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"You are a hard man to find," John complained to Rodney once he cornered him in his lab. "And that’s with Flutie’s help." John had been searching for two hours. Actually, he’d been searching since last night when Rodney had made himself scarce after John had kissed him under the mistletoe.

They’d all been drinking and, as John had been a little the worse for wear, last night's search for Rodney had ended with him face-planted in one of O’Neill’s guest bedrooms. So it wasn’t until he’d woken up, drank about a bathtub of water, swallowed a bottle of aspirin, and choked down some breakfast, that he’d felt truly equal to the task of finding Rodney.

He’d sort of expected to find Rodney in bed with him when he woke up, so Rodney's disappearance had perplexed him.

"Major," Rodney said, sounding a mixture of glad and nervous, his face displaying his dichotomous emotions, as he was smiling, but his forehead was creased with worry lines.

"Major?" John rolled his eyes. "I think we’re past the major part, don’t you? Unless that’s a kink for you," he added, leaning in. While there weren’t a lot of people present, there were a few, and John had already learned that the lab people were the worst gossips ever. "I can work with that."

"Stop," Rodney hissed, looking around in suspicion, as if everyone was eavesdropping, which of course ensured that if they hadn’t been before that they would be now. "You can’t say things like that."

Flutie tried to help out. "Euler says Rodney’s afraid you’re going to destroy your career."

If John were anywhere else in the world, he would agree, but it wasn't like they could actually dishonorably discharge him when he had a symbiote in his head. "Come with me."

"What?"

"Come with me." He leaned in again. "Rodney, we’ve been friends for a while. No one’s going to think it’s weird if we go off together, unless you keep acting stupid."

"Right." Rodney let out a little whine. "Okay."

It was sort of endearing that he was so worried about John. Not that it would stop John from slapping him upside the head. In fact, as soon as they were alone in John’s quarters, that’s the first thing he did. He slapped Rodney upside the head.

"Ow! What was that for?"

"For being such an idiot."

"Well, excuse me for worrying about your career. They could kick you out and we’d never see each other again."

"Aww," John said. "And you’d miss me."

"No, I wouldn’t," Rodney said too quickly.

"Yes, you would." John grinned smugly.

"So what?" Rodney said defensively. "You’d miss me too." Then, he added, less sure, "You would, right?"

"Yeah, Rodney, I would. In fact, I sort of missed you last night."

Rodney reddened. "We were at Colonel O’Neill’s house."

"And he said that everything that happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."

"He said that. It doesn’t mean that everyone who was there felt the same way. They could kick you out."

"I’ve got Flutie."

"And they’ve got an angel who could take Flutie out of you, remember?"

A thrill of fear swamped John’s body, washing down from his head to his feet just at the thought, echoed by Flutie’s dismay. "They wouldn’t," John insisted through the fear. "He wouldn’t. Castiel would never take Flutie out. He likes the Companions."

"If Dean told Castiel to do it, he’d do it, and Hammond could talk Dean into it, something about the greater good or some other rubbish like that."

John shook his head, even if a part of him was panicking. "Dean wouldn’t do it. He’s got a Companion." John couldn’t imagine anyone talking Dean into removing someone’s symbiote. If he felt pressured into it, he’d just take Castiel and leave. On the other hand, just knowing Castiel could take Flutie out so easily made him anxious. He’d seen the angel take out Zeus regularly while Dean was sparring.

"See?" Rodney said. "You can’t just assume you’re impervious to bad things happening to you if you get involved with another man. It’s too big a risk."

"They all saw me kiss you last night." It was a little late to close the barn door.

"No, they saw you humiliate me last night under the mistletoe," Rodney contradicted him. "You dipped me!"

John smirked. He had dipped him. "I’ll go talk to O’Neill, then. We have to be protected under some kind of regulation because of the Companions." Despite Rodney’s concerns, John couldn’t believe they’d try to take Flutie.

"I won’t allow it," Flutie said hotly. "I would tell Castiel no."

"It won’t come to that," John assured him. "And we’d leave here before that happened." It smacked of treason, but John was not about to let anyone take Flutie. "But keep that to yourself."

Flutie agreed, of course, but John could feel him fuming just at the thought of someone forcibly separating him from John.

"Maybe you shouldn’t say anything," Rodney suggested.

"I don’t get it, Rodney," John said with a touch of anger. "Were you just playing with me? I thought we had something going on here."

"We did. We do. I just don’t want you to up and disappear. They can do that to people, you know. I don’t have many friends," Rodney said with surprising honestly, all bluster gone, "and I don’t want to lose you." His eyebrows went up. "Flutie just told Euler that you’d leave before he let anything happen to him and that you’d take me with you."

John scowled internally at Flutie. "I thought I just told you to keep that to yourself."

"Euler and Rodney don’t count," Flutie said defiantly.

"Is there anyone else who doesn’t count?" There was a pause. "Flutie!"

"I won’t tell anyone else," was all Flutie said, but John got a hint of fluffy white feathers in the background.

"You can’t tell Castiel," John said out loud.

"I wasn’t going to say anything," Rodney protested indignantly.

"I was talking to Flutie."

"He would protect us," Flutie said to both John and Euler.

"No one should have that much power," Rodney said. "What’s that quote? Absolute power corrupts absolutely? Castiel could take over the world."

John wasn’t too worried about that. "He just wants Dean to be okay, and I don’t see Dean having the patience to take over the world."

Rodney sniffed in derision. "So you say." His mouth reshaped into an unhappy slant, and then a speculative gleam appeared in his eyes. "You’d really take me with you?"

"Yup," John said.

The slant slid the other direction into a smile. "Really?"

"Yup."

"Huh. Of course Castiel could find us no matter where we go. He doesn’t even need a DHD."

"You’re a real glass half empty kind of guy, you know that?" John said, as he reached out and wrapped fingers around Rodney’s arm, dragging him closer, and was pleased that Rodney didn’t fight him off. When he had Rodney close enough that he could feel the man’s breath on his lips, John said, "I’m not willing to lose this before we even get started."

"But," Rodney started.

John narrowed the distance between them until there was no space at all, and he bit at Rodney’s lower lip, nibbling, then licking, then nibbling again. Rodney melted into him, and John, feeling victorious, wrapped his arms around Rodney and thrust his tongue into his mouth, making sure their bodies were plastered together even as his tongue got very well-acquainted with the moist architecture of Rodney’s mouth.

Lost in the touch and taste of Rodney, it took a while, too long, probably, for John to realize that someone was talking in his ear. He’d been too caught up in this growling noise Rodney was making to notice anything else.

"Major, are you there? John?"

John blinked at Rodney in confusion. For a moment there, he’d sounded just like Mitchell…and that was when reality intruded. John reluctantly pulled away from Rodney’s lips, almost drawn back in when Rodney followed his lips, not willing to stop, making the growling noise that caused John’s stomach to flip in a let’s-get-naked-right-now kind of way.

With an apologetic look, John tapped his headset. "Sheppard here."

"What the hell were you doing?" Mitchell asked, humor in his voice.

John ignored the question. "What’s going on?"

"Our new pilot has arrived. O’Neill wants us to give the 'Welcome to the Sci-Fi Channel' speech."

"Who is it?"

"Lorne."

John approved. He liked Lorne. "Your work?" He should have thought of him before.

"Yup," Mitchell said, sounding smug. "Wasn’t sure I was going to get him; he’d been thinking about going civilian and taking up painting."

John blinked at that information. He knew there was family money, so Lorne could probably afford not to work at all, but why painting? "Can’t he hire someone to paint?"

Mitchell snorted. "Not house painting, idiot. Artist painting. Hobby of his."

That seemed even stranger. "Whatever. Is he here?"

"Waiting for us at security."

John looked at Rodney, who was frowning in a way that told John he’d be right back at square one when he left the room, but there was nothing he could do about it. "I’ll be right there." He clicked off. "I have to go. I will talk to O’Neill and then I’ll be back to finish what we just started."

Rodney got this mutinous look on his face, so John just yanked him close by his collar and kissed him again. When Rodney opened his mouth to talk, John kissed him again.

"Are you going to do that every time I try to talk?" Rodney complained. John noticed that even if he was complaining, he wasn’t moving away.

"Yup." He pointed a warning finger at Rodney. "No thinking allowed."

Rodney snorted inelegantly. "Please."

"Okay, you can think. But not about this. Your brain will go someplace stupid."

That got an outraged huff, as if it were an impossibility for Rodney's brain to ever go someplace stupid.

John decided to quit while he was ahead. He reeled Rodney in for another quick kiss and left him standing in the middle of John’s quarters.

*****

John grinned at the gob-smacked look on Captain Evan Lorne’s face. He could remember feeling the same way after Jack O’Neill had blurted out all the alien stuff, half convinced he was having a really, really weird dream, the other half convinced that O'Neill was having a psychotic break.

"You want me to become an alien?" Lorne said cautiously. Then he blinked, looked behind him, glanced around the room, said, "Do you hear that?" and then added, "and who is Flutie?"

John’s eyebrows furrowed. "How do you know about Flutie?"

"He can hear me!" Flutie said. "I can hear him!"

"You can hear Flutie?" John asked Lorne.

"Who, exactly, is Flutie?" Lorne asked again. "And who’s Phelan? I get the names, who wouldn’t, but where are their voices coming from?"

"I am Flutie," Flutie said to Lorne. "I am John’s Companion."

John had to give Lorne credit; he barely startled, despite the fact that John knew his eyes were glowing and his voice was all spooky and amplified and shit.

"And I am Phelan," Phelan said, Mitchell’s eyes glowing as well. "We live inside the humans who agreed to bond with us."

It was very interesting that Lorne could hear their Companions. John told Flutie to tell Lorne something.

"Sheppard thinks you’re good-looking," Flutie said to Lorne.

"Shut up!" Sheppard hollered at Flutie. "Are you trying to get me court-martialed?" He could feel Flutie’s confusion and worry, images of kissing Rodney juxtaposed against John’s current concerns about conduct unbecoming.

Lorne was blushing.

John was dying a thousand deaths.

Flutie was frantically apologizing.

"Ignore that," John told Lorne.

"Thank you, sir, consider it completely ignored." Then he grinned. "But thanks. Sir."

John rolled his eyes. "It’s a good thing Castiel isn’t around," he scolded Flutie. "If he was I’d have him take you out so I could smack you upside the head."

"He was thinking you were hot!" Flutie told him, trying to defend himself.

John was just glad he’d known Lorne for a while and, hopefully, this whole thing would get tucked away into a mental file Lorne probably had labeled: Wacko Stuff John Sheppard Does.

"Come on," Mitchell said, "let’s go see the Companions." He smacked John’s butt as he walked by and said, under his breath, "Stop trying to pick up the pretty boys."

"Did Mitchell and Phelan hear all that?" Sheppard internally hissed at Flutie.

"No!"

Just a lucky guess then. Bastard. He followed the two of them out of the conference room as they made their way down to the infirmary. "And you can’t say stuff like that," he told Flutie. "Seriously."

"You kissed Rodney!"

"You know about DADT. You heard that conversation Rodney and I had."

"And you said you weren’t worried about it." Flutie sounded legitimately confused, and John guessed he couldn’t blame him.

"From now on, you have to clear that kind of comment with me before you shoot your mouth off."

Flutie sullenly agreed, although he was mumbling about mixed messages. And John could have sworn he heard him mutter petulantly about how he liked kissing Euler and was going to do it again.

Then they were in front of the tank. Lorne, surprisingly, instead of looking horrified, was biting his lips as if to keep from laughing. Mitchell had quickly moved to the nurses' desk, chatting up another pretty nurse he had his eye on. John would have thought the man would steer clear of nurses at this point, but Mitchell didn't see it that way. Mitchell told John that seeing as a nurse had tried to have Mitchell kicked off the program and attempted to kill Hammond, almost killing O'Neill in the process, then odds were the rest of the nurses were fine, because what were the chances there'd be two crazy nurses?

John pulled his attention off of Mitchell and back to Lorne. "What’s so funny?" he asked him.

"They are." Lorne gestured at the tank.

They were entertaining, no doubt about it. Paul Costello and Mithras bought new toys for the tank every couple of weeks to help keep things interesting for the long term residents. Right now that included a series of tubes they could swim through, almost like an underwater Habitrail. There was buried treasure, or little toys Paul had buried in the silt, for them to find. The remote control shark was still there, though, a consistent favorite. "They love that thing," John said.

"What?" Lorne said, now following John’s finger to the symbiotes wrapped around the shark getting a free ride.

That was when John realized that Lorne had been watching something else entirely. He glanced at the lower part of the tank and didn’t see anything particularly amusing. A lot of the symbiotes were sleeping.

Lorne chuckled, shaking his head.

"Hello," Daniel Jackson said, suddenly in their midst. The sleeping symbiotes weren’t sleeping any longer, zipping about, eager to visit with Daniel. Behind him, moving a polite distance away, so as not to intrude, were Paul and Eric, Daniel's bodyguards.

"Dr. Jackson," John greeted him. To Lorne he said, "This is Dr. Daniel Jackson. He was the first guy to get a Companion. He’s the boss of them. Dr. Jackson, this is Captain Evan Lorne."

Daniel’s cheeks pinked. "They’re their own people, hardly in need of a boss."

"We were in need of a champion though," Junior said. The glowing eyes zeroed in on Lorne. "Why were you laughing?"

Lorne pointed to one of the symbiotes. "He keeps swimming around reciting Green Eggs and Ham. He knows the whole thing."

"Jack’s influence, I’m afraid," Daniel said with an exaggerated sigh.

"That’s Colonel Jack O’Neill," John explained who Jack was to Lorne.

Daniel blinked at that point. "Wait. You don’t have a Companion," he said to Lorne.

"He can hear them all," John explained. "Don’t ask me why. Flutie and Phelan were both chatting with him."

Looking astounded, Daniel gaped at Lorne. "That’s extraordinary."

Lorne looked uncomfortable having all of Daniel's attention on him. He shrugged. "I don’t know what’s going on. I didn’t even know these Companions existed an hour ago."

"My Lord," Flutie said nervously, and loudly, to Daniel. "May we still kiss Rodney? I liked it, and I love Euler. He’s funny, and he’s smart, and he saved my life."

"Flutie!" John yelled in his head.

Daniel’s eyes were dancing with amusement, although he did look around to see who had overheard Flutie’s remarks. Once again, it was Lorne who was privy to John’s very private business and looked like he was going to bust a gut trying not to laugh.

Taking John’s arm, Daniel pulled him to the side away from anyone’s prying ears. "John," Daniel began.

"I don’t know what’s got into him today," John interrupted. "Just forget he said that." He ignored Flutie’s indignant, "Hey!" from inside.

"I don’t think I will," Daniel said kindly. "We don’t let this get around because, as you can imagine, all hell would break loose, but once you took on a Companion, while you are still responsible for following the chain of command, you aren’t entirely human, and essentially have diplomatic immunity."

John stared at him. "What?"

"Some people won’t like it, but they can’t really do anything to you. I suppose they could if you had a homophobic boss, as he could assign you latrine duty indefinitely, but you don’t. And his boss is a very good man who was the one who told me that I’m essentially a sovereign nation, and Euler is one of my, well," Daniel reddened, "one of my subjects. I would object, loudly--"

"Very loudly," Junior contributed.

Daniel continued, "--if any of the Companions were made to suffer due to any undeserved retribution toward their host."

"So we can kiss Rodney and Euler?" Flutie asked excitedly. "I liked it!"

Laughing, Daniel put his hand on John's shoulder, but John felt like he was really putting it on Flutie's shoulder. "Yes, Flutie, you can kiss Rodney and Euler, and I'm delighted you and Euler are getting along so well." His hand dropped off and to John he added, "That doesn't mean you shouldn't be discreet, of course. And, of course, I’m assuming that you would be amenable to the situation."

"Of course," John said faintly. "And they wouldn't ever try to take Flutie away?"

Daniel looked distraught. "No, never. Why would you even think that?"

"Rodney was worried." John was willing to blame it all on Rodney. "He thought that with Castiel around, it was easy enough to take the Companions out."

"Castiel would never do that," Flutie said, again defending the angel.

"I agree with Flutie. Castiel would never do that, unless he was asked to by either the host or the Companion, and not even then without sufficient information. He likes the Companions."

"We like him," Junior threw in.

Somewhat reassured, although partly freaked out that he was being given, essentially, permission to have sex with a man, John nodded.

"It's not like anyone doesn't know already," Daniel said next, leaning in as if to impart a secret. "You two haven't been very subtle."

John could feel his cheeks heat with an oncoming blush. "Uh," was about all he could think to say.

Laughing again, Daniel grinned at him. Then, more seriously, he said, "I've known Rodney for a while, and I've never seen him care about someone the way he does you. Don't break his heart."

"Me?" John said, thinking if any heart breaking was going to go on it would be Rodney doing it to him.

"I'll give him the same warning," Daniel said.

"Can I watch?"

With another grin, Daniel moved around the corner to the other tank, wanting to visit those Companions, John behind him.

"That one keeps asking if anyone knows where Sam is." Lorne pointed out Kitty.

"He hates it when Sam goes through the gate. He can't sense her." Daniel called from the other room. "There, I just had Junior tell him that Sam's off-world."

"Who can't sense what?" O'Neill said, suddenly standing in their midst.

John and Lorne saluted, snapping to attention.

"At ease," O'Neill said. "Really. Stop all that stuff. As long as you guys jump when I say jump, I don't need the salutes."

"Ready to jump at your word, sir," John drawled.

"Who can't sense who?" O'Neill said again after a quick 'I've-got-your-number' look at Sheppard. Then he said, "Hey Barak, Janet." They had appeared from the medication room and were now standing close together.

"Colonel O'Neill," Barak said solemnly. "Tana'oa."

O'Neill's eyes glowed in pleasure at being recognized. John tucked that observation away. He'd need to do better at saying hello to the Companions when he was greeting their hosts.

It was Janet who answered O'Neill's question. "Kitty can't sense Sam when she's off-world. I need to remind her to let Kitty know before she goes. At least then he understands."

Jack frowned at the tank. "Don't sit there and sweat it out, ask someone." John assumed he was simultaneously silently communicating that to Kitty.

"Jack," Daniel called, "Captain Lorne here can speak to all the Companions."

Jack frowned at Lorne. "So can I."

"He doesn't have a Companion," Daniel told him, coming back into the main room.

Jack pursed his lips. "This is a good thing?"

"It's like he's Lessa," Paul Costello said.

"Who?"

"Lessa? You know, from Pern? She could talk to all the dragons."

Jack shot him a lost look.

"Dragonflight? Anne McCaffrey?" At Jack's continued look of confusion, Paul rolled his eyes. "You really need to get a life, sir."

"If I got any more of a life I'd go insane," Jack snapped. "I have plenty of life. And two more on the way. When I need entertainment, I watch the Simpsons. If I want to go highbrow, I watch South Park."

Paul snorted.

Teal'c appeared, his arms moving around Daniel. Daniel smiled affectionately back at him. "Hey, there." He gestured at Lorne. "This is Captain Evan Lorne, a new potential pilot."

"Unless we scare him away," John threw in. "Although there are pretty cool spaceships to fly. Can't do that without one of them." He pointed at the tank.

"Spaceships?" Lorne said. "For real?" John recognized the excited gleam in his eyes.

"They go really fast," John told him. "Has one picked you yet?"

Lorne's brows furrowed. "Sorry?"

"The Companions. Sometimes they pick a host. I figured one would because you can talk to them."

"I haven't said yes, yet, and how would I know if one of them picked me?"

"You'd know," Daniel said, "You'd feel it. And I appreciate the fact that you haven't said yes yet. I need you to be sure. While it is true that we have the luxury now of someone who can remove the symbiote if you change your mind, it's cruel to whatever Companion you put through that. No one here will push you into something you're not ready for, and I want you to know your own mind."

"I'm good," Lorne said firmly.

"Of course," O'Neill said to Lorne oh-so-casually, "I'll think you're cracked if you don't want one."

"Says the man who didn't even want to be in the same room with them not that long ago," Daniel remarked.

"You didn't want one?" Lorne asked O'Neill.

O'Neill sighed. "Nope." He considered Lorne. "Have someone show you that tape. You'll end up watching it sooner or later. You'll see why I changed my mind."

Daniel winced. "Come on, I'll take you to a conference room and sit with you while you watch it."

John watched as Lorne followed Daniel and Teal'c out of the infirmary, even though he kept looking back to gaze at the tank.

"I guess I'll go, too," O'Neill said, heading in the same direction.

For some reason, John wondered where Castiel was.

"He took Dean and Sam to the Grand Canyon," Flutie reminded him.

"Right. Think those alien ruins are still in O'Neill's backyard?"

"Yes," Flutie said, his internal voice laced with humor.

"Let's go find Rodney."

Flutie was in complete agreement with him about that, and he sent an internal howdy to Euler.

When Rodney spoke in return through Euler, he sounded annoyed. "Can't talk now. O'Neill's sending me to Area 51. I’m already in the helicopter. It’s too noisy to think in here let alone talk, even in my head."

"What?" John demanded. "Since when, and why, and how long will you be gone?" Jesus, was he ever going to get some downtime with the guy? He could feel Euler's amusement at John's unspoken complaint. John had no doubt he'd share it with Rodney. And why the hell hadn’t Rodney bothered to tell him he was leaving?

"Colonel," he called out, just before O’Neill had made it through the door.

"What?" O'Neill snapped, coming to a halt by the door, frowning.

"Why's McKay being sent to Area 51?"

O'Neill shot him a look like he was nuts. "Are you nuts? Why would I send McKay to Area 51?"

Daniel poked his nose around the door probably to see what was keeping Jack. He entered fully when he overheard the question. "Jack? What's going on?"

