Things went off in an unexpected direction with this one. My first, Harlequin-y pirate idea kind of went nowhere (the one I posted a teaser from), and then I tried another one (space pirates!) and still couldn't get it to work, so I did this instead! When in doubt and unable to choose between ideas ... do them all.
Title: Five Ways They Weren't Pirates (or: Scenes from Five SGA Pirate AUs)
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Pairing: Some of the AUs are gen, some have (mostly background-ish) het, and one is slash. Those pirates, they get around. Aaarrrr.
Word Count: about 6000
Genre: Action/Adventure, mostly, with some humor & a bit of romance & whatnot
Spoilers: for 3x10, "Return"
Read the original P-for-Pirate prompt here
I. Ronon Dex, Space Pirate
The Sateda, so it was said, had been built by a reclusive genius inventor. Ronon didn't know if the story was true, but it might explain some of his ship's quirkier design features -- such as the stellarium on the hull.
Stellarium was Doc Zelenka's word -- Like a solarium, he'd said, only, you know, for the stars. Ronon didn't much care what it was called, but he spent a lot of time there. The force shield holding back the vacuum of space was as transparent as air; in the gulf between suns, he sometimes felt that he could reach out and touch the stars.
Part of his education on lost Sateda had been learning the star stories -- memorizing the pictures in the stars, and the myths that explained them. Ronon never had much patience for it, not then. He'd mouthed back the words and forgotten them immediately afterwards, preferring to fill his mind with the things that truly interested him: guns and knives, martial arts and military strategy.
Only now, when he was one of the few left to carry on the legacy of a dead world, did he wish that he'd paid more attention to those long-ago star stories. Separated from the universe by a thin veneer of air, he lay sprawled on a blanket that he'd brought up from his quarters, a beer in one hand, murmuring the snippets of the stories that he could dredge from his memory and searching, always searching, for more.
The stars were different, of course. Sometimes, half drunk, he would lie back and make up his own names for the unfamiliar patterns they made, but each hyperspace jump brought new ones.
He'd just got done naming a particularly bright cluster of stars after some of his ex-girlfriends when his pilot swung up the metal ladder leading up from the ship. "Captain, Radek and Simpson are almost finished going through the salvage we picked up on that last derelict. They've found something interesting they want you to look at."
Despite its reputation, the Sateda wasn't a true pirate ship. The only ships they attacked were other pirate vessels; they could outrun almost anything with the ship's weird, souped-up drive, another legacy of its unknown genius inventor. Generally, they stuck to salvage, picking over abandoned space stations and derelict ships drifting through the blackness of space.
Sheppard had already vanished by the time Ronon took the last slug from his bottle of Asuran bootleg and dropped down the ladder into the ship's utilitarian corridor. The pilot usually wasn't much interested in what they salvaged, unless you could fly it. Ronon had picked him up on the outskirts of Wraithspace awhile back, and while he hadn't regretted it -- the man knew his work, and Ronon had never flown with a better pilot -- he also knew no more about John Sheppard now than he had when they'd rescued that damaged dart two years ago. John was ex-military -- Ronon knew it when he saw it -- but he never spoke of it, any more than he seemed to have friends or relatives on any of the stations where they made port. Just as Ronon recognized fellow military, so he also recognized the look of someone who was even more isolated and damaged than himself.
But all those on the Sateda kept their secrets. Some he knew, others he didn't, and in any case he figured it wasn't his business.
The Sateda's cargo bay was a flurry of activity when he arrived. Lorne, Bates and Ford were sorting through piles of boxes, while Ronon found his two engineers with their heads together over a cargo pod. They looked up when he joined them. "Sheppard said you got somethin' different?"
"It's a cargo container, but it's been retrofitted as a life support capsule. Very clever," Zelenka explained. "We wanted to wait to open it 'til you got here."
"Appreciate the thought, Doc." He looked down at the pod -- nondescript, a little bit scarred from the docking grapples that had been used to move it. "You mean somebody's in there?"
"That's what the scans are showing me." Zelenka held up a scanner. It might as well have been Ancestor-script for all Ronon could read it, so he just nodded in what he hoped was a suitably enlightened fashion.
"Well, get to it."
Zelenka nodded and tapped his eyeshades to change the transparency to a dark tint before picking up a cutting torch. He cut through a set of locks with exquisite care, then laid the torch aside and nodded to Simpson. There was a soft hiss of released air as they pried the lid free.
