Title: In A Vacuum
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis, NCIS
Genre: Crossover, Drama, First Time, Hurt/Comfort, Romance, Slash
Relationship(s): John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, Tony DiNozzo/Ronon Dex
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Indirect Mention of Child Abuse
Author Notes: Huge thanks to my awesome artist, Mizu Sage, who made such a beautiful book cover. It’s a fabulous visual of my story and adds so much! Thanks also to my beta NCP, you’ve the patience of a saint. FYI- Timeline Shenanigans: I shifted SGA a couple of weeks to line up better with SWAK, gave Tony 6 weeks to recover post plague, and compressed the time between some events in NCIS to make it fit the story arc.I also hand-waved away the existence of Landry and left O’Neill in charge
Word Count: 62,595
Summary: Weir abandons Atlantis in order to ascend, John and Rodney clean up her mess while ignoring their feelings for each other, and Tony uses his renewed friendship with Lt. Col. Sheppard to cope with life in DC and escape NCIS. Somehow, it all leads to a better Atlantis, steamy McShep, ZPMs, and Ronon checking out the hot new Agent Afloat.
Artist: Mizu Sage
It had become almost routine for Tony to walk into the bullpen and scan for threats as he took his seat. Well, maybe not threats per say. Not the same type he would face in the field. Whether he meant from the perps he would be chasing or the people who’d be at his back, he didn’t explore. Because, down that road there be dragons, DiNozzo, he whispered to himself as he sat and opened the notes he had made the day before.
He had plenty of monsters to deal with in the file before him and plenty more where they came from. Nodding to himself, he dug back into the cold case, enjoying the quiet of a near-empty bullpen at 0630. He never even heard Gibbs arrive a half hour later and head up to MTAC. The arrival of McGee an hour after that, startled him out of the world of a missing nineteen-year-old Airmen and broken pigeon coops, of all things.
After nodding at the younger man, Tony turned back to his notes. The pieces were coming together and he could almost see the picture they were forming clearly enough to whittle down his list of suspects. Tim, unsurprisingly, did not say anything until Ziva arrived a few minutes later. It was easy enough to tune out their conversation, though, as he had had ample practice in the two weeks since his injury, and he quickly lost himself to the cold case.
DiNozzo had spent most of every day since being assigned to desk duty by his doctor buried in cold cases and the type of administrative work that would normally make him go stir crazy. He was, however, surprisingly okay with that. There had been satisfaction in closing multiple cases that hadn’t seen movement in months if not years. There had also been backbiting and snide comments peppered throughout, courtesy of his increasingly annoying teammates. But there hadn’t been any shots fired in his direction so he figured it evened out.
Tony blinked and sat back in his chair. Maybe he was getting old. He certainly sounded old and tired in his own head. Soon enough he would be going to bed at eight and telling new agents about when he was their age. Shaking off that cheerful thought, he stared some more at his file, then gingerly stretched his still healing arm and typed in new search parameters. He scanned through the results as they started to come in, barely acknowledging when Gibbs returned from MTAC and snapped out that there was a body as the man strode to the elevator without a glance in his direction.
He still felt as if he should be frustrated and envious watching his team grab their bags and head out to a new case without him. But instead of being eager to get back in the field, he felt relieved to stay where he was. In fact, he could almost admit that he was kind of dreading going back out with Ziva and McGee as his backup. If he were completely honest, he was even uncomfortable with Gibbs on his six.
Through the former Marine’s attitude and lack of action, Gibbs had been almost encouraging Ziva and Tim’s insubordination and disrespect towards Tony and he had found his mind, and his eyes, straying to the section of the agency network that housed the HR forms nearly every time he logged in. There was something every day that caused him to wonder if it were time to move on.
There had been days, he admitted as he made his way to the lab, where even Abby was getting on his nerves with her exuberant and forceful desire for him to be the happy-go-lucky frat boy he had been. Today was not one of the days that he even tried to don that mask, however.
Tony grimaced as he finally caught the goth’s attention and got her to turn her music down below ear-splitting. “Hey Abs. Anything on those prints I sent through yesterday?”
She waved a hand towards him as she skipped over to a microscope and continued examining something brown and gelatinous that he really didn’t want to define. “A search came back a bit ago with some results but I haven’t checked yet to see who’s it is. I’ll put an email together on it later so if it’s yours you should have it this afternoon. I’m waiting to see what Gibbs and the team have for me when they get back.”
He just blinked. There were a couple ways he could take that statement. He chose to ignore the one that implied she was just keeping herself busy until the important stuff came in, i.e. something from Gibbs. Obviously she wasn’t twiddling her thumbs, so surely it wasn’t any reflection on his case or anyone else’s that she was putting off the unknown print results in favor of waiting to see if the MCRT would need her.
His grin was a little stiff when he charmingly asked after the case associated with the gloop she was examining, hoping to get an idea how long it would be before she might get around to that email. Which would also depend on what the rest of the team found wherever they were going.
When he had first started regularly working cold cases he had assumed her prioritizing of evidence was only determined based on active cases versus cold cases, which had made sense. Then one day while the rest of the MCRT was out on a case, he had made a comment to Balboa to that effect and the man had looked at him like he had the intelligence of a sea monkey. Abby would probably look at him similarly now if he asked her to glance through the print results for him since he was there anyway.
Instead, after finishing her recap of what he had now dubbed the Brown Snot Case, she looked at him like he was a naughty toddler she had been determined to indulge for her own amusement. One she was prepared to give a light spanking in order to ensure he eventually came to heel, based on her exasperated sigh.
“I see your desk duty is up in a few days. Ready to get back to work?”
His smile stiffened a little more. Tony tried his best to infuse some excitement into hi voice. “Well, after so many cold cases, it will certainly be a change to get back out in the field next week.”
That the change would not be a good one didn’t show outwardly at all, but he could feel the internal acknowledgement settle like lead in his stomach. Nothing at all showed on his face when Abby’s voice turned scolding.
“You know, Tony, you deserve a break as much as anyone. But you can’t let a little scratch prevent you from contributing to the team.” She bounced a little on her toes and gave a teasing growl as if they were playing drill sergeant and irksome recruit, then nodded sharply with another smile and patted him on the head as she skipped back over to her microscope. Literally patted him on the head.
Green eyes blinked several times in quick succession before he took note of her blatant dismissal and left to return to his desk with an expression so blank it almost hurt to wear. But nothing hurt so much to wear as his too-small Very Special Agent suit, and by the time he had made it back to his desk – without the print results – he had decided he needed to start a clock.
Yes, he needed a countdown on how long he was going to try and stretch that suit back out to fit again. And in the meantime, he was going to plug ahead with the other puzzle pieces until he heard about those prints. Because while the others obviously thought he was taking it easy and goofing around, he still had a job to do and a case of his own to solve.
The case kept his mind busy while he was at the office that day and the next until he finally solved it late Friday afternoon. He had just enough time to file the paperwork after seeing the Naval officer safely ensconced in the brig by way of a very satisfying conversation with the captain of the ship on which the man currently served.
According to Captain Newland, the Lieutenant had been shocked dumb by the realization that his crime from so many years ago had been uncovered and was coming back to haunt him. Really dumb. So dumb he had tried to steal a recently landed aircraft off the carrier in order to escape. Armed with a section of broken arresting cable off the deck, no less. Tony shook his head as he closed out the file so he could head home for the weekend.
It would be nice to have a few more days to himself before he was returned to full field duty. If nothing else he could get some grocery shopping done and enjoy a few uninterrupted hours dedicated to nothing other than his ongoing attempts to ferret out a few more pieces of the mental puzzle that would explain what kind of case or cases John was dealing with. Not to mention what kind of a base he was actually stationed at that would necessitate the military commander to be so hands on with investigations.
Because he was obviously trying to conduct them at least partially himself, which told the seasoned agent that the mysterious base A, did not have the Air Force version of an Agent Afloat, and B, that the MPs on the base were either short staffed, incompetent, or for whatever reason had not earned their CO’s trust.
He already knew, of course, that his friend’s posting was too classified for him to ever be able to get a real picture, but the fuzzy image he was forming would be enough to better help the Colonel when he wrote with another random investigative query or another vague, round-about venting session. Which he did, happily dolling out some of the professional tricks he had picked up over the years before doing a little venting of his own.
In the email he typed up that Sunday while distracting himself from the task of repacking his go bag to take with him to the office the next day, he made an offhand comment that if not for the scarred state of his lungs, he would request to go Afloat just to get away from the office drama that was awaiting him. He was only half joking and more than a little tempted over the next month and a half to explore the interagency notice board for potential openings outside of the Navy Yard.
Then shit got blown up. Literally. At least a ship did, with Gibbs on it. Gibbs survived. His memory did not. Tony almost wished his hadn’t either. But wishing was a fool’s errand and he was simply too busy to waste time on those. He had a case to solve.
Then a new job to take on.
That certainly kept him busy, but it also made him a bit hopeful. With things changing so much, he thought as he juggled paperwork one night – long after the rest of the bullpen had emptied out – maybe he could shape that to his advantage. And maybe he could regain his love for the job and the respect of his team.
Well, he could possibly rediscover his dedication to solving crime as team leader, and in the process he might rebuild the MCRT into a functional and effective team. He tried to keep his ridiculous goals at least somewhat plausible, after all. And a love for NCIS and respect from Tim and Ziva was not a ridiculous goal. It was life on another planet, in another galaxy, in another dimension. Since that wasn’t on tap, he would find something here in reality.
And if he couldn’t, he would just find something else entirely.
But first, he had to email John because the man simply would not believe what that Master Chief the day before had used to try and hide his heroine from the scent dogs onboard ship. He rubbed his hands together as he waited for his laptop to boot up. If he worded this email just right, it could give John and Rodney something to snark at each other about for days. He had come to learn exactly how important snarking at each other was, so he was determined to create the perfect canvas for them to do so.
– – – – –
John finally found Rodney sitting on the edge of the pier. Letting out a sigh, he dropped down next to his friend and wordlessly offered him a cold beer. As soon as it had been taken, he got one for himself out of the bag he’d set down on his other side. He had taken two long drinks before the scientist spoke.
“I talked to Miko today. Her team finally decrypted another set of files off Weir’s computer. Looks like there’s just one more set of encryptions to get through to be able to read the rest. She thinks it’ll be another week or two. Three at the most.”
John nodded, but stayed silent. He knew that on the few occasions that Rodney was hesitant to speak up, asking questions just annoyed him to the point of avoiding the subject entirely. He had learned after their first six months on the city to just give the other man time to talk at his own pace. So he didn’t ask what information had been found, or why discussing it with Kusanagi had bothered the CSO so much. He just silently finished his beer and got them both out another one.
After taking the offered can, McKay just held it, perching it on his knee without bothering to take a drink, or even open it. His first words were so soft John wasn’t even sure he wasn’t talking to himself.
“It’s like she thought she lived in some kind of vacuum where nothing she did effected anyone else.” Rodney fell silent again, just staring off at the water for several minutes before talking at a more audible volume.
“She spent those three days after using the ascension machine reading through and reorganizing the Ancient database. She made it searchable. Probably so she could read more about becoming a stupid glowing ball of tentacles.”
The calm and reasonable tone – which coming out of Rodney sounded foreign and off-putting if he were completely honest – trailed off as the CSO finally opened his beer and swallowed half of it down in one long drink.
“She didn’t leave any notes at all on what she did. Didn’t so much as set a delayed message to let us know how to use that damn thing. We’ve been struggling to find stuff in that mess since day one.” Finally, familiar indignation colored his words as they grew louder.
John let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and leaned back on one hand so he could better see the now angry face of his best friend.
“There are fucking fixes in those files, Sheppard. Fixes and repairs for systems we have been fighting to make work all this time. And upgrades! There are a dozen different ways to upgrade power distribution in the city that will extend the life of our Zed-PM for months. Months! And we are just now finding them because that stupid selfish soft-science moron locked them away on her computer.”
The furious resentment in the scientist’s voice almost covered the underlying tone of hurt. As much as they had learned about Weir’s actions and inactions over the five months since she had abandoned the city, as angry as they both were with her, he was pretty sure a sliver of respect for the job Elizabeth had done on Atlantis had remained inside his friend. It was painful to hear that respect die and become replaced by a lingering sense of betrayal. Yet John was positive that was exactly what was happening.
Speaking for the first time since he had joined Rodney on the pier, John leaned sideways just enough to nudge McKay’s shoulder with his own. “Anything I can do to help get those upgrades and stuff done, just let me know, buddy.”
Rodney leaned back, turning to face the soldier with a look of abstract horror. “Are you insane? I can barely keep my own idiot minions from blowing us all up with their stupidity! I’m not letting your stupid fluffy-haired ass anywhere near this!”
“Ah, come on, Rodney. I can do some of the math or something.” The horrified expression did not lessen in the slightest and the laugh he had been holding in finally broke loose.
John’s hysterical amusement and the irritated shouts it prompted from the CSO drifted towards the city for nearly half an hour as the two friends shared the remaining beers and shed the long and frustrating day.
– – – – –
Rodney McKay had been hurt and pissed and horrified when he had seen the information Weir had gotten out of the Ancient database and locked away on her computer. He had barely resisted throwing the computer against a wall when Miko had shown it to him two weeks before. But as he sat in her office again and stared at the screen, even his huge brain couldn’t come up with the words to describe how furious and disgusted he was.
He swallowed hard, twice, then cleared his throat. “Right. Okay. I assume you’ve already sent me copies?”
“Yes,” the petite computer scientist responded hesitantly, “I have sent the data to you and Colonel Caldwell.”
The CSO nodded sharply. “Right. Thank you. I will tell Zalenka myself. Is there anything else?”
Her eyes narrowed slightly for a moment before she answered. “No, Dr. McKay. This is the last set of files to be decrypted from Dr. Weir’s computer.”
“Right. Thank you.”
He nodded again and stood. If he had been less upset he would have found it amusing how suspicious she was acting at his uncharacteristically polite behavior. As it was, he was entirely too preoccupied to care as he made his way to his lab and composed a short email to Zalenka updating him on the new information and laying out a proposed schedule and list of tasks to address.
He barely noticed any of the other scientists who came to his door only to take one look at him and turn right back around without saying a word. He only briefly glanced at Radek’s response, most of which wasn’t in English. He hardly even registered when his teammate and friend arrived an hour after dinner started being served with an exasperated expression and a tray of food.
The tray landing on the desk beside his computer finally broke him out of his preoccupation with the new data. Blinking a few times to clear his strained eyes, he darted a surprised glance up at the slightly taller man.
“Eat, McKay,” the soldier demanded, crossing his arms and standing back from the desk. The scientist opened his mouth to respond but he was cut off before he could say a word. “You haven’t had anything since breakfast. Eat.”
Blue eyes narrowed but the sight of the food had him feeling suddenly ravenous so he just huffed and took a big bite of the sandwich with a glare. He chewed angrily in silence then huffed again. “There, happy?”
John rolled his eyes but seemed to relax a little when the scientist took another bite. “Thrilled.”
A few minutes passed in silence while Rodney ate the meal and did his best to ignore the computer screen in front of him. His efforts were not as subtle as he thought, apparently, since he earned a pointedly lifted brow when Sheppard glanced back and forth between his friend and the laptop he had been absorbed in only minutes before.
“What’s kept you so buried that you didn’t even surface for a snack, anyway?”
He didn’t have the patience to explain, so he just shoved back away from the desk and waved his hand at the computer, shoving his last bite of food in his mouth and chewing with more force than necessary. Sheppard stepped into the open space he’d left and leaned forward to read what was on the screen.
Rodney could see the moment he realized what he was seeing. The military commander jerked back, then braced himself with both hands on the desk and leaned a few inches closer, as if proximity would make the information clearer. When John stepped back and turned to him with an incredulous expression, it was Rodney’s turn to arch a single brow and cross his arms.
He waited for a smart assed comment, but all the soldier managed was to open and close his mouth a few times without any sound coming out. Eventually he decided to go ahead and answer the question John couldn’t manage to ask.
