The first time John Sheppard saw Rodney McKay he thought he was hallucinating. It wasn't too surprising really considering that he was drunk off his ass.
It had just been one of those days when everything hit him hard – he'd started his day waking from the nightmare where he'd had to leave Holland behind in the hands of the Taliban. Waking up only mitigated the nightmare a little by the bare fact that Holland had died in an Air Force hospital instead of on the sand in Afghanistan.
The day hadn't gotten any better after breakfast. His therapist for his twice-weekly appointment at the VA was a sadist who enjoyed making her patients suffer in John's opinion. His leg wasn't going to get any better but she still made him do his exercises. On his better days John knew it was necessary, but it wasn't one of his better days.
In the middle of the day, while he was contemplating the fuck-up his life had become; he picked up the phone to find his father on the other of the line. He'd almost hung up. He should have hung up. But he'd never been one to take the easy way out, so he gritted his teeth and said, "Hey."
"John?" his father asked, as if anyone else was going to answer John's phone.
"It's me, Dad," John said.
"How are you, son?" his father inquired, his voice even held a tone of concern.
"About the same," John gritted out, he didn't want to have this conversation.
"So, no improvement, then?"
"No, dad," John said not wanting to think about the fact that his leg was never going to get better; he was never going to fly again. He didn't need to think about it, he had his father to call him every other week or so to remind him of those facts.
"You know you can come home any time you want?"
John had to bite his tongue at that. His dad would love that, to have John limp home, literally, hat in hand, begging for crumbs from the family fortune. John might be down, but he wasn't that far down. Yet.
"No, thanks, dad, I'm okay right now. I'm thinking of going back to school to get my Ph.D." John didn't know why he'd said it, but it was out there. It might even be true.
There was silence on the other end of the line for a full five seconds, it brightened John's day.
"Alright then," his father said at last. "If you need anything, you know where I am."
"Yes, sir," John said instead of 'that'll be the day that hell freezes over.' He hung up before he threw the phone against the wall. Cell phones were expensive to replace. Actually he'd told his father the truth, he was doing okay – he had money saved up from his time in the Air Force. That and his pension should get him by until he figured out what he wanted to do. Going back to school almost sounded like a plan. Almost. It wasn't flying, but it was something.
By the end of the day, John had just had enough. He didn't have anywhere better to be, so he went to the bar where he had dinner most evenings. He just kept drinking until he didn't care anymore that his best friend was dead and he was grounded because of his bum leg. Of course, John had a feeling if not for that bum leg; he would have been booted out of the Air Force for not following orders when he went after Holland. But someone upstairs must have thought that being grounded was bad enough, they let him out with a medical discharge.
When the bartender, Martin, looked up to find John sitting at the bar, he held out his hand. John gave up his keys without protest. He didn't hit the bar often, usually he just had a beer with his dinner and went home. But when he did, he didn't tend to leave until he could barely stagger through the door on his own.
Just before closing time, Martin called a cab. He helped John up the stairs and into the cab, handing his keys to the cabbie.
The cabbie was a good kid. He saw John's bad leg and the way it was dragging along just a little. Once they reached his house, the cabbie threw one of John's arms over his shoulder, nearly carrying John up the stairs to his door. He tried keys until he found the one that unlocked the door.
Pushing the door open with his foot, he handed the keys to John with the admonishment, "Don't lose them," before he shoved John through the door and closed it firmly behind him.
"Good kid," John slurred in parting, patting at the door.
Dropping the keys onto the table just inside the door, John leaned back against the door waiting for the room to stop spinning. He looked down the hallway to his bedroom. The bedroom was in the back of the house and the hallway was long. The way everything was rotating, the front hall looked like just as good a place as any to crash.
Fumbling with the light switch next to the door he finally got it on nearly blinding himself. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the brightness. Once they did, he was surprised to find a man standing in the hallway in front of him.
"Hello?" the man frowned at John, his eyes intense.
"Hey," John responded, his brain wasn't working fast enough to figure out why it was wrong to find someone standing in his house in the wee hours of the morning. He just knew that his internal alarms were going off.
"Can you see me?" the man asked. He seemed way more excited than he should be for an intruder in John's home.
John blinked again and the guy was still standing there – about John's height with dark hair, broad shoulders and the bluest eyes that John had ever seen. He had his arms out like he might try to catch John if he fell.
"Uhm..." John responded slowly, wondering if it was some sort of trick question, "I think so."
The man crossed his arms. "Oh, great, I finally get someone on Earth and he's brain damaged. This is Earth, isn't it?"
"Uhm... yeah." John knew he was drunk, but usually he could communicate a little better.
"You are brain damaged," the man scowled, one side of his mouth tipping down. "I should have known with that hair."
"Hey," a protest forced itself from John, "there's nothing wrong with my hair." He scrubbed through his hair, disarranging it more.
"Yes, and next I suppose you're going to tell me that it does that naturally?"
"It does do this naturally," John said stiffly. "You know, for a hallucination, you're awfully rude."
"What, you're used to polite hallucinations?" the man asked.
John shrugged, "Don't know, never had one before."
The man's chin tipped up, "Just so you know, this is me being nice."
"Huh," John said just as his stomach protested a night spent drinking, pain meds and very little food. He crashed to his knees, throwing up spectacularly all over the hallucination's shoes.
"Ewww. That's just gross." John squinted up at the man. He'd backed up so that he was no longer standing in the middle of the mess. There was an unhappy tilt to the man's mouth and John kind of wanted to smooth it out. "You're drunk aren't you?"
John couldn't answer; he was too busy throwing up everything he'd eaten for the last two weeks.
"Listen, I'll be back when you're more coherent," the man said. Then he was just gone.
John waved a weak goodbye to his hallucination.
Despite his leg, he managed to get to the bathroom where he spent a painful eternity emptying his stomach. When he thought that he'd purged everything he'd eaten since 2002, he struggled to his feet. After he wrestled his shoes off and peeled off his clothes letting them stay where ever they fell on the floor, he fumbled in the medicine cabinet until he found his big bottle of aspirin. He swallowed some down and guzzled a glass of water before he stumbled to his bed. He face planted, unconscious before his head even hit the pillows.
When he woke up the next morning John was pretty certain that if he moved, his head was going to fall off. Not moving was a good strategy until he realized he needed to pee. Ignoring it wasn't doing any good, so he finally cracked his eyes open only to find a pair of familiar blue eyes scant inches from his face staring down at him intently.
Adrenaline kicked in and John scrambled for his gun. It was a good plan except he was still unsteady and his bad leg wasn't cooperating and he got all tangled up in the blankets.
He ended up falling out of bed, landing on his ass in a heap with his covers twisted around his feet. He fumbled through the drawer in his bedside table until he found the gun. He leveled it, his hands shaking, on the intruder.
"Who are you?" he demanded. "What do you want?"
"You know, if I wanted to kill you, all I'd have to do is wait for you to strangle yourself in your blankets." The man was infuriatingly calm. He looked down on John with disdain in his blue eyes. "Would you get up? You look ridiculous down there."
Keeping the weapon as steady as he could, John blinked up at the man, trying to figure out where he'd seen him before. "Aren't you the hallucination from last night?" he asked when it came to him where he'd last seen the man.
"Well yes and no," the hallucination said. "You did see me last night, but I'm not a hallucination."
"Not a hallucination?" John repeated. He was trying to get his eyes to focus and his stomach contents to stay in his stomach where they belonged.
"Although I'm still not certain you aren't brain damaged," the man moved around the bed toward John. John didn't know what nefarious purpose he had in mind, but he didn't intend to wait around and find out.
"Stay where you are," John said raising the gun higher. His steely tones were definitely undermined by the way he kept listing to the left.
"Oh, please," the hallucination sneered. "You can't even sit up straight, what do you think you're going to do to me? Throw up on my shoes again? Besides which, I'm not actually here."
"So you are a hallucination," John proclaimed in triumph.
"Not a hallucination in the sense that I'm not a figment of your drunken imagination," the man said. "I am however not really here. I'm more of a projection that's in your bedroom, and you're the only one that can see me." The man looked around at the bare room that held only a bed and a nightstand. There was a sheet across the window that served to keep the room private and lend a little shade from the sun that had an annoying habit of rising on that side of his house. "You know I've seen hovels more tastefully decorated." He sniffed disdainfully.
John really didn't know what the man was talking about. He kicked the covers away. Then, using the wall to balance himself, he struggled to his feet. He swayed a little once he was upright, but he didn't fall over so he was making progress. "Who are you and what do you want?" He demanded.
"There see, now that's a question I can answer," the man said a little too brightly, like he was talking to a child or someone of limited intelligence. John chose to let it go for the moment if it got him some answers. "My name is Dr. Rodney McKay and I'm in the Pegasus Galaxy."
John stared at him for a moment, eyes narrowed, before he relaxed the arm with the gun and let it drop to his side. "And you think I'm crazy?"
"What?" the hallucination demanded. "I answered your question."
"What do you want?" John asked wearily. Really all he wanted to do was go back to bed and sleep until his hangover was gone. If the guy wanted to rob him, John wasn't sure that he wouldn't let him try. There wasn't much in the house to take, he'd go away empty handed.
"It's pretty simple, really," Rodney McKay (he might as well have a name as opposed to 'the hallucination,' John thought) said, "I want you to call General O'Neill at the SGC, I'll give you the number, and deliver a message for me."
John stared at him for a moment, wondering if somehow, someway, someone was playing a really bad practical joke on him. "General *Jack* O'Neill?"
McKay literally bounced on his toes. "Yes! You know him?"
John was suddenly furious. "Listen, I don't know who you are really, but this isn't funny. Now get out of here." He took a step forward to grab the man's arm and got nothing but air. "Wha?"
McKay frowned at him, "Didn't you get the part where I'm not a hallucination, but I'm not really here? I'm in the Pegasus Galaxy in a... communication device that lets me talk to people in the Milky Way Galaxy with the ATA gene, although why it picked you, I don't... Hey stop that!" McKay took a step back as John waved a hand back in forth in his mid section.
John blinked up at him, "I must have been drunker than I thought," he said. To further test his theory, John lifted his weapon and fired. He watched as the bullet passed completely through the man standing in front of him to bury itself in the opposite wall.
"You shot me," McKay snapped, his eyes flashing furiously.
"In the leg," John pointed out, staring at the aforementioned leg. It looked perfectly solid and real, but he'd also seen the bullet pass through it.
"But you shot me!" the other man insisted.
John's own leg was screaming and he felt like his head was going to fall off at any moment. "Listen," he said, "let me just go to the bathroom and then we can... I don't know. Talk."
McKay didn't protest as John limped into the bathroom and firmly closed the door behind him with the clear message that he'd like a little privacy. He didn't show up either as John went about his business, which made John feel a little better about his not-a-hallucination... visitor.
After a shower and drugs John actually felt almost human again. He emerged from the bathroom, not even thinking, with just a towel wrapped around his hips. A choked noise made him look up at McKay. He found the man staring at him, his eyes fastened on the towel.
"Is that uhm... painful," he waved a vague hand in John's direction.
John realized McKay was talking about his scar. Of course with just the towel on it was starkly obvious. Starting on his left hip, it slashed down to his knee. It was healed, but it was still red and angry looking.
