Take these broken wings
And learn to fly again, learn to live so free
When we hear the voices sing
The book of love will open up and let us in
Mr. Mister - Broken Wings
The buds appeared on his back just after his sixth birthday, filling him with excitement. In a few more years he would be soaring with his peers high above the green fields, feeling the warmth of the sun upon his back and the air ruffling his feathers as he tilted and swooped. Unlike the other kids he wasn't just practicing how to hold his body and arms but also calculating the wind resistance, working out vectors and trajectories, of how each individual feather placement would affect the current of air passing under and through his wings. He had watched older kids and adults flying, working out the other factors that needed to be taken into account - weight and shape - and taking note of how the gravitational pull of the earth could be used to send someone diving towards the ground like an arrow let from a bow.
He twisted one way and another, trying to run his hands over the small protuberances but he couldn't quite reach them yet, finally giving up and hurrying down the corridor to his mother's room.
"Meredith? Where is your shirt?"
"Look!" He turned and showed her his back, hearing her footsteps approaching before he felt the warmth of her fingertips against his back. "I'll have wings soon!" he crowed.
She smiled at him, settling first her arms and then her long iridescent, white-tipped wings around him, enfolding him as she had done since he was a baby. For once he didn't even mind the firm lump that was his unborn sibling pressing against his back. He felt his mother press a light kiss to the crown of his head and snuggled closer to her despite the bump of the baby. He hoped his own wings would be as beautiful as his mother's rather than a mottled brown and gold like his father's. Not that the color mattered as much as the wings themselves. His mother maneuvered them to the edge of their home in the eyrie, looking out over the rich green lands and blue mountains stretching to the horizon. Within another three or four years he would have his wings and then he could begin the arduous task of learning how to make them work. Hopefully by then he would have also found the courage to leap into the skies like a baby bird leaving its nest for the first time.
Two months past his tenth birthday, Meredith preened as the sun glinted off his wings. His wing span was almost the same length as his body now but they were surprisingly light, hollow like a bird's wings. As for the coloring, at first they'd appeared a drab brown and white-tipped like his father's but as they lengthened over the years the new growth came through in an iridescent dark blue with hints of gold like his mother's. They were beautiful and strong, and the feathers underneath were a soft creamy down that tickled his back. When he wasn't studying he spent time in the field beneath the eyrie, beating his wings and trying to retain control as he was lifted several feet into the air. Other fledglings had the same idea but unlike most of them he was small for his age, with a slender build. Although he could reach ten feet above the grassy field, he tired quickly where others with a stronger build were able to hover for longer.
After the sixth attempt to stay in the air for more than a minute, Meredith settled back onto the soft grass beside his mother and sighed.
"When your father first gained his wings he was small for his age too," she stated softly, smiling in reassurance as she helped Jeannie make a necklace from wild flowers.
He huffed in annoyance when Jeannie tried to place the wild flower necklace over his head because flowers made his eyes itch and nose runny, but secretly he was glad his mother had told him about his father. His father was broad-shouldered now, and it gave him hope that he might gain more muscle as he grew older.
The sudden blare of horns made him tense and he looked to his mother nervously but found no reassurance in her sky blue eyes.
"Slavers!" she breathed in fear.
She moved swiftly and gracefully to her feet with Jeannie held tight to her chest while all around them others were taking flight, by air if they were strong enough to fly, but otherwise racing through the fields back to the safety of the eyrie. Unable to fly with both her children in her arms, his mother grabbed his hand when he froze in fear, pulling him along behind her as they joined the others in flight but Meredith had already calculated the odds of them reaching safety before the first of the slavers reached them on their fast-footed horses. He'd heard horror stories told around the eyrie of what happened to those enslaved, especially the females, young and old, and thinking only of his mother and little sister, he shook off his mother's hand.
"Mama! Fly away! Fly away!" he ordered, seeing a flash of distress in her eyes before she was lifting high above the ground with Jeannie still in her arms, her iridescent wings beating against the sky high above his head.
Soldiers from the eyries launched into the sky from high above, but he saw several fall within a flurry of arrows. He kept running, trying to use his wings to increase his speed but the shadow of a horse fell across him. He screamed at the excruciating pain of someone seizing one of his wings in their hand, twisting him around to thump against the side of the horse before he went sprawling onto the ground; one wing bending in an impossible direction as he rolled over and over, pitching him into blessed unconsciousness.
When he opened his eyes it was pitch black and for a moment he panicked, believing he had lost his sight until a heavy curtain was drawn aside to reveal torchlight in the room beyond. He tried to gain his bearings but this was not any part of the eyrie. The stones of the wall were gray and damp, and the ground was cold and hard beneath him, made of cobbled stone. After a moment he began to make out the huddled shapes of others, finally recognizing one the boys from the field that day along with several other men and women, some of them wounded, and all of them sitting in shocked silence and fear.
"Where are we?" he asked, but no one answered at first.
"Hell," one replied softly, and before Meredith could ask another question the heavy curtain was pulled back completely to reveal a dirt-smeared, heavily muscled, wingless man with a scraggy beard.
Before Meredith could react the man grabbed him by the arm and dragged him out and through a corridor into another chamber. A thick, heavy oak door closed behind them and Meredith jerked back when he saw the bloodied wings piled high in the corner. The man held him tight, and when he continued to struggle he felt the weight of the man's fist striking the side of his head. The room span out of control as he was dragged across it and thrown face down onto a slab.
"You won't need these where you're going," the man said.
Before Meredith could comprehend what he might mean he screamed as a heavy, hot knife sliced through the bony protuberance attaching his right wing to his body, falling into merciful darkness as the man cut through the other wing.
Less than a week later Meredith was on an auction block many miles from the eyries, tired and hungry after two days imprisoned in the back of a dingy wagon, pressed against other slaves like himself. Many of them were T'Eyrie and in pain from where their wings had been sliced from their backs. There was one boy in particular who had taken the loss of his wings badly and, somehow, Meredith had ended up chained next to him inside the stiflingly hot and uncomfortable wagon. The dark-haired boy barely spoke so Meredith filled in the void by talking softly of the things he had learned in his thirst for knowledge, if only to distract himself from the horror of the past few days and the fear of what lay ahead. He'd never seen the boy before in any of his classes, knowing he would have recalled someone with dark hair and hazel eyes among his own mostly lighter-haired and blue-eyed people, so he decided the boy must have come from one of the other eyries.
It took him most of those two days as the wagon bounced and jolted along a bumpy road before he realized he was the one being comforted and protected by the other boy, curled up against him to ease the pain of his wounded back while the other endured stoically.
"My name is John," was all he gained during the journey.
