“This is terrible,” Rodney said, staring at the latest transmission from Earth.
John peered over his shoulder. “This is awesome!”
“What’s awesome?” Lorne asked. He was scrolling through his datapad, checking over the numbers for the food stores. He was always looking at the numbers for the food stores.
“They’re sending Captain America as the US Ambassador,” Chuck said.
Lorne lifted his head sharply. “What?”
“Captain America is so cool,” John said.
“No, not cool!” Rodney cried. “Lorne sees my point. Clearly SHIELD is looking to take over Atlantis and take it back for Earth.”
“He’s Captain America,” John protested. “He stands for truth, justice, and the American way.”
Ronon frowned. “I thought that was Superman.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Let me guess - you worshipped Captain America as a child and he’s why you became a soldier.”
“I became a soldier because I wanted to fly,” John said. “I like Captain America because he’s cool.”
“I liked Captain America when I was a kid,” Lorne said quietly. “He was proof that I could be both an artist and a soldier.”
John nudged Lorne’s shoulder with his. “See? Lorne’s on my side.”
“I’m on no one’s side,” Lorne said. He set down his datapad and scanned the message. “It’s both an olive branch and a trojan horse. On the one hand, America is trusting us with one of her national icons, none other than Captain America himself. On the other hand, he’s a super-soldier. If he wanted to take control of Atlantis, we could stop him, but it’d weaken us.”
Teyla scanned the message. “Do you really think this Captain America would be a threat?”
“Let me find you some videos of what he can do with his bare hands,” Rodney said grimly.
“But he is coming as a political ambassador and not a soldier, yes?” Teyla glanced at Chuck, who obligingly slid aside so she could read the message further. “Then we should approach with diplomacy first.”
John said, “If America’s sending an ambassador, will other countries follow?”
“That could be a good thing.” Woolsey was reading over Teyla’s shoulder. “If they’re sending ambassadors, it means they may be willing to recognize us as an independent political entity.”
“Whether we have room for multiple ambassadors is the more important question,” Lorne said. He was likely already planning where to house Captain America during his diplomatic visit.
“We must provide a large enough room to accommodate this Captain America and his spouse,” Teyla said.
John raised his eyebrows. “Spouse? Who? If it’s Natasha Romanov -”
“His name is James Buchanan Barnes.” Teyla enunciated the name carefully.
An unreadable expression crossed Lorne’s face.
John elbowed Teyla out of the way. “Really? He married Bucky? That’s so cool.”
“Why is that cool?” Ronon asked. “Hey, is there a Captain Canada?”
“No,” Rodney said peevishly.
“Actually yes.” Chuck smiled innocently when Rodney cast him a glare. He glanced at Woolsey. “What should I say, sir?”
Woolsey, who’d accepted the mantle as the new Prime Minister of the Independent Nation of Atlantis with a good deal of trepidation, said, “Write them back and tell them we welcome their ambassador.”
Lorne took a deep breath. “I’ll go find a suitable room.”
Woolsey had insisted they needed official titles, though, to look like they were taking their independence seriously, which they really were, but image management was important in politics. With those official titles came official state uniforms, which Rodney really hated wearing, and he kind of despised Lorne for enabling Woolsey’s madness and helping design said uniforms. Ronon had helped sew them. Rodney knew better than to get cranky at Ronon for his sewing skills. After all, he’d probably picked them up during his seven years as a Runner, and if he hadn’t, Rodney wasn’t going to mock him.
John, Rodney, Teyla, and Woolsey were arrayed in the gate room, waiting for the Daedalus to beam down their guests. Lorne and Zelenka were with the control chair, Lorne ready to fire drones on the Daedalus should Colonel Caldwell try anything funny.
Rodney glanced at John, who’d been oddly anxious all morning, taking extra care with his hair and his new uniform (which looked a lot like the ones the Ancients wore in that one VR program in the Aurora). Teyla had been quizzing John about Captain America for weeks. At first Rodney had pegged it as professional curiosity. As the Secretary of State, Teyla was Atlantis’s official representative to foreign and alien nations, so for her to know as much as possible about the new US Ambassador was important. But then she started asking about why John admired Captain America, what he meant to the American people, and things took a surprising turn for the philosophical.
Lorne had been working quietly in the background, ramping up preparations for Atlantis’s first official diplomatic visit from an Alien Power. He’d found rooms big enough to accommodate Captain America and his husband (and Rodney was still goggling at the notion of Captain America having a husband, but he’d seen a picture of the man, and he was very attractive). He’d arranged for banquets and special food, tours of some of the planets of their best and friendliest allies, some exhibitions of local culture (Ronon fighting, Teyla fighting, some Pegasus natives’ dances and other artistic displays), and the entire itinerary for the Ambassador’s stay. In true Lorne style, Captain America was scheduled within an inch of his life.
The golden light of an Asgard transport beam coalesced in the gate room, and there appeared Captain America and Bucky Barnes.
Only Captain America wasn’t wearing his famous star-spangled outfit. Instead, he was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and a leather jacket, had a duffel bag slung over one shoulder like so many soldiers Rodney had seen, and his husband was outfitted much the same way.
Teyla stepped forward and offered a hand. “Ambassador Rogers, Mr. Barnes, welcome to Atlantis. I am Teyla Emmagan, Secretary of State.” The two men shook her hand, and she continued introductions. “This is Richard Woolsey, our Prime Minister. John Sheppard, our Secretary of Defense. Rodney McKay, our Secretary of Energy.” There were handshakes all around.
“Thank you for having us,” Captain America said. “And please, call me Steve.”
Rodney filed that away for later.
“You must be very tired from your journey,” Teyla said. “Allow me to show you to your room.”
“Thank you.” Steve smiled, and wow, Rodney had seen pictures of Captain America, but in person, he was unfairly good-looking. It had to have been the super-soldier serum. Rodney reminded himself he was with John.
Although John had a most curious expression on his face. Something akin to - hero-worship. “I got this, Teyla. Why don’t you make sure Colonel Caldwell doesn’t need anything.”
Teyla raised her eyebrows. “Are you sure?”
John nodded earnestly. “Yeah. C’mon, Steve, Bucky - can I call you Bucky?”
“That’s fine.” Bucky hung back behind Steve, wary.
“I’ll come with you,” Rodney said. He smiled at Bucky. “I understand you have a keen interest in science. As the former Chief Science Officer and current Secretary of Energy, my knowledge of Ancient technology is unparalleled.” Also, there was no way he was leaving John alone with his childhood idol, because sure he trusted John not to cheat on him, but he wasn’t sure he could trust John not to cause a diplomatic incident by being too much of a fanboy. Rodney had literally caught John playing his guitar for his favorite puddle jumper one time while the thing was down and out for repairs in the jumper bay. John didn’t think Rodney knew, but John had named the thing Hotshot, after his favorite horse when he was a child. John took obsession to new levels. It was part of why he was so skilled a pilot and soldier.
“Thanks,” Steve said. “Three weeks crammed onto that ship with a bunch of Marines who all wanted to try to throw down with Captain America and the Winter Soldier was…” He paused, searching for a diplomatic word.
“Exhausting,” Bucky said.
“Yeah, well, the Marines they send to Stargate Command are either the ones who are a little too ooh-rah for the rest of the Marines, or the ones who are too smart for regular Marines,” John said.
What followed was the obligatory tutorial on how to use the transporters. After much debate, senior command - The Cabinet - had agreed to allow both guests radios to use, so they could ask for help or direction or otherwise stay in contact with people on Atlantis, even though at best the two men only had half an hour to themselves on any given day. John gave each man his radio and told him the frequencies they could use to reach various different organizations on Atlantis so their every need could be met.
The room Lorne had found for their guests was - well, Rodney was jealous. The room he shared with John wasn’t half as nice. The bed Lorne had found was massive, and he’d found clean linens to make it up. There were even mints on the pillows. Rodney couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a mint. The ensuite bathroom had one of those giant jacuzzi baths (okay, Rodney and John had one of those too). Lorne had laid out fluffy towels, slippers, and even bathrobes (where the hell had he been hiding all these things?). He’d also included a stack of books, DVDs, a laptop, an MP3 player and some speakers, and drawing supplies.
Of course. Lorne had mentioned he’d admired Captain America because the man was both an artist and a soldier. Rodney wondered if Lorne would fanboy all over Steve like John was barely refraining from doing.
Lorne had also left instructions posted at various points around the room for how to operate, well, everything.
“If you need me to,” John said, “I can initialize anything you need. Some things need initializing by a gene carrier before anyone can use them, but once we’re initialized -”
Bucky waved a hand over one of the bedside lamps, and it blossomed to life. “We both have the gene, actually.”
That hadn’t been in the dossier that America had sent. Rodney immediately went on alert. Both men were super soldiers, and both had the gene. If they wanted to take Atlantis, they were more than capable. How strong was their gene expression?
John looked even more pleased. “Of course. Well, if there’s anything you need, anything at all, radio and let one of us know. We’d be glad to help. Otherwise, take the chance to unwind before the big welcome banquet.”
Steve smiled. He’d set down his duffel bag, looked around the room. “Thanks. We really appreciate all you’re doing. I know this whole situation is strange, but we just want you to know, we totally come in peace. Really.”
And just like that, the boyish pleasure in John’s eyes vanished. He hadn’t forgotten the nature of the visit after all. Good.
“Glad to hear it. Anything else Rodney or I can do for you? I’m sure you want some privacy after three weeks on the Daedalus.”
