Pairing: John Sheppard/Rodney McKay, slight Katie Brown/Carolyn Lam and past Rodney McKay/Katie Brown
Disclaimer: Sadly not mine.
Author's Notes: tarlanx, this request was a lot of fun to fill and I hope you like it. Thank you so much to busaikko for the last minute beta.
Summary: "Nobody ends up out here if they're on the good side of Fleet and Core, kid." A space opera AU.
( Freedom's Chance part 1 of 2 )
Rodney walked into Catherine's office and John followed him, closing the door behind them. Catherine sat, staring at nothing. Rodney and John sat down.
"Catherine?" Rodney asked.
She visibly shook herself. "McKay. Mr. Sheppard. I just received a courtesy call."
"Courtesy call?" John asked.
Rodney frowned. "But the hauler's not due for another week."
"Whenever F&C sends a ship out to a base that smugglers use as a safehaven, certain sympathizers in the shipping lanes send out a covert courtesy call ahead of time to give them a chance to clear out," Catherine explained to John. "And it's not the hauler."
If Rodney hadn't already been sitting, he would've collapsed into his chair. "Oh, crap."
Catherine nodded grimly. "It's a Fleet Cruiser. I think this is the time, Mr. Sheppard, to tell you we know you're on the run from Fleet and Core."
John stiffened. "I'm not...." Catherine called up the wanted poster and John went white as a sheet.
Rodney reached over and gripped his arm. "We're not going to turn you over, John. Not if we can help it."
John turned to him. "You knew? This whole time you knew and you still...." He took a deep breath. "Why not? I know you need the credits."
"Nobody ends up out here if they're on the good side of Fleet and Core, kid," Catherine said. "Most of us wouldn't give them the time of day, and we definitely don't do them any favors. We give good people to those bastards over my dead body."
Rodney gripped John's arm harder. He couldn't see it, but he could feel John's muscles tightening and quivering, like he was doing everything he could not to get up and run. He didn't try to move, though. If anything he seemed to be pressing into Rodney's hand.
"We do need to know one thing, Mr. Sheppard." Catherine leaned forward and looked John in the eye. "We just want to make sure that you are good people, though we're fairly well convinced already. The information code says you're wanted for theft. What, exactly, did you steal?"
Rodney didn't think it was possible, but John's muscles got even tighter under his hand. "Theft?" John's voice cracked, and if Rodney didn't know better, he'd think John was about to cry. John closed his eyes. "Myself. I stole myself." John tore his arm from Rodney's grip and practically ran out the door.
Catherine and Rodney stared after him, eyes wide. "I'm going to...." Rodney pointed to the door, still watching where John had left.
Catherine nodded. Her face was pale. "Go, McKay."
He ran out the door, following John. John didn't run to his ship, like Rodney thought he might, but to the quarters he and Rodney had been sharing for the past week. When Rodney got there and let himself in, John was sitting on the bed in the dark, his hands clenched in the sheets.
Rodney sat down next to him and carefully put his hand on John's back, ready to remove it if John flinched away. Instead John sank into the touch and relaxed his hands, his head falling onto Rodney's shoulder. Rodney patted him awkwardly.
"Have you ever heard of stargates, Rodney?" John asked suddenly after a long silence.
Stargates? They were going to talk about history now? "Of course I've heard of them. They were wormholes used to go instantly from planet to planet, which is fascinating in a brain-breaking sort of way. We have no idea how they worked. They were all destroyed hundreds of years ago in a last ditch effort to destroy the Wraith-Goa'uld alliance. It worked." Rodney carded his fingers through John's hair.
"It turns out the Goa'uld weren't the ones who built them." John's voice was flat and expressionless.
Rodney's hand stilled as he processed that. "The Wraith weren't advanced enough."
"No," John agreed. "They weren't."
"The Asgard, then? You'd think they would've told us before they all killed themselves."
John shook his head. "Not them either. They were built by a race called the Alterans."
Rodney filed the name away. "I've never heard of them before."
"Almost no one has," John said. "Stargates weren't the only things they built, either. They left a lot of junk lying around."
"Weapons," Rodney said, thinking of the secret project that killed Catherine's husband.
"Among other things," John agreed. "There's a catch. The Alterans designed almost everything to only response to a gene only they had."
Rodney frowned. "Well, that would make them pretty useless for us, then."
John snorted. "You'd think so."
Rodney ran John's cowlicks through his fingers. "Why aren't they?"
John paused for a long time. "I used to be in the Fleet."
"Uh, okay," Rodney said, brain switching tracks. He remembered John's joy and competence in the gasdiver and wasn't particularly surprised. "Pilot, right?"
"Yeah. After I was promoted to major, they had everyone come in for some blood tests. They said there was a new version of Langaran Flu going around."
"I take it there wasn't," Rodney said.
"No, there was. It just wasn't all they were testing for." John sighed. "About a month afterwards I was reassigned out of the blue. My CO was as shocked as I was."
