Area 52 HKH

Under A Broken Moon 3

Under A Broken Moon Part 3

by dith

URL: http://area52hkh.net/asd/dith/undera03.php
Summary: See the first part.

"I can't help but think all of Rodney's points this morning were rather well-made," Elizabeth said as she and Jack perused the latest trajectory data.

"Huh," was all Jack said about that. "I intend to stay above the orbital plane of the debris and blow up anything bigger than a breadbox. I don't see the problem with that."

"I think you heard Rodney tell you the problem with that."

"Look, he's making a mountain out of a molehill." Jack winced. "And you know how I hate cliches. I think I can go up there and get something done. If I can't, I'll come right back and we'll all hold umbrellas over our heads to try to stop the space rocks from killing us."

"I heard you recalled the Major."

"Yeah. Shoulda done that a while ago."

"Jack. I'm not a psychiatrist. Doesn't it seem just the slightest bit possible to you that perhaps you're pushing this plan for the wrong reasons?"

"Oh, don't you start too."

"Start what?"

"I thought --" With a look on his face suggesting that he smelled something bad, Jack waved a hand. "Rodney's rambling on about how I'm trying to kill myself."

"But you're not."

"No! Christ, I have access to every type of weapon we have. There are a lot easier ways to kill myself than flying a jumper through big rocks in space."

"But maybe not as useful, those ways of killing yourself."

Jack just shook his head.

"Even if John is here. We can't do without you. I will not lose one more person if we can help it. Not one."

"Elizabeth, I agree."

Elizabeth stared at the reports in her hands for a moment before she said, "Am I dictating?"

"Nah."

"I'm not asking as the person you report to. I'm asking as the person who, in only slightly different circumstances, would be reporting to you."

Jack cocked his head and regarded her for a moment.

"You'd've made a hell of a general," he finally said. "I didn't think that when I first met you. Maybe it's new. But it's not a bad look on you."

"Thank you," she said, inclining her head. "That's quite a compliment."

---

"Fine, then. I resign."

"Come on, John. Don't be that way."

"Look, I'm doing the best I can." John's hair had gotten longer. "If you can't extend the shields out this far, shouldn't I be here to protect the Athosians?"

"You know, I might be guessing here, but I think that's the kind of thing you could discuss with *Jack*, who actually has the *plan*, and who has asked you to report in, presumably so he could *discuss* it." Daniel was clearly losing patience.

"Why doesn't he radio me?"

"Why don't you just come back with us? You can resign there, for pete's sake!"

There was a snap and a rattle and suddenly Teresa had her Beretta unholstered and was pointing it at John.

"You know what?" she said. "I've had enough of this bullshit."

"Teresa!" Daniel looked more scandalized than worried.

John raised an eyebrow.

"You're AWOL, mister. You're potentially jeopardizing this mission. Plus, you're pissing me off. You think the rest of us wouldn't rather be out here planting gardens and playing footsie with the natives?"

"Watch it." John's brow clouded over.

"Oh, whatEVer. Either you're fit for duty or you're not. If you are, you should be court-martialed. If you're not, you should be discharged. Either way you need to visit Atlantis. You're under military arrest."

"Didn't I just resign?"

Teresa rolled her eyes. "Look, jerk-off, I'm not even sure you have that capability in a front-line situation. Which this is, though you've conveniently managed to forget it."

John stood there for a minute, his forehead wrinkling, clearly thinking hard.

"Fine. All right. Just give me thirty minutes."

He took off running for the fields.

"Thirty minutes? What part of emergency did he not understand?" Daniel said, disbelievingly watching John thread his way through the little buildings.

"Goddammit." Teresa holstered her Beretta. "He's really raising insubordination to an art form. I so should have shot him."

---

John darted and leaped over rows of radishy plant-tops to where Teyla was discussing hoeing with another Athosians.

"Hee-EEEYY!" she yelled as he rushed to her and, without pausing, grabbed one of her arms, pulled, and ended up with her over his shoulder.

"What are you DOING --"

"Just a second. Just a second," John panted as he maneuvered in and around the huts.

His was one of the farther ones; he dumped her inside and pulled the door to.

"The thing is," he gasped, in between trying to catch his breath, "I've gotta tell you some things and I only have a few minutes."

"What? Why?" Teyla's eyes darted around as if looking for the threat.

"I've gotta go back to Atlantis, I can't put it off any longer. I don't, uh, I don't know what that's going to be like. I do know I'm going to hate it. I just had to tell you, before I go, I think I love you."

Teyla's shoulders relaxed and her smile suddenly made it like daylight in the dim little hut.

"I did think so," was all she said.

"I just didn't want to say anything because then, you know, there'd be the whole question of us sleeping together, and I didn't think I could, not just because of, you know, me, but because I was afraid of hurting you." With the words out of his mouth John suddenly looked lighter, taller. He grinned. "Whew. I shoulda said that sooner, huh? Oh well. Now I really gotta go."

He turned toward the door but Teyla gripped his arm with a hand of steel.

"And to think I said that I did not think you were insane. You think you are going?"

"Yeah. Yeah. I think I gotta go. Really, there's too much pressure on all this now, especially since I said what I said, and hey, now there's probably something dangerous for me to do back in Atlantis, so, yeah, gotta go."

Teyla's face said very clearly that she thought he'd finally lost what was left of his mind.

But she didn't wait any longer before she started tearing his clothes off.

"Hey! What! What are you doing? I said, I gotta go! I only have a few minutes --"

"A few minutes is long enough," said Teyla grimly. "Take off those pants or I will cut them off."

"Whoa. Whoa. Take it easy." He stripped as quickly as he could. That knife he didn't trust.

But Teyla too was shimmying out of her clothes, tossing them everywhere, and then John stopped thinking about stopping because holy God, what a body.

"You have been making something complicated out of something that is very simple for far too long," she said as she literally hooked a foot behind his ankle, causing him to fall backwards.

When she draped herself on top of him, bare skin to bare skin, he couldn't help but moan.

"Look, this isn't a good idea," he said, but she grasped his face in both hands.

"It is a *very* good idea," she insisted before she lowered her lips on his.

The smell of the plowed earth, the smell of the sunshine and grass, all drifted through the little room and mixed with the smell of her hair and John buried his face in her neck and did not make a sound and as Teyla slid down along his body, feeling his hardness stirring against her, she realized that the warmth she felt where his face lay against her neck was tears.

"John. John." She whispered it softly against his throat, against his lips as she drew back and saw his tightly closed eyes. "It is not just that you were frightened of hurting me, or frightened of me. Is it."

"Why do you have to be so much faster than me," John complained, but eventually he opened his eyes and looked into hers. He copied her gesture, cradling her face, so strong and so soft at the same time, in his hands.

"What if," he choked out in between small kisses on her lips, "what if it doesn't feel as good as dying does?"

"I do not know." She stopped and stared, but only for a moment. The next second she was kissing her way along his jaw toward his ear, and sliding herself along the length of him that was hardening and heating, and she felt his stomach muscles clench below her. "But it is better for you. And better for me."

"Okay. Okay."

She didn't wait for him to think about it any further. He was still only half-hard as she slid him inside herself; the noise he made she muffled with her mouth.

"Teyla. Teyla." He kept repeating her name with his eyes open, even as he went from mostly hard to steel-hard, even as he felt her getting even slicker around him, tightening, and the fast rocking got even faster.

This wasn't Atlantis, John knew, listening to the sound of the breeze in the trees outside and Teyla's warm breath against his cheek. This was much, much better.

Then it got sharper and better and Teyla's muscles were moving and gripping and her back was arching and those amazing breasts were no longer pressed so delightfully against his chest and he had a hand for each and he didn't even have to decide, he just closed his hands over both of them, their dark tips hardening in his palms, Teyla's eyes darkening as she clenched and moved faster.

And John realized as he slid a finger into her slick folds and watched her gasp that it didn't matter if this felt better than dying or not. Because unlike dying, you didn't do it alone.

Teyla's beautiful eyes locked on his as her mouth opened in a soundless gasp and her body convulsed inside and he loved it, it was good, it was *great*, and he tried to make it last and last. When she finally breathed again she sank against him so bonelessly that he pressed even deeper into her and had to groan himself. A few more deep, fast thrusts and he followed her to the end.

They wrapped around each other, naked and breathless, on the rug-covered floor.

"How can I leave right now?" John murmured piteously into her ear as her legs slid down his and she lay full-length on top of him.

"You will return very, very quickly," she said, smiling into his neck.

"Unless Teresa pulls a gun on me again."

"What?"

Wrapping her in his arms John began to rock, back and forth, chuckling into her hair until suddenly he was laughing out loud, laughing, no, guffawing, each bounce of his muscles jostling her as he absolutely roared with laughter.

"Four months. Four months we've been out here and I wait till the last five minutes to actually make love with you."

"You are not smart." Teyla stroked his face with her hands. So tiny, those hands. So clever, so perfect, John thought. "However, you are extremely attractive, and I fear I have fallen in love with you, so it probably does not matter that you are not very bright."

Still laughing John kissed her again, his chuckles trickling out of the corners of both of their mouths.

"I think I have about three minutes before Teresa comes back. With the gun."

"What are all these reports of a gun?" Teyla asked disapprovingly.

***

<span class="style5"><em>Under a Broken Moon, part 7 </em>

The jumper responded to his touch as if it knew him. Not just like a person, like an old friend, the kind who knew when to laugh at your jokes and when to look at you blankly.

Jack stopped himself from rubbing a thumb over one of the controls.

"Johnny-go-lightly," Jack muttered to himself. The jumper was too light. He couldn't feel it swing and skip as he tripped it through space, over, around, under the slow-tumbling rough moon wreckage.

He could, however, make it go.

It wasn't so bad. He could see some of it already. Blew a couple up just for fun.

They spattered rock fragments satisfyingly, though he couldn't hear anything.

He was in a smooth, alien cocoon, sliding through space without anything touching him.

He wasn't even sure he was touching those rocks.

Fire. Hit. Shatter.

Was that him doing that?

It was going to be a piece of cake. Really.

Jack winced. Another cliche.

In the distance a roiling wall of rock, bumping and crushing, flickered in the reflected light of the distant sun.

Jack's eyes slid over it as if it wasn't even there.

---

"Huh."

Jack just stopped and looked at John as the Major stepped into the briefing room, his Athosian clothes looking suddenly very much out of place.

Though they looked even more out of place the next instant as John snapped to attention. "Sir."

"Thought you'd have forgotten how to do that." Jack's voice was dry acid but he just gestured to a chair.

John realized as he looked around how unfamiliar these faces looked. Elizabeth, Rodney, Daniel, Teresa, Kate. "Where's Peter?" he said as he put his hands on the table.

Everyone's facial expressions flickered; it was as though a flame had passed through the room.

"Later," said Jack brusquely.

He activated the hologram, waved his hand through it above the golden clump of sharp-edged blobs that represented the thickest part of the cluster.

"It's just a simple idea. I'll go up and destroy some or all of the largest pieces of the debris. Anything smaller than, what, oh, a Volkswagen beetle? should burn up on entry. No problem."

"And if you can't?" John asked, his brows pulled together as he examined the hologram.

"Oh, I can. I've already checked it out. I can blow up a hell of a lot. When I've done all I can, I come back here and we rely on Dr. McKay's plan B."

"Which we will need to have anyway, one, because you can't possibly destroy every large piece of the debris, and two, because this is a stupid plan that will not work," Rodney put in from the sidelines.

"As you can see," Jack added, "there are a few doubts."

"And what's my station?"

Jack perused the younger man's face. What he *should* do is stay right here. He was Jack's backup, Jack's only backup. He should stay out of danger and be ready to protect Atlantis if it needed it.

Instead, Jack said, "I'd like you to be catcher to my pitcher. Fly a lower pattern, try to catch anything that comes through my level one attack."

"Sounds like a piece of cake."

"Then you haven't been listening." Rodney's arms were folded across his chest.

Elizabeth sent him a warning look but said, "So? Worst case scenario?"

"Oh. Let's see. The Colonel dead, and now, the Major dead - nice addition to the plan - and Atlantis fatally structurally damaged by direct meteorite hits such that it can no longer stay afloat, breaks apart, and falls to the bottom of the ocean." Rodney's irritation was radiating from him like light.

John, on the other hand, looked grimly pleased. "That sounds *great*."

Hearing the silence, he looked around. "Oh. Except for the dead Colonel part."

They were all still staring at him. "Oh. And the dead me part. That's not so good either."

"The loss of Atlantis before we've barely begun to explore her records, her artifacts - it would be an appalling tragic loss equal only to the destruction of the library at Alexandria," Daniel said swiftly, his words falling over one another as his expression seemed to indicate that John had just advocated eating very small children.

"I'd get over it," John insisted, leaning back in his chair.

"Hopefully we won't have to." Elizabeth tapped her fingernails. "If we needed to, Daniel, how much of the records of Atlantis could we save?"

"What?" Now Daniel was turning his you-baby-eater! look on Elizabeth. "Nothing even close to a serious fraction of it. Seven, maybe eight percent. That is assuming, of course, that we manage to survive Atlantis' destruction."