John didn't answer him. He clutched the towel to make sure it stayed closed and limped over to his dresser. He pulled clothes out, not really looking at what he was choosing. Not that there was much chance of a fashion disaster since his wardrobe mostly consisted of soft black t-shirts and jeans.
"Give me a minute to dress," John said not looking to see if McKay was even paying attention. "And make a pot of coffee."
There was a moan that almost pornographic in nature from the corner where McKay stood. "You have coffee?" he whined.
The clear tone of longing in his voice made John smile. "Yeah, I have coffee. But you're not here. Remember? You're in the Pegasus Galaxy."
John pulled on his clothes and brushed a hand through his hair. He turned to McKay who had stayed silent far longer than John thought he was actually capable of from previous evidence to find the man staring.
"You okay?" he asked, trying to figure out what could spook a hallucination.
"I'm ah... fine. Just not used to being in the room with a naked man that I'm not... you know..." then he proceeded to blush, a red stain across his cheeks that was almost endearing.
"Come on," John told him leading the way to the kitchen. "You can tell me why you want to me to call General Jack O'Neill over coffee."
"Oh, now you're just being mean," McKay snapped, but he obediently followed John to the kitchen.
"Do you actually live here?" McKay asked as he got a look at John's kitchen. "Because I don't see much evidence of it."
It was true that the kitchen was kind of bare, with a table and two chairs placed next to the window where John could sit with his morning coffee and read the paper or do the crossword. The only thing on the counters was the coffee pot that was set up to brew automatically. All John had to do was pull his mug (his only coffee mug) down from the cabinet and pour the coffee.
As he poured McKay crowded in next to him; he would have been stepping on John's feet if he'd been really there, eyeing the coffee greedily.
"We've been out of coffee for months," he said mournfully.
John leaned back against the counter and just inhaled his coffee, eliciting another moan from McKay. John quirked an eyebrow and held the cup out, "You want some."
"Stop it, that's cruel..." McKay frowned at him. He watched avidly as John took his first sip.
"Mmmmmm," John moaned a little just to watch McKay squirm uncomfortably. "I'm John Sheppard by the way," he added just to see the confused expression in McKay's eyes as he tried to parse the information.
"Oh, oh, yes," he said, tearing his eyes away from the coffee cup with an effort. "Sheppard, that's... that's good." He seemed to remember why he was standing in John's kitchen having illicit relations with John's coffee. He stepped back and straightened. "Right, I need you to call General O'Neill, the number is...."
"Now, hold on," John interrupted, holding up a hand. "I need to know a little about this if he's not going to think I'm insane."
McKay blinked at him. "I can't actually tell you anything. It's all classified."
John tilted his head, studying the other man with narrowed eyes, still not sure that this wasn't some elaborate practical joke. Except he didn't have any friends who would care enough to pull a prank like this off. "Come on, McKay," he growled, "you're calling me long distance from the Pegasus Galaxy and you're pulling the classified card on me? You can't expect me to call a general in the United States Air Force and tell him that a hallucination asked me to call."
"Yes, you can," McKay insisted, "Just the fact that you have the number will tell him you're for real. Listen," McKay's whole demeanor changed. He looked afraid and miserable. For the first time John took a really good look at him. He saw the dark circles under the bloodshot blue eyes, and the pinched look to his face. "Listen," he continued earnestly, "a lot of people have already died. More are going to die. I don't know if O'Neill can help, but I've got to try everything I can."
The words jolted John. Whatever else, McKay believed what he said. And if John had a chance to help people in need, he had to take it. "Okay," he said simply.
"I know you don't understand what's happening. Hell I don't understand what's happening, and I'm the foremost expert in Ancient technology in two galaxies..." realizing what he was saying McKay pressed his lips together tightly, his eyes beseeching.
John smirked a little. He didn't need to torture the guy for information, just keep him talking and Rodney McKay would spill everything he knew in no time. "I said yes," he repeated.
"I said yes."
"Oh, well, yes, of course you did. Thank you." McKay was unexpectedly subdued.
"You're welcome. Now what's that phone number?"
"You're going to call him now?" McKay's mouth gaped open. He stared at John.
"No time like the present," John said cheerfully. He didn't know when he started to actually believe his hallucination, but he figured the best way to get to the bottom of things was to dial the number. If Jack O'Neill answered, well John would deal with that when it happened. If he got a pizza place, well, then that would answer the question of whether he was lying in a psych ward somewhere pumped full of the good drugs.
"I have to tell you," he said conversationally as he dialed the number McKay recited for him slowly, "I'm still not sure you're not a result of PTSD."
There wasn't a chance for McKay to respond as the phone on the other end began to ring. It was picked up on the third ring.
"O'Neill," the voice on the other end of the line said. John almost dropped his coffee.
"General Jack O'Neill?" he asked slowly.
McKay smirked and folded his arms, he tipped up his chin up in triumph. "Told ya," he mouthed at John.
"Yes, and who is this?" the voice on the other end of the line snapped.
John swallowed as everything around him settled into a new reality. There were humans in another galaxy. And one of them was standing in his kitchen asking for help. "I'm John Sheppard, sir, you don't know me."
"How did you get this number?" O'Neill snapped. The hair on the back of John's neck rose.
"Well, that's kind of a funny story, sir. You see Rodney McKay gave it to me."
"McKay?" John could practically feel suspicion radiating from the other end of the line. "What do you know about Rodney McKay?"
"I know that he's in the Pegasus Galaxy and he needs our help, that's why I'm calling."
"Listen, Sheppard," O'Neill growled at him. "I don't know what you're up to. But this isn't funny and it stops now. Don't tell anyone else what you think you know and don't call this number again." The line clicked and went dead. John blinked down at the phone in his hand.
"What? What did he say?" McKay asked impatiently.
"I'm sorry, Rodney, he didn't believe me," John said.
The disappointment in McKay's eyes was almost more than John could take.
"Call him back," he said his lips pressed into a straight line.
"No," he went on, ignoring John, "I can't tell Elizabeth that I failed, that Earth wouldn't even talk to us."
"Elizabeth?" John asked, just for something to say.
"Dr. Elizabeth Weir. She's the leader of our expedition." There was nothing in McKay's voice, it was just flat, like he'd lost all life and hope. John really wanted to just put his arms around him and make everything alright again. Then he took a deep breath and looked John square in the eye. "You've got to call him back."
John didn't know General Jack O'Neill, but he knew *of* General Jack O'Neill. He knew that the man could make John's life hell if he wanted to. But, looking into the Rodney's eyes and seeing the bleak despair there, John knew he was going to have to do it.
He picked up the phone and dialed the number again.
"I thought I told you not to call this number again," O'Neill greeted him.
"Sir, I really need to talk to you. It's a matter of life and death."
"You know surprisingly, pretty much everything in my life is a matter of life and death. And I can't figure out what your angle is. Really. Don't call me again."
Again the phone went dead.
"I'm sorry, Rodney," John said.
McKay just sort of seemed to sag for a second, but then he pulled himself together. "Okay, okay, O'Neill's not the only person we can call. You can call Sam Carter, she'll believe you."
"Hold on, McKay, let me think," John said. He moved around the kitchen pulling out bread. If he was going to help McKay, he was going to need sustenance.
"You're going to help?" McKay whispered, as if he didn't know if he should believe John or not.
"Well, sure," John scowled at him, "it's not every day that Princess Leia comes to me for help."
That did the trick, McKay straightened and leveled a steely blue gaze on John. "I am not Princess Leai in this scenario."
John paused in spreading peanut butter on the bread. He waved the knife up and down at Rodney, "What? You're hologram-like and you're coming to me for help. Oh! That makes me Obi Wan. Cool!"
Rodney crossed his arms, "Oh, no, no, my friend that makes General O'Neill Obi Wan Kenobi, that makes you R2D2."
John pouted as he finished spreading jam on the bread, "Come on, I'm at least Luke Skywalker."
"R2D2," McKay asserted stubbornly. Then he melted a little, "Okay, maybe Han Solo, you've got that whole rakish thing going with the hair."
"Rakish? You think so?" John felt oddly warmed.
"Just stop," Rodney rolled his eyes. "We don't have time to feed your ego. People are in dire need of help here. What are you going to do about it?"
"Well, McKay, I don't know if there's much I can do about it..."
"But..." McKay started to interrupt. John held up a hand to stop him.
"I have a few ideas though. First of all, I think I need to talk to the general in person. It's a lot harder to hang up on someone in person."
Rodney gaped at him. "You'd do that?"
John shrugged, pleased at the gratitude he saw in Rodney's eyes. "I was in the Air Force, you know," he said. "I've disobeyed plenty of orders," he worked hard to keep his voice casual. "What's one more for old time's sake?"
"This could work!" Rodney began to pace. It made John wince when he walked through the table and chairs.
"How does that work?" John asked at last, unable to help himself.
"That?" Rodney frowned at him before looking down to find himself standing in the middle of the kitchen table. "Oh, this?" He waved a hand to encompass himself and the kitchen. John nodded.
"Well, I'm actually in a little room in Atlantis."
"Atlantis?" John asked just to see if Rodney would answer.
Rodney frowned at the interruption, but he said, "City of the Ancients in the Pegasus Galaxy." John carefully hid his smirk. "Anyway, as I was saying, I'm in a little room, I guess it's like a phone booth. It allows me to contact someone with the ATA gene on Earth."
"Huh, so it's like that TV series, Quantum Leap, you're Admiral Calavicci," John said.
"Yes, yes, if you must have it in the simplest possible terms," Rodney scowled at him.
John grinned back. "Brain damaged remember?"
Rodney started to snap a reply, undoubtedly snarky, but that was when the door to John's house crashed open and someone came crashing through the kitchen window on a zip line swinging straight over the table and through Rodney.
John could only stare at the black-clad men crowding his kitchen. "I guess General O'Neill wants to see me," he said. He smirked at Rodney, "I love it when a plan comes together."
That was when Rodney disappeared.
"McKay," he called desperately, but there was no answer. Rodney was gone. John turned to face the man who seemed to be in charge of the operation. He was a tall, dark-skinned man. He wore a cap pulled down low over his face. "I guess this means I'm going to see the wizard," he said.
"You are not going to see the wizard," the man replied in all seriousness, "you are going to see General Jack O'Neill."
John was too worried about McKay and the sudden way he disappeared to enjoy the tricked out jet that was his ride to wherever General O'Neill wanted him.
McKay had said that people were dying in Atlantis, his city of the Ancients, in the Pegasus Galaxy. John couldn't help but wonder if maybe McKay himself was now dead in some faraway place where John would never get to meet him. He no longer doubted that McKay was real. Now it was just a matter of what John could do to help him.
He glanced over at his 'escort.' They'd ditched most of the ninja-wanabees at the airport where John and his entourage boarded the sleek little Gulf Stream. It could have carried all of the strike team in comfort but he was left with just three people to escort him to his destination.
Obviously the general didn't think John was too much of a threat because, besides the imposing, dark-skinned man who could have broken John in half by himself, the man and the woman with him weren't all that threatening. The woman was blonde and cute in a 'don't mess with me or I'll kick your ass' kind of way. The man was about John's age with dark hair and blue eyes hidden behind glasses.