Up on the auction block Meredith was ordered to turn to face the rendered wall during the bidding. The mid-morning sun was high in the sky and behind him, casting his shadow black upon the parchment painted wall but it was the shock of not seeing the shadow of his wings unfurl to stretch out behind him that finally broke through the days of denial. They were gone forever; his precious wings. All sounds suddenly muted as the shock hit him, muffling the call of the auctioneer and the answering bids from the crowd. Everything snapped back when the yells turned to screams and he turned round in time to witness a man snatched from the crowd and taken twenty... thirty feet off the ground before he was dropped, his body dashing onto the hard ground below. These were Meredith's kind, winged T'Eyrie soldiers diving and slashing with swords, letting loose arrows into the screaming, panicked crowd of S'Apiens, humanoids like the T'Eyrie but without the gift of flight. One of the soldiers swooped down and snatched him up from the auctioneer's block and Meredith clung tight to him, just as he had clung to his mother or father for most of his young life. The land was passing by below them much faster than it had in the wagon and he could see several others held in a tight grip, including the dark-haired boy. Perhaps it was the shock of the past days finally catching up with him but the world blurred beneath him, darkness closing in as the thump, thump of the beating wings sent him into unconsciousness.
Meredith awoke in his own bed, lying face down on fresh sheets, feeling a warmth wrapped around his hand that was lying by the side of his face; his mother's warm hand. He blinked up at her, unable to comprehend all the bittersweet emotions racing across her expressive face. His body felt strange. It felt too light and unbalanced from the loss of his wings even lying down, and not even her soft kisses against his hair assuaged any of the loss.
"You're safe now, Mer," she whispered.
Wingless, but at least he was home.
Twenty Years Later:
In the language of the T'Eyrie, Meredith meant 'Lord of Flight over the Sea'. As far as he was concerned, Meredith ceased to exist after he lost his wings and he would answer only to Rodney from that time onward. Of course there were exceptions - his mother and his sister refused to call him anything other than Meredith, or Mer for short - but his father respected his wishes, or simply didn't care enough to argue. He was always too busy these days, barely looking or speaking to Rodney unless he had little choice, as if he was ashamed of him, or rather of what had happened to him. It would be many years before Rodney understood his father was not ashamed of him but rather of his own inability to protect his family, seeing his failure every time he looked at his disfigured, wingless son.
Rodney had asked his mother once why the S'Apiens hated them so much, but she had simply shrugged.
"Because they do not have our many gifts, including the gift of flight."
"But other than our wings, they don't look much different to us."
"It is true we share a common ancestry, but over thousands of years we have taken a different evolutionary path, and they are jealous of the wings they have lost on their journey."
Coming back to the present and the loss of his wings, Rodney often wondered if he should now be thought of as S'Apien rather than T'Eyrie, especially whenever he was treated differently by his own people due to his lack of wings. He hardened himself, using his intellect and sharp words as weapons against those who tried to bully him for being different, and threw himself into his studies, eventually gaining access to the Ancient technology that had once protected the T'Eyrie from the S'Apiens on the planet. Rodney pored over Ancient texts alongside another who had also lost his wings to slavers in the year following his own abduction and mutilation. Daniel was brilliant, though Rodney had no intention of letting him hear those words spoken aloud. He taught Rodney how to translate the Ancient language, and within the language Rodney could see the mathematical beauty in its structure that lent itself to the complex mathematics that described the technology left with them ten thousand years earlier. Over time he became one of the T'Eyrie's top scientists, studying the Potentia that had glowed so brightly in the distant past but was now almost depleted, leaving the mountain eyries without its protective shield except in the greatest of emergencies.
More raids had taken place over the span of those twenty years; more of their people snatched into slavery and not all of them were ever recovered.
Today he hoped that would change as although Rodney did not have the knowledge to extract Zero-Point energy from another universe to refill the Potentia, he had figured out how to make a generator that was perhaps not quite so powerful but good enough to raise the shield in times of need. However, the draw of energy for the shield was so great that it would only last perhaps ten minutes, but it was a start. He pressed down on the panel, hearing the triumphant cries as the shield shimmered into place to form a dome that just about covered all the mountain eyries. It was not as large as the original dome shield created by the Ancients; it did not reach high above the mountain tops or far into the surrounding grassy meadows, and it could not be used continuously, but it would help protect the T'Eyrie from future slave raids.
The leader of his eyrie, Elizabeth Weir, stepped forward smiling brightly.
"Congratulations, Doctor McKay!"
He preened for a moment because he deserved any and all accolades, smiling triumphantly towards his fellow scientists until he caught Radek's narrow-eyed look.
"Well, yes, I did have a some assistance."
"Yes, of course. Congratulations to you too, Doctor Zelenka, and may I be the first to extend grateful thanks to you both on behalf of all the T'Eyrie."
After another couple of minutes he dropped the shield, aware of how long it would take to recharge the generator once depleted.
"I had this idea of creating-." Rodney started but Radek interrupted.
"We had this idea-."
"Yes, yes, you had some input too."
"Rodney?" Elizabeth questioned meaningfully.
"Yes. Yes... Of creating several smaller, independent-" He used his thumb and forefinger to indicate the shrinking size, twitching when Radek interrupted again.
"Overlapping shields instead of one massive shield."
"Each powered by a separate McKay-Zelenka generator at each of the eyries." Rodney smiled brightly as he finished, almost bouncing in excitement next to Radek as he waited for Elizabeth to recognize the benefits and give her response. After a moment he added, "The slavers tend to attack only a single eyrie at a time-"
"And a smaller shield powered by a McKay-Zelenka generator could last perhaps thirty minutes."
"Long enough to call upon the other eyries for assistance in repelling the attack," Elizabeth added, finally understanding the significance. "Can you actually do this?"
Rodney squirmed a little. "Admittedly if would mean tweaking the Ancient code for the shield to distribute it across... Yes."
"Do it," she commanded, smiling at them before leaving.
After finishing the new shield design, Rodney discovered the M-Z had other uses too. Many of the consoles in the Hall of the Ancients had been dark for centuries but now he could power them up, amazed by the words and holographic images appearing in the air above the consoles. Despite scoffing at the soft sciences of language, archaeology, literature, and politics in general, Rodney had a begrudging respect Daniel, aware he had proved himself invaluable in translating the new words into the common language of the T'Eyrie. While he was working close by, Rodney often listened as Daniel translated the words aloud for another of his colleagues to write down.
"In the Halls of the Atlantean all is possible. The sick shall be healed and given the skies; the weak shall find sanct-."
Rodney whipped round and stared at Daniel. "What did you say?"