“Remember how Miko said it looked like she was poking into the containment vessel Jinto found? The one that trapped the energy creature in subspace so the Ancients could study it in their wacko search for ascension? Well, it turns out the information was connected to two larger files in the database. One file concerned ascension, and that’s the one she spent her time on. The other file it looks like she discarded as unimportant. It deals with storing different types of energy in subspace, as well as storing subspace energy, and zero-point energy, in a vacuum.”
“Storing zero-point energy in a vacuum,” he repeated tonelessly. “You mean like a ZPM does?”
“Exactly like that.”
“Are you telling me that Elizabeth Weir found information in the Ancient database that explains how ZPMs work and she tossed it aside and didn’t tell anyone about it?”
Rodney didn’t answer. He didn’t have to, the impotent rage on his face spoke for him. Sheppard spun away from the desk, cursing. “How the fuck? Shit. When the hell did she fucking find this, McKay?”
“Miko says it was encrypted a few months before she fucked off in her glowing tentacled blob of suicidal stupidity.” The scientist waved his hand in the general direction of what had been Weir’s office, then tossed his sandwich wrapper in the trash and pushed his chair back over in front of his desk.
“It doesn’t explain how to actually create a ZedPM, of course. But what I’ve gotten through so far looks like it may well act as a blueprint for charging one. Though the process appears to require some specific equipment and circumstances that don’t exist here on Lantea.”
“Meaning what? You can’t make it work?”
McKay glared. “I didn’t say I couldn’t do it, Colonel. I said it can’t be done here.”
“So it can be done somewhere else?” came the slightly impatient response.
“The assumption would be that the handy ‘Gate address in the files leads to a planet in this galaxy where the Ancients left what would amount to a charging station, yes.” He held up a hand to forestall the comment he could see forming. “We won’t actually know until we check it out. And before we do that, we’ll have to go through every bit of information in this file, dissect it, run it through a few simulators, and then check our results against whatever we find when we get there.”
“What? Why can’t we go to the address and check it out now?”
“Because this isn’t hide and go seek the fully charged ZedPM, flyboy. This is energy production on a level so advanced a misstep in a single calculation could blow up the facility, the planet it’s built on, and the solar system it happens to be in. The Ancients weren’t exactly known for putting all their super dangerous toys back away all neat and tidy and safe when they were done playing with them.”
The scientist took a long deep breath. “I refuse to approach another abandoned Ancient outpost on this scale without an understanding of what they did and how the facility functions.”
He wasn’t looking, was in fact staring very fixedly at his computer, but he heard the sharp intake of breath as Sheppard hissed out the name of the last place they found that housed an Ancient outpost this powerful. They hadn’t understood what the Ancient scientists had done there, and despite a firm grasp on how it should have worked, the CSO hadn’t had time to find out exactly how it did work.
Rodney couldn’t help but wince at the reminder. For all the crazy horrible things that had happened while he had worked for the SGC, what happened on Doranda was probably among the most fucked up. The way Elizabeth and the others had seemed to hold him personally responsible for the illogical failure of the Ancients’ abandoned project was something else.
Even John had, at first, acted disappointed in him personally for what happened. Though thankfully, Sheppard had come to him only an hour after they returned to the city to apologize. To be completely honest he wasn’t sure how their friendship might have fared if that hadn’t been the case. As it stood, listening to the soldier stumble through what sounded like another apology now was unraveling a tight coil of hurt and resentment he hadn’t even known was still there.
“Shit. Look, Rodney, I know Arcturus was… I mean, Caldwell and I both… Carter proved that it should have worked and you didn’t… Fuck. What I mean is we had no right to say or imply that you failed in some way. I had no right. You acted on scientific principles and information that should have allowed you to do exactly what you were trying to do. I overreacted to a situation that was very stressful for everyone and I, well, I didn’t handle the potential loss very well at all.”
“Relax Colonel, even tough guys like you are allowed to be freaked out when a fabulous potential weapon and most of the solar system housing it is blown up, okay?”
“It wasn’t the solar system, or the weapon, I was afraid to loose, Rodney,” came his quiet and strangely subdued response.
A lot more than a vague feeling of lingering hurt uncoiled in his gut, leaving the normally outspoken man completely speechless. Not that John Sheppard hadn’t ever rendered him speechless before. The first time he had realized he felt more than simple physical attraction for the fluffy-haired fly-boy, the soldier had turned him from terrified rambling to determined silence.
No one and nothing had been able to calm him down and allow him to focus on a problem in the face of certain death the way Sheppard had with a few pain-filled words the day their jumper had gotten caught in the ‘Gate. Getting over the shock of that had distracted him from the realization that he had been more scared watching the Major die with an alien bug on his neck than he had been at the idea that they would all be exposed to space when the ‘Gate closed on the trapped jumper.
After returning safely to the city, he had freaked out in the privacy of his own quarters, but it had been more about his feelings for the devil-may-care dare-devil than about nearly dying. He’d worked for the SGC for years after all, and threat of imminent death hadn’t been wholly unknown to him at that point.
Once he came to terms with his ridiculous crush he had settled in fairly well. Even if he was occasionally prompted to do things like go to the infirmary for a splinter just so he could stay with a foolishly brave soldier who was being treated for a serious cut and blood loss after exposure to an experimental retrovirus.
Hearing that same man imply he had been afraid of loosing him more so than a powerful Ancient weapon or most of a solar system left the scientist once more feeling the urge to begin another terrified ramble.
“I- I… John,” he said on a heavy exhale.
John just stood calmly, one corner of his mouth curling upward in an annoyingly attractive half-smirk that was softened by the way he gently laid a few fingers on Rodney’s fluttering hands. “Go ahead and do what you need to. Figure out all the genius amazing science you need to know. I’ll make arrangements for when we go check out the address.”
McKay couldn’t force out a single word but Sheppard didn’t look like he was waiting for any kind of response. He just smiled and got ready to leave the lab. When the soldier reached the doorway, he turned back and spoke quietly.
“Just let me know when you’re ready to go forward, Rodney. Whenever you’re ready.”
Rodney stood staring at the empty doorway for several minutes before he turned back to his computer. Because, even with his difficulties in reading body language and social cues, he knew the search for a ZedPM charging station wasn’t the only thing John had been talking about.
– – – – –
The keys missed the table entirely as he tried to place them there on his way into his apartment. As the door clicked shut behind him, Tony just stared at the keys where they had landed on the floor. He simply did not have the energy to pick them up. Instead, he left them where they fell and stumbled past the couch and into his bedroom where he allowed himself to fall face first onto the mattress. He didn’t even spare the brainpower to laugh at the melodrama of the move. He was already asleep.
Tony was sure he probably would have been even more melodramatic and slept through the entire next day if not for the alarm he had thought to set on his phone before he left the office. As it was, he was pathetically hallow-eyed when he forced himself back to his desk by 0800. He had been trying to arrive by six or seven each day to get a jumpstart on the mounds of paperwork. Including the reports that were supposed to be completed by the SFA but which Tim had refused to do, with the insistence that Tony was just foisting off his own work.
Even getting out of bed by 0700 had been a chore that morning, however, as he had been working nonstop for three days trying to find a set of missing seven-year-olds. Locating the twins hiding in a small snow-covered fort deep in the woods behind their house had been the best possible end to the investigation and the relief had been as exhausting as the search had been. Even with the place kitted out for a midwinter slumber party, the fact that they had only suffered dehydration and exposure, had been almost unbelievable. Thank fuck for space heaters and indulgent parents was all he could say.
When they had first been called in days before, after the girls’ parents had been discovered shot in their bedroom, Tony had been sure that the outcome would be far different. He could still feel the stark relief of seeing the little girls snug in hospital beds, with their grandparents holding their hands under the blankets. He could still feel the satisfaction of watching the inebriated killer slump on the concrete bench of the cell Tony himself had shoved him into less than four hours before. Those feelings helped get him through his morning routine and into the office but they didn’t take him much further.
A weary, and fading, determination to do his best by the agency he had once loved was all he had left until the fifth cup of coffee finally started catching up with his lack of sleep. At this rate he would be ordering it by the gallon by the time the month was complete. Tony rubbed a hand over his face and watched the words of the form in front of him blur into an indistinguishable combination of white and grey. He simply could not keep doing this without something changing.
His gaze wandered listlessly over his desk and all the other papers that nearly covered it. Amongst all the forms and reports and printouts were the official reprimands he had written up earlier in the week and which he planned to turn in by the end of the day for inclusion in Tim and Ziva’s employment files. He was pretty sure that no one on the MCRT had received a formal reprimand in all the time that Gibbs had been lead agent. It was something he just didn’t do. He hadn’t really needed to.
But Tony was not the least bit comfortable even thinking of slapping Tim or Ziva in the back of the head when they talked back or ignored an order. So he had to use a more traditional means of discipline, and verbal warnings and admonishments were not working, no matter how he had phrased or delivered them. He had tried to be patient, to give them a couple weeks to get used to the idea of Gibbs being gone and settle into the team with him in charge. This was the next step, he just had to take it.
He pinched the bridge of his nose and turned his attention away from the spot he was pretty sure the slips were hiding under a pile of overdue expense reports. He definitely needed to be a little more clear-headed to tackle that task. Maybe he would occupy himself another way while he had some more coffee.
Green eyes flicked across his desk yet again until they landed on the manuscript he, Ziva and Abby had been given the day before. When Tim had started bragging about the novel he was having published, the goth had excitedly badgered him until the budding author had finally forked over a few copies.
Deep Six: The Continuing Adventures of L.J. Tibbs, by Thom E. Gemcity
The title gave him a less than pleasant sensation but he got up, poured himself more awful coffee, and opened it to the first page. Once he started reading, he found himself unable to stop. He knew there was an incredulous, almost disgusted expression on his face as he turned page after page, but it was like watching a train wreck. He just couldn’t look away, no matter how much he wanted to.
The sudden ringing of his phone broke his concentration an hour later. Absently, he glanced around at the other nearby desks, unsurprised to see that neither Tim nor Ziva had made it in yet. They were late on a normal day and having worked so late the night before he knew they would probably be out until almost lunch time.
“Special Agent DiNozzo speaking.” He was actually relieved that his voice came out normal. Even more so, when the voice on the other end informed him that the director wanted to see him.
“Yes, tell her I will be right up,” he stated politely. Anything would be better than more of that horrifying piece of literature, Tony thought as he climbed the stairs to the mezzanine. Shaking his head to dispel the lingering mental image of the scene he had been reading, he flashed a tired but charming smile at the director’s secretary.
“Go on in, Agent DiNozzo, Director Shepard is waiting for you.”
Tony nodded his thanks and entered the office, sitting down when asked and giving the woman his full attention.
He resisted the urge to raise a brow in surprise at the use of his first name and just smiled. “Director.”
“Thank you for coming. I will make this quick. I am starting an operation in about a week’s time that requires an agent to work undercover. It is a very sensitive and important op and I naturally thought of you.”
– – – – –
Tony made his way out of the Director’s office with a smooth, even gait. He briefly returned a few greetings on his way down the stairs and kept his gaze resolutely away from the manuscript on the edge of his desk as he rounded it. It was the matter of a few minutes work to organize and clean up his desktop, even whilst ignoring the piece of so-called fiction.
Tim’s book had made it clear exactly what the junior agent thought of Tony. Or Tommy the inept and arrogant man whore, as he was called in his shinny new book. The more than two years that Tony had spent training McGee had apparently not made a big enough impact on the younger man’s investigative prowess. The junior agent still couldn’t recognize or accept that Tony was not just the frat boy he portrayed so often at work. Even after blatant evidence to the contrary he apparently didn’t see any other facet to Tony’s personality.
With more than enough energy in that moment to spare for the reprimands, the lead of the MCRT filled them out and filed them in short order. Because he sure as hell wasn’t going to let that task go, no matter what else he now needed to do. As soon as he was done, however, his thoughts drifted right back to that damn book.
Even common sense that a person didn’t always behave the same at all times in all places seemed beyond Tim. Hell, Tony hadn’t even played more than a handful of pranks or made more than a dozen jokes since he’d recovered from the plague almost six months before. Yet, based on the book Tim still saw him not only as one dimensional, but as the most insulting interpretation possible of his playboy side. All the junior agent seemed to think Tony knew how to do was leer at women and play pranks.
The Director obviously thought something similar as she was dismissive of his difficulties with the team and very confident that he would agree to fucking whore himself on behalf of the agency by going undercover to seduce a woman who appeared to have no working knowledge of her father’s illicit activities. A clown or a promiscuous flirt, those were his perceived uses to NCIS. Fucking women and being an immature ass were his acknowledged skillsets.
Tony surveyed his tidy desk in silence, then got started. Every movement was slow and controlled, because if he let himself, he would be throwing shit around. Definitely throwing his shit into a box to take with him right out the door. Instead, he carefully brought up a new document and typed several politely worded sentences. Next he opened a folder he had slowly been filling over the last several months and sent each file to the appropriate recipient.
Then he logged into the report system and accessed another form, one he had glanced at often over the last year and filled in all the blanks. He barely even had to think about the answers, plugging them in the appropriate spots almost by memory.
He had looked at that form far too many times, he acknowledged, and just that fact alone should have told him it was time to fill it out and move on. He clicked a few buttons, sending the form to the internal server then waited for the pages to print. However long he had taken to recognize how ready he was to leave, he saw it now. He almost wondered how long it would take the others to see the neat stack in the middle of his desk.
As he picked up the papers from the printer and signed his name at the bottom of each one, he realized he just didn’t care. By the time they recognized the truth, he would be long gone and he sure as hell wasn’t looking back.
The very last thing Jenny Shepard had clearly expected to find in her office when she came back from lunch two weeks after Gibbs had tendered his retirement was the Secretary of the Navy, Phillip Davenport. She stood for a moment, apparently speechless, in her own doorway before she seemed to gather herself and offered a smile.
“Secretary Davenport,” she acknowledged as she put away her purse and settled in behind her desk.
He nodded, “Director Sheppard,” and took a seat in one of the comfortable chairs positioned around a small table on the other side of the room.
Another moment of silence passed before she stood and stiffly moved around her desk and over to a chair across from him. “What can I do for you this afternoon, sir?”
He stared at her for long seconds, then spoke. “I would say that you could explain to me what exactly you were thinking putting a foreign intelligence operative on my elite investigative team with too much access and no real oversight, but frankly I have come to the point where I don’t care what you were thinking. I am here to inform you that it stops. Now. Ziva David is no longer a Liaison Officer with NCIS.”
She almost reared back in her seat at his first sentence, then leaned forward with a mulish expression as he continued. Once he finished, she immediately began speaking, ignoring his last statement entirely.
“When I became the director of this agency, I was given leave to manage its staffing and its interaction with other agencies through the course of my duties. That includes those in other countries. Ziva David is a valuable member of my top team and has what she needs to fulfill the duties I assigned to her. Including appropriate access to information and files as required. As for a lack of oversight, Gibbs is more than capable of keeping an eye on a single liaison officer under his direct command.”
Phillip raised a single brow. “Gibbs? The amnesiac former agent who just ran off to Mexico? I have my doubts as to his ability to currently monitor a foreign operative, Jenny. I have my doubts as to his, and your, ability to have monitored a foreign operative. She’s been accessing confidential data since the beginning, Shepard. With the so-called appropriate access you fucking gave her.”
Now it was his turn to lean forward with a stormy expression. “Not to mention all the cases and evidence that are going to be a pain in the ass to keep from getting thrown out when they go to court. This mess is not the job I assigned to you, Director. I would say you’re going to get it cleaned up, but frankly I don’t trust you to do so and neither does Secretary Marsten.”
Davenport’s eyes narrowed. “You should have known that quid-pro-quo with Eli David was not going to go in your favor. Though I am interested in what you thought you were getting out of this that was worth what you gave. Because we both know it wasn’t a better working relationship with Mossad. NCIS doesn’t have enough crossover with them to warrant a liaison position.”
Jenny sputtered. “The relationship between NCIS and Mossad was tenuous at best after Agent Todd’s death-”
He cut her off with a sharp motion of his hand and an even sharper tone. “I am aware of the problems left in the wake of the shooting of Agent Todd. But their double agent went off the rails and killed one of our agents, Shepard. If anyone should be going out of their way to foster a better relationship between our agencies it sure as hell isn’t us!”