Rodney made an encouraging noise.
"It... wasn't a normal assignment." John stopped again.
Rodney wished he could see his face clearly. "Why not?"
"Well, for one, my roommate was a colonel," John said bitterly. "There were five of us: Jack, Evan, Carson, Miko, and me."
Rodney had a bad feeling he knew where this was going. "The gene?"
"Yeah. Turns out I have some Alterans in the family tree." John stood up and walked towards the window, looking out at the ice sheet. "I was informed I was no longer a part of the Fleet. I had been permanently reassigned to the Alteran Project."
"Did you try to leave?" Rodney asked, quietly.
"We couldn't. We weren't prisoners, of course. False imprisonment is illegal. We were just restricted to an area of the base that had no exit." John leaned his forehead against the window.
Rodney got up and and stood next to him. "What happened?"
"We got a note from an old friend of Jack's. An actual note, on paper, so it wouldn't be traceable. They could get one of us out. We thought it should be Jack, but...." John's voice faded away.
"But what, John?"
John shook his head. "Jack refused, and since the note said it had to be someone who could fly a ship, that left me or Evan. We flipped for it."
"You won?" Rodney stared at John's face. The planetlight was making his tight mouth look even tighter and he looked suddenly old.
"I lost," John replied.
Rodney stared at him, but John didn't say anything else. Rodney reached for him and he stiffened, but Rodney pulled him closer and kissed his forehead the way he used to do with Jeannie. "Yes," he said.
John pulled back. "What?"
"Yes," Rodney said again. "Yes, I'll come with you."
John choked and sat down on the floor. Rodney knelt next to him, lifted his chin, and gently kissed him. John pulled back, not letting it become anything more. "Come with me where, Rodney? Back to my prison in the middle of the Core? Come on." John looked away from him.
Rodney pulled his head back and stared him in the eyes. "I am going to come with you, and we are going to find my sister and free your friends."
"How are we going to do that, McKay?" John asked, resigned. "The Fleet's already on their way."
"I," Rodney said confidently, "have a plan."
Rodney gave Catherine a brief summary of John's story. John sat next to him and steadfastly looked anywhere in the room but at the two of them.
Catherine sat back. "So, they finally found it."
John whipped his head to face her.
Catherine smiled wryly. "I was one of the original members of the Alteran Project, Mr. Sheppard. At that point, we were mostly trying to reverse-engineer their weapons. When that failed, they started doing experiments, trying to modify those of us already in the program so that the Alteran's devices would recognize us. Their experiments killed my husband. Fortunately, my family had enough power within the Core that when I left, no one tried to stop me."
"Why weapons?" Rodney asked. "F&C has no real enemies. The Goa'uld, Wraith, and Asgard are all gone; the replicators are nothing more than a pest problem; and spending that much time and energy on weapons to fight the smugglers or the Lucian Alliance would be like using a naquadah enhanced warhead to kill flies."
Catherine shook her head. "They never told us."
"They're convinced there's going to be a war," John said. "Old enemies of the Alterans who are apparently still out there."
Rodney frowned. "Why would enemies of the Alterans automatically be enemies of Fleet and Core?"
John shrugged. "Hell if I know."
"No matter who those enemies are, we are not letting Fleet and Core take you back, Mr. Sheppard." Catherine leaned forward. "McKay, you mentioned a plan?"
"We just need to make sure John isn't here, right? So we remove him and any trace of him, tell them he was just here for a quick stop over. Easy."
"Wait, what?" John turned to him. "They're not just going to take 'he's not here', for an answer, McKay."
"Why not?" Rodney looked at him. "It'll be the truth."
"You think just giving his Jumper a standard smuggler package and getting him off base will be enough?" Catherine frowned.
"See!" John pointed.
"No," Catherine said, "that... might actually work. They'd never expect that you'd still be around. From their perspective, if you knew they were coming, you wouldn't do anything but run."
"Exactly," Rodney said, "and since we know they sabotaged your Jumper they'll assume they can just follow to you to your next stop and pick you up there."
"Wait," John said, holding up a hand. "Wait. My Jumper will still be here. Everyone on this base knows I'm here. Not to mention you accessed my damn accounts."
Rodney stared at him. "You were actually stupid enough to use your own accounts?"
"No, Rodney, but if they sabotaged Nancy's Jumper on the off-chance I might take it, I'm pretty sure they found my hidden accounts!" John glared at him.
"Don't worry about that, Mr. Sheppard," Catherine said. "I paid for the parts out of our operating budget, keeping your account info to pay ourselves back after you're gone. As for everyone knowing you're here, don't worry about it. We have done things like this before, you know."
John put his head in his hands. "Fine. It's not going to work, but fine. We'll go with your stupid plan, McKay. It's not like I have anything else."
"My plan is not stupid, my plan is going to save your life, you ass." Rodney crossed his arms. John waved an arm at him and didn't lift his head.
