexually when Everett was trying to help him regain his control? Oh, sure, says a denigrating voice inside his head, the one that keeps urging him to drink. You screwed your subordinate, Colonel. You ignored the power dynamics with TJ. Why hesitate now, with Rush? Fine time to develop scruples.

Shut up, he tells that obnoxious part of of his brain. I don’t have to repeat my mistakes. I hurt TJ; I don’t need to hurt Rush. He’s vulnerable. He needs my help, and I promised I would give it to him.

Throwing sex into that mix would be a bad, bad, idea. Rush needed him to be a friend, not a fuck buddy.

A more positive voice in his head pointed out that it might not be that way forever. Let it bide, then. Let it bide.

* * *

Everett glances at his watch. It’s been thirty minutes since Eli left on his quest to locate Rush. He wonders if the Ancients left anything on board like a locator chip that TJ could embed under Rush’s skin. He grins a little, picturing the outraged look on Rush’s face if such a proposition was ever put to him.

His radio goes off. Quickly, he answers, hoping it’s good news about Volker and Greer, or at least that Eli found Rush.

“Sir, this is Scott. Eli told me Rush was missing. This morning he practically ran me over; he told me he was taking the day off and he didn’t want to be bothered by anyone. He was, um, well, he sounded off. Anxious, kind of, and eager. Eli had a hunch when I told him about it, and, sir, we found him. He’s in the chair. Eli’s looking over the program he’s running. He said it’s massive. He thinks Rush uploaded his brain into Destiny.”

Everett closes his eyes. “Great. Radio TJ. See if she can send someone down to check on him. Then come up here and relieve Barnes, Lieutenant. I’m on my way.”

God damn the man. Anger and fear and anxiety start churning in his gut. Why did Rush do this?

He levers himself up and informs Corporal Barnes that she has the Bridge until Scott arrives.

He dogtrots down the corridors, itching to lay his hands on Rush. But damned if he knew if it was to shake some sense into him or hug him.

Always the fucking chair with you, Rush. You’d better live through this, you irresponsible bastard. You say that you need me, that the crew needs me? Well, you idiot, they need you, too.

And that includes me.

* * *

Eli glances at the door when he strides inside, then his eyes shift to the quiet figure strapped to the chair. He doesn’t say anything, just returns to what he was doing with the laptop, a grim expression on his face.

Everett walks over and stands next to Rush. He’s too quiet. Even when the man isn’t talking, his body language shouts out his disdain, or amusement, or frustration. He’s too quiet, his face slack, his body small in the chair. Usually, he didn’t really think much about Rush’s height or build, since he seemed to add inches and pounds of imaginary flesh along with the attitude he usually projected. But, like this, that illusion is gone. Abruptly he remembers carrying Rush away from the Mess, and from his bathroom to his bed, to the infirmary when he’d started to collapse from lack of sleep and overwork, and over his shoulder when he’d tried to escape Everett by way of a hole in the ship’s hull. Then and now, why does seeing Rush vulnerable pull this protective feeling out of his guts? Every damn time.

Everett is short himself, although stocky. Short jokes aside from taller people, he knows first hand that a person’s size doesn’t mean squat when it comes to toughness and abilities. And Rush has shown he’s plenty tough. Simeon and Dannic found that out.

He gives into impulse and lays his hand on Rush’s forehead. His skin feels cool, and he wonders if Rush’s body is going to disappear like Franklin’s did. Rush doesn’t twitch under his palm. He wants to carry him out of this damn room with this diabolical chair. He wants to see Rush’s eyes open, to see that sharp intelligence return as he realizes that Everett has damn well caught him red handed being a suicidal idiot.

Everett wants very badly to explain to the little moron that whatever his reason for doing this is, it’s not worth taking such chances with his life. The ship is not under attack, and that’s the only reason that would excuse whatever he’s doing.

“Eli, what the hell is he doing?” His hand slides down Rush’s stubbled face to his neck and he takes his pulse with two fingers. It feels very slow to him.

“I think I know. Ginn’s coming to check with me, but I’m pretty sure he’s uploaded his consciousness to Destiny for a specific reason.”

“Why? Why do that?” Everett looks down at Rush and wishes he could just shake the answer out of him.

Eli grimaces. “He’s not going to like me outing him, Colonel.”

“He just lost any right to privacy. Spill it, Eli.”

“I think he did this so he could be with Dr. Perry. And that simulation, the one that Destiny used to torment you with those wicked nightmares? It’s active, Colonel. I think they’re using it, the two of them.”

“But he can see Dr. Perry without going through this all this trouble.” Everett pulls off his jacket, covers Rush with it, not liking the slow pulse and cool skin.

“Yeah, but he can’t. . . and she can’t. . .” Eli looks a little flustered.

“Can’t what? Quit beating around the bush.” Everett tucks the jacket a little tighter around Rush’s shoulders.

Eli blows out his breath in a long, frustrated sound. “Man, I didn’t think I’d have to have the birds and the bees talk until Ginn and I have kids, and that would be years from now.”

“Eli,” Everett says tiredly.

“Okay, okay. Sheesh.” Eli clears his throat. “Like this, both of them with virtual bodies in Destiny’s virtual simulation, they can touch. The program will make things feel real to them. Like, kissing, and uh, you know. Colonel, this is a booty-call.” He hesitates. “At least I think it is. That’s why I want Ginn to look this over.”

Everett closes his eyes. God knows, he’s done some stupid things himself when it came to sex. TJ comes to mind. But he’d never pulled anything close to this stunt. He wants Rush to explain this to him. Does he love Amanda Perry so much that he’s risking his very life to have some sort of sexual experience with her?

Everett has to know why he did this. Man’s a genius. Rush has to know how dangerous this is and he decided to do it anyway.

So much for pragmatic, logical reasoning and the Greater Good.

His radio drags his attention from Rush.

“Everett, this is David.”
David? The surgery must be wrapped up. “Young here. How are Volker and Greer?”

“Not good. Camile and I didn’t come back because the surgery was over. There was an attack on Homeworld Command by the Lucian Alliance. I was there, Camile was at home. There was an explosion and suddenly, we’re back on Destiny.”

Great. “TJ’s on her own, then.”

“Yeah. We’re going to go to the stones room, see if we can reconnect. Best case scenario, we switch with the doctors again. Worst case, the stones were destroyed in the explosion.”

If that happened then they were truly on their own out here. Truly alone in the universe.

“Go,” he tells David, and turns his radio off.

He crosses his arms and waits for things out of his control to play out.

* * *

Ginn comes in at a dead run and immediately she and Eli proceed to speak computer talk together. He ignores them and feels Rush’s forehead again. He’s like a limp doll.

Barnes shows up with a blood pressure wrist cuff and proceeds to take Rush’s vitals. She lifts his eyelids, and shines a light, then frowns. She times his breathing, and frowns again. She pulls aside Everett’s jacket and briskly rubs his sternum. Rush doesn’t twitch.

Barnes looks up at him. “I’d say he’s in a coma, but with the chair? We just don’t know very much. He’s breathing on his own, at least. Blood pressure is too low, and I don’t like his reaction to light. When’s he coming out of the chair, sir?”

“We don’t know.”

“Lieutenant Johanson probably can’t do anything until he’s out, sir. I’ve only had advanced first aid. Everybody with more medical training is helping with the kidney transplant.”

“Stick around, Corporal.” He turns to Eli. “Can we take him out?”

Eli shakes his head vigorously. “Nononono. That would definitely leave him brain damaged.”

“How damaged? Franklin was recovering, finally, before he sat back in the chair.” Everett retucks the jacket around Rush. Barnes shoots him an incredulous look, then obviously buries whatever she’s thinking under her usual poker face.

“At a guess, ten times worse than Franklin. I don’t think Rush would want you to do that.” Eli looks troubled. “Pretty sure he’d want to gamble that his brain will be downloaded back into his own head if we just wait this out. I mean, I don’t think this was a suicide attempt, do you?”

“No. Not now. If he’d pulled this while the Lucians had control of the ship, then, maybe. I think he had thought about it. But not now. He’s been better.”

“Yeah, a whole lot better.” Eli makes eye contact with him. “So, we’ll wait?”

“We’ll wait.”

* * *

James radios him. “Sir, the doctors haven’t come back. But we do have some help. Dr. Perry is here and she’s telling TJ- um, Lieutenant Johanson, what to do next. She said she’ll stay with us until the surgery is completed.”

“Tell Dr. Perry I want to talk to her when Greer and Volker are out of danger.”

“I wouldn’t advise that, Colonel,” a voice behind him says. The tone is cool, emotionless. He turns around and sees Franklin, well, the image of Franklin. “We need to talk, now, while Dr. Perry is distracted. I won’t have much time.”

To James, Everett says, “Hold off on that last order, Lieutenant,” and turns off his radio.

“Dr. Franklin,” he says, studying him. Franklin actually looks more put together than he had while he still had a body. His clothes seem clean and make him look like the university professor he’d once been, with no trace of the bloodstain from when Greer had shot him for trying to escape through the gate. His hair was much neater than Everett remembered, and he was clean shaven. “I’m listening.”

Still looking deadpan, Franklin says, “Let me explain.” He pauses and gives Eli a smirk. “No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

Practically choking, Eli interrupts, “Princess Bride. Jesus, are you really – you?”

“Yes. And so is Amanda Perry. Destiny hasn’t changed who we were when we had bodies. Listen, Amanda’s trapped Rush in that simulation and he can’t escape. You’ll have to stop it by shutting it down from the outside.”

“That’s risky,” Eli warns. “Are you saying she’s kidnapped him?”

Franklin rolls his eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. Amanda loves him, and she didn’t intend for this to happen. Really, it’s Rush’s fault. She built into the simulation what she thought was a problem free escape hatch. In order to leave, all he had to do was feel love for her, too.”

“I’m. I’m pretty sure he does love her,” Ginn says. “Are you saying he doesn’t?”

“He was all moony about her, whenever she was on the ship,” Eli chimes in. “For sure, he cares about her a lot.”

Franklin says evenly, “That may be, but Destiny used what she learned from Rush himself. She’s taken his feelings for his late wife as the standard he has to meet.”

“Oh. Oh, crap,” Eli says, and turns to look at Everett. “If I pull the plug, it will mean that Dr. Perry and, well, Franklin, too, won’t be able to contact us anymore. They’ll be locked out. Is that what you want me to do? What about the surgery?”

Franklin says, with a nod to Everett. “You’ll have to choose, Colonel. Quarantine us now, and Volker and Greer might die without Amanda’s assistance to TJ. But Rush will live. Probably. There may be. . . problems. Hold off for much longer and he may never recover. He was never meant to be like this for so long. Amanda gambled that an hour or two would not risk him, but it’s been close to eight hours now.”

Eli whistles. “Does he know what’s going on?”

Franklin slowly nods. “He does. Amanda tried to convince him that he’d left the simulation, so she could steal some time to figure out a solution. He saw through it, though. Actually blew up the ship, he was that convinced he was still in the simulation.”

Looking directly into Everett’s eyes, Franklin says, “He’s been trying to convince her that he does love her, but she doesn’t believe him anymore. He doesn’t deserve someone like her.”

Sharply, Everett asks, “Does she know you’re here, warning us?”

Franklin shakes his head. “I couldn’t come until her attention was split between the simulation and the surgery. She’s panicked over what she’s done. She doesn’t want to kill Rush, or hurt him, but she doesn’t want to be quarantined, either. She thinks she can come up with some other solution. But Colonel, time is running out for Rush. I thought you should know.”

He disappears then, and Eli looks with dismay to Everett.

“Holy Crud, I can do what Franklin said, but what about Volker and Greer? And Amanda Perry is a genius, no lie. If she finds out that we know what’s going on, she can take steps to protect herself. If she does, then I think Rush won’t make it out.”

Everett glances down at Rush. He’s helpless; if he could have found a way out of the simulation on his own, he would have done so by now.

Eli bites his lip, then says, “Colonel, what do you want me to do?”

Everett takes a deep breath, and gives Eli his orders.

* * *

Chapter Text

Rush is running through the corridors of Destiny, and it’s absolutely urgent that he reach. . .

He’s striding down the hallways of the University and sees his Maths professor. He has questions for the woman. He’s been doing some research and he thinks he sees a solution to one of the non-solved problems she’s posed them in class. . .

He turns around from the whiteboard at the SGC to see that David Telford has brought him coffee again. Whatever for? He can’t fathom why Colonel Telford has been indulging him like this. Still, he smiles gratefully at the man and takes the large container from his hand, inhales the scent of his favorite brew and takes a sip. . .

His Da has passed out in his chair again and with a sigh he fetches a blanket and covers him up, takes the empty bottle of whiskey and tosses it in the bin. He sits down with the Calculus textbook he’d stolen. The stupid woman in charge of the library hadn’t let him check it out, saying an eight year old was too young to understand the problems. . .

“RUSH!!” Colonel Young is bellowing at him and he rolls his eyes, wondering what has the Colonel so hot and bothered now. He deliberately keeps his gaze on the console, taking a perverse pleasure in annoying the man. . .

Terror floods him as the aliens attach a device to his head and force him into the waiting tank of water. The water closes over his head and he pounds on the glass wall and he can’t hold his breath much longer and he screams in his head at them. I can’t breathe the bloody water, I need air, I’m no like you! I need air to breathe!

He slips sunglasses on to hide the redness of his eyes, and braces himself for the ordeal of Gloria’s funeral. Constance is here, to drive him to the church. He’s fair sure it’s something Gloria asked her to do, to look after him during the service. He should tell her he’s fine, that she needn’t bother, but he’s too tired and worn to turn her away.

Mandy’s eyes are full of tears as she tries to stop him from blowing up the ship. It’s not real, he’s absolutely positive it’s not and he knows he’s trapped in the simulation. Explosions fill the air and everything goes dark until it resets and he’s back on the observation desk. Mandy is beside him, in her pretty blue dress, and bare feet and he knows that whatever she’d done, she’d hadn’t meant for this to happen. She didn’t trust him enough to tell him that things had gone bottoms up and that hurts, it does, but he’s not going to get angry with her. This is a problem they need to work, and he tells her so.

He’s lying in bed with Gloria, feeling absolutely lazy and sated and content. He idly strokes her hair, so golden and long, and pulls her to him. He kisses her temple and asks her to marry him. Her smile as she agrees is incandescent.

He is forced to meet the video playing genius who solved the problem he hadn’t gotten his head around to completing. The boy is slovenly and he’s thrown away a scholarship; Rush worked two bloody jobs, no helping hand for him, in order to get his degree. They couldn’t be more different, but he’ll work with the lad, and not only because he’s been ordered to do so. Brilliant talent like that shouldn’t be left to molder on a basement couch, living off a hardworking mother.

Chloe Armstrong plows into him, furious and hurting, and he lets her pummel him as he is slammed to the ship’s deck. Her father was a brave man, and he died for this child. Rush won’t let his sacrifice be in vain. . . He sees the girl in the tank and he breaks her out, flies her back to Destiny, and he thinks of her father. . . Chloe’s eyes glaze over as she stares at the math problem he’s chalked on the wall, and this girl who had told him herself that she had no skill for higher math, solves for a variable that has been troubling him for weeks. Those blue bastards did this to her, but perhaps the damage they did can serve her, serve the ship and the crew. He doubts Colonel Young will see it that way and decides to keep this to himself for as long as he can. . .

Colonel Young is carrying him from the mess and he cries into the man’s shoulder, exhausted and damned. . .

A tall blond man introduces himself as Dr. Daniel Jackson. . .

He’s stuck in Telford’s body and Kiva comes at him with a pain stick and he arches in pain, and she again demands to know who he is, and he’s fucked, he is. . .

The alien sky is beautiful. He floats on his back in the small pool and for this stolen time feels content and relaxed. Colonel Young’s hands support him when he starts to sink and help him find again the balance he needs to stay afloat. . .

His ribs hurt and his nosebleed is certainly a gusher, but the boys who thought he’d be an easy mark have learned otherwise. . .

The stargate turns and he waits, tense, still not quite believing everything Jackson has told him. Then it engages and he’s staring at a blue quivering field. Uniformed men start walking slowly through it and down the ramp. . .

He closes Spencer’s dead eyes, and takes the gun in his hand. This sad situation could be made to work for him, to buy some time. He’ll plant the gun in Young’s quarters and he’s fair sure that the man will have to step down, at least for a time and maybe Rush will get the access to the neural interface chair he needs. It’s a shame he has to go to this length, but the man is just not being reasonable. It’s not like Young would actually be found guilty, after all. . .

“It’s back,” Gloria tells him. . . He can’t bloody think, as they both listen to the doctor about the cancer treatments. . . “Nick, I can’t do this anymore. I’m stopping the chemo and radiation. . .

He’s running through alleys, taking a shortcut home from school. . .

The baby’s crying slows down and finally stops as he finishes swaddling her and picks her up. He rather enjoys the dumfounded look on Colonel Young’s face that this simple trick worked. The wean smells of milk and innocence, and she knows nothing of what happened to him with the Lucians. The only crew member who hadn’t seen his degradation and torture. . .

