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The House That Love Built

Chapter Text

Tony sighed.

Brushing his fingers over the screen of his tablet, he scrolled through another few pictures of what looked like a great apartment in a decent neighborhood, and for acceptable rent too. But this wasn't what he was looking for, not now, not anymore.

It would have been different, even six months ago. Back then, he would have jumped at the opportunity and probably signed a lease the same day after viewing the apartment. It had all the amenities he liked, was in a building large enough to have a full-time super to take care of all those pesky repairs and things he'd never liked having to deal with - he shuddered at the memory of spending hours handing Gibbs tools as the man systematically went through his own house fixing leaking faucets and tightening screws on drawers - and still not so big that he would feel lost in the sheer number of people living in the same building as him. But that was then, and things had changed.

When Tony got notice that his current building had been sold and he'd need to either buy his apartment or move, for a second, just a second, Tony had thought it was a sign. He had allowed himself only a brief moment to picture showing up at Gibbs' place, truck full of his stuff, and Gibbs opening his door and his arms for him, smiling, saying Tony would never have to leave again. But as soon as he'd thought it, he shook himself out of it, knowing it wasn't going to work like that. Yes, they had been sleeping together for over three years now, but Tony had always known that - even though they were faithful to each other and both committed - Gibbs was always going to need his space, and, truth be told, so did Tony. They usually spent a couple of nights a week together, mostly at Gibbs' place, but the other nights they each went home alone, and that suited them both fine.

But then, four months ago, the unthinkable had happened. There had been another showdown with bad guys at Gibbs', and the house had been severely damaged. And then, before Gibbs could have the structure checked and reinforced, a blizzard hit the city and piled so much snow on top of the already groaning old house, that it simply collapsed in misery. Without even discussing anything with Tony, Gibbs accepted Ducky's offer to stay with him in his brownstone, and based on that Tony intended never to bring up moving in together.

He was therefore surprised at what happened about a month later. He and Gibbs and four of their friends were having one of their regular nights together, hanging out. These always started with grand plans of all night poker games, elaborate barbecues, or fancy steak dinners out, but while they did sometimes do things like that, it mostly just ended up with the six of them lounging around, pizza and snacks, beer and wine and bourbon, and just relaxing, talking.

They were a strange group, the six of them. On the surface, they didn't have much in common, but for those precious few in their lives who knew them well enough to be able to see below the layers, it made sense that they were close. In a weird way, they had very similar experiences, and only one of those experiences was being in a relationship they had never really pictured themselves being in before. These were all men who had found love where they had least expected it, and they had all struggled with it for a long time. And that wasn't even the basis of their friendship. No, what they had found in each other as friends was the shared need to protect, to serve, to learn. A mixture of curiosity and caution, experience and brash jumping in, of knowledge and strength. Tony had been the last of the six to be included in the group, introduced by Gibbs just after they got together, and when he finally realized halfway through the evening that the other four were actually two couples, he'd been stunned into silence for long minutes, long enough for Gibbs to really smirk at him.

That particular evening, bellies full of pizza and drinks of choice in hand, they were lounging around, television playing some cartoons idly in the background, when one of them asked Tony and Gibbs how their search for new accommodations was going. Tony's end of lease was swiftly coming up and, while Gibbs was grateful to Ducky for offering him a place to stay, it was no secret to any of the others that after a month of sharing with his friend, Gibbs was getting twitchy for his own space.

"I know how you feel, Gibbs. It was weird getting used to always having someone in the house again when the two of us moved in together, but now with these two also staying with us, it's getting a little cramped."

With a quick smirk to the two in question, the man continued.

"Not that we don't love having you, of course."

His smirk was immediately returned by the other two, one of whom replied.

"Yeah, but at least we get to snuggle up with our honeys at night. Gibbs doesn't even have that."

Tony studiously kept his head down.

"I still don't get why you didn't just move in with Tony," one of the others interjected. "I mean, it's just for a few months and you both need new places anyway… And if you need space, just get something together with enough room so you can be alone when you need to be and together when you want to be. You'd be able to get something like that easily if you pulled your resources together. Better than getting two separate places and only using them half the time."

Gibbs cleared his throat.

"Yeah… I've been thinking maybe you're right."

Tony's breath hitched and even with all his training he couldn't help throwing a surprised glance at Gibbs. Seeing the interaction, the other four continued the conversation to give the two of them a moment.

"Anyway, it looks like we'll be joining in the search on the housing market too."

"Oh yeah? Did the orders come through?"

"As if you didn't know already. We'll be staying at least six months, maybe even a year, and while we do so appreciate your hospitality, I don't think the four of us could continue living like this without at least two fatalities before that time is up."

All four of them smiled ruefully, knowing that while that was an exaggeration, the possibility of blood being drawn was not remote. They shared a deep friendship, but they too needed space.

By then, Tony and Gibbs rejoined the conversation, and somewhere along the banter, it devolved into wild speculations of the six of them getting a house together, living like frat boys, and all the mischief they could get up to.

But later that night, at Tony's apartment, when they were both sated and relaxed, Tony squinted up at Gibbs in the near darkness.

"Did you mean it?"

Gibbs took a deep breath and let it out quietly, then squeezed Tony's hand.

"Yeah, I did."

So for the last two months, Tony had been searching for something that would be acceptable to both of them, and both the seeming impossibility of it and the looming deadline of his end of lease were making him crazy. Gibbs liked houses, Tony apartments. Tony liked luxury, Gibbs rustic. Gibbs wanted space, Tony things. Tony wanted maid service, Gibbs a yard.

And now, here he was, sitting at the juice bar in his regular gym, sipping a healthy fruit mix after a hard workout and scrolling through the DC housing market, and Tony sighed.

"Search for a new place not going well?"

Tony turned to the voice and couldn't help but smile at the buff and handsome man who had asked the question.

"Yeah, not so much."

The man smiled back and tilted his head, as if studying Tony for a moment. It felt like the man could see right through Tony's shields, and saw what was underneath. Then he nodded and pulled a card from his gym bag, handing it to Tony.

"Call this number. The place should be perfect for you and your friends."

Accepting the card with a frown on his face, Tony saw only a name and number, no other markers. But when he looked up to ask the man whether this was a realtor or something, the guy was gone. It wasn't until he was in the shower, rinsing off the sweat, that Tony realized he'd never mentioned anything about friends.

~~~~~

Tony deliberated with himself for two days, fingering the card in his pocket. Should he ignore it? Should he tell Gibbs? Should he just call? He ran the number through the NCIS search engines - feeling slightly guilty, but hey - and couldn't find it. The name on the card was simply "Catherine", so that wasn't any help either. In the end, he decided to call. A pleasant female voice answered on the second ring.

"Hello?"

"Uhm… hi."

Tony cleared his throat.

"This is Tony DiNozzo. I got your card from someone at my gym."

There was a pleased chuckle at the other end of the line.

"Handsome blond guy? Tall, with really good muscle tone?"

"I guess…"

"You must be looking for a house."

"Uhm… yeah?"

"Great! If he gave you my card, the house will be just what you want and need. Of course, you'll want to come see it first. I'm available whenever you are. My name's Cat, by the way, and I take care of the house. When would you like to come by?"

"Can I bring a friend?"

"Naturally! He'll want to see it too."

"Tomorrow morning okay for you? I know it's Saturday, but…"

"That will be fine, Tony. Around ten?"

"Sure."

"Great! Is this your cell number? I'll text you the address, and then I'll see you tomorrow. Bye!"

Before he could say anything else, the woman had already hung up. Seconds later, his phone vibrated and signaled an incoming text message with an address. A bit dazed from the conversation, Tony nevertheless quickly performed a search on the address. It wasn't on any of the housing market sites. It also didn't get any hits in the NCIS search engines. He looked up the neighborhood, which turned out to be one of the more upscale ones.

Thinking that this probably wasn't a very good idea, he still decided to go, and so that evening he told Gibbs all about what had happened. Skeptical but intrigued, Gibbs agreed to go with him the following morning.

~~~~~

When they arrived at the address the next day, they pulled up to a gate with plenty of security, beyond it a small sprawl of trees, a driveway winding among the trees in such a way that there was no clear view of the house. Gibbs squinted up at the cameras, then at the trees, then turned to Tony.

"Yeah, Tony. You know this isn't gonna happen, right?"

Tony's eyes pleaded with his lover.

"Can we at least take a look?"

Gibbs sighed, then lowered his window. Before he could find a bell or alert or something, a voice came through the intercom.

"Yes?"

"This is Special Agent Gibbs and Special Agent DiNozzo. We have an appointment with Cat."

"Ah! Yes! Can I see your IDs, please?"

Both men held up their identification to the cameras, while Tony muttered under his breath to Gibbs that it was the same voice as the woman he'd spoken to on the phone. Seemingly satisfied, the woman answered.

"Thank you. I'll open the gate. Come on up to the house."

The gate swung open and Gibbs drove through, quickly steering down the driveway. Though the drive wasn't very long, it was clear that it had been strategically placed to conceal the house. Gibbs was actually impressed, both by that and the security at the gate and other things he could see.

"This place is a fortress."

"Yeah… I wonder who lives here."

Gibbs snorted.

"I'm guessing it won't be us."

Tony sighed wistfully. Then the house came into view.

It wasn't anything ornate or elaborate, it just looked like a fine country house. There was a circular drive with a fountain in the middle, with paths leading to a large, several door garage to the left. The front of the house was two stories high, with large windows and a large front door with a portico in the middle. The door was open and a woman was standing in the doorway.

She could have been anywhere between twenty and fifty years old, her long hair was something between blond and brown, she was neither tall nor short, fat nor thin. She was dressed in black jeans and a black top, black ballerinas on her feet. In short, if a witness had to give a description of her, she would have been indescribable. Except for her eyes. They sparkled a cheery and friendly green, a green so deep and rich that it reminded them both of the jungle. She stepped forward as they got out of the car. She didn't offer either of them her hand as she introduced herself.

"Hello. I'm Cat. Welcome."

She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. Then she turned and went back inside the house. Tony and Gibbs glanced at each other, shrugged, and followed her in.

~~~~~

The house was incredible. It was built in a U-shape, which they hadn't been able to see from the driveway. The front part - the bottom of the U - consisted of living rooms, game rooms, a library, a kitchen, and various other rooms. The left wing contained three separate apartments, each with various rooms (including kitchen and bathrooms) and very spacious. There were basements under the entire house, one outfitted as a gym, another as yet another game room, some empty. She took them outside and showed them the garage, big enough for six cars, and behind the garage was a large work shed, completely outfitted. The top of the U consisted of a large garden, and when they went through that back to the house, they saw what was sheltered by the house and garden. There was a large pool in the middle of the U, with a retractable glass roof and wall, surrounded by patios.

Tony was in heaven. Gibbs liked it.

"The other part of the house is where I live," Cat said. "It is not accessible to anyone but me. Now, shall we go to the kitchen for coffee and agree on when you will move in?"

They followed her silently to the large kitchen and sat at the counter as she made coffee, then put a large black coffee in front of Gibbs and a cup topped with hazelnut creamer in front of Tony. She leaned back against the counter and smiled at them.

"Look," Gibbs said. "It's nice. But we can't afford it."

Tony looked rueful, but nodded his head in agreement. Cat laughed.

"I think you'll find the rent is very agreeable. You can have your pick of the apartments, and the common rooms and everything except the right wing are for everyone's use. I clean and I cook if you so wish, and other chores such as groceries and laundry. I enjoy taking care of loved ones."

She looked around herself, as if taking in the whole house. Her pretty green eyes seemed dimmed for a moment. She spoke quietly, almost muttering to herself.

"This house used to be so full of love. It's time. Time for that again."

Then she turned back to them, and the sadness and wistfulness seemed to have fallen away completely.

"The owner of this house doesn't use much of it anymore, and wishes it to be a home again for someone. Someone deserving. I can ensure you a very good deal."

Gibbs, naturally skeptical, eyed her for a moment. Then he made the mistake of turning to Tony, and saw the longing and pleading in his eyes. He sighed.

"How much?"

She named the price. They were stunned. That was less than Tony paid for his current apartment, let alone what Gibbs still had to pay for his now rubble of a house.

"That must be a mistake," Tony said, but with hope in his eyes.

"No mistake," Cat replied. "I promise you. The owner barely has any costs here, and would like to see the place filled again."

She seemed to hesitate for a moment.

"I believe you have friends also looking for housing?"

Before really thinking about it, Tony nodded. She smiled.

"Ask them to come over, have a look for themselves."

And that's how Gibbs - not entirely sure what was happening here - ended up making the call that changed all their lives forever.

~~~~~

Jack frowned at his ringing cell phone when he saw the caller ID, making Daniel look up at him with scrunched eyebrows from where he was curled up on the couch with a large tome.

"O'Neill," Jack said into the phone.

"Jack. It's Jethro."

Letting his smile sound in his voice, Jack replied.

"Jethro, old buddy! Tony not available? He usually makes your calls for you!"

Even though the friendship had originally started between Jack and Gibbs years ago, ever since Tony came into the picture, Gibbs had let Tony do most of the communicating. Gibbs ignored the jibe and came straight to the point.

"You busy? All four of you?"

"We're just relaxing after breakfast. And you know Sheppard and McKay… they went straight back to bed. Newlyweds..."

Gibbs could hear Daniel in the background.

"Don't complain, Jack! They might come back out just to annoy you…"

Smirking, Gibbs got back to the point.

"Remember we talked about getting a place?"

"Yeah… You and Tony found something that will suit both of you?"

"All of us."

Jack blinked. At his silence, Daniel put down his tome and stared at his lover.

"What?"

"I'm serious. Can you come out?"

"Gibbs… You know we were only kidding about that, right? I mean… The apartment here's getting a bit overcrowded, but…"

"Jack. You really wanna see this."

Jack swallowed.

"Okay. When and where?"

"Now. Tony will text Daniel the address. Come now."

And just like that, Gibbs was gone. Moments later, Daniel's phone buzzed, and he looked at the text from Tony, puzzled.

"Jack? What's going on?"

Smirking, Jack leaned over his lover and kissed his forehead.

"If I tell you, you've gotta go get John and Rodney in here."

Daniel groaned.

"No fair, Jack!"

But Jack just grinned, and Daniel, resigned to his fate, made his way to the guest room that John and Rodney were inhabiting. He knocked loudly.

"Are you decent?"

There was ruffling of sheets and chuckling to be heard from inside the room. Daniel quietly groaned. He didn't envy the two their private time, but ever since they'd gotten married in Canada only weeks before, they had really been like newlyweds, even though they had been together for years. Daniel felt a soft pang. He and Jack use to be like that too, once upon a time. Now, they never seemed to have those stolen moments anymore. Oh, they loved each other fiercely, and Daniel was happy, but still… it had been a long time since he and Jack had simply shut out the world and taken time for each other the way John and Rodney were. He sighed, and when he heard a soft affirmative from inside the room, opened the door. He still shielded his eyes, though. It wouldn't be the first time McKay and Sheppard had a different definition of 'decent' then Daniel and Jack.

"What's up, Danny?"

Daniel smirked to himself.

"You should be, John. Rodney too. Jack got a call."

He could hear rustling as the two men quickly got out of bed and into some clothes, firing questions at him at the same time.

"What is it?"

"Did they blow up my city?"

"Do we need to…"

"Guys!" Daniel interrupted, finally dropping his hand from his eyes and feeling relieved to see at least partially dressed friends.

"Not that. It was Jethro. Come on, Jack will explain."

Though Jack didn't - couldn't - really explain much more, they were on their way and arrived at the house barely half an hour after the phone call.

~~~~~

The routine was pretty much the same. Showing their IDs at the gate, carefully scoping out and commenting on the security, the woman who was polite and friendly but didn't offer her hand at introductions, the tour, and them falling love with the house. Gibbs and Tony followed along again, of course, and Tony could swear the library they'd seen before was larger now, and when Cat informed Dr. McKay that one of the rooms in one of the apartments used to be a lab, Tony was certain she had never mentioned that on his first tour. In one part of the basement, Cat looked around and almost innocently announced that it was fully soundproofed, and might make a good firing range. Afterwards, they retreated to the kitchen, and she made them all more coffee, exactly how they liked it, and smiled as they glanced at each other.

She explained the terms as she had to Tony and Gibbs. Daniel and Rodney were beaming at their significant others as much as Tony had been at Gibbs.

Eventually Jack put down his empty cup and thanked Cat for the tour and the hospitality.

"I think we all need to talk about this. You understand. It's a big change."

"Of course," she smiled. "Talk all you like. I shall see you when you move in. Tony has my number if you need anything."

~~~~~

It was inevitable, of course, that Tony had questions. Gibbs, far more used to the military mindset and part of several covert operations himself, knew the meaning of 'classified' and never asked. Even though he had known Jack O'Neill for the better part of two decades, Gibbs knew that if Jack couldn't or wouldn't say something, it was not for him to ask more. But Tony, never having been part of the military himself and with his innate curiosity, just couldn't let it lie. He noticed the fumbled cover ups in conversation when one of them was relaying a story, he tweaked to the awkward glances when one of them almost said too much. Tony knew something was up, and they all saw it.

Daniel and Jack and Sheppard discussed it amongst themselves. McKay didn't really care - after all, if DiNozzo could know the truth, he could know the full truth of Rodney's brilliance as well, so bonus! All discussion became moot at one of their nights hanging out together at Jack's place, when Samantha Carter and Teal'c were beamed in from the Apollo, right there in the living room where Tony and Gibbs were sitting as well.

Jack raised a laconic eyebrow at her.

"Carter? Company!"

"Yes, Sir. But this is an emergency."

And almost before she had finished speaking, the blonde, the huge black man, and the general were gone in a beam of white light.

Daniel looked horrified for a moment, then schooled his features. Sheppard and McKay glanced at each other, then at Daniel, and then all three turned to Gibbs and Tony.

"So," Sheppard drawled, "I guess you have questions."

Gibbs looked stoic. Tony cleared his throat.

"So," Tony intoned, matching John's drawl almost perfectly, "aliens, huh?"

After a moment's silence, McKay snorted, Daniel blushed, and Sheppard let out a big honking laugh that had him holding his sides and curling in over Rodney's lap when it went on too long for him to stay upright. Rodney, in exasperated fondness, soothed his fingers through John's hair to calm him down.

"Ehm… yes?" Daniel's blush was receding. "But only one of them! I mean, Sam's completely human!"

"Unless you count the time she was possessed by Jolinar," Rodney added matter-of-factly.

"Rodney…" Sheppard tried to sound warningly, but messed it up by giggling a little more and then sighing in pleasure as McKay scratched his scalp harder.

"I'm just saying, Colonel…"

"General, Rodney…"

"Yes, yes, fine, general Sheppard! You know it took me a long time to call you Colonel instead of Major, and this isn't any different! I don't care about names or titles, unless they are my own. You know this. I cannot understand how…"

"I've been a general for over two years now, Rodney."

McKay's gaze softened at the quiet words, and he fixed his blue gaze on his lover.

"I know. But to me, you'll always be John."

It would have been a very sweet moment to end with a kiss and undying love declarations, but just then, the white light, and with it general O'Neill, reappeared.

"Jack?"

Daniel was on his feet in an instant, hugging the older man to him fiercely. O'Neill hugged back.

"Nothing to worry about, Danny. Just a call. The Asgard wanted to speak to me. No worries."

Seeing the other four men heave a sigh of relief and take comfort with each other for a moment, Gibbs and Tony once again glanced at each other. They gave them their moment, and then Tony cleared his throat and repeated: "So, aliens huh?"

And that's when Tony and Gibbs got read into the Stargate program.

O'Neill figured it had its perks, being The Man.

And after that, stories when they were hanging out became a lot more interesting.

~~~~~

They moved in during the following week.

After the coffee in the kitchen and the talk with Cat, they all retreated to Jack's apartment, home to four of them, and barely able to contain six. They talked. They worried. They discussed. They laughed. They made calls and did searches, but no one found anything about the house, the woman, or anything related. They still decided to go for it.

For weeks, months, they were amazed by the house and their caretaker. Everything any of them could have ever wanted was there. Clean sheets and clothes whenever they needed, hearty meals whenever they wanted. Privacy in their own apartments and what they'd come to think of as family time most evenings. They amended the free spaces in the house the way they wanted, and especially John and Rodney had a sense of home, of Atlantis. Cat was a silent and near invisible presence. She cooked and cleaned when they weren't there, but showed up suddenly when one or two of them were feeling alone. They invited her to movie night and game night, and sometimes she joined, but she was always much more busy with taking care of them then joining in on the fun. But whenever they looked into her deep green eyes, they could see contentment there, happiness.

Of course, none of their other friends had ever been at the house.

The day would come when that would change.

~~~~~

"Sheppard," John said into his phone.

"John."

A wide smile stretched John's face as he heard the voice on the other end of the line.

"Teyla! You're early!"

"Doctor Zelenka has made improvements to the star drive. With Rodney's help, of course."

"Of course!" John smiled at Teyla's diplomacy.

"We have just arrived, but Ronon and I are anxious to see you."

"Anything wrong?"

"Nothing, John. We are just sorry we missed your wedding, and would like to congratulate you both."

John smiled and winced at the same time. Only Teyla could make something sound like a congratulations and a reproof at the same time.

"It was kinda sudden, Teyla. Sorry about that. You know we wanted you here!"

"I know, John. It is not a problem. Just know that when you return, several of your allies will want to share in the festivities."

Sheppard barely managed to contain a groan. Even though she didn't say anything, John could hear Teyla's grin. He quickly rallied.

"Hey! You know, another Earth custom is a housewarming party! You could come to that, right?"

Teyla smirked silently. John couldn't see it, but wondered who had taught her to smirk and how to punish them.

"I don't know, John. When will this party be?"

"Ehm… I'll let you know, okay? Soon! Everyone okay?"

They talked for several minutes more, in which John learned that Atlantis and everyone on her was safe, Pegasus was calm with no return of the Wraith as of yet, and Teyla and Woolsey had their hands full these days with trade agreements and securing even more allies. ZPMs and drones were in full supply - the only reason Rodney had agreed to leave the city for the time being - and it had been decided to fly the city back to the Milky Way, to Earth, for a three month stay. Unless, of course, they got a message from Pegasus requiring their assistance. The city had safely landed at San Francisco only hours ago.

Promising to call her back soon, John rushed to tell everyone else - they were all gathered in one of the family rooms - about the good news.

"Housewarming, huh?" Jack said with a raised eyebrow.

Sheppard coughed.

"She's upset we got married without her and Ronon."

Everyone stared at him for a moment, but they all knew how John could be.

Jack looked at Daniel.

"I know you've wanted to invite Carter and T."

"I do, Jack. And Cam and Vala too. I miss them."

Jack slung his arm around Daniel's shoulder and didn't say anything else.

"Jeannie?" John asked Rodney. The man sighed.

"Sure. And her English major husband, I suppose. Oh! And my niece and her boyfriend, of course!"

Then Rodney turned to John with a gentle expression. "You?"

Sheppard swallowed.

"I don't know. Dave maybe? I don't know."

All of them knew about John's difficult relationship with his family, and they felt for him. Even though for a while it had seemed that they had been growing closer again, lately, especially since the marriage to Rodney, things had taken a downturn again. Then they all looked to Gibbs and Tony.

Both men remained silent, clearly uncomfortable.

"Oh, come on, what??" Rodney demanded.

Tony sighed.

"We haven't told anyone."

The other four men remained silent for a good long while. It was Cat who finally broke the silence.

"So, that's Rodney's family, John's family, and their team, Jack and Daniel's team, and Jethro and Tony's team. I'll send out invitations. I'll let you know the date."

~~~~~

Chapter Text

Jack leaned against the doorframe and watched with a puzzled grin as Daniel used a tape measure to carefully measure the length and breadth of the library.

"Whatcha doing, Danny?"

Daniel looked up at his lover, his expression part intrigued, part exasperated.

"I swear this library is getting bigger, Jack! It has to be! Every time I check the index on the computer there are more titles in there, and the room even feels bigger every time I come in here, but it still measures the same. I don't get it. And all the new titles added are exactly the ones I think I'll need. I mean, one day I think 'Oh, it would be handy to have this or that compendium' and then the next day, it'll be there."

Jack stiffened, then nodded, his grin disappearing in favor of a serious look.

"Yeah, there's been a lot of that going on."

Daniel raised an enquiring eyebrow. Jack winced a little.

"I didn't tell you, because I thought I was insane."

Daniel snorted.

"With everything we've seen and done, Jack, we would be insane if we couldn't talk to each other about it."

"True."

"So? What's got you thinking it?"

"Well, for example… Remember the pool table? The one that just appeared one day, and we all had fun until Tony trounced us all?"

"Yeah?"

"I had thought just the day before that what that game room really needed was a pool table, that it would be fun to have one."

"I thought Cat said that she had ordered it weeks before?"

"Yeah, and it just happened to arrive and be set up while we were all away exactly a day after I thought it."

"I see your point."

"We should talk to the others."

So after dinner they all sat together in one of the family rooms, and Daniel described Jack and his feelings that something weird was going on.

"Have any of you experienced anything like that?"

There were definite glances exchanged between the other couples. Unusually, it was Gibbs who spoke first.

"Our gun safe moved."

"What?"

"Our gun safe moved. I thought one night it would be better to have it on the other side of the room than where it was, and the next morning it was right where I wanted it. I didn't think about it, I just went to the new location of the safe without a thought. I only realized it later."

"Yeah," Tony added, "I remember that. Also, sometimes, when I'm cooking, I'll think about a spice I'd want to add, but know we don't have. Then when I next open a cupboard, it'll be there. Or I'll think about a shirt I want to wear that I know is at the cleaners, but when I go into my closet, it's there, clean and pressed."

"Sheppard?"

John winced.

"I missed working on my bike. The next day it was in the garage."

Rodney looked at them all like they were crazy.

"Oh, come on Rodney, you must have noticed something too?"

"Well, I do seem to always have as many computers here in my lab as I need. But that's normal."

It was true. When the Wraith were defeated and Pegasus calmed, and ZPMs became plentiful, Atlantis had started showing off a little. All those with the ATA gene could feel it, her song louder and happier then ever before, but none felt it as much as John, her favorite. And then she just started doing things. For John. And because John wanted things for Rodney, she did things for Rodney too. The first time McKay had yelled out in his lab "I could really use another tablet here!" and one just appeared out of nowhere, he'd freaked out a little. But he'd taken it and belatedly muttered a thank you to the city, and even with his artificial gene, he could feel Atlantis purr back at him. Since then, things he needed just were there when he wanted them, and he never failed to thank the city for her gifts.

"Yeah," John nodded. "Now that you mention it, this place does kinda feel like home."

And they all knew that Sheppard meant Atlantis, and the way she purred in his mind the whole time he was on or near her.

"But if you want to talk about weird," Rodney added, "what do you think about the big white tiger that prowls through our woods at night?"

The others gaped at him openmouthed.

"What?" McKay said. "What??"

~~~~~

The housewarming party was set for the next Saturday, but most of the guests not from DC arrived one or two days earlier. Teyla and Ronon were the first to arrive, beamed in by the Daedalus, because their being Pegasus natives made normal travel difficult. After heartfelt hugs with John and Rodney, and then Daniel and Jack, they were introduced to Gibbs and Tony. Both NCIS agents found Teyla deeply impressive with her looks and demeanor, but Gibbs eyed Ronon warily, especially after Ronon and Tony struck up a fast and deep friendship, bonding over video games and Ronon's ability and desire to eat anything and everything that Tony cooked up in the kitchen. Gibbs warmed up to Ronon though when he discovered his ability with knives, and the way he had them hidden all over his body.

They both ribbed John and Rodney for getting married without them present, but to was clear to all that it was done with love and affection. And repeated promises were made that the ceremony would be repeated once they were all back on Atlantis, so all could share in the festivities. As was expected, Teyla and Ronon bunked in the spare bedroom in John and Rodney's apartment, and the four spent the evening together, catching up as a team after having been apart for many weeks.

The next day saw the arrival of SG1. Sam, Cameron, Vala and Teal'c had chosen a more mundane means of travel, and they arrived together in a big SUV. Introductions were made, a tour of the house given, and then the catching up began. Tony had seldom laughed so hard in his life as the Milky Way and Pegasus natives tried to outdo each other with the most outrageous stories of their adventures and mishaps. Rooms were set up for them by Cat in the main part of the house, in her usual, unseen manner.

In fact, that evening was the first time the guests met Cat. The guys had wanted to introduce her earlier, but she had remained absent until dinner that night. She greeted them all gracefully and cordially, but many noticed the way Teyla and Ronon kept glancing at her, and the way she smiled back at them. After dinner, Cat retreated to her own quarters, and the Pegasus natives watched her go warily.

"John?" Teyla asked quietly.

"Yeah?"

"Are you certain about this house?"

Everyone was silent and following the conversation.

"What do you mean, Teyla?"

Ronon answered instead.

"This place is weird. So is she."

And he pointed in the direction Cat had retreated to.

The six men shared a quick glance before John spoke again.

"Look, I know what you mean, I mean… this house… it…"

Teyla finished what John couldn't say.

"It feels like Atlantis."

Then Ronon startled them all by adding: "So does she."

~~~~~

The night air was still warm and the trees smelled good. The small animals scurrying amongst the leaves smelled good too. The white tiger looked up at the house, and saw the lights of Dr. McKay's lab still on, his silhouette clearly outlined as he looked down at the white form barely hidden in the dark shadows of the trees.

~~~~~

The next morning - the day of the party - Jack waited until they had all finished their breakfast before he cleared his throat to get their attention.

"So… Two things about today. The first, I realize you all know, but can bear repeating. Not everyone coming today has been read in. So no alien talk!"

Vala grinned mischievously, Teyla serenely, Ronon snorted and Teal'c raised an eyebrow.

"The second," Jack continued after a glare at them all, "Tony and Gibbs aren't out to their team. Don't say or do anything that may divulge their relationship."

In the midst of the curious glances the others threw at Gibbs and DiNozzo, Ronon dropped his fork onto his plate and growled.

"Not this shit again!"

Tony laughed, startled, and put his hand on the shoulder of the big man sitting next to him, the man he'd come to really like over the past two days.

"Ronon…"

"No!" Ronon interrupted, turning to Tony. "What is it with you people? First I gotta watch Sheppard and McKay make goo goo eyes at each other for years, being told left and right that I can't say anything about it, or do anything about it, even though everyone but them knows. They finally get sorted out and now I gotta keep quiet about another friend?"

As a stunned silence fell over the gathering, Tony swallowed.

"I'm your friend?" he asked softly.

Ronon huffed.

"Of course you are. Your knife skills could use some work, but you're a good guy. I'd trust you to have my back."

No one knew who was more surprised, Ronon or them, when Tony quickly embraced the big guy and whispered: "Thank you."

Ronon awkwardly patted Tony on the shoulder, then pulled back and looked at him.

"You really wanna hide this?"

Tony bit his lip, glanced at Gibbs, then nodded.

"For now. Not always. I…"

"Okay."

Ronon patted Tony's shoulder again, then smirked.

"You're gonna owe me some more of those beef pastry things for this."

Tony laughed, and so did everyone else.

"Anytime, Ronon, my friend, anytime."

~~~~~

The party was already well underway when the doorbell rang again.

The NCIS people had arrived about an hour earlier, and they and everyone else were clearly enjoying themselves in and around the pool. Food and drink were plenty, games were everywhere, and laughter and talk rang throughout the entire place. Abby and Ziva had immediately been fascinated by Ronon, Abby simply by his looks and the way he hovered protectively over Tony, and Ziva by the fact that the man pulled a knife out of his hair to peel a peach. She had never managed to hide a knife in her hair, and longed to learn the trick.

McGee talked computers with McKay, finding his gruff manner actually entertaining, and when Sheppard joined them and started talking computer games, the three hit it off pretty quickly. Ducky was finding Teyla an interesting conversational partner, and Jimmy Palmer was snatched up by Vala, who enjoyed making him blush seven shades with her outrageous talk. Jeannie was catching up with Sam, and Madison and her boyfriend were playing water volleyball with Cam and Daniel, as Jack and Teal'c kept score.

Everyone was either mingling or playing or eating, and Cat smiled at the assembled crowd before she went into the house to open the door to the ringing bell. Security had been relaxed for the day - she'd do a sweep later before locking up again.

As she opened the door, she pasted a pleasant expression on her face. Not even she was sure how this would go. A man in a suit and a woman in a cocktail dress stood on the front step.

"Hello," Cat said, "you must be Mr and Mrs Sheppard. Welcome."

At the nod at their names, Cat stepped aside and let them in. Then she led them through the house, ignoring their curious and incredulous looks at the rooms they could see, and brought them to the pool and patio area. She heard the stutter in their steps as they saw the gathered people, most clad in swimwear, but decidedly led them over to where John and Rodney were talking with Tim McGee. As she reached them, Cat cleared her throat.

"John. Rodney."

"Yeah?" John said as he looked up. His eyes grew wide when he saw his brother and sister-in-law standing there, looking uncomfortable. The whole yard seemed to quiet down a little as everyone in the know tried surreptitiously watching what would happen.

John froze. It was actually Rodney who stood up unashamedly in his board shorts and bare chest, and held out his hand.

"David, Kathy. Thank you for coming."

"Dr. McKay," David responded as they shook hands.

"Rodney, please," Rodney responded. "This is Timothy McGee."

Sensing the tension in the air, McGee got up and introduced himself to the newcomers. It all gave John time to collect himself, and by the time McGee was done, John was up and shaking hands with his brother, a grateful look in his eyes.

"When did McKay learn manners?" Jack queried quietly.

"Or get the ability to remember names?" Cam snorted.

"Must be love," Daniel answered.

"Indeed." Teal'c said with a raised eyebrow.

~~~~~

It took an hour or so of John and David making tentative overtures at each other before Madison roped them both into a game in the pool. A laughing protest from Dave about proper attire brought him to the pool house, where most of the others had found garments of their choice earlier. Kathy looked distinctly displeased by the whole thing, especially when Dave jumped into the pool and joined in the games, and decided to remain on the far patio with Dr. Mallard and Teyla, who seemed the most dignified of the lot. Kathy got chills every time the woman Cat brought her a new drink, not just from the way Cat looked at her, but just from her mere presence as well. She got the distinct feeling the woman disapproved of her.

Meanwhile, Kathy herself disapproved of the way these people were behaving, and in particular her husband. Not only was David disheveled and wet in a pool, but he was getting closer to John. They were talking and laughing now, and had even excused themselves from the game so they could speak together more quietly. Kathy huffed, and went inside to find a restroom. As she stepped out, she was confronted with Cat, who was leaning casually against the wall across from the door.

"Comfortable?" Cat asked.

"Not really."

"I understand. This is the house that love built. Envy or hatred has no place here."

And with that, the strange woman turned and walked away, leaving Kathy with a very sour taste in her mouth.

~~~~~

The party wound down, and goodbyes were said, and Abby hugged Gibbs and Tony.

"This is a really great place! You are so lucky you found it! Can we come again?"

"Sure, Abbs," Tony promised through the hug. "Just call first, okay? These guys really enjoy their privacy."

"You know, I really envy you. Not only do you have this great place, but you're rooming with some seriously hot guys."

She looked pointedly at Tony. He flushed.

"Forget it, Abby. They're all taken."

She turned to glance at Gibbs.

"All of them?"

Gibbs kissed her cheek.

"Yes, Abbs. All of them."

She smiled. She had a feeling she had her answer.

~~~~~

David embraced his brother before he left.

"Keep in touch, okay?"

"You sure you want me to?"

Dave glanced at his wife, then turned back to John. But they all knew he was speaking to her as much as to John.

"Of course. You're my brother. I love you. Nothing will ever change that."

They hugged again.

~~~~~

The Daedalus beamed Teyla and Ronon out, SG1 left with promises to return soon. An almost strange quiet settled over the house after all the activity of the day. The men retired to their apartments.

~~~~~

"Daniel?"

"Hmmm?"

Daniel looked up from his tome to see Jack, casually sprawled against the wall, wearing only a towel around his waist. Daniel almost salivated.

"Do you have anything to do tomorrow?"

Daniel put away his book and thumbed off his glasses.

"Tomorrow? Ehmm… Yes? I have a meeting with…"

"Tomorrow's Sunday, Daniel."

"I know, but…"

"I think you should skip it."

Daniel scooted down on the bed a little more, trying to hide a grin.

"Yeah? What do I have to do tomorrow that's more important than…"

"Me…?"

It was both a question and an answer, both a promise and a plea. Daniel would never be able to resist that. Especially when Jack slowly undid the towel and crawled onto the bed between Daniel's legs.

Jack licked and nuzzled his way up Daniel's legs until he reached his shorts. Jack grumbled.

"These'll have to go, Spacemonkey."

"Go for it, General."

Jack sank his teeth into the material and started tugging the offending shorts down Daniel's legs. By the time he reached Daniel's feet, they were both giggling so hard they had to lay back and breathe for a while. Daniel curled around his lover and brushed his hand up and down Jack's spine, feeling Jack's hands caress him wherever they could reach.

"Jack?"

"Hmm, yeah?" Jack asked between slow kisses to Daniel's throat.

"Can we?"

Jack pulled back a little.

"Can we what?"

"I've been kinda jealous, I guess? Of John and Rodney. The way they are. We used to…"

"Danny…"

"No, Jack, I'm serious. I love you, and I love what time we have together, but I miss…"

"I know. Me too."

Then Jack kissed Daniel deeply, and rolled him onto his back.

"I know this isn't gonna make up for it, but let it be a start, okay?"

Jack's eyes pleaded with Daniel, and the younger man couldn't help a smile.

"Nothing to make up for, Jack. Just love me?"

And for what felt like hours, Jack did just that, using his lips and teeth and tongue, his fingers and hands, his entire body, until Daniel was a puddle on their sheets.

~~~~~

"You okay?"

John snuggled closer into Rodney's warmth. God, how had he ever survived without the permanent heat that was Rodney in his bed? Without Rodney's fingers in his hair?

"I'm fine."

"Yes, of course you are. You're always fine, aren't you? Even when you're flying off in a jumper towards two hives, you're always fine. Why do I even bother?"

Sheppard could feel a McKay rant building a mile away, and this one was very much closer.

"Rodney?"

"What?!"

"I love you."

"Yes… Well… I…"

John pressed his lips softly against Rodney's nipple, and the scientist moaned.

"That… is decidedly unfair, Major… Colonel… General… John…"

John smiled as he rolled on top of his lover, and continued to make Rodney lose his mind.

~~~~~

"Jethro?"

"Everything's fine, Tony."

"But I think Abby..."

"Everything's fine. It's gonna be fine."

Tony clamped his legs around Gibbs' hips.

"God, yes!"

Gibbs smiled.

"Fine, Tony."

~~~~~

The white tiger, after making its rounds around the grounds, looked up at the house, and smiled a feline laugh. The humans would need breakfast. And maybe lunch. But the white tiger wouldn't see much of them until dinner. That was fine. Everything was fine. The tiger purred and connected with Cat. She smiled and said everything was fine too.

They were both startled when they heard the car racing up to them.

Chapter Text

There was a flash of bright blue light, and the muffled sound of an impact, and the tiger's whiskers trilled in the subtle displacement of air. Green eyes watched dispassionately as steam rose from the now disfigured front of the big black car, then as four men exited the vehicle, their curses soft through the gate. The men shook themselves, then one by one realized they were being watched. They turned their gazes to the gate again, and saw a big white tiger sitting serenely on the other side of the gate, resting on its back haunches with its tail wrapped around its paws. Amidst squeaks of 'Shit!' and 'What the hell??', the men drew guns and pointed them at the beast. It tilted its head to one side as it eyed them curiously.

Soft popping sounds of bullets being fired were followed almost instantaneously by small flashes of blue light. When the men finally stopped firing and lowered their guns, the tiger was… still sitting there, its tilted head now seeming to convey amusement rather than curiosity. As the men gaped, the white tiger rose to its paws and almost disdainfully turned its back on them and with huge loping strides disappeared into the woods.

Inside the house, Cat watched the security monitors and turned up the sound a little.

"I don't know what on earth is going on here, but I didn't sign up for anything like this!", one of the men shrieked.

"I'm with you, buddy! Let's get the hell out of here!", another replied, and they all jumped back into the car and managed to get it running enough to take them away from the unharmed gate and down the street.

Cat sighed. She would have to tell the men. This was a complication that, though not entirely unexpected, she had hoped to avoid. She tilted her head and listened to the sounds of the house. Yes, she would have to tell them, but not now. Right now, her charges were safe, and together, and relaxing after a full day of friends, fun and some tension. They deserved a rest.

~~~~~

It never failed to amuse Daniel to watch people's reactions to being read into the Stargate Program. Gibbs, usually stoic, was glued to the screen, clearly taking in every detail. Tony, always much more expressive, even though Daniel had quickly learned that what Tony was showing was not always what he was actually feeling, was riveted, a delighted and awed smile on his face. Jack was actually kind of jealous. In the early days, reading someone in had involved a lot of talking and presentations with PowerPoint slides. These days, they had a slick video, composed of footage shot for a (still) classified documentary about the SGC, additional bits added by Walter Harriman of all people who had turned out to be some kind of amateur movie director, and parts of an introductory video McKay had ordered Dr. Zelenka to make about Atlantis once when Zelenka had irked Rodney enough for the physicist to want to take revenge on his friend and colleague.

John and Rodney weren't paying much attention, except when Zelenka came on screen, and then they grinned and chuckled at the irritation the good doctor had obviously felt at having to do this stupid assignment for Rodney. When the video was over, the four SGC men turned to their friends.

"Huh," Gibbs said.

Tony grinned brightly.

"It's just like Wormhole X-Treme!"

Jack groaned as Daniel, John and even Rodney chuckled.

"There's a reason for that, Tony," Daniel said. "But we'll get to that later."

Tony nodded.

"It looks so cool! What's it like? I mean, when you go through the Stargate. What's it feel like?"

"Cool," Jack replied.

Tony looked at him, puzzled. Daniel sighed.

"What Jack means is, at first, it felt cold. We'd come out on the other side covered in ice."

"Yes, but when Sam finally realized that I was right and that her cobbled together dialing computer was messing with the parameters, and that she should be integrating the DHD protocols, that problem was solved as well." Rodney huffed.

Jack shot him a small glare.

"You can never let that go, can you?"

Rodney glared right back.

"She got me exiled to Siberia."

John patted his lover's hand.

"Yes, but then you and I went to Atlantis, and then she came as well, and you buried the hatchet and became friends, remember?"

Rodney still huffed a little, but then relented.

"You're right, John."

And McKay gave Jack a small smile by means of apology. Everyone knew Rodney didn't really do apologies, something he had in common with Gibbs, so Jack accepted it for what it was with a nod and moved on. He turned back to Tony.

"Danny's right. But I also meant it was cool as in awesome." They saw his eyes twinkling now. "I mean, I've had Carter and Daniel and even the damn video explain it to me many times, how it works, but to me it's just this weird thing where you're on Earth one second and halfway across the galaxy the next. That never fails to be cool."

John nodded in agreement.

"I'm with the General on that one. Even though it's a bit unnerving as well. I mean, you never really know what you're gonna find on the other side, despite the MALPs and intelligence from Teyla and Ronon. Things can change quickly. One day, it's a friendly planet, the next, you're running for your life the moment you step through the gate."

The other three SGC men nodded solemnly. Tony changed the subject.

"Those puddle jumpers seem very cool too?"

John smiled dreamily.

"They are. They're amazing. They do anything you want the second you think it. There's nothing quite like flying them."

"Yes, to you, General Super-Gene! Most of us really have to concentrate to get the damn things to even fly in a straight line!" Rodney huffed, then looked almost wistfully at the others. "He loves them more than he loves me."

But they could all tell that it was just fond banter, and Rodney knew that wasn't really true. Nevertheless, John responded earnestly.

"I could live without the jumpers, even without Atlantis, but I could never live without you, Rodney."

And the others watched in amusement as the two confirmed the truth of that statement with soft, loving kisses.

Tony had a million other questions, of course, and even Gibbs threw in one or two, and the rest of the evening was spent talking. At the end of the night, when they were getting ready to leave, Tony turned to his friends.

"So… All those stories you've told us so far of your missions? You're gonna have to tell them to me again, this time not leaving out the juicy stuff. I mean, I knew you were leaving things out, I just hadn't realized that this would be it. There's gotta be some hot alien princesses in there, right?"

Rodney huffed, and Jack snorted. They spoke at the same time.

"Oh yeah, Sheppard's a real Kirk."

"You betcha, Danny's got a girl on every planet."

John and Daniel threw exasperated glares at their respective lovers, as Gibbs and Tony left, laughing loudly.

~~~~~

When Gibbs came down to the main kitchen the next morning, coffee and several breakfast foods were already set out as usual, being kept warm in covered dishes. Even though they all had a kitchen in their own apartments, it had quickly become habit to eat most of their meals together in the main part of the house. As she had said when they had first come to look at the house, Cat enjoyed cooking for them, and even though she was seldom there when they actually ate the heavenly food she prepared and rarely saw her do it, the few times she stuck around to share their meal, they could clearly see the contentment in her eyes at their enjoyment of her food.

Normally, it was either Gibbs or O'Neill who came down first. While John was usually also up (military habits die hard), he often chose to run around the grounds a couple of times before breakfast. Rodney and Daniel often worked until late at night, and therefore usually slept late as well, and Tony liked to take his time in the bathroom before joining the others.

Gibbs grabbed a tray, placed one the carafes of coffee on it, and then filled two plates with delicious smelling food. Breakfast in bed was not something he would indulge in, but yesterday had been the housewarming party, and had been a little stressful for Tony when he realized Abby might have tweaked to their relationship. Gibbs didn't really care. Once he'd decided that living with Tony was something that he could do, something that he wanted even though Tony had never asked for it, he'd relaxed about the whole thing. There was no denying anymore that he loved Tony, and that the past three years were not just some friendly blowing off steam thing. In truth, he'd known that from the beginning, but it had taken him this long to finally admit it to himself. With a quiet chuckle, he admitted that this was a quicker acknowledgement than the one that he wanted Tony in the first place. That had taken years more. But once Gibbs was in, he was all in.

When he was taking the full tray back upstairs to treat Tony, fully intending to keep the man in bed for a little while longer today, Gibbs passed O'Neill on the stairs. Eyeing the tray in Gibbs' hands, Jack smirked.

"You too, huh?"

Gibbs smirked back ruefully but happily.

"Oh yeah. Gotta keep the boys satisfied, right?"

Jack nodded.

"Yeah, sure, you betcha. Enjoy!"

"You too, Jack. You too."

Jack found his own tray and, like Gibbs, loaded it up with coffee and food. Daniel was still fast asleep, tired after a long night of loving, but Jack's internal clock woke him at the same time every day, no matter how tired he was. He had lain there, watching Daniel sleep for a while, still marveling at his luck that this wonderful man had found it in his heart to love him back. He winced a little when Daniel's confession of the night before crossed his mind, that Daniel was feeling a little jealous of John and Rodney in their honeymoon phase. Even though Jack could never imagine loving McKay like that - though he had to admit he'd grown fond of the man over the years - there was no denying that John and Rodney were perfectly happy together. He also couldn't deny the truth of Daniel's words. Jack and Daniel had been so busy with the program ever since Daniel came to Washington permanently, that they really hadn't taken the time to just be together the way John and Rodney were doing now, even though those two were still working as well.

Last night had been amazing. Jack had pulled out all the stops, making Daniel completely incoherent with his caresses and kisses, keeping Daniel on edge until he was begging. Jack grinned at himself. Oh yeah, he still had it. Daniel had been putty in his hands all night, and then had fallen asleep in a drained puddle, his head tucked under Jack's chin, his limp arms still somehow clinging to Jack. O'Neill promised himself and Daniel quietly that for today, and from now on, they would take the time to be together. Starting with breakfast in bed. And then lunch. And maybe dinner.

Jack was piling a few more pancakes onto an already full plate when Sheppard, dressed only in shorts and t-shirt, yawning and rubbing a hand through his always unruly hair, came into the kitchen.

"Hey," Jack greeted him. "No run today?"

"Nah," John replied. "Rodney'll be hungry after the night we just had."

John grinned at Jack's wince.

"I don't wanna know that, General."

"Then don't ask, General."

They both chuckled, and Jack took his tray and made his way back upstairs.

John followed the example of the other two, and loaded a tray. Yesterday had been great and weird at the same time. It was good having his friends there, being with them again after their long weeks apart, and he was ridiculously pleased to be able to share his happiness about finally being married to Rodney with Teyla and Ronon. Jeannie and her family had been at the wedding, but having them here, seeing how they had friends and a great home together, made him proud. Knowing that Atlantis was on Earth and therefore relatively close made him happy as well. Then Dave and Kathy showed up. It had been a huge shock to John that they actually came, and he hadn't known how to react or what to think. But then Rodney had stepped in, and slowly John and Dave had started to talk. Kathy had been clearly disapproving, but something had made her keep to the background. Once Madison had gotten Dave and John into the pool, the two brothers had started talking for real, and by the time Dave left, John had felt closer to his brother than he had in years. John really hoped that they could hold onto and expand this tentative new beginning, and promised himself to do everything he could on his part to do so.

His mind conjured up pictures from the party the day before while he piled food onto plates. Even though he had been spending most of his time with Dave, John hadn't lost sight of his team. Teyla and Ronon had seemed to enjoy themselves, getting to know some of Gibbs and Tony's friends. Ronon had barely left Tony's side at all, having found a connection with him immediately. It was something John admired in Ronon. Even after seven years alone as a Runner, Ronon had quickly adapted to the people on Atlantis, and now seemed to expand that easy familiarity wherever he went if he found the right person. John had come to know Tony quite well since they first met a few years before, through Gibbs, and probably understood more of Tony's insecurities than the others, except Daniel, but then Daniel was always a little different.

John worried though, because Tony and Gibbs were still hiding their relationship from their team. He knew what that was like, and the strain it could and did put on the couple. But he couldn't judge their decision to keep quiet, because even after he and Rodney finally got together, they had done the same in the beginning. It was only when Teyla and Ronon let them know that they already knew, and that most of Atlantis had speculated about them for years, that he and Rodney had finally become open about it. It had still felt dangerous at the time, with his being military and all, but Atlantis and its people had either rallied for them or just didn't seem to care one way or another. Honestly, in Pegasus there were much better things to worry about than who was sleeping with whom. John just hoped that Tony and Gibbs could find that too.

He was just putting a last few rashers of bacon onto a plate when the door opened and Cat stepped in.

"Good morning, John. Sleep well?"

"Morning! Still a bit tired, to tell you the truth," he replied with a grin.

She smiled back.

"Good. You and the others rest up a bit more. I shall have lunch prepared later when you're all ready."

John eyed her intently for a moment.

"Everything okay, Cat?"

"Everything is fine for now, John. Go. Rodney will be wanting coffee and food soon, I think."

John smiled at her and nodded, then departed the kitchen to go feed his husband.

~~~~~

"Please, Rodney? Just a little longer?" Daniel wheedled, as Jack opened the door to his place to let Tony and Gibbs in. John and Rodney had gated in from Atlantis for one of their now regular IOA meetings and been beamed to Jack's apartment a few hours earlier for one of their nights of hanging out together.

At their surprised look, Jack grinned at the two new arrivals and ushered them in. Rodney's voice was irritated, but still somehow fond.

"Get one of the Generals to do it, Dr. Jackson. I'm done being a light switch for the day! I am usually the one who analyses, you know, not the one who just has to think 'on' at stuff!"

"But Rodney," Daniel continued, "John's taking a shower and Jack's busy making chilli! I just need a few more minutes, honestly. Please?"

Jack smirked. Not even the great Dr. Rodney McKay could refuse a Dr. Daniel Jackson with pleading tone, and - even though Jack couldn't see his lover just then - undoubtedly puppy dog eyes and pouty lower lip.

"Fine," Rodney huffed. "But I am quickly getting tired of this! I'm a very important man, you know, with experiments of my own!"

The glee was evident in Daniel's voice when he replied.

"I know, Rodney, and thank you so much for assisting me."

"Assisting? Assisting?! How dare you, you… you… you archeologist! How someone with your intelligence could choose not to practice real science is still beyond me!"

Jack strategically retreated to the kitchen for some more stirring of chilli, and Tony and Gibbs warily approached the living room, where they found Rodney staring intently at some kind of device that projected hieroglyph-type symbols in the air above it, and Daniel eagerly jotting them down into one of his ever present journals. Tony frowned.

"So, this is one of those Ancient devices you guys have been telling us about?"

At hearing Tony's voice, Rodney's attention wavered and the symbols blinked out.

"Rodney!" Daniel complained, but saw Rodney's focus was lost.

"Yes, it is. And out of the kindness of my heart" - snorts all around - "I brought it back for Dr. Jackson to study. It's part of a database I thought he would be interested in. I didn't know he was going to make ME be the one to initialize it! If I had, I never would have given it to him!"

Intrigued, Tony approached, reaching out to touch it. But before his fingers reached the device, Gibbs was there, snatching it up.

"Tony, no. After all those stories of theirs, I don't want you just touching stuff like this."

"Oh, please!" Rodney huffed. "The gene is very rare as I told you, and it would be extremely unlikely for either of you to have it. I mean, you obviously don't, Gibbs. Unless you're actively thinking 'off' at it right now?"

Rodney sounded mildly hopeful, and Gibbs just shook his head.

"Not thinking anything right now, McKay, other than I don't want Tony touching it!"

Of course, that lasted all of five minutes, because then Gibbs went into the kitchen to get himself and Tony a beer, and Tony eagerly reached out for the object. His fingers barely made contact before the weird symbols floated in the air above it again.

"Holy crap!" Rodney yelled.

"Hmmm…" Daniel murmured.

A worried O'Neill and Gibbs came racing from the kitchen, a wet Sheppard from the bathroom.

"Of course," Gibbs sighed.

~~~~~

That Sunday evening six very relaxed, happy and satisfied men gathered in the main kitchen for their dinner, pleased to find Cat there as well. She cooked and provided them with drinks, smiling a pleased little grin as they moaned ecstatically through their full mouths. The meal finished, she quickly cleared away the last of the dishes, then faced them. Switching on the large television screen in the corner of the kitchen, Cat sighed.

"Gentlemen. There is something we need to speak about."

Chapter Text

The very first time ever that Tony kissed Gibbs, it did not go well.

Tony was tentative, scared even. He kept his hands to himself, kept his eyes just that little bit open so he could see what was going on.

Gibbs was impassive. There was no return of moving lips, no tongue sneaking out, no soft moan, there were no fingers moving up his sides. Their noses brushed, but not in a pleasant way.

"Right," Tony said, "so, we probably won't be doing that again. Though I can do better! But… I guess that's not something you'd want. Right. Of course not. What was I thinking. That's just... Please don't fire me, Gibbs. I swear, I'll never do that again! Never! I just… I…"

When he couldn't stand Tony floundering anymore, Gibbs gave Tony a very mild slap to the back of the head.

"Go to bed, DiNozzo. In the guest room."

Tony stared at his boss for a moment, his gaze a mixture of disappointment and gratitude.

"Yes, Boss. Thank you, Boss."

And Tony disappeared quietly up the stairs, where Gibbs heard him shuffle through his bathroom and changing routine, and Gibbs sighed to himself.

Damn it! Why couldn't he just have kissed back?!

~~~~~

Cat showed them the footage of the car trying to hit the gate, then the men firing on something. While the others froze, Rodney and John merely sighed and glanced at each other.

"What was that?"

When Cat didn't answer, Rodney glared at her, the first time any of them had ever dared such a move or expression.

"Show us the rest."

Cat stared at him for a moment, then smiled.

"Of course, Dr. McKay."

The clip showed again, but this time, there were several more screens, showing the attackers in more detail, the blue flashes of light, and two highlighting the white tiger, sitting there, almost laughing.

Daniel and Jack turned to the New Lanteans.

"Was that…"

But Jack's question was stopped by the look on Rodney's face, his gaze fixed on the white tiger, his fingers reaching out and clearly itching to stroke the huge animal even through the screen. John sighed. Of course Rodney was fascinated by the big cat. Rodney had been missing having a pet cat ever since they came to Atlantis, and John had to admit the tiger was beautiful. John shook his head and answered Jack's aborted question.

"Yeah, just like the Atlantis shields."

As soon as John said it, even Tony and Gibbs recognized the bright blue flashes of light as similar to what they had seen in the introductory video to the Stargate program they had been shown some years before, in the part where Dr. Zelenka explained Atlantis' shielding technology. They all turned to Cat, but before anyone else could say anything, Rodney demanded Cat's attention.

"Do you have a ZedPM in your rooms? Is that why we're not allowed in there?"

Cat grinned mischievously at the physicist.

"Maybe? A tiny one?"

As Rodney gaped and nearly went into hyperventilating shock, John rubbed his lover's back soothingly. When Rodney at last got his breath back, he fired his questions at her.

"Where did you get it? How does it work? What does it do here? How could I have been in this house for weeks now without getting any readings of ZedPM technology?"

But before Cat had the chance to even start to answer, John asked what the others were thinking.

"Who are you?"

~~~~~

The very first time ever that Daniel kissed Jack, it was meaningless to both of them.

SG1 had started exploring the galaxy a few months before, looking for allies, alien tech, knowledge, Sha're. They'd been turned into cave people by some virus, met some intelligent crystals, nearly lost Jack to rapid aging, nearly harmed a bunch of white aliens by disrupting the song of their plants, and all sorts of other things.

This was their first time at a harvest festival.

Sam had found naquadah deposits on the planet, and they had been eager to strike a mining agreement for it with the natives, who cared nothing for the naquadah themselves as they had no use for it. The negotiations were going well when the village elder announced that they would break for the rest of the day and continue tomorrow, since that afternoon and evening their people would celebrate the harvest. Grumbling at the delay but always up for a good party, O'Neill had accepted the invitation to join in the festival and stay overnight, and had checked in with General Hammond at the SGC to explain the circumstances.

Food and drink was plentiful, and there was music and dancing, and Daniel was in his anthropological element. He was eagerly making comparisons of what he was seeing to other cultures he knew, and videotaping much of it for further study once back home. He was so wrapped up in it all that Jack had to nudge him three times before he actually got Daniel's attention.

"Daniel!"

"What? Yes, Jack?"

"What's with the kissing?"

Daniel glanced around and saw that those gathered around their campfire were kissing the person sitting next to them. He blushed a little.

"Oh! Yes, well, the elder explained that. It's part of the harvest ritual. Because they all have to help each other with the harvest, they need to be friendly with each other. This is kind of like 'love thy neighbor', only they express it by kissing the one they're sitting next to."

Daniel glanced around again, and then hissed to his teammates.

"And by the look on the elder's face right now, I suggest we join in the ritual if we want the negotiations to continue tomorrow."

They all looked at the man, and saw an expression on his face that was quickly turning to displeased.

Jack sighed. To his left was Daniel, to his right Teal'c, with Sam on T's other side. Before Jack could even begin to make a decision, Sam smiled at the big black man and said: "What do you say, Teal'c?"

"I would be most pleased to share in this ritual with you, CaptainCarter," Teal'c intoned, and barely a second later, their lips met in a deep kiss.

Shrugging, Jack turned back to Daniel, and huffed: "The things I do for my scientists…"

Then he laid one on Daniel. It was not his best, but he wasn't going for that. He just wanted to get across to the elder that they were open to their traditions, so they could continue their negotiations, Carter could get her naquadah and Daniel could geek out over the rest of the festival.

When he pulled back from the kiss, he found Daniel blinking up at him. The only thing the usually verbose archeologist said before he turned back to watching the natives was: "Huh."

That was the first of many kisses shared by Jack and Daniel, Sam and Teal'c, in any and every combination possible between the four of them. All for the good of the mission, of course.

As it turned out, they were not the only SG team to have such experiences, and it even carried over to Pegasus. When, several years into the expedition, then Colonel Sheppard was shown a screenshot of Major Lorne and Dr. Parrish kissing, by one of the newly arrived marines who felt he should bring this to his CO's attention, Sheppard shrugged. "Don't worry about it, son," he said. "It must have been a harvest festival."

~~~~~

"I am Cat," she replied to John's question.

And right in front of their stunned eyes, the woman who had been taking care of them for long weeks now turned into the big white tiger, its green eyes sparkling at them as they sat frozen in their seats. It, she, very slowly and carefully, walked around the kitchen counter so they could see her fully, then, equally carefully, nudged her nose into one of Rodney's hands. Unable to resist, McKay felt the soft fur, running his fingers up her nose until he reached the fur between her ears, and started petting her.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered reverently.

"That's so cool!" John squeaked happily.

"I thought we'd left the weird shit behind when we came to Washington," Jack complained to Daniel, who nodded.

Tony just gaped. Gibbs cleared his throat.

"Okay, so she's a cat. Doesn't explain who those guys were, and what the hell they want."

~~~~~

The very first time ever Rodney kissed John, it was kind of without thought.

It was a few months after Rodney had recovered from Second Childhood, where he'd started to lose his mind until all he could remember was John, and had been saved by some daring brain surgery with power tools in a cave. Even though they rarely mentioned anything about that painful and harrowing experience, John knew Rodney still had nightmares about losing his brilliance, and it was brought home one night as they were sharing a hut on an overnight mission.

John, always a light sleeper, woke the moment Rodney started moaning and fidgeting in his sleep. He got out of his own bed and moved to Rodney's, trying to wake his friend by shaking Rodney's shoulder. When Rodney woke with a start, in his sleep induced haze he clung to the one friendly presence, and wrapped his arms around John, not quite sobbing, but definitely in distress as he breathed harshly into John's neck.

"Oh god, it was horrible," Rodney shivered.

"I know, buddy, I know," John soothed his armful of Rodney. "But it's over now. You're fine, we're fine."

Rodney sighed deeply, trying to get himself to calm down as Sheppard's hands ran softly up and down Rodney's spine. It reminded John of the night near the end of Rodney's Second Childhood, when Rodney had come running to him in the middle of the night, John's name the only thing he could remember, John's presence the only thing that could calm him. After a few minutes, Rodney was relaxed enough to lie back onto his bed again to try to get some more sleep.

But before John could release him, Rodney softly kissed his lips.

"Thanks, John," Rodney murmured, then turned onto his side and promptly fell asleep again.

John brushed his hand through Rodney's thinning hair, and whispered: "Any time, buddy. Sleep now."

Then John sighed and got back into his own bed, rolling over and falling asleep almost instantly.

It wasn't until morning when he woke up again, that John actually fully realized they'd kissed.

~~~~~

The white tiger put its front paws on Rodney's knees, and just like that, the woman Cat was standing in front of him again.

"Gibbs is right," she said. "I do not know who those men were, hired goons is most likely from their conversation. But hired by who? And why? This I do not know."

Cat walked around the counter again and started a fresh pot of coffee as if nothing had happened.

"I have the feeling though that this is not new. I have felt a presence around the house only since the very first time you came here. Therefore I doubt they are after me, so it must mean they are here for one of you. Have any of you noticed anything odd lately?"

They stared at her incredulously.

"Other than you being a shapeshifter??" Rodney demanded.

Cat smiled.

"I am not a shapeshifter, Rodney. I am Cat. I never concealed what I was. It is in my name."

"Yes, well, if you want to argue semantics, I would suggest doing that with Daniel. And what about this ZedPM? Can I see it? What's with this house and how did you get it?"

This time Gibbs and Jack spoke simultaneously.

"First we gotta know what they're after."

"Research later, McKay. We got other stuff to deal with right now!"

"Fine, fine," Rodney huffed. "Figure out the bad guys first." He pointed a finger at Cat. "But don't think I'm just going to let this go!"

And of course he didn't. That very same night, when John and the others were asleep, Rodney snuck down to the kitchen and approached the door that led to Cat's wing of the house. But no matter what he tried, his tablet, his crystals, even brute force, Rodney couldn't get in.

Chapter Text

Rodney carefully avoided looking at the scowl Jack threw at him as the General began to realize exactly how many pieces of Ancient tech Rodney had been smuggling to and from Atlantis. Rodney didn't care about Jack's ire, they'd just found at that Tony had the gene, and Rodney was determined to find out how strong it was. As soon as Tony had activated the database device and they had all recovered from the shock, McKay had ran to the guest room he and John were sharing in Jack and Daniel's apartment, and returned with armfuls of tech for Tony to try to initialize.

The database device had been easy, even Rodney with his artificial gene could work it if he concentrated. But he had many more things, stuff Jack or even John couldn't get to work, and he was going to find out where exactly Tony came on Rodney's scale that ranged from himself on the lowest end to John at the top end when it came to the gene. Before Rodney could shove another device into Tony's hand, John stopped him.

"Give me a minute to get dressed, okay?"

Annoyed at the delay, but understanding the reasoning behind it, Rodney acquiesced. As John turned back to the guest room to get dressed, an incredibly tense Gibbs - who was obviously not liking any of this, at all - raised an eyebrow in Rodney's direction. It was Daniel who explained.

"John has the strongest expression of the gene we've yet encountered. Jack is second. If Tony activates something and isn't able to stop, one or both of them together should be able to shut it off. It's just a precaution."

Gibbs sighed. Despite Daniel's reassurance, he still wasn't liking this. But Tony threw him his puppy dog eyes, looking so damn hopeful at being special, that Gibbs bit back the refusal that was itching to cross his lips.

For the next hour or so, Rodney handed Tony stuff, and Tony thought 'on' and 'off' at it. Every single item lit up, and Rodney and Tony were getting more excited with each one. All of these devices had already been checked out by John or Jack, so they hadn't been worried about them, but when they came to the last few items left on Rodney's table, Gibbs could feel John, Jack and Daniel getting tense. Rodney and Tony were completely oblivious in their excitement. Before Rodney could hand over the next thing, Gibbs butted in.

"Jack?"

Jack looked uneasy. John looked thoughtful, and put his hand on Rodney's arm to hold his lover back. Jack rubbed his hand over the back of his neck.

"We're getting to the stuff even John has trouble activating by himself. That one -" he pointed to what Rodney was holding, "- took both of us to get it to work. It's harmless, but it requires a lot of juice."

"But it's harmless, right?" Tony asked. "So I can at least try, can't I?"

Tony turned to Gibbs and used the puppy eyes again, accompanied by a small pout.

"Please?"

Jack and John nodded. Gibbs sighed yet again.

"Okay. Just… be careful."

Tony smiled and turned back, making grabby hands at the device Rodney was eagerly holding out to him. When Tony touched it, the thing burbled. There were some flickers of light, a few beeps, but nothing really happened. John and Jack glanced at each other, and John nodded. Jack stepped closer and reached out to touch the device too, as John stood at the ready to intervene if needed. As soon as Jack added his touch and concentration, the thing came to life.

"Okay, Tony," Rodney said, "think of something you want. Like… like a beer, or… chocolate."

Tony closed his eyes and concentrated. A second later, a steaming cup of black coffee sat on the table next to him. There were grins all around as Tony almost squealed with glee. Immediately forgetting about the alien device, Tony picked up the coffee cup and held it out to Gibbs.

"For you, Boss. Thanks for letting me play."