"Right then," Catherine said, looking pleased. "How do we want to do this?"
"We need to move his Jumper off the base. I propose that we take it to Katie's research station. Do a quick and dirty standard smuggler package when I go pick her up, leave it there for a week." Rodney held up a hand. "I know you don't trust her, Catherine. I don't either, not entirely. But I think we can trust her to keep that secret. She's known about our work with the smugglers for years and hasn't said anything yet."
Catherine nodded slowly. "What about Mr. Sheppard himself? Should we leave him there as well?"
"No, I don't think so. He'd still be too easy to find." Any human lifesign readings on the planet would be ridiculously easy to pick up.
"Ah," Catherine said. "A dive team."
Rodney nodded. "A dive team."
"Do I get any say in this?" John asked, his voice muffled.
"No," Rodney and Catherine said together.
"If we're doing this, we'd better get started now," Rodney said, standing up.
"I agree." Catherine smiled. "Good luck, Mr. Sheppard."
Rodney pulled John up by his arm and dragged him out the door.
"This is an amazingly bad idea, McKay." John's voice was quiet.
"It's really not. If there's one thing we know on this base, it's how to hide smugglers." Rodney paused. "Well, no, if there's one thing we know it's gasdiving, but if there's two things, it's gasdiving and how to hide smugglers."
John sighed. Rodney dragged him to the hanger and they stopped in front of John's Jumper.
"You're going to follow me in your Jumper to Katie's research station," Rodney said, pointing at John's chest. "You are not going to run. You are not going to do anything else."
"I'll follow every wobble in your flight path, Rodney," John said with a faint smile.
John held up his hands. "No running, I swear."
"Good." Rodney glared at him, hoping to drive the point home.
John stepped closer and put his hands on Rodney's cheeks. He leaned in and gave Rodney a light kiss. "Thank you. Even if this fails massively, thank you."
"It's not going to fail!" Rodney protested. John just smiled and patted his face, before letting go and walking up the ramp into the Jumper.
Rodney sighed as he walked to his gasdiver. It had better not fail. He didn't know what he'd do with himself if it did.
Rodney set the gasdiver down lightly and heard the thump of the docking tunnel. Katie waved at him from the beach. He gestured her inside and she gave him a sign for two minutes. He nodded at her and stretched, walking through the airlock and into the outpost. He stood by the window and let the sunlight warm him. John landed a moment later, his big Jumper taking up most of the most of the flat space on the beach.
Katie walked into the outpost and took off her air tank, hanging it up carefully before turning to Rodney. "What's going on?"
Rodney waved an arm at her. "We just need someplace to stash John's Jumper for a few days, that's all."
Katie walked over to him. "Standard smuggler package?"
Rodney glared at her. "Yes."
She put her hand on his arm. "Rodney, what's really going on? I've met enough smugglers these past few years to know John isn't one."
Rodney shook his head. "Ask me later."
"Just ask me later, Katie."
She nodded reluctantly. "All right."
"So, ah, how was your week?" Rodney didn't actually care, but it was better than dancing around the topic of John. She was halfway through a story about something that was undoubtedly riveting to botanists but he hoped she wasn't going to ask him about later when John walked in.
"Now what?" John asked, taking off his air tank and giving a wave to Katie.
"Now, we start on the standard smuggler package. Do you have any preferences for the new name of your ship?" Rodney asked.
"Uh, new name?" John blinked at him. Behind his back, Katie narrowed her eyes at Rodney. Rodney narrowed his back and shook his head.
"New name," Rodney agreed. "Also, new registration number, owner, and history."
"I take it I'm not giving Nancy her ship back," John said dryly.
"Not right now, you're not." Rodney went to grab an air tank.
"Freedom's Chance," John said.
"What?" Rodney looked at him.
"The new name. Freedom's Chance."
Rodney nodded slowly. "Freedom's Chance it is."
Katie sighed. "I'll go get the paint."
"Katie, you don't have to help," Rodney protested.
"I'll get the paint," she repeated, and patted him on the cheek as she went back to storage.
"Okay," Rodney said when Katie returned. "Katie, you paint over the name on the outside. I'll fix the computer records and the automatic broadcast signal. John, you get to clean the scoring off the top of the hull."
John started. "What?"
"The ship's obviously been fired on. It was the first thing I noticed." Rodney handed him a bucket.
"Nobody fired on me," John said, confused.
"Well, somebody fired on your ex-wife, then. Clean it anyway, it's noticeable." Rodney headed towards the door. "Move it, people."
Katie hit him. "Stop ordering people around, Rodney."
"Oh, just. Go do it?" Rodney said, rubbing his arm. "Please?"
"That's better," Katie said, smiling at him, fitting her own air tank. They walked out of the outpost and got to work.
