The 'routine' missions are always anything but.Authors: miscellanny
A droplet of sweat rolled down Rodney’s neck and soaked into the collar of the heavy Athosian shirt he was wearing. Of course John
had gotten something soft and collarless, sleeves bunched up above his elbows as he laughed at something Teyla had said and idly fingered a bolt of bright colored material on a table to his right. Rodney scowled in his general direction and undid another button at his neck.
“You alright, McKay?” Ronon elbowed him in the side almost hard enough to send him into a basket of fig-like fruits, and Rodney transferred his glower to a new target.
“Yes fine, fine,” he snapped, unreasonably annoyed by Ronon’s familiar tattered vest thing. Why couldn’t he have borrowed something like that? Admittedly, he didn’t have quite the upper arm definition to pull it off, but anything would be better than the way the sun soaked into the heavy cloth across his shoulders. The heat combined with the smell of spices and the babble of traders to make Rodney sleepy and grumpy and any number of other dwarfs, and he dragged his feet a little as he followed his team further into the market.
They had come to P7Y-375 to meet a collective that John insisted on referring to as the People’s Front of Genii. (‘The Geniian People’s Front,’ Rodney had returned, and Teyla had looked at them sidelong until they’d finished sniggering.) They had contacted Atlantis through a number of intermediaries, insisting that they had information that would be of use and that they were willing to exchange for undisclosed favors on the part of the ‘Lanteans. Rodney had been derisive and loud, Ronon silently tense and Teyla gently wary; John’s conviction had had Woolsey advising caution but giving them the go-ahead. Considering their patchy history with the Genii, it had been deemed safer for them to go in disguise in order to assess the situation before they were in the middle of it; hence the really quite indecently attractive drape of fabric on John’s lean frame, hence the sweat pooling and prickling in the center of Rodney’s back.
No one looked twice at the team as they wound their way between stalls hawking copper pots and bright glass jewelry, spices and strange fruits. An animal that looked like a cross between a small leopard and an oversized dog darted a paw out of its cage and tugged lightly at the edge of Teyla’s trailing skirt as they passed, and Rodney couldn’t hold in the small squeak that had John turning and laughing at him, looking more relaxed in his borrowed clothes than he had in months.
Rodney would have lingered quite happily in the open area in front of one of the tents, attention caught by the rhythmic drumming and squeaking wail of some kind of pipes and held by the selection of beautiful and criminally underdressed people dancing in front of them, their hips moving sinuously to the music. Teyla hurried them past, though, her expression pinched.
“Slave traders,” Ronon grunted when Rodney asked him in an undertone, which explained the sidelong, speculative glances one of the musicians had been sending at Teyla and John. Rodney felt abruptly sick.
“Sometimes I hate this galaxy,” Rodney muttered under his breath, and Ronon snorted.
“Yours doesn’t sound too much better.”
“Sometimes I hate people,” he snapped back, louder than he’d meant.
“Hungry, McKay?” The grin on John’s face was one of his more insufferable, and Rodney was formulating a suitably cutting reply when John continued. “How about you and Ronon pick us up something to eat while Teyla and I take a look at the place we’re supposed to be meeting these guys?”
It was kind of frightening how fast Ronon could move when appropriately motivated. * * * * * * *
Ronon’s attention was held by a slow-turning spit, the juices dripping into the fire and releasing the most mouth-watering scent Rodney could remember, when the hand closed lightly around Rodney’s wrist. The woman was short and slender, her hair knotted in elaborate coils around her head, and when he automatically glanced down at the fingers pressed against his skin, he saw a network of henna designs that looked a little like vines wrapped around her wrist and tangled between her fingers. Something about them made him uneasy, but she spoke before he could pin down the faint association.
“DrRodneyMcKay,” she said, running it together; his name sounded exotic in her mouth.
“I—yes? Do I know you?” Belatedly, he sent a quick hunted glance at the crowd around them, his voice lowering further into a whispered hiss. “How do you know I’m—we’re not even in uniform
“I know many things,” she said cryptically, and before he had the chance to snatch his wrist back she had turned his hand over and was lightly tracing her fingers across his palm. “I can tell you your destiny, DrRodneyMcKay.”
His mouth dropped open.
“Right. Of course you’re crazy, that’s the sort of thing that always happens to me. Shouldn’t you be looking for Sheppard? You’re pretty much exactly his type.” His mouth was running on without much of his attention; looking at her more closely, he had noticed an elaborate necklace hanging around her neck, the design angled and familiar, like stained glass against her skin. He reached out without thinking about it, and it lit up as soon as his fingers brushed against it.