Mostly they ignored John and left him to himself, which suited John just fine.
The big man took his cap off once they were safely on board the plane. John gaped at the gold tattoo that was revealed on the man's forehead. John didn't stop staring until the woman leaned over and whispered, "Don't stare, Teal'c doesn't like it.
John averted his eyes then, but he couldn't help sneaking glances at the team traveling with him. He had no idea what he was involved in or where he was going, but somehow he didn't mind. This was the most excitement he'd had since he left the Air Force.
While he was nervous about his upcoming meeting with General Jack O'Neill, the man could make his life hell after all, he wasn't afraid. Fear was seeing your best friend bleeding out into the sand. Fear was knowing people needed him and having no idea what to do to help them.
He just hoped that McKay showed up in time to deliver his message to O'Neill because John didn't know how to make a freaking general believe him otherwise.
"So, uh... where are we going?" he asked finally when the silence on board the jet got to be almost more than John could take.
"To see General Jack O'Neill," Teal'c answered, his mouth seemingly carved in a perpetual frown.
John refused to be cowed, "Come on, can't you just give me a clue? How many letters?"
The woman stepped in then. She smiled at John and said, "We're going to Colorado Springs."
John's mind raced trying to fit together pieces. The Air Force Academy was in Colorado Springs. John had attended the academy so he was pretty familiar with Colorado Springs; he had pleasant memories of his time there.
More importantly NORAD was located there, in Cheyenne Mountain. There had been some pretty freaky rumors about Cheyenne Mountain and NORAD, but John had always discounted them. Now after having met a not-quite-there man from another galaxy he wasn't so sure those rumors were so freaky anymore.
The other man looked up from the book he was reading, "You know it would probably be best if you cooperated."
John bit down on his snarky response. It wouldn't help Rodney and the people of Atlantis if he antagonized these people. So he'd cooperate. For now.
"Sure, why not," he said. "I'm John Sheppard, by the way."
"Yes, we know," the woman answered. "I'm Sam Carter, this is Daniel Jackson," she gestured to the man with the book. He peered over his glasses at John and nodded. "And you've met Teal'c." She smiled fondly at the big guy.
"So, Rodney McKay," John said. Sam and Daniel exchanged glances. Teal'c raised a brow. They all watched him expectantly. They weren't giving anything up. So much for getting information from them.
"Maybe I should wait and talk to General O'Neill," he said when he couldn't stand the silence and the expectant stares any more.
"That would be best," Teal'c agreed gravely.
John settled back trying to relax and failing miserably. He wished he could enjoy the flight because the Gulf Stream was a sweet ride even if he wasn't the one flying. But his leg hurt like fuck. He couldn't believe that he'd left his pain meds back in his apartment. But when he'd been 'asked' to accompany the intruders in his apartment, his pain medication had been the furthest thing from his mind.
John kept looking around, expecting Rodney to show up at any time. The more time that passed and it didn't happen, the more John was certain that something Very Bad had happened to him.
Despite his worry and the throbbing in his leg, the chair was comfortable and the purr of the jets engines was lulling. Before too long, he fell asleep. He dreamed that he was a following a rabbit that sounded a lot like Rodney McKay when he fell through a hole in the world.
Somehow General O'Neill wasn't as tall as John expected him to be.
John had expected someone taller than life, certainly someone more imposing than the gray-haired man with dark circles under his eyes who sat across from him in the interrogation room. Oh, they'd called it an 'interview room' when they'd brought him in. But John knew an interrogation room when he was sitting in one. This wasn't his first time to the dance.
Except for the table and the chairs placed around, the room was bare. Before they began Daniel Jackson brought John a cup of coffee. O'Neill scowled at him, but Daniel waved a hand at him and slid the coffee across the table to John.
"I didn't know if you wanted anything in it," Daniel said apologetically.
John took it gratefully, "Black is fine," he assured the other man.
He would have killed for his pain pills but there was no way he was asking General O'Neill for them. Coffee would have to do. He sipped at the cup as Jackson left the room. John suspected he would be watching the 'interview' in the adjoining room. John could see his reflection in a mirror opposite that he was dead certain was a two-way mirror from which Jackson and anyone else who wanted could watch from the adjoining room.
He sipped his coffee while he waited for the general to speak. For his part O'Neill sat without speaking for several minutes. He just sat, watching John, his gaze steely and hard. There was a file on the table in front of O'Neill, but he didn't touch it. John could see his name typed in neat letters at the top.
John knew this game. He'd learned it sitting across the dinner table from his father and had honed his skill on his commanding officers over the years. If O'Neill thought John was going to break first, he had another thing coming.
"So, Rodney McKay?" O'Neill said finally when it became obvious that John wasn't going to break and confess to some nefarious plot.
John did his best not to fidget. He hadn't done anything wrong; in fact he was here because he was trying to help. "That's actually a funny story," he started.
"Trust me, Sheppard, there's nothing funny about this situation."
John had the distinct feeling that O'Neill thought he had done something wrong.
"Do you know how secret my cell phone number is?" O'Neill didn't wait for John to answer. He leaned forward and growled, "It's so secret that I don't even have clearance to know it. The only guy who knows my number is Walter and he just knows things. So, how did you get it?" O'Neill sat back waiting for John's answer.
John cleared his throat. "Well, you see... I saw Rodney McKay this morning and he asked me to call you." Yeah, it sounded lame as hell to John, too.
"Rodney McKay?" Jack's eyes narrowed dangerously, "This Rodney McKay?" O'Neill opened the file and pushed it over in front of John. There was a picture on top, a picture of Rodney McKay.
John breathed out a sigh of relief; McKay was a real person after all. He'd been pretty sure, but there was always a small possibility that he'd been an hallucination after all. The doctors at the VA kept going on about PTSD, they were all certain that John was going to crack at any moment. To be honest John was surprised that he hadn't.
He nodded, trying to find the right words to tell his story that would make the general believe him. He kept hoping that McKay would show back up. Not that that would help, John was the only person that could see Rodney McKay, but at least he wouldn't be alone in this anymore.
O'Neill slapped his hand on the table next to the picture. "I hate to break it to you, but McKay isn't in this country. I know where he is and there's no way you could have seen him in..." O'Neill glanced down at the file, "San Francisco this morning."
John leaned in, eager to prove himself. "I know. He's in the Pegasus Galaxy. He told me that. And he asked me to call you."
The temperature in the room went absolutely glacial. O'Neill leaned in even more seeming to grow about two feet. "Listen Sheppard, I don't know what your game is, or who you're working for, but I'm giving you one shot to tell me the truth or I'm going to throw you in a hole so deep that your mother isn't going to be able to find you."
"I'm not working for anyone, sir," John desperately racked his brain for something to say that would make the general believe him. "Rodney said people were going to die unless you helped."
O'Neill rose, fury written in every line of his body. Grabbing John's shirt, O'Neill yanked him to his feet, pulling him in until they were nose to nose. "Are you making a threat, mister?"
John floundered not knowing what to say to keep a bad situation from getting worse.
That was the moment that Rodney appeared. He was bruised and kind of bloody and his arm was in a sling, but John didn't think he'd ever seen anyone look better in his life.
"Sheppard?" he said when he popped in from wherever he was. When he spied the tableau presented by John and the general, Rodney scowled. "I can't leave you alone for five minutes, can I?"
John shrugged as best he could in the general's grip. "Some help would be good here, McKay," he hissed.
The general released John so abruptly he almost fell backwards. He caught himself on the table before he fell on his ass.
"McKay? Is he here?" O'Neill asked sharply. He peered around the room.
John gave a bark of bitter laughter. He was so dead. If they didn't shoot him as a spy, they were going to lock him up in psych ward. He wasn't ever going to fly again, that much was certain. "Yes," he said shortly, waving a hand in Rodney's direction.
He didn't really expect O'Neill to believe him. Hell, if he wasn't seeing the imaginary man from another galaxy, he wouldn't believe it himself.
Instead of calling the men with the white coats and having John carted away, O'Neill turned towards the mirror, "Carter, did you get that? McKay's here."
His companion from the plane answered, "Yes, sir, I heard. I'll be right in."
John gaped at the general, "You believe me?" he asked at last.
The general smirked at him, "Believe it or not, this isn't the first time something like this has happened. You'll have to ask Daniel about what a pain in the ass it is to be on a different temporal plane or whatever the hell happened to him."
McKay snapped his fingers at that. "Oh, yeah, it was the incident with the crystal skull a few years back."
"This shit's happened before?" John stared unbelieving from Rodney to O'Neill and back again. "Oh, hell, I have gone insane, haven't I?"
That was when Sam Carter came in with a cart full of equipment. John didn't miss how McKay suddenly stood up straighter and sucked in his stomach.
"Give it up, McKay," he said sourly, "she can't see you."
Carter looked around the room curiously, "So, McKay's really here? Just let me," she started fiddling with the equipment while she walked through the middle of Rodney. It kind of made John's stomach knot.
"Tell Sam she looks hot," Rodney said earnestly.
John ignored him. Instead he said, "He says people have died in the Pegasus Galaxy, General, and more are going to die if you don't help them."
Ignoring John completely, O'Neill turned to the woman. "Carter, is it possible for Rodney McKay to be communicating with Sheppard somehow?"
"Yes," Rodney said. He started to cross his arms and yelped when he jarred the arm that was in the sling.
Carter fiddled with her equipment, sweeping a wand-like piece around the room. She frowned down at what the machine was telling her.
"I don' know, sir, I'm not getting anything."
"I keep telling her she couldn't find her ass..." Rodney started.
"McKay," Sheppard snapped sharply.
"What did he say?" Carter asked, her eyes wandering the room curiously. "I bet he said that I couldn't find my ass with both hands."
John didn't have to answer; the way his jaw dropped was answer enough.
She didn't take offense though, she turned to the general and shrugged. "This is the Ancients we're talking about. They're the race that built the gates." John didn't know what a 'gate' was, but he really, really wanted to know. "I've read his file and if Sheppard says he's talking to Rodney McKay, I'm inclined to believe him."
The general considered her words before leaning back in his chair. "How would something like that work?" he asked thoughtfully."
"Sheppard's got to have the ATA gene," Rodney said as if it had to be immediately obvious.
"Well, it's a sure bet that Sheppard would have to have the ATA gene for a device like this to work from the Pegasus Galaxy, and a pretty strong expression of it, too, for McKay to get him instead of you."
"I'm really in the psych ward, aren't I?" John said to no one in particular.
"I know it's a lot to take in, Mr. Sheppard," Carter said, her tone amused, "but trust me when I say that this is all real."
McKay managed to pull off smug without saying anything at all.
"Okay," O'Neill seemed to come to a decision. "Let's get this show on the road. Daniel," O'Neill called out to the ceiling again, "would you join us in here, please?"
"I'll be right in," Daniel answered.
"Sheppard, sit down before you fall down," the general instructed tersely. John obeyed the command tone from long habit.
"Now, McKay, talk to us. What is so important that you've had to call us long distance from Pegasus?" O'Neill said to the room at large. He managed to make it seem normal to be talking to a person that only John could see.