Steve glanced at Bucky, and something unspoken passed between them before Bucky said, “Where’s Evan?”
John blinked. “Evan...Lorne?”
John glanced at Rodney, who shrugged helplessly. He had no idea why Bucky would be asking after Lorne.
“He’s overseeing some security matters until the Daedalus departs,” Rodney said. “I’ll be sure to let him know you asked after him.”
And for the first time, Bucky smiled. “Thanks.” He was unfairly beautiful too.
“See you at dinner,” John said, and he beat a hasty retreat, Rodney on his heels.
Rodney expected John to radio for Lorne as soon as the door was shut behind them. Instead, John headed for the nearest transporter. He was going directly to the chair room. Rodney stuck close to him.
“What’s going on?”
“He asked for Lorne by his first name,” John said.
“So he knows Lorne personally.” John’s expression was grim. “That wasn’t in the dossier, and Lorne never said a word.”
In fact, Lorne had been very quiet about the entire visit. He’d shared in everyone’s concerns, that the ambassador and his super-soldier husband were an advance guard for an Earth attack on Atlantis. He’d spoken up and contributed to plans to ensure that neither man ever had access to the most important parts of the city - the ZPM refueling station, the control chair, most of ops, the Game Room - and he’d drawn up plans to theoretically contain either man, should they prove a threat. Come to think of it, he’d included versions of plans in the event either man was a gene carrier. But he’d stayed in the background, avoided any speculation about the couple and their romance. Even though his absence from the welcoming ceremony made sense - after John and Carson, he was the strongest gene carrier and therefore the best candidate to operate the chair - Rodney had been surprised it wasn’t Lorne who worked with Teyla to help the ambassador and his husband settle in.
John stepped into the chair room, where Lorne was reclined in the chair with holographic displays dancing in the air above him, of the departing Daedalus, of the city’s shields.
“Lorne,” John said.
Lorne barely twitched. “Sir.” Even though he and John were technically equals now, Lorne still treated John like his superior officer.
Zelenka, standing beside the chair and tracking readouts on his datapad, glanced up. “How was the big welcome?”
“Anticlimactic,” Rodney said.
John came to stand by the chair, hands on his hips. “Bucky asked after you.”
Lorne didn’t twitch. “He did?”
“You know him,” John said. It wasn’t a question.
“We dated, while I was on Earth,” Lorne said. “While we were waiting for news on what the IOA was planning to do about Atlantis.”
Zelenka fumbled his datapad and almost dropped it.
“You dated?” Rodney stared at Lorne.
Lorne smiled grimly. “Yeah. For a couple of months. Steve was pretty jealous - crashed one of our dates and totally cock-blocked me. And then I heard the IOA was finally making a decision about Atlantis’s independence, and you contacted me about The Plan, and so I broke it off. Came back to the City.”
“Was it bad?” John asked. “The break-up? Do we need to warn Teyla? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It was both mutual and amicable,” Lorne said. “Bucky always loved Steve, but he thought Steve was straight, and when it turned out Steve wasn’t completely straight, well, I didn’t stand a chance. And I didn’t say anything because I don’t, sir. About my dating life. Ever.”
Zelenka pushed his glasses up his nose and looked like he wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else, immediately.
Before John could say more, the display blazed brighter, and everyone focused on it.
“What is it?” John asked.
“Hyperspace window is opening,” Lorne said. “I’m assuming it’s the Daedalus, but if it’s unfriendly Wraith -”
That there were now friendly Wraith, i.e. Todd and his Wraith alliance, who’d gladly accepted genetically enhanced rabbits as a food source, was still mind-boggling to Rodney. The new breed of rabbit was officially known as Energizer Bunnies, because they bred like mad and could sustain an adult Wraith for a week before feeding was necessary again.
“Daedalus has entered hyperspace,” Lorne said, and John visibly relaxed. “I’ll make sure Atlantis monitors subspace communications and keeps an eye out for them.” Lorne sat up, and the chair stopped glowing. “Now, if you don’t mind, sir, I need to see to dinner.” And he left the room.
“Don’t forget to wear your special uniform,” Rodney called after him.
John tapped his radio on. “Sheppard for Teyla. We need to talk.”
When Bucky wasn’t hanging behind Steve acting like his shy shadow, he was witty, charming. Funny. Rodney liked him. Rodney could totally see why Lorne might have dated him (except Rodney hadn’t known Lorne played for both teams, let alone that he dated at all).
“How do you like Atlantis so far?” Woolsey asked.
“It’s amazing.” Bucky’s eyes were bright. “I knew I had the gene, and Stark Tower has amazing tech, but being able to use things with my mind is just - wow.”
“How did you know you had the gene?” Teyla asked.
“Once news of the gene came out, they had us tested,” Steve said.
Rodney raised his eyebrows. “Both of you?”
Bucky nodded. “Yes.”
“We both have the gene.” Steve smiled. “Scientists are exploring the correlation between successful administration of super-soldier serum and gene strength. No answers yet, though.”
“Really?” Zelenka asked. “That is most fascinating -” He winced and fell silent abruptly, glared at Jennifer. She must have kicked him into silence.
Rodney was interested in pursuing that line of inquiry. He also saw how John’s eyes lit up in glee. He remembered how eager John had been, to be the next to try the Ascension machine. Maybe that inquiry was best left on the back burner for the time being after all.
“So,” Steve said, “what do you do for fun on Atlantis?”
Woolsey blinked. “Well, of an evening I enjoy reading a good book and listening to opera, but I know not everyone has the same tastes.”
“Sparring,” Ronon said. “The Marines have a wrestling league. They let me fight, sometimes.”
“Former Marines,” Woolsey reminded him.
Ronon grunted. “Former.”
“I find much of my spare time is taken up with caring for my son,” Teyla said.
“Your son?” Steve echoed. “How old is he?”
“He is now seven.” Teyla smiled fondly.
“I had noticed there aren’t many children on Atlantis,” Bucky said. “Well...any.”
“Torren attends school on the Athosian mainland with his cousins,” Teyla said.
Jennifer cleared her throat. “For a long time, Atlantis was our base, the place we worked, so those of us who do have families often left our families behind on Earth. None of us have taken the next step, to start families here. I mean, we’ve had weddings and the like, but no kids. Yet.”
“Of course,” Rodney hastened to add, “Atlantis embraces marriage equality.”
“Are you and John married?” Bucky asked.
Rodney blinked. John looked panicked.
Bucky ducked his head. “Pardon me for being indelicate. I’d just heard that the two of you had a relationship that is...unparalleled in its strength, and I wondered…”
“You’d heard?” Teyla asked. John had given her the run-down on the fact that Lorne had once dated Bucky, but Rodney hadn’t stuck around to hear what Teyla had to say on the matter.
Bucky nodded. “Yeah. Evan told me stories, sometimes. Only the happy stories, though. Like the time with the machine that gave people cat ears and tails?”
“Rodney was a calico cat,” Jennifer said.
Steve frowned. “Aren’t calico cats female?”
“Not all of them,” Rodney said stiffly.
Zelenka, who was sometimes also incredibly socially oblivious, said, “But most of them, yes.”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “This from the man who coughed up the most hairballs.”
Woolsey cleared his throat. “Not at the dinner table, please.” He sounded just like he was admonishing a group of naughty children.
Steve laughed. “Sometimes we soldier boys are indiscreet at the dinner table, and Pepper has to get after us to mind our manners.”
“Eating dinner together like this in Atlantis is a rare occasion,” Teyla admitted. “Often the scientists eat in their labs, or we eat at a camp made on another planet. The mess hall still serves to feed as many of us as possible, but with the new responsibilities we have taken on, with the dissolution of many of the gate teams, we do not have the same social coherence as before.”
“I hope you didn’t put yourselves out too much,” Steve said. “But this meal is wonderful. Do you have a chef? I know there’s an official chef at the White House.”
“This isn’t the White House,” Woolsey said, “but we do have some former Marines who’ve acquitted themselves well on KP.”
“As for fun things to do on Atlantis,” Teyla said, “I am sure you will have noticed in the email sent prior to your arrival, you will have the opportunity to observe and participate in many cultural events both in Atlantis and other places in the Pegasus galaxy.”
Steve nodded. “Yes. It looks like this visit is going to be jam-packed.”
“Of course,” Woolsey said, “there will be time for diplomatic talks.”
“And if necessary,” Teyla said, “the itinerary can be rearranged. Please do not hesitate to let us know of any emergencies.”
“Thank you,” Steve said. “You’ve been very kind.”
Rodney knew the jam-packed itinerary was deliberate - to keep the ambassador and his husband too busy to get into trouble, and hopefully wear them out to boot. Rodney thought over what he knew of the itinerary, and he wondered if there hadn’t been another motive behind keeping the men two busy. Given that Lorne’s role was as it ever was, behind the scenes, nothing on the ambassador’s itinerary involved anything Lorne was in charge of. Just what was Lorne’s definition of amicable?
“This evening’s entertainment is a traditional Satedan play, written and directed by our own Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Ronon Dex.” Teyla smiled at him. “Sateda is a small but growing ally of ours, rebuilding after the worst of the Wraith cullings back eighteen years ago. They have a thriving artistic and academic community.”
Steve raised his eyebrows at Ronon. “You write plays?”
“I wouldn’t have expected it from a man of few words like yourself, but I do enjoy theater performances.” He grimaced and added, “As long as I don’t have to be in them.”