"Certainly far from optimal. Still. I stand by what I said. Third priority." Rodney opened his mouth. "Okay, maybe second." She made a wry face. "Wouldn't that be great, all of us camping on the mainland eating roast lizard and oatmeal for the next seventy years or so waiting for a ship from Earth to show up so we could tell them, Hey, look, we managed to save seven percent of the universe's most valuable information library!"

Everyone looked a little sobered.

"So then. Best case scenario."

"Reeeeeally great meteor showers. I'm talking, for weeks." Jack's hands outlined the shape of a barbecue. "I say we put some hibachis out on the north pier and --"

"The idiosyncratic large wave problem won't dissipate, probably at all," Rodney added. "That's unrelated to the debris. Its dispersal would have minor effects. But the major fluctuations as the gravity system here in local space adjusts would continue."

"There's an idiosyncratic large wave problem?" John shook his head. "I've really been away." He looked at Elizabeth. "We actually don't eat that much lizard on the mainland."

"I'm willing to trade larger problems for smaller ones -- literally -- as long as it puts no one at serious risk." Elizabeth's eyes flashed at Jack and he had the sudden, odd sensation he was falling into them. "Colonel. You still assess this risk as very low?"

Feeling as if he were floating, feeling as if his hands and feet had come off and were elsewhere, Jack knew, nonetheless, that he was nodding. "I do."

"I accept that. Let's revisit this one more time in the morning, ladies and gentlemen, but I'll assume it's a go. Get yourselves supplied with whatever you need. Last call at 0800 hours."

Elizabeth caught sight of John's face. "What?"

"I just got here, and now it's all, wait till morning?"

"Sorry we didn't accommodate your schedule better, Major."

"Never mind." John beelined for the door.

Elizabeth tossed Kate a look. Kate, who'd had nothing to say the whole time, just shrugged.

Jack tried to catch Rodney's eye even though he didn't know what he wanted to say.

But Rodney was out the door too fast.

---

"So how is the sleeping going, Daniel?"

"I've never really needed a lot of sleep."

"But you told me you sleep in odd places. At your desk. On the couch."

"When I'm sleepy, I don't have trouble falling asleep."

"So what makes it different, to have someone in the bed with you?"

"When there's someone else in the bed, I dream differently."

"What makes the dreams different?"

"Well, it's not really different dreams. It's sort of bits and pieces of the same dream."

"You dream it over and over again."

"Yes."

"And what is it you dream, do you remember?"

A long pause.

"I'm having sex, and it's the most wonderful, amazing sensation you can possibly imagine. The guy's inside me and it feels like buttered lightning, like he can reach up into my soul, and his hands are touching me everywhere at once and the sensation is the most fantastic combination of stroking and licking and twisting and squeezing all at the same time. I'm so hard it hurts and I'm dying to come but I can't, quite, and I don't know why, and the harder I try to come the more it goes from fantastic to that horrible sensation you get when you can't quite come to painful to agonizing. And then I realize that it's never going to stop, not unless I make it stop. So I turn around and I take his head in my hands and I pull it off."

"His head."

"Rodney's. And then I don't know what to do because my whole body hurts and I'm still hard and I realize I'm never going to come and I realize I have to stay like this forever and ever because I've got his head in my hands and I can't put it back. And then his eyes glow and I know I've got to put it back but I can't figure out how."

"And you're angry when you do this?"

"God no. I'm terrified."

"And then you wake up?"

"Sometimes. Sometimes I wake up after a longer while. Sometimes I wake up while it still feels good."

"And do you feel different if you wake up at different times during the dream?"

"Oh sure. If I wake up while it still feels good I think for a second about going back to sleep. Because it really does seem like if I just try hard enough, I'm going to come so hard I might - something big will happen, really big. Like, flying off into the universe big. Like cosmic big."

"But then when you have this head in your hands and you're trying to put it back, when you wake up then, how does that feel?"

"Terrified, like I said."

"Terrified of what? What do you think will happen?"

"I'm afraid I've missed my chance."

"Your chance at what?"

"At knowing."

Pause.

"Do you think about these dreams a lot during the day?"

"I try not to."

"Why's that?"

"I think people can tell if you're sitting there in front of them daydreaming."

"So do you succeed in not thinking about them?"

"Most of the time."

"And what happens when you end up thinking about them after all?"

"Nothing. It's just thinking."

"I mean, how do you feel about the dreams when you're awake and thinking about them?"

"... *That's* when I'm angry."

"Angry. Why angry?"

"Because it's revolting."

"What's revolting?"

"That Ba'al was able to make me feel the way I felt, that I actually wasn't thinking about how to kill him every minute that I was with him, that I waited so long, that I didn't do more."

"He fascinated you, he sheltered you, he made you feel good physically, why wouldn't you have some positive associations with that?"

"But really I shouldn't. I mean, *really*."

"But it's not about shouldn't. I'm just saying that it's only understandable that you did."

"But that I still do?"

"But he's gone. Because you fought him and you won. I think you're still pretty pleased with yourself that you did that."

"Yeah. I am."

"Of course, you really only got to fight him once. Maybe you wish you could do it again. Maybe it would only be fair, if you got to fight him as many times as you slept with him."

"Those kinds of simple one-on-one correspondences don't really happen in daily life, though."

"Maybe not. But if you've been dreaming this dream many nights, even given the very active sex life you describe, you must be getting pretty numerically close."

---

Rodney's shoulders were hunching and the ache in his back was centered in the middle, which was how he knew it came from the hunching and not something else.

He paid it absolutely no mind.

"There's got to be a way. Given a finite power source, sure, we're not capable of infinite flexibility, but *this* amount of power ought to be sufficient to repel *this* amount of mass if we could just figure out how to have it in the *right* place at the *right* time."

"Didn't they use to say something similar about observing tachyons?" Collins put in from behind Rodney's right elbow.

Rodney didn't answer. He'd reached the point where, if it wasn't useful, he wasn't interested.

"What else can we use for a power source?" he muttered at his screen.

Kavanagh snorted from his station across the room. "It'd be nice if we could hook something up to your lips and harness *that* power."

Rodney didn't move. "Dream on," he mumbled into his equations.

His watch beeped and Rodney jumped.

"Dammit. Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT."

For a moment he sat there staring at it, then at his computer, as if vitally torn between the two of them.

"Dammit anyway," he finally said and, hitting a few last keys on the keyboard, leaped away from the chair on which he'd been hunched and zoomed out of the laboratory.

An instant later he zoomed back, ripped the cords out of the laptop, and, closing it, took it with him as he left again at top speed.

---

"Just give me a sleeping bag, Bates, I'll be fine."

"Major, if there's a large wave, we don't get any advance warning. Inside you'll be fine. If you're on some narrow section of the pier... I don't like it, sir."

"Bates, I'm telling you, I'll be fine. I've slept under more stars than I can count." John's patented seductive smile hadn't lost its edge and still seemed to pack enough juice to charm a sergeant. "If I have any trouble, I'll yell. I promise."

"You can yell all you want, we won't hear you in here," Bates said with a troubling tilt to his head, but he went off into the crates stacked behind him and returned with a standard-issue lightweight high-insulation sleeping bag.

"Thank you. If anyone wants me, I'll be on the north pier."

"Sir. You've been away a long time. I know people would like to see you. There's usually a little post-dinner get together on the viewing balcony across from the east tower. It'd be a good way to see everyone all at once, sir."

John's face clouded over, almost as if Bates was speaking a foreign language and John was struggling for the vocabulary with which to understand it. "I appreciate that, sergeant. I put in a long day before I got here, so I'm about ready to turn in. But that's good to know."

"No problem, sir. If you take a headset we'll give you a wakeup call."

"Huh. Hotel Atlantis. All the comforts of home. No need. I'll be up about sunrise."

"Just be careful, sir. I'm not sure the Force is with you tonight."

John only looked at him a second longer than necessary. "I'm not sure either, Bates. Thanks."

---

John still felt the crawling sensation between his shoulderblades as he trudged out to the north pier. It was a long walk and he took it slowly. He'd be ready to fall right asleep once he got himself set up.

"No one is watching you," he told himself as he laid out the sleeping bag.

As he laid on his back with his hands behind his head the sensation faded a little. The stars looked reassuringly just like the ones he saw every night in the village. At home.

Reaching out a hand he thumped the hard, smooth floor.

"Just don't give me any crap for one night," he said very clearly, "and I'll consider not letting the asteroids beat the shit out of you. How's that for a deal?"

He'd gotten out of the habit of daily showering, time at the sink before bed, turning off lights. He felt calmer as his spine gave in to the hard press of the Atlantis walkway. The sky was large, very large, over him, a wide open exit he could take whenever he wanted. And the sound of the waves was soothing.

He almost hoped there'd be a big wave.

He'd love to flip Atlantis the bird as he washed away into the ocean.

The salt spray mixed with the last scent of Teyla on his hands, in the air, and he fell asleep thinking of her skin.

---

Jack felt beaten down before he even opened the door.

He wondered why, if he were going to shack up with a guy, he couldn't have picked a more low-maintenance guy.

Hoping Rodney wasn't home, bracing himself for another fight, Jack sighed as he stepped into what had once been his own room, throwing his hat onto the bed.

Then he paused, before he'd even finished another step.

Rodney was sitting on the bed. He was bare-chested, and his laptop was balanced on his lap as he reclined against the pillows just the way Jack usually did. His uniform trousers were still on but his feet were bare.

There was a candle, a short candle in a drinking glass, burning on each side of the bed.

The room was clean, no laundry in sight anywhere.

And the lights were dimmed. But not off.

Rodney looked up. Jack stood there with the tip of his tongue showing between his lips, arrested in a moment of confusion.

"Finally," said Rodney, snapping the laptop closed and tucking it safely away before rising from the bed to come over to Jack and start peeling off his Atlantis-mission jacket.

Rodney tossed it onto the smaller bed and was pushing Jack's T-shirt up before Jack had even figured out what word to say.

What he said was "Hey!" as the T-shirt ruffled his hair. Rodney freed the shirt from his head, tossed that away too.

"I stand by my analysis that you're a uselessly pigheaded macho jerk, witness the fact that you made me choose between this and a night in the lab trying to figure out how to save your uselessly pigheaded macho jerk rear end." Rodney's fingers were working on the belt buckle now.

"Whoa." Jack's hands stilled Rodney's. "So I take it you're still mad at me."

"Oh yeah."

"And yet, I'm getting the feeling that you want to have sex with me."

"It's probably your first and last chance at the kind of experimental fling even the military would forgive because you're about to die in a sort of a battle." Rodney's mouth cornered down and his fingers, surprisingly strong, pushed Jack's hands aside and went to work again on the belt buckle. "You don't want to miss it."

As the belt slid free Jack felt something come loose. "I thought people didn't have sex with other people when they were mad at them."

"That's something to do with women, I think. Anyway, nothing to do with me."

"Rodney." Jack's hands gripped again, higher up, on Rodney's bare forearms.

"What?" Rodney's eyes met his.

Jack couldn't think of what he wanted to say. You don't have to do this? You're overreacting? "I'm not even sure I can do this," Jack said before he could think of something better.

"Don't be absurd, Colonel," Rodney said, shoving quite hard and making the bed catch Jack in the back of his knees so that he fell into sitting down. "No man turns down an excellent blow job."

Jack found himself leaning back on his elbows as a very large, very sturdy Rodney climbed over him, knees on the outside of Jack's thighs, and proceeded to kiss him.

The sensation of a masculine, hairy chest against his own masculine, hairy chest was unexpected, like a sun shower - two things he just didn't think of experiencing at the same time.

But Rodney's hands were unzipping Jack's pants even as his mouth was moving somehow at lightning speed over his neck, his shoulders, his throat, and still spending enough time in every spot to leave it with a sensation of heat and prickling anticipation that made Jack's heartbeat speed up again.

Rodney maneuvered off just to peel Jack's uniform down, fingers hooking into the underwear underneath, and Jack didn't even realize he was pushing up with his feet, helping Rodney get him naked, until the pants tangled up around his boots and Rodney had to stop and rake at them with impatient fingers.

"I can --"

"Never mind, never mind, I've got it," and indeed, Rodney's speedy, clever fingers had untied and unlaced them before Jack could get at them and then Jack felt very, very naked.

And that *was* odd, being naked in the bed with Rodney.

But only for a second. Because he'd been in this bed with Rodney for so much of his time. The only way he *hadn't* been in the bed with Rodney was naked, and the novelty of that was over right around the time Rodney reached down and grabbed Jack's cock with the same impatient, fast-moving hand.

Jack grunted and thrust without even thinking about it. It was just plain good, a warm strong hand on him, stroking, pulling, feeling a little like his own but different. He could practically feel Rodney thinking about him, every tiny surface and bump and vein, in the way Rodney's hand moved over him.

Rodney kissed him again just as Rodney slid the tip of his thumb through the slit.

"UNH!" Jack's noise was louder this time and his hips bucked a little. Jesus. Jesus, it felt good. How could it feel *this* good and everyone not know about it? Was it men? Or just Rodney?

"This is... fast," Jack said as Rodney let him up for air.

