The Crossover Challenge
Title: Veritas Est Sicco Illic
Pairing: Caldwell/OMC, John/Rodney
Beta: Sterling Dragonfly
Summary: There was no denying that Dr. Rodney McKay had initially worked for the NID. They did, after all, originally involve him in the Stargate project. But he was ashamed to admit to the things he had helped the Consortium to accomplish.
Warnings: A badly executed cross-over with The X-Files. Consider this to be severely AU and diverge from that series (The X-Files) at Season Seven. Implied previous Mulder/Skinner.
Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis was created by Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper. The X-Files were the creation of Chris Carter. I’m merely abusing their characters for my own amusement.
He barely looked up from his tablet as he came through her office doors. They shut behind him but he was already speaking. “Can we make this quick? I’m in the middle of a time critical simulation and we’re going offworld in less than two days. Sheppard…”
Looking up to meet Elizabeth’s amused gaze, his body followed his turning head in a circuit of the room. “I thought this was a team meeting?”
“I needed to speak with you privately.”
“That sounds,” his hand hesitated over the tablet, finally keying it into a dormant state. “Very bad,” he finished, dropping into the chair across from her.
“Rodney, there have been rumors…”
His face tightened, going blank. Elizabeth winced at the situations that had required this extremely expressive man to learn such a habit. Diplomacy would hardly be appreciated here, she decided. Therefore, with McKay, she’d simply lay it all out.
“Due to the American military regulations, I cannot speak with him about this… But you are under no such restrictions. Rodney, are you and Colonel Sheppard conducting a sexual relationship?”
Rodney was still for a long moment. The blankness broke to reveal a shifting plethora of emotions. Shock, absurdity, regret, envy, and finally, anger.
“What?! Are you insane?! You call me here to ask me about some half-assed lame brain’s rumor? If the members of this expedition don’t have enough to do, maybe they should spend their time doing something other than concocting ridiculous fantasies!”
Elizabeth sighed, watching the back and forth pacing. Rodney had shut from his chair, the tablet teetering from the edge of her desk, his hands flying through the air with the precision of a Wraith dart. “I notice that you haven’t actually denied it.”
Rodney turned, stilling. His hands crossed his chest as he sneered at her. It almost covered the hurt in his eyes. “Did you actually need me to? In case you actually need to hear it, Captain Kirk sleeps his way through the galaxy… He doesn’t turn to Spock for anything other than a friend.”
“Rodney,” she began, only to be cut off.
“Elizabeth, please. I’ve been working on various military projects for a long time. While I have made no secret that my female ideal is an intelligent, busty, blonde, I have also never,” he re-emphasized it with a finger jabbed in the air, “never let pass a single hint that my male preference runs to the feisty brunet. If I had, there wouldn’t be any rumors… The colonel would have laid me out so fast that his men wouldn’t possibly doubt his heterosexual security.”
It was lucky that the office doors blocked most sound. As it was, the people in the control room who could see their conversation were still and wary as McKay ranted. His hands shaking, he crossed rapidly to the desk to retrieve his tablet.
“I’ll be going now… Clearly I’m experiencing the beginnings of a hypoglycemic episode.”
Elizabeth simply nodded, not contradicting his words. She watched him leave, altering her plan slightly on how to protect her people from personnel ambitions and the SGC.
Her screams drew Diogenes from his monkish dwelling to her family’s home. Her mother was gone. The position had passed to the daughter. Outside the prototype cabin, her stepfather sat on a short bench, his back leaning against the wall.
“Few minutes… Can’t sleep?”
“Here?” Diogenes asked with a tilt to his features. “Still lacking a few things that always helped.”
The teacher of the village students stared into the stark black of an unlit night. There were dying fires, isolated candles, and the occasional torch. Still, it looked nothing like his original home.
“Can you help her?” the Magister asked.
“Probably not,” was admitted reluctantly.
He received only a nod in answer at first. “It’s the same dream again, at least at first. She’s been mumbling about a hunter emerging from a bear’s den…. A fox hunter.”
Diogenes was pale, but nodded sharply. “Her words?”
The Magister nodded. Diogenes ducked through the open doorway ending the conversation. Soon, the screams stopped. Whispering voices carried sound but not words out to the older man’s ears.
Sighing into the dark, he stared up at the stars.
“Teyla, what can you tell us about M2X-767?”
“The people of this world call themselves Disents. They have long offered trade to the Athosians.”