Daniel blinked owlishly behind thin-framed glasses - an injury caused while he was enslaved, costing him not just his wings but also the superb vision that all of the T'Eyrie enjoyed from birth. Rodney had been spared that cruelty at least though Radek, an excellent engineer and now a good friend, had suffered worse eye damage after being forced across the desert with other slaves under the merciless hot sun, before managing to escape and find his own way home.
"The weak shall find-."
"No. Before that. Read it again."
"Please?" Daniel stated expectantly, and Rodney rolled his eyes at the waste of time engaged in pleasantries.
He gritted his teeth. "Please."
Daniel worked his way back along the line. "The sick shall be healed... and given the skies."
"Wings," Rodney breathed. "You need wings to have the skies."
By now Rodney was standing right next to Daniel, looking over the text for himself even though his translation skills were not quite as poetic as Daniel's. "The Halls of the... Atlantean?"
"I've seen that reference before," Daniel murmured as he began searching through notebooks filled with scrawled writing and sketches. "Here! Atlantean... Atlantis. The Lost City that can reached only through the Tau'ri Astra Portia."
"The eyrie star door?"
"No. Tau'ri, not T'Eyrie."
"Wait!" Rodney snapped his fingers. "Tau'ri... T'Eyrie." He waved between them. "What if..? Could we be the Tau'ri?"
Daniel blinked, straightening in thought as he looked from his notebook to the holographic writing. The words sounded so similar to Rodney's untrained ear but he recalled the slight dialect differences even between the close-knit eyries. Daniel's eyes widened.
"If that was the case then Astra Portia could be the Great Circle held in the hall of the Cheyenne Mountain Eyrie."
Daniel flicked through his notebooks again until he found a sketch of the Great Circle, holding it up for Rodney, and Rodney could see instantly why Daniel thought it could be the Astra Portia. It was circled in glyphs that looked like constellations in the night sky.
"The Doorway to the Heavens," Daniel stated.
"The doorway needs at least seven glyphs," Rodney added, already picturing the mathematics for locating a single point in the heavens, having read all the Ancient text on the stars and galaxies swirling above them.
"It mentions eight for Atlantis," Daniel murmured.
Rodney straightened. "But that means... Seven would be needed to reach the stars in our galaxy. An eighth means..."
"But it's all worthless without knowing the point of origin," Rodney moaned.
"I think I know the symbol for the origin," Daniel crowed as he flicked to another page in another notebook. "The circle upon the mountain."
"Cheyenne Mountain?" Rodney asked and even though Daniel merely shrugged, Rodney was convinced.
The Lost City of the Ancients was a myth that had been handed down from one generation to the next. Rodney had never put much faith into children's stories but in that legend the T'Eyrie had left this world in a great flying city, only returning many thousands of years later to avoid annihilation by mythical beings called wraiths. Logically it could explain why they were different from the S'Apien, taking a slightly different evolutionary path for thousands of years. In the Atlantis myth the city had sunk beneath the waves of a distant ocean and they had merely assumed it was on this world, but if Daniel was right then they'd been looking in the wrong direction. They'd been looking down on this world when they should have been looking up at the stars to an ocean on a planet in a distant galaxy.
"We have to go to the Cheyenne Eyrie," he stated, clicking his fingers. "I need to see the Astra Portia."
It was lucky the Cheyenne Eyrie already knew Daniel as unlike the other eyries, Cheyenne had a military leadership. Rodney didn't know what to expect when they met with General O'Neill but, fortunately, O'Neill seemed more than a little pleased to see Daniel again.
"I've translated a lot of Ancient text for them," Daniel murmured softly.
O'Neill was impressive, with penetrating brown eyes, brown hair greying silver at the temples, and mottled silver and brown wing feathers with white tips folded up neatly behind him. Rodney guessed he had a wide wing span judging by the length of his folded wings and felt another momentary pang of jealousy. Working so closely with Daniel and Radek from day-to-day had made it easy to forget they had all been mutilated by slavers, though the long walk along rocky paths between the two eyries reminded him acutely of his loss. If not for the elevator system for transporting goods between the eyries it would have taken them far longer to reach Cheyenne, whereas with wings they could have flown to their destination in twenty minutes.
Rodney was surprised to find a gorgeous blond-haired, blue-eyed female scientist working with the Astra Portia, with wings similarly colored to Rodney's mother and sister. It wasn't completely unknown for the T'Eyrie to leave their home eyrie and join another but most came to the Cheyenne Eyrie to be soldiers rather than scientists. When she saluted O'Neill, he realized she was both soldier and scientist. She engaged him and Daniel immediately in scientific talk about the Astra Portia and, begrudgingly, Rodney had to accept that she was not just beautiful but also intelligent like his sister. However, unlike his sister, Colonel Samantha Carter had never shunned her brilliance by marrying a T'Eyrie who studied literature, and taking up motherhood as a career; a sore point with Rodney that had led to them not speaking for several years. More amazing, she had already created a computer that could automate the activation of the glyphs even though she did not understand the true importance of the Astra Portia, believing it to be some kind of star and galaxy database rather than a portal to other worlds.
O'Neill called a meeting in a large, comfortable room, and Rodney found his eyes drawn to one of O'Neill's men. The wingless soldier looked strangely familiar to him but as Rodney hadn't left his own eyrie since his abduction as a child, he could not think of any occasion where they could have met. He was beautiful though - for a man - with dark, messy hair and green and gold, hazel eyes, and a mouth that just begged to be kissed. For a moment Rodney wondered what his wings would have been like. Perhaps raven-dark like his hair, or brown with flecks of green and gold like his eyes. he saw the soldier appraising him too but Rodney quickly decided their interest in each other was just a sense of kinship for having both experienced the loss of their wings.
O'Neill made the introductions. "My second in command, General Landry." He turned and indicated towards the others. "Colonel Cameron Mitchell. Colonel John Sheppard... and you've already met Colonel Carter."
Rodney was not one for remembering names usually, but he was certain John Sheppard was one name he wouldn't forget easily. The meeting was turned over to him and Daniel, and they outlined what they had discovered in the Ancient archive.
"I believe it creates a wormhole between this world and others out there," he waved towards the rock-formed ceiling, "using zero-point energy. A... gateway to the stars."
"So it's a Stargate," Sheppard stated, and Rodney rolled his eyes.
"And we can travel through it using this... wormhole?" Landry asked.
"And... you want to use it to go to a mythical city?" O'Neill asked. "A mythical... flying city."
Daniel jumped in. "Myths and legends are often based in fact. I've found numerous references to the Lost City of Atlantis." He paused. "So yes. I think we can go there."