"Rodney just told me you were sending him there. They're here to pick him up." As O'Neill's eyes widened, John started to freak. "Rodney? Rodney?" he sent through Flutie. "Are you there?" Flutie was calling just as loudly.

"Euler always answers when I call him and he's not." Flutie sounded as freaked as John felt.

"He's not answering," John told O'Neill. "If you didn't order him to go there, who did?"

"Good question." O'Neill was by the nurses' desk now, on the phone barking orders.

When he hung up, John asked him, "Why wouldn't we be able to hear him?" John asked.

"He's too far away, he's sedated, he's dead," O'Neill stated baldly. "And I don't like any of those options."

John allowed Flutie's inner non-stop yelling for Rodney and Euler, as it satisfied the part of him that wanted to do his own screaming.

"Check the pad," O'Neill snapped at John.

As John took off running, Mitchell right behind him, he heard O'Neill calling flight control while Daniel called Hammond.

"What happened to him?" Flutie asked anxiously. "Who would take him?"

"Who wouldn't take him," John muttered. "He's really smart, and he's an asshole who pisses people off on a regular basis. Either one could put him on someone's hit list."

"We need to get him and Euler back."

John didn't think it needed saying, but he totally agreed with Flutie's desperate yet determined tone. "You got it."

*****

Easier said than done. Two hours later they had nothing to go on.

John, Hammond, O'Neill, Daniel, Teal'c, Carter, Mitchell, Lorne--which sort of surprised John--and some new scientist, Radek Zelenka, who had only arrived yesterday, were all in the conference room. Rodney had requested Zelenka's transfer to the program, and John only knew his name and his significance to Rodney because Rodney had actually introduced them. The man usually couldn’t be bothered to remember most people's names. Mitchell was on John’s left and Lorne was on his right.

"What have we got, people?" Hammond asked, his face taut with worry.

John knew Rodney wasn't everyone's favorite person, and that it was probably Euler's kidnapping causing Hammond to look so unhappy, but John would take it if it meant something got done.

There had been orders. Faked ones, but good enough to fool Rodney and flight control, who had allowed the helicopter to land and take off with Rodney without questioning them. The orders were in O'Neill's chicken scratch and were even in the computer, as Rodney had at least double-checked that. Radek had hacked into the system and stated that that had been the last thing Rodney had done before quickly packing and heading topside.

John could confirm the packing, as he'd gone to Rodney's quarters and found it askew but clearly in a Rodney fashion, drawers hanging open and discarded items left on the floor. There was nothing indicating that his quarters had been searched. On the other hand, whoever had done this had been able to forge O'Neill's handwriting and get into the SGC computer to place a confirming order.

Fuck.

"Nothing," O'Neill said flatly. "The orders were written by me, confirmed by you. The helicopter that came to pick him up obeyed all the rules and regs except that it didn't go where it was supposed to, namely Area 51."

"There really is an Area 51?" Lorne asked under his breath.

"Yeah," John said. "Aliens, remember?"

"Right." Lorne looked like he was trying not to hyperventilate. John didn't blame him.

"And Area 51 did not put a request in for McKay," Carter said. "Well, that's not strictly true," she added with a moue of distaste as if she really didn't want to say what she was about to say. "They always invite him. They send him invitations weekly, begging him to come back."

"But you're sure this particular invitation didn't come from them?" Hammond asked her.

"Yes," Carter said. "As certain as I can be. Clearly someone had the capability of getting into our system, and any number of people at Area 51 would be able to do that, as well as countless people here."

"I'm not pleased that we're dealing with another computer security breach," Hammond said unhappily. "Captain Carter, I expect you and Dr. Avanindra to work on that as soon as this crisis is over. In the meantime, find out who got into the system this time. Now."

"Yes, sir," Carter said crisply, standing, saluting, and leaving the conference room.

John could feel Flutie's panic escalating. It was a very uncomfortable feeling as it ratcheted up his own panic, making it difficult to control. His respiratory rate was increasing and his heart was thumping in his chest. Even his palms were getting sweaty. "Stop it," he demanded. "You're making it impossible for me to think."

Flutie made a whimpering sound but tried to do his best to shield his emotional turmoil from John.

"He okay?" Lorne asked quietly.

For a second John had no idea who Lorne was talking about. Then he remembered Lorne could hear the Companions and had been listening to Flutie fall apart. "No, he's flipping out."

"Major Sheppard?" Hammond said. "You have something to contribute?"

"Sorry, sir. It's Flutie, he's very worried about Euler."

A look of compassion crossed Hammond's face. "Understandable." He glanced around the table. "None of the Companions have heard anything?"

John shook his head. "Colonel O'Neill said that the only reason we wouldn't be able to hear him is if he was too far away or unconscious, but at some point Rodney must have realized things weren't what he thought. I'm surprised he didn't get a warning out to someone." John was refusing to focus on what else O'Neill had said.

"I also said it could be because he was dead," O'Neill said, throwing it on the table. Something in John's face must have made an impression because O'Neill put out a hand, saying, "I'm not saying he is, John, but it's a possibility we can't ignore."

"McKay's totally paranoid," Mitchell threw in. "I agree with John, why wouldn't he have figured out what was going on in time to warn us?"

"They could have shot him with a zat'nik'atel," Teal'c said.

"Usually the Companions stay conscious when that happens," Daniel pointed out.

"Even if someone gets zatted twice," O'Neill said with a sour look at Daniel.

There was a knock on the door and then an SF entered holding a small scan card. "Sir, the information you requested."

"Dr. Zelenka?" Hammond requested, offering the card to him, and pointing toward the computer at the back of the room.

Radek was looking as confused as Lorne, but he moved quickly and, in less than a minute, they were looking at satellite pictures.

"There," John said, after noting the time, realizing this was film of the abduction. "Right there, that's the helicopter taking off."

They all followed the small speck and then the larger speck as Radek enlarged the field. For a short time nothing untoward happened. Then, almost too fast for John's eyes to process, there was a blink of light and the helicopter quickly veered off out of the field, as if dodging the satellite's point of view.

"That was an Asgard beam," Daniel said. "It did that…," his hands did an up and down gesture as if describing a thin elongated object, "thing."

"I concur," Teal'c said.

"NID?" O'Neill guessed. "Because I'm thinking that Thor didn't kidnap McKay."

Hammond looked grim. "I have phone calls to make." He stood, eliciting movement from all the soldiers in the room. Hammond nodded briefly in acknowledgement and then exited the room.

"I hate those fuckers," O'Neill said.

"And those fuckers are?" John asked.

"NID. National Institute of Defense," Daniel said. "It was organized once aliens were confirmed for real, mostly to cover activities at Area 51, and sometimes here. They have no interest in making allies, and want to be in charge of anything we discover under the pretense of protecting Earth, but it's really so they have the power against not just aliens, but over other nations here."

"And they've already tipped their hand that they're really not crazy about us," O'Neill added, pointing to his head to indicate his hybrid status. "They don't trust us, and Hammond's really had to go to bat for us to keep this facility from being shut down as compromised."

Somehow all of this had escaped John for the short time he'd been here. Then again, he'd been busy stealing spaceships. "What will they do to him? And where did they take him?"

"Most likely to a Tel'tak," Teal'c told him. "There must have been one nearby."

They took another look at the satellite footage, John watching the clip studiously, looking for some sign of a ship. "There!" he called, and Radek stopped the film.

"Why didn't it show up on our radar?" O'Neill grumbled.

"They move very quickly," Teal'c reminded him. "It could have come out of hyperspace just long enough to retrieve Dr. McKay."

"You think this was the Goa'uld?" O'Neill asked.

"If it was," Teal'c said, "they are working in concert with the NID. Otherwise, how would they have been able to know exactly where Dr. McKay would be?"

Daniel scowled. "Why would the NID work with a Goa'uld?"

"To get rid of us?" O'Neill asked with a tight smile. "The Goa'uld hate us even more than the NID."

"How can the NID be stupid enough to trust the Goa'uld?" Mitchell asked.

"That's exactly what Kinsey asked Hammond about me," Daniel told him with a tight smile.

"Good times," O'Neill said. "Fuck a duck."

"So what do we do?" John asked, driven by the urge to do something.

Radek was looking at the film again. "Look." He played it again. There was a subtle shifting in the atmosphere, evidence enough of a hyperspace window forming. "Is that helpful?"

John thought the little guy was doing pretty well for having arrived in Wonderland only yesterday.

"Where's Castiel?" Daniel asked.

"At the Grand Canyon," O'Neill answered.

John winced as Flutie let out an earsplitting yell for the angel.

"Ouch," O'Neill groused. Apparently the yell was loud enough for everyone to hear.

"Who's Castiel?" Lorne asked.

As if in answer, Castiel suddenly appeared with Dean Winchester in tow.

"Where's Sam?" Dean said, turning a quick 360. "Cas?"

"He wished to stay longer," Castiel said.

"Maybe I wanted to stay longer," Dean complained.

Castiel shot him a look that made John guess that wherever Castiel went, Dean was going too, whether he wanted to or not. "Did you require my assistance?"

Lorne and Radek were staring at Castiel and Dean, their eyes practically bugging out. John had no idea where to start to explain.

"Yes," Flutie blurted. "Someone took Euler."

"And Rodney," John added, sending a flash of annoyance at Flutie for his priorities. Flutie sent a contrite flash back, but then added, "But I love Euler!" It was hard to argue with that.

Castiel's brow furrowed. "I have no sense of him. What has happened?"

"What's going on?" Dean asked O'Neill, echoing Castiel.

"Someone took McKay and his Companion," John answered him. "Beamed him right out of the helicopter he was in."

"Who is that?" Lorne asked John quietly, his gaze on Castiel.

Inadvertently, he caught Castiel’s attention. "You are a man of faith," Castiel said. His eyes were very focused on Lorne.

Lorne straightened his shoulders and said, "Yes, yes, I am."

Castiel stared at him for another long moment and then shot Dean a quick look. "How refreshing."

O'Neill let out a bark of laughter. "Tired of hanging around with all us heathens?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "Dean Winchester," he said, reaching out his hand to shake Lorne's. "This is Castiel."

"I am an angel of the Lord," Castiel said.

"Right," Lorne said. He licked his lips, then worried his bottom lip with his teeth for a moment. He glanced around the room as if to see if someone might refute the man's claim. When no one did, he said, "Uh, pleasure to meet you both."

"Long story," John told Lorne in a whisper. "Best told over drinks."

"I do not know where to look for your missing man," Castiel said.

"How far can you throw your net out?" O'Neill asked.

Castiel cocked his head to the side.

"He means how far can you see?" Dean interpreted.

Castiel looked momentarily stymied. “I am not entirely sure, as it is not a ‘seeing’ such as a human might do. It is more a knowing. But I do not know this man or his Companion well enough to focus a search.”

“So we need to figure out where he is, and then you can go and get him?” O’Neill asked.

“Yes.”

“Okay,” O’Neill said, sounding like he had a plan, which was music to John’s ears. Not that John couldn't be the man with the plan, but he was still quietly freaking the fuck out. “We need some teams off world to see if they can get wind of a plan requiring someone of McKay's talent. We need someone on the NID, and we need someone up there,” and he pointed at the satellite field, “to see if we can get any readings that will be of any use.”

“I’ll take that one,” John said. “And I’ll take him,” he added, pointing at Radek.

Radek Zelenka looked less than thrilled at that, but he gamely, and grimly, nodded.

“Teal’c and I can start checking in with our allies to ask them to keep their ears to the ground,” Daniel said.

“Take Paul, Eric, and Dean with you.”

Daniel made a face, never happy with the idea that he needed bodyguards, but he agreed.

O’Neill looked at Castiel. “If Dean goes with us, even off world, and he needs you, can you hear him?”

“I do not know. He called for me when he was hurt off-world a few days ago, when many of you were hurt, but I did not hear him properly.”

“Yeah, yeah,” O’Neill said, “but you were also inside a wormhole.”

“We’ll try it,” Dean said. “I’ll think at you really loud when we get to the first planet and then dial back to see if it worked.”

“If it works,” Castiel responded, “I will come to you.”

"Good enough," O'Neill said. "Let's go and find McKay. Flutie will never forgive me if we lose him for real."

Flutie shot Tana'oa a burst of pathetic gratitude. O'Neill slapped a hand on John's shoulder and left the room.

*****

Rodney hated waking up. If he had a choice in the matter he would just never sleep, not only to get all the work done he wanted to get done, but to avoid mornings.

As had become his habit since taking on a Companion, his first meaningful thought, once past the internal grumbling about having to be awake at all, was to say hello to Euler. Euler’s uncharacteristic silence woke Rodney up the rest of the way. His eyes shot open. “Euler?” he probed.

“He can’t hear you, and he certainly can’t respond,” someone said to him.

That was when Rodney remembered the events of earlier in the day. He sat up slowly, sneering at the man in front of him. “Grieves,” he said dismissively. He hated Grieves; he was one of the small-minded officers who thought their word was God’s. Rodney had made it clear from the moment he’d met the man that Rodney didn’t agree and, ever since, there had been no love lost between the two of them.

A quick glance around him revealed a window-less room, roughly ten feet by eight feet, with a cot – that he was sitting on – and a metal folding chair. Grieves wasn’t using the chair to sit on, but he did have one hand on the back as he stood in front of Rodney.

“That’s Colonel Grieves to you.”

Rodney snorted. “Not anymore. Not once they find out what you’ve done, and they will find out. And what did you do to Euler?”

“It’s a new sedative we’ve been working on that only affects the Goa’uld. He’ll be out for at least another hour.”

“How did you administer it?”

“You started breathing it in the moment you got into the helicopter. We didn’t want the Goa’uld to contact anyone and give the game away too soon.”

“He’s not a Goa’uld,” Rodney bit out. Normally he wouldn’t care about the semantics, but this was personal.

“Yes, he is,” Grieves said back, just as heatedly. “And a defective one at that.”

“Are you insane? They’re the best ally we’ve got. Why disavow them? That makes no sense.”

“They’re not allies; they’re invaders, and you’ve all been duped.”

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Idiot. Terrific, I’ve been kidnapped by a fanatic.”

“That’s truer than you think,” Grieves said with a smug, unkind smile. “We’ve kidnapped you on Ba'al’s behalf. But there’s a chance we might not turn you over if you help us with a couple of projects.”

“Ba'al?” Rodney’s heart started to race. He didn’t know much about Ba'al, but he knew he was a System Lord. This was bad. So very, very bad. “What does he want with me?”

“He doesn’t want anything from you. He just wants one of the Goa’uld you're harboring at Cheyenne Mountain.” His face twisted up into an unpleasant grin. “They eat them, you know. The defective ones.”

“He’s not defective!” Rodney said hotly. He prodded Euler. “Are you awake? Wake up please.”

“By the way, our research on this sedative showed that if administered a second time too quickly, the Goa’uld usually dies, so I’d keep him under control if I were you.”

“If you’re supposed to hand me over to Ba'al with a live symbiote, you can’t take the chance.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, because we want you, and we have you. We don’t need your Goa’uld. There are plenty more at the SGC to supply a live version to Ba'al. We can just take a few out of the tank.”

Rodney grimaced at that. If Grieves was involved, who else was? How many traitors to the Companions were walking around with easy access to the relatively helpless symbiotes in the tanks? Pushing that thought to the side, he refocused on Grieves' other comment. They didn’t care if Euler was alive or not, and that put his Companion at risk. An unacceptable risk. Although, he thought, how would they know if Euler got off a yell to the powers that be back at Stargate? Assuming Euler could yell that far.

“And just in case you’re thinking we won’t know if your Goa’uld decides to contact anyone back at Stargate, you’re wrong,” Grieves said, as if reading Rodney’s mind. He pointed toward a man who had just entered the room. “Meet Sanderson.”

Sanderson was non-descript, and Rodney dismissed him immediately. Then, the man's eyes glowed. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to.

Fuck, was Rodney’s only thought. He wasn't sure if Euler could get a message to someone without broadcasting it to Sanderson. Up to now, Euler tended to blab to everyone at the same time. He fervently wished John was here. "Where the hell am I?”

“In space,” was the short and unsatisfying answer.

“What do you want with me?” Rodney demanded.

“We want you to find the lost city of Atlantis, and we want to know what Castiel is and how we can kill him.”

Rodney’s eyebrows shot up. “What? You should have kidnapped a Disney animator to find you the lost city of Atlantis, and I have no idea what Castiel is. All I know is what he says he is which is just ridiculous. If anyone knows, it's Dean Winchester and good luck kidnapping him. As far as I know, nothing can kill Castiel, and he watches over Dean like a hawk. He let a wormhole event horizon wash over him and he survived.”

“I know you’ve been working with Daniel Jackson on finding the lost city of the Ancients,” Grieves said, in the smug tone of someone who knew way more than he should. “I’m sure you can figure out the rest on your own with the proper inducement.” He paused dramatically. “Perhaps the life of your Goa’uld? Or you can say no, and he can be Ba'al’s lunch.”

Rodney felt nauseated just at the thought. “Fine,” he said, just to buy some time. “I’ll need a computer, though.”

Grieves let out a mirthless laugh. “Right. I don’t think so, Dr. McKay.”

“How the hell do you expect me to find the lost city of the Ancients without a computer? A Ouija board?”

Rodney’s head rocked back from an unexpected blow from Sanderson. He surged from the floor, suddenly furious at this turn of events, and he wished he'd taken John up on some lessons on fighting, because he wanted to rip Sanderson's head off.

He swung out, but Sanderson just laughed at him, and backhanded him hard enough to catapult Rodney across the floor, his head colliding with the wall of the spaceship. Before he could gather his wits, Sanderson kicked out and connected with his ribs, and Rodney felt one snap. Crying out in pain, he didn't notice Sanderson's foot kicking out again until his head exploded in agony and he slipped through pain into unconsciousness.

*****

John was one step from going fucking insane and taking it out on the next person he saw, regardless of rank or sex or species, when the message came through to convene in the conference room. There was news.

Running like a madman through the hallways, ignoring snapped comments to slow the fuck down, John viciously tried to quell the hope that was rising in his chest. The news might not be good. In fact, it could be the worst kind of news. But it had been four days. Four fucking days without any news of any kind. Bad or good. Rodney had just gone off the map.

John had gone out with Radek to study the energy signature of the hyperspace window to no avail. He'd gone out on three separate missions to ferret out a hint of a plan involving Rodney or the Companions, and that wasn't mentioning the other teams that had also gone out, including SG-1. They'd all returned empty handed.

Hammond hadn't been able to get any information out of the NID, and inside sources had come up blank about any Trust activities.

Rodney and Euler were just gone.

Flutie wasn't talking, and his anger and depression were making it hard for John to maintain a façade of control. If O'Neill had any idea how torn up he was, he'd be benched and probably put on sedatives. In fact, sedatives sounded perfect right now. He longed for a good night’s sleep, needed one desperately.

He skidded into the conference room, his eyes taking in O'Neill, Sam Carter, Teal'c, and Dr. Jackson, as well as Janet Fraser, Dean Winchester, and Castiel. That combination could not be good. It looked like a them against him sort of thing.

"Sir," John said to Hammond.

"Sit down, son," Hammond said kindly.

Oh, fuck. "What happened? Did you find him?" He directed that at O'Neill.

O'Neill scowled, only meeting his eyes for a moment before they dropped to the paper in front of him.

John's eyes dropped too, seeing a gossip rag in front of O'Neill, wondering briefly why O'Neill would have something like that, let alone in a conference room with his superior officer.

"Talk to me," John demanded. "Please. Sir. Sirs."

There was a very uncomfortable silence.

Flutie burst out, "Why are you being so quiet? Where is Euler?" John's eyes burned fiercely, and he felt a grim satisfaction at the brief look of surprised apprehension on O'Neill's face. Yeah, John thought to himself, pissed off Companion. Now fucking talk.

"Jack," Dr. Jackson said softly. "Waiting isn't helping." Dr. Jackson took the paper from Jack and slid it across to John. "The problem is that we're not sure this is him."

John's noted today's date, and then he saw the headline. "Aliens are among us!" it proclaimed in large white letters on a dark background. Beneath it was a picture of the back of a body from scapulae up to mid skull. His neck was flayed open to reveal a symbiote wrapped around what John assumed was the man's brain stem.

It took a horrifyingly long time, solidly encased in denial, deafened by Flutie's mental screams, for the facts to trickle in. The hair looked like Rodney's, as much as could be determined by a grainy black and white picture. The shoulders looked like Rodney's broad shoulders, until they were cut off by the left and right edges of the photograph. The face wasn't visible, but John could see a slight double chin. "No!" he yelled, pushing the newspaper rag back across the table at O'Neill. "That is not him." He stood up so fast his chair fell to the floor with a muffled thump on the carpet. "No!"

There was more silence, and John could see the anguished looks being exchanged, as well as the brief quiet conversation happening between Dean and Castiel, with Dean doing most of the talking.

"John," Dr. Jackson began, his voice filled with an empathetic sorrow. "You're right, we don't know this is him. This picture is all we have to go on. But," Jackson paused, then sighed, "John, he's the only host with a Companion that's missing."

"How do we even know it's a Companion?" John demanded. "It could be a Goa'uld." He was grasping at straws, at anything. Flutie was having a meltdown and it was ripping John apart. "I can't do this," he said, pointing at the picture, at his own head. It was too much.

"Sheppard," O'Neill snapped out. "Pull it together."

"I can't," John admitted, gesturing at his head again, "Flutie, he's…" John shook his head, feeling it would be a betrayal to discuss the emotional maelstrom that was emanating from Flutie; that was private.

Castiel stood up and put his finger to John's head before John could even think about stepping back, a rush of helplessness and rage consuming him for the brief half second before the touch was done, thinking Castiel meant to take Flutie away from him. Then, suddenly, even though it was clear Flutie was still with him, still within him, there was blessed silence. John's legs wobbled and it was Dean who kept him from falling to the floor and got him seated in another chair. Then Dean righted the fallen one.