Before he could begin, Daniel Jackson slipped through the door, followed by Teal'c. The big man stood at the door filling the room with his presence. Jackson slid a bottle of water over to John along with a wrapped sandwich. He also handed John his pain medication.
"Forgot I had them," he shrugged off John's stammered thanks before he moved to stand with Carter. He looked over her shoulder as she continued to poke at her equipment, frowning down at it.
John dumped a pill out and dry swallowed it before he twisted the lid off the water and took a long drink. It meant something that they had given him his meds and the water. Maybe they weren't going to shoot him as a spy after all.
"Ready when you are," he told Rodney.
With a deep breath Rodney launched into his story, "Okay, long story short, the city of the Ancients, Atlantis, is here, we found it. It's in pristine shape, better than we could have ever hoped for. Problem is, it doesn't respond well to us." John repeated Rodney's words for his audience.
"There were several people in the expedition with the gene," Carter interrupted John to interject.
"Yes, but none of them have a strong expression of the gene. Carson's is the strongest and the city just doesn't like him for whatever reason. So a lot of the more vital systems don't work or, if we can get them to work, it's only half-assed."
"We did think that there was a mental component to the technology," Sam offered.
"Yes, and Carson is basically terrified of everything Ancient. Remember the incident in Antarctica?"
Carter rolled her eyes in clear contempt of Rodney's words. John decided he really, really didn't like her. "He wasn't trying to kill you, Rodney, it was an accident."
"Carson knew I was on that helicopter. I think subconsciously he might have influenced the drone."
"Kids, can we get back to the subject at hand?" O'Neill neatly cut them both off. John wondered just how much practice he had at wrangling feuding scientists."
It was probably a good thing O'Neill couldn't see Rodney because he was glaring at the general. "Fine, yes, where was I?"
"City doesn't respond well," John supplied.
"Yes. Alright. So, the city was underwater when we got there with a shield holding back the ocean."
"Underwater," Jackson leaned in, his eyes bright. "That would explain all the myths about Atlantis sinking into the ocean."
"Daniel," the general interjected. "Can this wait for another time?"
"I... uhm... okay," Jackson subsided but John could see that he wasn't happy.
Rodney picked up his narrative as if he'd never been interrupted, "So, the city was underwater, but the ZedPM that was providing power to the shield protecting the city was almost depleted. Our arrival further taxed it until it reached maximum entropy and the shield collapsed."
"But, but you were under the ocean, you would have all died," Carter said quietly.
McKay's face looked pinched and unhappy, like the story carried a truck load of bad memories with it. "Fortunately for us the Ancients had designed a failsafe so that when the ZedPM failed the city would rise to the surface."
John let out a breath of relief when McKay paused for a breath. Logically he knew that something had saved the city, he was talking to Rodney after all, but the story was affecting him nonetheless.
"So, you're on the surface?" O'Neill prompted.
"Yes, without any power. Yes, yes," Rodney waved off Carter's words before she could speak them. "We had naquadah generators with us, and we could power some of the systems, but not the shields and certainly not the control chair. We were safe for the moment, but all the supplies we had was what we brought with us, and we didn't know if or when we could count on anything from Earth, so we started using the gate to find places in Pegasus to trade, allies to assist us. We came across a group of people called the Athosians. They told us of a race called the Wraith that... feed off of humans." McKay lifted his hand until it hovered over John's chest. "They drain our life force or some shit like that. All I know is...," his gaze grew distant and his eyes shadowed, "it's the most horrifying thing I've ever seen."
There was quiet in the room as they considered the implications of what McKay was saying.
"One of the Athosians, Teyla Emmagan, told us that the Wraith hibernate for hundreds of years at a time. But something woke them up. I don't know, maybe they sensed that someone was back in Atlantis, maybe it was just their time to wake up, who knows? But they've come out of hibernation and they're culling planets again. The problem, besides the whole feeding on humans thing, is that there aren't enough humans in the Pegasus Galaxy to feed them."
"Earth?" O'Neill asked quietly.
Rodney nodded, his face a sickly shade of gray. "The Ancients fought against the Wraith, and they lost. It's the reason they came to Earth 10,000 years ago. They Wraith have taken some of our people and they know about Earth and the Milky Way Galaxy."
"That's bad," Jackson spoke for the first time.
"No shit, Sherlock," Rodney said.
John didn't repeat it. He told Daniel, "Rodney says you're absolutely right."
"What are you, my mother?" Rodney shot John a frosty glare before going on, "They know that there are people from Earth in Atlantis. We had a couple of Wraith darts strafe us a few days ago and a Wraith even got into the city. We managed to kill it, but we don't have any idea what kind of intel it was able to get to its people before that. We've been able to get some of the long range sensors to work in the last day or two." He paused swallowing convulsively.
"And?" the general prompted.
"There are hive ships headed for Atlantis." Rodney said.
"And they know about Earth." The room was deadly quiet after O'Neill's statement.
Rodney was looking more and more strained, the pain lines around his eyes were more pronounced. John was noticing little details – like the fact that the sling Rodney was sporting looked more like a belt and the wound on his arm was wound with gauze over his shirt sleeve.
Rodney nodded, "They do, but we don't think they know that Earth is in another galaxy. They just know there's a place with six billion people just waiting for them, like a buffet. We also have the only gate in Pegasus that's capable of connecting to Earth. If we have to... we're prepared to destroy the city to keep it out of Wraith hands. But we're a little reluctant to take that step." Rodney thrust his chin up a little further to convey their determination to protect Earth by whatever means possible.
O'Neill nodded, like he was seriously considering letting these people blow themselves up. "Good. That's good, but I don't think that's going to be necessary."
Rodney's relief was palpable. "Really?"
O'Neill nodded to Carter. She looked around the room before turning to John. He pointed to the spot where Rodney stood.
"Okay, McKay, we found a fully charged ZPM."
Rodney took a step back, a smile breaking out on his face. "You have a ZedPM?"
"A team of archeologists found it in Egypt. Can you believe that? It was just there inside one of the pyramids, under our noses all this time."
Rodney started to pace back and forth. "But how do you get it here? If you use it to dial Atlantis, then you can't bring it through."
John dutifully repeated his questions, not sure when he'd lost the thread of the conversation, but he knew it was all important.
"Got it covered, McKay," O'Neill said. "We have this brand new spaceship all ready to go. We were going to send it looking for you guys anyway, it'll just get there a little sooner."
"If we use the ZPM to power the engines we can be there inside of four days, McKay." Carter said.
Rodney's whole body just crumpled. He didn't fall or anything, he just folded in on himself. "No, that's too long. The Wraith are going to be here in hours, not days."
"We have another ZPM," Jackson interjected quietly.
"The chair in Antarctica," Rodney shouted.
"Daniel, we can't use that ZPM, what if the Ori attack Earth while it's gone?" Carter objected.
"We can only worry about one planetary emergency at a time," the general said. John thought that was it. The people in Atlantis were dead. He felt hollow at losing something he'd never even had.
"Atlantis needs us right now." O'Neill declared, standing.
John and Rodney both turned to him.
"Sir?" John asked.
"We can use the ZPM that powers the Antarctica facility to send reinforcements and the Egyptian ZPM to Atlantis. Then we can let the Daedalus use it to get them to the Pegasus Galaxy in time to support our people. If they're successful, McKay can send it back through the wormhole. If they're not, well, the Daedalus will be returning anyway and we'll only be without the ZPM for a couple of weeks. Things have been quiet with the Ori lately."
"Jack," Daniel began.
"We don't leave our people behind, Daniel," O'Neill spat at him.
"I know that, Jack, I was just going to ask if I could go with the support team." There was longing on Jackson's face.
"Daniel, we've talked about this before. I need you here."
Jackson's mouth was pressed into a thin, straight line. He definitely wasn't happy, but he didn't argue with the general.
"You know what would be really useful?" Rodney said. "Someone with a strong expression of the ATA gene.
John repeated Rodney's words for the general. He didn't really understand what Rodney was asking until he realized that they were all staring at him expectantly, and not just because he was translating for Rodney.
"Sir?" he asked hesitantly. There was a small smile curling Sam Carter's lips, Jackson looked positively jealous. And Teal'c... Well, the big man stood at the door, his face impassive, but he radiated approval.
"I can't order you to go, Sheppard, you're a civilian now," O'Neill began.
John swallowed. He wanted to go, more than he'd wanted anything in a long time, but... "I'm not sure how much good I'd be." He hit his leg with a clenched fist. He'd finally met someone, sort of, found a place he wanted to go, something he wanted to do, and he couldn't have any of it because of his leg.
Rodney didn't speak, he just smirked at John.
O'Neill raised a questioning brow in Carter's direction.
She nodded. "My dad is visiting right now. I'll see if I can track him down."
O'Neill turned to John. He considered John for a moment before he said, "What if I said we could take care of that?"
John's good mood had long since vanished. "Pardon me, sir, but the best doctors the United States Air Force have says that my leg is as good as it's ever going to get." He swallowed down the bitterness of losing, yet again, something that he wanted. "I think we're done here."
He didn't look at McKay as he turned and limped to the door.
"Sheppard," he heard Rodney call after him, but he didn't turn around, he just kept going. Now that he was thinking about it, his leg ached with all the unexpected use. His headache had returned in full force, too. All he wanted was to make it somewhere private before he threw up.
He'd forgotten that he had his own personal hallucination to haunt his footsteps however.
"Would you stop, Sheppard?" Rodney appeared in front of him, fists planted on his hips, his eyes flashing.
John was startled, not expecting Rodney in front of him. He crashed into the wall, bouncing off it. He put all of his weight onto his bad leg which chose that moment to fold under him. He ended up on his ass in front of Rodney again.
"Fuck," he groaned.
"You okay?" Rodney knelt down next to him, his hands outstretched anxiously.
John took a shuddering breath and shoved himself away from Rodney. "I did what you asked. You're getting help. Can you just leave me the hell alone?" He felt so helpless. He wanted Atlantis and Rodney, but he was a cripple. He would only be a detriment to them. He leaned back against the wall, letting his eyes fall shut. He hoped that McKay would get bored and go away.
There was silence for so long that John thought that must have been what happened. He had gone down a hallway that it seemed no one used, so he wasn't bothered. He'd almost drifted into an uneasy sleep when a strident voice jerked him back to wakefulness.
"Done with your pity party yet?"
John's eyes jerked open. He found Rodney sitting next to him, glaring at him.
"I'm sorry that it's not convenient for you, McKay," John spat at him. He'd done everything Rodney had asked of him, and now he was done. "But my leg is never getting better and there's nothing you or anyone else can do about it."
Rodney frowned at him, "Sheppard, Atlantis needs you... I need you. I wish there was more time so you could freak out, but there's not. So," Rodney took a deep breath, "I'm in another galaxy and the people I care about are dying. Now you can make things better for us. I really need you here." His frown softened, and he mostly just looked unhappy. "I know this sucks, but I really do think there's a way to fix it. Will you trust me?"
God, John wanted to. But he'd trusted people before – his father, Nancy, the Air Force, and none of those times had ended well. It was hard to trust one more time. He looked into Rodney's eyes; saw the pain and the hope. He remembered what it felt like to lose friends and people you loved. He didn't want that for Rodney.