Bucky laughed. “But you look so cute when you dance.”
“I always felt bad for the guy who played Hitler,” John said. “I mean, no one wants to look like Hitler.”
“True.” Woolsey nodded thoughtfully.
Steve and Bucky were wearing very nice suits for the occasion. Rodney was still wearing his official uniform. Most days people wore their old uniforms - stripped of patches and insignias - because those were the majority of clothes people had. Rodney couldn’t quite bring himself to wear jeans to the lab, even though John said he looked good in jeans.
Steve leaned in, lowered his voice. “I heard a rumor that there’s a sub-server for Pokemon Go in the City, with some Atlantis-only edition Pokemon. Is that true?”
Woolsey blinked. “I...what’s Pokemon Go?”
Bucky buried his face in his hands. “Steve, really?”
“What? Natasha always has the really rare ones and -”
Miko cleared her throat. “If there were such a sub-server, it would not be official, but given the level of technology on Atlantis and the skill of the computer programmers living here, such a sub-server would integrate smoothly with the official game, and Atlantis-only edition Pokemon would be roaming the city, yes.”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Rodney said.
Steve looked absurdly pleased. “Excellent. I mean, theoretically, of course.”
“So, play, and then Pokemon hunting?” Bucky sighed.
Ronon perked up. “Hunting?”
“Not that kind of hunting,” Miko said quickly.
Rodney was genuinely impressed at how good the food was. Lorne had pulled out all the stops for this banquet. He wondered if, all this time, Lorne had been skimping on food for the rest of the expedition, or if this was the best they had, and they’d all be feeling it after their guests left. All those times Teyla had warned them not to offend their native hosts my refusing food made a lot more sense. Granted, Steve and Bucky were packing the food away like there was no tomorrow. Surely Lorne had factored in their super-soldier appetites. Lorne was always prepared, right?
Dessert was some kind of green ice cream that Rodney was initially wary of but was delicious. He almost went for a second helping, but John nudged Rodney’s foot with his, and Rodney smiled at Bucky, pushed the bowl toward him instead. Rodney could totally do this diplomacy thing.
After supper, Woolsey led the way to the repurposed mess hall (where had everyone else eaten all day?) where the Satedans had set up a stage for their performance. The comfiest chairs had been snagged out of various command offices so the VIPs had somewhere nice to sit. The rest of the audience was made up of, well, anyone who wasn’t otherwise on duty and could find a place to sit. Lorne, Rodney realized, was overseeing city security while the play was going on. While John was playing politician, Lorne was absorbing all of the security duties on top of his regular duties. Would the man even sleep during this diplomatic visit?
Rodney appreciated classical music, opera, and fine arts as much as the next man. He’d sat through his fair share of Broadway musicals, Shakespearean dramas, and even the odd Kabuki drama. Satedan theater was none of those things. It was a mish-mash of Greek chorale, a hip-hop dance battle, and shadow puppets, best as Rodney could tell. He had no idea what was going on, but the actors were attractive, and their costumes were bright and colorful, and the music was upbeat and cheery, for the most part.
Rodney glanced over at John to see how he was enjoying it, and John was actually smiling. Rodney reached out to slip his hand into John’s, but right before he could, John reached up, pressed a hand to his radio, chin dipping.
John murmured, Excuse me, and rose up, ducked out of the mess hall. Rodney twisted around to watch him go, confused. But then people were applauding and the curtain was falling and Ronon announced there would be a fifteen-minute intermission.
In true Lorne fashion, there were snacks and refreshments available during intermission. Rodney made a beeline for those delicious Satedan spice puffs when his radio brought him up short.
“Sheppard for McKay. We need you in the Chair Room.”
Lorne was handling security from the Chair Room? Of course he was. He was probably going to be practically living in there for three weeks.
“Be right there,” Rodney said. He ducked out of the mess hall - but not without snagging some pastries - and made for the nearest transporter. When he stepped into the Chair Room, he saw that there were indeed cots set up in the corners. “What is it?”
Lorne was reclined in the chair, holographic displays dancing above him.
John reached into the projection and made a pinching motion, and what was a tiny blip on the radar became massive. “Look familiar?”
“Impossible,” Rodney breathed.
“What is it, sir?” Lorne asked.
Rodney’s gut clenched. “When we were in that alternate reality, on that alternate Daedalus, these aliens attacked. Their ship looked just like that. They had weird gray skin and these raised ridges on their skulls that glowed red and they were strong. They could take on Ronon.”
John manipulated the projection some more, and Lorne flinched.
“Looks like it’s headed straight for Atlantis,” John said.
“What should we do?” Lorne asked. “We have multiple ZPMs. Shields are strong. We still haven’t figured out how to manufacture new drones, but we do have a significant reserve left over from Planet Mara.”
Rodney winced at the mention of Mara, who’d tried to seduce John for his super-gene.
John said, “Submerge the city. They might change course if it seems like we’re gone.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Put the Marines on alert.” John’s expression was grim. “This is the last thing we need right now.”
“At least it’s not the Vanir,” Lorne offered.
“Your optimism is noted.” John reached into the display and manipulated it some more. “Get what readings you can. Zelenka, stay on it. Come on, Rodney. Let’s brief Woolsey.”
“Don’t you mean socialize?” Rodney asked, but he followed John back to the transporter.
John scrubbed a hand across his face and sighed. “Both.”
Rodney tapped his radio and told Teyla and Ronon to stall intermission while the city submerged.
“Why are we submerging the city?” Teyla asked.
John gave Woolsey a heads up. By the time they reached the mess hall, everyone was gathered in tight clusters, concerned.
“John,” Woolsey began.
“Marines are on standby,” John said. “This is just a precaution.” He tapped his radio. “Do it, Lorne.”
The submersion alarm sounded.
“What’s going on?” Steve asked.
Teyla smiled politely. “It is just a precaution. Security noticed something irregular on the sensors, so we are submerging the city. Come, if you look out the window, you can see the oceans of New Lantea.” She led Steve and Bucky to the window. Rodney trailed after them.
“I’m not a biologist, but I do know that the seas of New Lantea have impressive megafauna,” he said. “Sometimes they even come close by and visit.”
“They did refer to Atlantis as the sunken city for a reason,” Bucky murmured.
Rodney hadn’t really had a chance to appreciate the last few times Atlantis had submerged and risen, usually because it was during an emergency, but this time he got to watch, and once again, he was amazed at Ancient technology. For all their foibles, their idiosyncrasies, their egos, they’d been capable of wondrous things.
Steve reached out, pressed a hand to the glass. The shields rose first, and then the city began to slip beneath the ocean waves. The light in the mess hall took on a shimmering, blue quality, even though the sun had long gone down.
“It’s beautiful,” Steve said. “I wish I could paint it.”
Teyla smiled. “I’m sure painting supplies could be acquired for you.”
Bucky nudged Steve. “Evan left you some drawing supplies. There might be those watercolor pencils you like in there. Check when we get back to the room.”
When the city reached an appropriate depth, the submersion alarm ceased. The Satedans, who had never witnessed the event, were also crowded around the windows, and Ronon had to herd them back into their places for the second half of the play.
John, hovering by the doorway, dipped his chin once more, gaze going distant. He nodded once, turned and murmured to Woolsey, and like that, the play was back on.
After the play, the actors and the VIPs socialized over the remainder of the refreshments. Rodney mingled, managed to snag some Satedan spiced puffs, and was contemplating heading to the lab to check on an experiment when Miko brought up the whole Pokemon Go thing. Rodney understood it vaguely; it was some kind of video game that Madison, Jeannie, and Kaleb all played together in the name of family bonding.
“We can hunt together,” Miko offered, and Steve lit up. “Sure! Although maybe I should go change.”
Bucky kissed Steve on the cheek and said, “Have fun. I think I’m going to turn in.”
Teyla said, “New Lantea has twenty-eight hours in a day, so the evening is yet young, Bucky.”
Bucky blinked. “Oh. Right. Well -”
Teyla smiled at him. “Perhaps you would like to visit with Rodney some more about his current projects.”
Rodney, on his way to the door, paused at the sound of his name. He took a deep breath, pasted on a bright smile, and turned, crossed the room to stand near Teyla and Bucky. Was Teyla insane? Rodney couldn’t go alone with Bucky to the lab. Bucky was a super soldier, and also sensitive things were happening in the lab.
Well, in one of the labs.
Rodney smiled. “Let me show you the storage room,” he said.
“Storage room?” Bucky echoed.
“Yes. Where we keep the devices with no practical purposes.”
“Like the one that turns people into cats?”
“There are machines for dogs and rabbits too,” Rodney said. “Well, the rabbit one ended up being useful, but - come on. I’ll give you the tour.” Most of the machines in there were either broken or just generally malfunctioned, the room was far away from the main labs, but it would interest a keen scientific mind like Bucky’s.
“Can I change out of my suit first?” Bucky asked. He tugged at his collar.
Rodney smiled. “Sure! How about we swing by my quarters, and I’ll change, and then we’ll go to yours, and that’ll save us getting lost in the city.”
Bucky followed Rodney to the nearest transporter. “Do you still get lost in the city?”
“There is still so much we haven’t explored about the city,” Rodney admitted. “We schedule more city exploration missions now that off-world missions aren’t as critical, but we have much to learn. I don’t get lost in the sections of the city the expedition - country - uses regularly, but there’s always that risk.”
