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The Light is What Guides You Home, the Warmth is What Keeps You There

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Now.

 

"Am I going to have to call someone in here to hose you down, Major?"

 

Evan Lorne looked up with a jerk from where he was adjusting the leg laces of his g-suit. He'd been so involved that he hadn't noticed Cam Mitchell enter the ready room. Nor that he was obviously (obliviously) sporting a dopey grin on his face.

 

Normally trips in a puddlejumper never involved the kind of preparations that Evan was undertaking now, a prep even more extensive to the ones he'd undergone for years when he'd flown in the big Air Force. Fortunately they didn't expect to be active in honest-to-god spacesuits long enough to need to wear (or use) the suit's standard MAG/Maximum Absorption Garment (diaper), or even one of the damn piddle packs that had been both the boon and bane of long cockpit flights.

 

"Of course I'm smiling. I'm prepping to wear a spacesuit." Evan met Mitchell's mocking expression and let his grin expand. "I get to walk on the fucking moon!"

 

Mitchell out and out laughed at him, then turned to the marines across the room. "You sporting a woody there, too, Master Sergeant? Lieutenant Duncan?"

 

The master sergeant, Boyan "Stacks" Stackhouse was an Atlantis (and SGC) old-timer, who got excited about nothing, which was why he was as often charged with handling the rookies as Evan was. He simply looked up from performing his own prep long enough to flip Mitchell off, then returned to fitting his suit. The other Marine, the bright, shiny, newly minted Force Recon officer, wasn't laughing though. He wasn't sharing any of Evan's enthusiasm (literally or figuratively), nor any of Stackhouse's blasé nonchalance. He looked almost nauseous, actually, and profoundly confused by the ungainly flight suit. Until asked Mitchell's question and he noticed the attention of two Zoomies.

 

Duncan instantly found his ooh rah mask and posturing then, calling up an expression of extreme cockiness, which destroyed any sympathy Evan might have felt for him. This particular marine's inclusion to Evan's mission was for training purposes, as the kid was not just a new recruit for Atlantis, but new to the whole SGC business in general. Damn, if he didn't learn to check that ego pretty quick, it was going to be handled for him, if not by Teyla or Ronon during sparring practice, then by something even meaner or nastier, something that didn't give a flying fuck about Force Marines' reputation as the toughest sons of bitches in the world. The kid would either learn how to acknowledge his shortcomings and to make sure his team knew about any fears or phobias to be able to cover for him, or he'd most likely end up dead.

 

Evan smothered a sigh. This part of his job, shepherding the new arrivals and making sure stupidity didn't kill them (their own or from an outside agency), normally didn't bother him. He was good at it, usually patient with the newbies (unusually according to some), and it appealed to his own ego that he was deemed better at it than his CO, since in so many ways John Sheppard was a very untraditional commanding officer who had not just the respect and loyalty of the people under his command, but was also genuinely liked, even by most of Atlantis' Marines. Sure, part of that was due to John's …interesting interpretation of the fraternization regs (and wasn't that an understatement). Mostly though, it was because of John's respect and loyalty to his command in return.

 

It had taken Evan time to realize that John's commitment wasn't based on the foxhole/ band of brothers mentality developed amongst the first-year survivors. Like a lot of the SGC military who'd volunteered to join the expedition after contact had been restored, he'd been damn concerned about coming into that kind of cult of personality, of being able to find his own place in the command structure, and it wasn't as if the John Sheppard he'd met in the halls of the SGC had helped Evan form a different opinion. Once in Atlantis, however … well, being in Atlantis had changed and revealed so many things, so many truths. One of which was that John felt his commitment to all of the people there. Military, civilians, scientists, natives -- all were just as valued, just as cherished, for lack of a better word. And just as mourned when one of them died.

 

This was not to say that John didn't have his problems, especially with the newbies, and especially with patience, when the rooks were slow to realize they weren't in Kansas anymore. In that first year of no contact and no chance of back-up, no one had had the luxury of holding onto their preconceptions or even to inter-service or goon/geek rivalries, which in turn had led John to have even less tolerance now of those who stayed mired in their own beliefs of 'how things should be done' just because that was the military/university/SGC/whatever way they'd been taught. Adapt or die had an extremely literal definition in the Pegasus Galaxy.

 

Normally it wasn't that big of a problem. It was usually also pretty easy to weed out the people who weren't going to be able to cut it, and to send them back to Earth before they actually got themselves killed. Only they weren't in Pegasus right now, with its unique treasures and threats, nor was the newest crop of potentials coming to their ranks after at least a few months or years working for the SGC. Now that Atlantis was (temporarily, please god, just temporarily) here on Earth, everyone was taking it as their opportunity to dump their castoffs instead of sending their best and brightest to fulfill their commitments to the SGC. Atlantis had always gotten the misfits, but that had initially been a virtue, as they were already the ones more likely to be flexible in their thinking. Now, though, it seemed their new offerings were the real trouble makers; that Atlantis was turning into a punishment duty. The question was, just who was being punished?

 

Evan had the uncomfortable feeling that it wasn't just the recruits.

 

"You're just jealous," Evan spouted back at Mitchell, trying to recapture his earlier enthusiasm about the upcoming mission -- about the program in general. Obviously he (Atlantis) had been on Earth too long and he was feeling the effects of their uncertain future while the SGC and the IOA waffled not just about when, but if they'd be returning Atlantis to Pegasus. Station keeping had always been Evan's least favorite assignment, which was why he'd jumped at the idea of this mission, why he would have even if it hadn't involved his specialization (or the Moon) – if he'd just been tagged to be the damn pilot instead of Lieutenant Miller.

 

"Nah, I just don't get the reason behind your hard on," Mitchell shrugged back. "You've stepped on handfuls of planets, a few of which had to have been a damn sight more interesting than our stupid moon. I mean, really, haven't you been in the program like seven or eight years?" Mitchell asked guilelessly.

 

"It's more like ten years," Evan corrected him, not bragging exactly, but that was another thing he had over John -- and on even Mitchell.

 

Evan might not have been part of the SGC from the very first like O'Neill or Jackson, but he'd been a part of it within the first couple of years after Anubis had necessitated the resumption of the stargate program. There weren't too many people left who could claim that, including SG-1's current leader here, Colonel Cameron Mitchell – or Atlantis' military CO, Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard. Quantity verse quality maybe, at least in some people's minds, but Evan was exactly where he wanted to be; Rock Stars were nothing without their roadies.

 

"I'll be celebrating my eleventh anniversary as a member of the SGC in four months and twelve days."

 

"Nearly eleven, sir?" Lieutenant Duncan asked. "Wow."

 

Not 'wow', you've been doing this longer than I've been in the Marines (you're old). Or 'wow', I didn't think a Zoomie could tough it out for so long, but 'wow', that's amazing and cool. Maybe this kid wasn't going to turn out to be so bad. Not if he understood that eight or ten or eleven years in the stargate program did mean 'wow', as well as amazing and cool and unbelievable.

 

Frankly, Evan was almost as amazed at his own accomplishment as he was about this upcoming mission. Not just for still being in the Air Force, now going on eighteen years (the amazement over that fact belonged to his moms), even though Evan hadn't gone into the military service planning to make a career of it. His amazement wasn't just from being a part of the SGC – in still being alive as a member – despite the average life expectancy for the military personnel of the SGC field team's being only six and a half years (it was nearly nine years for the scientists). Sure, he was amazed that he was skewing the average when so many of his friends weren't (not always due to death or medical discharges, though, thank god).

 

The true wonder of those ten years was, indeed as Mitchell had intimated, that he'd set boots down on so many (not handfuls but nearly one hundred – 92 so far) different planets in both the Milky Way and Pegasus Galaxies, and that he currently lived in the Lost City of Atlantis. That he'd done things neither he nor his favorite authors had ever dreamed of when he'd been a kid with thoughts of growing up to be an astronaut (or a Jedi).

 

Yet not one of those new worlds had been in his own backyard, had been the Moon that he'd spent nights and nights looking up at, imagining. No matter how cool going through the gate or standing on the bridge of the Air Force's own spaceships were, how enchanting and magical Atlantis herself was, there was something utterly mind-blowing about the thought of being part of the seventh mission to the moon. Even if it was going to be totally in secret.

 

"How many years for you, Colonel Mitchell?" Duncan asked, his expression now reasonably deferential instead of just mocking the Air Force nancy-boys.

 

"Only six." Mitchell blushed and tucked his head toward his chest.

 

From anyone else, Evan would have suspected it to be an act, but fuck if Mitchell wasn't really the unassuming, down-home farm boy he appeared to be.

 

"But all six leading the Snakeskinners or SG-1," Stackhouse offered, not kissing up but instead just being informative (along with subtly reminding the Lieutenant to be careful with his inter-service prejudice); the master sergeant wasn't any more likely to lick boots than he was to get excited about an op.

 

Mitchell had gone directly from flying F-16s to flying F-302s, then to commanding SG-1 with no lesser stop as another officer's dogsbody or XO in between, like so many of the rest of them had, Evan included. Mitchell had been the Air Force's (and now the SGC's) golden boy, yet deserving all the same; someone remarkably grounded and approachable, when he so easily could have turned into a real dick.

 

Duncan was suitably impressed. "Wow, that's like being called up from the Minors and pitching a winning game for the Yankees in the World Series."

 

It really was, and those long standing in the SGC had initially resented Mitchell for that, not because he might not have deserved it (after what Mitchell had done in Antarctica, no one had questioned his skill or his bravery), but because many of them -- Evan included – had thought Mitchell (Landry) had usurped Samantha Carter's place as SG-1's leader when the team had been reinstated on Mitchell's behalf. Of course, Sam had eventually gotten command of Atlantis and was now commanding her own spaceship (the Hammond), while Mitchell had turned into Landry's dogsbody and XO, now stuck overseeing the planning and sending off the SGC's field teams instead of leading them himself all that often, the irony of which didn't seem lost on Mitchell from the quick look he shot Evan. SG-1 still existed, comprised now of Mitchell, Jackson, Vala and sometimes Teal'c, but Landry wasn't sure what to do with them now that the Goa'uld and the Ori were pretty much out of the picture.

 

"I'm more of a Red Sox's fan, but I get your point, and thank you," Mitchell accepted the accolade more humbly than Evan might have done himself. "Anyway, I'm not just here to talk shit and get in the way of your prep. There's been a change in the mission which is going to result in an hour or so delay. Plus some reshuffling of personnel."

 

Mitchell now looked sheepish, which brought Evan a sinking feeling.

 

"General Landry decided to co-opt your mission, well part of it." Mitchell continued with a shrug. "So you're not the mission lead anymore, Major. Sorry."

 

While Evan had a lot of practice in hiding his emotions, he didn't bother to hide his relief from not being out-and-out replaced. Or his bemusement that Mitchell was apologizing, since Evan doubted Mitchell had had anything to do with it other than being the bearer of the news.

 

While he wasn't thrilled having to take a step back and second under someone from the SGC at this point, the cool factor of the mission still outweighed the implied insult. It wasn't as if Atlantis wasn't Landry's red-headed bastard child anyway; having them here in close proximity just made it easy for the General to find reasons to jerk them around. "Hey, as long as I still get to step on the Moon --"

 

"Even if it's me taking over your command?" John asked as he came into the room behind Mitchell. While John had schooled his face to something approaching contrition and professionalism for Mitchell and the marines, the wicked twinkle in John's eye was for Evan alone.

 

"Landry is letting you back in a puddlejumper while we're stuck here on Earth?" Evan couldn't help asking, then kicked himself for voicing his thoughts about Landry in front of Landry's current favorite (and his least favorite), not to mention in front of the rookie marine. He knew better than to be so indiscreet, that just because he'd been able to have almost five days without having to be discreet was no excuse for slipping in any form. Especially not here.

 

Stackhouse only laughed, though, while Mitchell began recounting the story of John stealing the SGC's only puddlejumper to take back Atlantis from the Asurians to the rook (which was why John was still on the top of Landry's shitlist despite even his most recent participation in saving Earth from the Wraith).

 

"Landry's decided to use your mission for some pilot training in the jumpers, so he's called me in to watch over two Nuggets we're presumably getting on Atlantis," John explained what was going on, his ears turning red from Mitchell's parting words.

 

Evan knew John wasn't embarrassed about what he'd done; instead that he was bothered by the deal Mitchell had made over something John had felt he'd had to do – to save Atlantis, as well as General O'Neill and Mister Woolsey. He also knew John would do exactly the same thing should a similar situation ever come up -- no matter whether Landry would make good on his threat to have John cashiered out of Atlantis, the SGC, and the Air Force the next time – and while it wasn't like Evan wanted something like that to happened again, he hoped to god that he'd have the chance to go along to back John up if it did.

 

"The General's decided the far side of the Moon is a perfect place to practice touch-and-goes in an alien spacecraft," John then added with a hint of displeasure, undoubtedly because of the seemingly cavalier attitude implied by Landry repurposing the jumper during the mission.

 

"I'll let one of them fly us there, then the other fly back to Atlantis, but I'm not going to be taking the jumper away while you three and Doctor Garrison are on the surface."

 

"Thanks." As cool as walking on the moon was going to be, Evan did not want to get stranded there, even for just a few minutes.

 

John gave him a nod and a quick, private grin then moved over to greet Stackhouse and introduce himself to their new Force Recon Marine, before finding a flight suit of his own. As John began stripping, Evan found himself turning away, concerned that he might give something away as the memories of their last few days on leave, taken together and visiting his moms, was too close to the surface.

 

They'd managed to keep their relationship secret from everyone on Atlantis for the past three years -- including from both of their teams -- and Evan wasn't about to screw things up now, when (and where) it would be so easy to replace the both of them.

 

He forced his concentration back on the mission, which wasn't a hardship. After all, he was going to get to romp on the Moon and collect samples, to actually use his fucking geology degree for once. Having John as a part of it just made it better.

 

*****

 

Like most pilots, Evan had a certain routine about things, but he didn't consider himself superstitious. Sure, he'd had a photo of his moms in his cockpit back when he'd flown on a regular schedule. He'd never carried a rabbit's foot or a dead friend's dog tags, however, nor displayed hulu girls, fuzzy dice or plastic dinosaur totems. He didn't have a pair of lucky socks (or underwear) that he always wore when he took to the air -- or when he headed out through the stargate. He didn't believe in fate (though he did in karma), and he most definitely did not believe in jinxes. So, he wasn't blaming himself for his thoughts of how much he'd expected to enjoy the mission with John, nor blaming John, obviously, no matter their less than sterling record of successes when the two of them went out on a mission together.