Mandy and he are naked on this pretend bed, in this pretend room on this pretend ship. She gives him a smile tinged with apprehension and, fuck, she deserves better than this. He’s just not been able to relax and be in the moment, so worried that he’ll have another panic attack. He tries again to banish these negative thoughts and think only of her, his sweet Little Miss Brilliant. Maybe it’s a self fulfilling prophecy, but he does indeed have another panic attack when she strokes his penis. She’s too concerned for his difficulties to enjoy his touches, he thinks. In the end, neither of them are able to achieve orgasm, and Mandy tries so hard to hide her disappointment, but he knows. He can’t stand this, his ability to be intimate held hostage still to Kiva. He never should have agreed to come here, he should have done something to fix himself before dragging poor Mandy into the mess that’s been made of his sexuality. Hell, he hadn’t even been masturbating, why did he think he could be the lover Mandy wanted?

He and the lad who’d bought him a drink in this dive of a bar stumble out into the back alley and exchange kisses. He’d been restless and he’s not been laid in quite the while, so why not enjoy him? He doesn’t want to know his name or where he works or goes to school. His partner feels the same, apparently, because he’s not asking Nick’s name either. Fine with him. Simple sex is what he wants, and no strings. . .

Strings. . . He’s three and old enough to know how to tie his shoes. “Stop pouting,” the neighbor girl tells him. She’d called him a baby when her mother ordered her to help him. His Da made him stay with them this week, while he went off on some job. He tries again to tie his shoes . . .

Shoes . . . Kiva won’t let him wear any, and he knows this is to show his slave status to the Lucians and the crew.

The Lucians and the crew . . They’re all here in the Mess, and they’re all watching him or fucking him or pissing on him or staring at him with sad eyes. Don’t look at me, he wants to scream, but he’s too defeated for that, and he just opens his sore mouth for another man to shove his dick into it. He looks up to see that this time it’s Telford. . .

Telford. . . He’ll not let him die strapped to the Neural Interface Chair. . .

The Neural Interface Chair, it’s marvelous and he has to be allowed to explore its potential. Nobody can stop him, not even Colonel Young.

Colonel Young’s lips are smooth and his body solid and he’s kissing this man for the greater good. He’ll not let him sacrifice himself when there’s a better solution. Young is kissing him back when Rush injects him with the alien venom.

Alien venom. . . Watching the alternative timeline on Eli’s kino was very strange. He’s amused that he and the Colonel both like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid. They need that venom, though, or they’ll all die from drinking the contaminated water. . .

Water, he’s so thirsty, he’s dying for it, but he’s not going to cooperate with Kiva. . .

Kiva terrifies him, and she’s running her hands through his butchered hair and snipping the ends like he’s her pet and she is going to control his life now till he dies. She’s making him the crew’s whore. . .

“Whore,” the crew jeer at him as Koz strips him naked in front of them all and he wakes up gasping from the nightmare.

“Nightmare?” he asks Chloe, as she joins him in the Mess for a cup of tea. She looks shaken, and she nods, and clasps her hands together to stop the slight tremors he can see. They sit in silence and it’s comforting to have her with him. He wishes the aliens had never taken her, and it’s still amazing to him that they both had escaped from the Nakai. . .

The Nakai are relentless in their pursuit of Destiny. . .

Destiny. The Ancient ship is his destiny; he know that with every fiber of his being. The secrets embedded within the walls of this ship will be his life’s work. He’s not leaving, even if they find a way to send the crew home. . .

Home is a cold place without Gloria to share it, and he makes arrangements to sell the place. He’s moving into the SGC for now and then on to the Icarus Base.

Icarus Base is under attack from the Lucians and they can’t dial Earth, it would be catastrophic and he shoves the man aside and dials the ninth chevron. . .

Ninth Chevron. . . Destiny. . . Colonel Young . . . Stranded on a desert planet. . . Fighting aliens. . . Torture. . . Lucians. . . Pain. . . Colonel Young’s jacket. . . Hidden screwdriver. . . Killing Simeon. . . Greer’s comforting him. . . Greer fighting with him. . . Greer. . . Greer’s voice. . .

“Doc, you awake?” That is Greer’s voice. External, not internal. He has a confused sense that his brain has been chopped up into little pieces and all his memories thrown up into the air and haphazardly reassembled.

He slowly opens his eyes, and then shuts them again. My God, what happened to him? He feels dizzy and sick and so tired.

“Doc? C’mon, man. It’s been a week since Colonel Young took you out of the chair.”

He tries to give a wave of his hand to Greer, to let him know he hears him, even if talking seems like too much trouble. He stiffens in alarm. He can’t move, and a quick survey tells him his ankles and both wrists are tied to this gurney.

His breath quickens and he struggles against the restraints. Someone is screaming, and he feels hands on his body, controlling him. They’re going to rape him and he fights, but it’s hopeless and he loses muscle control as he feels himself fall into unconsciousness. They’ll do what they want and he can’t stop them.

* * *

He opens his eyes, feeling strange, weak and confused. The lighting is low, and he sees Colonel Young sitting at his desk, working on paperwork, glasses perched on his nose. He’s in the Colonel’s bed and he has no idea how he got here.

He runs a hand down his body. He’s wearing a T-shirt and boxers. All right, then. He’s maybe not here to have sex with the man, since he’s wearing clothing. Had he drunk Lieutenant Johansen’s green brew and fallen asleep on his feet and the Colonel deposited him here because his room was nearby? That had happened before.

Hadn’t it?

Yes, he sure he’s slept here before and it’s a comfortable bed. It’s big, much larger than his own. He feels tired and he could fall back asleep, but instead he shoves the blankets away and swings his feet to the floor. His head is swimming.

Had he and the Colonel been drinking? He certainly feels hung over. He just sits there on the edge of the bed since standing up seems to be a very bad idea right now.

Colonel Young’s eyes snap to his and he brings a radio to his lips. “TJ? He’s awake and sitting up.”

He can’t make out what the Lieutenant is saying back, but her tone of voice is brisk.

The Colonel puts the radio down and crosses his arms, watching him. Waiting for something, he supposes. He tries to speak, stops, clears his voice. “Hello,” he croaks, and Young moves quickly to his side.

“Hi,” he answers back, and his voice sounds very neutral. It makes Rush want to twitch. The man is holding back what he really feels. This could be bad, then.

He puts a hand up to his pounding head. “Wha’ happened?”

“You don’t remember?” The Colonel takes Rush’s other hand and places a water bottle in it. “Take a drink, Nick. You’ve got to be thirsty since the IV was taken out.”

IV? But he is thirsty and so he brings up the bottle and drinks slowly. His hand is shaking and he feels cold. He must be sick. But why is he here instead of the infirmary? He hands the empty bottle back to Young. It doesn’t matter. He starts to lie down again, but the Colonel sits down beside him and stops him.

“Not yet, champ,” Young says, and his arm is around him. “TJ needs to check you out first.”

He thinks he remembers Greer talking to him. “Was Greer?”

“Greer’s in the infirmary. He’s had some trouble since the kidney operation. You were there, too, but since you freaked out when you started to wake up – you were in restraints -TJ and I decided you might do better in here. You’re not going to hurt yourself if you fall out of this bed.”

“I was tied up again and they were going to fuck me?”

“No. No, Nick. God.” The Colonel sounds anguished. “You were thrashing around and TJ was afraid you’d end up hurting yourself. Nobody was going to rape you. I promise, nobody was going to do anything to you. You’re going to stay here till you feel better and nobody is going to hurt you, okay?”

“M’ head hurts,” he tells Young, as if he was sharing a secret.

“I don’t doubt it. Do you remember what you did? You’ve been out of it for a week.”

He tries to remember but it just makes his head worse. He murmurers “No,” and lays his head on Young’s shoulder. He wants very badly to go back to sleep.

Maybe he does doze off because Lieutenant Johansen is there and prodding him and poking at him, and she makes him stand up and walk a little bit and he’s stumbling and the Colonel takes him by the elbow and helps him to his bathroom and then back into bed.

He falls asleep to the sound of voices talking about him.

* * *

He wakes, sometimes he eats or washes up before he sleeps again. Then he does it again, and again and again. His dreams are bizarre and every time he wakes up, someone is with him. Colonel Young, Lieutenant Johansen, Colonel Telford, Lisa Park, Eli, and Ginn.

Everyone asks the same question. “Do you remember what you did?”

He doesn’t remember. He doesn’t ask for them to tell him. They don’t enlighten him.

But he’s getting better, he can tell. He’s staying awake longer, and his head doesn’t hurt as much.

Eli is there when he wakes up this time. He gazes around the room. He’s still in Colonel Young’s quarters. Eli is playing with his computer on the couch. Rush takes stock. The headache is nothing worse than he’s experienced when deprived of caffeine. He pushes aside the blankets and gets to his feet. Eli hurriedly puts down the laptop and jumps up, walks quickly over to Rush’s side.

“Hello,” Rush says.

“Yes, okay, hello back,” Eli says, sounding a little exasperated. “You’re surprisingly congenial when you’ve got brain damage. Are you hungry, thirsty, need the bathroom?”

“Aye, I could do with a wash and something to eat.”

“O-kay,” Eli says, and the lad is hovering. “Show me you can walk by yourself without tripping over your feet, and you can have alone time in the Colonel’s bathroom.”


“Oh, no, you don’t get to ‘Eli,’ me, Doc.” Eli has a mulish look to his face. “Do you even know that you passed out twice and Telford had to carry you back to bed both times?”

He didn’t remember that. “No.”

“It’s no wonder that Colonel Young keeps saying that you’re a lot of work.”

“Where is he, then?” He takes careful steps towards the bathroom.

“Colonel Young is sleeping in your room since he gave up his room to you. He’s generally been here doing paperwork, but a lot of us have been babysitting you when he’s busy or sleeping.”

“I’m not a baby. I know how to bloody well tie my shoes.” He’s made it to the bathroom and slams the door in Eli’s face.

“Yeah, right, that made so much sense,” Eli says through the door. “Just, like, don’t slip in there.”

“I’m fine, you can go away.” He strips off his clothes and steps into the small shower, lets the warm mist cover his body and soak his hair. He uses the facilities when he’s finished and he dresses himself in the clean clothes he finds there. He slides on his jacket, Colonel Young’s jacket, and so what if an unwilling comparison to a child’s favorite comfort stuffed toy comes to mind. He needs the jacket to keep warm. If it also is a symbol to him of the help he was given, and a comfort, that’s his own business and no one else has to know.

Eli is still there when he comes out, and once again, he’s back to hovering over him, pacing him as he walks to the couch and sits down.

Waiting until he finishes eating and drinking the small meal left for him, Eli finally asks the question. “Do you remember what you did?”

“I. . . Did I sit in the chair?” He searches his mind and clearly remembers it was urgent that he do so. He practically bowled over Lieutenant Scott, he was running that fast to get to the chair. “I remember that I did. But I don’t know why.”

“Yeah, you did sit in it.” Eli sighs and avoids eye contact with him. It’s no surprise to Rush when Eli walks away from him and radios Colonel Young. Ah, he senses a long lecture in his future. When Eli returns he plops himself down on the opposing couch with a sigh. “The Colonel is coming. This is a conversation I don’t want to have with you.”

“I must have had a very good reason,” Rush says carefully, “to sit in the chair. How long was I in it?”

“Ten hours more or less. I’ll tell you this, though, since I don’t think the Colonel will. He saved your life. When he took you out of the chair, you were having seizures. Bad ones. Four seizures in a row, and then you stopped breathing. He did CPR on you, got you back. You owe him. Doc.”

He feels shock running through him. Ten bloody hours in the chair! Why so long, what was his purpose?

He looks at Eli, and he understands that Eli was there, monitoring him. Eli likely knows why he did what he did. Eli doesn’t want to talk to him about it, and Eli is angry. Angry with him.

“You’re angry with me, for being in the chair?”

Eli blows out his breath in a long slow exhalation. “It was a stupid and reckless thing to do. You didn’t even get someone to be a spotter for you. We were looking everywhere for you and found you in it. Yes, I’m angry.” He shoots Rush an exasperated look. “I was worried about you. Everybody’s been worried.” He stares at Rush for a long moment. His expression softens, and he shakes his head. “Don’t look like that, Doc, like I just spun you a fairy tale that you wish was true, but you know it’s not. People on this ship care about you. You were an idiot to sit in the chair, but you’re our idiot and we don’t want you to die or end up with scrambled eggs for brains.”

He really doesn’t know what to say and he looks away from Eli’s intent gaze. “Yes, well.” And absolutely can’t find anything to add to that. He feels cold and wraps his arms around himself.

Eli gets up from the small couch across from him and gathers the dirty plate and utensils. “Becker said to bring these back, not let them pile up in the room anymore. I’m not about to tick off our cook, never mind that he could squash me with like, one finger.”

The boy is exaggerating. Becker must be six foot six or seven, but he’s a gentle man, and Rush hasn’t ever seen him even scowl at anyone. He flashes on the way his own room had accumulated dishes and feels a tad guilty about it. And just when was the last time he’d washed his sheets? Seems to him that the Colonel made a bad bargain when he swapped rooms.

There’s a knock at the door and Eli heads for it like a lad who’d waited endlessly for the school bell to ring and now he’s free. He turns though, before opening the door. “Ginn, she, and me, too, um, want you to know that we’re very sorry for what had to happen. It was done to save you, okay? But we’re sorry, all right? We liked her, too.”

“Eli?” Rush feels a panicked feeling start to gather in his guts. “What?”

But Eli opens the door and steps out, with a murmur of “His comprehension and stamina, they’re better. You break it to him, okay?” Eli’s hurried steps echo a bit down the hall.

Colonel Young walks inside and looks him over. He has that thoughtful expression on his face, the one Rush used to think resembled a placid cow chewing cud. But there’s no blankness in that mind, but a relentless drive to assess, to put every last piece of the puzzle together to see the picture as it should be.

It’s unnerving to have that focus on him and he wraps his arms around himself tighter. The action seems to put an end to the scrutiny he’s receiving. The Colonel moves to the bed and takes a blanket off and drapes it around Rush before dropping down next to him on the small couch.

“You’re cold.” It was a statement, not a question. Was the Colonel showing that he knew Rush, that he could read him, that he was no mystery to him anymore? Ah, Eli was right. He was an idiot. His shivering was hardly subtle. Anyone would see he was cold.

He’s still shivering. The Colonel frowns and proceeds to highhandedly wrap the blanket tighter around him and sweep his hands up and down the thing, trying to warm him.

“Transfer of heat by conduction,” he says, more to himself than the Colonel.

“Yeah, Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Is it working?” Colonel Young asks him. “Or do you need to go back to bed?”

“No. Yes.”

“Clear as mud, Nick. Focus, okay, Genius? We’ve got things to talk about, but only when you’re ready. You’ve been very, very sick.”

“Eli says I’ve been an idiot.”

“Well, he’s not wrong. You almost died.”

“I know I sat in the chair. And no, I dinnae need to go back to bed, and yes, I’m feeling warmer.”

“Do you want me to stop with the transferring of heat by conduction?”

“Not. . . Not just yet.” It was comforting to feel the Colonel’s hands on him, and how things had changed between them. Once, the thought of the Colonel’s hands anywhere near him would have triggered his flight or fight response.

“Okay. What do you remember about sitting in the chair?” The Colonel pulls him close, puts his arm around him.

He doesn’t yank away. Perhaps he does the opposite.

He tells the Colonel everything he remembers, the urgency, the secrecy but he’s blank about the reason he felt he had to do this. There’s dread growing within him, a black hole in his gut of guilt and anxiety. He should remember why he sat in the chair. There is something wrong with him, and he’s very afraid he’ll be useless to the crew, to Young. To himself.

The Colonel says that there was no danger to the ship, but that there had been an attack on Homeworld Command by the Lucians, disrupting the surgeries on Greer and Volker when the doctors using Camile’s and Telford’s bodies had been abruptly returned to their own bodies. No one has made contact since then, Colonel Young says. Volker is fine, but Greer had some problems. With a sardonic glance at him, implying what he’s saying is also relevant to Rush, the Colonel tells him that now that Greer’s actually listening to TJ, he’s getting better.

“Nick,” Colonel Young says. “You sat in the chair because of Dr. Perry. The way Eli explained it, you uploaded your brain into Destiny so the two of you could. . . visit. He said it would feel real to both of you, and that you guys were using the simulation of Destiny that about drove me crazy.” The Colonel shifts a little so he can peer into Rush’s eyes. “Does this bring back anything to you?”

“Mandy?” he breathes out and he feels like he’s on the verge of understanding, that he’s one small slip of the foot from safety due to his ignorance into dangerous white waters of memory that will tumble him and drown him.

He doesn’t want to do this, but he must. He can’t stay safe tucked into the Colonel’s arms, and ignore what he did. He’ll have to face it and go on. And what of Mandy? He’s not thought of her once during the times he’s been awake, but now she’s all he can think about.

“Dr. Perry made a mistake in the parameters of the program and you couldn’t leave and return to your body. The only way to get you back was to come in from the outside and quarantine her, and Dr. Franklin, too, shutting down the simulation. Dr. Franklin told us what to do, but I made the decision to wait until TJ was out of the woods on the surgeries because Dr. Perry was helping her. I left it maybe too late. You weren’t in good shape when we got you out of the chair.”

He flashes suddenly on Mandy and him at the observation deck and how he’d blown up the ship, more sure that he was trapped in the simulation than he’d been sure of anything else in his life. He sees again the look on Mandy’s face as the flames engulfed them and the ship, and the resetting of the program as if it had never happened.

Lurching away from Young, he bends and buries his face in his hands and shakes uncontrollably, as the memories of what he’d done, what she’d done, all cascade in his head.