The first thing Ronon saw was a spill of copper-colored hair. As the pod's network of life-support cables retracted, a slender female shape was revealed, curled up against a larger man with her head tucked against his shoulder. Their pose was more intimate, somehow, than just that which the close confines of the pod made necessary; her arms were wrapped around his waist, and his broad hands closed around the small of her back, keeping her safe. Lovers, Ronon thought.
"Life signs look stable," Zelenka reported, checking the rapidly changing readouts on his scanner. "The woman's unhurt, beyond a few bruises; the man ..." His brows drew together; pity and distaste twisted his mouth. "I think he's been tortured."
Ronon started to say, "How?" but then his eyes were drawn to the hands pressed against the woman's back -- to the stump of a recently missing pinky finger, with flesh-colored sealant sprayed across it. The finger next to the missing one bore a slim, unremarkable band which Ronon at first mistook for a ring, before realizing that it was a tattoo, circling the ring finger at its base.
"Let's get 'em out of there." He moved as he spoke, gently detaching the woman from the man's grasp. Even unconscious, they clung to each other tenaciously and he had to separate their arms one at a time. The woman was unexpectedly tiny, and when he lifted her out of the pod, she curled against his chest like a doll.
Zelenka and Simpson got the man out of the pod with some difficulty, assisted by Lorne. His shirt hung in tatters, cut to ribbons; Ronon could see the marks of cuts and burns through the rags, some healing, others fresher. Yes. Tortured.
"That shirt he's wearing, that's Genii make," Simpson said. "Guess we know what they were looking for, back on the station."
"That'd be my guess." Ronon looked down at the woman in his arms. She appeared uninjured, her bright hair cropped short against her small round skull. Her nondescript tunic, leggings and light slippers gave no clue to her planet of origin -- or how she came to be sealed in a hidden escape pod with a man the Genii were apparently willing to go to great lengths to retrieve. Ronon couldn't figure it; leaving aside the marks of torture, the man looked soft, unremarkable, with thinning hair and a body that had clearly seen more of a desk chair than the outdoors. What could he possibly have that the Genii would want that badly?
"Let's get 'em to the medbay, let Doc Beckett take a look." As he shifted the woman to a more comfortable position in his arms, one limp arm flopped across her stomach and he saw a band tattooed around her left ring finger, matching that on the man's hand. While he wasn't sure which world's custom that might be, it didn't take a genius to figure out what it probably meant, and his mind upgraded them from lovers to husband and wife.
II. The Lady Pirates of Athos
Teyla's cutlass traced the pale line of John's throat, before jerking forward with a quick snikt! and separating the laces that held his shirt together. The fabric fell apart, revealing a swatch of chest. Behind her, Sora made an appreciative sound.
"Hey," John protested, lamely. "Watch where you're pointing that thing."
"This one seems very ... strong." Teyla's lips curved in a proprietary smile. As the ship's captain, first pick of captives was, of course, hers to make. "I am fond of him."
"I prefer this one." Elizabeth brushed the muzzle of her pistol against Rodney's collarbone. "I like intelligent men."
"Hey," John said again.
Rodney tried to lean as far away from Elizabeth and her weaponry as possible. "No -- we're, you see, we're, uh --"
"Gay," Sheppard said cheerfully, closing a hand over Rodney's, and ignoring the dolphin-like squeak of shock and outrage. "Very, very gay."
Teyla squinted at them suspiciously, while Rodney made surreptitious efforts to jerk his hand free of Sheppard's white-knuckled grasp, eventually using his other hand to try to pry Sheppard loose. "I am not convinced of that," she said at last, looking over the captives' heads to meet Elizabeth's eyes. Her first mate shrugged, equally baffled.
"Gay as a barrel full of monkeys on ether," Sheppard said with a manic glint in his eye. "Ouch! Quit it, Rodney. Gayer than a goatherd on the first day of spring. Gay as a wagonload of schoolgirls on the way to -- Ow!"
Rodney kicked him in the shins, and retrieved his hand. "Shut up. I can't believe I know you. In fact, I'm not speaking to you, as of now."
"Quit sulking! I'm saving our lives here!"
"I can't hear you. La la la..."
Elizabeth stepped back; she exchanged a glance with Teyla. "They are telling the truth," Teyla said, disappointed.
This time the outraged "Hey!" came from Rodney. John looked smug.