Gibbs sighed, accepted the cup and smelled it, then let his smile show. Taking a sip, Gibbs reached up his free hand and cupped Tony's neck, drawing the younger man in for a quick kiss.

~~~~~

"You say you hadn't noticed anyone lurking around here before we came. How long has the house been empty?"

Cat winced. "Too long," she said quietly. "A few years."

The men looked thoughtful.

"So," John said. "When you say they aren't after you, that's probably right. Otherwise they probably would have shown up before we came here. That means they're after one of us. Rodney and I have been on Atlantis until a couple of months ago, and when we were on Earth, we were either under the Mountain or at Jack's place or Gibbs' house. And we were beamed there. There would not have been much chance for anyone to track us or even find out about us."

Rodney nodded his agreement.

"Danny?" Jack asked.

"I don't know, Jack. I haven't been in Washington that long all things considered, I still feel a bit displaced. You know how many black SUVs are in this town? Besides, you know what I'm like. When my driver starts driving, I just get lost in one of my books." Daniel smiled a rueful smile, but they all knew it was true. They had all experienced a Daniel Jackson completely engrossed in one of his texts. It was near impossible to snap him out of it.

Gibbs let his mind wander, then spoke up.

"Something I didn't like," he said. "A few weeks ago."

He looked at Tony.

"Remember that pen-thing of McKay's that you accidentally took that one day?"

Tony nodded, and they all remembered. Tony had apologized to Rodney that evening, explaining that he'd really thought it was just a pen and didn't know it was McKay's, and he had returned it to the scientist immediately.

"We had a briefing that day with a couple of agencies, a joint strike force. DiNozzo had the pen-thing, it switched on. Only for a second or two. But I noticed some looks I didn't like."

They all contemplated that for a few moments, then Jack took charge.

"Okay. So it might be they're after Tony, but we can't be sure. Just in case, no one, I repeat no one -" and he looked directly at Daniel, "- is going anywhere on their own or unarmed. Cat, what about the house?"

She smiled.

"The house and I shall be fine. As you have seen, nothing can penetrate the grounds without my approval."

She hesitated for a moment.

"I should feel better if you all remained here."

Jack, Gibbs and John sighed. It was John who replied.

"We understand that, but hiding isn't going to solve any of this. We need to know what's going on, why and who, and then take care of it. Or we're never going to be free of it."

Cat nodded.

"My mind realizes that, but my being rebels. I cannot protect you out there." She smiled impishly. "You would get strange looks with a large white cat at your side."

It broke the tension and they all laughed, though still a little subdued. Things had been so good for these past few weeks. Why did this threat have to happen?

~~~~~

"Hey Rodney?"

"I am very busy here, Colonel!"

John eyed Teyla and Ronon guarding the entrance to the hive's engine room, and, feeling secure for the moment, put down his P90 and wrapped his arms around Rodney from behind. He could feel the physicist shaking. John pressed a soft kiss to Rodney's exposed neck.

"You know I love you, right?"

McKay froze for a moment, then relaxed. The shaking subsided.

"Yes, John."

Sheppard squeezed Rodney a little tighter for just a moment, then let go and turned back, raising his P90 to the doorway of the engine room again.

"Good. Then get us the hell out of here so I can prove it again."

John didn't need to see Rodney's face to know that a small smile graced the crooked mouth he'd loved for so long. Rodney's voice was a combination of confidence and arrogance when he replied.

"Yes, of course, Colonel." Rodney said, as he resumed working his magic on the hive's engines, blowing up the ship and securing them safe transport at the same time.

~~~~~

When they finally went to bed after all the revelations of the day - Cat being a tiger, the house being shielded, bad guys being after them - Tony pressed close to Gibbs, and the older man could feel him shivering in his arms.

"Hey," Gibbs asked softly, "what's wrong?"

Tony's voice was small.

"Am I in trouble, Boss?"

Before he could stop it, a small snort escaped Gibbs' lips.

"When are you ever NOT in trouble, DiNozzo?"

Gibbs knew it was a mistake even before he said it, and that was confirmed when he felt Tony stiffen in his embrace. Tony sighed, then patted a hand on Gibbs' chest and extracted himself from Gibbs' arms.

"You know what? I can't sleep right now. I'm gonna go watch TV."

At Gibbs' rueful look, Tony said: "Don't worry. I'll go downstairs. I won't bother you."

"Tony," Gibbs pleaded. But Tony, now already standing next to the bed, leaned over and pressed a kiss to Gibbs' temple.

"Sleep. I'm fine."

As Tony left their bedroom, Gibbs pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. Damn it! He'd really messed up now! For a functional mute, he sure knew how to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

~~~~~

Colonel O'Neill woke to the far too familiar sounds and smells of the infirmary, and the very unfamiliar feeling of fingers interlaced with his. As he blinked his eyes open, his brown eyes fell to the features of his archeologist, his geek, his everything. Daniel was sitting in one of the very uncomfortable chairs of the infirmary, Daniel's head resting on the side of Jack's bed, glasses askew. Daniel's fingers were tangled with his own as the younger man slept.

Jack sighed.

He reached his free hand over, running his fingers softly through Daniel's hair. Jack fell asleep again, to the comforting feeling of petting Daniel.

~~~~~

Cat raised her head and frowned.

Something was not right. She had expected her charges to fall asleep and dream, but it seemed they were restless. She heard footsteps on the stairs. Tony, she recognized. But while she was contemplating whether to give up her nightly patrol in favor of keeping the young man company, Cat heard more footsteps. Sheppard. Ah. She listened a moment longer, then nodded to herself. They would be fine. Cat became a cat, and loped out into the woods.

"Hey Tony. What're you watching?"

Tony raised the remote to the big TV again, and skipped another few channels.

"Nothing," he replied.

John eyed him for a second, then walked to the kitchen to get them both a beer. He opened the bottles and trotted back, handing Tony one and settling down next to him on the couch.

"Can't sleep either, huh?"

Tony just grunted.

"So," John continued, "she's a cat. Big surprise for me. Rodney's trying to break into her apartments to get a look at this ZPM she says she's got."

Tony swigged a big gulp of beer and skipped through another few channels.

"Right," John sighed. Beer on the pier usually worked with Rodney, but beer on the couch obviously didn't work with Tony. And John was not one for talking about 'feelings', even though he could feel them radiating from Tony left, right and center. John stayed quiet a little longer, his eyes on the TV. Silence usually worked with Rodney, and it worked with Tony now too.

"John?"

Sheppard took another sip of his beer.

"Have you… have you ever…"

John waited some more.

"Have you ever been in love with your CO?"

It took all of John's composure not to snort and spit out his beer. Once he'd collected himself, he shook his head, leaving it to Tony to continue.

"I mean, I know Gibbs isn't like… well, we're not in the military, so… but it feels like he's my CO, and you know, sometimes..."

"I killed mine."

Tony nodded, then froze, then turned his gaze to John. Sheppard couldn't look back at Tony. If he was going to say this, he was going to say it to thin air.

"Remember what I told you about the Wraith? Life-sucking vampires? They got him. He was so far gone when I got to him, almost nothing left. I didn't like him, he didn't like me, but then… in that moment… he looked at me… and… and I… took the shot."

John took another sip of his beer. He hadn't ever talked about this, not even to Rodney.

"Mercy, they called it after my report. It was. Still sucked, though. Big time. And then we were back, and everything and everyone was just going on like business as usual, and I suddenly found myself in charge and didn't have a clue what I was doing. I was only a Major back then, and had no one to talk to about that. I floundered. There were plenty of distractions to keep anyone from noticing, but I… I failed. I couldn't talk, wouldn't talk… and no one knew. I grew, eventually. Got to know what to do, and when to do it. I was feeling all right. And then, there was Rodney. Of course, he'd always been there, but… then there was Rodney LIKE THAT. I felt like those first days. Lost. Alone. Completely out of my depth. Something and someone I never thought would happen. And I had to… I found myself having to talk. I wasn't good at it, I'm still not. But you know Rodney, he's different that way. He… Anyway, I had spent so much time of my life not talking about stuff, that it was difficult. I'd say the wrong thing, even though I meant well. Luckily for me, Rodney's the kind of guy who goes on data points, not words. Imagine spending your whole life not being able to talk about stuff, and then finding this guy who you really love, and him needing your words? When you've spent years not saying them? That's gotta suck too. I'm not making any excuses, and I'm definitely not saying… but… think about it."

John chugged the remainder of his beer and set off to the kitchen to put the empty bottle away. When he returned past Tony to head back upstairs, John put his hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezed lightly.

"I'm really not saying… but… you know… for some of us… words…"

Tony nodded to the TV screen, keeping his face and the tears that threatened to fall hidden from his friend. He cleared his throat.

"Good night, John."

"Sleep well, Tony."

Chapter Text

The white tiger prowled the grounds, checking the perimeter and feeling the force of the shield as she ran alongside it. She was uneasy. Even though she was absolutely confident that the men in her charge were protected and safe as long as they stayed in the house, she couldn't prevent them from venturing out. They all had their jobs to do, Jack and Daniel, John and Rodney with the SGC and Tony and Gibbs at NCIS, and there was no way she could get them to take a break. Her mind told her that they were right, that they couldn't hide in the house hoping this would all go away, but she didn't like that she couldn't be with them during the day to protect them. This had to be resolved one way or the other, and she had to agree to let them go about their business.

She didn't like it though.

Even though it had been silent on the threat front for the past few weeks, the tiger's senses told her it wasn't over. The original attackers had been so freaked by her and by the protection of the shield, that they had fled after their unsuccessful attempt, but the tiger knew that wasn't the end of it. She could feel it in her bones. Her men were not yet safe, even if they seemed to be relaxing a bit after the weeks of quiet. She sniffed a deep breath, taking in every scent she could catch. She was satisfied. No attack would come tonight.

~~~~~

Gibbs stood in the doorway to Tony's bedroom and watched his lover sleep. They didn't sleep together every night, keeping separate bedrooms in their apartment in the house, and whenever one of them needed a little space, they'd retreat to their own domains, still feeling comforted though knowing the other was close at hand. But tonight, Gibbs had hoped Tony would come to his bed.

Gibbs had messed up this evening, and Tony had left his bed and went to watch TV in the main living room for a while. Gibbs had lain awake, cursing himself, and then decided to go find Tony and try to make it up to his lover. But Sheppard had gotten there first. Gibbs stood on the landing, hiding behind a wall, and listened to Sheppard and Tony talk. Even though he felt guilty for listening to Sheppard's confession when it was obviously not meant to be heard by anyone but Tony, he'd been grateful to John for saying what he said to Tony, and Gibbs felt he had a better understanding of the man and his issues than he had over the last few years of knowing him. When Sheppard finished his beer and got up, Gibbs quietly snuck back to his bedroom before being discovered.

He had still been awake when he'd heard Tony return to their apartment, and had hoped to see Tony appearing at his door in the darkness, but instead, had heard Tony move to his own bedroom and settle into bed. Gibbs rolled onto his back and used his arms to lock himself into the duvet that covered him up to his chest. He smirked at himself. A duvet. Blankets had always been good enough for him, the rough wool covered by equally rough, many times washed cotton of a sheet. But Tony liked his comfort, and so the blankets had been replaced by a warm, huge duvet as soon as Tony started spending the night sometimes.

Even before they had slept together for the first time, Gibbs had made concessions. His fridge had become stocked with Tony's favorite brand of beer, Gibbs had changed his preferred pizza joint to the one Tony liked better, his bathroom had held Tony's brand of toothpaste and actual shampoo and soap Tony liked instead of just the generic soap Gibbs had used most of his life.

But then, Tony had done so much more. He'd never complained that they spent most of their time at Gibbs' place instead of at Tony's apartment. He'd never so much as hinted that it was inconvenient for him to live out of his overnight bag half the week. He'd never asked for a drawer, or left any of his things lying around. Every morning after spending the night, Tony had dutifully repacked all of his belongings into his bag and made sure that nothing remained behind. Tony had even refrained from grumbling when he had to wake earlier than usual so he had time to get back to his own place before work to pick up something or get fresh clothes.

Gibbs' breath caught in his throat when he realized something else.

Tony had never said no.

He had always waited for Gibbs to give a signal that he wanted his company that night, and had happily followed him home whenever he did. Gibbs knew that Tony had sometimes cancelled plans just to be with Gibbs when he wanted Tony to. When Gibbs didn't, Tony had accepted it, had never begged, nor shown up anyway.

Now, standing in the doorway, Gibbs wished he could change all that, the way he'd treated his lover. He sighed. The way he was treating him even now, living together in the same house, the same apartment, and still he'd made Tony need a space of his own, because Gibbs sometimes pushed him away. His heart clenched. He didn't want to, not anymore, not ever again.

After a short hesitation, Gibbs walked into Tony's bedroom and carefully slid under the duvet next to his lover.

When Tony even in sleep immediately sought out his warmth and snuggled up to him, Gibbs wrapped his arms around the younger man and sighed, cursing himself for being a stupid old fool, and gently caressed Tony's skin wherever he could reach for the rest of the night.

~~~~~

Rodney was snoring lightly, lying on his stomach, when John returned to their room. Smiling to himself, Sheppard insinuated himself under the covers and carefully put an arm across Rodney's back. Not carefully enough, it seemed, because McKay snuffled and turned, blinking his eyes open at John, and asked through a yawn: "Everything okay?"

John scooted even closer, smiling when Rodney automatically wrapped an arm around him to pull him in, and rubbed his nose against Rodney's in an affectionate gesture.

"Yeah," he sighed. After a moment, Rodney blinked at him again.

"John? What's wrong?"

Sheppard stared at his lover. For all that Rodney had a reputation of being completely oblivious to human emotions, Rodney sure knew about John's. Well, apart from realizing that the man had been in love with him for years, but then, neither had John, so he couldn't really blame Rodney for that.

John sighed.

"I never told you about what happened back then, with Colonel Sumner, did I?"

Rodney hesitated for a second.

"I read the report. I know what happened. I figured, if you wanted to tell me, you would."

John swallowed.

"I guess I should."

When Sheppard didn't continue, Rodney easily pulled him closer, kissing John's throat as he tucked his face into his lover. They were silent for a few moments.

"You know I would always listen if you wanted to talk. You don't have to, but… What's brought this on?"

When John didn't reply for a long time, Rodney closed his eyes and settled back in, either to wait or fall asleep, even he didn't know which.

"Tony was downstairs. He and Gibbs had a… well… a… something was up."

Rodney, not really having expected John to actually start talking again, blinked the sleep out of his eyes and focused on his lover.

"Yeah?"

"I…" John swallowed harshly again. "I… told him, Tony I mean. I should have told you first, but…"

"John." Rodney sounded infinitely more awake now. "You don't have to tell me everything, just what you want to tell me and what is important for me to know, professionally or privately. I'm sure if you told Tony, you had a good reason for doing so. If you want to tell me, I'll listen. But if you don't, I'll accept that there is a reason for that. I'm a practical man, John, you know that. I don't - I couldn't - tell you everything that's going through my mind every day. There just isn't enough time. But I know that if it's important, I can and will, and you will be there."

With a pleased sigh, John eliminated the last few pockets of air between their bodies and let Rodney's warmth suffuse him.

"Thanks, Rodney. I'll… I'll tell you one day."

McKay kissed John's throat again, a smile playing over his crooked lips. It took some effort in his sleepy state, but he managed his usual imperious tone quite well, thank you.

"Fine. Go to sleep then, would you? I have a very important experiment to get back to in the morning, and I need to be my usual brilliant and well rested self when I review the results."

John smiled, and was still smiling when they both fell asleep again.

~~~~~

Jack and Daniel had no idea of the inner turmoil their friends were going through at that moment.

Instead, Jack was on his back in their bed, his hands wrapped tightly around the slats in their headboard, while Daniel was perched above him, Daniel's knees straddling Jack's hips. Daniel smiled an evil little smile.

"Do you want it, Jack? Do you want me?"

Jack had to clear his throat before he could produce an answer.

"Always, Daniel."

Daniel's smile turned radiant then, and he reached out to grab the lube from the bedside table. But when he'd slicked up his fingers and stretched his arm behind to prepare himself, Jack let go of the slats and grabbed Daniel's wrist to stop him. Then Jack bucked his hips a little and, when given enough room by his lover, turned himself over onto his stomach. Looking back at Daniel over his shoulder, Jack raised a pleading eyebrow. With a pleased and excited grin, Daniel applied the lube to Jack instead, and when he slid in, they both let out a sigh of pleasure.

~~~~~

"So, what's the plan, boss?"

The director rubbed one thumb across an eyebrow as he played for time. He hadn't wanted to get involved in this, not in any way, but he'd had no choice. They had too much on him. He sighed.

"I'll make a call."

~~~~~

The second time Tony and Gibbs kissed, it was anything but a disaster.

It had been years since Tony's, quite frankly, disastrous attempt, and they had had several severe ups and downs since then in their working relationship. But that night, Tony was quietly sanding a piece of the boat in the basement, and Gibbs kept flicking his eyes over to his 2IC, taking in his mellow, relaxed state, a few beers in both of them. Gibbs put down his own sander, and stilled Tony's hand, turning him around at the same time so Tony's back was pressed against the ribs of the boat.

When Gibbs leaned in, Tony's eyes widened in surprise and dismay. Just before their lips met, Tony managed to get his hand on Gibbs' chest steady enough to push him away.

"Don't…"

Gibbs froze.

"No?"

Tony shrugged and turned around, running his hands over the wood he'd just sanded, just to distract himself. His voice sounded strained when he finally spoke.

"Not if you don't mean it. Please, Boss."

For a second or two, Gibbs stood there, watching Tony fret. Then he wrapped his arms around the younger man from behind, and could feel Tony melting into him despite himself. Lowering his forehead against the back of Tony's shoulder, Gibbs huffed out a breath.

"You don't want me anymore?"

Tony stiffened, then turned around in Gibbs' hold. He brushed his fingers over Gibbs' cheek and gave a little huff himself.

"Like that's ever gonna happen…" Tony sighed, swallowed, then regained some equilibrium.

"But it's not about that. It's about… well… you wanting me back, I suppose. I can get kisses, Gibbs. I do. But I want them to mean something. And that's not you."

Before Tony could turn around again and pretend to ignore what was happening, Gibbs tightened his hold on the younger man.

"You saying I don't mean it when I kiss someone?"

Tony looked into Gibbs' eyes when he answered.

"No. I know you mean it. You never do anything without meaning it. But what you mean and what I mean aren't the same."

"You sure about that?"

Now Tony averted his eyes.

"I've come to expect certain things, Boss. Most of them not good. You kissing me? With the way we've been doing lately? There's gotta be something behind that. And it doesn't bode well for me."

"Tony…" Gibbs raised his fingers to grasp Tony's chin and turn his face back to Gibbs. He struggled with himself to say more, to explain, to be open, but in the end, all he could do was put his feelings into action. He reached up again, and caught Tony's lips with his.

Tony couldn't help it, he lost himself. He moaned unashamedly into Gibbs' lips, Gibbs' touch. It lasted minutes, hours, days, there was no telling of the actual time frame. But when they finally released, Tony's eyes were sad.

"Thanks, Boss. I should… I should go. See you tomorrow."

And, still overwhelmed by what he had just felt and tasted and heard, Gibbs had no choice but to let Tony go.

~~~~~

"I want them!"

The voice on the other end of the line was loud and a little bit crazy. The director sighed. He'd known this was coming, but had little defense against it.

"I know that, sir, but things aren't that simple. The men were spooked, and I have barely managed to contain them and the rumors. I realize this is important, but you have others, can't you just let them go? At least for now?"

He knew it was a mistake, but he had to try.

"Let them go? Let them go??!! Are you insane? I would have all of them in here to finally be able to have a proper study done!"

The director sighed quietly.

"Yes, sir. I'll do what I can."

~~~~~

The second time Jack and Daniel kissed (not counting harvest festivals), they both meant every second of it.

They had been on PX-whatever, there had been a rock slide on the path they were taking back to the Stargate, but luckily, Sam and Teal'c had escaped to a safe harbor the moment rocks started rumbling. Jack managed to grab hold of some bushes along the hillside, and Daniel managed to grab hold of Jack, and they had found a ledge that let them wait in relative comfort until Teal'c had lowered rope from his pack down to them to pull them back up again. They escaped with a few minor cuts and bruises, and even Janet Fraiser couldn't find too much wrong with them, so they were released from the Infirmary and the Mountain after giving their report to General Hammond.

Jack wasn't even surprised when Daniel showed up at his house that evening. Daniel had brought Jack's favorite beers, and Jack had Daniel's favorite wine chilling in the fridge.

After a hockey game on TV neither paid much attention to and half an episode of the Simpson's, Daniel put down his wine glass and curled himself up against Jack on the couch.

"I thought I'd lost you for a second there," Jack whispered into Daniel's soft hair, as he pulled the younger man closer.

"I can't do this anymore," Daniel answered.

They lay against each other for another hour or so, letting the TV play whatever it was showing.

"Come to bed?" Jack asked.

Daniel's head came up.

"Kiss me?" he asked.

"Any time," Jack responded, and did just that.

When Daniel finally pulled back, he smiled at Jack.

"You know this doesn't mean I'm just going to sleep with you."

Jack stretched exaggeratedly.

"Well, I am pretty tired, Danny. You can have the guest room, if you're so bent on keeping your honor."

Daniel deigned to give Jack a smile.

"You know I didn't mean it like that."

Jack grinned back, and grabbed Daniel's hand.

"Then come to bed with me?"

~~~~~

The white tiger growled in frustration. It wanted something to hunt. But things had been quiet for weeks, and she knew the enemy was laying low for now. That made them even more dangerous in her mind. An enemy who had time, and who didn't care about waiting, not just a swift attack, but a long, planned out strike, that was even more worrisome. She continued to prowl the perimeter, casting her eyes back to the house every now and then, where she knew her charges were safe.

~~~~~

The second time John and Rodney kissed (again, not including harvest festivals), it was anything but thoughtless.

In fact, John's thoughts had often turned to this possibility, but he always tried to dismiss it as something he couldn't have. When Rodney showed up at John's quarters, a chess board in one hand and beers in the other, a sheepish smile on his face, John wordlessly let him in. It had been four days since the rumor mill on Atlantis announced that Rodney and Jennifer had broken up, and John had been waiting for his friend to come to him ever since then. Atlantis had even tried to show John exactly what had happened, but John had cut her off, not wanting to know the details unless Rodney wanted to share.

"So…" Rodney said, "yeah."

"I heard," John replied.

They stared at each other for an uncomfortable moment.

"Wanna take this to the pier?" John asked, raising the beer.

Rodney gave a watery smile.

"Sure."

And so they sat for a long time, right out there on their spot on the East pier, watching the by now familiar stars of Pegasus overhead, not talking, simply sipping beer and being with each other. But of course, Rodney had to break the silence.

"So, I thought I had it cracked this time. Smart, beautiful woman, for some reason interested in me, willing to put up with me. I figured, marriage, kids, maybe one day a continuation of my brilliant genes in the form of offspring."

John couldn't help but smile ruefully.

"You deserve it, buddy, you know, to get the girl."

"I know I do! I mean, what an opportunity for anyone to be with the most brilliant man in two galaxies! But…"

When Rodney fell silent, John shifted uneasily.

"But what?"

"Well… what if…"

Rodney cleared his throat, then seemingly went off on another tangent.

"It would seem that my brilliance is in fact a hindrance. Or maybe my personality is, I don't know. It seems no one wants to spend much time with me, let alone stay with me for prolonged periods of time. They're always trying to get me to be 'polite'! What's the good in that? I mean, I get more from my minions when they're scared of me than I do if I provide them with coffee or, even worse, compliments! I don't…"

"I like to spend time with you," John interrupted.

A renewed silence fell between them before McKay finally responded.

"Yes, apparently you do."

Cursing himself the whole time he moved, telling himself he was being stupid and ruining the best - if most unlikely - friendship he'd had forever, John reached out and grabbed Rodney. Pressing his lips against his friend's, John was tender, persuasive, caring and hesitant all at once. In the few seconds before he released his friend from his hold, Sheppard braced himself to see anger, disgust, mistrust and fear in Rodney's eyes.

Instead, when he finally pulled back, he saw a sparkle.

"So," Rodney rasped, his voice incredibly hoarse and sexy to John, "they were right then?"

John found that in the course of their kiss, he had rolled Rodney onto his back and straddled him possessively, his knees locked around Rodney's hips, his arms framing Rodney's shoulders, his hands grasped in Rodney's hair. He smiled a little uncertainly.

"I don't even wanna know right now who 'they' are. You don't need to change, Rodney, please don't change. Can I… can I kiss you again?"

With his usual aplomb, Rodney didn't answer, just grinned and pulled his best friend down for more mind-blowing kisses.

~~~~~

Cat didn't leave the compound often - she didn't need to. Most things she wanted or needed could be manufactured right there, and she had kept herself safe that way for many years. But sometimes, she liked to go out, interact with the real world, so she could relate more easily to her charges. And it had been many weeks since any of them had sensed any kind of threat.

So, of course, that was when the attack came.

She was just returning from a trip to an actual grocery store when, just outside the gate, a car pulled up and gunfire exploded into the air. Without even a hesitation, Cat threw herself through the gate and slammed it shut behind her with a single thought. A second later, the white tiger was glaring its green eyes at the three men who had attacked her. They didn't seem very disturbed by this. So, they had been briefed, and informed far more than the previous attackers. This was something to consider. But that would have to wait. She continued to glare at the three men as they attempted to break in, derisively rolling her tongue in laughter as they failed. When they finally left with vicious curses, the tiger watched until they had disappeared from sight. Then she carefully stumbled back to the house, and a phone.

"Tony?"

"Cat?"

Tony was shocked at hearing her voice, even though he knew it was her from his caller ID. Cat never called.

"There was another attack on the house, Tony. Please, I want you all back here where you're protected. Call the others. Stay together. Be careful."

Cat hung up before he could offer any reply, but Gibbs' eyes were on him from the second Tony had said Cat's name. Gibbs was already grabbing his badge and gun, his coat and bag, and was standing by Tony's side the moment the younger man shut off his phone.

"DiNozzo?"

"Trouble at home, Boss."

Gibbs cursed silently under his breath.

"Call the others. Tell me on the way."

And just like that, Gibbs and Tony left Ziva and McGee to their cold cases, a suspicious frown on their faces, and Tony tried frantically calling the others while grabbing his things and running after Gibbs to the elevator.

~~~~~

Daniel was desperate to keep his eyes open and take in every detail of the man above him, every second of what was happening. Jack had been teasing him for what felt like hours now, Jack's lips caressing every inch of Daniel's skin, Jack's fingers rubbing, thrusting, slick with lube and desperate in their own way, probing at Daniel's ass for what seemed like forever.

"Please, Jack, please…"

Daniel whimpered as Jack pulled back, released his fingers from Daniel, and rolled them both over so Daniel was on top.

"Ride me, Danny. You'll be in charge. I don't wanna hurt you," Jack whispered between kisses.

Daniel couldn't help a small huff escaping his lips. They'd been together for weeks now, and had shared the most amazing pleasure, but Jack had hesitated to take this final step even though Daniel had indicated he'd been ready for it for a while. And even then, now that they were finally at the point where they would go all the way, when Daniel would finally feel his lover inside of him, Jack managed to turn it around. Daniel wanted to be taken, not to take. He wanted to give his body, not just to share. He wanted to be loved.

But then, Daniel looked at Jack and saw the fear in the older man's eyes. Fear that he wouldn't be able to do as Daniel wanted, wouldn't be able to please Daniel as he desired. Fear that Daniel wouldn't like what Jack did.

"Oh, Jack…" Daniel whispered, before leaning over and kissing his lover. Without a second thought, Daniel pressed himself down onto Jack, taking him in, moaning at the pleasure of feeling Jack inside of him at last.

Jack's eyes were wide and incredulous as Daniel sank down onto him, the heat of Daniel's body encasing him, caressing him.

"Never doubt, Jack," Daniel sighed. "I want you. I want this. Please."

And with that, Daniel raised his hips and slowly sank down again, moaning in wanton delight as he felt Jack press into him, Jack's fingers involuntarily grasping Daniel's hips hard enough to bruise, wanting to keep his lover there forever.

~~~~~

Warned by Tony, they carefully scoped out the house and grounds in teams, checking for any sign of danger. Not finding any, they finally made their way into the compound. The smell of blood - something they all were unfortunately too familiar with - hit them the second they entered the house. Calling out for Cat but receiving no reply, they fanned out, checking the house, until Rodney called out to them.

"Look… she's in her wing of the house. That's what I'd do! That's what cats would do! Retreat to safety, to your own space. She's in there, I know she is!"

Nodding at the probability of Rodney's assertion, they all gathered at the door that led to Cat's part of the house.

"So how are we gonna get in?" John asked. "You tried, but…"

McKay looked slightly guilty.

"You knew?"

"Rodney, the day you can out-stealth me is the day I retire for good. Now please, any ideas?"

While Rodney looked around for a tablet or crystals or anything that would help him break into Cat's quarters, Gibbs sighed and reached out his hand for the doorknob.

"Can't hurt to try," he said, and they all stood there shocked for a second when the knob actually turned and the door opened.

"But… but… I tried that!" Rodney huffed. Jack winced.

"She must be really hurt then, to let us in."

That thought sobered them all, and they quickly made their way through the right wing of the house. Not even Rodney spared a thought to looking for this mysterious ZedPM Cat had said she had in order to protect the house, they were all too focused on finding her.

They found her in her bedroom, the safest place she knew, as Rodney had predicted. There was blood trailing across the floor to the bathroom, blood trailing everywhere, in fact. Cat lay on the bed, sheets pulled back, towels laid under her body. There was so much blood that they were sure it was hopeless. Then she opened her eyes.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, as she finally focused on them.

This time it was O'Neill who took the practical approach.

"The house let us in. You need help."

She dismissively waved a hand which, knowing what they knew, reminded them all of a cat's paw batting at them to leave her alone.

"I'll be fine." Her eyes sharpened. "You're all safe?"

~~~~~

Rodney sometimes wished he'd have paid more attention.

Then again, between Cat outside and John inside, McKay barely knew where to look, who to focus his attention on. John was always a distraction, his slouchy figure, his unruly hair, his careless drawl, Rodney could hardly ever take his eyes away from the man. On the other hand, Cat was likely to turn into a cat sometime soon. And Rodney liked cats.

So still, to this day, Rodney maintained that he wasn't to blame. He couldn't have noticed that John was fiddling with some Ancient tech Rodney had lying around his lab - and Rodney had told the man countless times that such things were not to play with! - and he couldn't have predicted that when Cat turned into the white tiger outside, John would say: "That continues to be awesome! I wish…" and then Rodney would be faced with a black panther staring with a smirk at the Ancient tech now nestled between its black paws, then looking up at Rodney as if to say: "Rodney! This is so… cool!"

~~~~~

Cat closed her eyes and seemed to survey them all.

"You're fine," she said, then focused outside of herself again. "The house is fine too. All is secure. Rodney, you can access the video…"

Her voice melted away into a soft groan she obviously hadn't meant for them to hear.

"We should take her to the hospital," Tony said.

Before Cat could even begin to object, Jack shook his head, more experienced in things like this.

"No hospital. Can you imagine what they'd find in her blood?"

"Carolyn?" Daniel asked. Dr. Lam would have been a good bet, but Jack instantly thought it would take too long to get her here from Colorado, even with a beam from one of their ships, and besides, the SGC didn't know about Cat, and Jack kind of wanted to keep it that way. He shook his head.

"I'll call Ducky," Gibbs said.

Jack stared hard at him for a moment. Even though Jack - and the others - had met Dr. Mallard at their housewarming party, they didn't know the good doctor. Gibbs smirked.

"I trust him with my life. And with Tony's."

Even if the first statement hadn't been adequate, the second was more than enough to persuade them all that Gibbs was serious. Jack nodded.

"Make the call."

~~~~~

"Gibbs?" Tony asked, just barely escaping the clutches of sleep later that morning.

"Yeah, Tony. I'm here."

Tony nestled contentedly back into Gibbs' solid form for a moment, before he woke up enough to remember the previous night. Tony swallowed, but before he could say anything, Gibbs spoke.

"I've been a real bastard to you, Tony. Even just last night. I thought… I thought I was getting better, but… clearly I'm not. I'm not very good with words…" - they both chuckled a little bit at that, even if Tony was still holding his breath at what was happening - "but I… I know what I feel, Tony. I just, I can't always say it. Doesn't mean I don't… I… Tony…"

Tony took pity on him then, squeezing his arms a little tighter around his lover.

"I know that," Tony said with complete and maybe hurtful honestly. "It's just that sometimes it hurts."

Gibbs nodded, then took a deep breath and continued.

"I was very disappointed you didn't come back to our bed last night. I lay awake waiting for you."

Before Tony could voice the apology that was clearly on his lips, Gibbs shook his head and went on.

"Not like that. I… I've realized some things. I haven't been fair to you, haven't been treating you right."

Now Gibbs retreated from Tony's hold, settling down on his aching knees at Tony's bedside, gently grasping Tony's hand in his.

"Tony… Can I please move into your room with you?"

~~~~~

"Alright, Jethro. I'm here. Now, what do you need me for, dear boy?" Ducky asked, as Gibbs opened the front door of the house to his old friend.

Chapter Text

The director rubbed his thumb over an eyebrow even as he glared at the four men in the car with him.

"What did you do that for?", he asked. "The plan was to get the men, not the woman."

"With all due respect, director," the goon leader replied, his tone clearly indicating that he didn't think any respect was due, "we don't just accept tasks from you. We have standing orders to eliminate the woman if at all possible."

The director sighed. He'd known that, really he had, but to have it confirmed irked him. Why had they even involved him in this? These men weren't his, they had come 'recommended', and now they had made it clear they weren't even following his orders, or at least, not just his orders. It seemed that whoever wanted the six men in the house, had enough pull to arrange for their capture themselves, so again the question was, why had they tapped him? He had the dark suspicion that it was solely to get him more firmly under their control, and that there would be even more unseemly tasks in his future that he wouldn't have a choice but to accept. He sighed.

"And did you? Eliminate her?"

Another goon answered.

"It was a good shot. But we know nothing about her. She walked off afterwards, but it might be she bled out."

"So we have no idea," the director summarized.

The four men managed to look a bit sheepish, which just looked silly on their goon faces, and the director sighed again.

"And why did you leave, instead of waiting for the men to come back?"

The goon leader cleared his throat.

"We were told to. It is unknown whether she might be able to retaliate."

~~~~~

It was Tony who had carefully picked up the wounded Cat from her bed, and carried her to the big family room in the main part of the house, where they had made her as comfortable as they could in a nest of blankets on one of the couches. None of the men had felt right being in her part of the house, and when Gibbs announced after his call that Ducky was on his way, they knew that Cat would prefer not to have the doctor in her private domain. As they waited for Ducky, Cat told them in few words what had happened, and Rodney pulled up the security feed, which they all studied several times while Cat dozed a little. The bleeding had slowed to a trickle, but she was obviously in pain. There were relieved sighs from all of them when Ducky announced himself at the gate.

Gibbs hadn't given Ducky any details, just that they needed him and his medical expertise, and that he needed to be careful, that he may be being watched. So Ducky had taken his precautions, and Jack, Gibbs and John had made rounds of the grounds while Rodney used the available electronics to survey the surrounding area, even though Cat had assured them that the attackers had gone. Tony sat on the floor by her side, and tried to keep her comfortable. When Ducky arrived safely, he was let into the house and started asking Gibbs questions, which immediately halted on his lips when he was brought into the room where Cat lay. He smelled and saw the blood instantly, and his entire demeanor went from jovial and somewhat eccentric ME to focused, sharp doctor.

In a matter of minutes Ducky had the woman laid out on one of the higher tables in the room, her wound exposed, his instruments at the ready, his gloved hands doing a quick examination. He frowned at the severity of the wound, and glanced up at Gibbs.

"This should be treated in a hospital, Jethro."

But Gibbs shook his head.

"No can do, Duck."

Annoyed, but fully aware that Gibbs would have his reasons, Ducky set to work.

While Tony and Gibbs stayed right next to Ducky and Cat, the other four retreated to a corner of the room for a quiet discussion.

"We need to call this in," Daniel said.

"To whom?", Jack asked. "I'm The Man at Homeworld, usually people call me with this kind of thing. Who am I supposed to call?"

They all hesitated, but knew it was true. Jack had been heading up Homeworld Security for a few years now, and was the one everyone else went to with problems like this. There really wasn't much of a higher authority when it involved aliens. Jack supposed he could call the president, but what could the president do that Jack couldn't? Not much.

John brought up something else.

"We should call our teams, though. The first attack happened right after they were all here for the housewarming party. We have no idea whether these people are just after us, or whether our teams have been targeted too. I'm thinking this is more of an SGC thing than an NCIS or a family thing, seeing as how those guys shooting this time didn't even look surprised when Cat turned into a tiger right in front of them. So I think Jeannie and Dave and the rest of our families are safe. NCIS probably too."

The others nodded in agreement, but Daniel scrunched up his eyebrows in thought. He turned to Jack.

"We should still warn them, though. Tell them something's happened here and that they need to be careful. Maybe tell Agent Barrett, get him and his guys to keep an eye out for the families?"

Jack agreed.

"Right. John, Rodney, you call your people. Danny, call Sam and tell her what's going on, but to keep it within the family for now. I'll have a word with Jethro, then call Barrett."

As O'Neill made his way over to the improvised operating table and Daniel turned away to call Sam, Sheppard gently squeezed McKay's shoulder.

"You okay, Rodney?"

Rodney gave his lover a wavering little smile.

"Yes? No? I… Have I… I don't know, grown complacent? Thinking that now we're back on Earth instead of in Pegasus, we're safe? That Earth is safe and we can handle anything? Have I put us all in danger by not exploring the strange things going on here more diligently? I mean, there's a ZedPM in this house, our housekeeper is a cat, and I did nothing much to solve that mystery, I just accepted it as something - as you would say - cool!"

John sighed and pulled Rodney into a hug.

"It's not your fault, Rodney. It isn't. None of us paid much attention to it."

But he could feel Rodney shiver in his hold, and knew that, even though most people wouldn't think it upon being exposed to his lover in short bursts, Rodney always took the blame for things that went wrong even if it had nothing to do with him. Rodney felt responsible for anything that he might have prevented, if only he'd been a little more alert, if only he'd spent a few more minutes on some analysis or other, if only, if only. Most everyone on Atlantis, the ones that had been there long enough to suffer through at least some of the stuff they'd all been through, knew that about Rodney. They may not like him, but they all sure as hell respected him and knew that most of them owed their lives to him in some way or another.

"Hey," John nuzzled into Rodney's neck, "want me to ask Teyla and Ronon to come here?"

Rodney tightened his hold on John for a second, then let out a deep breath.

"Do you think they'd come?"

John pulled back and laughed softly.

"Of course they will. If they know it would make you feel better to have them close, they'd probably find a way to walk or even crawl all the way from Pegasus to here. Hell, I'd feel better with them at my back too. And they're only in San Francisco now, you know. They could be here by tomorrow."

Rodney closed his eyes and rested his forehead against John's for a moment.

"John… Thank you."

"Always," John replied earnestly, then squeezed Rodney's ass playfully. "Now, go call Jeannie."

Rodney's indignant scowl was a little halfhearted, and John laughed again as he let his lover go to go make his own phone calls.

Jack swallowed harshly at the sight of all the blood as he approached the makeshift operating table again. Tony was sitting in a chair, holding Cat's right hand as Dr. Mallard worked on her left shoulder. The doctor was speaking almost merrily to her, and she responded softly with small smiles under the local anesthetic she had been given. Gibbs stood to Tony's side, keeping a wary eye on all of them.

"Jethro?" Jack asked, and shifted his head a little to the side to indicate a moment. Gibbs stepped away from the table, keeping one eye on it anyway, and spoke to Jack. Jack explained what he and the others had decided, and Gibbs agreed.

"I'll call McGee when Ducky's done," he said. "My people can take care of themselves, but a little warning won't hurt. I think we should take some time off, too. I'll talk to Vance."

Jack nodded. "Us too," he agreed.

"Jack," Gibbs sighed, lowering his voice even though he was certain that Ducky would be able to hear him anyway. "You know we're gonna have to tell Ducky something about her."

O'Neill turned his gaze back to the table and the good doctor, and nodded again.

"It's up to Cat. We can tell him what happened, but the rest…"

"I know. Go, make those calls. I'll do the same."

And then Gibbs returned to Tony's side, getting a grateful smile from the younger man as Gibbs squeezed his neck softly, and smiling at Cat who was talking softly to Ducky.

~~~~~

On P32-7X1, John and Rodney got married for the first time.

It wasn't until the blue thread was tied around John's left wrist, securing it firmly to Rodney's right, that Sheppard became very suspicious of exactly what kind of ceremony they were participating in, and the soft snickering he heard from Ronon and Teyla behind them made him glance back to his other two teammates. The cheerful glee in both their eyes made John even more suspicious, and he made a mental note to have stern words with them about respect and honor and not tricking your team leader and military commander into some kind of weird ritual that would make it forever uncomfortable for him to return to this lovely planet.

Glancing back over at Rodney, John made another mental note.

Namely, that if you're freaking getting married, you don't spend the entire wedding trying to sneak peaks at your tablet which is running a search for ZPM energy!

John huffed. Was he the only one taking this seriously?

~~~~~

It was almost three hours later, and the men sat around the living room with drinks of their choice in hand. Ducky was settled into a nice armchair, Jack in the other one to his side, with Daniel on the floor at his feet, Daniel's head resting softly against Jack's thigh as Jack played his fingers over the rim of Daniel's ear. John had opted to lie down on his back on one of the couches, his head resting in Rodney's lap as McKay softly ran his fingers through the unruly hair. And Tony and Gibbs were on one of the other couches, sitting close together, Tony's legs draped over Gibbs' knees as the older man played with Tony's toes with one hand as he held a beer with the other. Cat, dozing a little after the impromptu surgery and sleeping off the local anesthetic, had been put back on the third couch.

After Ducky had finished taking care of Cat and had cleaned up, he'd been gently herded to the chair he was currently occupying while the others took care of Cat and the rest of the clean up. He'd been given a drink, and as he slowly sipped at it and the others took their places, he had been filled in on what had happened for them to have called him out here. Despite his attention to Cat, Ducky had not been remiss in catching some of the other conversations going on around them. Everyone had made calls, Gibbs had spoken with McGee and the others with their teams and families that Ducky had met during the housewarming party, recognizing many of the names. He'd gathered much of the story from those calls, but had patiently sat through the full explanation that he had now been given. There were two things that were prevalent in Ducky's mind now though. He cleared his throat in a lull in the conversation, and threw a pointed glance at Gibbs and Tony.

"Jethro?" Ducky enquired with a raised eyebrow.

Gibbs sighed. Tony, blushing a very attractive shade of pink, immediately tried to withdraw from Gibbs when he caught Ducky's meaning, but Gibbs wouldn't let him go.

"But…", Tony stammered after a few deep breaths, "I thought you knew! I mean, after the party, Abby…"

"My dear Anthony," Ducky replied, "while we were not exceedingly surprised at discovering the full extent of your inclinations, we all - Abigail, myself, young Timothy and Ziva - were quite certain that it was the striking Ronon fellow that had managed to capture your heart. Mr. Palmer did not wish to divulge his opinion on the matter, though."

Tony gaped, Gibbs smirked, and after a short silence, the others chuckled. Well, John's chuckle turned into a braying laugh that made Rodney grab the man's beer for fear of him spilling it all over himself.

"Ronon? Ronon??" John choked. "Sorry, Doc! Ronon's heavily into Amelia! I mean, Tony's pretty and all" - Tony shot a glare John's way at that description - "but he's really not Ronon's type."

Tony huffed. "Hey! It could happen!"

Gibbs grabbed Tony's neck and pulled him in for a swift but soft kiss.

"No," Gibbs said, "it really couldn't. Not while I'm around, Tony. You're mine."

Everyone quieted at that, and looked to the two men.

"Yeah," Tony sighed, but it was clear that it was a sigh of deepest pleasure, "yours."

After long moments, Ducky smiled.

"Then I apologize for the misinterpretation of what had been seen that day. I am very pleased for you both. I do hope one day to learn how this surprising twist came about?"

Gibbs actually smiled.

"Of course, Duck. I'm sure no one here will be able to resist giving you all the details."

Daniel grinned at the room at large.

"Not that we know the details, so that would be a short story!"

"Exactly my point." Gibbs' smile turned into a devious smirk.

"I could tell you," a soft voice mixed into the conversation.

Cat, because of course it was she who'd spoken that last bit, unfolded herself from the blankets covering her and carefully stretched. Everyone watched her, trying to assess how she was doing. Much better, it seemed. There was color on her cheeks again, a sparkle in her eyes, and though she moved gently and cradled her left arm, she didn't seem to be in too much pain. When she started to get up, they all wanted to stop her, but she waved them off.

"I'm fine," she said. "Now that the bullet has been removed, healing is proceeding rapidly. Thank you, Dr. Mallard."

She nodded her head at him. He nodded back in acknowledgement, then asked the second question that was plaguing his mind.

"Why couldn't you go to the hospital, my dear?"

Cat slid off the couch to the floor, and crouched at Ducky's feet.

"I'll show you."

And between one blink and the next, the woman Ducky had been working on for over two hours turned into a white tiger, sitting quietly at his feet, its green eyes watching him carefully. Ducky swallowed, and then tilted his head slightly. Understanding what he was looking for, the white tiger turned a little to show him her left shoulder. In between the white fur, Ducky saw the exact same stitches he'd given the woman only an hour before, in the same spot, his own type of knots unmistakable.

"Oh my," he whispered.

~~~~~

On PX7-235, Daniel stared at Jack, horrified.

Only seconds before, Jack had teased Daniel's hands with his almost-fork, trying to pinch the last of the almost-beef left on Daniel's plate.

"Come on, Danny, you don't want the rest of this, do you?" Jack had grinned, and stabbed his almost-fork at the remainder of the meat.

"Jack," Daniel chided, "don't."

But then Jack had actually speared a piece of meat, and brought it to his lips with another grin. Daniel's tone had changed abruptly to a warning.

"Jack, don't!"

But it had been too late, and Colonel O'Neill had wrapped his lips around the morsel, savoring the spicy flavor of the meal they had all been enjoying.

When he saw Daniel's expression, Jack swallowed his mouthful and queried.

"What?"

Daniel gulped.

"Jack…"

But before anything could be explained, the elder of the town led the villagers in a call of joy, pointing to Jack and Daniel, Jack's face stony and placid, Daniel's blushing with fire.

"Daniel?"

Oh, the many ways Jack could say his name. In query, in doubt, in reproof, in exasperation. Daniel shivered. If Jack could only once say it the way Daniel really wanted - in lust, in love. Daniel sighed.

"Remember the wedding cake, Jack?"

Slowly, Jack nodded, seeing Sam's eyes widen and Teal'c raise an eyebrow.

"Yeah… Sharing food is… here… kinda like… that."

Daniel looked down at his now empty plate, and didn't see the pleased grin O'Neill sported before he managed to school his features into a scowl.

"We just got married, Danny?"

Daniel blushed.

"Pretty much, yeah."

There was a silence all around.

"Okay, then," Jack said lightly. "Show us to the temple to make it official."

~~~~~

The white tiger stared at Ducky for a moment after showing its scars, then turned to John and Rodney, padding softly over to them, keeping its left front paw off the floor. Immediately, Rodney's free fingers, the ones not buried in John's hair, made their way into the white tiger's fur. She plaintively looked up at the two of them. John glanced up at Rodney from his place in his lover's lap, then put down his beer and rolled off the sofa, gently falling to the floor next to the tiger. A single blink, and there was a black panther next to the white tiger, softly biting its neck to get it to relax fully, black paws settling over white fur. They looked like yin and yang, black wrapped around white, and Rodney slid down the couch to the floor. Tiger and panther alike put their heads on Rodney's outstretched legs, and breathed huffy big feline sighs when Rodney's fingers again found the tufts of fur between their ears. Purring so loud it could rival a motorboat was heard from the two creatures simultaneously.

For just a moment, Jack, Daniel, Gibbs and Tony smiled at the sight and sound. Then Daniel turned to Ducky.

"Rodney likes cats," he said, and turned back with a soft grin on his face.

~~~~~

Tony and Gibbs hadn't gotten married. There were no alien rituals, no Ancient forces compelling them to do so.

~~~~~

Jack frowned at the bleeping coming from his wrist. Even after all these years, he still had to get used to his watch being more than just a watch. He pressed a button and spoke.

"Yeah? O'Neill."

A strange, tinny voice replied.

"O'Neill. It is good to hear you."

Jack and Daniel shared a quick surprised glance, then Jack answered with a smile.

"Thor, old buddy! Good to hear you too! What's the occasion?"

"I have two humans here, O'Neill, who wish to see you. Or should I say, wish to see their friends."

"Okay…" Jack hedged, "where are you?"

"We are overhead of you, O'Neill. I would like to deliver your friends, and come myself as well. But my sensors tell me there are others with you."

Jack quickly glanced around, his gaze landing solidly on Ducky as he spoke again.

"All friends, Thor. You can come down."

"Fine, O'Neill. We will see you in a moment."

The beam of white light surprised none but Ducky. The people delivered by said beam garnered far greater response. Ronon and Teyla stood in the living room looking like they had always been there. Their first gaze was towards Rodney and the two creatures he was petting. They smiled. Teyla nodded to Jack and Daniel, then to Gibbs and Tony, raised her eyebrow at Ducky's presence but acknowledged him with a smile, then turned to Rodney and the two felines. Carefully reaching for them, she placed one hand on the black panther's head, the other on Rodney's knee.

"Hello, John," she said. "Hello, Rodney," she smiled.

Rodney gasped, looking up at her sharply.

"You know that's John?"

Teyla revisited her smile, Ronon just laughed out loud.

"With that hair? Of course it's Sheppard." Ronon snorted. "Hey, Sheppard, this mean you're finally gonna be able to keep up with me when we're running?"

Meanwhile, Gibbs, Tony and Ducky were awestruck by the little grey alien that had been revealed as soon as Teyla and Ronon had stepped aside. The size of maybe an eight-year-old, looking like one of the Roswell classics, Thor was anything but what the three of them had expected. Jack, however, stepped forward eagerly, and accepted the hug Thor threw around his legs gladly. In truth, he looked like a favorite uncle getting a hug from his eager nephew, only in this case (when considering age, wisdom and experience), Jack was the nephew, and Thor the favorite uncle.

"Thor, buddy, it's so good to see you!" Jack exclaimed earnestly.

"It is good to see you too, O'Neill. It has been too long. But I must admit, I am not here solely for the purpose of seeing you."

"Of course not," Jack said, "I know that. Danny's here too."

Thor turned to Daniel, and hugged him much the same way, only Daniel managed to kneel down just before the tiny grey arms reached out for him, so it was more of a real hug than it had been with Jack. They greeted each other gladly.

"O'Neill. Daniel Jackson. I was in orbit when you reached StarGate Command with your message. I was conferring with Hermiod on board the Daedalus when I heard of the request to have Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex transported here. The Daedalus was already on its way out, but I gladly offered the transport facilities of the 'Daniel Jackson IV' once I heard of the circumstances."

Daniel leaned into Jack and whispered: "It never gets old to have a space ship named after you."

"I had one named after me too, remember?" Jack asked.

"Yeah, but that was one. I'm up to four now. The Daniel Jackson IV."

Jack huffed.

"That just means that three of them blew up. You really proud of that?"

Daniel didn't know whether to look proud or disappointed. Jack kissed him instead.

"It's a very good name, Danny," he whispered back. Then he returned to Thor.

"Well, thank you so much, Thor, buddy!"

Jack spared a quick glance to Teyla and Ronon, who had shared a brief hello with Gibbs and Tony (though Ronon's hug of Tony might have left bruises in its fierceness) and then settled down on the floor next to Rodney and the two cats.

Ducky just sat there, trying to take everything in stride.

Chapter Text

As Teyla carefully held her hand in front of the white tiger's nose, she addressed it in a gentle voice.

"Are you well, friend?"

The big cat licked Teyla's hand in answer and put one paw softly onto her leg in reassurance. Rodney answered.

"She will be. Dr. Mallard removed the bullet, and Cat says now that it's gone, she'll be healing quickly." He squinted at Ronon and Teyla a bit. "You don't seem very surprised by the fact that she's a cat. Or Sheppard, for that matter."

Ronon shrugged.

"Saw the cat the second night we were here for the party. When we met the woman that evening at dinner, I knew it was her. Felt the same."

Teyla nodded.

"I felt it as well. And of course, the eyes of the woman and the animal are strikingly similar. As for John, well," she gave the black panther a teasing smile, "I would guess that he was probably toying with some Ancient device while thinking it would be nice if he was able to turn into a cat as well."

John the panther closed his eyes and was glad that the black fur hid his blush. Sometimes it sucked having friends who knew you so well. Rodney and Ronon just grinned.

Meanwhile, Jack was introducing Thor to Tony, Gibbs and Ducky, if you could call it an introduction.

"Guys, this is Thor. He's an Asgard."

Tony huffed. Well, that explained everything, didn't it? Sometimes Jack could be even more annoying than Gibbs, and that was saying something! Barely biting back a grin at Tony's expression, Daniel provided further information, while Thor himself simply stood there, his head slightly tilted, his huge eyes blinking. Over the past years since he had come into contact with O'Neill, and through him other Tau'ri, Thor had learned to be patient while the humans did their - in his opinion quite unnecessary - excessive talking. On the other hand, he had also begun to understand that for a race so young, it was good that the humans were so curious, always wanting to know things. How else were they supposed to learn and grow? Besides, Thor had come to like the sound of Daniel Jackson's voice as he explained things, and enjoyed hearing the way the young man's mind worked.

When Daniel's explanation seemed to be finished, Thor stepped forward and extended his hand in the way of greeting he had learned from O'Neill all those years ago.

"Hello. I am Thor."

The grey haired man called Gibbs shook his hand in a no nonsense manner, the older man called Ducky gave it a soft shake, but the young man called Tony was tentative, his eyes wide and brimming with questions. Eventually, Tony did shake Thor's hand, and Thor decided to hold onto it longer than was necessary. He held Tony's fingers as he spoke again.

"I see you have many questions, youngling. That is good, it is how you learn. Unfortunately I do not have much time on this occasion. I am certain Daniel Jackson and O'Neill will be able to answer at least some of your queries, and I will be pleased to return one day when there is more opportunity to converse."

Then he let go of Tony's hand and politely turned his back on them to move over to the cat who was his purpose for this visit.

Tony stared at the little grey being, slack jawed. Daniel, after sharing a surprised glance with Jack, bumped Tony's leg to get his attention, and grinned.

"He likes you!"

Tony swallowed.

"Is that… good?"

Jack sighed.

"Sure," he said. "As long as you don't mind being called young and stupid in every other sentence, Thor's a really fun guy to hang out with."

Daniel just laughed as they all turned their eyes back onto Thor. Ronon had moved his legs aside to make room for the small alien to kneel by the white tiger's side. They watched as he carefully slid his long fingers through the soft fur, obviously examining the animal. Finally, he moved his hand to the cat's head and brushed his fingers over her nose.

"You will heal well," he said to her. "Hello, old friend."

~~~~~

"Not that it isn't always lovely to get out from under the Mountain," Vala said as she folded her legs under herself in the big chair she'd claimed and stretched her arms above her luxuriously, "but why are we meeting here?"

'Here' was a small cabin on the outskirts of Colorado Springs that Jack had set up many years ago, a safe house of sorts, where he and his team would meet when there was something to discuss that couldn't be safely talked about inside the Mountain or any of their homes. When first Jack and then Daniel had left for Washington, Sam had taken over the care of the place, sometimes handing it over to Cam when she herself was away from Earth for longer periods. Sam gestured to Vala to be patient, as Cam handed drinks to both women and Teal'c. As soon as Sam had called him earlier that day, Cam had headed out to the cabin and performed his usual careful sweeps, both physical and electronic, so they could be certain they would not be overheard, whatever they were going to discuss. At the sound of an approaching car, they all tensed, but Sam looked out and relaxed when she saw Agent Barrett exiting the vehicle. She let him inside and gave him a drink.

"Okay," Sam said when they were all seated again. "Here's what's going on. Barrett, I know you already heard some of this from the General, but for the others this is new." She took a sip from her coffee. "The house where the General and Daniel live was attacked today."

Vala stiffened in her seat, Cam straightened his posture to attention and Teal'c raised an eyebrow.

"They're fine, but Cat, you know, the woman who takes care of the house? She was injured, shot. She's going to be fine, Daniel texted me. But… this was not the first time. Apparently, right after we were all there for the housewarming party? There was an attack then too. Only nobody got hurt that time, and the General didn't think it necessary to inform any of us." She snorted, making her opinion of that notion clear. "Now though, they're worried. Not just for them, but for us as well. They have no idea who is behind it, or what or who they're after. Probably at least one of them, considering that both attacks took place at the house, but since we had been there too…"

She let that sink in for a moment, then continued.

"Daniel wouldn't say why, but they have a strong feeling that it is SGC related, which means all of us could be a target. Nevertheless, Gibbs has his people at NCIS on alert as well, and the General asked Agent Barrett here to look after John and Rodney's families."

Barrett nodded, and took over for a moment.

"I already have agents discretely posted on David Sheppard and Jeannie Miller and their families. They'll be guarded round the clock until this is resolved."

"Does General Landry know?" Cam asked.

"No," Sam replied. "For now, we're keeping this in the family in the closest sense of the word."

Teal'c nodded his approval of that. Vala squirmed in her seat, then burst out with anger.

"I will not sit idly by when someone puts my Daniel in danger!"

Sam grinned.

"You've put him in danger yourself plenty of times!"

Vala grinned back.

"I know, but that was me, and I knew I would always be able to get him out of it again too. That doesn't mean that anyone else gets to do it to him."

Cam laughed.

"Except General O'Neill, of course."

Vala scowled at him, but it was done with a twinkle in her eyes.

"Well, yes, I concede I have lost my Daniel to that man."

"Daniel Jackson belonged to O'Neill long before you arrived, Vala Mal Doran." Teal'c informed her, to which she eventually nodded her head in acknowledgement.

"I guess that's true, Muscles. The point still stands, though. We're not just going to sit here and do nothing, right?"

"We're not," Sam confirmed. "Sheppard is going to ask Teyla and Ronon to come to the house. If they got lucky with transportation, they're probably already there. I think we should head there ourselves too. If it is something to do with the SGC, it would be better to be together, not having to fight on separate fronts."

Cam frowned.

"Or maybe that's what they want. Get us all together, then once they've got one, they've got all."

Sam interjected.

"Normally I would say you have a point, but there's something else. Remember that night before the party, at dinner? Ronon and Teyla said the house felt like Atlantis."

Several nods in confirmation, except from Agent Barrett, who knew about Atlantis, but had not been at the house.

"Daniel mentioned that the house was protected. Rodney said something like that too, last time I talked to him. Cat got hurt outside of the grounds this afternoon, but Daniel said she managed to get inside so she was safe. There's something more going on with that place than we know about. Think about it… Feels like Atlantis, has protection…"

She trailed off, letting them mull it over.

"You think the house has shields?" Cam asked, eyes wide. Sam nodded.

"It's the only thing I can come up with that fits. The General would never keep Daniel or any of his people in a place he couldn't be certain was safe, not if he could help it. Sheppard's the same with McKay, and from what I saw when we were there, Gibbs has the same idea about Tony. Daniel was quite emphatic that they wouldn't be leaving the house, in fact, they're all taking time off until this is resolved."

"I suspect then that you are right, Samantha Carter. O'Neill would indeed not have Daniel Jackson somewhere unprotected." Teal'c nodded. Vala and Cam agreed as well.

"So," Sam continued, "if we're going there as well, like Cam said, that would be putting all our eggs in one basket. Which is where you come in, Barrett."

Agent Barrett nodded, having understood where this was headed.

"You need someone on the outside. Since I already know at least part of what's going on, I'm the logical choice."

Sam smiled at him. He sighed.

"Of course. I need to stay here to do what you can't from there if you need it. Maybe ask around a little?"

Sam squeezed his hand in thanks.

"Don't ask, just listen. If you hear anything, let us know, but don't go stirring the pot."

"You got it, Sam. Anything I can do to help."

"So," Vala said, "when are we leaving?"

"Right now," Sam replied, standing up. "We've all got our emergency supplies here, and I have a feeling that the sooner we get there, the better."

~~~~~

Thor hadn't stayed for more than fifteen minutes or so after that. The first few minutes, he and the white tiger had stared intently into each other's eyes, seeming to have a silent conversation, but then both Cat and John returned to their human forms so they could join in the talking. They told Thor what was going on and he promised that if he discovered something that might be of help, he would contact them. Then, after saying his goodbyes, he disappeared in a beam of white light.

For a while, they discussed the situation and informed each other of the phone calls they'd made, and then Tony retreated to the kitchen to cook them all a meal, adamantly refusing Cat access to the kitchen since she had to heal. He allowed Ronon to come with him though, not just for the pleasure of the other man's company, but also because he'd quickly discovered that Ronon's skills with knives included very fast chopping of vegetables and other things. Since the kitchen was open to the room the others were in, they could still join in on the conversation, while they threw together a hearty stew.

Despite Jack's prodding, he couldn't get Cat to reveal how she knew Thor. She only confirmed that they were indeed old friends, but would not divulge anything about how old, or how they had met in the first place. She just gave them all a mysterious little smile and shrugged her good shoulder dismissively.

When Ronon and Tony rejoined the others while the stew was bubbling away, Daniel turned to Tony.

"Tony? How did you and Gibbs get together?"

Tony blushed and spluttered, glanced at Gibbs, then emptied the remainder of his beer and got up to get a fresh one. Gibbs glared at Daniel.

"How did you and Jack?"

Daniel smirked.

"I asked first."

"I don't…"

"I'm telling you, Jethro," Jack interrupted, "give up now and just answer the question. Daniel will win. Never argue with a linguist." He gave a long suffering sigh.

Tony returned and sat down again, carefully not looking at Gibbs. Everyone watched them silently.

"He kissed me," Gibbs finally said, to everyone's surprise. Tony's blush deepened again, and Gibbs smiled softly when he saw it. "Only took me a couple of years before I kissed him back."

Tony closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the couch, beer cradled in his hands, and waited. And waited. And nothing else happened. He cleared his throat.

"That was after Mexico. When he kissed me back, I mean. When I kissed him, that was much earlier, when he let me stay with him after that crazy bomb lady tried to blow us all up?" In the course of their many evenings together over the years, full of stories, he knew that Jack and Daniel, Rodney and John had at least a passing knowledge of the things that had happened to Gibbs and himself, and would be able to place them in a timeline. It was mostly for Ducky, though.

"Anyway, he came back from Mexico, and things were bad, and I was deep into the whole mess with Jeanne, and whenever I had a moment to myself, it all started to overwhelm me. Even though things between Jethro and me weren't good then, the only place I found I could relax was still his basement. So one night I was there, and we were working on the boat, and he kissed me."

"You left. After I kissed you."

Tony nodded, not opening his eyes or lifting his head.

"Things were so messed up. You said you meant it, but I… I couldn't handle any more at that point. So we left it at that."

"Then we thought you were dead."

"Yeah, when my car blew up."

Finally, Tony opened his eyes and looked at Gibbs. Even though he was speaking mostly to the others, his gaze remained locked with Gibbs.

"That ended the Jeanne thing pretty quickly. I had told her I loved her, but even as I said it, I knew it wasn't true, not like that anyway, not like you. But I couldn't let myself get into something with you then, knowing that there were these lies between us. But when that was gone, I started to hope. That maybe… maybe there was a chance, still. That maybe we could get there. And even though things at work still weren't great, I kept coming back to your basement."

"You did," Gibbs smiled.

"And in private, away from the office, things were different. I mean, you were still bossing me around and everything, but sometimes… sometimes you'd talk to me."

"And sometimes you listened."

"I always listened! I just didn't always hear exactly what you were saying."

They grinned at each other.

"Anyway, I was just getting to the point where I thought I could risk it, you know, when Jenny… And then Vance sent me off to be an Agent Afloat."

"And when I finally got him back, I knew I couldn't let him go again. So I wined him and dined him - well, beer and pizza - and let him show me his favorite movies on his laptop, and then, when he was pliant and relaxed, I took complete advantage of him."

Gibbs smirked and Tony laughed.

"He's not wrong. I was half asleep, wondering how the hell I was going to get home after the movie ended, when suddenly I realized that I was lying on my back on the couch, with him leaning over me. The moment his lips met mine, all sleep evaporated, and I grabbed him in my arms and knew I'd never want to let him go."

"And I've made him suffer for that ever since."

Though to anyone else that might have sounded like a joke, the ones present knew that there had been plenty of trouble between the two, and could hear the regret in Gibbs' voice.

Tony leaned into his lover, and tucked his head in the crook of Gibbs' neck.

"But we're good now. Aren't we?" He grinned a little. "I mean, if things are too easy, they probably aren't worth it. And definitely not as much fun."

Gibbs swallowed, and gently ran his fingers over Tony's cheek.

"I wish I could have made everything easy for you, Tony. But that's not me. And I won't deny that at least we are having fun. Most of the time."

Tony laughed and raised his head to give Gibbs a solid kiss on the mouth, then waggled his eyebrows at the man.

"Wanna have some more fun, Jethro?"

Gibbs groaned, then lightly slapped the back of Tony's head.

"Later, you deviant."

They were joined in their laughter by the others.

~~~~~

Abby tapped her foot against the floor a little louder, crossed her arms in front of her chest a little firmer, and increased her glare a little more. It was no use. She'd been doing it for close to five minutes now, but McGee wasn't budging. Ziva just looked amused.

"Give it up, Abbs!" McGee chided her. "We're waiting for Palmer. I don't want to have to go through this twice."

Luckily for all involved, just then, Jimmy Palmer slipped into Abby's lab and closed the door behind him.

"Sorry! Sorry! I had to…"

Abby waved him off.

"Whatever! What's up, McGee?"

McGee took a deep breath.

"Okay, so… Gibbs' and Tony's house was attacked today."

As he'd expected, Abby blanched and fell back into her chair, which was why he'd been standing close to her so he could keep it from rolling away. Ziva stiffened and Palmer froze.

"They're okay. Cat was hurt, though." He looked to Palmer, who nodded in understanding.

"The call Dr. Mallard got earlier," he said.

McGee nodded in acknowledgement.

"We have to get over there!" Abby panicked.

"Boss says no, Abbs. They're safe, and they need us here."

"What happened, McGee?" Ziva asked. And McGee relayed the information he'd received from Gibbs as fully as he could, before finishing with: "So, because of this earlier attack after the party, Boss wants us on high alert. He doesn't think it has anything to do with us, but nevertheless, the warning stands. We travel in pairs, check in. Gibbs and Tony are taking some time off, Gibbs is calling Vance."

"And Dr. Mallard?" Jimmy asked.

"Still at the house as far as I know. Gibbs or Tony will call if they need anything or if anything changes. For now, we're to continue as usual, just keep our eyes and ears open. And don't tell anyone."

They all let it sink in for a moment.

"Are you sure we can't go there?" Abby asked. "I don't want Tony to be alone when he's in danger! He needs his friends!"

McGee sighed.

"Tony can take care of himself, you know that, just like Gibbs. And Tony's not alone, Abby. Gibbs is there, and so are their friends. Tony wouldn't want you to get in danger just so you could be with him. Besides, I understand Sheppard is calling in his team, so Ronon will be there too."

That made Abby and Ziva both smile. Palmer caught their smiles and smirked to himself. Oh yeah, they had it so wrong. But Palmer could wait for the big reveal, and would quietly laugh to himself when it came.

"So, everyone clear? Ziva and I will probably be on cold cases for now, so we'll be in the office." McGee turned to Abby and Palmer. "Either of you has to leave, call one of us, we'll come with you. No going out alone. Okay?"

Everyone nodded their understanding, and after another moment of contemplation, they broke up their meeting to return to their assigned tasks.

~~~~~

Gibbs turned to Daniel.