Dr. Weir frowned slightly. The Athosians' former trading partners greeted Atlantis teams with either open arms or open hostility. “Do you believe they will react well to our contact?”
Teyla inclined her head gracefully. “Their leader, Diogenes, asks many questions. Once he had determined your intentions, fair and honest trade will be welcomed.”
“Diogenes?” McKay questioned. Looking up from his own information with incredulity, he continued, “Columns and temples and togas?”
Ignoring Colonel Sheppard’s snort of amusement, Weir shot Rodney a quelling look that he completely ignored in a refusal to meet her eyes before turning back to Teyla. The Athosian’s confusion was apparent.
“I was unaware of your interest in architecture, Dr. McKay,” Teyla answered seriously. “I am sorry to disappoint you but I do not believe their village will meet your expectations.”
“Diogenes is a name from Earth culture,” Elizabeth explained.
“Ancient Greece,” McKay added.
“Since when do you care about the soft sciences,” Sheppard asked with that particular head tilt he acquired when teasing his teammate.
McKay waved off the inquiry with an idle hand. “History isn’t a science, neither is archaeology no matter what O’Neill’s over-coiffed pet says… But who wouldn’t appreciate a culture where being a cynic and having a realistic view of life was welcomed.”
Hoping to defray the impending, and likely vehement, discussion, Elizabeth continued her original explanation. “He was a philosopher from our history, commonly pictured as searching the streets of his city for an honest man.”
Teyla nodded seriously. “The Ancients touched us all. It is not, I believe, an inherited name however. The Disents were an endangered people before their leader came to them.”
“Endangered?” Sheppard questioned, finding a portion of the discussion finally needing his expertise.
“It is said that the Wraith no longer cull there.”
Dr. Weir wanted to smile but managed only a semi-hopeful grimace. “Colonel, your team can go. Be careful.”
They were always on high alert when stepping through the gate. It was habit and experience rather than paranoia that had them prepared for anything. No one waited on the other side. An obvious trail, worn flat by unknown trodding feet, led away.
Teyla inclined her head slightly in answer to the colonel's question. “The way is apparent.”
McKay snorted, already scanning for energy signatures as he started to walk. “Don’t worry, Colonel. I’m certain there will be ample opportunities for you to get lost.”
It came as no surprise when Sheppard thwapped McKay across the back of the head as he passed. Sill attentive to their surroundings, he led the team onward.
The settlement was about a forty-five minute walk from the gate. Long enough that McKay had begun to complain about the humidity. The day was not too dissimilar to the East coast of the continental United States in late spring. It appeared to be mid-morning, yet even with the breeze the temperature hovered slightly higher than pleasant.
When they came upon the village, the team slowed to evaluate. There were people about their daily chores and children playing. Several of these looking up with inclusive smiles or nods of greeting, including an odd quartet of identical teenage girls. The true oddity was the single young woman who stood, still and alone, watching their approach from the area where their trail met the village.
Weapons ready, but not raised, the others waited as Teyla stepped forward. Before she could tender a greeting, the woman spoke.
“Welcome in your return, Teyla of Athos. My mother departed our company when the Wraith last tested Dis. It is my privilege to be the Cassandra.”
The woman bowed at the waist, lowering her head momentarily before straightening. The colonel turned slightly to include Teyla in his careful watch of this unknown quantity. “Uh… Teyla?”
With this tentative start, the woman turned her attention to Sheppard. “Welcome also, John of,” she paused, brow furrowing in confusion. “It is unclear… Atlantis, Earth, Usaf… Which is your people?”
Her question was calm, voiced as ordinary, yet disconcerting. Sheppard’s face had begun to show his tension through its lack of expression and Teyla quickly moved to explain.
“Before Diogenes joined this people, they were guided by a seer.”
The woman nodded, losing her focus on the naming of these most recent visitors. “It is easiest if you call me Cassandra.”
McKay stepped forward, displeasure curling his mouth. “Well, Cassandra,” he emphasized the name with a peculiar sarcasm. “Where we come from, it’s not nice to read people’s minds.”
There were a few lifted eyebrows among the team at McKay telling anyone what was or wasn’t nice. The woman seemed unbowed.
“It is so here as well. Yet, it is my task to determine if our visitors' intentions are peaceful. Yours are and you are welcome to this place.”
She turned, walking away into the collection of dwellings. At first glance, they were all the same. At second, the improvements and variations became apparent. They ranged from sod-sided huts to an incomplete log cabin where several young men toiled.