At last he nodded, "Yeah, I can trust you," John said, his voice a bare whisper.
Rodney broke out in a smile; it filled John with warmth. "Well, then, what are you waiting for. Let's get going."
John glanced away, a little embarrassed. "Uhm, Rodney. I'm afraid I can't get up." His leg had stiffened from all the extra use. There was no way, short of a crane, that he was going anywhere.
"Hey, somebody down here need a hand?" a voice called. John looked up to see a man striding down the hall toward him. Dressed in the ubiquitous BDUs that everyone in the SGC wore, it was hard to tell who he was. There was no name on his clothes, but he was older, balding.
The man stopped when he reached the spot where John was sitting. He offered a hand.
"Thanks," John said a little gruffly. He hated admitting to weakness. But he reached out and took the offered hand.
The man grasped his hand firmly and, bracing himself, reached out with his other hand to pull John up. He was strong. Despite the fact that John thought he wasn't going anywhere, the man had him on his feet in short order.
"Jacob Carter," he said by way of introduction.
"You're Carter's father?" John asked tentatively. This was the man that O'Neill thought could fix his leg, he didn't look much like a doctor, but what did John know?
The man grinned at him, "That's one of my claims to fame. Let's get you to the infirmary and see what we can do about that leg, shall we?" He put a hand on John's shoulder to steer him.
John paused to look back at Rodney. "See you later?" he asked.
Rodney grinned at him, bouncing up, "You can count on it," he promised. He turned and disappeared like he'd gone around a corner.
The other man didn't think it odd at all that John was talking to the empty air, he just quirked up an eyebrow when John turned back to him.
"This way," Jacob Carter said. Indicating the direction with the wave a hand, he turned and began walking. He didn't look to see if John was behind him or not.
After a moment's hesitation to try and wrap his head around it all, John followed. He'd promised McKay after all.
They ended up in the infirmary. They were met by a petite, dark-haired woman with kind eyes. Her white coat gave her away as a doctor. Her name tag read, "Janet Frasier, M.D."
"Why don't you lie down over here, Mr. Sheppard?" she patted a gurney. "I'd like to run a few tests then we'll let Jacob do his thing.
Lying down as instructed, things moved quickly as the doctor ran her tests. Jacob Carter disappeared at one point.
"Can he really do something about my leg?" John asked the doctor.
She had inserted an IV and John could feel whatever was in it working to relax him, his headache was melting away.
"I think he can," she said after a moment's thought. "I've seen your records. There's a lot of damage, but the healing device is very affective. I've seen it work on injuries much worse than yours."
John's pulse quickened as hope began to surge through him. He was going to get his life back, thanks to Rodney McKay.
"I heard you're going to Atlantis when they open the gate," she said.
John nodded cautiously. "If my leg is up to it. I don't want to be a liability to them."
She studied him for a long while. "You do know what you're getting into, don't you?" she asked. "It's my understanding that you've been thrust into all of this unexpectedly."
John shrugged, "Usually I flip a coin before I make a big decision. This seems like a no-brainer."
She laughed and the last of John's nervousness melted along with it, "A possible one-way trip to the other side of the galaxy through a worm-hole. And you call it a no brainer. Yeah, I think you're SGC material." She looked up and nodded. "He's all yours, Jacob."
John looked to the other side of his bed. He was surprised to see Jacob Carter standing there.
Abruptly all of the nervousness returned. John looked from one to the other. What if they couldn't fix his leg after all? He'd been to pretty much every specialist there was. They all said his leg was as healed as it was going to get. He thumped his leg with a fist. "It's pretty useless, sir. Unless you have something brand new and top secret, the docs have tried pretty much everything on it."
Jacob Carter's smile widened. His eyes twinkled like he knew the punch line to a joke that John hadn't heard yet.
He lifted his hand to display a curious, bracelet-like device he wore like a glove. A stone in the center of device glowed softly. "You know, I think I have just the top-secret device you need." He patted John on the shoulder, "Just lie back and relax, let me do the work, okay?"
John still had no idea what was going to happen to him, but he trusted Rodney McKay. And McKay seemed to think that whatever O'Neill had in mind would help. So, he was going to give it a chance. He lay back and shut his eyes.
John was acutely aware of everything around him. He'd spent enough time in hospitals in his time in the Air Force that he was familiar with the sounds of the machines, the way the nurses' shoes squeaked on the floor, the rattle of equipment, the sound of the air conditioning. The smell of disinfectant in the air was unique to hospitals and medical facilities the world over. He could hear the slow, deep breaths of Jacob Carter as he prepared for whatever he was going to do.
There was a touch on his injured leg. At first it was just a tiny spot of warmth. It felt good, soaking into the flesh, down into the muscle and the bone. The warmth worked its way slowly outward, loosening muscles tightened against the pain. A tingling began to accompany the warmth, it wasn't painful – it was more a sensation where there hadn't been one for months, beside the pain. As the warmth spread, John began to relax, his anxiety leaving him as he drifted into sleep.
His dreams were muddled and confused – there were flashes of Afghanistan with sand and blood, Holland's dead eyes staring up accusingly at him. "Why didn't you get here in time?" they seemed to say. It wasn't anything John hadn't said to himself a hundred times over.
He dreamed of a blue pool of water that pulled at him and beings with white hair and sporting a Goth look that stalked him through the walls of a city under the ocean. The whole time Rodney called out to him, "Shepherd, where are you? I'm waiting for you."
He jerked awake, breathing hard, not certain where he was. A hand on his shoulder startled him. Reflex kicked in and he nearly rolled out of the bed. The hand pinned him in place until he had his breathing under control. He eyes focused and he remembered that he was in the infirmary of the SGC. He peered up at Jacob Carter.
"You okay, kid?" the man asked.
"I... yeah..." John said, not really sure if that was true, but it was his automatic answer.
"Well, let's just make sure," Jacob grinned wryly. "Why don't you try sitting up? Slowly," he added when John sat up as instructed and the room swung around him. "Healing takes a lot out of you, and that leg was nasty."
Mention of his leg made John realize that it didn't hurt anymore. He'd been living with it for months, had been prepared to live with it the rest of his life. The absence of pain was almost enough to undo him. He clutched at Jacob Carter's shoulder tightly.
"It's okay," he reassured John. "General O'Neill wants to talk to you when you're ready, but there's plenty of time. Just take it slow."
John breathed in and out, barely daring to believe that it was possible, that he was getting his life back. "I'm good, sir," he said when he felt steady again.
Jacob gave his shoulder a last pat, "Yeah, yeah, you are." He took a step back and cleared his throat. "You ready to get started?" he asked, a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
"Oh, yeah," John breathed. He was definitely ready.
Two hours later he wasn't so sure. Jacob Carter had taken him on a tour of the SGC, which he found out stood for Stargate Command. Jacob told him about the Goa'uld and SG-1 and some of the things that had been found in the universe. It all made John's head swim. Then Jacob showed him the gate and told John that it was the way he would travel to the Pegasus Galaxy.
He stared at the stone ring through the window in the observation room. He couldn't decide if it was just a really peculiar practical joke. But Jacob Carter didn't seem the type for practical jokes, so John decided that he'd have to just wait and see.
He turned back to the conference table where Jack O'Neill and Jacob Carter sat waiting for him. He started to limp back to the table when he realized that he didn't limp anymore. It felt damn good to stride over the table and sit. He pushed the chair back so he could stretch his legs out.
O'Neill smirked at him. "So, Sheppard, you sure you want to go to the Pegasus Galaxy?"
John started to just let the yes come out without thinking, but something in the General's eyes made him pause. It was an important decision and it deserved a little consideration.
He thought about his life the last few months. After his discharge from the Air Force, he'd just drifted, not knowing what to do with himself now that he didn't have the Air Force and flying to give him purpose and direction. He was lucky that he had a pension and benefits, he knew, otherwise he might just be one of those guys sitting beside the highway with the signs that read 'will work for food' or maybe standing on a street corner trying to earn his keep in that way. He shuddered.
Then he thought about Rodney's warm, blue eyes. He thought about the other man's broad shoulders and slanted mouth; he remembered the sharp tone and the words that tumbled out. He thought about life with Rodney. It might be dangerous and uncertain in the Pegasus Galaxy, but he wanted it. He wanted to make a difference again.
He grinned back at the general, "Yeah, I'm sure."
O'Neill nodded, something nearly like pride in his eyes, "Good. Jacob give you the tour?"
"He didn't flinch in fear once," Jacob said with approval.
"Well, there are some pretty weird rumors about this place," John shrugged diffidently, "I was kind of expecting alien autopsies and spaceships."
"Oh, we got the space ships," O'Neill grinned at him slyly, "we just don't include them in the public tour."
"Yeah?" John said, his mouth suddenly dry.
"Oh, yeah," the general said. "Now we don't have much time and there's a lot to get through." He leaned forward, going from the picture of friendly affability to deadly intent without missing a beat. "There's not going to be any way for you to change your mind, Sheppard. Once you step through the gate, that's it. You get that?"
John swallowed. "I got it, sir." Spaceships and Rodney McKay? He wasn't turning that down.
"That's good. Now, I've got about a ton of files for you to review while you're waiting and we want you to go to Antarctica for a little experiment."
"Antarctica?" John looked from O'Neill to Jacob Carter and back again. "Is there time for something like that?"
"Oh, you'd be surprised at how fast we travel around here," O'Neill smirked at him, sitting back in his seat.
"Sir, the Daedalus is ready anytime you are," Sam Carter announced as she entered the room. She carried an armful of jackets and she handed one to John. "It's a little chilly there," she explained. She finished distributing the jackets and the men stood to pull them on.
There was a flash of light and John was suddenly.... someplace else.
Just when he thought he was used to the craziness, he was handed something new.
John found himself on the bridge of a ship. If the view screen displaying the Earth like a big, blue marble was any indication, he was on a spaceship. His knees were weak and it had nothing to do with his injury. Around him was the busy hum of people working.
The general caught his arm, "This is the fun part of my job," he said with a grin.
"Are we on a spaceship, sir?" John gaped trying to take it all in at once: the view of Earth and her surrounding space on the view screen, the hum of the engines that he could feel under his feet, the metallic tang from the recycled air.
"Welcome to the Daedalus," Sam Carter enthused. "Although technically she's capable of flight in the atmosphere, she is indeed a space ship." The way she grinned at him in delight, John decided she wasn't so bad after all. Before he had time to take a breath or really get a good look around, there was another flash of light and he found himself somewhere completely different.
John suddenly understood the need of the jacket as he pulled it close and zipped it up. Samantha Carter grinned at him. There were people there working, but they didn't even give John's group more than a cursory stare when they appeared. Apparently it was commonplace for people to appear out of nowhere.
"Don't touch anything," O'Neill told him as John took in their surroundings.
Rodney chose that moment to reappear. If anything he looked more tired and drawn, but his face broke out in a wide smile when he looked around and saw where he was.
"Hey, they brought you to Antarctica. Good idea!" he said by way of greeting. He swayed a little where he stood.
"You alright, McKay?" John wished he could touch the man, lend him an arm to lean on.
O'Neill looked around suspiciously, "Is McKay here again. What's up?"