Changing a ship's information was easy, but massively finicky. It was only meant to be changed with a sale, so it was hidden deep and impossible to do accidentally. They'd tried to make it so the smugglers couldn't change things themselves, but the smugglers, and therefore Rodney, stayed one step ahead of them. A few hours later Blue Rose had become Freedom's Chance, registered to one Jonathan Shepherd. It was probably a bit too close to John's name, but it would be easy for John to remember and both names were common enough for it not to be more than a coincidence. He hoped. After that it was a simple matter of turning off the automatic registration broadcast, which required removing exactly one crystal, and he was done.
Rodney stretched and put his air tank back on, closing the Jumper up behind him. John and Katie had gone inside the outpost already. The side of the ship read Freedom's Chance in Katie's clear script, with a small die painted underneath it. It was something Rodney wouldn't have thought of, but it was a nice touch.
"We all set?" he asked, walking into the outpost. John and Katie were sitting at the small table near the window having lunch. He walked over and stole half of John's sandwich.
"Hey!" John swatted him.
"Mine now," Rodney said cheerfully and took a bite. He sat down. "We're set?"
Katie nodded. "We're done. You?"
"Mmm, Freedom's Chance is now good to go. Ready to leave your stromatolites, Katie?"
"Never, but I am ready to see Carolyn." She smiled and got up to gather her things.
Rodney looked at John. "Are you set to go?"
"I guess." John tapped the table. "What now?"
"Now we fly back to the base and send you out with a dive team for a week," Rodney said.
"Yeah, about that." John stood up. "I don't know the first thing about gasdiving."
Rodney waved it off. "Don't worry about it. Spacers and smugglers end up having to dive for a few weeks to buy parts all the time. The veteran teams are used to it." He smiled. "Maybe if you're really lucky you'll hit a big pocket and strike it rich."
John snorted. "Yeah, my luck is really holding out lately."
"I don't know," Rodney said, bumping his shoulder. "I don't think you're doing so bad."
John's face softened. "The past few days might've been okay."
Katie cleared her throat. "Ready to go, guys?"
John sighed. "Let's get his show on the road."
Catherine was waiting for them when the got back to the base. "Mr. Sheppard?"
"Yeah?" John stopped, and Rodney did too, worried. Katie kept going and left the hanger with a wave.
"There's a dive team leaving in half an hour who could use a spare," Catherine said.
"Who'd you stick him with?" Rodney asked.
"Ahmed," Catherine replied. Rodney nodded, relieved. Ahmed's team was one of the best with inexperienced divers and had an excellent safety record. They'd never lost a diver.
"Where do I meet them?" John asked, looking apprehensive.
"Ahmed uses Diver 12," Rodney said and gestured to the far side of the hanger.
Catherine nodded. "Just meet them there, they'll be waiting for you. And McKay, I need you in the rings room in an hour."
Rodney sighed and nodded.
"Good diving, Mr. Sheppard. May the winds lift you safely home." Catherine smiled at them and left the hanger.
"May the what?" John asked, staring at her back.
Rodney waved a hand. "It's a gasdiving thing."
"Right." John looked even more apprehensive than before.
Rodney put his hand on John's back. "You'll be fine, John. You might even enjoy it, a lot of the divers do. I think they're crazy, personally."
"You're not helping," John said with a faint smile.
"How about this, then?" Rodney tugged John into a kiss that quickly turned heated.
"Oh yeah, that's much better," John said, pulling away. He was flushed and his lips were slightly swollen and Rodney didn't think he'd ever seen anything more attractive in his life. He took John's hand and pushed him back into the gasdiver. Shut the door behind them, he proceeded to relax John the best way he knew how.
Not nearly enough time later, his skin still tingling, Rodney led John over to Diver 12. "John, Ahmed. Ahmed, John."
Ahmed smiled. "Nice to meet you, John. We're always glad to have an extra hand. The others are already here, and if you'd just join us on board I'll introduce you after we're underway." Ahmed nodded at Rodney and stepped inside.
Rodney kissed John again lightly. "Go. When you get back, F&C will be gone and we'll be set to leave."
John nodded tightly. "Good luck, Rodney."
"May the winds lift you safely home, John."
John walked into the gasdiver and closed the door. Rodney watched it rise off the ground and he stood there, not taking his eyes off it, until he couldn't see it any longer.
Katie and Carolyn were waiting for Rodney outside the hanger. Carolyn grabbed his arm, dragged him into a small storage room, and shut the door.
"Let go of me!" Rodney shook off Carolyn's hand. "What the hell?"
Katie crossed her arms. "It's later, Rodney."
"What's going on, McKay?" Carolyn asked. "We need to know."
Rodney pinched the bridge of his nose. "Katie...."
"Oh for crying out loud, Rodney. I've lived here for four years and I haven't reported anything that goes on here yet. What do I have to do to get you and Catherine to trust me?" Katie threw her arms up in the air.
Carolyn glared at Rodney and put her arm around Katie and squeezed.