“Well?” Sheppard asked, glancing among the team. Something in their expressions told him what he wanted to know. “Teyla, you’re with me. We’re going to find Diogenes. McKay, stay out of trouble. Ronon, keep an eye on McKay.”
“Just typical,” Rodney griped as Teyla and the colonel walked off. He didn’t want to consider why the usual team split had changed. With barely a glance to his side, he commented, “This way, Krull. There’s something I want to check out.”
After a few moments where no one in particular caught his attention, John turned to Teyla. “Thoughts?”
“At this time of day, the elders can generally be found schooling those children who can be spared.”
John shrugged and gestured into the village. “Lead on.”
As they passed the quartet of identical girls, he nodded politely. Any member of an offworld team quickly became accustomed to being stared at by the natives. Those girls weren’t paying him any more attention than he usually received. Or, so John attempted to convince himself.
“Is it just me, or is this place weird?”
John couldn’t help the question after they passed by the outside of what looked like a yurt. A tallish thin man, completely nude except for a loincloth and what looked like rather complete tattoos of a jigsaw puzzle was bathing a Pomeranian looking animal in a shallow bowl.
Teyla paused to answer, causing John to grin unexpectedly. Whenever she had to look for the words, she agreed but felt it undiplomatic to do so.
“Among those of us born in Pegasus, Dis is… unique.”
It wasn’t much of a conversation but they both remained quiet as they finally reached a circular clearing past the majority of the residents. A covered area stood empty to their far left, only two people working over fires at the distant end of planks and benches. Immediately to their right, a young boy stood among his fellows reciting what sounded like a poorly constructed ode to nighttime wildlife. He glanced nervously at an old man, easily assumed to be their teacher.
The older man was seated on a stool, hands crossed on top of a roughly fashioned cane. His eyes were closed, head cocked as he listened to the boy’s speech. They snapped open when the boy faltered again.
“That, Seir, was your brother’s work. Did either of you think I wouldn’t recognize his words? Go get your father.”
The boy hesitated, darting off at a sharp glare from his teacher.
“Magister?” one of the children prompted, drawing the man’s attention.
He looked up, eyes widening as he caught sight of John and Teyla standing at the edge of the group. Mouth opened as if about to speak, he started to choke and cough. One hand whitened on the top of the cane as he tried to lever himself up. The other clenched into a fist as his arm curled up close to his body.
“Shit,” John cursed. The children began to call their teacher’s name. “Magister Hosay,” repeating in a litany around him, John pushed his way to the old man’s side. Several of the older members of the group ran off, presumably to get help.
“Teyla, the medical kit.”
Complying with John’s demand, Teyla moved to his side. He crouched next to the old man, loosening the robes to make sure nothing constricted his breathing. “I think he’s having a heart attack. I need the small white bottle with the red markings.”
He waited for her to hand it to him, checking that it was the nitroglycerin kept in the field kits, and then shook out two tiny white pills. “Sorry about this,” John added as he poked his fingers in the guy’s mouth, sticking the tablets under his tongue.
“Keep them there, relax.”
The man stared at John, breathing heavy but easing slightly as he blinked repetitively. He watched John’s every twitch with a wide stare that was quickly making the Colonel nervous. The détente was broken by the arrival of Cassandra with an unknown man and the boy who had been speaking when they first arrived.
John stood, yielding his kneeling position to the seer. She barely glanced at him before turning her attention to the teacher, smoothing her right hand over the bald center of his head. Smiling gently at him, she finally sighed heavily before looking up at John.
Teyla touched John’s arm, indicating with her head the man that had accompanied the seer. They took a few steps away to speak. “This is Nartab,” Teyla introduced. “He is the boy, Seir’s, father,” was all the explanation necessary to explain why he’d arrived so quickly.
“We are grateful,” Nartab began. “Magister Hosay has a weakness in the chest. Cassandra lost her mother not long ago. Her father by marriage is particularly dear in this time.”
“The medicine is only a temporary fix,” John explained. “But we may be able to help him… We have healers.”
The man seemed confused. “The magister is quite important to Diogenes. He said there was nothing that could be done without a Car Dyac Ward. Do you have one of these?”
John’s expression froze before drifting back into his polite smile. “We have a great deal of medical knowledge. Can we speak with Diogenes?”
“He is gone to the Resting Place of All Things, to remember and reflect.”
Recognizing the look on her team leader’s face, Teyla asked, “Do you know when he will return?”