 

If anyone was at fault, that would be the Ancients who'd set up a secret research base on Earth's Moon. Evan gave the fuckers the barest amount of credit for conducting their studies off planet and in an environment even a Wraith couldn't escape from, but who in their right mind would ever have thought a living Wraith Queen would make a good test subject? Yeah, even the expedition had proved that Queens weren't susceptible to all of the same toxins and influences that the drones and males were, but the Queens were also so much fewer in number to actually worry about in the abstract. It was also likely that things would work the same in reverse; that experiments performed to neutralize a Queen might not affect – or at least have the same affect – on the majority of the Wraith species, so it seemed to Evan to have been a foolish indulgence.

 

Even the young Queens were bitch queens. The ones freed from thousands of years of hibernation had proven to be a cross between the T-X terminator and Bellatrix, by way of the Borg Queen and maybe Maleficent. The one they'd found on the Moon had been even worse, leaving them with one dead, one drained, and two now in surgery.

 

While Evan was stuck following Richard Woolsey as they headed toward one of the conference rooms on board the Daedalus instead of getting a couple of hours of downtime to deal with his anger, as well as having the opportunity to wait for word on the others.

 

Beaming aboard with Woolsey to find Steven Caldwell giving him a sympathetic (and apologetic) look had just been the icing to the totally FUBAR'ed mission. He and the Colonel had always managed to get along in their previous interactions, but they would never be considered friendly, simply they both knew how the chain of command worked, and how to make it work. While Caldwell had even given up on trying to get appointed the military commander of Atlantis sometime in the third year, still, ninety-nine percent of the time Evan and Caldwell had to work together was because something had happened to prevent John from performing his duties.

 

To see sympathy now … well, the Daedalus' commander spent a lot more time patrolling around Earth and the Milky Way than at Atlantis and in the Pegasus Galaxy. Caldwell was, therefore, more often within the ranting range of their IOA masters, and undoubtedly had a much better idea of what Evan was now in for. Even Woolsey, a former member of the oversight organization before they'd sent him to take over the civilian command of Atlantis, had been troubled at their summons -- or at least the timing of it.

 

If for no other reason than getting out from under the immediacy of being at the IOA's beck and call, and their penchant for second guessing, Atlantis needed to return home.

 

Shen Xiaoyi, the IOA's Chinese representative, looked up from a file as they entered into the room. Evan thought he saw his own picture before she closed it, and definitely John's, and fuck if Evan knew what that meant.

 

Shen frowned. "Richard, we didn't call for you."

 

The others present, additional members of the IOA Evan supposed, were also frowning and looking unhappy.

 

"Actually, you did," Woolsey argued with a brittle smile. "When you precipitously summoned one of my people without bothering to ask. Me."

 

Evan kept his expression military blank. On the one hand, he was weirded out hearing himself referred to as Richard Woolsey's responsibility, but on the other hand, he appreciated the support. And he was thinking that Woolsey had come a long way since he'd replaced Sam Carter with expectations and plans filled with rules and regulations that hadn't survived first contact with the reality of living in Atlantis. While Evan doubted his feelings about Woolsey would ever equal the awe and loyalty he'd felt first for Elizabeth Weir and then Sam, Woolsey had still come to earn his respect.

 

"We are simply trying to get a handle on what happened, Richard," the older gentleman with a provincial French accent spoke up. "There is no need for you to stay –"

 

"Major Lorne's debriefing is my responsibility," Woolsey interrupted, with an air of implacable finality. "I am willing to accede you the opportunity to listen in, but interruptions will be disregarded, and I will determine afterward if your questions are worth answering. If you do not care for these terms," Woolsey raised his voice and held his hand up as a ward against several opening mouths, "we will return to Atlantis. You will be copied on the After Action Report in the next weekly update. Five days from now."

 

"You have no right –" Shen started in.

 

"I have every right," Woolsey interrupted again. "Atlantis still retains its semi-autonomous status regardless of where the city is currently residing. Your only prerogative is to petition to replace me. Any action on that decision would take longer than five days, of course and, I assure you, I will fight you on it."

 

"Really, Richard, there is no need for histrionic threats," the obviously Russian representative said, dismissively. "No one is suggestion you or any of your people, like the Major here, be replaced. Obviously, however, there are some flaws in certain procedures, flaws that an on hand advisor could help smooth –"

 

"Like a political commissar?" Evan felt his mask slip as he couldn't help his own interruption.

 

"Well, no, of course not, Major," the woman he suspected was Woolsey's replacement answered him with a frown, directed not his direction, but toward her Russian counterpart. "We have simply been discussing the possibility of including someone in Atlantis' command staff who would have no direct responsibility over the people or projects, someone who would represent Earth's interests in Pegasus, and who could evaluate any mission or project without the inherent conflict of interest the rest of you suffer from because of your responsibilities –"

 

"I rather think we would secede before we allowed that to happen, Madeline," Woolsey cut her off dismissively.

 

"Don't even joke about that," Richard," Shen scowled.

 

"I assure you, I am not joking. I would also advise against trying to implement such a move even if this does mean you're going to fire and replace me, as I believe I can say with reliable accuracy that you would have to replace a great majority of the expedition to find –"

 

"Don't tell me you've started without us, kids," Woolsey was this time interrupted. By Jack O'Neill, who had a profoundly disturbed Cam Mitchell coming in behind the general as they crashed the meeting.

 

Mitchell wasn't the only one looking disturbed, most likely included O'Neill, though not, of course, for the same reasons as the IOA members.

 

Caldwell might have to jump when the IOA whistled, but he also obviously knew who he reported and answered to – and was secure enough to make sure the IOA knew it too. Coming on the heels of the apologetic look, Evan found himself revising his opinion of Caldwell closer to ally, something he needed to make sure he told John.

 

Assuming he got the opportunity.

 

O'Neill then nodded a greeting to Evan and Woolsey as he and Mitchell took seats at the table. "Thought you'd like to know that Carolyn Lam beamed up with Mitchell here; she wanted a first hand look at what the Wraith do in hopes of devising a better treatment for the folks you end up needing to send home for long term care. The Daedalus is also going to pick up Doctor Keller, not that Doctors Beckett and …"

 

"Cole," Evan supplied when O'Neill hesitated and looked to him for the information.

 

"Right, not that they need Doctor Keller's assistance, but Mitchell thought she'd be pretty pissed to find out about it after the fact."

 

And by Jennifer Keller, O'Neill was really saying that McKay would be pissed and be in a position of taking it out on the various people involved who'd kept the information from him, which was just another complication no one needed to have to deal with right now. Evan couldn't blame O'Neill for the prudence, just as he couldn't blame McKay for the flare of frustration and jealousy he felt in hearing that John's best friend was going to get to sit vigil, when John's lover couldn't.

 

Sometimes sharing John with his team – with McKay especially – was a bitter pill to swallow, feeling as he did that John would be with McKay instead of him, if McKay weren't terminally straight. It wasn't that Evan thought himself as second best, or even that John was just settling for the one he could have instead of the one he wanted; John had always known McKay was straight and so had never even contemplated any other type of relationship with the prickly scientist. John had been the one, after all, to approach Evan in the first place, instead of just giving in to Evan's advances.

 

All the same, those two had a deeper connection than Evan and John would ever share, and Evan wasn't sure it was just because of the difficulties and necessity of keeping his and John's relationship hidden.

 

Just as it was hard not to resent John's team sometimes, all the more because they didn't realize Evan was being left out.

 

Only these were thoughts Evan shouldn't be dwelling on in front of the two people most in a position to do something harmful (not that Evan really thought they ever would, even Woolsey, not after they last year they'd shared) should they find out.

 

"With your permission, Richard?" O'Neill broke in to Evan's thoughts.

 

Woolsey nodded, in both acknowledgement and in agreement to O'Neill's obvious intent.

 

"So, Major, bad piece of luck today. Why don't you tell us what happened."

 

 

Before.

 

Ever since he'd gotten his license, John hadn't cared being a passenger when someone else was piloting. Some of it was because of his ego and knowing how unlikely he would find someone else who was better, a lot of it was a control thing and, in the case of the puddlejumpers, there was also the thrum of awareness of their capabilities in the back of his brain that was almost too compelling to ignore. The jumpers didn't speak to the gene carriers or anything like that, no matter how much some of the scientists wanted that to be true, but there was a constant something when you sat in one that was hard not to want to connect with. Then there was also the history behind the typical times John wasn't flying a jumper -- because he couldn't --, and that association didn't make just sitting and observing particularly easy either, not that John was one for spending his spare time in introspection or self reflection.

 

Well, he never claimed he enjoyed training other pilots, just that he felt it was part of his responsibilities, as he seemed to have the easiest time with the jumpers, with Ancient tech in general, and there were too many in the military with the gene who felt more like Carson had in using it than he or Evan did. And since he already made Evan and the other majors deal with the new guys as far as integrating them into the new squadron as well as Atlantis, it wasn't like Evan had time to train their nominal air corps too.

 

At least in this instance, he could count his involvement as a plus in getting the opportunity to fly at all. With Atlantis on Earth – now in orbit around Earth – jumper flights were restricted, heavily scheduled, and regulated by the SGC instead of still being under John's purview. Someone, probably Landry, had decided taking a slot as a taxi driver was not part of the military commander's job description, no matter how often the General had threatened that very thing in sending John back to the Antarctic and the McMurdo milk runs over some 'stunt' he pulled.

 

Fortunately, these newest nuggets were only pilots in their civilian lives, therefore coming in without a fighter puke's preconceptions and ego. Not that John didn't exclusively take it upon himself to train the pukes, and maybe exercise a little command prerogative and some ego himself in making sure they understood where they stood in the scheme of things – with him and with Atlantis. John knew he was harder on the military pilots than anyone else, especially those from the Air Force over the Navy and the Marines. He knew first hand what kind of assholes jocks and pukes could be, and he wasn't about to tolerate prima donnas in his command or amongst the gate teams, just as no one was a red shirt.

 

These two were simply part of the influx of non Americans Atlantis would be taking on, soldiers from India and Russia in which the gene therapy had taken, as it had been decided back in the first year that everyone who could manage a jumper would learn how, something John had no intention of changing even though he now had enough experienced pilots to crew their little puddle jumper fleet. Something even Landry agreed was appropriate policy -- or agreed because O'Neill supported it -- John had never been sure. Luckily, both of them also thought Ancient tech was cool instead of troublesome or distracting as some of the marines had, that they didn't think the occasional taxi service or evacuation duty they might be called upon ran contrary to their original expectation of duties.

 

Lieutenan Shreya Jhadav was proving to be a natural, taking her place at the controls once John had gotten the jumper out and away from the city. Unlike Rodney and a surprising number of at least semi-experienced pilots, she wasn't having any trouble keeping the jumper going in a straight line despite having few visual references outside the cockpit. She wasn't fighting the intrusiveness of the interface from what John could tell, was willing to let the jumper do the work instead of having to exhort her own control. She was also pretty good with cycling through the various HUDs and other displays without loosing her touch with their forward momentum.

 

Performing the same drills while flying inverted, as well as operating along the y or z vectors of three dimensional flying was another story, as the Lieutenant's trust did not extend to ignoring contrary sensory input, even when the inertial dampeners and fluid gravity field rendered the concepts of up, down and sideways moot when the visual field outside was pretty much simply black . But that was pretty standard, as even fixed wing pilots with Evan or Sergeant Miller's skill had had some difficulty in accepting the jumper's disregard for forward momentum. John had never been sure if it had been his helo experience, or the fact that he intuitively computed and saw the vectors over the outside fixed points that had let him adapt to the jumper's abilities so easily.

 

As this was the nuggets first time in a jumper, John held off on anything to do with the weapons interfaces, other than pointing out their positions. It wouldn't do for a drone or its destruction to get caught on some astronomer's crosshairs and camera. Same with the various emergency simulations. That part of the training needed to wait for a time when they didn't have an impatient civilian sitting in the jumpseat behind him, even if she was being awfully accommodating about the delay in getting to her part of the mission. It would be a cruel repayment for her willingness to put up with their diversion by kicking off the gravity generators and putting the ship into freefall without warning; John didn't want to deal with literal puke, either.

 

"So, have you guys picked out your quadrant for exploration?" John looked back over his shoulder toward Doctor Garrison after he signaled Jhadav to go ahead and get them back on track for the lunar surface.

 

Garrison showed a smile full of dimples and white teeth when she nodded. "Daedalus crater," she said with much delight. "It's still the leading candidate for installing a giant radio telescope, so the Major and I figured we can give them a head start on its composition even if NASA or the UN won't know where the information came from. It's one of the craters with central uplift peaks in the center of the impact, and could give us a look at what's even lower that the strata of the crater floor."

 

John couldn't help but to check with Evan, who along with his new marine, were standing at the opening between the cockpit and the back hold to get a better look at the stunning view outside the jumper. Evan nodded with his own smile although John wasn't sure which one of them Evan was more indulging, him or Garrison.

 

"Angela has the coordinates on her tablet," Evan offered and, with a start, Garrison looked up from that very thing with a hint of pink flooding her cheeks from the subtle reminder to let the pilot know where they were going.

 

"Oh, yes, it's 5.9°S 179.4°E. The crater itself has a 93 kilometer diameter and a 3 kilometer depth. The colongitude is 181 degrees at sunrise." She handed John the tablet that showed the reference points of the prime meridian and the morning terminator, while John automatically converted the metric measurements to nautical miles: diameter just over 50 nautical miles, and just over 9,840 feet in depth.

 

Or about as wide as he could take a fully loaded Pave Hawk out, off load and then get back with a small fuel reserve, and a depth matching the service ceiling of the BAIA Dragon Drone UAV. Thinking that reminded him they hadn't actually found the performance limits on a puddlejumper, and got him wondering if that was something else they could put in the schedule while they were stuck here on Earth.

 

So far the volume capacity had always limited the mass they could haul in a jumper, not the actual weight itself of what was being carried, and even after days stranded in space after Midway had blown up they hadn't drained the internal fuel cells, just his tolerance for refereeing between Rodney, Bill Lee and Kavanagh. No one was sure what measurement system the Ancients utilized in the jumpers either, since ever display came back in the units most comfortable to the pilot – well to John whenever he was aboard whether flying or not, as he didn't want the non pilots to interpret anything other than aviator measurements; non-uniformed systems were how pilots and NASA landers t-boned one another or augured into the deck.