Someone had explained to him once the Stargate’s effect on the linguistic centers of the brain, or whatever it was that persuaded him that what he was hearing was English—he had listened without much attention, impatient with the soft sciences. He knew enough, though, to wonder what word it was she was shouting, voice harsh and shrill.
Because what he heard, over and over, beating against his eardrums, was witch
Her fingers tightened into claws against his skin, and the bruising pressure somehow clicked an association into place; the designs around her wrists looked less like vines than they did like veins
, and less like both than they resembled the strange bio-technology of the Wraith.
“This,” he managed, voice shaking as he looked around frantically for Ronon, “cannot be good.” * * * * * * *
Despite his complete and utter conviction that the Genii would figure out some way to screw them before it was all over, John was in a good mood. It was a bright and sunny day, the meeting place the Atlanteans and Genii rebels had mutually agreed upon turned out to be surprisingly defensible—a crowded town square absent any nooks and crannies that could hide would-be ambushers—and Rodney had not been able to keep his eyes off the way the soft knit of the Athosian shirt he was wearing clung to John's chest in interesting ways. John had caught him blatantly staring, and Rodney had sputtered something about collars or lack thereof, but he was totally checking him out. John wasn't giving the shirt back when they got home.
He doubted that the rebels would have any workable intel for them, probably they had found some intriguing but ultimately useless piece of Ancient tech they hoped to trade for weapons. Still, you had to check these things out, and if that meant a day out with his team, and especially Rodney, he was okay with that.
John always liked to tease Rodney when he could, but the truth was he was getting pretty hungry too, and the kebabs a few aisles back were starting to call to him. He exchanged a quick nod with Teyla—she also approved of the meeting place—and they turned back without a word to meet up with the other half of their team.
They were still an aisle over from where John expected to find his teammates when he heard the commotion—a woman screaming, the ugly sound of an angrily murmuring crowd underneath. John ran, trusting Teyla to follow. He hoped it was a random scuffle—a caught pickpocket, maybe—but he knew better.
John pushed through the suddenly thick press of people, not caring that he was forced to elbow a few in the stomach, and there was Rodney in the center of the staring crowd. A strange woman was standing above him, clutching his wrist so hard Rodney had been forced to his knees. Damn it, where the hell was Ronon?
The woman was obviously incredibly strong—John hoped she hadn't broken Rodney's wrist—and she was screaming so loudly talking to her was out of the question, so John didn't bother to try. She didn't even seem to notice he was there, so John whipped around behind her and pressed his nine-mil to her temple.
"Let him go."
She didn't react. Goddamn it, John really didn't want to have to shoot anybody, but he could practically hear Rodney's bones crunching. He could really use Teyla about now, but when he scanned around he saw her standing frozen in the crowd, watching the woman with a look of fear he'd never seen on her face before.
"Teyla!" John yelled and she seemed to snap out of it, running to them and trying to pry the woman's claw-like grip from Rodney.
The strange woman was still screaming, and now John could make out the words. Or word, only one, over and over, "Witch." Great.
Then Ronon was there. John, struggling to pull the woman off Rodney didn't have the breath for the sarcastic comment he wanted to make about it being about time.
Together, they pried the woman off Rodney—Ronon landing a blow to her jaw before she would finally let go. She fell to the ground and didn't move. He couldn't spare any concern for her now. The instant she'd let go, Rodney had crumpled, cradling his wrist.
"You okay, buddy?" John crouched next to him.
"Yeah," Rodney said after a moment. "Sure."
John would have much rather heard him complain about broken wrists and crazy alien women. Seeing Rodney this shaken was worrying and did something to his insides.
"Okay," John said. "I'm calling this one. Let's get you back home."
"John," Teyla said suddenly. She was crouching next to the fallen woman, who still hadn't moved. "She's dead."
Shit. No way had Ronon hit her that hard. Had she struck her head somehow as she fell?
"She is Vedeenan." Teyla pointed to the woman's necklace.
"Like the seer?" John asked. "Davos?"
"Oh, god," Rodney said suddenly. His voice sounded choked, but he just shook his head tightly when John looked at him.
Ronon bent over the woman. He grunted, lifting her arm. There was some kind of tattoo covering her wrist, twisting like snakes, creeping sickly up her forearm.
"Wraith worshipper," Ronon said. He pried one of her eyelids open. "Enzyme overdose killed her."