"And what do you plan to do when you get there?" O'Neill asked.
"Um..." Rodney felt a moment of panic because he really hadn't thought much past the point of convincing O'Neill to take this to the T'Eyrie council. Of course he had his own agenda but he doubted anyone would agree to wasting what little energy remained in the Potentia on what could end up being a one-way trip to another galaxy, yet that in itself was a reason to go. "If they are our people then they may have a means of replenishing the power within the Potentia... or give us a new Potentia?" he added.
O'Neill frowned, nodding slowly. "And the real reason?"
Daniel sighed and pulled up the text he'd found days earlier, reading softly. "In the Halls of the Atlantean all is possible. The sick shall be healed and given the skies." He looked O'Neill straight in the eyes. "It could heal us. Give us back our wings."
Rodney just happened to be looking at John Sheppard at that moment and he saw the flare of hope in his hazel eyes, realizing how much harder it had to be for a soldier not to have the gift of flight, forced to man the battlefield and command troops on the ground rather than in the air. O'Neill finally looked away from Daniel to glance at Sheppard, and he must have read the same hope on his subordinate's face. He looked to Landry, who gave a slight shrug and nod.
"I'll do it," O'Neill stated. "I'll take it to the council. But if they say no...." He trailed off, not needing to finish his sentence.
If they said no then Atlantis - and their wings - would be lost to them forever.
The T'Eyrie Council
Jack landed on the main steps of the T'Eyrie council and nodded as the soldiers on guard allowed him to enter.
After explaining Rodney's proposal he watched as Elizabeth and the others looked to Miranda. Elizabeth was a pragmatic woman, well versed in diplomacy and in the Ancient language, and it was obvious she was intrigued and excited by the idea of discovering the legendary lost city but Miranda was the current head of the council of five. She stood up and unfurled glorious white iridescent, black-tipped wings that contrasted starkly but perfectly with her ebony skin. Miranda turned away in thought, heading towards the floor to ceiling window that overlooked the Cheyenne Mountain range. From there Jack knew she would be able to see two of the distant eyries including the Cheyenne Eyrie, and he waited patiently for her to speak what was on her mind. Eventually she came back to the table and leaned over it, palms pressed flat against the tabletop.
"If we use the last of the Potentia on this... expedition to a mythical city, then we will have nothing left to power the shield."
Elizabeth stood up, ruffling her reddish-brown, white mottled feathers before speaking. "Hardly nothing. The McKay-Zelenka generators can raise smaller shields to protect the eyries when needed, and if I'm not mistaken, the Potentia could only activate the full shield perhaps two more times, three at most? As we have no means of refilling it, we will have to rely on the M-Z generators sooner rather than later, and in the meantime, we have an opportunity to see if there is truth behind the legends."
Another of the council, Rashid, stood to speak. "My grandfather told me the stories as a child. The Lost City was abandoned for good reason at the time, but that danger may have fallen away over these thousands of years. All we know for certain is that our numbers here are dwindling as the S'Apien grow bolder and push up back into the mountains. Our food resources grow thinner with the loss of the meadows and woods beyond the foothills, and we have lost too many of our people to the slavers... even with the shield." He paused. "If there is any hope for the survival of the T'Eyrie then we must at least try to find this Lost City."
Miranda hummed softly. "So you would have us use the last of the Potentia to reach Atlantis for what end? To leave this world?"
"Yes," Rashid replied.
Jack straightened because he hadn't considered that scenario and yet it was the obvious solution to their problem. This world had long since worn out its welcome for them and in a few more generations the eyries might no longer exist at all, destroyed by the S'Apien in their need to reclaim all of their world from those who were different from them. What was left of the T'Eyrie people would be enslaved, perhaps forcibly interbred with the S'Apien until wings became a genetic aberration to be surgically removed, rather than a glorious gift from their ancestors.
Although three of the five council leaders were in favor Jack looked to the fourth member sitting at the table. Hammond was the leader of the smallest and lowest eyrie and he looked deep in thought, with eyes closed and palms pressed together as if praying to some deity for divine instruction. He was the oldest among them, his wing feathers dulled and a little ragged with age, and his head completely bald. From necessity, his eyrie followed a military leadership similar to Jack's, and following on from recent discussions, Jack knew this would be Hammond's last council meeting.
"George?" he prompted softly.
Hammond breathed in deeply. "I lost eight soldiers during the last skirmish with the S'Apien, and fourteen civilians to slavers." He nodded deferentially towards Jack. "With the assistance of the Cheyenne Eyrie we recovered nine of our people, fortunately before they were de-winged. Mostly the children who'd been kept together. The rest of the adults had been scattered as spoils among the slavers, and impossible to track among the many S'Apien slaves once they had lost their wings."
Miranda sighed. "I feel for your loss."
Hammond nodded slowly. "I appreciate your sentiments, Miranda." He looked up, steely eyes revealing the sharp mind still present. "However, my presence here today was to inform the council of our decision to abandon the Springs Eyrie and move what remains of my people under the protection of the Cheyenne Eyrie." He nodded solemnly towards Jack. "So my vote in this matter must fall with General O'Neill's."
Miranda nodded solemnly before smiling softly. "Then we are all in favor." She looked around the table. "A member of the council should accompany this expedition."
Elizabeth stood up. "I would be willing to go."
Before Miranda accepted her offer, Jack spoke up. "I think I should be the one to go, if General Hammond is willing to share command of the Cheyenne Eyrie with my second, General Landry?"
Hammond nodded slowly, a little bemused.
"Your reasoning?" Elizabeth asked, slightly affronted by the rejection of her offer.
"We'll be stepping into unknown territory, which requires a military presence... and in the meantime, someone here needs to plan and coordinate the move to Atlantis in case this actually works." He looked directly at Elizabeth. "I can think of no one better than you, Elizabeth."
His words seemed to smooth her ruffled feathers and she acquiesced, nodding sharply to Miranda.
"Then it's agreed," Miranda stated. "Prepare your team, General O'Neill... and may the Ancestors provide the wind beneath your wings. For all our sakes," she added.
When O'Neill broke the news John found himself torn between his duty to protect the eyrie here on Terra, and his long-held desire to feel the wind beneath the wings hacked off him by S'Apien slavers. He'd experienced only a few short flights with his still-growing wings before that terrible day twenty years earlier, but if Daniel Jackson had translated it correctly there was a slim hope he might regain the skies if he went to Atlantis. He thought back through the years, and how lonely he had felt being different to those around him. It may have been unintentional but he found himself treated either with distrust because he looked like a S'Apien without his wings, or with pity for the loss of them. His father had never looked at him the same way after his rescue from enslavement, blaming John for the loss of his mother to the S'Apien slavers because she had tried to protect her fledgling son rather than save herself that day. His father traded with some of the S'Apien but none of those contacts found any trace of her until it was too late, bringing her broken and defiled body back to the eyrie so his father could find closure.