Rodney didn't answer, just twisted and pulled and licked Jack's earlobe as Jack got hard, faster than he thought he would. Faster, if he were honest with himself, than he thought he could.

He blinked as the wonderful heat of Rodney's body moved away and then looked down. Rodney was kneeling. Between Jack's thighs.

And those bright rectangular blue eyes were looking up at him, and Rodney's straight, masculine nose, and that mouth with the one corner quirking up and the other curling down.

Jack was just opening his mouth to say something to stop him -- stop him? or just slow him down? -- when Rodney's eyes closed and he opened his mouth.

The sight of his tongue trailing little trails down the shaft was curiously exciting, a combination of delicacy and hardness that Jack found oddly sexy. It had never before occurred to Jack how different a man's mouth was from a woman's mouth. Especially Rodney's mouth, which was so broad, with narrow lips, so definitely masculine, and yet so definitely pleasurable when it did this.

Those same narrow lips pursed and Rodney kissed just the smooth pink tip of Jack's cock.

It was definitely a kiss and nothing else.

It was the first moment that Jack felt a rock-hard fist of certainty in his gut that he was doing something completely and irrevocably homosexual.

He put out a hand and pressed it on Rodney's skull, on the top of his head, just grasping him.

Rodney, ignoring it, put out that tongue again and licked the slit that he'd just kissed.

And then started licking, with tiny, precise motions, around the edge of the head.

And the rock in Jack's gut just melted away, and he was just Jack again, and that was Rodney, and Rodney was right about the excellent blow job.

The small touching movements of hot wet tongue riveted Jack's attention. He had to watch. He'd never seen anything like it. He'd never, not ever, imagined something would look that filthy, and the fact that it was happening to him seemed as incredible as the flashing moment when the event horizon filled the Stargate.

Rodney looked up, and those eyes met Jack's, and Jack realized that the look in those eyes, that was somehow even filthier. Even more for Jack. And even more surprising.

If he'd been able to think for a moment he would have thought that now, of all moments, when Rodney had established his ability not just to sweep an Air Force colonel off his feet but to have him completely immobilized just by the tip of his tongue, now would be the moment for Rodney to look supremely smug and arrogant.

But actually, there was a gentleness to Rodney's expression, the closest thing Jack had ever seen to Rodney looking relaxed, as Rodney opened his mouth wider and used his hands to slide Jack deep into his mouth.

Jack's head fell back and "Nggyah..." was all he said but he looked back as soon as he could.

Because it was another kind of kiss. Rodney could do this and make it just as emotional, more so, than the very personal meeting of mouth on mouth. He was, just like every other waking minute of the day, telling Jack something. Unlike most of what Rodney said, this had Jack's attention.

Every motion seemed planned, precise, and yet every motion was lovemaking.

Jack tried not to thrust but Rodney didn't seem to mind it, incorporated it into the rhythm he slowly began as he kissed deeper, his hands squeezing, supporting, stroking, guiding, and those strong inner surfaces of Rodney's mouth and throat seemed to be able to pay just as careful attention to Jack's entire shaft as just the tip of his tongue had been able to pay to the slit.

Rodney had some sort of physical coordination Jack didn't know about, he realized, as he felt himself being played in all kinds of ways all at the same time, and finding himself reluctant to give in to the urge to push, to thrust, to rush to the end of this even though he knew the end was going to happen all too soon.

It was exquisite, it was hard and fast, and Jack heard himself muttering "Not yet... Not yet..." even as he could feel his balls tightening, knew Rodney would be able to feel it too and that too seemed insanely intimate, unreal, that a guy who knew what this was like would be making him feel this way and knew he couldn't make it last as long as he would like it to.

And Rodney had no pity on the not yet's, because his mouth tightened, his tongue swirled and licked in between swallows, and his hands were cupping and stroking right behind his balls and this was insane and it was going to stop and the stopping was going to be so, so, so very good.

Jack grimaced and felt his belly muscles clench as the fluid spurted and he had a sudden irrational desire to see it because he wanted to see something that felt that good. But Rodney's mouth was relentless and kept up the tight hot motions that had pushed him this far and the clenching, rushing hotness seemed to go on for a long time before Jack collapsed flat on the bed, his hardness still trapped in Rodney's relentless mouth.

When he was clean and empty he felt himself finally slide out of those lips, and he sighed.

"You're right, Rodney," he felt himself say as he slumped there, boneless, on the bed.

He felt more than heard Rodney chuckle under his breath before he felt himself being hauled up the bed, Rodney behind him, not unlike one would imagine a sack of grain would get hauled.

"Hey!" he said, a lot quieter than he'd said it when he first came into the room.

"You're going to fall asleep. I know. Man, remember?"

Jack felt like there was something he should be doing but he decided to go ahead and let Rodney arrange him like a spent doll, his legs tangling with Rodney's, barely registering the fabric of the pants Rodney still wore as his brain, pleasantly muzzy for the first time in a very long time, drifted a bit.

---

Elizabeth trailed through the corridors in fuzzy slippers. They muffled the sound of her feet and sometimes she wanted to make sure that anyone who came upon her unexpectedly in the middle of the night wouldn't find her threatening.

There were usually sounds of people gathered in and around the kitchen, and around the east tower viewing balcony. Those seemed to be the unofficial gathering places, and the humans in Atlantis, being few, and fragile, tended to like gathering together.

Tonight both were unexpectedly quiet, and Elizabeth wondered how many of them knew about tomorrow's mission. She hadn't, she realized with a pang, shared any of the risks with them. It wasn't that they needed to know or didn't need to know. She'd just forgot about the rest of them for a while.

It was really quite hard to keep all of them in mind all the time.

She paused in the lab, meditating on, more than looking at, Ford, wondering what they were going to be able to do for him. He seemed certain even as he seemed ravaged, she thought. She wondered how much of it was what had happened to his face, and how much of it was Ford's personality still showing through.

As she stood there, a quiet shadow among quiet shadows, she heard other footsteps, the light slap of bare feet on polished floors. A few dim lights shone on Daniel's bare shoulders as he padded into the room with a pillowcase in his hand.

Gracefully, he dropped to one knee and packed into the pillowcase all the small objects that lay around the base of Ford's pillar: a dried piece of kelp, the ashes from someone's pipe tobacco, a silicon chip that had somehow snapped but still sparkled dully in the light. It was no longer feasible to leave offerings of food or anything that could be recycled. But offerings were left nonetheless.

Daniel stood, gathering the fabric together in just one hand, and looked at Ford, not unlike the way Elizabeth had been looking at him just a moment before. He laid a hand on the column and then, in a spot just opposite Ford's cheek, he kissed it.

Elizabeth had to fold her lips closed as she watched Daniel go and watched the door slide shut after him. She hadn't wanted to cry for Ford. She couldn't stop herself from crying for Daniel.

***

Under a Broken Moon, part 8

I'm not asking your heart to believe me.
I'm not asking for promise or pledge.
Whatever the answer, it's yes that's the question.
I am the fool dancin' over the edge.

It was orangey-light when Jack woke up from his dozing sleep, the kind of not-dark one tended to see behind one's eyelids, but slightly brighter, bright enough so he knew his eyes were open and he was in his room and not as bright as if he were in a sarcophagus.

He felt liquid, and lighter.

Hands, warm hands, strong hands, Rodney's hands, were stroking over his chest, outlining the muscles, combing through the hair, fingertips tracing old scars before smoothing over to rub around, and over, his nipples.

"Those have never really done much," Jack observed quietly, unwilling to move. Rodney's fingers made lazy circles.

"You straight boys," Rodney's voice sounded right behind his head, and he felt Rodney's breath on his hair, on his neck, on his shoulder. "You give up so easily."

Jack didn't want to argue. He felt fine. He knew he had to fly tomorrow but he couldn't remember what all the fuss was about. He could fly right now. Into outer space. Without a ship.

Jack felt his lips open, felt no compelling reason to close them. There was nothing he had to keep inside.

They seemed to have found something Rodney didn't feel a need to talk during.

They lay there for quite a while, Jack floating in Rodney's arms, Rodney's hands stroking over him, teasing, tweaking, and Jack couldn't remember if anyone had ever just petted him like this. It was arousing but it was so bonelessly relaxing too. He didn't feel as though he had to go anywhere or do anything. Ever.

"You know, this is nice, but it's not gonna get you anywhere," Jack finally said, his voice quiet and deep and sweetly rough. "I'm not as young as I am good-looking."

"Once again, straight guys, quitters," Rodney just mumbled back. He was busy kissing the back of Jack's neck, which Jack had to admit was nice.

"Just seems like a lot of work," Jack mumbled back. One of Rodney's hands was thrumming over one nipple which now, Jack had to admit, was feeling more tender and more reactive. The other hand was, curiously enough, exploring his face. He felt Rodney's fingertips memorize his eyebrows, the bridge of his nose, the edges of his cheekbones.

"Whatcha doin'?" he asked, out of lazy curiosity.

But Rodney didn't answer.

"Look, I admit, I fell asleep. But shouldn't we be doing something about, well, you?"

He felt a Rodney chuckle in Rodney's chest behind him. "Something?"

"Anything."

"Yes, you're very old-fashioned, you're very predictable, I appreciate that," Rodney said, and Jack felt his lips brushing against Jack's ear, and for some reason it made a shiver travel down his spine. "But here's a bulletin, Jack. We are doing something for me."

Jack had an impulse. Turning his head, he trapped the two fingers that were tracing his jawline, trapped them in his mouth. They were thick, masculine fingers, with the square tips that men's fingers often had. Rodney had apparently cut the nails.

No calluses, Jack ruminated as he sucked them gently, lapping at them with his tongue.

"Oh jesus, oh god," sighed Rodney and Jack felt Rodney's hardness pressing into one of his asscheeks. Rodney still had those uniform trousers on. What was that about, anyway? Jack had seen how closely they fit. They must be getting awfully small right about now, Jack thought a little smugly as he licked Rodney's fingertips.

Rodney took a ragged breath.

He pushed Jack forward and slid out from behind him so that he could lay Jack flat out on the bed.

"This is what I need," said Rodney, his pale eyes wide open and looking into Jack's. His hands never stopped moving, stroking, down Jack's ribs, up to Jack's armpits, constantly pausing to test each nipple again. Jack stretched lazily, closing his eyes and tearing his gaze away. He couldn't get used to the twin sensations of excitement and relaxation. Maybe he was asleep and this was him dreaming.

"Even after this, it isn't over," Rodney's voice went on quietly as he balanced on his arms over Jack, licking, kissing, just touching with his mouth. "There's more. There's a lot more. Guys like you can't resist a competition. If you really want to see where this goes, you have to come back and get over the finish line. You can't just abandon the race in the middle."

"I'm too... for metaphors, Rodney."

What Jack was too much of seemed obvious. Both nipples were tight dark pink nubs and Rodney kept coming back to them. His arms were stretched out over his head, impossibly long torso sprinkled with hair stretched out below Rodney, the thick triangle of his shoulders narrowing to a waist just starting to have a softness to it, a softness that in no way made it less interesting to lick, as far as Rodney was concerned.

Jack's toes curled as Rodney worked his way down Jack's stomach.

"This is so slow," slurred Jack, pointing his toes, giving in to the urge to rub one bare calf against Rodney's shoulder. "I've never seen you do anything slow."

Rodney turned to bite the bare calf, gently. "This is probably it," he admitted, in between trailing kisses down the straight line of Jack's leg to place an open-mouthed kiss on top of the arch of Jack's foot.

There was no way Jack could do anything but lay there, splayed out on the bed while Rodney touched him anywhere and everywhere.

When Rodney once again slid off the foot of the bed, Jack protested again, albeit weakly. "Really, isn't it time for you to...?"

"For me to what?"

"You could at least take those damn pants off."

Rodney shook his head in disbelief but his hands went away and Jack could tell he was getting rid of the last garment. But he didn't look any different to Jack because most of him was still hidden by the bed.

"There's something there about letters of the rules, if I could think of it," Jack said but he stopped quick, because Rodney's hands were back, and he was very quickly learning to respect the presence of Rodney's hands.

They stroked over his stomach again, traced the lower edge of his ribs, miraculously, without tickling, and then up over each side of Jack's chest.

Trapping each nipple between a thumb and a finger, Rodney gripped. And twisted. Gently.

The electric shock hit Jack right behind the balls and he felt his cock actually stirring. He couldn't believe it. The last time sex had featured in his life at all had been years ago, and even then he'd been a one-shot for the night.

But as with everything else Rodney did, he knew things. And he didn't take no for an answer.

While Jack stretched and moved lazily - some might have said writhed slowly - Rodney took his time exploring the muscles on Jack's thighs, their edges and hollows. They too got their share of stroking, and squeezing. And at the sensitive edges where his leg met his groin, Rodney nosed, he licked, he nibbled, he damn near chewed, and all those sensations, relatively gentle with the occasional harder bite, slid under Jack's skin and made it hot and electric and sparkling with anticipation.

"Do you want to give me orders?" Rodney asked, and it wasn't at all the voice Rodney would use in everyday conversation. It was a bedroom voice, as filthy and personal as the look Jack had seen in his eyes, as the motion Jack had seen from his tongue.