“When his task is complete,” Nartab answered simply before taking their leave to assist Cassandra. She was helping the teacher to his feet, his weight resting heavily on her.
“Let’s take another look around,” John stated, already walking off. This time, he was examining the village with suspicious eyes.
Ronon, as predicted, remained McKay’s silent shadow until things went bad. So far, his particular expertise didn’t seem to be needed.
“Just a little further,” Rodney muttered. His steps had become smaller, compensating for the terrain he hadn’t even noticed had begun to slope. The suddenly implacable grip on his arm halted his progress. Turning, he shot Ronon a glare that criticized and questioned.
“Stop,” was his monosyllabic answer
It was totally insufficient for the scientist. Rodney exhaled heavily, shaking his trapped arm uselessly in Ronon’s grip. “Anomalous reading,” he enunciated each syllable carefully. “This is my job. I check things out. You guard me. Any of this getting through that Cro-Magnon skull?”
Ronon didn’t release his arm, looking mildly amused at the insulting explanation.
“What?” Rodney demanded, jerking again at his restrained limb. “Let go!”
“Listen here, you…”
Rodney’s voice tapered off into big-eyed shock when Ronon raised his weapon. The blast of a single shot echoed around them as the ground bare feet in front of McKay fell away. Rodney gaped, his mouth opening and closing before he managed to speak.
“How…? How did you…?”
“Dip,” was the sparse shrugged reply as Ronon finally released McKay’s arm.
Rodney blinked. “You identified a camouflaged geologic feature by a depression in the grass?”
He received yet another shrug in answer. Before he could become annoyed by Ronon’s usual lack of loquacious commentary, his earpiece insisted on his attention.
“McKay, we heard gunfire. What’s going on?”
“Nothing, nothing,” Rodney quickly explained. “Conan just got a little trigger happy.”
The answering silence cast doubt on that explanation, verified when the next team transmission was, “Ronon, report.”
“There is no danger,” he replied succinctly to the team leader.
“Yes,” McKay interrupted. “Now that we’ve confirmed my very important brain is not in imminent threat from hostile natives, you can get back to seducing whatever chief's daughter is going to necessitate our usual sprint back to safety.”
If McKay’s voice was colored with more than his usual irritance, no one commented. The radio went silent and McKay’s eyes dared Ronon to comment. The Satedan remained silent, watching the other man with a look that knew more than he admitted. Turning back to his tablet, McKay scowled. “Whatever we’re looking for is down there.”
The log cabin was the latest local experiment. Diogenes had refused the honor, yielding the more expansive space to Cassandra and her step-father. His path had avoided their visitors, none of the locals yielding their leader to the strangers.
The work outside continued even as the Magister lay on his bed in the coolest room of the dwelling. Cassandra looked up at the soft steps, moving away from her chair to speak with Diogenes.
There was guilt on the man’s face. His hazel eyes studied the sleeping man as if he were the one who could divine with his mind and not his female companion. “Did they do this?”
“They startled him. His weakness is his own.” Her eyes flickered to the unadorned chest he had carried with him. It sat now by the door, screaming its presence. “You have retrieved your past.”
“I always forget how many there are in the Resting Place. It took longer than I expected.”
Cassandra smiled. “Only the children were born on this world.”
“It’s one thing to know and another to be reminded.”
“It was a lie to tell them you were not available.”
He grinned, the expression lightening his face. “I never lie. I willfully participate in a campaign of misinformation.”
She was unimpressed with the evasion. Yielding, she changed the subject. “How soon?”
“I don’t know… If they’re even the ones, that is.”
“Did you observe them?”
“The Athosian, Teyla, has been here before. The man is military. I don’t know if I can trust him.”
“There were two more,” Cassandra provided.
“I didn’t see them.”
She nodded. Her uneasy glances back into the room made it clear that she was impatient to continue her vigil. “Until we are certain of your safety, you will remain with us?”
“Of course,” he reassured. “There are several projects…”
“You will not see this home completed.”
The statement was made with the surety of prophecy.
When SGA-1 regrouped nearly three hours later, Sheppard was annoyed. Teyla, while serene, appeared to share his spirit of vexation. They took one look at Rodney, failing miserably at an expression of innocent disinterest, and then at Ronon. The warrior was coated in mud and muck from his dreadlocked hair to the toes of his boots.
Rolling his eyes, Sheppard sighed heavily. “Do I even want to ask?”