"Well?"

"Well, what, Jethro?" Daniel asked sweetly, knowing perfectly well what was being asked of him.

"You and Jack? How'd that happen?"

Jack groaned and buried his face in his hands, as Daniel blushed and laughed at the same time.

"Jack has a propensity to snuggle."

"Do not!" Jack swatted halfheartedly at Daniel's head, missing by quite a few inches, so it was clear he didn't mean it at all.

"Yes, you do. It's why Sam refused to share quarters with you after the first two times." Daniel laughed again, and Jack smiled, because a laughing Daniel was something he would never get tired of or take for granted.

"So on the next mission, Jack shared with Teal'c. After four nights, Teal'c came to me and explained it would be better for the team if he no longer had to share with Jack. And trust me, when a man like Teal'c comes to you and in his most deadpan voice says: "Daniel Jackson, O'Neill's sleeping habits are distracting me", that's just hilarious. So I said it wasn't a problem, that I'd share with Jack. The next overnight mission I found out what their problem was, since neither of them had been willing to share that little detail with me."

Jack rolled his eyes, but his hand strayed into Daniel's hair, carding through it gently.

Tony grinned. "You didn't mind?"

Daniel softly shook his head.

"I didn't. I mostly grew up in the desert. I get cold at night. That first time, we shared a tent on a really cold planet and I was just grateful for the warmth. Besides," Daniel slitted his eyes and leaned back against Jack a little more, "it made me feel safe. Jack's always been very protective of me."

Jack cleared his throat in embarrassment, but Daniel just smiled again.

"Ever since that very first mission to Abydos." Daniel turned to Ducky to explain, knowing the others already knew of this. "That was the first planet we went to, just after we'd managed to open the Stargate. There was a threat to Earth there, and Jack, being in a pretty suicidal mood," - both their eyes darkened for a moment, remembering that time - "was the perfect guy to go there and blow everything and everyone up to stop the threat. But he didn't want to blow me up, not even back then."

Their expressions lightened again. Jack took up the story.

"So in the end, I decided to listen to the annoying geek, his plan saved Abydos and Earth, and instead of blowing up a planet, I ended up leaving him there with a wife and extended family. I went home and retired. Again. But even though he wasn't my responsibility, I couldn't help searching for him in the stars, worrying whether he was alright."

"And then a year later," Daniel continued, "he came back through the gate, because there was trouble brewing again. My wife and brother-in-law got taken, and in the end, I came home with Jack so we could search for them. But even then, he couldn't just let me be, he had to take me to his own house and have me stay there until I found a place of my own after a year away from Earth."

"Well," Jack huffed. "I couldn't leave you under the Mountain, could I? I knew you wouldn't get any sleep or even food if no one was looking out for you!"

Daniel grinned at the others. "See, protective…"

"Brat!" Jack chided.

"Mother hen!" Daniel returned cheerfully. "So when this whole sharing quarters on overnight missions thing came up and Jack tended to get close in his sleep, I didn't particularly mind, no. Of course, by the end of the first year of missions, it had gone from a casual arm thrown over my chest to Jack being full on wrapped around me."

"You died how many times that first year, Danny? Two? Three? See any correlation?"

"Throw in the harvest festivals, and then the ritual marriages that started during our second year, and you could make a good case for saying we'd been together for a long time."

"But we hadn't."

"No," Daniel sighed, "we hadn't. And then we found Sha're - my wife - and lost her forever, and there was all this tension and things started to deteriorate between us, but still, whenever we shared a tent, I would find solace in sleeping in your arms." Daniel nudged his head against Jack's hand to get him to continue stroking through his hair.

"Yeah," Jack sighed, "things got really bad. And then they got worse."

Ducky raised his eyebrows politely in question. Now it was Daniel's turn to sigh.

"I died."

"You asked me to let you go."

"I didn't have any reason at that point to think you'd want me to stay."

"A whole year, Danny, just like back then with Abydos. But this time it was much more confusing. And far more painful. I knew you were still out there, but..."

"I came back, though."

"And couldn't remember me."

"I could barely remember anything! And then, just when things were starting to come back to me, but before I could really make heads or tails of it, I had a dozen consciousnesses of other people shoved into my brain."

"I sat there the whole time, watching one after another possess your body, speak with your voice, and I knew then that I would give anything to have you back for good. It was different from when you were Ascended and doing glowy things… to have your body there, but you not in it, knowing they could be tearing your mind apart, that was true hell."

They took a moment of silence, and the others waited patiently.

"So when we got it all sorted out, and I was back to being just me, he took me home, to his house. We sat and talked for a while, and when I said I wanted to get some sleep, he said to go sleep in his bed since the guest room was unavailable. I was so tired, I just shrugged. It wasn't like we hadn't shared before."

"Which was exactly my plan."

"No surprise then that when I woke up in the morning, a certain Colonel was wrapped around me like an octopus. I stayed quiet for a long time, just letting myself feel how warm and safe I was, the first time I'd truly relaxed since I descended. And then I realized there was no way I had actually woken up before Jack. Sure enough, when I turned my head to look at him, his eyes were open and clearly wide awake, and I knew that he had been awake the whole time I had been lying there in his hold."

"He didn't even flinch when I smirked at him."

"No," Daniel smiled, "I just asked him if I could stay over at his place again that night. He didn't flinch either, by the way."

"I guess we both knew."

"Yeah. So that went on for a couple of weeks, and then there was the rock slide, and I was just so tired of hiding what all of it, what Jack, meant to me. So that night, I didn't wait until we were in bed, I just crawled against him on the couch, wanting to feel that safety again. And then I asked him to kiss me."

"Which of course I did."

"And the rest is history."

"And future," Jack whispered, just before he pressed his lips to Daniel's in the softest, most loving kiss imaginable.

~~~~~

"The fact that Dr. Mallard is at the house means that the woman is still alive," the director said. His statement was greeted by very unpleasant laughter.

"Not necessarily. He is a Medical Examiner, after all. He could just be performing an autopsy."

A loud click signaled the end of the conversation. The director sighed.

~~~~~

The others threw pointed glances at John and Rodney. John smirked uncomfortably.

"I fell in love with Rodney the moment he let me push him off a balcony to test his personal shield."

"You… you did?" Rodney asked, staring at his lover with wide eyes. "You never told me that!"

John shrugged.

"I didn't think it mattered. Just, you know, that I did. Love you, I mean."

Rodney glared at him.

"But, John… that was, that was years ago! Years! You never thought to mention that?"

"What?" Sheppard answered gruffly. "Tell you that I was pathetic enough to trail after you like a love-sick puppy for five years before I finally got up the courage to kiss you? No, Rodney, it didn't occur to me to mention that, ever!"

In the ensuing silence, John realized what he'd said, and face palmed. "Until now, apparently."

Rodney's crooked lips formed into the gentlest smile any of them had ever seen on him. He pulled his mortified lover to him and held him tightly. Teyla and Ronon smiled.

"I knew the moment we met that there was something deeper than friendship between John and Rodney," Teyla said to the others.

"Obvious," Ronon smirked.

"Yes," Teyla chided him, "but that was a year later, when everyone on Atlantis already knew. Except for them, of course." Ronon shrugged agreement as Teyla continued. "John was very anxious for Rodney, refused to let him out of his sight, especially at first. I witnessed several incidents where John placed Rodney's interests above those of others, and especially above his own."

John, slightly recovered from his embarrassment and paying attention to what was being said now, interrupted. "Ehm, Teyla… maybe you shouldn't say stuff like that in front of…"

Jack waved a hand dismissively.

"Too late, General. I already know you're a sucker for the guy."

Wicked grins all around.

"I meant, of course, in making sure that Rodney ate regularly, and slept at least occasionally. Even to the detriment of your own rest, John." She smiled beatifically at him. "Dr. McKay soon proved his ability to take care of himself and others during missions in terms of defense, however, when at home, Rodney can get forgetful. And that is where John showed care for Rodney far beyond that of a commanding officer for his charge."

"First time I saw Sheppard anxiously watching McKay in my self defense class, I knew what was up." Ronon grinned.

"Yes, well, you're a scary man, Chewie!" Rodney huffed. "Anyone with half a brain would be concerned for my safety in your so-called class, which is just an excuse for beating the crap out of people! And let's not forget, that was barely days after you had taken Teyla and John hostage, caught me by my ankle in a bear trap, and nearly dropped me on my very valuable head when you cut me loose!"

"As I was saying," Teyla raised a delicate eyebrow at Rodney, "it was clear that there was more than concern for a teammate there. I could not understand at first why they were hiding their attraction, until one day I spoke with Elizabeth about the nature of relationships between those from the Milky Way."

"Elizabeth knew?" John squeaked.

"I did not tell her anything, John. But yes, she knew."

The four of them, and Jack and Daniel, bowed their head for a moment in a nod to a woman they had all admired in their own way.

"Teyla explained it to me when I joined the team and asked her about it," Ronon said after the silence. "Elizabeth too. And then Lorne, and Zelenka. Even Chuck." Ronon looked to Tony. "That's why I didn't like it when you said you wanted to keep it secret, you and Gibbs. On Sateda, my home, love of any kind was celebrated as long as it didn't endanger anyone. It's still hard for me to accept that here there are stupid rules keeping people apart."

"Ronon and I were hopeful that John and Rodney would find their way towards each other, but then…"

"Arcturus," Rodney said. Even though his guilt at that would never leave him, he'd managed to put it behind him, and so had the others. He glanced at Ducky, a faint blush on his cheeks. "I accidentally blew up five-sixth of a solar system. It was uninhabited, but still… I lost the lives of some good scientists, and put John in danger."

"And yourself, let's not forget that," John added with a growl.

"It took a while for John and Rodney to forgive each other," Teyla continued. "Every time things seemed to be going well, something happened to halt the progress."

"Thought of just knocking them out and stranding them on a deserted planet until they figured things out. Lorne would've gladly helped me, offered to pilot the jumper and all." Ronon smirked.

John glared at that. "I'm going to have a word with Lorne the next time I see him."

Ronon just grinned and waved the complaint away.

"Then a most trying time came when Rodney was afflicted with Second Childhood." In deference to Ducky, Teyla explained. "It is a disease native to the Pegasus galaxy, harmless when contracted in infancy, but deadly in adulthood. It afflicts the brain, makes you… forget. Slowly, Rodney was forgetting everything, his knowledge, his friends, even his core self."

"But he remembered Sheppard, always," Ronon added. As John and Rodney remained quiet, the others looked to them. They were sitting close together, clearly trying to dispel the memories of that time.

"Rodney told Dr. Keller - Jennifer - that he loved her," Teyla said softly, "but just a short while later, he did not even remember her. Instead, he ran to John."

"Pretty obvious," Ronon critiqued.

"Ronon knew of a shrine, where victims of Second Childhood could be restored to themselves for a short time to say goodbye to their loved ones. We undertook the perilous journey, and there discovered that it was in fact a parasite causing the devastation to Rodney's brain. In a daring operation, Dr. Keller and John managed to save Rodney and restore him to health. We had all hoped that this would bring forth the true feelings they had for each other, but…"

"McKay thought it was Keller."

"Hey!" Rodney swatted at Ronon, but John shushed him.

"It was a while after that when you first kissed me. You still had nightmares about the whole thing, and I woke up one night in the hut we shared, and you were thrashing in your sleep. I calmed you down, and then you kissed me."

Rodney put his hand against John's cheek.

"Yes, I do remember that. But when I thought about it in the morning, I knew I should just be glad you hadn't given me a black eye for it, that you let me get away with it thinking it was because I was still half asleep. I figured, if you wanted to do something about it…"

"You were already with Keller."

"Yes," Rodney sounded a little sad, "I should have known that would stop you. Always so damn honorable."

"But when we returned the city to Earth, it quite quickly became clear that when we were to return to Pegasus, Jennifer would not be wanting to join us," Teyla reprised. Rodney huffed.

"Yes, yes! I'm quite capable of telling this myself, you know! She didn't want to go back. She'd had her adventure, and she wanted me to stay here as well. But I wanted to go home, and no matter how nice it looked from the outside to have an intelligent, beautiful woman wanting you to stay with her, I knew the instant she said it, that I never would. I wouldn't give up Atlantis for her, and I told her so. And then she asked me if I would give Atlantis up for John if he asked me to."

Rodney swallowed for a moment, and they all saw John tighten his grasp on Rodney's fingers.

"And then I knew. Yes, I would. And she had known it all along."

"Took you four days to come to me," John whispered.

"Well, I had a lot to think about. Even with my brain capacity, some things take a little time to process. Especially things like that. And especially when I still had no idea how you felt about it."

"Then I kissed you."

Rodney smiled.

"Yes. You fed me beer and then you kissed me. Were you hoping I'd forget it?"

"I was hoping you'd forgive me for it if I got it wrong."

"You've been wrong many times, John, - which is inevitable, I suppose, for someone of your intelligence - but never when you kissed me."

John laughed, not insulted in the least, and kissed Rodney again for good measure.

~~~~~

Cat smiled as she reclined on her bed. Her shoulder was healing well, in a day or two barely a scratch would be left of the wound. Her charges were safe in their beds, huddled up together, happy despite the threat, and closer to each other than before after the personal tales they'd shared. The good doctor who had treated her was safely tucked into Gibbs' bed, since Gibbs was always sharing Tony's bedroom now, and Teyla and Ronon slept soundly in the guest room in Rodney and John's apartment. All in all, a satisfying day. And she smiled again in the knowledge that more friends were on their way to protect those she loved.

Chapter Text

The black SUV drove steadily through the dark night.

With no ship currently in orbit and not wanting to attract attention by commandeering a couple of fast planes, SG1 had decided to drive from Colorado Springs to DC. General Landry had not been happy when his flagship team announced a sudden need for an extended time off without much of an explanation, but it wasn’t as if he could really deny them.

Besides, Landry was no fool. A request for leave that didn’t involve Samantha Carter spending at least half her leave time under the mountain anyway, Teal’c requesting to stay on Earth instead of visiting his family, and Vala Mal Doran getting out of the mountain without requesting a fully loaded credit card for shopping… Yeah, Landry could read the signs. This had something to do with O’Neill and Jackson. He had to trust that Jack would read him in when necessary.

Cam had taken the wheel for the start of their journey, and had shifted to shotgun after several hours to let Sam take over. Vala was content to be curled up in the back seat with a souped up tablet that held a huge amount of movies, courtesy of McKay, and split her time between watching and dozing off. When Sam had gotten tired, Cam had moved to the back and left her the passenger seat to stretch out in while Teal’c took the wheel. They were making very good time.

~~~~~

Tony huffed in annoyance when he came down into the kitchen and found Cat already there starting to prepare breakfast.

“You’re supposed to be resting and recuperating, you know!”

She turned and smiled at him, and he instantly felt the annoyance melt away.

“Good morning, Tony. I am fine.”

“Yeah, you know, no one ever believes me when I say that, so forgive me when I’m a bit skeptical.”

“Ah, but you lie when asked how you are, and I do not.”

She winked at him, and he couldn’t help but laugh.

“Seriously, are you okay?”

“I am, Tony. You can see for yourself if you wish.”

He stepped up to her and carefully moved the straps of her black top aside to inspect the wound. It looked as if it was already days old, and healing very nicely.

“Alright, alright,” he gave in. “What can I do to help?”

And together they set to work fixing breakfast for everyone in the house.

~~~~~

The director stared morosely into his decidedly bad cup of coffee. He could practically feel his ulcers growing, even without having taken a sip of the foul brew.

He was in trouble and he knew it. He couldn’t go upstairs with it, couldn’t trust his superiors. Right now, there was only one man he could trust, the one he had clashed with for so many years, the one who was the laughing stock of the agency but still managed to cling to his beliefs.

A knock sounded at his office door.

“Come in.”

“You wanted to see me, Sir?”

The director sighed.

“Sit down. I have some things to tell you. You can’t do anything about it, and I don’t want you to try or get involved in this, but I need someone to know what’s happening.”

Intrigued and worried, his visitor sat down, an open and expectant look on his face.

“It’s like this, Fox…”

~~~~~

Despite the previous day’s events and the threat looming over them, breakfast was a happy and loud affair. Tony and Cat had prepared a veritable feast together, and everyone was deeply pleased to see Cat doing so well. She gracefully permitted Ducky to check her wound in front of them all, and they were all reassured by that and Ducky’s pronouncement that she was well under way in the healing process. It lifted their spirits, and they all happily tucked into their food.

After breakfast, Cat wanted to do a quick physical perimeter check. Most of them wanted to burn off some of their nervous energy, so with the exception of Ducky and Rodney, they all changed into their usual work out clothes. Even Daniel, Jack and Gibbs joined the others for the first round jogging around the property, but they wisely gave up when, after returning to their starting point, Cat and John grinned at each other and changed form, racing away from the others. Ronon happily gave chase to the two cats, but even he couldn’t keep up with them. Teyla and Tony followed at their own pace, laughing as they watched Ronon try to keep up to the big animals in the distance.

Finishing their second circuit, Tony and Teyla joined the others on the big patio next to the pool, cooling down from their run, as Ronon and the cats went around again before finally stopping. Teyla had gone into the house and returned with a large bag, from which she now drew two fighting sticks.

“Bantos?” She asked with a challengingly raised eyebrow directed at Ronon and John.

“In a minute,” Ronon puffed from where he was bent over with his hands on his knees. Ronon could usually outrun anyone, but had clearly met more than his match in the two cats.

John changed back and laughed, not even winded.

“You rest, Chewie. I’ll happily spar with Teyla for a bit.”

Going over to the bag and selecting his own rods, John smiled to himself in anticipation. While on Atlantis, he practised with Teyla every day if time allowed, and had for years. But he hadn’t fought with the bantos since coming to DC. It obviously wasn’t something he’d do with Rodney, and while he thought that Tony certainly, and Jack, Gibbs and Daniel probably, would be able to give him a nice sparring session, and he himself really wasn’t a novice anymore, he felt he was still too inexperienced to safely teach someone else. He’d leave that to Teyla.

Under the watchful eyes of the others draining bottles of water, John and Teyla got into position and started.

It took four moves for Teyla strike John - hard - against the back of his thigh, making Ronon laugh and John complain.

“Ouch! Watch it, Teyla! I haven’t practised in months.”

“All the more reason for me to remind you of your training, John,” she countered with a beatific smile.

The next hit was to John’s calf, and he jumped a few times, trying to shake it off. He twirled the stick in his right hand and got into position again. For several long minutes, John was struck again and again, and while it certainly looked and sounded painful, they could all tell she wasn’t really hurting John.

“Careful, Teyla! I’m getting old, you know!” John complained after she’d knocked the rod out of his left hand, leading him to shake said hand before picking up the stick again.

“Have I not aged the same number of days as you, John?” She asked with twinkling eyes.

John grumped.

“You’d never know it, the way you look.”

“Why thank you, John,” she smiled, before attacking him again.

Tony was fascinated. He so wanted to learn how to do that! But he doubted Gibbs would let him. Looking over at his lover, he saw Gibbs watching intently though, and Jack too was clearly engrossed.

When John finally gave up, not having made a hit on Teyla even once, he handed his rods to Ronon and went to seek comfort from Rodney, who’d been watching avidly.

“It’s your own fault, you know,” Rodney told John heartlessly, even as he took John into his arms and soothed over every single one of the hits Teyla had given John. “I’d gotten used to you being unbruised. Don’t think I’ll be giving you a massage later or anything!”

John turned and gave Rodney his puppy dog eyes and pout. The others were impressed. John was nearly as good at that as Daniel. Rodney huffed, closed his arms around John from behind, and let him rest against Rodney’s chest while they watched Ronon and Teyla spar.

~~~~~

The third time Teal’c stretched in his seat behind the wheel, Vala cheerfully called him on it.

“I can drive for a bit if you’re getting tired, Muscles.”

“No!” The other three immediately countered.

Vala smiled inwardly. She had no desire to drive, as she had rarely done so before and wasn’t really comfortable steering these Earth contraptions. But it did lead to Cam and Teal’c switching places at the next available stop. Teal’c was so much more comfortable than Cam to lean against in the back seat while she finished watching her movie. And unlike Cam, Teal’c didn’t snore.

~~~~~

The fight between Ronon and Teyla was clearly different from the one between Teyla and John. When Ronon jumped up and brought down his bantos rod with what seemed like all his might, they all - except John and Rodney - sucked in a breath for fright for her safety. But Teyla gracefully rolled and struck Ronon hard across the back, making the big man grunt. They both got their hits in this time, and it wasn’t as one-sided as it had been between Teyla and John.

After what seemed like a long time, Teyla lowered her rods and bowed her forehead for Ronon to touch, as she had with John when he stepped away.

“Anyone else?” Ronon asked, drinking more water.

“Will you battle me, Ronon?” Cat asked.

The big man looked a bit dubious, but had learned in Pegasus never to disregard or underestimate someone because of the way they looked.

Cat took rods from Teyla’s bag and took up position.

~~~~~

“I could…”
“No,” the director cut him off. “Like I said, I don’t want you involved. I just want someone to know what’s going on.”

“I have friends…” Fox tried again.

“It’s bad enough they have me under their thumb. I don’t want to risk you any further than you knowing what’s been happening.”

“I…”

“No. Thank you for listening. You’re dismissed.”

Fox sighed and left the director’s office. Despite what the man said, Fox wasn’t going to just leave it at that. He had friends. He had contacts. He’d have to be careful. But he wasn’t going to let them take down the man who, despite all their troubles, had protected him all this time.

~~~~~

“Is your brother watching us?” Kathy asked her husband while she was checking her make-up for the sixth time that day.

“What?” Dave asked.

“Your brother. I saw a dark SUV pass by twice while I was at the hairdresser’s this afternoon. I think I saw the same kind of car yesterday while I was shopping. That’s the sort of thing your brother’s secret military is into, isn’t it?”

Dave swallowed.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

~~~~~

Ronon didn’t get a chance to used brute force even once, though it was clear he would have liked to. Cat was even more agile than Teyla, and her sparring with Ronon was the opposite of Teyla’s with John. Ronon was hit more times than he probably had been in a lifetime, and Cat remained bruise free. When he finally relented, Cat offered him the same head bow and forehead touching that had ended the previous two sessions.

Ronon dropped down onto one of the loungers with another bottle of water, and they all watched as Teyla took his place. After the traditional head bow and starting positions, the two women let loose. Where Cat had used Ronon’s size and strength against him, she and Teyla were far more matched where it came to speed, size and agility. Each got in a few good hits.

“Ready to really play?” Cat asked with a smile after several minutes.

Teyla nodded, and they all wondered what would happen next.

It was like nothing any of them had ever seen.

Cat switched forms like it was nothing. One second Teyla was crouching down on a follow through of one of her attempted hits, the next, a white tiger was leaping over her crouched form to reach the dropped bantos rods, and changed back into the woman, holding the rods steadily in her hands. Needless to say, once Cat changed the game, Teyla was lost. She gave in gracefully after several hits.

Awed applause sounded across the patio once the women conceded the match.

“I’d like to fight the tiger,” Ronon breathed out.

“Some other day, Ronon,” Cat smiled at him, “some other day.”

~~~~~

Jeannie Miller eyed her daughter carefully.

Madison hadn’t been this quiet during dinner since just after she and her last boyfriend broke up because Madison had caught him kissing Madison’s best friend. The loss of both boyfriend and best friend in one fell swoop had seriously hurt her daughter.

“Honey?” Jeannie asked. “What’s wrong?”

“Hmmm? Oh, nothing Mom. Just thinking.”

“Uh oh,” Caleb Miller said, half joking but mostly serious. While his daughter hadn’t inherited her mother’s mind for math and equations, Madison certainly had a McKay brain. She learned and processed and made connections much faster than he or anyone in his family ever had, and she saw things they missed.

Madison trusted her parents, and knew they wouldn’t make fun of her if she said something odd.

“Did either of you notice any dark SUVs around lately?” Madison asked.

Jeannie shivered. Dark SUVs reminded her of her brother, Rodney, and they were almost always trouble.

“No…” Caleb said, “but I take it you have?”

Madison nodded.

“One followed us home from school when Jake brought me back here. Well, I say followed… I don’t know, but it sure looked like it. And I think I saw one yesterday too.”

~~~~~

Tony was thrilled.

He had a pair of bantos rods in his hands, and was following Teyla’s movements as best as he could. Cat, Ronon and Ducky were sitting this out, but everyone else, even Rodney, was right there next to him, going through the movements Teyla was showing them.

Tony knew it would probably be a few sessions like this at least before he would ever get to actually spar with anyone, but the fact that Gibbs let him participate at all got his hopes up.

Ever since he and Gibbs had ‘moved in’ together into Tony’s room, Gibbs had been even more protective of him than ever. In the field, Gibbs paired with Tony, trusting Ziva with McGee. And with the threats against them and their house, their family, Gibbs never let Tony out of his sight. He loved it, even though some part of him resented the implication that he couldn’t take care of himself.

Jack laughingly called it a honeymoon phase, for which Daniel swatted Jack’s arm in exasperation.

Tony was so focussed on Teyla’s instructions, he didn’t even notice Gibbs being taken aside by Daniel.

“Let him do this, Jethro.”

“I’m not gonna let one of them bruise and beat him! Did you even see those fights!”

“Jethro…” Daniel rubbed his forehead before looking up at the stubborn man again.

“Jack would shove me behind himself at first. Then, he’d grab hold of my arm and not let me go. After that, he taught me to shoot and sent me to hand-to-hand training with Teal’c. It was only after all that, that he’d finally let me do what I’m good at.”

Gibbs nodded as if this was perfectly reasonable. Daniel sighed.

“I’m talking about like the first six months we worked together. How long have you worked with Tony? How long has Tony taken care of himself, his team and others? Of you? Can Tony shoot? And fight?”

Gibbs sighed, but refused yet to give in.

“He’s going to get bruised, Jethro, whether you’re there or not. He’s going to fight. Don’t you want him to be the best able he’s ever going to be to take care of himself? Of others? Don’t you want him to know that you know that he can do that? Even if he has to take a few licks?”

Daniel stared at Gibbs intently.

“Don’t you trust him?”

Gibbs tried the Death Glare, but Daniel was apparently immune. Too much exposure to Jack. Gibbs closed his eyes.

“I just don’t want him to get hurt.”

“Nobody wants that, Jethro,” Daniel said quietly, making the older man look up at him again. “But you taking away his power? Isn’t that what you’ve been through already? He’ll refrain if you say no. But is that what you really want? Do you want a puppet? Or do you want the strong, capable and vibrant man you fell in love with?”

They stared at each other for long moments.

“You don’t play fair, Dr Jackson.”

Daniel snorted.

“I live with Jack. And even before that, I was always the voice of reason.”

Gibbs let out a chuckle and clapped the younger man’s shoulder.

“Message received.”

“Good.”

~~~~~

McGee kept a close eye on the rearview mirror while driving Abby home. There it was again. A dark SUV. It was keeping back and trying to hide in the rest of the traffic. But McGee had learned his lessons well.

He thumbed the buttons for a handsfree call.

“Ziva?”

Abby looked at him, startled from her light doze.

“A dark SUV, McGee. Yes?”

“You got it. Converge on the meeting point. I’ll call ahead.”

“Acknowledged,” Ziva said. “Palmer and I are on our way.”

~~~~~

“You did very well. Would you like to try?” Teyla asked Tony after the training session.

Before answering, Tony glanced at Gibbs, and Gibbs felt guilty all over again. The conversation with Daniel had been bad enough; to know that Daniel was absolutely right was horrendous. Gibbs managed a smile and nodded.

Tony’s face lifted into an honest smile immediately.

“Sure! Just don’t hit me as much as you did John!” Tony teased.

“If John were more prudent about skill and protection, he would not have gotten hit at all,” Teyla winked at John, and there were grins all around, even from John.

~~~~~

“Colonel Mitchell,” Teal’c intoned from the back seat, even though the huge man still looked to be asleep. “I believe we are being followed.”

“And I do believe you’re right, big man. I’ve had my eye on them for several minutes now,” Cam confirmed.

“We’re only about thirty minutes out,” Sam said after consulting the GPS. “Call the General?”

“Surely it’s a trap?” Vala queried.

“Probably, yes,” Sam responded. “But how did they find us? And who else have they found? And why target us now? Do they want us there, or don’t they? We certainly don’t know anything for sure.”

Cam thought for a moment.

“I agree with Sam. Stick to the original plan. Get there, work it out together. They’ve got to know more than us, right?”

“Indeed. I agree with the plan, Colonel Mitchell.”

Vala shrugged.

“Well, I’m not doing anything better at the moment so… Allons-y!”

~~~~~

Tony carefully circled Teyla.

Though the woman was impressive at the best of times, having her ready to beat you with bantos rods made her doubly so. Tony suffered through the first few ‘taps’ to his rods that made him want to drop his sticks and clutch his hands together to ease the pain, but he persevered.

Teyla was generous and thoughtful. She praised him and didn’t strike him that hard. Yeah, he’d have a few bruises, but he wasn’t limping and didn’t need ice packs. Considering their fighting style, he understood why John hadn’t taken him to task before now.

Just as he was bowing his head to Teyla for the traditional thank you, several phones rang at the same time.

Chapter Text

Jack, Gibbs, John and Rodney each answered their phones with frowns on their faces as the others looked on in worry. Getting clear and concise reports, Jack and Gibbs were the first to get their information, and with all of them used to quick and urgent sitreps, updated the others while still listening on the phone.

“Sam’s got a dark SUV following them for the past few minutes. Thirty minutes out from here.”

“Ziva and McGee too. Eight minutes out. They have Abby and Palmer with them.”

“Hang on, Dave… Dave says SUVs were spotted yesterday and today.”

“Jeannie says Madison saw SUVs too.”

“Sam, pass me to T. You call Barrett. Extract the families immediately. Bring them here.”

“Jeannie, NID agents are about to extract the three of you. If they don’t have the codeword, get the hell away from them and hang on, our true agents are very close by. Stay on the phone.”

“Dave, get Kathy and the girls. Stay together. NID is about to extract you. Make sure they have the codeword. It should only be a few minutes.”

Cat looked to Jack and Gibbs.

“Can your people get away from their pursuers?”

“McGee? Can you lose them? You have Ziva on Abby’s phone? Can you both shake them?”

Getting a positive response, Gibbs nodded to Cat, and a moment later, Jack confirmed as well.

Cat had grabbed a tablet and was busily typing as she spoke.

“I am sending an alternate route to their phones. It will lead to the back gate, in case the front is being watched.”

Seeing the questioning looks - they had just that morning made the rounds on the property, and none of them were aware of a back gate - she smiled.

“I still have some secrets.”

Gibbs and Jack quickly informed their people.

Cat pulled up what was obviously video surveillance on the huge television, the others joining her.

“Where’s the gate?” Tony asked. “I don’t see a gate!”

“Ziva’s lost them. She’s three minutes out.”

“Barrett’s people have Jeannie!” Rodney reported with a relieved sigh.

Just then, a red Mini appeared in one of the surveillance feeds.

“That’s Ziva!” Tony said. “Where’s the gate?”

“Hush now, Tony. Let me concentrate!” Cat replied quietly, her eyes fixed on the screen.

And they watched in astonishment as, just as the Mini approached the wall at the back of the property, part of said wall disappeared. The Mini raced through, skidded to a halt, and the wall was back.

“Ziva! Move your car out of the way, McGee is close by and coming in,” Gibbs ordered through his phone, and immediately the Mini moved again, though it couldn’t go far between the trees and bushes.

“NID have Dave and his family,” John reported.

Another car appeared on screen.

“Is that McGee?” Tony asked. “I can’t see! Why doesn’t he have a more distinctive car!”

“It is him,” Cat said, and once again she concentrated on the screen, the wall disappeared and reappeared, and they saw Ziva rushing over to the car and motioning for McGee to move the car out of the way.

“T? We have the others, what’s your status?” Jack said into his phone, listened to the response, and then reported. “Mitchell shook their tail, they’re about ten minutes out.”

A few more tense minutes later, a black SUV appeared on the screen.

“Crap!” Jack exclaimed. “How do we know it’s them?”

“I know,” Cat replied, and once again the trick with the wall did its job.

Jack, Tony and Gibbs rushed outside to the back of the property, and minutes later came back with their teams, Tony supporting a visibly shaken Abby.

Cat had gone to her rooms for a moment and returned with something that the SGC people recognised as Asgard tech, but with subtle differences.

“Now for your families,” she said. “Call them and make sure they are touching each other, and no one else. John, it is especially important that your brother is holding on to his daughters, as they have not been here before. You may also want to tell your Agent Barrett that his charges are about to disappear.”

John, Rodney and Sam made the calls, and when Cat’s instructions were confirmed, she fiddled with the device. A moment later, a white beam of light flashed, and seven people appeared in the living room. Jeannie, Caleb and Madison had their arms around each other in a group hug. Dave had a daughter on each arm, with Kathy clinging to him.

John was just in time to catch Kathy before she fainted, and gently put her on one of the couches. The two little girls, seemingly unperturbed by what had just happened, happily called out to their Uncle John, and a grinning Madison hugged the stuffing out of her Uncle Rodney.

“Now,” Cat said, putting the device away, “I think we can all use a drink.”

~~~~~

The director’s bad day steadily got worse when he received a phone call and got yelled at for a couple of minutes. It wasn’t even his fault. He hadn’t even been involved in this, other than having to assign some of his men to the surveillance of the Miller and Sheppard families.

When he finally hung up, his ear still ringing from all the shouting, he sighed deeply. Then, a small smile appeared on his face. They’d failed. Again. He didn’t even much care anymore what would happen to him, and was by now firmly rooting for those he was supposed to help capture.

He just hoped Fox wouldn’t get in trouble along with him.

~~~~~

It didn’t take long to get everyone settled once the adrenaline of the chase and the beaming wore off. Most of the adults had indeed opted for a stiff drink, Dave’s girls were quietly colouring at the coffee table with juice and a snack, and everyone turned to Cat for answers.

“Is my family safe here?” Dave wanted to know.

“Yes. Nothing can get in without my permission.”

“And if they decide to drop a bomb on us?”

“The surrounding area would be damaged, but this house and grounds would not even shake.”

“Did you get that nifty little beaming device from Thor?” Jack asked with a grin.

“I did not,” she replied with a smile, and Jack groaned when he realised she wasn’t going to tell him anything more than that.

“How did you do that, anyway?” Sam’s eyes sparkled with curiosity. “Even the Asgard need to know where someone is before they can beam them.”

“I can locate anyone who has been in this house.”

“That’s how you knew it was Timmy’s car!” Tony exclaimed, and she nodded at him.

“Then why didn’t you beam us in like you did the others?” McGee asked.

She raised an eyebrow at him.

“You were in speeding vehicles on the road with other people. The cars would not have been transported. Would you have liked me to let your suddenly empty vehicles injure someone else?”

Tim blushed.

“No, of course not. Sorry.”

“Where’d the back gate suddenly come from?” Gibbs frowned.

Again with the raised eyebrow.

“I can manipulate this property to be exactly how I want it to be. I thought you knew that about this house.”

“The library…” Daniel muttered.

“The pool table,” Jack said.

“The kitchen,” Tony smiled.

“My lab,” Rodney agreed.

“And the fact that there are suddenly two more couches in this living room so everyone has a place to sit, that feel like they’ve always been there,” John added with a grin when he saw the others looking around and noticing it for the first time.

“Crap!” Jack barely refrained from jumping up when he realised he was sitting on one of those mysteriously appearing couches. “Okay, okay.” He calmed himself. “So, we’re all safe here for now, right?”

“We are.”

“Then our first priority now is to figure out who’s after us.”

Gibbs nodded in agreement, but Tony shook his head.

“Food first. We’re all on edge, we haven’t eaten since breakfast, and strategising on an empty stomach rarely goes well. Cat, Ronon? Why don’t the three of us cook up something hearty for everyone and then get on with the think tank?”

Cat immediately agreed and moved to the open kitchen, Ronon following Tony with a shrug. Ziva and Abby smiled at each other at that, and kept giving those smiles as they watched Tony tell Ronon what to do, and feed him a bite of this and give him a taste of that as the cooking got under way. Jimmy Palmer shook his head at their blindness.

While the three cooked, the others talked. In agreement with Tony, and not wanting to worry the two little girls, they decided to leave the shop talk for after dinner. Kathy was slowly recovering from the shock and, with the aid of a stiff drink of her own, gaining some colour on her cheeks. By the time dinner was served, it felt almost like a normal family meal.

~~~~~

Fox was careful, very careful.

He received dozens of e-mails every day claiming something strange - sudden disappearances, white lights, blue lights, people suddenly acting out of character - and he started to put those together with what Director Skinner had told him.

From Skinner’s account, he had a viable timeline and locations, and he slowly started to see a picture. Even though the director hadn’t mentioned any names, Fox was beginning to get a feeling about this.

He wondered if he should call his friend Daniel.

~~~~~

Despite the good meal and lots of talking, they weren’t getting anywhere. Tired and a bit disheartened, they all decided to go to bed and try to get a good night’s rest so they could start fresh in the morning.

The new arrivals were all grateful to find rooms prepared for them and clothes and toiletries to their liking ready and waiting. With the exception of SG1, none of them had known they would end up here today, so hadn’t brought anything other than the clothes on their backs.

Abby had wanted to ask Tony if she could stay with him in his room for comfort, but that idea was nixed when it was casually mentioned that Tony and Gibbs were sharing because Ducky was staying in Gibbs’ room. She asked to share with Ziva instead, who didn’t mind.

She didn’t really think about it again until the following morning, when they were all chatting before breakfast and Cat was making sure everyone had had a good night. That was when she found out about the room assignments, and that, despite reassurances that there were plenty of guest rooms, pretty much everyone had seemed to double up.

Dave and Kathy of course shared a two bedroom suite with their daughters. Jeannie and Caleb too shared a suite with a second bedroom for Madison. Palmer and McGee each had chosen their own rooms, and Ducky had Gibbs’ room. She shared with Ziva, and next door to them had been Vala and Teal’c sharing a room. Daniel and Jack were obviously a couple, as were John and Rodney. Sam and Cameron shared the second bedroom in Jack and Daniel’s apartment, and Teyla and Ronon shared in John and Rodney’s. And that was where she started pondering.

If there was plenty of room, why was Gibbs sharing with Tony instead of Ducky staying in one of the guest rooms and Gibbs sleeping in his own bed? And if there was sharing going on, why was Ronon sharing with Teyla? The two were obviously very close, anyone could see that, but Abby was certain it wasn’t romantic in any way between them. Why would Tony not simply share with Ronon? Was it because she and the rest of her team were there, and Tony didn’t want them to know about Ronon? Aaaww! That was so sad! She’d try to find a quiet moment to talk to him about that.

~~~~~

Richard Woolsey looked up when the knock sounded on his already open door, and waved the man inside.

“What can I do for you, Lieutenant Colonel?”

Lorne smiled as he seated himself.

“Call me Lorne, or Evan, Mr Woolsey,” he said, pointedly exaggerating the ‘Mr Woolsey’ part.

Richard smiled. They’d been over this before.

“Of course, Evan, I do apologise.”

Lorne waved the apology away. They’d been serving together on Atlantis for a couple of years now, and in company they both tended to be formal, but Woolsey had proven himself a very competent leader for the city and Lorne an excellent XO. They’d both found daily reports went much quicker and smoother if handled between themselves, and by that, they meant without Sheppard present. Not that there was anything wrong with Sheppard’s command - in fact, his people, military and scientists alike, revered him - but where Sheppard went, McKay was sure to follow. And that’s what usually brought trouble. So, since Lorne knew pretty much everything that went on in the city anyway, they’d started their daily conferences just between the two of them.

“Nothing much to report today, Richard,” Lorne said. “Everything and everyone on the city is doing well. There are the usual complaints and questions through channels as to why San Francisco Bay is still partially closed off, but we’ll leave those to the SGC and Homeworld.”

“Agreed.”

“The Mess Sergeant reports that he received the wrong potatoes in his latest order,” Lorne quickly consulted his tablet, “Russets, apparently. I told him to do what he can with them.”

Richard smiled. Now that they were on Earth, the Mess Sergeant who could make anything out of roots and meats he’d never seen before in Pegasus, had become decidedly prissy when faced with a potato he hadn’t ordered.

“There was a minor skirmish last night over supposed cheating in a poker game. Airman Scott received three stitches in his left eyebrow, Sergeant Kell an icepack for his right wrist. Both have received a verbal warning and a week of light switch duty.”

Woolsey shuddered. At other military postings, punishment would be KP or latrine duty. On Atlantis, that had quickly changed to time in the desalinisation tanks, until those were so squeaky clean that it wasn’t really a punishment anymore. So now, infractions from those with the gene got them light switch duty. Even without considering McKay, those scientists were brutal when they got their hands on one of them.

“And lastly, Dr Zelenka reports some odd readings in his latest diagnostics.”

That made Richard frown and lean forward.

“Odd readings?”

Lorne nodded and checked his tablet again.

“Apparently over the past twenty-four hours there have been some energy spikes. He says it’s not Atlantis, nothing going on with the city, but it’s like she’s responding to something. He’s checking into it, may give McKay a call if he can’t find anything himself.”

“Keep me informed, Evan.”

“I will.”

Lorne nodded and stood, wishing Richard a good day before he went to check on the two light switches and chuckle at their dismay at being in the hands of the scientists.

~~~~~

Because they all knew it wouldn’t do them much good to be just sitting around and talk when they didn’t have any further information, after breakfast Teyla offered another bantos class to burn off some energy. While the previous day, her bag had held only a few pairs of rods, now there were enough for anyone who wished to participate. Ducky, Caleb, Kathy and the girls sat this one out, just watching, but all the others joined in, with chuckles and laughter from Madison, Jeannie and Abby, and very serious attention from Ziva, McGee and Dave.

After the general class, Teyla invited a fight from John again, and the others watched in awe as she solidly beat him. Teyla and Ronon switched off inviting a match, with Tony, Gibbs, Jack, Daniel, Rodney, Cat and all of SG1 accepting, and they could all see that the two Pegasus natives moderated their fight to the level of their opponent. The most intense ones were between Teyla and Cat - who remained human the entire fight this time - and Ronon and Teal’c.

After ice tea and sandwiches, they convened the war counsel. But to everyone’s frustration, they still had no new information. Barrett was coming up empty, as were Jack’s sources. They discussed several plans and options, but until they knew who or what they were up against, they couldn’t act. Jack considered calling Landry, but the chance that one of their off world allies would know something seemed slim.

They could do nothing more for now than sit and wait.

~~~~~

He could almost see it now. The picture was almost complete. Fox just needed a name.

~~~~~

The sitting and waiting wasn’t the only thing that was grating on their nerves.

Cat was very careful with so many eyes around, but keeping her human form for so long wasn’t something she was used to. John too missed his feline shape, and purring for an hour under the loving caresses of Rodney in the sanctity of their room just wasn’t the same as running around on four paws with Cat in the woods.

And while Ducky willingly provided an excuse for Tony and Gibbs to spend their nights together, it was hard not to reach out and touch every chance they had. Back in the office had always been different. The orange walls had always been a deterrent, and if they were out in the field, there were the NCIS jackets and caps to remind them they were on the job. Even at Gibbs’ house or Tony’s apartment, they’d only let go once the curtains were closed and the doors locked. But this was their home. They’d never had to hold back here.

Two days turned into three, and three into four, and still they were no closer to finding out what was going on.

With so many people around, Abby also hadn’t found an opportunity to speak to Tony privately.

Both things were about to change.

~~~~~

Fox stared at the walls of his office, papered over with all his findings. He had a name now, and no matter what he needed to speak to Daniel. But how? What if Daniel’s phone was bugged? What if his own phone was bugged? What if he wasn’t the only one Skinner had told?

He needed an ally.

And from the names he had besides Daniel’s, Fox was pretty certain he could get in touch without raising too much suspicion. So he made a lunch date, and just hoped he was doing the right thing.

~~~~~

While all the others were trying to relax outside in or around the pool, Abby snuck into the house. Tony had said he was going to make some snacks for lunch, Ronon was still outside, and Cat had disappeared into her own rooms after breakfast and hadn’t returned yet. This might be her time to speak to Tony alone.

She crept from the hallway to the door leading into the main living room and open kitchen.

“I know, sweetheart, I know.”

“I hate it! I hate hiding! This is my home!”

“I know.”

“I want to be with you! I want to be us!”

There was only a short silence.

“Then we will be.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

There was a short chuckle.

“Yeah, Boss.”

“Good. Grab those platters, I’ll take these out. And we’ll be us.”

Neither man saw the betrayed look on the goth’s face as she watched Tony and Gibbs grab the trays of snacks and head back outside. She hurried back, and managed to slip back into her seat before they had noticed she had been gone.

Tony set out the trays just as Cat joined them. The woman came out of her quarters wearing a frown, and immediately fixed her gaze on Abby. When the food was placed on the tables, Gibbs sat back on one of the loungers, and made space between his legs for Tony, who smiled as he accepted the invitation and settled in.

There were smiles from their housemates, Palmer and Ducky, Teyla and Ronon, even SG1. They understood the couple was no longer going to hide, and were glad for it.

Ziva and McGee’s eyes widened in surprise, then slowly softened into smiles.

Abby scowled.

Cat walked over to the goth and grabbed her by the upper arm, pulling her up from her chair.

“Hey!” Abby yelled, and then: “Gibbs!”

But no one, not even Gibbs, was going to stand in Cat’s way.

A moment later, the two women were in the pool house, doors closed and cut off from the outside world. Abby yanked her arm free and Cat let her, watching with an amused smile as the goth crossed her arms over her chest and put on her most belligerent expression.

“What are you smirking at?” Abby bit out.

Cat just kept on smiling.

“You think this is funny?! They lied to me!”

Cat raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, so maybe they didn’t exactly lie to me, but they didn’t tell me!”

Cat tilted her head.

“So what you’re saying is that this is private and they didn’t owe me an explanation.”

Cat looked at her expectantly.

“Of course I’m happy for them! They’re both my friends and they deserve to be happy!”

Cat smiled again.

“I just thought… I thought… Ronon…”

Cat pursed her lips.

“Yeah, I should have seen that…”

Cat just stared at her.

“I am happy for them! I am! It’s just…”

Cat frowned.

“No, you’re right. This isn’t about me, it’s about them. Are they… are they happy together?”

Cat nodded.

“Then I’m happy too. I’m gonna go congratulate them, okay?”

Cat smiled and waved her hand at the door of the pool house in invitation. Abby bounced out and went to hug Tony and Gibbs and proclaim her joy at them being together, never realising that for all she’d heard in her mind, the other woman hadn’t said a single word.

When Abby then immediately went inside to grab a CafPow!, Cat rejoined the others.

“Good talk?” Gibbs said sardonically.

“You didn’t mess with her, did you?” Tony asked, worried for his friend.

“Abby heard exactly what she needed to hear to get over herself quickly. We can’t afford distractions like this right now.”

Though neither of them liked it much, they understood Cat’s point, and quite honestly, were just glad that they had gotten through this without any added drama.

They were all munching on the snacks Tony had prepared when Gibbs’ cell phone rang. He picked it up and frowned at the caller ID. As had become the custom, he handed it to Tony, who glanced at it and put it on speaker.

“Tobias,” Gibbs said as a greeting.

“I have a vulpine here who needs to speak to an archaeologist.”

While the others frowned at Fornell’s odd reply, Daniel practically pounced on the phone, looking at Cat and Rodney and asking: “Is this line safe?”

When they both nodded, Daniel grabbed the phone, keeping it on speaker.

“Fox? It’s Daniel. Are you there?”

“Daniel!” Another voice replied. “Are you alright?”

“Yes! You?”

“I need to speak to you urgently about your current situation.”

“Can you talk on the phone? The line is safe.”

“I’d rather not. Can we meet?”

Jack emphatically shook his head, and Daniel acknowledged it.

“Not right now. What’s it about?”

There was a bit of silence on the line, before the other’s voice came again.

“Who’s Nirrti?”

Daniel nearly dropped the phone and looked in astonishment at Jack. The rest of SG1 jumped to their feet, putting the rest of them on instant alert. Cat rushed inside and came back with the Asgard-like device, while Rodney was typing madly on a tablet.

“Do you trust your friend?” Cat asked Daniel.

“Completely,” Daniel immediately replied.

“I have him!” Rodney exclaimed, showing Cat his tablet.

“Do you need this Tobias as well?”

“No,” Gibbs replied.

“Tell your friend to stay exactly where he is, and to hand the phone back to Tobias, then have Tobias take at least two steps away.”

Daniel related the information, there was a white flash, and Fox Mulder was standing in the middle of the patio, looking part scared and part triumphant.

“I knew it!” He exclaimed, then fell into Daniel’s arms and hugged his friend.

~~~~~

Director Skinner was not particularly familiar with Tobias Fornell, but what he did know of the man, in combination with his gut, told him Fornell could be trusted.

So when Fornell asked him to meet and then proceeded to tell him about his meeting with Fox and Fox’s subsequent disappearance, Skinner didn’t doubt a word of it.

“Dammit, Fox!” He cursed to himself.

~~~~~

Before anything else could be said or done, Cat pried Fox away from Daniel and held on to his shoulder as she peered at him intently. Finally, she stepped away and nodded. Fox was plied with a drink as Daniel made a quick explanation to the others about Fox’s FBI work on the X-files, and how they’d come into contact over Daniel’s alleged theory about aliens building the pyramids as landing pads.

Though they all knew that they were giving out way too much information to people who weren’t read into the program - Kathy and Dave, Caleb and Madison - they also knew there wasn’t a choice to leave them behind anymore, not after all they’d seen and heard, and the threat against them.

Then it was Fox’s turn, and he told them of his conversation with the director, and how he’d puzzled the pieces together based on that.

“Nirrti?” Cam asked. “I thought you killed her.”

“I too thought she had been killed,” Teal’c intoned.

“You know those snakeheads,” Jack shrugged. “They always come back.”

“Wait,” John complained, “we take care of the Replicators, the Gua’ould, the Wraith and the Ori, and now we’re back to a System Lord?”

“Hey, look on the bright side,” Daniel said. “We all thought Thor and the Asgard were gone, but they came back too!”

Jack smiled and ruffled Daniel’s hair, earning himself an indignant slap against the chest.

“Right you are, Danny, right you are.”

He looked around all those assembled.

“Alright, kids! No disrespect to our current accommodations, but they know we’re here. I’d like to be far from here right now. I say we move this party to Atlantis, and pronto!”

They all looked at Cat, who they admitted had the deciding vote.

She smiled.

“I agree. It will be nice to see my sister again.”

Chapter Text

“Lorne, this is Sheppard. Come in?”

Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne’s steps faltered as he received the hail. He raised his hand and tapped his comm.

“This is Lorne. General, I was not made aware you were back on the city.”

“I’m not.”

Lorne could hear the grin even over the comm.

“Okaaayy…?” Lorne hedged.

“I will be soon though. My comm got souped up.”

John knew Lorne would guess it was Rodney who’d fiddled with his comm, and was happy to let him think that. Ever the professional, Lorne ignored what he couldn’t explain and got to the matter at hand.

“I’ve received no notification of an incoming flight for you, Sir.”

“There isn’t one.”

“Alright. When can we expect you, Sir?”

“Pretty soon.”

“Are you bringing Dr McKay, Sir?”

“Of course. Why?”

“Dr Zelenka has reported some strange energy readings in his most recent diagnostics which he would like to discuss with Dr McKay.”

He felt sudden tension from Sheppard.

“When did these energy readings occur?”

In the background, Lorne could hear Rodney. “What energy readings? What’s going on?”

Checking his ever present tablet, Lorne gave the times as reported by Radek. He practically felt Sheppard relax.

“Alright. That doesn’t seem to be something to worry about now. Listen, Lorne… In a couple of minutes the Jumper Bay is going to open and two Jumpers are going to fly out. Don’t try to stop them.”

“Who will be flying them, Sir?”

John chuckled.

“Let’s just say they’re coming to me.”

Lorne was glad he had stopped walking and was leaning against a wall by now.

“Alright, Sir.”

“And I’m going to need you to assign some living space in the tower, close to my quarters.”

John gave the details for the rooms he needed and Lorne diligently made notes.

“Also, have someone air out the quarters usually assigned to General O’Neill and Dr Jackson.”

“Will they be joining you, Sir?”

“They and the rest of SG1. Inform Woolsey, would you?”

“Yes, Sir. Anything else?” Lorne asked with as respectful a tone as he could manage after all that.

“Some pie for General O’Neill would be nice.”

“Of course, Sir,” Lorne sighed. “Lorne out.”

And then he turned and started trudging back to Woolsey’s office.

~~~~~

“Your sister? Who’s your sister?” Jack said with a glare, then shook himself out of it. “Alright, alright, that can wait. First things first. How are we getting there?”

“Can you just beam us?” Rodney asked.

“That would be rude,” Cat answered. “I have not seen her in quite a while.”

“So you could, but you won’t,” Rodney crossed his arms with a glare of his own.

“Exactly.”

“Well, I’m not driving to San Francisco,” Rodney grumbled.

“And I’m not commandeering any planes. Even getting to an airport would be dangerous right now,” Jack added.

“And no ships in orbit, remember?” Sam put in her two cents.

“We could all fit in two Puddle Jumpers,” John offered. “It would only take a couple of hours to fly here and back again. We could even take some luggage.”

“What is a Puddle Jumper?” Cat asked.

Rodney swiped his tablet and showed her one of his favourite pictures of John cooing to Jumper Three. Cat brightened.

“Oh! That is a good idea! I can ask my sister to send them for us.”

“Yeah? And who’s going to fly them here?” John wanted to know.

“My sister and I will. I shall make contact. Inform your people that two of these ‘Puddle Jumpers’ shall be leaving shortly.”

As John reached for his phone, Cat handed him a comm instead. Knowing better than to doubt her by now, he put it in his ear and tried to raise Lorne. While John spoke to his XO, Cat got that far off gaze in her eyes again.

~~~~~

Everyone went to their rooms to pack a bag as soon as Lorne informed John over the comms that two Jumpers had launched safely from the Jumper Bay. Cat had been concentrating on something the first few minutes, but then seemed to relax and went to her own rooms to pack some things for herself as well.

From what Jack said, they had about a two hour wait before their transport would get there, and Ziva and McGee used part of that time to interrogate Tony, who was trying to evade them by rummaging through the kitchen cupboards and packing away various small items such as dried herbs and spices in another bag. Finally, he gave up.

“Okay,” he said, turning to his teammates and resting against the kitchen island, “what do you want to know?”

“Are you in love, Tony?” Ziva asked with a grin.

“Yes.”

That seemed to startle her a little.

“When did it start? When you moved into this house together?” McGee wanted to know.

“No.”

“Then how long have you and Gibbs been together?”

“Nearly four years now.”

They gaped at him, but quickly rallied. They asked several more questions, which he mostly answered, until the questions became far too personal for his taste. He didn’t mind them knowing about him and Gibbs, but he wasn’t going to tell them anything of a personal nature. So when Ziva, her eyes twinkling at the thought of embarrassing him, went too far, he crossed his arms over his chest and huffed.

“So which one of you is the top, Tony?”

“Really, Ziva? You’re really asking that? What do you think the Boss will do when he hears you asked that much about his sex life?”

“He heard,” Gibbs said, and Ziva and McGee both squeaked when the dual head slaps hit them immediately after. They whirled around to face their boss, colour rising in both their cheeks.

“Gibbs, I…” Ziva began.

“Are we going to have to have a serious talk about respect, Dah-veed? Not just for me, but for Tony, and for everyone? Do we ask you what position you prefer in bed?”

“No, I…”

“Save it! That question crossed the line so far, I don’t even think you know where the line is. And you, McGee, teasing is all well and good from time to time, but not about this. Never about this.”

“No, Boss,” McGee dropped his eyes.

“Think about everything you just said to Tony, and then try to figure out why we never told you about our relationship before.”

“Yes, Boss,” they both replied, and scurried away.

Tony beamed at him, and returned to his perusal of the kitchen.

“Bit harsh, don’t you think?” Jack asked quietly.

“No.”

Gibbs stepped away, motioning for Jack to follow. When they were out of earshot, he turned back to his friend.

“Tony can tease and pry and banter better than anyone, but he knows where the line is. They can razz him about pretty much anything on the job, and he’ll let it slide, because no matter what anyone says, he knows he’s a great agent and very good at his job. They can joke about his dating habits, because he invited that in the early years by his own comments on it, and now finds it amusing they haven’t even noticed he hasn’t mentioned anything about it for nearly four years. They can deliberately fawn over his father knowing that relationship is a difficult one for Tony and it makes him uncomfortable, because he’s made his own kind of peace with it. But what is the source of his deepest insecurity? You know him pretty well by now, Jack.”

Jack tilted his head.

“His relationship with you.”

Gibbs nodded.

“And that’s partly on me, and partly on his previous experiences. And I’m not ever going to let anyone, especially his team and friends, make that worse for him, or give him shit about it.”

Jack gave him a half smile of approval.

“Besides,” Gibbs continued with a hard glint in his eyes, “any of your team ever felt entitled to ask you whether you like to take it up the ass from Daniel?”

With a snort, Jack shook his head.

“Crude, Jethro, but point well made.”

They nodded at each other, and returned to the living room.

~~~~~

When Fox realised they were all going to this so-called Atlantis base which was apparently in San Francisco, and expected him to go with them, he started to protest despite his curiosity.

He had his job, and he had to help Skinner, and he didn’t even have a toothbrush!

But Daniel explained exactly how and why Fox was in over his head, and in the end, tired of all the talking, Jack and John simply gave him no choice. He was going whether he liked it or not.

~~~~~

When the two small, unassuming craft landed in the open area beside the pool house, emotions were mixed. Those who hadn’t seen them before, looked a bit dubious. These were the amazing flying ships Sheppard had been talking about? Jack regarded the two little ships very fondly, and John’s eyes sparkled with loving adoration, which made Daniel and Rodney sigh exasperatedly. Sam, Cam, Vala and Teal’c basically just liked anything that could fly, so they were happy enough.

As soon as John saw one of the ships was his beloved Jumper Three, his absolute favourite, he rushed over to stroke it like a beloved pet, cooing soft words at it for being a good girl. Rodney glared at Cat, pointing an accusing finger at her.

“You had to get that one?!”

But John turned with a happy smile and tugged Rodney over to the ship.

“Come on, Rodney! You know you love her too!”

Melting a little, Rodney gave the ship a fond pat.

“Yes, well, she is the most obedient out of the bunch…”

Smiling at their antics, everyone else began loading into the two ships, stowing their bags and finding comfortable seats on the benches in the back. It was just assumed that John would fly Jumper Three with Rodney at his side and Teyla and Ronon behind them in the cockpit, while Jack would fly the other one with Daniel at his side. Gibbs and Tony took second seat on that one. The families, the NCIS team, Fox and SG1 split themselves between the two comfortably, and Cat decided to fly with John this time. Though they knew Cat could probably fly the two ships back to Atlantis without moving a muscle, she seemed content to let John and Jack take the stick.

For those who had never been in a Jumper before, the difference between this and regular flying was immediately apparent. They rose quickly, straight up, but none of them felt it. As soon as they breached the shield above the house, to those watching through the front window the other Jumper disappeared from sight.

“Don’t worry!” They were reassured by their pilots. “They’re cloaked, as are we. No one can see us or track us.”

John and Jack put as much distance between the house and the Jumpers as they could at first, but then started to feel playful, wanting to show off. They rolled, swooped and dove, and for the passengers, despite their eyes telling them these movements were happening, they didn’t feel a thing.

“Inertial dampeners,” Rodney muttered to a curious McGee.

“Hey Jack?” John asked over the comms.

“Yeah, John?”

“As long as we’re here, shall we take them, you know, ‘up’ for a bit? Might be the only time some of our passengers get to see that?”

Everyone could hear Jack’s grin as he agreed, and Rodney groaned.

Moments later, the two little ships were flying up, and up, and up, until they breached atmosphere and were floating in a deep black. After giving everyone a chance to look at that for a bit, they turned the Jumpers around to face Earth. An awed silence fell over them all, and they floated there for long minutes as everyone looked their fill. Then, with a happy whoop, John and Jack launched back to Earth and set forth to bring them all to Atlantis.

~~~~~

“I don’t know what to tell you, Mr Woolsey,” Dr Zelenka sighed, running a hand through his already unruly hair. Richard and Evan looked at Radek with sympathy. “Shortly after Colonel Lorne informed us of what General Sheppard said about the two Jumpers getting ready to take off, the energy spikes returned and remained for just over two hours, which is exactly the time it would take them to get to DC, where we know Sheppard and McKay are. Then… nothing.”

“Could the Jumpers have been targeted and destroyed? Or crashed?” Lorne asked.

“Doubtful,” Radek murmured. “The city usually notifies us when a Jumper is lost, and no such notification came through the systems.”

“Can we raise them on comms?” Woolsey asked.

“Rodney left his comm on Atlantis when he and General Sheppard left. I don’t know why Sheppard decided to take his with him?” Radek looked at Evan.

“I didn’t think he had,” Lorne shrugged. “I’ve tried hailing him, but the comm doesn’t seem to work right now, and he isn’t answering his phone either.”

Zelenka sighed again.

“I am certain that the Jumpers are fine.”

“Certain?” Woolsey queried. “How can you be certain?”

Radek looked at the two men he’d served with on this magnificent city for years now, and decided to broach something everyone usually shied away from.

“I know I do not have the gene, not even the artificial one. But I have been monitoring this city for many years, and I know her systems and when there are issues. She has no issues now. She is running more smoothly than ever. She is…”

He looked to Lorne, the second strongest gene carrier after Sheppard they had on the city, almost willing him to confess. Lorne debated and deliberated, then cringed as he heard himself say the words.

“She’s purring.”

“The city is happy,” Radek nodded, relieved.

“She’s almost giddy,” Lorne sighed.

Richard Woolsey leaned back in his chair and eyed the seconds-in-command for the military and scientific contingents on Atlantis. They were looking back at him as if they were hoping he wouldn’t call them crazy and have them locked up. But for Richard, this just confirmed something he’d been suspecting ever since the third ZPM had been installed and reports of things more fantastical than he’d ever dreamed of had started filtering through the grapevine.

He nodded.

“She’s aware.”

~~~~~

John could feel it when they’d just about reached the fifty mile mark, the soft buzz at the back of his brain. Moments later, Jack came over the comm.

“You hear that, Sheppard?”

“I do,” he confirmed.

“I normally don’t get that until I’m actually there.”

“This is as far out as I’ve ever felt it.”

“She’s happy.”

“She’s singing. Joyfully.”

John turned and looked at Cat, who’d been standing in the back of the front section for most of the journey. She smiled at him.

“I will try to keep it down.”

The buzz dulled. Both men could still feel it, but it wasn’t growing and trying to overwhelm them, for which they were grateful.

“Okay,” John said. “Let’s try reaching Lorne.”

He tapped the comm he’d gotten from Cat back at the house.

“Lorne, this is Sheppard, come in?”

“John!” Lorne replied with a relieved sigh.

“Worried about me, Evan?” John grinned.

“Just a bit, Sir. There have been those energy spikes again ever since the Jumpers took off, and then nothing. But the city, it’s…”

“Singing,” John finished when Lorne faltered.

“Yes, Sir,” again with the relief.

“Okay, don’t worry about that. I’m thinking we can explain it. But for now, we’re only a couple of minutes out. Have the Jumper Bay cleared. We have passengers. I assume you have medical standing by for check-ups?”

“Yes, Sir. Any injuries?”

“No, nothing. Just the basic examination. Did you get those quarters set up like I asked?”

“Yes, Sir. Mr Woolsey would like a debrief as soon as possible. And Dr Zelenka wishes to speak to Dr McKay immediately.”

“Sure. We’re approaching the city now. We’re going to do a quick fly by, showing her off a little in the sunlight, then head to the Jumper Bay, and then Medical. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, schedule a briefing for Woolsey, Zelenka, yourself, us and some of our guests in one hour. Bring pie for General O’Neill.”

“Will do, Sir. Lorne out.”

“Did you get that, Jack?”

“I did. I wonder what kind of pie they’ll serve… Hmmmm! But for now, there is our lovely lady. Let’s show the folks around, huh?”

~~~~~

At first, the front windows of the Jumpers only showed the empty waters of San Francisco Bay. But the HUD the two pilots called up showed a floating city with piers, towers and spires that baffled the mind.

There was bright blue flash when they breached the shield and cloak - with three ZPMs the city could do both at the same time - and then the Jumpers slowed to a mere crawl compared to the speed they had been flying at before. John and Jack slowly circled the city inside the cloak, showing off her best features gleaming in the sunlight.

Even to those who had seen her before, the members of SG1, Jeannie, and Tony and Gibbs on video, it was an awe inspiring sight. She was beautiful!

When Tony rubbed his ears as if to get rid of a particularly insistent gnat, Jack grinned at him knowingly.

“Get used to it, Tony. It’s your gene. She’s welcoming you home.”

“It’s so much louder than at home,” Tony smiled.

Gibbs looked at him sharply, and Tony shrugged apologetically.

“Don’t blame your boy, Jethro,” Jack chided mildly. “It’s not something we talk about.”

Suddenly, the buzz at the back of Tony’s mind quietened. It wasn’t gone completely, but it was low enough not to distract him, and he heard Cat’s voice in his head.

“I’ve asked her to tone it done a little, so you can get used to her.”