Rodney sighed. "I can't tell you everything."
"McKay," Carolyn said, threateningly.
"No, really, I can't. This involves something from Catherine's past, and I'm not breaking that trust."
Carolyn nodded slowly. "Okay, I can accept that."
"So can I," Katie said, "but I need something."
Rodney shrugged. "Long story short, John's on the run from F&C. He was an unwilling participant in some secret experiments and escaped, and they really, really want him back."
"Fleet and Core wouldn't...." Katie started.
Rodney cut her off. "They would and they did, Katie," he said gently.
Carolyn nodded. "It's not even the first story I've heard like it."
Katie sighed. "I know. I guess. I just don't want to believe that they could do that to someone. John is so nice."
"That's why we're protecting him, Katie," Rodney said. "F&C can't know where he is or where his ship is. If they ask you directly, lie. Do you understand me?"
Katie nodded. "I do. I really do, Rodney. I can lie to them. I just hate it."
Carolyn gave her another squeeze. "We all do."
"Is that all? Can we go now?" Rodney asked, gesturing towards the door.
Katie looked embarrassed. "Yes, I'm sorry. Thank you, Rodney, for trusting me." She gave him a quick hug.
"Yes, well, it was a long time coming."
"I have another question," Carolyn said as she opened the door and stepped outside.
"What?" Rodney asked warily, following her.
"Is John any good in bed?" Carolyn grinned at him and Katie started laughing.
"Carolyn! I'm not answering that!"
"You're never any fun, Rodney." Carolyn sighed dramatically "You never give me any good gossip."
"I hate you so much," Rodney said.
"I can tell." Carolyn looked far too cheerful.
The three of them bickered and teased each other until they reached the rings room. They quieted as they entered. Rodney took in Catherine's worried face and felt himself start to tense. They needed to pull this off, and if they couldn't, there was no telling what might happen.
"We have a Fleet general coming to visit," Catherine said tightly.
Rodney sagged against the wall. "We are completely screwed."
"Breathe, Rodney," Catherine said. "We can handle this."
Rodney straightened and nodded, pulling down his shirt. "We are calm and collected and completely innocent."
"Like anyone's ever going to believe that," Carolyn said under her breath.
Rodney pointed at her, opening his mouth to retort, when the rings activated. He turned to them and stood behind Catherine, taking a few deep breaths. He had to do this. John was depending on him.
A man and a woman stood there. Carolyn started, and Rodney looked sideways at her. She shook her head. Catherine walked up to the new arrivals. "I'm Director Catherine Langford and I'd like to welcome you to our gas mining station. How can we help Fleet and Core?"
The woman shook Catherine's hand and smiled. "My name is Elizabeth Weir, Director Langford. I've heard a lot about you. Your work with F&C hasn't been forgotten and a lot of the old hands still talk about winning you back."
Catherine smiled politely (though Rodney wasn't sure if Weir's small talk was a veiled threat). "I'm happy to hear that, but this mining station was my father's legacy and my focus is here these days."
"Of course," Weir said, equally polite. "May I introduce General Henry Landry?"
Catherine took his hand, murmuring pleasantries. Carolyn seemed to be trying to hide behind Rodney and Katie. That was... odd. Rodney mouthed "What?" at her, but Carolyn just shook her head, her mouth tight.
Catherine led Weir over to where Rodney, Katie, and Carolyn were standing. "I'd like to introduce my senior staff. This is Katie Brown, head of hydroponics." Catherine gestured at Katie, and Weir shook her hand. "Rodney McKay, base engineer." Weir took his hand and frowned for a moment at his face before her calm and polite facade descended again. "And Car...."
General Landry cut her off. "Carolyn!?"
Carolyn sighed, resigned. "Hi, Dad. Long time no see."
"Carolyn Lam, our medic," Catherine finished faintly. Rodney stared at Carolyn. So did everyone else. Katie reached out and took her hand. Rodney had known Carolyn came to Six to get away from something in the Core, but he'd never expected this.
"You work at a gas mining station?" Landry was staring at Carolyn in disbelief.
"Yes, Dad," Carolyn said calmly. "I work at a gas mining station and have for the past seven years."
"Well," Weir said before Landry could reply, "this is certainly a pleasant surprise, but if we could hold off on the family reunion until later, we have business we need to discuss. Do you have someplace we can go, Director Langford?"
"Of course," Catherine said, collecting herself. "Follow me, please." Catherine gestured and led the way out of the rings room.
Rodney waited until Weir and Landry left and then turned to Carolyn. "Are you...."
She sighed. "I'm fine, McKay. Go. We can't leave Catherine alone with them for too long. Katie and I'll be right behind you."
Rodney nodded reluctantly and headed out, catching a glimpse of Katie leaning her forehead against Carolyn's before the door shut. He jogged to catch up with the group, and followed them into one of the base's small, rarely used conference rooms. Catherine and Weir were exchanging meaningless small talk and Landry seemed to be quietly fuming.