His fault, all his fault. He does love her, but she didn’t believe him and so the program didn’t believe him. And now she’s lost to him.

Young’s hand is heavy on his back, a solid quiet presence as he weeps into his hands. Finally, the tears are done and Young says, gently, “Dr. Franklin explained to us that Destiny used your feelings for your wife as the benchmark to meet with Dr. Perry. Of course your feelings for Dr. Perry were going to be different. I know you loved her, Nick. Destiny has a lot to learn about human feelings, the complexity of them. It wasn’t your fault that the AI didn’t get it.”

He sits up, wipes his face with the sleeve of his jacket. He supposes he ought to feel embarrassed at breaking down like this in front of the Colonel, but the man has seen far worse of him. And he’s very, very tired. He gets to his feet, Young doing likewise. The Colonel ends up escorting him to the bathroom, where he washes his face and blows his nose. Crying is such a messy business and there’s still a lump in his throat. He wants to sleep again, but he’s afraid he won’t. Perhaps just this once he’ll ask for the green brew. He asks the Colonel if there’s any in the room. There isn’t, but Young radios Lt. Johansen.

She comes and checks him over, watches him drink down a cupful of the evil stuff. He’s on medical leave, and tomorrow she’ll do some tests, she tells him. He’s fair sure she’ll be looking for brain damage.

Young sits down beside him on the bed after she leaves. He feels awful, his eyes hurt, his chest feels tight. It occurs to him that the Colonel hasn’t lectured him for his reckless behavior. It’s not like Young to pass up a chance to scold him. “I’m tired, Colonel,” Rush says. “If you’re going to give me a blistering lecture about what I did, best crash ahead with it before the wicked brew kicks in.”

“It’s Camile’s turn to give you hell,” Young says, and gives him a sideways hug. “I hear she’s even got footnotes prepared. Get some sleep, Nick. You’re gonna need your strength when she gives you what for.”

Young gets up and moves to the desk, fishes his glasses out of a drawer and settles down with what looks like a load of paperwork. Rush strips his clothes off down to his boxers and burrows under the covers. A few tears leak down his face, thinking of how he’d let Mandy down. He’s damaged, and he shouldn’t have tried any intimacy with her until he had fixed himself. He may never see her again and that is so painful. He did love her, he did. But maybe it had been a mistake to attempt the crossing from friends to lovers. Maybe they should have left it as friends.

He has to fix himself. One day, he might want to have sex again; he won’t let Kiva win, he just won’t. He needs something to get him over the fear and anxiety. Just willing himself to do it hadn’t worked. He needs something. Maybe he needs someone to help him, someone who he doesn’t have strong feelings about to give him a hand, so to speak. He’d had simple sex before in his life, as a young man. Back then, before Gloria, he’d not wanted the entanglement of a relationship. Just simple sex, a good time had by all with smiles on their faces as they said goodbye. That’s what he needs again. If he’d done that before trying to please Mandy, maybe he’d have been the lover she’d wanted.

He needs someone. He yawns, feeling sleep steal over him. He needs someone, but not anyone who might get hurt by his experimentation. Not someone who might convince themselves what was happening was love. Someone who’s practical, who can do hard things without batting an eye. Someone who can keep their mouth shut about fucking him. Someone who knows how to keep secrets.

“Ah, fuck,” he mutters to himself when the name of the person who meets his requirements floats up from his muddled brain.
“Fuck me sideways,” he mumbles, and falls asleep.

* * *

Indeed, two days later, after Lt. Johansen has declared he’ll be fine in another week, Camile does give him a talking to that fair blisters his skin, but he doesn’t try to defend himself. She places an official reprimand in his record, although he hardly cares a jot about that.

He’s been mulling over actually talking to the person who fits his needs for working on his sexual trauma problems. It’s a huge step, and he waffles about just plunging in and doing it and thinking maybe his issues will disappear on their own. He thinks maybe he’ll just not have sex ever again. Then he sees Kiva’s knowing smile because she’s still got a choke hold on him, and his fists clench at the thought. He hates the thought that she’s still controlling his life. So, he thinks again that he should at least ask if his candidate would be willing to help him. Or maybe not bring it up. Fuck, he doesn’t know what to do.

Colonel Young collects him from Hydroponics one evening almost a week from when he’d learned what happened to Mandy. He’d assigned himself to help Lisa while still banned from his actual work and no one had objected. He’d moved back to his own quarters, too. Meals had arrived there, he supposes either Brody or the Colonel are responsible. Colonel Young has collected him a few times for chess and an evening meal. He supposes that’s what this time is about, but it turns out he’s wrong.

Colonel Young waves him into the room, locks the door. He points to where his laptop is sitting on the coffee table. “You asked me a while back to help you get over your panic attacks about the mess. I haven’t forgotten, but you needed some time to recover from being in the chair. I’ve got a kino feed set up from the mess area to my computer. We’re going to start with just pictures, no sound. I expect that you’ll feel anxious as hell, but we’re going to walk a line between uncomfortable and unbearable. You start a panic attack, I’m going to bring you out of it.” He puts a heavy hand on Rush’s shoulder. “So, you ready to tackle this, Nick?”

He wraps his arms around himself. He both wants and fears this. He flashes to how Young had helped him on the planet with the rotten fruit that smelled like semen, when the fruit had exploded all over him, and he’d panicked. Young had brought him out of it, then, and he does trust the man. He lifts his eyes to Young’s, and nods.

Young steers him over to the couch, sits down on the table in front of him The computer is right next to Young. He’s close enough to Rush to easily touch him. He takes Rush’s left hand in his own, holds it firmly. Rush looks at him. “Okay, some ground rules. I’m going to count. I want you to listen to me while you watch. Count along in your head or out loud, whatever you want. You start hyperventilating, your heart rate skyrockets, then you need to listen to me, keep your eyes on me. I got you, okay?”

The Colonel’s hand is warm, fingers thicker than his own, and he gives Rush a small squeeze, prompting him, he guesses, to respond to him. His hand around Rush’s is strong, protective, and he tells himself it will be alright to let this man look after him. He can let down his guard and accept what the Colonel is offering.

“Thank you,” he says softly. “Alright then, let’s give it a go.”

With his free hand the Colonel touches the computer and a view of a hallway fills the screen. People are walking down it and going into a room, or coming out of that room in groups, talking to each other, although he can’t hear them. Volker and Brody walk up to the kino and peer at it. He makes out that Volker says, “Eli,” but doesn’t catch the rest of what is said. Volker looks exasperated, Brody has his usual dead pan expression. The Colonel stops his soft counting. “Eli’s put the word out that he’s making kino recordings down there, for his documentary. Nobody but us three know what’s really going on.”

The Colonel watches him as he swallows, his mouth dry. This is the hallway to the mess. He feels his heart starting to pound and the Colonel says, “Count with me, Nick, while you watch. It helps to distract your brain when reviewing old trauma.”

He does so and they watch the hallway for a long time, and he can feel sweat rolling down his face, and his stomach churns. He’s glad he’s not eaten, he’d have probably have vomited if he had.

At length his heart and stomach have calmed down and he’s tired. He’s counted till his voice is hoarse and the hallway is empty of people. It’s late, most everyone has probably eaten and left. Finally Becker walks out of the mess and waves at the kino as he strides by.

He stares at the computer screen and remembers being on the table and seeing people enter, the looks of pity and shame and guilt directed towards him from the crew, laughter and glee and coarse remarks from the Lucians. Grimly, he keeps counting with the Colonel, and he feels anger building, anger at what happened to him.

Abruptly he stops counting and says instead, “Fuck them. Fuck them, the bastards. They had no right. They had no right.” He reaches out and closes the laptop.

Young doesn’t say anything, but he’s listening and the words spill out of Rush, anger and fear and the anxiety and shame, a torrent of feelings and he’s maybe crying, but he doesn’t stop until he feels emptied. The Colonel must sense that he wants his hand free because he lets go and Rush wipes his tears off with both hands, gets up and stumbles into the Colonel’s bathroom. He stays in there a time, washing his face over and over.

When he comes out, he’s as exhausted as he’s ever been and the Colonel has set up their supper. The computer is back on, but instead of the hallway, there’s a movie on pause.

He’s grateful. He’s too tired to play chess but he doesn’t want to go back to his room yet. He wants something normal to do and he’s hungry now. He sits down on the couch, and picks up his bowl of food, prods it with his fork. It smells a bit odd, but not in a bad way. Just foreign.

“What’s the movie?” He’s mildly curious, but right now he’d watch anything, even the Lord of the Rings.

“The African Queen,” the Colonel says. “It’s been making the rounds of the crew. Ever seen it?”

If he has, he doesn’t remember it. “I don’t think so.” He exhales slowly. Apparently therapy is extremely tiring. “Thank you.”

Young gives his shoulder a friendly shove. “You did good, Nick. You did fine. You hungry?”


“Becker’s made some sort of casserole.” He turns on the computer and settles back, and begins eating as the movie begins.

It’s a very old film, and Rush recognizes the famous names of the main actors. He settles himself and takes a bite of Becker’s latest creation. Not bad, actually, and he finishes it off in no time. The movie is good, about two people who couldn’t be more different learning to work together. He wonders if the Colonel was trying to be clever and sending him a message about that.

By the time Charlie and Rosie blow up the German ship, he’s halfway asleep. He keeps awake till the end of the movie and then lets his eyes close. The Colonel is warm, sitting next to him and he’s very comfortable. He thinks he’ll just sleep right there on the Colonel’s couch for the night.

Instead, the Colonel ruthlessly pulls him up and off the couch. “C’mon, hot shot. I’ll walk you to your room.”

Rush makes a grumbling sound and tries for the bed, but the Colonel is on to him, it seems, because he finds himself briskly propelled out the door.

He knows he’s pouting, but he’s too tired to care. “You let me sleep in your bed before.”

“Yeah, I know.” The Colonel keeps walking, and makes sure that he does, too. “I thought about it, but Nick, that was before I kissed you back when you were busy drugging me. I’m not made of stone and I’d prefer to keep temptation away.”


“You and me, right now, being more than friends wouldn’t be good for either of us.”

“I’m a fucked up mess.” He keeps his eyes on the corridor, not wanting to see the Colonel’s face right now.

“You’re not alone.” The Colonel has had him by the elbow but now he throws an arm over Rush’s shoulder. “I’ve just had my marriage fall apart. I think we have potential, but I know myself well enough to see it wouldn’t go well with us if we started up now. Besides, I’m kind of your therapist, and there are rules about that sort of thing, rules for a good reason. And you just lost someone you cared about.”

“You think you and I have potential?” He can hear the awkwardness in his voice. God, but he’s always been shite about this sort of thing.

“Yeah, Nick. We’ve thrown off sparks at each other since we met. But, I don’t want to crash and burn with you, and I’m pretty sure that’s what would happen now. I’ll take a raincheck, though, if you want.”

“For when we’re not both fucked up messes?” he says wryly.


He thinks about that for a while. It would actually be a relief to know that nothing sexual would be on the table between them, for now. Maybe one day, though. But first he has to feel comfortable about intimacy again. He’s not going to make the mistake he made with Mandy with Young.

“I agree. To the, um, raincheck. Someday, maybe. If you still feel like it. And if I do.” His face feels hot and he’s glad the lights are dim in the corridors in the evenings.

“Good. Glad we settled that. Hey, TJ said you can go back to work tomorrow. I’ll come get you in the evening and we’ll tackle the mess again, okay? I thought you did great today. I’ll scrounge up another movie for afterwards.”

“I’m no opposed to that.”

It’s easy between them then, for the rest of the walk to his quarters. Young gives him another friendly shove at his shoulder by way of saying goodnight and he practically falls into bed.

Before he falls asleep, though, he makes up his mind. He’s going to do it. He’s going to see if his candidate will agree to help him with his intimacy problems.

He’ll do it tomorrow.

* * *

Chapter Text

Everett looks up from the laptop on his desk. His door is open and Eli and Ginn are standing in the doorway, holding hands.

“Hey, Colonel. Got a minute? Ginn and I have something to tell you.” Eli’s beaming, but Ginn’s smile is more tremulous, a little anxious.

He makes a bet with himself that he knows what this is about, and he stands up, ushers them to the couches. They perch on one, hands still clasped.

He sits down across from them. His lips twitch, and he tries to not break into a smile just yet. “What’s the news?”

Eli clears his throat, glances at Ginn. “We, um, we’re going to get married. Here. On Destiny. We’ve been talking about the ceremony and we, I, wanted to ask you, if, um, would you stand with me?” His expression is serious, and Everett’s smile breaks free. He’s very, very fond of Eli. The boy has matured into a fine man since landing on Destiny, and Everett suspects that if Eli hadn’t solved the Ancient algorithm Nick had embedded in that video game and joined the SGC, he’d be obsessively playing those video games, maybe still unemployed, and not living up to his potential.

Clearing his throat again, Eli says, “It would mean a lot to me. You’ve believed in me since we met, didn’t see me as just a slacker kid, and you’ve been kind of a mentor, too. So, you’ll say yes, won’t you? Please?”

Everett reaches across and clasps both of their hands. “I’d be honored, Eli, Ginn.”

“Oh, good,” Eli says, relieved. “Now we just have to ask, um?” He turns to Ginn, and Everett lets go.

Ginn raises her chin a little. “I would like to ask Dr. Rush to stand with me, and Camile. She’s been so kind to me, helping me adjust to being part of the crew. And Dr. Rush, he forgave me for my part in his torture. He protected me from Dannic, saved my life at a cost to his own. He’s been very good to me, treats me like the rest of the Science Team.”

“Not exactly,” Eli interrupts. “He’s actually nicer to you and Lisa then the rest of us.”

“What do you mean, he saved you from Dannic?” Everett asks. He doesn’t think he’s heard about this.

Ginn bites at her lip, and Eli tightens his hand around hers. “Dannic, he was strangling me – he didn’t like scientists, and he couldn’t understand us, so he would hurt us, sometimes kill us, the others like me – and Dr. Rush, he made a false alarm go off to distract him. It worked, but if Dannic had figured out what Dr. Rush did, he’d probably have killed him. He did hurt him, grabbed him by his hair and cracked his head over and over against the console. Dr. Rush, he was unconscious for a while from that. When he came to, he was confused and he had a, a, - -” Ginn looks at Eli. “What is the word?”

“Chloe told me he had a flashback to being in the mess,” Eli adds. “She talked Varro out of punishing him for not obeying Ginn and the other Lucians. Rush was disoriented, didn’t do what they said right away.”

It heartens Everett to hear that Nick had done what he did for Ginn during the time when he was probably the most terrified of what the Lucians had done and could still do to him. And Chloe. Brave, brave Chloe. Her situation was becoming intolerable, although Nick is certainly pleased with her new math abilities. He has her running all sorts of calculations, although the solution to that last problem Destiny gave them to solve, the key to discovering the Ancient’s mission for Destiny, is still eluding all of the Science Team. If he wants to hear Nick rant, he only has to ask him how the problem solving is going. No matter. His money’s on Nick figuring out the mission, even though these last few weeks he’s been pretty distracted with his grief over Amanda Perry and his struggle to regain his autonomy.

Chloe now has blue raised patterns of hard, scaly like skin all over her body. On her, they manage to look kind of pretty. Exotic sort of tattoos, maybe. They’d stopped growing, and they look more like vines wrapped around her skin. She has plenty of her own skin showing. She still had these times when her attention turns inward. He can’t help but think she searches for the Nakai at those times, trying to connect to their semi-hive mind. He resists sighing. He doesn’t want to dwell anymore on Chloe. None of them can help her. So, he thinks instead about the two kids here with him now.

Grinning, he asks, “How about I ask Dr. Rush to come here right now?”

Ginn and Eli look at each other. Eli raises his eyebrows and tilts his head a little toward her in an unspoken question. She answers in the same nonverbal mode, pursing her lips and then giving Eli a small nod.

“Okay, we’re in.” Eli says, although there’s a hint of trepidation in his voice.

* * *

Nick strides into the room, looking annoyed. “What is it, Colonel? You know, I do have actual work waiting.”

Everett looks him over. He’s obviously tired again, but they’ve been finishing up their attempts to make him comfortable with going into the mess in plenty of time for him to get enough sleep. Over the last few weeks, he’s asked Nick if he’s sleeping okay. Nick had admitted to the occasional nightmare, especially the last few times when they’d actually gone to the mess and sat there, playing chess and drinking tea. But they hadn’t met for the last three days, and he doesn’t look rested at all. There are dark circles under his eyes, and there’s a burr of exhaustion to his voice. He’d better not have been staying up all night, working. They’ll have words if that’s been the case, since there’s been no emergency.

Nick looks at Ginn and Eli and his brows draw together in confusion. “What’s this about, then?”

Ginn rises, walks over to where Nick is standing. She takes his hand, and a startled look crosses his face, but he doesn’t pull away.

“Doc, Eli and I are going to get married. Would you stand with me? During our wedding? I would really like that. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t even be here, and you’ve made me part of the Science Team. Please?”

The look of wonder on Nick’s face as Ginn makes her request is kind of heartbreaking. He starts to say something, kind of chokes, then manages to say, his voice thick with emotion, “Aye, lass. O’ course I’ll stand with you.”

Nick pulls Ginn into a hug, and Everett is so proud of him for doing that he feels like cheering. He’s getting better, he’s really recovering. Eli gets up and Nick turns Ginn loose, holds out his hand towards Eli. They shake, and Nick tells him congratulations, and then Eli hugs him, too.