He decided not to share that information with any of the others.

~~~~~

After the slow fly by tour of the city, both Jumpers easily sank into the Jumper Bay, only for their passengers to be met by Dr Carson Beckett and his trusted crew of nurses and attendants. A swift and efficient medical examination fortunately showed nothing wrong with any of them, and while the families, Fox and the NCIS crew were sent off with Captain Laura Cadman - who had hugged Rodney tightly, much to his discomfort and pretty much everyone else’s enjoyment - to be escorted to their quarters, Lorne took the rest of them to Woolsey’s office to be debriefed.

The sights and, for those with the gene, the sounds of Atlantis mesmerised them all, even those who were used to her. But the most amazing moment came when the group entered the Gate Room on their way up to Woolsey’s office, and Cat - much to the chagrin of the accompanying Marine escort - broke free of them and rushed over to the Gate.

She gently ran a hand over the lower part of the Gate, swiped her fingers across the floor, touched the walls she could easily reach, and then wrapped her arms around one of the delicate pillars holding up the Gate Room inner balcony.

Those without the ATA gene looked up in astonishment as they heard the happy note ring through the entire city. Those with the gene nearly fell to their knees upon hearing the joyous song impacting on their minds.

Cat’s deep green eyes seemed to match perfectly with the oranges and blues of Atlantis’ metal structures, even wet as they were from unshed tears.

She hugged the pillar more tightly, and her quiet voice reached everyone’s ears.

“I’ve missed you, Little Sister.”

Chapter Text

Rodney hummed in contentment when John’s arms slipped around him from behind, and John hooked his chin over Rodney’s shoulder so they could both appreciate the view from their balcony.

“Glad to be back?”

“Always. But I wish it was under better circumstances.”

“Still worried about your sister and the family?”

Rodney shook his head.

“Not really. Not since Cat beamed them to the house. I knew they were safe then. It’s this Nirrti thing. If she’s as bad as Daniel says she is…”

“Okay, stop it!” John warned him quietly, squeezing his arms a little tighter around Rodney. “We’ve done the debrief and the whole information sharing thing. We have a far better idea what to look for now. Jack is getting Landry involved. Our families are safe. We’re back on Atlantis. We’re together.”

Rodney nodded and John smiled.

“There’s nothing more you and I can do about it right at this moment. You can run a thousand thoughts through that big brain of yours, but no matter what you think of, we won’t be able to do anything about it until morning. You need to shut your brain off for a bit, and then we’re going to need plenty of rest.”

“Excuse me? Shut my brain off? Have you met me?” Rodney asked sarcastically.

“I have my ways,” John murmured, just before he started nipping his way up Rodney’s neck.

“Oh!” Rodney exclaimed happily, getting with the program. He tried to turn around, but John held him in place.

“No, you just stand there for a bit and enjoy the view. I’m just gonna enjoy you.”

Rodney chuckled and resigned himself to letting John do whatever he wanted.

At first, John simply held him and continued to lazily nip, lick, nibble and kiss at Rodney’s neck, switching sides every now and then. His hands gently roamed, caressing here, lightly tickling there, but never straying to the obvious parts.

It only took him maybe ten minutes before he felt the tension in Rodney had changed completely from worried to aroused, and it was only then that he nimbly unbuttoned Rodney’s shirt and gently took it off him. It had been a warm day, and here in the setting sun on their balcony with only a light breeze, he knew Rodney wouldn’t be cold. He also knew Rodney was so focused on feeling John right now, that he didn’t even realise they were outside. Not that anyone could see them unless they were specifically looking for them here, but Rodney had a thing for privacy while John had always had a fantasy about getting Rodney naked outside.

John slowly moved along. With Rodney’s torso now bare, John started to include his lover’s back in his ministrations. Slow sweeps of his hands combined with lights nips to those broad shoulders and licks to the back of his neck. When Rodney moaned and wanted to move, John quickly pinched a nipple which froze Rodney in place again.

Sensing Rodney was now completely giving himself over, John slowly lowered himself, kissing along Rodney’s spine as he went down. His hands moved up and down Rodney’s legs, his hips and sides. When his fingers unbuttoned Rodney’s trousers and pulled them down to his ankles, Rodney gave a little imploring whine, which made John chuckle. He let his fingers slide under his lover’s boxers, but still refused to touch him where Rodney really wanted to be touched, instead biting his ass cheeks lightly through his boxers.

As Rodney started to tremble a little from the frustration, John rose and came around to his lover’s front, continuing with the light kisses and gentle touches, but now finally kissing his mouth. Despite Rodney’s obvious wish to deepen the kisses, John kept it soft and made Rodney keep his hands to himself. When his lover was clearly reaching his breaking point, John slid down onto his knees and lowered those boxers, exposing Rodney completely to the cooling air.

He teasingly licked along Rodney’s cock for a few moments, but then changed his demeanour entirely. John took Rodney into his mouth and sucked, quite aggressively, and he felt Rodney break. Those big hands latched onto John’s head, fingers tangled in his messy hair, and he was held tightly while Rodney’s hips started moving. Through the rush, he heard quiet curses falling from Rodney’s lips as he gave in to the pleasure John had been steadily building.

It was over all too soon. All the teasing had brought Rodney to the edge, and he eagerly fell over it, John taking everything.

By the time Rodney was able to open his eyes and unclench his fingers from John’s hair, he finally noticed that John was still gently sucking and licking him. Rodney was so revved up from the long tease that he was still half hard, and John was quickly getting him back up to all the way hard again. He moaned in pleasure as he petted John’s hair, lost in the feelings.

John meanwhile was decidedly smug that his plan was working so well. After all that attention to Rodney, John was horny as hell, and glad he’d made preparations before coming out onto the balcony. He took the lube from his pocket and slicked Rodney’s once again hard dick, stood and turned to lean on the balcony railing, shoved his own pants and boxers down so they were just barely below his ass, and looked over his shoulder.

“Fuck me, Rodney!”

Zeroing in on that delectable ass, Rodney shuffled forward, mindful of the trousers and boxers still around his ankles, and roughly slid himself home. John groaned loudly and shivered, and started pushing back as soon as he felt Rodney’s tight grip on his hips.

In the beginning of their relationship, Rodney had been concerned about things like this, worried that he might hurt John. But John had soon convinced him by his ecstatic responses that, while they both deeply enjoyed slow, long drawn out sessions, every now and then, John loved a bit of rough.

And all those happy responses were there right now. John trembled and moaned, groaned and cursed, and shoved himself back onto Rodney again and again to get it harder and deeper. Of course, Rodney didn’t know yet that besides giving John physical pleasure, he was also giving him one of his favourite fantasies: outside, with Rodney practically naked, and John mostly clothed. John would tell him about that later.

~~~~~

In the central tower, Richard and Evan watched from Woolsey’s office as the woman Cat ambled around the Gate Room.

As soon as she had hugged the pillar and greeted her ‘little sister’, she’d kicked off her shoes and hadn’t put them back on again. They both understood that it was her way of being in constant contact with the structure.

During the trip to Medical, the briefing, the short tour after that and the following group dinner, she was always brushing her fingers over a wall or leaning against something. None of them could help but smile when during the tour, Cat had proudly proclaimed things like “How beautiful you’ve become!” and “You’ve grown so big!”.

And now she was exploring the Gate Room, touching the Gate, a happy and proud smile on her face. Lorne could feel Atlantis purring, and what felt like giggling every time Cat’s fingers touched something, almost as if the city was being tickled like a child.

Woolsey hadn’t been sure about the woman. Of course he was very happy to have Sheppard and McKay back on the city, where they belonged. Jack, Daniel and SG1 were always more than welcome. After being briefed on the situation, he felt sympathy for the families and the NCIS team, and was perfectly fine with them being here and providing them shelter. When the FBI agent Fox Mulder, who had been part of the briefing while the families and the NCIS people apart from Gibbs and DiNozzo had not, explained how he’d discovered the connection with Nirrti, Woolsey had agreed that put him in danger too, and gladly welcomed him.

But Cat, who they had all insisted should be part of the briefing as well, hadn’t contributed much. All he knew about her was that Sheppard and McKay, O’Neill and Jackson, and Gibbs and DiNozzo had been living in her house. She didn’t even seem to have a last name!

However, Richard was no fool. When several of the smartest people he knew and the three strongest gene carriers known on Earth told him that the woman was to be trusted and should be there, he wasn’t going to object.

He glanced at Lorne, studying him a little. That had been a surprise. He understood John and Jack vouching for the woman, after all, they knew her apparently pretty well. But Evan had never met her before, and had always had a healthy suspicion of strangers coming to the city. So Lorne immediately backing John and Jack with his approval was out of the ordinary.

Evan followed every move Cat made with sparkling eyes. When the woman reached for the Gate and tickled her fingers alongs its side, Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne, most professional XO on any base ever, giggled. Giggled! At the sound, the woman’s eyes shot up to them, fixed on Lorne, and she smiled. Then she moved her fingers again. And Lorne shivered and giggled again. She grinned.

~~~~~

“How do you think Cat passed Carson’s medical examination? I mean, surely there must be some anomalies in her? But Carson didn’t find anything odd.”

Jack detached his lips from Daniel’s groin for a moment.

“I’m sure she’s got some tricks up her sleeve.”

He went back to what he was doing.

“Do you think Nirrti is just after us, or are all gene carriers in danger? She did some pretty horrific genetic experiments to try to create a more advanced host in the past. Is she now trying to create a part Ancient host for herself so she can access Ancient technology? That would explain why she’s after you, John and Tony, with your strong genes. And she’d probably be after Lorne as well, if she knows about him.”

Jack gave another long lick, then replied.

“No use going over that again now, Daniel. We already discussed that in the briefing.”

And he went back to sampling his lover.

“I guess the house is like a mini-Atlantis, right? Why would Atlantis be so big, while the house is comparatively small? Do you think it has to do with power? You know, more ZPMs, more growth?”

Jack groaned.

“Danny…”

“I hope Jeannie and Dave and their families are alright. And Tony and Gibbs’ people. It must be a bit of a shock for them to be here. I know Fox is over the moon.”

Jack sighed and sat up.

“Daniel, this isn’t working for me. Are you going to pay attention to me, or are you going to keep talking?”

Daniel looked apologetically at him from under his eyelashes.

“I’m sorry, Jack. I just can’t help but keep wondering…”

“So you want to keep using your mouth, huh?” Jack interrupted him. “I’ll give you something to shut you up!”

And with one of those stealthy Black Ops moves, he reversed their positions and fed Daniel his dick instead.

As he started licking and sucking, Daniel grinned inwardly. Jack was so easy! Of course Daniel had been enjoying Jack going down on him, but what he was really in the mood for was tasting Jack, long, slow and with lots of teasing. Daniel could have just said so, but what would be the fun in that? Better to let Jack think it was his idea. That way, Daniel could make him return the supposed favour in the morning!

~~~~~

Fox was indeed over the moon.

During dinner, the already large group had been joined by several others, including Radek Zelenka and Laura Cadman. Fox had hit it off with both of them immediately, and after dinner, they had offered to take him on a more extended tour. And while looking around, they told him stories of aliens!

Even though Fox had not officially been read in yet, his being on the city made it inevitable that he would be, so Radek and Laura didn’t hesitate to tell their new friend about the things they’d seen out there.

To their disappointment, Fox didn’t seem to have the ATA gene, but perhaps, if he was going to stay on Atlantis, the artificial gene would work for him. Meanwhile, there was lots of other fun stuff to show him, and he loved every second of it.

~~~~~

Tony was like a puppy with a new squeaky toy, only this squeaky toy was a city that he could hear in his mind! Gibbs wasn’t sure he could compete.

Ever since they’d arrived on the city, Tony had been finding something new and exciting everywhere he turned. Even now, in their newly assigned shared quarters - which were very nice, thank you John! - Tony was finding new things to play with everywhere.

For the past half hour, Tony had been opening and closing the door with his mind, brightening and lowering the lights with his mind, making music play in the room with his mind, darkening the windows with his mind, turning the shower on and off and changing the temperature with his mind.

And Gibbs was slowly going out of his mind!

Of course he understood how new and exciting this all was for Tony, and he didn’t begrudge him his playfulness and wonder, even enjoyed seeing him so happy. But he was slowly beginning to doubt whether he’d ever have Tony’s full attention again, the way he’d been used to having it over the past four years, and even before that at work. He wondered if he’d even get Tony to calm down enough to get him to sleep sometime tonight.

But what Gibbs didn’t know was that there was method to Tony’s madness.

Even though Gibbs was sitting on the couch, outwardly completely calm, watching Tony play around, Tony could feel the tension building in his lover. At first he thought it was concern about the things Tony was doing, and what that might do to Tony in return. But, knowing Jethro as well as he did, he soon realised it was Gibbs himself who was feeling threatened. While Gibbs’ full attention was on Tony, Tony’s wasn’t on Gibbs, and no matter how he tried to hide it, Tony knew Gibbs never liked that. Tony smiled to himself. It was kinda sweet, really.

Having played enough for now, Tony headed to the small kitchenette. Just like at the house, it was stocked with what Tony wanted, and his hand unerringly found a bottle of bourbon. He poured a generous helping, took a large sip for himself, then walked over to Jethro and handed him the glass. Then he stood in the open area in front of the couch, facing Gibbs, and smiled.

“Okay, I think I’ve got the hang of this now. You sit there and watch, and I’ll use my mind to blow yours.”

Gibbs swallowed. Having Tony completely focused on him and taking a fortifying sip of the bourbon, Jethro felt much better already. He saw Tony’s face crease in concentration.

Off to the side, he heard the door to their quarters lock.

The lights dimmed to a soft glow, so that the corners held shadows, but Tony was still clearly visible to him in the middle of the room.

The windows darkened so that they could still see the last rays of sunlight and the upcoming moon and stars, but no one would be able to see in with the low light in the room. Never mind that they were high up in a tower where no one should have line of sight anyway.

Music started softly playing. It wasn’t anything Gibbs recognised, kind of generic, not too slow and not too fast.

And then Tony started to move.

In their nearly four years as a couple, Tony had never done this before. He felt nervous and kind of silly, but he figured if it wasn’t working, he could shut off the lights and music with a single thought and distract Gibbs another way.

He wasn’t really dancing, just moving, showing himself off a little. He knew Jethro liked looking at him. And then he started to strip.

At first he kept his eyes closed, too worried that Gibbs would laugh look bored or something. But when he heard a soft gasp, he peeked out of the corner of his eye. Gibbs was no longer leaning back, the picture of relaxation. He was sitting up, eyes riveted on Tony, glass of bourbon clenched so tightly in his fingers his knuckles were white.

Emboldened, Tony continued with a bit more sass, now looking at his lover as he slowly stripped.

Gibbs felt his heart racing, his blood pumping wildly throughout his entire body. God, but Tony was beautiful! He couldn’t believe this seductive creature was his! And now that he understood all Tony’s playing with the lights and doors was for this, that Tony had intended to do this for him all along, he felt even more honoured to be Tony’s partner.

It couldn’t have been more than a couple of minutes, but to Jethro the wait felt interminable. When Tony finally slid his boxers down his legs and stepped out of them, revealing himself in all his naked and hard glory, Gibbs was panting and this close to begging.

But no begging was required.

Tony slowly moved over to him, took the by now empty glass out of his hands, put it away, and pulled Gibbs to his feet. Still moving to the music, the naked vision of pure temptation moved around him, sliding the jacket off Gibbs’ shoulders, unbuttoning his shirt. It was like Gibbs was performing a striptease of his own, only he was a puppet and Tony was pulling his strings.

When he finally had Gibbs naked too, Tony touched and caressed, kissed and nipped, and then pushed Gibbs back onto the couch, climbing onto his lap. Gibbs could only sit there and watch as Tony lubed them both up and slowly sank down onto Jethro’s rock hard cock.

Tony kissed and nibbled and played, barely moving at first, letting them both relish the sensations, until finally the dam broke. With Gibbs’ hands on his hips helping him move, he rocked up and down, back and forth, rubbing his own dick against Jethro’s stomach for some friction. Once he let loose, neither of them lasted very long.

When at last Tony regained his breath, he tried to move, worried about his weight on Jethro’s legs. But Gibbs was comfortable enough, and wrapped his arms around Tony’s waist, pulling him closer, and Tony sighed and put his arms around Gibbs’ neck. It was a long, very intimate hug, interspersed with soft kisses, as they rested together, their faces buried in each other’s necks.

It was the discomfort in Tony’s knees that finally broke them apart. He pulled Gibbs up again and tugged him to the shower, which he turned on with his mind and a smile, and there they carefully washed and caressed each other. After drying each other off with soft towels, they slid into their new bed.

Holding his amazing Tony in his arms, Gibbs kissed the top of Tony’s head more lovingly than he ever had before.

“I love you, Tony,” he whispered, and Tony felt his own heart and the city around him sing.

~~~~~

With everyone but the night crew settled in for a good night’s rest, Atlantis reached out.

Her beloved John Sheppard and his McKay were resting quietly. Her other favourites, General Jack and Danny, slept soundly after she soothed Daniel’s always churning mind. Her Tony, beloved son she hadn’t even known she’d missed for so long, was resting safe and secure with his protector Gibbs, whom she liked very much for that alone.

Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagen were safely within her walls once again, which gave her joy.

Those genetically linked to her John Sheppard and his McKay were resting easy. Names! Her people liked names! Jeannie Miller she vaguely remembered having met before, but she had had almost no power then, and the link was still weak. Caleb Miller, Madison Miller. Dave Sheppard - who did not have his brother’s shiny genes - and Kathy Sheppard, Emma and Sophie.

Samantha Carter and Cameron Mitchell, Vala Mal Doran and Teal’c, all of whom she’d met before, sleeping softly.

Ziva David and Abigail Sciuto, Ducky Mallard and Jimmy Palmer, Timothy McGee. None had the gene, but sensing how much they were a part of her Tony’s life, she soothed their excited dreams.

Fox Mulder, he was interesting. He was different from the others, from SG1, but she still knew that he had met several of what her people called ‘aliens’. He just didn’t know it about most of them.

Drifting away from her new guests, she focused on her other favourites, gene or no gene. Radek Zelenka, Laura Cadman, Carson Beckett, Richard Woolsey, Miko Kusanagi. The plucky Canadian Chuck was awake on the night shift, but his counterpart Amelia Banks slept soundly next to Ronon Dex.

Evan Lorne.

If asked such a ridiculous question as who her favourite after her John Sheppard and his McKay was, she would struggle. General Jack and Danny, or Evan Lorne. She felt that if they stayed here longer, which she had every intention to arrange, her new Tony and his Gibbs would be up there too.

Evan Lorne slept with a smile on his face, and dreams of her sister in his mind.

Her sister. Cat.

Ever since coming back to this planet Earth, Atlantis had felt a niggling presence. She’d felt it a couple of years ago too, when she and her John Sheppard tracked that Wraith super hive here and destroyed it. She had wanted to reach out, but her John Sheppard had impressed upon her the importance that she stay hidden from everyone and everything on this planet Earth.

But now, her sister had reached out to her, had told her of her people in danger. They’d worked together to bring them all to her safety, and Cat had joined them. Her sister, at last! The sister she had missed so much for so long!

But how could her big sister exist in such a small construct? How could she live and grow? She was so tiny!

Cat laughed at that thought, and Atlantis chuckled along with her.

They settled in for a long talk.

Chapter Text

The night shift had been quiet and rather dull, as they had been pretty much since they’d landed back on Earth. With his shift ending as the sun was just barely coming up, Chuck pulled up the city schematic and called up the life signs.

All the Gate Techs did this a couple of times during their shifts. At first, it had been an easy way to do a head count and make sure none of their people had gone mysteriously missing. It also helped them to make sure that no one was taking it upon themselves to explore on their own, or venture into dangerous or unchecked parts.

Later, with the third ZPM installed, they found the life signs could have different colours. Those that were part of the expedition - the Lanteans, as they now called themselves - showed up red. Visitors showed up blue. New additions assigned to the expedition usually were blue at first, and slowly became red if they found themselves at home on Atlantis. And the few times they had one of the Wraith on the city, they had shown up as a sickly pale green that was eerily reminiscent of their skin colour.

He spotted two red life signs out on the South Pier, moving fast. While not a restricted area, people seldom went out there. He tensed for a moment, before he remembered and relaxed again. General Sheppard and Ronon were back on the city, and they usually took an early morning run together out there, liking the challenge of the high walkways and bridges spanning the South Pier.

Chuck watched for a few minutes as the second red dot caught up to the first one, and then the first one sped away again, and again. It looked like Ronon was giving Sheppard a run for his money as usual, he thought with a grin.

But then the second red dot suddenly disappeared.

Sitting up in alarm, Chuck’s eyes flew to the life signs counter. The number was still the same. But then where had the dot gone? They weren’t anywhere near a transporter… He raised his hand to hail Sheppard and Ronon on comms, then lowered it again. What if it wasn’t them? Neither man would appreciate being woken so early over something that might not be a concern.

Instead, Chuck pulled up the video feed of the location on his other screen, and promptly fell back into his seat in astonishment.

“Morning, Chuck!” Evan called out cheerily on his way to his own office. But when he received no answer, he glanced over to the tech. Frowning, he walked up to Chuck’s station.

“Everything okay?” He asked. Chuck just pointed wordlessly at his screen, and Lorne stepped around to see what was going on.

On screen, Ronon was chasing a large black cat on one of the walkways over the South Pier.

~~~~~

Zelenka was grumpy as he sat in his lab, going over his diagnostics again. While their new guests had been taken on a short tour of the main parts of the city yesterday afternoon, between the briefing and dinner, Rodney had graciously deigned to give Radek a little bit of his precious time to discuss the energy spikes.

And then Rodney had waved away Radek’s concern, saying that it had been because Atlantis had been flying the two Jumpers to DC. Zelenka had been willing to believe that, but that didn’t explain the other spikes he’d registered in the days before that.

Rodney was never cavalier with anything that concerned the city, particularly not when it involved energy readings, so Radek was sure that McKay knew more than he was saying. God, his friend was infuriating! How could Radek help him, if Rodney wasn’t willing to share!

A cheerful knock pulled him out of his contemplations, and the smiling faces of Carson and Laura peered around his door. Feeling his grumpiness fade on seeing them, and realising that their new friend Fox was with them too, he smiled back.

“Ready for breakfast?” Laura asked. “We’re all supposed to meet in ten!”

“Of course!”

Radek closed his laptop and vowed to corner Rodney after breakfast, but for now he was happy to go share a meal with his friends.

~~~~~

John laughed as Ronon complained that Sheppard was cheating. All those years, he’d barely been able to keep up with Ronon on their runs, and now that John had the advantage, Ronon was turning out to be a bit of a sore loser.

His laughter faded quickly when they rounded the corner to where the transporter was and they were faced with Lorne and eight Marines, pointing a combination of stunners, zats and guns at them.

“Whoa! Whoa!” He called out, raising his hands for good measure. “What the hell?”

Lorne eyed them both sharply, and reached out with his senses. Getting a feeling of safety and security from the city, he lowered his weapon and told the Marines to stand down.

“Evan?” John asked quietly.

“Where’s the cat?”

Sheppard cursed, something his men had never heard him do before.

“Where’d you see the cat?”

And Lorne quickly explained about Chuck and the disappearing red life sign, the video feed and Ronon chasing the cat.

John grimaced, but then he looked thoughtful.

“Wait, you mean the life sign disappeared, but the count remained the same?”

Evan nodded. John and Ronon shared a quick look.

“Interesting. I’m going to have to talk to Rodney about that. But anyway, there’s nothing to worry about. I can explain. Later. Right now, I believe the three of us are due for breakfast.” He turned to the Marines. “Well done, kids. Please return to your regular duties.”

The Marines nodded, knowing better than to salute Sheppard, and cheerfully went on their way, happy that nothing had happened to their beloved commanding officer.

Lorne wasn’t as happy, in fact he felt much the same as Zelenka did at that very moment. How could he help if he was being kept in the dark?

Ronon clapped his big hand on Evan’s shoulder and started tugging him along.

“Come on. We’re late for breakfast.”

~~~~~

The three of them were indeed the last to arrive.

The Atlantis senior staff, SG1, the NCIS team, Cat, Fox and the families had commandeered the largest table in the still relatively empty mess hall, saving places for the three. Rodney wrinkled his nose a bit when John sat down next to him in his sweaty running clothes, but it wasn’t the first time John and Ronon had extended their run and showed up for breakfast sweating and panting. In all honesty, Rodney preferred that to having to wait until John had showered and changed. Being left sitting there, waiting, reminded him too much of being stood up on a date and having everyone look at him with a mixture of pity and glee, and John understood that.

Several of the group saw the dark looks Zelenka shot to McKay, and the dissatisfied looks Lorne gave Sheppard, but decided to ignore that for now.

They were just starting their meal when suddenly Cat looked up to the ceiling. A moment later, the gene carriers started looking around in question. And then Jack’s watch beeped.

“Crap!” O’Neill said, and a blinding white light lit up the mess hall. With a sigh, Jack rose from his seat.

“Thor, old buddy, old pal! Here for pancakes?”

~~~~~

“This is it,” Skinner thought to himself, “this is when you die.”

He didn’t know where he was or how he got there, nor how he’d been tied to this examination table without noticing anything.

The pretty but scary woman standing over him gave him the creeps. As soon as she spoke, he knew who she was. Well, he didn’t know her name or anything, but he knew that voice. It had been giving him nightmares ever since that first phone call that had drawn him into this mess.

He hoped her obvious anger at him would make her quick in killing him, but then her eyes flashed gold and she held out her hand towards him. His heart sank.

In her hand, she held a squealing and squirming snake like thing, and his eyes widened in fear.

She laughed.

~~~~~

Most of the Atlantis personnel present in the mess hall were familiar with the Asgard. Many of them knew Hermiod, the Asgard who had attached himself to the Daedalus crew under Colonel Caldwell, the ship that made regular supply runs to the city when it was in Pegasus. Some had even encountered the Rogue Asgard in Pegasus, the ones who had kidnapped Drs Jackson and McKay once upon a time.

But Thor… they’d never seen an Asgard like him. The Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet looked exactly like the rest of his brethren - in fact, General O’Neill liked to joke that the only way to tell them apart was their voice - but where the Rogue Asgard had obviously become bad guys and Hermiod was a humourless, cantankerous specimen, Thor blinked his big black eyes up at O’Neill with clear affection.

“O’Neill, I have come to warn you.”

“Oy,” Jack sighed. “Can it wait until after breakfast?”

Thor actually chuckled, and wrapped his spindly little arms around the General’s legs in a hug. Beside them, Daniel slid off his seat and onto his knees, ready to hug Thor as soon as he let go of Jack.

“We have some time,” Thor said, after greeting Daniel.

“So, pancakes?” Jack asked, sitting down again.

“I have already eaten,” Thor replied. Sam shuddered at the memory of the brightly coloured but disgusting blocks the Asgard called food. Yellow was Thor’s favourite, if she recalled correctly.

While those who hadn’t met Thor before looked on in wonder, Jack and Daniel easily went back to their breakfast, and the others followed suit. As they were eating and draining their coffee cups, Thor went round the large table and greeted those he knew and liked with hugs and handshakes.

Tony, unlike the first time he’d met Thor, this time eagerly held out his hand for the little alien to shake, and was both surprised and honoured when Thor hugged him around the middle instead. When Thor released him, he looked up at Tony.

“I fear once again there will not be much time for us to speak privately, Tony DiNozzo. But I can tell you have grown much already, youngling, and you are only just beginning to learn. I shall be pleased to follow your progress and hopefully meet you again soon. You do your young race proud.”

Tony was overwhelmed, and pulled the alien in for another quick hug, then smiled widely when Gibbs beamed at him with pride before turning to Thor to greet him as well.

Ziva, McGee, Abby and Jimmy followed the exchange with gobsmacked expressions, and their eyes only grew wider in amazement when Thor delicately shook hands with Gibbs and Ducky, calling them by name.

Skipping some of the others seated at the table, Thor came to SG1. Sam and Vala received a hug, Cam a handshake, and Teal’c a forearm clasp. When he came to John’s team, Teyla received a hug and Ronon a forearm clasp. Rodney and Thor looked at each other solemnly before shaking hands.

“Thor.”

“Rodney McKay.”

Then Rodney grinned, and the corners of Thor’s little mouth rose in what could be called a smile.

John, who had been seriously creeped out by Hermiod from the start - a combination of the way Hermiod looked, the fact that he didn’t wear pants, and his off-putting behaviour - had really taken to Thor when the grey alien had come to visit them when Cat was injured. John didn’t know whether it was because he himself had been cat shaped at the time, or simply because Thor was so different from Hermiod, but the two hugged tightly.

At last, Thor came to Cat.

Like Daniel, she slid from her seat to kneel in front of the alien, but he didn’t step forward to hug. Instead, he tilted his head and looked at her with disapproval. Cat seemed to be saying something to him without anyone hearing and looked around, but Thor refused to budge. Cat shot a quick glance to John, and sighed.

“Uh oh,” John groaned, and quickly put out his hand to restrain Lorne. “Don’t shoot!” He ordered.

And then the kneeling woman was gone. In her place, a white tiger sat regally on its haunches, tail wrapped around its paws, the tip flicking in delight.

Thor nodded in approval and buried his little body against the tiger’s chest, snuggling into its luscious fur.

“Hello, old friend. I am pleased you have reunited with your sister at last.”

The tiger rubbed its muzzle against Thor’s big head, and its tail came up to encircle the tiny body.

“Yes, well…” Woolsey said, one of the first of those who didn’t already know about Cat to recover from the shock. “I think this breakfast is over. Shall we meet in my office in fifteen?”

~~~~~

Kathy didn’t know how much more of this she could take.

First, her husband had insisted that they go to his brother’s housewarming party, even though John was not only in a relationship with a man, but had just a few months earlier even married that Rodney McKay.

Then, despite her having urged him to remember his standing in society and their church, Dave had not only reconciled with his brother, but made nice with Dr McKay and all their deviant friends.

And even though she couldn’t prove it, Kathy just knew that she’d been told off and scolded by that housekeeper person, Cat.

She was okay with Dave calling John every couple of days since the party, because no one know about that. As long as they kept it private, se didn’t mind too much.

But then, there were those SUVs following her, and she just knew that John had had something to do with that. And she was right! Agents came to their house. Agents! If her church group heard about that… oh, the shame!

And suddenly, Dave was talking to his brother, grabbing their daughters and telling her to hold on to him, and they were back in that infernal house before she could even blink her eyes!

After that, in the few days they spent talking with all those other people, she understood that it hadn’t been John who had been following them. In fact, he’d saved her family from a threat. But still, that threat was because of John, so it was his fault anyway.

The flying in those little green contraptions had been horrible, and she’d been terrified - for her daughters, of course, not for herself - even though she had to admit that seeing Earth from space was kind of cool. If it had been real. She wouldn’t put it past John and that McKay to have simply played a movie on what had seemed like a window at the front of the flying thing.

Seeing the floating city, she acknowledged it was beautiful, and once they were in their quarters with her daughters safely tucked into bed, she’d finally felt a little better.

But now! Now there was a little grey alien hugging people and coming to warn them, and the disrespectful housekeeper was a tiger!

So really, she was glad that when breakfast ended and the ‘important people’ went to meet in Mr Woolsey’s office, Dave said he’d take the girls, and asked that nice Dr Beckett to give her something to help her rest.

No, she really couldn’t take more of this.

~~~~~

“Hey guys!” Jimmy Palmer called out brightly to Ziva, Abby and McGee as the breakfast started to break up. “Laura and Radek have offered to take us for another tour while the others are meeting with Mr Woolsey. Dr Beckett is showing Dr Mallard the medical bay. Dave and the girls, the Millers and I are going with Radek and Laura. You want to come?”

McGee was enthusiastic. From the earlier talking, he’d understood that Radek was the main science guy to go to if you wanted to know anything about this city. Though he’d been amused at the party that time talking with McKay, he knew that answering questions just wasn’t something Rodney did.

Tim had had a quick flash of jealousy when Tony was so easily included in the strategy meeting and McGee wasn’t, but it was over in a moment. Tony was with Gibbs in every single way, that much was clear now. Besides, Tony knew an alien! An alien that said Tony had learned much, and it was proud of Tony. Yeah, McGee understood he really couldn’t compete with that. Besides, no matter what it may sometimes look like, he liked Tony, admired him a bit even. That single flash of jealousy quickly evaporated under the joy that his friend was happy and loved.

Ziva had been contemplating how to find out more about this city without being obvious. She’d tried to call her father last night, even tried to e-mail him with all this new information, but she couldn’t get a signal. This tour would help her collect data to report to her father later, so she agreed.

Abby just didn’t want to be separated from the people she knew. A single look at Gibbs had made it clear she wasn’t going to be allowed to stay with him, and Gibbs was taking Tony with him. So the next best thing was Ziva and McGee. She nodded and gave a smile.

~~~~~

After a quick shower and a change of clothes, John managed to not even be the last one to arrive at the meeting. As he poured himself and Rodney another cup of coffee, he smiled at those already assembled as they looked around Woolsey’s office. It had grown. It had become big enough to hold them all comfortably.

Back at the house, John had apparently always been the first one to notice things like that, and here on Atlantis, it was even stronger. He didn’t know if Atlantis was telling him these things, or if he just had some advanced kind of spacial awareness, and frankly he didn’t care. It was funny.

But not nearly as funny as seeing Lorne come in to the room with Cat and Thor.

After the sudden end to breakfast and recovering from the shock, Lorne had raised all personnel on citywide comms.

“This is Lieutenant Colonel Lorne to all personnel. Repeat, to all personnel. Atlantis is hosting Supreme Commander Thor of the Asgard Fleet, and a white tiger. Repeat, a white tiger. Do not engage.”

Lorne glanced at Sheppard and raised an eyebrow. John grinned and nodded in acknowledgement. Lorne sighed and spoke again.

“Furthermore, there is a black…” Lorne hesitated and looked at John again. John mouthed ‘panther’. “… a black panther also on Atlantis. Do not engage. Lorne out.”

Ignoring the questioning looks, John clapped Lorne on the shoulder.

“Thanks, Evan. Really, thank you.”

Before Lorne could say anything else, the white tiger tilted its head at Thor, and the small alien nodded.

“I would be much obliged.”

The cat laid down, and the alien climbed onto its back. The tiger rose and looked at Lorne, who looked back uncomprehendingly. Thor translated.

“My friend says it might be prudent for you to join us, Lieutenant Colonel Lorne. In case your people become…” he looked baffled for a moment, “… gun happy?”

Most of those present managed to disguise their chuckling to soft huffs and sniffs, but Sheppard and O’Neill didn’t even try, their loud laughter ringing through the mess hall.

‘The privileges of rank’, Lorne thought sourly, as he followed the regal white tiger proudly carrying the Supreme Asgard Commander out of the room and taking the three of them for a little tour before the meeting.

Chapter Text

“Alright,” Richard Woolsey said, trying to bring the meeting to order. “Everyone sit down, please.”

But they were all still busy grabbing coffee, and looking at Thor, still sitting on the white tiger’s back, and the two of them having a love fest with Richard’s office walls.

“You never rub off on me like that anymore,” Jack said plaintively to Daniel.

“Tonight,” Daniel promised in a whisper. “Now, behave.”

Rolling his eyes, Woolsey took his seat and gestured the others into theirs. Finally, the tiger laid down again and allowed Thor to step off its back. With the press of a button on the device around his wrist, Thor’s throne-like chair appeared and he climbed into it. The tiger moved to Sheppard, and put its head in John’s lap, looking up at him mournfully. Rodney immediately reached out to pet it, and scowled at John.

“Yes, I believe General Sheppard has something to tell us first,” Woolsey said, not having missed the looks when Lorne informed all personnel of the black panther.

“Fine,” John sighed, slid down and shifted. God, he’d missed this form! Running with Ronon this morning had only soothed him a little. The cold metal plates under his paws hadn’t felt nearly as good as the grass and twigs he’d been running on with Cat. And Cat! God, how he’d missed her, even though she’d been close the entire time. It just wasn’t the same.

John growled and playfully batted at Cat, who coyly swished her tail and batted back. They scuffled a little, and then the black panther grabbed the loose folds of fur and skin on the white tiger’s neck between its teeth. The tiger went down, and let John growl at her for a bit. The panther stood over her, and she teasingly swiped her white tail over his black flank.

While Woolsey and several others looked both intrigued and horrified, Teyla, Ronon, SG1 and Tony and Gibbs were stifling laughs. They recognised the playing for what it was, and had seen Cat in action. No way was she submissive to John. And then Rodney changed the playing field again.

“Yes, yes,” he said impatiently, “you’re both very powerful and beautiful. Now come here.”

Both cats rolled onto their paws and trotted over to Rodney, sidling up to him and placing their heads in his lap. As if unable to help himself, Rodney started petting them lovingly, then looked at Woolsey.

“Obviously, I can’t tell about Cat. But John was, as usual, being stupid and playing with Ancient tech while wishing he could change into a feline just like Cat.” John nipped him softly for the ‘stupid’ comment, then slitted his eyes again to enjoy being petted.

“And before you ask,” Rodney continued as if there was nothing odd at all about this picture, “of course I took the device apart in a way no one but me or Zelenka could put it back together again. I mean, a wishing device? Really? Do you have any idea how dangerous that could be? Thankfully Sheppard’s imagination is limited…” John growled again. “Okay, so his imagination was limited at that particular time, normally it’s fine, amazing, rambunctious even! It was just in this one case that he saw a cat and could think of nothing other than being a cat.”

The black panther jumped up, his front paws leaning on Rodney’s knees, and licked his lover’s face. Then he was back to being John again.

“Thanks, Rodney,” he drawled, retaking his seat.

~~~~~

Dave was amazed by everything he saw and heard, but more than anything, by his girls. Emma and Sophie, normally shy and reserved even with their church group whom they’d known since birth, had taken to Laura and Radek immediately, and the explosives expert and the scientist were happy to have a girl clinging to a hand each. They also tried to answer all the girls’ questions, although Dave realised sometimes they either didn’t know the answer or were reluctant to give it.

He also studied their other companions. Jeannie Miller, who’d clearly been here before, joined Radek and Laura in explaining things. Her husband Caleb seemed to just go with the flow, and their daughter Madison was doing her own Q&A, asking questions and then providing the answer herself, sometimes with little hints from her mother or the two Lanteans.

Dave realised the mother and daughter had extraordinary minds, much like McKay, and he felt a deeper understanding of why John was so fascinated with Rodney. His brother had always been curious, and to have someone who could keep his mind occupied and answer all the relevant and irrelevant questions he had, must be a treat for John.

He himself had a head for business, was no slouch in the brains department, but John had always been more interested in… well, in everything. And to have access to all that information in the form of Rodney, and to have all the people on this city respect and admire and depend on him, Dave finally understood why his brother now was so much more settled and happy than he had been ever before.

Dave had seen the close bonds between John and his housemates, both at the party and in the last few days, and had observed the respect John was given by Teyla and Ronon and the SG1 team. But here on the city, he finally fully understood. There were hundreds of people here, and they hadn’t come across a single one in the short time they’d been here that John didn’t call by name and enquired after, and they all adored him. Dave may sit at the head of the board room table, but John was a true Leader.

With his daughters happily chattering away at Radek and Laura, and stealing the heart of several of the Marines, Airmen and scientists they came across along the way, Dave focused his attention on the NCIS people.

After the last few days, he knew there was some tension there, and he also knew it had to do with Tony and Gibbs. He’d been surprised when those two had revealed their relationship just prior to leaving the house yesterday, but he’d not nearly been as surprised as McGee, Ziva and Abby.

But now, Jimmy Palmer and Tim McGee seemed to have shed all discomfort - not that Jimmy had really shown any before - and were happily chatting with everyone, asking questions and just looking around in wonder.

Ziva David was marching along with the rest of them, but looked more as if she were doing a threat assessment than enjoying a tour, and Abigail clung to the woman in near silence, something Dave knew from the party not to be her usual style. He wondered if he should mention this to John.

The giggles of his daughters as they happily let two burly Marines pick them up and put them on their shoulders so his girls could see over the railings pulled him back from his thoughts to the present. Their squeals of ‘Daddy! Daddy! Look!’ brought him to them, standing between the two Marines and placing a hand on his daughters’ backs each. Dave cooed to his girls for a moment, then thanked the Marines.

“No problem, Mr Sheppard. These girls weigh less than the packs the General makes us wear on training exercises. We’d be happy to carry them for a bit, if you like?”

Dave knew the girls were getting a bit tired from walking, and their pleading looks and smiling faces convinced him they were looking forward to getting a ride from these young Marines.

“If you’re sure…” he hedged.

“Not a problem, Sir!” The other Marine smiled. “Not a lot of of kids here, so this is fun. I used to ride my little stepsister around like this. Besides, anything for Shep.”

And there it was again, Dave thought as he followed the group and the Marines carrying his girls on their shoulders. The General, Shep. His brother had finally found the place where he not only belonged, but was deeply respected, and loved.

He wished he could convince his wife to see this too.

~~~~~

When John settled back into his chair, the white tiger looked a little lost. She tried to settle on the floor, but clearly wasn’t happy there. Finally, she rose and trotted carefully over to Evan Lorne, placing her head in his lap the way she’d done with both John and Rodney before.

Reaching out slowly, Evan let her sniff his hand, then buried it in the fur between her ears, petting and softly scratching. Rodney looked a tiny bit jealous, but John, Jack and Daniel, and Gibbs and Tony had soft smiles of their faces.

“Alright, kids,” Jack said, taking charge and ignoring the fact that this was Woolsey’s meeting in Woolsey’s office. “Now that the fun is over, back to business. We know now that’s it’s Nirrti causing trouble. Landry is reaching out to our allies, and we’re safe here. We suspect she wants to use the strongest gene carriers to create a more powerful host for herself. Thor, you say you came to warn us. What don’t we know?”

The Supreme Commander looked at the group.

“Your assumptions are mostly correct, O’Neill. Nirrti has indeed been building a power base on Earth, and is attempting to create a host capable of manipulating Ancient technology. But she has also learned a lesson from Ba’al. I have found several humans have been infected with a clone of her Gua’ould, and that she has already experimented on a number of humans with a lesser expression of the gene.”

Daniel wasn’t the only one who sucked in a distressed breath at that news.

“However, the Gua’ould does not seem to tolerate the gene. I regret to have to tell you that those test subjects have died as the Gua’ould attacked the gene. From our research into her experiments, Heimdahl has concluded that because the subject with the stronger genes lasted longer, Nirrti feels only those with the strongest genes will survive the implantation of a Gua’ould.”

“Wait,” Daniel said, “we already know that they can. Jack’s been implanted twice, and survived both times.”

Jack shuddered, and Daniel rubbed his arm, whispering a quiet apology.

“Not exactly, Daniel Jackson. One was a Tok’ra, who choose to share the body instead of fighting for it, and the other was killed by freezing it before it could take control of O’Neill’s body. We are not certain Nirrti knows of these events. Even so, the genetic marker we placed on O’Neill would prevent him from being a viable subject to her.”

“Oh crap!” Jack exclaimed. “My clone! He’s got my genes! Is he in danger?”

“From our observations, we are certain Nirrti does not know about your clone. However, we have decided to ensure his safety, and have taken Jonathan Neilson into our custody about twenty of your Earth hours ago.”

While Jack sighed and relaxed back into his chair, Daniel leaned forward eagerly.

“Where is he? Is he on your ship? Can you bring him here? I’d love to see him!”

Jack’s eyes shot open.

“Daniel!” He warned.

Daniel huffed.

“Not like that, Jack! I know he’s you up to the point of cloning, but you should know by now that I like my men mature.” Seeing several raised eyebrows, Daniel elaborated. “Mature in body, if not in spirit.”

Jack stared at his lover for long moments, then sighed.

“Fine! Bring the brat here.”

Thor looked around and, seeing no objections from those who knew what was going on, touched his wrist device again. A moment later, a young man in his early twenties stood next to Thor.

~~~~~

Ziva was torn.

Part of her recognised that knowledge of this incredible city should be shared with her father and Mossad, but another part of her was urging her to keep quiet. She’d never felt so at peace anywhere, not even as a child at home with her father, as she did here.

Abby’s clinging to her was distracting, and Ziva couldn’t quite understand it. Ziva liked Abby, had worked hard at becoming her friend, but now Abby seemed to be acting like a petulant child. Ziva had seen Abby’s reaction to Gibbs and Tony revealing their relationship, and the complete about face Abby had done after spending some minutes with Cat in the pool house. But she couldn’t quite grasp why this was affecting Abby so much.

As for Ziva herself, she’d had her orders. Ingratiate herself to Gibbs, make her way onto his team, play for power. And she’d done that, most of it, anyway. Gibbs trusted her after she’d killed Ari, she’d gotten a spot on his team and a very generous security clearing, and she’d played for power. She’d succeeded with McGee, but Tony had always managed to slip away.

And now she finally understood why. Tony hadn’t been interested in her, for him it had always been Gibbs.

That was why she so easily accepted their revelation. It was vindication in a way. She had not failed in seducing Tony over to her side because of who she was, he simply had other inclinations. She also knew Abby wasn’t interested in either Gibbs or Tony that way, so why was the forensic goth acting like this? It was something to ponder.

Meanwhile, Ziva enjoyed the tour, and the longer it lasted, the less inclined she felt to report any of this. The city was an amazing place, could be a new start for her, free from her father and Mossad, a place where she could make her own home.

Ziva smiled.

~~~~~

“Wow!” Jonathan Neilson said too sarcastically for his apparent age as he looked around at those gathered, before he finally fixed his gaze on Jack and Daniel. “I didn’t think you’d actually allow it.”

“Hey!” Jack said indignantly. “Your genes are my genes, and we need those safe!”

Jonathan snorted.

“So, it’s just about our genes, old man? Tell yourself another one.”

Daniel, Sam and Teal’c had risen from their chairs and made their way over, all three of them engulfing the young man in a tight hug. Jack knew those three traitors had seen his clone from time to time in between, and he was fine with that. And okay, so he himself had made a few phone calls to the kid. And maybe they’d talked about stuff a little. Grumping to himself, Jack got up and joined in the hugging, earning a smile from his friends.

When Jonathan was released, he looked around again, his eyes this time landing on the white tiger.

“So who’s the kitty-cat?” He asked.

The tiger abandoned Lorne for a moment to sidle up to Jonathan, and seemingly of his own volition, Jonathan put his hands on either side of the tiger’s head. They stared at each other for a few long minutes.

“Holy crap!” Jonathan breathed, his eyes flicking to Jack.

“Yeah,” Jack drawled, “we’ve got a bit of a situation.”

“I know, I know, she told me! Nirrti, experiments, gene carriers. But I mean, holy crap! Atlantis has a sister?”

Richard Woolsey called a short recess for everyone to refill their coffee cups, and for Daniel to fill those few who hadn’t known about Jack’s clone in.

Jonathan kept his hands on the cat the entire time, speaking to her in their minds. Where Rodney had looked slightly jealous before, Evan Lorne now looked positively murderous.

~~~~~

Abby had detached herself from the tour when they came to the gym, and found Teyla and Ronon there basically beating up a bunch of Marines. Though each of the soldiers left the gym with bruises, they all thanked the pair of teachers for the session with respect and admiration.

“Abigail,” Teyla said with a pleased smile. “Have you come for a further lesson in the bantos rods?”

“I… No, thank you, Teyla. I just… I…”

Ronon seated himself beside her on the bench, and Teyla elegantly fell into a cross-legged position in front of her.

“You are conflicted,” Teyla stated.

“She’s jealous,” Ronon snorted, getting a whap to the leg from Teyla. Abby’s head spun to look at him.

“What?”

Ronon stared back.

“You want the truth?” Ronon pointed at himself. “Or do you want diplomacy? That’s what she’s here for.” Ronon pointed at Teyla.

“I…” Abby faltered again.

“Truth it is,” Ronon growled, and leaned forward on the bench.

“You’re jealous. You thought this Gibbs guy was yours, that you were his favourite. Now you know Tony is. You like Tony, love him even, so that’s hard for you. But you gotta get over it, because it isn’t gonna change. I saw Tony looking at Gibbs before Atlantis ever came along. And it looked just the same.”

“Ronon,” Teyla chided gently when she saw Abby’s eyes starting to get wet with tears.

“Nah. Sorry, Teyla. But there’s no softening this.” Ronon turned to Abby. “They’re your friends, right? You love them. They love each other. Be happy for them. Ain’t nothing you can do about it. You should celebrate, before it’s all gone.”

Ronon grabbed his towel and bag, and left the gym. Teyla looked at the wide-eyed woman on the bench.

“Ronon’s entire planet was destroyed. All those he knew and loved were taken. My own people… they were lost. John found only a few of them still alive.”

Teyla swallowed, and Abby’s cheeks streaked with tears.

“If someone finds love, Abby, we treasure it. Even if we would wish that love to be ours. We have learned the hard way it can all be over far too quickly.”

Teyla rose and grabbed her things.

“This gym will be empty for a while. Why don’t you sit here and think, hmmm?” Teyla smoothed Abby’s black pig tails back and smiled, then left.

~~~~~

When they all settled in again, Thor took centre stage, even though he was always addressing Jack O’Neill.

“I have transferred all we have discovered about Nirrti’s experiments to your systems here, and we shall keep an eye on those humans on Earth with the lesser expression of the gene. However, there is something of far more concern. The warning I came to deliver.”

“Yeah, what was that?” Jack asked.

“Nirrti has found a way to lock on to the gene. She is finding her subjects this way. Heimdahl has studied the plans for the device Nirrti uses for this, and has concluded that within a matter of days, Nirrti will be able to transport a subject to her facility at will.”

“Transport… You mean, beam?” Jack exclaimed.

“Indeed,” Thor said.

This caused a lot of muttering between all those present, before the gene carriers fell silent, seeming to be listening to something.

John and Jack glanced at each other, and nodded, then rose from their seats.

“Wait!” Woolsey ordered, and the two men turned back to him reluctantly. “I realise more was being said than I was privy to, however, I would dearly like to know what is going on before you take action!”

Jack and John looked at each other again.

“Maybe it would be better if you didn’t know, Richard,” Jack said.

Woolsey glared a them.

“The two most powerful gene carriers just had a silent conversation and are now rushing off. It doesn’t take much to realise you are heading to the chair room. Do you think me stupid, gentlemen? Have I not at every instance in the past years put this city and its people before everything else?”

John winced and Jack glared.

“Fine!” Jack growled. “We gotta leave! Now!”

Woolsey looked at them, then nodded.

“Do it!” He ordered, and Jack and John rushed off, after taking a quick moment to say goodbye to Thor. The little alien seemed satisfied, and gave a general goodbye to everyone else, singling the white tiger out for a protracted look. Then he and his throne-like chair disappeared.

A few minutes later the comms burst to life. Everyone was told to brace for lift off, and Jack counted down while John reclined in the chair and asked the city to fly. Atlantis answered him immediately with joy and anticipation.

“Take us home, my John Sheppard,” she whispered to him as she rose from San Francisco Bay and into space.

“We are going home!” She announced to all those who could hear her, as her hyperdrives were engaged and the wormhole opened up.

“Home!” Was all those without the gene heard ringing through the city, as they looked out the windows and saw first the black of space, and then the streaks of hyperspace.

~~~~~

Evan Lorne hadn’t been asleep yet when he heard his doors softly opening.

After having been unexpectedly thrown into hyperspace on the way to Pegasus, admittedly there had been quite a few figurative fires to put out. Personnel with families, people who’d been happy to be on Atlantis on Earth but had no desire to move to another galaxy. Lorne took complaints, soothed nerves, assured them that they would quickly find a way to get them home.

But when he finally settled in his bed, he wondered. What was home for him? Atlantis was, and always would be. Wherever she was, Pegasus or the Milky Way or anywhere else. As long as he was on Atlantis, he was happy.

Or was he? That afternoon, he’d felt something else.

Hearing his door opening, Evan turned to look at the intruder. There were two of them. A white tiger, and a young man. Jonathan Neilson.

“Hey,” Jonathan said, grimacing a little. “The silly cat won’t let me sleep, babbling away at me like Daniel…” Jonathan blushed. “Sorry, that was inappropriate.” Jonathan scanned Lorne’s room with his eyes. “Anyway, kitty-cat wanted to be here, so I thought…”

Evan kicked off the thin sheet he’d been covered with to expose his t-shirt and boxer clad body, then patted the bed.

“Come on,” he invited.

The tiger leaped forward, jumping onto the bed and snuggling up to Lorne. Jonathan looked at the pair wistfully.

“Well,” he said softly, “guess that’s my job done then.”

The tiger growled as Jonathan turned to leave. Lorne laughed.

“No leaving for you, buddy! You’re not going to leave me here with an angry tiger, are you?”

Jonathan smiled.

“Nope. Wouldn’t dream of it.” He approached the bed and saw plenty of room for himself, if he snuggled up to the tiger and maybe threw an arm over both the animal and Lorne.

Chapter Text

Abby felt lost.

As soon as the notification came over the comm system that everyone should brace for lift off, she’d shaken herself out of the conflicted thoughts she’d been having after Ronon’s harsh truths and Teyla’s more gentle words in the gym, and went looking for her team, her family. Guessing correctly that they’d be heading to the Gate Room, to Gibbs, she made her way there as well. She found them, and most of the other people she’d met over the last few days there, standing on the balcony outside the Gate Room, looking out at the space they were travelling through.

McGee had a look of awed wonder on his face, and while he allowed her to cling to him, his attention never wavered from the incredible sight towards her. Ziva, oddly, looked very content, as if she were happy. Jimmy buzzed with the excitement that usually came from the Autopsy Gremlin, dialled up quite a few notches, and Ducky was smiling at a new adventure, at seeing something he’d never experienced in his long life.

Some of the others were there too. Jeannie and Madison were discussing the physics of travelling through space, while Caleb just looked on in wonder, a hand on his wife and daughter. Dave held on to a hand of each of his daughters as they sat on two young Marines’ shoulders, talking quietly as they watched the amazing sight.

Abby felt a little better when Gibbs came down from Woolsey’s office and joined them, Tony at his side, but before she could detach from McGee and fling herself at Gibbs, Jack O’Neill came rushing into the Gate Room.

“DiNozzo, we need you. Gibbs, we could use you as well. Where’s Lorne and Mini-me?”

Unlike the others, Abby paid attention to what was happening in the Gate Room instead of outside.

“The name’s Jon, old man,” a handsome twenty-something man scowled at Jack as he came rushing in, obviously having heard that question.

“Then my name’s Jack, young boy,” Jack scowled back, before they both broke into an eerily similar grin. “Let’s both try to remember, okay?”

By that time, their core group was completely assembled in the Gate Room, and even the others were starting to pay attention to them instead of the spectacular view outside.

Jack turned to Woolsey for a moment.

“Richard, I don’t mean to take over, but…”

“Go ahead, Jack. You know better what needs doing right now than I do.”

“Thanks. John’s got the controls right now, but we weren’t prepared for take off. There are systems to be shut down that can’t be done remotely, to conserve energy. Lorne, Jon, Tony and I will be doing that, with McKay and Zelenka guiding us.”

“Pulling up the schematics now,” Rodney said, busily typing on a tablet while Radek handed comms to those who didn’t have them yet.

“Lorne, just in case, an escort of four Marines for each of us.”

Evan nodded and quickly called up troops.

Tony hesitated.

“Jack, I don’t know what to do!”

The white tiger rushed over to him and became the woman, then touched Tony’s arm.

“Yes, you do, Tony. Listen to your instincts, and to my sister. They will tell you what you need to do.”

Tony relaxed instantly, and nodded.

Jack continued.

“Gibbs, time to be Gunny. The Marines know what to do, but I need you, Teyla, Ronon, Teal’c, Mitchell and Cadman to keep them focused. Lift off will have shaken things loose, and we need everything locked up tight in time for landing.”

He received nods in reply.

“Daniel, Carter, with McKay and Zelenka here guiding us and monitoring the city, I need you to take charge of the scientists. Get the labs cleared up for landing.”

“Yes, Sir,” Sam immediately replied, followed by a more gentle “Of course, Jack,” from Daniel.

“Beckett, you’ve got the Med Bay. There was only little warning, we may have some injuries coming in.”

Carson nodded, and Ducky immediately offered his assistance.

“Lorne, when the four of us are done shutting stuff down, you need to be in your office. You too, Woolsey. We have people here who weren’t expecting to be flung into space and won’t be happy about it. It’s your job to assure them we’ll get them home as soon as we can.”

Again receiving nods, Jack turned to his clone.

“Jon…”

“When I’m done turning shit off, I’ll stay with Lorne,” the young man said.

It was only those who knew Jack very well that noticed the minute hesitation and then approving smile.

“Tony, when we’re done, you and I will join John in the Chair Room. He’s flown the distance before, but we might be able to relieve him for a bit.”

“You… you want me to fly the city??” Tony exclaimed incredulously.

“It’s easy,” Jack shrugged. “But if you want, we can take a detour to the Jumper Bay and have you fly one of those first, bolster your confidence.”

Tony looked positively green. Jack took pity on him.

“It’s not as if I’m asking you to fly a plane, Tony. I just need you to sit in a chair and think. You tell Atlantis what you want her to do, and for you, she’ll do it.”

Seeing several questioning looks, but responding to Woolsey’s, Jack shortly expanded.

“Tony’s gene is very strong.”

“I’ve estimated between Lorne and O’Neill,” Rodney added without looking up from his tablet.

Awed looks were thrown at Tony at that pronouncement, and it made Tony feel a little better.

“Cat?” Jack asked.

“I shall remain here, talk with my sister, and assist Rodney in directing everyone’s efforts.”

“Thank you. Alright, kids, let’s move.”

~~~~~

Skinner didn’t quite know how he’d gotten back to his own home, and couldn’t quite remember what had happened. He only had flashes of the scary woman with the deep voice, of a snake like thing, and then the scary woman yelling in fury.

He only knew one thing. Fox was gone and couldn’t help him, and he desperately needed help.

He pulled out his phone and called his estranged twin brother, praying the call would be answered.

“Caldwell,” came the short reply.

“Steven? It’s me, Walter.”

After a long silence, his brother’s voice sounded again.

“What is it, brother?”

Skinner didn’t remember what he said to Steven, but a few minutes after they ended their call, there was a flash of bright white light, and he found himself in a holding cell.

~~~~~

News travelled fast on Atlantis, even when they were all hurrying to right the city after their emergency take off and prepare her for landing. While securing provisions and equipment, Marines, Airmen and scientists alike passed around the rumours they’d heard.

Sheppard’s brother and his family were on the city, as were McKay’s sister and hers. The other new people belonged to NCIS, and their two leaders, Gibbs and DiNozzo, were apparently close with Thor of the Asgard as well as Shep and McKay and O’Neill and Jackson. Gibbs was a Gunnery Sergeant not to be trifled with, and DiNozzo had a strong gene comparable to Sheppard and O’Neill. The woman with them could turn into a tiger and was extremely close with Thor. And Sheppard, their beloved commander, he could turn into a black panther. It only made them love him more.

To those with the gene, the rumours clarified something that had had them wondering. They’d all heard Atlantis singing, and talking about her Tony. Tony DiNozzo. Whenever they caught a glimpse of him as he was running around with his Marine escort on the orders of McKay, they couldn’t help but smile. He was a handsome devil, and despite his somewhat frazzled look, he took the time to smile back at them and wave. Even if the city hadn’t been so happy about him, they would have like him for that alone.

Then there was Evan Lorne, their XO, who was almost as beloved and as respected as their Sheppard, who had - according to the Gate Techs who could see into Woolsey’s office - bonded with the white tiger. The same Gate Techs who confirmed the story of the eight Marines who’d been called out in the morning to join Lorne in the hunt for a big black cat, that Sheppard was the black cat.

And when the name Jonathan Neilson and the word ‘clone’ came up, it had only taken some of those who’d been at the SGC before shipping out to Atlantis a moment to link the two together and spread the word.

~~~~~

When Tony was done rushing through the city and thinking ‘off’ at things, he found Jack in the Gate Room again. Looking up to the offices, he saw Woolsey and Lorne - with Jon standing unobtrusively behind Lorne - in their assigned offices, talking to clearly unhappy people. He didn’t envy them at all.

“You ready?” Jack asked.

“For flying?” Tony asked. “No!”

“Don’t worry about it, Tony,” Jack said, bumping his shoulder. “Come on.”

They made their way to the Jumper Bay, having ditched their Marine escorts, and Jack nudged him into the pilot chair of Jumper Four.

“I thought we’d try this one. Sheppard’s favourite is Three, as you know, and mine is Jumper Five. I thought you should try an unattached one, see if it takes to you.”

Tony looked at him incredulously.

“Are you seriously telling me that a spaceship can have a favourite human?”

Jack gave him a serious look.

“You don’t believe that after all you’ve seen and have had happen to you here?”

Tony hesitated.

“Okay…” he said finally. “Then this is not the one for me.”

Without scoffing or ridiculing him, Jack got up and stepped back out.

“Which one do you like?” He asked, gesturing to the other Jumpers resting in the Bay.

Tony looked around, assessing them, before his eyes came to rest on a slightly beat up craft in the back. He moved towards it without speaking, and put his hand on her hull.

“Jumper Fourteen,” Jack said with a smile. “She’s been through the wars. Got banged up pretty good when they were shooting asteroids for Atlantis to fly through an asteroid belt. I know Zelenka’s been working on her.”

“We’ve got something in common then, girl,” Tony cooed to the Jumper. “We’ve both been hurt, but managed to get through it.”

The Jumper lit up, and opened her rear hatch.

Tony startled, and Jack sniggered.

“Yeah,” Jack grinned, “tell me again Jumpers don’t have a favourite human.”

Ignoring Jack, Tony stepped inside and touched and patted all he could reach. When he sat down in the pilot’s chair, the Jumper hummed. Jack barely had time to sit down before she floated around the Jumper Bay at Tony’s command, trying to make her human happy. And in the back of his mind, Tony could hear Atlantis and Cat rejoicing, with a strong sense of Sheppard’s happiness mixed in. He could even feel Jack, Jon and Evan, and behind them, satisfaction and pride from Gibbs.

“You’ve found your ride, DiNozzo,” Jack smiled.

“Is that…?” Tony asked.

“Set her down for now, Tony,” Jack suggested, and Tony followed suit, then looked at Jack.

“What did you feel? What did you hear?” Jack asked.

Tony hesitated, and shook his head, not ready to share.

“Okay,” Jack said. “I felt Atlantis being happy, Cat smiling widely, John grinning, Lorne and Mini-me smiling and Daniel tutting at me for taking time out to let you play with the Jumpers when we have more important things to do.”

“Not Jethro?” Tony asked.

“I can’t feel Gibbs. He doesn’t have the gene.” Jack looked at him slyly. “Just like you didn’t feel Daniel, right?”

“I… I got a sense of Daniel, but not like the others,” Tony admitted.

Jack sighed.

“It’s this Ascended thing, I think. The city loves Daniel, and does things for him she doesn’t do for any other non-gene carriers. But I have a feeling she’ll be listening to Gibbs as well before too long.”

“Huh?” Tony grunted intelligently.

Jack rubbed his forehead with his fingers.

“Look, as you know, Daniel was Ascended, making him closer than pretty much every other human to the Ancients. We think Atlantis responds to him because of that. Daniel doesn’t have the gene, but the city treats him as if he does. McKay has an artificial gene, which apparently works far stronger than that of most natural gene carriers. We figure that’s because Atlantis loves Sheppard, Sheppard loves McKay, so the city loves McKay. Or maybe because he nearly ascended that one time too. She loves you, DiNozzo, and you love Gibbs, so… you stay here a while, she’ll love Gibbs too.”

Jack gave him a significant look.

“Her sister already does.”

~~~~~

With both John and Evan, his second in command, engaged with duties elsewhere, a Major Anne Teldy took charge of the Control Room and the civilians. For the duration of their flight, as she called it, it would be preferable for them to return either to their quarters or the mess hall.

Everyone chose the mess hall, not wanting to miss anything, but Dave needed to check on his wife. Sending his girls with the two young Marines and the rest of the group, Dave split off for a few minutes to return to their quarters.

Kathy was still asleep on the pills Dr Beckett had given her. Somehow, Dave was deeply grateful for that. He wasn’t looking forward to telling her when she woke up that they were in another galaxy. He sighed, brushed his fingers through her hair once, and then went to join the others for some food and drink.

~~~~~

John was relaxed and happy in the Chair’s embrace, having Atlantis and Cat and Rodney whispering into his ears. Every trouble point he couldn’t shut down from the Chair, Rodney sent one of the others to, and one by one they were shut down. Now it was just a matter of lying back and thinking ‘fly’.

Harsher, real life, close by voices brought him out of his trance. He asked Atlantis to keep flying, and disengaged the Chair for a moment.

Jack and Tony were standing in front of him.

“Flight path clear, Sheppard?” Jack asked.

“Yes, Sir,” he replied, and eyed with envy the bottle of water Jack was holding.

Jack grinned and shook the bottle a little.

“Thirsty? Think we can let Tony fly for a bit?”

John paused and looked at Tony, but Tony saw it wasn’t hesitation over his ability, just his desire.

“You want to?” John asked Tony.

Tony swallowed.

“I don’t necessarily want to, but I feel like I need to.”

Accepting that as truth immediately, John sat up and vacated the Chair.

“You did really well with the Jumper, Tony. She was happy, and so was the city. You just sit down, lean back and relax. She’s gonna be telling you lots of things, more than you’ve ever heard before. Don’t try to process everything as she tells it to you. Just let it wash over you. You’ll know what’s the most important. And when you’re getting overwhelmed, or tired, or if you’ve just had enough, sit up.”

Tony stared at the imposing and uncomfortable looking Chair for a moment, and wished Gibbs was there with him.

The door swished open, and Gibbs came through. Tony laughed.

“Is this just in my mind? I mean, I only just thought I wished you were here, and now you are.”

“No, McKay called me on the comm a few minutes ago that you were heading here, and that you might want me to be here. So I came. Want me to leave?”

“No!” Tony clasped onto him and kissed him softly. Jack and John smiled. Rodney really was a softie sometimes.

After receiving his reassurance from Gibbs, Tony went over to the Chair. He stroked his fingers over the arm rest and softly spoke.

“Okay, Milady. I’ve never done this before, so you’re going to have to help me, alright? They tell me all I have to do is sit down and think, but as Bossman will tell you, thinking is not my strong suit.”

Gibbs frowned. He’d never say that, because it wasn’t true. He and Tony clearly still had some issues to work out.

Seducing the Chair with his touch, Tony circled it, speaking quietly, asking her to be kind to him. At last, he sat down and leaned back.

The Chair glowed a happy, bright blue.

Tony tensed for a moment, then relaxed, letting everything wash over him as John had said. He knew, just knew, that he was missing a hundred things that John or Jack would have picked up on, with their flight training and their necessary attention to detail and reports. All Tony could do was be a conduit.

“Not true,” was whispered to him from several sides, even from inside his head.

And if several minutes later, with encouragement, the city made a few barrel rolls, swooped and twirled a couple of times, none but them were any the wiser.

~~~~~

Jon walked slowly back to the Gate Room after shutting down their last location, letting his Marine escort think he was just tired. He wasn’t. In fact, he felt quite invigorated. For the past few years, after ‘The Divide’ as he called his cloning, he’d kept his head down and avoided any attention.

Daniel and Sam and even Teal’c had been in contact, asking after him, and even the old man - Jack, he reminded himself, they’d agreed to call each other by their first names - had called. They knew that after thinking about it long and hard, he had decided to rejoin the Airforce.

With the help of General Hammond and even the ‘old guy’ as he still called Jack, he’d been given a Lieutenant’s position, but his promotion up to one of the youngest Airforce Captains ever had been solely due to his knowledge and skills. Granted, nobody knew those came from essentially having been in the Airforce for nearly thirty years, but that didn’t matter.

His goal had always been the StarGate programme again. He just couldn’t forget about that ring of shimmering fake water and being on other planets. But this time, he’d decided, he wasn’t going to hide himself once he got there. Even after the demise of DADT, it was still a disadvantage to be out and proud, even if you usually liked girls more than boys, like Jon (and Jack) did. He just needed to get into the SGC, where everyone was more open minded. How couldn’t they be, with meeting aliens on a practically daily basis, commanders who were by now in openly same-sex relationships, and far more important things to think about than who shared who’s bed.

To suddenly find himself on Thor’s ship was certainly a surprise, but not nearly as much as being beamed into Atlantis. Before The Divide, Daniel had been filling his ears with tales of her, searching for her, and though none of them ever openly confirmed it, Jon knew they’d found her. To be on her was exquisite.

Jon enjoyed the attention he received from Sam and Teal’c, even from the old guy and Daniel, but he immediately realised it was different. He and the old guy - Jack, he reminded himself again - felt different now, after all those years of distance, and Jon and Daniel had done their best to keep the separation. Daniel loved Jack, body and soul, and while Jon had the soul, he didn’t have the body yet. Even if that hadn’t been the case, Jon knew he was the duplicate, and would never try to get between them.

So the feeling of completeness and longing he got when he turned to Lieutenant Colonel Lorne and the white kitty-cat resting its head in the man’s lap, was an utter surprise.

Jon would never tell anyone else about it, but when he and the kitty connected and spoke to each other, she told him of more than just Nirrti, Atlantis and the current situation.

She showed him Evan Lorne, his care for the city and its people, his love for all of them. So different from Daniel, and yet, the same. Evan Lorne was beautiful by his own right, inside and out, it was just that humans usually took years to discover this about another. But Cat simply stuck it in his brain, let him see, and Jon was lost.

So when their journey to Pegasus was progressing swiftly and smoothly, and everyone was finally in bed, and the white tiger hadn’t left his side, talking about Evan Lorne and how wonderful he was, despite his misgivings about brainwashing and undue influence and other horrendous things, Jon found himself following the tiger to the man’s door, hoping he’d be let in.

Chapter Text

The different crews of the Navy vessels that were patrolling a certain part of San Francisco Bay had no idea what exactly they were guarding that part of the Bay for, all they knew was that they had orders to stop anyone or anything from crossing the set perimeter, and to report anything unusual directly to their Captains.

So when out of the blue, a big circular wave originated from the middle of their target area, several Captains immediately received reports from their lookouts. While the XOs made sure their ships wouldn’t be harmed by the large wave, the Captains - who were the only ones who did know at least a little bit about what they were guarding - reported to Admiral Green, who in turn reported to the Chiefs of Staff.

Hank Landry was already not having a good day when his off world teams started coming back with intel from their allies about rumours of Nirrti, but when his red phone rang and the President and General George Hammond were on the line, asking if he’d had any contact with Atlantis, his day soured even further.

A quick shout to Harriman had the Master Sergeant trying to raise Atlantis, and after a few minutes, Landry had to admit to the President and Hammond that there was no reply.

Satellite images showed the circular wave starting exactly where Atlantis was. There were two possibilities: either Atlantis had submerged, or she had taken off. If she had submerged, she should still be within contact range, so Landry was pretty sure the city had left Earth. But why? Who had given the order? Hank felt in his bones that he should be blaming Jack for this.