When he was old enough John left for the Cheyenne Eyrie to become a soldier, wanting to learn how to fight so he could protect others like his mother and the smaller boy who had shared his fate that day. His decision widened the rift between him and his father, and he had not spoken to his father since though he tried to remain in contact with his older brother, Dave. He recalled the boy's name - Meredith - and often wondered what had become of him. In many ways Rodney McKay reminded him of that little boy. Certainly he could talk the wing off an eagle and he had the same blue eyes, but that could simply be a trait of the Almagre T'Eyrie. He felt connected to Rodney though, perhaps because they had shared a common fate at the hands of slavers, but as he pictured Rodney in his mind he knew it was far more than that. He'd always been attracted to smart minds and mouths, to broad shoulders, strong arms, a beautifully curved ass, and keen blue eyes. Rodney ticked the box on all of those traits but also had an air of vulnerability around him that he tried to cloak with his smart mouth and hint of arrogance, which tugged on John's protective instincts.
With a sigh John realized he didn't need to toss a coin into the air to choose which path to take, aware that his subconscious had already made that decision for him, and not only because he might regain the blue skies. Rodney factored into his decision more than he might care to admit, even though he had just met the man. The problem was O'Neill had higher ranking officers under his command so John might not be given the opportunity to go with the expedition anyway, but he could at least put his name forward.
With the decision made, John swung his legs back over the parapet wall from where they'd been dangling as he sat at the top of a long drop, and he went straight to O'Neill's office.
"Sir, I want to put my name forward for the Atlantis Expedition."
O'Neill raised both eyebrows. "Close the door and take a seat, Colonel," he ordered.
John waited as O'Neill paced the office, aware that he had a black mark on his record after going back for two of his men against orders. Unfortunately he hadn't been able to save either of them and almost got captured by the S'Apien slavers for the second time in his life. General Landry, his immediate superior, had been livid, wanting him removed from duty permanently but had relented, temporarily demoting him to Major for almost two years. He had only recently regained his rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
"Landry thinks you're a loose cannon... but you also have one of the strongest expressions of the Ancient blood line; equal to mine according to Doctor Beckett."
John waited, aware O'Neill was thinking this through very carefully, weighing up John's black mark against an otherwise stellar record.
"Start packing, Sheppard," he ordered lightly, decision made.
"Yes, sir," he saluted crisply, hoping neither of them would come to regret this decision.
A week later everything was in order. The Stargate chamber, as it had come to be known, was full of people representing the five eyries, with all the equipment and resources they thought they might need squashed against the sides of the chamber to avoid being in what Rodney called a wormhole funnel. John had offered up another name after Rodney described it during the meeting with the expedition representatives.
"When the last chevron locks into place the wormhole will form a funnel outwards, like a...a water spout. Anything in its path will be destroyed on a molecular level."
"So best to keep clear of the splash zone," John replied.
"What? It's not water it's highly concentrated particles of..." He sighed. "Yes, Sheppard. Stay clear of the splash zone."
John was not surprised to see others like him who were without wings, though for a moment he had uncharitable thoughts of the eyries wanting to get rid of these reminders of their failure to protect the T'Eyrie. However, it was just as likely that they had volunteered for similar reasons as him. Although he freely admitted he now had a second ulterior motive concerning Doctor Rodney McKay, but he doubted many would be lusting over the irascible man who was surprisingly easy to tease and fluster, especially after John proved he did have some brains beneath his 'sentient hair'.
The scientists had run numerous tests short of actually dialing the address for Atlantis, and Rodney looked both ecstatic and terrified simultaneously as he hooked up the Potentia. Everything was in place to go so Rodney had his and Daniel Jackson's reputation riding on a connection being made successfully, and breathable atmosphere being found on the other side of the wormhole. The drone was already in place to go through and transmit back images. According to Colonel Carter's theories, wormhole transport of complex matter was one way only but other digital or analogue transmissions might be possible, such as radio transmissions. If they received no response from the drone then it was all over and they would have wasted what little remained of the energy in the Potentia for nothing.
The great ring began to spin slowly, stopping abruptly. The first chevron locked into place over one of the constellation symbols. John breathed in deeply and slowly, letting himself relax as he watched it spin again, and again. Seven symbols had locked and this time he held his breath as the rings spun one last time. It locked, and with a whoosh that had everyone gasping and pulling back, the funnel exploded into the chamber just like a water spout before settling down to fill the inner circle of the Stargate. It looked like water; its surface rippling like a soft breeze over a blue water pond. The drone went through and the tension rose a few notches as they waited for a transmission. Images came through first, depicting a darkened chamber lit only by the sweeping lights of the drone.
Over the communications system came Rodney's voice. "Temperature... cold but within tolerance. Atmosphere.... breathable. Looks like we're not getting out of this," he added shakily.
Below, standing close to the seemingly liquid surface, O'Neill smiled. "First team have a go," he stated, nodding to John.
John shouldered his weapon and stepped through with Major Lorne and Sergeant Stackhouse behind him, feeling a weird sensation as his body was dismantled on the molecular level and reformed on the other side between one step and the next. His breath plumed out in the frigid air but the moment his feet touched the marble flooring, lights began to flicker on around him, as if reacting to his presence.
"Looks like no one's home," he sent back, stepping aside as O'Neill gave the order for the rest of the expedition to go.
Ahead of John, a majestic staircase rose up into darkness and he felt a warm presence by his side as he took the first step, turning to look straight into Rodney's wide blue eyes as the riser lit up beneath his feet. He could feel the air warming too, his breath no longer visible on each exhale. Another step brought more lights until they had reached a mezzanine level overlooking a Stargate that was very different from the one left behind. O'Neill joined them at the top of the stairs, watching as Rodney moved from one console to the next with Daniel, removing dust covers, though John couldn't see a spot of dust anywhere. People were starting to radiate outwards from the Stargate atrium into the corridors beyond so John ordered all the soldiers to corral them and bring them back until they'd had a chance to make security sweeps.
A holographic display came to life above one of the consoles, activated by Rodney's strengthened ATA gene, courtesy of Carson Beckett's research into the genetic make-up of the blood lines.
"AHA!" he stated, grinning first at John then O'Neill as he pointed to a place on a map. "This is a map of the city, and this," he stabbed a finger towards, "is the control room."
O'Neill indicated for John to follow when Rodney marched off like a man on a crusade.