Teyla folded her arms, the cutlass dangling loosely from one small, strong hand, and tapped a booted foot on the deck planks. "If they are not useful for pleasure, what shall we do with them?"
"Sell 'em to the Genii Alliance," Sora suggested. "They'd make good slaves -- workers in the fields, or pleasure slaves for male landowners." She leered at them.
John's smirk turned to a look of chagrin, and Rodney smacked him in the back of the head. "Nice going! Let the genius do the talking, would you?"
John crossed his arms. "Fine, genius. Start talking."
Rodney gave him a dubious look, then peered up at Teyla, squinting his eyes against the glare of the lowering sun. "You want the truth? You want to know why we're out here, so far from the Athosian Islands?"
"I had assumed that stupidity was the cause."
He gave her a flat look. "Oh, ha. No, we know that you guys sail these waters -- I mean, you specifically, your crew, not pirates in general. Well, yes, pirates in general as well, but --"
Her blade whipped forward, a slim line of steel glinting under his chin. "Your jumbled words do not please me. I would like simple answers, or you will swim with the sharks tonight."
Rodney swallowed, his throat bobbing against the edge of the sword. His voice emerged as a breathy squeak. "Your father hired us!"
"Rodney!" John hissed.
Teyla drew back, her eyes bright and sharp as the blade. "You lie."
"It's all too plausible, Captain," Elizabeth said softly. "We know he's still looking for us. For you."
"Speak," Teyla ordered, pressing the sword against Rodney's throat. A thin red line opened beneath it; he stared back at her, eyes wide and fixed with terror. "Tell me what services Lord Emmagan bought of you."
John leaned forward, his body whip-taut. "Hurt him, and I'll kill you."
She only gave him a level look from eyes half-lidded. "He will not be harmed if he answers the question." Casting a scornful glance at Rodney, frozen in his panic, she added, "Or, if he cannot, you may."
John's breath whistled between his teeth before he said, "We've been ordered to bring you back to Athos ... Lady." A sarcastic weight twisted the honorific into a veiled insult. "Or if not, then at least to tell the Governor where you are."
"So that he can send his soldiers to carry me home like a naughty child." Teyla turned her back on them, staring off to the distant horizon where gulls whirled against the sun; behind her, Rodney leaned forward, rubbing his throat. "Did he also tell you why I ran away to sea, gentlemen, these ten years past?"
"Somehow it didn't come up," John said, surreptitiously sliding an arm behind Rodney to brace him.
"I am betrothed to Lord Cowen of the Genii." She snorted, throwing back her bright hair, and looked over her shoulder at the two of them. Her dark eyes measured and assessed them. "An old man, Lord Cowen, and a cruel old man, at that. But it cemented the alliance between Athos and the Genii, and the honored Governor, my father, gave me no choice in the matter."
"Life sucks," John retorted. "It's been no bed of roses for me lately, either."
Teyla continued to watch them for a moment, then looked up at their guards, nodding to Sora and Katie before finally her gaze lingered on Elizabeth. "Let them up."
"Captain --" Elizabeth began.
Teyla cut her off with a sharp movement of her hand. "I would like them cleaned up. They will dine in my quarters tonight, and I do not suffer ... unattractive company." She smiled more widely this time, and turned smartly on her heel, striding across the deck and leaving them behind.
III. Sky Pirates
The wind through the open cockpit of the glider whipped Sheppard's hair; he squinted his eyes even through the flight goggles. "Ready?" he called back.
"If by ready you mean ready for imminent violent death --"
"Yes or no, McKay!" The side of the Asuran dirigible loomed in Sheppard's field of vision.
"Deploying grapples!" McKay shouted back, and Sheppard heard the pop of the grapple catches releasing, the hum of the lines striking out for the dirigible's side. The glider's fragile body shuddered as the grapples took hold -- McKay, for all his complaining, was good, and from the sudden strain as their forward movement was halted, Sheppard knew that his partner had managed to lock the grapples to the dirigible's frame.
Hands light on the controls, he glided in for a careful landing against the dirigible's side. As the glider nudged up against the much larger craft, he could feel the vibration of its engines, transmitted through its thin skin and skeletal frame to the lightweight frame of his own craft.
An explosion off to his left made him jump; behind him, McKay staggered in the act of leaning out to secure them to the dirigible, and tumbled to the floor of the glider, throwing off the delicate balance of weight in the craft. They swung away from the dirigible on the ends of the grapples.
"Damn it, Sheppard, hold it steady!"