Rodney’s double-blink of ‘mud, what mud?’ was highly unconvincing. John just sighed again. “Okay, kiddies, time to go home. This Diogenes guy isn’t home and no one wants to talk until he gets back.”
Nodding vaguely at the information, McKay’s fingers twitched across a pocket of his vest. “Nothing to do then but head back to Atlantis and return later.”
John narrowed his eyes at the easy acquiescence. “Right,” he drawled, stretching the word into two syllables. Finding out what McKay was up to could, in fact, wait for the relative comfort of the city.
Elizabeth seemed disappointed that more hadn’t been accomplished yet cautiously hopeful. John, on being asked for his general impression of the people, paused a touch too long before adding, “They’re weird, but I’m not getting the Genii vibes from them.”
“Oh, please,” Rodney interrupted. “No one tried to kill us. I’d say this should go in the success column.”
“You’re right, Rodney,” Dr. Weir acknowledged with a tired nod. “It may be best, though, to reserve judgment until we’ve had more contact with this people.”
“I’m sure it will be fascinating,” McKay began, eyes dancing with amusement. He fidgeted in his chair like a student who couldn’t wait to share his knowledge with the class. “Particularly considering what I found on the planet.”
“Rodney,” Sheppard intoned. “We’ve talked about stealing from the natives.”
“I didn’t steal it,” McKay retorted mulishly. “I found it.”
Ronon’s grunt caused Rodney to rephrase. “Well, we found it.”
The quiet snick of Velcro preceded his careful removal of a small black and silver object from his pocket. “And I could hardly have stolen it from the natives unless you spotted a cell tower that I missed.”
Elizabeth was blinking in astonishment at the time. “It certainly looks like a cell phone.”
“Of course it’s a cell phone,” Rodney bit off irritably. “Specifically, a Nokia 6160m.”
Sheppard’s raised eyebrow caused a moment or two of spluttering before McKay recovered. “They were standard US government issue in… well… when I was working for…,” he trailed off. “That’s not important. What is important is how it got to the Pegasus galaxy and buried on that planet.”
John's tapping fingers had strayed to the object as it made its slow circuit of the table. With smooth, if slightly out of practice motions, he removed and replaced the battery before trying to turn it on.
“Oh, yes, because I’ve been struck with the idiot stick and wouldn’t think to press the ‘on’ button,” Rodney snapped out. “The battery’s completely dead. If it weren’t for the particular signature of a cadmium-lithium decay…”
“Dr. McKay,” Elizabeth interrupted. “We need any information that may be contained inside the device, no matter how limited it may be in comparison to others we’ve found.”
“Unless I can rig some way to power it, and someone conveniently used it to record their life story, there’s no way to tell how it arrived on the planet.”
“I’m sure a genius like you can figure something out,” John responded.
“Hmm, yes,” Rodney shot back. “I’ll just find out which of your grunts actually brought their phone to another galaxy and switch batteries.”
“Gentlemen,” Teyla interrupted. “The Disents should be told of this outside presence, should they not?”
“I don’t believe so,” Weir disagreed. “I see no reason to panic a potential ally until we’re certain this object is from Earth.”
McKay didn’t look up at Sheppard’s question, his typing uninterrupted. “After which of my myriad feats of brilliance are you inquiring, Colonel?”
“Battery charging? Intergalactic mystery? Any of this ring a bell?”
Rodney looked up with a baleful glare. “You had the complete collection of Hardy Boys novels when you were a child.”
John opened his mouth, the protest coming a split second too late and sounding suspiciously weak. “Did not!”
The faint snort was his reply to that as McKay turned back to his work. “It was damaged. There was no way to charge it even with the proper interface. However,” a pause during which John could practically feel the eye roll. “If you ever looked at your memos, you would know that the serial number was sent to Earth in the last data burst. I also requested that a replacement battery be included on the next Daedalus manifest just in case there’s any data in the phone itself.”
“So there’s nothing you can do for the moment…”
Rodney looked up, expression patient like he was speaking to a particularly dim child. Since he despised children, it was the resigned ‘Haven’t you gone away yet?’ that he reserved only for John Sheppard. “On that project only.”
“Rodney,” John drawled, perching a hip against the lab table. “It’s okay to take a break occasionally.”
McKay’s eyes were locked firmly on his keyboard and definitely not straying to the way the position stretched the BDU pants so nicely. “A break, Colonel, does not resolve these power consumption curves or the constant need for my intervention in city maintenance.”