She opened her mouth to make what was sure to be a reply her career would not thank her for – though if you asked Phillip her career was pretty much on its last legs anyway – when the phone on the desk began to ring. Strangely, Davenport’s face cleared of the anger that had been prominent a moment ago.
“You needn’t bother, Jenny. That will no doubt be Eli David.” The man glanced at his watch calmly. “He’s just been informed by Secretary Marsten that he will be recalling his daughter from her position here, effective immediately.”
Shepard opened her mouth, expression clearly indignant, but he cut her off before she started. “I already told you that the SecDef and myself didn’t trust you to clean up this mess. We’ve done it for you, though it would seem even we may have come too late to the party.”
He tossed a file onto the table between them, gesturing for her to look at it when she only managed to stare at the white edges of a few pages that had started to spill out upon landing. Once she had picked up the file and opened it, he leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest.
“That is the list of the various confidential and classified files that David has accessed in her tenure here. Files which had no connection to any case she or the MCRT worked, and which she not only accessed, but downloaded and sent to an untraceable account outside this agency.”
Jenny paled beneath her carefully applied makeup, her eyes wide as she leafed quickly through the pages. Then she stacked them neatly in their file, closed it, and set it on the table before raising both hands to cover her face.
Phillip barely refrained from rolling his eyes as he sat and watched Director Shepard come to grips with the situation.
– – – – –
John stared at his email in silence for several moments, not quite sure he could believe what he was seeing. Before he had a chance to read through the message for the third time, there was a chime at his door and then McKay was there, standing beside his desk and smiling at him. It hadn’t been wishful thinking, then, he thought. The scientists’ words confirmed it.
“Did you read Tony’s email? I just got to it. You wouldn’t believe the level of ineptitude going on in geology this week. I’ve had to shut down three different experiments because the idiots apparently love rocks so much they’ve decided to use them to replace their own grey matter. But your jock friend apparently has regained some of his mind because he quit that shrine to backwards governmental donkey brains that he worked for and rejoined the ranks of the sane and only mildly stupid.”
He felt a smile spreading across his own face in response to his friend’s enthusiasm. And of course, the news that Tony had resigned from NCIS and used his accrued vacation time in place of his two weeks notice. The vague mention of turning in the appropriate paperwork to assuage his conscience worried him a little because he was fairly sure he knew what it meant, but the message was still a relief.
“I just read it myself. But yeah, buddy, I think it’s great. In fact, I think this calls for a celebration. What do you say to team movie night with lots of popcorn and beer and cinematic explosions?”
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Is that really your go-to for everything? You can’t think of any better way to celebrate than with movies and beer?”
John had a sudden image of a way to celebrate that in no way involved beer or movies, but did in fact involve Rodney very, very much. He figured something must have shown on his face because the scientist froze in place, blue eyes growing wide on a noisy inhalation of breath. Sheppard tensed in response, just watching the other man blink silently, McKay’s breathing growing just a little more rapid than normal. The soldier swallowed, hard, his fists clenching against the urge to pull the other man against him, to touch him, to kiss him.
John reminded himself several times that he had told his friend to let him know when he was ready for more. He had implied that he would wait for as long as needed for the scientist to be ready. He had not intended to in any way push or even tempt Rodney to respond to his indirect personal invitation before the scientist decided to on his own. John was determined to leave the ball completely in the other man’s court.
So he cleared his throat and forced himself to sound as casual as possible. “Don’t try and avoid getting the beer, McKay. I’ll pick the video and tell the others, but I brought the drinks last time so it’s your turn.”
Rodney took a deep breath and nodded a shade too rapidly, his voice coming out uneven and breathy in a way that made John’s pulse race. “I’ll bring the drinks, but if Back to the Future in on the TV when I get here, you’re forfeiting all the beers that would be for you.”
The few words they exchanged before splitting off to complete their assigned tasks were stilted and short. Less than a minute later, the military commander was headed to the gym Ronon normally used. The sound of flesh hitting flesh told him that his teammate and friend was there, so he settled himself just inside the doorway to watch the rest of the sparring session and let his heart beat slow to a reasonable pace. Eventually the Marine stayed on the floor where the younger man had thrown him and the Satedan looked up to meet his gaze.
“Sheppard,” Ronon said in that tone that could be as much invitation as challenge.
John took it as both, crossed the distance between them and tossed a towel to each of the former combatants. The Marine wiped his face with a thankful expression before fleeing the gym. Ronon grunted and cleaned his face halfheartedly.
“Feel like a movie tonight, Chewy? There’ll be beer and popcorn and awesomeness,” he sang happily.
A single brow lifted in question. “You’re happy.”
The lingering tension from his slip-up with Rodney dissolved at the reminder of the reason for the impromptu movie night. He didn’t even try to keep the smirk from overtaking his face. Another Marine started to enter the gym but seemed to take one look at his CO’s expression, turned right back around, and left without a word. John barely took notice of the junior officer, instead rocking back on his heels with a wider grin.
“Yep. Got good news.”
The eyebrow rose back up, though the younger man still didn’t look overly interested as he started putting away the equipment he had used that day. The soldier’s next words seemed to bring his focus unerringly to the conversation.
“Tony left NCIS.”
“Your Earth friend quit his horrible job?” Ronon immediately clarified.
“Yep,” he answered with a bit more enjoyment than the situation warranted. He always found the Satedan’s interest in his stories about Tony to be amusing. And Ronon had been interested in every story since the first time John and Rodney had discussed the Agent’s emails in front of him.
Sheppard had never figured out what that interest had stemmed from. Maybe it had been the snipping sessions Tony’s emails always incited, or the fact that he always had what Ronon considered strange and entertaining Earth tales about his friend. Or perhaps something about Tony himself had come across in those stories and caught the former Runner’s attention in some way.
Whatever it was about Tony that captured him, the younger man readily agreed to the celebratory evening, and John left the gym. He went looking for Teyla with a wide smile that had the Marines in his path eyeing him with trepidation as he passed. The smile only grew larger as the day wore on and refused to leave his face throughout the meal and movie the team shared. Sheppard was still grinning when the two Pegasus natives left his quarters that night.
The expression faded a bit when he noticed Rodney avoiding his gaze and fiddling almost nervously with the beer bottles he was collecting from around the room. The soldier watched a little closer than necessary as he dumped the un-popped kernels from their popcorn bowls. When the empty bottles and bowls were stacked on the edge of the mostly unused desk, ready for disposal in the morning, the scientist shuffled in place.
John couldn’t help but let his happy smile soften as he watched McKay stuff his hands into his pockets and look away. He couldn’t help but give his friend a small verbal poke. “So, McKay, you ready for bed or are you going to tidy up my room for me first?”
Rodney stilled, took a deep breath and met the soldier’s gaze head on. “I’m ready.”
The calm, deliberate tone, the steady blue gaze, both grabbed the military commander’s attention like a punch to the gut. Green eyes flicked over the familiar features, taking note of the serious and seemingly determined expression. John inhaled sharply, taking a step forward before he’d given himself permission to actually do it. He had to force himself to stop and instead stay still.
The urge to assume the CSO was answering the not quite spoken question he had posed twenty four days before was almost overwhelming. He felt a light sweat break out on the back of his neck but he stayed still and silent. At least he did for about half a minute when he blurted out in a voice he would never admit was almost breathless, “What are you ready for, Rodney?”
He could see the other man’s adam’s apple bob as the astrophysicist swallowed. He could see the pink tip of his tongue dart out as the man licked his lips and opened his mouth to respond. He could see the slight sheen of saliva on his lips as he tried to speak but failed. He could see McKay’s chest rise and fall on several deep breaths before a frustrated sound broke the silence and he was suddenly seeing his friend swiftly close the distance between them.
John could see nothing as he let his eyes fall shut at the unbelievable sensation of Rodney’s fingers in his hair and Rodney’s lips on his. He kissed the scientist back with more force than he had intended. But Sheppard couldn’t stop. He wrapped both arms around McKay and took a few stumbled steps forward to catch them when his enthusiasm nearly sent the other man onto his ass.
Just to make sure that the delectable asset was unharmed by its would-be collision, the pilot allowed one hand to drift down past the waist he was now clutching. When John finally gripped one ass cheek, another sound joined the heavy breaths that had filled the room. Hearing Rodney moan caused him to do the same and the kiss only grew more heated. With the same vehemence with which the friends often argued, their tongues battled back and forth in a much more pleasurable fashion.
He let his head rest against the other man’s brow when they finally paused to catch their breath. “Fuck, Rodney,” John groaned in a voice he barely even recognized as his own.
Rodney must not have minded the way he sounded, because he had barely gotten out both words before the scientist was surging against him again with an almost broken sound. He lost himself in the taste of his friend, a taste he never really thought he would ever get to learn. He glutted himself on it, on Rodney. His lips and tongue mapped every hot, wet corner of the other man’s mouth, then he dragged them hungrily down McKay’s neck until the collar of his shirt got in the way.
He let out a frustrated sound that must have somehow communicated exactly what he wanted, because in the next instant, Rodney was tearing his shirt over his head to give him more delicious skin to explore. One part of his brain registered the sweep of hands as they dove beneath his top, he even distantly heard the breathy demands for the shirt’s removal. But he was far too focused on kissing his way through the light dusting of hair on McKay’s chest to comprehend what was being said.
The tug on the material finally got his attention, more because it jerked him a few inches away from all that skin than because he understood the content of the impatient sounding words. He glanced briefly up into Rodney’s face but he didn’t bother to actually ask what he wanted because the temptation of latching his mouth onto one of the man’s nipples was too much to ignore.
“Damn it, Sheppard!”
The exclamation came out on a hiss as he reached his target. Several unintelligible sounds followed, causing him to moan around his hard little prize. Then a much rougher tug pulled him entirely away, prompting him to practically growl at the loss. Then the feel of his friend’s hands pushing at his shoulders broke through his haze with sobering efficiency. As much as he wanted this, as much as he wanted Rodney, this wasn’t something he could rush into with his characteristic disregard for his own safety.
Green eyes snapped to blue so quickly he almost gave himself whiplash and he searched that gaze for the confidence he needed to see. But the furrowed brow and flushed cheeks didn’t answer the question he was suddenly afraid of asking.
The astrophysicist had no such problem. “Fuck! John, take the damn shirt off.”
He grabbed the impatient hands as they pulled on the offending garment. He wanted those hands on him, wanted the familiar digits to touch every inch of him, had imagined how they would feel a hundred times, on him, in him. But he couldn’t take even the possibility that the scientist might regret this sudden development in the morning. McKay let out another frustrated noise but he ignored it. Instead, he pulled him closer, holding Rodney against him with a loose but determined grip.
He sucked in a breath and forced his swollen lips to move. “Do you want me?” he asked, fighting the urge to roll his hips as the other man pressed his hard cock against him in response.
“Yes. Fuck yes. Now get naked already,” McKay hissed.
“No,” he insisted on a groan. “Rodney, do you want me? Do you want me?”
“Seriously, do you loose all higher brain function when you get turned on? I fucking want you, John. Fuck. I want you to fuck me.”
His head fell forward on a breathless moan and he buried his face between Rodney’s neck and shoulder for one long moment. He inhaled the smell, fighting the need to kiss the warm skin, to lick and nip, and taste. “God. You’re going to fucking kill me.”
“You’ll enjoy it, I’m sure, if you’d just get your damn clothes off and get on the bed.”
Sheppard gave a pained laugh and lifted his head so he could see his friend’s face. He knew he would enjoy anything the man was willing to do to him. But he couldn’t shake that last bit of doubt that had seized him. “Are you sure this is what you want, Rodney? You have to be sure. I need you to be sure,” John pleaded as he tightened his hold briefly.
The scientist huffed, the sound comforting in its familiarity. The irritated expression that followed was just as reassuringly Rodney. “What? Of course I’m sure. If either of us should be having doubts here it’s you. You’re the one who works for a government that still imposes those ludicrous rules that could get you thrown out of your beloved Air Force if anybody figured out-”
The rest of the increasingly nervous rant was swallowed by the soldier’s mouth. But the frenzied need from before had drained out of him, leaving his movements slow and languid as he raised both hands to gently cup either side of McKay’s face before he ended the kiss. Green met blue again. “I don’t care,” he whispered as he brushed his lips briefly, softly, over the suddenly speechless mouth. “Rules or not, neither one of us like to air our personal business in public. Keeping this side of you all to myself is no hardship, Rodney.”
“John,” the scientist said the name with something that sounded almost like a whimper, his breath hitching audibly in his chest and stuttering across the soldier’s swollen lips. “I want you. I want this. Just-“
Sheppard pulled back just far enough the he could see him while Rodney choked out the rest of the words. “Just don’t let me have you, have this, if you’re going to take it away again. I don’t care if no one else knows, but I have to know you mean it.”
The soldier inhaled sharply, green eyes going wide as he very carefully lowered his hands and pulled his shirt over his head. One or both of them gasped in a breath but neither spoke as John Sheppard undressed, his eyes never leaving his lover’s face. He took off McKay’s clothing with the same unhurried care, then walked over and spread himself out on the bed the way his astrophysicist had demanded a few minutes before.
They still didn’t say a word, even as Rodney joined him on the bed, even as they kissed, even as Sheppard pulled him close and rolled them so his entire weight was pressing down on him, skin against skin.
McKay finally broke the silence, head arching against the pillows as the soldier kissed and licked his way down the bared neck. “Yes,” he cried quietly, “fuck, fuck. Yes. John, please.”
The broken plea brought his lips back to the crooked mouth he had watched and wanted so many times before. “Yes, Rodney,” he said just as quietly between kisses. “Yes. You can have me. I mean it. Have me.”
John said it again as he kissed his jaw, his neck, his shoulder. “Have me. Have me. Have me.” He said it as he kissed the tempting nipples, as he tasted a path slowly downward. “Have me. Have me, Rodney.”
“Yes,” his lover cried, no longer being quiet. “Yes. I want you.”
They spoke the words against each other’s skin, against swollen lips and into greedy mouths. “Want you. John…”
“Yes, Rodney. Yes,” Sheppard promised as he moved. “Have me, take me,” he demanded between desperate breaths. “Take all of me,” the soldier ordered as he surged forward.
Rodney just moaned, and roughly pulled John’s mouth down for a kiss, silencing him as his legs clenched around his hips with more strength than Sheppard knew he had.
– – – – –
The folder made a solid thud as it hit the desktop, almost drowning out the heavy sigh Philip Davenport gave as he sat across from his boss. “I don’t even know who owes us a drink at this point, but I’m damn sure we are due a few of them.”
The Secretary of Defense, Kyle Marsten, huffed and stepped around his desk to pull out two glasses from the sideboard behind him. “I don’t know who either, but I’m hardly going to wait for them to show up when I’ve got a few excellent vintages right here. I certainly don’t want to go back through this without a drink.”
Davenport pinched the bridge of his nose briefly, then took the glass being offered to him. “I want to say that I’m pissed that he went and quit, but honestly, that place is such a mess, I don’t think I can blame him.”
The older man lifted a single brow as he took a sip of his whiskey, causing his friend and colleague to take a deep swallow of his own. When Kyle set the glass down, Philip let his head fall onto the back of his chair, drink still firmly in hand. “Yeah, I know, when it comes down to it, that’s on me. NCIS is my agency and I obviously wasn’t paying enough attention to what Shepard was doing with it.”
Marsten didn’t say anything, but he made a grunting noise that imparted his opinion clearly enough. The SecNav huffed and took another long drink, then made an annoyed sweeping motion with the hand holding his glass. “Anyway, we’ve both got staff looking through all the peripheral things connected to what we’ve already uncovered to make sure we do know what all Shepard managed to do or let be done at NCIS. And all that will certainly help.”
Davenport nodded towards the file folder on the desk, automatically thinking about the range of reports and documentation that had been sent to them and others. “Considering the hours he was logging after Gibbs left, I’m surprised he had time to write up all that. Though I’m certainly glad he did, it’s saved us a bunch of time and shown us exactly what we need to have looked into at that place.”