John put his hand over his face, taking a few deep breaths, trying to find his own control now that Flutie wasn't tearing it apart. He dropped his hands, blew out another breath, and said, "Okay. Sorry."

"Don't be," Jackson said. "I know Flutie had…has strong feelings for Euler."

It was a good thing he'd corrected the past tense to present tense, John thought. He grabbed the paper back. "I don't know what to tell you. It could be Rodney, but I just don't know." He ignored the voice that was gibbering madly inside. Apparently it hadn't all been Flutie.

"How about these?" O'Neill said, pointing at the freckles on the man's shoulder, what could be seen of it. "Look familiar?"

John shot O'Neill a disbelieving look. "Excuse me?" His eyes glanced at Hammond, who seemed unconcerned with this line of questioning.

"Sheppard, usually you're not this dim, focus. Are there any distinguishing marks that would tell you definitively that this is McKay?"

Jackson sent O'Neill a pissed-off glance. "Jack."

"Come on," O'Neill complained to Jackson. "We need to know. I'm sorry if I'm being blunt, but there's no easy way to do this."

John felt like laughing and not in a fun way. "I don't know. We've never…I've never…" He spread his hands apart in hopes the ending of these sentences was unnecessary.

Everyone in the room looked surprised, including Hammond.

"Christ," John said. "How about someone else? Has he been with anyone else? Does he shower with anyone after he goes on a mission?" He knew people looked. They always looked. To Janet, he said, "How about you? Have you seen him naked? I mean, as his doctor?"

"I did a preliminary physical on him, including an MRI, but that wouldn't show any skin colorations."

"Would it compare to this?" John asked, his finger tapping the photo. "Width of shoulders, length of neck, that sort of thing?"

"It might," Janet said. "It's hard to tell his true dimensions from the photo, as it's cut off. I might not be able to say it is him, but it's possible I could tell if it's not."

"Good," Hammond said. "Get to it."

Janet nodded, took another copy of the same newspaper from Carter, and left the room.

"I don't get it," John said. "What's the point of all of this, no matter who it is in that picture?"

"That's a good question," Hammond said, "and one we'd like to know the answer to. Any luck, Major Carter?"

Carter shook her head. "It didn't come from here, sir, like the last one did. But whoever did this knew what they were doing and covered all their tracks." She looked down at the notes on the pad of paper in front of her. "There's no anti-alien group taking credit for it, and the paper is holding to their policy of protecting their sources' identity." She said sources the way someone might say gangrene.

"How long have you known about this?" John asked angrily. That sounded like a lot of information for Carter to have gathered since this rag hit the newsstand.

O'Neill put up his hand to halt John's tirade. "About forty-five minutes, and yes, she's just that good."

Carter smiled tightly, as if well aware that taking pleasure in O'Neill's compliment would be tacky in this situation.

"Can't we cite the Patriot Act and seize that information?" John demanded.

"We will if we have to; in fact I've already taken steps to do just that," Hammond assured him. "But first we need to understand the point of all of this, just as you asked. If it is Dr. McKay in that picture, did they take him specifically? And if so, why take him and kill him? If they took him because of his intelligence and skill set, then killing him seems counterproductive."

"Maybe they killed him after they took him, because he pissed them off," O'Neill suggested, then cowered when Dr. Jackson, Carter, and Hammond all verbally castigated him. O'Neill shrugged, saying, "Ever hear of The Ransom of Red Chief?"

If things didn't suck so much, John might have smiled. He could almost see it, Rodney pissing off his captors so much they decided to cut their losses. "Even if that's the case, why this?" John asked. "Assuming this is Rodney, and we're not assuming that, why kidnap him and then do this?"

"None of it makes sense," O'Neill groused. "Shit." He glanced at Hammond. "Sir."

Hammond let out a tired smile. "Major Carter, we'll be relying on your computer skills. Perhaps Dr. Avanindra could assist you again."

The announcement: "Unscheduled Gate Activation" rang through the air, and as one, they all rose. With the exception of Dean and Castiel, they all ran down to either the control room or the Gate room. John supposed that Castiel could do whatever mojo was required from whatever room he was in.

"It's Jacob Carter," Walter announced.

"Let him in," Hammond instructed.

The iris retracted and Jacob Carter walked through the event horizon. Carter moved up the ramp to greet him with a hug. With an arm around her shoulders, he advanced until he was standing next to O'Neill, glancing over at Hammond, who made short work to join them.

"Jacob," Hammond said, "it's good to see you."

"I wish this was a social call," Jacob said, "but we just got a report I think you'll be interested in."

And just that fast, John knew, just knew, that whatever this news was, it was about Rodney, which meant that picture of someone with their neck ripped open, lying naked on a lab table, wasn't Rodney. He could hear Flutie start to murmur, coming out of whatever stasis Castiel had put him in. "Hold on, Flutie," John told him. "Don't freak again."

"What happened to me?" Flutie asked, sounding furious that someone had messed with him.

"Castiel happened," John said quickly.

And that settled Flutie right down. Castiel could do no wrong in his mind.

"Let's go up to the conference room," Hammond suggested, and they all trooped back upstairs.

Jacob didn't waste any time. "I think your Dr. McKay is a prisoner of Ba'al." His eye caught the newspaper, and he stared at the picture. "What is this?"

"That's another mystery. We thought it might be McKay," O'Neill said.

"How old is your intel?" Hammond inquired.

"Last night," Jacob said. He pulled a jump drive out of his pocket. "I downloaded the pictures onto this."

Carter got up quickly to retrieve the jump drive, plugging it into the conference room computer setup.

There was nothing but static for a moment, but then several Jaffa were marching down the hallway. John waited for the key moment, not sure what he was looking for, maybe Rodney peeking around a corner a la James Bond, or him yelling at Ba'al, his finger extended promising dire consequences. But then, sickened, he realized he was already seeing what he was meant to see; Rodney was in the middle of those Jaffa, being dragged by his arms. "Freeze it."

Carter did and then, without urging, focused in on Rodney. His face was battered, one eye swollen shut, his lips torn and cracked. There were blood tracks coming from both his nose and mouth. "Son of a bitch!" John bit out angrily. Paradoxically, he was swamped with relief. He was alive! And even better, they knew where he was, and they could go get him and beat the shit out of Ba'al. No more of this sitting around shit. "Let's go."

"It's not that easy," Hammond counseled him.

"Yes, it is, sir," John argued, pointing at Castiel. "We take him."

Hammond let out a short laugh, quickly cut off, as if it had surprised him. "I suppose you're right. I forget how easy search and rescue can be with Castiel. Would you be willing to go to Ba'al's planet and retrieve Dr. McKay?" he asked the angel.

Flutie was doing metaphorical back flips, making it a little difficult to follow the conversation.

"I would be pleased to assist," Castiel assured the group gravely. He glanced at Dean as if to make sure he'd given the right answer.

Dean grinned at him; John guessed Dean would be coming along. It was all he could do not to jump out of his chair, get geared up and walk through the gate. He stared at O'Neill, willing him to get things moving.

"I take it that's a go?" O'Neill asked Hammond.

"That's a go," Hammond agreed. He stood, and everyone in the room stood as well, except for Castiel, at least at first. When Dean stood, he stood as well, speaking softly to Dean, maybe asking why they had all stood. Maybe he'd never been present at the end of a meeting, flitting out long before that point. Hammond left the room after acknowledging the sign of respect.

"Then let's go," O'Neill said. "We leave in thirty minutes. Twenty, if everyone's at the gate and ready to go."

John would make sure they were ready, even if he had to arm them himself. Flutie said vehemently inside John's head, "I will kill anyone who makes us wait."

"You really can't kill them," John said, half amused, reasonably certain that Flutie was kidding.

"I can."

"You really can't. These guys are the good guys, remember?"

"Not if they get in the way of us rescuing Euler," Flutie said stubbornly. "And if you try to stop me, I can take you over and do it myself."

That brought John up short. "Flutie."

He got a shot of petulance, followed by shame, followed by anger and fear and frustration, and fear again. "I didn't mean it!" Flutie cried. "I'm sorry! I'm just afraid for Euler. He was injured! They hurt him!" The anger was back big time. "They hurt Euler!"

"And Rodney," John reminded him.

"And Rodney!" Flutie echoed with just as much angst, which helped soothe John. "Let's go!"

John went, and was grateful when everyone who was going was ready in fifteen minutes. O'Neill took a careful look over everyone, especially Daniel, even though Teal'c was standing right there. Teal'c and Daniel shot O'Neill a look.

"Can't help it," O'Neill said without a hint of apology.

Daniel shot him an affectionate grin, even if his eyes were rolling.

*****

"What are your plans?" Ba'al demanded.

"World domination, Pinky," Rodney spit out, along with a mouthful of blood. "What the fuck do you think we're up to? We're fighting back, asshole." Rodney had already gone through the thoroughly cowed to the complete humiliation of offering the man anything he wanted as long as he stopped torturing him. He'd already answered every goddamn question Ba'al had asked, but no answer, including the truth, satisfied him. Now Rodney, thankfully, had moved beyond terrified straight into fucking pissed.

Ba'al caressed the knife in his hands with a disturbingly loving air.

As far as Rodney was concerned, the guy was a certifiable psycho. Ignoring Ba'al for a moment, Rodney focused on how the hell he could get out of here. Euler had been attempting to suss out another friendly symbiote but nothing so far. Now that he was out of Grieves' and Sanderson's hands, Euler had been yelling his head off for both Flutie and Castiel, also to no avail. So much for Castiel being omnipotent, Rodney internally huffed. As usual, it would be Rodney alone who got himself out of this mess. Figured.

A scolding return huff came from Euler. "They will find us."

"They don't even know where we are," Rodney reminded him. "At best they think we're in the hands of the NID." Rodney glanced around the room, avoiding meeting Ba'al's eyes, not wanting to see the maniacal gleam full of anticipation for the dreadful things he was planning to do to Rodney. Rodney had already woken up twice in a sarcophagus after being tortured to death, and he was done with the fun and games.

The first time, Euler hadn't responded at all, and Rodney had been horrifyingly sure he'd been dead. But, finally, he'd felt him stirring, and the prison cell he'd been placed in had suddenly felt ridiculously like home for a moment or two. Then, of course, it hadn't.

"Let's review again, shall we?" Ba'al gloated. "You have information I need, and I have an infinite amount of time to retrieve it." He held his knife up so it reflected a ray of light directly into Rodney's eyes.

"Drama queen," Rodney muttered under his breath, refusing to react. While he might be pissed, he was quite aware of the pain coming his way if he didn't think of something. "Think like a Goa'uld," he said to Euler. "What's in this room I can use?"

"I think this time, I will kill your symbiote first, and then watch while you die as its blood poisons you," Ba'al said easily, as if discussing their plans for lunch. "Then, once you are dead, I will cut him out of you and have him for lunch." Apparently, Rodney thought, nauseated, he was discussing plans for lunch.

"Yeah, that's not happening," Rodney snapped. "I've told you everything I know. Constantly. I am not good at torture. I cave easily. How can you not know this? Are all Goa'uld as stupid as you? How did you become the so-called scourge of the galaxy when you can't figure this elementary stuff out?"

Ba'al hurled the knife at him and, thanks to Euler's instincts, Rodney dodged out of the way. Euler, now in charge, picked up the knife and snapped it back so fast it hurt Rodney's wrist. He'd had no idea Euler knew how to do stuff like that. The knife thwacked into Ba'al's shoulder.

Euler seized that moment to run, but they didn't get far before Ba'al, using his ribbon device, slammed them, face-first, into a wall. Rodney forced them around, keeping his neck, and Euler's vulnerability, away from Ba'al.

Ba'al strode towards them, yanking the knife out of his shoulder, and ramming it into Rodney's guts. "I never get tired of playing with my toys," Ba'al hissed in his face.

The other deaths had been quick, symptoms of Ba'al's short temper and Rodney getting on his last nerve. The first had been a knife in the heart, and the second time a broken neck. This fucking hurt more than Rodney thought anything could hurt. His entire abdomen was on fire, like acid burning through skin. It made it hard to catch his breath, because every breath, as it moved his diaphragm, doubled the pain. His legs, even with Euler's assistance, refused to keep standing, and he fell to the floor, blood welling around the knife, dripping over his fingers, rivers of it running to the floor.

He coughed, and sprayed blood over Ba'al's face. The Goa'uld rubbed some of it off on his finger and then put his finger in his mouth. "Delicious."

Rodney didn't want to die again, deathly afraid he'd wake up without Euler. He could feel Euler's panicked determination to heal him, but Ba'al was standing right there, watching, waiting, his eyes glowing with pleasure at Rodney's pain. "Tell me," Ba'al commanded, "what kind of creature Castiel is, or I will dig out your symbiote right now with this knife, while you sit there and listen to him scream."

"I am Castiel," a voice said to the Rodney’s right, and all Rodney could say, a little hysterically, was, "Thank God."

*****

Jack was expecting a battle when they walked through the Stargate, but before any of the Jaffa could even get off a blast, Castiel waved his hand and put them all to sleep.

"Sweet," Jack said. While it made him feel a bit extraneous, he wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth, not when it meant he'd come back home with his team intact. "Can you make all their weapons disappear?" Just that fast, all the staff weapons vanished. Handy having an angel around.

Sheppard stiffened next to him. "Euler's calling for me, Rodney's been hurt bad."

"Lead the way," Jack said, gesturing to Sheppard and Castiel. It was the work of less than a minute to find Ba'al, along with McKay and Euler. McKay looked like he was bleeding out on the floor, and Ba'al looked like he was getting off on it. Standard fare.

Ba'al was hissing something about wanting to know who Castiel was. Perfect timing, Jack thought.

"I am Castiel," Castiel said.

Ba'al spun around, clearly astonished at the invaders staring at him.

"Thank God," Rodney said, blood dribbling from his lips, as he slid further down the wall to his side. Sheppard was over there in a moment, followed by Eric Sandler, armed with his ribbon device, intent on healing McKay.

Figuring McKay was in good hands, Jack put his attention back on Ba'al, who was pulling himself together with typical Goa'uld arrogance, sure that he still had the upper hand. "So, we meet at last," Ba'al said.

Jack rolled his eyes. "You guys really need to get some better script writers."

Ba'al raised his ribbon device at Jack and it lit up with intent to harm. Then, it was gone, right off his wrist, and Jack assumed it was at the bottom of the nearest ocean along with all the Jaffa’s staff weapons.

Eyes trying hard not to bug out, Ba'al stared at Castiel. "What are you?"

"I am an angel of the Lord," Castiel told Ba'al with his usual gravitas.

"I am your Lord," Ba'al told him.

"You are not," Castiel responded.

Ba'al sputtered. "You will kneel before me."

"I will not," Castiel assured him. To Sheppard, he added, "Do you require my assistance?"

"We're fine," Sheppard told him, holding onto McKay, who no longer looked like he was at death's door. Actually, given the way his eyes were glowing, Euler was in charge and making damn sure McKay would be just fine.

"Where are my Jaffa?" Ba'al demanded, punctuating his anger with a specific glare at Teal'c.

"Sleeping," Jack told him. "They looked tired. I think you work them too hard."

Ba'al lunged across the room and picked up another ribbon device, and it was activated with the painful beam heading Castiel's way before any of them could react. Then, the next second, Castiel held a screaming, writhing symbiote in his hand.

The body that used to belong to Ba'al crumpled to the floor. The Goa'uld continued to rage in Castiel's implacable grip.

"This is an exceedingly unpleasant creature," Castiel announced, staring with considerable distaste at the wriggling snake he held.

"Very," Jack agreed. "Feel free to smite him."

"How is it possible that the Companions and this creature come from the same stock?"

"Just one of those crazy things," Jack said. "Please don't do a Daniel and think that it can be rehabilitated."

"I don't think Ba'al--" Daniel started to defend himself.

"This creature is beyond redemption." A bright, almost blinding, light came from Castiel's hand holding Ba'al and it filled the symbiote until the light seeped out of its pores, obliterating the darkness until only the light remained. When Castiel opened his hand, it was empty.

"Where did you send him?" Jack asked, hoping it wasn't back to his home planet where someone might end up becoming his host again.

"He has returned to the dust he was made from."

"Literally?" Dean asked, looking at the floor.

"Literally," Castiel told him.

"Awesome." Then, "You put all the Jaffa to sleep?"

"I did," Castiel told him.

Dean's eyes lit up, and he turned to Jack. "Maybe we should go exploring."

"I concur," Teal'c said. "There might be much we can learn here."

"Not to mention spaceships we can steal," Jack agreed. This was going to end up being a really good day, he could just tell. Then he glanced over toward McKay and saw him and Sheppard in a lip lock. Jack rolled his eyes.

Daniel nudged him, grinning, "It's Flutie and Euler. They're in looovve."

"He's still in the military," Jack groused.

"Diplomatic immunity, Jack. And you know you don't really care, so let it go."

"Tell them to get a room, at least, jeez." Jack adjusted the bill on his cap. "Okay, Carter, you can escort the love birds back home, and then come back with Mitchell and Lorne in anticipation of finding lots of spaceships. I know Lorne doesn't have a Companion yet, but one of ours can talk him through it. Oh, and let General Vidrine know or he'll have my ass." The general might be a Chief of Staff, but he hated to miss out on the chance to fly a spaceship. He turned to Castiel. "No other bad guys around?"

Castiel seemed to listen intently for a moment, but then shook his head. "There is no one awake except us."

"Excellent. This is going to be fun."

Teal'c took the lead, and Jack, Daniel, SG-3, Dean and Castiel, all followed behind.

*****

All John saw when they entered the room was Rodney on the floor, surrounded by blood. His heart stuttered as his own blood ran cold. Trusting that O'Neill and Castiel could more than handle Ba'al, John ran to Rodney, sliding to his knees, ignoring the blood he was kneeling in. "Jesus," he said. It was impossible to think clearly with Flutie yelling at him to do something. John used to enjoy Ferris wheels and roller coasters, but given the way his life had been emulating death-defying rides over the last week, he was re-thinking things.

John had always prided himself on being cool in a crisis, but right now he was paralyzed with the awful awareness that he had no idea what to do. He didn't have a healing gizmo, and Castiel was busy talking to Ba'al, and here was Rodney fucking bleeding out and all John could do was stare at him. Then, as if the moment got unstuck from freeze frame, he ripped open his vest pocket and pulled out a compression pack. "Jesus, Rodney," he said again.

"J'n," Rodney whispered.

"Don't talk," John scolded him. The knife was still in Rodney's gut, so John did his best to wrap the pressure bandage around it, trying to stop the bleeding.

Rodney let out a gasp, then his eyes glowed, and John was relieved he was dealing with Euler now, knowing that Euler would block as much pain from Rodney as possible. "He'll be okay, right?" John asked Euler.

But then Eric was kneeling next to him, a healing device in his hand. "When I say so, pull out the knife."

Flutie gibbered at the thought, but John liked to think he was made of sterner stuff, and he nodded. He sat down, pulling Rodney against him, and at Eric's direction, pulled away the material he had just packed around the knife. "I got you," he told Rodney and Euler. "I got you. Hang in there."

John's eyes flicked back and forth between Rodney and Eric, waiting for further direction. When Eric said, "Take the knife out," John did as told and yanked it out, throwing it to the floor. A fresh gush of blood oozed out, but then Eric was back on the job.

"You're okay," John promised Rodney. The sound of a body hitting the floor got his attention and he glanced over to see Ba'al on the ground. Good, he thought viciously to himself, only sorry that he couldn't take the knife he'd just taken out of Rodney and stab the bastard in his balls.

"He's okay, right?" Flutie asked anxiously.

"You know he is," John said, finally believing it himself, as the wound closed right in front of his eyes.

"Why isn't Euler talking to me?"

"He's spending all his energy healing Rodney from the inside," John told him. Then he felt Flutie, with a quick nano-second of a request, take control. "Euler?" It was always a weird feeling to hear Euler's voice come out of his mouth.

And then with Rodney's eyes still glowing, showing that Euler was at large and in charge, John found himself being kissed, or rather, felt himself participate in a kiss between Euler and Flutie, and that was really weird. Nice, but weird.

Then, deciding he might as well take advantage of it, he threw himself whole-heartedly into the action right along with Flutie, and John knew the second Rodney had joined in. "Rodney?" he asked through Flutie.

"Busy kissing now," Rodney said back.

"Yes, busy kissing now," Flutie agreed.

And John could hardly argue with that.

*****

After showering and a check in at the infirmary, John had Rodney up against the door of his quarters the second the door was shut. "Jesus, Rodney," he said, yanking Rodney's shirt off, a couple of buttons popping off, pinging on the ground, as he kissed his face, his neck, his shoulders, anywhere he could reach.

Thank God Rodney was just as crazed as he was, any of the recent hesitation gone with the wind as Rodney pulled at John's shirt, saying, "Off, off, off, now, off."

Letting out a laugh, John managed to let go of Rodney long enough to pull his t-shirt over his head to fling it to the floor. All that naked skin pressed against his own was almost enough to make him come in his pants. It had been too long, and he'd wanted Rodney for what felt like for-freaking ever, and it was like he was touch-starved, but only for the man currently doing his best to touch him everywhere.

"This is so weird," Rodney said, as he started attacking John's belt buckle. "It's like a double exposure photograph."

"What is?" John managed to ask, barely able to listen let alone comprehend what Rodney was talking about.

"You and me. Flutie and Euler. It's like I've got surround sound porn."

Now that Rodney had mentioned it, part of his desperation to get Rodney naked and horizontal was coming from Flutie and that was kind of weird. Not bad weird, just weird. Actually, it was sort of good weird, because through the symbiotes and their connections, he could get a sense of what Rodney was feeling, and that just hyped John up more.