He was unprepared for John’s hand to brush his shoulder. Looking up, he blinked away the odd perception of a pleading look. “Come on, Rodney. You need to eat or you get crankier and I traded Markham for his copy of Serenity.”
Rodney snorted, saving his progress as he already knew he had little to no resistance. No wonder there were rumors. In any other galaxy, dinner and a movie was a date. In Pegasus, apparently, it just meant he had a previously unrealized masochistic tendency.
“Fine,” he bit out, caving with ill grace. “But we watch it in my quarters, the screen’s bigger.”
“Aw, Rodney, size isn’t everything.”
It wasn’t unusual for a crowd to be eagerly anticipating the Daedalus' arrival. What was unusual was for Colonel Caldwell to be the first person down from the ship.
He transported into the gateroom, immediately scanning the occupants. Nodding quickly to Dr. Weir, he uttered a flat, “I need to speak with you.”
Then, with a few determined steps, he had crossed to Dr. McKay in the control area. His words were imbued with far more menace as he growled, “And I definitely need to speak with you.”
Rodney’s stuttered protest faded into wordless noises. Caldwell had wound a fist into the material of his expedition jacket and was frog-marching him to the conference room.
Scientists and soldiers alike were staring at the trio. Elizabeth, wide-eyed, was so shocked that it delayed her protest.
Not so for John.
He took the stairs two at a time, rushing to follow. Slipping into the room just before the closing doors, he overrode Dr. Weir’s “Colonel!” with a demanding, “What the hell’s going on here?”
Caldwell released McKay with a shake. His other hand had been clutching a file that he slapped down on the table. “I don’t appreciate the violation of WitSec for a practical joke in the poorest taste.”
“Witness Security?” John asked as Elizabeth protested, “I don’t see how this justifies manhandling…”
They both fell silent at Rodney’s low, hoarse, “Oh, god.” He was pale, face twisted and tight as he skimmed the first page of the file. Head shaking in denial, he stared flatly back in the face of Caldwell’s cold fury. “I didn’t know… It wasn’t supposed to be a joke.”
“Rodney?” Elizabeth asked gently. The sheer honesty in McKay’s last statement had turned Caldwell pasty white. He folded unsteadily into the nearest chair, hands over his face.
McKay’s arms crossed protectively over his chest. “According to the serial number we transmitted to the SGC, the phone found on M2X-767 was US government issue. It was assigned to a FBI agent in the months before his death.”
Caldwell’s hands dropped. The look he leveled on the astrophysicist was heavy with despair and resignation. “Just tell me the truth, McKay.”
“They told us he was dead.”
“Then how did it get to Pegasus?”
Before McKay had a chance to answer Caldwell’s question, they were interrupted. “I think, gentlemen, a larger explanation is in order,” Elizabeth suggested.
She was seconded by John’s, “And start with why exactly you seem to know what’s going on and we don’t.”
Caldwell remained flatly staring at McKay. As the others assumed chairs in a mockery of a standard briefing, the scientist began to pace. The sheer absence of assertions that he knew because he was a genius should have betrayed that this wasn’t going to be a lighthearted moment.
“I started working at Area 51 years before the SGC ever existed.” Rodney paused, his back to them. It seemed for a moment that he might just speak in his usual bombastic fashion, but his voice remained quiet, regretful, ashamed. “I knew my paychecks were coming from the US government but I didn’t really want to know who I was working for... The technology we were working with, there was no way it was a legitimate project but I didn’t care.”
He turned, focusing on John and Elizabeth. “You both know the threat the NID once posed. My record’s very clear on the fact that they initiated my direct involvement in the Stargate project. What it doesn’t say is that I was one of the scientists employed by the group driving them.”
“The Trust is a new development,” Dr. Weir offered in confusion. “Alien involvement…”
“Predates the Trust,” Rodney interrupted. His arms tightened, still wrapped around himself as if he could will all the bad memories away. “They were called the Consortium. They weren’t working with the Goa'uld, at least we don’t think so. I don’t know the name of the species they were willing to sell Earth to, but I do know that one of the projects was a…” he paused, “vaccination, for lack of a better term.”
“How exactly did this connect you to the colonel?” John asked, flat and offended.
McKay flinched. It was finally Caldwell himself who answered.
“McKay was the informant for one of my agents at the time. It was a contact crucial to the destruction of the Consortium.”
Rodney’s face made it obvious the situation hadn’t been quite that clear cut. John, however, focused on a different revelation. “Agents?”
“At the time, I was an Assistant Director with the FBI.”