"Trying!" he yelled back, too intent on his work to even bother with a snarky reply about alchemists who couldn't keep their sky legs under them. One wrong move, and the glider would swing into the dirigible and shatter. In the worst-case scenario, they'd puncture one of the gas bladders and the Asurans' defensive fire would take them all up in a giant fireball.
Speaking of which, another shell burst in his peripheral vision, and he saw a glider shudder and begin spiraling downwards. Who --? Oh, Ford and Cadman -- he recognized the colors. Ford was an excellent pilot and his glider didn't seem to be badly damaged; he could probably guide it in for a landing. They'd both be sorry to miss the fighting, though.
"They're shooting awfully close to the zeppelin!" McKay yelled against the wind, in a voice high-pitched with fear.
Sheppard couldn't help but agree. He wondered what orders Oberoth had given the Asuran security forces, if they were willing to risk immolating themselves in order to bring down the Lantean pirates. Then the glider bumped against the dirigible once again, and he had his hands full, fighting the wind and the shuddering motion until McKay could get them locked down.
Around them, other gliders were getting into position as well; he caught sight of Ronon's streaming dreadlocks as the Satedan leaned out of his glider to lock it to the dirigible's side, while his pilot, Teyla, held it steady. Farther back, Zelenka and Lorne had clamped on as well.
Sheppard checked his weapons and secured a line to his harness. "McKay? Ready?"
"Have I mentioned I hate heights?" came the instant reply, along with the sound of McKay snapping onto a safety line.
"Only every time we do this." Sheppard joined McKay in the rear of the glider, where his partner crouched in the open doorway. The glider was secured to the dirigible's side, and their safety lines were secured to it -- time to go. He planted a hand in McKay's back between the shoulder blades. "You gonna jump, or do I have to push you?"
"Jumping," McKay said miserably, and threw himself out the door in a belly flop.
Sheppard sighed. More training was clearly necessary; he'd have to talk to Elizabeth. He cast himself out the door and free-fell until the harness caught him. Without the partial protection of the glider to shield him, the wind was a screaming force shearing along the dirigible's side, trying to tear the rope out of his hands. Fighting the wind, he rappelled to a catwalk, got his balance, and then reached out a hand to catch McKay's leg and steady him as he landed.
"Next time think you could get us a little closer?" McKay demanded, his gloved hands shaking as he secured his line to the catwalk's rail and then unclipped it from his harness. The wind caught his words, tore them away -- he had to yell to be heard.
"You're the one who set the lines," Sheppard shouted back, swinging the rifle from his shoulder to rest in his hands. "Your gun, get out your damn gun!" he added, seeing that McKay had paused to inspect the welding on the catwalk's rail.
"I'm an alchemist, not a --"
McKay opened and closed his mouth. "Well, yes, technically, but I think freedom fighter sounds a little less --"
A door down the catwalk opened and an Asuran leaned out, snapping off a quick shot that pinged off the metal by McKay's hand. Sheppard fired back, and the other man jerked, spun around and fell off the catwalk.
"Your gun, McKay!"
"Right. Gun. Got it."
With McKay on his heels, Sheppard took a quick peek through the open doorway and then ducked inside. He was standing on another catwalk, this one running into shadow in both directions in the cavernous space of the dirigible. Gaslights and candles were, for obvious reasons, verboten inside the main body of the craft, so the only light was filtered gauzily through quasi-translucent canvas. Over Sheppard's head, the belly of a giant gas bladder vibrated with the engines' steady thrumming.
By now the other teams -- Teyla, Lorne, Elizabeth and the rest -- would be converging on the cargo bay. Caldwell and Novak would have the big glider Daedalus locked to the belly of the dirigible, and in minutes they would be filling it with sacks of grain originally destined for the Asuran capital. Cutting the enemy's supply lines and feeding the resistance ... all in one swipe.
But he and McKay had a slightly different mission, an even more dangerous one. Hooking his fingers through his partner's body harness, Sheppard tugged him forward. "C'mon, McKay; it's your show now. Let's find the engine room and take this baby down."
IV. Rodney McKay, Software Pirate
Rodney blinked and rubbed at his burning eyes, grinding away the after-image of the computer screen. He reached blindly into the minifridge tucked under his desk, closed his fingers over a cold can, and opened his eyes for the mystery soda surprise. Lemon-lime Sprite. He groaned, dropped it in the trash can and grabbed a Coke. Stupid Sheppard trying to kill him with his stupid Soda of Anaphylactic Doom. Yeah, sure it didn't contain real citrus.