"Can I offer you something to drink?" Catherine asked, sitting down at the conference table.
"Please," Weir said. Catherine nodded at Rodney and he walked over to the small transportation rings box and got coffee for everyone. Weir raised an eyebrow. "What technology is that? I've never seen it before."
"Miniaturized transportation rings," Catherine said simply. Rodney glanced at her. Hadn't they agreed to never bring those to attention of F&C? What was she doing?
Landry looked up. "Where did you get them? I've never heard of that before."
"I designed them," Rodney said, forcing himself to remain calm. He sat down next to Catherine.
"Oh?" Landry asked, intrigued. "Where did you study?"
Rodney grimaced. "Nowhere." Landry's eyes flashed with surprise and disgust. Weir looked at him speculatively, as if she was weighing something in her mind and hadn't come to any conclusions yet, which was almost worse than Landry's reaction.
Carolyn and Katie slipped quietly into the room, sitting down at the far end of the table.
"So," Catherine said. "What exactly does Fleet and Core want with my mining station?"
"Getting straight to the point," Landry said, "I like that. Simply put, Director Langford, we have evidence that a very dangerous criminal stopped here and it's possible he may still be hiding on your station." Landry smiled at them, almost smirking. Rodney clenched his fists below the table and bit his cheek, forcing himself to remain calm.
Catherine frowned. "We've only had one spacer stop here in the past week, and he left after just a few hours."
Landry nodded as if he'd expected that. "It's unlikely he'd stay in one spot for long, but it's still a possibility we need to take into account. I'd like permission to interview anyone who interacted with him, see if he told them anything that might be of use to us."
"Of course," Catherine said. "Most spacers who don't stay for long are only here for a quick resupply or emergency repairs, and most likely he only spoke with Engineer McKay, Medic Lam, Mr. Martinez, and myself." Landry flinched at Carolyn's name, but didn't say anything.
Weir clasped her hands on top of the table and looked at Catherine. "We'll need to speak to each person separately, including yourself, Director Langford. May we use this room?"
Catherine nodded and started to say something when the sirens stared blaring. She tapped her radio instead. "Martinez, report."
Rodney tensed. It couldn't be John. They hadn't been gone long enough, and Ahmed wouldn't let John take the first dive, but his heart hammered anyway until Catherine said "Damn. It's Brian Anderson's team, Carolyn. Leesha had a bad dive. She's still alive but fading fast." Carolyn nodded grimly and left the room at a run. Katie followed her.
"Is there anything we can do to help, Director Langford?" Weir asked.
Catherine shook her head. "Not much anyone can do for a bad dive. We'll be lucky if we can keep her alive until her son's dive team is back in base." Catherine sighed. "If you'll excuse me?"
"Of course," Weir said. Catherine looked at Rodney and gave him a slight nod that Rodney knew meant stay here, answer their questions, we'll talk later, and left the room. "Well, Mr. McKay, shall we begin?"
Rodney sighed. "Hit me."
Weir and Landry questioned Rodney for hours, making him repeat himself over and over again. Rodney kept to his story. He'd met Sheppard, spoken to him for a few minutes, and fixed his ship. Rodney found a crystal that had been broken and badly repaired, and replaced it (he made sure to complain about Sheppard using their last spare set). Sheppard left shortly afterwards. Landry grimaced every time Rodney mentioned replacing the crystal.
Rodney sighed. "What are you trying to get me to say? That's the fifth time you've asked that question. My answer isn't going to change."
Weir and Landry looked at each other. "Mr. McKay," Weir said, "did you notice anything particularly unusual about John Sheppard?"
Rodney frowned. "He was too clean for a spacer and he had a weird amount of trouble with our hanger's gravity, but that's all." There was no way he was telling any of these people about John's hair, smile, fondness for flying and terrible holos, and the way he touched Rodney like Rodney was the best thing that had happened to John in years.
Landry scowled more and Weir sat back and sighed.
"I take it that's not the answer you were hoping for," Rodney said.
"Frankly, no, Mr. McKay. The crystal you removed was our only hope of tracking Mr. Sheppard and nothing about the behavior you're reporting tells us anything about where he might've gone from here."
Rodney scowled. "Maybe if you'd marked your sabotage with a little sticker that said 'do not remove, broken on purpose', he'd still be here for you to take... wherever." Rodney waved a hand in the air. "Look, are we done? I have work to do."
"Not quite," Weir said, clasping her hands in front of her. "Mr. McKay, I want to know where those miniaturized rings really came from."
Rodney stared at her, confused and apprehensive. "I designed them. I reverse-engineered them from our rings set."
"You have no training, Mr. McKay," Landry said.
"No formal training, no, but I learned from Catherine and the base's previous engineer, and honestly, I have a lot of time to tinker with things out there." Rodney started to panic. What did they want?