 

John played the part of the navigator, interfacing tablet and jumper, then entering in Garrison's coordinates before gently nudging Jhadav to bring up the new grid map for a look see. He then further reviewed the extensive tablet notes and picked a landing spot about a half a kilometer from the tallest center peak; though the jumper wasn't going to create a dust cloud upon landing, it would still kick out a debris field a short distance. Plus John didn't want to take a chance of a novice feeling crowded. The vibrations of a landing jumper shouldn't set anything off, of course, but John was firmly of the school better safe than sorry when it came to being able to get your aircraft back up again. Needing rescue after accidentally burying themselves in dust or silt was not a call John would ever live down making, even if he wasn't the actual pilot.

 

When the time display said they were about fifteen minutes out, John got up to assist Evan's initial team with the final donning of their space suits. He'd put on all but the final layer, helmet, and life support systems himself, to join a similarly dressed Stackhouse, whom Evan had decided would be the one hanging back on the off chance someone needed assistance, while Evan took the rookie with him to look after Garrison. They had four people capable of flying the jumper; even Praporshchik Zhidkov had seen enough from his position behind Jhadav that he should be able to do a dead lift from the surface far enough for Daedalus to pick up an emergency comm signal.

 

John didn't linger any longer with Evan than he did anyone else. His hands might have lingered a little, but nothing that couldn't be explained by the twisted sleeve he was trying to straighten out, that maybe involved stepping into Evan's personal space a smidge more. And if a couple of whispered words were exchanged, it could easily have been passed off as an extra order or something, if not a pep talk, even if he didn't really do pep talks, not just because he wasn't used to being the one left behind. He and Evan then both moved to check out the other three —

 

The pinging that suddenly echoed out from the cockpit was startling and totally unexpected. Jhadav's voice held only a bare note of panic when she called attention to it, something John would need to remember to commend her for, after he got over his own shock, and dealt with the immediacy of the situation.

 

Jesus. Of course the fucking Ancients had a research or observation station on the far side of the Moon.

 

"I've got it Lieutenant," he responded with a hand to her shoulder both to reassure and to ease her from the primary seat. Evan had dropped helmet and life support into Stack's hands so he could join John in the co-pilot seat; automated defense systems were not unheard of and while John instinctively brought weapons control over to his own station, Evan began cycling through protocol and IFF sequences even though they had no reason to suspect this particular jumper had ever been in the Milky Way before being brought over with Atlantis.

 

The signal was coming not from crater Daedalus, but instead from one relative east, that the jumper identified as Icarus from the data it had gotten from Garrison's tablet. A crater slightly larger than Daedalus, actually, assumed to be deeper although it didn't appear to have been fully measured even by the Lunar Orbiter, with a central peak potentially taller than the crater's rim, although the whole thing was in the evening terminator's shadow and so any visual details were lost.

 

Obediently the jumper started providing the missing details in a heads up display, then overlaid that with particulars on the base. No doubt one of the stats identified the age of the crater and whether the base had come before impact or after, but he and Evan were both caught up by the reading that an atmosphere was forming within the underground structure, one compatible to human or Ancient physiology. An invitation then, or certainly acceptance, and John eased up on his attention to weapons, as they'd obviously managed some sort of automatic signal.

 

Whether or not this jumper had been here before, a jumper had, as part of the lunar surface irised open in the same pattern and size of the external entry to the jumper bay on Atlantis.

 

John brought the jumper to a hover. "Okay, here's the deal," he turned enough to make sure the rest of the team could hear him. "We've found an Ancient base that still appears to be operational."

 

"So it has a ZPM?"

 

"That would be my guess," John agreed with Stack's question.

 

Being one of the veterans and the lead of his own gate team, Stackhouse had been involved just as long and as diligently in the search for ZPMs, the elusive power sources that kept Atlantis running, as John had been. Even now when they had a couple at their disposal with one on Atlantis and the Earth one juggled between SGC Command, one of the Prometheus class ships, or the weapons chair before the chair had been recently destroyed after they'd moved it to Area 51, it was hard not to want to swoop in and investigate.

 

Rodney's current favorite diatribe was about how much of their ZPM's power was being wasted by keeping Atlantis here in the Milky Way instead of sending it home, the usage nearly quadrupled with Atlantis in orbit instead of just shielded while buoyed in the San Francisco Bay, an acceptable expenditure to the IOA once it had been pointed out that god only knew what kind of Pegasus Galaxy contaminants the city had potentially been polluting in the Bay just by it's presence. John agreed with Rodney about the waste, and the speculation that part of the delay in them making the 'Atlantis decision', was because some members of the IOA and/or the SGC were petitioning to have Atlantis' own weapons chair removed for Earth's use.

 

"ZPMs are the power modules that allow her to fly and to shield against enemies like the Wraith or the Replicators," Evan informed the new kids. "It's also what powered the defense chair in Antarctica during Anubis' attack. We have a standing mandate to investigate any possible sightings of them, along with one for the discovery of an Ancient facility."

 

John temporarily ignored any further explanations or discussions the team might be having, to call up the Daedalus. He wasn't looking to get permission, but there was no indication of a secondary stargate tucked somewhere in the base, and if he was going to take the jumper down into an unknown situation, he wanted some real back-up.

 

Caldwell agreed with his assessment and promised to do his own version of hovering, as well as suggesting they notify Atlantis to have a second jumper dispatched just in case the base was shielded from the Asgard transport beams.

 

"Okay, I'm going to take us down," John spoke up to be heard by the team as well as Caldwell. "The base seems to have accommodations for the jumper. We'll radio back in five to prove that we aren't trapped and that the base shielding can be penetrated by the communications net, then check in every hour."

 

"Roger that," Caldwell acknowledged as John cut the link.

 

Stackhouse had taken it upon himself to start distributing the comm sets they used on Atlantis; no one seemed too confused or bothered, but then it probably wasn't all that different from the ubiquitous Bluetooths that everyone on Earth seemed to wear now to stay connected to their cell phones.

 

"The transport bay shows it's pressurizing," John translated some of the readings he was getting aloud as he drifted down through the opening. "But I still want those of us who have them to suit up, which means you two are on jumper detail, Jhadav, Zhidkov. Doctor Garrison --"

 

"Don't you dare suggest I stay back in the jumper, Colonel."

 

She sounded just like Elizabeth in that moment, giving John twin pangs of disconnect and guilt, though that was not the reason he slowly nodded her head. While Garrison might not be one of Atlantis' people, she'd been with the SGC here on Earth for most of six years and had probably logged just about as much gate time as John had himself. That was why Cam had so readily agreed to her proposal, he'd told John, and why he'd also then contacted Atlantis for an accompanying team to manage her and the rookie.

 

The SGC, i.e. Landry, had been reluctant to put any of the Atlantis field teams on the roster for typical Milky Way missions, so other than typical station keeping duties, the only thing occupying the teams on Atlantis over the last few weeks while they were stuck here on Earth had been leaves, and more explorations of the city. And they'd had to wait on the explorations until they'd lifted back off from Earth so really, his military had been busy for only a handful of days.

 

"I wouldn't think of it," he came back with only the slightest hesitation. Obviously, under normal mission parameters, Garrison could take care of herself. Maybe also the abnormal conditions, like carrying out a mission on the Moon or any other airless system, since she had was proving familiar with her space suit.

 

He took another glance at the jumper's readings before he continued; the bay they were now floating down was about a quarter the diameter of the jumper bay on Atlantis, although it was about double in its vertical dimension. Even so, John didn't expect it was for accommodating a similar number of jumpers; so far they'd found only two puddlejumper/gateships in the Milky Way and, as he wasn't getting responding pings from any sister ships, it didn't look like this was their secret shipyard either.

 

More likely the depth was simply for air lock and emergency purposes, a set of safeguards that would protect the base should something catastrophic happen in the bay. He was also guessing that this base had been buried fifty feet under the lunar surface not only as protection against meteor impacts, but to keep its presence masked from any Earthbound Ancient facilities. He wasn't sure just what he was supposed to make of that -- or speculating of how the base had come to be built in the first place.

 

Whether this base had had Lantean Council sanction or not, the implication still was that there had been contact between the Milky Way and Pegasus -- or perhaps a sister city in yet another galaxy -- for a much longer period of time than Doctor Jackson had deduced, since ancient Earth certainly hadn't had the manufacturing facilities – or the exotic metals and ores to construct a series of secret bases. The fact that Janus had continued his research and had built his timeship despite being told to abandon the research, had John thinking this base was more along the lines of another secret project, hell maybe even Janus' facility for timeship research, and fuck if Rodney wasn't going to be absolutely livid if that's what this was and he'd missed out on the first look. In spite of his little adventure with the rogue Asgard and the Attero device

 

Despite the presence of a jumper and four gene carriers, the bay had only minimal lighting – or least only minimal lighting was coming on.

 

"Doctor Garrison, you and Lieutenant Duncan will accompany Major Lorne to check out the first couple of rooms while Sergeant Stackhouse and I look over the bay. We have no idea if this will be the base that is guarded against someone without the ATA gene, so if Lorne tells you two to get the hell back to the jumper, you don't hesitation, question or argue."

 

She nodded, as did Stackhouse, while their gung ho Force Recon Marine looked a little green around the gills, but also eager to show he had the right stuff.

 

"Lieutenant Jhadav, same thing. You and Praporshchik Zhidkov are going to stay with the jumper, in the cockpit and with systems ready to boogie out if you get the word. If you do get that word from any of the rest of us, you are not to dawdle or argue or decide to play hero. Just get the jumper to Daedalus and let them deal with any rescue or recovery. Understood?"

 

"Sir, yes, sir."

 

Yeah, okay, so she disapproved of the order, or at least the way he'd given it, but John had no doubt she would also follow that order, and that was all he was looking for right now. Sure, he was a hypocrite, but he was also looking out for his people, not being concerned about the cost of equipment or fuel or whatever factors the REMFs had placed on his CO in Afghanistan when he'd defied orders going out after Holland.

 

This was not the team John would have chosen to take into this situation, but at least his civilian had plenty of years of field experience, and the other strangers at least had had the training to deal with unexpected circumstances.

 

John toggled the comm switch on the jumper again, confirmed he could reach Daedalus, then rose to turn the cockpit over to the other two. "We'll check in every thirty minutes. If we miss one, stay on station in case we've found a heavier shielded portion of the base and someone's jogging back into the green area. If we miss the check in by more than fifteen minutes, call Daedalus and follow Colonel Caldwell's commands."

 

This time he got a nod from both Jhadav and Zhidkov instead of attitude, but then he supposed rumors about his and Caldwell's constant butting heads was fuel for gossip around the SGC, enough that if he was willing to accede command to Caldwell in any fashion, he wasn't just giving orders to puff up a CO's ego.

 

"If somehow to god, there are still living Ancients here descendants or what not, they're going to know how to override the jumper locks. The code for the day will be O'Neill and the countersign, Carter. I'm also going to key in a manual code for entry and egress: numeric 102894 Echo Lima, which is the date Daniel Jackson figured out and opened the Earth's stargate, and Major Lorne's initials since this was supposed to be his mission."

 

Anyone who got drafted or picked for the program, got a day or more of orientation, and the history of the gate's initial use wasn't something anyone was bound to forget. John hoped.

 

"This set up might stop the Ancients, and should stop everything else and, yes, I know I sound paranoid, given that this station was without any atmo before our arrival. Even so, there could be robots or some other automatic systems, hell, there could be fucking Replicators here, and you are not going to wait around to be used as some infiltration agent. If anyone or anything tries to break in without the code, take the jumper up. You've got plenty of space above without having to leave the facility, and the jumper's got the juice to hover for days on the off chance we're not compromised. If it is Replicators – if we're Replicators, the screen will read like this," John coaxed the jumper to give him the diagnostic symbols they'd become too experienced with.

 

"Launch a drone, then get out of the base and into orbit while letting Daedalus know. They'd be able to scan you too and that might mean you get blasted out of the sky too, but they're also your best chance of being cleared. Earth has just survived the most recent invasion attempt and I'll be damned if we're the ones who endanger it again."

 

That bit of pep talk was even more sobering, and now no one was looking mutinous or self righteous. It might be overkill – John certain hoped he was being paranoid – but given their history with the Ancients and Ancient facilities, he was also justified. All without mentioning energy creatures imprisoned for hundreds of thousands of years, killer viruses, ascend or die machines and time dilation fields, to name just a few of the Atlantis brand of Ancient wackiness.

 

"Channel Four is the command override. Team to team chatter on channel three, and jumper to team use channel two," Evan sorted out their communications and showed the new guys the controls since those were not Bluetooth compatible. "Doctor Garrison, a double squelch is universal for take cover and keep quiet, that you or whomever you're calling in return is not in a position to give a vocal answer."

 

He then moved to weapons. "Now, I realize that you and Lieutenant Duncan are checked out on both Zats and P90s, but it will be safer if most of us are just carrying Wraith stunners. They take out Ancients, Wraith, humans and Jaffa, probably a Goa'uld too, and without tearing up or igniting the equipment around you. Try not to aim directly at any equipment, as its energy field can fry delicate systems, although that does not include Replicator systems. I'd prefer if you run and call for back up, but …" He gestured with spread hands in a universal shit happens gesture.

 

"If you get hit by one, you're going to be paralyzed and you might pass out," John picked up the thread. "Personally, I'm still not sure which hurts more, the Zat or the stunner, although the Major here thinks it’s the stunners. The pins and needles of recovery are also a bitch, as is the headache, but it beats being dead or having a bullet hole in you."

 

He got more nods and frowns, although the latter might have been from Stackhouse handing over one of their two Zats to Zhidkov as he kept the other, from John and Evan both put .45s in their tool belts and John picking up a P90 while Evan dutifully took one of the stunners. Their suits made carrying any weapons cumbersome, but until he was confident they had atmosphere throughout the search areas, and until they took control of the maintenance of the atmosphere, he wasn't going to let anyone out of the jumper in any other fashion.

 

As the search teams finished their prep, John silently kicked himself for not insisting they take two more suits with them for his pilots, even if that would have only left the SGC with a couple more in their stores. Daedalus had its own compliment, but the ship was also ten to twenty minutes away given their need to keep moving, and a human body could only survive for thirty seconds in a vacuum without the potential for permanent damage. A slow bleed of air wasn't much better, and it was a bitch to get into a suit he knew all too well, when you were falling to hypoxia or hyperthermia.

 

He just hoped his lack of foresight wasn't going to come back and bite them in the ass.

 

"I tested all the comms before we left Atlantis," Stackhouse's voice came over John's earwig which was now connected through his helmet system, "but check now through the frequency changes, which are the five little buttons on your left wrist, starting with the red for channel one. Including you two up front. Check One."