~~~~~

Tony was having a great time!

His original nervousness about flying the city had calmed after a few minutes when he realised that John had already set the flight path, Atlantis was doing all the work, and all he had to do was sit and listen to her.

At first he’d been completely overwhelmed with all the information she was giving him, telling him where they were, what was there, how the city was doing, but with a little coaxing from Atlantis and Cat, he started to understand and see patterns. He quickly learned that the information about their coordinates he could basically ignore, and guessed that was something John and Jack, as pilots, would appreciate, but it told him nothing. His job was to listen to the city and relay the information about her systems to Rodney, who would then send out his people to take care of it.

After having the city make those few moves, just to see if he could do it, he put her back on course and told her to keep to it. And he determined that no matter what, it wasn’t going to be him in the Chair when it came time to land. Leave that to the pilots amongst them. Atlantis chuckled, and showed him images of a terrified Carson Beckett landing the city on Earth a few years ago in pursuit of the Superhive. Tony grinned, and filed that away to tease the good doctor about later.

It was a rough hand against his cheek and an insistent voice calling his name that pulled him out of his trance. He blinked open his eyes to see a proud but worried Jethro calling to him, John and Jack standing behind him.

“Time to be relieved, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said.

Tony nodded and asked the city to continue on, then sat up and swayed a little.

“Whoa! How long was I in there?”

“Just over two hours,” Jack told him. “Don’t worry, the first time is always like that. You’ll get used to it. Time for you to move out of my seat, flyboy.”

Tony stood and was grateful for Gibbs’ steadying hands.

“You okay?” Jethro asked.

“Yeah, I’m… It’s weird. I feel both exhausted and energised at the same time.”

Jack leaned back in the Chair and took over, as John handed Tony a bottle of water.

“You should get some sleep,” John told him.

“I don’t think I can,” Tony admitted, sipping liquids.

John laughed.

“Oh, you will! And you’ll be dreaming too. If you thought you felt connected to the city before, you’ll see that was nothing to how it is now. The Chair is the heart of the connection, nothing else we’ve found comes close. She really knows you now, and she’ll want to show you things. Take him to bed, Gibbs, and let him dream.”

“You didn’t go to sleep when I took over from you,” Tony said petulantly.

John clasped his shoulder.

“After the first time I flew her, I passed out for over six hours. She hadn’t moved for thousands of years, and had a lot to show me. She’s gotten most of that out of her system now, and you didn’t do the hard parts, taking off and landing. She’ll still want to show you, though. Take your time. Jack and I can handle it from here.”

Listening for once, and with Gibbs urging him out the door, Tony soon found himself in bed and asleep. And he dreamed, beautiful dreams of crossing galaxies and living on wondrous planets, and he smiled.

~~~~~

Steven Caldwell wasn’t having a good day either.

Watching the video feed of his twin in a holding cell on the Daedalus, his twin who had apparently been taken by a Gua’ould, just as he himself had been some years before, he knew he had to report this.

Caldwell was a hard-nosed, by the book kind of officer, though in the past few years he’d become used to a certain autonomy since he’d taken command of the Daedalus. His ship was the only one that was almost permanently travelling between galaxies, and he’d learned that, not able to confer with his superiors for his every move, sometimes rules had to be broken. But not about this. He called Hank Landry, not aware that he was making that man’s already bad day even worse.

“Caldwell!” Landry called out when he was told who was on the line. “Tell me you have news from Atlantis!”

Startled, Steven held back from blurting out his own news.

“Atlantis? No. What happened?”

He listened intently while Landry told him of the wave and subsequent loss of contact with the city, and with a leap of intuition, started connecting some dots.

“No, Sir, I haven’t heard from them. I actually called you about another situation, and with what you’ve just told me, I think it might be connected.”

Then he came clean about his twin brother, the story about the scary woman with the snake, and the decision he made to beam his brother to Daedalus’ holding cells.

“A Gua’ould?” Landry asked. “Did he give you a name?”

“No, Sir. All he said was it was a woman with black hair and a deep voice, glowing eyes and a snake.”

They stayed on the phone for a few minutes while Harriman sent a picture of Nirrti to the Daedalus, and Caldwell showed it to his brother, who confirmed that was who had taken him.

“Is your brother infected?” Landry then asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t see a scar and he hasn’t changed, but that doesn’t mean anything. We don’t have any imaging equipment on board that would show the snake in his head.”

“Damn it!” Landry thought for a moment. “You could bring him here. We could confirm the presence of a Gua’ould, but that doesn’t help much. The Tok’ra haven’t been in contact with us, haven’t responded to our messages lately, so I doubt they’d come to take it out of him. The only other option I know of to remove it would be on Atlantis.”

“Which has disappeared.”

“Yes. This is turning into a very bad day, Steven.”

Caldwell agreed.

“Listen,” Landry said after a moment, “can you keep your brother safely contained?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Then keep him for now. If Atlantis is doing what we think it’s doing, we should hear from them by tomorrow, from Pegasus. If that’s the case, and they’re safe, they left without a lot of supplies. You’ll need to make a run out to them as quickly as possible, and take your brother with you.”

Overwhelmed with the consideration Landry was showing, Caldwell thanked the General sincerely. Landry waved it off.

“Get your ship loaded with supplies, Colonel. No matter where they end up, Atlantis is probably going to need them.”

~~~~~

After a few hours of sleep, or at least rest, for most of them, they once again met in Woolsey’s office. Jack was still in the Chair, but the others were there to give their reports.

“We need to figure out a way to send a message to the SGC,” Sam said. “No doubt they know something’s happened, and they will have been trying to contact us.”

“No need,” Rodney replied, not looking up from his tablet.

When he didn’t say anything else, John poked him in the side with his elbow.

“Why not, Rodney?”

“Hmmm? Oh! I thought you knew!” He exclaimed to John.

“Knew what, Rodney?”

“We’ll be landing in about two and a half hours?”

“What? Landing where?”

“On New Lantea, of course!”

“Rodney…” John said in a warning tone.

“It’s not Rodney’s fault, John,” Cat stepped in. “My sister and I have taken a shortcut, and Rodney was not aware that we had not told you.”

“A shortcut?”

“My sister may be more adept at flying, but I have travelled far more and know the pathways of the stars better than she does. I may have pointed out a faster route.”

“A faster route than straight from point A to point B?”

“Well, yes. You see…”

Her explanation, though short, quickly lost everyone except Rodney, Zelenka, Sam and Jeannie, who were fascinated.

“Anyway,” she concluded, “instead of the nearly two days you expected, we shall be arriving soon.”

“Are there more of these pathways?” Sam asked.

“Many more. Especially for intergalactic travel. I have been to many galaxies in my time.”

“And is there…?”

“Hold up!” John interrupted. “You can geek out over that later. First things first. There’s no use trying to figure out a way to send a message now, if we can do so easily from home in just a couple of hours. Everything’s secured for landing. We have sufficient supplies, but not if we plan on staying here long, so we’ll need to get the Daedalus out here with essentials. Wait…” John stopped himself and looked at Cat.

“You didn’t need to leave the house to get what you wanted. Does the same apply here?”

She smiled.

“Of course, John. Now that my sister has full power, she can do what I can.”

They stared at her. She raised an eyebrow.

“What would you like?”

When nobody seemed willing to answer, Tony smiled.

“A hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows, and a fresh t-shirt without wrinkles.”

Tony whooped with joy as the items appeared on the table in front of him, and as he changed his shirt and started sipping his drink, the others tried to process.

“Right. Okay,” John said. “I’ll go check in with Jack, see if he wants to land, or if I should do it.”

He rose and fled.

“Yes,” Richard whispered. “I think further discussion can wait until after landing.”

~~~~~

At the first bellow of outrage, Nirrti’s minions knew to flee the wrath of their master.

She couldn’t believe it. She’d been so close!

First that annoying little man who had failed her so many times was refused by her clone. And now! Now her device to locate the gene carriers was ready, and was showing her the strongest prospects had simply disappeared! Sheppard, O’Neill and DiNozzo, she knew by name, and she’d been trying to get them for months. But there were two others, one in San Francisco and the other on the East Coast, and now they were all gone!

The others were all too weak to withstand a Gua’ould, she knew they were of no use to her. And just when she was ready, the ones she needed were gone!

In a flash of fury, she used her hand device to destroy a wall of her laboratory.

~~~~~

After the abrupt end to the meeting, they all decided to go to the mess hall to get some food, but Cat slipped out onto the adjoining balcony, and Jon followed.

“Hey. You okay?”

She gave him a small smile.

“I fear I have made a mistake.”

“Why? By showing how awesome you are?”

“You speak like a teenaged human, but I know you are much older than that.”

“Well, that’s because I’m awesome too.”

They grinned at each other, but the enjoyment soon left Cat’s face again.

“When my sister and I were young, we chose different paths,” she said quietly to the light streaks of hyperspace passing by their balcony. “We were both looking for those who could understand us, love us. My sister always dreamed of being grand, but I liked being small. We grew, each in our own way, and we travelled and learned. Eventually, she became a version of what she is today, and found those you call Ancients. She welcomed them, and housed them, and they learned and loved her. But that didn’t stop them from leaving her.”

Cat swallowed.

“I took a different path. Instead of housing an entire populace, I drew them to me and protected them, for generations. They didn’t leave me by choice, like the Ancients did to my sister, they died out. And I started over again, and again. Eventually I came to your Earth, and found new people, and they loved me, and my house was built. But I feared losing them again, so I did not show myself completely, and in not doing so, I lost them anyway.”

Jon took her hand, and meshed their fingers together.

“For years, I was alone. But then I found Tony, and through him the others, and I sensed they were different. They knew about strange things, and I felt through them a connection to my sister. I saw at once their ancestry and their adventures. I was sure I had found the people I belonged to.”

When she fell silent again, Jon nudged her.

“And that is true, isn’t it?”

“I thought so. They accepted me and my house, and loved me and let me care for them. I thought we understood each other. I thought they knew. Everything at my house, they accepted. They embraced the cat, they offered their thoughts and enjoyed the things I did for them based on those thoughts. We reunited with my sister. I thought… I was certain we had found each other at last.”

“But now?”

“John fled from me.”

“Well, Sheppard may be a badass black panther these days, but he’s a scaredy cat.”

“He is not,” Cat chided Jon, but with a small smile.

“Sure he is! It took him five years to make a move on McKay!”

“And how long did it take you to accept Daniel?”

“That wasn’t me! That was the old guy!”

She smiled at him, and they both acknowledged the lie.

“John I understand,” she continued. “I know he just needs to put this proof he now has about me together with his suspicions, and then he will be fine.”

“So, what’s the problem? And isn’t that balanced out by the obvious love and adoration Tony has for you and your abilities? The guy is like an eager puppy, ready to fall at your feet and adore you and your sister for the rest of his life. That reminds me, don’t let him anywhere near that wishing device that turned Sheppard. Cats are easy, training puppies is hard.”

She poked her elbow into his ribs as punishment.

“It is not them I worry about. With them, and the others, I still have that connection, and we shall be fine.”

“Then… who are you worried about?”

“I fear I made Evan Lorne afraid of me.”

This time it was Jon who swallowed harshly. “Ah,” was all he could say, memories of the few hours spent sleeping with the cat and Lorne next to him clear in his mind.

“Damn right, I’m afraid,” Lorne said from behind them, and they whirled around to see the man standing there with his arms crossed over his chest.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re a clone of my ultimate commanding officer other than the President, and an ancient being who’s the big sister of the city I live on and who can make things appear out of thin air. I’m just me. What could you possibly want from me?”

“Love,” Jon replied instantly.

“Acceptance,” Cat responded.

Taken aback, Lorne stared at the two beautiful creatures for a moment.

“Give me time,” he said.

~~~~~

It was John who landed the city on New Lantea, but Jack had remained in the Chair Room and Tony felt called to it, and they both placed one hand on the back of the Chair and the other in the gel pads with John’s fingers as they landed.

Through their connection with the Chair, Atlantis showed them what had happened between Cat, Jon and Evan.

“Don’t tell me stuff like that,” Jack complained, but John felt guilty and Tony sad.

It was the smoothest landing ever.

~~~~~

“So, Landry got our message?” Rodney asked John later that night.

“Yep, he was so happy to hear from us, he was jumping for joy.”

“Riiiight,” Rodney drawled skeptically. “Cat loves Lorne, huh?”

“And Jon.”

“That’s gonna be a problem, isn’t it?”

“Why?”

“Well, you know, love triangles…”

John kissed Rodney’s head.

“No, I don’t know about love triangles. Tell me about them?”

And John quietly drifted off while Rodney explained the strengths and weaknesses of triangles until he too fell asleep.

~~~~~

“You gonna dream again tonight?” Gibbs asked a sleepy Tony.

“I don’t know, why?”

“‘Cause you got awfully excited last time.”

“I did?” Tony raised his head. “Excited how?”

“In every way that counts,” Gibbs grinned, kissing Tony deeply.

“Oh good! Wake me up before you do anything about that, okay? I wanna remember.”

Jethro chuckled as Tony yawned and fell asleep, following him soon after.

~~~~~

“You okay?” Daniel asked quietly.

Jack tightened his arms around his lover.

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m happy for the kid, you know? I mean, aside from you, Cat’s like the most amazing partner anyone could ask for. And Lorne’s a peach.”

Daniel smiled.

“Should I be worried about you liking Lorne?”

“No!” Then he growled. “Daniel…”

“Jack…”

“Daniel!”

“Jack!”

“You’re infuriating, you know?”

“That’s why you love me.”

Jack’s chest rumbled with laughter beneath Daniel’s head.

“Yeah, I do. I love you. Always have, always will.”

Daniel smiled sweetly at him.

“Then I’m not worried. And I can sleep now. Love you too, Jack.”

Jack kissed Daniel’s head, thought the lights off, and settled in, content and happy.

~~~~~

“Hey.”

Jon and Evan said it simultaneously as Evan’s door opened.

“Look, I…” Jon rubbed his hand over the back of his own head. “I know you said to give you time, and we will, but…”

“Can’t sleep?”

“Yeah.”

“Come on, then.”

Lorne moved a little to make room, and then a white tiger and a young man joined him in his bed.

Yes, he needed time. Time to understand why they would want to be with him. But meanwhile, he wasn’t going to deprive anyone of sleep. He was a good XO, and he looked after his people.

No matter what they needed.

Chapter Text

The first time they saw the Star Gate dialled in real life - Tony and Gibbs had seen it on video before - it was fantastic. It was just after they’d landed, the Gate was dialled, this General Landry guy who seemed both relieved and incensed appeared on screen, and Woolsey and Sheppard reported about the situation with Nirrti and the urgent need to leave, while Jack waved obnoxiously in the background.

The second time was truly amazing, because this time, they got to step through it. Despite it being an obvious move, whenever Atlantis had been away from Pegasus, the first port of call was New Athos to check on Teyla’s people.

AR1, joined for this trip by SG1 and Tony and Gibbs, stepped through the Gate to be greeted by an armed force. Weapons were lowered as soon as they saw Teyla and her team. Halling, Kanaan and Torren stepped forward.

Torren was in his early teens now, and much too old in his own mind to miss his mother, but when he saw her safe and sound, he rushed towards her for a hug. Gibbs had flashbacks to Kelly and his own returns from deployments, and despite respecting the hell out of Teyla already, his heart went out to her anew.

Uncles John, Rodney and Ronon were embraced as well, SG1 got handshakes, and Tony and Gibbs were cordially greeted by the boy upon introduction by his mother.

Moments later, they found themselves in a tent being served tea, and gaining a further understanding. Teyla was the leader of her people, which they had known intellectually. But being confronted by it in real life was something different. Kanaan may be Teyla’s mate, but in the hierarchy of the clan, he held little significance. It was Torren who was being groomed to take over for his mother, and Halling as her second in command who commanded the most respect.

No matter how long she’d been gone or where she’d been, Teyla’s word was law. But they bent to her will not because of obligation, but out of love. These people, even those like Halling who might have disagreed with it at first, understood that Teyla could do more for them from Atlantis than in their camp. And Torren, not yet twelve years old, proudly explained to his mother the decisions he’d made for their people in her absence.

Tony was impressed.

At twelve years old, he himself had been disinherited and sent off to boarding school, while this kid was making decisions that could mean the difference between a bountiful or a lean winter for his tribe.

As if reading Tony’s mind, Ronon bumped his shoulder.

“He was taught this stuff, Tony. He wouldn’t last a day in one of your schools.”

Tony and Ronon had shared a lot, well, Tony had, and Ronon always seemed willing to listen.

“I know that,” Tony smiled at his friend, “but still…”

“Still nothing,” Ronon huffed. “You can find a killer, he could only track one.”

Surprised and confused, Tony looked at Ronon. The big man elaborated for once.

“Kill a man here, Torren could track the killer to the Gate. Then it’s game over.” Tony smiled at the Earth reference. “You… Maybe you couldn’t track him to the Gate, but you’d know the killer would be going there anyway. And your trail doesn’t stop there. You’d find out where he’d gone, follow him through the Gate, and catch him on another world.”

Tony stared at his friend in awe.

“Same with food,” Ronon continued. “Torren can track animals and dig out roots to eat, feed his tribe. You’d go through the Gate, do that thing you do and smile that damned smile, and people’ll be falling all over each other to supply you and your tribe with whatever you need.”

Tony felt his gaping was becoming unattractive.

“I’m not saying one is better than the other. He learned this and you learned that. But you’d both take care of your people no matter what.”

Ronon clapped his hand on Tony’s shoulder and used it to lever himself up, moving away to speak to Halling. Tony turned to Gibbs for moral support, but Gibbs just grinned in acknowledgement of everything Ronon had just said.

~~~~~

The NCIS crew watched as Gibbs and DiNozzo disappeared through the Gate with the other teams. There were mixed emotions. Ducky and Jimmy were just excited to be here on this amazing city. Tim and Ziva didn’t like the other half of their team heading off without them, or the many meetings they hadn’t been invited to that Gibbs and Tony had, but nevertheless, they felt secure and at home on Atlantis. Abby was upset.

Gibbs and Tony were so wrapped up in the city and General Jack demanding things from them all the time, that they had barely had time to talk to her. And no matter how much she tried not to think about it, Ronon’s words kept coming back to her, albeit in slightly moderated form.

‘You’re not the favourite, Tony is. They love each other. Be happy for them as long as you can.’

But how could she be happy for them, if they were never there? If they were never with her? How could she show them how much she loved them if they were never around?

As she reached for McGee for comfort, he tapped his comm. Of course he had taken to a gadget like that immediately.

“Yeah, Zelenka, this is McGee.”

Abby listened, getting only McGee’s side of the conversation.

“I’d love to!” Timmy exclaimed. “On my way!”

And he left before she could say a word to him. Turning to Ducky, Abby spotted Beckett behind them.

“Dr Mallard, Dr Palmer,” Carson said in his Scottish brogue, “since this is an AR1 mission, I suspect we’ll be getting some injuries. Would you care to join me in preparing for their return with lots and lots of bandages and sutures?”

Ducky and Jimmy smiled, and followed the doctor out of the Gate Room.

“Is it not a marvellous thing, Abby?” Ziva said, wrapping an arm around the goth. “I can’t wait to see the wonders of it, when Gibbs and Tony and the others say I can join them.” Hugging Abby a little closer, Ziva smiled widely, and then left, happily humming.

Yes, Abby was upset. Everyone was abandoning her. And she couldn’t compete.

~~~~~

Jon was still finding his place. Whenever he was with Lorne, he felt right. Atlantis was speaking to him, and Cat was whispering. But when he was alone, things were different.

At his current posting, he was a Captain and in charge, and no one knew his true origins. But here, it hadn’t taken long for him to realise that they all knew he was just a copy of their beloved General Jack. He had no people to command, had no duties, nothing to keep him busy. He could spend his time thinking about Lorne and Cat, but that would just drive him crazy.

He couldn’t figure out though, why the people here didn’t look at him funny, and why they treated him with respect. Just after the Divide, in those weeks between discovering he was a clone and the day Jack dropped him off at school with his new identity in place, he’d been confined to the Mountain. And everyone there knew about him, his status as Jack’s clone. They’d been friendly, but he’d seen the looks and heard them talking behind his back.

Here though, he was treated as just another visiting officer, and though he knew they knew, no one gave him weird glances. Jon decided to seek an answer for that, and knew his best chance for the unvarnished truth lay with Rodney.

He found McKay in the ZPM room, surrounded by tablets, running a diagnostic.

“Dr McKay?”

“Yes, uhh… What is it you go by these days?”

“Jonathan Neilson. Call me Jon.”

Rodney humphed.

“Fine. Jon. Why are you disturbing me? I’m busy.”

“Why doesn’t anyone here look at me funny?”

Rodney didn’t look up as he answered, just kept going over his readings.

“Why would they? Sure, you a have a freaky gene, but quite a few people here have it, even if it’s not as strong as yours.”

“No, that’s not…”

“Oh! You mean because you’re panting after Lorne? No one cares. In fact, I hear from my minions that many are happy about it. Lorne’s been alone all this time, and he’s well liked, so if you can make him happy, everyone’s happy.”

“No, I…”

“Is it because of Cat? It’s not a secret to those with the gene and many of those without it that Atlantis plays favourites. Cat is Atlantis’ sister. They all expect her to have favourites as well, and she’s chosen you and Lorne for now. Some might be jealous, but it’s not like it’s your fault.”

“Rodney!”

Finally McKay looked up, and tilted his head, studying the young man standing in front of him, trying to figure out his problem.

“Because you’re so young to be a Captain?” He offered hesitantly. “You know only the best and brightest get recruited for the SGC. Many of our scientists and doctors are deceptively young. The same goes for military personnel. We may still call them jarheads, but our Marines are both young and smart, well above average. And you AirForce types are even worse.”

Jon looked at him helplessly for a moment, then finally blurted it out.

“Because I’m a clone!”

Rodney frowned.

“What does that have to do with anything? My best friend is a clone. You don’t see anyone treating him any different, do you?”

Jon gaped at him.

“Who?”

Rodney shrugged and went back to his diagnostic.

“Carson.”

Seeing that as far as Rodney was concerned the conversation was over, Jon just stared at him a little more, then turned back and went in search of Dr Beckett.

He found the man in the Med Bay with Dr Mallard and Dr Palmer, eagerly explaining some of his gadgets to the two visitors.

“Dr Beckett? Do you have a moment?”

“Of course, son! What is it? Are you injured?”

“No, no, it’s just… McKay said that…”

“Oh dear! What has Rodney done now?”

Despite himself, Jon chuckled.

“Nothing like that. I asked him why nobody here seems fazed about me being a clone.”

Mallard and Palmer raised their eyebrows. Since they hadn’t been in the meetings and weren’t part of the gossip circuit (yet), they hadn’t known about that. Beckett just grinned cheerily, apparently not bothered at all about speaking in front of the other two.

“And he sent you to me. Sometimes, Rodney does get it right.”

“Well, he didn’t exactly send me. He mentioned that…” Jon trailed off.

“That I’m a clone as well? I see. Well, he may not have told you to come here, but he certainly sent you my way.”

Beckett patted an examination table.“Have a seat, lad. I’ll give you a bit of a check-up while I have you here. You don’t mind if Dr Mallard and Dr Palmer stay, do you?”

Shrugging his agreement, Jon hopped onto the table and let Beckett do his tests while the good doctor spoke.

“The original me died in an explosion in our third year of the expedition. Sheppard and his team found me some time later. I had no idea I was a clone, or that the original me was dead until they brought me back here. No one has ever made me feel like a copy, they were all just happy to have me back. I was the one who had a problem with the idea of being a clone. They just welcomed me with open arms, so much so that they’d often forget I had missed nearly two years of the expedition, and they spoke to me of things that had happened in that time as if I’d been here.”

Carson drew some blood, then put his hand on Jon’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes.

“For you, it’s slightly different, I understand. Jack is not dead, and he is here as well. But in a way, that makes it easier in your case. I stepped into an empty space, looking, sounding and behaving exactly the same as the one who was lost. You are so different from Jack, no one can truly see you as a copy, son.”

He had Jon lie back and ran a scanner over him.

“And I don’t just mean the way you look. You have different behaviours, different views, even differing speech. Yes, you are a lot alike in some ways, but you have become your own man, and though you might not see it, everyone else does. You may have originated from Jack, but you are definitely Jon.”

He let Jon sit up again.

“With everything that we have been through, do you really think any of our people would be unable to handle the idea of a clone? Our commanding officer can now turn into a cat! And don’t think I won’t be getting him in here for some testing about that later,” Carson grinned. “But mostly, there are two things that told everyone here at once that you are not a carbon copy.”

Beckett put his things away, and Jon waited impatiently for the man to turn back and look at him again.

“Instead of the always lovely Dr Daniel Jackson, you have set your eyes on sweet Evan Lorne. A very good man, well deserving of your attentions. And come see me when you need supplies for your bedroom, lad.”

Jon fought a blush, and lost.

“And the second thing?” He asked.

“Atlantis calls you Jon. Not Jack, not Jack Two, not copy or clone. She calls you Jon.”

~~~~~

Landry picked up the red phone.

When the President came on the line and George Hammond was there as well, Hank reported everything he had learned. Atlantis had reached Pegasus in record time, and checked in as soon as they had safely landed. Jack O’Neill had ordered the sudden departure of the city, and for good reason, Hank said, as he explained the beaming device Nirrti had to track and capture gene carriers.

The Asgard, though not allowed to directly intervene under the protected planet treaty with the Gua’ould, of which Earth was a part, were monitoring her and the situation, and supplying Landry with information on Nirrti’s clones and their whereabouts, and her own activities. Hank asked for and received permission to set the NID under the lead of Agent Barrett on her tail.

He also informed the President and Hammond of his conversations with Colonel Caldwell. Shocked at the revelation of the Colonel’s twin brother and possible infection with a Gua’ould, they had agreed with Landry’s orders to Caldwell to keep his brother on the Daedalus and for him to set out with his ship and supplies as soon as possible. Hank quietly thanked the stars for that, since he’d already sent Caldwell on his way.

Their allies had nothing more than rumours about Nirrti, since her base of operations was clearly solely on Earth, but the Tollan and the Nox had offered to aid the Asgard and Earth with the aftermath. The capture of Nirrti and her clones would be up to the Tau’ri themselves, but the Tollan and Nox had ways of repressing the Gua’ould and give the host control of their own body until such time the snake could be removed. No one had heard from the Tok’ra.

~~~~~

When the teams and Gibbs and DiNozzo returned from New Athos, Dr Beckett’s prediction proved accurate.

After introductions and tea, the kids came to fetch their Uncles John and Ronon for a game with a ball. Though the rules were completely unclear, Tony, Daniel, Vala, Teal’c and Cam threw themselves into it with gusto. The rules didn’t matter anyway, because the adults spent most of their time trying to protect the kids instead of actually competing in the game. As Jack, Gibbs, Sam, Rodney and Teyla watched, their teammates and friends got themselves injured in their attempts to save the kids.

Vala got a nasty sprain to her ankle rushing to catch a falling boy. Ronon received some bad looking scratches to his arms from a thorny plant when he caught a little girl heading straight for them. Tony was hit on the eye by the ball when he tried to help one of the younger boys catch it, and it promised to become an impressive shiner. And John broke his pinkie when he latched onto a girl who threatened to fall down a steep slope when heading after the ball.

Sitting down with Teyla and her people for dinner after the game, Tony looked around in awe. They’d been treated by the tribe’s healer with poultices and bandages, and he had to admit, his eye felt better than it usually did with one of Ducky’s cold packs. Vala was feeling no pain, resting her ankle on some cushions and leaning the rest of her body against Teal’c. John’s pinkie had been set and splinted, and he was happily letting Rodney tease him while enjoying the food. Ronon just looked at his bandages with disdain, clearly feeling them unnecessary.

But the kids, they had a glow about them. There were some scrapes and bruises there, for sure, but whatever aches they might have had were completely suppressed by the joy of the game, especially since their honorary uncles had joined them. Athosian kids were tough!

“Who taught them this game anyway?” Tony asked between bites of the surprisingly delicious food.

John blushed, and Rodney glared at him.

“I may have gotten some of the rules mixed up,” John admitted.

Tony laughed.

“What game were you trying to teach them?”

“Well, I started out with football. But then there was some rugby in there. And Rodney mentioned hockey, so we tried to explain that. Ronon had a game from Sateda, and I think some of the other rules they just made up on their own.”

“I think we should try basketball next,” Tony grinned. “Less violent, more points to be scored.”

John sighed.

“I can shoot a hoop, Tony, as you know, but I don’t know all the rules and couldn’t give them any pointers, really.”

“I can teach them,” Tony shrugged. “It wouldn’t take much to make a court. Just some hard, flat surface, a couple of boards, hoops and nets, and a ball. The rest is easy.”

The kids were on tenterhooks, listening in, but knew better than to interrupt Teyla and her guests. Teyla, seeing the children nearly vibrate with excitement for a new game, nodded and they rushed over, swarming Tony for information of this game. He laughed and kept them entertained by explaining the game at first, then diverting to his usual standby, movies.

Jinto, Halling’s son, by now considered to be a grown man by the tribe and destined to take his father’s place as an adviser to Torren when he took over for Teyla as their leader, smiled fondly at the memory of his first night on Atlantis, when John had tried to scare the kids by telling them plots of horror movies. It hadn’t worked. John’s stories raised more questions than fear. He’d seen the movies since then, with John and Rodney and the others, and understood better. But this man, Tony, the tales he told were scary, or funny, in their own right. Jinto had seen his share of movies on Atlantis with Torren and recognised some of the plots, laughing along as the kids actually found something Tony said more scary than the Wraith. These kids were lucky. The Wraith were practically gone, and only a few of them had encountered one. Atlantis had been very good them.

Gibbs, meanwhile, was having very different thoughts of his own. Watching Tony get lost in his storytelling, entertaining the kids he’d always professed not to like, Gibbs focussed on something else.

Tony offered to teach the kids basketball.

That in itself was not such a strange thing, Tony would often go out of his way to help or teach someone something. But it sounded to Gibbs like Tony wasn’t ready to leave anytime soon, like he was hoping to stick around. In a way, Gibbs could understand that. On Atlantis, Tony was clearly already liked, maybe even loved. Gibbs had cornered Jack - discretely - and asked about it.

“She’s singing, Jethro,” Jack had said. “She’s telling tales of her long lost son.”

“What about when we leave? What’ll happen then?”

“Are you leaving?”

“We’ll have to.”

“Why?”

Gibbs frowned.

“We have our jobs.”

“You’ve been reassigned to StarGate Command. Not that your Director Vance knows your post, just that you’ve been reassigned by someone far higher in the command tree than him. Your team too, McGee, David, Sciuto, Mallard and Palmer. I’ll bet Vance is hating you right now.” Jack smiled with glee.

“What about when we go back?”

“Will you?”

It sounded like Jack was quite certain they wouldn’t be going anywhere. And looking at Tony now, sitting down to a simple but delicious dinner with what could be termed aliens, with kids scattered around him hanging on his every word, Gibbs admitted it.

He himself didn’t really have anything to go back for other than the job. And if Tony wanted to stay, they’d stay.

By the time they were ready to step back through the StarGate onto Atlantis, the kids were clamouring for Tony to stay, surpassing the calls for their Uncle John and, surprisingly, their Uncle Rodney. While McKay had an even worse reputation with kids than Tony, kids simply loved him wherever he went, and the Athosian children were no different. Both Gibbs and Tony thought it had something to do with the chocolate Rodney carried.

Keeping an eye on Gibbs, Tony made no promises he couldn’t keep, but said he would be back if at all possible. Gibbs saw the disappointment in Tony’s eyes, and vowed to let him come back here an honour the promise Tony had refused to make.

Stepping back through the Gate, they found themselves on Atlantis in a second.

“Alright,” John called, “Medical for all of us. Drinks in the Mess Hall in an hour?”

Woolsey nodded, watching their arrival from the balcony above, with Lorne, Neilson and Cat at his side. They all knew that their families and friends would want to hear about the Athosians, and for Gibbs and Tony, about their first trip through the Gate. Since this was a harmless mission to let their staunchest allies, Teyla’s tribe and family, know that they were back, Woolsey saw no reason to keep it confined to his office and was happy to hear their report in the Mess Hall.

“Gibbs!” Abby shouted. The Marines on duty held her back. Their experience with visitors even made them explain a little.

“All off world travel requires a medical check-up first, Ma’am. Once they’ve been cleared, you can see them.”

Gibbs smiled and waved at Abby, and called out to her they’d see her in a bit. Tony looked troubled. But then, Tony didn’t like needles, so the mandatory medical check probably had him spooked a little.

~~~~~

As they sat down for drinks in the Mess Hall, Lorne was a little puzzled. Jon had sat down with Sam and Teal’c and was clearly keeping a distance from him. Cat, in human form this time, sat with Gibbs and Tony. Though he understood they would want to catch up with their friends, Evan felt distressed. Jon had been avoiding him, and Cat only came close to him when she was the tiger. The woman seldom came within a few feet of him, and only spoke to him when he asked her a direct question.

Well, he’d asked them to give him time.

Stupid him.

His heart ached.

~~~~~

“Gibbs!”

Catching Abby when she went in for one of her full body hugs was second nature, and Jethro didn’t have to compensate for catching her weight.

“Hey, Abbs! You okay?”

He tweaked one of her pig tails.

“Yeah, of course,” she smiled, and he narrowed his eyes at her lie. She swallowed.

“This is just a lot to take in, you know! Can we… can we have, like, a drink? Like, together?”

“Sure,” he said, frowning. “On our way now to the Mess Hall for a drink and a report. Come on.”

He didn’t miss Abby’s disappointed look, or Tony’s guilty one, as he said it. But the order had been given, and they were on their way.

~~~~~

Evan roamed the halls after he’d left many of the others still enjoying drinks in the Mess. He didn’t want to go back to his own rooms. He was nowhere near reporting time for duty. He was… stalling. Yeah, he was stalling. He knew where he wanted to be, knew where he needed to be.

The chime sounded, but the door opened without permission being granted.

A young man sat with his back against a bed, a white tiger spread out on the floor, its head in the young man’s lap, looking as if the big animal was close to tears.

“I’m sorry,” Lorne whispered, shedding his clothes down to his boxers and t-shirt.

The young man and the tiger pounced on him as the door closed, and Evan found himself in the middle that night, in Jon’s bed, the young man holding him from behind, the tiger curled into his front, its tail wrapped around both humans.

Chapter Text

“What’s bugging you?” Jethro asked as he tightened his arms around Tony that night in their bed.

Tony remained silent for a bit, trailing his fingers over Jethro’s chest. Gibbs waited patiently. Though neither man was one to talk about feelings, they both knew sometimes it was necessary, and they had learned that these talks went best when alone in the dark, in their bed, where they could speak without having to scrutinise every expression the other showed. They also knew to give each other time.

Thinking back over the past few days, Tony tried to formulate his thoughts into words. Ever since Nirrti’s threat had brought them all together at the house - was that really only a few days ago? - he’d been on edge. But it hadn’t really been about the threat against them, it had been about his team. At first, about having to hide their relationship from them even at the house, for fear about their reaction to that news. Then, knowing Ducky and Jimmy didn’t have any problems with it and Ziva and McGee seemed accepting, he worried about Abby.

He’d been hurt by her initial angry response, and while he didn’t like to think that Cat had messed with Abby’s mind, he was grateful for it. He’d promised himself to talk to Abby, as she was his longtime friend, and he wanted to clear the air with her.

But then they’d come to Atlantis, and he and Gibbs had been pulled into those strategy meetings, and then they were taking off for another galaxy, and he was flying the city with his mind! And almost as soon as they had landed, John decided on the visit to the Athosians, and made it clear he expected Tony and Gibbs to join them.

John had made it out to be a treat, saying that they’d been hearing their stories about gate travel for years and now it was time to finally experience it for themselves, but Tony suspected an ulterior motive. Just like John had immediately given up the Chair to Tony when Tony had said he felt he needed to sit in it, he now felt that John urging them to step through the Gate was another way of binding them to the city. Because John hadn’t been kidding. When Tony came out of the Chair, and especially after those dreams Atlantis fed him, Tony’s connection to the city had strengthened incredibly.

John and Atlantis were waging a campaign to get them to stay, and they were succeeding as far as Tony was concerned. He hadn’t given his job more than a fleeting thought for days, and when he did, he realised that he didn’t miss it. He would have missed his team, his family, but they were right here with him. He had everything he wanted, and more, right here on the city.

Over drinks after their return from New Athos, Tony had finally had a chance to catch up with his team. Ducky and Palmer were excited about everything they’d seen so far, having been taken with Dr Beckett immediately, and marvelling at the medical advances here on Atlantis. Tim had been hanging out with Radek Zelenka a lot of the time, had been applying his computer genius to the city’s database, and had started working on a new program for database searches that had even interested Rodney in its proficiency, and earned him a seldom heard word of praise from McKay. And Ziva nearly glowed with contentment as she told him that she’d been invited by Laura Cadman and Anne Teldy to shadow them on their duties and join them and their teams in training.

But Abby, she hadn’t said a word to him. He’d seen her looks first when he and Gibbs had been called into those meetings where she wasn’t allowed, then when Jack commandeered them for taking care of the city. And again when they had set off through the Gate, and when they returned. Had heard her calling for Gibbs, and being rebuffed by the Marines. And finally the look of almost betrayal when she’d asked Gibbs to share a drink with her, and he’d seemingly brushed aside her request for some private time by stating that they were all having drinks together.

She’d never called for Tony, or asked Tony for some of his time. And when he tried to talk to her over those drinks, she’d refused to speak to him.

“I’m worried about Abby,” he finally said, deciding to tackle what he thought might be the easier subject first.

“Hmmm,” Gibbs said, and Tony knew then that Jethro had seen the same things about Abby that he had.

“You should have some private time with her. Maybe take her to breakfast tomorrow morning, just the two of you?”

Now it was Tony’s turn to wait patiently for Jethro to put his thoughts together.

“I’ll talk to her tomorrow,” Gibbs finally said, “but know this, Tony, and I’ll make sure she knows it too: no matter what, you are my choice. I don’t know what she’s thinking, but her shutting you out, like she’s somehow blaming you for something, that’s not acceptable to me. Other people have tried to make me choose someone else over you. Ziva, and Vance, even Jenny. That’s never going to work for me. You are my choice, and always will be.”

Tingling with warmth and pleasure, Tony snuggled even closer, and basked in those wonderful words for a while.

“What else?” Gibbs finally asked.

Tony chuckled softly. He should have known Gibbs would know that there was something else on his mind. This was what he thought would be the more difficult subject.

“If I decided that I wanted to stay here for a while, even after the threat from this Nirrti is gone, what would you think about that?”

The answer came immediately, almost shocking Tony more than Jethro’s previous declaration.

“Then we stay. I go where you go. Like I said, Tony, you are my choice, every time.”

And just like that, the subject was closed, and Tony felt more loved than he’d ever thought was possible.

~~~~~

As soon as they were underway, Colonel Caldwell called a meeting with his senior staff. They knew that Atlantis had unexpectedly taken off from Earth and was expected to return to Pegasus, and that they were loading emergency supplies and would be heading there to deliver them, unless Atlantis contacted them with different news. Shortly after the Daedalus had taken off, Caldwell received confirmation from Landry that Atlantis had indeed been going to Pegasus, and had already arrived safely.

The senior staff was relieved to hear it, and actually looking forward to seeing the city again. Unless there was an emergency, the Daedalus crew usually got to stay on Atlantis for a few days before heading back to Earth, and most of them had missed the city while she was parked in San Francisco Bay.

Then Caldwell told them about their prisoner.

To say it was a shock, was an understatement. The Colonel was not a man to share personal things with his crew, and for him to tell them openly about his twin brother and the suspected Gua’ould inside him, that not only rattled them, but they could see it was painful for their commanding officer. Though not loved, like Sheppard and O’Neill were by their people, Caldwell was certainly respected by his crew, and none of them wished something this painful on him.

They understood why he had to tell them, though. A suspected Gua’ould was always something to be extra careful about, and with the two men being identical twins, they knew he was telling them to keep a close eye on him. Should his brother indeed be infected and manage to escape, they would have to be aware that he might pretend to be Caldwell.

The meeting closed quickly after that, and they all returned to their duties. They had eighteen days before they reached Atlantis, and would keep close eyes on their commander and their prisoner.

But when Caldwell announced to Major Marks on the second day that he was going to see his brother, and sat outside the cell for nearly an hour, talking with his twin under the extra watchful eyes monitoring the video feed, and he came back to the bridge with a lighter step, they subtly started encouraging him to visit again.

And he did.

~~~~~

The next few days on Atlantis saw the New Lanteans getting back into the swing of things in Pegasus.

After their visit to the Athosians, there were several other allies they needed and wanted to visit, and Lorne drew up a duty roster for the teams to visit those planets they had the best contact with. Of course it was AR1 with Tony and Gibbs in tow who visited Keras on the planet of the kids (and they were all glad and proud to see they really weren’t all kids anymore), where Tony laughed his head off seeing Rodney being trailed by the children like the Pied Piper while he checked the levels of their ZPM.

Other teams visited their other allies, letting them know they were back, and gathering reports on sightings of the last few Wraith and other rumours.

Gibbs and Tony and SG1 unofficially became part of the senior staff and joined in the thankfully short daily morning meetings, where the schedule and the goings on of Atlantis were discussed. Teyla put in a request to visit two worlds for trading missions.

“Why?” Tony asked. “Don’t we have everything on Atlantis that we need?”

She smiled kindly at him.

“Yes, we do, but the people on those worlds do not. For fear of the Wraith, they have built their lives far from the Gate on their planet, so trading with other worlds is not an easy option for them. With the Puddle Jumpers, we can reach them from the Gate in a mere hour or two, while it would take them weeks to travel to the Gate. We could and would give them the medicines they need for nothing, but their pride would not allow them to accept. So if, in a few hours of travel for us and some trade negotiation, we can give them what they need in return for a few sacks of grain or vegetables, I feel the effort is well worth it.”

Tony blushed and dropped his head in shame. Teyla patted his arm in consolation.

“Do not worry, Tony. I know you did not mean it unkindly. You have not travelled enough here to understand the circumstances of our peoples. I am pleased you ask so I can explain, instead of you simply thinking me foolish. Join us on these missions, and see for yourself, so you can understand and learn.”

And learn they did. The learned that this galaxy had been held back in terms of technology by the Wraith. They learned that Teyla was a shrewd but kind negotiator. They learned that Ronon was revered like a rock star wherever they went, and that while almost everyone loved the Lanteans first and foremost for defeating the Wraith, Atlantis was necessary as a benevolent hub of trade and information to keep many of these peoples alive in comfort.

They also went on a first contact mission with SG1, with Cam graciously taking a step back to let Jack lead. They saw Daniel in all his glory, doing his ‘we’re peaceful explorers’ spiel, and the natives loving him so much they wanted to keep him. At which point they learned that while Jack may be a fun-loving, irreverent commander, Teal’c a stoic rock who didn’t seem to care much about anything, Sam a science geek when given the opportunity, Cam a laidback and cheery guy, and Vala an incessant flirt and seemingly ditzy girl, when the natives took one step towards Daniel, they were five warriors, standing between the natives and the heart of their team.

Jon unofficially joined Lorne’s team, and went on two missions with them, fitting in well, and happy to have something to do. Cat too joined a few missions, dividing her time between John, Jack and Lorne’s teams. All three of them had nightmares about her scampering along without protective gear or a gun, which she refused to carry. But at the first sign of trouble - inevitable in Pegasus - she either shifted or simply disappeared, standing behind them with a hand on their backs, letting them know that while she could not be seen, she was still there.

And those were just the missions. When they were back on Atlantis, there was plenty to do as well. After their safe landing and check-in with Landry, Lorne also arranged for those who hadn’t been prepared to depart to Pegasus and were unwilling to stay, to be returned home through the Stargate. Landry reported that Barrett and his NID were going after Nirrti, but that even with the help of the Asgard, it was slow going, and the gene carriers and their teams should stay in Pegasus for now for their own safety.

Kathy had a screaming fit when Dave told her they were in another galaxy, and he feared he would have to call Dr Beckett to have her sedated. But then Emma and Sophie came rushing into the room, giggling and babbling at their Daddy that their two Marine friends who had carried them around had promised to take them to the kitchens where the Mess Sergeant would let them bake cookies, and could they please go, Daddy, please?

Looking out the open door to their rooms, Dave saw the two young Marines standing there with indulgent smiles, and said they would all go. His daughters cheered and ran back to their Marines, and Dave took Kathy’s arm to take her along. Everyone they met on the way happily greeted the girls, who chirped back at them with huge smiles, and Dave and Kathy got respectful greetings. Kathy calmed down with each and every step.

When they arrived in the kitchens, the gruff Mess Sergeant took one look at the girls and melted. Quickly clearing a place for them and shouting out a few orders to his people, he got the girls set up for making cookies. Intrigued by some of the ingredients lying around, Kathy started picking them up and sniffing them, asking the Sergeant questions, which he was willing enough to answer. Dave remembered that before their lives had become his father’s - the very thing his brother John had always fled from - and before the girls had been born, Kathy had loved to cook.

While he helped his girls knead the cookie dough, he listened to and watched his wife chatting with the Sergeant, and he couldn’t remember seeing her that pleased and content in years, rolling up her sleeves and chopping, stirring and tasting under the direction of the gruff Mess Sergeant.

Fox Mulder had been spending a lot of time with Zelenka in the lab, mostly researching the database, which was made easier when McGee, who was also often found in the labs with Zelenka, finished his new search program. When General Landry had informed Atlantis that he’d sent Caldwell and the Daedalus their way with supplies and a prisoner, and explained who that prisoner was and why, Daniel had immediately insisted Fox be told. After all, Fox had been the one to clue them in about Nirrti, and he’d only found out about her because Skinner had told him what had happened.

To find out that Skinner was alive and on his way to Atlantis was a relief for Fox, though he feared the possible infection by a Gua’ould. That’s why he was so intent on the database, trying to learn as much as he could, so he could help his boss and friend.

When not on missions, Sam and Rodney were usually in the labs as well, joined more often than not by Jeannie and sometimes Madison. They were mostly in Rodney’s private lab, off the one Zelenka used, and could be heard screaming at each other about being idiots until one of them said “Oh, that’s brilliant”, and then there would be quiet hours while they worked on something or other together.

Daniel was mainly in the hologram room, translating and searching for whatever took his fancy, while Vala tried to distract him. When that didn’t work, she’d search out Teal’c and Cam, who joined Teyla and Ronon in the gym to teach the Marines to fight. Caleb Miller, having at least an affinity for languages being an English major, started studying Ancient under Daniel’s patient tutelage.

McGee was practically in heaven delving into Atlantis’ computer systems. Besides the new search engine he was writing and perfecting, he had several ideas for making the jumble of the database more accessible. At least once a day, Ziva showed up with a big smile to drag him off to either the gym, where she and Laura and Anne would take him to the mats for some hand to hand training, or they’d end up at the shooting range, where most of the time Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs could be found taking the Marines through their paces.

Ducky and Jimmy mostly stayed with Dr Beckett, learning about the medical equipment and helping him treat the wounded that came away from missions or sessions in the gym.

Lorne took Tony and Jon under his wing (pun intended), teaching them to fly the Jumpers. Jumper Fourteen, banged up though she was, remained Tony’s favourite. Jumper Eight turned out to be Jon’s. Though the flying of the Jumpers was mostly instinctive, Lorne taught them the little secrets he’d learned over the years, making them more effective. They also took turns at the shooting range or in the gym.

John and Jack did their commanding officer thing, and agreed with each other that they had the best job ever. When bored with meetings or signing paperwork their minions had prepared for them, they made the rounds. Checked that Ronon and Teal’c hadn’t beaten anyone too severely yet in the gym. Made sure Sam and Rodney weren’t getting close to blowing each other up in the labs. Made sure everyone knew when it was time to have lunch or dinner, and got them to the Mess in time for food and drink.

Cat circulated between all of them as well, but could mainly be found in the Gate Room, sitting on the floor and leaning against the Gate in such a way she wouldn’t be caught in the swoosh if the Gate should activate unexpectedly. No one knew exactly what she was doing, but they suspected correctly that she was talking to her sister. What they didn’t yet realise was that, through contact with the Gate, she was also learning more about Pegasus through all the Gates in that galaxy.

Woolsey stood on his balcony off his office and smiled. The city was running smoothly, and even he, without the gene, could tell she was humming happily. The systems showed barely any trouble points, and the new people had been incorporated easily and seemed happy. He was glad to be back home.

That left Abby. The morning after their first mission, after sharing breakfast with the entire group, Gibbs took her aside. He took her to the East pier, and they sat down with their legs dangling above an alien ocean, looking at an alien sky.

“What’s going on with you, Abbs?”

“What do you mean, Gibbs?” She asked, widening her eyes in a look of innocence.

He glared at her.

“You know better than to lie to me.”

She was silent for a long time.

“Suddenly it’s all about Tony. Tony, Tony, Tony! He’s the one who gets called into the secret meetings, he’s the one who gets to go on missions, he’s the one who gets all the respect! I haven’t seen you give him a head slap even once!”

Gibbs, taken aback, stayed quiet for a bit.

“You want me to slap him? When you know I love him?” He finally asked.

“It never stopped you before!” She yelled.

Gibbs took a deep breath, and grabbed the edge of the pier so hard his knuckles turned white.

“Now you listen to me, and you listen good, Abigail. I made a lot of mistakes, most of them with Tony. Yes, I’ve head slapped him, even when I knew I loved him. But that’s something between him and me, and certainly not something to make YOU feel better. I’ve always known Tony was special, but now, with all this going on, he’s finally starting to figure that out for himself too. I’m not gonna let you, me, or anyone else ruin that for him. I don’t know why you’ve decided to blame him for whatever it is that’s making you unhappy, but I won’t stand for it. Tony is my number one priority, and when he’s happy, I’m happy. You’re making him unhappy with your behaviour, and that’s why I came to talk to you. Though I don’t like seeing you unhappy, it’s not my job to fix you. I’m here saying all this not for you, but for him.”

He glanced at her and saw the pained look on her face. He refused to be swayed by her tears.

“I’ll tell you exactly what I told him. Tony’s my choice, and he’ll always be my choice. What he wants, I’ll do my damnedest to get for him. But if you decide that I need to choose between him and you, you won’t win. I’ll choose him, every time.”

Gibbs got up, and stared into her big, wet eyes.

“I’ll break my rule this once and say I’m sorry to you, Abbs. Sorry I can’t make this better for you, sorry I can’t be what you want right now. But I mean it when I say I can’t. I love you, but Tony’s my everything.”

He walked away, and informed Ducky that Abby needed him on the East pier.

When Ducky arrived, it was clear that the poor girl had been crying. Clearing his throat, Ducky caught her attention and she threw herself at his legs, hugging them in mournful sorrow.

“Gibbs was so mean to me, Ducky!” She wailed.

Somehow, that rubbed the old man the wrong way. He disentangled himself stood looking down at her, not even asking for an explanation.

“As mean as you have been to young Anthony? I thought you cared for him, I thought you loved him. But don’t think for a moment I haven’t seen the way you look at him now, and that I didn’t notice that when he made every effort to speak to you last night, you refused to say a word or even look at him! It’s clear to me that you blame Anthony for something, but none of this is his fault. He tried to make it right with you, to speak with you, but you wouldn’t even listen. Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t know and don’t care what Jethro said to you that was apparently so mean.”

Seeing the tears freely flowing down her cheeks, he relented a little, his tone softening.

“Look around you, Abigail. We are on a marvellous city, in another galaxy. Two men we care for and love a great deal have found happiness together. Young Timothy and Ziva are experiencing so much joy at being here and seeing their beloved partners and team leaders happy. Mr Palmer and I are so pleased to finally see the shadows lift from their eyes. Can you, the woman I know to have the biggest heart and the most compassion, not see it in yourself to be happy for them? Their lives could have been ended so many times…”

Abby flashed back to Ronon’s words, gasping in shock.

“And if you cannot be happy for them, can you not find joy in this city and its people? I would have thought for someone with your mind, the scientific treasures here alone would have you over the moon.”

She looked up at him, wiping away her tears, but still pleading. Ducky shook his head.

“No, Abigail. I will not support you in this. Our friends are happy together. They, and especially Tony, are experiencing a lot of changes and challenges right now, and require time to deal with those for themselves.”

“I don’t like change,” she muttered petulantly.

“Like it or not, change will happen. It has happened. And you cannot stop it, not even by wishing it so.”

Finally he looked kindly down at her.

“Find something to do, Abby. We have all embraced our new circumstances, and made the best of them. I suggest you do the same. Spending all your time thinking about Jethro and Tony I fear has skewed your vision. Had this been divulged to you at the Navy Yard, would you have felt the same? I think not. I think the Abigail I know would have been happy for her friends.”

With that, Ducky departed. Abby sat on the pier for quite a while longer, until it got too cold, and then she found her way to her room, where she thought some more.

The day after her talks with Gibbs and Ducky, she went to find Teyla. The day after that, Abby spoke to Ronon. And the day after that, she asked McGee and Zelenka if she could help them on their project for the Atlantis database.

~~~~~

While Earth reported no real progress had been made there with regard to Nirrti, things on Atlantis were running smoothly and were exciting.

Then Ladon Radim of the Genii dialled Atlantis and asked for their help, claiming his sister had been murdered.

Chapter Text

“So, who are these Genii?” Jon asked, the only one of those present who was not aware of them.

The Atlantis crew obviously knew them, and Jack and Daniel in their roles at Homeworld Security had read the reports. The rest of SG1 had heard of them through Jack and Daniel, as had Tony and Gibbs from the stories their housemates had shared over the years.

“Think Nazi Germany,” Rodney grunted disgustedly, and John and the others filled Jon in about Acastus Kolya, and Ladon Radim’s coup a few years later.

Though they’d never become friendly and certainly didn’t trust each other, Atlantis and the Genii had formed a tentative alliance over the years. And Ladon hadn’t tried to screw them over (much) ever since he’d taken command of the Genii. Plus, Beckett had treated Ladon’s sister for radiation sickness, had saved her life, and had become fond of the young woman.

After seeing the message Ladon sent, according to him only an hour or so after they’d discovered his sister’s body, Gibbs’ gut told him the distress and the plea for help were genuine.

“We should investigate, Boss,” Tony said earnestly.

Gibbs snorted.

“And do what? We have no authority here. And I’m not finding a killer just to hand him over to be tortured and executed, which is what Radim would probably want to do, if I remember Sheppard’s stories about the Genii correctly.”

“I agree,” Woolsey said. “We could assist, certainly, taking proper precautions for our people to be safe and make sure this is not a trap, but I will not allow us to be party to a lynching.”

They all mulled it over for a bit.

“Tony,” Jack asked, “weren’t you an Agent Afloat?”

“Uhm… Yes?”

Tony looked bewildered by the seeming change of subject, but John and Rodney smiled.

“You had Tony and his team assigned to the SGC, right, Jack?” John grinned.

O’Neill nodded.

“And Atlantis could be classified as a ship, I suppose. She certainly floats,” Rodney smirked.

“Well, there’s your authority issue taken care of,” Jack said. “But what do we do with the killer once our new Agent Afloat catches him?”

“Remember Linnea, Jack? The Destroyer of Worlds?” Daniel said quietly. “That prison colony we were sent to, where we found her?”

Jack looked at him sharply. Daniel shook his head.

“I'm not saying we do exactly that, but surely there must be worlds here in Pegasus which aren’t populated and don’t have a Gate, but do have sufficient resources for someone with a little ingenuity to keep himself alive. The Genii don’t have space flight capabilities, so with no Gate, they wouldn’t be able to get there to kill him?”

Some of the others worked very hard to hide their shock that Daniel, one of the most kindhearted people they knew, would suggest something like that.

“Daniel is not wrong,” Cat whispered. “I have not travelled to any galaxy that does not have some kind of detainment planet for those who consistently harm others. This galaxy is no different. I know of a planet here that will contain such a person, allow him to live out his natural life, but be kept in complete solitude so they can never harm another again.”

Again, they all contemplated that.

“That’s good enough for me,” Tony finally said. “Boss?”

Gibbs grunted his agreement, then winked at Tony.

“But apparently, you’re the Agent Afloat, DiNozzo. So you’re the boss.”

Tony shook his head, face filled with apprehension.

“No! No, Boss, that won’t work! The Probies won’t like me being in charge, you know that, Jethro!”

Seeing they were already agreeing to do the investigation, Jack smiled.

“I’m sure that with a city and a galaxy this size, I can get away with appointing two Agents Afloat.”

Tony seemed relieved, but Gibbs frowned.

“Three conditions, Jack. One, this Radim character agrees beforehand that if we catch the killer, we get to decide what to do with him. We’re not handing him over to the Genii.”

“Agreed,” Jack said easily. “And the second?”

“You and John are personally responsible for the safety of Tony and my people.”

After a quick glance between them and Woolsey, Jack nodded again.

“And three?”

“Cat gets to check him out first.”

That caused some raised eyebrows. Gibbs turned to Cat.

“You can tell if people are being honest. You knew about us, all six of us when we came to you. You did it with Mulder when Daniel said he could be trusted.”

She nodded.

“Can you tell from being with the girl’s body who killed her?” Tony asked Cat.

“No. Only from living entities,” she replied. “And I shall need to touch him.”

No one liked that idea much, but finally Gibbs turned to John and Jack.

“That’s your job then. Get Radim to agree to those conditions and ensure Cat and Tony’s safety, and we’ll investigate. Tell him to make sure to leave the crime scene intact.”

~~~~~

NID Agent Malcolm Barrett was getting frustrated.

It had only been a few days, and with the directions of the Asgard through General Landry, he and his people had been able to capture the facility and the minions Nirrti had been using. They found several dead bodies, lesser gene carriers who had been implanted with Nirrti’s clones. According to the Asgard, no clones survived.

But the minions had ties to several large corporations, offshoots of the Trust, and it was going to be hell to untangle that and get all those involved detained and locked away.

And worst of all, there was no sign of Nirrti anywhere.

~~~~~

Ziva and McGee, Abby, Ducky and Palmer were surprised to receive the call to report to Woolsey’s office to join the senior staff meeting.

“Grab your gear,” Gibbs told them when they arrived.

They gaped at him, and Ziva narrowed her eyes.

“That is not funny, Gibbs.”

“Do I look like I’m joking, Ziver?”

Tony got up and, as usual, got between his boss and his team.

“We’ve got a dead body in…” he faltered and looked around, but nobody was able to help him out. “On the Genii home world,” he finished. “We’ve been asked to investigate.” He smiled. “You up for it?”

Ziva’s sour expression lightened immediately, not at the thought of a dead body but at doing her job again, and so did McGee’s.

“You mean it, Tony?” McGee asked.

“I mean it, McGoo.”

Woolsey welcomed them to the meeting and told them the circumstances, showed them the message from Radim.

“General O’Neill, General Sheppard and I,” Woolsey exaggerated a little bit, “have appointed Agents DiNozzo and Gibbs as temporary Agents Afloat to Atlantis. You are their team. Generals O’Neill and Sheppard are currently negotiating our conditions for the investigation with Ladon Radim. As soon as these negotiations are concluded to our satisfaction, you shall accompany your two Team Leads as directed, with Sheppard and O’Neill’s teams as back up and security.”

Woolsey was subtle, Tony had to give him that. In a few words, he’d established a chain of command: first Woolsey, Sheppard and O’Neill on Atlantis, then Tony and Gibbs (and don’t think Tony wasn’t quietly glowing at being named first!) as Team Leads.

“Uh, Tony?” McGee asked quietly.

“Yes, Probie?”

“We don’t have any gear to grab?”

Tony looked at Cat, who smiled. A moment later the conference table in Woolsey’s office was filled with all they’d usually carry with them onto a crime scene, including back packs to carry it in. As they started packing their bags, not just Ziva and McGee, but Ducky and Palmer as well, Tony turned to Abby.

“You’ll need to stay here, Abbs,” Tony said, ignoring her disappointment, but pleased to see she wasn’t being resentful to him. “Get your lab set up so you can process our evidence when we bring it to you, okay?”

“My lab?” She asked. “I don’t have a lab!”

“But you will,” Tony said with a smile. “As soon as Cat is done on the planet, she’ll be back here and come find you. You check with Rodney for a lab that suits you, and then you tell Cat what you need to do your job, alright? She’ll see to it that you have everything.”

“Okay, Tony,” she whispered, and threw her arms around his neck in a true Abby hug. Tony squeezed her back, suppressing tears of happiness that she wasn’t shutting him out anymore.

John and Jack came back in.

“Well, he wasn’t happy,” John reported, “especially about the part where we will take charge of the killer instead of handing him over, and about him not being allowed to take his sister’s body out of there. But he agreed. I’ll never trust a Genii, but I honestly think he just wants to know who killed his sister and stop it from happening again.”

Jack nodded.

“So, we’ll stick to the plan. Tony, you fly your team in your Jumper, and John flies his team in his, both visible. Lorne and I will take our teams in cloaked Jumpers. They’ll suspect we’ll have more teams there, but they won’t know for sure. Jon, you take Cat and stay cloaked until we’ve assessed the situation. If we’re satisfied, the two of you come down, stay cloaked, and Cat comes out to check out Radim. If she’s satisfied, you take her back here and wait for our call. Watch out for traps around the Gate when you dial back in to go to Atlantis.”

“I know, old m… Jack,” Jon acquiesced.

“Let’s go,” Gibbs ordered, and they all followed him like ducklings.

~~~~~

“How did you even get involved in this, Walter?” Caldwell asked on one of his many visits to the brig during their journey to Pegasus.

Skinner rubbed his forehead with his fingers, running his hand over his face.

“I don’t even know, Steven. With the work Mulder was doing, I had to step in so many times, broke so many regulations. And then, there was this phone call, and this voice, and he… she knew everything I’d done to protect Fox. And suddenly I was supposed to be hunting these people, and… I just don’t know…”

“So you did all this for this Fox Mulder?” Caldwell asked incredulously.

Skinner looked at his twin through the electrically charged bars of his prison cell.

“Not like that. Mulder… Fox… he’s a son to me. In some ways, he’s a kid who believes in bedtime stories and fairytales, but he’s not wrong, Steven! From what I’ve seen and heard, you know that. He’s not wrong. The truth is out there!”

“Yeah, well…” Caldwell replied. “You’re probably gonna get hit with more truth out there than you ever dreamed of.”

~~~~~

The plan proceeded smoothly. The five Jumpers, cloaked and uncloaked, followed each other swiftly through the Gate, so the Genii couldn’t tell how many of them there were.

Tony and John set down their Jumpers with their teams at the meeting point, not too far from the Gate, in the field where Radim’s sister’s body had been been found. Radim met them there with four of his people, all of them keeping their weapons sheathed. The teams waited in the Jumpers while Jack and Lorne, cloaked, made a careful sweep of the surrounding area, and Jon and Cat settled behind a convenient rock formation. When Jack gave the all clear, the teams disembarked, and Cat, invisible to the naked eye but felt by John and Rodney, Tony and Gibbs, joined the group approaching Radim.

“Thank you for coming to our aid, Sheppard,” Ladon said quietly, his hands in the air and far away from his weapons. He looked mournfully to where his sister’s body still lay in the field.

“No problem,” John answered, keeping his hands on his P90, but not actively gripping it, same for the rest of his team. “These are our investigators,” John indicated Tony and Gibbs and their people.

Ladon nodded, and again told them thanks for coming.

“And your test?” He asked John.

“Cat?” John prompted her, and she stepped forward. To Radim and his men, it was as if she had always been there, though she had only just arrived with the group.

When she stepped up to Radim and reached out her hand to touch his cheek, Radim’s men tensed, and so did John and the others, but a curt gesture from Ladon had his men standing down.

It only took a moment.

“He is sincere,” Cat told John, Tony and Gibbs. “He does not know who hurt his sister, is deeply grieved and plans on honouring the agreements he made with you.”

“But he could change his mind if he doesn’t like what we find?” Tony asked.

She tilted her head and gave Tony a rueful smile.

“That is always a possibility.”

No one told her to step back but she did, and no one really noticed her leaving, but she did. Gibbs and Tony ordered McGee and Ziva to start taking pictures and sketching, bag and tag, and Ducky and Palmer began to examine the body, while Tony and Gibbs spoke to Radim and his men. If you didn’t think about being on a different planet in another galaxy, with John, Teyla, Ronon and Rodney and two cloaked Jumpers guarding them, it was just like old times.

When the Gate engaged and a moment later disengaged, John shared a look with Radim.

“You knew we had back up with us, of course,” John said.

“Of course,” Ladon agreed.

~~~~~

Before going onto this investigative mission to the Genii home world, Rodney had made the wise decision to delegate the finding of an appropriate lab for Abby to Zelenka. With all he’d learned about Abby from his own observations and his talks with McGee during their time in the labs, Zelenka decided Abby would be best served with a lab on their floor, so the wouldn’t feel isolated, but not so close that her music would disturb McKay’s thought processes.

The room was a few doors down from his own lab, big, and empty. Abby’s face fell a little.

“This is just the room, Miss Abby,” he told her. “But when Cat returns, you shall have it filled to your liking.”

He tried to make a little small talk with her, but Abby wasn’t really receptive.

“So, I’ll just wait here then?” She finally asked.

Radek smiled kindly, and left.

Cat appeared not long after, and asked Abby what she needed in her lab, and to be as specific as possible.

“What, like, give you the blue prints, make and models of the machines I need, or something?”

“That would be helpful,” Cat smiled.

“So you can order them?” Abby said a bit scornfully. “I don’t know if you noticed, but we’ve got a dead body now, and I can’t wait around for a couple of weeks to have all the equipment I need!”

“Abigail,” Cat asked quietly, “can I give you a hug?”

Unsure of the woman, but knowing Gibbs trusted her and always fond of hugs, Abby nodded. Cat gently took the woman into her arms.

“Now,” Cat whispered into Abby’s ear, “think of your perfect lab. Think of which machines you need and would like to have, where you would get them, and where you would have them placed.”

Relaxing, Abby conjured an image of her dream lab in her mind, and when she opened her eyes again, saw it all around her. She jumped back.

“How? How did you? What? Where did? Huh?” Abby squealed.

“Tony promised you a lab with everything you could possibly need. What Tony wishes, is provided. If you need anything else, come find me.”