A sleepy groan came from the bedroom doorway and John lurched out, scratching at his side. "Are you still up?"
"It's morning in Amsterdam," Rodney said absently, typing one-handed while he popped the tab on the Coke can with the other.
"But we're not in Amsterdam, Rodney." John leaned a hip on the edge of the desk. He was wearing one of Rodney's T-shirts and his hair stuck up in various unlikely directions.
"Thank you for sharing your America-centric worldview yet again. Here, hold this." Rodney handed him the Coke so that he had both hands free.
"So I'm a cupholder now, am I?" John leaned over into Rodney's personal space. He'd been finished with his one and only Air Force tour for a year now, and his hair had grown out, curling wispy against his neck and falling forward to tickle Rodney's cheek. "Whatcha doing?"
"What I do, Sheppard, what I do." Rodney brought up a status window to check on his various downloads. "Four days? Where is their server, in the Kalahari Desert? Screw that." He canceled, while his eyes flicked back to the flow of numbers in a terminal window at the bottom of the screen.
"Hacking something?" John guessed when Rodney paused to type.
"The World Bank."
John stopped. Blinked. Took a drink of Rodney's Coke. "Why?"
"Oh, just to see if I can."
Another pause, then a sarcastic drawl: "Bit risky, isn't it?"
"It's only illegal if you get caught, Sheppard; how many times do I have to tell you? Besides, I'm not actually taking anything. This time." Rodney snapped his fingers. "Caffeine."
John handed the Coke back, smirking. "Gee, I wonder why you washed out of M.I.T."
"I did not 'wash out'," Rodney retorted loftily.
"Sorry. Dropped out."
"Left. I left to pursue business opportunities elsewhere. There's no money in astrophysics, Sheppard."
"But you like it." Sheppard's eyes drifted off to the shelf of physics and astronomy books, half-hidden in one corner of the apartment's shadowy living room.
"Not for a career. Sure, there's a whole lot of universe, but we're not going to be exploring it in my lifetime. Today's real frontier is out there --" he waved his hand "-- in cyberspace. That's where the action is."
"If you say so. I'll take a fast motorcycle over a computer any day. Speaking of which --" John yawned. "I have to be at the detail shop at eight, so ..." He trailed off expectantly.
"Don't let me keep you from your beauty sleep," Rodney said impatiently, without taking his eyes from the screen.
John leaned forward and brushed Rodney's long hair off his neck with light fingers, planting a kiss at his nape. "Rodney, come to bed."
"In a minute. You know, you don't even need that job. I can make us as much money in five minutes as you make in --"
"I like that job," John said, carding his fingers through Rodney's hair, and the edge of steel in his voice said clearly that it wasn't open for debate. Catching a handful of hair, he pulled Rodney's head back -- "Ow! Scalp!" -- and kissed his forehead. "Good night, genius."
Rodney relaxed back against his chest. "Well, maybe I could be ... persuaded to call it a night."
"If you say so, but the only thing persuading you is going to be my comatose body that has to be up in four hours, because seriously, Rodney, I need to sleep." John's forehead brushed gently against Rodney's, and then his warmth withdrew and he lurched back into the bedroom, stumbling over the cat on the way.
"Idiot," Rodney muttered affectionately, and a minute later was lost in the Bangkok stock exchange.
V. Pirates of Pegasus
Elizabeth was the first of them to leave. John hadn't expected that; he'd thought it would be Carson, or maybe Zelenka. At least she did it voluntarily; he still didn't want to think about what had happened to Chuck.
She came to him at night when he was sitting in the control room, taking his turn on the monitors. The city was supposed to alert them if anything happened, but John had set up watches during their early weeks on the run. With so few of them, sleep deprivation left them all increasingly red-eyed and strained as time went on, but it was better than being caught sleeping if the Wraith came out of nowhere, if the Asurans attacked, if the city had a catastrophic breakdown between solar systems, if a million other unlikely but lethal things happened in the middle of an artificial night.
"I can't do it anymore, John." Elizabeth's long, graceful hands worried at each other in her lap, twisting over and over; he didn't think she was aware of it. "It's crazy, because when we were all stuck on Earth, all I could think of was getting back here. But now ... now I keep thinking about shopping malls, and my mother, and -- and maybe even trying to make another go of it with Simon."