Rodney got his hand down John's pants and onto his cock, and John let out a groan of pleasure, half convinced just to stand there, well, as long as his legs kept working, and let Rodney give him a hand job. He had no doubt Rodney would give a fabulous hand job. That was confirmed by Rodney's next stroke that seemed to light up every favorite spot John had when he was getting himself off.

He managed to get his body working long enough to start on Rodney's belt and pants, and between the two of them they stripped off pants, underwear, and then, hopping around, shoes and socks.

Finally, finally, they tumbled into bed, and John could have climbed inside of Rodney, wished he could get inside Rodney's skin, inside him.

"Yes, yes," Rodney was saying. "Good idea, great idea. Now! Now!"

And that was when John realized he'd been saying all of that out loud, and Rodney was handing him lube and a condom, flipping over, and John's heart almost skipped a beat at the perfect ass being presented to him. "Jesus, you have a perfect ass." He had to get inside right now.

"Fine, fine, you can rhapsodize over it later, now get in it." John had to grab his balls and tug to keep from coming right there as Rodney grabbed his ass cheeks and pulled them apart, saying, "Lube now."

John poured some lube right onto Rodney's hole, mesmerized as Rodney started to work his index fingers in, first one, then the other, then both, pulling himself apart, getting himself ready for John.

Unable to resist, John leaned in and licked over Rodney's hole, tangling his tongue with Rodney's index fingers. He grinned at the moan that got out of Rodney.

"God, do that again," Rodney pleaded.

More than willing, John licked again, letting his saliva work with the lube to get Rodney even looser. "Use another finger," John said huskily, feeling on a knife's edge of orgasm watching Rodney fuck himself with his fingers.

Rodney did him one better, reaching around and getting both his middle fingers in on the action, pushing in with the fingers of one hand and then with the other.

"Jesus, you are so hot," John breathed. "Can you do all four at once?"

Groaning with the pressure, Rodney crammed himself with all four, pulling himself open.

John licked him again, working his tongue in, getting off on Rodney's non-stop whimpers.

"You are gorgeous like this," John said between licks. "Can I fist you sometime? Can I fuck you with a dildo, with me and a dildo? Jesus, Rodney, you're making me crazy."

"Yes, yes, whatever, yes, you kinky bastard, God damn it! Just get in me now! Fuck me now!"

And John did, working Rodney's fingers out with his tongue, and then struggling with a condom until he was finally leaning over to position his cock at Rodney's entrance and sliding in with one strong push, until he was in as far as he could go, and Rodney was pushing back onto him, growling and grunting, and every noise just crawled under John's skin until he thought his whole body might explode.

With no mercy, he set up a fast rhythm, thrusting inside, feeling Rodney's velvety heat embrace the length of him, John's hands on Rodney's even more perfect ass, because it was his, all of Rodney was his, and John had never, never wanted someone this bad, been so turned on, and somehow he found the presence of mind to reach around and stroke Rodney's cock.

And that was all it took because Rodney was coming, and his ass was squeezing John's cock, wringing his own orgasm out of him, and he gasped as everything he was poured into Rodney and he could feel Flutie's exaltation and then Euler's and then Rodney's and all four of them fell into love and bliss, and then into that moment where nothing exists except complete satiation.

When John came back to himself, he was sliding out of Rodney despite the fact that he'd choose to stay in him all day, getting hard again and taking him over and over again, but his cock was done. It didn't even twitch at the thought of fucking Rodney again. It was then that he tuned into Flutie, who was crooning to Euler using words like "forever" and "always" and "adore you" and "love you" and John silently agreed with each one.

"I don't like to refer to myself as a stupid man," Rodney said, sounding as if his face was smothered in a pillow, "but I am so, so stupid that I didn't make you do that the first time I saw you."

John snickered and kissed Rodney's ass. "You really do have a perfect ass. It's shaped just like a heart. It's like it loves me."

"Oh, Jesus," Rodney said. "Shut up."

Forcing himself to get out of bed, hanging onto the condom, and trying not to fall on his own ass with legs like wet noodles, John made his way to the bathroom, first disposing of the condom, then washing his hands, brushing his teeth, and running a washcloth over his groin. Then, deciding they could both use a shower, he turned it on, went back to the bed to grab Rodney, ignoring his griping, and dragged him under the hot water, soaping him up and then rinsing him off. Rodney didn't help much; mostly he leaned against the wall with a stupid smile on his face.

Grinning, John shut the water off, toweled the two of them off, laid a couple of towels out on the bed, too lazy to change the sheets, and then got them under the covers. Rodney turned away and then pushed back against John so John would spoon him and, still grinning, John drifted off to sleep.

*****

"We still don't know who this is," Hammond pointed out, the newspaper, with the picture of the dissected symbiote lying on the table before him.

Jack frowned. "No, we don't, but…" he added with a victorious index finger in the air, "we now have six new spaceships, the addresses of ten system lords, Ba'al is dead so even if McKay told him every secret we have, which he probably did, it all died with him, and McKay got a clean bill of health and is probably breaking DADT to hell and back, diplomatic immunity and all. So, things aren't all bad."

"Agreed."

"What's on your mind, sir?" Jack thought Hammond should be doing internal back flips. But, instead, he looked as grave as Jack had ever seen him.

"The President is concerned and, frankly, so am I."

"About?"

"A decision was made a long time ago to keep the Stargate Program a secret. It's a decision that, as time has passed, has both worked for us and against us."

Jack waited for whatever was coming. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like it.

"The President and I agree that this," and he tapped the picture, "was an effort to compromise the Stargate Program. That this alleged threat of alien invasion would put attention where it doesn't belong and potentially blow this program wide open."

"That's possible, sir, even though I'm not sure how many people actually believe this stuff. But how does McKay fit into that?"

"More people believe this stuff than you'd think, especially if the message keeps getting repeated. This is now the second time there's been a story about symbiotes, the first being the picture of Colonel Mitchell. I think they took advantage of that to create this story."

Hammond's lips tightened and he continued. "I don't know why McKay got taken. I could understand it if they wanted to pick his brains but, other than information leading to the city of Atlantis, it seems as if whatever they wanted from him could have been obtained from almost any other human-hybrid. No one at the NID is talking and Colonel Grieves has so far managed to elude capture. All we know is what McKay told us, which is that Ba'al and Grieves asked him about what our overall plans with the Companions were, about the lost city of Atlantis, and about Castiel. He doesn't remember how he got from the spaceship to Ba'al's. The last thing he remembers is being attacked by a Goa'uld named Sanderson."

Jack figured they might as well put all the bad news on the table. "We also know they have some sort of sedative that puts the Companions, and one assumes Goa'uld, out of commission and can possibly kill them. We also know we have people here in the mountain who are talking to our enemies," Jack continued, speaking of the thing that made him unhappiest. "How else would they know that Daniel has been looking for the lost city? Or about Castiel for that matter?"

"It's quite clear why they want to know about our plans," Hammond responded, "and even clearer why they want to know about Castiel. What we don't know is why they are interested in the lost city of Atlantis. Unless they think it's our code name for a new alpha site."

"Or maybe they know something about the city that we don't." Jack could certainly understand their fear of Castiel. Having Castiel on their side made them the winners, at least eventually. End of story. People might die, and Castiel might be temporarily out of range, occasionally, when he did something stupid; but as long as Dean was alive, they had Castiel. He wondered if he should give Dean some body-guards. He snickered. Castiel would probably be offended at the suggestion, and Dean would probably hit Jack.

"Something amusing?" Hammond asked, not sounding amused.

"Just thinking about how to make sure nothing bad happens to Dean, sir," Jack said.

Hammond let out a small noiseless laugh. "He's the only one I'm not concerned about. As long as Castiel is around, Dean will be fine. And as long is Dean is fine, Castiel will stay. I think we can rest easy on that one at least."

"And if something catastrophic happens to Dean, I think Castiel will smite whoever did it, and take them out of the equation," Jack said.

Hammond nodded, distracted.

"Sir, what's going on?"

Hammond hesitated and then nodded. "Jack, when you brought Dr. Jackson back with Junior, we sat right here and discussed strategically how this could change things in the battle against the Goa'uld."

Jack nodded. "And it has."

"And it has. We now have a mountain filled with human hosts until it's almost bursting at the seams. We are routinely sending these human hosts out of the mountain through the gate and going topside, due to circumstances beyond our control." He tapped the newspaper again in front of him. "Too many people know. People who are and aren't hosts. We've lost control. This story will break, and the facts will leak, and even if the program doesn't go public, the fact that there are aliens here, will. And that will lead to the program."

Hammond leaned forward. "Did we do the right thing? Should we have taken Junior out of Dr. Jackson and carried on without the Companions' help? I'm asking you, Jack, not Tana'oa. Please don't be offended."

Jack could hear Tana'oa taking great offense at Hammond's question, and the thought of a life without Tana'oa, of never discovering the wonder of having such a boon companion, no pun intended, left him breathless with imagined emptiness. But the question was legitimate. When he and Hammond had first discussed this, they'd focused on the strategic worth of a new and powerful weapon in a war that seemed endless. How could they have turned their back on that?

"Yes and no," Jack finally said.

"Explain."

"Tana'oa, calm down," Jack snapped. "Let me say what needs to be said. None of this means I will ever, ever give you up. Okay?"

Tana'oa grumbled, but left off his complaints about being called a weapon.

"They were a weapon. One we'd have been stupid to ignore. They made us equal players with our enemies, in fact, put us above them, because we would have as many Goa'uld as they would, but we'd work together. But, like every weapon, they have their downside. Not," he said loudly, over Tana'oa's mutterings, "the Companions themselves, but the fact that we've, essentially, let aliens hold this mountain and this program. From the eyes of anyone who's not with us, we look totally compromised."

Hammond nodded grimly.

"And sooner or later, someone who feels that way, someone like Kinsey but who has more charisma, and can get more people on his or her side, will get in power, and we'll all be put against the wall and shot, or end up in some lab. That's what you're thinking, right?"

Jack had a list in his head that was a little shorter with Kinsey's death, but still included people like Maybourne and Simmons, and a couple of other snakes in the grass, that still managed to get people to do their dirty work in the name of duty. "Have you talked to Barrett lately? Maybe he's heard things at the NID, stuff he might be willing to share. I know he doesn't have a Companion, but he's been here all along. Jesus, maybe he's our mole."

"It's possible, but I don't believe it," Hammond said. "For one thing, he's not here enough."

It would figure though, thought Jack, that he'd be the problem seeing as he was the only NID agent he could even stomach.

"There's another thing, too, something unexpected," Hammond said. "I've had three soldiers in here over the last week, speaking hypothetically of course, about the feasibility of getting a host so that Don't Ask, Don't Tell won't apply to them."

"Yikes," Jack grimaced. He hadn't expected that. "What did you say?"

"What could I say? I told them that they were welcome to put their names on the list for a Companion, but that they should speak to other hosts so they understood how completely their life might change."

"It's all going to blow up in our faces, isn't it?"

"I’m afraid it might, and I'm afraid for the safety of all of you. I’m not sure I can protect you. We've only got another two years before the elections, and Hayes is on his second term. I'm just waiting for one of the candidates to use this program as a way to get anyone who supported him out of office."

"You need us gone," Jack said, sitting back, trying to imagine Sara's face when he told her they were moving to another planet. "The alpha site? The Land of Light?"

"Either. Or," Hammond said, "just how close are Dr. Jackson and Dr. McKay to finding the address to Atlantis?"

Jack stared at Hammond. "Are you thinking it would go a long way if the Companions and their Hosts took on the job of finding a new outpost for Earth?"

Hammond tightened his lips, but then nodded. "I am. I think just getting you out of the way won't be enough. You need a purpose, something that the President can easily defend."

"We should be having this conversation with Daniel," Jack said. "Not only because he has the answer about finding Atlantis, but also because he has to buy in on this."

"Do you think he won't?"

Jack thought about it. He might not want to leave Earth, and he might not want his Companions to be, essentially, no matter how you sugar-coated it, exiled, but he'd also make whatever decision necessary to protect them. He blew out a breath. "Honestly? I’m surprised he's not already in here asking for permission to evacuate."

As if he'd planned it, there was a knock on Hammond's door, and Daniel poked his nose in. "Sorry to interrupt, but I really need to speak to you both."

Hammond waved him in. "Come in, Dr. Jackson, we were just talking about you."

Daniel looked nervous for a moment, but then his eyes widened. "You see it too, don't you? That we need to leave?"

Jack snorted and flashed a 'you see?' look at Hammond. "Any ideas?"

"I've just been speaking with Rodney," Daniel began, "and we think we have a few leads on finding Atlantis. Of course, we have no idea what we'll find even if we do figure out the address, and if it's in another galaxy I'm not sure we have a sufficient energy source to open an eight chevron address. You remember what you had to build to get to the Asgard after you got the Ancient's repository in your head?"

No, Jack didn't, but he'd seen the mess when he got back. "What about Castiel? He thinks he can open any wormhole we want."

Hammond's eyebrows went up.

"Sorry, sir, I forgot to tell you that," Jack said. "I just found out yesterday. He said it was my Christmas present. I guess he figured out how to do that when he went vacationing inside of one."

"Find the address, Dr. Jackson, if you can," Hammond directed. "Make it your top priority. If we can't find it, we'll need a back-up plan for where the Companions and their Hosts can go live. I need a list of possibilities by tomorrow."

"Yes, sir," Daniel said. He shot Jack a look that promised a very long night of conversation. The list of things that needed to happen in preparation to take hundreds of people off planet for the foreseeable future, along with families and everything they'd need, was mind-boggling. And that wasn't even thinking about his pregnant wife.

Hammond stood up. "Dismissed."

"Yes, sir," Jack said, shooting off a salute. A startling thought occurred to him. "Will you have to replace me?" Jack wasn't sure how he felt about that. What would he do in this new world of theirs?

Tana'oa was grumbling again. No doubt he was wondering the same thing. Jack didn't do too well with inactivity. He couldn't imagine setting up a home on the alpha site with its college-like dormitories and basic mess-hall.

"At some point, I'll be forced to," Hammond said unhappily. "And while I'd like to put that off as long as possible, I'd like short-term and long-term recommendations about that as well."

Jack had a crazy idea, but he wanted to run it by Daniel first.

"Captain Lorne?" Tana'oa asked in surprise.

"He can speak to all of you, so even though he doesn't have a Companion, he's as good as someone who does. I've read his record; he's a good guy."

Jack could feel Tana'oa thinking that over. "Not Carter?"

"Don't you think she'd want to come with us? I think she'd probably be considered compromised as well."

"Jack," Daniel said, interrupting his mental chat. "Let's go get something to eat and then we need to talk to Rodney."

"Oh, joy," Jack said.

*****

"What?" Sara asked incredulously, one hand lying protectively over her abdomen.

Jack winced. "One more advantage of being married to me. Bet you're sorry you said yes, huh?"

All Sara could do was stare at him.

There wasn't much Jack could do but stare back. Finally, he said, unwillingly, "You don't have to go."

"But you have to?"

Jack nodded. "George doesn't think it's safe for us here."

"Because of Tana'oa?"

Jack winced again, especially as Tana'oa was cringing inside of him.

As if sensing it, Sara put her hand on Jack's cheek. "I didn't mean anything by that. Tana'oa's part of the family. I was just trying to understand."

Tana'oa wasn't really buying it and neither was Jack. Not that Sara would ever ask Jack to give up Tana'oa, and not that Jack ever would in any case, but right now, Sara had to be thinking how much simpler life had been before Jack had gained a mental hitchhiker.

"Sara, I'm sorry. If I'd known…"

Sara's eyes lifted toward heaven as if for strength. "If you'd known that this would happen, you would have let that madman kill Daniel and all the Companions?"

Well, when she put it that way. "No," he said slowly. "But I might have felt badly about what I was doing to you. I might have talked you out of marrying me."

That got a derisive snort out of her. "As if."

He grinned at her in relief. "Even so, I am sorry, and so is Tana'oa."

"What about our babies? How will I get my maternity care? Who will deliver them? Will our babies be born on another planet? Will they be American citizens?"

"All excellent questions; and the answers are that you can come back here for appointments and to have the babies, and yes, they'll be American citizens, but they might grow up on another planet." Jack hoped he wasn't telling lies. He didn't think he was, but he had no idea where they were going and what was waiting for them.

"Will we go to the Land of Light?"

"I don't know. That's on the list of possibilities."

"You know there will be people who can't deal with this," she said. "This isn't just moving across the country. This is leaving doctors, and dry cleaners, and stores with your favorite comfort foods, and movie theaters and, well, everything."

"I know," Jack said. "And all I can hope is that everyone who took a Companion is already wired for risk. It's going to be harder on people like you. Like Sam Carter and all the other people who don't have Companions."

"Sam will be going?" Sara asked, looking relieved.

Jack hadn't talked to Carter yet, but he was relatively certain she'd be going, so he happily lied. "Yup, and Daniel, and just about everyone you call a friend here."

"Janet?"

"I don't know. She doesn't have a Companion, and she has a daughter here. I'd be ecstatic if she chose to come, but I'd totally get it if she decided not to."

Sara grew silent for a long moment, her hand still symbolically protecting her unborn infants. "I'm scared, Jack."

"I know, babe. I know."

*****

"What?" Rodney snapped, looking momentarily confused, then, as if synapses were exploding like fireworks on the Fourth of July, he snapped his fingers and yelled, "They're kicking us off Earth, aren't they?"

Daniel sighed, ruing how smart Rodney was. He'd been hoping to avoid this conversation for a few days, afraid that the truth would make Rodney less effective as a partner in the search for Atlantis.

John Sheppard skidded into the room. "What happened?"

Daniel wondered the same thing for a moment until he realized that Euler must have yelled for Flutie.

"They're kicking us off Earth," Rodney said indignantly. "That's why we have to find Atlantis." He placed his narrow-eyed glare on Daniel. "I'm right, right?"

John shut the door behind him, and Daniel could hear the lock engage. He was grateful for John's understanding that this conversation needed to not be overheard. He sent his own mental command to Flutie and Euler to keep silent about this. He felt their instant obedience and overriding curiosity.

Daniel knew the Companions didn't care where they lived. They were such curious creatures they'd probably delight in a new world to explore. On the other hand, they wouldn't enjoy their humans freaking out on them. He might need to send out an all-points-bulletin to all the Companions right before they made the general announcement.

"Yes," Daniel said. "We need to leave Earth."

"No more Starbucks?" Rodney asked, sounding appalled.

John grinned at him. "I promise we can take an espresso machine with us, as well as a generator to run it."

Daniel could sense Euler and Flutie check in with each other and then erupt into excited chatter. He wouldn't eavesdrop, but he could tell that their eagerness was a reflection of their hosts. Not that reality wouldn't hit them sooner or later, as all they'd be giving up began to override their sense of adventure. On the other hand, they were luckier than some, because they'd have each other, just as Daniel would have Teal'c.

Rodney was looking at Daniel again. "We'll end up on the alpha base if we don't find Atlantis, won't we?"

"Possibly. Or with one of our allies."

"I choose the Tollan," Rodney said. "At least their science is passable."

Daniel snorted. Sometimes Rodney's arrogance was funny. "They hate the human race."

"They like you," Rodney said in a way that implied that might be a reason not to seek sanctuary there.

"Be that as it may," Daniel said, trying to get things on track. "I'd much rather go explore Atlantis, wouldn't you?"

Rodney glared at him, but then let it go. "Yes." He turned back to the white board. "Where were we?"

"So I should just go?" John asked, thumb jutting at the door.

"No, we might need your mad math skills," Rodney said with an entirely different sort of look.

Daniel bit back a grin. "Please, John, join us."

John eagerly came all the way into the room to look over what they'd been working on. Much to Daniel's delight, John pointed at a variable on the board, and said, "That should be y to the twelfth." He'd thought Rodney's desire to include John, all mad math skills comments to the side, had been more about simply wanting him near, not realizing John really did have those skills.

"What?" Rodney challenged, his eyes following the equations down the board. "Fine," he bit out, grudgingly changing the exponent from thirteen to twelve, although one side of his mouth curled up into a grin.

Suddenly Daniel felt a surge of confidence that they'd find Atlantis.

*****

"What?" Dean said, echoed by Sam.

Castiel looked momentarily shamefaced, but then a mulish expression took over his face. "I cannot reveal who I heard speaking, as I did not mean to eavesdrop, but I believe their words. They will be sending all human hosts off the planet to live."

Dean blinked at Cas. Then he blinked at Sam. "No hamburgers and French fries?"

Sam rolled his eyes. "Right, because that's the most important thing to be focusing on here. Seriously Cas? This is really happening?"

Cas nodded. "They do not believe you are safe here anymore."

Dean snorted. "That may be true for most of these yahoos, but with you around, nothing's going to happen to us."

His angel looked proud for a moment before wincing a little. "We both know that is not entirely true. You could have died on that planet."

"Yeah, but I didn't." Dean was over that. Besides, the worst of that whole thing wasn't hurting, or almost losing his teammates; it had been thinking Castiel was dead. As soon as Castiel had appeared, Dean's mind had classified the entire affair under happy ending and that was that.

"Where will they send us?" Sam asked. "And how will I finish my education?"

"As I understand it, depending on where they send all of you, you will be able to come here to work."

"Talk about your long commute," Dean said with a lopsided grin. He didn't really care where he lived. He was used to roughing it, and as long as he had Sam and Castiel, he'd be good. "How about Bobby?"

"I will look after Bobby," Castiel said.

"What does that mean?" Dean snapped. "Aren't you coming with us?" If Castiel wasn't going, neither was Dean. They'd blow this joint first.

"Of course, Dean," Cas said. "However, when we are here, I can easily check in on Bobby, to make sure he has all he needs."

"Oh, okay then." To Sam, he added, "What about you? And before you mock my hamburger addiction, just remember there are no Starbucks in space." Sam's bitchface was all Dean could have hoped for.