 

Once everyone was confirmed and ready, John signaled Jhadav he was going to close the hatch between the cockpit and the hold. "Outside in the bay, it's sitting at half gravity, so I'm going to set the hold to three quarters," he warned them and set about doing it. "The base is reading at about ninety percent of a standard gravity. And, by the way, the bay's gravity decreases on a graduated scale from half to lunar standard going upward, so if somehow you end up coming back hot to one of the spiraling catwalks around this shaft, be aware of the difference."

 

Exploring this area was going to be interesting, maybe even fun.

 

John lowered the ramp. "Let's move out."

 

He and Stackhouse followed Evan's team what looked like a standard airlock, the only point of egress from this level that they could make out. He wanted to make sure they could access it from both sides before they split up, and confirm comm system operations between the base and the bay. Once that all checked out, he then took the stairwell off at one o'clock from the jumper's forward position while signaling Stackhouse to check the one at seven o'clock.

 

By the time of their first check in with the jumper, John had found two additional egress points up on the next level, while Stackhouse had located three on the level above John's; their staircases so far did not take them to common floors. Neither of them had found any other jumpers, although the second level did include a platform that would accommodate one and gave the appearance of a repair area, going by the equipment he could identify from similarities to Atlantis's jumper maintenance. Automatic systems had taken over jumper control once he'd nudged her through the hatchway, so he supposed if his baby had been damaged, it would have landed here instead of all the way on the bottom.

 

A few minutes later, Evan reported that he'd located a control room, then that he'd shifted the automated controls to manual so there wouldn't be any loss of gravity, atmosphere or lights. From that point on, he kept up a running commentary as he accessed other computer systems, given quiet orders for Garrison and to take another system and try searching out a series of key Ancient words the expedition had had drilled into them by Rodney. Duncan, got the babysitting duty, what would be one of his common assignments once he joined the expedition.

 

John agreed it was a good idea to find out now if the Lieutenant didn't have the personality to handle scientist wrangling. Nor was it like having another novice clumsily searching through databases would necessarily speed things up.

 

It took John five minutes to determine his stairwell ended up at surface level, with an access hatch that should take him out on the surface were he to open it. Stackhouse's stairwell led to the same thing, but one on the opposite side of the shaft and even now the two catwalks didn't connect.

 

"Stacks, meet me on the second level landing," John cut across Evan's constant background updates. Heading back down was definitely proving more difficult than proceeding upward, as the gravity field and his body's weight increase. He supposed it made sense, as normally climbing up took more effort and stamina than going down, but had the Ancient's reversed the gravity flow in the shaft, he could have just leaped off the upper landing and had a hell of a ride down.

 

"Let's check out the airlocks and see if they're still storing the repair materials, and maybe even some drones."

 

They'd been lucky so far after a fashion, any jumper that might have needed structural or frame repairs had actually been lost or totally written off, so their poor luck in finding significant raw replacement materials hadn't yet become a problem. John had a sneaking suspicion that the reason they hadn't found a recognizable materials lab was because the Ancients used nanites for those kind of repairs, but he wasn't ready to go that route and so far they'd been able to get metals to fix the city itself through a couple of trading partners and from Earth itself through their scheduled supply runs. Sure, the Asurans – and Helia's people -- had been able to repair damage to the city much quicker than the expedition, but John's RED HORSE personnel liked being called upon to use their engineering skills along side Rodney's people, since they so often lost out to the Marines when it came to calling upon their other primary skill of blowing shit up.

 

John was never going to be convinced that nanites were safe, since for every success like Rodney had with Fran, they'd had their gross failures such as Elizabeth and Niam, and he wasn't about to be the one to reintroduce them to the Pegasus Galaxy – not after the shit they went through getting rid of them.

 

"Major, I don't suppose you've found base schematics yet?" Stackhouse asked Evan as he bounded up the stairs to John's level. "Some kind of map?"

 

"Actually, I think I just have," came Evan's response. "I –"

 

"Doctor Garrison, what are you doing?"

 

That voice belonged to Lieutenant Duncan's. John held back from asking what was going on; Evan would tell him soon enough and there was already a confusion of multiple voices overlaying each other across his headset:

 

"Doctor!" "It's okay." "Lieutenant, see if you can stop her." "Yes, sir. Doctor, please --"

 

"Shit! Lieutenant, report. Doctor Garrison?"

 

The last was from Evan, as was increased sounds of breathing and effort, of running footstep, and to hear that, Evan must have removed his outer spacesuit at some earlier point. John looked down at the scanner that he held along with the P90. He got no readings from it at all, not Evan, not even Stackhouse or himself.

 

"Evan?"

 

"Yeah, I'm still here, Colonel."

nbsp;

Right. Colonel. Of course John was Colonel, as they had other people listening in and John generally wasn't one to screw up like that. He knew Stackhouse wouldn't call him on it, probably wouldn't actually think anything of it; all of the first contact teams on Atlantis had civilian personnel rounding out their numbers, either scientists or natives, and while first name protocols weren't the norm, they also weren't uncommon depending on who you went out with. But they weren't in Pegasus right now, and the two in the jumper weren't US military to overlook a new COs quirks. While John didn't suspect them of being some kind of plant to find an excuse for Landry or the IOA to replace him, they would still ultimately be reporting back to another chain of command, to people with their own agendas. Plus, he actually wouldn't put such an idea past Landry given their history, though John figured that knife would be delivered by one of their own like Duncan. It would be a hell of lot easier to get John out of Atlantis if there wasn't an eight symbol address between them.

 

"Doctor Garrison just disappeared through one of the doors into an unsecured room," Evan brought them up to speed. "Lieutenant Duncan was able to follow her before the door closed. Neither of them are now answering, and the door they passed through won't open."

 

"They're not showing on my LSD, but neither are you, Major," John responded. "Lieutenant Duncan, Doctor Garrison, check in," he then tried to reach their missing personnel through his own radio before switching frequencies to have Zhidkov try from the jumper. And to see if they could locate the missing two on the jumper's more extensive life signs display, while Stackhouse continued to monitor Evan.

 

When John switched back after no joy on scanners or radio, he heard the recognizable sounds of a panel being pulled off, knew that Evan was going through the standard crystal swap and bridging hot wire attempt that Rodney had showed everyone, to force Ancient doors open. Then another curse.

 

'Dammit. She's either broken it, jammed it or has a fucking better expression of the ATA gene than I do. It's not opening."

 

"Maybe McKay's patch and Atlantis runs on AC power and this base runs on DC," was Stackhouse's contribution. "I've got some C-4 –"

 

"No," John said quickly, Evan echoing. "Or at least not yet," John amended. "Major, you said you thought you'd cracked the schematics on the base. Go see if that's true. We're a level above you and maybe there's a way from up here for us to get to Garrison and Duncan. Without damaging or setting off something."

 

He refrained from speculating on what had caught Garrison up; if it was a honey trap of some kind set to the ATA gene, or more specifically to those with the gene but were not actually Ancients, John didn't want to endanger anyone else unless they had no other recourse. It could also still be something relatively innocuous, a case of scientific curiosity, then a door that was locked, damaged or fused on both sides, coupled with the type of shielding against radio and other signals that John had been half expecting to run into in the first place. That, of course, didn't explain why Garrison had ignored Duncan and Evan when they'd confronted her before she'd passed through the door, but John had seen Rodney get that kind of focus before, the kind where he'd ignored John's calls and warnings, and John didn't know enough about Garrison to guess whether she was prone to the same level of tunnel vision or not.

 

Or whether she really had the gene. If she did, John was going to have a talk to Cam about not passing on needed information. It wasn't like Rodney automatically stole every scientist with the gene from the SGC for duty on Atlantis.

 

It took the application of his gene to open the airlock door up here, too, which had John wondering why the Ancients had bothered. It wasn't like the Moon had any inhabitants to sneak in or protect against, so anyone who would have come here in the past would have had to accompany one of the builders/researchers in a jumper or some other form of space fairing transport. He supposed the Ancients could have been playing host to the Asgard, Nox or Furlings, that this was some sort of meeting place like several other's SGC teams had found, but that still begged the question as to why the hosts were restricting access to their guests.

 

Unless their guests weren't guests.

 

"Stacks, do not get separated from me. It's possibly all of the doors require the gene to open."

 

This door also didn't want to stay open, probably because it was part of a true airlock, with another hatch/door only ten feet ahead of them. So keeping one open wouldn't accomplish anything anyway. He would have to completely disable the system to keep both open, and who knew what would result from willfully damaging things?

 

"Lorne, can you still here us?" John asked once they entered the facility proper.

 

"Yeah, I can but you sound a little funny. Is everything okay?"

 

"Just another graduated gravity field, and ten feet is not long enough to adjust from carrying thirty percent of your body weight – plus a two hundred pound spacesuit – to ninety percent."

 

Evan laughed at him. "Going from fifty to ninety in one step was worse. Okay, I do have a map of this place. There are no identifying marks on any of the various rooms, but you should be about a hundred feet away and maybe fifteen feet above my position. In a big damn room that takes up a good third of your level."

 

"It's a mechanics shop," John decided as he and Stackhouse caught their breath; John needing a few seconds more than the Master Sergeant, who only smiled broadly.

 

"Jumper repairs and refit from the look of it, including a small brace of replacement drones we should scavenge before we leave. There's an alcove with a couple of bunks, a small cooking/break area and one of the Ancient sonic grooming suites like on Atlantis built into the far right corner."

 

Although they'd found plenty of housing units with set ups similar to Earth heads, they'd also found these types of structures, primarily near the labs and in places that could have been dormitories or hotels for all they knew, and near the infirmaries. Rooms that handled not only standard personal hygiene, but decontaminations too, plus equipment that cleaned and made minor repairs to clothing. John suspected all cleaning would be sonic up here, that all forms of water needed to be reclaimed and recycled. Even if the Ancients were tapping the local water sources Earth had only just discovered existed on the Moon, storage would be a problem, not to mention the reclamation system would be power intensive. Just one more clue to support there being a ZPM handling the massive requirement of producing a shield, a gravity generator, and basically creating air and water from their raw components.

 

Unfortunately, John was beginning to think that the IOA and the SGC would be reluctant to allow the removal of that ZPM, that maintaining their own base on the Moon had better security implications than giving Atlantis a little more breathing room by having a back-up power source for their own needs. If John were responsible for Earth's defense instead of Atlantis', he'd most likely make that call.

 

"Beyond your shop there, you'll find a corridor and two sets of two smaller rooms along both sides," Evan let them know. "Then another room at the end that's sized between your room and the sets. On either side of the corridor you will also find an open shaft, one near you and just before the end room. The far one holds a stairwell, while the other seems to be empty. Both show as shafts that run the full height of the complex, which is five levels, by the way. There's a level below mine that does not have any egress point to the jumper bay. The basement is about half the perimeter of the entire base, with almost twenty feet from floor to ceiling unlike the rest which fluctuates between twelve and fifteen if I'm reading the scale correctly. It's just one big open room that's utilizing seventy-two percent of all power output."

 

"Undoubtedly the source of all the power generation too," John surmised, as it fit nicely with his own conclusions about the water retrieval and reclamation. It wasn't like the Ancients didn't tap into a planet/moon's inner core to operate their facilities as a general practice.

 

"Yeah," Evan agreed. "If there's a ZPM handling all of this, it's probably down there."

 

"We need to find Garrison and Duncan first. I don’t' suppose the door they passed through coincides with the empty shaft?" John asked. Not that that possibility was any better to contemplate, but it could explain things.

 

"Negative," Evan shot the question down. "The schematic shows both shafts are adjunct to corridors, not in rooms on any level but the basement. They're also not hidden behind any doors. If someone wasn't paying attention, I suppose they could have wandered in, but I would hope it's marked or pretty obvious you'd fall twenty feet. Whatever happened had to be something else, since they'd have had to go through several rooms to find the shaft, and the radios stopped transmitting almost immediately."

 

"Maybe the open shaft is an emergency evacuation point," Stackhouse proposed. "The Ancient's seemed to love localized gravity fields here, so it could be something like an open, fixed point transporter. You jump into it from any level and it instantly sends you back to the jumper bay?"

 

"Or just as likely to the surface," John scowled. "We'll save figuring it for later." Same with sending the jumper back to the Moon's surface to scan for dead bodies, he didn't bother to say. Unless Garrison and Duncan hadn't taken their helmets off like Evan had –

 

"Lorne, did all three of you remove your helmets?"

 

"Yeah, the whole outer suit, actually, just as soon as I moved the bases' internal life support to manual control. Doctor Garrison was having trouble maneuvering under the weight and the gloves made it a bitch to access any of the computer screens."

 

John didn't like it, but he and Stackhouse were going to have to do the same thing if they were going to need fast reflexes or flexibility. And with regard to the missing, if Garrison and Duncan had somehow ended up on the surface, it was far too late to do anything for them. His initial instinct was correct: keep their emergency back-up on hand instead of sending them off even for a short scouting mission that wouldn't accomplish anything different than their completing the search of the base.

 

"Okay, so if we come down the stairwell to your level, we're going to end up in a corridor," John started talking out the plan as he started releasing the seals on his helmet and signaled it was okay for Stackhouse to do the same. "Is that where Garrison and Duncan exited into from the control room?"

 

"No. The corridor is east relative to the jumper's position being south of the control room. They exited north. When you come down, you'll need to go to the farthest left door, then pass through two small rooms, still heading west, to find the room that they entered and disappeared from."

 

John stopped disrobing to close his eyes and fix the directions in his head, then to his scanner, while Stackhouse pulled out a small PDA and stylus to make his own notes. Should something happen to John, the scanner would be of no use to the other man, and there were already cautioned that they might lose communications for the directions to be relayed again. Remembering how to get back to the jumper would be paramount, especially as it sounded like Evan's level was more convoluted than the second one was.

 

"Played a lot of D&D when you were a kid, Stacks?" John couldn't help but note as he caught sight of the mapping conventions Stackhouse was using – decidedly not military mapping conventions.

 

Stackhouse merely raised his brow, non verbally pointing out that only someone else who grew up with role playing games would recognize the markings for what they were. John nodded in concession and left him to it while he again began stripping down.

 

 In a lot of ways this did feel more like a D&D adventure than a typical military search and secure, complete with a wizard's stronghold, traps and maybe a monster somewhere along the way.

 

"Shit, you didn't mention how cold it was," John admonished Evan, once he was free from the outer spacesuit. Evan didn't bother responded; he'd been in the cold at least fifteen minutes longer than John, hadn't done as much searching to have his metabolism and adrenalin pumping, and it had no doubt been colder, when Evan had first removed his outer suit since the facility was happily bringing the temperature up to Ancient standard at a steady pace, John could sense.