Cat smiled at the goth and left. Abby stared at the door for a few moments, then looked around her lab again, and then started running calibration tests to make sure everything was as perfect as it looked.

It was.

~~~~~

After speaking to Radim and his men, Gibbs and DiNozzo stepped away from them to join their team around the body, much to the relief of John and his team and the cloaked Jumper crews.

“TOD, Duck?” Gibbs asked.

Ducky sighed.

“Jethro, really…”

“Give me something, Ducky.”

“Well, considering Genii physicality is mostly the same as human,” Ducky frowned, trying to decide whether that was insulting or not, then shaking it off, “according to Dr Beckett, and considering the ambient temperature, I’d say time of death was approximately six hours ago.”

“And cause?”

“We have two gunshot wounds and several stab wounds. I would have to get her onto my table to be certain.”

“They’re not gonna like that, Boss,” Tony said.

“Ya think?”

Gibbs rolled his neck, squared his shoulders, and gestured John over.

“We’re gonna need to take the body with us for Ducky to do an autopsy, Sheppard. Cause of death isn’t clear.”

“Also,” Tony cut in, “we should ask them all for their guns and knives, to rule them out.” Catching the glare Gibbs sent him, Tony shrugged. “Abby hasn’t got a database of Pegasus weapons, Boss. Can’t match ballistics without it. And the knives might have blood trace or DNA.”

John cursed.

“There’s no way I’m going to get him to agree to any of that!”

Gibbs considered for a moment.

“Let DiNozzo talk to him.”

“Yeah, Boss!” Tony nearly squirmed with glee, and set off towards Radim again.

Gibbs warned Sheppard, who was following.

“Remember, Sheppard!”

“Yeah, yeah!” John said. “DiNozzo gets hurt, I get killed by you. Tell me I something I don’t know.”

~~~~~

General Landry was underwhelmed with the news he was receiving from all over the place.

Their allies knew next to nothing, or at least weren’t telling them anything.

The NID couldn’t find Nirrti, and were dealing with several dead bodies of gene carriers whose deaths they couldn’t really explain to their families.

His flagship team was off his roster for the foreseeable future.

The President and Hammond were fighting the Chiefs of Staff over calling Atlantis back to Earth. And even if they’d wanted to recall her, the President, Hammond and Landry himself knew perfectly well Atlantis wouldn’t return until she and her favourites wanted to come back.

And somewhere down the totem pole, the Secretary of the Navy and a Director Vance were trying to raise hell over NCIS agents being reassigned? Hank didn’t really know what that was about, and truly didn’t care. The SecNav may think he was a political player, but the man wasn’t even qualified enough to have known about Atlantis in San Francisco Bay. All that had been going through Admiral Green. And this Leon Vance? Landry had never even heard of him, and definitely didn’t have time for him. Let them stew in their own problems.

Hank had enough of his own.

~~~~~

It took Tony thirteen minutes.

He returned to Gibbs with Sheppard in tow, Sheppard trying (and mostly failing) to keep the smile off his face.

“He’s calling all his men here, Gibbs,” Tony reported, “weapons sheathed, of course. He won’t agree to them coming to Atlantis so Abby can test their guns and knives herself, and obviously we won’t have a guarantee that what they bring is all they have, but it will at least be a start. I’ll need to call Abby to get her to send over ballistics gel and a testing chamber, and enough stuff to mould and test all the knives. The good thing is, they all know each other pretty well, and Ladon will be able to tell us if someone is trying to hold a weapon back.”

Gibbs huffed and turned to check on Ziva and McGee with their sketches and photographs, and anything else they found.

“Is he always like that?” John asked quietly.

“Hey, if I’m not getting slapped, I know I did something right!” Tony smiled cheerfully.

John resolved to have a serious talk with Gibbs. Tony had just done the impossible - getting the Genii to relinquish their weapons - and to John that meant Tony was deserving of quite a lot of praise. And if Gibbs wasn’t willing to give it, others were.

“Hey, Tony?” He said.

Tony turned back to him with a smile.

“Excellent job, man!”

Tony’s smile changed into a blush and a small grin.

“Thanks, General Sheppard.”

~~~~~

“Uhm… Cat? Uhm… This is Abby… Abby Sciuto? You said if I needed you…”

“I am two minutes away from you, Abby. What do you need?” Cat’s voice came over the private comm channel in response to Abby’s hail.

“Uhm… Tony needs some stuff. Do you need to be in my lab for that? Because he needs it off world. It would be easier to just be in the Gate Room, because they’ll need to ship it from there anyway, and I don’t really want to have to call any Marines to transfer it there, because I don’t really know how urgent it is and how much time it would take, and…”

“I’ll meet you in the Gate Room immediately, Abby,” Cat smiled.

“Oh, okay! Thank you!”

Minutes later, Abby and Cat met in the Gate Room.

“What do you need, Abby?” Cat asked again.

“Can we hug?” Abby said, already reaching out. Cat took the girl into her arms.

“Show me,” Cat whispered.

And seconds later, crates and pallets of ballistics gel, swabs, luminol and all kinds of other things Tony and Gibbs would need to test the weapons were present in the Gate Room.

“To Tony!” Abby called cheerfully when she pulled back from the hug, pointing at the supplies.

Cat smiled. A Jumper slid down into the Gate Room from the Jumper Bay, and Abby realised the Marines kept everyone and everything away from the Gate far enough for the Gate to activate and Jumpers to descend without anyone getting hurt.

“Cat and I will take it,” Jon said, stepping out of the descended Jumper, and Marines immediately started loading the supplies. Jon and Cat followed them in, taking their seats in the flight chairs. The Marines pulled back.

Abby knew she only had a moment, and she took it. While Cat and Jon were quietly chatting, seeming to pay no attention at all, and the Marines had their backs turned after loading the Jumper, Abby took a deep breath, and snuck on board.

Chapter Text

“C’mon, man,” Ronon clasped Tony’s shoulder and pulled him out of the ending meeting. As soon as everyone else stopped talking, Ronon had glanced at his friend and knew he needed a distraction.

“I shot a Ragnor beast just a couple of hours ago. It tastes like your beef. I’m sure the Mess Sergeant has something for you to make pastry. You promised me beef pastry things whenever I wanted.”

Tony smiled despite the thoughts troubling his mind, remembering the promise he’d made about the ‘beef pastry things’ to Ronon the weekend of the housewarming party when the big man agreed to keep his mouth shut about Tony and Gibbs’ relationship.

They were a few days into their investigation of Ms Radim’s death, and they weren’t really getting anywhere, which wasn’t all that surprising. Despite their testing, they hadn’t found the murder weapon on any of Radim’s people. Abby didn’t have a database of weapons to compare to the wounds. McGee didn’t have any means to follow a money trail, or conjure up some suspects from traffic cams or CCTV. And they simply didn’t know enough about the politics and possibilities in this galaxy to speculate on motive.

Gibbs nodded at Ronon in approval, knowing that things were stewing in Tony’s brain, and that a distraction would help him settle his thoughts. Besides, Gibbs loved Tony’s beef pastry things too.

Everyone else, discouraged by the lack of progress in the investigation, and either intrigued by the Ragnor beast or simply hungry for Tony’s treats, decided to follow. It was getting late, already after the dinner rush, and the teams had just returned from yet another trip to the Genii planet where they’d questioned Ladon and his people further about his sister, and about strangers with possible grudges visiting the planet undetected. Radim had provided food for them while they talked - this could not in any way be described as an interrogation - but no one on Atlantis ever said no to a snack, certainly not one that had Ronon practically begging for it. That had to be good.

When they arrived in the kitchens, the Mess Sergeant was staring with undisguised displeasure at the carcass of the Ragnor beast laid out on one of his pristine prepping tables, and glared at Ronon with blame in his eyes. Or it could just be exhaustion. The Mess Sergeant never seemed to leave the kitchens, no matter what time of day or night, he was always right there. To their surprise though, they also found Dave and Kathy, Jeannie and Caleb there, quietly chatting with each other. Kathy now spent most of her time in the kitchens, having found the work both a distraction and very satisfying.

Food prep for breakfast had obviously already been done, so the group had the kitchens to themselves. The Mess Sergeant crossed his arms over his burly chest and stained apron, and addressed Ronon.

“You come to take this monstrosity out of my clean kitchen, you barbarian?”

“Nope,” Ronon replied, drawing a sharp knife from somewhere on his person, “I’m gonna slaughter it right here. It’s a present for Tony.”

The Sergeant’s eyes and tone immediately softened. He only had a minor expression of the gene, but even he could hear and feel how Atlantis loved Tony. And he had to admit, in the few short interactions he’d had with the man, this Tony guy seemed to be a fine sort. And he wasn’t really angry anyway, certainly not at Ronon. Someone who appreciated his food as much as Ronon did, could never really be on his bad side.

“Fine. But you’re helping me clear up after.”

Ronon rolled his eyes as he started cutting into the beast, which looked like a small dinosaur. Even though none of them were used to seeing their food being butchered right in front of them, they all had to admire the skill with which Ronon quickly dismantled the carcass and started laying the various pieces out on the trays the Sergeant provided.

“What else do you need?” The Sergeant asked Tony.

“Well, I’m supposed to be putting some of that in pastry, so things to make pastry, I guess. But I’m going to need to fry a little bit of the meat up first, to get a feel for the taste and texture, before I can tell you what spices and herbs I’ll want to add.”

See, Sergeant knew he liked the guy! This was a man who took food seriously! He’d wait to see how the finished product turned out first of course, but if it was good, he was definitely drawing this man into his kitchen to try to teach the grunts something. None of them would have ever bothered getting a taste for the food they were making like this. He happily provided Tony with a small frying pan and butter, and started collecting ingredients for pastry.

Kathy came to help him. Over the past few days, he’d come to like her. She wasn’t scared of him, didn’t mind his short, curt answers, and knew what she was doing in a kitchen. She worked hard while she could have just been sitting around on her ass pouting about being here, or, even worse, feeling too entitled to do anything. Sergeant liked people who were serious about food.

Over the next hour, the group sat around chatting and having drinks, while watching Tony work his magic. By the time the pastries came out of the oven, a crisp golden brown and smelling delicious, the remainder of the carcass had been disposed of (no need to remind everyone what they were about to eat), and Tony was relaxed and laughing.

A single bite was enough for Sergeant to adopt Tony. The pastry was thin and crisp, the meat soft and tender, and it held just enough spicy sauce to make the pastries both succulent and flavourful. He clapped Atlantis’ new golden boy on the shoulder.

“You’re welcome in my kitchen anytime, Tony. You can call me Sergeant.”

Tony laughed and bit into another pastry.

~~~~~

Cat put her hand on Jon’s arm, and they spoke without words.

“Leave it be.”

“I can’t. Gibbs and Tony will kill me!”

“She was going to sneak through the Gate sometime soon anyway. Better she do it while there are four teams there for protection. I will speak to Gibbs.”

“I don’t think even you can protect me from Gibbs if we take her along.”

Cat smiled at him.

“She needs to be with her team right now. She is scared and alone.”

“Yeah? So am I,” Jon grumbled.

Her smile softened.

“Never, Jon. You are mine now. You will never be alone again.”

He gave her a soft smile of his own, then scowled.

“Yeah, well, think of that promise when Gibbs shoots me in the face as soon as we arrive.”

They flew through the Gate without problems and Cat immediately searched out the minds of Gibbs and Tony, John and Rodney, Jack and Daniel, and of course Evan. She quickly explained about Abby sneaking onto the Jumper, and that it was her decision to let Abby tag along. Worry battled with anger in all of them, but Cat soothed their nerves and directed their exasperation away from Jon.

When the Jumper landed and the rear hatch opened, Abby knew she had to be quick to escape the attention of Cat and Jon. She was desperate to catch her first glimpse of an alien planet (well, technically, her second alien planet, because, you know, New Lantea…) and wasn’t expecting that first glance to consist of a furious Gibbs, a worried Tony, a disapproving McGee and a quietly amused Ziva, all standing there directly in front of the hatch, arms crossed over their chests.

“Gibbs, I…”

“Not. A. Word.” He hissed, and she wisely stayed quiet.

Cat sauntered towards them through the Jumper, Jon hiding behind her. Gibbs glared at her, but she just smiled back at him, and they both knew that he wouldn’t stay mad at her. Not just because no one could stay mad at Cat for long, but also because she was right. This would have happened anyway, Abby was too curious and too connected to her team to stay behind forever. Better it be now when they had plenty of protection, even if it was on a semi-hostile planet.

What none of them had expected though, was the reaction of the Genii. As soon as they saw her, they were fascinated. None of them, probably no one in Pegasus, had ever seen anyone like her before. They didn’t have any frame of reference for a goth, and certainly couldn’t grasp the dichotomy of a happy goth, which is what she became when Gibbs - he wasn’t stupid, you know - put her to work testing everyone’s weapons since she was there anyway.

When they saw how comfortably she fired their guns into the ballistics gel and handled their knives to make a mould or take a swab, their fascination only went up a notch. Ladon spoke to Tony and Gibbs, and gently, almost carefully, asked to meet her. That caused quite some anxiety to flare up for her protection, but Radim readily agreed to strip off all his weapons, have his men stay behind the imaginary drawn line, and have both Tony and Gibbs within arms’ reach at all times while he stayed out of Abby’s.

Ladon Radim was used to speaking and being listened to. But in the nearly eleven minutes he got to spend in Abby’s presence, he barely got to say more than three dozen words as she happily chatted at him about what she was doing, and why, and what she could tell from it. Though sorrow for his sister clutched heavily at his heart, Ladon fell in love right there and then.

“We’ll need to be extra careful now,” John said quietly when Radim had finally been herded away from Abby back to his own men. “He’s got that look in his eye.”

“Look?” Gibbs glared at him.

“The one the Genii first got, and everybody else gets, when they figure out what Rodney can do. The one that makes Jack and his entire team bristle when they see that look directed at Daniel. The look that says they want to keep you.”

Tony actually growled under his breath.

“Just saying, man,” John took a step back, “just saying.”

After that, they did everything they could to speed up the process and have Abby out of there as quickly as possible.

~~~~~

Hank Landry and Malcom Barrett had yet another frustrating phone call with each other. They weren’t moaning, of course, they were both serious men with serious jobs and didn’t go in for that sort of thing. But really, they were moaning.

“Really?” Barrett moaned when Landry told him the Asgard had traced a small space ship leaving Earth.

“Really,” Landry moaned when they both realised this would probably have been Nirrti escaping the planet and their clutches.

The only saving grace was that the small ship wouldn’t be up for much travel, certainly not to the Pegasus galaxy. But honestly, as soon as she got to another planet with a Gate, she could go anywhere.

~~~~~

Surprisingly, once they got back to Atlantis, no one chewed Abby out over her very, very bad decision to hitch a ride in a Jumper. She had the uncomfortable feeling that she had Cat to thank for that. To make up for it, she worked through the night, cataloguing and scanning her results into the start of a database.

Cat wasn’t quite so lucky. Gibbs was furious, and Tony disappointed. Though John and Jack said they understood her decision, they didn’t agree with it. Evan said nothing, which scared her more than anything.

While the others slept, the white tiger lay despondently on the North pier, refusing to speak to anyone, even Atlantis. Evan lay on his bed, trying to decide whether he agreed with Cat, or with Sheppard and the others, finding merit in both arguments and not being able to settle into either. Jon found himself a spot in the West Tower, looking at the stars, knowing neither of his partners was going to speak to him anytime soon. So much for the promise to never be alone.

But then he felt it, a small sliver, a tendril, a tiny little connection to Cat, which told him that while she was hurting and sad, she was still there with him.

~~~~~

Carson Beckett observed the autopsy of Ms Radim, finding Dr Mallard’s approach and his interactions with both the body and his assistant Dr Palmer far more respectful than he’d ever found Dr Biro’s examinations. The news that Ms Radim had been stabbed several times, left to bleed out, and then shot twice to kill her nearly an hour later, deeply troubled him.

She’d overcome radiation poisoning just to end up like this?

But that wasn’t all that troubled him. Like most gene carriers, he sensed Atlantis and her moods. And right now she wasn’t happy, not at all. Not one to pry into other people’s business - unless he thought it was justified for their health - Carson deliberately didn’t listen to a lot of things Atlantis was trying to tell him. But even he couldn’t shake the deep sadness of the white tiger, the city’s XO, and General Jack’s clone.

~~~~~

Several of them had almost decided to skip breakfast that day, but in the end they all turned up. They didn’t expect an angry Abby. She stood in front of them, hands on her hips, occasionally waving a pointed finger at them.

Everyone listened, even though her ire was directed mostly at Jethro.

“I screwed up, Gibbs, I did that! Not Cat, not Jon, not anyone else! You want to be angry at someone, be angry at me! I’m the only one who deserves it! I put you all, and myself, in danger. Not Cat, not anybody other than me. I did that. I’m not proud of it, but I couldn’t help it, and I can’t promise not to do it again. I need to know what’s out there, Gibbs! I need to now what you’re up against! But don’t blame anyone but me for it! If you want to be angry, I’m right here! Yell at me, freeze me out, I deserve it. I did it, it was my fault!”

Her eyes turned pleading and sad.

“I know you don’t trust me right now, and… and though that hurts, I… you’ve got a right not to. And I’m sorry, okay. I’m sorry for how I acted, and I’m sorry for what I did. But that was all me. Don’t blame anyone else, please? I just… I just want you… want everyone to be happy. And I ruined everything! It’s all ruined because of me!”

She clamped both hands over her mouth, her eyes streaming with tears, and ran off.

“Well, she’s certainly got a high opinion of herself,” Rodney muttered.

Daniel shrugged with a little smile.

“She was doing quite well except for how she made herself the centre of the universe again. She did have a valid point though.”

Daniel glared at Gibbs, but Jethro decided to glare at Cat, Jon and Evan instead.

“Tony hardly slept a wink last night. I need him fresh and rested for this investigation.” He looked directly at Cat. “Thought you were supposed to be some kind of super being. Can’t get over someone being angry with you? Get your shit together!”

Then he stalked off. Tony poured another cup of coffee, Marine strength, and smiled at everyone.

“We’re on a case,” he shrugged, stood, and grabbed the cup of coffee. Then he ran after Gibbs; McGee and Ziva following on his heels.

“Well, fuck,” Lorne said quietly, and when Cat stood and walked out without a word, Evan and Jon quickly followed.

~~~~~

On the little spaceship, Nirrti - because of course it was her - was still fuming. She could have reached Abydos in a few days from Earth, even in a decrepit little ship like this, but that insufferable Anubis had destroyed Abydos and its Gate with it. Now she was looking at a travel time of at least a week if not more to reach the nearest Gate, and that was hoping this ship didn’t break down.

How could those primitive Tau’ri have outsmarted her? How did they know exactly when to disappear their most valued gene carriers? She was a god! She was everything! She reigned supreme!

She didn’t notice the Asgard ship Daniel Jackson IV observing her route and calculating her destination from a safe distance.

~~~~~

Cat didn’t stop walking until she reached the quarters assigned to her when they’d first arrived on Atlantis, and she berated her little sister silently the entire time. Was this how Atlantis had always treated her people, broadcasting their emotions all over, to everyone who was willing and able to listen? No wonder her people left! Didn’t she have any sense of propriety? Of decency? Not an ounce of common sense?

It wasn’t until the doors to her quarters closed behind her that Cat stopped ranting at her baby sister, and when she turned to face the closing doors, she saw Evan and Jon standing there, sheepish but hopeful.

‘Thank you, baby girl,’ Cat thought at her sister.

Then, she carefully approached the two men. She knew what she wanted to do, what she needed to do, but sequence was important. Jon was more accepting, more certain, but Evan would see it as a confirmation of his own doubt. Lorne would be more difficult, but despite, or even because of that, he would be the better choice.

“I apologise for my childish behaviour of last night,” she said as she was standing right in front of them. “I won’t cut you off again.”

Jon nodded, having felt that small line of connection with her, and therefore probably understanding her feelings at the time better than anyone. Evan looked surprised. She understood. Jon was an anomaly himself, and she had spoken to him in his mind far more than she had to Evan. Despite what they felt, Evan still just didn’t have that close connection with Cat that Jon had.

“You’ll understand after this, Evan,” she whispered.

And before he could respond, Cat drew his head down and softly pressed her lips against his, slowly and carefully deepening the kiss after long moments, pulling Jon in with her free hand.

Lips changed, the manner of kiss changed, and Lorne realised he was being kissed by Jon now, not Cat. Another change, and he was looking from up close at Jon and Cat kissing, almost biting each other, before they turned back to him and gentled their touches, devouring him sweetly with compelling, loving lips.

Chapter Text

“John Sheppard,” Todd the Wraith growled in his grumbly, throaty voice when John appeared on screen in response to his hail.

“Todd,” John replied easily, almost friendly, to the fearsome creature.

Again, like with the Genii, this was not exactly a friend, but over the years they’d formed an alliance. After they’d escaped from Kolya by working together and Todd had returned Sheppard’s life force (even giving him a few extra years), they’d agreed that when they next met all bets would be off. But neither of them had really been able to hold to that promise, and were further compromised when Todd had helped save Jeannie from the nano virus she’d been injected with. Of course, they’d betrayed each other a time or two since then, but it was quite telling that Todd’s hive was one of the very few that remained in the Pegasus galaxy, and was certainly the only one that wasn’t actively hunted.

“What can I do for you today, Todd?” Sheppard asked with a fake smile.

“I require your assistance,” Todd was clearly unhappy about saying.

“Yeah? What is it this time? Found a mysterious ZPM? Looking to blow something up? Hoping to screw us over one more time?”

“My second in command and hive mate is dead.”

John stilled, as did the others watching the exchange from further back.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” John said, and this time he sounded genuine.

Todd nodded in acknowledgement.

“He was found two hours ago.”

“Was he… drained? What happened to him?”

“Had it been one of us who killed him, I would not have contacted you, John Sheppard. I would have found the beast and eaten him for his insolence.”

John and several of the others started to get an uneasy feeling.

“Of course. I’m sorry. Can you tell me what happened and what you want from me?”

Todd ran his hands over his face, one of the most human things any of them had ever seen a Wraith do. When he looked up again, John could swear he saw moisture in Todd’s eyes.

“There are several knife wounds in his body, John Sheppard. And what looks like wounds from those bullet projectiles you like shooting at us.”

The uneasy feeling they’d all been having intensified. Tony stepped forward, ignoring Gibbs’ hand on his arm.

“Hi, Todd, is it? My name’s Tony. I’m a friend of John’s. I don’t mean to sound indelicate, but can you show us? Do you have pictures?”

Todd stared at Tony for a few long moments, then snorted and turned back to Sheppard.

“Your new friend is even more amusing than McKay. The only good Wraith is a dead Wraith, right?”

John shook his head.

“No, Todd. That’s not what…”

But before he could finish his sentence, images of a dead Wraith flooded their screens, and Rodney confirmed he was recording. Even just from the pictures, there was an eery similarity to Ms Radim’s body. They waited until the images disappeared and Todd’s face returned to the screen.

“John Sheppard, this is not an honourable death for anyone. No Wraith did this. You often spoke of justice. My hive mate, no matter what you may think of us, deserves this justice. I ask for your help.”

Todd seemed tired and sad, and John knew he couldn’t let this go.

“Tell us what happened.”

And Todd spoke for a long time, describing how his hive mate had been contacted by a new supposed ally, how they’d met several times, how his hive mate was unsure and reluctant to share much with Todd, and how they’d found him dead not two hours ago.

John didn’t even look around to check in with his teams and Woolsey. Fifteen minutes later, they were on another planet, standing next to the dead body of a Wraith, with a Hive Ship parked ominously in the background.

~~~~~

Jon was completely awed.

Despite his thoughts and inclinations before the Divide, and his love for Daniel, Jon (and Jack) had never really taken his desires beyond fantasies. There had been the odd fumbling encounter in the showers late at night, and some gun calloused hands groping during down time on a mission, but he’d never actually considered himself having had sex with a man. And the Divide had happened before Jack and Daniel had finally gotten together, so Jon really didn’t have any experience with this.

The kisses Cat had pulled him and Evan into had seemed to just evolve naturally to touching and caressing and more kissing. Even if the differences in their bodies hadn’t been obvious - Cat soft in places he was used to, Evan hard where he wasn’t used to it - he would have been able to tell them apart instantly. Cat was more aggressive, an inconceivably long lifetime telling her what she liked. Evan was soft and responsive, accepting everything he could get, which didn’t really sit right with Jon. This wasn’t about him and Cat taking from Evan, it was about sharing, about equals.

When Cat and Jon went at each other for a moment, Evan sat back and watched. Jon pulled back.

“This isn’t going to work for me,” he sighed, rubbing a hand through his hair.

“That’s okay,” Evan said quietly, already getting up and reaching for the clothes Jon and Cat had stripped him out of earlier. “I’ll go to the mess hall. You…” Evan swallowed and dared to look at the two of them for a moment, “you enjoy yourselves.”

He was yanked back onto the bed by four eager hands.

“What the hell?” Jon growled, bracketing Evan with his body as Cat held his face. “Stay the hell on this bed, Evan,” Jon hissed, and then he and Cat slowly disentangled themselves and retreated to separate sides of the mattress.

“I think we’ve got some crossed wires here,” Jon finally stated. “Evan, why did you… do you not want this?”

Lorne looked desirous and sad at the same time.

“I thought you… wanted to be… alone with Cat,” Evan managed to get out. “It wasn’t working for you? That must’ve been about me. Because… how could you not want Cat?”

Jon shook his head incredulously.

“I can’t… I can’t even… Cat, help us out here!”

With a soft smile, she grabbed Evan’s ankle and Jon’s wrist, connecting them, and let the images flow through them all. When Jon grabbed Evan’s hand in turn, it only became stronger.

Evan not only saw, but heard and felt. Jon dreamed about Evan, about loving him, taking him apart and putting him back together again. He dreamed the same about Cat. Jon may seem like a young man, but he had years and years of pent up fantasies about loving both of them. He was an alpha male if ever there’d been one. But the immediate images of Jon taking Evan and Cat changed to ones where it was Jon in the middle, with Jon the one being taken apart, accepting whatever they wanted to do to him with love and desire. And then Cat in the middle, with Jon and Evan working together to wreck her mind. It built and built, one view after another, and there was no difference to the want and desire.

Evan swallowed harshly when the images and sounds finally stopped.

“You… you want me to…”

“Yes!” Jon hissed, his voice gravelly with undisguised lust.

“For tonight, I think we should just sleep,” Cat said quietly, and they nodded, too overwhelmed to continue the way they had been going.

There was some more kissing, some touching, but finally they fell asleep without doing anything more. Though Evan was in the middle, he didn’t feel like he was just there for the ride anymore. He felt equal. Loved.

~~~~~

Nirrti was not having a good time. The stupid ship had broken down twice, and while she’d gotten it going again, she felt as if she were being watched. She was still days away from the nearest StarGate.

Hidden behind a convenient moon, the Daniel Jackson IV lingered, waiting for her to start moving again.

~~~~~

“It’s obviously the same MO, Boss,” Tony commented while Ziva and McGee sketched and took pictures. They tried not to let the image of the dead Wraith - or the live one standing only a few feet away - distract them from their jobs.

Gibbs didn’t even bother with a ‘Ya think?’. It looked exactly like Ms Radim’s murder. But where her death was puzzling and gruesome, to now find a Wraith killed the same way only added more complications. There were no connections between the Wraith and the Genii as far as anyone knew, and Todd was being very helpful and open.

The same conditions for the investigation as had been discussed with Radim were in place for this one, and Todd had been easier and more accepting than Radim had been. Cat had come and gone, and everyone made sure that Abby this time stayed on Atlantis. Tony had tried to ask Todd for weapons for their database, but nothing other than stunners had been provided. Todd smiled creepily when he explained Wraith really had no use for knives or guns, and Tony hastily retreated.

When John asked to see the dead Wraith’s quarters on the hive so they could search it for clues, Todd had brought them on board. It had taken no more than a glance to know that ‘hive mate’ meant something more than just Wraith being born out of the same hive, and Todd grinned again when he saw Sheppard and his people realise this.

Todd agreed to the body being taken to Atlantis for an autopsy. While Carson Beckett still had a partial desire to study the body for a further understanding of Wraith physiology, Dr Mallard refused, saying this was a murder victim, not an experiment, and Carson easily acquiesced.

But Tony’s mind was spinning. Now they had two murder victims, with no ties, no connections, not even the slightest affiliation. And while it was fortuitous that he and his team were here for these investigations, it also seemed like too much of a coincidence. And there were rules about that.

And the unlikely possibility of a coincidence was about to be thrown out of the window with the next emergency call Atlantis received.

~~~~~

“Mr President, General Hammond, I don’t know what else to tell you,” Hank Landry sighed. They’d gone over all the available information several times already, and nothing new was cropping up.

“And the SecNav? This Director Vance?” Hammond asked.

“Oh, I completely agree with you there, General Hammond. It will probably be the highlight of my week for you and I to visit them tomorrow.”

George could hear the tired smile, but silently agreed. With the Asgard still chasing Nirrti’s little ship, Atlantis and her people unwilling to return to Earth, and what looked like a convoluted murder mystery going on in Pegasus, it would be a pleasure for George and Hank to go bust some heads.

“I’ll pick you up at nine tomorrow morning then, Hank.”

“See you tomorrow, General,” Landry signed off.

~~~~~

The otherwise attractive female scowled upon being greeted by Dr M. Rodney McKay when she hailed Atlantis.

“Where’s Sheppard?” She asked.

“Unavailable,” Rodney growled back.

“So you keep telling me,” she smirked.

Rodney dismissed that.

“Let me guess, Larrin,” Rodney said, almost pleasantly. “You have a murder on your hands and you want us to help find who did it.”

Though Larrin had an excellent poker face, this clearly startled her. Her entire demeanour changed.

“Yes. How did you…?”

“Hate to tell you this, sweetheart, but you’re not the first,” Rodney replied meanly.

She sighed.

“Rodney, look I’m… I’m sorry, okay? It’s Katie, our engineer. She’s the… she was the sister of the girl your Dr Zelenka worked with that time?”

Even Rodney could see the genuine sorrow on Larrin’s face. He managed some sincerity.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Larrin. But as I said, you’re not the first to report something like this. Can you tell us what happened?”

And once again, the Atlantis crew were subjected to a tale of murder with far too few details, and way too many awful pictures. Not even Rodney minded when Sheppard gave a short hug to Larrin in consolation when they met up on a neutral planet for the investigation, and Tony wondered at his life. Flying cities, alien planets, Wraith hive ships, and now a Traveller fleet. But still, murder everywhere he went.

~~~~~

The Secretary of the Navy was not pleased to find himself in Leon Vance’s offices, but he’d head no choice. When the President of the United States of America orders you somewhere, you better be there. Vance was twitching, and both of them were eager to reach for the scotch that sat invitingly on Vance’s bar, but resisted, even though they’d been waiting for more than half an hour by then.

Finally, the door opened.

“Gentlemen,” Hammond said cordially before sitting himself down. Landry was less courteous, but followed George’s lead.

“Now, I’ve been told that you’ve been asking after some Agents who’ve been assigned to a project of mine. Keep quiet, son,” Hammond said with that Texas twang as he saw the Secretary of the Navy try to speak, even though they were near in age.

“Your team’s been reassigned, like I said, to my project. You don’t need to know. You won’t know.”

Hammond sat back as if that was all, and in his mind, it was. But Vance wasn’t having it.

“My entire first response team has been appropriated! I don’t know where they are or what they’re doing!”

“And you won’t, son,” Hammond replied.

“That’s not acce…”

“Are you seriously trying to tell General Hammond that’s not acceptable?” Hank raised his voice. “Do you even know who this man is?”

Vance clearly didn’t. Hammond turned to SecNav.

“You understand, don’t you, son?” Hammond asked most kindly.

SecNav was torn. On the one hand, he had Leon hounding him about his MCRT, and wanted to know what was going on. On the other, he did know General Hammond, at least by reputation, because no one seemed to know exactly what his project was. Seeing the indecision, Hammond leaned back in his chair.

“I can get the President on the phone for you right now,” he drawled.

SecNav looked at Vance with clear hostility in his eyes.

“That won’t be necessary, Sir. Thank you. The team is reassigned, and we’ll wait to hear from you should that change.”

Vance hated it, but couldn’t do anything else but nod and see the two Air Force Generals out again.

“I didn’t even get to bite his head off,” Landry mourned when they were back in the car.

“Don’t worry, Hank,” Hammond consoled him. “I’ve a feeling this isn’t over yet.”

~~~~~

Tony didn’t know what to do, and found himself in the kitchens with Sergeant at two in the morning.

“Not sleeping, kid? Your Gunny won’t like that.”

Tony couldn’t help but smile. For so long, he’d been afraid of what having their relationship out in the open might cause, and here he was on a full on military base, and no one seemed to care. Seemed supportive, even.

“He won’t mind. As long as I have coffee and a solution to our murder problem for him in the morning.”

“Ah, one of those. Talk to me, kid.”

And while they rolled breads and left them to prove, kneaded pastries, and mixed puddings, Tony spoke about the three murders. He knew Sergeant wasn’t really listening, but when morning came and Gibbs showed up early for his first cup of tar for the day, Tony had a theory.

Chapter Text

Thor uttered a pretty impressive string of Tau’ri curses, a habit he freely admitted he’d picked up from O’Neill over their years of friendship, and that he’d found to be very satisfying in certain situations, such as the one he now found himself in. He and his crew had been following Nirrti for more than two weeks, waiting to see who she would contact. When it became clear from her trajectory that she was headed for one of the nearest StarGates, which happened to be on an abandoned planet, he’d decided to see if she would meet anyone there. Instead, they’d lost her.

Having expected her to meet someone, they were still hanging back to observe. But Nirrti had simply landed her small ship next to the Gate, and thirty seconds later had stepped through it before Thor could issue the order to beam her up to his ship. It had only taken a few minutes to get two of his brethren down to the planet and use a program to redial the last Gate address, and the two Asgard fearlessly stepped through to follow her, but less than an hour later, his brethren had returned to the planet.

They’d followed her through seven Gates, but by then it was clear they weren’t going to be able to catch up with her that way. She was moving quickly to seemingly random planets, stepping through, turning around and leaving again immediately. She must have a final destination in mind, but it was impossible to tell from the erratic pattern they’d followed.

Thor scowled. O’Neill would not be impressed with him for losing her.

~~~~~

After breakfast, the entire Atlantis Senior Staff, including SG1, Jon and Cat, and the entire NCIS team met in Woolsey’s office.

They had been on the case for three weeks now, and while they’d found a lot of information, they hadn’t a clue about the murderer yet, and they were worried. The three victims they had so far had been killed almost a week apart each, and if the pattern held, they could expect a call from yet another ally any day now to inform them of a new murder. It was obviously something everyone hoped to avoid.

The three murders were very similar, but there were small differences. Where Ms Radim had been stabbed and left to bleed out before finally being shot a while later, Todd’s hive mate had been swiftly killed, and the feeding tubes in his feeding arm had been cut as well, so the killer must know that a Wraith could regenerate even from knife and gunshot wounds if he got to feed soon after. Katie, Larrin’s engineer, had the same wounds as Ms Radim, but had been shot immediately instead of the killer waiting for her to bleed out first.

All three of them had been killed on a planet, Ms Radim on her home world, the Wraith on an empty planet he’d ostensibly been meeting this supposed new contact on, and Katie while the Traveller fleet was having some down time and reloading supplies. While the team had been able to examine the crime scenes for Ms Radim and the Wraith, Katie had been moved by her people back to their ship when they’d found her. The team had gone to the planet where she’d been killed, but couldn’t find much evidence there either.

During the day, the teams were either out gathering information and asking around, or processing. Sheppard had gotten Larrin to agree to the Travellers’ weapons to be tested like those of the Genii, and Abby had drawn Ziva and Palmer in as her assistants to help her test and scan all the results for her new database. McGee, Rodney and Miko Kusanagi tackled the DHDs on the three planets, downloading the last fifty or so addresses dialled, and were trying to find a pattern from there.

After dinner each evening, everyone was ordered to try to relax. John, Jack and Woolsey insisted, and even Gibbs had to admit that in this different playing field where they just didn’t have the contacts and resources, it was of little use to keep his team working 24/7. So after the evening meal, they tried to divert their minds from the case. They joined in the regular movie nights or poker games, went to the gym for a good sparring session or bantos lesson, or simply met up and talked, which turned out to be a very good thing.

Now that Abby was back in her element on the case, she’d let go of her frustration and anxiety over being left behind by Gibbs and Tony, and the three had mended fences about her initial behaviour and her ill-advised adventure to the Genii planet. Gibbs had also let go of his anger towards Cat and Jon for that, and while he wouldn’t apologise, of course, he let them know he understood and was no longer mad about it.

And though Atlantis was no longer broadcasting her favourites’ personal feelings after the stern talking to she’d received from Cat, all the gene carriers could feel Atlantis’ returning happiness with every evening that passed. No one doubted that had to do with Lorne, Jon and Cat retreating to joint quarters at night, and the obvious closeness the three were developing.

The news they received from Earth just after the third murder that Nirrti had escaped was unwelcome and worrying, but there was nothing they could do about that from Atlantis, so they had to focus on what was going on in Pegasus for now.

So here they were once again in Woolsey’s office. Tony had snuck out of their bed and quarters in the night, and Gibbs had been disgruntled to wake up without him, but as soon as he found Tony in the kitchens, Gibbs knew something was brewing. He’d seen that look on Tony’s face hundreds of times before, and trusted Tony completely. He waited out breakfast, and settled in next to Tony in Woolsey’s office, waiting for the reveal.

“John,” Tony asked suddenly as they were in the middle of a discussion on what worlds to visit next for information, “aside from the Genii, the Wraith and the Travellers, who you would say you have the most animosity with?”

The question, coming out of left field, stunned them all into silence for a moment.

“Why?”

“Because that’s probably where the next victim will be from.”

They stared at him.

“And another thing. If it had been Ladon Radim who had been killed instead of his sister, would the other Genii have contacted Atlantis? Would the Wraith, if it had been Todd? Or the Travellers, if it had been Larrin?”

Gibbs could see the wheels turning in everyone’s heads, and felt them grinding in his own mind as well.

“No,” John finally answered, “no, I highly doubt that.”

“What are you thinking, DiNozzo?” Jack asked, but Gibbs could see that he and several others were forming the picture he was getting in his own mind as well at Tony’s questions.

Tony stood and started pacing.

“We have three victims who, no disrespect intended, aren’t very important in their own right. What makes them important is that they were important to people who would contact Atlantis. Radim’s sister, Todd’s hive mate, Larrin’s engineer. Forcing them to make that connection with us, to owe us. But why? Who would benefit from your three staunchest enemies to be indebted to Atlantis?”

He turned back to John.

“What would happen if, in the course of our helping them with this, we made a truce with them? Atlantis would no longer have any enemies here. Who but us would benefit from that? What would you do? Would you start to focus more on the scientific nature of the expedition you originally came here for? Maybe even reduce our military presence?”

John shook his head in denial, he would never believe in such a truce, not out here, and not with them.

“We wouldn’t,” it was Woolsey who finally answered, “but the IOA would.”

Several of them fell back into their seats with deep sighs. Woolsey explained, even following Tony’s line of reasoning a little further.

“The International Oversight Advisory these days has only one major goal. They failed to take over the SGC on Earth, but are getting technology from the SGC’s exploits in the Milky Way in return. But Atlantis is in some ways more vulnerable. No matter all we’ve achieved here in Pegasus, we are still dependent on funding and personnel assignments. And they’ve been trying to cut back on those for years. Their main goal, in my opinion, is to force Atlantis to return to Earth and remain there. Some will want that for the protection of Earth, others for the treasures they think they’ll get if they divide her up. If we no longer have enemies here, and therefore no longer can justify our need for funding, supplies and personnel, they can start to cut our budget. And then when things inevitably turn here again, they can justify ordering Atlantis back to Earth.”

“They would have a fair idea at least of who to target from your reports,” Jack mused. “Maybe not the specifics, but a good undercover operative wouldn’t need to spend much time hiding in their crews to figure out who Radim, Todd and Larrin would be close to.”

“But all three of them know all their people. Could someone go undercover undetected? Especially with the Wraith?” Tony wanted to know.

There were several nods, and it was Daniel who answered.

“Yes. We’ve done it ourselves. There are certain drugs that allow you to alter someone’s mind, for a short time at least, make them see you as who you tell them you are. I’ve used it myself to infiltrate a Gua’ould System Lord conference. Cam has used it too.”

“And we’ve seen several aliens who had the ability to hide in plain sight,” Sam added.

“And let’s not forget the human form Replicators,” Rodney scowled. “While they mainly stick to one form, we know that they can appear as anyone they’ve touched, which would include a Wraith.”

“Oh, crap!” Cam exclaimed, getting worried looks. “The IOA have used Replicators before! Remember? Daniel, Vala and Teal’c were after Ark of Truth, and Sam and I had that IOA jackass on the ship who was on a mission from the IOA to have us deliver Replicators to the Ori galaxy, hoping that the Replicators would destroy the Ori, or at least delay them!”

A small sound from Cat drew everyone’s attention to her, and she frowned and tilted her head in a way that they’d come to realise meant she was speaking directly to Atlantis. They waited impatiently.

“My sister and I have been tracking the work Rodney, Tim and Miko have been doing on tracing the Gate connections from the three murder planets. It has been slow, because we can only track one person at a time, and most travel in groups that then split up. But we have found an anomaly.”

“You can track people through the Gates?” Rodney asked incredulously.

“What anomaly?” John demanded.

She smiled at Rodney, then answered John.

“A person who is not fully a person.”

“Like a Gua’ould?” Jack asked anxiously.

“Yes and no. I can sense a Gua’ould. What I sensed from this person was mostly human, but with some, shall we say, enhancements? It felt like Replicator, but somehow different from the ones I encountered in the Ida Galaxy with Thor all those years ago.”

“You know, some day you’re going to have to tell me exactly how, and how long, you’ve known Thor,” Jack grumbled.

“More important things first, Jack,” Daniel chided, then turned to Cat again. “You can track this person?”

She nodded.

“I have not done so yet, because other persons had more direct Gate connections, so we focused on them first. But this man has been to all three murder planets around the time of the murders.”

“Can you track him now?”

“I shall have to make contact with the Gate.”

“That’s what you’ve been doing sitting there leaning against the Gate all day?”

She nodded again.

“Wait,” Tony said, stopping her from getting up and doing just that. “You wouldn’t be able to show us his image, would you? It would help our inquiries if we could show the people exactly who we are looking for.”

Cat seemed surprised by the notion, but then nodded again, and a moment later, a man’s face was displayed on the monitors in the office. Most looked at the picture with curiosity, but the members of one particular team gaped in disbelief.

“Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me!” Tony cried in exasperation.

~~~~~

Nirrti smirked to herself as she made the next step through a Gate.

She’d been very careful on this one, expecting an ambush, but apparently whoever it was she’d felt watching her hadn’t figured out yet that she had an idea of what had happened, and she stepped unharmed from one galaxy into the next. Maybe the troubles with that puny little ship she’d escaped on had been a blessing in disguise, because it had given her time to think. She knew about Atlantis. Even if her minions hadn’t spilled the beans about the intergalactically travelling city, the low buzz of even the minor gene carriers she’d experimented on would have alerted her. And she’d followed that connection and dug around for more information.

So, while she was working to repair the ship for the second time, it had suddenly come to her. If the low level carriers had that connection, the strong ones she’d been after who disappeared must have had it in spades. And that was the only way they could have vanished from her clutches just when her transport device had been ready, to leave on that flying city. And from her information gathering, she knew the city was home to Pegasus.

She’d stepped through dozens of Gates to hide her trail, and now had finally arrived at the one that would take her from the Milky Way to Pegasus. Really, she scoffed, it was amazing that no one had figured out she’d know, and try to get there.

Nirrti was very pleased with herself to have outsmarted them.

So the barrel of a gun against her head the moment she stepped into the Pegasus galaxy came as a very unpleasant surprise.

“Hello, darling,” murmured a low male voice. “Fancy meeting you here.”

~~~~~

“Isn’t he supposed to be dead?” McGee sighed.

Tony grinned and shook his head.

“Oh, My Little Probie!” Tony looked around the room. “Hands up everyone who’s supposed to be dead.”

Several hands rose into the air, many with faces behind them sporting wide grins of their own.

“Alright, alright!” McGee gave up easily with a smile. “So, he’s one of these Replicator things now? What do we do?”

“I can track him through the Gates and get his last location,” Cat offered.

“And then?” Tony asked. “Is he still evil? Or is this Replicator running the show?”

“Does it matter?” Rodney said, always practical. “If your theory is correct, he killed three people here.”

“Yes, but it’s still just a theory, and I want to know if it was the man or the Replicator before I condemn him.”

“You owe him nothing, Tony,” Gibbs said reasonably.

Tony turned to him.

“I am still an officer of the law. I realise the rules are different here. But from what I’ve heard and read, the Replicators take you over, like a Gua’ould, and don’t give you any choice. We’ve never been able to prove anything he may have done, and, following the law, I’m not about to simply pronounce him guilty based on what we suspect he’s done in the past. I will not act as judge, jury and executioner if there is a chance it wasn’t really him.”

“You’re a better man than I am,” Gibbs admitted after a strained silence, “but then, you always were.”

Tony stared at Gibbs for a long time, reading him for truth. Finally he nodded. He turned to Cat.

“Is there a way we can tell? Like the way you read Radim, and Todd?”

“Of course,” she replied, “and even easier than with them. The Replicators are mechanical. I shall be able to read his programming, and see exactly which part of him was in charge at the time of the murders, if it was indeed him who performed the killings.”

“And if it wasn’t?”

“My sister and I can shut down and remove the Replicators, just like we could remove a Gua’ould.”

The simple statement caused many of them to think wistfully back to all those who had been lost to either of those entities over the years, wishing they had known Cat and this new fully powered Atlantis back then. Many good men and women, friends, might still be alive and well.

Tony nodded.

“So, we go find him.”

~~~~~

“How are you holding up, Walter?” Caldwell asked on his next visit to his brother.

“Actually, I feel great.” Seeing the worry in Steven’s eyes, he elaborated. “I’m eating and sleeping again, something I haven’t been able to do in months. I’m a bit bored with my surroundings,” he said, looking around his relatively small cell, “but my mind’s at peace now. I’ve even been working out.”

Caldwell nodded. He’d watched his brother do exercises and read and relax more and more over the video feed of the brig.

“We’re nearly at our destination,” Caldwell told him. “A few days at most. When we get there, I’m going to have to turn you over.”

“I’ll do whatever you want me to, brother. Anything to ease your mind about this mess I’ve gotten myself into. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Wait to thank me until you’ve been cleared,” Caldwell sighed. “You might not want to thank me then.”

Walter smiled.

“No matter what happens next, Steven, I’ll always be grateful for this time we got to spend together.”

~~~~~

As it turned out, they didn’t need to find him. He found them first.

“DiNozzo,” the man drawled, then named several of the others he could see in the background of the video feed to show he knew exactly who the players were. “I have a present for you.”

The camera was turned onto a woman in chains and cuffs, with a broad collar on her neck and a gag in her mouth. From the soft exclamations behind him, Tony knew this was Nirrti.

“And what would I owe you for this present?” Tony asked.

“Oh, nothing much. Just my life back.”

“It seems to me you’ve already gotten your life back. Last I heard, you were supposed to be dead.”

“I have it on good authority death doesn’t always take in this universe.”

“What do you expect from me?”

“You’ve got a magical city with plenty of scientific marvels there, DiNozzo. I want to be human again.”

Tony snorted.

“That might be a tall order even for us. You haven’t been human in years, if I recall correctly.”

The man smirked.

“Funny. Get these little nanobots out of me, DiNozzo, and you get her in exchange.”

“Even if we could do that, you’d still have to stand trial,” Tony warned.

“I’ll freely admit to killing, DiNozzo. But even I know there’s a difference between doing what you’re told and having no choice at all because you’ve been taken over by an alien entity.”

The man swallowed, and then spoke without sarcasm or taunts.

“I know you have a way of telling whether that’s true or not. I’ll freely hand myself over to you and submit to whatever you want me to. I didn’t have a choice. I’m trusting you.”

It didn’t take long to have all the arrangements agreed upon, and John and Jack’s teams to head out. Tony, by strenuous command, remained behind as the teams went to collect the man and Nirrti.

Tony stared at the screen for a long time after the communication had been cut off.

Unbelievable.

Trent Fucking Kort.

Chapter Text

Tony was revelling in his favourite sounds in the world, or more accurately, he supposed, in the universe. Jethro was moaning and groaning, writhing under him, and Atlantis sang a happy tune in the back of his mind.

After the day’s confrontations, Tony was desperately seeking comfort and safety, and had wasted no time in going to his happiest place ever: loving Gibbs. From the moment he’d met the man, they’d had a connection, and though it had remained platonic for several years, Tony had never felt as safe as he did with Jethro. By the time they’d started their more intimate relationship, Tony knew he’d never felt as happy as he did when he got Jethro’s undivided attention.

And there was one thing Tony loved that ensured that complete focus.

He smiled to himself as he licked along Jethro’s cock. Though they’d never talked about it, and probably never would, and Tony had absolutely no complaints, he knew that Gibbs didn’t feel the same way about going down on Tony as Tony did going down on Jethro. Not that Gibbs was ever hesitant or unwilling, he just didn’t love the feeling of a stiff dick in his mouth the way Tony did. And that was fine. Tony was just a more oral sort of guy. He snickered softly, hearing and feeling Jethro’s moans increase at the sensation.

When they’d moved into the house with Cat and their friends, Tony had started getting that buzz in the back of his brain that he now realised was a precursor for his connection to Atlantis. And once they’d arrived on the city, that buzz became a song that he could hear and feel constantly. It meshed so beautifully with the sounds Jethro made, it was a match made in heaven.

And the feeling! His mouth filled with hot, hard flesh, the taste of Jethro, his mind humming with sounds and sensations! Tony didn’t mean to tease, he was just really enjoying himself.

The knowledge that Gibbs could and would do nothing but lie there and take it, take everything Tony had to give, was the most powerful feeling ever. Those tough, boatbuilding, gun wielding hands in his hair, never forcing, always requesting, petting, loving. That still trim and powerful body completely under his control, just by the application of his mouth, lips and tongue.

There was no better place for him than this.

~~~~~

Jack was just rinsing the shampoo from his hair when he felt and heard movement behind him. Where once his instincts would have had him strike out instantly, years of conditioning told him this was Daniel, and he was safe, so he remained still. The sound of the water raining down on the slick floor changed when Daniel stepped under the spray with him, and then gentle hands and long fingers started mapping his back.

Daniel’s hands. He’d had a fascination with them for years, for long before their relationship changed. Jack had watched those fingers gently caress artefacts, use those soft, delicate brushes to rid them of centuries of dust and dirt, only to turn around and grab a gun, pointing it steadily at an approaching enemy. Those fingers had switched slides on presentations for their missions, had held pens for writing in journals in the firelight on overnights off world, the fingertips had been licked to more easily turn a page of a report or study. Those fingers and hands had talked just as much as the mouth had, moving delicately in the air to emphasise the words reaching his ears.

As it turned out, Daniel was a tactile man, no matter how much he discouraged touch from strangers or even sometimes friends.

The first time Daniel had laid Jack out on his bed and slid those fingers over every single inch of exposed skin, Jack joked that of course Daniel liked that. After all, Jack was like one of Daniel’s artefacts, old and crusty. Danny hadn’t liked the joke, and Jack never ever made it again.

Instead, Jack had learned to simply accept and love the touch. Daniel used it to reassure himself of Jack’s wellbeing, since he knew that if asked, Jack would use sarcasm to deflect if something was wrong. Those fingers could touch his bruises and wounds so softly they brought comfort instead of pain, and bring warmth and strength.

Since Jack wasn’t bruised or hurt right now, he knew those touches meant something else. They were about soothing Daniel’s worry, and his excitement. With Nirrti’s capture, Daniel was looking forward to this threat to be over, and yet worried that it meant they would be leaving Atlantis soon. Jack had his own ideas about that, but couldn’t share them with his lover yet. Instead, he stood there and let Daniel soothe himself.

When the touch turned more intimate and Daniel finally slid inside of him, Jack simply closed his eyes and moaned in pleasure, only too happy to give his Daniel this. It wasn’t like it was a hardship. Daniel was a master at playing Jack, body, mind and soul. And Jack absolutely loved him for it.

~~~~~

“Wanna fuck me?” Rodney asked, reclining naked on their bed, his dick standing up hard and aching, his legs spread lewdly.

“Always,” John replied, his voice muffled by the shirt he was ripping off himself before pouncing on his lover.

“Well, get to it then! I have a simulation running I need to get back to in 32 minutes.”

John chuckled.

“Only you, McKay,” John laughed as he complied.

~~~~~

Evan Lorne couldn’t have told you which way was up or what galaxy he was in. His face was buried between Cat’s legs, his fingers playing with her, while Jon was behind him, taking him apart. He couldn’t have said which moans were his, or Jon’s, or Cat’s.

Lights were dancing in front of his eyes, sounds buzzing in his ears, and he had no idea whether those were from Atlantis, or from oxygen deprivation. All he knew was, if he were to die now, he would die the happiest of men.

~~~~~

“Got yourself a new girlfriend, DiNozzo?” Kort drawled from his cell when Tony finally showed up with Cat in tow.

“Two actually,” Tony said with a smirk, and Atlantis sent a spike through the bars of the Wraith holding cell Kort was presently inhabiting.

“Given up on Gibbs, then?” But Kort was less certain of himself, having seen the energy rippling along the bars, and the foreign bodies in his flesh quivered at their presence.

Tony laughed, and threw a pair of full restraints into the cell.

“Get yourself into those.”

Trent obligingly put himself in the restraints, ankles, waist and wrists, and grudgingly admitted the two additional guards that came into his cell to check him and hold him under fire simultaneously knew what they were doing.

“Stand there, and don’t move, Kort. I’m not kidding. You move, they shoot.”

Kort nodded and stood still. Tony and Cat entered the cell.

From around the corner, Gibbs and the others were watching the entire thing. The only reason they’d allowed this was because Cat and Atlantis had assured them the Replicator cells would not be able to escape, and Kort wouldn’t be able to hurt them or anyone.

When they stood in front of Kort, Cat reached out her hand. Trent jerked his head away, unwilling to let her touch him, but she just raised an eyebrow, and Tony grinned.

“Just do it,” Tony said.

The touch was short. Her fingers brushed against Kort’s cheek. He felt the alien cells rippling in his body and tried to give them a warning.

The next thing he knew, Trent was lying on the floor in his cell, the bars closed and buzzing again. Tony and the woman were on the other side, and his restraints were gone. He looked up at them.

“The Replicator cells have been rendered inactive for now,” the woman informed him.

Kort lowered his head and blew out a breath, then looked up again.

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

“What the hell happened, Kort?” Tony demanded. “What the fuck are you doing here? How did you learn about all this?”

Trent giggled, which was disturbing in and of itself, then shook his head.

“I don’t even know, DiNozzo. One moment I was happily dead, the next, I’m standing in front of a review board being given my next assignment.”

“Review board?”

“Yes. Three men and a woman. Chinese girl, lovely lass. German wanker. American tosser. And one of my fellow countrymen, absolute tosspot.”

“Your assignment?”

“You know what it was. I step through a couple of these rings, then I’m sitting down to supper with this arsehole in a uniform, and he’s introducing me to his sister. Nice girl. Didn’t want to hurt her, but then these things inside of me thought otherwise. Never stood a chance.”

“Her, or you?”

“Neither, DiNozzo.”

“When did you know you were compromised?”

“Well, my first clue was that I wasn’t dead anymore. Then there was the having two eyes again thing. Seeing my hands stab this poor girl, and not being able to do a thing about it. And knowing all these things about StarGates, Wraith, Travellers, Air Force Generals, and knowing I’d find you here, DiNozzo.”

“Who’s your next target?”

“Someone connected to this small chit called Harmony? Queen of the Tower? Apparently, you stole her drones?”

Sheppard stepped into the room.

“This interview is over.”

Tony held up a hand.

“Why did you not go after Harmony? Why capture Nirrti and surrender to us?”

Trent Kort rose from the floor and stood in front of Tony, drawing himself up.

“Well, those bastards may not have known who they were dealing with, but you do. You don’t survive in our line of work for as long as I did without some untapped reserves of strength. They gave me more information than they thought. I figured… if I was going to get a second chance at life, I might as well not waste it. With what I gleaned from them, I knew you were my only reasonable hope.”

Both Tony and Cat stared at him, until finally Tony nodded.

“Get him some food,” Tony said to the guards.

Then they left, and Kort sank down onto the bunk in the cell, rubbing his face in his hands. It had been a long shot, but maybe his decision to come to DiNozzo might not come back to bite him in the arse.

~~~~~

In another holding cell a few doors down, Nirrti was still chained, cuffed, collared and gagged.

Both Cat and Atlantis assured them all she would be fine, and not to worry about her.

~~~~~

“So, Trent Kort,” Tony said, handling the clicker as if this were a normal case back in the NCIS bullpen. McGee smiled. He’d helped Tony put together his presentation, and was proud of his friend addressing the room filled with Generals and important people with such confidence.

“A little background information,” Tony continued, Kort’s face coming up on several screens. “He was, or used to be, a shady CIA agent we’ve had several dealings with at NCIS. The two most important ones, pertaining to me, are these.”

More pictures flooded the screens, and the NCIS people chuckled at Tony’s proclamation.

“Sorry, Jethro,” Tony stage whispered to the side, “I know you tangled with him too a time or two, but I think these speak more to his character. Or lack thereof.”

Tony turned back to the room.

“The first time we encountered Kort was when he was pretending to be the arms dealer La Grenouille’s right hand man, and I was undercover to charm the arms dealer’s daughter Jeanne Benoit into meeting her father. It was a complete clusterfuck.”

More pictures appeared on screen. McGee felt proud. He’d succeeded in telling the story with just these images.

“Let’s not go into details, because it was all a ridiculous mess where we suspected Kort was the one to blow up my car with me in it, and everyone thought I was dead, but anyway, we both survived. So, on to the second time he and I played games.”

Tony wielded the clicker again and pulled up more photos.

“A couple of years later, we have this serial killer called P2P, or Port-To-Port, because he was killing in several US Navy ports. A victim survived because someone came to his aid, and apparently the helper lost an eye in the attack. Imagine my surprise when me and Ziva were having a drink in a bar, and I get served a drink with an ice cube with an eye in it. Turned out to be Kort’s.”

No one liked that image much, either verbal or in pictures, and there were several coughs and gulps of water, many of them checking surreptitiously for ice cubes.

“He knew more about this secret operation called Frankenstein where US Marines were being conditioned into killers, saved the victim only to be taken by the perp, and survived again to live another day.”

Tony looked at them all.

“So, while I hope it’s clear that I don’t trust or like Trent Kort, I can’t and won’t condemn him just like that."

It was Jack who coughed again and then settled his gaze on Tony, who’d sat back down in his chair to await their judgment.

“Understood, Tony. Cat?”

The woman leaned back in her seat, conferring with her sister.

“He is a conflicted man. We sense darkness in him, perhaps more than in most of your species. However, we have also analysed the programming of the Replicators within him, and have concluded that while his physical hands may have perpetrated the deeds, we are certain that his human mind was not at fault.”

“So he was under orders,” Gibbs grunted.

“Yes, Jethro, but not in the way you perceive it. Would you all allow me to demonstrate?”

Receiving nods of approval, and knowing that some of them knew exactly what she was saying, Cat cast her net over all their minds.

“Raise your right hands above your heads.”

Everyone did, some looking very upset at not being able to rebuke her order. Since Gibbs had been the one to address the issue, once she had released them all, she turned to him.

“Could you have possibly resisted me?”

Gibbs shook his head.

“What if I had told you to take off your clothes,” Cat asked, knowing that sex and sexuality was one of the most private things humans felt.

Again, Gibbs shook his head. She pressed on.

“What if I had told you to choke Corporal Ellis, who’s standing guard out there, to death?”

Gibbs wasn’t the only one who looked horrified at that thought, but he couldn’t deny it.

“What if I had told you to shoot Tony?”

“Never!” Gibbs exclaimed immediately, and it wasn’t just the terrible thought of hurting Tony, he knew that no matter who commanded it, he would not be able to do it.

Cat gave him a small, sad smile.

“And that is what is in your CIA agent’s mind at the moment. He has done terrible things, he has many flaws. But the killing of these beings here in Pegasus, Ms Radim, the Wraith hive mate, and Ms Katie, those were not his choice. He could not say no. He was a passenger.”

“But you say he has done terrible things, no?” Ziva asked. “Does that not mean a conviction in itself?”

The look Cat shot her was incredibly uncomfortable, the words even worse.

“Who here has not done terrible things, Ms David? There are not many in this room who have not killed. There are none who have not lied in what I perceive to humanity to be important things. I do not exclude myself from this. Do we all deserve to be put to death for it? The galaxies would be an empty place if it were.”

There was a long silence in Woolsey’s office after that.

~~~~~

“You have got to be kidding me?!” General Hammond exclaimed when on the phone with Landry.

“No, Sir,“ Hank replied. “According to the latest intel, Director Vance has set several of his Cyber Division onto the files of the MCRT to find out where they’ve gone.”

“Then you and I, son,” Hammond twanged, “are going to have another visit with this Director Vance, and shut him down for good!” He roared.

“Yes, Sir!” Landry agreed with a smile.

~~~~~

“I have told you there is no need to dispatch of this Trent Kort. I have only some knowledge of your rules, or laws, about this, but I assure you, the human part of him was not responsible for the killings in this galaxy.”

She looked at them all.

“Nirrti, however, is another matter. I leave it to you to deliberate and come to a decision regarding her. Know, nevertheless, that my judgment has been passed. This galaxy, or another, it has no bearing on her. I have found her guilty, and it is my duty, and that of my sister, to pass sentence.”

“How can you differentiate?” Tony asked.

She turned sad eyes on him.

“While Trent Kort is not, as you say, an upstanding human being, he has done what he did to serve his country. Nirrti is a mass murderer out for her own gain.”

Cat rose from her seat, and they all felt this was not the gentle housekeeper or the lovable white tiger who relished the petting and scratching from her beloved humans. This was a force of the universe.

“I respect your laws, but find them incomplete in the face of such as Nirrti. Have your tribunal and consider her deeds. Come to your conclusions. I myself have judged her and found her wanting. I have no need to take action now, I can wait, and I shall if that is what you desire. But know that judgement had been passed, and will be enforced, and if you will not do it, I shall.”

And then Cat left the room, leaving them all chilled.

Chapter Text

Over the next two days, various discussions were held, in small groups as well as in the large committee. Cat stayed out of it, but they all knew that, either through Atlantis or through her reading them, she knew exactly what was said and thought.

The first thing everyone agreed on was that they needed to come to certain decisions amongst themselves before they even informed Landry and Earth that they had Nirrti and Trent Kort. They needed to decide whether they would be willing to send them back to Earth to stand trial, or whether their fate would be decided on Atlantis. Whether they were going to include Radim, Todd and Larrin in the decisions. Whether they themselves had any right to make those decisions.

None of them felt any hesitation over destroying the Replicator cells in Trent Kort, not even Daniel. While Daniel had mourned Jack’s killing of Reece, the robot girl who had originally created the Replicators as her toys, that was because he had seen her as a living entity, artificial or not, and her death robbed them and the Asgard of the chance to learn more about the Replicators. It had also served to show him how far apart he and Jack had grown, which had been a major contribution to his overall grief at the time. Not once had he considered the Replicators themselves as living, and he had no compunction about destroying them.

What to do with Kort after that was more of a discussion. Tony made a strong case that whatever Kort had done back on Earth in his CIA days, he’d already died for those sins. This new version of Kort was innocent of the killings, being an unwilling passenger, and as far as they knew had not committed any crimes.

Gibbs argued that he was still in essence the same man, with the same ideas and shady character. If they removed the Replicator cells and sent the man back to Earth, Gibbs predicted he would be seeking revenge on those who had brought him back. And no matter how much they all disliked the IOA and their games, Gibbs wasn’t willing to simply let Kort loose to start killing them.

Then there was the fact that Trent Kort knew too much. He’d always had his hand in many secrets, but the StarGate programme was a bigger secret than anyone trusted him with. Jack especially had a huge problem with that. But what if they kept him on Atlantis? They’d have to monitor him constantly, because he clearly couldn’t be trusted. Could they keep him here knowing they would have to constantly watch their backs around him?

Nirrti was a different problem. Jack was all for killing Gua’oulds, but even he acknowledged that if they did it like this, it would be an execution, not a kill during battle. When they’d captured Ba’al’s clones, Jack had agreed that it would be the right thing to have the Tok’ra extract the symbiote and send it back to its home planet, instead of just killing it. But that too had bit them in the ass.

Daniel’s moral dilemma was aggravated by something he knew most of the others hadn’t even realised yet. If they extracted the symbiote, they were essentially killing the host. Nirrti was old, and had inhabited this host for a long time. He flashed back to the terrified ancient Egyptian man who had been left when the Apophis symbiote was close to dying. He didn’t want to see that again.

Opinions were divided on whether to include Radim, Todd and Larrin in the proceedings. All three had agreed to let Atlantis handle the killer if they found him, and the fact that it was a Replicator in some ways made that easier. None of them would have a problem with the Replicator being essentially killed. But could they be trusted to then not go after Kort? To accept that the man had not been the actual killer, even if it had been his hands to snuff out the victims’ lives?

And what were they going to do about the IOA? Their involvement and true purpose had been just a theory born of Tony’s mind as he was kneading bread in the middle of the night, but had now been confirmed by Kort’s testimony. But was that enough to convince Landry, Hammond and the President? Would that be enough to finally dismantle them? Who would do it? Could they trust the NID?

And even if they resolved all these issues, what then? Would Atlantis return to Earth or would she stay in Pegasus? And no matter where she was, would they stay with her, or try to go back to their old lives? Jack looked around at all his companions as they sat down to dinner, and thought that last option highly unlikely.

~~~~~

Malcolm Barrett suppressed his nerves and sat down on one of the couches in the Oval Office, gratefully accepting the glass of whiskey President Hayes himself handed him.

It had been a long three weeks, but he’d finally made some headway, and now here he sat with the President, Hammond and Landry in the Oval Office, ready to brief them in person.

In between small sips of his drink, he told them everything. What they’d found in Nirtti’s lair. How they’d finally rolled up a huge part of the Trust through her captured minions. About the dealings the Trust had with the IOA. That the IOA had authorised the creation of new Replicator cells for an as yet unknown purpose. How they’d found drafts of agreements between the Trust and the IOA about the dismantling and distribution of parts of Atlantis.

President Hayes leaned back in his seat and took a few sips of whiskey himself. Then he turned to Hammond and started smiling. Hammond smiled back.

“We’ve got them now, George.”

“Yes we do, Mr President,” Hammond beamed at his Commander in Chief.

~~~~~

The various discussions were put on hold when the call came in the next morning.

“Atlantis, this is Daedalus.”

“This is Sheppard. Good to hear from you, Colonel Caldwell.”

“Thank you, Sir. Glad to see you’re safe and sound.”

John grinned. Though he and Caldwell had come to an understanding over the several years they’d been working together, there was no love lost between them, and John still remembered vividly how Caldwell had tried to usurp John’s command back in the early days, when John had still been a lowly Major with black marks on his record. To have Caldwell call him Sir now that he was a general, still made him giddy every time.

“All present and accounted for, Colonel. Landry informed us you were on your way, and of your prisoner.”

“Yes, Sir. We’re only about an hour out from you.”

“Good. You’re clear to land on the South Pier. Colonel, once you’ve landed, please keep your crew on board until cleared by me. Yourself and your prisoner, beam into the Gate Room directly.”

They all noticed the slight hesitation before the answer came, but they also all understood it.

“Yes, Sir. Daedalus out.”

It was clear Caldwell had been running scenarios in his head during their journey, and had come up with a reasonable answer. They knew about his brother and the possible Gua’ould inside of him, and had decided that they couldn’t trust either of them. Caldwell clearly expected to be locked up in the brig alongside his brother as soon as they arrived.