Nick is smiling when Eli stops his bear hug, and he glances over at Everett. “I’m standing up with Eli,” Everett says. “So, kids, when’s the wedding going to be?”

“Soon as we can get things set up,” Eli says. “I hear Camile’s on Earth. We thought we’d get her to help with all the details.”

Ginn looks at Nick. “I’m going to ask Camile to stand with me, too.”

He nods, looks at Everett. “When are she and Colonel Telford returning from Earth?”

They’ve gone to talk to the IOA mostly, besides the usual reports to Homeworld Command. David was going to see if he could get the IOA off Nick’s back, and he’d gotten Camile to back him. He’d just smiled when Everett had asked if that was the favor Nick was owed from him. No, he’d said. This is a freebie. Rush doesn’t know I’m doing it.

“Camile should be back tomorrow,” Everett tells them. Camile was taking some time to be with her wife. “Colonel Telford should be back in a few hours.” He didn’t know why David had been so eager to get back by tonight, by ship time, but he’d been certain he’d return by the evening.

“Well, when do you want to tell the crew?” Everett asks Ginn and Eli.

“After we talk to Camile,” Ginn says.

Everett grins at them. “Why don’t you two come by here after supper and we’ll have a celebratory drink. Nick, you, too. We could play cards afterwards.”

Nick shoots him a look, but murmurs agreement. He’s still looking a little shell shocked.

“Well,” Eli says, “we’ve been working on improving the shields. Guess we’ll get back to it. After you, Doc.” The three of them move towards the door.

Everett smiles to himself as they leave. The first wedding on the ship. He wonders who they’ll get to marry them, since he’s going to play the part of a parent for Eli, but if they don’t have a candidate in mind, he’ll have a suggestion. Then a grumpy wail from the open door between his quarters and Carmen’s turns his attention to his daughter’s needs. He and TJ had talked two weeks ago and they’ve returned to their former living arrangements, with Carmen’s room between theirs. TJ’s at the infirmary, and he’s on daughter duty. He enters her room and Carmen is rocking on her hands and knees, fussing. He picks her up and cuddles her. She snuggles into him and he takes in the scent of innocence. He loves this. He loves being a father.

“Now, what was that all about?” he croons to his girl. “Let’s get you changed, and then we’ll take a walk and find your mom. I bet you’re hungry. Sound like a plan?”

For an answer, Carmen stuffs her fingers in her mouth and starts sucking. He laughs, and gets on with the plan.

* * *

It’s Nick’s turn to deal, and he does it as he does everything, efficiently and quickly, and Everett likes to watch his hands as he slides cards to himself, Everett, Ginn, and Eli.

Eli shudders after taking a small, cautious sip of Brody’s moonshine and making a face at the taste. He puts his glass down on the coffee table and says, his voice almost casual, but not quite, “So, we were going to ask if we can use the manufacturing plant to make us some wedding clothes. I know it can, me and Brody and Dr. Inman have been running some tests and the 3-D printer is really cool.”

“It’s a question of allotting our dwindling energy to something that’s strictly speaking, no really necessary,” Nick throws in, as he looks over his cards. “But--” he smiles at Ginn,“if a lass wants a pretty dress for her wedding, I suppose we can rebudget the energy needed from somewhere else.”

“You could do with some new clothes, too,” Eli points out. He has a point. The soft yoga pants Nick was given after his jeans were destroyed by the Lucians are fast wearing out. There’s been a number of rips that have either been ignored or halfheartedly stitched back together. Yoga pants were never meant to withstand the abuse his chief scientist puts them through, crawling into tubes and scooting under broken consoles. He supposes he can authorize Nick to use some of the desert BDUs that are in common use, but he’d rather avoid the complaints that would spring up of favoritism. The entire crew needed new clothes.

“We need to recharge soon anyway,” Everett says. “How about we go hunting for a suitable star and let everybody on the ship have a new outfit, starting with the wedding party. Eli needs at least a better shirt for his wedding day.”

“And a vest,” Ginn adds, looking a little mischievous. “I liked the one Doc used to wear. Something like that, I think.”

“I’ll put Volker onto looking for the right star for us,” Nick mutters, staring hard at his cards, like he doesn’t want anyone to see his eyes. “Since he never tires of announcing that he’s an astrophysicist.”

Everett gives him a sharp glance, not liking the bitter tone that he heard in Nick’s voice. He has a feeling something’s happened again between those two, something that’s eating at Nick. They haven’t worked on his difficulty with the mess for a few days, Nick saying he had some other work that needed his attention, so they’re due for a session. He’ll ask Nick to go with him to the mess after the kids go back to their own quarters, instead of playing a game of chess. Then, he’ll see what’s happened with Volker, although he can make an educated guess. Volker still can’t look at Nick without seeing him naked on the table, being tortured, being raped. It makes him awkward around Nick, and of course Nick picks up on that. It’s actually thrown him into flashbacks a few times, which doesn’t help Volker with his problem at all.

Nick’s frowning now and he’s hunching in on himself. Whatever memories have just been stirred up, this isn’t the time to deal with them. He knows Nick would hate to have some sort of outburst right now, when he’s trying so hard to act like a normal guy playing cards with his coworkers. His friends.

Eli is well aware of the issues between Volker and Nick, and he shoots Everett a look that says, “Hey, I’ve got this.”

“So, are we going to play Hearts or not? Who’s got the two of clubs?” Eli throws out, and then starts a barrage of questions to Rush about their current project with the shields.

Answering Eli brings Rush out of the dark thoughts that had begun to overwhelm him and Everett thinks again, not for the first time, that Eli’s intelligence isn’t just limited to mathematics.

After Rush won that hand, Everett asks Eli and Ginn, “If you’re looking for someone to marry you, since I’ll be with you guys, TJ could do it. She told me once that as a joke, her sister signed her up to be some kind of minister. Paid maybe ten dollars to make it legal. It’s nondenominational.”

“Really?” Eli says. “Ginn?” They do that communication thing without talking and then Ginn says, “We would very much appreciate it if TJ would marry us. We’ll go talk to her when the game is over.”

“She’s with the baby in her quarters,” Everett tells them. “And I know she’ll be pleased to be asked.”

“I wish. . .” Eli says, then stops. “I know we can’t, but I wish my mom could be here for the ceremony.”

“And why not?” Rush asks. “I’m sure Camile could arrange that.”

“I wish your mom could be here also, but the IOA has refused to allow family to use the stones. I’m sorry,” Everett says regretfully.

“Fuck the IOA,” Nick mutters. It brings a small grin to Eli’s face.

“I have no family,” Ginn says. “They’ve all died. When I learned that, as heartbreaking as it was, I also knew I could try to free myself from the Alliance finally. There was no one held hostage for my compliance anymore. I would like to meet Eli’s mother, though.”

Everett shrugs. “Well, I see no reason you can’t use the stones and go with Eli to visit her, but remember, she’s not read into the program. She doesn’t know it’s really Eli who comes to see her. As a matter of fact, I’ll get someone to exchange after this game and get things rolling, okay?” Ginn smiles at him with gratitude and Eli nods his thanks.

It’s his turn to deal, so he turns his attention back to the game. He likes this, having friends over, and he’s not tempted in the least to guzzle down the moonshine. He decides he needs to invite people over more often. Maybe next time TJ and James, and of course, Nick, for another round of card games.

* * *

Nick isn’t drunk, or even tipsy after the card party breaks up, but he’s a little looser in his walk, there’s less tension in his face and he’s talkative tonight, as they walk down the hallway to the mess. He stops at the entrance, surveying the tables and chairs. They’re alone, and the lights are dim. Nick takes a deep breath and steps inside. “We forgot the chess set,” he says.

“We?” Everett asks. He’d radioed and reminded Rush to bring his set to the card party.

Nick gives him a slight shove. “Yes, all right, ‘I’ forgot to bring it.”

“Do you want us to go get it?” Thinking about the chess moves had helped Rush maintain his hold on his emotions during their sessions. He’d still had flashbacks and breakdowns, even so. But, he’d been steadily getting better.

“No. Let’s. . . let’s try this without it. I can’t be playing chess every time I come here.”

“Okay. Want some tea?”

Nick nods and goes and sits down, choosing a back table by a wall and not one near the door. That also showed his progress. When they’d first started coming inside, he’d chosen tables next to the exit. Everett deliberately takes his time making their tea, giving Nick a chance to handle things a little more on his own.

After they’d sipped on their tea, Nick runs a hand over the table top. “Do you know, I stop and think every time before I take one step into this room how the table was destroyed by the gate? How the explosion outwards broke it down to atoms and how it can never be reassembled. How my blood and tears that stained it were destroyed as well.”

“I’m glad we did that, then. It seemed right at the time, although we cleaned it first.”

Nick looks startled. “What?”

He deserves to know, so Everett tells him how the table had been left untouched by Kiva’s orders, to intimidate the crew. How the night they took back the ship, thanks to Nick, he and Eli, Chloe and the others had washed it clean, for him, for themselves, to show that Kiva’s reign of terror was over.

“I was so angry when I saw it had been left like that,” Everett tells him. “TJ helped me take it down a notch.”

“Kiva would have hurt anyone who defied her,” Nick says, a faraway look in his eyes. “I’m no for holding it against the crew that they didn’t clean it against her orders.” He eyes Everett. “You made a speech, I’m thinking, about cleaning the damn thing.”

“Yep.” He’s learned a lot about Nick since the Alliance took Destiny, but the reverse is also true. Nick knows him much better now. Things between them that once would have irritated and annoyed each other don’t set them off these days.

Nick smiles, a small and indulgent one, that he tries to wipe away with a hand. Doesn’t really work though.

So. Time to bring up Dale Volker. “Hey. What’s got you upset with Volker?”

Nick scowls. “And here I was having a nice time, drinking tea, and not having a panic attack.”

“Nick. Come on. You think I can’t tell something happened again? I heard it in your voice tonight.”

“Yes, well.” He crooks an arm and starts rubbing at his shoulder muscle.

“Want some help with that?” Nick’s attempts to release whatever knots him up are always ineffective, from what Everett has seen. When he gets a nod of assent, he stands up and moves behind Nick, and begins working on the tight muscles, sliding his hands under Nick’s jacket, but over his T-shirt.

“So, what happened?” he says quietly.

“Are you ordering me to tell you, Colonel?” Nick sounds edgy, and once Everett would have fallen for the trap Nick just laid, to be distracted into an argument over the chain of command or military rule versus civilian rights. He’s smarter than that now.

“You know I’m not. But it might help to talk about it,” he answers him gently.

Nick sighs, and his head drops a little forward, as Everett’s fingers work the tense muscles.

They stay silent for a while, and Everett doesn’t push. It’s up to Nick if he wants to share his troubles. It’s more important that he be allowed that control rather than forcing him to talk. For the most part, Nick’s back to making his own decisions, but occasionally, when someone uses a forceful enough tone with him, he’ll do what they say immediately, without a conscious decision to agree or not agree. The few times it’s happened, Nick regressed afterward, experiencing nightmares, flashbacks, and showering constantly. His disgust at himself would border on self-hatred. He’d also go out of his way to not cooperate with anybody for a day or so later, as touchy and as contrary as he’d been when they’d first come to Destiny. Mostly, that had been with David, till Everett had clued him in. David and Nick seemed to be getting along fine now.

Eventually, he says, softly, “It’s myself I’m mostly upset with, for not ignoring him. I know he means me no harm.”

Silence. “But?” Everett prompts, while working on another knot of tensed up muscle. He presses into it with a thumb and it gives, finally.
Sighing, Nick says, “Brody and I went to work on a dodgy conduit.”

“Sounds dangerous. I hope you took precautions.” He didn’t like it that he hadn’t been informed that the Science Team was doing something risky.

“No, no. Not energy, just water conduits. No danger of an explosion like the one that harmed Riley that time,” Nick is quick to point out. All of the Science Team, not just Nick, are much too willing to explore new systems and take actions without adequate precautions. David is right there with them, too. If anything, he’s worse. And if the Science Team thinks what David wants them to do is too risky, like dialing Earth during refueling, it’s almost certainly a bad idea.

“So, what happened?” Everett asks, “with Volker?”

Nick worries at his lip, but takes a deep breath and says, “We couldn’t reach the damaged area the normal way, since it went through areas of the ship that are too damaged. But thanks to the Ancients and their redundant ways, there’s always a hatch and a place below where I can access these problems and fix them. It’s a narrow, wee space. Ginn and I, we fit the best, but the lass is a bit claustrophobic, so I go when we need to do this. I can wiggle down on my own, since there’s a pipe I can catch with my legs, but I need Brody – it’s always been Brody before – to grab me when I climb back up the pipe and help me catch hold of the edge to pull myself up. Only, while I was working down there, Brody had to go help Eli with another problem and Volker took his place.”

“Okay,” Everett says, drawling the word out.

“His face was bright red when he had to touch me. He couldn’t look me in the eyes, and after I was out – and he nearly made me fall because his grasp on my wrist was so loose – he wiped his hand off on his pants. Like he’d had to touch something nasty. He couldn’t wait to get out of that room.” Nick scowls. “Fucking Volker.”

“What did you do?” Everett asks mildly.

Nick shrugs, looks down at his hands. “Took a shower.”


Nick’s head lifts up and he scowls again. “Because, Everett, I felt filthy, like I did on the table. Inside and out. I know he’s dealing with the effects of seeing me be tortured. I know he’s not wanting to do anything to me. But he’s not helping, either.”

“You’re right,” Everett answers, trying to sound soothing. “He’s not. But you can’t control how he feels. Want me to talk to him about it?”

Nick shakes his head. “No, what’s the use? I need to learn to ignore him when he blushes. I know that it’s me who’s in charge of how I react. I just need to keep telling myself he’s a git and pay him no mind when he acts like I’m doing a strip tease in front of him.”

“I’m going to make it clear to the Science Team that he not be partnered with you on repairs, though,” Everett says firmly. “You said you almost fell because he felt too embarrassed to really hold onto you. That’s a safety issue, and I’m not going to just let that go. Unless you want to give those orders to the Science Team?”

“Be my guest, Colonel. Just, spare me and do it when I’m not with them.” There a flush to Nick’s cheeks. Everett can guess how awkward Nick would find it to be there for that lecture.

“Sure thing. How’s your neck and shoulders now?”

“Better. Thank you.” Nick puts a hand over Everett’s, stopping his massage.

He sounds sincere, and Everett is always caught a little off guard when Nick does this, is polite and genuine. He grins a little, thinking about how transparently bad Nick had been at trying to butter up the politicians and high ranking officers at the SGC who’d come to Icarus.

Nick catches the grin and asks, a little warily, “And what’s got you looking like that cat in Alice in Wonderland?”

Everett sits down, still grinning. He wraps his hands around his tea mug. “I was just remembering how you used to try to sound polite to our higher echelon when they’d come round Icarus. You couldn’t stand those people and you couldn’t pull it off, being polite and deferential. I think your attempts ranked as the worst I’d ever seen for buttering up the powers that be.”

“Yes, well. . .” Nick trails off, looking distant. Probably he’s remembering his past behavior, Everett guesses. Finally, he shrugs, “You’re no wrong, Colonel.”

That strikes Everett as hilariously funny and he laughs so hard and long that Nick grabs his mug and sniffs it suspiciously. Of course, that just sets him off again on another laughing fit, Nick staring at him like he’s just grown another head.

“You’ve gone daft, haven’t you?” Nick says, rolling his eyes. “You’d best be off to your bed, Colonel, since you’ve come down with a case of the hysterics.” Then his expression changes. “Everett, we have company.”

Everett turns and sees David striding toward them. “Everett, Rush, we need to talk.” They wait in silence, and he knows that tone of voice, that expression on David’s face.

Trouble has just caught up with them.

* * *

Chapter Text

“Rush,” David says, and catches his arm as he’s following the Colonel out of the Mess. “I need to talk to you.”

“I should go with him to Eli,” he protests. David told them that the boy’s mother is very sick with pneumonia and hasn’t been taking her meds that keep her from developing AIDS. When the SGC couldn’t reach her to arrange for Eli’s visit, they sent someone to check on her and found her unconscious at her home. She’s in hospital now and Camile thinks she’s so depressed over missing Eli that she’s verging on suicidal. Eli’s being sent straight away to Earth.

“In a moment. This won’t take long.” David raises his voice. “Everett, I need Rush for a few minutes. He’ll meet you at Eli’s quarters.”

Colonel Young turns and gives them a thoughtful look. Rush yanks his arm free of David’s grasp. That was against the rules, and David, from the sideways smirk he’s giving him, bloody well knows it, the bastard.

“Make it quick,” the Colonel orders. “If Eli’s leaving, then Dr. Rush needs to talk to him about ship’s business.”

Rush crosses his arms over his chest. “I’ll run and catch up, don’t wait on me. And Colonel, I’m quite sure Eli will ask for Ginn to come along. Might as well send that message to Earth now. They’ll be gone for a few days, I suspect.”

The Colonel nods, giving them another thoughtful glance. Then he’s disappearing down the corridor.

David cups Rush’s neck and his thumb slides suggestively up and down. He ought to step away, because while no one is here, anyone could walk in and wonder what’s going on with the two of them.

He doesn’t though, and David grins at him. “I’d like to kiss you right now, Nick. But I’ll wait for later, if you’re coming to my quarters after you see Eli off.”

