Pairing: Sheppard/McKay, Sheppard/Woolsey, Woolsey/Zelenka (hmm, not nearly the triangle this seems)
Rating: A soft R
Prompt: Plot is awesome, eh? Includes elements from SG-1, UST, John/Rodney, John/Woolsey. I think I managed to fit everything but John/Todd (and the kitchen sink). Kitchen appliances next time.
Notes: Thank you to rabidfan, dossier, and quinfirefrorefiddle for dropping everything to help me reassemble this story into some semblance of sense.
Summary: Usually Richard avoids entanglements by focusing his affections on someone safely out of reach. But in the midst of a battle with the Wraith, an uncomfortable alliance, and disruptions on Atlantis, Richard is offered everything he could ever want.
Richard Woolsey leaned his shoulder against the window, a small smile playing about his lips. He twirled the stem of a wine glass between his fingertips and gazed out over the water at a typical golden Atlantis sunset, light winking off the faceted spires of the city. Although Colonel Carter had declined Doctor Weir’s former quarters, Richard hadn’t allowed squeamishness to deny him one of the best views of Atlantis. Once one discounted bloodthirsty aliens and threat of death on a regular basis, his job did have its perks. Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard – John – stood on his balcony below, elbows resting on the railing, chin pillowed on his hands. Richard knew not to get crushes on people he worked with of course, but Colonel Sheppard's back rose and fell in a sigh, his jacket bunched up around his shoulders. He had slim hips, especially at this angle, but it was the sigh that made Richard's lips part. Impossible to tell if it was a frustrated sigh, a satisfied sigh, or just a sigh at the beauty of a romantic sunset.
It wouldn't take much to sidle up to him and ask, "Long day?" or something similarly innocuous. Just a trip through the living room, then down the hall to the transporter, where he would knock on John's door …
… and reveal that he'd been spying on him.
All right, that wasn't feasible.
Richard decided to pretend that Colonel Sheppard was a closet romantic taken in by the sweeping vista. What was the harm in a little fantasy?
He played out the rest of the conversation in his mind. Yes, it is a lovely evening. A bit chilly though, out here in the wind. Would John care for a game of chess? He'd heard he was quite a player. Dinner at eight? Yes, that would be fine.
When Richard opened his eyes, John had gone.
Richard puttered around his quarters, straightening the clothes in his closet. He had always been an early riser, which meant that he tried to be in bed early as well whenever possible. So by eight o'clock he was in his pajamas, a book ready on his dressing table, a small decorative paperweight holding it open, the covers turned down while he set out his uniform for the next day. Most communication in Atlantis came over the ubiquitous radios, which left him unprepared for a knock at the door. His unexpected caller rapped again.
It was John, or Colonel Sheppard rather, still in his rumpled uniform, his hair sticking up at a rakish angle. He looked Richard up and down, eyes widening in obvious surprise at the pajamas, although Richard didn't know what he expected at this late hour.
"Is there anything the matter?" Richard asked, with some asperity he'd have to admit. He found himself coiled, waiting for a snide comment about his PJs.
"Uh." Sheppard shifted from one foot to the other. "I can come back another time, I guess." He ran his hand through his hair, frowning in consternation.
Richard relented. There seemed to be no pajama comments in the offing. "What can I do for you, Colonel?"
"Well, I brought the chess set, but if you're busy...."
Indeed he had. There was a portable chess set tucked under his elbow.
"You said eight, I mean, I already stopped by the Mess earlier but...." Sheppard glanced back down the hallway behind him.
"I didn't think I--" Richard realized he was in the process of turning down a date with one Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and thought the better of it. "Why, yes," he said, planning quickly. He straightened and gathered his dignity. "Let me fetch my robe."
They had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Sheppard was not a stellar chess player by any means but he could hold his own. And he slouched in his chair eying Richard with a sparkle of amusement in his eye, which might have been regarding the pajamas, but he was good enough company that Richard was willing to forgive him.