*****

"What?" Carter asked, eyebrows up, a hint of hurt on her face.

Jack put a hand up. "I'm not saying we don't want you, I’m saying you don't need to go. You don't have a Companion yet."

"But Kitty's going with you, right?"

"Yeah, all the Companions will be going with us, once we're sure wherever we are is safe enough. But you know we'll keep him safe for you."

"I know that, sir, but you're not ordering me to stay are you?"

"Hell, no, I want you with us, and I guessed you'd go just because Sean is going, but I wanted you to know you have a choice."

"Not really," Carter said, dropping the sir, and giving Jack a smile that he recognized as the one belonging to the Sam Carter who was his best girlfriend outside of Sara. "And that's not because of Sean. I belong with my team."

"Good," Jack said. He grinned back. "Glad to hear it."

*****

"Bra'tac would welcome us on Chulak," Teal'c told Daniel. They were lying in bed at the end of a very long day. "There would be many Jaffa warriors to protect you."

Daniel snickered. "And many Jaffa warriors who would have black eyes from you if they came too close to me."

Teal'c could hardly argue. He knew Daniel was a faithful man, but he did not believe everyone else was. He wondered if Daniel would come to regret the choices he'd made when he was forced to choose another planet as a home.

"What's that expression all about?" Daniel asked him, running his fingers down Teal'c's face, running a gentle finger over the symbol for the Tauri, over an eyelid, his nose and, lastly, to run over his lips.

Teal'c didn't know how to put it into words. He knew he ran to moodiness, guilt often welling up when he recalled all the blood that was on his hands. Daniel and all the other humans he now lived and worked with were so young compared to him, and had lived relatively sheltered lives. They didn't know what it was like to have to leave your home and everything you knew behind, and he hated that they would soon know what it felt like.

"Are you somehow blaming yourself for this?" Daniel finally asked, after Teal'c had remained silent. "If so, stop. Immediately."

Against his volition, Teal'c found himself smiling. "Immediately?"

"Yes."

Teal'c found himself gladdened that Daniel did not feel the need to verbalize his feelings for Teal'c, his joy at their partnership. The words were unnecessary; Teal'c knew Daniel's love and joy were deep and true. The only response to Daniel's simple 'yes' was to pull him down into a kiss.

*****

"Do you want to go?" Janet asked Barak. She knew, technically, it was still a secret, but with all the Companions, and their penchant for guileless chatter, it wasn't remotely a secret anymore.

Barak had become a stalwart friend and protector, and Janet would be bereft if he left. His command of medicine, and all the supporting sciences, had become strong enough that he was taking pre-med classes, or something as close as to make no difference, that someone, somewhere, had put together for him. Similar to how they were providing law classes for Sam Winchester.

She had found them studying together often, glad that they'd found a friend in each other. Sam, for all the fact that he was more polite and outwardly much better at social skills, had been slower to make friends than his brother Dean, who seemed to always be surrounded by people. Not, Janet was glad to see, that Dean had abandoned his brother. Sam still came first for him, except for Castiel, but Sam needed people of his own.

Janet knew Sam and Barak sparred together as well, and she wondered if Barak would go to Atlantis, or wherever the fates led them, to accompany Sam, along with the Companions. Barak took his medical responsibilities over them very seriously. Then again, he took everything seriously.

Barak looked down at her and, for the first time since they'd met, touched her by pushing a lock of her hair behind her ear. Janet's heart began to race.

"Are you going?" Barak asked.

She shook her head. Maybe she'd go when Cassandra was in college, but that was not now. "Cassandra," she explained.

"Then I will stay," Barak said. "I choose to be with you."

Janet wondered if he meant that the way she hoped he meant it. She'd fallen in love with him so quickly, this manifestation of the words 'still waters run deep'. A man so filled with passion to do what was right, someone so strong and yet so gentle. She gazed up at him, risking it all, letting him see what she felt.

A small smile graced his lips, and he bent his head down and kissed her. It wasn't a long kiss, but it was still quite a kiss, and she felt breathless when he pulled away. She reached for his hands and slipped her much smaller ones into his. "I'm so glad."

He kissed her again.

"Oops!" someone said behind them. Then the person laughed. "It's about time!"

Janet turned around, letting one hand drop, but keeping the other. As she turned, Barak pulled her gently against him. She grinned at Vijay. "I agree."

"Congratulations," Vijay told them both. She moved close enough to give them both a kiss on their cheeks. "You're gorgeous together." Lowering her voice she added, "I'm assuming you've heard the news?"

Janet nodded. "Are you going?" She'd miss Vijay, but she'd feel better if a physician she knew was going with all her friends.

"Of course!" Vijay said, excitement in her voice. "Along with Abhay. He'll find a way for us to easily keep in touch."

"Especially as Sam is going, too," Janet added. Abhay and Sam could do anything when working together. For clarification, she added, "Samantha."

"Is she?" Vijay asked. "I wasn't sure. Abhay will be thrilled." She moved to the tank. "And I'm sure Kitty would have been very sad to leave her behind." She put her hand in the tank and two symbiotes brushed against her fingers.

Janet assumed they were Asklepios and Anbay, two of the first Companions to join them and promised to the Indians when they'd arrived and quickly chosen to get on the list for a symbiote.

She envied Vijay for a moment, her freedom to move to a new planet, to start life over like the pioneers of old. But then she remembered Cassandra and, more newly, Barak, and contentment washed through her. These people who left would not be lost to her. Rather they'd be coming back to tell amazing tales which would no doubt enrich them all.

*****

Jack knocked on the lintel to Hammond's office door and waited until the general looked up, eyebrows raised in question. "I think Daniel and McKay found Atlantis. They're about to ask Castiel if he can open a wormhole. I thought you might want to be in on the fun. Sir."

A small smile crossed Hammond's face at Jack's last minute add on. "Yes," Hammond said, standing. "I think I'll join you. I needed a break anyway." He moved to the door and followed Jack down to the lab where Daniel and McKay had set up a make-shift 'Find Atlantis' project room. Hammond, Jack, Daniel, McKay, Sheppard, and Teal'c were the only people who knew of its existence. They'd kept it quiet just to avoid any problems with the wrong people finding out anything.

Oh, and now Castiel knew. Which meant Dean. It was almost impossible to keep secrets anymore, because there were too many links. If this person knew, then their symbiote knew, and their partner knew, and their symbiote, and yada yada yada. It was why they had to blow this popsicle stand, because they were all a bunch of teenage girls.

He entered the room to find Daniel and McKay arguing. They were always arguing, and Jack might find the need to smack McKay around for it except, for some weird reason, Daniel got a kick out of it. Maybe it was because, despite Euler, Rodney totally treated Daniel the way he always had, which included a lot of yelling, sarcasm, and eye-rolls. They were all lucky that Teal'c didn't seem to find McKay a threat.

"It is an eight chevron address," Daniel said, as soon as he saw Jack.

"Which is why we need Castiel," McKay added, "because otherwise we'll need an excessive power source."

Jack could see McKay was about to launch into one of his explanations so he just put a hand up in protest. "Stop. Don't explain anything. Please."

McKay frowned at him, and Jack would swear he was pouting a little, which brought him back full circle to them all being a bunch of teenage girls.

"Speak for yourself," Tana'oa huffed out.

"Please," Jack said to his Companion, "you'd totally be wearing sparkly nail polish if you could." He snickered when he caught Tana'oa momentarily captivated by the thought. "And no, you can't put any on me."

"We share this body," Tana'oa pointed out.

"Not when it comes to nail polish. You can use me to put nail polish on Sara if you want," he offered. Sara got off on that stuff. "You'd probably be better at it than me." Tana'oa was loads more patient than Jack.

That idea seemed to please Tana'oa, so Jack put his attention back on Daniel. "Where's the angel?"

"He's dropping Dean off at Bobby's. Bobby doesn't know yet that Dean and Sam will be living elsewhere," Daniel said.

Jack wasn't convinced Bobby needed to know. It wasn't like Dean and Sam wouldn't be here all the time. But he kept his mouth shut. He sort of liked Bobby and gave him major kudos for helping keep Dean and Sam alive for so long, especially Dean with his kamikaze tendencies.

"Something I hope to break him of some day," Castiel said to him, suddenly standing before him.

"No reading my mind," Jack said sternly.

Castiel had the temerity to smirk, another bad habit Dean had taught him. "You were thinking of Dean."

"So any thoughts of Dean belong to you?" Jack asked, half-joking, half totally believing it.

"Yes," Castiel said.

And there it was, Jack thought. Castiel and Dean deserved each other. If anyone had a chance of convincing Dean he was worth the air he was breathing, it was this completely besotted angel who believed just the thought of Dean, anybody's thoughts of Dean, belonged to him as much as the man did.

"He is precious to me," Castiel told Jack in all seriousness.

"Yeah," Jack said, "I got that." He grinned at Castiel, actually approving of his stalkerish tendencies, as long as they stayed Dean-focused.

Castiel stared at him a moment, as if sussing out any other Dean related mental activity. Jack heard the angel send a mental greeting to Tana'oa, and Tana'oa responded like the sparkly nail-polished teenage girl he was—all blushing and rainbows and unicorns. All the Companions continued to be quite enamored of the angel.

"Castiel," Daniel said in greeting. "We think we found the address to the lost city of Atlantis and were wondering how you know you can open a wormhole. Does it need to be someplace you've been before or, if you know the address, is that sufficient?"

Considering his question, Castiel thought for a long moment. "I am not sure. Where is this address?"

Daniel directed him to a white board where eight symbols crossed at the top from left to right. McKay erased everything else on the board while Castiel gazed at it.

"These symbols," he finally said, "seem very familiar to me."

"Like you might be able to open a gate?" McKay pressed.

Castiel stared at the symbols for a very long time. "May I see an address for a planet I have been on?"

Daniel quickly wrote the address for Earth. "This is Earth." He wrote a second one underneath it. "This is for Kuokoa, Chaka's home world."

Castiel studied all three addresses.

McKay blurted out, "Anything? We know the eight symbols mean a different galaxy."

"I must see the Stargate," Castiel finally said. "I must attempt a wormhole to one of these other two planets first, before I am able to tell you if I can attempt the other."

"Okay," Daniel said. "Now?"

Jack bit back a smile at Daniel's unusual impatience. McKay must be rubbing off on him.

Castiel, however, was willing and, as a group, they moved to the Stargate, Hammond joining them. Castiel stood in the middle of the gate, hands out, head dropped, eyes closed.

Jack didn't like it. "Castiel," he said. After he got the angel's attention, he continued, "If you form a wormhole, is it going to swoop you up like last time and make you disappear?"

"No," Castiel said.

Jack waited for an explanation, then realized he wasn't going to get one. He was too used to hanging around with Daniel and McKay where all you got were explanations that made your ears bleed. He decided he was okay with succinct and trusted that Castiel knew what he was talking about. All the chevrons on the gate lit up like a Christmas tree, and an event horizon was right there, directly behind Castiel, no kerwoosh necessary. "Okay," Jack said with satisfaction. "That is cool." He walked up the ramp. "Where's that to?"

"Kuokoa," Castiel said.

"Chaka's world," Daniel threw out, as if Jack wouldn't know that, which was entirely possible except that this was one of only two possibilities, and Jack was usually good at holding two things in his brain at a time. He glanced up at the control room where McKay was doing stuff to the computers. Jack would rather it be Carter, but she hadn't been invited to this party. Heads would roll for that, including his.

"Confirmed," McKay said. "It's P3X-888."

"Did we use any energy?" Hammond asked.

"Not a single joule," McKay said with a crooked smile. "Well, other than the cost of the lights glowing for a few seconds."

"How about the eight chevron address?" Daniel pushed.

"You in a hurry?" Jack asked him with a frown.

"I just…" Daniel pauses. "I just feel trouble in the air. I don't know why, I just think we need to get out of here. Let things settle down."

Yeah, that didn't send chills down Jack's spine. Daniel was the least likely among them to be having premonitions. "Can you be any more specific?"

"Not really," Daniel admitted. "I just, I don't know, maybe it's just the fact that all these lives are depending on me to do right by them, and maybe I never realized how hard it is, and how hard it's been for you to keep us all safe for so many years."

"Especially you," Jack said. He tugged at his gray hair as if to remind Daniel that they were mostly because of him. At the same time, he wasn't about to discount Daniel's willies. "Okay then, let's do this. Castiel?"

Castiel looked pensive for a moment but then, suddenly, another wormhole appeared. "Is this the address to the Land of Light?" he asked Rodney up in the booth.

"Hold on," Rodney said and then said, with deep satisfaction, "Yes, that is the Land of Light."

"That is very cool," Jack said. They could trim like a billion dollars off their budget if Castiel could stand here all day and open wormholes. "How about the eight chevron address?"

Castiel got a thinking look on his face again, his head cocked to the side, as if he was listening to the cosmos itself. His wings extended almost across the room, as if they, too, were listening. He nodded his head and a wormhole appeared.

"Well?" Jack snapped at Rodney.

"Give me a minute," Rodney said, fingers flying over keyboards. "Oh, my God. It's Atlantis. Or at least the address we think is Atlantis." He gave up on the computers and came down to the Gate room. "Do you think it is?" he asked Daniel, a look of wonder on his face.

"Only one way to know for sure," Jack said. "How long can you keep that open?"

"As long as necessary," Castiel said. "But I can also open it again at any time."

"Can't we take a quick look?" Daniel pleaded, looking at Jack.

"Sure," Jack said, "just stroll on through. I’m sure it has breathable air and isn't a thousand feet under the water."

Daniel had looked excited enough to take off at a run at the beginning of that sentence, shifting to a pout and drooping shoulders by the end of it.

"I will see if it is safe," Castiel said, and he walked through the wormhole.

"Oookay," Jack said. "I was gonna call for a MALP, but that works."

"What if the gate closes while he's gone?" Hammond asked.

That was a good question, and the answer to it was that they were fucked, and no way was he the one telling Dean that his angel boyfriend had disappeared again. He'd been down that road before and it sucked.

"Castiel would make a new wormhole to come back," Daniel said, calm as can be, and Jack decided to believe him.

"He'll have to make a new wormhole anyway," Rodney said. "These only work one way." As if to completely dispute Rodney's genius, Castiel chose that moment to walk back out of the wormhole.

"How did you do that?" Rodney said loudly. "Wormholes are uni-directional."

Castiel shot him a look that said he had no idea what Rodney was talking about.

Rodney grumbled a moment, but then asked, "Well? What did you see?"

"I believe it is habitable," Castiel said. "It is a beautiful city."

"If Castiel would oblige us," Hammond said, "Perhaps a team could go through with him a second time to do our own assessment."

"Of course," Castiel said. "I must retrieve Dean. Shall I close down the wormhole?"

"No," Jack said. "I think we can pull a team together pretty quickly, assuming it will stay open while you're gone."

"I am not sure," Castiel said. He vanished and was back about ten seconds later with Dean. Dean looked like he had been about to take a swig of something, but Castiel must have left the beverage back with Bobby. Dean frowned at him. "Really? You had to leave the beer there?"

Jack huffed out a breath of laughter. "Get John Sheppard and Major Carter," Jack said to Davis, who was back at the computers.

"Yes, sir," he said, picking up the phone.

"Gear up," Jack told the rest of them.

McKay's eyes lit up. "Me? I can go?"

Jack hoped he didn't regret this, but the guy had helped them find the place. "Yes, you," Jack said. "Just keep close to Sheppard."

Looking affronted, Rodney said, "I don't need a babysitter."

"Yeah," Jack said, "you kinda do." To Castiel, he asked, "And you can get us back?"

"Yes," Castiel said, short and sweet.

Alrighty then. Jack headed for the armory, the rest of them behind him, to gear up.

"Castiel," Daniel asked, "could you please let all the symbiotes know that we will need to meet with them and their humans this evening. Please don't let them know anything about what we're doing, simply that we have some news to discuss."

"I have done as you asked," Castiel said about three seconds later.

Jack noticed that Castiel kept a very close eye on Dean as he armed himself. Was it possible for an angel to think the combination of his boyfriend--or whatever Dean was, Jack had no idea if things had progressed past that one kiss--and guns were hot? Oops. Castiel was looking at him now, no doubt having caught the Dean thought. Jack grinned at Castiel, who actually blushed a little.

"Zeus says they haven't kissed again," Tana'oa told Jack.

"Why not?" Jack groused. "Jeez, they need to get with the program. Everyone else is inappropriately messing around, why aren't they?"

Castiel was still staring at him but then his gaze shifted to Dean.

"What?" Dean asked him.

Castiel kissed him. Right there, in front of everybody. And howdy, Dean was kissing him right back, tongues and all, even wandering hands that were heading south at a rapid pace.

"Stop!" Jack yelled. "I didn't mean here. Jeez. Have none of you heard about getting a room? It's bad enough when it's Sheppard and McKay." Despite his griping, inside he was pleased as punch, glad to see Castiel taking a stand and, by the glazed look in Dean's eyes, he was on board with the whole thing.

"Hey!" McKay said. "That was Euler and Flutie."

"Right," Jack said sarcastically. McKay's face was flaming red.

Carter, Sheppard, and SG-3 came striding into the Gate room at the same time as Jack and his gang returned fully armed for bear. It only took the new arrivals a couple of minutes to arm themselves as well. He glanced at Hammond. "Okay with you, sir?"

Before he had a chance to answer, Daniel said, "Oh, wait." He ran up to the control booth and picked up the phone, engaged in a short conversation and then ran back down. Meanwhile, his face bright red, Dean was mumbling an apology to Hammond even as he was still holding hands with the angel, and Jack wished, wished, wished, he had a camera because that was so frickin' cute he could hardly stand it.

"What was that about?" he asked Daniel as he ran back down the stairs.

"I'll tell you later," Daniel said.

Hammond nodded. "You have a go, Colonel. Come back safely. Castiel?"

Castiel looked at Hammond and waited for him to speak.

"I'm counting on you to keep them safe."

Castiel nodded and then glanced at Dean. Jack was sure it was to find out if there was something else he was supposed to do or say. The two of them were adorable. "And don't say that out loud," he said to Tana'oa.

"I wasn't the one who said it out loud in the first place. You were," Tana'oa sniped.

"Picky, picky."

He ignored Tana'oa's mutterings and said, "Let's go. Castiel, I'll let you head the pack."

"Yeah, that means you go first," Dean told Castiel, standing right next to him. "We'll go together." He prodded Castiel's back and the two of them walked through the event horizon.

Adorable.

Jack got the rest of them organized, having him, Brian and Jeff bringing up the rear. He stepped through the wormhole, his two babysitters right behind him.

*****

Evan could feel the Companions in the back of his mind, like someone singing softly enough that you know they're making sound but you can't quite make out the words. Every now and then, though, he did hear words either from the Companions inside of humans, or the ones in the tank.

When he walked past people who had Companions, the Companions always had a cheery hello to send his way, as if the word was out about the fact that he could hear them.

They were all subdued, though, when the big two, namely Dr. Jackson and Colonel O'Neill, were away from the mountain. Big three, actually, because Castiel was a huge deal to all the Companions and they liked it better when he was around, him and Dean. The Companions tended to think of them as one being: the angel and Dean.

So when all of them were gone, the Companions grumbled a little. Not too much; they were very content with their lot, but Evan picked up on it. They felt a little lonely and a little anxious, and he decided to go down to the infirmary to visit them.

Lieutenant Lightfoot was there, setting up smaller, portable tanks. The infirmary was littered with them. He grinned at Evan as he walked into the infirmary. "You really like them, don't you?"

Evan nodded, his eyes on the main tank. "I really do. They're soothing. And they're really funny."

"They are. And so kind. We could all learn many lessons from their love and compassion. Fidelis is always teaching me how to be a better human." Sean smiled gently and Evan knew he was chatting with his Companion even though he couldn't hear them. All of the Companions could speak privately to their humans, but many of them were happy to gab publicly about any number of things, which accounted for the constant sense of humming.

He liked the Lieutenant; in fact, he liked everyone here. It was strange to get stationed somewhere and find himself liking everyone so much so quickly. Of course, he hadn't known until he got here that he'd be dealing with aliens.

Sean pointed at a bag on the counter. "Paul dropped that off before leaving. You could set them up and put them in both tanks."

"What is it?" Evan asked, curious.

"Goodies for the tanks. Paul likes to mix things up every couple of weeks so they don't get bored."

Evan pulled out two identical boxes holding remote controlled sharks. "Wasn't there one like this already?"

"It died. One of the Companions finally beat it into submission yesterday. None of the other Companions would talk to him all day they were so annoyed with him breaking their favorite toy."

"Is that what the sulking was about yesterday?" He'd wondered what was going on, but no one offered up any explanations.

"Apparently." Sean put some sort of dip stick into the liquid in one of the tanks and let it sit there for a few minutes while Evan tore the boxes apart and put in the waterproof batteries.

Once he placed them in the tanks, the effect was instantaneous, as half a dozen Companions all went after it, sending mental paroxysms of happy joy Evan's way. Paul had also bought a bag of smaller rubber sharks and other aquatic sea creatures and Evan upended half of them in each tank, except the largest shark. He looked for yesterday's culprit, figuring out who it was as it sullenly regarded the new remote control shark circling the tank on the surface of the water.

"Hey," Evan said to him. "I've got something for you." The Companion focused on Evan and floated nearer the top of the water, keeping his distance from the new shark. Evan dropped the six inch rubber shark in the water. "That one's for you."

The Companion, with a burst of mental pleasure, wrapped its tail around the shark and dragged it down with him, back into one of the small cubby holes Paul and Sean had created so they'd have someplace to hide if they wanted. He watched as another Companion grabbed an octopus and a smaller shark and then swam into the same cubby hole, making himself at home with the first Companion. Everyone seemed fine with the arrangement which made Evan grin. These guys couldn't hold a grudge long; it just wasn't in them.