"N-no... I don't need to..." Jack's voice rose and fell as if he couldn't figure out where he was on the roller coaster ride.

"You don't want to tell me to suck you? Hard? Now?"

Rodney's enjoying this, Jack thought blearily. He's not just enjoying touching me. He's enjoying wondering what I'll say, what I'll do, what I like, what I want.

He's *right here*.

The realization shook something inside Jack, and he squeezed his eyes shut tight, tight, almost straining upward for a moment as if he were trying to get away from Rodney's hands instead of sink farther into them.

"What?" Rodney asked immediately, so immediately that Jack's perception was confirmed. Rodney was watching him closely, so closely. Rodney was tuned in to *him*.

"Nothing." Jack's voice was as quiet as a whisper. "Do what you want, Rodney."

And then, tilting his head up and opening his eyes so he could look, heavy-lidded, into Rodney's face for a second, Jack added, "I like it."

He saw a muscle jump in Rodney's neck and Rodney just nodded, one of those tight little accepting nods that he did.

And he got close, Jack could feel Rodney's chest against his thighs, and Rodney wrapped those surprisingly strong arms around Jack's legs and scooted him closer to the edge of the bed, letting Jack's knees fall completely apart and nuzzling his way up Jack's cock before finally taking the half-hard length in his mouth.

This time there was nothing tiny and exquisite. This time it was all slow, hot, wet sensation as Rodney's broad, flat tongue swept up and down the shaft and around the head, licking Jack indeed more like an ice cream cone than anything else, giving Jack the impression that his own body was something sweet and treasured, at least to Rodney.

When Rodney finally took his head away and licked wet lips, Jack was hard, the long, slightly curving shaft wet and ready for more of anything.

Rodney shifted and slid his arms behind Jack's thighs, getting Jack's legs up over his shoulders and out of the way.

When he bent again Jack was more open and tilting, and this time Rodney could lick and suck with his mouth and use his hands to stroke that tiny, fantastic spot right behind Jack's balls, to stroke and squeeze the cheeks of Jack's ass, to separate them a little and let the warm air of his breath get between them --

"Rodney." Jack was far behind any ability to move, but he still had to say. "I don't..."

"Yeah well," and Jack heard the snap of a plastic cap somewhere below the edge of the bed, down where Rodney's bare body that he couldn't see was hiding, and he heard something make a wet noise. "But I do. I think you'll like this, Jack. If you don't, all you have to say is stop. Okay?"

"Yeah, okay," and Jack didn't even recognize his voice, it was so light, pushed up and away by the flickering of the candles that guttered now in the bottoms of their glasses, casting uncertain shadows on the walls.

Rodney's fingers were slick and wet now, and warm, and he stroked down behind Jack's balls and even further along the soft skin there until they went right between the cheeks of Jack's ass, and it should have felt embarassing but it didn't, it was just another touch, another of Rodney's slow, good touches.

"Mmmm," Rodney said as he sucked Jack's cock back into his mouth and applied just a little more pressure to the licking strokes he gave the head while his fingers rocked deeper into the cleft, stroking, always stroking, every move a caress.

When his fingertips reached the center they were looking for Jack couldn't even jump.

But he could feel what seemed like every whorl in Rodney's fingertips as one of those blunt, clever fingers swirled around and around on that sensitive skin, spreading lubrication, slicking over the hair and the muscled ridge, not teasing but teasing and telling Jack with every slow, gliding motion to relax and let him in.

Jack had no choice on the relaxation front.

When Rodney pushed very, very gently, he was able to work in just a fingertip, just one of those fingertips, and Jack couldn't help reacting as Rodney fucked him with tiny, barely perceptible motions.

Jack fucked back.

He didn't say anything, didn't make a noise. And Rodney had positioned him so he could barely move. But he thrust back at Rodney, letting that invasion that seemed so small and so huge all at the same time inside him, letting Rodney stroke into him, each move a little more, a little deeper. Rodney moved his hand, the fingertip pressing around, and Jack realized that this, too, Rodney was feeling. He wanted to feel the inside of Jack.

Jack felt a shudder travel up his spine.

"You don't have to say anything," Rodney said, his mouth making a soft wet noise as it let go of him. "Just tell me if you don't like it."

And with that permission Jack could stay quiet, could just enjoy letting Rodney's finger fuck into him so gently, so slowly, without admitting anything to himself, without making anything a big deal.

Rodney's mouth went back to Jack's now very hard cock and the finger just slid in, past the knuckle, and Jack thought to himself, I'm getting fucked and sucked at the same time, and just that muzzy thought seemed to him like the dirtiest thing he'd ever thought, and he let it roll around in his head, unbelieving that Rodney could do this and it could seem so ordinary even as it was, somewhere back in the conscious self he'd let go of some time ago, exploding his mind.

He wished he could thrust back harder, but with his legs over Rodney's wide shoulders, there was no way.

All he could do was lie there. He couldn't even make a fist.

Rodney curled his hand around, stroking inside, and touched something.

Soundlessly, Jack arched up off the bed.

A slighter man might have buckled as all Jack's weight was pressed down on his shoulders, but Rodney didn't budge. He stroked again, pressing down with his mouth, urging Jack to lie down, to lie back, to settle onto that invading slick finger and let Rodney's mouth do its magic too.

Jack did.

The gently twisting, stroking finger took up a not-quite-rhythm.

Every time Rodney's fingertip rubbed that spot, Jack felt his thighs shake, completely out of control. He thrust, hard, into Rodney's mouth, letting Rodney do whatever he did to control the depth of the thrust. He stopped thinking about what was happening to him. It was taking him over.

The sharp, soft, agonizingly pleasurable sensation that happened with every motion of Rodney's finger, the hot, slick, relentless suction that was happening in Rodney's mouth, the liquid way his own body had been completely reduced to nothing but reaction between those two unbelievable sensations - it couldn't be real, and Jack had no coherent thoughts but he did have a gathering sensation of unreality, a bubble of disbelief that gathered as surely as the repeated soft explosions of pleasure burst inside him with every motion Rodney made.

Heaven after all, thought some wordless part of Jack's mind as his body, in which he was just a disbelieving passenger, started to jerk, started to shake, muscles trembling and trembling and a deep, deep clenching starting before he could stop it, really exploding in the way nothing inside him had ever exploded before, and he saw white as his whole body shook its way into a teeth-grinding, joint-popping, breath-stopping climax. Everything, from his eyebrows down to his fingertips and toes, everything was washed in white-hot pleasure that had replaced all his blood and was now what made his hard beat - and his heart beat hard.

He wondered if he would ever need to breathe again as Rodney kept up the touches and kisses and licks until Jack thought the pleasure might turn into pain, until his muscles twitched and he breathed in again and the rocking could stop and he fell back down and lay there, boneless.

He felt Rodney licking him, making him twitch, till his come was all gone and he was as empty as any glowing light-filled shell of a human could be.

And he blinked, very, very slowly, as he opened his eyes and saw Rodney staring down at him, taking in every flushed square inch of skin, every melted muscle, the way Jack's chest rose and fell fast and the slowly, very slowly softening cock that Rodney had finally let go of.

He felt Rodney slide his finger reluctantly out of Jack and thought he heard Rodney rustling something in his hands, something fabric. But Rodney's eyes never left Jack and for some reason Jack found he didn't mind, Rodney's eyes devouring a limp, totally pleasured Jack lying in front of him right where Rodney had left him.

"Jesus, Jack, you look... oh god, how you look..." Rodney's voice sounded unfamiliar, soft but urgent, and Jack didn't have to think hard to identify the sound: reverence.

Jack heard the slap and slick of flesh again and realized Rodney must be holding himself, touching himself, needing to finish something that looking at Jack was doing to him.

Still blinking lazily Jack looked down but the edge of the bed was still blocking his view. Blocking his virgin eyes, Jack suddenly realized, from the sight of a big strong man hot for him.

"Want to see," Jack mumbled, making a lazy, tiny come-hither gesture with his fingertips.

Rodney's eyes blazed and he never stopped stroking himself, pushing himself upright rather awkwardly, he'd been on his knees a long time, but he gritted his teeth and managed a sort of half-sitting half-reclining posture on the bed, next to Jack, still looking at every inch of Jack's stretched, sated body.

It was interesting, Jack decided, seeing the golden, soft, thick tip of Rodney's cock appearing and disappearing from his hand, watching Rodney's hips stutter forward as he thrust into his own fist, the speed and the sight convincing Jack that Rodney was not far off himself.

And he wasn't, because in the next moment Rodney stiffened, his grimace frozen as he tossed his head back and came, a lot, thick stripes of creamy fluid flying over his hand, some of them landing on Jack's bare, silent hip.

That was all he'd needed to come, Jack realized. Not much. Not much after all he'd done for Jack.

He must have been so hard, the tip of his cock glistening, all the while he'd been down there making love to Jack.

That thought, too, was interesting, and, like so much else about Rodney, oddly sexy, surprising, and yet somehow comfortable.

Rodney blinked, nosed his face against Jack's outflung arm, and got up from the bed. Jack still couldn't move.

He went into the bathroom and Jack heard the water running. Rodney came back with something warm and wet, rougher than Rodney's tongue, which he used to stroke Jack with, all around the wet springy curls, down the length of his now softer, now smaller dick, and then down and between the cheeks of his ass without hesitating a microsecond. Jack wanted to squirm but it was simply impossible. Rodney could do whatever he wanted. It felt too good.

When Rodney came back from the bathroom again Jack thought he might once again haul Jack back up towards the head of the bed. But he stood there instead, all bare, glowing in the dying candlelight, looking at Jack, till Jack finally felt the first stirrings of embarassment.

He opened his mouth to say something about the embarassment. But then he closed it again. He needed to say something honest and clear. He still wasn't entirely sure that this was real. But it was better than anything unreal he'd ever felt.

"That," Jack rasped as he made sure to seek out Rodney's eyes with his own, "was the best I've ever had."

Rodney nodded, a sharp short nod, but his eyes were soft. "I wanted it to be," he said, with a trace of the Rodney smugness around the edges, like salt on a margarita glass.

"Finish line." Jack didn't seem to be able to make a full sentence, only an allusion.

Rodney nodded. "The future. You might have heard of it. Things can happen there."

Jack wondered what kind of dream this could possibly have been while Rodney fussed over him, pulling him to his feet, walking him to his usual side of the bed, pushing him in and lifting a sheet over him. All of Jack's bones felt soft. He tucked his feet under the cover sighing.

The candle on his side had burned out. He heard Rodney's puff of breath extinguish the other one before Rodney climbed into the bed behind him, not tossing himself face down, but once again spooning up behind him, one arm tossed over Jack's waist, his thighs tucking themselves under Jack's thighs, their leg hairs mingling.

"I need you, Jack. I hope that's not going to be a problem," Rodney whispered into his neck and Jack felt himself drifting away to sleep, only able to squeeze Rodney's hand a little to prove he'd heard, he'd heard, he just had no words to give back.

***

<span class="style5"><em>Under a Broken Moon, part 9 </em>

Press. Squeeze. Push, push.

The little jumper knew which way he wanted to move before he even knew it himself.

Floating. Like a butterfly. Stinging like a plasma weapon capable of exploding solid rock.

Jack rocked through the cosmos firing.

---

He'd woken up slow.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd woken up slow.

And he'd woken up alone.

It had been a while since that had happened too.

Usually he woke up as soon as Rodney threw himself out of the bed, tossing covers wildly, staggering, both hands out as if to catch himself, towards the bathroom. Rodney often woke up as if he were hung over.

Funny that Rodney should be the hung-over one, Jack thought as he popped his pill.

He looked around. The room was still pretty clean. There were Rodney's pants, thrown on the floor. And his own clothes.

A rumpled bed.

Yes, this room looked like sex.

That hadn't really happened, did it? Sometimes the drugs gave him odd dreams. The -- yes, before he fell asleep, that had happened, he knew it had, it was good, he remembered it.

But later, in the new hours, the secret time when Atlantis still turned and the rest of the universe did not... Had he really woken up? Had Rodney... done all that stuff?

Had he felt like that?

It was impossible.

Of course, this was an impossible city.

Jack looked around again before heading for the bathroom. He'd forgotten: he didn't like waking up alone.

---

Skip, hop, fire.

The molten rock on some of them flashed, liquid, red, out into space as Jack watched them.

He couldn't smell the hot rock. He couldn't taste it, couldn't hear it.

Inside here all he could do was see.

The outside world, despite being a galaxy, was just as flat as if he saw it through a television screen at home.

Boom, boom, boom.

Rocks, zero; Jack, another 115 points...

---

John's eyelashes were stuck together with salt when the sun woke him up by glowing through his eyelids.

One day, one lousy day, and if this went right he could get out of here, he told himself, whacking the Ancient walkway with his palm before sitting upright.

Wow, he thought as he took stock of his muscles, a little stiff from exposure to cold and moisture while he slept. He had always been wiry, but he didn't used to be THIS wiry.

All that hoeing, he thought to himself as he sprang upright. His skin was cold but his muscles were ready to hum, just under the skin.

Suddenly he realized. He was young. He *was* young.