"Mr. McKay, I once saw blueprints for a similar idea once that looked remarkably like the set-up you have here. Tell me again, where did they come from?" Weir raised her eyebrow at him.
"I designed them! I can give you copies of my old notes and blueprints if you really want them, though I'm going to want assurances you're not just out to steal my design. But they're mine." Rodney crossed his arms to keep himself from shaking and glared at Weir and Landry. "The only other people who've ever seen the blueprints for them are Catherine and," Rodney paused, his eyes widening, "my sister." They had Jeannie. They must have Jeannie. Oh god.
Weir looked scarily satisfied, but said only, "I'm sorry to have bothered you about them then, Mr. McKay. It must've just been a coincidence. I understand these things happen, sometimes." She stood up and offered Rodney her hand. "Thank you for your time, Mr. McKay."
"Uh, sure," Rodney said, his heart still pounding.
Landry shook his hand as well. "If you could find and send in one of the others, we'd appreciate it."
"If it doesn't interfere with the treatment of your diver, of course," Weir said smoothly.
Rodney nodded. He walked to the door and passed through it as quickly as he could without looking like he was running away. He dashed into the nearest room and slammed the door behind him. He sunk to the floor, back against the wall, and put his head in his hands. John would be fine. They'd completely bought Rodney's story and John was going to be fine. But Jeannie... Jeannie might not. He stayed in the room, breathing deeply, until his hands stopped shaking.
Rodney slipped into Catherine's office. She had the feed from the conference room up on the main viewing screen.
"How's Leesha?" He asked quietly, settling into one of the chairs.
"She's stable," Catherine said, tired. "You did well in there, Rodney."
Rodney nodded. "I think they bought it."
"So do I," Catherine agreed. "We just might be able to pull this off."
"God, I hope so," Rodney said, looking at his hands. On the screen, Weir and Landry were trying to find any hints in Martinez's brief conversations with John as head of the tower. Martinez didn't know the whole story, but he'd grown up on Six just as Rodney had and knew how to spin a lie to save a smuggler.
"I think they're going to call in Carolyn soon," Catherine said. "They can't get much more out of Martinez."
"Catherine," Rodney said, then stopped.
"Hmm?" Catherine replied, still watching the screen.
Rodney took a deep breath. "Catherine, if this works, I'm leaving with John."
Catherine turned to look at him. "I know, kid."
Rodney jerked his head up and looked at her. "What? How did you know? I haven't told anyone!"
"I'm not blind, Rodney. He's different for you, isn't he?" She smiled sadly. "I remember what that was like with my Ernest. You'd be a fool not to leave with him, and you've never been a fool, Rodney."
Rodney stared at her.
"Just promise me you'll come back and visit sometime. You know I think of you like family," Catherine said, "and family keeps in touch."
Rodney nodded. He did know that. "I... you're family to me too, Catherine."
"And I'm probably leaving this base to you, so you should be prepared for that," Catherine said, cheerfully.
"Who else am I going to leave it to, Rodney? No one else knows this bucket of bolts better than your and me. Besides, it'll give you and John an excuse to settle down when you're done exploring the universe." Catherine reached out and patted his arm. "You'll thank me for it someday."
Rodney wasn't so sure about that. "Thanks, I think."
"...well maybe if you'd ever given a damn about me, I would've told you!" Carolyn's voice suddenly came screaming through the feed. Rodney and Catherine turned to watch it, fascinated.
"Did she ever tell you about...." Rodney gestured.
"No," Catherine said. "You?"
"No." Rodney stared as Carolyn crossed her arms and looked for all the world like a sulking teenager.
"Still, it rather works to our advantage. General Landry doesn't seem to be asking Carolyn any questions about Mr. Sheppard at all," Catherine said, smiling.
Rodney laughed and watched as Weir obviously tried to drag the interview back on track and failed.
"Thank you for your time, Director Langford," Weir said, shaking Catherine's hand.
Rodney stood with his back to the wall in the rings room, impatient for Weir and Landry to leave. He was still waiting for the other shoe to drop and for them to say they knew exactly where John was, but they really seemed to have bought the story Catherine, Rodney, and the others had told. Rodney couldn't believe it.
Carolyn stood next to him, glaring at Landry. Katie was gripping Carolyn's hand so tightly Carolyn's fingers were losing color. "Carolyn, are you sure you won't come back with me?" Landry asked.
"Yes!" Carolyn said, clearly frustrated. "I like it here! I like my life and I have an amazing girlfriend who loves me. Would you please just leave and let me get back to it?" Carolyn ripped her hand from Katie's grasp and stormed out the door.
Katie pointed at the door. "I'm sorry, it was very nice to meet you, but I need to...."
Landry nodded, resigned. "Take care of my daughter, Ms. Brown." Katie dashed out the door.
Catherine stared after them. "I'm sorry about that."
"Nothing gets the blood boiling like family," Weir said wryly. "Don't worry about it."