 

In addition to the warmth of the contained unit, John immediately found himself sorely missing his tac vest – and his thigh holster. The EVAC tool belt was clumsy over the inner flight suit, almost too big and resting too low, with loops and pouches where he normally didn't carry things. But it wasn't like he had any alternate pockets, and this way he still had his .45 and combat knife on hand if in the wrong place, plus a flashlight in addition to the one on his P90. Each spacesuit had also come with a belly pouch for things like notepads and emergency repair patches and sealant, but there was no easy way to sling it over his shoulder, and John wanted to keep a hand free when he wasn't carrying the scanner or the P90.

 

Stackhouse pulled a duty belt from his belly pack, complete with his own .45, what looked like his e-tool, a Ka-Bar and three small pouches, one of which John figured carried a small brick of C-4 since he'd offered before. The other two were likely first aid supplies and limited rations like a couple of power bars or chocolate, even though the pouch items never could have been used while he'd been wearing his spacesuit, well except for the C-4.

 

Seeing all that, John felt ill-prepared and inadequate, thought that was not all that uncommon a feeling when he was with the master or gunnery sergeants under his command. He was also acutely aware that they didn't have so much as a canteen between them, or more than two reloads for their .45s. Yes, they also had the Zat and John's P90, but he hadn't brought a clip for it, which meant he had only 50 rounds, plus the 28 to split for their pistols.

 

Rodney wasn't the only one who was going to give him hell about this mission, only Ronon's would be an I-told-you-so, and would no doubt involve a beat down for going into an unknown situation without adequate fire power and supplies, no matter how much of milk run it was supposed to have been.

 

"I want a pass from training with Ronon over the next week or so," Stackhouse commented as he adjusted his belt and holster, proving he was thinking the same thing.

 

"You and me both, Master Sergeant," John agreed. "Evan, we're moving out," he then directed when they were ready, their suits now stacked near the airlock and all equipment secured. "Despite your inclination, I want you to remain in the control room for now, even if you lose our signals too. We have to keep the base's systems under our control. If we do go off the grid, give us half an hour to get back to this position if we've not joined up with you, before you consider us missing to."

 

He wasn't about to order Evan what to do after that point; not only was Evan more than capable of making that decision himself, but there were too many variables right now to take into factor in determining whether they should be abandoned or whether a bigger search party should be called in. He'd given Jhadov stricter orders more because he didn't know her or how she'd react under pressure, and because the threats he had prepped her about were too dire to disregard -- for a lot more people than just the lost team, or to keep a black mark from shadowing Jhadov's own career. Even then, he'd still made his contingency orders a condition of being told to bug out, with nothing about what she should do if she lost contact with everyone else. He should probably correct that, but left it instead to be Evan's call, since Evan was now stuck operating as the mission's C2.

 

He and Stacks moved out into their corridor, with the obligatory look into the open shaft before they headed down to the stair well –

 

"Well I'll be fucked, it's a ring transport system," Stackhouse chuffed as he took his look. "And, yeah, it's got its own gravitational field," he then confirmed as they watched the bag of MnMs he pulled from one of the pouches catch and then float slowly downward.

 

In his now sixth year just starting with the SGC, John had yet to travel by rings, something he was secretly happy about. It wasn't like he had a phobia about it or anything, but the Goa'uld had seemed to co-opt that particular technology, and fighting the Wraith was bad enough. Not to mention some people – Rodney – would make his reluctance be a thing, like Doctor McCoy's thing about being teleported on Star Trek. So far, though, there'd been only little discussion about that type of transport system, with Rodney only occasionally expressing his surprise that they'd never found any rings, or evidence of ring research being conducted on Atlantis despite the supposition that the technology behind the apparatus had also been developed by the Ancients.

 

Once, Elizabeth had held forth that the ring transport had been invented after the Ancients had left Atlantis and Pegasus, that the Ancients wouldn't have needed anything like that previously since they were the type to sacrifice themselves with their ships in their fight with the Wraith instead of abandoning them. John personally figured the rings were a collaboration between the Ancients and the Asgard, though he'd never bothered bringing his own theory up, as even Rodney had deferred to Elizabeth about it, and since it was moot until they actually found rings being used in Pegasus. Moot and now something they no longer had much hope of proving one way or the other, now that both races were functionally extinct.

 

"So it could be a fixed platform to something that's not there anymore, a ship that use to be on station or maybe a surface facility that was taken out by a meteor," Evan speculated. "It shouldn't do anything if there's no reciprocal set of rings, but you should probably avoid it anyway."

 

"To easy to be a Tits Up Foxtrot," John agreed, although his response wasn't actually about the shaft and rings and, therefore, sounded awkward in his own ears.

 

After the first couple of times they'd run into personnel possessed or coerced by outsiders, however, Rodney and Peter Grodin had hacked into the communications system the expedition had brought from Earth, and devised an emergency channel that only senior staff and field team leaders knew about to use in situations where there was concern that their radio transmissions might be overheard by an enemy. It hadn't turned out to be as useful as expected over the years, since it seemed too often that it was a member of the senor staff or a team leader that got compromised, but this was the perfect instance, since the rest of the team were all newbies, and shouldn't even suspect you could code in an off channel frequency.

 

While Stackhouse pulled out his radio to program in the switch, he also moved ahead of John when they reached the other shaft and started down the stairwell. John no longer protested when a few of the first year marines did that kind of thing – any time John wasn't on a mission with Ronon -- he never got far when he did, not unless he ordered the marines to let him go first. At least it because he was Chair Force, with them thinking he couldn't handle himself. Anyone who might have thought that had their assumptions dispelled after the Genii attempted to invade Atlantis, even the new guys, since the tales of his actions then had grown completely beyond the reality.

 

Having his marines willing to endanger themselves because they thought he was too important to risk wasn't that much better in John's mind. Nor did he want anyone to get into the habit of thinking of themselves as unimportant and disposable. But he had to appreciate the respect their actions showed, and he wasn't about to invalidate such an expression of loyalty without good cause.

 

"If there's a forcefield or something to run into, you're the one who's more likely to be able to turn if off," Stackhouse actually offered an explanation this time when John only rolled his eyes.

 

After their final run in with Michael, when he'd been able to infiltrate Atlantis and had used the internal security barriers to almost lethal effect, such a concern was held a lot more credence than just being a convenient excuse.

 

"So what are we thinking about Garrison and Duncan?" John asked Evan in little more than a whisper on the new channel. He let Stackhouse get half way down before he started after him, to make sure he had a clear field of fire downward if Stackhouse attracted unwanted attention.

 

"The SGC has even stronger safeguards in place about Goa'uld infiltration of personnel after what happened to Caldwell, so I think we can rule that out," came Evan's just as quiet response. "I didn't catch any flash or extraneous sound like she inadvertently activated something that's altered or affected her, like McKay's ascension machine or the mind transfer or body swap device, but I also was pretty focused on my own screens, so I could have missed it. I'm checking over the system Garrison had been looking through right now and so far I'm not finding anything that would set my radar or curiosity off. There is a reoccurring name showing up on the research files here. Not Janus, Myrddin, Morgan or even Oma Desala, so I don't know that it could have been a trigger – other than because it's someone new, I suppose. If she's Trust, well a find like this would be pretty important to them, though I have no idea what her exit strategy would be –"

 

"Except you said she might have the gene," John reminded him. "So she could also have jumper experience we don't know about and could be thinking she could hi-jack ours. Probably wouldn't be that hard to convince Jhadav and Zhidkov that something's happened to the rest of us whether she can fly the jumper or not. My priming them for things going pear-shaped would have played right into her hands."

 

"Could be she's simply an old fashion spy," Stackhouse offered. "Suborned by a foreign – or alien – government, since the Trust wouldn't be the only ones eager to get their hands on a find like this. Just because they're members of the IOA, doesn't mean countries like Russia or China don't still have their own agendas that wouldn't coincide with ours."

 

"Major, are you still reading us?" John asked once he and Stackhouse were both off the stairwell and almost a minute had passed since Evan had last spoken. It was hard to hear just someone else breathing over your own.

 

"Yeah, sorry. I think I've figured out what type of research the Ancients were doing here."

 

His tone didn't make is sound like John would be happy about the revelation.

 

"It's medical, or at least biological. I found a couple of sets of body scans and the type of symbols Carson and Doctor Keller's work translate into the main database."

 

"Didn't the Ancients run into some kind of plague after they got here?" Stackhouse asked. "I seem to remember something about that when going over the Antarctica data. It would make sense for some of them to have gone offworld to research the cure."

 

"Just as much sense for it to have been concocted in a lab off world," Evan responded surprisingly cynically, given that he hadn't been on Atlantis during the first year when they'd run across the nanite virus.

 

Of course, in some circles, what Beckett had done with redistributing the ATA gene into people like Rodney and Everett Dillon would be seen as morally dubious if not actually criminal, whereas the work John and Elizabeth had allowed Carson to do on the Wraith retrovirus was absolutely bio-warfare. So it wasn't like Evan's paranoia was unsubstantiated without the nanite incident, especially if you included the work Michael had done with Carson's virus and with the Hoffan Solution.

 

John's problem with Evan's scenario was that it implied one group of Ancients conspiring against another. John didn't really know that much about the Ori and what they evolved into after their split from the Ancients, but he'd thought their division had happened long before the Lantean Ancients had come to Earth – that the most recent Ori didn't know where Earth had been located, which had been part of their whole problem and focus. If this was indeed a bio-warfare lab designing a virus to kill Ancients, was there yet another faction dissatisfied with the Council? It certainly wasn't like the Replicators had needed the gene to get anything on Atlantis – or here undoubtedly – to work for them.

 

"So no opening or breaking vials or jars, no cracking containment chambers, got it," John responded in return, flippant, but they could spend days discussing the implications and still not know anything. John had a reputation anyway, even in front of these two.

 

"Good advice no matter what you're searching through."

 

John suspected Evan was letting his drollness mask his concern.

 

"Do I also need to channel McKay and remind you not to activate the Ancient tech, Colonel?"

 

John ignored Stackhouse's snigger. "Yes, dear, we're moving on. I'm thinking you should keep talking, with one of us squelching back a signal every half minute to confirm we still have radio contact. We'll speak up only if we've found something."

 

"'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.'"

 

John smiled, while Stackhouse laughed out loud at that response. The Jabberwocky was a good idea and potentially prophetic to boot. Had John been the one needing to keep up a constant litany of words, he probably would have resorted to Johnny Cash lyrics, which was just one of many things he and Evan cheerfully disagreed about.

 

Evan had reached: ' He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought –' by the time they reached the first door that was supposed to lead them toward Garrison and Duncan's departure from the scene. The room beyond it was empty, not just of their missing personnel, but of anything else too, save another door opposite, leaving them with no clue to its purpose. Compared to the various rooms on Atlantis, this one was about the size of John's very first set of quarters without the en suite or any windows, which didn't provide any clue either, although it would have made for a pretty small research lab.

 

'The vorpal blade went snicker-snack! He left it dead, and with its head He went galumphing back.' accompanied them through the second door. Inside this room they got their confirmation this had been a bio-research station. Alongside the right wall was a bank of five stasis chambers. Several lab tables and pieces of diagnostic equipment were scattered throughout the center of it, equipment similar to the type they'd ended up utilizing in Carson's infirmary -- and in Leslie Biro's morgue.

 

"Whoa," Stackhouse couldn't help himself.

 

That was for the wall opposite the chambers, one Wes Craven or David Cronenberg would have appreciated, nearly hidden behind shelves that held hundreds of containers of now frozen body parts – things that looked like they might have been eyes, definitely a few limbs, and what had once probably been internal organs although those containers looked more like frozen, colorful goo. What ever the specimen jars had been made of wasn't actually glass, as the original formaldehyde or whatever they'd been soaked in had frozen over the millennia but hadn't burst the out of the containers. John wasn't sure he wanted to be here when everything unfroze.

 

"John?" Evan stopped his recitation.

 

"We found your bio lab, or more likely a morgue," John explained. "We've got body parts and stasis chambers." The latter of which he headed toward, while Stackhouse moved closer to the macabre side.

 

"Hey, I don't think all of these pieces were human," Stackhouse called out. "I've got sets of yellow eyes, orange too and I don't think they were stained by the fluid they were swimming in, or changed color because their blood vessels disrupted when the big freeze happened. The sclera aren't all white – or originally white, either."

 

 "I've got two empty stasis chambers, two mummified and long dead humans or Ancients, and a mummified something that looks more like a Gorn or the Lou Gossett Jr. alien from Enemy Mine, than a human," John informed them from his side. "Heavy ridge brow and jaw that goes back around the skull, a couple of things like look like tusks coming down from the chin."

 

"Probably an Unas," was Evan's suggestion. "They were the first hosts for the Goa'uld and the Asgard used them as guardians to protect tech and totems. The species now is sentient, but also … pretty easy to rile if you try to steal something they think is theirs. We nearly lost General O'Neill finding that out," he further admitted in a tone that implied it had been his team's fault more than the Unas'.

 

Yeah, John had had a mission or two like that himself.

 

"Rodney could probably figure out what the data here is saying about these guys, but I can't. And while someone would find it interesting, further exploration of this room isn't going to find us Garrison or Duncan," John called an end to the looking. "We're moving on, Major."

 

Evan started up this time with ' You may talk o' gin and beer When you're quartered safe out 'ere, An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it;' as they abandoned their gruesome discoveries and moved toward the next door.

 

"Jesus, Major, don't you know anything cheerful?" Stackhouse complained.

 

Room number three was another set of sleeping quarters like the alcove upstairs, holding only preserved furniture and no personal items, at least not at first glance.

 

"What, you'd prefer Dr. Seuss to Kipling, Stacks?

 

"I'm just saying, if you intend to provide a soundtrack to our actions, wouldn't a Byronic hero be more to the point?"

 

"Fuck you, Stacks," John interrupted them with a growl, before they could get started discussing the merits of the Romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Nancy had likened him often enough to a Byron archetype; he sure as hell didn't need the fucking marines doing the same thing.

 

"Hey, it's not like I remember all that many poems, guys. My moms used to have this record album by some guys that put a bunch of classic poems to music. Like Jabberwocky and Gunga Din. I could go with Annabel Lee or The Charge of the Light Brigade –"

 

"You could also pick something that was written in the last century. Or even this one," John suggested. "You hum Shakira all the time; you telling us you don't know any of her lyrics?"

 

"That's a fucking lie, Stacks," Evan protested.

 

"Of course, sir. Everyone knows you work out to the Backstreet Boys or N –"

 

"We're at the last door, Major," John interrupted for real this time. This room beyond should open to where they'd lost Garrison and Duncan, so John took his P90 in hand over letting it continue to dangle from the clip he'd devised.