"Fuck you, Atlantis," John said to himself with a slow, sly smile, crystals of salt on his eyelashes refracting the sunlight. He was young. He had to do this job. But then he could go home.

Home to work. And Teyla.

---

Jack watched his hands without watching his hands. Whose hands were those? They were awfully good at what they were doing.

"You need me to help you out, Colonel?" John's voice over the headset.

"Nah." Jack sounded lazy, laconic even to his own ears.

It was fine. Shoot. Splat.

One of the larger fragments, rolling in the nonexistent outside, slammed against his tiny ship.

The shields held but the rock caught on to them, like Velcro, held him, spun him, twisted him in space.

It was a very, very big rock.

---

"Elizabeth, turn off all the auxiliary systems."

Elizabeth was standing at the control bridge in the gateroom. Park sat at the console, looking like her lip might start trembling at any moment.

"What's auxiliary, Rodney? It's not like we've turned a lot ON."

"Everything. Keep people out of the transporters. Lights. Everything."

"Rodney, what are you doing down there?"

"Trying to cause a miracle as quickly as possible."

---

"You take me up now!"

The dumpy Russian pilot tossed a glance Teresa couldn't help but feel was insulting over his shoulder as he went on running his diagnostics.

"I am very nearly the last pilot we have if something happens to the Colonel and the Major," Kasyanov said in his rolling Russian accent. "The Colonel told me to stay here."

"Yeah? Well the Colonel told me I was promoted."

Kasyanov snorted. "Staff Sergeant. I still outrank you, Sergeant."

Teresa's face was getting red; the tip of her nose, unfortunately, was pink. It had that tendency when she was very frustrated. She hadn't been this frustrated in a long time.

"I should be UP there! I'm a pilot!" She slammed a fist against the jumper's very parked, very stationary wall.

And winced. It was a hard wall.

"Not of these, you're not."

She shook her head, glaring at him. "How can you be so calm? Don't you care what happens to them?"

"See here. For an American officer your Colonel is very good at what he does. Why should I second-guess him?"

Teresa's lips were thin and folded together.

Something about it had startled her, the way the Colonel had tossed her his hat before he got on his own jumper. "Oh, by the way, Airman," he'd said as if he'd just remembered it. "You're promoted. Dr. Weir has the paperwork."

"Sir!" She'd just barely recovered enough to look at the hat. It was a billed cap, battered, the front well-shaped by years of squeezing and tugging.

It smelled like the Colonel's head. She hadn't realized she'd known what the Colonel's head smelled like till she recognized it in that moment.

"Sergeant," he'd said, with that little smile, the one that made the ripples all through his face, but it went away fast, very fast.

Teresa wasn't wearing the hat. She was spinning it on her finger, rolling it around and around, the brim always just barely caught on her fingertip.

"Something's wrong," she said now to Kasyanov.

She could tell by looking at him. A thirty-ish Russian pilot, given to dumplings, still slightly shaped like one despite the low rations.

But his eyes, his eyes were liquid dark. And his lips were rich and curved.

"Kasyanov," she said, looking deep into those eyes and sounding as convincing as only a six-foot-tall blonde could be to a dumpy, middle-aged Russian. "We need to get up there."

"Jones," he said, his tone just as even while his sallow cheeks flushed just slightly, just slightly redder. "In Russia, following orders is not just a good idea."

---

"DON'T touch that NOW! Can't you see I'm trying to build up a charge?"

Rodney leaped across the room and slapped Kavanagh's arm away from the instrument he'd been about to touch.

"McKAY!" Kavanagh reared like a horse that had been spooked. "Look, get a grip! This discharge is tiny! I just want to see --"

"No! No seeing! No just! Do what I tell you or get out."

"What the HELL is wrong with you? Aren't you even listening to your headset? It's going just fine. Sure, it'll take a while. Sure, he'll get tired. But it's working fine."

"It's NOT fine." Rodney's eyes were pools of icy panic. "You have the imagination of a crustacean. Can't you see? Can't any of you see?"

"See WHAT, for fuck's sake?"

Rodney froze, his hands arrested in mid-sweep, his face conveying a terrifying mixture of fear and anger and hurry. "A hero's death. Don't you think that's the kind he's always wanted?"

---

"How's it going, Colonel?" John's voice.

"Not bad." Fire. Sweep. Tumble. Again the ship caught on one of the boulders, was tossed and turned through space. Another massive stone came out of nowhere, bounced, and the jumper was caught BETWEEN the two huge masses.

The shields whined.

The jumper *felt* compressed. Jack thought for a second his ears might pop.

"Just trucking along," said Jack, firing, slicing one of the masses in half, then reducing one of the halves to rubble.

The other mass drifted.

Not very far away.

---

"The aliens believe that it is good luck to wish on these falling stars," said Ayar, holding up her head with hands knotted with age and pain so she could continue to watch the bright streaks through the blue sky. The old woman lay with her back propped against a bundle of straw.

"I do not think that they set much store by it," Teyla said absently. John had said that there might be danger. But how was she to know? They would not know if one of the stones that fell was large enough to be dangerous until it was very close to the ground. If there was a house under it... Or people...

Ayar's watery green eyes scanned the blue. She was not much good at small work any more. But she saw every flash of burning stone as it fell. "So you are not wishing then?" she asked, and turned her very knowing eyes on Teyla.

Teyla returned the look. Old women did not frighten her. She intended to be one some day. "Oh, I am wishing," she said with her half-crooked grin.

---

"Colonel, how's it going?"

"Just fine, Doctor."

"You sound a little tired."

"Nah."

"It's been almost two hours, Jack."

There was a long pause.

"Really?"

He sounded actually surprised, Elizabeth realized.

"You could switch places with the Major, take a break," she suggested.

"Sure, I'm ready to have a go," John's voice breaking into the circuit.

"I'll yell when I need a break," Jack said, still sounding as certain as ever.

---

Rodney glared at the computer screen he was attempting to read faster.

"No," he muttered at Jack's disembodied voice. "You won't."

---

It was numbing. Jack's brain was numb. Fire, whirl, roll.

Huh. Nowhere to roll to.

Fire.

Huh. That didn't go too far in.

How big was that rock, anyway?

Liquid magma had cooled in space. Some of the chunks had crusts; their more liquid centers burst when Jack fired.

Sometimes the magma crusted on his shields.

It peeled away.

Grey that way.

Grey that way.

Huh.

won't be long now,

and Jack noticed he was steering

into a rock.

Into the rock.

Mouth opening, Jack's head snapped back.

He blinked.

He yanked his hands away from the controls. His knuckles crackled.

He looked at his shaking hands.

What was that?

It was, uh, which way to go...

What was...

He blinked again.

Was this right? Was this where he was supposed to be?

"Uh,..." Was he going to ask it out loud? Where am I?

"Colonel?" Elizabeth's smooth cool voice.

"I'm not sure what I..."

This was right.

No. It wasn't.

The ship's fields caught again on another rock. It was the size of a city block. It whirled the jumper through space, until the shields caught on another rough surface heading in the opposite direction.

"All I see is grey," muttered Jack.

"What's he talking about?" he heard Elizabeth asking over his headset. But that wasn't right either, was it? Had he been able to hear before?

The rocks made no sounds.

"Jack." Rodney's voice. "Just a few minutes. Just a few minutes, and this will work."

"Rodney." Jack felt his voice begin to shake, physically, sounding just like his hands looked. "I don't know if I'm going to make it over that finish line. It's not because... It's not because I don't want to."

---

Rodney slapped at his headset. His face was red and spit flew as he shouted, "Not good enough, Jack. That's not good enough at all."

"It's not because..." Jack's voice faded out again.

"Quitter." Rodney said it.

But Rodney touched his headset again then, cutting himself off from Jack, his vast blue eyes holding an ocean of pain as he looked at Daniel. "He's gonna die."

And Daniel stared at him, that open, terrified face, and Daniel thought, I knew this.

Rodney doesn't hurt.

Rodney gets hurt.

"John?" said Daniel, his eyes automatically turning up toward the ceiling even though he knew the Major was actually thousands of kilometers away.

"I'm on my way," John's grim voice trickled through the earpieces of all of them.

---

John surveyed the rock.

The rock was all there was to survey. An ocean of it, skyscrapers and islands and practically continents of it, shoving and cracking and roiling through space.

"Jesus CHRIST!" said John as he surveyed mile after mile of rock.

"What?" Rodney's voice in his ear.

"I can't see... I can't see the Colonel's jumper. Honestly, I can't see a damn thing. This is *huge*."

"You can't SEE him?" The rising panic in Rodney's voice hurt John's ear.

"Rodney, I can't see shit. Except rock. How big WAS this fucking moon?"

"Well keep LOOKING!"

"I didn't say I had stopped."

John's tiny jumper swooped to stay above the field of churning granite, but he bobbed and wove, too.

Firing.

Just like Jack had been.

---

"Captain Kasyanov. I'd like you to lend Major Sheppard some air support," came Elizabeth's voice over the microphone.

"I'm on my way," he said lazily but was in the jumper within seconds, Teresa behind him like a second skin.

She just looked at him as she strapped herself into the co-pilot's chair.

"I did not say I did not want to go," he explained as they launched themselves toward the bay doors.

---

"Get me a slide control!"

"WHAT?" Kavanagh's ponytail was flying as he attempted to keep up with Rodney diving back and forth between computers.

"A slide control! Something to deliver a continuous variable current! Go salvage one! I think there were some on one of the pieces of medical equipment, God knows we're not using it." Rodney's eyes flicked back and forth even faster than his hands.

"What on earth fo --"

"YOU GO GET ONE AND DON'T YOU EVEN BOTHER TO COME BACK IN HERE WITHOUT IT!"

Drops of spit were flying and Rodney didn't even come up to Kavanagh's chin and Kavanagh suddenly looked like a kicked puppy.

"Elizabeth! Just give me a little more time!"

"We're trying," she said but she didn't sound as convincing any more.

"How long until the rocks get here?" Daniel asked Rodney.

"Here?"

"Here."

"Oh. I'd forgotten they're coming here. Not long. But I've got something. Just a few more minutes. DON'T LEAVE!"

"I wasn't going to leave, Rodney." Daniel stepped over to his side.

"I'm going to need you to translate."

He kept working, kept moving, but his hands had gone on alone. Rodney's cheeks were wet.

He didn't even take the time to look over again but he asked it again. "He's gonna die, isn't he?"

"No, Rodney," Daniel said, his voice soft and soothing and deep. "Because you're going to save him. You will."

---

John didn't know much Russian but he was pretty sure what Kasyanov had just said was pretty equivalent to his "Jesus CHRIST!"

"A mess, huh?" he said into the microphone.

"Where is the Colonel?" Kasyanov sounded dumbfounded.

"I have no idea."

"Dr. Weir, don't you have any readings you can differentiate from down there?" Teresa's voice cut like wire. Not even the jumper's sensors would work for her and Kasyanov had to fly.

---

"Differentiate from WHAT?" Elizabeth was standing over Park's shoulder looking at the mass of... mass. The jumper's signal was in there, but how to begin to tell them where to look? It was still moving, and it was deep within the thickest part of the rockfield.

"I will tell them, ma'am."

Elizabeth looked down at Park. Park's chin didn't look like it would quiver any more.

Park didn't even wait for a confirmation. She started to reel off coordinates, a running tally of the Colonel's location, spot after spot as the little vehicle bounced and spun....

---

"Rodney."

"Jack. How's it going?" Rodney's fake cheer practically grated on the wires.

"I can't tell."

Jack had his hands fastened on his head. He tried to put them back on the controls. He still couldn't decide what to shoot at. He put his hands back on his head.

"I didn't know, Rodney."

"I know. I told you that. When will you listen? When will you learn that I am always right? It's a simple rule, simple to follow."

"Hah." It was a dry noise, it hurt Jack's throat, halfway between a chuckle and a choke.

He was sure this wasn't right.

"You are a caution."

"I don't know what that means. You'll have to explain it to me."

Jack didn't answer.

---

"There he is."

John and Victor Kasyanov swooped in the same direction, seeing the flash of a dying shield bursting up between two humps of rock.

"Shit. Now what are we going to do about it?" muttered John as the jumper disappeared again.

Kasyanov coolly fired.

Teresa yelled. "Firing! At the Colonel! Hey!"

"His shields are up and these shots should not penetrate them," Kasyanov answered, continuing to carve up the largest boulder near him.

More of the shield became visible.

"I think I hate Russians," Teresa whispered as Kasyanov continued to carve away at the rock surrounding Jack's jumper.

---

"We've located him..." John's voice sounded a little uncertain. "I'm not sure what we're going to DO with him."

"Why? What's wrong?" Elizabeth's bell-like clarity.

"I don't think he's piloting the jumper any more."

John watched as the little machine tumbled, winced as it bounced off a rock, its shields incandescing into the red. It had taken a lot of abuse, that little craft.

Of course, John mused, so had its pilot.

"Colonel, are you all right?"

---

Jack couldn't think what to answer.

The answer was "yes", but he couldn't make himself say that. Whatever else he'd been, he'd never been a liar.

Even at the ends of his life, right before he'd died and died again, he'd generally told the truth.