"The hive ships have stopped, but the darts are still incoming," Rodney reported with John repeating his words for the rest. "They're going to be over Atlantis in a few hours. How long before you guys are ready?" There was a nervousness to Rodney that hadn't been there before. John thought the situation was probably even worse than Rodney was saying, but since he couldn't move the SGC any faster than they were already going, he was holding it in.
"We're almost there," O'Neill said. "We just have a few more things we'd like to have for you guys before we open the wormhole. We thought we'd take a field trip to find out how strong Sheppard's gene is since you guys have the galaxy's foremost expert in Ancient genetics with you."
Rodney nodded, energized now that he found out that reinforcements were, indeed, on the way to his city.
"Okay, the chair is this way," Rodney took off down a hallway, John hurrying after him.
"Hey, where are you going?" O'Neill called to his disappearing back.
There was something about the facility that called to John as he rushed to keep up with Rodney. It was almost familiar.
They emerged into a room that was nearly empty except for the chair in the center of the room. It sat on a raised podium which lent it an aura of importance. John felt himself drawn to it. He went to it, putting a hand on it. He could feel energy running just below the surface, just waiting... for what John didn't know. Just that it was waiting.
"This is the control chair," Rodney said, sounding like a professor lecturing a class. "It's used to control the weapons housed in this facility. We have a few people that can kind of make it work, but I've always thought that there was so much more that it was capable of. Sit, sit," Rodney made shooing motions with his hand trying to get John into the chair.
Really there was no way for John to not sit in the chair. It pulled him in almost against his will. He could hear a voice in his head whispering "Welcome" and "We have waited long for you" and "Dear one."
The second he sat in the chair, it lit up around him. It tilted back, taking John with it. He blinked up at Rodney with wide, startled eyes. Rodney, for his part was staring at John like he'd just discovered coffee or chocolate. John was dimly aware that the general and his company had caught up with them.
"I thought I told you not to touch anything?" the general admonished him with a smile on his face.
"I didn't," John responded. "I just sat down."
"John," Rodney ignored everyone else, his focus was completely on John and the chair, "imagine where you are in the solar system."
John stared into Rodney's blue eyes. He thought about where Earth was in the solar system, about the vastness of space, he wondered where Rodney was.
Above his heard a map appeared, a map like something you might see in a movie, John had certainly never seen anything of its like before. It hovered above his head, spreading out across the entire ceiling.
"Did I do that?" he asked, a little afraid that he had.
"You really, really did," Rodney breathed.
They all stared in awe at the sight over their heads. John sat and clutched the chair. He could feel the power that was at his disposal. The chair wanted to show him what it could do, it whispered of other displays it could show him, weapons he now controlled. When it started whispering of demonstrations John threw himself from the chair.
"That's enough for now," he said nervously, afraid that the chair was going to blow up a city or something just to show him that it could.
O'Neill rocked back on his heels. "Pretty impressive," was all he said.
Rodney stared at John with something like awe in his eyes. John wanted to say something to break the mood, but he wasn't sure what it would be.
It was Rodney who took care of that, too, "Okay, we've learned some very valuable things here. But if the field trip is over now, can we get this show on the road? The Wraith are on their way and I don't think they're going to accept a note from the general saying our help hasn't arrived yet as a reason not to attack in, oh say, a couple of hours when they show up." He frowned at them, one side of his mouth tilting down. There was fear and worry in equal parts shining in his eyes.
O'Neill nodded when John relayed his words, maybe a little more diplomatically. "Yeah, we're done here. Let's get back."
As quickly as that they made the trip to Antarctica, they were back where they started in the conference room.
The hallways were filling with the equipment that was going to Atlantis. John recognized some of the equipment – weapons mostly, but a lot of it was as mysterious as the gate had been. There were people everywhere, checking over lists and trying to organize the chaos.
"It looks like we're almost ready to go," O'Neill declared, rubbing his hands eagerly.
"Jack?" Jackson appeared at O'Neill's side out of the crowd of people. "I could come back with the Daedalus."
"No, Daniel. We don't know what's going to happen on the other end of that worm hole and I need you here," O'Neill said firmly.
Carter patted the precious cargo she carried, the ZPM from the Antarctic base that she'd collected before they left. "I'm just going to get this connected. I'll let you know when we're ready to dial."
The general nodded at her. She hurried away.
"I think we're ready to go as soon as you are," a man materialized out of the crowd to address the general. He glanced over at John. "This the new guy going with us?" he asked.
"John Sheppard," O'Neill affirmed. "Colonel Dillon Everett," the general introduced the newcomer. "He'll be in charge of the military going through the wormhole. Once you get to the other side, he'll work with Colonel Sumner to provide Atlantis' defense."
Everett's gaze swept over him. John refused to salute, no matter how much his instincts were screaming at him to do it. He wasn't in the military now and he didn't have to salute.
The colonel nodded. "I'm glad you're going along. I understand you have a strong expression of the gene?"
John nodded a fraction, barely believing that the man was glad to have him along.
"That's good, we can use all the help we can get on the other side, you being along might make the difference between success and failure."
John gulped. He hadn't thought of it that way.
"You mind if I take him off your hands, General?" Everett asked.
O'Neill made a shooing motion. "We just heard from McKay and he said that the Wraith are within a few hours of Atlantis, so I don't think we can wait much longer to go."
"We'll be ready," Everett affirmed.
Everett took off down the hallway, John supposed he should go with him. When he drew even with him, Everett looked over at him.
"I've looked over your file," he commented.
John felt his heart drop. Here it was. The nice act was for the general's benefit. Now Everett was going to read him the riot act. Damn it.
"I just wanted to say that I don't like that you didn't follow orders," Everett began sharply. They walked along in silence while Everett watched the activity around them with a sharp eye, "But I can't say that I wouldn't have done just what you did. We don't leave our people behind."
John stumbled along beside him, barely daring to believe what he'd just heard. Everett stopped and John stopped automatically.
"Major?" he barked out to a crowd of people gathered around a skid full of equipment. A man detached himself from the crowd and saluted smartly.
"Colonel?" he asked.
"Major Lorne, this is John Sheppard. He's going to be joining us for the party."
Lorne quirked a smile a John, "Sir."
"Now he used to be part of your nancy-assed Air Force, so get him kitted up."
"Nancy-assed kit, coming up, sir," the major answered smartly.
"Do it quick, I understand we're heading out soon."
Lorne nodded, "I'll take care of it, sir."
The colonel strode away leaving Sheppard standing there with the major.
Lorne broke out in a real smile, "Hey, Sheppard."
"Hey, Lorne, looks like you've done good."
They'd served together many years back. John had liked the man; he was pretty laid back and easy going while at the same time being as professional as any pilot John had ever met.
"Pretty good," Lorne took John's elbow as they negotiated the crowds clogging the hallway. "You got anything you want to bring with you?"
John thought about his empty apartment, all of his things put into storage long ago. The only things he really had were the meds in the medicine cabinet. And he didn't need those anymore. He shook his head, "Nah, I'm good."
Lorne nodded, "Okay, then, we'll get you some BDUs and a weapon from the quartermaster along with a basic kit. Hopefully, if the Daedalus is able to make regular trips from Earth, you can have anything you want brought over later."
His optimism was one of the things that John had liked best about Lorne. So far everyone else had referred to the trip to Atlantis like a one-way thing. Lorne was the first to view it as maybe having a return trip. John liked that. There were some things he'd like to get from storage – even if it was just his Johnny Cash poster.
John was familiar with the military and hurry up and wait. But he also knew that the military could be mobilized and could move fast when there was a need. He wasn't too surprised that the operation was nearly ready to go by the time he'd obtained everything he'd need for a hop to another galaxy from the quartermaster – a couple of basic uniforms, a weapon, a couple pairs of underwear and a shaving kit. Yeah, he had all the things a man would need in another galaxy where there wasn't a convenient drug store on the corner to stop and get the necessities.
As John and Lorne entered the gate room there was an unmistakable current of excitement in the air.
"They're dialing now, sir," one of the marines answered Lorne's unanswered question.
Colonel Everett was standing on the ramp. Spotting Lorne and Sheppard he waved them over.
"Lorne, I want you and Sheppard to follow me through." The colonel picked up a case and handed it to John. "You hold onto this. I think your friend McKay is going to want that. Have you heard anything more from him?" The colonel looked around curiously as if he might spot Rodney in the crowd.
It just weirded John out how everyday all of this was to these people. He was seeing someone that only he could see and everyone just believed him. He was still a little afraid he was going to get to Atlantis and find out that Rodney McKay was just a figment of his imagination.
He shook his head in reply to the colonel's query. "I haven't heard anything from him for awhile now," he said. John hoped it just meant that Rodney was busy and that nothing worse had happened in Atlantis.
"Okay, thank you, son," the colonel said. "Listen up," he called out, his voice pitched to rise above the din surrounding them. Almost immediately the chaos in the room was gone, replaced by an attentive silence.
"We don't know what the situation is going to be on the other side of the gate," the colonel said, "but the last we heard the bad guys were almost there. It's taken us a little longer to get everything together than I wanted so we could very well be walking into a firefight. Be prepared, be watchful, keep going when you go through the gate, listen for commands. We're going to help these people and to safeguard the only gate to earth from the Pegasus Galaxy."
He took a breath and really looked at all the faces turned up to him. "Each and every one of you standing here today volunteered for this mission, and I'm proud to serve with you. So, let's go through the gate and kick us some alien ass. Hoo ah!"
The "Hoo ah" that echoed back was almost deafening.
Behind him the great ring began to circle and lock, circle and lock. John watched fascinated as it moved until there was a mighty "whoosh" and a blue puddle formed in the ring.
John leaned over to Lorne, "We're just going to walk through that and be in the Pegasus Galaxy."
"You've never been through the gate?" Lorne asked incredulous, his brow raised in question.
"Well, no," John admitted. "I didn't know anything about this whole place until today."
Lorne grinned, "You haven't had lunch, have you?" Lorne asked, a mischievous light in his eye.
"Atlantis base, this is Earth," O'Neill's voice could be heard through the PA. "I repeat Atlantis base, this is Earth. Atlantis base, please respond."
There was a crackle and a hiss as everyone held their breath, waiting, hoping.
Then, "Earth, this is Atlantis base. It's good to hear your voice, General O'Neill." A woman's voice could be heard. There was another roar as a cheer went up in the gate room.
"Elizabeth," O'Neill responded instantly, "It's good to hear from you. We heard you were throwing a party and I have a couple of hundred marines who'd like to come over and join in."
"Oh, god," Elizabeth sounded near tears, "General, we would like nothing better. But I've got to warn you that it's a war zone here. We have three Wraith hive ships overhead and hundreds of darts in the air." They were explosions in the background, the sounds of people screaming and dying.
The colonel spoke again, "We're on our way, Ma'am, just make sure the shield is down on your gate." Colonel Everett didn't wait for Elizabeth's reply; he strode up the ramp to the blue pool and stepped through it with a wet slurp.
Lorne nodded at John before he headed up the ramp after the colonel. John took a deep breath and followed him.
"Does it hurt?" he asked quietly as they approached the blue puddle.