Rodney and John’s quarters were actually just Rodney’s quarters, because he had a nicer bath, and over time John moved in and never quite left, and that was fine. Bucky stayed politely in the living quarters while Rodney went into the bathroom to change, and then they headed to the state rooms were Bucky and Steve were staying. Rodney had pulled on his old uniform, and Bucky changed into jeans and a t-shirt with a faded Captain America logo on the front of it that had been modified to look the Winter Soldier star, and together they set off.
While they walked, Rodney asked about Bucky’s time in Stark Tower, what Tony Stark was like, what his tech was like. Bucky lit up in a way Rodney hadn’t expected. He knew that, between Bucky and Steve, Bucky had the reputation of being the charmer, the flirt, the bold one where Steve had always been shy. Being posted in another galaxy meant Rodney didn’t have all the details on the whole Winter Soldier business, but in his experience with Bucky so far, Bucky had been the shyer one, unless he was deliberately turning on the charm for political purposes. Apparently science made him come alive. Rodney could totally understand that.
Tony Stark had made a lot of headway on clean energy with the device that powered his Iron Man suits and had, for a while, kept him alive. He’d also made a lot of headway on robotics, although none of his work came even close to the replicators or the Asurans (which Rodney was okay with, frankly).
Rodney showed off the Ancient devices in storage with pride. There was the Ancient baby picture book that the anthropologists had yet to get to, the hologram costume generator so more fashionable Ancients could virtually try on outfits for the day without tearing through their closets like teenage girls, a vast array of night lights and lullaby toys and something everyone was pretty sure was an aromatherapy ball but the smells in it were awful.
“Evan told me about so many of these,” Bucky said, trailing a hand over the Ancient gender-swapping device. “He never told me about how dangerous it really was out here.”
Rodney would never get used to people calling Lorne by his first name. He cleared his throat. “So, Lorne never mentioned that you two, you know, dated.”
Bucky arched an eyebrow. “How many people do you know Evan has dated?”
“Well, you, and, um...” Rodney trailed off. For the longest time on Atlantis, everyone had assumed Lorne was some kind of robot or monk, dedicated to the running of Atlantis and far too busy for human things like dating and sex.
“Evan manages to be disarmingly honest and infuriatingly reticent all at once,” Bucky said.
“Is it weird?” Rodney asked. “Being here with both your husband and your ex-boyfriend?” This was quickly straying into dangerous territory, but Rodney was awfully curious.
“I haven’t decided yet.” Bucky picked up an Ancient hair dryer, and it flickered briefly in his hands. “Is Evan avoiding me, or is he always this busy?”
“He’s pretty much always this busy,” Rodney said, which was true, but it was still entirely possible that Lorne was avoiding their guests as well. He could’ve sat near them at dinner, after all.
Bucky opened his mouth to enquire further, but then Rodney’s radio crackled to life.
“Lorne to Command, the unidentified hostiles are coming in for a second sweep.”
John said, “What do you mean, a second sweep?”
“After we submerged, they altered their trajectory away from the planet, but they’ve come back around,” Lorne said.
“Is everything all right?” Bucky asked.
Rodney held up one finger in the universal gesture for just a minute, ducked his chin to listen.
“They’re arming weapons,” Lorne said.
“But the shields will hold, right?” Woolsey asked.
“They will,” Rodney said, because energy was no longer an issue on Atlantis.
The sound of an energy projectile hitting the shield underwater was strange, but Rodney knew what it was as soon as he heard it. Bucky spun, eyes narrowing. All the humor slid off his face, replaced by a battle intensity Rodney knew all too well from John.
“What was that?” he asked.
“Not sure yet,” Rodney said, which wasn’t entirely true, but he wanted to hear how things were panning out.
“We’ve been made,” Lorne said. “That first shot was a test. They must have seen how the shield dissipated the force of the projectile.”
“Sound the alarm,” John ordered. “Civilians are restricted to quarters. Battle stations, everyone else. Rodney, Zelenka, get down to the ZPM room and see about getting some ZPMs in the oven in case this turns into a siege.”
“But the mainland,” Teyla protested.
John sucked in a breath. “Chuck, send subspace transmissions to our allies, get them on standby, see if any of them have encountered these hostiles before. Lorne, I’m taking over the Chair. Take a platoon of Marines to the mainland in jumpers.”
“Yes, sir,” Lorne said.
Rodney lifted his head, flashed Bucky a smile. “Sounds like we’ve run into a bit of a situation. All civilians are restricted to quarters until further notice. I’ll show you back to your room.”
Overhead, the alarm sounded. Chuck made announcements over the PA system to get the civilian population to safety.
“I’m a soldier,” Bucky protested, but he followed Rodney to the transporter.
“Today you’re a civilian,” Rodney said firmly.
“The Avengers have fought aliens before.”
“Not like these.” Rodney programmed in their destination.
Bucky stayed on Rodney’s heels. “We can help, both of us, me and Steve.”
“If you get hurt or killed, it’ll have intergalactic ramifications,” Rodney snapped. “This is just another day in Pegasus for us. Now please, I have a job to do.” He swiped a hand over the door lock, shoved Bucky into his room, and spun away, headed for the ZPM charging station.
“We really should’ve focused more on manufacturing drones,” Rodney muttered. “Harmony would have let us use her temple sanctuary thingie, right? She likes me. More than John.”
“Planet Mara gave us many,” Zelenka said. “We should be fine.”
“You never fought these aliens,” Rodney said. “One of them shot me. They nearly got Ronon. Ronon can kick Wraith ass, but these guys -”
“It is ready,” Zelenka said. He eased open the top of the ZPM, and he and Rodney held it out, pressed the charging button.
And the black nothingness swirled into the ZPM. Rodney snapped the lid on, and the ZPM glowed, came to life, while Zelenka set the machine to pump down and make another subspace pocket.
Rodney tapped his radio and started to say, “One charged, half a dozen to go.”
Instead his radio exploded with furious chatter. Too much chatter. What the hell were Chuck and Amelia doing, letting the radio get this clogged? Rodney knew combat pilots like John and Lorne and Mitchell had the skill to tune into only the chatter they needed in the heat of battle, but this was ridiculous.
“Please, let us help, we can fight -”
“Not the time, Captain.”
“Evac thirty percent complete.”
“We’re both super-soldiers.”
“Right now you’re a captain and a sergeant and I’m a lieutenant-colonel, and I’m ordering you to stand down.”
“You’re not part of the American military anymore, Sheppard -”
“Shields are at ninety percent and holding.”
“Enemy ship is launching fighters.”
“Scramble the 302s and the combat jumpers.”
“Sheppard, please -”
“Control, get a handle on the radio traffic.”
“Enemy fighters headed for the mainland.”
“I heard, sir. Engaging in defensive maneuvers.”
Rodney shut off his radio. “Keep charging these,” he said to Zelenka.
“But Sheppard said -”
The entire city shook. “I’ll get someone to help you.” Rodney tapped his radio, ordered Kusanagi out of her quarters to help Zelenka. Then he headed for Control, went to stand behind Chuck.
“How are the shields holding?”
“Holy stars, McKay!” Chuck nearly fell out of his chair. “Shields are holding steady around ninety.”
“How are things looking on the mainland?”
“Less good, sir.”
Rodney scanned the various displays. Amelia was directing radio traffic for the fighter pilots, watching the combat screen. How she could keep track of all the different fighters was beyond Rodney. They were moving so fast, blinking out, blinking back on. Why were they blinking? Were they dying? Were they -
“We could use a little back-up.” Lorne sounded strained.
“We’re spread thin as it is, Major.” Of course John fell back on old patterns in times of stress. They all did.
“John,” Teyla said.
“Sir, they’re coming in too heavy and fast. I’ve got as many people as I can, but -” Lorne’s transmission cut out.
“Evan? Evan!” Teyla sounded panicked.
Rodney peered over Chuck’s shoulder at the readouts for the mainland. It was one pulsing mass of light. The enemy fighters were focused there. Of course.
“Incoming transmission,” Chuck said. “Frequency is Larrin of the Travelers.”
“Patch her through,” John said.
Woolsey took over, offered terse greetings, explained the situation. Rodney stood behind Chuck, hands curled into fists, resisting the urge to reach out and find some way to zap Larrin across her subspace frequency, because she was grandstanding and driving a hard bargain, and no one had been able to raise Lorne on the radio in over ten minutes.
Finally, Woolsey managed to talk her around into helping, scrambling some of her fighters and one hyperspace-capable battlecruiser, and that was all Rodney needed to know.
John had the city. He’d always have the city. Someone had to take care of the mainland, and that someone was going to be Rodney.
He was halfway to the state rooms when Teyla fell into step beside him.
“Where are you going, Rodney? Should you not be with Radek, charging the ZPMs?”
“Zelenka and Kusanagi can handle the ZedPMs on their own,” Rodney said. Teyla called them ZPMs the way John did. Rodney was starting to think she did it just to needle him, though her expression was so serious he thought maybe this time she hadn’t done it deliberately.
“What do you plan on doing about the mainland?” Teyla asked.
“Remember when Michael attacked Atlantis and he modified a jumper to expand its shield in a massive protective bubble to keep everyone out of Ops?”
Teyla nodded, expression darkening. He’d come for her and her child. She’d been ready to surrender herself and Torren to save the city.
“I think I can modify all the jumpers Lorne took to the mainland to make a kind of protected space for everyone to just hunker down and wait out the battle,” Rodney said.