Of course there were moments of pain that could push him over the edge into saying anything, everything, just hoping that some word that tumbled out of his lips would make it stop.

But he flattered himself that they'd been few.

And this wasn't one of them.

So he really didn't know what to say.

---

"Jack?" Daniel's querying voice went out over the microphone. "I'd like to know. So you're *not* coming back, then."

Silence. Rodney didn't even stare at him. He was wiring something, soldering something. The smell of hot molten metal in the air.

Daniel said, "Does this mean I can have the big bed?"

At that Rodney *did* look over, jaw dropped.

---

That punk, thought Jack.

That one he *did* know the answer to.

"No," said Jack.

---

Rodney swept around the room like a hurricane.

"Jack. Okay. Look. Just a minute. You're going to have to fly fast in just the direction I tell you, do you hear me?"

"I hear you." Jack's voice still sounded dull and flat. Rodney had never heard anything better.

"I'm going to send you coordinates, and you have to fly toward them, okay?"

"When?"

"You might as well start now," Rodney said grimly.

He tapped the keys that sent the coordinates to Park who could relay them to the jumpers.

"Got it?"

---

"I've got it," said John, "but if we leave now --"

"The Colonel's jumper does not appear to be under his control," Kasyanov reported.

Teresa's big eyes watched as the little jumper tumbled again. Kasyanov was following it beautifully, as if Jack's jumper were the crazy lead in an insane dance and Kasyanov's had to follow all the steps but in reverse and slightly ahead of time.

She was a soldier, she realized. Kasyanov was a pilot.

"Oh, don't lose him," she breathed, and Kasyanov's hands tightened on the controls.

John's voice came over the mic. "How could we grab hold of him? We don't have any towing capacity, any rope, even, for pete's sake, how can we --"

"Jam him between us," Teresa burst out.

Kasyanov's startled black eyebrows fluttered as he spared a quick glance her way.

"You can do it. You follow the Major. The shields will hold him in place."

---

Rodney grabbed Daniel by the shoulder, hauled him in front of the computer monitor. "There. Read that. What is that?"

"Numbers. Three sets --"

"Yes, yes, I know. It's coordinates. Three dimensions. These ones. How big are these numbers?"

Daniel's triangular frown pinched over his nose. "Uh, that looks like eight hundred thousand --"

"That's good enough for me." Touching his control device one last time, he yelled into his microphone. "Elizabeth! I'm ready!"

---

Elizabeth's single eyebrow cut a high arc. "That's great, Rodney. To do what?"

"The shield. It's not big enough but it is moveable. For quite a long way."

"It's moveable. What does that get us?"

"A broom." Rodney was rubbing his palms together; beads of sweat stood out on his brow. "A really big broom."

Daniel nodded slowly, encouraging Rodney to elaborate. "Okaaaaay. How?"

"Just like I said. I'll use it to push the debris away. It's only about as big as Atlantis but if I can get two or three passes out of it --"

"Rodney!" Elizabeth's voice cut over the mic. "Push it WHERE?"

"Farther away, obviously. I think I can get it out of the planet's orbital track and hopefully closer to the sun so it will fall toward the sun and not toward us. The calculations I've made of the sun's gravitational pull are loosely based on --"

"Now, Rodney?"

"Yes. Now. Just tell them to move!"

---

John hissed as the silent jumper slid past again.

"That's easy for him to say," he muttered darkly, even as his hands were twisting his craft around again for another pass.

"We've got it," said Kasyanov's lazy voice as the little craft pushed in between them and held.

"Yeah, but if we don't move exactly the same way at the same time we won't have it," gritted John between his teeth.

"Let's go," was all Kasyanov said. No complaining, no wishing they had time to slave one craft's controls to the other. Just a let's do it.

"Fine."

---

They went a thousand kilometers before Jack's jumper slipped free, which was, frankly, farther than John would have thought they could go.

"DAMMIT!" he yelled as the little craft slipped out of the grasp he couldn't feel of his shield and Kasyanov's bumped up against the little craft.

"Where are you?" Park's voice. A small, quiet voice in his ear.

John sent the coordinates, spun around to try to grab again.

---

Park sent the coordinates to Rodney.

---

"Not good enough. NOT GOOD ENOUGH! Jack. I know you can hear me. Please. I'm begging you. Please. You've got to get out of range. Don't do this to me, Jack."

"I didn't know."

Jack's voice, quiet, solo, landed lightly in everyone's ear.

"I know. I know. But you're doing it. You're leaving me." Heedless of who was listening, Rodney's hand shook over the rigged slider control, waiting, waiting to do this. "That *is* what you're doing. I trusted you."

"I know."

"This is what I need, Jack. I need you to fly out of the way so I can get rid of the rest of the rock. Understand? I need that. I *need* it. Please?"

"I never... I never thought I would..."

"Yes you did. You knew it. You tried not to but you knew. Please don't leave."

Rodney's eyes closed. He couldn't stand looking at his own shaking hand any more. "Please, Jack."

---

Jack's hands came down off his head again. His fingers felt asleep.

The grey was gone, the crumbling round edges of his grave, all gone. He didn't know where they'd gone, but then hey, he hadn't really known where they'd come from, so that probably didn't matter.

As his hands settled around the controls he noticed they felt cold. The controls.

How long had it been since he'd touched them?

---

"Colonel. We need you to fly to these coordinates. Colonel."

Elizabeth's hands were gripped on the back of Park's chair, her fingernails white.

A brown hand fluttered at the edge of her vision.

Her head snapped around. It was Bates.

His eyes were fiery serious and fixed on her.

"He'll be all right, ma'am," said Bates. "The force is with him."

"I hope so, Sergeant." Elizabeth turned back toward Park. "Colonel, do you see the coordinates?"

But her hand crept out and took Bates' and squeezed it.

---

"Yes," said Jack, his eyes focusing on the screen in front of him.

There was a heavy sigh in his ear, and John's voice said, "Great. Let's go now, shall we?"

There was a pause of only a second before he added, "You first, Colonel."

Oh. Sure.

Jack made the jumper accelerate.

---

"NOW, Rodney!"

Park's scream squealed through all their earpieces but no one paused to complain.

---

Rodney slid an Ancient crystal into its place. His hand slid the control.

Above Atlantis its fractured, punctured shield materialized.

As it slid through space it shoved the massive roiling rock in front of it.

For all the world like a ghostly electrical broom.

---

Sparks were flying like rockets around the lab.

Several bounced off of the clear column that contained Lieutenant Ford and lay dying, glowing, on the floor.

"SHIT!" screamed Kavanagh, covering his head with both hands.

"Oh, it's just a capacitor," muttered Rodney, watching Daniel pat out some small flames on his shirt.

"Rodney?"

"Just a second, Elizabeth..."

---

All throughout Atlantis the lights dimmed and under their feet Atlantis groaned.

---

"RODNEY!"

"Yes, Elizabeth, what does it look like from there?"

"I don't know. The sensor display has gone dead. So have most of the displays, actually. What happened?"

"We called on a lot of the available power," Rodney said weakly, looking around as if waiting for something, or someone, to materialize out of thin air.

"Communications are still up," said Park's small voice.

---

Kasyanov and Teresa stared out at the sky. The massive rockscape was gone. Scattered rubble, from specks to fist-rocks to car-sized bits, rolled along here and there in the emptiness of space.

"Wow," said Teresa.

---

John touched his headset. "Colonel? Are you ready to report back to base?"

"Base?"

"Yes, base," said Elizabeth's voice. "It's still here. Thank you. I know we're all happy about that. Could you come back here now please?"

"Sure," said Jack, spinning the little jumper around toward the blue planet.

---

Rodney, Daniel, and Elizabeth all entered the jumper bay at a run.

Teresa and Kasyanov were already out and standing there just staring at the Colonel's jumper.

"He won't open the door," Teresa said, tears dripping off her frustrated pink nose.

Across the bay John leaned in the shadows cast by his own jumper, scowling at nothing in particular.

Elizabeth touched her headset. "Colonel? Are you intending to come out?"

The door opened.

Jack sat in the back, arms on his knees, head bowed.

He looked straight at Rodney.

Who entered the jumper and waved everyone else away.

"Just fuck off," he muttered under his breath as he closed the jumper's door again.

And stood for a moment.

Then he sat, his legs folding awkwardly as he sat cross-legged on the jumper's floor at Jack's feet.

And folded his hands over his mouth.

But he couldn't sit still.

Rodney pushed himself up to his knees, reached out towards Jack.

His hand stopped. "Is it --"

"You don't have to ask," Jack rasped.

Rodney's hands took on a life of their own, running over Jack's cheekbones, his hair, the edges of his ears, his shoulders, before clasping around his back.

Rodney shoved his way between Jack's knees, squeezing him so tightly that he heard Jack's vertebrae pop.

"Okay, okay," Rodney mumbled brokenly as he shoved his face into Jack's neck, "can I just ask, what the fuck was that?"

"I don't know. I didn't know. I'm sorry."

Jack let his arms fall comfortably around Rodney. Rodney was so big and solid; his hair was so oddly short.

And his shoulders started to shake as Rodney muffled his sobs in Jack's shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Don't be... well, but you should be... ah hell. I don't know. You scared me so badly. So badly."

Jack held him until he stopped shaking, Jack's shirt was quite wet on the shoulder, and Jack thought perhaps he had found his voice.

"Ba'al.... had me.... a long time."

Rodney stopped moving.

"When I got back I found out there were... even worse things."

Rodney's arms tightened.

"Ever since I just put one foot in front of the other. I can't... touch things, I lose... track of my hands, I just... keep putting one foot in front of the other. You see?"

"Okay." Rodney still hadn't moved.

"I don't think I was even surprised to see Ba'al here. He's everywhere, after all. And then there were... things to do and we did them and then there were other things to do and I didn't... think, I didn't have to think, just walk."

Jack moved a hand up to cup the back of Rodney's head, his fingers ruffling through the short hairs there. "I just walked into a wall, it surprised me, it came out of nowhere."

He pulled back so he could look into Rodney's eyes, which was a mistake, because they knifed into his gut.

"I didn't mean to hurt you," Jack said softly. "I would never."

Rodney's jaw was jutting out even as his eyes told all about the pain. "You almost hurt me a hell of a lot worse than Daniel ever did."

Startled, Jack blinked, and his eyes came back from far away.

Rodney just nodded. "Not that I mean that you had to come back for me, it's not like you have to be --"

Jack's hands slid around to hold Rodney's head still. Rodney stopped talking.

"I didn't do you any favors by coming back."

Jack's voice sounded hollow.

"Rodney, I don't know what I need. But it's huge. So huge. You can't - it's big and it's empty and you're not gonna be able to fix it."

Rodney's eyebrows furrowed in a puzzled expression but his hands tangled in Jack's shirt and hung on.

"Colonel, I can fix anything."

They looked at each other for a while.

"I can't tell if you're serious," Jack finally said.

"Why on earth wouldn't I be?" Rodney answered.

"I think," said Jack slowly, "that you meant for me to know there was something in the world to look forward to." He paused. "Was that real? I didn't dream that, right?"

And Rodney's eyes lost a little of their painful depth and Jack could breath a little easier.

Rodney nodded, a tiny movement with his head in Jack's hands. "Real. I swear to you. I was there. *You* were there. All real."

Jack just nodded back.

"Thank you," he said.

Rodney swallowed and he raised a hand to cover one of Jack's. "Don't you want to get out of this jumper?" he asked in his usual Rodney voice.

"Yes." Jack nodded, sounding and feeling quite serious, even as something about the normal tone of Rodney's voice lightened the tumbling stone in his chest a little bit.

***

<span class="style5"><em>Under a Broken Moon, part 10 </em>

A slight fog of quiet lay over Atlantis.

It was always quiet in the late hours, those new hours that no one quite knew what to do with. Some people slept through them. Some people had odd bouts of insomnia, their bodies confused by a circadian clock that they weren't set to. Long about twenty-six hundred people tended to be wandering around looking for a snack, drinking water, staring at the ceiling, staring at lovers sprawled inexplicably asleep in their beds, and tended to think, perhaps a little too much, about the homes they'd left behind.

A lucky few slept.

Daniel wasn't sleeping; Daniel wasn't dreaming. He sat on the floor in the lab, his bare back striped with cold metal from whatever he was leaning on, some piece of lab equipment that had never been designed to be leaned on.

The stone floor was cool against his rear, too, the coolness bleeding through the fabric of his trousers.

It was always cool.

Perhaps that contributed to the constant sense of suspended animation.

"I've been wondering," Daniel said conversationally to Ford's still form, "which one of us is more damaged."

He shifted his position a little; his back was starting to hurt.

He waved a hand toward Ford. "I mean, you look it. I'm sorry to tell you this, Ford, but you don't look good. You look like some very bad things have happened to you. Of course, that's because they *have*."

Daniel cocked his head.

"Is it worse," he said aloud, wondering, "to not look like what you feel like inside? I'm asking. I really can't tell. I wish I could say you look like I feel like. You don't. You look better, really."

Daniel rubbed his eyes.

"But I can't really say that, even if you can't hear me. You don't look good, and you might never get better. That sucks for you a lot worse than it does for me.