Shit. It just kept getting better. "What's a Wraith worshipper doing here?" John turned to Teyla. "Can you sense any Wraith?"
"No." She shook her head, still looking shaken.
John was really pretty sure he didn't want to know about anything that could get Teyla that freaked out, but he had to ask. "What is it?"
"What she was saying," Teyla began. "The word—"
"Witch," John said.
She winced. "It does not mean—It is not like the witches of Earth with black cats and magic spells. On Vedeena, and Athos, and many other worlds the word 'witch' signifies . . ."
"I have always considered it a legend, no more than a myth."
"It is said that in the old days the Wraith did not merely feed upon their victims. There are stories from the times before we kept a history of Wraith singling out certain humans to become like them. Not worshippers." She held up a hand forestalling John's next question. "The stories tell of Wraith turning humans into other Wraith. They are only stories—meant to frighten children into keeping near their parents. But those that were no longer human were called 'witches.'"
"But we know that's not what Wraith do," John said, and Teyla nodded. "So why would she say that to McKay?"
"I do not know."
Behind him, Rodney made a kind of strangled noise. He was looking a little green. "She said she knew my destiny." He took a breath, rallying himself. "Ridiculous of course."
John patted him on the shoulder. "Okay, so just a crazy lady taking a liking to Rodney. Weird, but not completely unprecedented."
Rodney gave him a look of contempt. John couldn't help but feel a bit encouraged.
"John," Teyla said, watching the crowd, which was beginning to mill forward. "In the old stories Wraith witches were feared and hated, even more than the Wraith. To see one, to have known one, was considered a great curse."
A young man in with dreadlocks longer than Ronon's was eying them and fingering the knife handle that stuck out from a sheath at his waist. He looked as though he would like to tear them apart, and the rest of the crowd didn't look far behind. The young man took a step forward. Ronon raised his gun. The crowd fell back a few steps, but didn't disperse. The angry murmur started up again.
There didn't look to be a way out, not without starting shooting. John was wondering if a warning shot would be a really bad idea, when he heard it, coming from above, far too close—the unmistakable whine of Wraith darts. * * * * * * *
The Wraith needed a name. Sheppard named all of his. Sheppard and the Wraith, Steve, Bob, and Todd. Like a band, Sheppard and the Wraith, and Sheppard would play terrible acoustic lead guitar and probably insist on writing their material, because what, really, did the Wraith know about hard time killin' floor country blues? Rodney spared an uncharitable thought for Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon, all of them secure back in their holding cells, then went back to worrying at the galaxy of problems confronting him: being tied to a table, being tied naked
to a table, no Sheppard in sight (a mixed blessing, Rodney supposed, given the nudity), the crazy Wraith-psychic hotline lady who had not died nearly painfully enough to make up for the current situation, the drugs—oh god, the drugs—burning him up inside and scattering his genius all to hell, the Wraith standing over him.
The Wraith. The Wraith who needed a name. Rodney fixed on that and tried to decide, but all he could come up with was "Madison," which was his niece's name, not a Wraith, although it did diverge nicely from Sheppard's fixation with monosyllables. Once Rodney's brain had fastened on Madison, though, it refused to let go, which maddened him, considering how frantically it raced around between panic and adrenaline and trying to figure a way out.
"I should tell you that I really, really, really really
don't do my best thinking while under the influence." God in heaven
, what the hell was that thing? Rodney tried to shift away from the Wraith, but the ropes (not ropes, McKay, not chains, not manacles, muscle and tendon oh my God
) tightened cruelly around his wrists. He made himself not think about how the wrist the crazy psychic lady had mangled didn't hurt anymore. "Granted, I think I may have found the
GUT on the one occasion I ever tried pot, but I forgot it because I really really
needed to eat a burrito more than I needed to write it down and—oh shit
"Shut up," Madison the Second said, withdrawing its hand.
me!" The Wraith had and it hurt
, the skin just above his ankle tingling viciously. At least, he hoped it was a pinch, and not one of the hypodermic needles, or the . . . the . . . Rodney swallowed and did not look down to where the Iratus bug had buried itself in his neck. Sheppard had one of those on him for almost an hour, I can survive this,
he told himself. I don't even feel weak.
He actually felt . . . felt pretty good, his body thrumming with a terrible energy, neurons skittering along like the hsss-hssss
of the Iratus bug. Speaking of Sheppard, he'll be here soon. Really soon. Any second now, he's military, they have a great sense of timing.