By the time they packed up the chess set for the night, John was relaxed and -- dare he say it? -- boyishly playful. He wagged a chiding finger at Richard's empty wine glass and said, "Now next time, you should share. Is that a Chateau Chauvin Saint Emillion?" He picked up the bottle, turning it to examine the label. "2003. Nice."
Richard was instantly charmed, brightening. "You know your wines?" It was too good to be true. Although John always had an air of class that he couldn't quite disguise. Air Force pilots tended to be from the better families.
"I know enough to be dangerous," John said with a bashful glance at the floor. "I'm no sommelier, but my dad used to do a lot of wine tasting parties."
The mere fact that John knew the word "sommelier" made Richard's eyes go half-lidded and wistful. He found himself agreeing to a date the following night as John went almost skipping out the door with a cheery backward wave.
By then it was ten o'clock. Richard set aside the book he'd planned to read and climbed into bed. He shut off the bedside lamp, entirely pleased by the course his life had taken as he snuggled under the covers.
The next day it struck him as strange that Colonel Sheppard had shown up at all. He hadn't invited him. Not out loud anyway. Truth to tell, Richard was used to being virtually invisible when it came to matters of the heart. But perhaps Sheppard merely wanted to play chess. Though he had been ... flirtatious. Was he even interested in men? The issue distracted Richard all morning until he finally decided to do something about it.
Richard snapped his laptop shut and strode out of his office. He nearly ran directly into Doctor Zelenka.
"Excuse me," Richard said. Zelenka moved to the left at the same time Richard did. Richard moved to the right even as Zelenka did. Finally, they worked their way around each other.
He caught up with Dr. McKay on the way to the mission planning meeting.
"I don't suppose the ATA gene gives one, ah, peculiar capabilities, does it?" Richard asked.
Dr. McKay's tone was acid, which Richard supposed he deserved. "No. Your getting the gene therapy won't make you able to leap buildings in a single bound or see through clothing to check out women's underwear." Richard instantly saw the flaw in this argument; if one saw through clothing one would see through the underwear as well. But he let it go. "You'll just be able to work the Ancient technology. That is, if the gene therapy takes. It didn't on Radek," Dr. McKay said, with smug and obvious schadenfreude.
Richard made a brief mental note to plan some team bonding exercises for the science department. Zelenka's Myer's-Briggs scores indicated he was sensitive to personal digs.
"But if one has a natural occurrence of the gene...." Richard prodded, hurrying to keep up. Doctor McKay had a habit of walking faster when faced with a question he didn't like. "… That makes one more or less an Ancient, doesn't it? They had abilities that are far beyond the human norm."
He wasn't entirely sure he was comfortable with the thought that Sheppard could read his mind, not with the explicit images that had preoccupied him since the previous night. Pleasant to be sure, but not something he was prepared to share quite yet.
"No, no, the gene does not make you Wonder Woman or an Ancient. The Ancients were human. They only had abilities after they Ascended." Dr. McKay frowned, slowing his steps. "And a little bit before they Ascended, too." He started moving quickly again, shaking his head as if to shake off problematic implications of the question. "Anyway, the gene alone doesn't give you Ascended superpowers. If you want to shoot webs out of your palms, you're out of luck. Now," he paused at the briefing room, arms folded, mouth tilted in a sardonic smirk. "If you don't mind, I have actual work to do that doesn't revolve around prepubescent fantasies about turning into Marvel comic book characters."
Standing abandoned in the corridor, Richard found it interesting that Doctor McKay had assumed that he’d wanted superpowers. With some careful thought no doubt he could develop that into a useful insight concerning his chief of science. For the time being however, he was merely grateful that Colonel Sheppard was unlikely to read his mind anytime soon. He rubbed the palm of his hand with his thumb, stalled in the hallway outside the briefing room. He could see through the window where the colonel was sipping from a deep mug of coffee, glancing up at Ronon as he grinned over some joke between them.
It left Richard with a conundrum. How had he known of their eight o'clock date?