 

"Be prepared for me to bring the lights down," John warned Stackhouse. Then, when he got his acknowledgement, John lifted his left hand and waved to activate the door sensor, while also thinking: OPEN!

 

With only a few seconds hesitation, the door opened into what had probably been another set of quarters or possible a common room for recreation or contemplation and study; the specifics were obscured by the amount of debris and destruction that greeted them. It didn't appear to have housed body parts at least, now exposed and exposing them, and John suspected there wasn't a single piece of furniture or equipment that was still intact. There was plenty of broken glass or hard plastics, enough to worry about cutting yourself, from monitors and screens and something that might have once been a sculpture, though with only a portion of it still left on the base, it was impossible to make out what it might have originally looked like.

 

John took the lead into the room this time, signaling Stackhouse to stay beyond the threshold for now, while he abruptly waved the door closed again.

 

He could hear both Stackhouse's curse and Evan's ' Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow, and dart not scornful glances from those eyes to wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:', which was almost enough to bring a smile to John's face despite the situation.

 

"It's not the room," he overrode the both of them quietly, and they both broke off. "I can still hear the both of you fine. Stacks, see if you can open the door from your side."

 

It opening behind him confirmed he could be heard too. Meaning Garrison and or Duncan had been ignoring them, or unable to answer for some reason.

 

John started for the door that should have Evan behind it. He ended up having to climb over a mess of something that included a couple of metal chairs and other things less identifiable. Something he'd be coming back to check because, while like all Ancient facilities they'd come across that weren't exposed to the element, there wasn't any common dust or cobwebs to authenticate the sense of abandonment or show signs of having been disturbed, John was still getting the impression that this destruction had come a lot more recently than thousands of years ago.

 

Stackhouse being able to open the door cast one strike against Garrison, but also meant he had back-up again, so he was more happy than not. When he reached Evan's door, Garrison got her second – and final strike as far as John was concerned – the door sensor was as thoroughly trashed as the rest of the room, its panel broken into and pulled completely away, as were the control crystals inside. Looking around, some of the 'glass' scattered across the nearest debris could easily be some of the control crystals.

 

"Evan, your door has purposely been jammed. I've got a broken panel and missing crystals. Son of a bitch! I've also got two earwigs and one completely smashed transceiver, along with a couple of spots of fresh blood, but no other signs of Garrison or Duncan beyond a thrashed room. I don't suppose you've been able to disable whatever's jamming the internal sensors?"

 

"Sorry, not a chance. I'm not sure even McKay could crack the rest of this database, Colonel. At least not in the next few hours. I don't know if we got lucky with Atlantis, or if I've gotten too complacent with how similar set ups have worked, but if I had a guess, I'd say they used a completely different operating system here. At this point I'm not completely sure I read the life support controls correctly."

 

"You're the best we've got on that, Major, which not only means your guess is a hell of a lot better than mine, but that you're definitely going to need to stay there and secure the control room. How many other doors are you vulnerable to?"

 

"Just the way we entered, which I've already locked down and I have two of the crystals in my tool belt. No one's getting in here if your door is also impassible, not unless I let them in. But I'm more concerned about the power room below. It won't matter whether I've really got control of the life support if Garrison pulls the ZPM."

 

"Roger that. We're heading there next." John shoved the earwigs into one of the open pouches that circled his belt and signaled Stackhouse to follow him.

 

John didn't really think Garrison would pull the ZPM; that would be dooming herself too. While she might manage most of the doors, the airlocks weren't just a matter of the gene, and were too massive to simply force open by hand. It also wouldn't take as many minutes for the lunar cold to seep back into the faculty, even if the atmosphere held for a while because of the construction and location. Hell, without the ZPM and, therefore, the shield, who knew how the lunar surface had shifted after millennia and numerous meteor strikes. There could be literal tons of moon rocks just waiting to obliterate the facility once the shield's protection was removed.

 

He didn't think she would pull it, but she could, and so they couldn't take the chance of ignoring the threat. Even though she'd know that to, and if John was in her place, he'd be using that threat to set up her ambush. She didn't need to pull the ZPM to take them out with her stunner, and while Evan could let the pilots in the jumper know about Garrison, having Evan and those two locked into their respective safe zones didn't preclude Garrison having an alternative way out. Especially if she was actually in the employ of someone she'd met on a past field mission taken on any number of other planets.

 

John had confidence that Daedalus could take on any single ship that might come for Garrison, but even it couldn't sense a cloaked jumper, or necessarily pinpoint a transmission in time before the damage was done.

 

They picked up the pace, not flat out running and thereby losing too much of an awareness of their surroundings, but given they were backtracking, they also didn't need to be as cautious of their footing or direction. Once back in the corridor, John sent Stackhouse to the stairs, while he intended to take the other shaft. They'd only be coming down twenty or so feet apart, but it would hopefully be enough to make her hesitate long enough for one of them to get to cover, then take her out.

 

"Double squawk when you're on the last bend," John instructed Stackhouse with a tap on the master sergeant's radio. He then turned to run down the corridor, only to be stopped by Stackhouse's hand on his arm.

 

"You don't know that the rings won't activate, sir."

 

"But I do know that she could take both of us out with one shot coming down the stairs. Besides, they didn't for the MnMs."

 

"Because they weren't living tissue or they didn't have the proper mass. It's too risky."

 

"It's our only choice if she's really down there. I promise, I'll be thinking 'off' the entire way down."

 

"Ring sets don't work by thinking at them," Evan spoke up. "God, the number of times that would have been useful –"

 

"So it's unlikely their completely automated either; too easy to put someone at risk. If it ever works on automatic, it would be when a breach is detected, or when the self destruct is engaged. Something like that. And, if I'm wrong, you both have my permission to say I told you so."

 

"In the ten seconds before you lose consciousness from vacuum exposure on the lunar surface? Thanks," Evan growled.

 

"Evan."

 

But Evan only started back in on Katherina's final speech from The Taming of the Shrew, even though they knew now that the radios worked throughout the facility.

 

Stackhouse, in turn, only gave John a look before releasing his arm.

 

Because John was right; there wasn't any other alternative that might give them the advantage.

 

John headed off, silently mouthing along with Evan although he'd personally preferred the version of Shakespeare's play done as a musical called Kiss Me Kate. Probably because he still remembered his mom taking him and Dave to see a matinee performance either on Broadway or at the Kennedy Center, when he'd been maybe nine. He'd hated it, of course, when he was a kid, though the musical theatre shows were better than the ballet or opera. Discovering none of them were as bad as he remembered as he'd gotten older, he attributed more to finding them a way of still connecting to his mother long after her death, and not because he was a gay/bi cliché.

 

When you're deployed out amidst endless sand with no movie theater or stage in sight, you also learned to appreciate any type of entertainment beyond the scant talents of your bunkmates. Even Madama Butterfly.

 

As the two of them reached ' I am asham'd that women are so simple to offer war where they should kneel for peace, or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway, when they are bound to serve, love, and obey' Stackhouse's double squelch sounded.

 

John stepped off.

 

He'd parajumped, base jumped and tried bungee jumping. This wasn't like any of those. Not like hang gliding or parasailing either. The closest that came to John's mind was grabbing air on a skate or snow board, those few seconds where you hung weightless before gravity compelled you back down. He'd been suspended, then dropped fast, though fast and impacting the ground only as if he'd dropped five or six feet instead of twenty.

 

His knees still weren't happy with even that short of a distance, giving him a fleeting moment of regret for the loss of his youth. Then he was tucking and rolling forward and over the few inches of hovering rings, out of the shaft and toward the nearest piece of equipment he could hide behind, with only a small bobble from the final shift of gravity.

 

The equipment he found was part of the water reclamation system when it lived on Atlantis, about five feet high and a couple of feet wide. At first he couldn't see Stackhouse, though he could hear him. A quick duck-walk to the other end gave him the view he needed and at first, it didn't appear as if their precautions were necessary.

 

Stackhouse came out of the stairwell landing in a crouch and nothing happened. Nor did anything happen as Stackhouse started across the room. John let Stackhouse play the stalking horse, although they should have switched weapons since he had nothing that would stun her and get them their answers.

 

"Shit, I've got Duncan's body here," Stackhouse stopped about a quarter of the way across, then knelt down out of John's sight.

 

John moved again, trying to get the master sergeant back into view, but caught sight of Garrison first as she stepped out from some shadows, a piece of rebar or maybe a chair leg in her hands instead of her stunner.

 

"Stacks!"

 

His warning came quick enough for Stackhouse to get his Zat raised and get a shot off, though it went wide and the second one was stopped with a crack that John could hear until Stackhouse's howl damn near deafened him.

 

John fired his P90 their direction. He didn't have the angle on either of them, but the threat caused her to flinch and also drop her weapon. The trouble was, she went for the Zat instead of her metal rod.

 

Garrison didn't miss Stackhouse with her first shot. She then aimed, not at John as he raced toward her, but again at the master sergeant. John didn't hesitate putting his shot between her eyes.

 

"Stacks is down, but Garrison's dead," he informed Evan, continuing forward. "I'm pretty sure Duncan is dead too." Frankly, John couldn't see how Garrison had gotten the lieutenant down here, dead or alive, but there was always the chance he'd just been stunned like Stackhouse and he guessed she could have dragged him.

 

He checked Stackhouse first – and Garrison – then pivoted over to check on Duncan, who was sprawled on his stomach.

 

"Jesus fuck!" Before he say anything else, before he could warn Evan, a Wraith dropped down from somewhere above him. Not just a Wraith, but a fucking Wraith queen, one pissed and still ravenous even though she'd just fed on Lieutenant Duncan.

 

He choked the word Wraith out before she backhanded him hard enough that he lost his earwig -- and probably a few teeth. She kept a clawed handhold on his shoulder so he didn't go sprawling himself. He jabbed at her in return, just under the ribs with the butt end of his P90, more trying to get enough distance between them to be able to fire than to free himself, though he wouldn't have minded that happening too, as he could already feel the blood starting to ooze out from around her pointed fingernails. Only she didn't have the same needs to breathe as he did, and he didn't get enough force behind his blow to do much more than make her even madder.

 

"Lantean," she rasped and ripped the P90 from him with her other hand, undeterred by his grip or its tether. With just the grip into his shoulder she pulled him upward, then grabbed him by the neck with her other hand – with her feeding hand – and pushed him backward against something metal and putting out enough heat that eventually he'd be burned through his layers.

 

John didn't think he'd ever heard or seen someone so angry, not Kolya, not Michael, not even Ronon, leaving John to guess that she'd been in one of the now empty stasis tubes, unwilling, until something had awakened her. He could almost feel sorry for her, was definitely pretty pissed off at the Ancients himself for their arrogance and yet another instance of them leaving their problems behind for someone else to have to deal with.

 

"Actually, the Lanteans have been dead and gone for thousands of years," he managed as she wasn't actively choking him yet. He then decided to mess with her head before she started messing with his. "Just like your race is dead and buried."

 

He'd played this game too often, done the stare down and gotten the beat down. The physical advantage was hers, which she knew and might be complacent about … not used to her prey fighting back. He could also count that she was using her feeding hand to simply hold and maneuver him for his side; if she wasn't going to feed on him right away, when she did let go of him to use her feeding hand, he'd have a single opportunity to try for his .45 or his knife.

 

"You lie to save your worthless hide, like the cowards you have always been," she hissed. "I felt the call, felt my brethren and their exaltation upon finding you at last, here on your Earth."

 

So it hadn't been them in the jumper which had awakened her, but the Wraith ship that had taken out Area 51 and had nearly found Nirvana with an all-you-can-eat Earth buffet. That made more sense and explained the trashed room and maybe mummified remains left in stasis; not mummified from being trapped for thousands of years, but drained over the last few weeks.

 

"Don't worry, Lantean," the Queen was continuing. "It has been many, many years since I was last awakened. I won't kill you until after I've stripped your mind of all I need to know."

 

And there came her fingers, lifting out of his shoulder and wiping them in a parody of caress across his temple and down his cheek, painting him in his own blood. They really needed to get a new playbook.

 

"Yeah, yeah, bow before me, blah blah, open your mind, blah blah blah. I knew most of your males were clones, but I didn't think you bitches were too." John had no idea what the word bitch translated into in her language, or maybe she just got the intent from his tone and the thought he wouldn't mind her picking up from him just this once. She reacted predictably, raging and now cutting scores across his jaw with her nails, but she was also too incoherent at the moment to push hard against his mind in any manner other than to hurt in return. The physical pain would give him something hot and bright to hold onto -- and maybe even reflect -- when she went after his thoughts.

 

And help him figure out what the fuck else he was going to do. Because this was not a situation that was going to get better, unless he figured out something fast. Wraith stuns took at least an hour to recover from; John figured Zats were as bad or worse. She wasn't going to be that patient. Nor was his back going to hold out to the burning heat of the pipe, or the bow she was forcing him into, over it.

 

"You really want to read something from me, sweetheart?" He grinned with all the nonchalance and defiance he could muster. "How about how good it felt to see your brethren go up in a fireball that lit the night sky on the planet below us. One in a long line of explosions and defeats, just like you're one in a long line of bitches that thought they'd one."

 

Although it was risky opening his mind to her at all, calling up their successes over the Wraith was easy. As was the manner of deaths for each of the Queen's he'd personally had a hand in ending. Easy, satisfying, and a longer list than he'd really thought about before now.

 

When he recalled the other ancient Wraith they'd killed on Atlantis' sister planet, she reacted from more than rage. John could hope they'd just been contemporaries and he absolutely did not want to contemplate some kind of hook up even though it was obvious that Queens had their favorites for some reason beyond blind loyalty.

 

"Oh how you will suffer, Lantean," she promised.

 

When she leaned forward to lick his blood off his jaw, John figured she was actually right, since he was going to have nightmares for months about the rasp of her tongue and the millennias worth of morning breath. Still, she wasn't attacking mentally, not with full intent at least yet, and physical pain was something else he'd had a long habit of ignoring or resisting. The same with coming up with a strategy when everything was FUBAR'ed.

 

While the pipe they were now both settling their weight on wasn't giving or anything, it wasn't actually wide enough to support them if John stopped resisting her. Instead of just relaxing, he pushed off with his heels and kicked up. Not aiming for her, since not even Teyla was that flexible or double jointed in the knees, but far enough to tip his distribution of weight on the pipe and start falling backward. She was caught off guard. Her grip on his throat loosen when some piece of her flesh slid across the burning pipe, then she let go completely when they both tumbled and she tried to catch herself against the floor.