"There's a lot of activity going on today," Evan threw out, hoping Sean would be willing to share some information, because while it was true that quite a few people were off-planet, Evan had felt the weight of new Companions arriving on a regular basis.

"All the people with Companions were called home by Daniel," Sean said. "He's making an announcement."

"Has that ever happened before?"

"Nope. Well, it used to happen all the time when there were just a few of us, but not since there've been so many. Kind of hard to get everyone here when we're literally scattered across the globe."

"What's the announcement about?"

"You could probably ask any of the Companions and they'd tell you."

"I don't like to ask them. I mean the ones in people. It feels like stealing. And these ones aren't sure. Something about moving?" Evan pointed out the smaller tanks. "Are the tanks being moved out?" He'd be sad about that. He liked having the Companions somewhere he could visit, but from the very first time he'd met them and seen the tanks, he'd thought them vulnerable, despite the SFs making regular rounds.

"Why don't you come to the meeting tonight and find out," Sean invited.

"Am I allowed?"

"You won't be the only fully human there."

"Great," Evan said, glad that he'd be in the know. "What?"

Sean lifted an eyebrow as if asking for clarification for Evan's random question.

"It's one of the Companions. He's curious about who's here." Lorne glanced around the infirmary and saw that it was almost empty. "Is there someone here? I don't think he meant you or me."

Sean glanced over to the far bed with the curtain drawn. "That's Tim from SG-6. Jia Li healed him but he was really tired after she was done, so he's sleeping it off. What I heard, although it’s not official, is that they went to Ba'al's planet with a plan to start helping all the humans there get settled now that they aren't under the thumb of a System Lord, but ran into some unexpected resistance. They came back hot. Tim had been hit by a staff blast."

"Was it another Goa'uld taking over?"

"Jaffa. There might be another Goa'uld but no one saw him. Regardless, anyone who was loyal to Ba'al cannot be happy with us. We stole their spaceships and a surprising amount of intel."

"And killed their god," Evan said. "I guess all the Jaffa aren't like Teal'c." There had to be some who liked the chance to be a bully on behalf of a fake god. It was so strange to read the mission reports of these men and women, of Teal'c and Dr. Jackson, Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, and so many others, stories that read like Greek myths, and then see those people just hanging around like they were normal everyday folks.

Evan had seen heroism; he'd been called a hero a time or two, but this place created heroes or, he imagined, this place made people run screaming in the other direction. You discovered what you were made of in a place like this. The Companion was still sending out a questioning emotion and Evan walked to the tank and put his hand in the water, something he hadn't done yet, but had seen Dr. Jackson do several times already.

The Companion he'd been communicating with shot up and wrapped around his arm. "What's up, buddy?" Evan asked him.

Sean had taken his dip stick out and was measuring it against a color chart.

The Companion wrapped around him wasn't mature and, because of it, he wasn't able to speak as clearly as the ones inside humans, but there was no doubt he wasn't happy. And what he wasn't happy about was the guy sleeping in the corner of the room. In fact, he wasn't the only one; a few of them were feeling anxious about him.

"Why?" Evan asked.

He didn't really get much in response, just a sense of worry. Even the Companions who were able to talk couldn't explain themselves.

Evan put the Companion back in the tank and walked over to where Tim was sleeping. He touched the guy's shoulder. "Are you okay?" Maybe the Companion was worried because he was sicker than assumed.

The guy jolted awake, looking momentarily disoriented. "What? Oh." He sagged back down on the bed. "I had the weirdest dream."

Maybe the Companion had picked up on that. Evan didn't really know what they were capable of. An orderly Evan hadn't met before walked into the cubicle holding an inhaler. "One more puff of this, another nap, and you'll be good to go."

Tim furrowed his brow. "I need that?"

"Yeah. Your lungs took a bit of a hit back on the planet. The healing device probably took care of it, but Dr. Fraiser thought a couple hits of a steroid inhaler would make sure of it."

"Okay," Tim said, grabbing the inhaler and taking a puff. "Good? Should I take another one?"

"Nope," the orderly said, taking the inhaler away. "I'll make sure this leaves with you, though, just in case."

"Okay." Tim yawned. "I really am tired."

"Just nap it out," the orderly suggested.

As if taking that for an order, Tim shut his eyes and started to lightly snore. Evan couldn't help but grin and tried to catch the orderly's eye to share the joke, but the man was walking away, slipping the inhaler into his pocket. Something about it struck Evan as weird, but he couldn't say why. He glanced at the tank and saw the Companion staring his way, worry still emanating from him.

Walking back over to the tank, he said, "Hey, I think he's fine, but if it will make you feel better, I'll stick around, okay?"

He didn't think he was imagining the relief. Sean picked up the tank he'd been working on and placed it near the other pile. "I need to buy more," Sean said. "Daniel wanted enough for all the Companions to be comfortable in. They'd be very crowded in these. You're welcome to join me."

"No," Evan said, "but thanks. They seem...Can you pick up anything from them? Some of them seem a little anxious."

Sean stared at the tank, head cocked to the side. "Not really. They do seem to like you, and they say you just told them you'd stay around. Sometimes I think they just really like the company."

"So nothing going on I need to worry about?" Evan wasn't about to think whatever sort of communication he could carry on could compete with someone with a Companion in their head.

"Just keep an eye on Sleeping Beauty over there. They're not sure why he's here."

"In an infirmary? There must be sick people in here sometimes," Evan protested.

"You'd be surprised. It's more research now than anything. They're able to heal most everything except the major injuries and, apparently, the occasional need for napping. I'm just as glad you're staying. Dr. Fraiser was called away but was glad that I would be here, so I cede the responsibility of taking care of our new friends to you."

Evan could do that. And maybe they did just want company or at least wanted someone around. He wasn't sure where the orderly went, and he seemed to be the only staff on right now. He grabbed a stack of paper and a pencil, and settled down in one of the bays, out of the way, but with a visual of the main tank, and started to sketch.

 

*****

"Okay," Rodney said. "That's impressive."

And it was. The city was actually underwater. John couldn't get over it. He also couldn't get over how the city just lit up for him. For him, O'Neill, Paul Costello, and Dean. And it really lit up for Castiel. It practically hummed for Castiel.

"I could live here," Rodney said.

John could too. He reached for Rodney's hand and clasped it, thinking how weird it was that he could do this and not have to worry about a court martial. He sent a grateful thought toward Flutie for all the sundry ways his Companion had improved his life. Flutie sent a pulse of symbiote lovin' back to John.

Rodney's radio clicked and he frowned at whatever report he got. He dragged John back to the control room where Sam Carter was busy at the computers. Rodney joined her and neither of them looked happy.

"Sir," Carter called, and Jack spun around. He'd stayed put in Atlantis' version of the Gate room, keeping his eye on things.

"What?"

"We're losing power rapidly," Major Carter said.

"Why?"

"I'm not sure," she said, looking vexed.

"This city is powered by these ZedPMs," Rodney said, "and look," he tapped the screen, "they're almost depleted.

"What does that mean?" Jack demanded.

"It means the force field holding the water out will fail," Rodney said. "In fact, a couple of areas are already under water." He pointed out the spots on the map. "Here and here."

"I don't like the sound of that," Jack said. "How long do we have?"

"With it being just us, we probably have a few days," Major Carter said. "An entire expedition would have stressed the city too much. And it’s ZPMs, by the way."

Rodney made a face at her.

"How do we get more of these ZPMs?" Jack asked, picking Carter’s side. "Are there any sitting in a storage area somewhere? Maybe they just need to get switched out."

Rodney and Major Carter tapped away madly, putting up a map on the large screen behind them. "There," Rodney said, touching the map. "That's where the power center is."

"So go," Jack said. "Dean, you go with them."

That meant Castiel went as well, so John, Rodney, Major Carter, Dean and Castiel started making their way through the city.

"This place is so beautiful," Major Carter said.

"It's awesome," Dean agreed, "especially how the doors open because you ask them to."

"It feels very familiar to me," Castiel said, not sounding particularly pleased by the idea. "I do not understand."

Dean walked very close to him, their hands brushing occasionally. John hoped Dean wasn't waiting for Castiel to take his hand; despite that kiss, John was pretty sure Castiel was a complete novice at the whole romance thing. Castiel looked sharply at him for just a second but long enough for John's heart to race; the angel's attention was something fierce.

John knew the moment they arrived at wherever it was Rodney and Carter wanted to be, because the two of them immediately started arguing. John kept a close watch out, but this city felt empty, other than them, and it also seemed weirdly glad to have them there. He found himself touching the wall as if he could communicate that way.

"What do you feel?" Castiel asked him.

"I don't know," John said, sort of embarrassed. "But, uh, doesn't it seem as if the city is alive in some way?"

"Yes," Castiel said. "I need to look around."

Dean grabbed his arm. "Don't vanish. We can't get home without you."

"Then come with me," Castiel said, and the two of them vanished.

John rolled his eyes. He tapped his earpiece. "Colonel?"

"What?"

"Just wanted to let you know that Castiel and Dean are off exploring."

"Why didn't you stop them?"

"They didn't ask. They just went poof, sir."

"If I find them making out someplace, I won't be happy," Jack said.

John grinned. "Yes, sir." He clicked off. "Rodney, what's going on? Are there more of those ZPMs?"

"No, and these three are almost depleted. If we don't find more, we won't be able to stay here."

That would be a drag. He liked it here. John tapped his earpiece again. "Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"While you guys are roaming around, see if Castiel can find any more of those ZPMs. I'm sending Zeus a picture of one." John took a good look at the thing in Rodney's hands and sent it mentally through Flutie to Zeus.

"Got it."

John felt like teasing him about possibly kissing someplace, but if they were planning on kissing, John thought they should get to it so he kept his mouth shut. "Let us know if you find anything interesting."

"Will do." The connection closed.

*****

Dean popped back into existence on a balcony overlooking the entire city. He could breathe fine, but there was water only inches from his face. Putting out his hand he encountered something that sizzled when he touched it, even though it didn't hurt. Force field, he thought to himself, grinning. "Cas, it's a fucking force field. It's like we're on the Enterprise."

"I am not familiar with that term," Cas said to him, as he looked down over the balcony, really leaning over.

Dean grabbed the belt to his coat. "Hey, don't fall off. And what was with that kissing thing? Don't get me wrong, it was great, but you can't just do that when all of my commanding officers are standing right there."

"Dean," Cas said, and then he stopped. "It was great?"

"Really great," Dean said. "Really, really great."

"Um," Cas said, and Dean grinned again, loving it when he managed to completely derail the angel's thought processes. "There is nobody around right now," Cas pointed out helpfully.

"No, there isn't," Dean said, stepping closer. "Are you sure this is what you want? I mean, I'm fine with us just being friends. We're good that way." Dean tried hard not to think about what a liar he was, sure that Castiel would pick up on it. He forced himself to think about hamburgers and French fries and a milk shake, anything but how much he wanted Cas to want him.

"Are you hungry?" Castiel asked him, proving that Cas was totally trying to read his mind.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Cas. Focus. The kiss. Is it what you want?"

Cas looked uncertain. "I am not certain. I have never been physically intimate with anyone before."

Dean usually avoided virgins like the plague, but the thought that he might be Castiel's first and would damn straight be his last, was very satisfying in a caveman kind of way. "I get that. I remember that night at the whorehouse."

"You should not use such a pejorative word to describe those women," Cas chastised him.

"Right," Dean said. "Whatever. Not the point. I get that you've never done this before. The question is: do you want this? For you, I mean, not for me."

"So this is something you want?" Castiel asked hesitantly.

Dean sighed, frustrated. It was really too bad they both completely sucked at this. And it was really sad that he was the one who had to help them both wade through this; that he was, of the two of them, the expert on relationships, because that was a terrifying thought. "Okay." He swallowed, trying to find the right words. This shouldn't be so hard; it's not like he was really risking anything. He knew Castiel cared for him. He knew there was nothing, and Dean meant nothing, he could do that would chase Castiel away. Their friendship was a sure thing if Dean still had Castiel hovering around after all the dick moves he'd made.

"Okay," he said again. "See, Cas, this is how it works." He stopped.

Castiel was staring at him with this weird sort of hopeful/hopeless expression on his face, as if Dean were about to impart the secrets of the universe and Castiel would, somehow, not understand.

"Fuck it," Dean said. He moved to the balcony, thinking this would be easier if he didn't have to look at the angel. "See, this is about two people. I mean, when it's good. It's about two people who like each other, and care for each other, and then want more. And if they both want more, then that's when it's good. When it's fucked is when one person wants something and the other person doesn't, or when one person wants something and the other person doesn't but gives it to them anyway."

Okay, that sounded reasonable, so Dean continued. "So I like you, and I care for you and I want more. I always want more, Cas," he added, turning to face Castiel now, but still not meeting his eyes. "I always want more. I want as much of you as I can get. But only if you want the same thing. For you, not for me. I know you like me and care for me. I get that. What I need to know is if you want more the way I do. And if you don't, that's okay. I just need to be sure."

Dean finally risked a look. Castiel looked, well, Dean had never seen this particular look on Castiel's face, but he looked…happy? His eyes were clear and there were no lines on his forehead. There was a pleased shy smile on his face, and his shoulders had lost that tightness that seemed so much a part of Castiel.

"It is difficult sometimes for me to think as a human," Castiel confessed. "I do not compartmentalize as you do, to break down what I feel into liking and caring and wanting. What I do know is that from the moment I met you, when I gripped you tight, when I left my mark on you, I have thought of you as mine and me as yours. It is whole and complete and without stages. All I know is that you belong to me, and I belong to you, and all the many ways that can be expressed are welcome. Are cherished."

Dean could feel his face redden at Castiel's words. Christ. Cherished. The word caused not just the heat on his face, but inside of him too, like he'd just slugged down a shot of good whiskey on a cold night. It seemed impossible that someone like Castiel, who was so far out of Dean's league it wasn't funny, continued to choose him. And yeah, yeah, it was all about the apocalypse and him being the righteous man, but--

"No, Dean," Castiel interrupted, "while it is true that I was charged to retrieve you, I did not expect, nor did I need, to leave my mark on you. That happened between you and me spontaneously." His face darkened. "I did not like it when Anna put her hand on it when you…" He swallowed and turned away, returning to the balcony.

"That meant a lot more to her than it did to me. And I didn't like it either. It felt really weird when she touched it," Dean said, standing next to Castiel.

"I do not want you to be with anyone else," Castiel said, looking miserable as he said it. "I do not like it."

Dean was tempted to grin and tease him for being jealous, but this was Castiel, not Sam, so he manfully refrained. "Yeah, well, I wasn't crazy about it when you were kissing Meg." And he hadn't been. At all.

The hopeful look was back in Castiel's eyes. "I would like to kiss you again."

And that was probably the best answer Dean was going to get. Besides, essentially what Cas had said was that he wanted all of Dean, kind of the same way Dean wanted all of Cas. "You okay with this?" Dean asked Zeus.

"Yes!" Zeus answered. "Kiss him!"

Dean snorted and then reached for Castiel's tie to pull him into a kiss. Their first kiss had been very chaste, and the kiss in the Gate room had been zero to sixty without much thought at all, so Dean wanted this one to fall somewhere in the middle.

Dean was good at kissing and he loved it and now, for the first time ever, he was kissing someone he loved, who loved him back, who knew all about his crazy life, and still wanted him. And that right there? That was more of a turn-on than Dean expected, and Dean had Castiel shoved up against the wall, his tongue back inside Castiel's mouth, and Castiel was holding him tightly enough to bruise and Dean wanted to crawl inside of him.

"Dean. Dean!"

It sunk in after a moment, too long a moment, that that wasn't Castiel shouting his name in passion, it was Colonel O'Neill yelling his name in some annoyance. Dean backed away from Castiel and had to turn his head because Castiel looked like Dean had been all over him and it just made Dean want to be all over him some more. "Colonel?" Dean asked, proud of how not breathless he was.

"Where are you?"

"I actually have no idea," Dean confessed. "Castiel brought us to a balcony overlooking the city. Do you need something?"

"Yes," O'Neill snapped. "We need some of those ZPMs. Remember those things?" he added sarcastically. "Have you been looking? Or have you been participating in some extra-curricular activities?"

"I will find some," Castiel said to Dean.

"Did you hear that?" Dean asked. "Castiel says he'll find some."

"Well, he better get at it. Another section of the city just flooded. If this is going to be our home, I'd just as soon not have to wear scuba gear to get to the grocery store. O'Neill out."

Dean winced. He was gonna be lucky if he didn't get shown the door when he got back.

"He cannot fire you," Castiel reassured him, as he straightened his coat. "But he is right. We have other duties to perform right now."

"Why can't he fire me? Well, except for Zeus, obviously." And that was reason enough right there. There was no one who could take Zeus out except for Castiel.

"And I will not," Castiel said, answering Dean's silent comment. "Dean," he said, suddenly somber. "This place feels like home to me. I do not understand it."

The city suddenly trembled. "What was that?"

"Tell everyone to hold on," Castiel told him and he raised his arms, his wings spreading to encompass the entire balcony.

"What? Shit." Dean yelled at Zeus to pass the message along, and he could hear Zeus following his order, speaking to all the other Companions, and he hoped that someone would tell Sam Carter and Teal'c.

It felt like the city exploded beneath him and Dean would have fallen to the floor if Castiel's left wing hadn't braced him. He sensed acceleration and held on tightly to Castiel's wing--the most solid thing around him--as the city shot up through the water, bursting out into the air above to finally settle, with a thump, on the surface of the water.

"Holy crap," Dean said.

"What the fuck was that?" O'Neill was hollering at him through Tana'oa.

Dean let out a whoop, exhilaration running through his blood, as he held the wing of an angel, his soon to be lover, on a foreign city on a different planet, in another fucking galaxy. "That was an e-ride, Colonel," Dean said through his headset. "No more flooding."

"Did Castiel do that?" Jack demanded.

"Yeah," Dean said. "I think he did."

"The city wanted to do it," Castiel said. "It would not have let you die. It wants people here."

"He's sort of saying the city's, what, sentient? Seriously?" Dean's voice got a little high. He took his hand off the wall.

"I do not joke, Dean," Castiel said.

"Get back to the control room," O'Neill snapped.

"They want us back," Dean said to Castiel.

Castiel nodded as he grabbed Dean's arm and they vanished.

*****

Jack rolled his eyes. He was surrounded by men, and angels, awash in hormones, all of whom should know better, except maybe for Castiel. Striding toward the stained glass windows, taking a moment to note how beautiful they were, he stopped when what he thought were windows opened up as doors, revealing a large balcony, water still streaming off the eaves.

Walking outside, he surveyed this new planet they were on, which was basically water, water, and more water. "Hey, McKay," he said through his headset. "Any way to see if there's any land on this mud ball?"

"Jack," Daniel said in answer, "I think there's a holographic map right here."

He trotted over to the console Daniel and Teal'c were standing at and stared at the 3D hologram circling over its base, showing several significant landmasses on a planet that was at least two thirds ocean.

"I'm busy," McKay snapped into his headset, a few seconds later.

"A day late and a dollar short, McKay," Jack groused. He left Daniel and Teal'c to the main consoles and went back outside. The air smelled good, free of pollutants. He glanced out at the ocean for any fish breaching. Talk about awesome fishing.

Then Castiel and Dean were standing beside him, and Jack grabbed the rail to keep from jumping a foot in the air. Sneaky angels were going to give him a stroke.

"I know this city," Castiel said, a very odd look in his eyes.

Jack frowned at him and then captured Dean's attention. "His eyes look weird. Don't they look weird?"

Dean's brow furrowed. "Cas? What's going on?"

Castiel's eyes were still blue but they were kind of glowing; in fact, the entire angel was sort of glowing. "Okay, are you seeing that?"

Dean grabbed Castiel's arm. "What's happening to you?"

"It is all right, Dean," Castiel assured him, as he began to glow even more, his body losing shape.

"Yeah, I don't think so," Dean said harshly.

"This city, it knows me. It…" Castiel looked frustrated as if the proper words didn't exist. "I need to…"

Dean lost his grip on Castiel as his arm melted into a glowy appendage.

"Shit," Jack said. "Daniel, are you watching this?"

In wondering tones, Daniel asked, "Is he an Ancient?"

"What does that mean?" Dean snarled.

And then Castiel was nothing but a tentacled mass of glowy appendages and he was swooping back into the control tower and data banks. Literally, into the actual consoles. Like gone.

Jack's eyebrows were almost off his head. "I didn't see that coming," he said. "Daniel? Did you see that coming?"

"No, I did not," Daniel said, coming to stand next to Jack.

"What are you talking about?" Dean yelled at them.

Jack tossed out a hand toward Daniel, leaving it to him to explain.

Daniel blew out a breath. "There were…are…" he sighed and started again. "There is a race we call the Ancients. We think they built this city. That they were the gatebuilders."

"They made all the cool toys," Jack said, taking pity on Dean's confused face.

"We've run into one before; her name was Oma Desala. She was very powerful. Powerful, well, like Castiel is powerful." He gave a little shrug as if hoping Dean could connect the dots.

Jack huffed. "What Daniel is saying badly is that we're thinking that maybe Castiel is one of these Ancients."

"Don't you think he'd know that?" Dean said, face scrunched up like his brain hurt.

Jack understood that kind of brain pain. He really did.

"Not necessarily," Daniel said, his eyes lighting up, and Jack barely restrained himself from rolling his eyes as Daniel switched into researcher mode. "Think about it. All the Ancients that we know of, not that that's many, they all ascended. Meaning they cast off their mortal bodies and became one with…" Daniel spread his arms wide as if to demonstrate the universe.

Dean shook his head.