“I shouldn’t. I’ve not had hardly any sleep these last few days, thanks to you,” he grumbles. David’s fingers have turned their attention from his neck and have crept up into his hair, and the massage is having its usual effect. He feels a heavy feeling of desire stir low in his belly.

“I’ll take it easy on you, put you right out,” David says. “We’ll make it fast and quick and you’ll sleep better all relaxed. Besides, you owe me now.”

“For what?” he asks, feeling suspicious. David likes to tease, but the favor he owed to Rush has been well fulfilled these past weeks. As far as Rush is concerned, they’re even for his having saved David’s life twice over. He hasn’t asked the man to do anything but be his no strings attached sexual partner for working through his problems with intimacy.

“I’ve used every IOU I had to get the IOA to drop the charges they were going to indict you on, even got Chloe’s mother to agree to it. She’s been one of the main people out to hang you, you know. Camile’s helping, too, mostly because she likes you, but also because she owes me. You don’t have to worry about being thrown in one of the SGC’s secret cells, or about being blacklisted from universities or industry or the SGC if you return to Earth. Nobody will switch with you on a permanent basis, either.” He pulls Rush close to him. “You know, to hell with your rules.”

The kiss is demanding, and David makes it last until the need to breathe pulls them apart. He looks pleased with himself, and in a way, Rush is sorry to bust his bubble. He steps back and crosses his arms over his chest again.

“Yes, well, I suppose I should thank you, but I never asked you to do that for me,” he says. “I don’t give a fuck what the IOA thinks or does, I’m never going back to Earth, and Colonel Young would never force me to use the stones against my will.”

David just laughs. “You’re such an ungrateful bastard, Nick. I knew you’d say that. I knew you wouldn’t ask for help with your IOA problem. But I did help you and now you owe me. After all, I didn’t ask you to save me twice over, but you did and I acknowledged that debt. Your debt is something I’m going to be chuckling about for a long time, every time you insist you don’t owe me.”

He feels flustered and annoyed, and a tiny bit thankful. Fucking David Telford and his highhandedness.

“So are you coming tonight? I’ll give you a massage.” David grins at him, and damn it, the man can be quite charming when he puts his mind to it.

He sighs, feeling a roil of emotions. “Aye, I suppose.”

David reaches out and taps Rush’s nose, causing him to bat David’s hand away with an irritated huff that only makes David grin even wider and do it again. Rush had underestimated David’s playful side. He’s constantly doing things like this when they are together. He supposes he doesn’t really mind; David would be disappointed if he didn’t grumble at him, though.

David laughs, his eyes crinkling at the corners. It’s a very attractive look. “I’m going to shower and gets things ready.” He grabs Rush’s hand and plants a kiss on the palm. “I’ll see you then. Better run now, or Everett’s going to wonder what’s keeping you.”

Rush nods and takes off running for all he’s worth. He feels unsettled. Things aren’t exactly going along as planned with David.

Colonel Young is not stupid, far from it, and Rush doesn’t want him knowing how he went to David to relearn how to be relaxed with sex again. The Colonel had noticed something off between Rush and David tonight; those looks he’d given the two of them meant he’d be watching them closely now.

One of the rules Rush laid out with David was that their behavior stay private. This is not a relationship, or it wasn’t supposed to be. Recently, though, David seems to be forgetting that.

He’ll have to set him straight. No strings, no relationship, and no touching except in private. This is their secret. He’d told David that if he could, he would have just gone to a bar and picked up a stranger. David had been amused that Rush had considered him the next best thing to that on the ship.

He’d agreed, though. Affection wasn’t part of the deal.

* * *

After he and Colonel Young walk Eli and Ginn to the stones room, and two strangers get up from the table and are escorted by the two of them to these people’s temporary quarters, Everett puts a hand on Rush’s shoulder. It’s friendly, not dominating, and yes, he can tell the difference now with this man.

“Everything okay, Nick?” he asks. “David isn’t harassing you, is he?”

“No, no. Nothing’s wrong. He just wanted to tell me that the IOA won’t be gunning for me anymore,” he says, hoping a partial truth will satisfy the Colonel’s curiosity and concern.

It doesn’t seem to have worked, though. If anything, Everett looks suspicious now, to add to his concerned expression. Fuck. He debates just telling him that he’s sleeping with David, but anger rises up in him. This secret has nothing to do with Destiny. It’s just his personal life, and he has the right to privacy. He doesn’t have to share this, and he’s not going to say anything about it to anyone, even his friend.

He and the Colonel are friends now, but friends don’t share all their secrets. It’s not going to last anyway, this thing between him and David. Already he’s much more comfortable with being touched and touching his lover. Just a few more weeks, and then he’ll end it. David went into this thing with him with all the expectations laid out and Rush went out of his way to make sure David didn’t feel coerced or guilted into agreeing in anyway. He told him he could certainly turn his offer down, that he could end it at anytime or stop any sexual behavior that he wasn’t comfortable with doing.

David had said he wanted a day to think it over. He was surprised to be asked, but intrigued. He’d told him yes the next day, finding him in his math corridor working on that last damned problem so they could finally learn Destiny’s mission. That first night was an absolute disaster, but they’d done better since.

“Nick?” Everett asks him and gives him a little shake. “You’re off in space somewhere. Are you okay? Is David making you feel uncomfortable in any way?”

He shakes his head, and a lump rises in his throat. Colonel Young, Everett, his concern has caught him off guard and he’s touched.

“We’re getting along fine,” he says. “There’s no need to worry, Everett. I guess he decided to talk the IOA out of crucifying me because I’d saved him from suffocating. Mind you, I didn’t ask him for that favor.” With this, at least, he could be totally honest. “I was a bit taken aback that he’d done that.”

“Okay,” Everett says, and pulls his hand away. “Get some sleep. You look exhausted, and with Eli gone I need you sharp.” The man’s eyes are dancing when he says that bit about Eli, and Rush knows he’s being teased, just a bit, but it’s also true. If there’s a crisis, Eli’s help with be sorely missed.

“Yes, yes. I know you’ll miss your favorite,” he grumbles, playing along with the teasing.

“Nope. My favorite is standing right here, looking like he’s two steps away from sliding down the wall and taking a nap.” He takes Rush by the shoulders and turns him in the direction of his quarters. “Go, get some sleep. No more working tonight.”

“Is that an order?”

Everett laughs. “Yes, or you’ll be so cranky tomorrow no one’s going to be able to stand you.” He gives him a gentle shove forward. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Rush walks off, but of course, he’s not going to his bed.

He’s going to David’s.

* * *

David has taken quarters in a section of the ship the Lucians had established themselves in, after repairing the damaged areas that had kept Young’s crew from inhabiting them. David’s room is similar to Colonel Young’s, larger than his own by quite a bit, with a small private bathroom. A bigger bed. David is lying on it when Rush opens the unlocked door.

“Hello,” Rush says, and crosses his arms over his chest, waiting to be invited in. He sways a little, because, yes, he is almost asleep on his feet.

David slides off the bed gracefully and stalks towards him. He sometimes reminds Rush of a predator cat, the way he moves towards him when Rush stands in his doorway, a residual reluctance to engage with the man like this keeping his feet planted, his arms wrapped around himself.

This wasn’t something David was unaware of, not by a long shot. They’d talked about it, David insisting that he explain what was going through his head. Rush had told him to ignore what his body language might be saying in the moment.

He wants this. He wants to be touched by David, to learn to react with interest, not fear. He needs to get past the loathing, the anxiety, sex raises in him.

David stands so close now. He looks past Rush into the deserted corridor, but no one else lives in this section, and apparently the thought of taking over quarters where the Lucians suffocated to death has inhibited the crew from claiming them. David always checks though, to make sure they are alone, no kinos floating along, spying for Eli.

Sliding an arm around his waist, David pulls him inside and locks the door. His grin is predatory. He enjoys what they do together and pushing Rush past the boundaries his past experiences have set for him.

Rush gradually moves his arms away from his own body and wraps them around David’s much taller and broader one. The man smells clean, and he’s only wearing his uniform trousers. He’s going to have sex with this man, and it’s going to be all right, he tells himself.

“Hi,” David says and kisses Rush, slowly and gently at first, then more demanding as they stand there, him bent over Rush and Rush doing his best to relax and just live in this moment. David won’t hurt him. David’s touch has been invited, and he won’t do anything Rush doesn’t want. So he lets his mind go blank, just a bit, just a bit, because thinking too much right now will spoil what he wants, which is to touch another human being and feel himself touched in return. It’s never mattered to him if that touch comes from a man or a woman because it’s nice to just be close, to have a warm body touching his own, to feel the softness of skin with his hands. He’s exploring David’s back, and fuck, the man feels strong, while David is doing his own exploration with his lips and his tongue, seducing Rush into opening his mouth, letting him in. His breathing quickens, and is it with excitement, with desire, or is it because they did that to him, too, Simeon who raped his mouth with his tongue and then his dick, and, and the others, the Lucians, who only kissed him before so many dicks had been forced inside of him, his mouth, his ass, and they didn’t want to kiss him after that, when he’d been the ship’s whore, and is he whoring himself out right now?

“Whore,” they call him in his dreams and he knows it’s true because here he is, offering himself to a man, asking him to use him for his pleasure, to wring pleasure out of his own body and if anybody could do that, it’s Telford, David, and he did it to him when he was bound on the table, made him come for everybody to see, so everybody would know what he really was, and he hadn’t known that about himself, till David showed it to him and to
Everett, to the Science Team and Volker, and Volker would be feeling so vindicated right now, if he knew he’d come to David for sex because he’s convinced that Rush is a whore. Why else would he blush like that if he didn’t think Rush was one, and every one else has been misled with this idea of Rush as a victim, but Volker knows that he enjoyed what David did to him and Everett, let’s not forget Everett, who fucked him while David’s hand pulled an orgasm out of him, and did he tighten down on Everett’s dick, did he make Everett come then because he’d just spurted come all over his own belly and David’s hand, and David had wiped it on his chest, on his nipples, and he’s breathing so fast now, and David is sucking all the air out of him, and he’s feeling a bit lightheaded and maybe he shouldn’t have come tonight, he’s tired and it’s harder to keep these thoughts away, to let his hands and his mouth and his dick just react, to engage in this workaround to reclaim his right to have a sex life, but he’s very tired and it’s hard to not think these thoughts, and they are not helping. He needs help.

David’s caught on that this isn’t going very well at the moment, and he gentles the kiss until their lips are just barely touching. He takes a step back and gives him a penetrating stare. “Nick, what are you thinking right now?” His voice shades into that of a commanding officer, and it’s a damn order when he says, “Tell me,” and Rush finds himself blurting out all that rubbish about being a whore, and yes, now that he’s had a moment to regain his sanity, he knows he’s not a whore, he didn’t ask to be tortured, he was drugged into coming there on the table, and having sex is no a bad thing, he deserves to be able to lay down with whoever he chooses. He says all that, too, and he’s wishing he had just said no and gone on to his own bed tonight because he’s too tired to be guarded and he should keep up his guard with David.

He lays his head against David’s chest. “Fuck you, you bastard, for making me spill all that nonsense.”

David’s arms tighten around him and then he lets go, steps back and begins to unbutton Rush’s jacket. “Yeah, Nick. I’m a bastard, sure.” He slides it off of Rush’s shoulders. It drops to the floor, and David nudges it out of the way with his foot. He says, not unkindly, “You’ve got your rules, and I’ve got mine. You have to tell me what you’re thinking, if I ask, remember? You agreed, Nick.” He pulls Rush’s worn out T-shirt up over his head and drops it on top of the jacket on the floor.

He sighs. “Aye, I know.” He stifles a yawn.

David runs his hands over Rush’s shoulders, his chest, rubs circles around his nipples. It feels good, but it would feel better if he was lying down.

“So are you paying attention?” David asks, and there’s laughter in his voice, “Or are you falling asleep?”

“Aye, get on with it. I’m awake.” He lays his head back against David’s chest again.

David makes a skeptical sound and then pinches him on the butt. Hard. It doesn’t hurt, but it does startle him. “An’ what was that for?”

“Stay awake for now, and I promise I’ll make it good for you. But you need to hear this, okay?”

He nods. He knows what David is going to say. He’s said it to him plenty of other times, but it seems that there’s still some part of his mind that won’t accept the message.

David places both of his hands on Rush’s shoulders. He looks him intently in the eyes, and says, “You’re not a whore, Nick. What happened to you wasn’t your fault.”

“I know.” Except for those times when he didn’t believe it.

David cups his neck, strong fingers searching out tense muscles. “You, Nicholas Rush, are a stubborn son-of-a-bitch and you’re going to beat this thing.” He kisses Rush, in a gentle, feeling his way kind of kiss. He says, “I’d like to get things back on track now, okay?”

Rush nods, and this time, when David kisses him again, he willingly parts his lips, and the kiss becomes ardent.

“Put your arms around my neck and hold tight,” David breathes in his ear, and then resumes kissing him senseless. He does that, he lets David take charge, and it isn’t always David who says to do this or that in bed, but he’s very tired and for tonight David can take the lead.

David positions his strong hands against the back of Rush’s thighs, and his fingers are gripping him, and he says, “Jump and wrap your legs around my waist.” He does that while David lifts him and he holds tight to David’s neck and he feels opened with his legs so wide apart and David’s solid body between them and he feels his dick beginning to swell against David’s belly. This is odd. David’s never carried him before when he was conscious, although he did a few times when Rush passed out, recovering still from sitting in the chair to see Mandy. Not that he remembers it, but Eli told him about it.

David’s arms are under his butt, and he says, confidently, “I’ve got you. Kiss me, Nick. Don’t hold back.”

He could gouge him in the eyes, bite him, make David drop him, and he’d be free to run away, or to grab something to use as a weapon, throw something at his captor’s head, and, aye, he is good at hitting what he aims for and that’s the only way he’s in the least bit hobbit-like, and he doesn’t know why he just thought of hobbits again, but he knows it’s Eli’s fault. Still, just realizing that it’s his choice to stay in David’s arms, to be held like this, dependent on David’s strength to support him, allows him to comply and as if to prove that to David, he’s rather fierce in his plundering of his mouth.

David likes that, and in return sucks on Rush’s neck. It makes Rush arch his back, and his erection is full and firm and David frees an arm and locks it hard against Rush’s back, pushing him more into David’s body. The feeling of being held like that, it’s driving him pure dead mad with the need to thrust, but his attempts only end up in squirming against David; the sounds he’s making are not whining, they aren’t, but David likes that, too, standing there as sturdy as an old oak tree, because his breath is coming in pants, and he’s saying things to Rush, some shite about how he likes Rush’s hair, the way he’s built, how flexible he is and how he’s wanted to hold him like this since he first laid eyes on him. He tells him he’s going to make Rush stay this way, on the brink, for a long time before he lets him come.

It’s making Rush’s dick even harder and wet at the tip and he wants more, more friction, but he can’t get any more, not this way, but he’s got a workaround for that.

He slides one hand down David’s chest, stopping to play with his nipples for a bit, and maybe he’ll suck them, too, yes, he’ll do that and it will be a fine diversion. It’s a bit awkward, but he latches onto a nipple and circles it with his tongue, making it stand out, and Gloria had always liked this – and he banishes thoughts of her away because this is now, the present, not the past, but he can think of her later and remember how they had made love -- but right now, he’s with David, and, oh, David loves that, but then, Rush had known he would. Statistically speaking, there had been a non-zero probability that he will just love the fuck out of what Rush is doing to him, based on previous trials.

And while David is enjoying that, Rush slides his hand into his own loose, soft trousers and squeezes and jerks at his dick, and yes, continues his thrusting against David’s belly, which he doesn’t like to call squirming, but truthfully, that’s what he’s doing and he’s almost ready, just a few more quick strokes of his hand--

Fuck! The pressure against his back disappears, and David’s nipple slides out of his mouth. David has his wrist and he’s obviously caught on to what he probably would call Rush’s deviousness, his Machiavellian moves, but really, he’s just using the best approach to achieving his goal, and this is what he always does, which for right the fuck now is to bloody well get off.

“No,” David says, grinning. ‘Not just yet, Nick.” He’s got a grip like iron around his wrist, like handcuffs, like restraints, but Rush has another hand, doesn’t he, and David will have to choose, either dropping him down to grab his other hand or letting him stroke himself to completion. He’s so close.

David must have anticipated his move, though, because he flings Rush’s hand away and that’s unbalanced him and he grabs hold of David’s neck again. “Compromise, Nick. Kiss me again like you did, and I’ll use my hand on your dick. You’re not going to get yourself off, understand? I promise, it’ll be better with me.” David’s voice shades into something a bit dominating, but he will stop if Rush uses his safety word. “Don’t want to make nice? Then I’ll put you up against the wall and hold both your hands and make you wait to finally come.”

For an answer, he latches onto David’s mouth and loses himself in the heat and the feel of rough fingers freeing his erection and jerking him, and fuck, but it feels good and he stiffens as his orgasm takes him hard against David’s bare belly. David holds him through it, murmuring silly words.

He’s no one’s baby, certainly not David Telford’s and he’s not beautiful when he comes, or at anytime, but he doesn’t tell him to shut it because, because, it’s just sex talk and he supposes David can say it. It doesn’t mean anything and anyway, it would be too much trouble to talk just now.