“It’s obvious he’s been keeping records for quite a while. Considering when Shepard met with him that last day, he had to have put in his resignation as soon as he got out. No way he put all that together before he left. Just the stuff he sent to the Inspector General would have taken hours to organize, let alone what went to JAG.”
Philip nodded, knowing his boss was right. He would even go so far as to say that some agents would need at least a day to figure out where all those forms and reports would need to go, let alone write, organize, and send them. DiNozzo had obviously been planning on jumpstarting an internal investigation at the very least for quite a while before he had actually done so. That his actions had occurred on his way out of the door was not terribly shocking.
To many, especially a former cop, that type of action would be considered a prelude to resignation anyway since a career in law enforcement would not be easy after reporting a fellow agent for the types of things that were in those reports. And the Special Agent had gone so far as to document his concerns about the actions of the director herself, so his assumption that his job was forfeit made sense.
The question now, was how to convince DiNozzo that his assumption did not have to be his reality. “I’ve had one of my people trying to get ahold of him but I don’t know what kind of luck we’ll have on that front.”
“Is there really a detail he left out that you need, Philip?” The arched brow and incredulous tone were unnecessary for the man to interpret the question as it had been intended.
“I don’t need his input, I want him. In my employ, damn it. The type of investigator his record shows is impressive enough. But the observational and intuitive ability to pick up on all the things no one else paid attention to and put it on paper clearly enough for everyone to follow his thought process?”
Marsten nodded and took another drink. “The steel-ass morals it took to report his own damn boss certainly doesn’t hurt either.”
“Hell no. I want that man back on my payroll, one way or another.”
“Well, if he doesn’t warm up to the thought of rejoining NCIS in a traditional sense, I may have another idea that’ll have him attached to your agency in a more… tangential manner.”
“Tangential?” Davenport asked with equal parts curiosity and suspicion.
The SecDef smirked. “I had an interesting meeting yesterday with a couple Air Force Generals.”
“You want to give DiNozzo to AFOSI?” demanded Philip, looking more than a little offended.
“General Hammond may be more familiar with AFOSI but General O’Neill has more than a few Marines under his command down in Colorado, so it would still technically be an NCIS post. Especially considering the percentage of Marine personnel at the base I had in mind. Not to mention the likelihood of the base finally getting those SEALs it’s been asking for.”
“Well hell,” muttered the Secretary of the Navy as he finished his drink and leaned heavily back in his seat with a glare. “You put DiNozzo Afloat on Atlantis and I’ll never get him back in D.C.”
His boss chuckled. “I hate to break it to you, but I don’t think anything short of Atlantis is getting that man back at NCIS no matter where you stick him.”
Both men eyed the stack of reports again. Davenport sighed and got up to refill his glass. “So, what exactly does the SGC think it’s going to do with my Special Agent?”
The older man laughed, topped off his own glass and started to lay out the utter mess that had been uncovered in Pegasus since the last time they had discussed the classified project.
“Well, hell,” Philip said for the second time in less than an hour. “Maybe they do need him more than I do at the moment.”
– – – – –
“Hello?” Tony asked somewhat uneasily. It had been four days since he had quit NCIS and sent a stack of reports detailing his concerns and observations about Ziva, Gibbs, Shepard, and the agency as a whole to everyone he could think of that might be able to do anything about it. Knowing the kind of hornet’s nest that he’d kicked over, he’d shut off his phone before he even left the Navy Yard and immediately replaced it with a new model and a new number. So hearing that cell ring now left him holding it delicately to his ear with an anticipatory grimace.
“Is this Special Agent DiNozzo?”
“This is Tony DiNozzo, but-” he started to clarify that he was no longer an agent, but the voice cut him off before he had a chance.
“This is Carl Misner from the office of the Secretary of the Navy. Secretary Davenport has asked me to speak with you about the possibility of your coming back to work for NCIS.” Tony winced as the man went on. Listening to the man plead the agency’s case was almost painful, though the offer of a position overseeing future changes being made at NCIS was momentarily tempting. At least for a couple long seconds.
Just the thought, however, of telling John that he had let himself get sucked back into that black hole was beyond daunting. Imaging typing that out and trying to justify the insanity of that decision made it pretty clear to him how much he really didn’t want to work there again.
He wasn’t sure when NCIS had become a vacuum in which nothing but the job could survive. But it had. The agency had sucked out every other piece of him and left him with nothing but an unhealthy codependence and a likelihood of developing possibly questionable morals. However and whenever it had happened, being free of it felt like a sudden gasp of oxygen after too long without. He’d felt so much lighter since he’d left, so much better about himself and his choices that he simply couldn’t go back to how he had felt before, no matter what changes were being made there.
“I’m afraid my resignation will have to stand. There is not a position at the agency that would be able to convince me otherwise, though you can tell SecNav you tried your best.”
“If your boss or anyone else have questions on the reports or forms I filed, I will of course answer them but my answer to you is no.”
The other man let out a gusty sigh. “Very well. Thank you for your time.”
Tony rubbed at his temples for several seconds after hanging up, not sure if he wanted to laugh or scream. Deciding neither would be the best use of his time and that both would likely unlock a dam he had no interest in letting fall, he turned his attention elsewhere. If nothing else, looking through all the information he had gathered so far about his legal options regarding Tim’s book would keep him occupied.
He did, in fact, stay well occupied for a number of hours. By the time he pushed back from his dining table he had a decent idea of what approach he would take if the questions and complaints he had filed with JAG and the NCIS legal department the day after he quit didn’t turn out as fruitful as he hoped. Best case scenario, the agency or the JAG corp could get the publication blocked. If that failed, he was prepared to sue at least the publishing company and probably McGee as well if he didn’t listen to reason.
Honestly, he huffed mentally as he threw together a quick meal for himself, what the hell had the probie been thinking? Writing something so insulting and so degrading about his team members was bad enough. But the resemblance to the character’s real life counterparts was so obvious that it could spell disaster in the field and completely destroy any operational security. He certainly would never be able to work undercover again if the book came out without risking any random ‘fan’ of the book blowing his cover and getting him killed. It wasn’t like Tim had even tried all that hard to hide who he was. The penname was a goddamn anagram of his name for crying out loud.
The infuriating topic kept him fuming the rest of the day and into the next. He had finally calmed down by the time his phone rang again. That call was not one he could brush off, however. No matter how much he would have tried to avoid it otherwise, when the Secretary of Defense himself called and asked you to attend a meeting the in two days time, you attended the meeting the in two days time. Even if said meeting was at NORAD for some ridiculously incomprehensible reason.
And incomprehensible turned out to be the watchword, he decided as he was led into a conference room and handed the largest non-disclosure agreement known to man. Certainly nothing made any actual sense as he was given a speech he was pretty sure had been written by a hack sci-fi author with too much time on their hands. Tony DiNozzo found himself blinking stupidly at the General sitting across from him for far longer than he was comfortable with.
Eventually, the former agent cleared his throat. “Aliens…?”
“Spaceships and floating cities, oh my,” finished the one-star with a smirk.
Tony shifted uneasily in his chair. “I don’t understand.”
“Well,” said the man he was pretty sure had introduced himself as O’Neill, “a long time ago in a land called Egypt-”
Tony held up a hand to stop the sarcastic words before the older man got on some kind of roll. “I mean I don’t understand what any of this has to do with me. Why the hell would the SecDef ask me to come here for this? What possible reason would you have for telling me this stuff?”
The older man leaned back in his own seat and regarded him silently. “I’ve been told that you are a very talented investigator, DiNozzo. Surely you can come up with some theories all on your lonesome.”
He resisted the urge to glare at the General with the chest full of medals that told him the career officer had served in the kind of locations that never actually got written down. Like the one he was sitting in. “Obviously you want me to work for you, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth the security risk, NDA or no NDA. This base is more Air Force than Marine and there has to be at least one person at AFOSI with the knowledge and clearance to deal with shenanigans in your lovely mountain.”
Tony left unspoken that if there wasn’t at least one person at AFOSI who had been read in that he thought the entire SGC was stupid. O’Neill must have had some kind of clue what he didn’t say because he looked like he was fighting the urge to laugh as he gestured for him to keep talking.
“And while I can see where NCIS could be an advantage in a largely civilian set up like you’ve apparently got at Area 51, there would have to be some really shiny, really expensive shit going on over there for us to both be here. Because let’s be honest, General. If whatever you wanted from me wasn’t shiny, expensive, and probably life-threatening, I would be sitting in some office talking to a Major with shiny shoes and no combat experience. And I certainly wouldn’t be there because the SecDef asked me to. Which leaves,” Tony had to take a breath before he could actually make himself finish, “the lost city of Atlantis.”
The General smirked, though the expression didn’t look as playful as it had a moment before. “As a very good friend of mine would say… indeed.”
Silence descended for two long beats before O’Neill went on. “And you’re right, I’m not looking for a run of the mill agent to chase stolen coffee and take nuisance complaints. The Atlantis expedition was staffed for exploration more than anything else, and while it’s now under military leadership that is planning to make war on some very scary sons-a-bitches, the former civilian leader left some issues in her wake. I need a solid, experienced investigator who can help clean that shit up and prevent more of a mess by enforcing the American legal code, the UCMJ, and the expedition charter as well as keep an eye on my people without ruffling too many feathers, while also handling city security and Force Protection.”
“Ah. So the NCIS retirement package, Atlantis edition, then?”
General Jack O’Neill barked out a quick laugh but easily – almost eagerly – got down to discussing the multitude of complications that were in the way of Tony joining the SGC as an NCIS Agent Afloat. From the fact that he no longer actually worked for NCIS, to the pending cases he had worked and would need to testify for before he could be out of contact. He was even willing to listen when the younger man briefly explained that he wouldn’t be willing to go anywhere before he had talked to JAG and possibly a few private lawyers about some pending legal SNAFU he didn’t get into.
When they had finally made their way through that tedious discussion, several cups of coffee, and a plate of muffins, the silver haired combat vet rubbed his hands together with a grin. “All righty then. Now that we have that out of the way. Shall we discuss your future posting in the galaxy far far away which we loving call Pegasus?”
Tony sighed, wondering how many Star Wars references the General had tucked away for use in these types of situations. Because he was sure O’Neill was the kind of man that planed at least some of his smart-ass comments in advance. “Sure, why not?”
“Well, to start, the city’s population is split almost evenly between soldier and civilian. The expedition started out under the command of a Dr. Elizabeth Weir but is currently being led by Colonel Steven Caldwell. The scientific members are operating under the control of Dr. Rodney McKay and the military under the command of Lt. Colonel John Sheppard.”
Tony held up a hand, unable to stop himself from speaking up, his voice filled with more disbelief than it had since he arrived. “I’m sorry. Can you repeat that last bit?”
John fiddled with his tablet, tapping out the last of his mission report. When he was done, he glanced up yet again to make sure McKay was still asleep, then scanned the computer for something else to keep him occupied. Distraction was always the key when a member of his team ended up in the infirmary, but since he and Rodney had started whatever it was they were doing, not thinking about what had happened to land him there felt like a matter of life and death.
Not that the incident was necessarily that close a call, but it had still taken over an hour for his hands to stop shaking after he’d stabbed his best friend and lover with an EpiPen in the middle of their celebratory feast on P2X-629. Beckett could use the phrase ‘mild reaction’ all he wanted but John would never be able to un-see Rodney’s panicked expression as he struggled to inject himself while he coughed and gasped at the table, unable to breathe.
The city had effectively been operating almost solely on-planet since the debacle of Elizabeth’s ascension with only three total off-world missions over the last six and a half months so it wasn’t like there were any mission reports for him to read over. While he had been immersed in the clean-up, Lorne had kept the rest of the paperwork up to date too so there wasn’t even a requisition form for him to review. When he had been told that the trade deal with the Ulricians had to be renewed and could not be put off until things were back to normal he had jumped at the chance to get off the city.
Green eyes darted from his screen to the still slumbering face of the CSO as he admitted to himself that he would have rather stayed buried in his reports. No trade deal with worth what had almost happened. And neither was that purple not-quite citrus that had set off the so-called ‘mild reaction.’ If John had anything to say about it, that damn thing would not be anywhere on his city or within reach of Rodney on any other planet in the future.
Clenching his jaw, the Lt. Colonel pulled up his personal email in a last ditch attempt to stop thinking about the last few hours. He was somewhat surprised to see a new message from Tony. He was down right shocked to read the contents.
Dear Lt. Colonel Jonathan Patrick Sheppard, Military Commander of Atlantis
I apologize if this email does not reach you in a timely manner, as I am aware it will have to travel all the way from Earth to the Pegasus galaxy to reach you. By the time it arrives in your weekly databurst from Stargate Command, I will have already boarded the US space ship Daedalus.
No doubt, I will be unable to receive your reply as I will be in hyperspace for the majority of my trip between our galaxies. I plan to make good use of my three weeks in space, however, recovering from the lengthy and so very informative debrief I was given at Cheyenne Mountain when General Jack O’Neill explained to me your situation on the city of the Ancients.
I assure you, any spare time I have will be put to good use, since I have quite a few mission reports and city records to read. Those reports and records were given to me by General O’Neill himself in order to provide me a clear picture of the mess awaiting me on the lost city of Atlantis. Hopefully I will be able to peruse everything I was given so that I will arrive on your fair, floating city well prepared for the task I have been assigned. Which, of course, will be force protection, the maintenance of law and order, and adherence to the UCMJ and the Atlantis Expedition Charter in the name of NCIS, AFOSI, the SGC, and our nation’s armed forces.
Please have rooms set aside for my professional use somewhere near your current security headquarters. I look forward to assisting you and your stalwart astrophysicist in your defense of the Pegasus galaxy and Earth and will render all aid possible in your gallant war against catfish-faced space vampires.
Very Special Intergalactic Agent Afloat, Anthony DiNozzo, Jr.
P.S. Seriously John, what the fuck, man?
The email positively oozed sarcasm and John choked out a sound similar to a laugh as he finished reading. The sound seemed to startle Ronon and Teyla where they were seated around the infirmary bed currently housing the fourth member of their team. Teyla looked pleasantly curious but didn’t say anything. The former Runner simply said “What?”
Sheppard swallowed, blinking at his tablet for a few seconds before finally clearing his throat. “Tony’s been read in to the program. The SGC is sending him out on the Daedalus to work as an investigator here on the city.”
He noticed the smile Teyla sent his way, though he was sure she was happier for him to have another friend here than anything else. Since off-world missions had been all but suspended while the ‘review’ was conducted she had spent almost all her time with her people on the mainland and had heard very few of the stories he had regaled Rodney and Ronon with over the last months.
John wasn’t sure, at all, what to make of the expression on Ronon’s face at the unexpected news. He had taken note that – and found amusement in – the Satedan’s interest any time he had mentioned Tony around him. He hadn’t missed that the younger man had seemed particularly amused by any arguments or discussions he’d had with Rodney about Tony. He’d just never thought over-much about what that meant.
Now, as Ronon asked a half dozen questions about Tony’s arrival and his future role on the city, it occurred to John that his teammate was perhaps even more interested in Tony than he had realized. He’d certainly never heard the former Runner talk so much in one sitting when Wraith killing wasn’t the topic of conversation. The thought left him feeling strangely defensive and almost protective of his childhood friend.
The military commander scowled as another realization settled in. If Tony was coming to Atlantis as an Agent Afloat then he was still an agent for NCIS. The grimace froze as Rodney let out a low moan and shifted on the bed. John watched anxiously but after a moment the scientist settled back to sleep and he let out a long breath. A soft comment from Teyla caught his attention and he kept his gaze away from the bed long enough to tell her goodbye.
After a full minute of staring, he was certain Rodney was not going to wake up and glanced over to find Ronon watching him with a slight smirk. He rolled his eyes and refused to comment, instead sinking further into the uncomfortable chair and turning his attention to his tablet to reread the overly sarcastic email.
The Pegasus native laughed softly and leaned his head back in his own chair. It was silent for almost a half hour before Ronon came up with another couple of questions about the city’s new Agent Afloat.
– – – – –
The first thing Tony saw when he beamed – fucking beamed – into the city’s ‘Gate room was John. The pilot was practically bouncing on the balls of his feet where he stood, grinning in his direction. Two pairs of green eyes met and the childhood friends suddenly closed the distance between themselves and began slapping each other on the back in an enthusiastic hug. A moment later they pulled apart, both grinning widely.