Daniel tried again. "Who's to say that if Ancients ascended long enough ago, that they might forget who they are? Suppose a group of Ancients created their own origin myth. Created who they were and how they related to each other. And that creation became real."

"Your very own celestial Lord of the Flies," Jack offered.

"From the moment Castiel discovered the gates, he was very drawn to them," Daniel continued, ignoring Jack, like he always did. "He was able to stand in the vortex of the creation of an event horizon and when he returned, he knew how to work it, to open wormholes from one galaxy to another. And then when he got here, he kept saying he knew this place."

"You're saying he's not an angel?" Dean asked skeptically.

"I'm saying he was something before he became an angel," Daniel explained. "That he was an Ancient. We don't know this for sure, of course, but the only other being we've ever seen go all glowy like that with tentacles was another Ancient."

Dean looked pretty damned stunned and Jack was right there with him. A large part of him was relieved that Castiel wasn't really an angel.

"He is an angel," Tana'oa stated firmly.

"I'm not sure he is," Jack argued.

"It doesn't matter if he originally was an Ancient. Just as it doesn't matter that you weren't a Colonel before you joined the Air Force. He is what he is now, despite his past. And he is an angel," Tana'oa said, not willing to let it go.

Okay. Jack got that. He didn't get, though, what that said about God, or Heaven, or Hell, or angels and devils and Lucifer and all the stuff that came hand in hand with Castiel the Angel, and Dean and Sam Winchester. All in all, he'd rather deal with an Ancient who came hand in hand with Stargates and cities in other galaxies, especially if Castiel could make everything work.

Dean walked to the console Castiel had disappeared into. "Castiel?"

"I am here, Dean," Castiel said, suddenly appearing in front of him, tentacles gone and wings spread in what looked, to Jack, a jaunty position.

"Are those what I think they are?" Jack asked, gesturing toward the three stained glass modules Castiel was holding.

"I do not know," Castiel said. "What do you think they are?"

Jack let out a beleaguered sigh. "Dean, you need to work on your angel's literalism."

"I'm trying," Dean said, looking too happy to have Castiel back in one non-glowy piece to take any offense on his friend's behalf.

"Why don't you take those to McKay," Jack suggested. Then he tapped his headset, "Sheppard?"

"Yes, sir," came the reply.

"I'm sending Castiel your way. McKay's gonna explode when he sees what he's got." Castiel vanished.

"Literally?" Sheppard asked nervously.

Jesus. How was this their life, that that question wasn't too out of line?

McKay suddenly squawked in his ear, and Jack smirked. "Sheppard?"

"Uh, Castiel just showed up with three full ZPMs, sir, and McKay's metaphorically exploding."

"Okay. Keep me in the loop."

"So we can stay?" Daniel asked, looking besotted as he glanced around.

"You get that there's nothing here, right? Somehow I don't think Hammond's gonna send RFIs out to see if Starbucks wants to open a store here." Jack wandered around the control tower, taking note of the gate, which was basically the same but had a more aesthetically pleasing design. He wasn't surprised given the attention to detail on all the windows and walls, although the dead branch things were a mystery. Whatever. Some biologist they brought here would have geekasms over them later.

"We'll bring everything we need," Daniel said, "And there's got to be a place for cooking; this was once inhabited by thousands, maybe millions of people. It's huge. Almost the size of Manhattan according to the map, and that's not even including anyone living off the city."

"Why are they gone?" Jack asked. "They deserted this city, Daniel, and that's never a good thing. People don't leave without a good reason."

"Hey guys, you need to see this," Paul called from the edge of the tower. "There's a hologram with a story to tell."

*****

"I am an Angel of the Lord," Castiel said for the tenth time, not budging an inch.

"I'm not saying you're not," Daniel tried, "but is it possible that before you were an angel, that you were something else? How else do you explain your affinity for this city?"

Jack was bored with that conversation already, as it was doing nothing but going in circles. Even Dean looked like he was nodding off and he had way more invested in Castiel's sense of who he was. He did feel sorry for the angel. It couldn't be easy trying to wrap your mind around the idea that everything you thought was real maybe wasn't.

Jack didn't think Daniel was going to get anywhere except eventually pissing Castiel off, and he planned to put a stop to things before it got that bad. Right now, Castiel was just being stubborn.

He left the large office at the top of the stairs and looked over the balcony.

"I do not like the sound of this enemy who vanquished the Ancients," said Teal'c, who had followed him out.

This was the conversation Jack wanted to have; that little presentation had left a hole in his gut. "Me, either." He wished the hologram had been more forthcoming, instead of all the Ancient portentous doom bullshit. He hadn't liked having an Ancient database downloaded into his brain turning him into an idiot savant, and he hadn't been crazy about Oma Desala, so as far as he was concerned he'd take their city but leave the Ancients out of it, except maybe Castiel.

Teal'c wasn't done. "We must find out more about this enemy so as to better prepare."

"We do have shuttles, though," Jack pointed out. And how cool was that? Sheppard almost wet himself when he saw those. "And McKay says the ZPMs will power up that shield."

"Even with the shield, the Ancients eventually fled."

"You're just all sunshine and puppies today, aren't you, T?"

Teal'c shot him one of those 'I only put up with you for Daniel's sake' looks. "We should use this Stargate to go to another planet to gather sufficient information about this enemy."

"Our primary objective in coming here isn't to explore this galaxy. It's to establish a colony for Earth."

"And it will be essential to have allies. What happens if we cannot contact Earth, or the political environment there deteriorates to the point where they cut us off? We will not survive without sources of food and other supplies."

"And what happens if we go out there and bring that enemy the hologram spoke of right to our doorstep, especially as we'll have civilians here?" Like my wife and children, Jack added to himself.

"I understand," Teal'c said solemnly, and maybe he did; it wasn't like Teal'c was unacquainted with loss. "On Earth, things are different, O'Neill, and I am forced to share the protection of Daniel with many, but if we live here, I will be his First Prime, and the protection of him and the other Taur'i hosts will be my responsibility and my honor. One I will share with you."

Jack was glad he'd added that caveat.

"But I cannot see to his safety," Teal'c continued, "to everyone's safety, without more information and a clear sense of who our enemies and our allies are. If this enemy that woman spoke of can defeat the Ancients, then no one will be safe, including Earth."

"So have this be a military base instead of a colony?" Jack asked him.

"Would you have it be anything else if we live in the shadow of a fearsome enemy? We all live on a military base now, so it will be little different to that which we are already accustomed," Teal'c pointed out. "Our civilians will be safer, as we have advantages the Ancients did not have." He nodded toward the conference room.

"Castiel? Don't forget he probably is or was an Ancient."

"If they'd had his powers they would have won the war. Even if he was like them at some point, he has evolved much past who and what they were."

Jack scrubbed his face with his hands for a few seconds. Tapping his ear piece, he called, "McKay?"

"What?" came the irascible reply.

"Is the shield up yet?"

"No." There was a hesitation. "Why? Does it need to be up? Should it be up? Oh my God, are we being attacked?"

"Sir," came the more respectful voice of John Sheppard. "Is there a problem? Rodney's hyperventilating."

Jack heard a squawk through the ear piece and grinned. "Nope. I just want the shield up until we know what we're dealing with."

"Understood, sir, I'll get it done."

Jack liked John, even if he did totally question his choice of bed mates. Seriously. Rodney McKay?

Tana'oa internally frowned at him.

"Yeah, yeah," Jack muttered. All the Companions liked Euler and through him, Rodney. "Fine," he said, to Tana'oa, "he's smart, and he can be funny, and he did take on a Companion when he didn't want one and helped save Daniel. Okay?"

"Okay," Tana'oa said smugly.

"Sir?" Carter called, standing by the console. "I think I've found a list of possible gate addresses."

Jack moved until he could stare over her shoulder. "Addresses we should try or addresses we should avoid?" Most of the text was in gobbledygook.

"I'm not sure, but I'm thinking if they were addresses we should avoid, that there'd be some obvious warning and there's not."

"When Daniel's done in there with Castiel, let him take a peek. Maybe he can read more of this stuff."

Carter nodded, frowning at the screen.

Jack tapped his ear piece again, checking his watch. "We're regrouping in thirty to discuss everything we've found. Everyone in the gate room at two-thirty." He didn't wait for any discussion, just shut it off. "Who wants to go for a ride in a spaceship?" he called out.

Dean was standing next to him as if he'd been there all along, his eyes lit up. Teal'c took his place outside the conference room, not willing to venture far from Daniel. Paul and Eric sent Jack betrayed looks, but they wouldn't leave Daniel's side either. "Carter?"

"I'm good, sir. I'll monitor you from here; it might teach us a few things."

"Okey dokey," Jack said, striding to the ship bay, Dean at his side, Jeff and Brian right behind them.

*****

Evan kept note of the soldiers making rounds. They kept it random, which he appreciated, never waiting for more than fifteen minutes to come by, but sometimes only a minute elapsed before one of them reappeared.

He knew about the attack that had happened here, had seen the tape of O'Neill taking on Tana'oa, and had already been impressed by O'Neill's ability to stay on his feet long before he'd taken on his Companion.

The first time one of the soldiers came in, he'd nodded at Evan, eyebrows up as if assessing his reason for being here. "They asked," Evan said.

The man gazed at the tank, looking vacant for a moment before Evan realized he was checking in with the symbiotes. Of course they'd have SFs with Companions watch over them; it would be an early alert system, ensuring someone got there very quickly if something happened. The SF had nodded at Evan, obviously having confirmed his claim with the Companions. After that he was given a quick nod during each round.

There were two soldiers taking turns, and he saw one of them nod at the orderly, letting Evan know he was a regular employee here, even if Evan hadn't seen him before. The orderly took in Evan's presence with some surprise but then moved to the tank to make an adjustment to the air hose before moving to the other tank around the corner.

He wasn't sure what tipped him off. Maybe it was the yawning. Evan hadn't been tired, in fact he'd been quite intent on his drawing, but suddenly he couldn't seem to stop yawning, his eyes blinking as if exhausted. Whatever the reason, something in Evan knew it wasn't natural. He shook off the weariness in a moment, imaginary hackles up as if in response to some unseen danger.

Moving to the tank, he put his hand on the glass, trying to find the Companion who had spoken to him earlier. They were unusually somnolent, moving around sluggishly, and it made Evan's gut clench apprehensively. He hammered on the tank this time. "Talk to me," he demanded.

They tried, but the words slurred in his mind as if he was trying to communicate with an overly drunken friend at a party. He started to feel it, though, the anxiety spreading through all the symbiotes.

Before he'd even rationally put together the dots, Evan was tearing at the hose, yanking it out of the tank, then running to the other tank and doing the same. He was standing there, hose in hand, when an SF entered the room, instantly alert, gun out, aimed at him.

"Something's wrong," Evan said. "Look at them. I think they've been drugged."

And that was when the shit really hit the fan, as suddenly the SF was being slammed into a wall by what Evan assumed was a ribbon device, the same thing O'Neill had put on to destroy the man who had shot the Companions.

Tim's eyes were glowing, and Evan had just enough time to come to the conclusion that this had to be an actual Goa'uld inside the member of SG-6, before the SF pulled away from the wall, shooting the Goa'uld, and the two of them were engaged in some comic book fight where every blow should have been deadly, but because they were both super-powered, they kept standing while the room around them and all the equipment became collateral damage.

The soldier was pulling the fight away from the tank, and Evan could only hope that the man's Companion had put out the alarm for additional help. Moving quickly to the tank in the main room, Evan stood on the footstool and reached into the tank. He was able to scoop out a few Companions, but most of them had sunk to the bottom. He gently placed the ones he now held into one of the newly set up smaller tanks, thanking God that they were handy.

He looked around frantically for something to use and finally picked up an IV pole, taking a second to get a good stance before swinging it hard at the tank. Of course, as soon as he did that, the door opened up and more SFs poured in, weapons aimed at him. Hoping they'd listen, really hoping he wasn't about to get shot, he yelled, "Someone poisoned the water! He's in there! Help me get them out of the tank!"

A couple continued pointing their weapons at him for which Evan didn't blame anyone. It was clear, however, that there was a fight going on in the next room. Once Sean Lightfoot ran in though and saw what was going on, he started helping Evan as fast as he could, snapping orders to a couple of the others to start the same process on the other tank.

Evan didn't focus on anything after that, just grabbing Companions with both hands and cramming them into what were rapidly filling smaller tanks. "Jesus," Evan said, blaming his sense of urgency for his lapse of memory. He yelled at one of the SFs. "The orderly who works here, the short guy with curly brown hair. I think he did this. I saw him mess with the hose right before it happened."

Someone left, presumably to organize a man-hunt, and then Evan put his mind back on the project at hand, to save every last Companion.

*****

They returned from Atlantis to the SGC to find the place in a complete chaos, and Jack could barely make sense of what all the Companions on base were telling him and Daniel.

"What?" Daniel yelled out verbally and mentally. "What's going on?"

"There was an attack on the Companions while you were gone," Hammond told them, looking furious.

That was the cacophonous answer Jack got in his head as well and Daniel had to be getting more than him.

"Be quiet," Daniel ordered, out loud, but clearly directed to the Companions. The silence was a relief.

"Castiel," Hammond said, "one of the members of SG-6 was taken against his will by a Goa'uld. I would appreciate it you could remove it, and then heal him of any remaining wounds."

"Of course," Castiel said.

"He in the infirmary, sir?" Dean asked.

"He is," Hammond said to Dean; he and the angel vanished a second later after Castiel touched his shoulder. To Daniel and Jack, he added, "Someone attempted to kill all the Companions, and they would have succeeded if Captain Lorne hadn't been present at the time. They are all fine, although not happy with their current living accommodations. We believe it was the same substance used on Dr. McKay's Companion when he was kidnapped."

During this announcement, Hammond had separated out Jack and Daniel and taken them up to his office. Jack could hear Carter taking control in the Gate room and getting everyone moved on to wherever they belonged.

"How did we not know…who was it who ended up with the Goa'uld?" Daniel said, switching questions mid-stream.

"Lieutenant Tim Garwood," Hammond said. "I hope the Lieutenant will have some more helpful information to give us. There was also someone else in on it, an orderly name of Ross Adams. Newly arrived but fully vetted." Hammond actually scowled, something Jack rarely saw him do.

"In any case, he was involved, and we found several inhalers in his quarters and one on his person that contained a gas that was the same as that put into the Companions' tanks. Our only guess at this time is that the Goa'uld was put to sleep as soon as he was in Lieutenant Garwood, and kept asleep until such time as it was safe for him to emerge. Siler found evidence of tampering in the air duct system, so I can only assume they meant to release the gas throughout the compound." Hammond paused for a moment to take a quick call, thanking whoever had made the call, before hanging up.

"Jesus H. Christ, sir." Jack's heart was pounding. All of the Companions, inside and out, could have died. Tana'oa could have died.

"And everyone really is okay?" Daniel asked worriedly.

"They are, and I understand if you would like to be excused to go see them."

Daniel nodded with an apologetic smile and was out of the room at a run.

"I guess we found a new home just in time," Jack said. "I'm sort of feeling we should be leaving yesterday."

"As many of you as can go," Hammond agreed, even if Jack had only been half serious. "Although I suspect everyone will need time to pack up basic essentials. And speaking of Atlantis, you believe it can function as a base?"

"Yes, without a doubt." Jack blew out a breath. "We really dodged a bullet."

"We dodged a big one, Jack. If the Captain hadn't been there, they might have succeeded. Well, and the fact that the guards we have watching the tanks have Companions, so the one who was first attacked by the Goa'uld was able to fight back."

"Whoever's involved has to be placed pretty high up to create the sort of records and backgrounds that allow personnel like that in under our radar."

Hammond gestured at the phone. "I was just told that Castiel was able to cure the orderly as well, as he was close to death. I will not release him to anyone until he tells us what he knows."

"Who's guarding him?"

"Captains Sheppard and Mitchell, as well as Dean Winchester."

"Good choice." Especially Dean, as he could yell for Castiel if someone with a lot of credentials tried to take their prisoner. "I hate to suggest this, I mean, I really hate it, but Castiel could find out what we want. They might be successful next time, especially now that we know they have a weapon that works."

Hammond let out a long weary breath. "You might be right. Will you see to it?"

Jack nodded, feeling just as weary. It hadn't finished sinking in that they could have come back to the SGC and found all the Companions dead.

"Before you go, tell me more about Atlantis."

"The good news or the bad news?"

"The bad news," Hammond said. "What is it?"

"I'll start with the most serious. There is an enemy, not named or described, unfortunately, but dangerous enough to make the Ancients flee from the city, leaving it safe underwater. We have no intel on what that enemy is, if they still exist, and if we'd be bringing them to Earth's door if they become aware of us."

"On the other hand," Jack continued, "it's impossible to know if they would make it here anyway, or maybe they have and it's the Goa'uld. Who the hell knows? On the flip side, the good news is that the city is beautiful and, according to Castiel, sentient. I don't know to what degree but I could feel it in my mind. Not like the Companions, nowhere to that level of communication, more like white noise. And if I didn't think I'd sound crazy, I'd say she was sad we were leaving. I think she's been lonely."

Hammond's eyebrows rose. "Do you think she presents a danger?"

Jack shook his head firmly; he'd sensed nothing but a pleased hum in his head at their presence. "No, not at all. And here's a real kicker, Castiel is convinced he knows the city and the city knows him, like he had something to do with making her." He leaned in, getting to the good part, "He went all glowy tentacles like that Oma Desala Ancient."

The eyebrows went up again. "I feel as if you're telling me a story around a campfire. This is becoming as difficult to believe as the truth."

"I couldn't make this shit up, sir," Jack assured him. "He flew into the databanks, like inside them, and came out with these power modules that had McKay doing backflips." He put up a hand, "Okay, that was figurative. Even I can't believe that McKay could do a backflip to save his life."

That got him a brief chuckle. "Other thoughts?"

"It's huge, Manhattan huge, according to Daniel. We don't know yet how much of that is housing or factories or whatever else they might have used the city for. We could be exploring for years. The power modules allowed McKay to put a shield over the city, which should both hide it and keep it protected."

"That sounds like good news."

"It is, if all we're interested in is creating a bedroom community for Earth. McKay is already putting together a power point presentation to convince you to create a military-run Starbucks to go with us."

Hammond shook his head as if in despair, although underneath his clear frustration and anger with everything that happened today, there was still a spark of humor. "What else?"

"Teal'c. Something about that place triggered his First Prime instincts. He's always more that way when we go off planet, as if he gets that there's a lot of protection here and he doesn't have to operate at Defcon One, even if Daniel gets into trouble here just as much as he does off planet." Jack waved that thought away. "Anyway, he wants to take Jaffa and explore the closest planets to suss out friends and enemies. And it's not that I don't agree, but it could leave us fighting a war on both sides of the gate and I'm not crazy about that idea." He frowned. "Teal'c stated quite indisputably that it's his duty as Daniel's First Prime, as First Prime to all of us, I guess, to be as prepared as possible, and that he would not shirk that duty come hell or high water."

"How do you feel about taking Jaffa with you?"

"As a military presence you can't get better," Jack admitted. "But they'll obey Teal'c and Daniel, not necessarily me."

"Let's talk about that then," Hammond said, gracefully following Jack's segue. "What will be the chain of command? You are still my second here, and my expectation would be that you would hold that rank on Atlantis."

"Me, too, and that's why I've got mixed feelings about taking the Jaffa."

"Teal'c has proven himself many times to all of us, and we know he is unshakably loyal to Daniel, and Daniel is nothing but loyal to you," Hammond pointed out.

"And we've also seen how Teal'c sometimes jumps in without thinking, just like Daniel. But yeah, I get what you're saying. Teal'c would never stage a mutiny, and he already included me in his plans, something along the lines that we, meaning him and me, would keep everyone safe."

"All of this is an experiment, Jack," Hammond said kindly. "If there really is an enemy out there that the Ancients couldn't defeat, who would you want at your back?"

"Teal'c," Jack admitted. "And a couple thousand pissed off Jaffa."

"I think it could only cement our relationship with Chulak if we did this. We know the planet is brimming with literally thousands of Jaffa with little to do except what Daniel and you bid them to. This will give them a true purpose."

That was true enough, and it was probably better for the Jaffa to go barreling all over the city to make sure it was safe before he let loose the science staff. Due to the Companions, Jack was going to end up with an odd assortment of residents. Tana'oa made a note to tell him that the humans with Companions that had been off base were steadily trickling back in, many of them already here. "Daniel's getting ready to speak to everyone," Jack said. "Are we going to try this?"

"It's a leap of faith, Jack; if it goes wrong you will all pay the price, but there's a part of me that thinks this might be the answer. With Castiel on board, you'll be able to get here in seconds and back to Atlantis just as quickly. And no one else will be able to get to you, because we can't dial an eight chevron address without blacking out half the country. After today, I don't think we can wait. I'm not sure we wouldn't have had anything but dead Companions on our hands if not for the Captain's unexpected presence."

Anger suddenly suffused Jack, even though he'd been trying to keep it at bay, knowing it wasn't the time for it. "How does this keep happening?" he barked out. He could understand Hammond's frustration as it was the two of them who had come up with every security precaution they could. The only thing they could have done differently was to guard the Companions twenty-four hours a day, but it was the Companions who had nixed that idea. They loved company but not a full-time guard. They felt safe, despite their last run in with Scar.

"I have no defense," Hammond said, hands out.

"No, no, I wasn't blaming you, sir," Jack said vehemently. "You and I together came up with everything we could think of, and it's still not enough. So we need to go, if for no other reason than to protect the Companions."

"I'm relieved to think you have somewhere to go, out of harm's way. Dr. Jackson's concern that there was trouble in the wind was more prescient than expected. Have you given any thought to who I might want to consider if you are unable to stay my second?"

"Afraid this might all blow up faster than we expect?"