Except there had been numerous occasions when Sheppard had turned up a half-hour early for meetings because he'd noted the time down wrong, and on one memorable occasion had shown up a day early for the weekly "Board of Ancient Weapons Enhancement Strategies" meeting, and had grabbed Rodney while Rodney while Rodney had been hurrying along to somewhere else and told him he was twenty minutes late, and where were Lorne and Zelenka? And Rodney had had to look
at him, and say, very carefully, that it was Tuesday, not Wednesday, and Sheppard had blushed like a schoolgirl before he'd recovered himself and gone sauntering off, just like Rodney's cat whenever it had done something rather stupid or ungraceful and was trying to pretend it had meant to do that.
"I said," sighed Madison the Second, "shut up."
"That's another thing I do when I'm hopped up on psychotic-making Wraith drugs
!" Rodney hollered. "In fact, you should be—" Grateful I'm not talking even more,
he'd meant to say, except his voice
, it wasn't his voice anymore, it was growly and resonant and alien
, and the room was going all weird, sharper colors—the reds bloodier, the blues oxygen-dead, greens organic, greys silvery-shiny metal with the light reflecting off them any of a thousand ways, and the muscle-tendon manacles around his wrists pulsed, thu-thud, thu-thud
, a terrible drumbeat that shivered up through his body and settled itself in his bones and his cortices and the microscopic spaces between his synapses.
"It is rather beautiful, is it not?" The Wraith turned to Rodney and smiled its hideous smile. Rodney stared at the tattoo over its right eye, a five-armed spiral, a spiral galaxy. "You will be tattooed," the Wraith said, "with the symbols of my hive."
Rodney almost asked about being sure to sterilize the needles, but remembered his voice in time.
Remembered, from the enzyme, the terrible strength, and wondered if it was enough to go up against a Wraith.
He didn't bother with preliminary flexing, or wondering if it was going to hurt—he was a Wraith, practically, he'd heal—and sat up and yanked
, and the muscle circling his wrists tore away and pain
coruscated through his mind. Not his, the ship's, he made himself ignore it, ignore the green-death-pale skin of his hand. Not important, not important, the only thing he needed was to get past Madison II, get out, get away, not worry about what the hell his friends (what Sheppard
) would say when they saw him.* * * * * * *
There were times when it was best to look before leaping, to strategize and organize, to refine tactics and come up with battle plans: to make sure that when you landed, there would be solid ground beneath your feet. This wasn't one of those times—John had overheard enough of what they planned to do to Rodney; had heard the hissing insinuations of one of the Wraith scientists to Ronon about how much it would hurt to re-implant a Runner's tracking device—and the charges made a satisfying roar as they blew a hole in the side of the Wraith holding cell, left behind a stink of high explosives and charred meat. John and Teyla hauled themselves through the gaping hole, John trying not to recoil at the clear, oozing liquid coming from the torn walls, and salvaged two stunners and a knife from the now-unconscious guards.
"To the left," Teyla said, tense but certain; her forehead was creased with the effort of either keeping Wraith influence at bay or trying to turn it to her own ends, John couldn't tell. He followed her, the soles of his borrowed Athosian boots near to noiseless on the spongy floors of the hive ship, the humid air thick in his lungs and his breath coming quicker at the thoughts of what could be happening even now to Rodney and Ronon—fresh lines opening up on Ronon's back; Rodney being tortured because of an artificial quirk to his genes and the unlucky touch of a stranger.
They found Ronon first, groggy with sedative and streaked with his own blood. Teyla broke the necks of the Wraith scientists with silent efficiency while John heaved Ronon from the operating table, staggering under the dead weight of him, and trying to stop his mind from thinking how close he'd come to making that a literal description: stupid, stupid
of him to have waltzed his team into this, thinking that just because they wouldn't be in danger for being from Atlantis meant they wouldn't be in danger at all.
"Hurts," Ronon mumbled, voice hoarse against John's ear, "Melena . . ." and John's breath caught in his throat.
"I know, buddy," he said, trying to sound reassuring and nodding at Teyla to tell her that they could move out: Ronon could walk, though he was leaning heavily into John's side. "I know, we'll get you home soon, get you a beer."
"Duff," Ronon grunted, and John thought back to a weight of rock and rubble being lifted from him and exhaled.
Outside the lab, the corridor branched out in four different directions, slanting off deeper into the ship. Teyla looked from one to the other, trying to pick up on the hive sense of where the other labs might be—of where they might be working on Rodney. "They are usually in proximity to one another," she said, pushing a sweat-tangled lock of hair back from her face, "but I can't—I could feel them working on him earlier, I could see him, but now he's—John, I can't see him anywhere."