The briefing turned out to be a busy one.
"The first order of business--" Doctor McKay said, seizing the floor, "--is Hives and more Hives." Richard was left with his mouth open, one finger raised, about to approve the prior meeting’s minutes. There was no way to redirect without seeming petty.
Doctor Zelenka manned the PowerPoint slides, projecting an image of the system around P97-42D, a binary system with two habitable planets: the densely populated, temperate Arras, and the more desolate Hitaea. Arras was their primary concern. They supplied much of that sector with a staple called Arras grain as they were able to produce three, sometimes four harvests per year. Atlantis relied on it as well. Arras bread was doughy and sweet.
Zelenka magnified the image.
A Hive. Silhouetted against their fourth moon it looked like an arachnid, lying in wait.
"Based on the local census one can see why they’ve stopped by for fast food," Doctor McKay continued, his sarcasm dry as dust.
"There will be famine throughout the sector," Teyla said, sounding at once sad and determined.
"It's in enroute to Hitaea," Richard noted with an inward moan. They were just trying to establish relations with Hitaea's new government. He hated opening negotiations with bad news.
"Blow it up. We’ve got the firepower with the Daedalus," Ronon said with a shrug.
"Yes, yes, of course we thought of that. Unfortunately, the Wraith are now relying on the buddy system," Doctor McKay said. Doctor Zelenka showed a second slide with, yes, another Hive ship. "It should be there in less than forty-eight hours."
"Are we sure that’s not a rival Hive?" Sheppard asked. "I mean, that planet is plum pickings. No offense," he added to Teyla.
She gave him a bland smile.
"They haven't turned to shoot at each other, so I would say no," McKay said.
"Let's break up the party," Sheppard said. "Just because they’re cooperating doesn’t mean they really want to share." He shifted forward in his seat, forearms on the conference table. "With a banquet this big—sorry, Teyla— " She rolled her eyes and looked pained. "—They probably have some deal to not dive in before saying grace."
Zelenka nodded. "That would explain why the first Hive hasn’t attacked the planet yet."
"The Wraith have their standard operating procedure. Why not dial up the gate for them, draw out their Darts…." Sheppard continued.
"They’d think that the other Hive jumped the gun," Richard said, nodding, impressed.
"They'd see us. Wouldn't they see us?" Rodney glanced around the table.
"Nah, not if we cloaked right away. Just lift our skirts and tease them a little," Sheppard said with a smirk, his eyes sparkling.
Ronon pursed his lips and shook his head. Richard had found that Ronon, when and if he gave his opinion, was an excellent tactician. "Risky. Can’t count on them staying far apart."
"Oh!" McKay snapped his fingers, standing. "We can take out their lower sensor array!" He went on excitedly, "We’ve been doing some research. We know that Wraith sensors work like bug senses: they rely less on visuals, more on vibration and radiation. Us, even when we track radiation we translate it into a visual. Now a blown sensor array would interfere with long and short range tracking, distort the frequencies of any readings they do get, not to mention the feedback would interfere with their communications, kind of like a—" He spun his hand in the air, searching for a word. "—microphone squeal."
"Ugh. I hate that sound," Sheppard said, wincing. "We’d have to fly in close with F-302s. Puddlejumpers aren’t that maneuverable. It'll be like Star Wars," he added, clearly warming to the idea.
Ronon nodded. "Torture them with noise. Turn them against each other. The Daedalus mops up the mess. I like it."
"But we'll be dialing the Arras gate. Those people will have no means to escape during the attack," Teyla said, fixing a shocked look on each of them.
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"The Wraith are going to do that anyway," Sheppard pointed out.
"Yes, but we would be doing it," Teyla said, a frown creasing her forehead. Her voice remained placid, edged with disbelief.
She seemed … perturbed. Richard cleared his throat, diving to Sheppard’s defense. "Given the size of their population, only a tiny percentage would be able to—"
"That doesn’t matter!" Teyla said, firmly, shoulders squared, both hands planted on the conference table.