"I hope not, but much depends on who was behind this attack. If it's the NID, we can hold the wolf at bay for a couple of years as the President will support us. If it's someone from the Executive Branch, we might already be out of time."

Jack didn't like that idea, but if he had to blow this Popsicle joint he had to admit that Atlantis was a nice consolation prize. As long as they could take an obstetrician. Speaking of that he said, "We'll need an obstetrician."

"I’m aware," Hammond said. "Your thoughts to your possible replacement?"

"Yup," Jack said. "Paul Davis for short-term, Captain Evan Lorne for long-term."

"Paul Davis was on my short list as well, but I hadn't even considered Captain Lorne, at least until today. Why him?"

"He can understand all the Companions. You'd have someone here who is one hundred percent human but able to converse with all the symbiotes. He'd be a good secret weapon. In fact, I suggest you keep that out of the official report; no one should know that but us. His file shows him to be an exemplary officer, and Sheppard and Mitchell like him. I know that's not much to go on, but his name is the one that immediately popped into my head when you asked me about this earlier, and now that he's saved our asses, I mean it even more."

"He'll need to get promoted before I could consider him."

"You can promote him to major for what happened today, and then lieutenant colonel is just around the corner."

"Let's hope I can keep you around for a while," Hammond said dryly. "Perhaps you could start pushing some of your lighter duties to him and we'll see how he does with it. We need someone in your position that can see the world in shades of gray."

"Don't I know it, sir," Jack griped. "I should just have him go on a couple of missions with Daniel to season him up." He thought of something, "Oh, and hey, Castiel likes him."

Another small smile. "Anything else?"

"Does the President know this is going on?"

"Yes," Hammond said, standing. "And speaking of the President, he's waiting to be briefed on all of today's events."

Jack jumped to his feet. "We're meeting at seven-thirty if you want to join us. We'll be in the gymnasium. Somehow, after today, I don't think anyone will argue."

"I agree, and I'll be there."

Jack took that as dismissal and left Hammond's office.

*****

"You are nervous," Teal'c said to Daniel, taking a moment to admire his mate. They were standing outside the door where all the people with Companions were waiting for them. Teal'c hadn't realized there were so many; several hundred at least.

"I am," Daniel admitted, letting his head drop to Teal'c's shoulder as if to draw strength from him.

Teal'c put a hand on the back of Daniel's neck, silently telling him that everything Teal'c was belonged to him and was his to take. "No one means you harm."

"I know that. I do. I just, I've never met with them all. There are people in there who do important jobs, with families who deserve to live as they please, and I'm about to disrupt all of that. They may mean me no harm, but it doesn't mean they won't resent this."

"Most of the humans who took a Companion were single, and many others were couples where both took a symbiote. Their choosing this path already set them apart. Most have chosen to live here in the mountain, near you, and near more of their kind. There will be few who would truly choose to stay here while you reside a galaxy away."

Daniel ran his thumb over Teal'c's tattoo depicting the symbol for Earth. "First Prime for Atlantis now."

"First Prime for you," Teal'c corrected him, "wherever we live, and you are of Earth."

"Do you think the Jaffa will want to come with us?"

"I believe too many of them will want to come with us, and we will have to turn some of them down. They are loyal to you."

"And you," Daniel said with a smile. "You would lead them."

"I would."

"We might be taking them all to their deaths."

"I do not believe this to be true," Teal'c said. "We will find this enemy the Ancients spoke of and we will defeat them."

"This enemy has certainly not faced a Jaffa army."

"Or a people such as you have created."

Daniel gazed up at him. "Such a family as we've created," he amended. "All of us."

"And because of it, they will not resent what you are asking them to do. They will understand that you are doing it to ensure their safety. Especially after today."

Daniel leaned in with a grin, "I really am trying to get a Starbucks out there. There's no reason we can't take the machinery and the ingredients and make it happen."

"That will ease the transition," Teal'c said with a small smile in return.

Grinning, Daniel opened the door and entered the gymnasium. Someone had brought in chairs for everyone, but as soon as he crossed the threshold, as one, they all stood in allegiance to him. These people were his to protect and to love.

"And you are theirs to protect and to love," Junior told him.

Buoyed by that truth, Daniel walked to the front of the assembly where the rest of his team stood.

*****

"I do not understand humans," Castiel told Dean.

"Tell me about it," Dean agreed. He was in his quarters, packing what little he had. Sam had just left to go pack his own stuff.

"Why would they target the Companions? They are a species incapable of hatred."

"That's why," Dean told him. "They can't be manipulated. All they do is make the NID nervous because they make us stronger, with no payout for them."

"If the NID’s purpose is to protect Earth, why do they not understand how the Companions are their greatest ally?"

"No idea. I never met this Colonel Simmons guy, but he must be a piece of work."

Castiel stared at Dean as if all the answers lay on Dean's face.

Dean rolled his eyes, crossed the room, snuck a quick kiss, and went back to packing. Castiel looked a little stunned and it made Dean grin. It had taken Castiel all of ten seconds to make the orderly squeal and it had been the NID that orchestrated the attack, led by someone named Frank Simmons. Something about that seemed to please Hammond and O'Neill, which confused Dean, but not enough to track Jack down. At least not yet.

Siler, with his team of engineers, had checked out the entire ventilation system for any surprises and had removed sixteen devices that had all been wired to a cell phone found in the orderly's room. That had been where he'd been apprehended, so Dean could only assume he'd been about to set them off. Awesome.

And the icing on the cake was that the Goa'uld inside of Tim Garwood had been there to kill Castiel, to avenge the death of Ba'al.

Not that he'd been successful, but Zeus was still freaked out. Dean was still freaked out. And because of that, Castiel was still freaked out. "Could you have fixed the Companions?" he asked Castiel.

"I do not know. Not if they had been dead."

"Not fully versed on where Companions' souls go when they die?" Dean asked, sort of joking.

"I do not wish to speak of this anymore," Castiel said, looking away. "It is difficult to care for so many people. I do not like it. There is too much that can go wrong where I can do nothing to assist."

"You were in another galaxy," Dean said, defending him. "It's not like you even knew anything was going on.

"And I was elsewhere when you almost died on that planet," Castiel insisted.

"Hey, buddy," Dean said, moving back over to where Castiel was sitting, looking dejected. He sat on him, straddling his legs. It wasn't as if Castiel couldn't take his weight. "You can't be everywhere. People die. My mom died. My dad died. It's only because of you that Sam and me aren't dead like a hundred times. You've saved Daniel and Eric, Colonel O'Neill, Zeus, and this whole base is safer now that we know who the bad guys are. They could have tried again, but now they'll be stopped."

"Until they try again."

"You are really being a glass half empty kind of angel right now."

"If I am even really an angel," Castiel whispered.

Okay. Drastic measures. He leaned in and kissed Castiel, a long, wet, drawn out affair that got at least three moans out of Castiel and his arms tight around Dean. Castiel's lips followed his as he pulled back, and Dean allowed himself to get drawn back in for a second long kiss that got a couple of groans out of him this time.

He pulled back again. "I don't know what that's all about, whether you were something else a long, seriously long time ago or not, but as far as I'm concerned, certainly as far as all the Companions are concerned, you are totally an angel. My angel." Dean cringed at how corny that sounded, but kept it off his face.

"Really?"

"Really," Dean assured him. "And you can go play with Atlantis and learn all her secrets, as long as each night you're back with me and in my bed."

Castiel's eyebrows rose high on his head and he squeaked out, "Bed?" in a tone a good octave above his normal.

Dean barked out a laugh. "Calm down. I know we're doing this slow, but it doesn't mean I don't want you with me. Jesus, Cas, you used to spend all night watching me sleep like some stalker, now I just want you lying down next to me. Okay?"

Castiel stared at him for a long time, and Dean just calmly stared back, knowing Castiel would read nothing but the truth in him. Finally Castiel nodded. "Okay."

"Good." Dean got off his lap and went back to his packing.

*****

"Who signed off on that?" Rodney asked in horror.

"Dr. Jackson," John told him.

"And who told him it was a good idea? Do you have any notion of the damage a thousand barbarians could do to a city like Atlantis?"

"They're not barbarians," John reminded him, "they're Jaffa. And I think the good idea part was that the super strong warriors make sure the city is safe for the rest of us before we go roaming through it."

"While they trample sensitive pieces of equipment," Rodney protested loudly.

"Rodney," John said, "Teal'c is with them. He's worked with Dr. Jackson and Major Carter for years. He understands labs and sensitive equipment."

Rodney humphed in his general direction. "Barbarians."

"Shall I tell Teal'c you said that?" John asked innocently.

Rodney's eyes shot open. "Don't. Oh my God, he'd kill me, stomp me like a bug beneath his unnaturally large feet."

John grinned at him. "Your secret is safe with me. Maybe."

"Oh, ha ha." Rodney spun around his quarters. "I don't know what to bring."

"Bring everything. If things work out, I don't think we'll be coming back, at least not to live here."

"But suppose I have to come back for a few days. Won't I want quarters? Don't you want quarters?"

"So just pack what you need?"

"But suppose I need everything?" Rodney protested.

John huffed out a laugh, and yanked Rodney in close. "Don't panic."

"I’m not."

"You are. Just take what you need, and if you need more, we'll get it. We'll be here every day, or someone will. And it's not like Castiel can't get anything we need if it's important. Okay?"

"It's just…it's just…we're going to be living in another galaxy. Another galaxy! John. We'll be the first! We were the first. And Atlantis! The lost city of the Ancients! We were there. We'll be living there! Possibly with an Ancient, who thinks he's an angel, who's in love with a demon hunter. How is this our life?"

"You forgot the fact that we have aliens in our brains and that you're in love with me."

"What? What? Right! Exactly. And how did that happen? Not the aliens part, I remember that part very, very clearly, every last torturous painful moment, but the love part. How did that happen? I mean, of course I'm in love with you, who wouldn't be? Have you looked in a mirror? And you're smart, and with the whole thigh holster thing, really? But the other part. That's the part I really don't understand."

"What other part?" John asked.

"The you for me part. The part where you seem to like me and kiss me. And it's you! That's the part that really confuses me."

"More than the Ancient angel and the aliens in our heads, and that our new address will have a new galaxy as a zip code?"

"Exactly. Yes, exactly that. The…the you part. Confuses me more."

Grinning broadly, John yanked at Rodney's arm, reeling him in. "Then let me confuse you some more, okay?" He frog-marched Rodney to the bed and pushed him down, landing on top of him, ignoring Rodney's "oof."

As if afraid John would change his mind, Rodney's legs circled him, pulling him closer. "Good idea," Rodney said. "Seriously. I like the way you think."

"Aww, I bet you say that to all the girls."

Rodney snarled at him. "You'd lose that bet considering the morons I am constantly surrounded by. I despise the way most people think."

Not wanting Rodney to get lost in another tirade, John kissed his lips, his jaw, his chin, then slid down a little to get to his neck, unbuttoning his shirt so he could find a nipple and bite down on it. He grinned as Rodney groaned, his body arching into John, his fingers clutching at John's hair.

Rodney started helping, yanking at his shirt to pull it over his head, getting his arms caught in it, which John took advantage of by sucking on his other nipple and then blowing a raspberry on Rodney's stomach.

Rodney's screech of indignation was lost in the folds of fabric, but John helped him this time, unbuttoning a couple of more buttons so it came off easily. Meanwhile, he started working on Rodney's belt, suddenly filled with an urgent desire to see that heart-shaped ass of Rodney’s because that ass? Was all his.

There was a Three Stooges moment with Rodney's shoes and John almost getting an elbow to his eye and a knee to his crotch but then he had Rodney naked and on his stomach and John was marking his ass up with bite after bite while Rodney humped into the mattress, his fingers clawing in the sheets.

"Jesus, just fuck me," he growled

John grinned before biting Rodney again. He'd already created a J made of bites and was almost done with the S. But not wanting to get beaned with the lube Rodney was now threatening him with, John took it and got his fingers all lubed up, pushing one inside without warning, knowing Rodney liked it a little rough as long as he got a good orgasm out of it.

"God," Rodney hissed out, pushing back against John's finger until it was in him to the hilt. "Another one."

John worked a second one in as he finished the last curve of his last initial. Then, even as he pushed both fingers in at a rapid pace, he admired his work, Rodney's ass clearly marked as property of John Sheppard.

As if sensing his lack of proper attention, Rodney smacked him in the face with a pillow. Jesus, the guy thought having sex was a full contact sport. He bit Rodney again, deciding to make an exclamation point while he worked in a third finger.

"Just, grrrr, just, John, Jesus," was what came out of Rodney's mouth and it made John laugh. He managed to work Rodney onto his back, keeping his fingers inside him, touching his prostate over and over again as he began sucking Rodney off, just to reward him for that ridiculous sentence, but mostly because John deserved it for making Rodney lose the ability to talk.

Rodney pulled on John's hair so much it hurt, in that perfect hurt kind of way, as he came in John's mouth, and as Rodney sagged back John pulled his fingers out and replaced them with his aching cock, pushing in until his balls were against Rodney's ass. He was sort of sorry he hadn't turned Rodney back over again so he could stare at his ass and see his initials there, but he loved Rodney's face after he came, with that soft smile, looking so relaxed and making little grabby hands at John to 'come on, come on.'

John leaned down to kiss that smile, as he thrust into Rodney, feeling Flutie's enjoyment of their activity, his love for Euler, and Euler's love for all of them, and what it all meant was that John wasn't going to last long; all that loving made him crazy and it only took a few more jerky movements and he was coming inside of Rodney. Then he was dropping down, and Rodney was wrapping him up in his arms and legs and love and John smiled himself into a post sex nap.

He was woken up by Rodney yelling, "Did you bite your initials into my ass!?"

*****

Sara had been at the meeting, but Jack was still a little nervous as he entered his house a little later. Not only because of Sara, but because he might not be doing this again, at least not every day.

He found her standing in front of the fireplace, looking at the photos that stood on the mantel. There was one of the three of them, him, Sara and Charlie, one of Sara and her dad, one of him and Sara, and one of him and Sara and his team.

Moving to her, he stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her stomach until his hands rested on the small bump there. "Do you ever wish I'd never knocked on your door?"

Her hesitation was long enough to make his heart start to race. He hid his face in her hair, so sorry he'd embroiled her in his crazy life, his need for her making a shambles of hers.

"No," she finally said. "I don't. Do I wish I could set back the clock back to when Charlie was alive, before there were aliens? Maybe. But this would have happened anyway, right? I mean, maybe not this, but the Stargate Program, right?" She turned in his arms. "Would they still have chosen you if Charlie had still been alive? If we'd all still been together?"

"I don't know."

"I'm terrified, Jack, I don't mind telling you that. But, at the same time, paradoxically, I know I'll be safe. How could I not, with you and Daniel, and Teal'c, and Sam, and Dean and Castiel, and all the other countless brave and courageous and lovely, truly lovely, people I'll be surrounded by."

He kept his face in her hair, not wanting to see her face yet.

She ran her fingers through his hair. "I'm not prepared for this. Who would be? Who ever is, except those few brave souls who train for years to leave their home world to explore space? Can you be patient with me?"

Jack raised startled eyes to her. "What? Shouldn't I be asking that question?"

"No, Jack, no, because this is your life. You love this. Exploring new lands. I just know you'd have been one of those men years ago searching for new lands, sponsoring expeditions to far off places. I can see it in you, that as much as you hate what this might be doing to me or the other civilians who didn't exactly sign up for this, that you can't wait to get there. And part of that," she continued, putting her fingers over his lips as he tried to talk, "is to keep us safe. I know that. But a large part of it is that you love this part of your job."

Jack did love this part. "I don't love it as much when I could be putting you in danger."

"I think I was in danger from the moment I fell in love with you again," she said. "And I mean literally. This place isn't safe. I guess maybe I didn't quite realize what I was signing up for, but Jack, Jack," she said, cradling his face in her hands, no doubt seeing the unhappiness there, "I've never felt more alive, and I love you so much, and I wouldn't trade any of this if it meant losing you. Not one second of it. Do you remember when you first told me about this? When you said I'd get to meet amazing people and have dinner with the kinds of beings that folks in Hollywood make movies about?"

Jack nodded.

"So true. So so true. The people in my life now are extraordinary. Mind-blowing extraordinary. I guess I didn't recognize at the time that you'd be one of them. You are so amazing. You. Jack O'Neill with two L's. I admire you more than anyone I know and that includes Daniel," she added with a shaky laugh. "I'm so honored to be your wife. And so excited that these children will have you for a father. And I'd put up with anything to keep that, even if it does scare the crap out of me."

Jack let out a shaky breath as he pulled her in tight and squeezed her hard enough to get an 'eep' out of her. Her words sang in his heart and put a lump the size of a watermelon in his throat. Tana'oa's croonings inside his head only added to the emotional wallop of her words and was almost enough to get him blubbering. He sniffed, instead, and used the pads of his hands to wipe his eyes. "Stop it," he growled, "both of you."

She laughed a little wetly, wiping her own tears away, and kissed him for a long time.

*****

Hammond stood in the conference room, overlooking the Stargate. In a few hours, all the Companions, except the few in hosts who could not leave Earth at this point, would go through it to another galaxy. Granted, they'd be back the next day, many of them, and in some ways, life would go on as it had been.

Except, as with the first step they'd taken when Junior had jumped into Daniel Jackson and they'd chosen a new ally, nothing would ever be the same. Who knew what they'd find in that galaxy? Who knew what forces would come into play here to perhaps forbid their return one day? Perhaps they would find a better home there and choose not to come home, create a true colony of Earth, or even emancipate themselves.

Maybe they'd find a peace there that seemed to evade the people of Earth. Then again, Hammond knew their greatest chance of protecting Earth lay in the people who would walk through that event horizon tomorrow to live on Atlantis.

There was a knock on the door. "Come in," Hammond said.

Captain Lorne entered the room. "You wanted to see me, sir?"

"I did." He gestured at a seat and then took one himself. "I…we owe you our thanks for your actions today."

"I was just in the right time at the right place."

"No," Hammond said. "You trusted your instinct, first in staying, and then in recognizing what had happened."

"Thank you, sir."

"Colonel O'Neill and I have high expectations of you, and plan on you having more of a presence here. Do you have any objections to that?"

"No, sir." That response was heartfelt and Hammond was glad to hear it.

"Normally I'd do this as a public presentation, but I decided to keep it private, largely because I don't wish it to be widely known, outside of myself and the Companions, that you can speak with them. There are a few people, though, who were quite insistent on being present."

Lorne looked confused, but the door opened and Colonel O'Neill, Dr. Jackson, Captains Sheppard and Mitchell, and Lieutenant Lightfoot all entered, followed by General Vidrine. Hammond stood and pulled a box out of his pocket, opening it and showing the Captain a pair of golden oak leaves. Lorne had stood when Hammond had and he gawked at the box. "Me?" A few seconds passed. "Sir?"

Hammond smiled. "Yes, you." He pulled himself up, holding the box out, saying, "The President of the United States, acting upon the recommendation of the Secretary of the Air Force, has placed special trust and confidence in the patriotism, integrity, and abilities of Captain Evan Lorne. In view of these special qualities, and his demonstrated potential to serve in the higher grade, Captain Lorne is promoted to the grade of Major, United States Air Force, effective this day, by order of the Secretary of the Air Force."

He handed the box over and then saluted. "Major Evan Lorne, you have my thanks, and the thanks of a grateful country, even if they may never know why."

Lorne saluted back, other hand clutched around the box. "I was glad I was there, sir. They're something special."

"They are indeed." Hammond sat back down. "You'll have an office near the Colonel's and he'll be handing some of his duties off to you in the days ahead."

"And I can't wait," Jack said.

"Yes, sir, um, sirs. Will I, um, will I still get to fly?"

"It's never stopped Jack," Hammond told him.

"You'll just get to fly the cool stuff," Jack said with a grin.

Lorne grinned at that. "I'll look forward to it, sir."

"I’m sure you will," Hammond said. "Everyone at ease, people. Congratulations, Major."

Lorne saluted again, hand tight around the box, as everyone clustered around him to congratulate and thank him.

*****

Daniel put his fingers on the event horizon, remembering years ago when he first touched it, captivated by the truth of it, just the thought that this was a doorway to another planet. Never would he have guessed at everything that would happen to him, both horrific and wonderful, by taking that first step.

It had brought him Jack, his best friend, Sam, another wondrous friend, and of course, it had brought him Junior, his boon Companion. And then there was Teal'c. The man who now stood next to him, tall and strong, ready to take on the world both to explore and to defend, to handle with grace and integrity anything their journey would throw their way.

And now, they were off on another adventure. They had a few more fail safes now. They had Castiel, and three ZPMs if Castiel was not available, giving them ready access to Earth. They had the Companions and each other, and a sense of community that would walk through the gate with him.

He glanced back and saw Jack watching him. Saw his hand clenched with Sara's, saw Sam with Sean, and Dean with his brother, both under the protection of Castiel's wings. Rodney was there with John, and Claude right behind them with that look of sheer wonder he'd had on his face the first time he'd gone off world. And then the smaller tanks filled with Companions, along with equipment to build new tanks in large boxes that would follow them through the gate.

Hammond was standing in the control room; next to him were Major Lorne and Paul Davis, along with General Vidrine, one of the hosts who chose not to leave at this time. They were leaving strong allies behind and that was reassuring.

"Let's go," Jack said, deciding Daniel had mused long enough. With another grin at Jack, Daniel gestured at Teal'c, knowing his First Prime would want to go first, to lead the way for him. With a gracious nod, Teal'c stepped through the gate, Daniel right behind him.

*****

Hours later, after everyone had left, Hammond sat in his office and looked down at the file in front of him, a short laugh escaping him. "Why not?" he asked out loud. If anyone deserved it, it was these people. He opened it up and signed off on the request to have a top security Starbucks on Atlantis.

The End