 

John's shoulder's hit before his head did, which was probably the only reason he didn't lose consciousness; the pain of something shifting did steal his breath though. Their legs were now tangled together, and she was screeching like a damn virgin caught in a stranger's bed as she tried to extract herself. John pulled on the arm she was balancing on. Pulled her to him while he groped with his other for which ever weapon he could reach first. Unfortunately it was the flashlight he pulled free, put that gave him another idea, and with only a thought he plunged the room into partial darkness – some of the power systems producing their own ambient light to let it go totally dark – but enough so when he brought up the flashlight and flicked it on to shine 100 lumens into her eyes at point blank range.

 

She screeched again and tried to rear back but flailed even her second hand, and John quickly dropped the flashlight to grab at her free wrist and twist it up across her back, pulling until it was her shoulder and bone that gave, the surprise of his boldness giving him the advantage he shouldn’t have had on her even if she was female. She bit at him in return, as if she was a real vampire, until John shifted his hold from her first arm to take a firm handful of hair that he used to pull her head away from his throat.

 

"You fight like a mate," she praised him, the beam of the flashlight catching her wide smile with teeth now stained with John's blood.

 

"Yeah, well, hands off, bitch. He's mine." The lights flared back on to full brightness as Evan punctuated his arrival and his pronouncement with the full clip of his .45 into the small of her back and then into her head when she slumped and John was able to push her off of him. Evan replaced that clip with another that he also emptied, all into her head this time. Just to make sure.

 

John laughed in giddiness and relief, knowing that in seconds he wasn't going to be feeling either enough as all the abuses his body had taken started clamoring for attention. "Was that a proposal?" he wheezed and then gagged in distaste when blood ran into his open mouth. He was pretty sure it was mostly hers, which meant a stomach pumping as well as tetanus and rabies shots, knowing his luck.

 

"In some reality where it could be," Evan chuffed softly, doing his duty by checking to make sure she wasn't going to regenerate from that death, then also checking on Stackhouse and Duncan before he knelt down beside John. "How are you doing?"

 

"Now that you're here? Never better."

 

"Keep telling yourself that when you help me carry Stack's body up the stairs."

 

Evan tried for a smile to match his words, but couldn't hold onto it. He also didn't seem to know where to touch or even look to begin checking on John's injuries. John stopped Evan's fingers before they could brush his face. It was likely going to be some time before he could stomach that --and not for the first time, though Evan had always proven patient with him in the past. Damn creepy queens.

 

Evan's grimace matched his own. "Is it because they're female?" He voiced thoughts matching John's. "Because they retain enough residual emotions from their ancestry and maybe their childhoods, that they're like every other princess and priestess to be beguiled by their own shallowness, just because you happen to be attractive?"

 

John raised his brow, about the only part of his face that didn't hurt. "Todd flirts too," he offered, and Evan's eew face was almost as priceless as Rodney's. "If anything, it's the defiance," he then cut them both a break because the thing he had with Todd really was disturbing, even to himself. "But even more likely, it’s the fucking gene. They sense it and it makes them weird and kinda stupid," he added with a careful nod in the dead queen's direction.

 

Evan did better with a smile this time. "You're catnip to them."

 

"Hey, you too. Obviously, I'm just a better blend."

 

"You are definitely something, John. Now what's broken, and do you think you can sit up?"

 

"Stacks busted a wrist or an arm, well, Garrison busted it for him. I will cop to some spectacular bruising, a knot on the back of my head, and maybe a burns and some scratches, but otherwise, I'm good," John reassured him. He then held up his hand for help off the floor, only to yelp when Evan grabbed it and, wow. For a moment his body seized in significantly more pain that his blinding headache. He hadn't been lying about something being broken, but that shoulder was definitely dislocated, something he hadn't noticed when he'd been using it while fighting the queen.

 

Adrenaline, a body's own morphine, complete with crashes and withdrawals.

 

"Yeah, that's what I thought," Evan tisked at him. He very carefully tucked John's arm back to his chest, then sat back on his heels for a few seconds in contemplation. "I've already called in the cavalry, so we should be getting a full team of marines and medical personnel as soon as the back-up jumper rendezvous with the Daedalus for a few extra bodies. They're all going to be Atlantis or long-term people Caldwell trusts, though I'm guessing we can blame this all on the Wraith and cut poor Doctor Garrison a break. Just in case it was an unhappy coincidence and Garrison wasn't working for the angels even before the bitch came on the scene, I've ordered Jhadov and Zhidkov to stay put until they're relieved. And, just in case the bitch wasn't the only Wraith the Ancients were experimenting on, I really, really would like to get you into a position where you could defend yourself, John. Are you up to trying again?"

 

John rolled his other shoulder and clenched his hand, happy enough when the movements only caused his back and neck to twinge. He nodded and things worked better this time, though both of them were swearing and snarling at one another by the time Evan helped him slide on his ass over to a non scalding piece of equipment he could cautiously lean against. Evan handed over his Wraith stunner for John to fumble with it in his left hand; while he could shoot with a pistol well enough off-handed, the stunner was heavier and bulkier, and it was a good thing he wouldn't have to be very accurate with it to do damage.

 

"I am not going to pop your shoulder back in, and neither are you," Evan then admonished, before he gently gripped John's jaw and began examining the scratches and the bite mark.

 

John didn't think any of them were very deep; they stung and had bleed, but he'd experienced something of the same with those wolf things on P7X-442, and he wasn't feeling any of it like then. The damp, matted hair against the back of his neck produced a little more concern – and even more solicitous handling from Evan – but the hit he'd taken when he'd fallen back against the floor hadn't even produced a concussion, and his headache was likely just a combination of that and her probing. As long as it didn't turn into a migraine, he counted himself good.

 

"You're not going to go Wraith hunting, either," John muttered from where he was resting his head against Evan's neck and shoulder while Evan made sure he hadn't caved his skull in. "You're probably right about the base being clear now, and definitely right about not trusting anyone but our own, which I'm betting is going to include Ronon and Ferris." The sergeant whom the rest of the marines called Bueller, of course, and who was the 'muscle' on Evan's gate team though he was a couple inches shorter than Evan's own sixty-nine.

 

"Shit, Anne probably sent Dusty, too, just so she can laugh at the both of us."

 

"I'll order her not too." Though John wasn’t sure whether he meant he'd ordered Anne or Dusty, or which one of the two Evan had meant and, fuck, this crash was turning in to a doozy. He really wanted to stay awake to help keep watch with Evan, but between the post battle come down, and the fingers Evan was carding rhythmically through his hair, not to mention the surprising comfort of Evan's bony shoulder, John was fighting a losing battle once more.

 

Just as, once more, Evan had his back.

 

 

Later.

 

By the time Evan was beamed down into Atlantis from the Daedalus, he was too tired and drained to be angry any more. Than to feel even relieved, though come morning he knew that he'd be right there with everyone else as the word spread of General O'Neill telling off the IOA. Making his goodnight to Woolsey, who was no doubt off to his own room and bed, he then checked in with Anne Teldy over the military's private command channel.

 

"Teldy?"

 

"Major. Welcome back. We are green."

 

"Good to hear. So am I, well, maybe more like green around the gills, but that's the IOA for you. You will be happy to know that General O'Neill has appropriated Colonel Mitchell from General Landry on our behalf, for at least the rest of the night. So prepare to turn over your command."

 

"Didn't any of the rest of his team come with him?" she asked with what sounded like a pout in her voice.

 

Evan sent a glance Mitchell's way, but the officer on duty hadn't returned yet with an Atlantis radio set up for the Colonel. "Sorry, no. No Vala for you and Dusty to play with." He didn't bother to try and keep Mitchell from hearing his side of the conversation. "No Jackson or Teal'c for the three of you to torment."

 

"Like they don't love it,"

 

She laughed, and Evan almost joined her, because of the grimace Mitchell was directing his way.

 

"Okay, so we only get to torment Mitchell," Teldy continued. "Good to know. Send him off to the Colonel's office. I'll meet up with him there and go over the night's duty roster. No need to bother yourself to come down, since you sound like day old shit."

 

"Major –"

 

Now Mitchell was chuckling at him, at the long suffering annoyance in his own tone.

 

"Major," she parroted right back at him, almost as good at aping him as he was with mimicking John's put upon whine (everyone could do Beckett's brogue and McKay's strident ranting).

 

"You don't need to make a trip to the infirmary to check on the troops, either," she added with a different type of happiness. "Both the Colonel and Stacks have been released to their quarters. Stacks a couple of hours ago, and Ronon let me know about forty minutes past, that he was escorting the Colonel home. Both will be down for the rest of the week, of course, although Doc Beckett wants the Colonel to hang around the city for a couple of days before he resumes his leave, just to make sure there aren't any residual effects like an undiagnosed hematoma. You've still got a couple of days left, too, right?"

 

"Not anymore," but he said it with a tired smile obvious in his tone, both for the news that John and Stackhouse were alright, relatively, and for the rest of the news he got to tell her. "O'Neill's cut our papers and we're going home just as soon as we think we're ready. You and I will be coordinating the new troops and supply acquisitions for the next couple of weeks, while we also start recalling the guys on leave or temporary SGC gate teams. But not until thirteen hundred tomorrow. Senior Staff is set for fourteen thirty."

 

"Oh, thank god."

 

"Hey!" Mitchell protested, letting them both know he was now hooked up and listening. "You make it sound like being on Earth is a chore."

 

"It is," Evan and Teldy echoed each other. "Not Earth itself," Evan further explained, and made a silent note to himself to make sure he emailed his mom and Larissa before he considered his own bed. "It's not even being so close to the chain of command or, rather, its because we're too close to too many chains of command. You guys in the SGC, and we're more on the IOA's radar. You heard them in the meeting tonight."

 

Mitchell nodded.

 

"Plus, we've got our friends and family back in Pegasus," Teldy contributed, proving even more that she'd become one of them. "And our own allies and enemies. We're just fifth wheels here."

 

Treated like fifth wheels certainly, though Evan was careful to even keep that thought from his expression. Mitchell seemed like a good guy, was someone he'd become convinced over this last day that he would come to like assuming they ever had much of an opportunity to interact. But while Mitchell might have felt like an outsider when he'd come into the SGC and had trouble getting SG-1 back together, even then he'd been invited to be a part of the program, had been given his choice of anything within the SGC to become involved in after he'd save the Earth in the final battle with Anubis.

 

Any time Atlantis did their own heroic hail marys, including saving the Earth, Landry either tried (and too often succeeded) in splitting up the teams and command staff, or simply sidelined and ignored them until he needed a scapegoat. Had it been someone like Elizabeth Weir calling those shots, Evan would have figured it was intentional; her way of fostering instant camaraderie for what was in essence a frontier posting where everyone needed to be able to trust and rely on one another. He didn't for a minute think Landry was that aware, however, or if he was, he still also made it obviously punishment.

 

"Well, fifth wheels or first, the IOA are everybody's pain in the butt, just like any other rear echelon brass," Mitchell pointed out in both commiseration and in friendly warning, going by his expression.

 

Yeah, maybe the entire expedition had been whining a little too much, justifiable or not.

 

"You remember your way?" he asked Mitchell in a timely change of subject, gesturing the colonel to use the transporter first.

 

"I think I do, though I'm sure the charming Major -- not that you're not charming in your own right, Lorne --will be happy to come escort me if I get lost. Right Miss Teldy?"

 

"Only if I get to spread it around that you're as hopeless with directions as the Colonel is. Pilots."

 

Evan would have protested, but she was pretty much right, though he liked to think he wasn't as bad at it as John was. But then he'd been raised to keep on eye on detail.

 

Right. His moms and emailing. Then he needed to find John.

 

"And I am off radio, Major," Evan relieved himself of duty as Mitchell disappeared behind closed doors, which quickly opened again to an empty chamber. He found himself leaning against the wall as soon as he made his way inward, even though he wouldn't really be in the transporter long enough to get any benefit.

 

"Roger, Major," It was Mitchell who acknowledged officially. "You are off radio."

 

Evan didn't actually pull his earwig, though he would once he made it to his room. Off duty on Atlantis was still on call, which was why the burnout rate was so high for military and scientists alike beyond a certain personality. He trusted that it would only be a dire emergency before he was called, though, just as he talked himself into trusting that Mitchell could handle most everything else. They might have a skeleton crew on Atlantis right now, one primarily tasked with sustaining operations, but that still meant either Radek or Carole Simpson were on hand for tech problems, plus McKay and Doctor Keller were no doubt staying at least through the rest of the night before they resumed their own leave. And Richard Woolsey was back in place, and while he wasn't an Elizabeth Weir or even a Sam Carter, he'd come into his own in Pegasus, and in his own fashion, had their backs.

 

"Are you hiding Sheppard from me?"

 

Speaking of McKay.

 

Evan turned to greet Atlantis' prickly Chief Scientist, even managing to muster an expression more neutral than pissed (or pleasant but, fuck, he was tired and just not up to McKay's paranoia tonight). ".Doctor McKay."

 

"Yes, yes. Major Lorne," McKay blustered. "Hello. Where is Sheppard?" he demanded.

 

"Actually, Doctor, I have no fucking idea. I have been back on Atlantis for," Evan stopped to actually look at his watch because his time sense was as shot as his equilibrium at the moment. "For twenty-seven minutes, twenty of them that I expect were all spent in the gate room checking in and seeing that the city hadn't gone to hell while I was gone. I haven't seen Colonel Sheppard since he was whisked away on a gurney aboard the Daedalus nearly six hours ago, whereas I imagine you got a chance to see that he came out of surgery okay, at least –"

 

(For a rotator cuff detachment thanks to the shoulder dislocation he'd been able to find out before he'd been summoned by the IOA.)

 

"-- assuming you also didn't stick around to steal his pudding or dinner fruit cup."

 

McKay reared back from him and, yeah, maybe that came out more bitter than Evan usually allowed himself to feel. He normally didn't resent the closeness John had with his team, the closeness he had with his own which fostered certain expectations. Like sitting vigil when one of them was hurt.

 

McKay was considered a genus for a lot of reasons, maybe not so much for his social skills, but even he could see that Evan had been pushed beyond his limits. "The pudding," he confirmed in a milder tone. "Though I only exchanged my butterscotch for his chocolate. Then took the butterscotch back when he said he didn't want it. Carson reported he was released an hour ago, and I would have been then to make sure he got back to his quarters, but there was a …thing we needed to straighten out with Jeanie, and Ronon said he had it covered anyway."

 

Evan just stood there, mustering as much patience as he could, knowing McKay would get the point eventually.

 

"I just got away finished and went to John's quarters, only he isn't there. Now I know you two have a secret place, where Atlantis refuses to acknowledge exists, so I thought you …" he finally wound down with a shrug.