“Witness security,” Elizabeth intuited.
Caldwell gave her a short nod. Rodney, prouder of his later machinations than his earlier weaknesses, elaborated. “And what better than a new identity within the very organization that protects Earth from the… things… he’d already been working against.”
“I still don’t see the connection to M2X-767,” Elizabeth commented.
“The cell phone we found,” Rodney began. “Mulder… he made a hobby of breaking into Area 51. They caught him twice out of more than a half dozen times that he broke into my lab alone. Only he knew how many times he’d actually made it into the complex. When it became obvious that he was actually causing disruption to the Consortium, they…” he sighed. “They eliminated him.”
“But apparently they didn’t kill him,” Caldwell commented.
“They said they did,” McKay rebutted. “They lied all the time, but this… If there was any…”
“He was abducted from the Pacific Northwest.”
The sharp retort froze Rodney in the midst of his denials. His expression flickered before settling into the bright anticipation of a breakthrough. “The final test for any vaccination is exposure to a virulent form of the original agent.”
“In which case, the Goa'uld would have killed him,” Caldwell shot down.
“Exactly,” Rodney explained, unwrapped his arms to point excitedly.
“Back up, Rodney,” John asked. An ‘I think maybe I could possibly be getting where you’re headed with this’ look on his face.
Regaining his usual bluster, McKay began to gesture. His movement punctuated the explanation hastily delivered. “The SGC’s base assumption could have been faulty. We only knew the Goa'uld as a major enemy at that point… But what if the Consortium wasn’t preparing for the Goa'uld?”
When he was met with silence, he continued. “We know it’s possible to vaccinate against the enzyme the Wraith use to feed. If the Consortium was trying to find a way to prevent part of a population from being culled, they’d have to place their test subjects in the path of a culling. With the Wraith in hibernation, that necessitates transport to Pegasus.”
“Rodney, what you’re saying,” Elizabeth paused, shaking her head. “It would require Asgard involvement. They’re the only species that could make the trip in a reasonable amount of time.”
“That we’re aware of,” Sheppard and Caldwell clarified in eerie unison.
“Even so,” McKay began, “They aren’t all so besotted with humanity as Thor is with General O’Neill, as evidenced by Loki’s behavior.”
Elizabeth nodded. “The information you’d shared with us, Colonel Caldwell, goes no further than this room. I think we need to find a polite way of asking these people about any new arrivals in the last few years.”
Ignoring John’s laconic stroll as he followed him from the meeting became impossible when a hand reached out to stop him from touching the control screen in the transporter. Just as quickly, John touched a section of the city that wasn’t close to the labs.
“Colonel,” Rodney protested. His planned follow-up faded at the pinched look on Sheppard’s face.
“We need to talk.”
Numbly, he followed the military commander into an empty room. It was slotted for lab expansion, but not yet occupied by the expedition. Rodney had already crossed his arms over his chest defensively when Sheppard turned around to confront him.
“You never thought it might be important to mention that you knew Caldwell a little better than the rest of us?”
“Witness Security.” It was a succinct answer that was entirely unsatisfying to the colonel.
“Jesus, Rodney,” John protested, his hands scrubbing through his already eccentric hair. “He wants my job!”
Rodney frowned, considering a new angle for a moment. “I think it’s probably more that he doesn’t want the Daedalus.”
“Yeah, right. The only thing better than the sweetest ride at the SGC is Atlantis herself.”
“No,” McKay gestured before cutting off as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s complicated.”
He was startled at the sudden grip on his shoulders. Arm dropping, Rodney met the agonized look of conflict on Sheppard’s face. He questioned in a whisper, “John?”
Flexing his hands, John didn’t release him. He held on, staring intently at Rodney. Slowly, his tongue slid across an already shiny lower lip. Rodney’s gaze followed its languorous path, the slightest of groans slipping between his own lips.
“Fuck it,” John intoned harshly, dragging Rodney closer to kiss him fiercely. Rodney stood there for a moment, stunned. Then, just as he began to respond, John drew back. He dropped his head to Rodney’s shoulder, panting.
“I’ve spent a long damn time wanting what I can’t have,” John whispered, practically to himself.
“Whuh?” Rodney voiced, dazed into a lack of words.
John had pulled back. His emotions were already closing off, spurring McKay into action. He reached out, gripping the collar of Sheppard’s jacket and drawing him closer once again.
“No, you don’t,” Rodney protested.
“Caldwell,” John objected.