"Christ," John said, feeling bile burn hot at the back of his throat. There wasn't—there was no way he could be—it wasn't even three hours by his watch since they'd been scooped up by that dart—and his bones ached with a tiredness that came from not knowing which prospect was worse: another empty coffin; the look on Jeannie Miller's face when he turned up, unwanted, on her doorstep; going home to sheets that would never warm without the artless sprawl of two bodies within them. "Teyla . . ."
Her eyes fell half-closed, strain quivering in the fine lines around her mouth, as if concentration alone would be enough to find a heartbeat where there had been none a few moments before. Watching her, John could see the breath catch in her throat, and for an instant he was sure
—but then Teyla said, "One level up, hurry," and adrenaline burned like acid in John's veins.
He stumbled along with one arm slung around Ronon's waist, alert to the threat of the Wraith around every corner, to the horror of a diminished body splayed out in borrowed clothing, but they'd barely rounded the second corner when Teyla came to a halt so suddenly that John almost walked into her.
It was Rodney, alive and seemingly whole, but the face he wore was the one from John's nightmares: the ones where Carson hadn't worked quickly enough and good men had given up their lives in vain, the ones where he lost himself and woke up to tears on his face as hot as family's blood. His eyes were bright and wide and nearly all pupil; the blue and green scales blooming on his skin with such dreadful geometry that they almost seemed to have been painted with an unerring brush; his fingers looked twisted and painful; and on the floor behind him, three Wraith lay with their necks twisted at an impossible angle.
"Rodney," John said, handing Ronon over to be supported by Teyla's competent hands, and went forward carefully to meet him. He kept his steps slow, the movements of his hands measured, because he remembered what it felt like to live through this: to feel each cell of your body shuddering and changing, to watch while the colors changed around you and the air was dark with scent, to know how easy it would be to snap a still-human neck. "Hey, buddy, you ready to come with us? We're going to get you home, get Keller to fix you up, you'll be back to—we'll still have that Star Wars
marathon tomorrow night, okay?"
John made sure that his hands broadcast gentle, gentle
, and tried not to let them shake when he saw how Rodney was crying: great, fat tears that rolled down his cheeks like a child too much in pain to be mindful of its dignity. "Wraith," he heard Rodney mumble when he got close enough, "made me a Wraith, I can't, I can't think
, oh god, oh god."
"Hey," John said, and reached out to touch Rodney's cheek, careful not to let any of the spines break his skin. Behind them, Teyla and Ronon were quiet, but John knew they were waiting, ready to move if John needed help. "It's okay, Rodney, we've been through this. You got me back, I got you this time, okay?"
"Please," Rodney said, "please," and he kept one hand fisted in the soft cloth of John's shirt all the way back to the gate. The trip there was almost eerily quiet, as if the Wraith had already caused all the damage they had set out to do, as was the gate room when they stepped back into Atlantis, standing three-strong around Rodney's hunch-backed form. John automatically dialed down the lights, knowing that anything bright would be physically painful to Rodney right now, and filled Keller in when she came running to meet them: supplemented Carson's notes with his own knowledge of what they could expect, how much time they'd have.
Keller worked quickly and efficiently, a central line pumping pale-blue salvation through Rodney's veins, clawing him back from the prospect of complete forgetfulness; John stood there in the dim infirmary and watched her work, stayed behind when she left with assurances of a swift recovery and a kind hand on his. He concentrated, very hard, on keeping his breathing even and steady. John inhaled slowly when Rodney, half asleep, mumbled another apology, said I ruined y'day
, and thirty years' practice let him exhale without a tremor, press an inadequate kiss to Rodney's temple. He kept watch while the long minutes ticked past, seconds where Rodney's body battled to still contain his very self; and if his eyes grew heavy with tiredness while Rodney dug in his heels against expectations, defied destiny and confident predictions with his very own brand of pissy McKay stubbornness—well, Rodney was still there to see his smile, come sunrise.
Click on thumb
- Round 1 - miscellanny : "A droplet of sweat rolled [...] frantically for Ronon, "cannot be good.""
- Round 2 - argosy : "Despite his complete and utter [...] unmistakable whine of Wraith darts."
- Round 3 - aesc : "The Wraith needed a name. [...] would say when they saw him."
- Round 4 - siriaeve : "There were times when it was [...] to see his smile, come sunrise."
: Thank you to dogeared