"If it works, no one will die. Except the Wraith," Sheppard said, his tight smile sarcastic.
"And if it doesn’t?"
Sheppard chewed his lip before he dragged the answer out, with a conceding nod. "Then… things would definitely be worse."
Richard stepped in to mollify her. "No decision is being made at the moment. We need to review all aspects of the colonel’s plan first. Plus it must be approved by the IOA."
"The IOA." Ronon groaned. He flicked something that clattered across the table. A pen cap. "Kiss the Arras bread goodbye."
McKay looked mournful. "I like Arras bread. They make these little pastry things, you dunk them in your coffee and really, they ought to sell them on Earth, they’d make a killing at Starbucks."
"You would seal their gate over pastry?" Teyla said, her tone rising.
"Yes?" McKay said nervously, looking around at the others for support.
Ronon looked at the wall. Sheppard studied his hands. Doctor Zelenka cleared his throat and became suddenly very, very busy with his PowerPoint slides.
Richard decided he was the only brave one here. He took a breath and pointed out with a delicate gesture, "I believe the issue at hand was famine."
Sheppard leaned back in his chair, stretching. "All right. Instead, let's create a program that makes them fly into the nearest sun." He let his arms drop. "All of them. All the Wraith. I’ve been pushing for it for years." He turned to Doctor McKay with a grin. "How’s that coming, Rodney?"
McKay gave a disgusted snort and held up the garbage can. "Thank you for your ever helpful suggestion." He set the garbage can down with a clang. "Sadly, clicking your heels three times does not make it so," he said. "The only way we could do it is if we’re on board. All of them. All the Hives. Then we get to fly into the sun with them. Or rather, you do, because I’m not setting foot on another Hive ever again if I can help it."
"But if you knock out the sensor array first they’ll never see what hit them."
"Yes, yes, back from fantasy land, please."
The rest of the meeting was routine. They brainstormed alternate sources for Arras grain. There was the not-so-minor matter of a disciplinary hearing that was too expensive to open a wormhole through to Earth, yet too serious to be resolved by Atlantis. (Much amusement all around when Ronon cracked his knuckles and offered, "I’ll handle it.") There was also the matter of a brief power surge at eight p.m. the night before that had shorted out a dozen scientific projects, drained the back-up naquadah reactors, yet interestingly had left the ZPM alone. Doctor McKay went on at length about the inconvenience. Since as a result all the clocks in Atlantis were out of sync with Pegasus gate time, Major Lorne’s anthropological team had missed a meeting with the new government of Hitaea. ‘My clock was wrong’ went over about as well as ‘My dog ate my homework.’
The Hitaens now demanded a representative of higher rank. Specifically Elizabeth.
Their information about Atlantis was a bit out of date.
Nevertheless, there were enough slow moments (particularly during McKay’s diatribe) that by the end of the briefing Richard had decided that, however Sheppard had learned of their date, a little mystery was healthy in a relationship.
He gave Sheppard a smile that was likely too warm for such a professional setting, at least according to the reaction it received. The colonel dipped his head and looked away, scratching at his eyebrow. Richard reminded himself they needed to be circumspect.
But he couldn’t resist cornering him after the meeting, catching up with him at the door. "I was thinking a white wine tonight would be best. For variety’s sake."
If he sounded eager, well, anyone would understand.
Colonel Sheppard gave him a confused blink. "If you say so."
"Or perhaps a Cave de Tain Crozes du Fife? I have a 2003 on hand. Or else I could break out the Amadieu Romaine Machette Gigondas. 2005 was an excellent year."
"Search me. I don’t know a thing about wines," John said, brushing past him.
Which was odd. Very odd.
That evening by a quarter past eight, Richard realized that they never mentioned a time for their date. He had just assumed it would be the same as the night before, being a creature of habit himself.
By eight thirty he put the cork back in the wine. There was letting it breathe, and then there was letting out all the aroma which comprised much of the flavor.