He lays his head against David, feeling limp and wrung out, and still lost in a sex haze. He sighs, and nuzzles David’s neck. He doesn’t want to move just yet.

“Nick? I promised you a massage. And I want to come between your legs afterwards. That okay?” David has been good about telling him what will happen on these nights he spends with him and getting his permission first. Well, after that first night, at least, but really, David had done the best he could. Rush had been an idiot, to do what he’d done before stepping foot into David’s quarters.

David carries him to the bed and with one hand pulls the comforter and sheets down. The Ancients did love their bedding. The sheets are slick and sensual, the comforter soft and plush.


Ah yes, he needs to say something to David. “Fine. Get on wi’ it, then.”

David snorts, then laughs. “God, you sound like a Scottish street urchin. I’ve been to Glasgow before, you know.” He deposits Rush on the bed so he’s sitting up, then kneels down and unties one of his trainers, slips it off.

Indigently, he slurs out, “Shut it, you. I only lived on the streets a few times.”

“Did you,” David says, and Rush scowls at him. He’s no for liking that tone of voice. It’s why he keeps such things to himself, but David’s fucked the sense out of him tonight, it seems. David drags his other trainer off and Rush thinks about protesting that he can untie his own damn shoes, but decides David this one time can have the job. He’s very, very tired.

“We’ll talk about it later,” David says, and yanks Rush’s donated yoga pants off. He’s not wearing his tattered boxers. They’d been rather destroyed last night and had needed a thorough washing. More gently than his actions, he says to Rush, “Lie down on your stomach.”

He does, and David talks while rummaging for supplies and undressing and arranging himself behind him, sitting on Rush’s legs. It’s for his benefit, he knows, so he’s not startled when David touches him. David has been considerate about his issues, much more than he had expected. He relaxes, and his eyes close.

“You know,” David says, and he’s sounding smug. “Since I’m doing most of the work tonight, you’re going to have to make it up to me. Next time, I’ll take a massage. Maybe you can try riding me, if you’re ready to tackle intercourse.”

He stiffens, and David’s hands cease their movements. “Nick, you know you can say forget it if you’re not interested. You’re in charge here.”

“I’ll give you a fucking fantastic massage,” he says into the mattress. “I’ll. . . think about the rest.” He lets out a deep breath and says, “Let’s keep going. You can do what you said you wanted. Even if I’m asleep.”

David says, his hands warm on Rush’s back, “I have a weakness for good looking smart scientists. It’s no hardship to touch you, you know,” He bends over Rush and kisses the back of his neck. “Go to sleep, I’ve got you.”

He manages to stay awake a short time, while David’s strong hands run up and down his body, slick with oil. When he wakes up again there’s a pillow under Rush’s hips. David is halfway draped over Rush’s back and his dick is moving between Rush’s oil slicked thighs. Groggily, Rush helps by tightening his thigh muscles and David likes that, Rush can tell by the pleased grunt he gives.

When David starts stroking Rush’s own dick to the same rhythm he’s rocking into Rush, his eyes open wide, but it’s dim in the room and he soon closes them again. David knows what he’s bloody well doing. He feels arousal build in him, but he’s not close to coming again when David has his own orgasm.

David’s hand tightens around Rush’s dick as he comes on him. He dozes again, but he feels David wiping him down with a soft cloth. Then he’s being rolled over onto his back, the pillow tossed away. David takes his legs and bends them so that his knees are high in the air.

He’s instantly awake, because being on his back, his legs like this, it’s close to how the Lucians had bound him. But David’s holding him loosely, and he murmurs, “I want to suck you off, baby.”

He can say no. He can say not like this. He can kick his way free. But David won’t hurt him and his dick is pleasantly aroused and he wants to come again and sleep for a million years. So he murmurs something assenting, even if it’s not very intelligible, and David’s hot mouth closes around him and he feels David’s hair against his thighs and his own hands twist and turn on the mattress as his arousal morphs into an orgasm.

David kisses his belly when he stops convulsing and gets out of bed and disappears into the bathroom.

Now is the time for him to get up, pull his clothes back on and leave. He’s never stayed the night before. Sleeping with David, actually sleeping with him, seems more intimate to him than what they’ve just done. He should go.

He doesn’t get up. He tells himself that he’s just too tired, and he is that, aye, but he knows he’s lying to himself.

David returns and climbs into bed, pulls the sheet and comforter over them, pulls Rush to him. “I’m glad you stayed, Nick.” He kisses him on the nose, which he finds extremely silly and maybe a touch sweet. “Go back to sleep, baby.”

David is warm, almost hot, and he’s very comfortable here, and while he’s composing a rather sarcastic response to being called ‘baby,’ he loses track of his thoughts and drifts off.

* * *

Bloody hell!” Rush throws his filthy T-shirt at David, who catches it with a wide smirk on his face. “Did you have to use my shirt for cleanup duty last night!” They’d showered together, and he’d finally found where David had tossed it.

“It was handy,” David says, shrugging. “Calm down, it’s in tatters anyway. You can have one of mine and keep it.”

Rush glares at him, but David just laughs. “Wear my shirt, or just go bare under that jacket Everett gave you. I’m fine with either plan.”

He pictures himself in only Everett’s jacket. It’s big on him and if he leans over a console, anyone looking will see he’s got nothing on under it. It shouldn’t matter to him, but it does. The sight would probably send Volker into one of his blushes, damn his luck.

But wearing David’s shirt – this means more to David than just giving him a necessary piece of clothing. He’s put a sexual spin on Rush putting it on. There had been something a wee bit possessive in David’s voice and in his expression.

Best he caution David again that what they’re doing together is not a relationship.

“It doesn’t mean anything if I do take your shirt.” Rush wraps his arms around himself, tries not to shiver; it’s chilly in here this morning. He knows what that signifies. Destiny is reducing heat to save energy. They do need to find a star and find one soon. “It’s not like I’m saying to the world that I’m yours.”

David’s grin disappears. “It’s a god damn shirt, Nick. I’ve got extra, you need one that isn’t full of holes. Stop being an ungrateful bastard, say ‘thanks,’ and put it on. It doesn’t mean we’re going steady.”

“Just so we’re clear on that. What happens in your quarters--”

“Stays in my quarters. Jesus, Nick, you sound like an ad for Las Vegas. I let you sleep in, but it’s almost noon now. Everett will send out a search party soon, so you’d better decide. Stay warmer with my shirt, or don’t take it. Up to you, pal.”

He’s a practical man, and he’s no fond of feeling cold. “Thank you, then.” Calling him ‘pal’ reminds him of another point he needs to clarify with David.

He waits till he’s pulled on the long sleeved black T-shirt David hands to him. It’s huge on him, of course it is, and David’s grinning again when he rolls up the sleeves. “What?” he says, when Rush gives him a dark look. “So I think you’re cute in it. Sue me.”

Rush rolls his eyes. “I’ve told you before, I’m not cute. And stop calling me baby. It’s ridiculous.”

“Hmm.” David pretends to be contemplating this, but after Rush ties his shoes and slips on his jacket, says, “Sorry, Nick. ‘Fraid it’ll just keep slipping out. You coming back tonight?”

He doesn’t answer till David opens the door to check the corridor. They’re alone. David pulls him into a kiss, squeezes his ass and murmurs, “You owe me a massage. A fucking fantastic one, you said.”

“Yes, all right. Tonight.” He pulls away from David, and steps out into the corridor and breaks into a run. If he’s slept the morning away he’s behind on the day’s work. Still. Him and David. He feels a small sense of unease, and looks back before turning into a cross corridor.

David is still watching him.

* * *

His meeting with the Science Team before they fly through the star, that indeed, Volker did locate, is almost concluded when Eli and Ginn walk into the Control Interface room.

It is Eli and Ginn, they’re holding hands, and he has no trouble distinguishing between the rightful owners and the temporary tenants when people exchange using the stones.

He raises his eyebrows at Eli and with a gesture indicates he should share the news that he’s obviously impatient to impart to them. They’ve been gone for five days and he’s missed them, not that they need to hear him say that.

“Hi, gang,” Eli announces. “So, time to recharge our batteries, I hear.”

“Eli!” Lisa says, her hands on her hips. “What about your mom?”

Eli beams, his air of casual nonchalance gone like a popped soap bubble. “Mom is doing much better. She’s back on her meds, the pneumonia is on the way out, and she’s gone from not believing me at all when I told her I was her son, to being about eighty percent sure that the Stargate program is real and it was me there with her.”

Ginn makes a so-so gesture with her hand. Apologetically, she says, “Maybe more like sixty-five percent.” She squeezes Eli’s hand. “I’m sure she’ll be at one hundred percent when she comes to Destiny for our wedding.”

Camile, Rush thinks. She’s pulled strings, or more likely threatened to let a few cats out of their neatly tied up and hidden away bags. Good for her.

“And when can we expect your mother to join us?” Rush asks.

“Next Saturday. So, God, lots to do. I mean, we’ve got to get an awesome playlist together,” Eli says, ticking off points on his fingers, letting go of Ginn’s hand. “Clothes to make, snacks to come up with, or maybe even a meal if there’s something more interesting than paste. Decorations, and our ceremony.”

Ginn says, a little shyly, “In my village, there are certain words a couple says to each other, and their wrists are bound together.”

“Handfasting,” Volker says, snapping his fingers. “On Earth, with some cultures, that’s a tradition, too.” He looks at Rush. “Isn’t handfasting a custom in Scotland?”

He’s so surprised that Volker is actually making eye contact and talking to him about something that isn’t about Destiny that for a moment he’s tongue-tied. Then he nods. “Aye, in days past mostly.”

Lisa’s looking a bit starry-eyed at the prospect of a wedding on board. Eagerly, she turns to Ginn. “On Earth, handfasting symbolizes two people binding their lives together. What did it mean on your world?”

Ginn sighs. “Nothing so nice, I’m afraid. It represented our bondage to the Goa’uld, that the new couple should not get ideas above their station and to remind us that we belonged to the gods. Still, it’s always been part of weddings.” She smiles rather defiantly. “Those gods are thrown down, and I’m free of the war lords who took their place. I would like to include it, but for the Earth meaning instead.”

“You bet,” Eli says firmly, and takes her hand again, and kisses her knuckles. “Brody, can we count on you to provide the booze?”

Brody nods. “I got you covered. Been making something special and holding it back.”

“Okay then. So, we’re flying through a star?” Eli asks.

And with that, Rush takes back over assigning workstations for monitoring the process. They will drop out of FTL in two hours and in three will be entering the star. It should be rather routine.

* * *

“Nick! What the hell is going on!” Everett is roaring, in full on Colonel mode, and no, this refueling stop has been anything but routine. They’ve both been called to the Bridge, when things started going awry and the energy that should have been going to restock their supply was being funneled away instead.

“I don’t know, but whatever is happening, it’s happening behind the firewall.” His hands are flying over the console, interrogating the ship. They’ll be through the star soon, and the way the power is being diverted they’ll end up with less energy stored than when they started.

“Can you stop the power drain, or tear down the firewall?” Everett is calming himself down, thank fuck. At least he’s not standing behind Rush, breathing down his neck, watching him work with suspicious eyes.

“Working on it,” he says. “Eli?”

Eli just shakes his head, his eyes not leaving his own monitor screen. “Whatever’s going to occur, it’s got to be soon. What the hell could be going on that needs the power of a star to make it happen?”

Rush brings a fist to his mouth. His mind is racing, and bits and pieces of conversations he’s had with Mandy and with Dr. Franklin are linking with each other like a whirlwind has grabbed puzzle pieces, shoving them together till the pattern becomes clear.

“Nick!!” Everett moves from the command chair and takes him by the shoulders. “Do you know what this is?”

He’s not shouting at him. No, he’s actually spoken quite normally. It’s really only in his own head that he feels like he’s shouting over the sound of a storm.

“It’s, I think it’s,” he begins, then he sees the AI standing next to Everett. He turns to Gloria. “Are they doing it, then?”

Everett grips him tighter. “Nick! Get it together, genius. What do you think is going on?”

Still looking at Gloria, he says, reverently, “Ascension. Mandy and Dr. Franklin are attempting ascension.”

Smiling at him, like he’s done well in an examination, Gloria says, “Yes, darling. They are. You’re hindering them, though, with your attempts to stop the power transfer. You may even succeed in reverting the energy flow. So, what will you do? Help them, or doom them?”

The AI has just given him another one of its bloody tests on ethics. For the greater good, he should stop them. Two people’s needs against those of the rest of the crew. But for Mandy to be free, truly free again! She could retake human form. And Franklin, too, of course. They must have worked this out between them, the power required to ascend.

Mandy wouldn’t harm the crew, and neither would Franklin. The man had essentially died to save them when he’d sat in the chair.

He will trust them that they won’t doom the crew to a fiery death, that the power drain won’t take down their shields while they are still traveling through the star.

“All right then,” he says to Gloria, who smiles at him serenely. “Let them fly and be free. We’ll wait, and sit on our hands.”

Everett turns him so that he’s forced to look up directly at him. “If you were talking to who I think you were talking to, how about explaining what decision you just made on my behalf and the crew’s?”

“Colonel,” he says, and makes sure he’s loud enough so the entire Bridge can hear, “Dr. Perry and Dr. Franklin are in the process of ascending. It’s something that’s interested both of them quite a bit, and apparently they’ve worked out that path. I trust them both to not kill us during it. But if we keep trying to wrest control back, we’ll likely doom them, perhaps to being like Anubis was, half ascended and stuck for eternity like that. I’ll not do that to them.”

“You think we’ll be okay, then?” Everett is staring at him intently, but he lets go of him.

“Yes. Mind you, we’re going to have to turn right around and go back into the star again, but we should come out with enough power to keep us safe.”

“Okay, then. Everybody,” Everett announces loudly, “stop your efforts and let them take what they need.”

Rush enters commands on the console, ending their attempts to cut off the power flow. The AI is standing next to Eli now, and he looks over to the image of his wife. “And will you be our go between, keep us informed of their progress?”

“What?” Eli says. “Like I know what you’re asking.”

Rush sighs. “And as a personal favor, will you please the fuck manifest to the rest of the Bridge crew?”

Suddenly Eli steps back. “Whoa! Hey, hey, is it, are you the AI?” He beams at Gloria. “Man, you are, aren’t you? I have, like, so many questions.”

All eyes in the room turn to her, and he wonders if they all see something different than what he sees. Everett is watching, too. Quietly, Rush says to him, “And what does the AI look like to you?”

Just as quietly back, Everett describes the AI as a beautiful blonde woman in a sweater and slacks outfit. Her hair is up in a twist and she’s speaking in a British accent as she answers Eli’s questions.

“The AI has the appearance of my wife, Gloria,” he says, and there must be something in his voice that alerts Everett because despite being on the Bridge he wraps an arm around him.

“She was lovely, Nick.”

He looks around the Bridge to distract himself from feeling overwhelmed by loss and his attention is caught by the sight of Volker ceremoniously handing a ten dollar bill to Brody. “An’ what do you think that’s about?” he asks Everett.

Everett’s poorly disguised laugh as a cough peters out and he says, with a broad grin, “That, my friend, is the result of a bet on your sanity. Brody said the AI was real; Volker said you just hallucinated it.”

He scowls at Volker. “Bloody hell. He’s been in the Stargate program for years and he still doesn’t believe impossible things happen on a weekly basis?”

Everett doesn’t answer him, but hugs him a little tighter. They’re still standing like that, watching the AI when David enters the room.

David looks at the two them standing so close and something fleets across his face, longing or maybe jealousy. It strikes him then how much things have changed between him and Everett, since the day he’d been so surprised and unsettled that the Colonel, in his exuberance over the shuttle’s safe return after the first time they’d flown through a star, had clapped him on the back and ruffled his hair. Back then, he’d have jumped like a singed cat if Everett had laid a friendly arm over his shoulder. Today, he’d just calmly accepted the gesture as one of good will, and he didn’t even mind that they’re with the Science Team right now.

Everett lets him go then and crosses to David. Rush can hear him explaining what’s going on and David takes out his radio and contacts Scott and James and Lt. Johansen, who all had teams in readiness, although for what Rush doesn’t have a clue. It’s not like someone could board them while they were inside a star.

The AI looks to him and then vanishes, leaving Eli with a crestfallen expression.

Now, they wait.

* * *

It feels like the entire crew is holding their breath, unsure of what what will happen. Eli, quite unnecessarily, has taken to announcing the drop in their power levels in increments of two.

“Destiny’s power levels have now dropped. . . to twelve percent,” Eli intones dramatically. “Thirty minutes till we clear the star.” He’s broadcasting it to everyone on the ship.

David shoots Rush an exasperated look from where he’s sitting in the Command chair. Everett has gone to his daughter for a time, and Lt. Scott is with Chloe. Greer is standing by Lisa, and when Eli’s not being the voice of doom, then he’s close beside Ginn. He supposes everyone is trying to be with those they love, or with their close friends. Brody and Volker, too, keep finding reasons to leave their work stations and walk over to the other one for a few minutes of conversation, pretending to be looking over the data on their consoles.

David nods his head toward Eli, giving Rush a look that clearly means, ‘you do something, or I will.’ Rush shrugs, then says, “Yes, thank you, Eli. Dr. Park can continue the public service announcements. You and Ginn see what else you can shut down to conserve energy.” Lisa is an incurable optimist, and she’ll not make the crew feel like they need to be hiding under their beds. They’re already reduced down to essential systems, but there is essential, and then there is essential. Time to strip power from the weapons.