"We're a volunteer operation," John said, because she seemed to expect him to say something, and what could he say? Surely not the truth -- I want you here, I need you here, I can't go back and I don't know how we can do this without you. "All you gotta do is say the word and we'll dial the Stargate, for you or anybody on Atlantis. You know that."
She raised shadowed eyes to his. "I feel like I'm letting you all down."
Yes, said his betraying heart, while his mouth said, "No, of course not. We'll be at MX3-451 in a few hours, and we'll have a point of origin for the Stargate. McKay can dial Earth, just long enough to let you through." He met her eyes, trying not to look too deep -- whether afraid of what he'd see, or afraid she'd see too much in him, he wasn't sure. "You know there's no telling how the SGC will react. I don't even know if they'll let you go. Me and Lorne, we're officially AWOL, but the SGC doesn't have any authority over you; doesn't mean they won't try, though."
A small, miserable laugh escaped her. "They're not happy, I expect."
"Probably not." Understatement of the year. When he'd hijacked a Puddlejumper to fly back to the Pegasus Galaxy and free the city from the Asurans, he'd known he was throwing away his career. Even back then, he'd been making contingency plans, and with the blame for O'Neill and Woolsey's deaths coming down square on his head, there was no question of going back to Earth. But he hadn't expected that Rodney and Carson and Elizabeth would throw their lot in with his. He hadn't expected how many former expedition members would slip through the gate -- one at a time, under various excuses -- to join his one-man crusade against the Wraith.
Three ZPMs. They could go anywhere in the galaxy, or, assuming that they managed to eradicate the Wraith threat, even beyond it.
All they had to give up was home and family. Both, for him, were here. But he'd noticed the looks on the others' faces. Nearly all of them had left someone behind on Earth. Rodney had been talking about Jeannie a lot lately. Carson couldn't seem to get through a conversation without mentioning some relative or other. Even Teyla had been taking more opportunities to visit the Athosians lately, and the last time she'd taken Ronon along to get Halling's blessing for their union.
They'll leave, he thought. One at a time, they'll leave. I can't blame them; I'd probably do the same thing.
And eventually, like Elizabeth in that other timeline, he'd be alone in an empty city -- but this time without hope of anyone else coming, except people he didn't want to see.
"Dialing the gate." Rodney's voice was soft, and a little husky from the time a few months back when a Wraith had hit him in the throat. It had healed, but Carson said there was lingering scar tissue on his vocal cords. Sometimes when Rodney started talking behind him, John didn't recognize the voice that he thought he should know anywhere; it was unnerving.
The event horizon shimmered below them, a puddle of blue light. They were all gathered, the small group of refugees and survivors. There were no goodbyes left to say. While no one had tried to talk Elizabeth out of her decision, John sensed how the remaining Lanteans had grouped close together -- though she hadn't stepped through the gate yet, she was already an outsider, no longer one of them.
Elizabeth turned her face up to the group looking down. "If you come back, look me up." She tried to laugh, but it broke.
John took a deep breath and reached for the console in front of him. Rodney silently pointed at a button; he pushed it. "Stargate Command? This is Atlantis. Lower the iris; we're sending someone through."
"Atlantis?" Landry's voice, sounding older, more tired -- and angry. "Is this Colonel Sheppard? Damn it --"
"Not Colonel any more, General. Dr. Weir wants to come home. I'm sending her there."
"Goddammit, Sheppard, you can't do this. We have no way of knowing if you've been compromised or even if you are who you say are --"
"General, you have five seconds to lower the iris or I'm closing this gate and we'll send her somewhere else in the Milky Way Galaxy. She can gate home from there."
A pause. Then, Landry ground out, "It's down."
To trust, or not to trust. John nodded down at Elizabeth, and with one quick look back at them, she stepped into the event horizon. She didn't hesitate.
Landry was talking again. John didn't pay any attention to what he was saying. "Rodney, shut down the --" But Rodney's fingers were already moving, and the blue light fragmented and faded, leaving the gate room quiet and dim.
After a long silence, Ronon stretched and said, "Took a look from the balcony when we set down. Nice little forest off sunwards -- could be good hunting. Who wants to check it out?"
"Sounds like fun," Lorne said.
"I shall go as well." Teyla's fingers laced lightly through Ronon's, and she glanced towards the others, her gaze pausing on John.
"I'll be along. Don't wait for me."