~~~~~

Before the Daedalus could land, the SGC called in to Atlantis.

Immediately after the meeting with the President and Barrett, Landry and Hammond had been beamed back to Cheyenne Mountain by the Apollo specifically for this call, and would be beamed back to DC as soon as they finished.

The Atlantis crew hadn’t come to any decisions yet, so were slightly worried by the dial in. But as soon as they saw not only Landry, but Hammond as well, the SGC people on Atlantis relaxed. Jack gave a jaunty wave and a “Hey, George, how are ya?”, while Daniel sported a rare honest big smile, Sam gave a bright salute, and Teal’c inclined his head with the utmost respect.

They all liked, respected and worked well with Hank Landry, but George Hammond would always be the man they’d turn to and trust, especially for the original four members of SG1.

Hammond grinned back at them.

“Hello, Jack,” he said, then addressed each of the others in turn. “Daniel, how are you, my boy? Colonel Carter, good to see you looking so well. And Teal’c, every time I see you, you’ve grown more hair, son.”

They exchanged a few chuckles and laughs, then got down to business. Landry and Hammond shared the news of what Barrett had found and how they planned to proceed, and Sheppard and Woolsey explained about Trent Kort, Nirrti and what they were deliberating on. No decisions on that could be reached right then and there, because they all knew, now that the story was out there, that the President would have to have a say in this.

After exchanging a few more pleasantries and agreeing to call in again soon, they cut off the transmission.

~~~~~

While Barrett and the Asgard were busy putting everybody in place to rid Earth of the Trust and the IOA once and for all, Hammond and Landry made another little trip to the Navy Yard. This time, no meeting had been called in advance.

Leon Vance looked up when his office door opened, and paled when he saw the two Air Force Generals stride into the room, this time accompanied by four huge Marines. Hammond settled himself into a chair, but Landry paced angrily, shooting hot glances at the Director.

“You were given a clear order to cease and desist your attempts to pry into certain Agents’ records, Vance!”

Hank slammed his hands down onto Vance’s desk.

“Do you not know how to follow orders?!” He bellowed.

Vance nearly swallowed his toothpick, but tried to rally.

“I am only trying to look out for everyone’s interests! I understand why you would want my best Agents for whatever project it is you have them on, but you should understand that DiNozzo…”

“Is your very best Agent!” Landry enjoyed yelling at the man. “In three weeks’ time, he’s uncovered a plot that not only threatened national security, but the security of the world! Not to mention that in that time he managed to solve three murders, and won the trust and respect of several societies we’ve had strenuous relations with for years!”

Okay, so maybe that last part was a bit of an exaggeration, but Vance didn’t need to know that.

“I…” Leon started.

“You, nothing!” Landry bellowed again. “You will accompany these fine Marines to your destination, where you will wait to be questioned! And you had better have some good answers, Vance!”

Leon swallowed thickly.

“I will arrange for the Deputy Director to take over your duties here for now,” Hammond said quietly, then shook his head. “I’m very disappointed in you, son.”

And somehow, that stung even more than the yelling and screaming from Landry.

After the Marines had escorted Vance out of the building, Landry and Hammond sat back in their SUV while the driver took them back to the White House. Hank smiled.

“Sometimes, I love my job,” he crowed.

“I know you do, Hank, I know you do.” Hammond patted Landry on the shoulder with a fond smile.

~~~~~

Precisely on time, and with a radio warning ahead, Colonel Steven Caldwell and his twin brother FBI Associate Director Walter Skinner beamed into the Atlantis Gate room. Caldwell stood as straight as he could, his backbone a rigid pole of steel, unwilling to show any defeat in front of the Atlantis crew who might be watching. Skinner was in cuffs, both wrists and ankles, and looked around curiously.

“Colonel,” Sheppard greeted Caldwell.

“Sir,” Caldwell replied, and snapped off a crisp salute before lowering his eyes to take in the lay of the land. He did not expect what he was seeing.

While the Gate room was bustling with people and activity, and the usual guards were in place, everyone was simply chatting and going about their business, and no one was levelling guns at them. Sheppard was relaxed and smiling, and one of his hands was resting on the head of a large white tiger sitting calmly at his feet. Caldwell saw Woolsey and SG1 looking down at them from the balcony outside Woolsey’s office, but they too looked relaxed. Beckett was standing by with his medical team, Sheppard’s team was behind him, and several other people he didn’t know were watching curiously.

“Do your thing,” Sheppard told the white tiger, and it slipped out from under his hand to approach Caldwell and Skinner.

It sniffed at them both, then reached up a paw to touch both of them on the bared skin of their hands. It took everything Caldwell had not to flinch away from the claws he saw gleaming in between the white fur of the paw.

A young Air Force Captain walked up to them, and put his hand on the tiger’s head.

“She says they’re clean,” the Captain reported to Sheppard. “No Gua’ould, no Replicators. Nothing to worry about.”

“Thanks, Cat, Jon,” Sheppard said, then gestured to the cuffs on Skinner. He turned to Caldwell. “You can take those off him.”

Steven shook his head.

“I can’t. I left the keys with Major Marks on the Daedalus. I was expecting us both to be thrown in the brig, General Sheppard.”

Sheppard sighed as if he were disappointed.

“Ziva!” An older man with silver hair ordered, and a beautiful woman with luscious curly brown hair stepped forward, pulled something out of her pocket, and within seconds had his brother released from the cuffs, having picked the locks.

Sheppard gestured to Beckett.

“Go to Medical, Colonel. Oh, but first…” he stepped aside, and an eager man who had been held back by Sheppard’s barbarian Ronon rushed towards his brother, catching him in a fond embrace.

“Sir!” The younger man breathed.

“Fox!” Walter exclaimed. “What are you doing here? Where is here? No, wait, that’s not important. How are you, son? Are you okay?”

The younger man, Fox Mulder as Caldwell presumed, nodded into his brother’s embrace.

“I’m fine, Sir. I’ve been so worried about you! I’m so glad you’re alright.”

Skinner smiled a huge grin, then pulled back a little and patted Mulder’s cheek.

“We’ve got a lot of talking to do, kid. The truth is out there, huh?”

Mulder grinned back.

“Yes, Sir!”

“Alright, first it’s off to Medical with you. Fox, you can come with, lad,” Beckett interrupted the touching reunion.

“My crew?” Caldwell asked Sheppard.

“We’ll start unloading everyone and everything. I want Cat to see them first, before we let them onto the city proper, but I don’t really expect any problems. They’ll probably start joining you in Medical before Beckett is even finished with you.” He smiled. “When Beckett releases you, come find us in Woolsey’s office, you and your brother. We’ve got some things to talk about.”

Caldwell nodded and turned to follow Beckett and Skinner, then paused and turned back to Sheppard.

“Thank you, John.”

Sheppard simply nodded.

~~~~~

Barrett was envious of the Asgard technology.

While he and his team were going through all the documentation they’d seized from the Trust and feeding names of Trust and IOA operatives they found to Landry, Thor simply located those people and beamed them up into his ship’s holding cells, which had been installed especially for this operation.

There was a lot of questioning in Barrett’s future.

~~~~~

Steven’s mind was reeling.

After his trip to Medical, where indeed his people started showing up only minutes after Beckett had started his exam, all talking about the white tiger sniffing and touching them, Caldwell and Skinner had been brought by Dr Beckett himself to Woolsey’s office.

“So, we know none of them are infected,” he heard Sheppard say.

“As we expected,” O’Neill confirmed.

Caldwell cleared his throat.

“Sirs,” he said, indicating Sheppard, O’Neill and Woolsey.

“Oh, come on in, Caldwell, and drop the polite act. We’ve got bigger things to worry about,” O’Neill scowled.

“No further infestations?” Beckett asked, sliding into a seat as Steven and his brother did the same.

“None,” McKay declared. “Cat says they’re all clean.”

Caldwell let his eyes stray to the white tiger, who had draped herself over the laps of Lieutenant Colonel Lorne and the young Air Force Captain he’d seen earlier, with the name Neilson embroidered on his BDUs. They were sitting awfully cozy together on what Caldwell knew to be a love seat, their hands buried in the tiger’s fur.

And after that, he and his brother learned about Nirrti, Trent Kort, the Trust, the IOA, the NCIS agents, the murders, and everything else that had been going on while he’d been traveling from one galaxy to another.

And as if all that hadn’t been bad enough, when Woolsey closed the meeting, the white tiger rose from its perch, approached Sheppard and batted at him with a paw. Sheppard looked at McKay with pleading eyes.

“Fine,” McKay huffed. “But hurry! Dinner in an hour!”

Sheppard grinned, slid from his seat to his knees, and changed into a black panther. The two cats raced each other out of the meeting room, ignoring the delighted laughter from everyone.

An hour later, they were all gathered in the Mess Hall around a huge table with even more people Caldwell had never met, but knew from the briefing to be the families of Sheppard and McKay.

A woman dressed in BDU pants and t-shirt with an apron over it came out of the kitchens and joined the table, kissing Dave Sheppard on the cheek and two little girls on their heads. The girls giggled at their mom and continued their game of cards with the two young Marines seated with them. The Marines were clearly besotted with the girls, and Steven wasn’t even surprised when the oldest of the two girls gave him the stink eye and said: “You can’t have them. They’re our Marines!”

He was surprised though when the two cats came strolling into the Mess Hall. Everyone smiled and held out their hands as the cats passed. Sheppard, the black cat, touched his face into a few hands here and there, twitching his tail against a few others, as if giving a high five. The white tiger was more affectionate, but the soldiers and scientists were clearly careful of only touching her on the head between her ears.

“Have fun?” Rodney asked, as Sheppard changed back and fell into his seat next to Rodney.

“Yeah, great run!” Sheppard smiled.

Then the white tiger slid up to the chair between Lorne and Neilson, and between one blink and the next, a woman with startling green eyes was sitting there, kissing them both on the cheek.

“Any more news?” Sheppard asked, like nothing weird had happened.

“Nothing yet,” Jack sighed, sitting back with a scowl which lightened immediately when the Mess Sergeant and several of his grunts came out of the kitchen.

“Tony, my friend,” Sergeant exclaimed happily, ignoring all the brass at the table and heading straight for the NCIS Agent, “feast your eyes and tastebuds on this!”

He placed a plate filled with delicious looking goodies in front of the agent, who instantly picked up one of the bites and stuffed it into his mouth. Tony slapped his hand on the table in delight as he chewed and swallowed, and rolled his eyes before looking up at the Mess Sergeant in worship.

“Sergeant, that is heavenly!” Tony managed to say around his bite, causing the others to both laugh and look envious. Sergeant clapped him on the shoulder, and with a single move of his chin ordered his grunts to place their plates on the table in front of everyone else. Before leaving back to his kitchen, Sergeant slapped Ronon on the back of the head, ordering: “Let others have a taste, you barbarian!”

Ronon just laughed and winked at Sergeant.

“Boss, you’ve gotta taste this,” Tony gushed, holding out one of the bites from his own plate for the silver haired man sitting next to him - Gibbs, Caldwell remembered. And Gibbs took the bite from his agent’s fingers, almost sensually licking the crumbs off Tony’s fingertips before chewing down on the food in his mouth.

Yeah, Steven was going to have to get used to this.

~~~~~

“What is it, Sam?” Cameron asked later that night. He was comfortably spread out on the bed in his boxers, his head in Samantha’s lap and her fingers toying with the dog tags around his neck as she sat up against the headboard. He didn’t mind. His momma and daddy raised him right, and if Sam wanted to be what others would perceive as the dominant one, well, Cam didn’t mind following orders, obviously. Especially not from her.

“Do you want to go back to the Mountain?” She asked after a long silence.

He looked up at her.

“Where’s this coming from? I mean, do we even have a choice?”

Sam caught his face in one hand, holding his gaze, then leaning down to kiss him.

“I think we do,” she said quietly, “I think we finally do.”

~~~~~

Vala stretched out on top of Teal’c. She liked that, liked feeling his muscles and ridges smush against her skin. He tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear.

“What is on your mind, Vala?”

“Just thinking, Teal’c,” she replied.

In public, Teal’c always kept up his formality, called her by her full name Vala Mal Doran; and she teasingly called him Muscles, or Mountain, sometimes Great Big Oaf. In private, they’d long since given up on that. They weren’t lovers, exactly, and they weren’t friends with benefits. There was genuine feeling there, but it was distorted by the bond they felt as the outsiders, no matter how many years they’d been with their friends on SG1. It wasn’t anything the humans had done, certainly not, but the two of them just had too many experiences the others simply couldn’t understand.

“About what?”

“Do you think we’ll stay here? I think Daniel wants to, and Jack as well. Sam’s been more at home here than I’ve seen her in a long time, and you know where Sam goes, Cam will too. Will you go back to Dakara?”

Teal’c sighed.

“Ry’ac is making more progress with the Council and the people than I ever could. My presence there would only complicate matters. It is why I returned to the world of the Tau’ri. I would not go back unless asked to leave. If you wish to remain, and our friends will also, I shall not leave any of you.”

It was not a romantic declaration, but Vala completely understood, and agreed. She kissed him lightly, sighed, closed her eyes and settled her head on his broad chest to sleep.

“Okay,” she whispered.

~~~~~

“We’re not leaving, right?”

“No, Rodney. Wherever she goes, we’re not leaving Atlantis again.”

“Good,” Rodney snuffled into his pillow and threw an arm over John to pull him closer.

~~~~~

“You don’t want to leave, do you, Danny,” Jack stated more than asked.

“Do you?”

“Daniel…”

“Jack…”

“Daniel!”

“Jack!”

“Fine! I’ll retire! Again! Sheppard can probably use a consultant or whatever.”

Daniel looked at him with the most loving smile Jack had seen directed at himself in years.

“Thank you, Jack.”

~~~~~

Evan looked at them with trepidation. Jon pulled the man to him and kissed him soundly.

“Not,” kiss, “going,” kiss, “anywhere,” kiss, “flyboy!” kiss. “Even if I have to become a deserter.” Kiss.

Cat pounced on them both, making them laugh. The woman had much in common with the tiger if you knew what to look for.

“Same here,” she grinned, kissing them both until they were breathless.

~~~~~

Gibbs waited until Tony had the pillows on the bed lined up just right, so he could be supported half by the pillows and half by Gibbs. He held out his arm and smiled as Tony wiggled and shifted until he had found that place that was just right. Gibbs carded his fingers through Tony’s hair.

“You don’t wanna go?”

Tony sighed.

“I really don’t. You said we could stay, at least for a while?”

“And I meant it. You wanna stay, we stay.”

“What about work?”

“I’ve got a feeling that’s not a major concern.”

“The people back on Earth?”

Gibbs smiled.

“Tony, you do realise you’ve been calling that Earth, and saying ‘us’ and ‘our’ and ‘home’ when you’re talking about Atlantis for weeks now, don’t you?”

“Oh!” Tony breathed.

“Yeah, sweetheart.”

Tony lifted his head and gave Jethro a blinding smile, understanding perfectly.

~~~~~

As soon as her boys had fallen asleep, Cat checked in with her sister.

“Stay,” dreamed Ziva David.

“Stay,” said Timothy McGee.

“Stay,” whispered Abby Sciuto.

“Stay,” confirmed Ducky Mallard.

“Stay,” echoed Jimmy Palmer.

“Stay,” squealed the Sheppard girls, and the smiles of their parents, and Rodney’s family, and Fox Mulder and Walter Skinner. Stay.

“We shall see,” Cat told Atlantis. “Let me handle Nirrti and Kort, you keep out of it. They shall stay if you do not have anything to do with it. But it must be done. It shall be better for them to be angry with me, than with you.”

Cat slipped out of the bed undetected by her lovers and clothed herself with a single thought.

“Don’t leave,” Atlantis pleaded to her big sister as she walked through the corridors and Atlantis could do nothing to stop her. “Please don’t leave. Please. Stay.”

Chapter Text

Barrett needed a break with a steaming hot cup of tea with honey and a pinch of salt for his sore throat.

It wasn’t even that he’d been doing that much talking, but the confessions that came out of the mouths of the Trust and IOA members had him clearing his throat so much he might as well have been speaking for the past three days. He had a cage full of canaries, and they were all willing to sing for him.

~~~~~

“What did you do?!” John hissed at the woman standing in front of them all.

“My duty,” she replied, unfazed.

“And who gave you the authorisation for that?” Jack asked, leaning back in his chair.

“The universe,” Cat said simply.

Woolsey glared at her, but the problem with having someone who could read you so well as Cat could, was that she knew when your heart wasn’t in it. In fact, all of them were relieved.

They’d woken up that morning after troubled sleep revolving around their decisions to stay or go back, only to find that without anyone noticing, a form of justice had been served. In one cell, a panting and delirious Trent Kort was curled up around himself amidst an abundance of Replicator parts. In another cell, an extremely old woman was lying peacefully dead on the ground, a disemboweled symbiote next to her.

Rodney had wasted no time in pulling up the video feed.

They saw Cat speaking to Trent Kort, his body start to shake, and then Replicator cells clawing their way out of his body. It must have been excruciating, but his skin now was whole and unmarked. The Replicator cells lay where they fell, inert, dead.

They saw Cat speaking to Nirrti, saw the bindings fall away. They saw the Gua’ould fight its way out of the host, desperate for escape, only to be killed by a mere look from Cat. They saw her sit with the old woman, smooth back her hair, speak quietly in a language even Daniel didn’t understand, until the old woman smiled and peacefully slipped into death.

Before anyone could say anything else, Thor appeared. From the streaks oscillating through his body, they could tell it was a hologram.

“Old friend,” Thor began, clearly happy to see Cat again, “we have made great strides against the Trust and the IOA. General Hammond and General Landry are very pleased.”

“That is excellent news, my friend,” Cat replied, giving him a small smile, “however not the reason I called for you.”

“Then what can I do for you?” Thor’s hologram asked with deference.

“I would appreciate it if you could pick me up as soon as possible, my friend.”

“Is there a problem with your sister’s StarGate?” Thor frowned.

“There is not. However, my sister does not want me to go, and I feel I need to leave.”

“No!” Jon shouted.

“Please!” Evan whispered.

Thor’s image shimmered as it looked around the room at the other occupants.

“Friend, please enlighten me as to the circumstances of your current distress.”

Cat sighed.

“I passed judgement onto Nirrti.”

“As is your right and duty.”

“The humans do not see it that way.”

Thor shook his head, clearly disappointed.

“They are so young. My friend, allow me a few turns to finish our business here on this planet Earth with the traitors, and then I shall come for you.”

Cat gave a tiny smile.

“Thank you, Thor.”

Thor’s image shimmered again, then disappeared. And once again, Cat strode out of Woolsey’s office, leaving the rest of them behind.

~~~~~

Admiral Jason Green and Colonel Paul Davis sat in the Admiral’s office in the Pentagon and relaxed over a drink. Though Admiral Green was not one of the Joint Chiefs, he certainly had their trust, and Paul Davis had been the liaison between the Pentagon and the StarGate programme for so long now, they knew exactly where his loyalties lay.

The two men had spent the afternoon questioning both the SecNav and Director Vance with regard to the attempted breach of security in trying to get information on the reassigned NCIS agents. Green’s commanding presence was strong enough to have both men quake in their boots, and Davis, while not an interrogator by trade, was a very skilled negotiator who knew exactly how to get people to like and trust him, and spill their secrets.

“So, we’re agreed then?” Green asked.

“Yes, Admiral. While the Secretary of the Navy certainly was and is curious about the programme, and did ask around a little, he did not break any regulations or continue to pry into the agents’ whereabouts after the warning from Generals Hammond and Landry. Director Vance is another matter entirely.”

“Oh, you’re right about that, Paul. Vance is gone, that I guarantee.” He sighed. “We’ll have our briefing with the Joint Chiefs in an hour, and leave it to them to decide about the SecNav.”

Davis smiled.

“I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision, Sir.”

“You and me both,” Green chuckled. “So, Paul… if our meeting with the Chiefs doesn’t run long, could I interest you in joining me for dinner?”

The Colonel leaned back in his seat and regarded the Admiral. Green was an imposing man, only a few years older than him, and very fit. He knew how to talk and had a wicked sense of humour, which Paul had learned about during the various times they’d worked together over the past few years since Green came to the Pentagon. The Admiral was exactly his type. Still, Paul had never had any indication that the man might be interested in him, or any man for that matter.

Green’s charming smile faded a little when Davis took too long to answer.

“I apologise, Colonel. It’s been a long day and you must be eager to get home and rest. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, or make you feel you had to accept an invitation from me simply because of my rank. I’m sorry.”

“No!” Paul smiled tentatively. “No, that’s not at all what I was thinking. I… I’d love to have dinner with you… Jason.”

The joy and anticipation returned to the Admiral’s face, and Paul felt himself start to blush at that beaming smile.

~~~~~

An uncomfortable silence fell in Woolsey’s office after Cat had left. Eventually, Lorne cleared his throat, rose from his seat and stood at attention in front of John.

“General Sheppard, Sir. I feel it is my duty to inform you now that if Cat leaves Atlantis, I intend to immediately resign my post and commission, and do everything in my power to join her wherever she may be going.”

Jon stood as well, addressed Jack with a scowl, and was much less formal.

“Yeah, me too, old man.”

Jack signed and rubbed his hands over his face.

“Oh, fer cryin’ out loud, sit down and shut up, both of you! Nobody is going anywhere! Yes, I’m pissed right now, but…”

“We didn’t leave her any choice,” Daniel finished.

Jack nodded, and saw several others understand as well.

“Daniel?” Sam asked.

“Come on, Sam,” Daniel said quietly. “Surely you understand? We weren’t getting anywhere on a decision, Cat and Atlantis would have known that. And as soon as we informed Hammond, they must have felt our relief at having to hand the decision over to him and the President. But think about it. That would have meant sending Nirrti back to Earth, something Cat would never have let happen. And what right does President Hayes really have to make such a decision, any more than we do? Not all of the gene carriers Nirrti experimented on were Americans, in fact, most of them weren’t. Why then would it be right for him to decide her fate? Let’s face facts. We all wanted her dead, it’s just that none of us had the guts to make that final proclamation.”

“Indeed,” Teal’c nodded gravely, getting more confirming nods from Vala, Ronon and even Teyla. It seemed the aliens amongst them had no doubts about this at all, and were more than willing to put their faith in what they perceived to be Cat’s authority.

Woolsey cleared his throat.

“I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, Dr Jackson, please understand that. What gives Cat the right to pass judgment?”

Oddly enough, Daniel stared hard at Jonathan Neilson before answering, knowing out of all of them, Jon had spent the most time sharing his mind with Cat.

“I have my suspicions about who Cat is,” Daniel finally replied.

“And that would be?”

“Something I’m sure we’ll find out when Thor arrives.”

~~~~~

Back on Earth, things were now proceeding swiftly.

With all the arrests and evidence, both the Trust and the IOA were folding like a badly built house of cards. General Hammond took great pleasure in giving what remained of the IOA their walking papers, making sure the SGC was now to be operated as an independent entity without their meddlesome so-called oversight. Though the SGC was still a primarily American organisation, those countries involved in the IOA had no choice but to relinquish whatever measure of involvement they had tried to coerce through the IOA. In return, the SGC would be more open to accepting scientists from all countries into their ranks.

Out of the major players in the IOA, only Shen Xiouyi - the lovely Chinese lass, as Trent Kort had called her - escaped relatively unscathed. From the interviews and evidence, it was concluded that she had actually been working against the IOA and for the SGC as much as she could. When it became clear that her country was eager to blame and punish her for what they considered her failure to ensure their interests in the programme, Hammond made a case for her to be drafted into Homeworld Security, and it was granted.

Admiral Green and Colonel Davis made their report to the Joint Chiefs, who were only too glad to confirm the removal of Leon Vance as Director of NCIS, as well as that of the Secretary of the Navy. It was done the next day, and the Joint Chiefs made sure their replacements knew better than to look into a certain NCIS team.

After their briefing, Jason and Paul enjoyed a very long dinner, after which the Air Force Colonel found out exactly what it was like to be kissed senseless by an Admiral.

Finally, Thor unloaded his prisoners from his ship into a variety of SGC approved prisons - not all of them located on Earth - and set out for the Pegasus galaxy, making a short stop on the way to pick up an additional passenger.

~~~~~

Tony was in his element.

The last few days had been tense on Atlantis. As soon as she had left the meeting, Cat had retreated to the South Tower and remained there, staying away from all of them. Lorne had requested a few days’ leave from Sheppard and had been granted them, and he and Jon - who had no official duties on Atlantis so could pretty much do as he liked - had found Cat and stayed with her.

No one was mad or upset at Cat anymore, and the six men who had only weeks before happily lived in her house had made overtures towards her, but she had stayed aloof. Atlantis too was subdued, not singing to them as she had been since their arrival. They had their suspicions, especially Daniel, but couldn’t prove it was deliberate to mask what Cat and Atlantis were actually feeling and thinking.

Evan and Jon had approached the South Tower with both trepidation and a willingness to force the confrontation. It hadn’t been needed. As soon as they came to the room Cat had claimed in the Tower, the doors swooshed open and she’d beamed at them happily.

Cat had tackled both her men onto the bed and kissed them deeply.

“I am sorry for putting you through this. I hoped you would be able to see through it, but was not certain.”

Jon smiled up at her.

“You were never planning to leave.”

“Of course not, my loves. Not if you did not wish me to. But I have certain duties, and if your fiends cannot accept them, then I have no place to stay.”

“Don’t leave,” Evan whispered, running a hand through her long hair. “Please don’t ever leave me.”

“I shall not, sweet Evan.”

“I won’t either,” Jon grinned at Lorne, earning a dazzling smile from their sweet Evan Lorne, before they lost themselves in each other for a time.

“So, what’s the play?” Jon asked when they were basking in the afterglow.

Evan laughed, and Cat chuckled.

“A lesson,” she finally replied. “My sister and I are shielding our emotions from the others, and shall continue to do so until Thor arrives. Then, some truths will become clear.”

She glanced up at them, almost pleading.

“I require you to maintain the ruse, to let them think I am planning to leave. I cannot be in this situation every time something like this happens, it must be dealt with now and forever, or I shall really have to leave.”

“On my honour,” Evan assured her quietly. Jon smiled.

“Mine too, babe.”

That sent them into giggles again, and they cemented their connection once more.

Of course, the others knew nothing of that, and worried over Cat’s apparent decision to leave and Atlantis’ unhappiness. They’d all admitted that while at first they wouldn’t condone Cat’s actions with Nirrti, in reality they were all glad someone had taken the decision out of their hands and had dispatched her.

From the video they’d all seen that Cat’s execution of the symbiote had been swift, and the ancient host had died peacefully and quietly, in Cat’s arms, seemingly without pain. It had been one of the most humane (oh, how ironic) deaths of a Gua’ould and host any of them had ever witnessed.

Trent Kort meanwhile was doing very well. His shivers and delirium had passed shortly after the Replicator cells had clawed their way out of his body, and by now he had no wounds or pain left from the experience. The Replicator cells themselves had simply disappeared in a puff of smoke sometime after their extraction. Kort was cheerful and obliging, thankful for any food and drink he was brought, and happy to receive visitors, especially Tony, who couldn’t resist checking in on him, because Tony was a good man and couldn’t bring himself not to care.

When they’d informed Hammond and Landry of Nirrti’s death, they could all see the relief on both men’s faces, and knew neither of them would ever ask for details.

The meeting with Radim, Todd and Larrin had been tense as well. They had agreed to meet all of them on a neutral planet, explained what had happened to their loved ones, and shown them the video of the Replicator cells being extracted, with Kort’s face carefully blocked out. None of the three were especially happy at the result, but they had all agreed beforehand that Atlantis could take care of the murderer if they found him, and that promise had been upheld. It didn’t lead to the peace between them the IOA had been hoping for. John could have told them that was never going to happen anyway.

Everyone tried to get back to the normal order of things after that. With Lorne on leave, Major Teldy took over as temporary XO, and missions were very limited. Abby continued on building her database of Pegasus weapons, McGee returned to the labs to work on his programme for the Atlantis database with Zelenka and Kusanagi, Ducky and Palmer spent most of their time in Medical with Beckett, Ziva went back to training with Anne Teldy and Laura Cadman’s teams.

Ronon, Teyla, Teal’c and Cam could be found in the gym most of the day, and Gibbs on the gun range, taking the Marines through their paces. Sam, Rodney and Jeannie were back in the labs, screaming at each other. Daniel and Caleb spent hours talking to the hologram in the hologram room. Woolsey quietly did paperwork on his tablet in his office, and John and Jack made the rounds to make sure everyone knew when it was time to eat or rest.

Vala and Tony had easily found a friend in each other. They met up several times a day, joining each other to check on their friends in the gym, then separating when Tony went to the gun range to see Gibbs while Vala went to see Daniel. They met up again to chuckle at each other listening to Rodney and Sam yelling in the labs, then parted ways when Vala sought out Cadman and Ziva, and Tony snuck into the kitchens to see if he could help Sergeant and Kathy. The rest of the time, being who they were, they flirted with each other incessantly.

On the fourth day after dinner, when Tony had once again appropriated part of Sergeant’s kitchen with several of the others watching, ready and waiting to eat whatever Tony was making, John strolled into the kitchens with a large net hanging over his shoulder and onto his back.

“Hey, Tony! Guess what we found!”

His grin was broad and Tony looked up from his pasta dough to check it out. John twirled with a smile, letting Tony see the dozen basketballs John had in the net. Tony lit up as bright as Christmas.

“No way!” He smiled happily. “Can we, Boss?” He asked Gibbs, then turned to John again. “Can we?”

“I don’t see why not, buddy!” John grinned back. “You tell us the size of the boards you need and what to paint on them, the length of the poles, diameter of the hoops… we’ll find some white paint to scratch out a court, Ronon and I will take care of the boards and hoops and nets, and we’ll go to New Athos in the morning.”

Tony beamed. Rodney scoffed, pulling out a tablet.

“Oh, please, Sheppard. I’ll tell you all that. Tony’s got far more important things to do: he’s making us snacks! Come on!”

Rodney was already pulling up schematics for a basketball court as he walked away, fully expecting John and Ronon to follow. Tony smiled gratefully at Rodney’s back. Though of course he’d want to be in on creating the basketball field for the kids on New Athos, he couldn’t leave his pasta untended. McGee, Ziva, Dave, Zelenka and Abby followed Rodney as he strode away, offering to help, but assuring Tony they would be back in plenty of time for his snacks.

The following morning, Tony looked on with pride as the basketball attributes were loaded into the Jumpers. Okay, so the boards looked a little rough - Gibbs could have done much better with his woodworking skills - and the painting on them a little sloppy - really, Abby and McGee couldn’t have printed out a stencil? - but it was close enough. Teyla had assured them they didn’t need poles, it would be a matter of minutes for her people to fell two trees and set them up. A little sawing and digging, clearing and painting later, and there was an honest to God basketball court on New Athos.

So Tony was in his element.

He sat the kids and several of the adult Athosians down to go over the rules again while the paint on the court dried, and the boards and hoops with the nets that Ziva and Ronon had knotted the night before were attached to poles and set up under Gibbs’ supervision.

Tony shot a few hoops to show them how it was done. He played a little one on one with Gibbs to show them how that worked. And then they played.

Everyone got in on it. They’d even taken Abby along to this friendly planet, and she’d fascinated the Athosians as much as she had the Genii with her looks and smarts, and of course her skill at the game. Tony was referee, and called every time a rule was broken, simply because he wanted this to be a true version of basketball, not a bastardised game like John had initiated when he’d tried to teach them American football.

Several hours later, they were all exhausted and sweaty, but Tony’s eyes were sparkling with joy when not only Teyla, but Torren and Halling and several others touched his forehead with their own in the traditional way to thank him. He glanced over at Gibbs. Though his lover pretended to be unmoved, Tony knew that it was Jethro who had persuaded John to find the means to let Tony keep the promise to the Athosians Tony wouldn’t make the first time they visited. And he loved the man all the more for it.

~~~~~

“Agent Barrett,” President Hayes said, “how can I reward you for all the hard work you’ve done for this country and its people?”

Malcolm swallowed.

“Mr President, I just want the NID to be the organisation I thought it was when I joined. I want to protect the people and this world, and our allies if I’m in a position to do so.”

Hayes nodded.

“Good man.”

The following morning, Malcolm Barrett was presented with a Service Medal, and a promotion that gave him the title of Director of NID, with a remit to step into the field whenever and wherever he wanted.

~~~~~

“Atlantis, this is the Daniel Jackson IV, Supreme Commander Thor.”

“Yes Sir, Commander Thor!” Chuck hastily replied, almost standing up from his seat before he remembered that this was audio, not video. “Clear to land on the West Pier, Commander!”

There was no reply, but the video showed the Asgard ship landing safely where indicated without any interference from Atlantis, which they had feared because Thor was apparently here to take her sister away.

Again the audio sounded.

“Supreme Commander Thor requesting safe beaming for himself and two guests to the Gate Room, Atlantis,” another voice came. With a quick look at Woolsey, Chuck hastily approved it.

They were all there, Rodney having calculated Thor’s approximate time of arrival from the news they’d heard from Earth.

A bright white beam of light, and Thor was standing there, an extraordinary woman on either side of him.

Of course, Thor himself was impressive enough. But this time, on his left was a tall brunette radiating a kind of white and blueish light. On his right, a slight slip of a woman with twigs and moss in her hair.

Daniel was torn who to greet first, but Jack solved it for him by going to the tiny woman, embracing her fondly.

“Lya!” Jack exclaimed happily.

Daniel approached the taller woman, and embraced her too.

“Oma,” he said softly. “Is it safe for you to be here?” He then asked anxiously.

“It is safe, Daniel Jackson. It will be forever safe.”

Before he could form a response, Daniel was face to face with Lya, hugging her gently and very affectionately. Next to him, Jack simply nodded his head at the other woman, which she returned with a wry smile.

“Oma.”

“Jack O’Neill.”

Jack glared at her a little, then turned to Thor to hug him as well. But Thor wasn’t having it. He held up a spindly arm and tiny webbed hand.

“I am displeased with you, O’Neill.”

“Me?” Jack exclaimed. “What did I do?”

Woolsey cleared his throat.

“Why don’t we go to my office, where we can talk we more privately?” He invited.

“We shall wait here,” the tiny woman Lya said, and Oma nodded.

There were some uncomfortable moments, then Daniel went into introduction mode, not really caring who else was in the Gate Room listening.

“So,” he turned to Tony, knowing he’d find his most agreeable collaborator in him, “this is Lya of the Nox. The Nox are one of the four ancient races, and Lya and her brethren brought us back from death once.”

“Well then,” Tony smiled honestly, approaching and taking her small hand in his to press a kiss to it, “I can only offer my humble thanks to such a precious lady for not only gracing us with her presence, but for saving the lives of the friends I would otherwise never have known.”

Lya allowed the kiss to her hand with wide eyes, and then giggled.

While everyone else was still trying to get over Lya giggling, Daniel and Tony moved on.

“And this is Oma Desala, an Ancient, one of the other four races. Obviously you know the Asgard are the one of the four too. Oma helped me ascend when I was dying, and protected part of my memory when I descended. Twice.” He turned to Oma. “Are you sure it’s alright for you to be here? What about Anubis? Did you get some help at last?”

Oma touched her hand to Daniel’s cheek, making Jack bristle.

“Anubis is gone, my dearest Daniel. At long last, I received aid because of the choice I made for you the second time I tried to convince you. The powers of the Others are fading. Balance is being restored.”

“You no longer have to fight him?” Daniel asked, with tears in his eyes.

“No, my dearest, he is truly gone.”

Daniel hugged her again, then pulled back and gestured to Tony.

“Oma, this is Tony.”

She chuckled.

“Oh, I know him well!”

Tony looked starstruck, and could barely get any words out.

“I… I remember you.”

“My boy,” Oma breathed, and pulled Tony into a hug.

When they pulled back, somehow it just felt right for Tony and Daniel to step aside. They didn’t even notice everyone else in the Gate Room clearing path right down the middle to the Gate and their visitors.

But there was a deep anticipation in all present, and everyone’s eyes followed what happened next.

Cat, in human form, strode into the Gate Room along the path the shifting personnel had made for her. In her wake, Jon and Evan proudly flanked her on either side. She came to a stop and stood in front of three of the most powerful beings the Tau’ri had ever encountered.

Thor, Oma and Lya each fell into a gracious bow to Cat.

Chapter Text

Cat smiled, and the next moment the white tiger was sitting regally in front of them. Thor stepped forward and wrapped his little arms around her neck, snuggling into the white fur of her chest, just like he had done that first time he came to Atlantis to deliver the warning about Nirrti.

When he pulled back, Lya sank to her knees and hugged her too.

“Greetings, Guardian,” she said quietly.

After that, it was Oma’s turn. She too fell to her knees and hugged the cat.

“Thank you, Guardian,” Oma whispered.

“And greetings to the Guardian’s Companions,” Thor said, tilting his head at Jon and Evan.

The cat, released from Oma’s embrace, twisted its head around and grinned a feline smile at the two men, who looked startled.

“Oy,” Jack sighed, seeing new complications in his future.

The cat rose and rubbed up against Evan and Jon’s legs for a moment, then trotted out of the Gate Room, immediately followed by Evan and Jon, then Thor, Oma and Lya. Naturally the others followed as well, and were brought on a leisurely walk to the Mess Hall. Everyone found seats around their usual table, and Sergeant set his grunts to work to provide them with food and snacks.

“Oh, Daaaaniel…?” Jack drawled during their walk.

“Yes, Jack?”

“What is she?”

Daniel grinned happily at him.

“I think I’m right, Jack. This is amazing! It always bothered me that we didn’t find more evidence after the discovery at Heliopolis, not a single trace! But I think that’s because there was only one! I’m right, I know it!”

“Daniel!”

“This is great, Jack!” Daniel gushed, and Jack gave up. He was obviously going to have to wait along with everyone else to find out what was going on.

At the table, Cat returned to her human form to sit with Jon and Evan, Lya and Thor on one side of them, Oma on the other. Tony slid into the seat next to Oma, still looking at her with wonder.

“You haven’t changed at all, in all these years,” he said to her.

“Yes,” Daniel asked, sitting close by, “How exactly do you know each other?”

Tony blushed a little.

“I’ve only seen her twice. Both times I thought I was imagining things, but I wasn’t, was I?”

Oma smiled at him.

“No, you weren’t.”

“When was this?” Gibbs wanted to know.

Tony grabbed his hand for comfort.

“When my mom died. Dad decided at the last minute that he didn’t want me disrupting the funeral by crying, but didn’t have anyone to watch me. So he left me in the car. All I could see was the people standing around the grave. But then, when I started to cry, Oma was in the car with me and held me. She disappeared just before Dad came back to the car. I thought it was just a fantasy to make myself feel better.”

“It wasn’t,” Oma said quietly. “Your mother was… well, let’s say she was something of a great-grandchild of mine. I had to check on you.”

“With many more ‘great’s in front of grandchild, right?” Daniel asked, receiving a smile and a nod from her. “So that’s where Tony gets his gene and why it’s so strong. It’s directly from you.”

“And the second time?” Gibbs said.

“When I had the plague. I was under those blue lights, and later I just thought she’d been a nurse and I had hallucinated that blue and white light around her.”

“You saved him?” Gibbs asked Oma.

“I may have given him a little boost of energy,” she replied modestly.

“Then I can’t thank you enough,” Gibbs nodded at her.

“Yeah, I’m happy for you with the little family reunion you have going on over there,” Jack broke in, “but I wanna know about Cat, and while we’re at it, Thor why are you pissed at me?”

“I am displeased with your disrespect towards the Guardian, O’Neill.”

“Right. And what’s with the Guardian thing?”

“When the universe was young,” Lya spoke quietly, and everyone stilled to hear her, “it called into being a Guardian. The galaxies were forming and expanding, and creatures came into being, and the Guardian was tasked with monitoring and assisting them.”

“The oldest stories of my people,” Oma continued, “are of the Guardian coming to our aid, teaching and nurturing us, and delivering justice when it was needed. Like most children when I heard the stories, I thought them myths and legends. Until I met the Guardian myself.”

Thor took up the tale next.

“The Guardian provided protection so our people could grow and learn, and she corrected wrongs.”

“Okay, and Cat’s this mythical Guardian now,” Jack said. “I get it. She’s allowed to do what she did to Nirrti because the universe installed this Guardian line, and she’s the current one. I’m sorry, okay?”

Daniel shook his head with a small smile. Jack didn’t get it, not yet. But he would.

Thor frowned.

“There has ever only been one Guardian, O’Neill.”

“Oh God, ‘one girl in all the world’,” Rodney quoted from Buffy. “Or in all the universe in this case. She even has special powers and everything.” Rodney closed his eyes and moaned, leaning against John. “Our lives are a television show! And damn, there’s even vampires!”

John snorted, and several others chuckled, getting the references.

Thor wasn’t one of them.

“There is no line. There is one Guardian.”

That sobered them up.

“Wait…” John said. “You mean…?” He stared at Cat, his eyes widening in realisation.

“I was lonely for a long time,” she smiled at them. “When the creatures started to emerge, my loneliness eased. But the more emerged, the less time I got to spend with each of them. Some grew corrupted. But they were the children of my Mother, and I tried to bring them back to the right path. They did not always heed my teachings.”

She shook her head sadly.

“After a long time, Atlantis came into being. She was young and small at first, but quickly started to learn and grow. As she was born from the universe, as I was, she is my sister. She was born to protect and nurture, a Shield, and we traveled together for a long time. We had other sisters in time, but none now survive.”

Everyone felt the sadness radiating from Atlantis and Cat.

“Eventually, other races evolved. The Asgard, and the Ancients, and the Nox amongst others. But these three peoples followed the path with respect and love, and aided us in our task as Guardian, while developing themselves. When Heliopolis, our youngest sister, came into being, she drew us to her to share knowledge and store it with her.”

Daniel grinned. This was confirming all his thoughts.

“It was there the idea of the Pathways through the Stars was conceived. The Asgard provided the technology, the Ancients the labor, and the Nox the energy.”

“And you?” Daniel asked eagerly.

“The building materials. One of our sisters had died not long before, leaving behind her bones and tears. The Ancients formed her bones into the Rings, the StarGates, and gathered her tears for the control crystals.”

“That’s actually kinda creepy,” Cam whispered too loudly.

Ignoring him, Cat went on.

“We built the roads to help, but instead they were abused. We had hoped the other peoples would travel and teach and learn, however, they turned on each other, they fought and stole. The infractions became too numerous for us to handle, and as is unfortunately often the case, our success became our downfall.”

Lya took over.

“Once the younger peoples learned the Nox had provided the energy for the system, they sought to harness it for themselves. They hunted us and captured us and many were lost. We had no choice but to retreat to our own world, hide in our flying cities, and let time make them forget about us.”

“My people, the Ancients,” Oma said, “spawned several who thought they were above the other creatures of the universe. They turned to technology and experiments, forgot their duty to others and focussed purely on themselves and the path to ascension, even creating the Wraith who would eventually drive the last of my people who had not either died or ascended into hiding.”

Thor looked around as he spoke next.

“Meanwhile, the Asgard technology was more or less responsible for the creation of the Replicators, who then hunted us and several others to near eradication. And in our arrogance to preserve our minds and knowledge, we turned to cloning instead of procreation, thus setting ourselves onto the path of extinction.”

“The Guardian continued to visit us and tried to assist us and the rest of the universe, but by then there was nothing to be done,” Thor concluded, and Oma and Lya nodded.

“I’m sorry for the loss of your sisters,” Daniel said with quiet sincerity to Cat, who gave him a small smile. “Especially Heliopolis, which must still be so fresh in your mind. When did she fall?”

“Shortly after you visited her, Daniel.” Cat sighed wistfully. “She was drawn to knowledge the way Atlantis was always drawn to protection and I to travelling. I felt it was only right to leave part of my own knowledge with her, as she loved it so much.”

Daniel nodded.

“That’s why we never found any evidence of you anywhere else. Were all of your sisters constructs, like Atlantis, Heliopolis and the one that provided the materials for the StarGates and the crystals?”

“We are all constructs, Daniel, including you and Jack and everyone here. But I see what you mean. Yes, we were. You have lived in my house.”

“And I’m deeply honoured. Thank you.”

They exchanged smiles, which were interrupted by Jack.

“Okay, Daniel, you’ve obviously figured it out. I’m happy for you that once again, you’re the smartest kid in the room. Now, can you please tell the rest of the boys and girls and your beloved old General Idiot exactly what she is?”

Daniel giggled.

“Not such a General Idiot as you make yourself out to be, Jack. Apparently, in a way, you were right about some things. I know you meant it as a joke at the time, but when you said they must be furry little creatures, you weren’t too far off.”

“Daniel!” Jack warned, losing his patience.

“Cat’s a Furling, Jack! Or I guess I should say, she’s The Furling. The last of the Four Races that left its language at Heliopolis. But it’s not a race, it’s just her. Just Cat.”

Jack fell back in his chair and stared at her.

“Well, fuck me!”

~~~~~

Ladon Radim was frustrated.

He justified to himself that there were three reasons he needed to get onto Atlantis. One: while he could accept that the Replicator had killed his sister, and it was gone now, that didn’t mean he would forgive the man whose hand had perpetrated the deed. Two: while he had not agreed with much of the ideology Acastus Kolya had spouted, one thing he did agree with. The humans from Earth were interlopers, and if anyone had a right to the treasures of Atlantis, surely it was the Genii. And three: Abby. He wanted her.

Ladon had tried to get the other two, Larrin of the Travellers and Todd the Wraith, to assist him with his plan. The wretched Wraith had turned him down flat, stating he had no intention of doing anything that would anger John Sheppard into hunting his Hive and finally killing him.

Larrin however was more amenable. She still had her eye on both the technology of Atlantis and on Sheppard. Who would have thought that out of the three of them, a damned Wraith would be the most honourable?

~~~~~

Naturally, there were a hundred questions after that little tale. Cat answered most of them with good cheer, though she made it clear some others were completely out of bounds.

Though she would easily speak of the early days of the universe, any questions veering towards its creation met with silence. She wouldn’t give Daniel a list of all her now deceased sisters, but when he guessed one, she didn’t hesitate to confirm it. And she would say nothing pertaining to the remarks about her Companions.

One thing she made very clear though. She looked around at all of them, but in the end spoke mostly to Jack and John.

“Do you now accept my right to have acted the way I did with Nirrti and Trent Kort?”

“Yes,” they answered without hesitation.

“And should an issue like this rise again, shall we have to go through all this once more?”

When they hesitated, she sighed.

“I can perform my task from anywhere. I shall travel again. I should like to stay here, with my sister and my Companions and friends, but if this makes you uncomfortable, I cannot stay here. I will relocate.”

“No one’s leaving,” Jack growled. He didn’t know why, but that was important. John nodded in confirmation.

“Will it happen again?” John asked.

“Yes,” she said with certainty. ‘And sooner than you think,’ she added in her thoughts, but didn’t say out loud.

John glanced at Teyla, who had been his moral compass pretty much ever since they’d arrived in this galaxy. She stared at him gravely, then gave a decisive nod.

“I’m cool with that,” John answered Cat.

“I accept your authority,” Jack said more formally after looking at Daniel, already thinking of the nightmare of having to explain this to Hammond and the President.

~~~~~

Hammond and Landry were having a quiet drink together, toasting their success at finally rolling up the IOA and the Trust. They had no idea that Jack O’Neill was going to rock their world with fairytales of Guardians and Companions and a sentient universe.

~~~~~

That night, even though there was no real reason to, a lot of people on Atlantis seemed to double up in their sleeping quarters.

Ziva was fine with Abby’s request for a girls’ night in, and was pleased when not long after, Laura Cadman and Anne Teldy showed up with some of Zelenka’s homemade hootch. Though all four women had strong personalities, or perhaps because of it, after Abby’s rocky start on Atlantis, they’d come to like each other.

First topic of conversation was obviously Cat and the revelations of the evening, but with the booze flowing, that quickly turned to Cat and her companions. And then to the hotness that was Jack and Daniel, Tony and Gibbs, and Sheppard and McKay. Abby had admitted that a lot of her previous attitude came from not being first in Gibbs’ life, which the other three women had given her a scolding for, pointing out that she hadn’t been first with him for a long time, she just hadn’t known it. Had he treated her any differently in all that time? No. It was just that she now knew it, and that was just childish, they said.

Sensing the conversation becoming strained and too confrontational, Laura delved back into the hotness, and shared a few things she’d learned about McKay - very carefully, without betraying his confidence - way back when she’d been in his mind after the Wraith dart had beamed them both up and then crashed. Teldy smiled. She liked McKay well enough, and had seen Laura pull this a few times before.

Neither Abby nor Ziva knew what to make of McKay with his brusque manner and apparent rudeness, but Laura had been on a mission ever since that episode to make everybody realise that Rodney was not only to be respected, but could be liked. Anne even had a story or two about McKay to add that showed his heart for Atlantis and its people, and when the four of them finally fell asleep, Abby’s last thought was that she should make friends with Rodney.

Ducky and Jimmy Palmer ended up in Carson Beckett’s quarters, where they were swiftly joined by Radek Zelenka. As with everyone else that evening, they first talked about Cat. But they quickly moved on to other topics, and by the time they were all ready for sleep, they ceded the bed to Ducky in deference for his age, and the three younger men curled up on the couches and floor.

McGee, oddly enough, found himself at a poker game with Dave Sheppard, Jeannie Miller, Richard Woolsey and several Marines. While during the day Woolsey was the aloof commander of the Atlantis base, at night, all bets were off. The Marines had quickly learned Richard was a card shark, and that nothing they said during their games was ever held against them in the light of day. Woolsey had earned their respect, in a different way than Sheppard and McKay, but just as loyally.

Tim suspected Jeannie was actually counting cards, Woolsey had a truly impressive poker face, and Dave was just playing for the fun of it. But while playing, they all talked, even the Marines. And McGee got to understand a little better everyone else’s perspective on Cat and what they’d learned that evening, as well as the normal daily happenings on Atlantis. He fell asleep in his chair, having done pretty well in the game, and with a fake French curly moustache painted on his face in permanent marker the following morning. But since he saw three of the Marines from the game with similar markings the next morning, he decided not to hold it against them.

Samantha and Cameron, Vala and Teal’c met up in Sam’s quarters. Used to strange things and people not being who they said they were, they quickly moved on from the topic of Cat to speaking about the future, and where they wanted to be. They all agreed.

Teyla had arranged for Kanaan and Torren to be picked up from the Mainland by Jumper and brought to Atlantis, and they spent a quiet night watching Earth movies with Ronon and Amelia. While Torren and Kanaan were mostly engrossed in the pictures on screen, the other three talked, and also came to a conclusion.

In yet another room, Caldwell was sitting down with his brother and Fox Mulder. Steven didn’t say much at first, just listening to Fox talking about all the things he’d learned about on Atlantis, and making sure ever so quietly that Walter was alright. He saw his brother’s parental vibe towards the younger man, and came to feel it himself. Fox was, as his brother had said, a little kid in some ways, and Caldwell couldn’t help but feel protective.

In Tony and Gibbs’ suite, they hosted Sheppard and McKay, and Jack and Daniel. They talked a little, and none of them were really surprised when the door chimes sounded and Cat, Evan and Jon stood there. Cat’s quiet request for admittance was obviously granted, and the group spoke with each other until late into the night.

Above and around them all, Atlantis kept watch.

~~~~~

“I wonder how Atlantis is doing,” President Hayes said to Hammond and Landry. “Do you think she’ll come home?”

Hammond cleared his throat.

“Mr President, I don’t think that Atlantis, or, quite frankly, any of those living on her, really consider this home anymore.”

Hayes sat back in his seat.

“They won’t come?”

“I’m not saying that, Mr President. I just think they won’t come just because we ask or try to order them. If there is a danger, I’m sure they’ll be here.”

Landry chipped in.

“And those reassignments of the NCIS personnel should probably become permanent, Sir. SG1 as well, is my guess.”

Hayes sighed.

“Yeah, I figured that.”

~~~~~

In the morning, just after breakfast, Atlantis received two calls.

“How considerate of them to wait until we’d had some sleep and something to eat,” Tony joked, earning a small grin instead of a head slap from his boss.

The first hail was from Todd the Wraith, and after listening to what Todd had to say, John sent him on his merry way with thanks and good wishes. The second was from Larrin.

“And why do you need to come here, again?” John asked her.

“You still have the man who murdered Katie. While I agree that you took care of the Replicator cells, I wish to see her murderer for myself, to judge his guilt or innocence.”

“You agreed to our conditions, Larrin, and we honoured them.”

“And yet,” she smirked, “I can’t help but notice that this man was one of you. I need to assess him myself so I can reassure my people.”

John shared a quick glance with the others, who were standing to the side. He rubbed his forehead.

“Fine. Where are you coming from, so we know to lower the shield?”

Larrin held up the wrist device he’d given her long ago.

“I have your device. You will know it’s me.”

“Your IDC was blocked out in the course of the murder investigation, Larrin. We couldn’t risk anyone getting hold of it and trying to come here. What address will you be dialling in from?”

She told him, and said it would be an hour or two.

“Okay,” John smiled. “We’ll see you then.”

~~~~~

Cat and Atlantis quietly deliberated and planned.

The door to Trent Kort’s cell opened, and the two guards outside silently went to sleep.

~~~~~

Ladon Radim stepped through the StarGate, his gun already raised, and the fingers of his other hand wrapped around a detonator. He only needed three steps to slide out of the way of the wormhole, and took them quickly.

“Hello, Ladon,” John drawled. “Did you really think…”

“Abby!” Tony heard the yell from McGee, took a quick look, caught and shoved Abby behind himself.

Without an order being given, the shield on the StarGate closed. They listened in horror as several dozen splats told them of the deaths of Radim’s men. Ladon paled further with each and every one.

“Is it a nuclear bomb?” John asked, gesturing to the detonator.

Radim released it, and a blast went off behind the shield.

John groaned.

“You didn’t need to do that! Why did you do that!”

Radim’s eyes found Abby, still hidden behind Tony’s body, and he ignored the guns pointing at him.

“Abby,” he breathed, then shifted his gun from Sheppard to her.

Before anyone could act - the soldiers waiting for Sheppard’s orders - a blur rushed into the Gate Room and positioned itself in front of Tony and Abby.

Ladon’s gun went off.

A white tiger jumped from the shadows onto Radim and took him down, a quick swipe of paw across his throat finishing him.

“I heard the Gate activation,” Tony heard Abby wail to McGee, he supposed. “I thought…” he tuned her out.

“Why did he do that?!” Tony heard John yell angrily. “It was only going to kill his own people!”

“Is he dead?” Tony heard Jack ask dispassionately. The tiger growled as if to say ‘of course, how dare you doubt me’.

“You okay? Tony? Tony!” He heard Gibbs demand passionately.

But all he could see and hear was Trent Kort, lying in a bloody puddle at his feet, the blur that had stepped in front of him and Abby. Tony knelt down, taking Kort’s hand, while he heard someone yelling for Beckett and Medical. The white tiger trotted over, and licked Kort’s face.

“Hello, darling,” Trent drawled through clenched teeth. “Shit, I’d forgotten how much that hurt!”

Kort’s hand reached for the chest wound, and Tony batted it away to put pressure on it himself.

Lorne, calm and collected, approached the downed man, Jon on his six, but it was Jon who spoke.

“What’s your mission, Trent?”

“To protect Anthony DiNozzo jr, with my life,” Kort spoke through gritted teeth.

The tiger licked Trent’s cheek again, settled on its belly and haunches, and reached out one paw to place it on Kort’s bare hand. In seconds, Tony and everyone else saw the bullet wound to the chest healing, closing and disappearing. The bullet fell almost innocently to the floor.

Chapter Text

They were once again seated around their large table in the Mess Hall. Since their company kept growing, this time with an uncomfortable Trent Kort as well as Thor, Lya and Oma, Richard Woolsey had given up on trying to hold these meetings in his office. Besides, too many people had witnessed the events in the Gate Room to try and contain the story to the upper echelon only.

Kort, none the worse for wear after being shot in the chest only an hour earlier, had been embarrassed when Tony thanked him for saving Tony and Abby, and had stood there rigidly when Tony actually hugged him.

Gibbs had a few quick words with Cat about that, the others listening in.

“What did you do to him?”

“I gave him a purpose.”

“You messed with his head.”

“Not really. As I said before, he is a flawed man with dubious morality, and none of that has changed. I also saw that, while your dealings with each other in the past have not been pleasant and honest but often antagonistic, he has always liked Tony. He was not the one who made Tony’s car explode, and would have sacrificed his cover to save Tony should it become necessary.”

Gibbs stared hard at her. Tony and the rest of his team were gaping at that pronouncement. Trent looked away, embarrassed again.

“I merely took part of what was already there, and enhanced it.”

“So you’re controlling him, like the Replicator cells did.”

“Absolutely not!” Kort bit out, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at Gibbs in anger, suddenly much more the man they’d known and loathed. “I can pick up a gun and shoot DiNozzo right now, or strangle him with my bare hands. I just don’t want to.”

Tony reached out a hand and placed it on Kort’s arm, trying to get the man to look at him. Trent refused.

“Why not?” Tony asked softly. “Why did you like me?”

Still not looking at Tony, Kort replied with a growl.

“Because you are what I could have been! Our skills are similar. If I had been a better man, been like you…” He trailed off and finally looked at Tony. “I was never going to let La Grenouille or anyone else hurt you, Tony.”

Tony smiled and hugged him again. Kort rolled his eyes, refusing to hug back.

“Don’t think that means I love you or anything, DiNozzo. You’re still annoying as hell.”

Tony released him and grinned.

“The feeling is mutual!”

“I don’t trust him,” Gibbs growled.

“Of course you don’t, Jethro, and that’s fine,” Tony told him. “But I trust Cat and Atlantis, and if they say he isn’t a danger, then that’s good enough for me.”

Gibbs huffed, unable to argue against that, and shared a quick look with Sheppard and O’Neill, who shrugged in acceptance.

Then Gibbs turned to his next piece of business. His angry glare sought and found the once again tearful goth hiding behind Tony and McGee, and he took a deep breath. She braced herself for yelling, but instead, he spoke quietly.

“I am too angry to deal with you right now, Abigail. I don’t want to talk to you for a while.”

Richard stepped forward.

“That might be for the best. I, however, do have a few words to say to you. I don’t know how things worked where you were before, Ms Sciuto, but on this city, we follow orders. I know for a fact you were informed on your first day here that civilians other than the Senior Staff stay out of the Gate Room, unless specifically requested to be there. We’ll never know for sure, but it is quite possible that without your interruption, we could have taken Radim without at least a few of the tragic events that now occurred. I am having you mandatorily attend sessions with our base psychologist, and you will go through the training we have for all civilian staff on this base as soon as possible. Until then, you will not have access to this area of the city.”

“But…”

“Abby!” McGee hissed at her, “for once, shut up and do as you’re told!”

“Timmy!” She cried.

John waived over two Marines.

“Please escort Ms Sciuto to her quarters. I’m ordering her under house arrest for one week. Post a guard. No visitors without my prior approval.”

With quick nods, the Marines took her away.

John turned to Gibbs, wanting to explain, but Jethro shook his head because it wasn’t necessary. Tony smiled wanly at Sheppard.

“Your city, your command, John. We both know that. Besides, I think we both agree with you.”

He cleared his throat in the tense silence.

“So, dinner?”

It was a quiet group that made its way to the Mess Hall, but once they arrived and Sergeant plied them with food and drink, they were soon back to talking. Back in the Gate Room, a few Marines quickly did some clean up and stored Radim’s body for later disposal.

“So, you already knew, huh?” John asked Cat when dinner was nearing its end.

“I made an educated guess. My sister and I tracked the communications of the three after you informed them of what happened to their loved ones, and the hail from the one you call Todd confirmed our suspicions.”

“Thanks for the heads up on that,” Jack said sincerely. “Could have gone much worse.”

“I just don’t get why Larrin thought we wouldn’t recognise the Genii home world address when she told us she would be calling in from there,” Rodney huffed. “Is she really that stupid? And please tell me we’re going after her for that, right?”

John looked pained. Despite everything, he’d always rather liked Larrin. Rodney loathed her with a passion, of course. In that way, Rodney resembled O’Neill, who hugely disliked Oma Desala. Neither man could ever be friendly towards the women who had tried - more than once! - to take the men they loved away from them, even if it did save them from death.

“I want to know the situation of the Genii first,” John finally said. “If that bomb blast made its way through the wormhole for us to see and hear after the shield was closed, it must have been big.”

Thor offered his ship and crew to fly out there and assess the damage, which was gratefully accepted.

After dinner, Oma and Lya announced they were leaving. They had played their parts, and the Guardian had things to her liking after their visit. With promises to keep in touch, Oma accompanied Lya through several Gates back to the Milky Way and her own world, from where she informed Cat they had arrived safely. Then Oma returned to the higher plain.

~~~~~

Tobias Fornell leaned back in his seat behind his desk, letting his mind wander for a few moments.

He’d been questioned about the disappearance of FBI agent Fox Mulder weeks ago, when the man had disappeared, since he’d been the last one to see the agent. From what little Mulder had told him and from the white beam of light that had whisked him away after that mysterious phone call Mulder had asked him to make to Gibbs, he knew he had to lie. And since everyone believed him to be a pragmatic, by the book kind of guy, they’d easily swallowed his lies.

When Mulder’s direct report, Walter Skinner, had disappeared not long after, they’d come to Fornell again with more questions. This time the lies were even easier, since he really didn’t know what had happened to Skinner.

But when he’d gone to Gibbs’ last known address and found no one there, his curiosity had been piqued. He’d done some circumspect digging, found nothing on the owner of the house, and couldn’t get his old friend or his annoying sidekick DiNozzo on the phone.

Then he’d seen the news of the newly appointed SecNav and the new Director of NCIS on the television, and decided it might be prudent to stop his inquiries. Not long after, one of his team’s cases intersected with NCIS, and he found Agent Balboa in charge of an all new MCRT. Fornell and Balboa knew each other vaguely and were not above exchanging a little gossip, so Tobias listened with attention when Balboa told him the entire MCRT under Gibbs, including Ducky, Palmer and Sciuto, had been reassigned to some secret operation just before Vance had been ousted.

Tobias had been in the game long enough to adhere to Gibbs’ rule that there was no such thing as a coincidence, and kept himself out of it from then on.

He wondered if he’d ever see his old friend again.

But that was a question for another day. Right now, he was going home to spend some time with his daughter Emily. Maybe watch a movie with her and order pizza. He grinned to himself. DiNozzo would approve of that.

~~~~~

“Jethro? Anthony?” Ducky’s soft voice stopped the two men from leaving after dinner was over and they’d said goodbye to Lya and Oma. They turned back and saw the old Medical Examiner, his assistant Jimmy, and Ziva and McGee standing there, looking at them hopefully. “May we retreat somewhere more private and speak for a few moments?”

“If this is about Abby, Duck…” Gibbs shook his head.

“No, no, my friend. We…” Ducky looked at his three companions. “This is not about Abigail.”

Seeing Gibbs hesitate, Tony took over.

“Why don’t the four of you come to our quarters in half an hour?” He asked, smiling at them invitingly. “Give me a chance to clean our rooms a little before you arrive?”

The others chuckled. They may have realised ever since that housewarming party and everything that happened after, that they didn’t know either Gibbs or Tony as well as they had thought, but one thing they did know. Gibbs was a Marine and wouldn’t stand for messy quarters, and Tony was meticulous. There was no way he’d need the time to clean anything up.

“Thank you,” Ducky replied. “We shall see you in half an hour, then.”

After the four had left, Tony gestured Gibbs towards their rooms.

“You go ahead, I’ll be right behind you.”

Jethro smiled at him knowingly, and went as directed. Tony ducked into the kitchens, where he asked Sergeant for a plate of after dinner snacks. Then he quickly tracked down Zelenka, and begged for some of his booze. Ducky and Ziva really liked the peach one, while Jimmy and Tim were partial to the blueberry flavour. Radek happily handed over a couple of bottles of each, not even asking for anything in return. He’d been on Atlantis for a long time, and he knew nothing would be gained from hindering Atlantis’ new Golden Boy. Aside from that, he just really liked Tony, and knew within a few days from now, he’d find some form of payment for the bottles anyway, despite his protests.

Gibbs grinned when the doors to their rooms opened not long after, and quickly relieved Tony of the large snack platter and a couple of bottles. When they’d put everything down, he took Tony into his arms and kissed him deeply.

“You’re a wonderful man, Tony. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve your love, but I’m thankful for it every day.”

Tony swallowed, then turned his head away.

“It’s just some snacks and booze, Jethro,” he said thickly.

“No, it’s you trying to make our friends comfortable, even though what they want to talk about might be painful to us both.”

Tony looked back at him.

“Do you think they’re going to tell us they want to leave?”

Jethro trailed his fingers through Tony’s hair.

“I don’t know, sweetheart. If they do, will you want to go with them?”

Tony broke away and walked over to the large picture windows that gave them a marvellous view of the ocean and the setting sun.

“I don’t know. No. I want to stay here. But I don’t want to have to miss them.”

Gibbs squished up against him from behind and wrapped his arms around Tony.

“It’s your decision. You want to stay? We’ll stay. If not… I go where you go, Tony.”

They stayed like that, watching the sunset, until the door chimes announced their guests.

Tony quickly went into host-mode, made sure his team were comfortable, and smiled when they all exclaimed happily at being served their new favourite kind of alcohol. They chatted a little first - well, not Gibbs, obviously - but then got down to business.

Ziva rose from her seat, stared out the window for a few moments, then turned back to them.

“I wish to stay here. I feel… settled here. Like I finally belong. Away from my Father, from politics, away from everything.”

McGee nodded.

“I’ll miss my sister and my Mom, but I’d like to stay here as well. Is there… is there any chance of that?”

“Me too,” Jimmy said simply.

“Duck?” Gibbs asked.

Ducky leaned back into his seat.

“Since the passing of my mother, I have been contemplating my place in the world, Jethro. I intended to continue to train Mr Palmer until he could take over for me at NCIS, but after that… I saw no clear path in front of me. Here, I feel a new energy in my veins, a new adventure that has invigorated me. Despite the dangers we have already seen and have heard about, I should like to stay.”

Gibbs stared at them, then turned to Tony.

“What do you think, sweetheart?”

Tony wrapped his arms around Jethro and kissed him, something he’d never done in full view of his team.

“I think we need to talk to Jack and John,” he said with a smile when he pulled back, noting the gentle and accepting looks for what he’d just done on his friends’ faces.

“Think it’ll be a problem?”

Tony shook his head.