"Hey! You don't go anywhere without a military escort." John ordered.
Rodney blinked. "I thought you were military."
That threw John for a moment. "I am."
"And I assume you are here to escort me?"
"You can't just assume that, McKay."
"Yeah. Really. I'm not your personal bodyguard."
"Huh! Well, as you're already here," he stated and carried on walking briskly.
John gave in and followed. This time he relented only because he needed to see the Control Room, but he was going to have a sit down with Rodney over his sense of entitlement. On the way they stopped beside a floor to ceiling window and John heard Rodney's sharply in-drawn breath as they stared out across the city.
"We're underwater," Rodney stated in surprise.
"Well, it was the City that Sunk Beneath the Sea," John replied sardonically, even though he hadn't truly believed in that part of the mythology until this moment.
Far in the distance, at the edge of the city, he could see a shimmering gold wall forming a dome like the shield that protected the eyries, but beyond that was an alien ocean. He shuddered because the T'Eyrie were people of the skies, not the seas. They had wings, not flippers. He blinked away the slight claustrophobia, reaching out to grab the front of Rodney's shirt and drag him away when he heard the short, panicked breathing of the man next to him.
"We need to get going."
"What?" Rodney blinked rapidly, staring straight into John's eyes. "Yes. Yes. Control Room." He straightened, visibly pushing aside the momentary panic. "This way, Sheppard." He clicked his fingers imperiously. "Come on. We haven't got all day."
Anyone else might have taken umbrage but having seen the scared man beneath the arrogance, John smiled as Rodney cloaked his vulnerability with an almost abrasive air of superiority. Once more he reminded John of the small boy who had taken shelter in his arms on that terrifying journey to the slave markets. Meredith had needed him, and knowing he had made a small difference during those bleak days was likely the reason why he was attracted to Rodney, feeling that same protective urge towards Rodney that he had felt towards that small boy.
Lights came on and brightened as they made their way through corridors scattered with the occasional remnants of ten-thousand-year-old pot plants that looked so brittle they would snap and crumble to dust in the lightest breeze. When they reached the Control Room the door stayed obstinately shut when Rodney placed his hand on the access panel. Frowning, Rodney tried again with the same result.
"Let me try," John stated.
The door opened begrudgingly, earning him an envious glare from Rodney but it was hardly John's fault he had won the ATA gene lottery through having a good blood line back to the Ancients. He smiled smugly back at Rodney nonetheless, just to see his eyes roll in annoyance. Damn, it was so much fun teasing Rodney. The lights grew brighter when he stepped inside.
"Hey!" he exclaimed when Rodney rushed past him to the closest console, almost pushing him into the door frame as he was practically elbowed aside.
"Oh, this is not good."
"What? What's not good?" John took another step into the room. "McKay!" he demanded when he gained no immediate answer and came up behind Rodney.
John looked a little closer and immediately spotted what had worried Rodney. Of the three slots holding Potentia, only one still retained the barest glow as if almost depleted like the one at the Cheyenne Eyrie, while the other two were completely drained.
"All the lights, initializing consoles..." He turned to John, wide-eyed and fearful, and barely inches away. "It's all draining power."
For a moment the whole world seemed to stop, with John mesmerized by every fleck of blue, gray and white in his eyes. Rodney blinked and the spell was broken.
"We need to tell everyone to stop what they're doing and return to the Stargate," John ordered.
As they raced back through the corridors, yelling down his radio, John felt the floor shift beneath his feet. The rumbling increased and he grabbed onto Rodney, both of them falling as the whole city began to shake and groan. John dragged himself along to the large window, feeling the tug of Rodney's fingers holding onto the fabric of his pants as Rodney crawled after him. They felt movement, and as they watched through the window they could see the darkness beyond the force shield lightening, turning through shades of blue until the top of the shield dome breached the surface of the water. It continued to rise until the city was floating on the surface. The dome shield began to collapse from the top downwards but by then both John and Rodney were back on their feet and racing up the final set of stairs to the Stargate atrium. People were starting to clamber back onto their feet, stretching out bruised wings in the limited space available but John didn't stop, racing up the main staircase to where O'Neill was moving towards an ornate glass panel.
Out of breath, Rodney stopped beside him as the panel opened, revealing a balcony overlooking the entire city. Fresh sea air gusted through to displace the staler air of the long abandoned city, and John felt a stab of envy as a section of the parapet lowered to form a launch platform. At a nod from O'Neill, Lorne took flight, banking sharply to soar around the top of the high tower before heading down towards the lower towers and spires stretched out before them. John watched enviously as Lorne soared between the towers for several more minutes before heading back, landing softly and quickly folding his wings behind him.
"I didn't spot any other signs of life, sir."
O'Neill turned to John. "Colonel? Do I need to fire both of you? What just happened?"
"I believe I can answer that, General." Rodney looked up from the tablet he was working on. "When the final Potentia reached entropy it triggered a command to avoid implosion."
O'Neill stared hard at Rodney so John paraphrased.
"He means the City ran out of juice and rose to the surface before the shield collapsed and the pressure of water completely obliterated the city."
"There were three, sir, but they're all used up."
"I don't suppose there was a closet holding a few spares," O'Neill asked.
"Sorry, sir. We didn't exactly have time to check."
"Daniel, you mentioned a city database. See if you can locate a Potentia supply closet." O'Neill turned. "McKay, until we find more Potentia we're going to need to make our own power for heat and lights so get those generators of yours online."
Rodney nodded, sparing a quick glance towards John before heading off. John could hear him yelling for Radek Zelenka, but he turned his attention back to his commanding officer.
"Sheppard, I need you to check out the rest of this tower. Seal off anything potentially dangerous until we can get the geeks looking it over, and see if you can find anything resembling living quarters."
"Major Lorne," John ordered. "You're with me."
Rodney had the first generator up and running quickly, tying it into the main computer system so Daniel could start his search through the database for clues on where to find more Potentia. Radek set up the second generator for the environment system, to provide heat and light if only for the main tower. They had arrived late in the afternoon of this world and the temperature had started to drop with the setting sun so a collective cheer went up when the lights activated, followed soon after by an increase in the internal temperature.
In the meantime Rodney had received reports back from Sheppard outlining what he and his men had discovered in the levels below the Stargate atrium. Two levels seem to consist entirely of living quarters containing just sleeping and washing facilities. He knew John had ordered Sergeant Bates to allocate quarters after setting aside several in prime locations for the most senior personnel. Stackhouse had a mess hall set up, utilizing a large open area on the third level down that must have been used for a similar function as it had a large kitchen attached, though Rodney only learned of this after Sheppard turned up and dragged both him and Radek down there to get something to eat.