"Kate says I will get better. I don't really believe her, but she's smart and she may know more about me than I do. I can't really tell that either.

"So I'm supposed to be getting better, while you stay suspended in time." Daniel licked his slightly chapped lips as he looked up at Ford's silent, gently quizzical expression. "That doesn't seem fair to me. It probably doesn't seem fair to you, either. Kate says it's all right if I'm glad, somewhere, that I ended up like this and not like you. But it seems fucked up to me, since I hate what I've ended up as, too.

"But maybe that doesn't matter.

"Maybe that's all I really needed to learn. That fair doesn't matter and right doesn't matter either. It is what it is, as they say. I am what I am. And you, my friend, are screwed."

Daniel's knees clicked as he suddenly sprang up off the floor, laying his hand flat against Ford's column.

"We're not going to forget about you, Ford. I know it looks sometimes like we are, or we will. We won't. *I* won't. Maybe fair doesn't matter. Maybe I'm not supposed to dwell on the fact that I deserve to be where you are and you don't. But it doesn't seem right to me and I'm not letting it go."

He tapped his fingertips against the clear surface.

"Just so you know," he said softly.

And he wandered out, bare feet slapping against the smooth cool floor.

He decided to check out the kitchen. He was a little hungry.

---

John handed his piece of paper, torn out of one of the scientists' precious notebooks, over the desk to Elizabeth.

She barely needed to glance at it to know what it was.

"John, I don't really need to remind you that this mission needs you, do I?"

"I'm not a slave to that, Elizabeth. I'm sorry. I'll still be where you can find me if you need me."

"John." Her mouth quirked a little as she looked up at him and he thought for a horrible second that she was going to cry, but no, in the next moment it was okay, it was just a slightly crooked smile. "We need you."

"I mean, if it's an emergency."

This time she half-laughed. Again John had a flashing impression of someone on the edge of hysteria, but it was just a flash, and then there was Elizabeth, calm, cool, dignified. "In case you haven't noticed, it's been an emergency since we got here."

"Elizabeth. Look. You could probably guilt me into staying. But trust me. You wouldn't like it." There was a green flash in his jungle-colored eyes and Elizabeth believed him. "I'm a free adult, you can't stop me. But just so you know. I hate it here. I mean, I. HATE. it."

"Why don't you at least spend some time with Kate, see if the situation doesn't improve?"

"What for?" John spread his hands. "I've been down that road. I've changed as much of me as I think I can change, just for a job I'm not sure I even want any more. I'm not sure I *ever* wanted it. I've spent my whole life becoming whatever I needed to be to do what others needed me to do. And you know where that road leads?" He waved a forefinger around in a circle indicating the roof over his head. "Hell," he said, meaning it.

"Okay, well, it's not entirely about keeping you here, John. It's also about helping you, helping you cope if nothing else."

"No it isn't. It's about making me into the person you thought you wanted to bring with you. Sorry I can't be him. But if it's a choice between a year of crying on Kate's shoulder just so I can pretend to be him for a little while longer, and doing something entirely different, leading an entirely different life, guess what, I choose door number two."

Elizabeth nodded, her lips folding thin as she looked at the handwritten resignation letter. "I understand."

John's eyes were piercing, forcing her to look up again. "Do you?" he asked her.

"No," she answered promptly. "But I hear you, and I believe you. I think after a while you'd get to be more yourself, the person you were before you came through that Gate. But I can understand that you don't want to wait to find out. Life is, after all, short." She said the last with a little twist of her lips that John also couldn't interpret.

"Thank you," he said softly.

They looked at each other, him standing, her sitting, the flat cold table between them, and John had a feeling that somehow this was an odd way for them to end up, that there was more here than he knew or understood, that he was walking away from something bigger than he realized.

It was only a second of doubt.

In the next instant, when he looked away from her huge shadowed eyes and saw the walls of Atlantis, he thought to himself, in just a few minutes, I'll be out of here for good. And at that thought a heavy, cold weight in his chest lifted. And he knew it was the right answer.

He'd been in Atlantis for seventy hours.

It was seventy hours too long.

---

Rodney's fingers tapped on the keys in an uneven rhythm. Occasionally bursts of thoughts trickled out through his hands. He was tracing the damaged power paths, finding ways to reroute power, to bypass, if not repair, what he'd most recently done to Atlantis.

From moment to moment, though, he couldn't prevent his thoughts from injecting very separate images into his mind. Images of long feet, muscular, hairy thighs, shockingly strong biceps, or silver-and-dark hair.

Images that made his hands twitch and his eyes drift, even if only for a moment, with thoughts that had nothing to do with Atlantis' power systems.

Oh jesus. He was falling in love with a straight guy. He knew it.

"You," he told his laptop, "are one fucked up guy."

"I don't know, I think your laptop seems to have its personal thing together," said a soft, laughing voice behind him.

Rodney cast an eye back but kept working. "Hello, Daniel. What do you need?"

"I came by to show you something."

"Yes? What?" Spinning on his chair, Rodney turned to face Daniel.

"Here," and Daniel captured Rodney's hands in his own.

"This is important stuff I'm doing, Daniel, I don't actually have time to play games --"

Daniel's hands were moving Rodney's under the edge of his T-shirt, splaying Rodney's fingers out against his ribs.

"What the hell are you doing -- Hey!"

Rodney's smile was broad, sudden, and sunny. Daniel returned it.

"Hey!" Rodney said again, his fingers exploring on their own. "These ribs are a lot less riblike than I remember them being."

"Indeed."

Rodney watched his hands moving under the t-shirt, spreading, exploring. There was flesh on the bones. Not enough, but some.

He looked up at Daniel looking down at him. A relaxed, smiling Daniel.

And suddenly remembered: he was touching Daniel.

Rodney's smile flickered out and faded. But Daniel's just stayed.

"It's okay," said Daniel softly. "It's okay."

And then, just because Rodney was looking at him with those doubtful, worried, sky-colored eyes, Daniel dipped his head and kissed him.

It was easy to let his hands splayed over Daniel's ribs slide back along that smooth, hot skin to Daniel's back. Rodney didn't think it, he did it. Even as his eyes were closing and his mouth was opening and fireworks were going off in his brain because oh, Daniel, kissing.

And Daniel kissed him back, really kissed him back, stroking all the inside of his mouth, tongue fighting with Rodney's, while his hands cupped the back of Rodney's head and oh. Daniel. Kissing.

Until Rodney felt himself starting to melt and something went off in his brain and he ripped himself away.

"Hey!" he said in a much different tone, a half-angry inflection to it. "What the hell is that now?"

"A kiss," Daniel said quietly, licking at Rodney's lips. "You forget what a kiss is like?"

"Okay, Daniel, I'm --" Rodney stopped. "Well, it's --" Stopped again. "Look. What about Jack?"

"I have nothing against Jack," said Daniel, and, twisting his hand in the front of Rodney's tunic, pulled him up and out of his seat so he could kiss him again.

Wait, wait, Rodney's brain was thinking but Oh, yeah, the rest of him was thinking as Daniel's hands and mouth latched on to him and licked in to him just as if they knew the personal name of every molecule in his body. It was too easy, too familiar.

Not right.

Rodney managed to pull himself away, managed to ignore the racing of his pulse and the stirring in his groin and the butterflies in his belly because, oh. Daniel.

"Sorry," said Rodney. "I'm otherwise occupied."

Daniel got the frowny triangle in between his brows, the one that meant he didn't know what he'd just heard. "Occupied?" he asked. "Now you're a room?"

"Just... sorry, Daniel."

Thinking, thinking hard, Daniel stared at Rodney's face, watched the working of Rodney's jaw, Rodney's mouth. "That's... okay," Daniel said finally. "I'm not going anywhere."

Rodney watched Daniel's beautiful back walking away thinking He still needs to gain a lot more weight and thinking Oh god oh god oh god.

Because in his head a little noise was playing. His voice saying ...

"You're old-fashioned, you're monogamous, you're straight, you're military, you're a lot of things that are pretty far from Daniel's lifestyle, of course you don't understand him."

And Jack's voice saying back,

"Well, you got three out of four right."

Oh. Oh my. Rodney had forgotten.

Maybe he wasn't falling in love with a straight guy after all.

Then he remembered the night he'd - the night he'd.

Jack had wanted to see. *Him*.

Rodney grinned a big stupid grin.

Then he stopped.

Old-fashioned. Monogamous. *Military*.

He looked in the direction Daniel had taken.

"Oh, this is not good."

---

"Sergeant, how long will all this last?"

Elizabeth was staring over the bags of what everyone had taken to calling "oatmeal". There was a lot. A *lot*.

"There's no vermin in Atlantis," said Bates, eyeing the bags of oatmeal balefully, as if one of them might pull a gun at any time. "And the cool temperatures seem to be good for it. Nothing has sprouted or molded in the whole time we've been here. We could be looking at an indefinite storage situation."

Elizabeth found herself looking at Bates' eyes. He looked like anyone else. Something had changed, something, for sure. The old Bates was still in there. No one else could make food storage sound like a seige.

"Thank you." Starving to death, Elizabeth realized, was a very real threat. They could be sleeping on sleeping bags on cold floors but Bates was scrounging, repurposing, tracking, storing. Bates couldn't be trusted to bear arms any more but he was doing his bit, making this all more bearable for all of them.

Maybe more than most.

Maybe more than her.

"Thank you," she said again, and his eyes met hers as he looked up.

Oh my God, Elizabeth thought to himself. He isn't crazy. He's just on *fire*.

The flamelike ghost of a determined, strong man flashed in his eyes and she suddenly felt the need to grab on, to hold on.

He blinked, and she blinked. And his hand, one of his hands was trapped, crushed, in both of hers.

"Sorry," she said, a little breathless. She didn't know what that was.

Maybe regret, she thought wildly. Maybe hope. Maybe just insanity is catching.

"That's all right," he said very seriously, nodding at her. "Everyone needs to hang on once in a while."

Elizabeth felt the hysterial tears bubbling up, welling up like a tapped oil geyser, thick and black in her throat, but once again she swallowed them. She wasn't allowed to lose control.

She was allowed to cry. But she'd do that back in her room.

But Bates was right. He should know that. "You are right, Sergeant. Thank you for hanging on. And letting me hang on too."

---

John made the jumper swoop a little, a celebratory swirl, before he landed it in the clearing beyond the Athosian village.

It wasn't in his nature to yell.

Still, as he got closer to the buildings on foot, his legs carrying him as lightly as a blown leaf over the ground, he couldn't stop the sound from rising up in him, couldn't stop himself from letting out the low cry that rose in pitch and volume too, too fast.

"TeyyyLAAA!"

"John!" She appeared in one of the doorways and he got a goofy grin, he knew it would look goofy but she didn't care, she liked him, she loved him, and she was still here and wasn't that a miracle? He'd half-expected to find her dead, broken body lying on the ground, Ba'al bent over her.

Those were pictures from the past, he thought to himself as he wrapped his arms around her and lifted her up, not caring if he seemed goofy, not caring if this wasn't cool or wasn't the way the Athosians did things, not caring about anything but the feeling of Teyla, laughing with joy to see him, squeezing him back just as hard as he was squeezing her.

---

Kavanagh shook his head as he displayed the figures for Elizabeth. "The seismic activity isn't slowing down, it's still increasing," he said, tapping peaks there, there, and there with his fingertips. "We have no idea how long it will take this planet to adjust to its new gravity situation."

"What about the wave detection system?"

Rodney squinched his lips. "Sadly, not working as well as the seismometers. They just aren't designed to detect the movement of mass as light as water."

"Well." Elizabeth looked around. The rest of the science crew was still looking at her. They didn't seem worried, and Elizabeth took that as a good sign. When the scientists weren't worried, things were probably about as good as they could be. "Let's see what we can do about improving it, or building something new. The Ancients may have needed something similar at one point - this is a watery planet. Let's keep looking.

"Meanwhile, we need to vary our food source and we need a ZPM."

A wave of rustling went over the group.

She smiled at them. "Had you forgotten? We need one to dial home."

They looked at each other, some expressions blank, some surprised.

Elizabeth wanted to hug each and every one of them.

"Ladies and gentlemen." They all looked at her: a sea of questioning eyes. "Do not doubt it for a minute. We will get home. And you're going to get us there. We need to find a ZPM. I'd like some ideas from all of you about the best way to locate one."

"Or build one," Rodney said thoughtfully, one finger tapping his chin, arms folded protectively across his chest.

"Or build one," Elizabeth agreed. "It's just the first day of the next new challenge, people. Don't doubt it. You'll do it. I know."

---

Teyla sat with her legs carefully folded under her.

John sat with his legs sprawled out in front of him.

Each of them with a back to a wall. Regarding each other across the room.

"I can't believe you never told me this before."

Teyla bowed her head. "I'm sorry. I thought it was... obvious."

"Teyla." John's eyes stayed on her but he shook his head, slowly, back and forth. "I can't go back there. Not even for you."

"I am not asking you to. I am only saying..."

"What? All the Athosians want to go to Atlantis? Is that the new deal?"

"Not all."

"What? Just you? That's just perfect, isn't it?"