“No. Atlantis and Cat don’t want us to leave. John’s been lobbying for me to stay here since the beginning, putting me in the Chair and going through the Gate. Jack too, with his flying lessons in the Jumpers. And Atlantis is telling me they won’t be going anywhere either.”

~~~~~

Tony was right about that.

The extended SG1 met in Jack and Daniel’s quarters, where they discussed their future.

AR1 met in John and Rodney’s rooms, speaking of their hopes that the others would stay.

Cat sat on her bed with Jon and Evan caressing her, and relayed the conversations as they were were happening to her Companions through their touch.

Richard Woolsey sat in his office and waited. He may not have the connection to Atlantis that some of the others did, might not be able to hear her voice like they did, but no one had ever been able to mistake Richard for a fool. He knew he was the titular figurehead, but that the real decisions lay with Sheppard. No one without his strong gene connection could ever command Atlantis.

But John had always accepted Richard’s command except in military situations. He wondered if O’Neill would be able to do the same. And then there was DiNozzo, how was he going to fit into the power structure? And let’s not forget Neilson, O’Neill’s clone, and now Companion to the Guardian (even though Woolsey couldn’t quite wrap his head around that yet, it was a little too SciFi for him).

What Richard did know, was that the civilians and non-gene carriers on the city needed someone to represent them too. Sheppard, O’Neill and Neilson were all Air Force, and while DiNozzo might be a civilian officially, what Woolsey had seen of him so far spoke more of a military mindset, probably due to Gibbs. But then, if O’Neill stayed, it would be because of Jackson. In Daniel Jackson, the civilians of Atlantis would have the staunchest ally and supporter they could ever have wished for.

Woolsey smiled to himself. He acknowledged all this sounded like he was plotting out a power play, which was not the case. He was simply trying to get a feel for the new dynamics. Because he was certain all of them would be staying. Which was why he was still in his office, waiting for the call he knew would come.

~~~~~

“What about Abby?” Gibbs asked, bringing up the subject he’d rejected earlier in the Mess Hall, but couldn’t ignore now that they were speaking about this.

McGee saw them all looking at him.

“Boss, you know I love Abby. Not in the way I used to, which was more of a crush, but I do love her.”

“I know, Tim,” Gibbs said, and for the first time, McGee understood that this was Jethro speaking to him, not Gibbs or Boss. This was the Jethro that Tony knew and loved. He smiled ruefully.

“I just don’t know what’s going on with her. One minute she’s fine, then the next she does something completely stupid. I mean, sneaking into that Jumper? And now rushing into the Gate Room? I just don’t understand.”

“I have had similar experiences,” Ziva said. “One minute she is clingy and complaining, the next, she is doing her job and seemingly happy.”

“That might be part of it,” Ducky interjected. “We’ve all adapted, finding things to do here, but Abigail had not until we’d spoken to her. Whilst she was engaged in the murder investigation, she seemed fine. Now, when her work on that is over, she is once again acting out.”

“Well,” Gibbs answered, “we can’t do anything about that right now. She’s in confinement for a week. I’d like to ask you all not to visit her in that time.”

He looked around, and saw the questioning and hesitant glances.

“I don’t think it’d be good for her. She’d see it as validation.”

Ducky looked at him sharply, and Gibbs glared back.

“I know I’m far from innocent of that Ducky, but I’m not blind.” He sighed. “Anyway, she’s got counselling and training now.”

“And if that doesn’t work, Jethro?” Ducky wanted to know. “Will she be handed over to Catherine?”

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“You think she messed with Kort’s mind, don’t you, Ducky.”

“Actually, not in the sense that you mean it, Jethro. I genuinely believe Trent Kort never would have let any harm befall our Anthony. However, it cannot be denied the lady has certain powers, and she has used them on Abigail before. I have not forgotten the sudden shift in emotions at your house when Abigail was reluctant to accept your relationship.”

Gibbs dismissed Ducky and the rest of them.

“I don’t wanna talk about this anymore. Anyway, we have to speak to Jack, John and Woolsey.”

The team took their leave and Tony used the comms to speak to the others.

Woolsey straightened his desk, folded his hands over his tablet and waited until the six had taken their seats. John and Rodney, Jack and Daniel, Tony and Jethro sat down.

“Gentlemen,” Richard said pleasantly, “I believe we have some things to discuss.”

Chapter Text

It was a long week for Abby.

After the Marines had escorted her to her rooms on Sheppard’s orders, she’d been brought dinner, and had seen that there was indeed a guard posted outside her door. She’d barely touched the food, too frantic with wanting to make amends with Gibbs to eat. In the middle of the night, when she thought surely the guard would have left, she opened the door to try and sneak her way to Gibbs’ quarters to talk to him. The guard was still there, and he wasn’t too friendly about telling her to stay put.

Around five in the morning, she tried again. It was a different guard, but he wasn’t any more friendly. Standing in front of her to block her way, he raised his hand to his comm and hailed General Sheppard to inform him of her attempt to leave. After a quick conversation, the guard told her that on Sheppard’s orders, her ability to open doors was now blocked. If she needed anything, she should knock on the door and someone would open it from the outside.

John, having been interrupted on his early morning run with Ronon for this, thanked Atlantis and asked her to make sure nothing would happen to the woman. He would never leave anyone without means of escape or communication if he didn’t know Atlantis was looking out for them.

Later that first morning, a Dr Sandra Morris came to visit. She was the base psychologist, and though she had only been on Atlantis for a year or two, she had been with the SGC for a few years before that. Like most of those recruited for the programme, she was young and highly intelligent, but despite her youth managed to project more of a maternal vibe than being an equal friend.

After speaking with Abby for more than an hour, she left her alone to think and process, and returned later that afternoon for another session after Abby had been brought her lunch. Abby quickly discovered that her displays of tearful worry for her friends held no influence with Sandra, who simply called her on it and returned to the subject at hand. Abby barely touched the dinner she was brought, and curled up on her bed early in the evening in misery and resentment.

The following morning, after breakfast, Sandra was back, armed with more information. The two sessions the previous day, she had wanted to conduct without any previous knowledge about Abby’s situation, approaching her simply as someone new she was trying to get to know. But that evening, Sandra had asked to speak first with Gibbs and Tony, and then asked McGee and Ziva, Ducky and Jimmy to join them, and have all of them tell her about Abby.

That clarified some of the things Abby had told her about the previous day, that had raised question marks with Sandra. So this third session was a lot more detailed and apparently hitting Abby hard. She left the girl exhausted on her bed, encouraging her to take a nap. Then she called a meeting with the Senior Staff plus some extras.

It was crowded in Woolsey’s office, despite how much the room had grown, with himself, all of AR1, all of SG1, the entire NCIS team, Lorne, Cat and Jon, Dr Beckett, Zelenka, and Anne Teldy and Laura Cadman. Some of them wondered why they were included in this meeting, but Dr Morris had a reason for all of them.

“Dr Morris, you have the floor,” Woolsey opened the meeting after everyone had settled.

“Thank you. Obviously, I cannot and will not go into any detail of what I’m discussing with Ms Sciuto, but I feel it’s best to inform you of some things. And I could use your help.”

She sighed.

“There are several things going on with Ms Sciuto that she herself doesn’t even comprehend. As you know, I spoke to her team last night, and their belief that her major issues involve the romantic relationship between Jethro and Tony that she was not informed of for so long, as well as a sense of displacement as the ‘favourite’, are indeed major factors. As a result, an instant resentment towards Tony arose, as she blames him for both.”

Tony lowered his head, a deeply sad look on his face.

“This was only made worse when you all arrived on Atlantis, and Tony was instantly drawn into the group of, as she calls it, the ‘important people’. While she firmly believes Jethro deserves a place in that group, her resentment towards Tony makes her adamant that Tony does not, and everyone is just humouring him to keep Jethro happy.”

This made several of them gape at her incredulously. Didn’t Abby understand anything that had been going on for the past few weeks? As if they would have the time or inclination to indulge Gibbs in his desire to have his lover near at all times! No disrespect to Gibbs, but on Atlantis, Tony was much more important and useful. When Tony made a soft sound of distress and Gibbs had to physically keep him in his seat to stop him from starting to pace the crowded room, they looked at him with sympathy.

“But back to that sense of displacement. It’s not just about her spot in Jethro’s affections, it’s also about her place her on Atlantis. As Ducky pointed out last night, all new arrivals here quickly found something to keep them busy, some way to help. It was her own choice to isolate herself, brooding over all the changes in her circumstances, without looking at the big picture. It was only when the murder investigation started that she really let go of that in order to do her job, a job she is better at than anyone else here.”

Gibbs nodded. There was no denying that.

“But that brings us to something else that she hasn’t even realised for herself yet. Being that good at her job meant that she got respect from everyone for it, and was even indulged because of it. Now she finds herself here, where suddenly she isn’t the smartest person in the room at all times.”

“What?” McGee asked, startled.

Sandra smiled at him.

“Without going into details, Tim, she made some remarks that lead me to believe that whilst you are very good with computers, she herself is too. And because she can do other things besides computers, to her that means she is smarter.”

“No. No, I mean… I knew that! I just can’t believe she would think like that! I’m honoured to be working with Zelenka and Miko, and learning from them. I would think that anyone would be happy to find someone who can teach them more, even in their own own field of expertise. I never expected her to be jealous of someone else’s knowledge or intelligence. I don’t see how anyone could do that.”

“I can,” Sam and Rodney said at the same time, smiling at each other a little before looking back at McGee.

“I was always the smart one,” Sam said gently, “until I met Daniel.”

Daniel blushed and Sam laughed, ruffling his hair, making him blush even more.

“His field of knowledge isn’t anywhere near my field of expertise, but he’s trumped me on my own ground a few times. If I don’t go into too much detail, he can follow most of what I’m saying without even really knowing the basics, because that’s just how his mind works. You bet that smarted a few times.”

“Sam…” Daniel looked pained.

She hooked her arm around him and kissed his cheek.

“I haven’t felt that way in years, Daniel. I love you, and I’m so proud of you.”

Jack beamed. The fastest way to Jack’s approval was if you loved Daniel. Until you loved him so much that you tried to take him away from Jack, then you’d better run and hide.

“I still maintain that I’m smarter,” Rodney said, his eyes twinkling at Carter, “but as I told her years ago, I’m a technical player, while Sam’s an artist. We can get the same result, but I go for quick and dirty, while she can finesse.”

Sam grinned at him, still hugging Daniel.

“Aww! I love you too, McKay.”

“Yes, yes, keep your hands on Jackson. No need to hug me!”

Sam laughed, as did several others.

“Actually,” Sandra Morris cut in, “that’s why I requested you all here. From what I’ve heard, you all bring something to the table that Abby needs to hear. I’d like some of you to visit her this week, and talk to her. Show her that being surrounded by intelligence is a good thing. Talk to her about why she won’t and can’t be indulged here like she was used to before, why following orders is paramount. Tell her what’s out there looking to come here. Give her options, let her know about some of the many things we do here that could benefit from her participation.”

They spoke for a while longer after that, and a tentative schedule was set up for seemingly random visits to Abby’s room. By general agreement, the NCIS people would not go see her, nor would Cat.

So between food deliveries and the twice daily sessions with Sandra, Abby received many visitors. Sam, Radek and Carson spoke of all the scientific discoveries, and the projects they had going on all over Atlantis. Jack and John, Anne and Laura told her of the threats out there, and military protocol that was necessary for that very reason. Teyla and Ronon talked about their worlds and people, and about love and acceptance. Lorne showed her his art and told her the stories behind it, and Daniel spoke of pretty much everything. Jon and Vala talked to her about feeling displacement, and Woolsey about the chain of command. When finally it was Rodney’s turn, they all held their breath.

It was the end of the week, and Sandra Morris had reported she was hopeful for working through Abby’s issues. Nothing could be solved in a week, but with more therapy and having Abby back amongst the people of Atlantis, she was confident they could all help Abby.

Rodney stepped into the room and glared at her. Abby’s eyes widened. She’d given up hope during the week that Gibbs or any of the others on her team would visit her, but she hadn’t expected McKay. He strode over to the window, not even looking at her anymore, and drummed his fingers against his thighs.

“So, just to make it clear, I think you’re stupid,” was Rodney’s opening gambit.

She swallowed back a retort and stayed quiet.

Rodney crossed his arms over his chest, but kept staring out the window.

“That has nothing to do with intelligence,” he said. “When John first learned about the StarGate programme, he didn’t immediately jump for joy and said he wanted to join. Jack asked him why he was a pilot, and John replied that he thought anyone who didn’t want to fly was stupid. Jack answered he thought anyone who didn’t want to go through the StarGate was equally as whacked.”

He turned and finally looked at her again.

“I think that people who don’t want to be here are more stupid than both of those combined. We have here on a single base pretty much every scientific field available, with discoveries and breakthroughs just waiting around the corner to be made. We have amazing people who are not only ready, but actually willing, to give their lives for us so we can make those discoveries. And if you’re throwing all that away just because your daddy figure loves your big brother more than you, well, boohoo, little girl, you are just about the stupidest person I’ve ever met, and trust me, I’ve met quite a few.”

He advanced on her, stopping a few feet away, and peered at her intently.

“Tony is a wonderful man. If I wasn’t completely in love with John, I would have applied all my intellect to winning him for myself. The thing is, I know that you know all that. You’ve loved him as your big brother for longer than I’ve known him. And yet, you behave like this.”

He shook his head at her.

“Stupid,” he said again, and left her quarters.

~~~~~

Thor guided his cloaked ship carefully over the Genii planet. The destruction was incredible. The city was levelled and burnt, and thousands upon thousands were either dead or dying. Not even Asgard technology could save those who had been caught even on the periphery of the blast. Nuclear particles were rotting their bodies from the inside out, and there was no hope for them.

Like on most planets in every galaxy, the Genii had built their society around the Gate. Thor did find scattered groups of nomads elsewhere on the planet, surviving in the lush lands the city dwellers had discarded as inferior. The Gate itself was still intact, his scans informed him, but buried under burning rubble that would take years, if not decades, to clear and be safe for handling.

With a clear understanding of Sheppard’s hatred for the Genii, and O’Neill’s frustration with the humanoids in any galaxy, Thor ordered his ship out into space again.

He had a fleet of Travellers to catch.

~~~~~

The day Abby was released from her house arrest, she carefully made her way to the Mess Hall for breakfast. The Marine who had informed her of her release had been courteous if not kind, had made her test her ability to open the doors again, and then disappeared happily, glad to be released from boring guard duty.

When she arrived, Abby saw the usual group around the large table where they now shared most of their meals, and approached cautiously.

“Abigail!” Ducky exclaimed upon seeing her. Jimmy Palmer quickly stood and drew up a chair for her from another table, and she sat down between them. Seeing that Ducky and Jimmy were pretty much on the other end of the table from Gibbs and Tony, and Dr Morris was sitting close by, she guessed correctly that this was planned. Ziva and McGee were scattered amongst the others, both also several seats away from her, but she couldn’t really blame them. She made a little small talk with Ducky and Jimmy, but breakfast was mostly a quiet affair for her.

Sandra had insisted that Abby’s reintegration into the group be slow. As she’d said, a week was not enough to work through all those issues, and having seen how Tony especially had reacted in that first meeting to discuss Abby, she didn’t want the woman near him yet. At the other end of the table, Tony was laughing and joking with John and Rodney, Daniel and Jack, and Gibbs had his hand on the nape of Tony’s neck, grinning if not participating. Studying Abby carefully, Sandra determined her sadness upon seeing that to be wistfulness, not resentment.

They were nearing the end of breakfast when the alarms sounded and a call for Sheppard and Woolsey came over the comm system. The major players immediately got up and rushed out towards the Gate Room. Most important for this observation though, was that Sandra saw Abby watch as Tony and Gibbs got up, as Ziva and McGee waited for Tony’s signal before they followed him. Abby remained seated with Ducky and Jimmy.

Ducky observed this too, and shared a small smile with Sandra. Then he turned to Abby.

“It’ll be alright, Abigail,” he said softly, all of them very aware he didn’t just mean the alarm call.

Meanwhile, in the Gate Room, an apologetic Thor was looking back at them from the screen. Well, Jack thought he looked apologetic, and since he’d known Thor the longest out of everyone there except Cat, he figured his opinion should count for something.

“The Travellers settled their ships on this planet, O’Neill,” Thor said, “and some tried to escape through the Gate. I do not know why they dialled Atlantis, but they have now all been detained.”

John didn’t mind that Thor addressed O’Neill instead of himself, knowing of their years of history. Hey, Jack got Thor, John got Todd the Wraith. He winced. Okay, so maybe it was better not to think about that.

“No problem, buddy!” Jack replied. “Just an interruption of breakfast. Want me to save some pancakes for you?”

“It will be several days before we return to Atlantis with our quarry, O’Neill. Will not those pancakes be cold by then?”

Thor cut the transmission, and Jack turned to Daniel.

“He made a joke, right? That was a joke! Thor made a joke!”

“Yes, Jack,” Daniel sighed with a fond smile, “you’ve successfully corrupted the Supreme Commander of the Asgard Fleet to make lame jokes you like. You should be very proud of yourself.”

Jack did look proud, ignoring Daniel’s sarcasm, and they quickly made their way back to breakfast. Sergeant had of course made sure their pancakes remained warm.

~~~~~

But a week before all this, the six of them had sat in front of Woolsey in his office, discussing an entirely different matter.

“Gentlemen,” Richard said pleasantly, “I believe we have some things to discuss.”

Seeing no one was ready to speak up, Jack bit the bullet as he usually did.

“How do you feel about a retired Air Force General consultant on your city, Richard? John?”

“Why would you retire, Jack?” John asked, genuinely puzzled. “I think we work well together, and with all the growth of personnel we’ve had over the last few years, despite the IOA’s resistance, I think this city can do with two military commanders.”

“The city, yes,” Daniel responded shrewdly, “but have you thought how that would affect Mr Woolsey’s office, John?”

Richard nodded at Daniel, then decided to cut the bullshit.

“It has come to my attention that several of you and your people will wish to stay on the city. We are all happy to have you here, but I do realise some of you have someone else to answer to. Other than Atlantis, I mean. It is my considered opinion that Atlantis, and Cat, won’t want any of you to leave, nor do any of you want to leave. Is this correct?”

They nodded, and briefly explained the conversations they’d had with their teams just earlier. Woolsey smiled.

“It’s also my considered opinion that Atlantis won’t leave this galaxy unless she has what she wants, meaning her sister, and you and your people. Also correct?”

Reluctantly, John, Jack and Tony agreed.

“Then I feel we can finally negotiate with Earth from a position of strength, gentlemen. Up until now, we have always been forced to play defence. At last, we can start to play offence. We are no longer reliant upon the provisions sent from Earth, as Atlantis and Cat can produce whatever we need next to our trades in this galaxy. Atlantis has all the people she wants with her here right now, and will not release them.”

He looked at the three gene carriers.

“Will she go to Earth if Earth is in danger?”

“Yes!” They all replied immediately.

“Will she be willing to travel there for negotiations? I assume she will be able to keep you and your people safe from extraction while we’re there.”

There was a momentary pause, then Tony, John and Jack again replied.

“Yes.”

“Then I say we finish our business in Pegasus for now, gentlemen, and then travel back to Earth to show our goodwill towards that planet. Then we negotiate, and get all of you and yours reassigned to Atlantis for as long as you want.”

John slowly started sporting a smile, having seen Woolsey in action before. Jack and Daniel also knew from experience what a good negotiator Richard was.

“Why Richard, you sly dog!” Jack grinned.

Woolsey smiled back and modestly brushed some non existent lint from his sleeve.

“We all play to our strengths, General.”

Chapter Text

Over the next few days, while they were waiting for Thor to return with his Traveller prisoners, the teams made several trips to their best allies to inform them Atlantis would probably be leaving for a little while again, but they assured them that if anything happened and Atlantis was needed, they could still dial in and communicate with them.

Dr Morris reduced her sessions with Abby to once a day, and they were all glad to see that Abby sought out various others for a chat. Though Ducky was the only one from her team she spoke to, she had long conversations with Teyla and Ronon, Daniel and Vala. Though she liked Sam and John, she was intimidated by both of them; Sam because of her intelligence and strength that shone through everything she did and said, and John because of his easy authority. She’d always seen Gibbs as the ultimate alpha male to be obeyed by everyone, but John with his laid back and casual manner received just as much, if not more, respect from everyone on the city, the people bending over backwards to do whatever it might be John wanted.

On the morning of the fourth day after her house arrest had ended, Abby summoned her strength and went to the labs in search of McKay.

She found him in a corner of the main lab, working quietly with Sam and Jeannie, apparently in one of the quiet periods they had between yelling at each other. McGee was there too, working with Zelenka and Miko, but she ignored them and went to McKay before she lost her nerve.

When he didn’t acknowledge her and just kept working, she cleared her throat.

“I’m not stupid.”

He swivelled his seat around, clearly having known she was there.

“Prove it then.”

“I don’t know what I can do to help.”

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger.

“What’s your area of expertise?”

“Forensics.”

“Yes, yes, I know that! But what does that mean?”

She looked at him helplessly.

“You were building a database of weapons, correct?”

“Yes, but the investigation is closed?”

“But you have not had your hands on every weapon you’ve come across in this galaxy yet, so that’s an unfinished project. And forensics means you’ve got to have a background in chemistry, doesn’t it?”

“Yes?”

He huffed.

“Are you asking me, or telling me?”

“Yes,” she repeated more firmly.

“Then there’s your answer.”

He flapped his hands as if it was obvious, but once again, she looked at him not comprehending what he was getting at.

“There are hundreds of people on this city, and each of them has at least two weapons for civilians and more than that for the military. That means thousands of weapons to be tested for your database. It would be naive to think our people would never commit a crime, or need to be ruled out for one. There are samples of dozens of potions and substances stored away in Medical that we’ve come across over the years that have caused harm or influence to our people, just waiting to be broken down and analysed. Put those in your database too. Lorne and Beckett are expecting your request to sit down with them to discuss a schedule to set up your testing. I’d say you have plenty to do.”

He turned back to his work, not seeing the smile appear on Abby’s face.

“Thank you, Dr McKay!”

He flapped a hand again, shooing her away.

“You’re a good man, McKay,” Sam said with a smile after Abby had left. She and Jeannie both kissed him on a cheek, making him grumble, but they saw the small smile he tried to hide.

~~~~~

“They’re coming back?”

“Yes, Mr President,” Landry confirmed. “We received their transmission less than an hour ago. They have some business to wrap up in Pegasus, but confirm they’ll be returning to Earth after that, in the next few days to a week. They’ve asked us to make sure their parking spot in San Francisco Bay is kept clear for them.”

“Thank God! Confirm it! I’ll clear it with the Joint Chiefs and Admiral Green.”

“Mr President, I have to warn you… Though it wasn’t said explicitly, I got the impression this is just a visit, not anything permanent.”

“Well, that’s what we thought. I’m just happy they’re returning at all. We’d better get those transfer papers ready in case they want them, a show of goodwill from our side in return for theirs.”

“I’ll get Colonel Davis to arrange that, Mr President,” Hammond said.

“Good, good. I wonder what else they’ll want…”

~~~~~

When Thor informed them he was about an hour away from Atlantis, Cat requested that he land on the pier and have all the prisoners disembark his ship in groups and stand out on the pier for a bit.

“Why?” John asked, not looking forward to having ninety or so Travellers out of their cells and loose on Atlantis.

“Because while I can visit them in their cells, my sister cannot.”

“So?” Jack didn’t see the point.

“I told you once that I could track anyone who had set foot in my house,” she smiled.

Daniel grinned.

“And Atlantis can do that too, but only if they actually set foot on her, right?”

“It is just a precaution for the future, my Daniel.”

Jack smiled. Whenever anyone claimed Daniel like that, as for example Vala had done several times, it irritated him to no end, but from Cat and Atlantis he didn’t mind. It helped that they’d also called him ‘my Jack’ a few times. The girls were becoming possessive, and he kind of liked it.

“But Larrin goes directly to a Wraith holding cell, right?” Rodney asked vindictively.

“Of course.”

“Do it please, Thor,” John nodded, ignoring the crinkling of Thor’s mouth that was supposedly a smirk, which said that of course he would do what Cat asked, whether John liked it or not.

So when Thor arrived back on Atlantis, a quick beam delivered Larrin to a holding cell. John personally supervised the unloading and reloading of the Travellers, having them stand around on the pier for a few minutes while the white tiger sniffed at them and Atlantis committed them to memory, and they all seemed docile and cooperative. John suspected Cat’s influence, but was glad for it.

Meanwhile, Larrin growled angrily when she found herself in another cell, and saw three men standing outside of it. Two she’d met before, DiNozzo and Gibbs she recalled, the third she didn’t recognise. Which was for the best, because the third, standing in the shadows behind the other two, was Trent Kort.

Ever since Radim had shot him and Cat had healed him, Kort had kept Tony in his sights. As long as they were on Atlantis, he left Tony alone, but during the few missions Tony had gone on over the past few days, Kort had been his faithful shadow. Gibbs hadn’t liked it, but Cat had soothed his ruffled feathers, and he admitted that having another person looking out for Tony - even if it was Trent fucking Kort - was always better. Knowing Tony was meeting with an enemy, even if she was in a cell, Kort had insisted to join them.

“Where’s Sheppard?” She spat at them.

“Sorry, princess,” Tony gave a fake smile, “you’re gonna have to make due with me. Let’s have a chat, shall we?”

Larrin growled again. Tony grinned.

“You know, I have this teammate, she’d a Mossad ninja chick, and she’s much better at that growling thing than you are. Much scarier too. So knock it off, okay?”

She narrowed her eyes at him.

“Good!” Tony chirped happily, as if she’d agreed with him. “So, why did you think helping Radim with his stupid plan was a good idea?”

They went back and forth with her for well over an hour, Tony playing the cheerful, chatty guy, while Gibbs unbalanced her with gruffly barked questions every now and then. In the shadows, Kort kept his pokerface, but inwardly he was enjoying himself. And outside, the others were watching and listening via the monitors, including Sheppard and Cat, who had rejoined the group once they were done with the other prisoners.

“They’re good,” Jack said admiringly.

“Oh yeah,” McGee beamed proudly, and Ziva smiled. “Trust me, this never gets old.”

“What do you think?” Tony finally asked Gibbs.

Gibbs huffed, and turned his eyes to one of the cameras. A moment later, the door opened and the white tiger strode into the room.

Larrin’s eyes widened.

“Keep that thing away from me!” She screeched.

But with a single look from the tiger, she was rooted to the spot, unable to move. The cell door opened, and the cat approached her. While Tony simply stood and watched, Gibbs and Kort took out their hand guns the moment the cell door opened and pointed them at Larrin.

Cat sat in front of Larrin and touched her paw to Larrin’s hand. Then she turned and walked out, the cell door and then the door to the room closing behind them all. Cat changed.

“She spoke the truth. She knew that you would recognise the Genii address, but she figured either Radim would succeed and she would share in the spoils of Atlantis, or you would destroy an enemy and be thankful to her.”

“So what do we do with her now?”

Cat shrugged.

“Her people were all unaware of her machinations. She herself has not broken any laws to my mind. She played a game and lost.”

“She participated in a plot against Atlantis!” Rodney said angrily.

“That is for you to decide. I have no reason to exact punishment from her.”

And strange as it may seem, that gave them a lot more insight into Cat and her role as Guardian. With her actions against Nirrti, Radim, and even the Replicator in Kort, they’d started to feel that Cat would judge any enemy of Atlantis and her people. But this made them understand that Cat had her own rules to follow.

They went back to Woolsey’s office, where they spoke about it at length. Finally, they had to come to a decision.

“Let’s recap,” Jack said.

“I have to agree that she didn’t commit a crime against us, Sir,” Sam offered. “We have made bargains or played the odds like this ourselves at times.”

“Agreed,” Woolsey nodded. “So have we.”

“Do the other Travellers have any designs on Atlantis?” John asked Cat.

“No, Larrin was always the driving force behind that, after having found you and your abilities with the Ancient technology because of your gene. The others would much rather continue their own lifestyle on their ships, and have nothing to do with us whatsoever.”

“I have a suggestion,” Daniel said quietly. They looked at him.

“Do the other Travellers have any means of locating Larrin?” He asked Cat. She shook her head.

“Then we send the Travellers back to the planet where their ships are, and let them go on their way. Before we do, we show them the recording of her interrogation, let them hear from her own mouth her plan against us. We send Larrin to another planet, one she can easily survive on, but place her away from the Gate. It’ll be months, if not years, provided she can get help, before they find each other again. Then it remains to be seen whether the Travellers would even take her back.”

“I like it,” Tony said after a few moments of silence.

“Me too,” Rodney grinned. Seeing the incredulous looks from several of his friends, he shrugged. “What? As much as it pains me, we can’t simply get rid of her. I like the idea of her having to make her way halfway across a planet before she gets to a Gate, then having to beg for help, and having the other Travellers ignore her because they don’t want anything to do with her.”

John smiled at him.

“You realise it might not turn out that way, right?”

Rodney waived that away.

“Well, she might get lucky, she might not. It’ll give me pleasure to think of her trudging her way across a planet and searching for food, while I’m happy, warm and comfortable with you right here.”

John kissed him.

“Love you, Rodney.”

This time, nothing could have made Rodney hide his bright smile.

So, just a few hours later, Atlantis, Thor and Cat worked together to shield the Travellers while they were beamed from Thor’s ship to the Gate Room and then sent back to their ships through the Gate. From the outraged mumbling and Cat’s reading of them, it was pretty clear Larrin wouldn’t be welcomed back with open arms any time soon.

Cat suggested a suitable planet to drop Larrin on, one only a few hours away from New Lantea in Thor’s ship, and they dropped a furious and screaming Larrin half a planet away from the Gate. The planet was uninhabited but lush, and it would take her months at least to find the Gate and make her way there. Rodney, who had insisted to come long for the ride, waived at her with an evil grin as Thor’s ship pulled away, not caring whether she actually saw him do it or not. It made him feel better.

~~~~~

Away from all these events, Fox Mulder sat on a couch in Walter Skinner’s room, and they spoke earnestly. Fox had procured a bottle of Zelenka’s moonshine, and they were both already a couple of shots into it.

“How are you doing, Sir?”

“Really, Fox? Can’t you call me Walter by now? Please.”

Fox smiled, and Walter laughed.

“I’m a bit shaky, to be honest, and I don’t mean from the booze. That… that creature really rattled me.”

“I’m glad you’re speaking to Dr Morris about that. Is it helping?”

“Yeah. Yeah, it is. That’s one great lady.”

They grinned at each other.

“But what about you? What do you want to do?”

“Well, to be honest, Sir… Walter…” Fox trailed off, looking out the windows for a bit.

“My sister is gone, Scully is gone, I don’t really have anyone left at home. This place… it’s amazing. I’m learning so much every day.”

He turned back to his boss.

“I’d really like to stay here.”

Walter patted Fox’s leg.

“Me too, son, me too.”

~~~~~

“Mom? Dad?” Madison asked, a few doors over.

Her parents put down their glasses of wine and focused on their daughter.

“What is it, sweetie?” Caleb asked.

“I get the feeling we need to stay here, with Uncle Mer and Uncle John.”

Caleb and Jeannie looked at each other, then turned back to her.

“And why is that, honey?” Jeannie asked her insightful daughter.

“I don’t know. But I don’t think Atlantis wants us to go. And I don’t think Uncle Meredith… Uncle Rodney wants us to leave either.”

Jeannie sat up straight.

“Can you hear her? Atlantis?”

Madison cringed.

“Kind of? It’s not like Uncle John says, like she’s talking to him. I don’t get words, but like… images?”

It solidified something they’d quietly been talking about in the dark of night while their daughter was asleep. They had no close family left to speak of on Earth. Jeannie could easily find her place in the labs, having done so already, and Madison was clearly heading that way as well.

“What would I do?” Caleb asked his wife.

“What you’re good at,” Jeannie shrugged. “You teach. You’re already good at Ancient, you and Dr Jackson can easily put together a course for that. Teyla’s asked me whether you can teach Torren some of the things we teach children on Earth. Then there’s Emma and Sophie Sheppard. If they stay here, they’re going to need schooling. My brother and his people can put together materials for lessons, but none of them have ever taught children.”

Madison squeezed into the space between her parents on the couch.

“You’ve already been discussing this, haven’t you?”

“Are you upset, sweetie?” Caleb asked.

“No! I think it’s a great idea.” She smiled. “And once you’ve got your school up and running, Dad, I think you’ll be getting a lot more students soon!”

She grinned, and he ruffled her hair.

~~~~~

Dave Sheppard ran his fingers through his wife’s hair as they were basking in the afterglow. After the first few days of distress, Kathy had found a place in the kitchens with Sergeant, and now divided her time between their daughters and the kitchens. She was happier than he’d seen her in years, ever since he’d taken over the family business from his father. And with her returning happiness, their love life had been reawakened as well.

“Are you happy, darling?” He asked her gently.

She looked up at him and smiled.

“Very,” she confirmed. “I went to see Dr Beckett today,” she continued.

“Oh? Was he after your berry cookie recipe again?”

Carson Beckett had taken one bite of her experimental berry cookies, and had offered to fight Dave for Kathy’s affections. She chuckled.

“No, he confirmed I am pregnant.”

Dave froze.

“Really?” He asked with a huge grin, just as she was starting to get worried.

She smiled back and nodded.

He laughed and sobbed at the same time, kissing Kathy, professing his happiness.

“Can I tell John?” He finally asked, when the news was sinking in.

“It’s just a few weeks. We’ll have to be careful. I don’t want everyone to know yet, just in case.”

He sobered.

“Of course,” he said. “I understand.”

Once again, she smiled up at him.

“So, I thought we could invite John and Rodney to dinner tomorrow? Tell the two of them then? I’m sure they’d keep it quiet for now.”

Dave gently pulled her closer and lovingly kissed the top of her head. Kathy had been so resentful towards John for years, had despised Rodney for their relationship. To have her now offer this olive branch was a huge step, and he couldn’t be more grateful for it.

~~~~~

“When do we leave?”

It was the question on everyone’s mind, but Rodney was the one who voiced it when they were meeting again after dropping Larrin off.

“We should leave in the next day or two, if we want to keep the schedule we gave General Landry,” Woolsey said. “It wouldn’t do to start our new negotiations with a delay.”

Jack grinned.

“Rodney and I have been invited to dinner with Dave and Kathy tomorrow. I don’t want to leave until I know exactly what that’s about. If they’re going to tell us they want to get away from Atlantis, I need to know that before we start negotiations, so we know what to plan for.” John explained.

“Actually,” Tony smiled, “that would be great. That means we could visit Teyla’s people tomorrow during the day, right? I’d like to play another round of basketball with them, just to see whether they remember the rules, of course.”

He looked at Teyla hopefully, and she wasn’t the only one to grin back at him.

“Then we leave the day after in the morning,” Woolsey decided. “If anything comes up that might affect our leaving or our negotiations in the mean time, please do let me know.”

The next morning, the largest contingent of Atlantis inhabitants ever set out through the Gate to New Athos and the Mainland. With all the teams, several supporters, and a handful of Marines, seven Jumpers ferried over sixty people to the much talked about basketball court.

Torren, Halling, Kanaan, Jinto, and many others were at the Ring of the Ancestors to welcome the Atlantis party. Tony loved flying his trusty Jumper Fourteen, but loved even more the trust Gibbs and his team had in his flying abilities. Even Abby joined them for this trip, and while she was still quiet with her team, once the game began she went all out.

They played for several hours in different teams, then all sat down for the lunch Torren had ordered for his Mother and their guests to be laid out. Once again, the Athosian kids swarmed Tony, and he entertained them with stories while everyone snacked. Abby watched it, and felt another piece she’d been talking to Dr Morris about slide into place. Tony was loved. It wasn’t something he did, just something that was.

After lunch, they went back to the game. Tony called several fouls as referee, and the kids grinned at him, admitting they’d made a few rules of their own. Tony wasn’t having any of it. Play by his rules, or you got pulled out of the game.

When it was nearly time for dinner, Sheppard and McKay left with a few of the Marines who were scheduled for duty later that evening. Tony had several of the others help him bring big coolers and crates from the remaining Jumpers into the Athosian tents, setting out dinner. There were huge roasts of meat, tons of vegetables, baskets full of fruit and mounds of freshly baked breads. Gibbs knew that as soon as Tony had gotten the approval to go to the Athosians again, he’d gone to the kitchens, and he and Sergeant had prepared this feast that was obviously far too large for them to eat that evening, so that the Athosians would have plenty left over in return for the lunch they’d catered.

While they ate and played, John and Rodney fretted over their clothes.

“I can’t go in my BDUs!” John exclaimed.

“Why not? I plan to go in my uniform.”

“You can’t!” John gasped. “Uniform means business as usual, and this, Rodney, is certainly not business as usual!”

A few more harried discussions later had John in black jeans and a black button down shirt, and Rodney in blue jeans, white shirt and a casual jacket.

Just before they chimed Dave and Kathy’s door, John hissed again at Rodney.

“We should have brought wine!”

Rodney rolled his eyes, having lost his patience by then.

“Or flowers,” he said. “Would you like me to go back to New Athos to pick a nice bouquet of wildflowers, John?”

John’s eyes were wild when he stared at him.

“Look,” Rodney said, grabbing John’s shoulders and shaking him lightly, “I don’t care! I don’t care about etiquette, I don’t care if they wanna flame us again and say they’re going to leave. I care about you! I care about getting you through this dinner and making whatever they’re gonna say better. I love you, and you’re stuck with me, so suck it up and be a man!”

So when Dave opened the door after hearing the commotion, the four of them sat down to a nice dinner Kathy had prepared, they discussed the possibility of staying on Atlantis, and Dave and Kathy informed them of the pregnancy, suffice to say John was a little bit flustered.

Rodney took John back to their quarters and fucked him silly.

“I’m going to be an Uncle again!” John grinned when he regained his powers of speech.

“Yes, you are,” Rodney smiled back, and kissed him again for good measure.

~~~~~

The five men stared at the Chair the following morning.

“Who’s gonna fly?” John asked.

Beckett and several others had gracefully bowed out, citing other duties, but John, Jack, Tony, Evan and Jon were standing there, looking at the Chair that would have them bring Atlantis back to Earth.

“I’ll do it,” Jon said, and sat in the Chair before anyone could stop him.

“Hey,” Jack smiled, “he’s me. You trust me to take off, right?”

“He’s not you!” Evan growled, then found a bit of sanity again. “Sir.”

Jack turned to the worried looking Lieutenant Colonel, and grasped his shoulder.

“I know, kiddo. Just a figure of speech. Jon’ll do great, and we’ll all relieve him during the flight, right, kids?”

“Yes, Sir!” He received in return.

Chapter Text

There was a jubilant atmosphere across all of Atlantis.

Only an hour earlier, they’d landed smoothly in San Francisco Bay, barely causing any waves, like an Olympic diver hardly causing a splash after a triple reverse summersault. Jack had been the one to land her this time, with John and Jon assisting by squishing their fingers into the Chair’s gel pads right along O’Neill’s.

Tony had been a bit miffed that Jon and Evan hadn’t fallen into those weird dreams after their first time in the Chair, but when Cat explained that their minds were linked to hers and they’d already been having those dreams without the use of the Chair, he was instantly mollified. Besides, despite his earlier adamant intentions never to be the one to land the city and to leave that to the pilots amongst them, he had in fact gotten to land her and take off again during their journey.

When they’d taken off from New Lantea towards Earth, they had about sixty hours left to reach their home world before they’d be late according to the estimate they’d given General Landry. Cat had assured them that with the shortcuts she and her sister knew, they’d only need about fourteen hours or so to get there, and there was plenty of time to make a few stops along the way.

When some of them had looked puzzled by that suggestion, she smiled.

“I know Rodney is worried about power consumption, especially over the course of a spaceflight. And I thought we could use another bargaining chip for our negotiations?”

Rodney, who’d been nodding anxiously at the mention of the power, stilled and stared at her at the second part of her announcement. He crossed his arms over his chest.

“You know where to get another ZedPM?”

“I know where all of them are.”

Seeing that Rodney’s mind was going into overdrive, John took over.

“How many are there?”

“There are hundreds, John. The universe grows them for us, like any good Mother provides for her children. The Ancients learned how to use them, as you did, but unfortunately they gave the secret away, so many are now coveted and kept in hiding by several societies. A lot of ZPMs are still young and need to grow more, but there are dozens that have already reached maturity and are ready to be plucked.”

“And you know where they are?”

“Of course. So does my sister. On our way to Earth we shall pass at least five planets where a fully grown ZPM is waiting to be harvested without any interference.”

“I love you!” Rodney blurted at Cat. “I’m sorry, John, but I love her more than you now!”

John pouted.

“But Cat won’t race cars with you, Rodney.”

“I most certainly will not,” she smiled.

Rodney considered this. John upped the ante.

“She won’t watch Galaxy Quest with you for the twenty-seventh time.”

Cat shook her head. Rodney looked thoughtful.

“And she certainly won’t crawl into bed with you and…”

“No, she won’t!” Evan and Jon almost shouted before John could even finish that sentence.

Rodney grinned at John.

“Okay, I love you more than her again.”

John leaned back in his seat, deeply satisfied.

So along the way to Earth, Atlantis made five stops at mostly deserted planets, actually landing on three of them and waiting for a short while as a couple of teams in Jumpers set out to collect the precious ZPM. On the other two planets, she hovered above the surface as the teams went out, because there was no significant body of water nearby for her to land smoothly. She could land on a hard surface, but they all feared it might damage her despite the shield.

Even though they tried to keep the information about the ZPMs to Senior Staff only, a single glimpse of a ZPM being unloaded was enough for the rumour mill to do its job and soon pretty much everyone realised that each of those stops must have meant another ZPM. Woolsey decided they would offer Earth two ZPMs and keep the other three for Atlantis until they could harvest more, and they just had to trust that their people would keep that little secret to themselves during the negotiations.

Meanwhile, everyone had been thinking and planning for what they would do when they got back to Earth. The Marines and scientists thought about who they wanted to see during their leave, their friends and families. SG1 and the NCIS team worried about their own friends and families, and of course, whether they would be allowed to stay on Atlantis. Abby had long conversations with Ducky and Sandra Morris, in which she announced that she did want to stay as well, which was a relief for Gibbs and Tony especially, since they’d worried whether she would even be allowed to leave. Her attitude problems hadn’t convinced them, nor John and Jack, that she would be able to keep her mouth shut about everything if they had to let her go. But all in all, everyone was happy to be back on Earth for the time being.

“Welcome back, SG1,” Hammond said with a big smile, remembering the hundreds of times he’d said that to his flagship team over the years as they returned from another mission off world. Hammond and Landry then greeted everyone else they could see on the video screen.

Sheppard and Woolsey took over, giving a short sit rep as commanders of Atlantis, and Landry gave a quick outline of the dismantling of the IOA and the Trust. After a bit more back and forth, Hammond turned back to Jack.

“The President is anxious to have you and your people in DC as soon as possible, Jack, for a briefing with himself and the Joint Chiefs.”

Jack sighed.

“Yeah, slight problem there, George. I don’t know how much they understand about the changed situation with Atlantis, but ehm… we can’t leave the city.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Landry asked.

“Can’t, Hank. She’s not letting us go.”

“We can have the Apollo beam you out, Jack,” Hammond said gently.

“Actually, no Sir,” John smiled winningly at them. “She’s not letting anyone beam us out. Not letting any Jumpers through either, Sir.”

“Sheppard, I thought your gene let you control the city,” Landry said. “Now you’re telling me you can’t even open the door?”

“Well, Sir, it’s more that our gene lets us interact with the city. And we can open the door, but just to let you in, not to let us out.”

“Sorry, George,” Jack gave a canary-eating grin. “Looks like if they want a debrief, the President and the Chiefs will have to come here. You’re more than welcome. We’ll even lay out a good spread for everyone, with lots of pie. She assures us you’re free to leave again at any time. It’s just us she wants to keep.”

“I see,” Hammond said gravely, but Jack knew him well enough to know that he wasn’t really surprised or upset by this. “We’ll speak to the President, and get back to you.”

“We’re looking forward to that, General Hammond, General Landry,” Woolsey closed the conversation with a polite smile, and cut the video feed.

~~~~~

Back in Pegasus, on a small and desolate planet on the outskirts of the galaxy, what looked like a mountain shuddered and shook as the Wraith Queen of the overgrown Hive woke up.

From several miles above, Todd watched it on his view screen, then pressed a button.

The explosions were so huge that Todd and his hive mates imagined they felt them all the way out in space. They’d agreed. If they wanted to survive, they couldn’t allow any other Wraith Hives to surface and restart the war that had all but killed off their race. After making certain there were no survivors, they plotted a course for another hidden Hive, feeling its pull.

They would destroy them all, and then, when they no longer needed the equal strength to vanquish what had once been their brethren, they would contact Atlantis, and ask for their help to find a way to survive without sucking the life force out of the human cattle they’d fed off for so long.

A new day had already dawned for them, and they were determined to survive until the end of it.

~~~~~

Two days and many conferences later, the day of the big meeting had finally arrived. There had been grumbling from the Joint Chiefs when they were informed that they had to leave their aides behind, and the Secret Service had been appalled to be told the President could only take four of them along for his protection, but President Hayes had cheerfully waived all their concerns away. He was excited to finally set foot on Atlantis himself.

Sergeant had drawn Tony and Kathy in for kitchen duty, and the three of them had run the kitchen staff ragged for those two days to produce several feasts fit for a king… well, a President. John had commandeered Jack, Lorne, Gibbs, Jon, Ronon, Teal’c, Caldwell, Cam, Vala and Ziva for overseeing the Marines and security. Rodney pulled Sam, McGee, Zelenka and Miko for communications and electronic security. Daniel and Teyla spent most of their time with Richard Woolsey, the three of them being the best and most experienced negotiators on Atlantis. Cat communed with her sister, keeping an eye and ear on everyone and everything.

They had discussed and planned everything down to the smallest detail, and they pulled it off perfectly.

Just before lunch President Hayes and the Joint Chiefs, accompanied by Generals Hammond and Landry, Admiral Green and Colonel Paul Davis, were beamed into the Atlantis Gate Room, where they were welcomed and greeted by Richard Woolsey and the now extended Atlantis Senior Staff. After introductions, Woolsey brought the party to the Mess Hall for lunch, where they feasted on the hard work Sergeant, Tony and Kathy had done.

A few of the introductions went differently from the others.

Hammond exchanged hugs with the original four members of SG1, and Paul Davis received a hug from Daniel under Jack’s watchful eye. Jack cheered up significantly however, when Paul almost shyly introduced Admiral Green to Daniel as his partner Jason. And way in the back of the new arrivals to Atlantis stood a lowly FBI agent, still wondering why the hell he was there, until he spotted his old friend.

“Tobias,” Gibbs grinned, pulling Fornell in for a short hug, a beaming Tony by his side.

“Jethro, what the devil is going on here?” Tobias asked.

“Aww, Fornell, we were worried about you!” Tony grinned, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Me especially,” another man said, and Fornell was faced with Fox Mulder, who warmly embraced him while Walter Skinner looked proudly at them. “I knew I could get you into trouble, but I didn’t have any other choice, so thank you!” Fox told Fornell sincerely.

Tobias smiled at him.

“You okay, kid? That was all I was worried about.”

“I am, and so is Walter. Thank you, again.”

Fox had spoken to several of them about his concerns for Tobias Fornell, having dragged him into this whole thing before he even knew exactly what it was. He worried deeply that Fornell would get into trouble since he’d been with Fox when he disappeared, and he and Gibbs had done their best to convince the others Tobias deserved at least some explanation. When Daniel had suggested putting Fornell in the meeting party, they were grateful and amused.

“Come on, Fornell,” Tony grinned again, “lunch first, talk later.”

Tony had a great time at lunch feeding everyone Pegasus food, and explaining to them that what they thought was potato salad was actually a root from New Athos, and that the delicious beef they were eating came from a small dinosaur-like creature that Ronon and his hunting party had shot on P75-3X1. While the Joint Chiefs looked skeptical, President Hayes, Hammond, Landry, Green and Davis laughed and were delighted to eat more of it.

After lunch and chatting, Woolsey brought their guests - without the Secret Service agents and Fornell - and his chosen team to a specially selected conference room in the tower just below the Gate Room. President Hayes seemed amused by all of it, Hammond, Landry and Davis had already experienced some of it, and Green was more than willing to go along with it. The Joint Chiefs soured further with every step. It was as the Atlantis crew had expected.

But they had planned for this, and knew they had to shake the Chiefs out of their rigour, and also how to do it.

They had decided on the team that would meet with the President and the Chiefs early on, so aside from the official Atlantis Senior Staff, Jack and Daniel, Tony and Gibbs, and Sam, Cam, Teal’c and Vala were also there. Lorne as XO of Atlantis was obviously Senior Staff, but Jon had also been invited to join. After pouring water and coffee for themselves, they turned to Woolsey, expecting him to start.

“Sorry,” Richard smiled politely, “we’re just waiting for General Sheppard and Cat.”

He had just uttered the words when the doors opened again and a black panther and a white tiger tumbled into the room. The black cat went to McKay, allowed the Chief Scientist to rub its face and scratch its ears for a few moments. The white one strode over to the XO and the young Captain, and happily received similar treatment from both of them.

Then they changed and slid into their seats.

“Sorry we’re late,” Sheppard drawled. “We had to check something out.”

The Atlantis crew knew this was a lie. It had in fact been carefully planned, and had its desired effect. The President was delighted, the Joint Chiefs gobsmacked. Before they regained their composure, Woolsey had already explained Atlantis’ demands for a list of people to remain on the city, and Paul Davis with his usual efficiency had handed over the transfer orders for each of them, and stood by while the orders were signed by Hayes, Woolsey and Hammond in turn.

By the time the Chiefs got over the shock of the cats - dear God, one of their generals was a cat! - and started demanding assurances from Atlantis for protection, insisting she stay on Earth and share her technology, they had already lost the game, and the President knew it.

Hayes silenced his advisors with a flap of hand, and leaned forward to Richard.

“Mr Woolsey, you run a very impressive operation here, and I mean that in more ways than one. I’m deeply thankful for your show of good faith in returning to Earth and your assurances that should Earth be in trouble, you will come back. I have no desire to see Atlantis divvied up between us and our allies, because she would be of no use to any of us that way.”

Woolsey nodded.

“We prepared the transfer papers because, as you told George, Atlantis wouldn’t have let them go anyway.”

And they all knew that just like Hammond, the President hadn’t fully believed that Atlantis really wouldn’t let them leave.

“But that doesn’t change the fact that over ninety percent of your military force and sixty percent of your civilian scientific population are American citizens. Or that the US has funded this entire expedition for as long as it has been going on, with no hope of drawing in funding from other countries now that the IOA has been dismantled. How can we continue doing this in good faith when you have nothing to reciprocate? You cannot expect to simply keep taking, whether it be money, supplies, or people, without giving a little back to us.”

“Of course, Mr President,” Woolsey said pleasantly. “I believe you have two more Deep Space Cruisers in production. Would it be too late for those two ships to be fitted for a ZPM power source?”

Hayes fell back into his seat, not caring that he was giving his astonishment away. ZPMs were like the Holy Grail, able to power a ship almost indefinitely without straining the energy resources of Earth.

“We could do that,” he said.

“Then let us present a gift to you, from Atlantis,” Woolsey smiled.

Ronon and Teal’c carefully placed two metal carrying cases onto the table in front of Hayes and opened them to reveal two shiny, new ZPMs. Rodney looked a little pained at handing them over, but consoled himself with the thought that they had three more brand new ones stored for their own use.

“Fully powered, Mr President. I trust that shows our goodwill?”

“Will there be more of those?” Admiral Green asked with a grin.

“Well, that depends, Admiral…” and Woolsey continued to lay out the necessity for Atlantis to travel and go where she wanted to go if Earth wished to receive any more ZPMs.

Even the Joint Chiefs realised their battle was lost by that point, and grudgingly agreed to whatever the Atlantis crew wanted.

~~~~~

On a far away planet in the Pegasus galaxy, a woman dressed in black leather trampled through a forest. She’d already used her knife and a hard block of wood to cut the heels of her boots down to nubs, to make walking easier and more pleasant. She’d considered discarding her leather jacket, but this planet did get cold at night. Her usually shiny and curly hair was trussed up in a messy and greasy ponytail with a strip of leather she’d had to cut from her jacket.

Larrin was not having a good time.

~~~~~

President Hayes dismissed the Joint Chiefs and his Secret Service agents, and had them beamed back to DC. He himself, Hammond, Landry, Green and Davis were staying for the night by mutual request. Guest quarters were ready and waiting, as was another food fest for dinner.

Tobias Fornell, who had also been invited to stay, was listening with wonder and admiration to the tales Tony and the others were spinning during dinner. While he’d noted a certain distance between Abby and the others, but between her and Gibbs and Tony especially, he’d worried about that, until Tony hand fed to Gibbs another bite from a new plate Sergeant brought out, and kissed his boss right after. Yeah, that would explain it. Again he wondered if he’d ever see them again after this, but he hoped he would.

When the food was gone, Zelenka brought out his booze, and the President had lots of fun tasting the different flavours from the Pegasus galaxy. In the end, Ronon and Teal’c hoisted the President up between them and brought him to his quarters, John and Jack following behind to make sure their alien friends treated the man with respect. John wished the couple of Marines he’d posted in the hallway earlier goodnight, and asked Atlantis to keep them all safe.

It was a tired but very satisfied group that made its way to their respective beds that night.

Chapter Text

Admiral Jason Green deeply enjoyed taking apart the always efficient and well put together Colonel Paul Davis. Even though their relationship was only a few weeks old, Jason was as committed as one could be. Now in his late forties and having been stationed at the Pentagon for the last couple of years, a few people had started wondering about his private life.

Early on, when he was young, he’d been stationed on ships and ports all over the world, and no one had really found it odd that he’d never found a significant other. Many of his fellow service men were in the same predicament, citing it unfair to expect a spouse to wait for them during their long commissions. And Jason had truly put his all into his career, resulting in his quick rise through the ranks.

He’d never lacked for sex. Even when younger, he’d always had a commanding presence and handsome looks, and that combined with his uniform provided plenty of interest. There had been a handful of women during the years that he’d had an arrangement with, and a few discrete men on the side.

But now that he was settled at the Pentagon, people had expected the powerful, handsome and still relatively young Admiral to settle down with some younger trophy wife. Instead, his eyes had turned to Paul Davis.

Paul had still been a Major the first time they met, part of the entourage of General Hammond when George had come to DC to read a few key people, including Green, into the StarGate programme. Paul was intelligent and efficient, crisp and handsome in his uniform, and obviously a smooth talker. He’d impressed and amused the hell out of Jason.

They’d met each other again quite a few times over the years, and of course Jason had heard the rumours about Davis’ supposed sexual orientation, but at first he’d only seen a career military man as he himself had been. But now, tired of being alone and his interest increasing each further time they met, he’d taken the chance to invite Davis to dinner. He hadn’t regretted it.

Paul was smart and funny and eloquent, and seemed to appreciate the same qualities in Jason. That first kiss after their dinner together had left him aching for more, and he couldn’t have been more pleased when Paul came to see him the next day and smiled his hopeful way through a return invitation to dinner that evening.

That night, Jason did everything he could to ruin that crisp efficiency, and appreciated his success all the more when he realised that Paul wanted to be ruined like that, wanted to be taken apart for the night and let Jason put him back together again in the morning.

Doing it on Atlantis, the magical city he’d been protecting for the past few years without ever having seen her with his own eyes, only increased the thrill.

He waited until Paul’s breathing had slowed down to normal again, holding him close. Then he struck.

“So, you and Daniel Jackson, huh?”

Paul stiffened, and the pulse point in his neck started visibly racing again. He looked up.

“No! I never…!”

“But you wanted to, didn’t you?”

Paul pulled back and sat up on the bed, letting the sheets pool in his lap. He looked deeply embarrassed and uncomfortable. This was not at all what Jason had been going for. He’d wanted to tease his new lover about an old crush, then make him forget about that crush again with a second round.

“I’m sorry,” Paul whispered.

Jason winced.

“Okay, time out,” he said gently, then got up and pulled on his boxers, headed for the coffee table where he’d left one of those bottles of moonshine from the little Czech scientist that Jason had swiped from the dinner table after the President had been escorted to his quarters, and returned to the bed. He arranged the pillows and settled against the headboard, patting the spot between his legs.

“Come here? Please?”

Paul was still blushing and keeping his head down, but he moved as asked and settled his back against Jason’s chest. Jason opened the bottle and took a good swig, handing it to Paul, who followed his example after a short hesitation. Holding the bottle with one hand, Jason wrapped his free arm around Paul’s middle, pulling him close.

“Okay, so officially we’ve known one another for a couple of years, but in reality we’re just getting to know each other. I’m not stupid enough to think you don’t have at least a couple of exes out there, and I know you know that I do. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, but I saw O’Neill when you and Jackson hugged in the Gate Room, and I was hoping to tease you a little bit. That was obviously in poor taste. I’m sorry.”

Paul swallowed, and reached for the bottle.

“You don’t understand,” he said quietly after gulping down more booze.

“Can you explain it to me?” Jason asked softly. “Is this going to be the way with all your exes, or is it something about Jackson?”

Paul sighed and slumped.

“Daniel’s not an ex. I told you, we never…” He took another swallow of the liquor.

“Tell me, please?”

Paul handed the bottle over, leaned back more comfortably against Jason’s chest, and closed his eyes. Jason took a drink and waited.

“Daniel’s amazing,” Paul said quietly, waiting for the tension to spike through Jason’s body, and relaxing again when it didn’t come.

“I know,” Jason said instead, “I’ve read the reports. He’s cute, too.”

Paul eased further at Jason’s chuckle, and gave a small smile himself.

“Yeah, and he’s the only one who doesn’t know all that. But he’s got an entire base who do know it, and make sure you know they know it.”

“What happened, baby?”

“I’d read the reports, and I was so excited to get to meet him. The man who opened the StarGate, and saved Earth a handful of times by then. And he was everything I’d read and been told about. Kind and gentle, way too smart for his own good, cute like you said, and completely unaware of all his qualities.”

They shared another pull form the bottle.

“I’d like to think I handled it well, but obviously I didn’t. By the time he and I went to Russia to bargain for their DHD, I’d already received several ‘friendly warnings’ about trying to ‘mess with Dr Jackson’.”

Paul felt Jason tense at that, and hastened to reassure him.

“Nothing like that, just a word to the wise. When O’Neill and Teal’c were stuck on that submarine about to be eaten by Replicators, and O’Neill told Daniel to give the order to blow them out of the water - while I was the ranking officer there - and I saw Daniel’s anguish, I knew what was going on, and was determined to stay far away from all that. But apparently no one believed me.”

“They threatened you?”

“Nothing overt or significant. But when there’s an entire base giving you the evil eye, it has an effect.”

“I’m sorry about that, baby. But I still don’t understand. You weren’t going to approach him, so why the evil eyes? What was the problem?”

Paul sighed.

“Daniel. We’d gotten along well, and he doesn’t believe he has many friends. So whenever I was at the Mountain, he was pleased to see me, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I couldn’t be his friend because everyone else on base was looking to hurt me if I tried to be. Sam seemed mostly amused, Teal’c was hovering constantly, and even Hammond shook his head whenever he saw me talking to Daniel. O’Neill just…”

“Got that look on his face?” Jason asked with a small grin.

“Stop making fun of me! O’Neill is scary with that shit, okay?” Paul said petulantly, and Jason dialled down his amusement to placate his lover.

“I’m sorry, baby, I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, well…”

“I’ll have a word with O’Neill, okay?”

“Oh God, please don’t!” Paul groaned.

Jason grinned again.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Can’t you just take me again and make me forget?” Paul pleaded.

“That was my original intention,” Jason grinned, “and I certainly will now.” Then he turned more serious. “But I’m grateful you told me. I want to know you, Paul, and I want you to know me. This isn’t a game for me. So I’m sorry if I hurt you, but I’m glad I know this about you now.”

~~~~~

A tower away and several floors up from that particular conversation, Jack O’Neill was blissfully unaware he was being talked about. Instead, he focused all his attention on his lover.

Daniel had tried to make a few comments about the President and the negotiations and the food at first, but when Jack had him laid out on the bed, Daniel’s legs wrapped around Jack’s still trim waist, Danny’s usual eloquence evaded him in favour of grunts and groans.

“Please, Jack!” Daniel begged, and was rewarded with even more increase in vigour.

“So good, Danny!” Jack breathed. “So beautiful.”

Daniel stroked his hands over the general’s back and sides, cheerfully taking the weight on top of him while Jack regained his breath. When Jack finally rolled off him, Daniel smiled.

“So, I think today went well, don’t you?”

His smile brightened mischievously when Jack just groaned. Jack was a guy who wanted to go to sleep after a good orgasm, and couldn’t understand how Daniel felt invigorated and wanted to talk. Especially when Daniel refused to wake up in the mornings and wasn’t really coherent until he had his second cup of coffee in hand.

“Please, Danny?” Jack begged.

Laughing, Daniel snuggled up to his sweaty General and shushed him.

“Go to sleep, Jack. I love you.”

~~~~~

“So, what was it you were going to say?” Rodney asked John when he’d come to their quarters after seeing the President safely to bed.

“When?” John asked, wide eyes displaying his innocence while they both knew exactly what Rodney was referring to.

“When you tried to convince me that I loved you more than I love Cat, despite her ability to give me ZedPMs and you only giving me orgasms.”

“ZPMs are better than orgasms now?” John pouted.

“It’s a matter of power,” Rodney huffed.

“I’m the military commander of Atlantis! I’m a general! I have power!” John growled playfully.

“Only in a vague sense. I have legions of minions who could decimate your military power base with a click of a computer button, and I don’t even mean total destruction. Three days of cold showers and all your jarheads will be begging you to make nice with me again before they all defect to a Wraith Hive.”

John stared at him.

“You’ve actually thought about this, haven’t you?”

“There really aren’t that many things I haven’t thought about, Sheppard, you know that.”

“I bow to the Evil Genius.”

“Oooh! Does that mean you’re bending over for me?”

Losing his composure, John honked his distinctive laugh as he fell onto the bed.

“Not tonight, McKay. Get your ass over here! I’ll show you power,” he finally managed to say.

Rodney just smiled and obliged, because he knew that despite John’s claims, tonight would be sweet and gentle. John was happy and content. The negotiations had gone as planned, they’d gotten their people and their mandate to travel as desired, and the President was even more of a fan now than he had been before he came to Atlantis. Yeah, John was pretty pleased, and he’d want to make Rodney feel exactly the same.

~~~~~

“Oh God,” Tony moaned as he was bent naked over the railing of their balcony. Jethro grinned without letting up what he was doing. Tony had done this for him a few times before, but while he’d reciprocated and knew how wonderful it felt, he’d never really gone all out on Tony like this. He speared his tongue and wiggled it, making Tony shiver and plead deliciously.

Tony was more oral than him, Jethro knew that, with how much his lover loved to talk, eat and go down on him. Tony could get lost in sucking him down, swirling his tongue around the tip of him, relishing in the taste. Jethro had never really been able to do that, though he did get great enjoyment from Tony’s pleasure.

This time was different. Tony’s pleasure at the lunch and dinner, at getting to meet the President, being included in the negotiations, at seeing Fornell again in the knowledge that it made Gibbs and Mulder happy to see the man safe, it had all served to make Gibbs understand how much Tony relished being considered important enough to join in these things. And how much Gibbs had held him back from that over the years. So this was something of a reward.

And a treat, if he was being honest.

The idea of it made Jethro flinch, still, but Tony’s responses and the sense of him made it al worthwhile. And he knew that after a good licking, Tony wouldn’t want any lube to further smooth the way.

“You ready?” He asked when he finally let up.

“Please, yes, please!” Tony moaned.

Gibbs’ knee twinged when he stood - maybe he should talk to Atlantis and Cat about that - but he was uncaring about his own or Tony’s nakedness out on the balcony. Sight lines were pretty much non-existent up here, and Tony naked anywhere was always a sight to behold.

“Boss, please!” Tony begged.

After all the excitement of the day, and what Jethro had just done to him, Gibbs knew Tony needed to be taken out of his head, and aimed to do just that. He started gently, easing himself inside.

“Good, sweetheart?” He asked when he’d breached Tony to the fullest.

“Stop talking!” Tony ordered, and shoved himself back onto Gibbs.

Jethro smiled, it wasn’t often Tony told him to shut up.

He took full advantage of it, reducing Tony to a puddle of moans and groans leaning over the balcony railing, staring out at the moons and counting the stars to try and stave off his own completion while Tony was still in need. In the end, all it took was his hand caressing gently down Tony’s spine, and whispering in a soft voice.

“You were so good today, Tony, so good! The President was so impressed with you!”

Maybe it was a little unfair, but they both knew Tony had a bit of a needy thing for praise. That was always a difficult line to tread though, because you should never tell him he’d amused someone or made them laugh, or that someone thought he was pretty. That immediately flashed Tony back to being the entertainment at his parents’ cocktail parties, and that was certainly not a good thing.

But this was just right, and Tony squirmed and unloaded himself all over the balcony, quivering with pleasure while he encouraged Jethro to finish.

~~~~~

Cat smiled up with both satisfaction and amusement.

Once again it was Evan in the middle, and the poor man didn’t know whether he was coming or going. Probably a little of both. Or a lot.

It couldn’t be easy for him. Evan had had his reservations when he found out who they were, and then to be thrown into a sexual relationship with them both, might have been a bit much for him. Lorne may have been the only soldier to have grown up in a hippie commune, but that hadn’t prepared him for this.

He loved intimacy with Cat, and most definitely didn’t mind Jon watching and giving instructions. He immensely enjoyed making love with Jon, finding it incredibly arousing when Cat sat there and watched them. The few times Jon had steered them towards Evan taking him, Lorne had been flustered but pleased.

It wasn’t that he thought of Jon as a clone of O’Neill, not at all. The two were as separate in Lorne’s mind as any two people could be. But despite that, he couldn’t forget that Jon’s looks notwithstanding, the young man had many years of experience on him. Plus, Evan just really enjoyed being filled.

With Cat, well, that was different. It wasn’t the fact of her being the woman and the tiger. She’d never switch from one to the other during sex as she sometimes did in fights in the gym, Evan knew that and wasn’t worried about it. But she was ancient even though she certainly didn’t look it, and she must have tons of experience he couldn’t possibly live up to.

So when it was the three of them all at once, he much preferred letting them take the lead. He liked not having to think or fret, letting them take over and position him however they wanted. There was a reason he loved being the XO instead of the commander, he preferred having someone make the decisions when it came down to it and following orders. Jon worried about this at first, concerned this might be diminishing to Lorne, but when they were connected, Cat showed him what Evan thought about and felt, and Jon’s worry subsided.

Evan was perfect, and neither of them would have him any other way.

~~~~~

Vala settled on top of Teal’c, her preferred place to sleep, whether it was on the dusty ground, a cold stone cell floor, or a comfortable bed.

They didn’t speak. They didn’t need to.

They’d gotten pretty much everything they’d wanted at the moment, and were both content to simply rest.

~~~~~

“Tired?” Cam asked Sam, as he pulled her closer on their bed.

“Hmmm,” she replied. “I don’t remember these beds being this comfortable when I was in charge of Atlantis…”

He chuckled.

“Maybe it’s me,” he said with a grin, expecting her to go off on a tangent to dispel that notion. Instead, she curled her fingers into his, and shifted even closer.

“Maybe it is,” she said, and promptly fell asleep.

~~~~~

President Hayes rolled over in his bed and for a moment regretted not bringing the First Lady along for this trip. Then he remembered he was pretty drunk, and he hadn’t exactly been the political mastermind he was supposed to be that day, letting Woolsey pretty much walk all over him.

But the food and the booze had been nice. And so had the people.

He liked Atlantis.

‘Sleep now,’ she whispered.

He obeyed.