“Man! I was just on a spaceship. That was awesome! Let’s never do that again.”
John’s laugh drowned out the greeting exchanged between the current and former Commanders of the Daedalus. Even so, the exciting chatter between the friends did not keep them from hearing Colonel Ellis dryly relate to Caldwell how very much he enjoyed transporting civilians who weren’t used to being confined. Tony wasn’t quite sure what he found more entertaining, the pitying expression the new leader of Atlantis gave in response or the way his old friend was still bouncing in place even as they stood there talking.
“Wait until you see our lovely lady here,” John spread his arms wide and turned with a grin to indicate the city as a whole. Tony couldn’t hold back another laugh.
A loud sigh caught the Agent’s attention and Tony found himself staring at a fondly exasperated man with bright blue eyes. The man’s words only crystalized his assumption that he was looking at the scientist he had been snarking with over email for months.
“Seriously? Ugh. You two are like overly sugared teenage girls meeting up and wanting to squeal and gossip after a summer apart.”
Tony smiled, placing his hand gently on his own chest and speaking in an exaggerated, high-pitched voice. “OMG. You must totally be Dr. McKay. Like, wow. I’m so totally excited to meet you. Jo-ohn! It’s Dr. McKay!”
Rodney crossed his arms over his chest with a glare, prompting the other two to laugh loudly enough to begin drawing attention from the civilians and soldiers working diligently around them. DiNozzo had a hard time getting himself under control as he watched John force himself into some semblance of composure. The way the scientist huffed and jabbed a finger in the Lt. Colonel’s direction with just a hint of amusement was simply hilarious.
“Damn it John, get your- your friend under control.”
Even funnier was the way Rodney stomped out of the ‘Gate room only for John to immediately follow him with an affectionately amused expression and a plea for the astrophysicist to wait. Tony laughed harder as he started off in the same direction, though the laughter trailed off as he caught sight of the muscular man with dreadlocks who was propped up against the doorway. The NCIS Agent had to concentrate to keep his gait from stuttering as he walked past the man he could only assume was Ronon Dex, giving the man as casual a nod as he could manage.
Tony resolved to give John and Rodney a few choice words on everything they managed to leave out of their description of ‘Chewy.’ But first he had to get through the eager speech his old friend was giving as they made their way in and out of a few main sections of the city. With some focused concentration, the new Agent Afloat managed to keep his questions and most of his comments to himself.
Their impromptu tour ended at the quarters Tony had been assigned where a few Marines had already dropped off his bags. By the time the three of them had all made it inside the room and the door whispered shut behind them, he was already feeling stir crazy again. In an effort to quiet his nerves, Tony paced the rooms, quickly ending up out on the balcony and becoming truly distracted for the first time since he had arrived in orbit.
He was so distracted that he almost jumped when John joined him at the railing. “So,” Tony said without moving his gaze from the stretch of foreign ocean, “I’m on the lost city of Atlantis.”
“Yep,” answered the Lt. Colonel.
“And you’ve been on the lost city of Atlantis for over two years now.”
“Yep. What’d’ya think of our girl?”
Tony blinked. Certainly he had heard naval officers refer to ships as female for most of his career at NCIS, but he had a feeling that wasn’t quite what his friend meant. The presence that had been flirting at the edge of his awareness since his arrival on the city also told him that there was another meaning to the seemingly offhand reference. Green eyes shifted from the beautiful view to drift over the shining blue-grey metal under his hands. “She is… more than I had imagined.”
A single dark brow rose as John regarded him in silence for several seconds before another smile spread across his face. “You have the gene?” the soldier asked just as Rodney joined them, declaring that he had finished setting up the computer and tablet that had been assigned for Tony’s use.
This time it was Rodney who blinked in surprise. “You’ve got the ATA gene, DiNozzo?”
Tony nodded at them both, a little taken aback by the combination of surprise and anticipation being directed at him. “They found it during my ridiculously thorough medical exam in the Mountain before I boarded the Daedalus. Half the doctors I saw spent as much time gossiping about genes and plagues and statistics as they did poking me with needles and taking pictures of my insides.”
“What about statistics?” asked the scientist.
John shot an almost offended look at the CSO then turned to Tony. “What does your gene have to do with the plague?”
Tony shrugged his shoulders at both of them and moved back into his quarters to lounge on the bed. “I’m not sure they knew. One of them was saying something about the gene maybe holding some kind of immunity from some Ancient plague that might be a form of Y. pestis. Another doc kept talking about how the strain I’d had was biologically engineered to attack humans and I had too much or too strong of an Ancient gene to be targeted properly. I think. I might be remembering it wrong. There were a lot of needles involved at the time so my focus was kind of split.”
John made a humming noise, head cocked to the side. “Okay. I’m confused.” Two pairs of green eyes met with similarly lost expressions and the two shrugged at one another.
Rodney gave a heavy sigh and rolled his eyes at them. “Well, obviously the so-called scientists were trying to figure out a way to us their voodoo to explain Tony’s statistically improbable survival of an antibiotic resistant strain of pneumonic plague, which in its natural state has only a 5-10% survival rate.”
The Agent looked wide-eyed at the sarcastic explanation. “Wait. I thought the survival rate for what I had was like seventeen percent?”
McKay made a rude noise. “Uh, no. Bubonic plague had a death rate of like 15% with modern treatment and a survival rate of like thirty to fifty percent without. Pneumonic is totally different. And the strain you were exposed to should have had like a 1-2% survival rate considering it’s engineering.”
Rodney scowled at the two shocked looks he was given. “What? I may have looked into a few things, okay? I’m a scientist. I’m naturally curious.”
John’s eyebrows shot up towards his hairline, but Tony quickly redirected the conversation before he was forced to listen to the two flirt by way of snarky arguments over the math behind his survival of the plague. “So, in less morbid news. What’s up with this gene? They acted all kinds of flustered about it but weren’t very forthcoming with any kind of details.”
McKay waved his hand in a rather irritated manner. “Oh please, they get their tiny little witch doctor minds all aflutter for- Wait. They told you that your gene was too strong for the bioengineered plague to effect you the way it was designed? How strong did they say your gene was?”
Tony leaned back a little at the vehement tone, a bit surprised at the almost manic expression. “Uh, apparently it’s somewhere between General O’Neill and John on some scale no one would explain to me.“
Rodney brightened with more excitement than Tony was comfortable with. “Really? Huh. Maybe-”
John sighed. “No, Rodney. You can’t make him spend all day in a lab turning things on and off so you can measure how much everything responds to him.”
DiNozzo couldn’t help but laugh at the genuinely disappointed pout on Rodney’s face as he spoke. “Well, how am I supposed to find out how his gene actually compares to yours if I don’t conduct measureable tests?”
As the two men began to bicker back and forth about what was appropriate to expect a gene carrier to be willing to do in order to have their gene evaluated, he dug through one of his bags until he got to the papers that he had been handed on his way out of the Mountain infirmary. Suddenly, the smirk O’Neill and Jackson had given him with the warning that he would need it later, made a lot more sense.
The folder being waved suddenly in the scientist’s face managed to interrupt the near-argument. Rodney blinked, then grinned as soon as he opened and read through the printouts. “Oh. Your gene is almost as strong as John’s. Huh. Your gene is almost the same as John’s. Wow. You two sure you’re not related somehow?”
Sheppard narrowed his eyes slightly. “How would you know just by looking that his gene is similar to mine? Did you memorize my ATA gene, Rodney?”
Tony laughed again at the huffy response that question gained his friend, cutting in before another snarky exchange could get started. “Yes, we’re sure we’re not related Rodney.”
He left unsaid how much he had wished growing up that John was actually his brother, or that anyone else other than Senior had been his father. The way John immediately sat next to him and leaned over to bump their shoulders together told him he didn’t need to actually say it. That was reinforced when the pilot started to come up with exaggerated scenarios about him being a secret love child kidnapped at birth by a crazy stalker.
The CSO rolled his eyes and continued to leaf through the papers he’d been given before eventually snapping at both of them as they competed back and forth for the most outrageous fake theory. “Yeah yeah. You two infants can do the gross blood brother declarations like stupid ten year olds later, I’m hungry, let’s go to the mess.”
John and Tony both laughed as they stood and began to trail the other man towards the door. “Actually we already did that whole trite thing with a Swiss army knife in boarding school.”
Rodney made a disgusted face, then froze, and cocked his head to the side. “Speaking of blood, you know Carson will want some.”
“Oh joy, more needles,” Tony muttered, causing John to laugh as the two teammates prodded him out into the hall.
“Don’t worry. We’ll let you get a snack first before we hand you over to the scary doctors.”
– – – – –
Tony almost found himself strangely disappointed that he was already finished with his first post-mission medical and ready to change out of his tactical gear. The examination had been uncomfortable and annoying, and quite frankly reminded him too much of his recent stint with the plague.
Even so, it was somehow favorable to the leaden sensation he was currently experiencing. He showered and tried to ignore the shift in how the men around him were acting towards him. Suppressing the sigh he wanted to give, he changed into the standard BDUs he had started becoming used to since he had arrived on Atlantis.
There were many things he was still getting used to since coming to Pegasus. And after today, he could add ‘Gate travel to that list as he had finally had his first trip off-world. Travel off Lantea had been greatly restricted while the city administration and procedures had been examined in the wake of Weir’s ascension. But over the two weeks that Tony had been there, the ‘Gate teams had begun returning to their normal schedules. Which had meant he was on tap for one of the roles he had been given as Agent Afloat.
The situation in Pegasus was far from normal, so he had known from the beginning that he would be given more than just the normal investigative tasks. He had come out with the expectation of also more clearly codifying the charter and regulations for easier enforcement, and providing force protection. Not to mention training the security officers correctly and reviewing again all the previous investigations and complaints filed with the security office. But it wasn’t until he had met with John his second day on the city that they had decided he would also utilize his undercover and interrogation skills off-world.
Tony sighed as he stored his dirty clothes. It had been easy, familiar, to wrap himself in a role and interact with people for the express purpose of evaluating them as a threat. Despite the foreign and disconcerting feeling of knowing he had traveled through a wormhole and was on another planet, it had been like getting back a piece of his old life in a way running investigations on the city would never be.
They had lucked out, he admitted, closing the door to the locker he’d been assigned. The group that they had been trying to establish trade with was so close to Viking that he had joked repeatedly with John about whether they were sure that the locals didn’t recognize the names of any Asgards they were aware of. But beyond the aesthetic, the social atmosphere was practically a trailer for a Viking era warrior bonding film.
It wouldn’t have been much easier for his frat boy persona to fit in at their feasting table unless they had walked into a keg party at his old fraternity ten years in the past. The locals had been so instantaneously welcoming of him and so open in their discussions that he had only needed a tenth of his skill as an interrogator to find out what they had been hiding in their previous discussions with John’s team.
Smoothing over the mistaken impressions and ironing out the start of a solid alliance and trade contract with the Jarl of the settlement had been the matter of two rounds of ale. By the time they had left Vahlhelm, Tony had proven his worth off-world. And apparently convinced a couple of the Marines in the back up team that he was a stereotypical frat boy who never planned to grow up.
When they had been waiting to be cleared by the infirmary, the soldiers had loosened up and started joking around and planning a get together for their next day off. The fact that Tony had distanced himself from everyone and had shown absolutely no interest in the discussion after his party hard attitude on the planet seemed to surprise and disconcert more than one of the Marines.
The resident Agent listened to the locker room empty around him as he took out his shoes and slipped them on. Tony couldn’t help but let out a long breath as he stood, put the last of his things away, and turned to leave the room. The sight of Ronon standing against the wall just inside the door startled him enough that he momentarily reached for the gun he wasn’t wearing.
The Satedan let out a rough laugh, then eyed him up and down. “You’re complicated.”
Tony lifted a single eyebrow, causing the other man to shrug and cross his arms before he finally continued. “Most people like others to be simple. They get confused and curious when they’re not. Makes them rude.”
He just blinked, then laughed softly and dropped back down onto the bench. It was an overly clear-cut definition of they way people had always acted around him, but it certainly fit. He ran a hand over his face, freezing for just a second when Ronon sat down a few feet away from him. “I’ve always been good at undercover, making myself be whoever is needed for the situation.”
Tony watched Ronon watch him, the man’s eyes focused and far too observant. In the weeks since he had been introduced to the overly attractive alien he had come to the decision that the man’s tendency to only speak up when needed and only use short and blunt statements hid the fact that he was always watching. Ronon, he had decided, saw far more than anyone realized.
He wondered what the slightly younger man saw now. No doubt, he was aware of the unspoken fact that many people had a hard time understanding his chameleon abilities. DiNozzo rubbed the tops of his thighs with his hands in a restless manner, sighing at the thought that the people around him on Atlantis might not be much better than those at NCIS.
“What the hell is so hard to understand about a person having multiple facets to their personality and using different aspects of who they are for different roles?” Dex didn’t appear to be the least bit put off or even surprised by the sudden question.
He glanced over, prepared to apologize for his harsh words, but the way Ronon seemed to lean just a little closer prompted him to keep going instead. “It was like they thought I was either completely one-sided and therefore only one thing that I showed at work was the only thing I was anywhere. Or that I had some kind of multiple personality disorder because I could be different when I needed to be.”
Tony exhaled, forcibly unclenching the muscles of his neck and shoulder as the frustration slipped past his automatic suppression of it. He was startled out of his old routine of deep breaths and loosening muscles when the man beside him stood abruptly. He looked up, his gaze meeting a pair of eyes a shade lighter than his own. Ronon wasn’t smiling, but the way he stared down at him was somehow gentle in a way that contradicted the aggression that most people saw.
“I was going to spar. Interested?”
He thought of having a physical outlet for the emotions he could feel building in him, to help him re-center himself. The idea of it was so appealing that he had to take another breath before he answered. “Sure.”
The hand the other man held out to pull him to his feet was appealing too. As was the way the Satedan tugged him a little too hard so that he stumbled and bumped into the muscular chest once he was on his feet. For the second time in as many minutes, he was prepared to apologize but a barely perceptible squeeze of the hand Dex was still holding and the hint of a smile on his too attractive face told Tony it wasn’t necessary.
The walk to the gym was made in uncharacteristic silence on his part, while Ronon made short, pithy but offhand remarks about places and people they passed on their way. When they reached their destination, the former Runner began to spar with him in a way that made him sure that he was being eased into it. Having watched Ronon spar with others in the past, he was actually thankful for it. As they took a break to have a drink – and for Tony to catch his breath – he was even more thankful for the weird alien thingy the doctor at the SGC had used to heal the lung scarring left from the plague.
There was only one other Marine in the gym when they arrived, and he left shortly after they got there. They started exchanging blows and kicks again and Tony barely spared the attention necessary to think lock at the doors. The sound of his own panting breaths and the rushing of blood in his ears was far too loud to even imagine he could hear the whisper of the city sealing them into the room at his mental request, but he knew she had.
“What did you study on Sateda?” he asked a while later when he decided that he was just going to stay on the mat for a few minutes.
Ronon took a moment to pick up a towel and wipe his face dry before he responded. The Agent almost expected the younger man to ask why Tony thought that he had learned to be anything other than a soldier. As far as Tony knew, few, if any, suspected the former Runner to be anything but a fighter. And a blunt instrument at that. Instead Ronon just tossed him a second towel and sat down a few inches away.
“History and literature. For many centuries Satedans didn’t dare leave anything but writing behind that showed our development. Everything we were was in books. Eventually we built in other ways. Ways the Wraith could see. I didn’t learn the new ways, but I know much of what was there before.”
Tony couldn’t respond at first. He was certain no one else on the city had ever heard such a thing. He would be surprised if anyone heard that many full sentences from the man at one time that didn’t in some way involve ways to kill Wraith. He glanced up at the far too attractive face and didn’t have any trouble recognizing the surprise there, as if even Ronon hadn’t thought he would share that much. Tony certainly hadn’t expected such a thorough answer when he had asked the question.