“Why are you heading for the Ambassador’s room?” Teyla asked.
“Because every other soldier on this planet is occupied, and the two of them are worth at least ten soldiers apiece.” Rodney picked up the pace, and Teyla followed him.
When Rodney opened the door to the state rooms, Steve and Bucky were pacing back and forth, both looking agitated.
“Dr. McKay,” Steve began, but Rodney held up a hand to forestall comment.
“Do you want to help?”
“Anything. Please.” Steve looked so earnest.
Rodney eyed him, then Bucky, who was hanging back, expression dangerously blank, shadows in his eyes. He’d shed his jacket and long-sleeved shirt and glove, and Rodney was faced with the truth of the man’s metal arm. He kind of wanted to look at it and pick it apart, but -
“You’d better not be out to stage a coup on this city,” Rodney said quietly. “Because so help me, if you are, no one will be able to protect you from me, not Tony Stark, not the American government, not every government on Earth, do you hear me?”
Steve nodded. “What do you need?”
“Let us procure weapons and tactical gear,” Teyla said.
Steven glanced at Bucky, and he nodded. “Let us get changed first.”
Rodney told Teyla to take them to the jumper bay, that he’d get the tac gear - because he wasn’t so insane as to take them to the armory. He rather regretted not taking them with him when he realized he had no idea what kinds of weapons they’d want or need and he ended up putting two of everything - M9s, P-90s, blocks of C4 and blasting caps, remote detonators, smoke grenades, flashbangs, actual grenades, claymores, Wraith stunners, knives, tac vests - into a crate and wheeling it toward the nearest transporter. He stopped by the lab to check on Zelenka and Kusanagi, snag a ZPM and a laptop from them, and go on his way.
“Rodney?” Kusanagi asked, voice rising in alarm. “Rodney, what are you doing with all of those weapons? Rodney, you don’t even know how to use all of those.”
The transporter door closing cut her off.
Rodney emerged in the jumper bay with gear. He shoved it at Bucky and told him to get into the jumper. Both Bucky and Steve were wearing their Avengers uniforms, Bucky in all black with his left arm gleaming, Steve in blue and white leather with his vibranium shield strapped to his back. At Rodney’s raised eyebrows, Bucky drawled,
“Boy Scout likes to be prepared.”
“I was never a Boy Scout,” Steve protested.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Into the jumper, all of you.”
“I’ll fly,” Steve said. “I’ve piloted before.”
“Not one of these.” Rodney elbowed him aside, plopped down in the pilot seat, and initiated the jumper. It wasn’t a combat jumper, had only standard shields and weapons, but as long as he kept it cloaked and flew carefully, they’d make it to the mainland unscathed.
Rodney had gotten the launch door opened when Chuck broke over the jumper radio.
“Jumper Seventeen, you’re not cleared for take-off,” Chuck said.
“Sure I am. I cleared myself,” Rodney said.
Rodney closed the rear hatch and started to raise the jumper toward the launch door.
“Rodney, what the hell are you doing?” John demanded.
“Lorne said he needed back-up.”
“Rodney, you -”
“Left the ZedPMs in Zelenka and Kusanagi’s capable hands. I have Teyla with me. And a couple of spare soldiers.”
“Spare soldiers, Rodney?”
“Where did you find spare soldiers?”
“I knew a couple were unoccupied, but -”
“Rodney, you cannot take our guests into battle.”
“Like we all know, they’re super-soldiers. They want to help. Lorne’s not answering comms.”
“Sorry, radio’s acting funny. You’re breaking up.” Rodney didn’t need the entirety of Atlantis’s combat channel messing with his concentration anyway. He didn’t need to think about their men and women fighting and dying. He just had to focus on rescuing Lorne and the rest. Once they were clear of the jumper bay, he initiated the cloak and shield, called up the HUD and noted the most efficient path to the mainland.
“Wow,” Bucky said quietly. Rodney glanced over his shoulder. Bucky was wearing a tac vest and fairly bristling with weapons, which was at odds with the boyish awe on his face. “I know you said these had inertial dampeners, but it feels like we’re barely moving at all.”
“Most of that feeling is an illusion because you can see that we’re moving,” Rodney said. “Teyla, see if you can’t raise Lorne on the comms.”
Teyla nodded and reached out, tapped the console expertly. Ever since Marks had given her a crash course on the systems on the Daedalus, she’d proved adept at learning new systems quickly.
“Teyla for Major Lorne, do you copy?”
The only sound from the other side was static.
Teyla tried again. Still only static.
Bucky cleared his throat. “Can - can I try?”
Rodney and Teyla glanced back at him. His brows were drawn; he looked anxious. Steve’s expression was a little more opaque. But Teyla nodded and shifted aside so Bucky could access the controls.
“Evan, it’s Bucky. Do you copy?”
There was still no response.
Steve cleared his throat. “Why don’t we try a broader signal? Could be his radio’s damaged and he’s using someone else’s.”
Rodney nodded. “Good idea. Teyla?”
Teyla tapped the controls some more. “Third Atlantis Reconnaissance Team, this is Teyla. Do you copy?”
There was more static, and Rodney pressed his lips into a thin line, but then Captain Stevens said, “Good to hear you, Teyla. Sit rep?”
“We are in one of the cargo jumpers on our way to assist,” Teyla said. “Our last communication with Major Lorne was that you were under attack. He’s not answering on his radio.”
“He’s not with the jumpers,” Stevens said. “He went out to rescue a group of younger hunters. I have a twenty on him, but he’s basically pinned down by fire from the enemy fighters.”
“We will be there as soon as possible,” Teyla told him. “We are bringing reinforcements.”
“Best news I’ve heard since Major Lorne said he’d be baking brownies this week.” Stevens paused, likely cutting over to another channel. “We took down one enemy fighter by temporarily dropping shields to fire drones, but we could use back-up ASAP. How many troops could Colonel Sheppard spare?”
“Four,” Teyla said, “including me and Rodney.”
“Doc McKay?” Stevens sounded surprised.
“I am useful in battle,” Rodney snapped.
“Yes, sir,” Stevens said automatically.
“Also us, Captain,” Steve said, poking his head up between the front seats.
“Captain Rogers!” Stevens squeaked. He cleared his throat. “That - I am glad Colonel Sheppard authorized you to fight.”
Steve’s expression turned guilty, and Teyla cast Rodney a look.
“ETA five minutes,” Rodney said, and he pushed the jumper into full speed.
The scene on the mainland was grim, smoke rising up from the destroyed settlement. Teyla’s expression was coldly furious and pained when she saw the ashes of the fields and homes her people had struggled for so long to build and maintain. There were four jumpers forming a square just off the eastern edge of the settlement, shields flickering intermittently as they shot drones at the enemy fighters darting overhead. A group of Athosians were huddled in the middle of the square, looking exhausted and terrified.
Rodney tapped the comms. “Captain Stevens, re-arrange the jumpers to make room for one more. We’re coming in cloaked.”
“Rearranged how, Doc?”
“Like - like spokes of a wheel.”
Even though Rodney’s jumper was cloaked and shielded, he flinched every time one of the enemy fighters flew close or fired nearby. They were focusing most of their fire on the cluster of jumpers, whose shields wouldn’t hold forever. With Rodney’s help, though, they’d hold longer. The jumpers fired up, and the people in the clearing in the middle of them panicked. They must have thought they were being abandoned, but the jumpers hovered, rearranged in a complicated dance. Rodney brought his jumper swooping in low, landed it so it formed the fifth spoke in the wheel.
“What now?” Teyla asked.
Rodney said, “Some of you need to go rescue Lorne and the kids. Someone needs to stay here and help me boost the shields.” He thought quickly. “Bucky, you stay with me. I’ll probably keep Captain Stevens as well. Teyla, you take the rest to go after Lorne.”
“Isn’t Captain Stevens in charge?” Bucky asked.
Rodney tapped the comms on. “Stevens, do you copy?”
“Good to have you, Doc.”
“This is the plan. Listen closely.” Rodney was no soldier, but he’d been on John’s team long enough to know how best to make scientists and soldiers work together effectively. Stevens listened without question and then split his remaining Marines into two forces, one under Teyla’s command, one under Steve’s.
One of the Marines cleared his throat. “With all due respect, sir, wouldn’t it be better for Sergeant Barnes to command us?”
Rodney pinned him with a glare. “Do any of you know how to interface a naquadah generator with ZPMs and Atlantean control crystals?”
“Well,” the Marine began.
“Sergeant Barnes can figure it out a hell of a lot faster than any of you,” Rodney snapped, “so he’s staying with me and Stevens. Now listen to Teyla and get out there to rescue your damned CO.”
“Yes, sir,” the Marine said, after glancing at Stevens.
While Teyla was doing her diplomatic thing, reassuring her people that the Atlanteans were here to protect them and wouldn’t be leaving them, but that they needed to listen to everything Rodney, Stevens, and Bucky said, Rodney was scrambling from jumper to jumper, firing up their HUDs and checking their shield statuses. There was no point in remaining cloaked since the enemy knew exactly where they were, and they needed as much power as possible to maintain the shields against the barrage of enemy fire.
Teyla pressed her forehead to another woman’s, murmured something Rodney couldn’t hear, and then she straightened up, hollered at one of the Marines - Sergeant Mehra - and they assembled at the edge of the jumper circle, just inside the shields.