Eli whispers something to Ginn and they both walk over to him. “You mean the weapons arrays, don’t you?” Eli says.

When Rush nods, Eli says, “Easier to do that from the Apple Core.”

“I’ll monitor from here.” Eli is right, the Control Interface room would give them easier access.

“Okay, Doc.” He looks indecisive for a moment, then pulls Rush into a hug. It’s brief, but he returns it. Then it’s Ginn’s turn.

“Off with the two of you,” he says, a little gruffly.

There are more hugs for the rest of the Science Team, and then Ginn and Eli are running out into the hallway.

Ten minutes later, Lisa toggles the shipwide broadcast control. “Hey, everybody. We’re still fine on our power levels, – currently at ten – but you know, we’ve been lower than that before and we’ll be replenishing our energy soon. Nothing to worry about. We should clear the star in fifteen minutes. And in case you’re wondering why not just turn around now and go back the way we came, Destiny doesn’t think that’s a good idea.”

Indeed the AI had been very clear that the ship had to stay out of the star for two hours before diving back inside. The AI had been less forthcoming on what was happening with Mandy and Franklin.

Daniel had told him about his experience with ascension. Well, what he remembered of it. He had received help from the Ancients to transform and didn’t remember anything about his actions as an ascended being. He’d been told by General O’Neill that he’d visited him when O’Neill had been a prisoner of the Goa’uld and apparently he’d broken the Ancients’ rules, resulting in him being returned to human status.

There were no Ancients now to help Mandy and Franklin. And they were transforming from, essentially, code, not human bodies. He desperately hopes they are successful. Would they then retake human form and stay here on the ship? Does he have a second chance with Mandy? He really shouldn’t be thinking like this, not now, and he can practically hear Everett saying to him, ‘Focus, genius.’

So he does, and their power drops to eight, then six and, thank fuck, comes back up again to ten, then twelve. The weapons systems is almost totally disabled now.

Then they are through the star. Mere moments later, lights flicker on the Bridge and every hair on his arms and head feels like they’re standing straight up.

“Don’t touch anything!” he yells to the Bridge crew. “Lisa, is the broadcasting still open? If so, tell them not to fucking move or touch a damn thing!”

She had left it open and relays his message, minus the profanity.

His heart is pounding, there’s a rushing sound in his ears. This is it, he’s sure of it. Ascension, and they’re just feeling the byproducts of the process.

Gradually, the static electricity they can all feel dissipates; Destiny’s ionizing process in the ventilation system is balancing the positive and negative energy charges in their vicinity. Lisa explains what’s happening to the less scientifically minded crew and lets them know how to tell when it’s safe to move again.

When it’s normal, he rapidly scans the monitor, checking systems. The firewall has been deconstructed. “Mandy?” he whispers. Suddenly he’s very afraid that they weren’t successful, that all traces of her are gone.

He hears gasps behind him and turns, throws his hand up to shield his eyes.

She’s there, his Mandy, and Franklin, too. But they aren’t human. They are glowing, incandescent energy forms, taking on the illusion of human features. They look. . . brand new, somehow, in their ascended forms.

They’re holding hands.

“Nick,” she says, and her smile is so wonderful to see. “We did it, Jeremy and I. Thank you for helping. And Colonel Young, too.”

He swallows. It’s not lost on him how they’re projecting. “Mandy, I’m so, so sorry.”

She lets go of Franklin’s hand and moves so very close to him. In a quiet voice, her beautiful face shining, she says, “I’ll never forget you, Nick. I don’t know if what I felt for you was a crush or first love, but it was sweet and wonderful. I’ll cherish our times together. Please, be happy for me now.”

“You and Franklin, then.” He hears the defeat in his voice.

“Time for us flowed differently, Nick. We’ve already spent eons together and he’s made me very happy. I love him.”

He hears what she’s too kind to say out loud. That there is no chance for them now. She’s moved on, and she’ll remember him once in a while and smile at her first experiences with intimacy, or perhaps grimace at how badly he’d made love with her.

“Don’t, Nicholas,” she says, and her eyes look like they’re seeing right into him. Perhaps she is, an ascended being with who knows what powers. “Don’t belittle what we shared. It was right for us then. This is right for me now. We wouldn’t have been right for each other for very much longer, even if I hadn’t been sequestered behind the firewall.”

“An’ what will you do now, you and Franklin?” He wishes he could hold her in his arms one more time, but she’ll not feel his touch, not as she is now.

Gently, she says, “We’re returning to Earth. We’ll take human form again, raise a family together.”

She had always wanted children, he knew. Now she would have that dream fulfilled.

“Live well then, Amanda Perry. Little Miss Brilliant. I’ll be happy for you.” His chest feels so tight, there’s a lump rising in his throat that he orders to disappear. It doesn’t.

She bends even closer to him. “I’m leaving you with a small present, Nicholas. Just a hint in the direction you need to go to solve that last problem Destiny gave you. I told it to Chloe. She’s working on it right now. You’ll know what Destiny’s mission is when it’s solved.”

He wonders if she’s been aware of what they’ve been doing while she’s been gone. He blushes suddenly. Does she know what he and David have been up to?

She looks down at the floor. “Despite the firewall, yes, I know what’s been happening on the ship. And Nick? Be careful, okay? I don’t want to see you hurt.” Her eyes flick to where David is watching them avidly. Franklin is talking with Brody and Volker and Lisa.

Mandy holds her hand up in the same gesture she’d used before, when she returned back to her own body via the stones.

“Goodbye,” she says, and Franklin is there now with her, and takes her hand, giving Rush a nod.

They disappear. Moments later, the monitors show the stargate is dialing. Rush turns on the kino feed from the gate room and watches, tears forming, hot and unwanted, as the gate comes alive with a whoosh. Franklin and Mandy pass through the blue opening without a backward glance.

* * *

Chloe is alone when Rush knocks on her door, and the guard opens it. She doesn’t turn around to see who is here to see her, she’s staring intently at the chalked symbols on the wall in front of her. It’s the last problem Destiny has posed, the one that’s eluded all of them. The one that is the last key to learning Destiny’s mission.
“Chloe,” he says softly. He doesn’t want to startle her. He can’t see any new changes her Nakai hijacked DNA is expressing. She’s just Chloe, long dark hair, slim and straight, a lovely young woman with patterns of blue raised on her skin.

“What’s happening now?” she asks.

“We’re through the star and waiting a bit before we reenter it to recharge. Ascension was costly in terms of our power supply. I’ve left it in Eli’s hands for now.” Everett had returned to the Bridge, taking over for David, who had given Rush a questioning look before walking off the bridge. He knew David was asking if he would come to him tonight. He had shaken his head no.

“Are they gone?” she asks. She doesn’t stop what she’s doing. She doesn’t say who she means. He knows, though.

“Yes. Through the stargate. Eventually to Earth.” He walks over and stands at her shoulder.

Her hand slides into his, warm, human. She says, “She knew her leaving would hurt you. She was sorry for that, she said. I’m not sure she gave you a clue to solving this thing,” she nods toward the wall, “as an apology or as a distraction.”

He squeezes her hand and she lets go, turns now to look at him directly and hands over the chalk she’d been holding in her free hand.

Her eyes go blank for a long moment, and he wonders what is happening at those times. Lt. Johansen has done all the tests that she can, and they know that Chloe’s brain goes into primarily Theta waves when she looks like this. Personally, he thinks she’s trying to contact the Nakai on an unconscious basis. He sees no point in keeping her locked up, though. Surely the Science Team can devise something, an alarm, or a device that locks her out of sensitive areas. If they don’t find a way to allow her to remain safely on Destiny, he’s afraid that Colonel Young will be forced to put her off the ship one day, or if she does draw the Nakai to them. A wave of grief washes through him at the thought. He doesn’t want to lose her.

She blinks, says “I was doing it again, wasn’t I?”

Forcing himself, he says lightly, “Aye, away wi’ the fairies, you were. Now, show me what Mandy told you.”

* * *

It’s more with a sense of relief than excitement when he steps back and surveys the equation scrawled on the wall in Chloe’s quarters. Chloe has not helped him, beyond showing him the hint Mandy had left for him. He’s sure he’s correct, though.

“Chloe, can you do the proof?” They should be entering the star shortly, if he hasn’t lost all sense of time. Eli can handle it. He’s more interested in how Chloe will construct the proof. This Holography problem involved flat space-time and negatively curved space-time and a negative number of dimensions. He’d had a moment of epiphany from the clue he’d been left– Mandy really was brilliant-- and he’d chased that intuitive thought and everything finally, finally had fallen into place.

She takes the chalk from him and without a word begins on another section of the wall.

Suddenly the door opens and the guard says, “Doc! you’re wanted on the bridge! Colonel Young says to check your radio.”

He’s quite sure Everett had said for him to check his damn radio, and he looks up from doing just that, feeling chagrined. Of course he’s let the battery run down.

Chloe whirls around and dashes to the bed. She pulls aside a pillow and hands him a radio. “Matt gave it to me, in case I needed to talk to him. Um, he may not have actually checked with Colonel Young about that.”

He turns it on, flips it to the correct channel. “Rush here.”

Everett’s voice comes through loud and clear. “We’re under attack, and our power’s down to eleven percent. Get up here, genius. Run.”

He’s already doing exactly that.

* * *

Chapter Text

“Eli, power levels! How long can we hold out?” Everett orders, and flings himself into the Command Chair. They haven’t fired on the ships attacking them, but it’s only a matter of time before the shields fail. He needs an analysis right now, on whether they should shunt power back to the weapons and blast their attackers to atoms or hold it for the shields. He needs Nick, but he’s still on his way to the Bridge.

“Nine percent. We can make it to the star, Colonel,” Eli says, with confidence.

“Anybody say otherwise?” Everett directs the question to the rest of the Science Team, giving them all a no-nonsense look. They shake their heads or tell him they agree with Eli. Math Boy. Right now, all their lives are riding on him being correct.

“Three minutes till we enter the corona,” Brody states. He and Volker are huddled together at a console.

Nick runs onto the Bridge and straight to Eli, practically shoving him aside to look at the data. Then he’s staring at Everett, panting. “We should make it to the star before the shields collapse. Firing our weapons will drain us too much. We should increase our speed, though.”

“Yeah, we know and I’m on it,” Brody says. “Okay, sending velocity changes to you now, Colonel. Punch it.”

He verifies the increased speed after a jab to the command panel.

Lisa Park says, “Two more ships have dropped out.” She focuses on the monitors for a long moment. Her voice tighter, she says, “Power analysis of their crafts indicates all four are gearing up to fire on us again in forty seconds.”

Everett looks first to Nick, then to Eli. “We gonna make it, Math Team?”

“Yes, thirty seconds to the star,” they both say at the same time. “Snap,” Eli quips, but his eyes show no amusement. Nick just looks baffled.

“They aren’t the Nakai,” Nick says. “I thought when--” He catches himself. “They aren’t the Nakai, who the bloody hell are they?”

It’s Volker who answers. “Their ships are the same type we found in that space junkyard. You might not remember that. It was during the time you were in the chair.”

“Oh! Oh no! That’s! It just dropped out!” Lisa says and they all look to what she’s projected onto a screen. Four small ships and something that dwarfs them. It’s easily four hundred times the size of the others, scout ships, almost certainly.

Brody gives Volker a nudge. “The Mother Ship.”

“Yeah, definitely the Mother Ship.” Volker has a look of stricken awe on his face.

“We’re in,” Eli announces as they enter the star and the entire Bridge crew relaxes.

Nick shoots him a look, so he explains what Eli had discovered with the long range sensors and why they had decided to not go and stir up a potential hornet’s nest by scavenging for useable scrap. That place hadn’t been a junkyard, it had been a grave yard. The scout ships, though, had been only playing dead. Eli shows Nick the computer projection of the battle on the large screen and they all watch the much larger ships be destroyed, with no sign of a ship the size of the one that has just appeared.

“This Command Ship,” Nick says with a pointed look at Brody and Volker, “is going to be a problem.” He crooks an arm over his opposite shoulder, rubbing at his neck muscles. Everett knows it’s a tell of Nick’s when he’s deep in thought. Or exhausted. He says, “The small ships were left to watch the wreckage, perhaps to call in a Command Ship.”

David trots onto the Bridge, and with a nod to him, heads straight for Nick and Eli. They bring him up to speed and Everett decides to let him take the lead on a plan for when they leave the star. David is an excellent strategist, after all.

Everett wants a private word with Nick. Now seems to be as good a time as any.

He clears his throat. “Are we still in any danger, while we’re in the star?”

“No, Colonel,” Ginn says. “The solar collectors have deployed. We’re now at ten percent. We have five hours before we emerge and we’ll have to clear the star’s gravity well before we go to FTL.”

Nick turns toward him. “We can slow down quite a bit while we refuel. Give us seventeen hours to hide in here. Eli?”

“Yeah, good thinking,” Eli says. “I’m on it. And that gives me an idea. . .” Eli trails off, but he sends the corrections to Everett and he drops their speed.

“So maybe they’ll be gone when we come out?” Lisa is looking hopefully around the room. Nobody else is looking optimistic.

Nick glances at her with what Everett is definitely going to define as a look of fondness. He says, “Well, we can hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

“Speaking of the worst,” Everett pitches his voice so everybody will hear him, “Colonel Telford, you have the Bridge and you’ll take point on our strategy for exiting the star. Dr. Rush, with me.”

He’s just risen from the Command Chair and sees David walking with Nick, who’s looking uncertain. He’s probably checking his conscience, Everett thinks. It’s an old habit from their days of being constantly in conflict.

David suddenly steps in front of Nick, causing them to collide. Nick has very fast reflexes, though and avoids a hard crash. They don’t end up on the floor in a tangle of limbs. Instead, David catches him by his biceps so he doesn’t lose his balance. He says something softly to Nick, who stands there with a deer in the headlights look, till he nods, and looks down at the floor.

Something is up with them. He knows this; he doesn’t know if he needs to intervene. He’s almost a hundred percent sure they aren’t plotting another mutiny. Well, ninety-five percent.

David says, “When you’re done with Dr. Rush, I need him back, Colonel Young.”

With that, Nick frees himself and slides past David. He’s wearing a wooden expression that Everett supposes he thinks masks his feelings, but Everett knows him pretty well by now. Even before they became friends, he had gotten adept at reading Nicholas Rush’s expressions from all those hours watching him on the kino recordings Eli had done for him.

Nick is upset, almost on the verge of tears. Well, it has been a hard day and he knows it has nothing to do with this surprise attack.

They walk down Destiny’s corridors and Everett keeps his silence. Nick needs a few moments to get himself back together, and he’s fine with giving it to him. Once, he wouldn’t have, he’d have been at him like a dog worrying a bone. Nick would have gone on the attack then, and instead of a useful conversation they’d have had a raging argument.

They step into the elevator at the end of the corridor and Everett punches in their destination.

Nick sighs when they exit it. “What is it, Everett?”

“You tell me, genius.”

Nick gives him a sardonic look. “Always so suspicious. Well, let’s see. What could I have done that makes you ask that. . . “ They walk together and Nick looks thoughtful. Finally he asks,“Was it because I was surprised that our attackers weren’t the Nakai?”

“Okay, let’s start with that one.”

“I was with Chloe and several hours ago she had one of her blank spells. I was afraid when you radioed that she’d contacted those bastards. I don’t want to lose her, not to them, and not to you putting her off the ship.” He looks at Everett and his eyes are pleading. “Please don’t leave her on a planet, Everett.”

“Not planning on it.”

“If you do, you’ll lose Scott, too. He won’t leave her to be alone like that.”

“I know. For now, we’ll leave things as they are.”

Everett stops at their destination, unlocks it with the code only the senior staff are allowed. Nick follows him in, looks around, puzzled.

“Why are we at the supply room?”

Everett points to a tall shelf. “I need something, thought we could talk and take care of my errand at the same time.”

He rolls a ladder over, climbs up it and gets what he came for, scrambles down with it tucked firmly under his arm. “Let’s go.”

Nick follows him out, closes the door and locks it. “Everett, what did Eli mean by ‘snap?’ Obviously, it’s some sort of slang.”

“You say it when two people say the same thing at the same time.”


“I can’t see you ever saying it.” Everett grins a little at the thought.

“Not in a million light years.”

They walk back to the hub, re-enter the elevator. Nick rubs at his temple. “Was that it, then? I should go back to the Bridge.”

“Not just yet. Look, I’m not blind. I’m assuming you and David aren’t plotting to take over the ship.”

“Hardly,” Nick mutters. “I’m content to keep you in charge, Colonel. I’ve seen the nonsense you have to put up with and the paperwork alone would drive me to Brody’s still every night.”

They exit the corridor. Nick is trying to hide that he’s disturbed over being questioned about David. “I just need to know a couple of things, Nick. Is David bothering you?”

Nick looks insulted. “This again? Of course he isn’t. And if he was, I’d be the one to put a stop to it. I don’t need any help.”

“Okay, tiger.”

Nick bites his lip, then sighs, “He’s helping me with a project. I didn’t want to ask you, you’ve enough to do with our trips to the Mess. Colonel Telford’s giving me some physical instruction. He’s very good at self defense.”

“He’s excellent at self defense.”

Nick looks away as they walk. “I don’t want the crew to know anything about it. I’ve asked him to keep things private.”