"This is good," Rodney stated around a mouthful, ignoring the slight grimace from Sheppard, but he was simply too exhausted and hungry to care about good manners such as not talking with his mouth full.
He gulped down several mouthfuls of coffee, surprised when someone placed a carafe of coffee on the table moments later.
"We have waiter service?"
"No." O'Neill stated as he sat down, pouring himself a coffee but he relented and pushed the carafe over towards Rodney. "But we do have cake. For now," he added, because the supplies they had brought with them would eventually run out and would need to be replenished before then unless they wanted to starve to death.
Rodney swallowed another mouthful of the thick vegetable stew. O'Neill had made him Chief of Science before they stepped into Atlantis, leaving Carter behind to find another way to protect the eyries if the Atlantis Expedition failed. However, it meant he would be responsible for overseeing even the soft sciences like botany and linguistics... and medicine. So far he had avoided that duty because it was more essential for him to get the basics of light and heat operational, ignoring the clamoring of all the other scientists to show him what they had discovered. He'd left the individual departments to work out what they needed so someone, probably Daniel, could interrogate the database to see if there was anything suitable already available.
"Tomorrow I'll arrange a meeting with all science department heads," Rodney stated. "For now we have light and heat, so food will be the next priority."
Rodney hadn't noticed Daniel joining them until he spoke up. "This city was built to be self-sustaining. Everything we need must be here somewhere."
"Except this city is bigger than the five eyries combined. That's a lot of ground to cover," Sheppard added.
"Which is why Daniel is trying to narrow down the search," Radek stated, gaining a shrug from the man in question.
"It would help if I had a better interface," Daniel murmured.
"What? A talking holograph isn't good enough?" Rodney asked.
"What talking holograph?" Daniel asked.
Rodney stared at Daniel for a few seconds before turning his gaze to another man joining their ever-growing table. "Carson?"
Carson Beckett's cheeks reddened. "Oh! I meant to tell you about the room I found but then we discovered the infirmary." He was fairly bouncing in his seat as Sheppard put down his coffee and focused intently on Carson. "I found it. I found a machine that can regrow damaged organs and appendages. I need some time to figure out how it works properly but... I think I can give you back your wings."
For a moment Rodney felt too shocked to react, suddenly overcome as the walls barricading his loss all those years ago started to crumble. He heard Radek and Daniel gasp, but looked across the table to see a similar reaction from Sheppard.
"When...? How soon can you...?" Sheppard asked, glancing at O'Neill to confirm he could even ask the question that had also taken over Rodney's brain.
O'Neill was grinning, elated by the news, while Daniel looked as if he was trying to hold back tears.
"Colonel," Carson said softly. "I do understand but you do need to give me time to ensure the procedure will work safely." He patted Sheppard's hand, and for once Sheppard did not flinch back. "As soon as it is ready, you will be one of the first to know."
"So..." Daniel cleared his throat, obviously still overcome with emotion but for once Rodney understood the feeling all too well. "Talking holograph?"
"Let's have something to eat first, then Beckett can take us to the... talking holograph," O'Neill stressed.
Rodney let the conversation drift around him, looking up at one point to meet Sheppard's gaze. They had so much left to do before they could even dream of bringing the rest of the T'Eyrie to Atlantis. They had to figure out how to provide the basic necessities of food, medicine, and clothing as well as providing homes, which would mean securing more of the surrounding towers. It would take up most of their resources, but it would all be for nothing if they could not find a way to replace or recharge the Potentia and reconnect with the eyries.
And yet all these important and essential tasks paled into insignificance compared to the possibility of regaining their wings.
Two Months Later:
Rodney stared across at the unit containing not just one fully charged Potentia, but four. It had taken weeks but eventually Daniel managed to find the Potentia charging station in the central tower on the south pier complex. Ten thousand years of sitting idle had taken its toll, forcing Rodney to strip out and repair half of the crystal wiring, cannibalizing - hopefully - less important parts of the city for the spares, but after studying it for two more weeks, Rodney finally ordered John to start up the recharging process using an empty ZPM crystal found inside the machine. To be on the safe side he ordered the evacuation of the whole of the south pier before starting. After an hour the first hint of orange blazed inside the dead crystal, and less than a day later they had the first of many recharged Potentia.
Carefully removing the drained Potentia from the control room, Rodney barely took any notice when they were wheeled away to be recharged. Instead, his focus was on the fully charged Potentia in his hands, glowing a brilliant orange. Carefully he placed it into its cradle and pressed down with the palm of his hand, watching as it lowered into the control console. As soon as it connected the lights in Atlantis shone brighter, and Rodney grinned just as brightly across at John. They had done it. They had found a way not just to power the city once more but also to dial the Stargate and communicate with the Cheyenne Eyrie.
The botanists had excelled in their task, with huge stretches of hydroponics bays just beneath the city surface already growing all the food they needed, and Radek's engineers had factories processing the raw materials others had mined on the distant land mass. It was time to dial the Stargate and bring the T'Eyrie home.
Rodney and John relayed the good news to O'Neill.
"Before we contact the eyries, there's one more piece of Ancient technology we need to test... now we have power to spare," O'Neill stated cryptically, and it took a moment before Rodney realized O'Neill was leading them into Carson's domain.
Carson smiled when he saw them. "Gentleman? Who wants to go first?"
As much as he wanted his wings back, Rodney knew from these past months how much more it had hurt John to have his wings taken from him. He saw the longing in John's eyes as he watched the other T'Eyrie take flight so he nodded towards John, seeing gratitude flare in the hazel-green eyes. For once John wasn't reticent about removing his shirt, revealing the two jagged almost symmetrical scars down on his back, similar to Rodney's. He watched as John stepped into a large upright tube, looking strong and brave as the transparent cover slid round to seal him inside. Moments later, under Carson's control, the machine began to hum and tubes extended from the inside, carefully piercing John's skin, and moments later John was fully sedated; eyes closed.
"This isn't instantaneous," Carson warned. "It'll take several hours."
Rodney swallowed hard, nervous at seeing John so still. Over these past two months they had grown close, spending almost every free hour together, and Rodney knew it was not just their similar mutilation that had drawn them together, though they never talked about it by silent mutual agreement. John was beautiful, strong, funny, and intelligent, and he shared many of Rodney's loves of pulp literature. He made Rodney feel safe and wanted, and if not for John's intimacy issues, mostly due to his reluctance for anyone seeing his wingless body and the scars on his back, Rodney would have made his interest in a deeper relationship known to him.
"I'll wait... if you don't mind, Carson."
"Not at all, Rodney."