Stevens was inside the jumper facing Lorne’s position, looking at the life signs detector. “They’re right at the edge of the treeline. I’m reading twenty-four life-signs, which is consistent with Major Lorne, Sergeant Walker, Sergeant Reed, Sergeant Coughlin, and the twenty-one youth hunters Jinto told us about.” That Jinto was no longer considered a youth hunter made Rodney feel suddenly, inexplicably old.
Steve nodded. “All right. Let’s find out if vibranium can absorb yet more alien enemy fire.” He had his little troop arrayed just inside the shield as well.
“I can only drop the shield for a few seconds,” Rodney called from inside his own jumper. “Ready?”
Teyla and Steve hollered back affirmatives. Bucky stood beside Rodney, watching, expression carefully blank, as the shields dropped. Teyla and her troops burst out of the circle at a dead sprint.
Rodney had seen videos of Captain America doing superhuman feats, but...but no human could run that fast. Behind him, Marines were leapfrogging each other through bursts of cover fire. He reached the trees far ahead of anyone else.
“Rodney!” Bucky snapped, and Rodney swore, raised the shields just as an enemy energy shot hit.
Some of the Athosians screamed. Rodney hollered for Jinto and Wex, designated them to run supplies between all of the jumpers. Bucky went to a separate one, Stevens was in his own. Over the radio, Rodney walked both of them through the jumper shield modifications step by step. The entire time, his heart was pounding. The fighters overhead were relentless, raining fire down on them. The shields were struggling, but Rodney couldn’t throw in both the ZPM and the naquadah generator until all the modifications had been made to the systems or they would overload.
There was another scream and - burning flesh.
The shields couldn’t take much more. Dammit.
Stevens hollered for the Athosians to cram themselves into the jumpers, and suddenly Rodney had a dozen people crowded into the jumper with him. The rest of them were clustered as close to the jumper as possible, and he really, really needed to expand the shield radius as much as possible so he could actually breathe while he worked.
Rodney had been hoping, praying that super-soldier serum really did make a person more like Superman, whose intellectual brilliance was rarely portrayed in modern media. Brawn and brains could be all in one package. John was the perfect example, however he might play stupid. Bucky didn’t ask a lot of questions, just followed orders, and when Rodney ran diagnostics on the five-jumper system he was building, he got the readings he needed. Best as he could tell, Bucky knew what he was doing.
Stevens kept falling behind, and as irritated as Rodney was, he understood, because Stevens was handling the combat chatter from Steve and Teyla. Rodney couldn’t have afforded to be distracted by it.
“All right,” Rodney said, “fire it up.”
There was a pause, and Bucky said, “All good here. Let me run across to the other jumper and - hey, look, I need to get past you -”
“Just elbow them, Bucky,” Rodney said.
“Not such a good idea with my elbows,” Bucky muttered, but Rodney glanced over his shoulder and saw a black-and-silver blur cross the clearing in the middle of the jumpers.
“Systems are a go,” Stevens chimed in a moment later. “I’ll go check the other jumper.”
Rodney cracked open one of the systems panels so he could get at the control crystals. He had to hook up the ZPM to his jumper and the naquadah generator to another jumper as a back-up system in case his jumper overloaded. He, Bucky, and Stevens had arranged the multi-jumper shield like a circuit in parallel so if one failed, the rest would hold.
One of the Athosians had been injured when that stray shot hit the circle while Teyla and Steve were leaving the shield zone, and a couple of women were tending to the man’s burns. The air was thick with tension, fear, and exhaustion.
“All jumpers are a go,” Bucky said.
“Great. You and Stevens come get this naquadah generator, take it to Reed’s jumper and hook it on. I’ve got the ZPM. Do not touch anything till I tell you.”
“Roger that.” Bucky appeared a moment later, and the Athosians scrambled out of his way. He hesitated in the doorway, then sighed, reached out, and picked up the naquadah generator one-handed.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said to one woman, who’d snatched her child away from him.
A boy reached out, placed his hand tentatively on Bucky’s left arm. Bucky jerked away, and the boy flinched back, but then he beamed.
“It is shiny,” Bucky agreed wearily. He turned and carried the generator out of the jumper with enviable ease.
Rodney made sure he had the ZPM online and that the circuits weren’t overloading, and then he radioed instructions over to Bucky and Stevens.
“For reals? You have a screwdriver in your arm?” Stevens asked.
“Sometimes I need to do a bit of self-repair and Stark isn’t around to help,” Bucky told him. “Ready?”
“I’ll be over with my tools in just a minute,” Rodney said. He was deliberately not checking the combat frequencies on Atlantis or from Teyla and Steve. He scooped up his toolbox and stepped out of the jumper - and was almost blinded by the lightning storm of enemy fire raining down. After the first few minutes he’d been able to tune the sound out, but there was no way in hell he was going out there.
Except the shields were holding, and they’d have more space in just a moment.
Rodney forced himself to take a deep breath. Then he hauled ass across the clearing, his toolbox banging painfully against his thigh and hip. Bucky took the box from him as soon as he was in Reed’s jumper. Bucky and Stevens had the generator hooked up most of the way, but Rodney rolled up his sleeves and waded around the Athosians to get in and help.
As soon as everything was hooked up, Rodney fired up the HUD, checked the readings.
“Well?” Stevens asked.
“Power readings are holding steady.” Rodney took a deep breath, then typed in the command to maximize the shields.
And just like that, the thunder of enemy fire sounded more distant.
Bucky, peering over Rodney’s shoulder, whistled. “Wow. When you said you were going to boost the shield, you weren’t kidding.
Stevens came to peer closer as well. “Can you adjust the field so it’s not as high up but spread out more? That’ll give us more space.”
Rodney tapped away at the console. “Give me a moment to -”
And the enemy fire was much, much louder.
Rodney ducked instinctively, but the shields held. “All right,” he said. “Let’s get these people out of the jumpers and then - then we can focus on getting Lorne and the others back, all right?”
But the Athosians wouldn’t budge, terrified of the barrage of enemy fire. Bucky accidentally scared a few of them out of the jumpers, but they just stayed close to the jumpers, and Bucky looked hurt that they were afraid of him. The Athosians weren’t wrong to be afraid of him, on an objective level, because he could probably rip a Wraith apart with his bare hands, but he had just worked hard to help protect them.
It wasn’t until Rodney went and did a walk of the outermost perimeter of the shield - flinching at the enemy fire all the while - that the Athosians were willing to step away from the immediate vicinity of the jumpers. By the time he got back to Stevens’s jumper, he was mostly deaf and partially blind, and it took his eyes a moment to adjust to the relative dimness of the jumper.
“What now?” he asked.
Stevens and Bucky were on the comms, talking to Teyla and Steve.
“Remember that time in Alsace-Lorraine?” Bucky asked.
“Yeah,” Steve said distractedly, and then brighter, “yeah! Okay, troops, listen up.” And he went silent, issuing orders to his Marines.
“Us expanding the shields has given them less distance to run,” Stevens said, “but the enemy’s concentrating fire on us pretty heavily. We have to do something to make them stop long enough to drop the shields and get everyone inside the bubble.”
Rodney’s go-to distraction was blowing something up, but everything outside the bubble had been blown up already.
Bucky narrowed his eyes, studied the battle HUD that he’d pulled up with a thought. He hadn’t been kidding when he said he had the gene. The jumpers were never as responsive to anyone as they were to John, but Rodney would guess that Bucky’s gene was at least as strong as Lorne’s, if not Carson’s.
“Give me one of the jumpers,” he said. “I’ll engage in aerial battle. That’ll distract them while Steve and Evan and Teyla and rest make it back here.”
“Do you have combat pilot experience?” Stevens asked.
“But during World War II -” Stevens began.
“Not during that war,” Bucky said tightly.
Stevens swallowed. “Right. Can we do that, Doc? Give him one of the combat jumpers, of course.”
“Let me run calculations quickly,” Rodney said, “and figure out how much bubble area we’d lose.”
“Quickly,” Bucky said. “I’m going to get some more weapons. Be right back.” He headed for Rodney’s jumper. The Athosians gave him a wide berth.
Rodney hollered at Jinto and Wex to herd their people back into the jumpers, and then he, Bucky, and Stevens carefully rearranged the jumpers back into their original square formation.
“Are you sure about this?” Rodney asked.
Stevens fired up the comms and issued orders to Steve and Teyla, instructing them to take advantage of the distraction Bucky was going to cause and book it back to the shield bubble.
“Bucky, you sure about this?” Steve asked.
Rodney huffed. “We’ve been over this.”
“I am,” Bucky said, voice crackling over the radio.
“Ready?” Stevens asked.
“On your mark, sir,” Bucky said.
Stevens took a deep breath, glanced at Rodney, who was poised to drop the shield bubble.
“Good hunting,” Stevens said, and Rodney shouted, “Go!”
What happened next was controlled chaos. Bucky’s jumper blazed toward the sky, drones firing left and right. It wheeled and turned and dipped with dizzying speed. Rodney threw the shields back up, stared at the life-signs detectors until the first wave of refugees and soldiers were close, then warned Bucky, “Lowering shields!”
Stevens and Rodney sent of volley of drones at the enemy fighters as cover fire.
The enemy fire was much, much louder. Athosian hunters and soldiers came pelting into the jumpers, squeezing in, and there were cries of pain and curses.
“Raise the shields, raise the shields!” Lorne shouted, skittering into Rodney’s jumper. He collapsed against the wall, clutching his left arm, which was hanging at an awkward angle.