He didn’t express his pleasant disbelief at being trusted with such a detail of Ronon’s past or his home planet. Well, he didn’t say anything about it, but he also didn’t try to hide it in his face either. So when he met those hazel green eyes again, he was pretty sure it showed. The sight didn’t seem to put the other man off any as he tossed his towel aside and stood, leaning down to pull Tony to his feet with a grin.
DiNozzo was simply unable to keep his gaze from raking over his opponent from head to toe as he readied himself to spar some more. He didn’t even bother to tell himself that he was just looking at his stance or trying to get an advantage in the fight ahead. He’d given up on lying to himself back in D.C. Tony knew he was attracted to Ronon. He had been since he’d set eyes on him, but he was hardly blind and had always been an ardent if circumspect bisexual so that was no shock at all.
Other things would take some thought however, he admitted, before he focused on dodging the muscular arm and trying to get in a hit of his own. Because regardless of the impression Specialist Ronon Dex gave almost all who met him, he seemed to understand Tony more in the few weeks they’d known each other than Agents he’d worked beside for years ever had. Plus he was seriously hot.
– – – – –
John tried his best to not outright grin as he watched Rodney going through his tactical vest to ensure there were sufficient backup scanners and powerbars. He could see the excitement buzzing through him, the scientist nearly vibrated with it as he moved. He could still almost hear the string of muttering that had followed the man into sleep the night before. Suppressing his smile, he stepped forward and placed a hand on Rodney’s shoulder with just enough weight to settle the other man’s nervous bouncing.
“Ready to head out?” John asked from just a little closer than he would have if anyone else had been in the locker room with them.
The scientist’s shoulders rose and fell under his hand, once, twice, then Rodney nodded firmly. They joined Teyla, Ronon, and Tony outside the Jumper bay a few minutes later and the five of them entered the little spaceship. As he exchanged a few words with the control room and steered through the ‘Gate, he took a deep breath of this own.
The complete lack of anything worth mentioning when they exited the wormhole was not a surprise. The ‘Gate they exited was not on the planet they were headed to. Apparently that planet did not have a Stargate on it. Which meant they would be flying there from where they came out. Probably. The instructions had been a little subjective. “You’re sure about the destination?”
McKay turned to glare from his spot in the co-pilot seat. If his hands hadn’t been busy steering the Jumper he would have raised them in the universal no-harm gesture. Instead he turned silently back to the HUD and followed the directions the scientist had worked out before they left. He was pretty sure his lover huffed, but he didn’t respond, knowing how on edge Rodney was at the thought of finally checking out what they expected was the location for the charging or filling of ZPMs.
John paid careful attention to the readings the Jumper was feeding him when they passed through the atmosphere of the planet McKay had identified as their ultimate destination. The utter lack of information soon had him drawing out his astrophysicist’s name with a good amount of uneasiness. “Rodney?”
John could see the familiar scowl already focused on Rodney’s own equipment but it seemed that there was enough irritation for a few disgruntled noises to be aimed in his direction. He continued to fly, automatically starting a grid search, using the data from the Jumper to calculate how to break up the visible area into equal parts so he didn’t waste time rechecking anything. Before he had finished, McKay was muttering his own comments and calculations from beside him.
“I don’t get it. This is it. This is where the database said to go. I checked everything three times. What the hell is going on?”
The last was said with another glare at John who returned it with a wounded one of his own. “Why are you asking me?”
“Well, obviously, your little ship isn’t telling us what we need to know. Land somewhere so I can run the scans myself out there.”
He wasn’t sure what it said about him, or McKay for that matter, that he rolled his eyes and started looking for a good place to land with very little argument. He rolled his eyes at himself and decided the eruption that would result in trying to prevent the scientist from running whatever scans he wanted on the apparently abandoned planet was not worth the small risk landing would pose.
They had only been out of the Jumper for a handful of minutes, barely enough time to set up a perimeter around where Rodney was hunched over his tablet screen, when he second-guessed that decision. The movement was minor and caught only out of the corner of one eye, but it was enough to put him on guard. Raising his gun, John called out an alert that had everyone but Rodney in a defensive stance, looking out into the seemingly empty clearing around them.
Another glimmer of movement in a copse of trees about half a klick away made Sheppard want to shove his scientist back into the Jumper and hightail it out of there. But there was no way he or Rodney would be willing to actually leave until they were sure that what they were looking for was nowhere to be found. Unless of course they ran into Wraith or other hostile forces. He wanted to remind himself that the Jumper readings had not indicated any life signs large enough to be humanoid. John probably would have done exactly that if not for the sight of two people walking towards them.
Adjusting his grip on his P-90, John took a moment to observe the unarmed man and woman, both of whom were clad in long black coats with a bunch of black feathers on the shoulders. They didn’t seem to be making any kind of threatening moves, didn’t look angry or scared or in any other way antagonistic. In fact, the two natives looked to be staring as much at the Jumper as at them. Making his decision, Sheppard gave a jerk of his head without looking away from the approaching strangers.
“Tony. You’re up,” he ordered quietly. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ronon make a short flinching motion, as if he were stopping himself from moving in front of the Agent. Filing that observation away, he waited for his childhood friend to move closer. If he were honest with himself, he wanted to make sure the other man was firmly behind him as well, but establishing rapport with the locals and performing threat assessment were officially part of Tony’s job. Even if he had originally come on this mission just to provide extra security.
He reminded himself that the man had more than aced his field readiness tests as the Agent called a neutral greeting to the others once they stopped a few yards away from the group. A short exchange went from weary to welcoming as Tony was able to reassure the strangers and figure out that they were more than a little impressed with the Ancient ship.
“The oldest drawings show metal birds such as this. They are sacred craft of the Ancestors. Our Elders would be most honored to see those who fly in the metal birds. Would you come to our Nests to meet them? They will wish to speak with you.”
John blinked and exchanged a look with Rodney while Tony continued the conversation with the native. The annoyed look on the scientist’s face shifted after a moment, then acquired the familiar frustrated distraction as he turned his attention back to his equipment. They followed the locals out of the clearing and towards a mountain behind the trees where the black-clad duo had emerged.
Distantly glad that he was no longer responsible for greasing the wheel with said locals and could instead focus on security, John exchanged a few hand motions with Ronon and Teyla to distribute their roles watching Tony, Rodney, the strangers, and the surrounding area. Green eyes tracked the terrain as they approached the trees with just enough attention spared for the scientist’s litany of complaints to be able to respond half-way intelligently.
“There’s not a single energy signal other than the Jumper anywhere within range of my sensors. It doesn’t make any sense,” Rodney huffed as he tried to keep up with the others and watch his screens at the same time. “And even if we found a facility here that could charge a Zed-PM we couldn’t use it!”
The woeful tone made the soldier grimace and prod the pouting scientist back onto the path they were following. The action earned him a fierce scowl and an even more stringent tone as McKay went on. “There is simply no way we could make or fill or charge a Zed-PM on an inhabited planet. It would be beyond dangerous. This must be the wrong place. Which doesn’t make any sense!”
John let out as quiet a sigh as he could in response to the despondent way his astrophysicist poked at his tablet screen. “It could still be the right place. It’s been ten thousand years, for all we know this was an uninhabited planet when the Ancients set up whatever it is we’re looking for.”
The way Rodney looked over at him had the Lt. Colonel a little worried that he would find his hot water inexplicably off for the next week. “This planet doesn’t have a ‘Gate and the only species in this galaxy that’s been capable of space flight in thousands of years are the Wraith. Are you actually suggesting that the Wraith offered their entrée a free taxi service at some point? Seriously?”
For the second time that day he had to fight the urge to raise his hands in surrender and instead adjusted his grip on the P-90 he held. “Maybe the lab we’re looking for was shut down before these people came here. Maybe the Ancients themselves moved these people here after shutting it down at some point before the war with the Wraith got too bad.”
“Well, I’m so glad we figured that out. One more mystery solved.” John winced at the epic amount of sarcasm in the other man’s voice. “Now if only we could solve the tiny remaining question of how the hell we can get ourselves a working Zed-PM when the only possibility for the lab that would accomplish that is somewhere no scientist with morals would ever actually try to make one because it’s full of people that could be blown up if the smallest thing went wrong!”
“Keep it down, Rodney, before you scare the natives,” Sheppard hissed. “Besides, are you telling me that if we find a moth-balled ZPM factory that you couldn’t figure out anything that would help us?”
The scientist continued to pout even as he bristled at the implication. “Of course I could. That’s not the point!”
John had to roll his eyes at the offended huff he received as his lover stomped off to walk closer to Teyla once they’d cleared the trees.
– – – – –
Rodney ignored the questioning look Teyla gave him as he fell into step beside her, keeping his eyes on his equipment instead. He desperately searched for some bit of information, some speck of data on the screen that might hint at what they were looking for. Even so, he couldn’t help but hear Tony and the guy in the half-assed bird costume chatting away at the front of the group. He rolled his eyes at the ridiculous description of the Crow movies and the even more ridiculous way the natives appeared intrigued by the stupid stories.
A small part of Rodney’s brain recognized and understood that their new Agent Afloat was doing a very successful job of drawing out and reassuring the natives who minutes before had been leery of outsiders despite their interest in the Jumper. He even appreciated that the man was – and with movie references, no less – managing to find common ground with the black-clad inhabitants of this planet. An even smaller part of him noticed that Ronon was watching the exchange with even more edgy suspicion than normal. But the rest of his vast intellect was focused entirely on his readings. Or lack thereof.
Their arrival at what the newcomers had called their Nests shook him momentarily out of his scientific stupor. Blue eyes widened as they followed the native’s pointing to the side of a tall mountain where it looked like the outermost portion of a couple dozen structures were carved into the rock. The openings ranged in size and some of them were actually decorated with columns and windows and other details.
No matter how elaborately carved, however, the apparent houses were still burrowed into the side of a mountain. He squawked indignantly as their guides began to lead them into a smoothly carved and rather straight, square opening that was positioned closest to the ground.
“Oh great. Caves. Lovely. How very Neanderthal of them.”
He easily heard the heavy sigh behind him before John spoke his name in that long suffering, please-don’t-make-me-warn-you tone he had. “Rodney.”
“What? They live inside a mountain. Their Nests are caves. We’re going to spend the next however long inside a cave. Again.” McKay complained as he distantly noted the approach of a second woman whose entire neck, chest, shoulders, and probably her back, was covered in black feathers. The woman seemed to dismiss their initial guides and lead them further into the elaborately carved cave system.
The poorly lit corridors inside forced him to look where he was going instead of at his tablet and scanner. Rodney moaned as they began to ascend the first of what looked like many staircases uncomfortably far inside the mountainside. Tony’s voice drifted back to the rear of the group, summoning the team leader to the front a few minutes later. John shot him a warning look as he passed, leaving Teyla as his sole audience.
“I’ll never get the readings I need at this rate. Seeing as they’re all out there, not in a cave. You know, the reason we came to this damn planet. The search for that little, insignificant thing I like to call our ability to power Atlantis.” The Athosian only lifted a single brow in response, her attention mainly drifting around them in a constant pattern that was no doubt aimed at ensuring no one and nothing snuck up on them.
Rodney appreciated the effort to protect him, of course. But when they finally got where they were going, he could just make out what looked like Tony and John being introduced to another pair of locals. This time the amount of black feathers had grown even more. The woman had a floor length cape covered with them and the man had a huge headdress of the things. Even his bare chest was apparently tattooed with the image of a raven. The scientist absently wondered if the number of feathers somehow indicated social status of some kind.
He blinked in shock at the thought. In a desperate attempt to prevent what seemed to be the rapid deterioration of his brain – as evidenced by the ridiculous pseudo-scientific observation – he pulled back out his scanner. It took him a moment to examine the screen before what he was seeing made sense. The drastic change between what was there and what had been shown before they entered the mountain was such that he frantically swiped through four different screens on his tablet to double check the readings.
His exclamation seemed to immediately drew all the attention in the room to him, but Rodney barely noticed as he rattled off his findings with increasing volume and urgency. Nose still buried in his screens, the exchange between Tony, John, and their overly feathered hosts was a mere background hum as he clicked and swiped and muttered calculations under his breath. It wasn’t until his team leader’s impatient voice practically shouted his name that he pulled his eyes from his scanner and tablet.
“What?” he demanded, gaze flicking between John’s face and his screens.
The soldier let out an aggravated grunt. “Did you want to go check this out or not, Rodney?”
The stiff sweep of John’s arm finally drew his attention to their group where it hovered in the doorway behind them. The expectant expressions on everyone’s face had him running back through what he had managed to hear past his scientific excitement. The recollection of their discussion regarding some great relic housed down in the heart of their mountain had McKay hustling to the front of the pack and down the stairs. “Oh. Right. Yes. Let’s go, no reason to dawdle people. I can’t confirm anything from here.”
The trek down the innumerable staircases went much faster than the climb up, despite it being almost twice the distance to the very bottom of the cave system. Even so, as eager as he was to get there, it felt like it took forever. He almost appreciated DiNozzo’s efforts to make sense of the change as he mentally urged their escort to pick up the pace.
“Tirima said the mountain has always protected them and was declared a safe haven by their Ancestors. I bet the stone somehow blocked whatever you’re picking up so it couldn’t be noticed from outside the mountain.”
Rodney rolled his eyes and resisted the impulse to pause long enough to take another set of readings as they got closer to their destination. “Of course it did. My equipment would have picked it up if it weren’t being interfered with.”
He paid no attention to the response Tony gave, or to the conversation that occurred between his team and the locals once they reached the bottom of the last staircase. Wide blue eyes were far too busy taking in the sight of what was clearly a Stargate. The design was slightly different than the version he had grown so used to in Pegasus and he quickly took out a third scanner to document the differences, mind already working out the most likely reasons.
His leading theory spiraled out into a full-fledged opinion when what looked almost like a DHD seemed to come to light as soon as John got within reach. “Stop right there, Sheppard. Back up.”
John immediately followed the sharply spoken instructions with a weary glance between his astrophysicist and the console. In the background, Tony was still speaking with the costumed locals but McKay continued to block out everything but his equipment and the Ancient tech in front of him. “Ronon. Walk up to it but don’t touch. Stop. Okay, get away from it. Sheppard, stand next to it, hands to yourself.”
Blue eyes flicked between the almost-DHD and the ‘Gate, as his fingers flew over his tablet. “It’s responding to the ATA gene. This version was obviously made after the war started. An entire ‘Gate that only operates for them. Dedicated communication. Yes.”
“Rodney-“ started John, only to be cut off with an irritated and insistent wave of the CSO’s hand.
He didn’t bother to look up, far too absorbed in what he was seeing on his screens as he continued to talk himself through the tantalizing data. “Console, not DHD then. Only six possible… Hmmm. One address. Ah. No point of origin. Huh. Okay. Well.”
A few seconds of tense silence was broken only by the tapping of finger on screen until Rodney looked up with a grin. “This has to be it! A ‘Gate that can only be operated by someone with an ATA gene, hidden deep in a mountain that blocks it entirely from detection, on a planet without a ‘Gate and which only goes one place. This has to be it!”
A moment passed for the others to take in what he had said before they all started smiling back, his excitement spreading to the rest of the team. Tony and John looked at each other, then the Agent had a short conversation with the locals who eventually nodded and stepped back into the doorway, presumably so they could watch without being inside the room itself. DiNozzo gave his friend a nod, prompting the Lt. Colonel to look over at Ronon, then Tony, then Teyla.
He nodded and pinned Rodney where he stood with an intense green gaze. “All right. Let’s dial it up.”
McKay started to step forward but the console dimmed as John stepped out of the way for him. He scowled, then held out his tablet so the soldier could see the screen. “Your supergene is apparently required. Dial this address.”
It took only a handful of seconds to activate the six chevrons on the console and have the ‘Gate flaring to life. Once the event horizon had stabilized, the team, minus Teyla, prepared to go through, Ronon taking the lead and John bringing up the rear. As soon as the former Runner got within a few feet of the ‘Gate however, an energy shield sprang up, preventing him from going any further.
“Rodney,” shouted the team leader, prompting the scientist to start tapping furiously at his tablet.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m on it. Huh. Ronon, Sheppard, switch places.” The shield dropped as soon as the two did so, prompting the scientist to mutter over his screen for a moment more before looking up. “I don’t think anyone without an ATA gene is getting through that ‘Gate.”