The rest of them drifted out of the gate room in ones and twos, discussing the new planet in voices that were a little too pointedly bright and cheerful. John suspected that he'd be getting a few more requests to open a gate over the next few days, but he didn't want to speculate on who might ask. He didn't know how he'd run the city without any of them. On the other hand, the only other option was watching them all die, one by one, in the fight against the Wraith, and something in him broke a little at that thought. Weary beyond measure, he leaned on the railing and stared down at the defunct Stargate.
A familiar presence moved into position beside him. When it didn't go away, he cast a sidelong glance at the scientist.
Rodney cleared his throat and said in his new, rougher voice, "She'll go stir crazy on Earth, you know. Ten bucks says she'll figure a way to sneak back into the Mountain and hijack the gate to get herself back here ... in six months or less."
John snorted. "We're in another galaxy, Rodney, and we've all been fired; what would I do with ten bucks even if you had it?"
"Fine." Rodney fumbled around in his field vest and drew out a Snickers bar. John blinked at it.
"Where'd you get that?"
"Channels," Rodney said loftily. "And don't tell me you haven't got a stash too. Is it a bet?"
Despite himself, a grin crept around the edges of his lips. "You're on."
Rodney nodded in a self-satisfied way and tucked the candy bar away again. In a slightly different tone of voice, he said, "I'm not planning on it, you know."
He jerked his head at the gate. "Oh, sure, I've thought about it. I'm sure every one of us has. But after this? The very best I can hope for is to have my security clearance yanked and a gag order put on all the work I've done here. Knowing that there's an entire universe out there, and never seeing it again -- just waiting around for the Ori or Wraith or whoever to descend on Earth ... sounds like Hell to me."
John just grunted.
"And I know for a fact that Teyla and Ronon aren't planning on leaving -- What?" he demanded when John turned a startled look on him. "Sure, we've talked about it. Of course we've talked about it. You're the only one who's got enough of an ego to assume that you know what the rest of us are going to do without bothering to ask."
John stammered for a minute. "Where is all of this coming from, Rodney?" His eyes narrowed. "And what do you mean, I have an ego."
Rodney waved a dismissive hand at the Stargate. "Oh, please. As if we can't all read you like a Dick and Jane book. The whole inscrutable-military thing only works in your head, and no, the sunglasses don't help," he added as John reached for a pocket of his vest.
"I wasn't getting out the sunglasses." John's fingers shifted hastily to the pocket just under the one with the shades, where there should be -- ah, yes, there was. His fingers curled around a Milky Way Midnight, flicked it out and tossed it to Rodney, who snatched it out of the air with reflexes that had noticeably sharpened just in the last few months.
Rodney's expression was torn between covetousness and suspicion. "What's this for? The bet was six months, and it's only been what, five minutes? Are you that eager to lose?"
"This has nothing to do with the bet, which you're going to lose," John retorted. "This is so that you don't faint from hypoglycemia while we explore a new planet."
Rodney glared at him for another moment, a challenging I see right through you, John Sheppard look, before tearing open the candy wrapper and taking a large bite. "Oh, God. Bliss." He broke it in half, passed the unbitten (and larger) half to John, and pushed away from the railing. "Notice I'm letting the faint comment pass by. And as for exploring, I expect Ronon's killed everything in the woods by now."
"Still ought to be something worth taking a look at. Maybe even a ZPM. Not that we don't have plenty."
"It's not possible to have too many ZPMs."
John laughed. A part of him had torn away along with Elizabeth; but it would heal. It always did. And if the scars still showed, sometimes that just left an opening for someone else to slip in. "Since we're placing bets, any bets on what Ronon and Teyla are going to name their firstborn?"
Rodney shuddered. "That sounds like an excellent way to end up paraplegic at our next sparring practice. Just for the record, however, if they name it after you, I really am leaving, because two John Sheppards in one galaxy makes my brain melt."
"If it's a girl, they could call her Meredith."
"We're in another galaxy; nobody here even knows that Meredith is a girl's name."
"Well then, if it's a boy, they could call him Meredith."
"You're funny, Sheppard, a real comedian."
"Glad you finally admit it."
Rodney just snorted, and then fell into a pensive silence.
There were no words to say what Sheppard really wanted to say, so he settled for punching Rodney in the arm, which got the expected response.
"Ow! I bruise easily, you know!"
"I know," John said. "Good thing I'm around to keep you from getting hit, then." And he took a bite of the candy.