Rodney raised the shields, and then Steve and Teyla were shouldering their way up to the command console.
Steve stared at the control panel, confused, and then Teyla reached out, pressed a button.
Steve leaned in to speak. “Bucky, we made it, we’re safe. C’mon back.”
“These guys are a bit nastier than Hydra,” Bucky pointed out, strained.
Jinto and Wex immediately began herding the Athosians back out of the jumpers. Most of them went without protest; they’d been shuffled back and forth by the Atlanteans so many times already.
“I will see to Major Lorne,” Teyla said quietly. Rodney nodded, watching the aerial battle on one of the HUD screens.
“Bucky,” Steve said, a cross between a warning and a plea.
“I’m almost out of drones,” Bucky said. “I -”
The screen lit up in a massive explosion. Steve tore out of the jumper, ran to the center of the bubble field, and stared up at the fireball in the sky, Rodney and Stevens on his heels.
The Athosians screamed and ducked and debris rained down from the sky, burning and blazing pieces of enemy fighters. The jumper and a fighter, all twisted and tangled together, plummeted downward and bounced off the shield. There was an almighty screech of metal when it hit the ground, and another explosion.
Rodney’s heart crawled into his throat. No. Bucky was dead. He’d gotten Bucky killed. John was going to kill him. Woolsey was going to kill him. The entirety of America was going to kill him.
Steve made a small, pained noise. He sank to his knees, face pale, body trembling.
“Major!” Teyla shouted, and Lorne came stumbling out of the jumper. He fell to his knees beside Steve, and Steve collapsed against him. Lorne winced at Steve’s weight against his injured arm, but he maneuvered himself so he could bear Steve’s weight, and then -
The Athosians screamed more.
“Is that enemy fire?” Stevens spun, rifle raised. “Where’s it coming from?”
There was another thunderous boom that shook the entire shield bubble.
Rodney turned, mind spinning. And saw - a figure. Black and silver, standing on the edge of the shield bubble, silver arm raised to knock.
Rodney scrambled back into the jumper and raised the shields. He scanned the HUD, but all of the enemy fighters were gone. He activated the long-range scanners and saw a space battle above the planet. Not his business, not yet. They were down a combat jumper, but now they could go back to Atlantis.
Rodney stepped back out of the jumper and stopped short. Steve had Bucky in a crushing embrace. Bucky patted Steve’s shoulder a little gingerly, and Steve pulled back, cupped his hands around Bucky’s face, said something too soft for Rodney to hear, and then kissed him. Rodney knew that feeling, knew that relief, felt it every time John made it back from some harebrained rescue alive.
Lorne stood beside them, a little awkwardly. He shook himself out, started barking orders to his team and Jinto and Wex, to organize all of the refugees for transport back to Atlantis. It would be a very cramped ride, what with them being down a jumper, but they would make it.
Rodney had fixed the jumpers, endured a pointless but still embarrassing dressing down from the QM about taking things from the armory without checking them out, endured an even longer lecture from Woolsey about endangering the Ambassador and his husband, and finally collapsed on facedown on his bed, clothes and shoes and all, before he got to see John again.
The door hissed open, and John said, “There you are.”
Rodney groaned but didn’t move.
“If you’re going to yell at me, don’t bother. I’ve heard it all. Don’t touch the guns, Rodney. Don’t let the soldiers fight, Rodney. Don’t modify the jumpers, Rodney.”
“I don’t think you have.” John crossed the room. The bed dipped under his weight, and Rodney felt John’s hand on his hip. “You could have died out there. I could have lost you.”
Rodney rolled over and stared at John, who looked - grave. Still and serious in a way John Sheppard never was. Rodney sat up, looked John in the eye. “You think I’ve never felt that way? That’s what I feel every time you step through the gate without me, every time you take off to play hero and -”
John tugged Rodney into a kiss, slow and soft and a little bit sorrowful. “You were incredibly brave out there,” he said when he pulled back. “You were reckless and brilliant and you weren’t answering your damn radio, but you came back alive, and you saved the others, so thank you.”
Rodney blinked. “John -”
“I love you.” John kissed him again. “Now come on. Let’s go get some food.”
“Food?” Rodney echoed, but his stomach rumbled, so he laced his fingers through John’s and let John pull him to his feet.
“Yeah. Breakfast is on in the mess hall,” John said. “Between the refugees and Larrin and her Traveler delegation, our resources are spread pretty thin, but we came out of it all right, and it sounds like we managed to capture some dead aliens and a couple of their fighters so we can take a look at them, learn some more about them.”
The battle had taken literally all night and lasted into the morning. Rodney had managed to doze some before John found him. His internal clock, which was messed up at the best of times, was going to be pretty screwy.
“How are Bucky and Steve?” Rodney asked.
“Just fine,” John said. “Super-soldier serum includes super-healing.”
Of course it did. “What about Lorne?”
“Jennifer says he dislocated his shoulder. She popped it back in, put him on light duty for a couple of weeks.”
“That’s not so bad,” Rodney said.
John shrugged. “Once you dislocate your shoulder, it’s easy to do again, and apparently this isn’t Lorne’s first time, so there you go. He took the news pretty well.”
Rodney stepped into the mess hall and came up short. It was packed full of people - soldiers still in uniform, Athosians in their leather-and-linen get-ups, and the Travelers in their leather and uniforms as well.
“You!” Kusanagi cut across the crowd with surprising speed. Several Marines jumped out of her way. She planted herself in front of Rodney. “What the hell were you thinking? Are you insane?”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “I’ve already heard it all before -”
She grabbed him in a rib-crushing hug. “I’m so glad you’re safe.” Before Rodney could respond, she stepped back and wagged a finger under his nose. “Don’t you ever do that again!” And she spun on her heel and marched back through the crowd, scattering more Marines in her wake.
Rodney towed John toward the end of the chow line, but one of the KP Marines waved them off, told them to sit down, someone would bring them food. As much as they were trying to establish Atlantis as the most egalitarian society possible, Rodney was grateful for the special treatment, so he allowed John to tow him over to the table where Woolsey, Ronon, Teyla, Bucky, Steve, Larrin, Jennifer, and Lorne were sitting. Lorne has his arm in a sling, but he started to rise.
“Sir, Doc, let me get you some chairs -”
“Sit down, Evan,” Jennifer said. She lifted her chin at Ronon, who reached out and snagged a couple of unused chairs from a nearby table, and everyone shifted around to make room for John and Rodney.
Lorne sank back down in his chair obediently and resumed eating his food one-handed.
Rodney made sure to sit beside Teyla and as far from Woolsey as possible.
Ronon said, “I heard you were brave.”
“Stupid, you mean,” Woolsey muttered.
Ronon shrugged. “Same thing.”
Larrin laughed. “Sometimes that’s very true.”
John glanced at her. “We appreciate your help.”
“We’re always glad to assist our allies,” Larrin said. “This encounter with these new aliens will help us be better prepared, should we encounter them elsewhere in the galaxy.”
“Well, if you ever need our help, give us a call.” John smiled tightly.
Larrin smiled. “Gladly.” Then she leaned over to Bucky, smiling flirtatiously. “So tell me, Sergeant Barnes, how you single-handedly destroyed an entire squadron of enemy fighters.”
“Not single-handedly,” Bucky began.
“You’re not his type,” Rodney said.
Larrin blinked, looked at the way Steve had one arm across the back of Bucky’s chair, and sighed. “Are all men from your planet thus? How do your people survive?”
“Not all men,” Woolsey protested.
Larrin leaned across the table, fluttered her eyelashes at Lorne. “What of you, Major Lorne?”
He blinked at her tiredly. “What about me, ma’am?”
“Do you prefer the company of women?”
“About as often as I prefer the company of men,” Lorne said.
“Then would you -?” Larrin began.
“He’s injured,” Jennifer cut in sharply.
Larrin sat back. “Apologies, Dr. Keller, I did not realize you had a claim on him.”
“I don’t,” Jennifer said, and Ronon slid his arm across the back of her chair. “But he’s injured and needs to rest. Evan, finish your food and go to bed. Doctor’s orders.”
The Marine who brought John and Rodney trays of food took Lorne’s half-empty tray back to the kitchen. A group of Athosian youth had been recruited to help wash dishes and have their pick of leftovers.
Larrin shrugged. “Can’t fault a girl for trying.” She excused herself and carried her tray back to the kitchen, then went to join some of her own people at their table.
Steve cleared his throat. “Well, Mr. Woolsey, I’m glad to see that Atlantis has such strong and reliable allies. I’ll be sure to include that in my report to the President.”
“Thank you, Ambassador. Steve.” Woolsey smiled thinly.
Lorne looked half-asleep in his seat. Jennifer reached out and put her hand on his shoulder, and he started violently.
“Easy, easy!” Jennifer said. “Seriously, Evan, go to bed.”
He smiled tiredly. “In a moment, Doc. I just need to get my feet under me.”
Bucky said, “Let me help you.”
“And me,” Steve added.
“There’s a joke in there somewhere,” John said. “How many super-soldiers does it take to put one major to bed?”
Lorne huffed. “Ha ha, sir. Very funny. I’ll have you know that this alien attack on our city has put a serious crimp in the itinerary I had planned out. I’ll have to reshuffle all of the -”
“Sleep, Major,” Woolsey ordered.
Lorne heaved himself to his feet, paused with one hand on the back of his chair to get his bearings, then turned and headed for the door. Rodney watched him go, fully expecting him to keel over.