John glared and Ronon growled and the team debated the situation for a minute before a consensus was reached that both Teyla and Ronon would stay behind to guard the ‘Gate while the rest went through. Even Rodney noticed the unhappy look the Satedan shot at their new Agent, but it was easy enough for him to ignore. Waiting for DiNozzo to convince Sheppard to toss through one of their radios to make sure the signal passed through the shield was not as easy.
Once it was confirmed that they would be able to contact those they left behind, Tony, affable-liaison persona replaced with his steely eyed force-protection-expert mask, insisted they do one final test to make sure the shield would allow them back through as well. Rodney could hardly keep still as John took out a small camera on an extended handle and used it like a hand-held MALP to confirm a DHD-like console on the other side.
The CSO didn’t bother to keep quiet as they waited for John to step through, the ‘Gate to disengage, then reopen and allow the team leader to re-enter the cave. “Everything looks secure. It seems to be a lab of some kind with no visible entrance or exit other than the ‘Gate.”
Tony nodded, both men ignoring Rodney as he prompted them to get on with it and reopen the wormhole from their side. The few seconds it took to do so dragged on, but eventually John led the three of them through and in an instant, they were on the other side.
John heard the ‘Gate blink shut behind them even as Rodney rushed past to start connecting one of his gadgets to the largest console. He and Tony rolled their eyes simultaneously as the scientist, gaze locked on his screen, shouted out for them to both not touch anything. It seemed that just their presence was enough to activate lights around the room and for the other two consoles to start displaying information neither one of them could read.
“I said stay away from everything!” the CSO yelled as he flitted between the three Ancient computer terminals, reading and muttering to himself.
“We haven’t moved, Rodney,” John replied in a calm but long-suffering tone that made his childhood friend smirk in silent amusement.
McKay waved a single arm erratically in the air as he held up his scanner with the other. “Well, keep doing that while I figure this out.”
After a few minutes spent shifting from one foot to the other and having a short conversation with the rest of the team via radio, they finished scanning the otherwise empty room for threats. The Agent and the Lt. Colonel both sighed when Rodney finally looked up from what he was doing.
“We’re definitely on a different planet, one that wasn’t listed anywhere in the Atlantis database that I’ve seen,” McKay explained before moving to a different console and bringing up another display full of indecipherable words and numbers. Before John had a chance to ask – not petulantly – why Rodney was allowed to touch all the Ancient stuff and he and Tony weren’t, the scientist looked back at him with wide blue eyes and an even wider grin.
“We’re on a planet in the middle of what is labeled an uninhabitable system, and every file I can find is about Zed-PMs. This whole lab is dedicated to them.” The excitement was audible in his astrophysicist’s voice and John couldn’t help but grin back while he went on. “It’s dedicated to their energy storage. It’s, it’s…”
The man trailed off as he brought up several different displays, then darted to one of the other terminals to bring up even more. Tony moved over to stand next to John as he watched Rodney dart back and forth with obvious delight. After bouncing in place in front of the largest console for several minutes, the scientist suddenly froze, then spun around to look at him with a stunned expression.
“It really is a charging station. This whole lab is a Zed-PM charging station!”
It was what they had hoped for, but hearing it still caused an excited shout, both taking an automatic step forward only to have McKay unfreeze with a yell.
“Don’t touch anything! Don’t touch anything! Just keep your big fumbling selves to yourselves and let me figure this out.”
John forced himself to slow his breathing and stood as still as he could at Tony’s side while his lover fiddled with his tablet and the console it was plugged into. After several excruciating minutes, the far wall lit up to reveal another room where a large machine took up almost every inch of space. A distant humming seemed to fill the room they were in, emanating from the other side of the transparent wall. Then, one after another, parts of the machine started to light up.
Each spot was a perfect circle and in less than a minute, half a dozen of them were blinking at them, three brighter than the others, though one of those was flashing in a different pattern. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Tony start to speak and quickly raised a hand to motion his friend quiet. Based on the look of rapt concentration on McKay’s face, any interruption right then would not go well.
The silence was broken anyway a moment later when the scientist began to babble a series of numbers and equations even a Masters in Theoretical Mathematics couldn’t decipher. The sight of a pair of brightly lit zero point modules sliding out of the first two flashing openings didn’t require any interpretation, however.
“Holy shit!” John breathed out as the ZPMs were transferred to another set of openings on the other side of the machine. “Are those… Rodney, are those full?”
He continued to stare as one section of the wall darkened slightly and rows of symbols and numbers appeared on it. Seconds passed before he realized that the other man had not actually answered his question. Tearing his eyes from where the two lit ZPMs had disappeared, John glanced over to find McKay bent over the console with a look on his face that spoke to mounting frustration.
Taking a couple small steps closer, Sheppard was able to make out most of what Rodney was saying under his breath as he worked. “Damn it. I know there’s one more. What are you doing? Why aren’t you working you Ancient piece of… No, no, no. No. You have to be working. The quality control protocols are working. The transition arms are working. Why are you not working? Ah. Here. Yes. That’s it. One more. Gottcha!”
Rodney suddenly spun on his heel to face the others, grin as wide as John had ever seen it. And just as smug. The self-satisfied expression left John with a strong desire to kiss his lover until he was looking satisfied for an entirely different reason. Reminding himself that they were in the field and anything else would have to wait until they were safely ensconced in his quarters that night, the soldier lifted a single brow in question.
“The recharge protocol was powered down. But I’ve got it back up and the last one is now charging. It’s a bit of a process, of course, far too complicated to explain now and far, far, too dangerous to rush but I’ve set up the automated features and it will go through the full charging cycle without any input from me. All we need to do is come pick it up when it’s done.”
“What? That’s it? We just have to come back to get them? How long will that take?”
Blue eyes rolled at the list of questions. “Weren’t you listening? The last one is charging now, and yes all we need to do it come back in eighteen months when-”
Rodney’s voice rose as he went on, ignoring the interruption. The glare he sent had John swallowing back any other protests he felt forming. “However, the other two are just going through the quality checks and as long as everything checks out we should be able to bring them with us today. “
John just blinked, staring as McKay’s serious demeanor changed into a face splitting grin. “Today? Two? We can take two fully charged ZPMs back to Atlantis? Today?”
The scientist nodded, still grinning. “As soon as this baby finishes checking them over,” he confirmed, patting the nearest console lovingly.
“How long is that going to take?”
“As long as it takes, John. There are a lot of things to check. If even the smallest thing is wrong with one of them plugging it in would blow up the whole planet, you know. And all the ones nearby.” The grin faded for a moment as he frowned at the scrolling data on the display and then at the numbers on the opaque section of wall. “Hmm. Maybe I should have it check things twice.”
“Twice? Rodney, we can’t stay here indefinitely. I have to check back in with Teyla and Ronon again soon as it is.”
John could feel Tony watching them, probably with a smirk, as he and Rodney bickered back and forth about how many times the data needed to be double-checked. He knew he was being ridiculous, but the relief was so strong that if he allowed himself to think about it, he would feel completely overwhelmed. So instead he focused on the familiar enjoyment of snarking with McKay.
Even that lost its fun eventually, however, as Rodney continued to check and recheck every number that made up the diagnostic. By the time McKay stepped back from the terminal, he found himself clenching his teeth against the urge to demand the other man just finish already. As if he heard the mental complaint, Rodney turned to glare. “There. Happy now?”
“If that means you’re done.”
Rodney huffed and made his way to the far side of the room next to the transparent wall, where a rectangular panel was beginning to light up. “It means the diagnostic has finished and the safety checks are complete.”
The excitement in his face took away from the effect of the annoyed tone, but none of the three noticed or cared as the two golden ZPMs slid out of their slots on the other side of the wall. They watched, transfixed, as the crystals were automatically transferred into a box that disappeared from view only to appear as the panel opened on their side. Two fully charged ZPMs lay in a plain white drawer. No one spoke or even breathed loudly for several moments until McKay stepped forward, waving back at the others impatiently.
“Well, what are you waiting for? The computer says there are travel cases over there,” he said with a wave at a nearby section of wall.
John broke from his stupor and went over to figure out how to get to the cases. As soon as he got close, a panel slid open to reveal six plain white boxes with handles. Taking two, he handed them over to the scientist one at a time. While Rodney carefully placed each power crystal into its padded case, Sheppard could hear Tony behind him on the radio, telling Teyla and Ronon that they would be back through shortly. He wisely didn’t mention their cargo, but neither seemed able to resist a questioning glance at the boxes as they stepped through the ‘Gate and back into the cave. John gave them a short nod, sure the expression on his face said the rest.
– – – – –
Two hours and one very thorough medical exam after returning to the city, Tony DiNozzo leaned against the open doorway. Green eyes landed first on the very attractive form of Ronon Dex leaning similarly on the opposite side of the doorway, then on the two men who had seemingly caught the former Runner’s attention. The NCIS Agent couldn’t help but smile at the sight. Rodney was hunched over his laptop where it rested on a table across from the two glowing ZPMs and John was standing so closely behind him that every time the scientist shifted in his seat the back of the rolling chair bumped into the soldier’s stomach.
John didn’t seem to notice the constant impacts, apparently too busy making a litany of comments and questions that had McKay shooting glares and insults in a continuous barrage. Both men were so engrossed in their snarking that they were completely oblivious to their friends in the doorway.
Tony turned to shoot an amused look Ronon’s way, then tilted his head out towards the hall in invitation. The Satedan lifted a brow, then nodded and stepped back alongside the city’s Agent Afloat. DiNozzo laughed softly. “We should just head to the mess without them. Besides, we can’t interrupt the wild astophysicist’s mating call in its natural habitat.”
The joke had the Pegasus native looking at Tony with undisguised confusion. He laughed. “Why don’t I explain over dinner?”
Ronon nodded with a pleased expression. “It’s a date.”
Tony glanced over in surprise at the phrase, his expression turning equally as pleased when the other man lifted both brows with a look that almost dared him to disagree. Shooting his date his best flirtatious smile, the Agent Afloat made his way to the mess, making sure to let his arm accidentally brush along Ronon’s whenever he had to step aside to let someone else pass them in the hall. Each and every contact earned him a subtle but heated glance, which of course only made him do it more often.
By the time they were both seated with their trays of food in a far corner of the mess hall, Tony had almost forgotten he was supposed to be explaining his earlier comment. Then the slightly taller man stared him down in a way that was anything but threatening. “Mating call?”
With a laugh, Tony launched into a light-hearted lecture on nature documentaries, which led to discussion of Earth-side entertainment in general. Neither noticed Teyla’s approach until she was standing beside them asking what was so funny. The Athosian must have been very entertained herself by the recap of their discussion, as she spent it looking at both of them as if she were only barely suppressing a laugh. That only became more apparent as they quickly described the reason they had come to dinner without Sheppard or McKay. When they had finished – including another, shorter, explanation about nature documentaries – she finally let out a short laugh.
The delightful sound was quickly squashed and replaced with an almost regal countenance. She glanced around them to make sure no one was near by and then asked, “So you left Dr. McKay and Colonel Sheppard to flirt uninterrupted while you both came here to… eat.”
Ronon apparently chose to ignore the inflection she placed on the last word. After getting to know him Tony was sure the man noticed and understood it regardless of the lack of reaction in his short reply. “Yep. Want to join?”
Teyla inclined her head in thanks but did not sit. “No, thank you, Ronon. I would not want to interrupt your own endeavors.”
Tony opened his mouth to respond, but found himself unable to come up with anything to say. A glance at the man beside him showed a wide smirk covering Ronon’s face and Tony snapped his mouth shut without speaking. He sat silently while the woman sauntered off with a smirk of her own, then very carefully placed all of their dishes and trash on his tray. He stood to dispose of it all, finally speaking as he stepped away from the table.
“I think I’m going to celebrate the upcoming full power of our lovely city back in my quarters with the last of my Earth contraband. Would you care to join me, Specialist Dex?”
Ronon nodded, and without another word, the two made their way to his assigned quarters where they split the remaining candy he had brought with him. Tony automatically started a movie on his laptop and they settled in on the small couch he’d managed to find the week before. He had a moment to wish he hadn’t done so, glancing over at his bed and wondering if he could come up with an excuse for them to watch it over there instead.
Suppressing what he refused to admit would have been a longing sigh, he instead spent the next half an hour joking around with his new friend and watching for anything that could be considered as an invitation. He had gotten to know the Satedan rather well, and he was naturally quite skilled at reading people if he did say so himself. Even so, he couldn’t tell if a more forward move would be welcomed and so tried to telegraph his interest more subtly.
Finally deciding that he was tired of tap-dancing around, Tony gave an exaggerated yawn and lay down on the couch, swinging his leg up so that his calves landed across Ronon’s lap, his feet settling on the armrest. He watched the other man freeze in place, then Tony stretched slowly so his legs moved across the muscled thighs he had stared at more than once in the gym. Green eyes rose to meet the former Runner’s gaze directly, almost challengingly.
Ronon stared back for a long, blistering moment, before he suddenly moved. His hands grasped the Agent’s legs just above his knees and pulled. Tony inhaled sharply as he was swiftly repositioned, Ronon moving so quickly that he was just all of a sudden above him. Two strong arms were there, one on either side of his head, and a heavy curtain of dreads blocked out a good percentage of the light. Tony forced himself to simply breathe for a second, then another, as he stared up into the face hovering above his own.
Before another second passed, Ronon was speaking, his voice low and rough and making Tony’s heart race at the sound of it. When the words registered, his breath sped up to match.
“Being subtle takes too long.”
“Yes,” Tony agreed on a sharp inhale. “Absolutely. Subtly is a total waste. Screw subtle. Kiss me.”
The grin that flashed across Ronon’s face just before his lips crashed into Tony’s was sharp, and hot enough to pull a long moan from the Agent. The next sound that filled the room was not preceded by a grin but the things that followed certainly left them both grinning for quite some time.
– – – – –
Tony couldn’t keep from returning the smile Ronon sent as the younger man ran slowly backwards, waiting for the Agent Afloat to catch up. He enjoyed sparing and working out in the gym with the Satedan, as much for what he learned as for the chance to touch all those muscles in a publically acceptable way. But the reasons he always broke down and agreed to run with him were different.
He had always run to stay in shape but he had never really enjoyed it, even before the plague. And no matter how well his lung scarring had been healed at the SGC, he had no chance of keeping up with Ronon. Yet he went without much argument because it was time spent alone with the former Runner on out of the way piers where almost no one would interrupt. Sure, Ronon ran most days with John, but the soldier could never run enough to satisfy the Satedan. And by the time Tony was sore and out of breath and ready to take a break, Ronon was more than happy to help him cool down his muscles before they headed back.
Their night-time runs were his favorite, the Agent decided as he let the smell of salt water and the sound of gently crashing waves slowly relax him. His efforts must have been too long in coming, however, as Ronon fell in beside him and cleared his throat. “Ready to talk about the email?”
Tony slowed to a stop and rested one foot on a railing to stretch out his leg. When he had switched to his other leg he let out a sigh. “It was an update from the SGC.”
The Agent considered mentioning how he was still getting used to reporting directly to the SecNav’s Investigator General. He thought about saying that he’d received word that his request for basic forensic equipment and a link to AFIS had been approved. Ronon would listen and he wouldn’t push him to reveal what had actually bothered him about the email.
He took a drink from his water bottle and set off on the remainder of their route at a jog as he tried to convince himself that he should keep the rest to himself the way he always had with anyone but John. He was almost painfully aware of the way Ronon just jogged silently at his side without any sign of curiosity or impatience.
“The IG of the Navy finally heard back about that damn book,” he finally said. “The publisher pulled out and Director Granger had to write up McGee because he threw some kind of a fit about it when he heard. Apparently the news came through the same day he and Abby found out Gibbs tried to come back to work and couldn’t because Granger made the retirement stick. And that news caused a big goth emo mess in forensics.”
Tony stopped again, taking another drink as he let his gaze travel over the city, absently trying to note which towers were lit up that hadn’t been the night before. He saw Ronon nodding out of the corner of his eye and allowed himself to lean against the nearest wall so he could turn and face the other man directly. “I guess it made me realize that, well, I just don’t care that much. I expected to be upset. Maybe relieved, I don’t know. But I just don’t care.”