 

Evan's heart caught in his throat for an instance, but realized he was only talking in generalities, not because he'd figured out he and John might actually have a private area – for the two of them. They didn't, other than his own quarters, since people like McKay assumed they had free access to John's and so rarely bothered to knock. Not even Evan's team did that to him; hell, even John would knock unless it was an emergency.

 

McKay was right, however, about John having a private place he sometimes escaped to, probably more than one, actually, given how often John spent late nights walking the city and learning its secrets long before the exploration teams got around to it. From the beginning, though, he'd made a point of letting his own command team know if he was heading off to one of them, willing to hide from Elizabeth first then her replacements, willing even to avoid his team, but John had never abandoned his responsibilities to his command. Teldy would have been told tonight if John wanted privacy, along with the OOD stationed in the gate room, and even if he'd taken his radio off, he would have also taken it with him.

 

"Did you try calling him?" Because for a genius, McKay didn't always think of the simplest of things.

 

McKay formed his lopsided frown and shook his head. "I didn't want to bother him if he was sleeping. Which is why I just went to his room. And the gym, even though he's been banned from getting beaten up for a couple of weeks, since he so thoroughly got his ass handed to him today." He chuffed something that was likely supposed to be a laugh, though it wasn't funny even to him.

 

Evan had managed to hear quite a bit of John's exchange with the Wraith Queen, since John had only lost his earwig and his ability to hear Evan in return, and he'd come flying down the ring shaft to see enough of the final part of the confrontation to know that John probably looked as bad now as he had while it was happening. Anyone who managed to survive going hand to hand with a Wraith, didn't walk away without a lot of bruises; by the time McKay would have been able to see John, they'd have been blossoming across John's face and body.

 

"Did you check with Teyla?"

 

"Ah, no, but that makes sense," McKay acknowledged. "I'll go do that. You should consider getting yourself off to bed, Major. You've done enough for the day."

 

High praise from McKay, and the closest Evan would come to ever being thanked for saving John's life. But that was okay, McKay would also consider that he was the one who'd endangered it and, regardless, they didn't have to be friends. He doubted they'd ever be friends, and he was certain he'd never understand why John was close to the guy (though he rather suspected that had he been part of the expedition back in that first year too, he'd at least understand things better). It was enough that McKay was one of his, by virtue of them both being part of the expedition, and he was family, because of their mutual relationships with John.

 

"I guess if I don't find him with Teyla, I should just get back to Jen."

 

McKay was still talking, but more to himself it sounded like.

 

"Sounds good, Doc. Say hi to Teyla for me," Evan made motion to leave, since McKay wasn't, despite his stated intentions. Then, kicking himself, "was there something you needed to see the Colonel for? Something I can help you with instead?"

 

McKay simply looked at him as if he'd forgotten Evan was still there. He then shook his head. "No. I guess I'm just too aware of how he likes to go off and lick his wounds, especially now that the rest of us have paired up. I didn't want him to think he had to be alone."

 

Surprisingly insightful for McKay, plus a damn broad admission. Something in the next moment McKay seemed to realize himself by the sour look his face took on. He lifted his hand with a vague wave and moved off toward Teyla's quarters.

 

Evan hadn't really thought John would be seeking out Teyla's company tonight. Maybe before Torren, but because of the kid, John hung out with her less. Not because he didn't like the kid (he adored Torren), or even because Kanaan was jealous (as far as Evan could tell, Athosians didn't do jealousy – or practice monogamy as a part of their culture; probably because the Wraith did more to disrupt relationships than straying partners ever could). The truth of it was that John didn't like putting any additional burdens on Teyla, especially if he thought he might need some minding too. Not when she was essentially raising Torren alone (despite many, many willing aunts and uncles) until they got back to Pegasus, Kanaan and the rest of the Athosians.

 

Evan had little doubt that John would go to Teyla sometime in the next few days. With Elizabeth gone, Teyla was really the only one John could go to when feeling grief and sorrow (and disgust with himself, a feeling – feelings -- Evan had little doubt John would be wallowing in for a while, though the latter was needless since John had done nothing wrong).

 

Wallowing wasn't Evan's own style, he was more open with his emotions on a day to day basis to start with, and he was a big believer in therapy that didn't involve beating himself up (or letting someone else do the beating), not that he didn't understand how useful and satisfying working yourself into the ground until you couldn't think could be. Of course, his idea of therapy wasn't – hadn't – been Kate Heightmeyer's; he never volunteered for psych evals (and hadn't warmed up to Kate's replacement at all).

 

For as long as he could remember, though, he'd used art to express the feelings he couldn't articulate in any other way. It hadn't been until a couple of college (and officer training) courses in psychology that he'd realized his mom had shaped and taught him worthy of anyone with a degree in therapy, not that he'd ever called her on it – or regretted it. He did his share of repressing, but also knew how to let go, especially when it was a loss during a mission or as part of war.

 

He was sorry Garrison and Duncan had been killed, but no where near as upset about them as he was about John and Stacks getting hurt. Not because he didn't have empathy or care, but the reality of it was that he hadn't know either of them. Most of his sorrow was as he felt about anyone's death, and regret for not getting the chance to get to know them. While their's had been ugly deaths, they had still died because of their passion or willingness to commit, and in his mind there were plenty of worse ways to go, something he liked to think they would have agreed on themselves.

 

No one joined the SGC for their health and retirement plans.

 

Reaching his quarters, Evan closed his eyes and allowed himself a silent sigh of relief. He might not have the rapport with Atlantis that certain other did, but she told him things she didn't always tell others (McKay), and while no one else would have noticed if they walked past (nor understood even if they did notice), the liquid column just outside his door was glowing in warmer tones than it normally did, than the ones nearest John's quarters always did. Atlantis knew who she loved the most, and maybe she was just reacting to John's presence instead of talking to Evan, but he appreciated the gesture just the same.

 

John was indeed hiding out and licking his wounds, in the one spot he didn't need to tell to the military staff on duty.

 

Unlike a lot of the rooms the expedition had co-opted for living quarters, Evan's door didn't open into his sleeping area. Instead it opened into a narrow section his Nana Johnson would have called a parlor, what his mom would call a morning room if she could see it. (Morning was exactly right, the wall opposite his door was filled along its entire length with floor to ceiling windows that caught the sun spilling over the spires of the city sprawled beyond, a stunning pattern of light and shadow no matter the season, that was perfect for painting under.) He and John didn't have to worry about any walking by and noticing Evan's CO visiting at those times when a CO had no business stopping by.

 

The windows were darkened now, allowing only the faintest of the city's glow and a sprinkling of starlight through (Evan suspected the star patterns were faked, or at least enhanced though he was on the side of the city that overlooked an empty spur that they kept dark in order not to waste power), and it would most likely darken further as the sun made it's arrival, out of deference for the man sprawled out across Evan's bed on his stomach. Evan wasn't all that surprised to find him there, but he was surprised in how John had arranged himself.

 

Normally John hated to sleep on his stomach, and wasn't much of a sprawler; sleeping contained when he was alone, and curled around Evan when they had the chance to share. In this instance, with his shoulder wrapped and his arm no doubt forcibly affixed to his side with at least a sling, Evan would have expected John to be on his opposite side, especially if he'd taken a shot to his ribs or his chest from the bitch.

 

Evan approached for a closer look and with a word of thanks to Atlantis, even if he really didn't think she was sentient. The small cube on his side of the bed (it still weirded him out a little to think that he had a side of the bed here on Atlantis) began glowing with something akin to moonlight – bright enough for him to see by, but not bright enough to disturb John, even though his face was turned in that direction. In its illumination he could see that John had a couple more pillows than were normally on Evan's bed, had that side of his body propped up on them, with his arm nestled in the valleys the pillows made.

 

He also found a long swath of bandage wrapped around the middle of John's back, not tight like it would have been for bruised or broken ribs, and that most likely explained the multiple bottles of water also on Evan's side of the bed (two of them empty, with one of the empties on the floor) and the tub of something Athosian that had proven better for burned skin than anything they had on Earth. It wasn't until he saw it all and put it together that he remembered John mentioning something about a burn; from the look of things it was across the entire width of John's back, although he saw the blacks and blues of deep bruising on either side of the bandage, not the red or blisters of the burn. Pretty localized too, and the only thing that fit was the pipe he'd come in just in time to see John and the bitch fall over.

 

"Fuck, John," he said softly.

 

"'S'wasn't my fault," John answered back, mostly clear although their might have been the slightest slur of an ess, and his normal drawl was even slower. John also wasn't bothering to open his eyes.

 

"What else did she do to you that you neglected to mention?" Evan asked. He very carefully sat down next to John and started carding his fingers through hair that was still damp, but not from blood this time. Atlantis was humid enough that hair didn't dry in mere seconds like in Afghanistan or in Nevada, but John still must have taken a shower in the time after he'd left the infirmary for it to still be damp, which also meant that someone must have come with him to help. In with him to Evan's room, otherwise John would have been sacked out in his own bed.

 

For a second Evan's hand stilled.

 

"Evm?"

 

Evan wasn't sure if John was trying to say his name or just an interrogative; whether John's initial lucidness had been a fluke, or whether John was only now willing to actually go to sleep because Evan had made it in. He liked that last thought, but he brain was screaming at him about his earlier one. Only, if John was fading for any reason, those thoughts and the conversation they needed to have should probably wait.

 

"I'm fine, Evan." John lifted up his head enough to make sure he was heard this time and, incidentally, to press against Evan's hand again in a not so subtle hint.

 

"Stop stressing your shoulder," Evan admonished and carefully pushed John back down. He started up with his fingers again willingly; it was a well known that owning pets was good for maintaining a lower blood pressure and in reducing stress, both of which could use a little management right now.

 

John made a content noise and started to settle again, his uninjured arm finding Evan's thigh and resting his hand there to be touching in return.

 

"Actually, before you fall asleep again, let me at least get my boots off," Evan drew his fingers one last time through John's hair and briefly cupped the back of John's neck before he pulled away. Not that he really planned to just stop with his boots. He'd trained himself to sleep in anything, anywhere and pretty much in any situation, but it wasn't as if he liked to do so uncomfortably.

 

He removed his watch first, then his dog tags (unlike John, he never slept in his tags anymore unless he was in the field), and set them both in the small tray next to his glowing cube. And quite an array of meds, he now noted amidst the bottles of water and the burn lotion.

 

"Hey, do you need to take any more meds right now?"

 

John managed to open one eye, but his own watch was sitting there next to Evan's and turned away, not that Evan thought he'd have been able to read it even if it had been facing the bed.

 

"It's oh dark thirty. Just past two a.m."

 

John grimaced and flailed a little with his good arm, which Evan interpreted as a yes to time for more meds.

 

"You were gone a long time. Why?" A sleepy whine and a pout that was still effective despite half of John's face buried in his pillow. Evan leaned over and gave a brief kiss to John's forehead, then helped John roll over onto his uninjured side so they could maneuver him into something like a sitting position, though he was mainly leaning against Evan, who put a knee on the bed so he could still reach one of the waters and one of three identical cups filled with pills.

 

Underneath the little paper cups was a note, from Doctor Cole, Evan found himself relieved to see. Of the three primary doctors running Atlantis' infirmary (four if you counted Carson Beckett), Penny Cole was probably the better choice to come out to. (And there was some additional relief in having someone else know, especially someone who was in a position of looking the other way when one or the other of them was once more laid up in the infirmary and clandestine visits were the only way to check and be reassured without raising ugly flags.) While he doubted any of the doctors (or most of the nurses) would report them to Woolsey or the SGC, even without their staunch belief in the Hippocratic oath (costing someone their position on Atlantis and possibly causing jail time was definitely against 'Do No Harm'), if Jennifer Keller knew, then McKay would know. It wasn't that Evan didn't trust McKay to have at least John's back in this, too, but McKay was about as bad as Beckett when it came to lying, and it wouldn't take much for someone to go from discovering something was being covered up, to what exactly was being covered up.

 

"They're not holding you to blame for anything, right?" Frowning, John turned his face up to Evan's after he finished more than half the bottle of water; serious burns could not only hurt in a unique way, but left you with a feeling of dehydration.

 

"Or Cam? For what happened with Garrison?"

 

"No," Evan reassured him before John could work himself too far into a state of righteous anger and aggravation, before he aggravated his injuries.

 

Getting John situated back down on the bed again wasn't any easier than getting him up had been.

 

"I think the inquiry was more a blind for the IOA. That they were really just fishing to see if the moon base was still viable for use and not just as another window for research into the Ancients," Evan speculated. With John back in place, Evan bent to loosen his laces then kick off his boots. At least he'd had time to shower before the inquisition, that he could forego it now.

 

"From the tenor of their questions, they trying to justify putting a full time crew there, I think, although no one mentioned what underlying purpose doing so would serve," Evan continued as he started on his shirt buttons. "It's not like they can eventually stash the rebuilt weapons chair there, or a squadron of F-302s, since the Moon also falls under a Non-Proliferation Treaty."

 

"It took them four hours to remember that?" John's free hand had found Evan again, and he tugged gently to pull Evan back down to the bed when Evan had only just finished loosening his belt and his fly, but not yet stripped.

 

More like six hours, but it was understandable that John was fuzzy on today's timeline. Nor was how long the meeting ran important, given how much of it had just been politicians indulging themselves.

 

"General O'Neill spent about half of the meeting reaming the IOA members out," Evan recalled with a happy smile. He transferred John's hand back to his thigh so he could ditch his shirt.

 

"O'Neill showed up?" John's tone was slowing again, slurring; the meds obviously strong and fast working.

 

"At Caldwell's insistence. The IOA members were pissed."

 

It was by no means graceful, but Evan slid out of his pants without jostling John too much, and then slid in next to him. Evan stretched out onto his back, close enough that John's arm could now rest across his chest.

 

"I guess we're not the only ones feeling the weight of the IOA during all of this inactivity." Evan's smile and contentment deepened. "O'Neill is sending us back, just as soon as we're ready and you're up to taking a stint flying the city."

 

"Cool," was John's soft reply; no where near as thrilled as Evan would have expected, but then John was back to being mostly asleep. Evan figured the only reason John had rallied about the IOA was in concern over his people, including Mitchell and Garrison in this instance.

 

Going home.

 

With a start, Evan remembered he'd forgotten to send his email to Mom and Larissa, but that, like the excitement over being able to go home (plus all of the headaches still ahead of them in coordinating that return) would wait until morning – until later. For now he was too comfortable where he was, content and just so damn grateful the both of them still had a later.

 

-- finis --