Hours later Rodney awoke from a light doze, blinking sleepily and yawning widely until he realized the warning alarm from the machine finishing its medical repair cycle had awoken him. John was waking slowly, blinking blearily through the transparent cover at him, and when it slid aside before Rodney could summon Carson, he jumped to his feet as John took a shaky step forward. Rodney was there when John staggered, his knees threatening to buckle beneath him, and he helped John across to the medtable, freezing when he realized what had unbalanced John.
"Huh?" he replied, but he couldn't take his eyes off the pristine feathers in iridescent black that perfectly matched John's dark, messy hair. "Beautiful," he stated softly as John slowly spread his wings in awe, stepping into John's open arms and hugging him tightly as they both laughed and cried at the same time, his fingers gently stroked the soft down under the wings.
Rodney only pulled back when he felt Carson's gentle touch on his shoulder. "Your turn now, Rodney."
"Really?" He looked towards the machine.
At John's gentle coaxing he stripped off quickly, inelegantly throwing his clothing aside and hustling into the tube, only growing nervous when the cover slid across to trap him inside, but before he could even start to panic he felt the gentlest prick against his skin from the needles. When he opened his heavy eyes John was still there, smiling brightly as the cover slid away and Rodney stepped forward, overbalanced momentarily by the additional weight and bulk across his back. John caught his forearm, drawing him across the medical laboratory to sit on the medtable.
"Did it work?" Rodney had to ask, too terrified to look in case all his hopes were dashed.
Both John and Carson were smiling though so, tentatively, he flexed his back, feeling and old almost forgotten sensation as his wings unfurled. He glanced sideways and saw a wing stretching out; a shimmering dark blue with hints of gold like his mother's wings, but tipped in white like his father's. He gasped.
"I have wings," he said, voice filled with awe.
"Aye, Rodney. You have wings."
"I have wings," Rodney repeated to John, hearing him laugh softly.
He glanced across as Daniel stepped into the room with O'Neill, sobering only slightly at the sight of his still wingless friend.
"Guess it's your turn now," Rodney said shakily, and afterwards it would be Radek's turn, followed by all the other wingless T'Eyrie on the expedition and eventually by all of their people who'd been mutilated by the S'Apien.
Once Daniel was sleeping inside the machine Rodney left the medical room after making promises not to try anything too rash, especially as he'd lost his original wings before he had learned how to fly. He felt clumsy, like a new fledgling, aware he would need to learn how to balance all over again. For now he relied on John's support as he moved through the corridors, smiling at everyone's startled looks when they saw his magnificent wings. Instead of taking him to his quarters, John led him to the pier where everyone tended to stretch their wings daily.
"Go on," John pushed, and Rodney let the wings unfurl once more, feeling the cool breeze give him a slight uplift when he tilted them just so.
He blinked as John leaped forward, feet leaving the ground as his powerful wings beat slowly, lifting him high into the azure blue sky in seconds. Of course it would all come natural to John, he thought, but he couldn't feel envious as John was beautiful in flight, soaring almost forty feet above the almost empty pier as if he'd had wings all f his life instead of for just a few hours longer than Rodney. He came back quickly, landing next to Rodney gracefully with his wings folding behind him as he stepped up right in front of Rodney.
"Just let them feel the air today," John ordered gently, and though it was tempting to disobey and start flapping his wings so he could soar like John, he realized John was simply protecting him as always.
Taking John's advice, Rodney unfurled his wings once more and let the breeze lift him just a few feet off the ground, low enough that he wouldn't hurt himself if he fell; he was still smiling and laughing when the sun set an hour later.
Over the years Rodney had grown used to not having wings but fortunately he'd never been one to sleep on his back. Still, it took a little adjustment to find a comfortable position so he groaned when he heard the chime of his door just as he was about to settle into sleep. He climbed out of bed and took a step towards the door.
"Come in," he called, mentally ordering the door to open while simultaneously hoping it wasn't another scientist with an emergency. Instead he found John standing on the threshold looking nervous. "John?"
Eventually straightening up, John took that final step inside and the door slid closed behind him. He rubbed his hand against the back of his neck and for once Rodney remained silent, waiting for John to explain his presence at this ungodly hour.
"Rodney, I..." He looked a little pained. "We're friends, right?"
Rodney nodded. "I should think so, Sheppard. I don't build racing planes for just anyone," he added.
"You can call me John," he stressed, looking even more nervous.
"Meredith," Rodney replied, startling himself by using a name he had dropped so many years ago, but continuing when he saw confusion scrunch up John's face. "I-I stopped using my first name when I lost my wings because it meant-."
"Lord of Flight over the Sea." John took another step towards Rodney, eyes wide, searching Rodney's face carefully. "Meredith," he repeated softly, reaching out to pull a still confused Rodney into a hug. "Meredith. I'm John," he stressed. "I'm John!"
Suddenly it clicked.
The horror of those days as a captive of the S'Apien came flooding back, along with the only solace, the only hint of a blue sky in an otherwise turbulent and dark moment of his life. John. The small dark-haired boy from another eyrie who had let him huddle against him on that long, bumpy road into slavery. The boy he had last seen in the arms of a T'Eyrie soldier after their rescue. John. His John.
Rodney wasn't certain when hugging turned to kissing, or how they ended up spread across Rodney's wide bed, locked in a naked embrace, but when he finally felt his heart beat settle back to normal, feeling sated and warm and content in his own body for the first time in many years, he was still lying on his bed with John holding him. His wings had wrapped around John, and John's wings had folded around them both like a feathered blanket, and that same feeling of trust and safety from when he was a small and frightened boy swept away any possibility of doubt or concern. He reached up to stroke John's face, feeling the roughness of bristles and the softness of full lips before stretching forward just a little. John leaned in, meeting him halfway as they kissed again, slow and languid, no longer caught up in the urgency of the moment. He felt John touch his face as they kissed, felt the pad of a thumb brush across along his jaw before John pulled back, lips red and swollen from kissing, and eyes dark with pleasure.
"Meredith," he murmured, and Rodney no longer hated the sound of his given name, especially when it fell from John's lips.
Outside of his quarters the sun would soon be rising on a new day and the blue skies would be beckoning him rather than taunting him. With John's help he would learn to fly, learn to soar free around the towers and spires of Atlantis with John and his friends beside him, feeling the warmth of the sun upon his back and the air ruffling his feathers as he tilted and swooped. Yet at this moment while lying sated and happy in John's arms, wrapped in his wings, Rodney knew his journey to Atlantis had given him far more than the gift of flight and a new, safe place to call home.
It had given him the most precious gift of all: John, the wind beneath his wings.