He met the Satedan’s gaze head on. “I’m just… done. With all of them. It’s taking some time to adjust to the idea that this big chunk of my life is completely behind me and that I’m perfectly fine with that.”
Green eyes a shade lighter than his own seemed to sweep over his face, a thoughtful look in them as they did so. Tony was pretty sure that most people on Atlantis wouldn’t put thoughtful and Ronon in the same sentence, but he could almost feel the way Ronon was considering what had been said and weighing his own response. After a moment, the man gave a short nod and looked about out at the city.
He briefly wondered if the former Runner was giving him time to go on if he wanted, or just letting the subject drop entirely because he could see that the Agent had nothing else to say. After several seconds of silence he realized it didn’t matter because either way, Ronon was leaving the conversation in Tony’s hands entirely, just listening. Then he realized that was all he needed.
With a deep breath, he wandered over to lean against the railing and turned his back on both the star-lit ocean of Lantea and his life in D.C. Ronon joined him, leaning back against the railing beside him, their arms about an inch apart.
“Looks like that section’s got power now,” Ronon said after a good five minutes of comfortable silence, gesturing out at the towers on the south-east section of the city.
Tony nodded, his arm brushing up against Ronon’s as he shifted half a step closer. “Rodney said they finished fixing the conduits or whatever that blew when they installed the first full ZPM and that they planned to unplug all the generators and check something or other before they plug in the second one.”
Ronon inched closer with a nod of his own, their arms pressed solidly together. “Did they figure out that stuff with the sun and water power everybody got worked up over?”
The Agent couldn’t help but laugh as he recalled the rant Rodney and Zalenka had had with each other after finishing the repairs caused by the power surge from the first ZPM. Apparently when they had gone back to their labs they had found subroutines that had come online. “The look on their faces when they figured out so many of the secondary systems weren’t actually made to run off the ZPMs but solar and hydroelectric power instead!”
The former Runner let out a throaty chuckle. “I thought McKay was going to have some kind of medical fit his face was so red.”
Tony’s answering smile widened at the sight of the clear amusement sparkling in those light green eyes when they each looked over at the same time. “It will be interesting to see what other surprises pop up when they plug in the second one. I think they’re planning to do it in a couple days. Last I heard, Zalenka was still running some kind of diagnostic of the systems they think will automatically engage as soon as it’s hooked up.”
“Too bad they couldn’t just do it all at once. I’ve never heard anyone say anything about it having been a problem when they stuck in the first one to get the shield up during the siege.”
DiNozzo looked back out at the city but didn’t miss the way Ronon’s eye trailed up and down his body before he too turned away. Swallowing past the heat that rose in response, Tony tried to stay on topic. “Maybe they didn’t notice at the time. I guess it doesn’t matter so long as nothing else goes ka-boom when we’ve got two and a half ZPMs plugged in. We’ll be at full power once that and the solar and hydroelectric stuff is working.”
They both pushed off the railing and began walking back along their running route. Their pace was nothing that could be called athletic, but the way their arms continued to brush oh so casually every few seconds kept Tony’s pulse up just the same.
He distracted himself by starting a kind of competition between them to see who could come up with more things they would soon be able to do with full power.
It was easy to come up with realistic ideas like whatever might be easier with better access to the Ancient database, advanced intel and warnings from new sensors, more robust defense systems, offensive weapons, and even space flight. So much was possible it was almost hard to think of crazy and outlandish ideas.
“I can just hear Rodney at the idea of a bunch of dumb marines having so much power and so many weapons. Oh man. It’d be hilarious.” He laughed louder at the look on Ronon’s face.
“There would be some dire proclamations at the very least,” the Satedan confirmed with mock seriousness.
By the time they made it back to the center of the city, they had made only somewhat joking plans to meet up with John in the morning to plan an intergalactic guerilla war on the Wraith using the sparkly new assets their flying city was sure to have in the near future.
– – – – –
Tony paused, glancing down one corridor and then the next as he tried to remember in which direction the chair room was located. He had walked by it a few times in the month since he’d arrived but hadn’t had it specifically pointed out to him since his initial tour. So finding it now was probably going to be an exercise in annoyance.
He turned right but refused to cross his fingers that he was going the right way. If he wasn’t, he would simply get an exercise of a different sort. It wasn’t like he couldn’t use some exercise. He had been cooped up in his office for the last two days finalizing reports to send back to the IG and the SGC. Tony ran a hand through his hair and muttered under his breath about Rodney and John not being somewhere more easily accessible.
They had been cooped up as well. Or rather, Rodney had shut himself into the chair room to fix or connect something or other that had changed after the second ZPM was installed, and John had found some unknown reason to join him. Tony just hoped today’s reason wasn’t to verbally poke the scientist just to see how long it would take him to threaten to shut off his hot water for a month. John and Rodney may enjoy their little snark-fests but the Agent Afloat needed to be able to speak with the Lt. Colonel without anyone trying to tear their hair out in the process.
More specifically, Tony need to set up a meeting between himself, John, and Caldwell to go over his final plans and recommendations regarding force protection. Including transferring a couple of people off the city whom he wasn’t comfortable with or who’s track record indicated a threat to the base in one way or another.
Before doing that, however, he wanted to talk to John in his role as military leader since that technically put him in charge of all military issues including, force protection. Regardless of its inclusion in his mandate as Agent Afloat, Tony would prefer to get John’s agreement on the subject so that they would have a single recommendation when it came time to talk to Caldwell.
That, and he knew that neither John nor Rodney was likely to react well to all of his ideas on personnel. Getting that out of way before they were in front of the expedition leader was more than reason enough for him to trek halfway across the inhabited section of the city in order to find the two of them. Tony found himself repeating that in his head more than once, reminding himself that putting such a discussion off, even until dinner, would not help anyone. It certainly wouldn’t help whoever was within hearing distance of their table in the mess hall if the reaction was as bad as he feared.
Even so, once he arrived, ignoring Sheppard’s light teasing and McKay’s mumbled curses from where he was working hunched over an access panel in the far wall left him speaking a little more sharply than he’d intended when he got to laying out his argument.
“Based on what I’ve heard and what has been in the after action reports for his last five missions, Runcord has developed an aptitude and enjoyment of killing that will eventually make him a problem. And Dr. Vindo’s petty maneuverings have already caused a level of animosity among the other scientists that is bad for base moral and will probably be a problem for base security far sooner than I am comfortable with.”
John lifted a single brow as he glanced over, but Tony wasn’t sure if it was to question what else he had to say or if it was in silent rebuke for his tone. Ignoring the look, he braced himself, automatically falling into the quasi-parade rest he’d used when giving reports to an impatient or annoyed Gibbs. Then he brought up the reason he’d wanted to talk to them in private.
“The last personnel recommendation I’ll have for Caldwell is the CMO position.” The other two men appeared to freeze in place for a breath. Tony very purposefully did not meet either of their gazes as he went on.
“Becket is not towing the line on his probation.” He left unsaid that he had found that arrangement too generous from an enforcement perspective. Granted, he would readily admit his own problem with not strictly enforcing the chain of command and allowing disrespect while at NCIS. But he would also be the first to point out that those actions on his and Gibbs’ parts had only made McGee and Ziva worse. Ignoring the checks and balances on one’s position only led to problems.
“He has, in the last four weeks, failed to submit three reports to the CSO regarding purposed medical experiments, and has twice disregarded instructions and warnings to cease said experiments. He has also sent two formal complaints to the SGC about the refusal of his proposal to research and experiment using the retrovirus, and formally protested the instructions he was given to destroy the samples of the so-called Wraith cure he is trying to develop.”
Finally, Tony met John’s somber gaze. “It’s no longer something that can be allowed in any way. He is not going to cooperate. He is not going to stop pushing boundaries that should be immobile. He is a problem for the expedition and the city. And if he is allowed to stay here he could very easily prove a large problem for Pegasus. He needs to go.”
Rodney shoved himself away from the wall, something dangerously close to a pout on his face as he grabbed another cord from his kit a few feet away. John winced and took a long, deep breath before finally giving his agreement in a flat tone. McKay huffed and shot them both a rather toxic glare before returning to the panel and stabbing the new cord into something in the wall. After glancing at Tony with a pained and pathetic expression, the soldier made what DiNozzo thought was a rather blatant attempt at distracting the scientist.
“So, uh, what was it you’re doing there?”
Another glare was his immediate answer but after a hangdog expression that Tony could remember John practicing in the mirror when he was fifteen, Rodney began to give a drawn out and very complicated explanation as he worked. By the time the lecture was done ten minutes later, it was Sheppard’s turn to huff.
Tony had to fight down the laugh that tried to escape at the melodramatic way his childhood friend crossed the room and sat down in the control chair when Rodney stabbed his finger in that direction and ordered him to sit.
In an attempt to occupy himself and put off returning to his dour office, Tony wandered over to where McKay was still crouched and stared down over his shoulder at the screen of the tablet he was holding. “So, basically, you’re trying to use the chair as an interface to better interpret the new sensor scans so we can start to track the Wraith. Is this like what you said we would need in order to use the stardrive to fight a guerilla war from the city?”
Rodney looked up with a roll of his eyes. Tony recognized it as the same way the astrophysicist had responded when he, Ronon, and John had batted around crazy ideas to use the new ZPMs the week before. Yet McKay had obviously been listening and had even taken the time and effort to work out some actual logistics for the half-baked plan.
The Agent lifted both hands in a gesture of surrender before the CSO could even launch into some kind of response that would most likely be not only dismissive, but also scathing. When Rodney looked back down at his screen, Tony lowered his arms and leaned on the wall above him. As soon as his hand made contact, a section of the wall two feet to the left seemed to slide open, revealing a bank of screens.
“Uh, was that there before?” Tony asked with a trickle of apprehension.
– – – – –
John stared at the wall in shock, aware that Rodney was wearing a similar expression while Tony just stood perfectly still and looked ready to dive for cover at the first sign of a problem. Not that there was anything to dive under in here. The only thing in the chair room was the control chair itself. And apparently a bunch of screens in the wall. He sat up, feeling a little nervous himself, though he could see Rodney’s wide eyes starting to narrow in Tony’s direction.
Before the scientist could say anything, John stood and started towards the wall to get a better look. As soon as he did so, the panel slid back into place with a near silent hiss, covering the screens once more. A beat of silence passed before Rodney was glaring back and forth between the chair and the wall.
“Stop! Sit back down,” he barked.
“McKay-” he would have reminded his astrophysicist that he was the military commander of Atlantis and weird shit happening in the chair room kind of fell under his purview. But Rodney shot one of his best don’t-question-me-you-stupid-moron looks his way. He sat back down, though he kept his weary gaze on the wall and both Rodney and Tony as he did so.
As soon as he was back in the chair, the panel whispered back open. As soon as that happened, McKay was pushing Tony out of his way to look closer. The Agent Afloat was still regaining his balance when the panel closed for the second time. While the CSO squawked in indignation, John took the opportunity to join the others at the wall. Once there, he followed Tony’s example and ran his fingers carefully over the area.
It was the Agent who pointed out the barely visible join in the tiles that made up the wall, but John was only an instant behind him in trying to feel some kind of catch or other method of opening it manually. A moment later, it was hissing open under their hands. It, of course, closed back up as soon as they stepped back to allow Rodney a look.
“Damn!” John wasn’t even sure which one of them said it. Maybe all of them did.
“Everybody freeze,” demanded the cranky scientist.
Everybody froze. Everybody – meaning him and Tony – also followed the litany of increasingly sharp instructions for the ten minutes it took Rodney to walk them through every combination of actions possible. Eventually it was determined that John and Tony both had to be in direct contact with the wall, the chair, or both, at the same time, for the panel to open.
“Super-genes!” McKay shouted, snapping his fingers with enough force that John was pretty sure he’d have bruises tomorrow. The scientist jabbed a finger in his and then Tony’s direction in an almost accusing fashion. “Of course it’s your freakishly strong ATA genes. There must be some kind of lock. A dual lock that requires two strong expressions of the ATA gene used at once to unlock this, this- whatever this is.”
John ducked out of the way of a wildly gesturing hand, feeling a little leery of the near frantic enthusiasm on his lover’s face. He was more glad than he would admit when the sound of a throat being cleared brought everyone’s attention to the doorway. The soldier leapt on the opportunity with perhaps more zeal than was warranted. “Ronon. Buddy! So great to see you. What can we do for you today?”
Ronon looked back and forth among the other occupants in silence for a moment before he answered in a flat, uncertain tone. “Looking for Tony. We were supposed to spar.”
“Who cares about Conan’s play fight. This is important. Who knows what this is for? What it could do?” interrupted Rodney before the resident NCIS Agent could respond.
“Oh!” John cried, face suddenly bright with sudden excitement. “What if it’s an extra system just for the drones or something.”
“Weapons?” Ronon asked with interest.
“Maybe,” added Tony, “that would be cool.”
Rodney made a rude noise and waved his hand around in a way John knew meant for them to either shut up or go away so he could concentrate. Moving over towards the door with the others, he couldn’t help but speculate on what cool things they could do with the chair or the drones depending on what those screens said. It was Tony’s verbal puzzling that drew the scientist’s attention, however.
“He was doing stuff with the sensors and tracking and stuff earlier. Maybe it has something to do with that.”
“That’s not completely stupid,” the CSO admitted in a slightly surprised tone before turning back to what he was doing.
Sheppard rolled his eyes, then turned to his childhood friend with a speculative gleam, leaning one shoulder against the wall just inside the room. “Hey. Maybe it’s some kind of tracking system for the drones, like long range weapons sensors or something. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could track down the Wraith, sneak up on them and fire the drones from outside their sensor range? We could blow them up before they even knew we were there.”
Tony mirrored his position on the other side of the door, Ronon standing between them, looking very interested as the Agent nodded along. “That would definitely be cool. Offense is the best defense, after all.”
A console slide out of the wall right beside the screens, startling Rodney and the others, though the three by the door managed not to fall over the way the cursing scientist had. They all automatically converged around the new piece of equipment, despite Rodney’s sharp command not to actually touch anything.
John leaned over the console, then looked at the screens, which were displaying a kind of window. He made sure to hold both hands up so as to avoid another admonishment, but couldn’t help asking McKay what it said. He should probably start learning Ancient, he thought as Rodney shoved him aside to read it.
“Initiate secondary battle protocols.”
“What?” shouted the military commander, only to be glared down by his astrophysicist.
“My Ancient is better but it’s not perfect yet. It looks like some kind of operating program for the city itself. For fighting the Wraith, I think,” McKay mumbled, causing the other three to stand up a little straighter and exchange wide-eyed expressions. The CSO made a half surprised, half intrigued noise as something resembling a keyboard came out of another section of paneling below the screens. “It doesn’t look like it’s been used. The program certainly hasn’t been initialized. It hasn’t even been fully written.”
“Can you finish it?” John cut in before the scientist could say any more. Even he could hear the almost breathless quality of his voice, but the idea of an unused Ancient battle plan that would allow the actual city to fight with them was overwhelming. In a completely good, blow up the Wraith kind of way.
Rodney glanced up from where he had his nose practically buried in the screens, fingers flying across the little keyboard type thing. Sheppard was pretty sure his glare might have frozen the Lt. Colonel in place if he weren’t feeling all warm and tingly at the thought of all the strategic possibilities. He waited on pins and needles while his lover continued to hem and haw over what he was reading. John felt Tony and Ronon practically vibrating beside him.
After another nerve wracking minute, McKay looked back up “The coding will take a while, and I have far too much on my plate to do it all myself, so Miko will have to help.”
“But you can do it?” John couldn’t help but cut in eagerly.
Rodney humphed but nodded. “Yes. We should be able to finish it.”
Nothing could have stopped him from punching his fist up into the air in victory. The soldier turned to exchange wide, feral grins with the Agent and the warrior behind him. Without even thinking about it, he extended his fist for a bump with Tony, just like they used to before they’d play basketball or football as teenagers. DiNozzo immediately responded, returning the fist bump and saying exactly what they always had all those years ago.
“We’re going to kick so much ass!”