“Someone should go with him,” Bucky said, brow furrowed.
Steve started to rise.
“Lorne’s a big boy,” John said. “He can handle himself. If not, he’ll radio.”
Jennifer raised her eyebrows. “Like you’d radio for help?”
John looked affronted, but Rodney knew Jennifer was right.
There was a muffled thump, and someone cried, “Lorne!”
“I’ll get it,” Jennifer said when everyone else at the table, including Woolsey, made to rise. “I am the Secretary of Health and Human Services, after all.” She handed off her tray to a Marine and trotted away in the direction Lorne had gone.
“Looks like any Athosian cultural events are off the itinerary,” Rodney said, smiling tentatively at Bucky. “That should free up some time for you, right?”
“Rodney,” John hissed, in that tone that meant Rodney was being insensitive, and he paused, replayed what he’d just said, but Teyla said,
“There are some cultural displays my people can still perform, even though their homes and livelihoods have been destroyed.”
Oh. Right. Rodney had been a little insensitive. “I mean -”
“We’re here on a diplomatic visit,” Bucky said, “to improve ties between our two, er, nations. Right? For peace and whatnot. Why don’t we just scrap the whole itinerary thing and focus on rebuilding the mainland?”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Woolsey said, and Teyla smiled.
“That is indeed very thoughtful. However, I know how much Evan cares about his plans, and I do not know how amenable he will be to them being disrupted even more than they already have been,” she said.
John shrugged. “Wait till Jennifer gives him the good drugs, then ask him. He’ll say anything when he’s high.”
Ronon raised his eyebrows. “Anything?”
Steve looked alarmed. Right. The guy was old-fashioned and polite. Taking advantage of one’s teammates when they were drugged was probably morally reprehensible to him.
Woolsey set down his knife and fork, drained his glass of water. “I must say, lady, gentlemen, you all acquitted yourself well against the enemy. Take a day off. That’s an order from your Prime Minister.”
Rodney eyed John and thought of all the fun things he could do with an entire day off, and only half of them involved getting John into the lab to initiate things and doing calculations. The other half of them definitely involved John wearing a whole lot less than he was wearing now.
“Yes, sir,” John said.
“What do you think?” Rodney asked. “Think Evan will really go along with his carefully-planned itinerary going to hell in a handbasket?”
“It went to hell in a handbasket when those aliens attacked,” John said. “Once he sobers up from Jennifer’s drugs, we’ll point him and Teyla in the direction of the displaced Athosians, and he’ll be plenty distracted dealing with the logistics of...them.”
“Right.” Rodney liked holding John’s hand when they walked. It was silly, and John wasn’t much for PDA, but he allowed Rodney this one small comfort without protest. “So, with this alien attack, are we hosed? Diplomatic relationships with America ruined forever?”
“You’d have to ask Woolsey that. His area of expertise, not mine.” But John’s expression was drawn, pensive. “After we eat, we should check on Lorne.”
The city hospital was crowded, mostly with Athosians who’d been injured on the mainland, but Lorne was surrounded by his team, Parrish, and Bucky and Steve.
“No, I think helping the Athosians get back on their feet ASAP should definitely be our priority,” Lorne was saying as they approached. “I could get my camera, get some good publicity shots of the Ambassador and his husband helping with the reconstruction. That’s something we never thought of, you know. A central news system.”
“I think he’s still a little high,” Rodney whispered.
“I mean, we do have the departmental bulletin boards, but there’s no interdepartmental one,” Lorne continued. He was smiling a little dopily, and yeah, he looked pretty stoned.
Coughlin said, “Doc? Keller? How much did you give him?”
Jennifer patted someone on the shoulder, then bustled over to check on Lorne.
Steve spotted John and Rodney and peeled away from the group. “Hey, can we talk to you? And Woolsey?”
“What about?” John asked, wary.
“It’s private,” Steve said softly.
“Let me check with Woolsey.” John tapped his radio.
Rodney eyed Steve warily, peered past him to Bucky, who was sitting beside Lorne’s cot but not saying anything.
“Woolsey says he has a minute. Follow me.” John cast Rodney a look, and Rodney stepped back, knew he was going to stay behind. Steve lifted his chin, and Bucky caught his eye. Something wordless passed between them, and Bucky lit up, and the two of them followed John out of the city hospital.
Rodney sat beside Lorne’s cot, as he had nothing better to do. One by one, everyone else drifted away, even Jennifer, and Rodney stared at Lorne while he dozed. Eventually Lorne came back to lucidity, and Rodney, because he wasn’t totally insensitive, handed him a cup of water.
“How are you feeling?”
“Better, Doc, thanks.” Lorne accepted the cup of water and drained it in a few swallows.
“What was it like, dating a super-soldier?” Rodney asked.
Lorne blinked. “Excuse me?”
“You dated Bucky. What was it like?”
“It was - it was dating. We went on dates. Museums, restaurants, concerts. He’s a really nice guy.” Lorne peered at Rodney. “Since when do you care about other people’s dating lives?”
“John got all weirded out when he found out you’d dated Bucky,” Rodney said. “Was it awkward? Did it end badly? I mean, you seem to have been avoiding both him and Steve -”
“Whoa, hey, not avoiding anyone, been super busy, arranging a diplomatic visit and also fighting a battle or two.” Lorne sat up straighter. “What is this even about?”
“Do you think your past dating relationship with Bucky will make things difficult for Atlantis, diplomatically?” Rodney asked.
“For cryin’ out - no!” Lorne threw his hands up. “Seriously, Doc. We dated for a few months while I was on Earth. I came back here. Atlantis is my first priority. Always.”
“Did you love him?” Rodney pressed.
Lorne looked away. “Yeah, I did.”
“Did he love you?”
“Not like he loves Steve.”
“That wasn’t a no.”
Lorne eyed Rodney once more. “Shouldn’t you be playing house and human light switch in the lab with Sheppard right about now?”
Jennifer trotted over to them. “Evan, if you promise to obey my discharge orders to the letter, I will let you go.”
“To the letter,” Lorne said, throwing aside the covers. He reached for his uniform with his good hand, then had to pause and set it down to sign his discharge paperwork on Jennifer’s datapad. She reviewed his aftercare instructions, made him promise again, and then she bustled away, and Lorne said,
Rodney watched him go and wondered how John had felt, when Rodney was Ascending, when he was stronger and faster and smarter and -
His radio clicked on.
“Senior command staff to Woolsey’s office, immediately,” Amelia said.
Rodney headed for the nearest transporter. Lorne had managed to change back into his uniform before heading to Woolsey’s office. Zelenka, Kusanagi, Jennifer, John, Ronon, Teyla, and Cartwright were already there, as were Steve and Bucky.
“What’s the big emergency?” Rodney asked.
The door hissed shut behind him. Woolsey explained.
“That’s a terrible idea,” Rodney said.
“What, no!” John protested. “It’s awesome.”
“America’s going to think we kidnapped them,” Rodney said.
“If we make an announcement of our formal emigration to Atlantis,” Steve said, “they’ll have to believe us. As you rightly pointed out, we’re super-soldiers. You couldn’t force us to do anything we didn’t want to do.”
“We don’t want to be part of your government,” Bucky said. “We just - we just needed to get away. From America. From Earth. From everything.”
Rodney saw the shadows in Bucky’s eyes, had seen similar shadows in John’s. More than one person had signed on to the Atlantis Expedition to get away from something.
“It was our plan from the beginning,” Steve said. “It was why we volunteered. Otherwise they were going to send Sam and Natasha.”
Zelenka lit up. “Natasha Romanov?”
Kusanagi kicked him in the ankle.
Lorne sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose. “For the record, I had nothing to do with this. I refuse to start more than one intergalactic incident in a lifetime.”
“You probably will get blamed for it,” Cartwright said. “It was fairly common knowledge, that you were out and about with Sergeant Barnes while you were on Earth.”
“Everyone’s going to think you seduced them over to Atlantis,” Kusanagi said.
Woolsey looked highly uncomfortable.
“How?” Lorne protested.
Kusanagi poked him in the cheek. “With your dimples.”
Lorne swatted her hand away. “Look, I have no objection to them wanting to immigrate to Atlantis. Welcome, guys. I’ll find you a room that’s more conveniently located. Just tell me what needs to be done.”
“We don’t have any formal immigration laws in place,” Cartwright said, “and we would need to see about making sure that we have extradition agreements in place, and -”
Woolsey nodded thoughtfully. “Well, Teyla, you’re the Secretary of State. What do you think?”
“I think Steve and Bucky would be a wonderful addition to Atlantis,” she said.
“Okay, then it’s settled.” John grinned and offered his hand to Steve. “Welcome to Atlantis, for real this time.”
“Was it not real last time?” Steve asked, but he shook John’s hand.
“It was, but we were going to poison your food if you tried to stage a coup for Earth,” John said.
Steve raised his eyebrows and looked at Lorne.
“Hey, you cock-blocked me on a date one time,” Lorne said easily, and Woolsey turned bright red. “Besides, Jennifer was the one who cooked up the sedative. You know me, always prepared.”
“He’s a real Boy Scout,” Bucky said dryly.
“So are you going to change your name to Captain Atlantis?” Rodney asked.
“I think Steve will be just fine, thanks. Captain Rogers, if you’re -”
“Nasty?” John asked.
Steve looked confused. “What?”
Lorne offered his hand to Bucky. “Welcome to Atlantis.”