“He hasn’t said anything to me.”

“Well, good.” There’s a disgruntled tone to Nick’s words.

He thinks Nick has told him the truth, but he feels in his gut that something about it is twisted. Nick’s eyes tells him that, along with the way he hadn’t quite looked at him directly. But, he decides to let it go.

They’re walking towards the crew quarters, but he doesn’t think Nick has really noticed. He seems lost in his own thoughts. Here it comes, Everett thinks. The reason he wanted to talk to Nick, after giving him some time to himself.

“I suppose,” Nick says, “that you saw Colonel Telford say something to me, back there on the Bridge.” He bites at his lip again, another tell that informs Everett that Nick is feeling conflicted. “He was telling me he was sorry about Mandy. I’d been trying to not think about her, and his words made it feel real. She’s gone, Everett.” His steps are slowing down and he stops and buries his face in his hands.

Everett moves toward him, but Nick steps back and Everett gives him his space. He doesn’t think he’s crying, but he’s close. Everett finds a wall to lean against and waits. Space, or silence, or a hug, whatever Nick needs right now, Everett’s got his back.

After a time, Nick drops his hands, “Everett?” His voice sounds raw, and pained.

He makes an encouraging sound, thinking that Nick probably had only let a very few people hear him like this. Gloria, Dr. Perry. Him.

“You didn’t see her, or Franklin, did you?” When Everett shakes his head, Nick says, “She asked me to be happy for her. She and Franklin are together now. I suppose I can see the attraction, both ways. She says we wouldn’t have made it as a couple.” Everett pushes off from the wall and Nick gravitates to him as they walk Destiny’s corridors.

Everett says nothing, but he pulls Nick closer by putting an arm around his shoulder.

Nick sighs. “Truthfully, I suppose she was right. We have different life goals, especially now that she can retake human form. Having children had been too difficult for her before; now she can have a family and a husband who will pay more attention to her than to his work. Not that Franklin isn’t a fine scientist, because he is, but he never gets so obsessed with his work that he would ignore his wife, like I used to do with Gloria.”

“I’m sorry, though. I know you loved her,” Everett says softly.

“Aye, I do. I always will. She was – is – my friend.” Nick sighs again, then says, more to himself than to Everett, “It’s my fault we couldn’t make a go of it.”

“It wasn’t your fault. I hope someday you figure that out, Nick.”

Nick shrugs, then stops dead. “Everett. Mandy helped with that last problem before she left. She gave a broad hint to Chloe to pass on to me. I’ve solved it. Chloe is doing the proof, but I’m sure I’m right. Destiny will unlock the files on her mission to us now. With us slowing down, we’ll have time before we have to deal with that bloody great ship. So I’ll query Destiny and put in the four equations. Would you be there with me?”

“What about the Science Team?” He runs a hand soothingly up and down Nick’s arm. He doesn’t want a repeat of the hiding his math hall and the Bridge from the rest of the scientists, but maybe he can grant Nick the privacy he craves for a little while. And he’s asking Everett to be with him. Just him. This is special to Nick and he’s asking for Everett to share it. It makes Everett feel warm and protective towards him.

Nick turns so that he’s looking at him directly and Everett stops gliding his hand to just holding Rush’s bicep. He says, “Yes, of course. I’m not going to cut them out, but for that first time, I’d rather not have them all chattering in my ear about it. Just you. Please?”

Nick was hard to say no to when his eyes looked like this. “I’d like that, Nick. Come get me in the morning, and we’ll do it. We both need some sleep first.”

Nick looks like he wants to disagree, but he undercuts his own potential argument by yawning.

“After David’s done with you, you’ll get some sleep, right? I need you sharp, genius, not dead on your feet.”

‘Yes, yes.”

“That’s not exactly an answer.” Everett nudges Nick, who rolls his eyes.

“So bloody suspicious. Yes, Colonel Young, I will go to bed.”

“And sleep?”

Nick looks amused. “Hmm. You’re much better than you once were at this.”

“I was picturing you in bed working on your laptop.”

Nick raises his eyebrows. “Picturing me in bed, do you make a habit of this, Colonel?”

“Jack ass,” Everett says, grinning. “And answer the question.” He lets go of Nick’s arm and deliberately crosses his arms, and gives him a look under lowered brows, trying to imitate a stodgy teacher.

“Yes, Colonel Young, I will go to bed and try to sleep.” Nick recites this like it’s an annoying lesson he’s had to memorize, and Everett knows that his tongue is firmly in his cheek right now. Then his tone changes from bratty to a little despondent. “That’s the best I can do, I’m afraid. Some nights, well, they’re still bad.”

Everett drops the teasing and says seriously, “It won’t always be that way, Nick. You’re so much better than you were. I’m really proud of you, you know.”

Nick suddenly seems very interested in the deck as they walk along, and his whole manner seems shy. Everett reaches over and ruffles his hair, and the annoyed growl he receives as Nick smooths his hair back down brings them back to their usual selves.

* * *

They walk along quietly together and he knows Nick is miles away, probably thinking about Destiny’s mission, or Amanda Perry. Finally, he stops, and waits for his friend to realize where they are.

“This – why are we at my quarters?” Nick casts him a confused look.

“Invite me in and I’ll show you.” He keeps himself from grinning with difficulty, because, oh, Nick deserves this.

Shrugging, Nick opens the door and makes a sweeping gesture and Everett strolls inside. It’s messy; a pair of socks are hanging haphazardly from the back of the chair, there’s a mug of old tea sitting on the small desk amidst a few small scattered notebooks, the bed is unmade, and there’s an empty bowl that had once held paste sitting on the floor.

The clutter is endearing, somehow, since it’s Nick’s. Of course, if he has seen this in any of the military quarters he’d have given them laps to run after they’d cleaned the place to his satisfaction.

Everett goes to the wide shelf that juts out from the wall and unwraps his package.

“That’s. . . I didn’t think it was allowed. I distinctly remember you giving the crew a lecture during one your meetings about it.” Nick sounds puzzled, and curious, and a little bit suspicious.

“Yep. For you, I’m making an exception.” He connects the charging plate to a power outlet and pulls Nick’s radio off his belt. “Who does this belong to? I know damn well that the one assigned to you was dead as dead can be.”

“Ahh. . . Chloe.”

“So, Dr. Rush.” He places the radio on top of the plate. It hums to life as it recharges Chloe’s radio. “This is your last warning about keeping your battery charged up. You now have one in your quarters instead of having to remember to go to the charging station everybody else uses. I need to be able to contact you at anytime, and I know you understand that. You’re also absentminded about things like this, and I understand that, too. I’m hoping this workaround will solve the problem.”

Nick’s eyebrows raise, “And if it doesn’t?” The charger beeps and he snatches the radio and replaces it on his hip.

“Then I’m going to order all the military to check your radio when they cross paths with you. If it’s low, they’ll give you theirs instead.” He gives Nick a small grin, picturing Nick’s reaction. His Chief Scientist doesn’t disappoint him.

Nick scowls at him. “Bollocks, I don’t need a bunch of fucking minders.”

“Then keep your radio charged up, Dr. Rush,” he says mildly. He’s amused as hell about this, but his point is serious. Nick is on call 24/7, and they need to be able to reach him immediately.

Nick’s expression indicates he really wants to stomp off and his lower lip starts to jut out in a pout, but he takes a moment instead, closes his eyes; Everett guesses he’s having a furious conversation with himself inside of that genius brain of his.

When he opens them, he gives Everett a look that’s familiar from some of their chess matches, when Everett has won the game with a move Nick hadn’t been able to counter. It’s a fascinating combination of surprise, respect, and annoyance. “All right, Colonel Young. Warning noted. And thank you for the charger. You know, I don’t intend to let the bloody radio run down.”

“I know you don’t.”

“But I thought you’d made it plain to the crew that no one was allowed a charger to themselves.”

“Nick, you’re the exception to most of the rules around here.”

That surprises a laugh out of Nick, and Everett grins at him. “And it’s time to restart your Ancient classes. I gave you a pass while you were recovering from the chair, and Eli’s been subbing, but your sick leave is up. Tomorrow, between 1300 and 1400 hours, observation deck.”

Nick groans, and then it’s Everett’s turn to chuckle.

* * *

Nick shows up at his door at the crack of what would be dawn, if they were on a planet. Destiny hasn’t even brightened the lights yet in the corridors.

“Really, Nick?” he grumbles as the man pushes his way past him into Everett’s quarters. He hadn’t even been out of bed yet when the knocking on the door woke him up.

“I’ve brought you tea, what more do you want?” Nick says with exasperation. “I did as you asked and slept instead of inputting the equations. Let’s go, all right?” He hands the tea to him, then goes to his drawers and rummages around before coming up with one of his other holey pair of socks and his other boxers.

He sighs, gulps down the hot tea which doesn’t have caffeine in it, but everybody likes to pretend that it does, then grabs the clothes from Nick, gathers up his uniform from where he had neatly folded and stowed it the night before and heads to his small bathroom. He relieves himself and looks longingly at the shower but knows if he tries, Nick will probably explode with impatience. He’ll shower and shave later, but he does take time to brush his teeth, wash his face and comb his hair. He exits before Nick starts pounding on this door, too.

Nick looks restless and excited and still tired, but Everett can tell that he has slept for a few hours anyway. Nick’s managed to run up a sleep debt again; he’s raised chronic exhaustion to an art form. Wistfully, he imagines being able to order his chief scientist to sleep around the clock, until T.J. says he’s caught back up. One of these days Nick’s going to have a repeat of his spectacular collapse when he’d stayed awake for days after they’d all tumbled through the stargate to Destiny. This time, Everett won’t wake him up unless the ship is about to explode. Ten hours had been a good start on catching up, but T.J. had told him Dr. Rush probably needed at least another ten or twelve hours.

Nick shoots him a curious look as they exit his quarters. “You look like you’re quite pleased about something. What are you thinking about, then?”

Blandly, he says. “You in a bed for an entire day.”

Nick rolls his eyes, but his lips are twitching with the grin he’s trying to repress.

“So you are making a habit of picturing me in bed. And am I alone, Colonel Young?”

“Yes. Yes, you are, Nicholas. You’re dead asleep and staying that way until T.J. says you can get up.”

“That doesn’t sound like much fun.”

“Believe me, I would enjoy the heck out of you snoozing for twenty-four hours.”

“Well,” Nick says airily, “it’s not happening today. C’mon, let’s run to the Control Interface room. I’m sure I’ll beat you there.” With that he takes off and Everett chases after him, for the moment feeling like he was a ten year old again and racing around with his friends or brothers.

* * *

Nick confidently puts in the solutions to the four math problems that Destiny posed them as a test before they could access locked portions of the Ancient database and waits, fidgeting at the console. Everett stands behind him and lays hands on his shoulder, not massaging the tense muscles he can feel under his fingers, but just being there, feeling like he’s grounding his chief scientist.

Nick must think so, too, because the restless movements of his hands still and his breathing slows down. They wait in silence until Ancient words in flowing, graceful script flower on the monitor.

Everett picks out the word for evil. He’s seen it before, when dealing with the Goa’uld.

Nick traces the words with a finger, and says, “I know this saying. Dr. Jackson taught it to me, when I was learning Ancient. Perhaps you know it as well?”

“I can’t read enough of it. What’s it say, Nick?”

Nick first reads it in Ancient, and then translates, "The universe is so vast, and we are so small, the only thing we can truly ever control, is whether we are good, or evil." An Ancient quote Oma Desela told to Daniel, I believe.”

“She came through for us in the end. She made her decision to battle Anubis for eternity, to save us.”

“Yes.” Nick looks pensive, his earlier excitement buried now. “Whatever Destiny’s mission proves to be, It’s going to be vast and almost unimaginable. I can feel it, Everett.”

Everett agrees silently and thinks that these word are meant for a warning to be careful and cautious with what ever will be revealed about Destiny’s mission.

“Okay, genius. Let’s find out what we’re dealing with here.”

With that, Nick touches the console and new words and graphs and images fill the screen. Nick translates as he reads, a courtesy that Everett appreciates.

His tone of voice slides from intensely interested to one of awe as these words written by Ancient scientists are shared between them. When Nick stops, when all that is left is the hundreds of thousands of images of a massive project begun an eon ago, when Ancients studied the universe, developed stargates and starships, he is utterly still. Everett sits down beside him, takes his hand.

“This ship,” Nick says, and his eyes, they are wide and dark, “was named Destiny for a reason.”

“Yeah. You know, the SGC’s going to want to send people out here to see this.”

“Aye, I know. Andrew Covel, Carter and McKay and Daniel, probably. Daniel, especially, will delve into Atlantis’ records to find corroborating evidence. Destiny must have been transmitting at least some of this back to Pegasus or the Milky Way, before the ship became too damaged.”

“So the Ancients found evidence of an intelligence that existed before the existence of the universe. The patterns in the Cosmic Background Radiation are deliberate, not random,” Everett says carefully.

Nick nods, bites at his lip. “Yes. And much like the Ancients themselves, this intelligence is testing us. They, it, whatever, wants you to prove you have the capability to figure it out. I suspect that’s a requirement before they’ll allow you to meet them. If they still exist.”

“So this super intelligent, uh, intelligence basically left bread crumb trails across galaxies to come find them?”

“Yes, Everett. Destiny’s mission is to find those clues. The Ancients were supposed to figure it out, though. I guess we’ve inherited that job.”

Everett knows he’s not the most intelligent guy in the room. He’s trying to keep up, though. “So, this implies that this intelligence can manipulate time and space? That they went back in time and planted these clues?”

“Possibly, yes, that’s one theory.” Nick is silent for a moment, then adds, “Another is that this intelligence came from another universe and observed the birth of ours and arranged for these patterns to be placed for whatever future intelligent species developed to be found.”

“They’ve been waiting a long time.”

“Aye. Perhaps they’ve been observing us. Perhaps they’re aware of our discovery.”

“Now you just sound paranoid.”

Nick shrugs. “Don’t people who believe in God feel he watches over them? Aware of every sin and every saintly deed? Isn’t St. Peter keeping track of all of that, so when we meet our maker we’re judged by the mistakes and the progress we made in life?”

“Umm. I suppose so. That some people believe that. My parents certainly did.” He hesitates, but decides he needs to bring this up with Nick anyway. “Speaking of God, you know that some folks are going to take what you’ve found as evidence of the existence of Him. If this gets out to the general public, you’re liable to find your name associated with being a prophet or something.”

Nick makes a face. “I’m not saying that this is God.”

“Yeah, I know that. But I bet you others do. Just giving you a heads up, Nicholas. Also. . .”

“What?” Nick sighs. “I can tell I’m no gonna like what you’re going to tell me.”

“Some people are going to think you manufactured all of this.”

Nick’s mouth drops open in startlement. “What?” he repeats, sounding incredulous. “I couldna possibly have. . .” He sighs again, a concerned look crossing his face. “Everett, you don’t think that, do you?”

“Nope. But you know why I brought it up, right? I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a healthy amount of skepticism at the SGC unless Jackson finds evidence to back you up at Atlantis.”

Nick lets go of Everett’s hand and pushes his hair back from where it’s fallen in his eyes. “They’ll damn me because of my past sins. I did plant evidence in the database before, of an Icarus type planet. But that was only several lines I added, and as Eli almost immediately found me out, I clearly wasn’t that good at doing it. I’m not capable of something of this magnitude.”

“Yeah, genius. It wasn’t up to your usual standards.”

Nick rubs his forehead above his left eyebrow. “Not my best decision making, I’ll agree. I was very, very tired when I did that. I was just so sick of the whining from the crew about being stranded; I wanted them all to shut up about it and if they thought we had a chance to use that planet to gate them home, then I thought we’d all be more productive.” He scowls, then, and Everett’s pretty sure it’s aimed at his own past self. “Clearly I wasn’t doing my best work. It would take more resources than we have to even try to set up some sort of stargate tying into the geothermal energy. I wished I hadn’t done it almost as soon as it was found.”

Everett stood up and shrugged. “Even me being here with you now won’t really help your creditability. They’ll point out you could have figured the answers to those equations a while ago and just pretended to have solved it just a day or so ago. That you’ve been working on this deception for a while. I’ll do my best to set anybody who says that straight, but Nick, you need to think about how to handle these accusations.”

Wistfully, Nick says, “Telling them to fuck off isn’t an option, I suppose.”

Everett suppresses a grin. “Not going to help your case, genius. C’mon. We’ve been in here for hours and hours, we need to eat and you’ve got a class to teach before we meet on the bridge with David before we exit the star. This discovery is, as Eli will no doubt say, ‘Awesome’, but regular life goes on, too.”

“Can we keep this to ourselves for a while yet, Colonel?”

Everett pulls Nick to his feet. “Yes, Dr. Rush. I leave it in your hands for now. I’ll go get our lunch and meet you in my quarters, okay? Somebody rushed me out of there this morning and I’d like a shower.”

Nick ends the program and turns off the console. “Thank you.”

“For what? Getting our lunch?”

“Well, yes, that too. But I meant for being here and sharing this with me. Thank you, Everett.”

Nick’s smile seems a little shy. Smiling broadly back, he claps him on the back and tousles his hair.

“You’re quite welcome, Nicholas.”

* * *

David’s plan to save them from the Command ship is never put to the test. To everyone’s surprise, there is only one small scout ship waiting for them when they exit the star after changing to a different trajectory; they destroy it when it comes into range and engage the FTL