Lorne grinned at him, "I could tell you that it hurts like hell, but you're a friend, not a newbie recruit. It's like walking through a door."
John eyed the gate skeptically. "Really?"
Lorne grinned at him. "Really," he said as he stepped through the gate.
As John stepped through the pool he took a deep breath. For a moment it was like being suspended in time, between now and later, here and there. Then the gate swallowed him up.
For an eternal second he felt like he was on the wildest roller coaster ride of all, sliding along at speeds faster than even John could imagine. Then he was stepping through to the other side and he was in Atlantis, in the Pegasus Galaxy.
He stepped into a war zone. An alarm was blaring that almost, but not quite, drowned out everything else. Despite that, John could hear weapons fire, it was close, along with regular explosions that rocked the room he stood in. People were shouting and there was the acrid scent of smoke in the air.
Lorne grabbed his arm, pulling him out of the way of the soldiers following them through the worm hole.
John felt something, the city, fold around him in welcome. It was the way the command chair had felt only more. He felt welcome and finally wrap around him. The city tugged at him, it wanted to show him everything at once. But the feeling was muted, like someone was shouting at him from far away.
"Sheppard," Lorne's hand on his arm brought him back to the war-torn room with its explosions and screams.
He didn't have time to think about how weird the experience was as a woman rushed up to them.
"Gentlemen," she was breathless, rushing down a flight of stairs to meet them. Her face was tired and drawn, just the way Rodney had looked with deep, dark circles under her eyes. "While we are glad to see you, I wish the circumstances were different."
"We're here to help you hold this city, Dr. Weir." Colonel Everett came over to join their little group. The stream of men and equipment continued in a steady stream. "Can someone turn off the self-destruct?" Everett shouted to the room at large.
The woman, Dr. Weir, nodded. "Rodney's doing that now."
The alarm went off. It was weirdly quiet before the sounds of war picked up again.
Everett took in the situation, "Dr. Weir, is there anyone who can brief us on your tactical situation? I know he's probably busy right now, but Colonel Sumner would be best if he's available."
Dr. Weir's mouth opened then closed. Sadness spread over face and she shook her head. "I'm sorry... he's dead. There are Wraith all over the city and..." she trailed off, dropping her head, pinching her nose between two figures. She was the picture of abject desolation. John figured he knew how she felt; she was losing her people and her city all in the same day.
The colonel's face froze into an expressionless mask. "I'm sorry to hear that, ma'am. Colonel Sumner and I were friends for a long time. It seems the bastards attacking your city have even more to answer for now. Ma'am, I am taking command of this situation as of now."
Dr. Weir's head came up, her eyes flashing fire. "I am in charge of this city, colonel."
He held up a hand to forestall the argument, "And, as soon as we have secured your city, I will turn it over to you again. But right now, this minute, you need me to save it. Now are you going to let me do that or we going to keep on arguing until the enemy shows up? Oh, wait they're here." He waved a hand to indicate the chaos around them.
She breathed out, her mouth tight and unhappy. "Of course you're right. Tell us what to do."
The colonel gave a sharp nod, acknowledging the passing of command. He took another look around the room they'd walked into. "Where's Dr. McKay?" he barked.
John looked up to see Rodney hurrying down the same stairs Dr. Weir had come down. His arm was still in a sling, he was rumpled with his hair flying wildly around his head, as if he hadn't had time to use a comb lately. His eyes were red and bloodshot. The man looked like he hadn't slept in days and he was the best thing John had ever seen.
John wanted to go to him, to touch him – prove to himself that Rodney was real, but there was no time. They were in the middle of a war. There'd be time later to get to know one Dr. Rodney McKay, if they both lived through it. And John was determined that they were both going to live through it.
"Sheppard," Everett said, "you and Lorne escort Dr. McKay down and see if that thing," he indicated the case that John was carrying, "works. Can you power the shield with that, Doctor?"
Rodney's eyes went round and astonished when he saw John, but now his gaze moved to the case that John held.
"Is that..." He held out his hands covetously, snapping his fingers. John hefted the case and Lorne unlocked it. Rodney pushed the top open. "It is," he breathed reverently. "It's a ZedPM." He carefully lifted it out of the case, smoothing a hand over it.
John wasn't really sure what the excitement was about. It looked like bad modern art to him.
"McKay," the colonel said, irritation evident in his voice. "Today?"
"Oh, okay." He looked at John and Lorne, his eyes bright. "These two are my escort?"
"We're a little short on personnel today," the colonel answered sourly.
"Do you even know how to use a gun?" Rodney demanded. He regarded John with suspicion in his eyes.
"Trust me, McKay," John answered sardonically, it wasn't really how he'd imagine his first meeting with Rodney would go. "I know how to use a gun."
Rodney frowned at Everett. "Seriously, I'm the most important person in this city and you're only sending two people to guard me?"
John had to bite his lip to hide the smirk that was threatening to break out. He traded a glance with Lorne. Lorne shrugged.
John hooked a hand on Rodney's good arm. "Trust us, Rodney, we'll get you there."
Rodney still looked unhappy but he let himself be led away. "Really, I'm expecting you two to make sure I... I mean the ZedPM... and I make it to the power room."
"Oh, I don't think you have to worry about the bad guys killing you, McKay," Lorne muttered, bringing up their six.
It was kind of surreal. There was weapons fire all around them, and John could practically feel the presence of the Wraith pressing in on them. John knew there was no time, but he really wanted to reach out and touch Rodney, prove to himself that this Rodney was real – warm and alive. But there wasn't time, they were in the middle of a war zone and whatever it was they were doing was vitally important.
At the same time, something, the city he supposed, was tugging at him whispering in words he couldn't quite make out.
The hallway they were traveling down got brighter the further they progressed.
"Is that you?" Rodney threw a startled glance at Sheppard. "We can barely get the lights to come up, but for you they put on a show," he snorted.
"Hey," Lorne said. "I have the gene, too. It could be me."
Suddenly he was firing. John swung his weapon around trying to locate whatever it was Lorne had seen, but there was nothing, just a stretch of empty corridor intersecting with theirs.
Rodney shoved aside Lorne's weapon. "They can make you see things that aren't there," he snapped. "Now they know where we are."
He moved along faster, John and Lorne hurrying to keep up with him.
"Rodney," John hissed trying to keep his voice low, "slow down. Wait for us." He and Lorne had no idea where they were or where they were going. They couldn't afford to lose Rodney. And? They were supposed to be protecting him.
His spidey sense kicked in a minute too late. There was a blast from behind them and the sound of a body hitting the floor.
"Shit," John swore. He turned slowly expecting to feel the killing blow on his back at any moment.
He found a hulking creature crouching over Lorne's body. John didn't even know how to process it, it was just too bizarre. The thing looked like... Goth gone wild. All John could see was white hair and a long, black coat. Then it raised its head and John could see its eyes and a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. And yet John felt that the real danger lay in the hand that hovered over Lorne's heart.
"Kill it, John," Rodney whispered.
Lorne was down and he wasn't moving, John didn't have to be told twice. He brought up his weapon, sighting carefully before pulling the trigger. He put three shots into the creature.
It didn't even blink, just jerking a little with the impact of each shot. It flashed him a grin as it pulled its arm back, preparing to plunge it into Lorne's chest. John remembered how Rodney had described the thing's 'feeding' off humans.
Before its arm could fall there was a burst of weapons fire from behind the creature's position. This time it rose with a snarl and turned. More weapons fire tore into it. It jerked with each impact. It took a step in the direction where the bullets were coming from.
John didn't wait any longer; he pulled the trigger, letting the P-90 spray bullets into the Wraith. It jerked trying to turn back to face John, but it was too much. It crashed to its knees and, after another hail of bullets, it fell face first onto the floor.
A beautiful woman with creamy dark skin and smooth auburn hair ran to them, a P-90 clutched to her chest.
"Dr. McKay, are you alright?" she asked. She hovered a hands width from him, not touching, but with a hand out in case it was needed.
Rodney stared down at the dead Wraith. He gulped. "Oh, god. I... what?" He blinked and seemed to see the woman for the first time.
"Dr. McKay," she bowed her head. "Are you well?"
"I'm alright, I think," he bowed his head and touched his forehead to hers. "I have a ZedPM." He lifted the case to show to her.
She smiled gently, "I see. Perhaps you should go install it?"
He cleared his throat, "I, yes, I should do that. Will you stay here with him?" Rodney waved a hand at Lorne where he lay motionless on the floor.
It worried John the way that Lorne wasn't moving in any way. It was unnatural. "Is he going to be alright?" he asked.
"He is only stunned, he will recover," Teyla assured him. "You must go with Rodney, now," she practically pushed them down the corridor.
"John Sheppard," John called back to her by way of introduction. "Thanks."
"You are most welcome. Now go," she turned back with her weapon raised.
"How much farther?" John trailed along behind Rodney trying to keep his weapon trained on everything. Rodney was nearly flat out running, clutching the case to him.
"We're here," Rodney answered breathlessly. He waved his hand over a panel and a door opened. They both tumbled through, the door sliding shut behind them.
John felt almost safe inside with the door shut. Except that he didn't know if there was anyone on the other side now.
"How long is this going to take?" John prowled around the room, checking for exits and points of ingress that the enemy could use to get in.
"It'll take as long as it takes." Rodney extracted the ZedPM from its case. He handled the thing like it was delicate, as if it might blow up in their faces. Maybe it would. But there were people dying on the other side of the door and if the thing in Rodney's hands would fix it, then they needed to get it installed. Now.
"Rodney," John hissed.
He didn't like being trapped in the little room with no idea of what was on the other side of the door. He didn't like that there were people dying while he was standing around doing nothing. He didn't like that he wanted to wrap his arms around Rodney and just kiss the hell out of him until neither of them could breathe and he couldn't do that either.
They had to survive because he still hadn't gotten to touch Rodney.
Rodney reverently placed the ZedPM into its niche in one of the consoles. He waited for a moment, one finger tapping against the console.
"Do you know what you're doing?" John asked from behind his shoulder.
Rodney started. "Don't do that," he hissed, then, "Yes, I know what I'm doing. This is delicate equipment; you can't just shove it in and hope it'll fit." Rodney blushed and John felt better knowing he wasn't the only one having inappropriate thoughts in the middle of the life-and-death situation.
Deciding that someone needed to do something, John put a hand on the thing and pushed.
"What are you doing?" Rodney shrieked. "Just because you're pretty and you know how to shoot a gun doesn't mean..." he broke off as the ZedPM slowly sank into its housing.
"Yeah?" John smirked at him.
"You just got lucky," Rodney snarled. He hit the com in his ear speaking to whoever was on the other end, "Zelenka? Try to initialize the shields now."
There was a long, long pause while Rodney vibrated like a bow as he waited for whatever the person on the other end had to say. Then the tension flowed out of him like water. He sat with a heavy groan.
"It worked," his voice was dazed like he hadn't really been sure that it would work. "We have shields." He gazed up at John, his eyes shining. "We have shields."
"Yeah," John grinned back at him, just as delighted.
He hated to break the moment, but "There's still Wraith in the city, buddy, and didn't you say something about hive ships over the city? Don't we need to do something about them?"