By nine p.m. he decided to eat dinner, an exotic fish caught off the Atlantis pier that morning (Teyla had assured him it was a Pegasus galaxy delicacy). It was getting cold.
By nine thirty he blew out the candle and cleaned up, taking the tray with the single set of dirty dishes downstairs. On his return he put on his pajamas and settled on the bed. He flipped through his book after he slipped under the covers, not really reading it. He turned over and over in his mind what he must have done wrong.
No doubt it was that smile during the briefing.
He decided to apologize to Colonel Sheppard. Hopefully they could at least salvage their professional relationship, if not their romantic one, which apparently was (tragically) nipped in the bud due to Richard’s impropriety.
It was such a pity. He and Sheppard had really seemed to hit it off. Not to mention he was only two dates away from, well ... traditionally, wasn’t the third date supposed to be the one where things grew a little more intimate? If that had been Sheppard's intent. Richard still wasn't quite sure.
He set the book aside, finally admitting that he wasn’t up for reading at the moment, and shut off the light with a click. He folded his hands behind his head and contented himself with might-have-beens, imagining the soft brush of lips across his own.
The bed dipped next to Richard and he felt a warm, broad hand clapped over his mouth. He would have cried out, but a breath tickled his ear, with the suggestive scratch of five o’clock shadow. "Shhhh…."
"You’re early," Richard said blearily; two dates early, he meant, nonsensical even to himself moments after he blurted it out.
"Funny. And here I thought I was late," Sheppard whispered. "Sorry. Got tied up in the armory. But I can think of a way to make it up to you." There was a lascivious smile in his voice.
"I’m certain you can," Richard assured him, grateful when Sheppard rolled on top and soft lips devoured his own.
Water pattered against the shower wall, muffled, the sound syncopated and interrupted by a low male cough. The question of Sheppard's intent was resolved. Richard lay in a daze, the covers a shambles around him. Curiously unsatisfied.
Oh, it had been everything he’d imagined. And hoped for. But it seemed … well, he couldn’t quite place his feeling of discomfort.
Sheppard considerately turned off the bathroom light before he opened the door. It was a pet peeve of Richard’s, the way most men would forget that his eyes were adjusted to the dark and blind him. All right, it had happened just the once, though that was enough to put Richard off one night stands. But Sheppard was a perfect gentleman. He stood toweling off in the moist air, his body casually on display, striped with shadow.
Perhaps Richard was old-fashioned and preferred a slower courtship?
Sheppard paused in his ostentatious toweling and looked up, his eyes hooded in the half-light. "Too soon?" He had a perfect stomach, rippled, a widening furred line angling downward. He stepped over to a chair, fished through the pile of clothes and pulled his sweatshirt over his head, which gave Richard a moment to recover.
"Oh, no, not at all," Richard lied.
Richard huffed up the carved stone stairway, one hand to his chest, trying to breathe shallower and not seem so winded. Beside him Doctor Zelenka glanced about his surroundings with a little smile of mild interest, apparently unaffected by the steep climb. Several steps ahead, the anthropologist, Doctor Littleman, and the two Marines seemed similarly comfortable even while Richard paused to mop his brow.
No doubt they'd all had a good night's sleep.
He reached the portion of the stairway that had gleamed from a distance. Richard had expected it to be glass, but instead the steps were made of a metal alloy similar to the one used by the Ancients. As Doctor Littleman reached the steps they lit up, one by one, just like the gateroom stair in Atlantis.
"They have a ZPM?" Richard turned a startled glance on Zelenka.
"Geothermal," Zelenka explained with a dismissive gesture, pursing his lips. "We’ve seen it before. Inefficient, though it is clever how they've utilized an alternate power source."
"They are technologically advanced then," Richard asked, not attempting to hide his surprise. Shouldn't this have been mentioned in the briefing?
"Ten thousand years ago. Now they merely play with what the Ancients left behind." Zelenka gave him a wry glance.