"There will be a handful. A small group. We are discussing now who should go."

He was still shaking his head, his lips pursing, looking angry, disapproving, disbelieving. "I can't believe this. This is what I came back for? I'll stay here and you'll go there?" His face did not break; he would never break. He was so strong, so much stronger than he realized. But he was angry too, and she could see it flashing behind his eyes as he said, "I can't be that any more."

Her face shifted and she went to him and sat in his lap, her legs wrapping around his waist. The time for well-behaved maneuvers was over; she was going to cling to him if she felt like it.

"And if this is what you need to be, then be it," she told him softly. "But you have made a mistake. This is not what my people are. We are hunters and traders. We are not farmers. We farm here so that we may all survive - those in Atlantis and those here. But none of us are farmers. And we must return to the Gate, and begin to travel through it again, if we are to have what we all need, not just to survive, but to live."

"Fine." His voice was harsh but he buried his face in her neck, clutching her against him. "Fine," he said again, sounding a little more like he meant it.

She rocked him for a while.

"Hey, I get this," John finally said. "I'm Athosian now, right? So you're my leader too. Wherever you say to go, I'll go."

She tightened her arms around his neck. He had not stayed away from Atlantis for months for no reason. He would not go back now for no reason - and she would not ask him to. "It need not be like that, John."

He laughed, a little harshly. "What, you think I'm going to stay here and hoe turnips while you travel to other worlds? You think I'm going to stay here, wondering if you'll ever come back? No. I won't do it."

"I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself."

"I didn't say you weren't. Just... if you can't come back, I want to be where you are."

Her eyes closed and she stroked a hand over his hair.

After a moment he breathed lightly into her hair, rubbing his face against her cheek. "At least you didn't try to tell me something lame, like that you'd always come back."

"No." She smiled against his neck. "I would never tell you anything lame."

"Okay. Look. This can work. Just -- just, let's be based here, okay? I've got the jumper - Weir will probably let me keep it. We go to Atlantis just to go through the gate. We live here. Okay?"

"Okay," said Teyla softly in his ear, glad she could at least give him that.

---

When Jack came into the room Rodney was already on the bed, feet bare, laptop balanced on his thighs.

It was so much like that other night that Jack stopped, unsure what he should say or do.

But Rodney didn't put away the laptop. He looked up, smiled at Jack, then went back to tapping.

Jack was fine with the fact that there seemed to be a moratorium on discussing the night that he'd gotten back. The night that he'd spent just wrapped around Rodney. Rodney couldn't possibly have slept; but Jack had slept, for almost fourteen hours.

He wondered if he should be changing the dosage of his pills, or something.

"How was your day?" Rodney asked without looking up.

Oh. Yeah. Normal questions.

"Well, I got officially put on medical leave, whatever that stuff was they tried to serve for lunch sucked big-time, and I realized about an hour ago that I put my underwear on inside-out this morning. Is that a thing crazy people do? Wandering around all day with their underwear on inside out?"

Jack was desperately worried that Rodney would say something reassuring, something predictable, something fake.

But all Rodney said was "Probably," never taking his eyes or his fingers from his computer.

Jack felt his breath whoosh out. It was such a relief. Such a relief. If everyone else was going to treat him differently now, it would be bearable, he could survive it, as long as Rodney didn't treat him any differently.

He looked at Rodney, watched his eyes move back and forth across the screen. Rodney read fast. He wrote fast. He built fast and he worried fast.

Jack knew at least one thing Rodney did slow.

Feeling himself in serious danger of doing something unforgiveably teenager-ish, Jack went into the bathroom, stripping off his overshirt as he went.

He left the door open as he brushed his teeth, flossed them, washed his face and hands.

He looked in the mirror. It was an old, old man who looked back at him. A man with a long life behind him - most of it wasted, pointless, and wrong.

But there was someone waiting in this old man's bed.

That was worth something, wasn't it?

Maybe that meant he was worth something.

Jack smiled a little at his reflection.

"Nah," he told himself, throwing the towel at his own face, and went back to the bedroom.

He looked at Rodney typing away.

Rolling gently on to the bed, he deliberately and carefully lay so that he could balance his head on Rodney's thigh, just below the edge of the laptop.

It didn't quite want to work. Rodney's thigh was tall. Rodney froze but Jack tilted himself up, stripped off his T-shirt, and balled it up under his neck as he laid his head down again.

Yep.

Perfect height.

The tapping started again, then stopped again.

Jack felt Rodney's fingers settle lightly on his hair, then scrape gently through it, a soothing, slightly electric sensation.

The kind he was rapidly coming to associate with Rodney.

---

Rodney looked down at his own blunt fingers stroking through Jack's short salt and pepper hair.

It was so soft. Softer than anyone could have imagined.

Rodney closed his eyes and swallowed. Jack's bare chest, sprinkled with the same salt and pepper hair - some curling, coarse hairs dark, some sparkling silver - was right there, just beyond the reach of his hand.

He had a sudden, totally predictable urge to rub his hands all over that chest. He wanted to taste that skin. He wanted to hear Jack's voice moaning, feel Jack's muscles pulsing, but more than anything else he wanted to see Jack smile.

But he wasn't sure what he was supposed to say or do. The night before a soldier went off into battle was one thing. A Tuesday evening with nothing special about it was something else entirely.

Jack still hadn't said anything.

And aside from the first night, which he'd spent clinging to Rodney like a limpet - a sensation Rodney never wanted to repeat, no one as big and strong as Jack should ever tremble that much - Jack hadn't done anything either.

Straight guy, Rodney told himself again, mentally kicking himself, even as he let his fingers stray down to trace the edges of Jack's ear. Straight guys don't --

Rodney had a sudden flashback. The sensation of a hard, silky soft muscle sliding deep inside him, rubbing and filling --

Dammit. Daniel.

"Uh, Jack."

Jack didn't even open his eyes. "What?"

He looked quiet. Peaceful.

Rodney liked him peaceful.

"Nothing," said Rodney.

A few more moments of quiet went by. Rodney felt quite comfortable letting his fingers touch where they wanted to, and Jack just lay there, quietly breathing, his hands folded across his stomach.

His gorgeous stomach --

"Rodney."

Rodney jumped. Thoughts straying. Yikes.

"What?" he asked Jack back.

"I like this," Jack said. And his eyes opened and he looked backwards and upside down at Rodney. And instead of a tower of muscle and bone he suddenly looked a bit like dark, scratched glass.

Rodney figured he was safe; Jack wasn't going to notice the developing tightness of Rodney's trousers.

And, Rodney knew, nothing would give away the way his heart was melting a little bit more.

"I like this too," he told Jack.

---

Elizabeth expected a morning filled with everyone's detailed reports of whatever they couldn't figure out how to deal with.

She didn't figure it out for them, but for most of them, just telling her about it helped them figure out what to do next.

She didn't expect a morning with visitors in it.

She smiled. Sunnily.

"Well. This is a surprise."

John just saluted, two fingers to his brow. "Don't I know it."

"And... Teyla, isn't it?"

Teyla's face was serious. She bowed formally. "Dr. Weir," she said just as formally. "We have a... proposal to discuss with you."

---

"Just how temporary is it?"

Elizabeth felt her mouth opening. Rodney sometimes had that effect on her. She gathered her thoughts enough to say, "I don't know how long it might last, if that's what you're asking, Rodney. But the definition of temporary is not permanent."

Daniel's eyebrows rose. "Actually the definition of temporary is --"

"--in this case: not permanent." The look in Elizabeth's eyes shut Daniel up. He subsided.

"And why don't the Major and Teyla just join our team?" Rodney sounded still displeased.

"Teyla is not asking to join the Atlantis expedition," Elizabeth said carefully. "The Athosians want to use the Gate. We have no reason to deny them access to it."

"But they'll be trading for Atlantis as well as for themselves." Teresa, too, had her brows pulled together, lanky elbows scattered on the table as she leaned intently toward Elizabeth.

"We are all inhabitants of this planet now, are we not?" Teyla raised a sculpted eyebrow.

"We are not inhabitants of this planet," Elizabeth said firmly. "But this expedition is based here, and the investigation of Atlantis remains our first priority - after survival."

"The seismic situation may make Atlantis itself unstable eventually. Just as much as it may endanger the Athosian settlement. Tsunamis." Kavanagh pointed out. Rodney glared at him but Kavanagh just shrugged.

"All the more reason to continue to investigating the city. But we need food and supplies, and we need a ZPM, or we'll never be able to report our findings home."

Rodney shook his head. "It doesn't make any sense. Okay, so Teyla should lead an Athosian team. But her, Kavanagh, and the Major? That's an Athosian team with only one Athosian on it."

"Uh, two." John waved his fingers. Rodney glared at him, too. Which was fine with John; he was beginning to feel left out, Rodney had glared at everyone so far.

"We will have another member of our settlement join the team, someone to give the team an imposing presence."

"Hey! I'm not imposing?" Sheppard tried to look hurt but it was hard for him to look hurt at Teyla.

"You are our pilot."

"Yeah, fine." Teresa's elbows were still sprawled across the table but her eyes were boring into Teyla's. "And Kasyanov's ours. Kasyanov, Rodney, Daniel, and me, that's *our* away team. As in, Atlantis doesn't need another away team."

"But *we*... the Athosians... do." John looked mildly at Teresa but his jaw muscle flexed.

Teresa just looked at Elizabeth. "And what does the Colonel think?"

"The Colonel is on medical leave. I will inform our staff when he returns to duty. In the meantime, Sergeant Jones... Captain Kasyanov is the ranking military officer of your team."

"Me?" Kasyanov's brown eyes opened wide, startled. "Ma'am, I've never had a combat command."

"Well, congratulations. You've got a great team to start with."

Daniel caught Rodney's eye. They had an exchanged conversation of short, subtle facial expressions. Elizabeth saw it but ignored it.

Teyla pressed for the closure. "So we have an agreement?"

"Of course. We have no reason to deny you access to the Gate. It belongs to all of us equally - or, I should say, to our expedition as much as to your community." Elizabeth's tone was smooth, suave, and agreeable, and rather at odds with the set of her expression. "In other words, fine, you've got our Major and our Gate. Is there anything else you might like? We don't have a lot but I think you might be interested in some of the clothes. Or I have a pair of fuzzy slippers."

Teyla inclined her head. "The cooperation between our two peoples is critical to the survival of all of us. We all appreciate it."

Elizabeth bent her neck, not unlike an irritated, spirited horse trying not to toss its head. "We are grateful for all the food you've provided over the last few months, and we hope you consider our protection, medical supplies, and transportation to the Gate a fair trade. We hope we can share as equally in any resources you succeed in locating through the Gate."

"I am sure we can."

For a moment Teyla and Elizabeth regarded each other.

"What, doesn't anyone care what I think about this?" Kavanagh mustered, sensing that the conversation was over.

"No," said Rodney.

---

"So, should I just sit here?"

"Certainly. We don't actually have a couch, although I think you'll find those usually in movies."

"Okey doke."

Quiet.

"Then what happens?"

"Well, is there something you want to talk about?"

"Nope."

"How are you finding your medical leave?"

Silence.

"Are you spending some of your downtime with Rodney?"

Silence.

"That relationship seems very important to you."

Silence.

"It must be a big step for you, given your military background."

Silence.

"That's okay, Colonel. Really. We'll find something to talk about. I'm just happy that you're here. I'm really, really happy that you're here."

---

"Miko? Are you covering the second shift?"

Miko's voice through the headset. "Dammit! I'm sorry, Park. I forgot I said I would do it. I'll be right there."

"It's okay. I can cover for a while."

"Are you on by yourself? Dammit. We're so short-handed."

"Yes. But I can do it."

"I'm really sorry, hon. Just give me a few. I need to throw my clothes back on. I'll be right there."

"No problem."

Park cut the connection. She rolled her chair back, just a pace or two, so she could look at the front of the console.

Where there was a plaque. Engraved. She'd never gotten to ask him how he'd gotten it engraved, who'd done it for him.

The Park Jin Wu Memorial Console.

She stroked it, wondering if any vestiges of Peter's fingerprints still remained on it. Probably on the other side of the metal, protected from the ravages of time and people brushing up against it.

She wondered if Peter really had minded it when she'd rattled on, about the awful food, the awful situation they were in, the awful world in general. Or just about her hair.

She really didn't think so.

"You were wrong, Peter. We can do without you, you were right about that. But that doesn't mean we didn't need you."

Just then, Atlantis *rocked*.

The board lit up and voices flooded Park's ear.

The Colonel's emergency procedures were etched in her brain. Automatically she went through the steps. Her voice, calm, soft, announcing over the city's public address system, "Atlantis has experienced a wave event. Please check in with communications and report your status. Medical emergencies first, if there are any; status of inventory and supplies second, please. Senior staff report to the control bridge conference room."

Elizabeth Weir hit the control room first. Her eyes went straight to Park. "If it's not one thing it's another, eh?" she said with a wry smile. "Situation?"

Park almost flashed a grin. "Situation normal, Doctor, all fucked up." As Elizabeth laughed, Park started to recite the information that was pouring in her ears and eyes, connected, as she was, to the heart of Atlantis and everyone in it.

END

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