"Fine, don't even let me have a moment. You're worse than Zelenka." Rodney stood slowly, stretching, his back cracking. He stopped, mid-stretch, staring at John, gaping at him like he was seeing him for the first time.
"John," he breathed. He reached out a hand, curling his fingers around John's arm, squeezing a little. "You're really here," he looked at John like he'd looked at the ZedPM – as if he was something infinitely precious.
John nodded, his mouth suddenly dry, "I'm really here. And I'm looking forward to..." he swallowed. He'd never been good at saying things, so he settled for, "seeing your city. But we need to do something about the bad guys first."
It seemed to be enough. Rodney nodded, "Yeah, okay, let's take care of them then."
John started for the door but he stopped just short of it opening. "Shit, I wish there was some way to see what's on the other side of that door."
Rodney snapped his fingers, "Oh, wait." He dug around in the tac vest he was wearing until he produced a small flat device. "Hah! I knew I had one." He held it out to John triumphantly.
John accepted it a little warily, not sure what to expect. But when his fingers connected, the device lit up instantly. "Oh, cool, it's a... life signs detector." It wasn't hard to figure out, but the little device seemed to whisper its purpose to him.
The screen showed just the two of them in the immediate vicinity. He thought at it and the screen zoomed out. A few more life signs appeared on the screen. He grinned and showed the screen to Rodney.
Rodney scowled at him. "It figures the Ancient tech would fall over for you, too." He humped as he headed for the door.
John smirked, calling to his departing back, "Hey, McKay, that's not all it does. Wait..." John sucked in a breath as he connected with the city for the first time. It was like whatever he'd felt before had been from a distance, cushioned. This... this was like a tsunami washing over him, drowning him with its impact.
His knees crumbled and he went down. He must have zoned out because the next thing he knew Rodney was screaming at someone.
"I don't know what's wrong with him, Carson. He just went down and now he's not responding..." he trailed off as John struggled to stand, to assure Rodney that he was okay.
Rodney tried to push him back down. "It's alright, John, stay down. Carson can't get here right now, but we'll be okay in here for now."
John shook his head trying to make sense of what was happening. He'd been aware of something since he stepped into the city, some subliminal sense that the city could touch his thoughts like the chair in Antarctica, but now it was almost a voice speaking to him. He could almost understand what she was saying to him.
"No, Rodney, it's not okay." He used an arm against the wall to lever himself up. He swayed a little, but he stayed on his feet once he was upright. "The shields are up, but there's Wraith in the city. We have to do something about them."
Rodney's eyes widened. "We? What? No? We can't do anything from down here."
The voice finally made itself clear and John knew what she wanted him to do.
"The Control Chair," he said. "We need to get to the Control Chair."
Rodney had a moment of confusion, but then his face cleared. "She's talking to you, isn't she? I always thought there was a mental link between the gene carriers and the city, but we didn't have the power for her to communicate with us before this. Now you're here, you have the strongest gene, so she's chosen you to communicate with."
John could feel the battle raging around them. The city shook as explosions went off. The sound of weapon's fire could be heard from somewhere close by. He looked down at the device in his hand. He knew how it worked now; he knew what it could do. He instructed it to show him the Wraith.
At first there was just the two of them, the dots signifying their presence glowing a steady reassuring green. It was long enough for John to think it might not be that hard to get to the chair room. Then the perspective zoomed out and the dots that represented the Wraith glowed a malevolent red. There were more and more of them as the device zoomed out to show the whole city. There was a lot more red than green.
John turned the device so Rodney could see it. "We need to get to the control chair now, Rodney."
Rodney nodded, his mouth drawn into a thin, unhappy line. "Yeah, okay. The hallway outside is clear, we should go."
John shoved the life signs detector into his tac vest. The door slid open. They slid through with John taking the lead.
"Hey, wait up," Rodney called. "How do you even know where you're going? Oh, wait, I forgot the city is talking to you now."
They'd made it half way to their destination when the Wraith trapped them, approaching from different corridors on both sides. They only had seconds before the Wraith would come around the curve of the hallway and discover them.
"Come on, Rodney," John cast around frantically for somewhere, anywhere to hide, "there's got to be a closet, air ducts, anything." A door opposite them opened invitingly.
John didn't wait to find out what the little room was, he snagged Rodney's tac vest dragging him inside. The door slid shut behind them.
They were both breathing heavily, and John knew his heart was beating way too loud. He was sure the Wraith would be able to hear it from the other side of the door.
He checked the life signs detector. It looked like the Wraith were taking their time, investigating the area thoroughly.
"Where are we, McKay?" John looked around the closet they were trapped in.
Rodney shrugged, his attention on the door. "There are these little closets all over the city."
"Storage?" John turned around, trying to see if there was any air ducts or maintenance shafts they could use to escape their tiny prison.
"Who knows? Maybe the Ancients were just tiny little people and this was one of their offices, you should see their beds..."
A panel lit up behind them, showing a schematic of the city.
John studied it intently. "Rodney, what is this?"
Rodney tore his attention away from the door to glance at the panel. Then he gave it more of his attention. "I haven't seen anything like this before. Is this where we are?" He pointed to a highlighted portion of the map.
"I don't know, Rodney, you tell me," John whispered, afraid that the Wraith might be able to hear them.
"And this is the chair room, see it's still a couple of levels away, we're never going to get there." Rodney touched the part of the map he was talking about.
John's ears popped and he had the sense of movement. The door slid open.
"Shit!" John pulled his weapon up and prepared to defend himself and Rodney from the Wraith he knew were outside. Except nothing happened.
With his heart hammering loud enough to be heard from the control room, John stepped out of the closet.
There were no Wraith in sight. He pulled out the life signs detector. He and Rodney were the only life signs he could see.
"Rodney, where are we?" They had emerged in a completely different area of the city than they had entered.
Rodney looked around, his face going through a complicated series of emotions ranging from fear to confusion to amazement.
"We're at the chair room. This room... transported us? It's a transporter!" Rodney looked like he wanted to turn around and tear the thing apart to find out how it worked, but they didn't have time for that. John hooked his tac vest again.
"You can name it later. Which way now?"
Rodney pointed left down the hallway and they set out again.
They made it to the chair room without encountering the Wraith again. Rodney kept up a running dialogue with Zelenka in the control room alerting the personnel there of what they were doing.
"What are we doing again?" Rodney asked.
John had been dreading that question. He wasn't quite sure what they were supposed to do. He just knew he had to sit in the chair.
"Aren't you the genius, Rodney?" John answered being deliberately vague, hoping Rodney would be able to fill in the rest for him.
"Your Colonel Everett wants us back in the control room. He wants us to help defend against the Wraith."
John didn't answer, he went immediately to the chair and sat. It lit up around him, reclining like the one at Antarctica.
"John? What are you doing?" John could hear the fear in Rodney's voice. He wished he could reassure him, but it was more important that he deal with the Wraith in the city first. There were people dying and he could fix that at least.
Now that he was sitting in the chair, the city could talk to him more clearly. Whereas before it had been an impression of what he needed to do, now the chair spoke to him, showing him what he needed to do. John concentrated on powering up the necessary systems. Now that the ZedPM had been put in place, there was plenty of power for what he needed. Around the room virtual displays appeared. He was aware of Rodney's gasp, but John's attention was focused on the chair and saving the city.
The weapon the chair showed him was so beautifully simple, it targeted the Wraith DNA and neutralized it. He didn't even have to worry about the other inhabitants of the city being hurt by friendly fire, the weapon was that targeted. There was a moment's confusion when an image of Teyla flashed on a display next to a Wraith. John thought 'NO' as forcefully as he could. Slowly, almost reluctantly, Teyla's image faded away. John waited for half a beat to make certain that Teyla wasn't going to be targeted again before he thought a firm, 'go.' It was almost anti-climatic. There was a rush through the room and John just knew that all the Wraith in the city were dead.
Rodney was moving from display to display, pausing at different panels to take readings and babbling to someone in the control room. He looked over at John, awe and fear reflected on his face. "They're dead. They're all dead," he just confirmed what John already knew.
"What about the ships overhead?" Rodney asked.
"On it," John said. He felt distant, like he was a part of the city and the John sitting in the chair was just a fragment of who he was. He extended his senses to find the Wraith in the space over the city. They were a malevolent, dark presence there, blocking the stars.
John could feel their hunger, their need to get to the city and to take what it had to offer. They were eager to find out more about Earth and to go there. They had never known such bounty as they had heard regarding Earth. They could not wait to find out if it was true.
With a thought he targeted the weak areas of the Wraith ships and sent drones to dispatch them. The darkness disappeared from the space over Atlantis. Peace reigned again.
Atlantis tugged at him, drawing him further into her systems. She wanted to show him everything, the beauty that was the Ancient city. Distantly he became aware hands tugging at his physical body.
John found he could access the sensors in the chair room. He looked down to see himself sitting in the control chair. Rodney McKay was there beside him tugging frantically at the body, shaking it.
"John, talk to me. You can't do this, please. Come on, please." There was so much sadness in Rodney McKay's voice. It made John ache to hear it. He wanted to soothe the other man, to reassure him that everything would be alright, John was home now where he belonged.
"Sheppard, don't you dare do this to me," Rodney shouted, desolation in his voice. It was the desolation that struck at John like a physical blow. He had come to Atlantis for Rodney McKay. But now Rodney McKay was sad.
Something stirred in John. He needed to remove the sorrow from Rodney McKay's voice. He wanted to see him smile. He wanted to know so much of Rodney McKay and he couldn't do it if he were a part of the city of Atlantis.
"Wha?" John moaned as he returned to his body. He felt like he'd gone ten rounds in the boxing ring, or maybe been hit by a small truck. He blinked his eyes open to find Rodney standing over him, practically sitting in his lap. John smiled, "Hey."
Rodney stepped back, his hands planted on his hips. "Don't 'hey' me. What was that?"
John licked his lips. His mouth was dry; it felt like the entirety of the Sahara had taken up residence in there. "Just taking care of a problem."
Now that John was coherent, some of the terrible fear left Rodney's face to be replaced by curiosity.
"That was you?" Rodney whispered. He pointed at the ceiling. John interpreted it to mean the Wraith and their destruction.
John nodded tiredly. He'd had an eventful day since he'd woken up... when? He'd lost track of the time since he'd woken up to find Rodney McKay staring down at him. He felt like he could go to sleep and sleep for days. There was something he had to do first.
He reached out and grabbed Rodney's hand. He tugged until Rodney really was sitting in his lap.
"Hey," John said.
He cupped Rodney's face gently before leaning in to kiss him softly. They were both too tired for the kiss to get too heated, it was just comfortable and welcome. Rodney opened his mouth and invited John's tongue in to say hello.
They stayed there for a long time, just kissing, being thankful they were alive.
"So," Rodney said when they broke apart to breathe, "does this mean you're staying?"
John breathed out, "Oh, yeah," before he closed the distance between them and kissed Rodney again.
He knew there was still a lot to do. They might have won this battle, but the war with the Wraith was hardly won. John had seen the history of the Ancient's battle with them during his time in the interface. The Ancients had lost. He was going to make sure there was a different outcome this time. They had to repair the city and bury their dead.
But right now? He just wanted to sit and kiss Rodney. They had time.