"Like us?" Richard said, eyebrow raised meaningfully. He had to be fair after all.
"No. They know nothing, can fix nothing." Zelenka shook his head. "They have only one industry. A very profitable one."
Yes. The sex trade. And the sex slaves had risen up against their masters. Bare-chested men in leather tunics and Wraith stunners slung over their shoulders guided Richard's party. It appeared the city was still under martial law.
An hour later, the sun high overhead, Richard stood on the dais outside the colonnade of Hitaea's palace, extending his hand to the new minister of Hitaea. It had taken some effort to convince them he was, in fact, the new leader of Atlantis, though the Hitaeans refused to believe he hadn't violently overthrown Elizabeth's government.
"Welcome," the minister said with a sneer, his cloak thrown back. He was a handsome man with dark hawk-like features. "Take your ease with the comforts of our city." He gestured to a pair of blonds, a man and a woman, who were chained and forced to kneel beside him. "You may have two of my own for the duration of your stay."
"Ah. The gesture is much appreciated," Richard said. Beside him Zelenka visibly cringed. "But that won't be necessary. Our visit, ah, will be too brief."
As the new lord of Hitaea swept them towards the welcome feast, Richard asked Zelenka in an undertone, "Is it normal for them to, ah," he swallowed, "extend sexual invitations to their visitors?"
Zelenka leaned closer. "It is." He nudged in the direction of the proffered slaves. "However, they're the former leaders of Hitaea."
Richard tapped away at his computer, peering closer as he backspaced.
He hadn't been avoiding Sheppard. He merely had a great deal of paperwork to catch up on. He was the head of a very important base, in another galaxy, in charge of a group of adventurers who (probably predictably) rebelled against proper procedures more than most. It explained a great deal about the first three years of the Atlantis expedition, most especially Michael. That would not have happened on Richard's watch.
"You wanted to see me?" Colonel Sheppard peered around his door.
The answer to this of course was no, but he was too much of a professional to admit it. "Yes, come in." Richard mustered a smile.
Colonel Ellis had informed him that Sheppard's plan was ridiculous and insane. All the men below Ellis had informed him that it would probably work. Colonel Caldwell had agreed with both assessments. He had a go.
The fact that it made Richard's heart seize with worry was immaterial. He told Sheppard as much. Well, without the worry part.
The fact that Sheppard's face lit with happiness at the idea of ruthlessly killing approximately eight hundred Wraith, risking death in the process, confirmed Colonel Ellis' point. Once again Richard decided the military were a breed apart. He tightened his resolve to break it off with Sheppard.
"Colonel," Richard hazarded as Sheppard turned to leave. His voice came out shakier than he'd prefer. "Ah. John," he amended, looking down, his cheeks warming. They were surely on a first name basis now.
The colonel blinked.
Richard took a deep breath. "I realize that we're both professionals."
The blink turned to a confused frown. It was distracting what a kissable mouth he had, particularly with that puzzled pout.
"And naturally I won't permit, ah, recent developments to in any way effect my decisions."
Sheppard's eyes flicked to the side. Good, he was uncomfortable also. That made this easier.
"However," Richard straightened the paperweight on his desk. He looked up earnestly. "I do feel it's best that it not continue, for the sake of the expedition. Any complications could potentially have a very real impact on the success of this mission." Sheppard's mouth had opened, his eyes narrowed to a squint. "I'm sorry. I wish it could be different."
Sheppard stared at Richard while his mouth worked, mouthing a silent wh-- as he shook his head. Apparently he wasn't used to being dumped, which Richard supposed this was.
Colonel Caldwell appeared at the door, peering through the glass. He craned his neck towards Sheppard.
Sheppard licked his lips, glanced in Caldwell's direction, and said with a casual swipe of his hand, his head bobbing, "Glad to hear it."
Richard blinked several times as the door slid shut and Sheppard followed Caldwell, already deep in conference.
Sheppard had certainly taken that well.
( The Pandora Effect - Part 2 of 2 )