“Is an asshole, not a hypocrite.”
Rodney kissed the way John had always, in the back of his mind, expected. He examined every option, devised a plan of attack, and then possessed in a single-minded fashion.
Sheppard’s team was in the gateroom, making last minute adjustments for their return to M2X-767. Teyla’s concern was still evident, but it was Ronon’s wary glances at McKay that seemed to be generating the most amusement.
John crossed over to Rodney, who seemed to be having some difficulty adjusting a strap on his usual pack. Batting the frustrated hands away, he did the correction himself with a deft movement.
Looking up, John met Rodney’s wide eyes with a small grin. “Relax, McKay,” he drawled.
Rodney’s eyes widened even further before narrowing in annoyance. “Then get your hand off my hip,” he hissed, in a voice meant only for the two of them.
John backed away, hands held up in front of him in surrender. He felt like laughing in pure joy, at least until Caldwell stepped into the room.
The colonel was suited up in full offworld kit. He seemed to be far more comfortable in BDUs than his usual stiff-necked occupance of the flight uniform.
“Uh, Colonel?” John questioned.
“I’ll be joining you on this mission,” was the flat reply. His hard tone warned against any argument.
Dr. McKay, of course, didn’t seem to hear that distinction. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
The mulish look shot in his direction was accompanied by John’s pleading glance not to piss off Caldwell. “Stop me,” was the growled answer.
Glancing up, John met Elizabeth’s shrug with a roll of his eyes. “Okay then,” he lingered on the three syllables before flexing his shoulders. “Dial the gate. Let’s get this over.”
SGA-1’s usual easy conversation was completely absent. Notably, the reason for their restraint seemed content for the moment to follow their progress along the previously taken path to the village. Sheppard led the route, McKay at his elbow, both startling aware of the man walking behind him. To their credit, Teyla and Ronon brought up the rear of the group without a single comment regarding the unusual reserve.
When they reached the village, it appeared for a moment to be completely abandoned. Then, the faint noise of a celebration reached them from the far side. Wary, they proceeded past the momentarily abandoned dwellings.
The entire population had gathered just past the village outside the entrance to a low ceiling cave set into the hills. The food and drink present, the dancing, all proclaimed it a party. Yet, there was something about the atmosphere that seemed restrained.
Cassandra, their greeter from before, stood closest to them from the greater group of residents. “That’s convenient,” John muttered, with a glance across to Rodney before stopping their approach.
“Welcome in your return,” she began before her gaze focused on Caldwell among them. “You have not visited us before.”
“I am Colonel Steven Caldwell of…”
His introduction was swiftly interrupted as she rebutted, “No, you are not,” with a soft smile.
He paused, disconcerted. The sideways look to Sheppard was picked up. John turned to the woman with a disarming grin. “I assure you, ma’am, that he represents no threat. Colonel Caldwell is my commanding officer.”
Her smile still held that hint of knowledge. “Yes, that is the current truth. You are welcome to join us.”
“Uh, about that?” Rodney questioned. He still had a certain wariness about anything that possibly resembled a harvest festival.
“This is where we greet those who join us,” Cassandra explained.
Teyla stepped forward. “It is about one who joined you that we have come to inquire.”
Cassandra’s gaze flicked to her for an instant before settling once more on Caldwell. “Today is not for an arrival, but a departure. We have never had such before… And find it most disconcerting.”
Caldwell had seen past her shoulder that a man moved among the people, stopping to trade a few words with them as he passed. They all demonstrated respect for him, the younger moving from his way with a nod and a grin. He strode easily, with a hint of hesitation, towards where the seer stood speaking with their visitors.
As he approached, it was easy to make out that he wore the simple and unfamiliar outfits of the natives. Yet, there was nothing unfamiliar about him.
“Who…” McKay had begun to ask. Caldwell broke from the group, stepping forward uncertainly before stopping completely at the smile on the man’s face.
“Mulder?” The question was the quietest, the most mild, that any of the Atlantis residents had ever heard from Caldwell.
“I expected more than that, Walter,” the man shot back in return, rocking slightly forward on the balls of his feet. His hands hovered at hip level, not having any pockets to slip inside.
“Jesus, Fox,” Caldwell intoned prayerfully. He stepped forward, pulling the other man into an unresisting and desperate hug. From the look before he tucked his face into the colonel's neck, the emotion in every syllable was returned.
McKay elbowed John, breaking his gaping disbelief. “Told you,” he muttered playfully. “Not a hypocrite.”