"I'm sorry we couldn't be of more help," Catherine said sincerely. Rodney had to force himself not to laugh.
"Oh no," Weir said, "you were a big help, thank you."
Landry turned to shake Catherine's hand and Weir came over to Rodney. Rodney blinked at her.
"You were very informative, Mr. McKay, thank you," Weir said, holding out her hand.
Rodney shook, reminding himself that these people made bad enemies. "Uh, no problem." His eyes widened as he felt Weir slip something into his palm.
She leaned forward and whispered in his ear "Don't read that until John gets back."
He stared at her, shocked. She winked at him and walked back towards Landry, stepping into the circle.
"If you'll wait here for a moment after we're gone, I believe we have some supplies for you," Weir said.
Catherine nodded. "Thank you."
"It was our pleasure," Weir said and vanished in a flash of white light as the rings activated.
Rodney stared at what Weir had given him. It was a data chip, the type used for transporting small files. She knew about John. She knew Rodney was going to see John again, soon. She'd called him John. Was she playing with him? Were they going to come back and arrest him any second now? Were they going to do to him what they'd done to Jeannie?
The rings activated again and Rodney started, sure he'd see people with guns ready to take him into custody, but it was just boxes.
"Oh thank god, our new intake valve," Catherine said, relieved. "And Mr. Sheppard's crystal set."
The rest of the week seemed to pass in a blur. Rodney spent most of his time writing up notes for his successor, whoever that turned out to be. He fixed the intake valve, finally, completely. He packed up the few belongings he had. And he kept staring at Weir's data chip. His curiosity was killing him, but it wasn't for him. It was for John. Rodney could wait.
Waiting for John was harder. Now that the stress of hiding him from Fleet and Core was gone, Rodney spent hours worrying about him. He knew how dangerous gasdiving was. Why had he ever suggested they put John on a team? They could've found someplace else to hide him. John could have a bad dive, miss his wind currents and not make it back to the gasdiver, or even just hit his head on a bunk. There were any number of ways John could be hurt and Rodney wouldn't be there to help him. He hadn't worried this much about anyone since Jeannie was little.
He paced the hanger when Ahmed's team was due back, absolutely sure John would be hurt. Diver 12 set down gently and Rodney forced himself not to rush up to it and demand to be let in. The ramp lowered and Rodney watched the team stream out of the gasdiver. John came out second to last, chatting with MeiLyn and smiling. He spotted Rodney and ran over, sweeping Rodney up and kissing him. Distantly, Rodney heard someone whistle.
John pulled away. "That was amazing, Rodney. You're flying without a ship or even a parachute, just riding the winds and letting them take you where you need to go. I think that was the best thing I've ever done."
Rodney stared at him. "You are completely and totally crazy. Why am I running away with you?"
John just smiled and kissed him again "So?"
Rodney grinned and bounced on his heels. "They completely bought it." He paused. "Well, I think. I need to talk to you."
John's smile faded. "Talk, McKay."
Rodney shook his head. "In private. Also, you need to shower."
Rodney took John back to his quarters. John looked at all the boxes and smiled at him softly. "You're really coming with me."
Rodney frowned. "Of course I am. I said I was, didn't I?"
"People don't always mean what they say, Rodney." John looked tired.
"Well, I mean it. I'm coming with you." Rodney looked away. "Unless you don't want me to, of course."
John put his hand on Rodney's cheek and brought him back to face John. Then he leaned in and gave Rodney the sweetest kiss he'd ever had, long and slow and tender. "I want you to come with me, Rodney."
"Good," Rodney said, smiling. "Now go shower."
Rodney sat on the bed while John showered, staring out at the moon he'd called home for as long as he could remember. Soon, Big Mama wouldn't hang over his head and the ice sheets wouldn't reflect her brilliance at him. Rodney wondered if he'd miss it.
John put his hands on Rodney's shoulders, and Rodney leaned back into him. "So," John said. "You think?"
"Landry bought it completely," Rodney said.
John grimaced. "They sent Landry?"
Rodney nodded. "It actually worked out great for us, because it turns out Carolyn is his long-estranged daughter. He was so concerned with her that I think he kind of forgot about you."
John stared at him. "Carolyn is General Landry's daughter? That's... wow."
Rodney laughed. "None of us knew, either. Katie's been holed up for the past week trying to convince Carolyn she doesn't have to run someplace even more isolated just because her father knows where she lives now."
John snorted. "So where does the 'you think' part come from?"
"I really have no idea what to make of Elizabeth Weir," Rodney said, shaking his head.
John sat down. "They sent Elizabeth?"
Rodney nodded. "Is that a good thing?"
"Elizabeth was the one person on the project who really seemed to be on our side," John said quietly.
"Well, I think she still is, then. As they were leaving, she handed me a data chip and told me to wait to read it until I saw you again." Rodney said, holding it out.
John took the chip gingerly and stared at it. "What's on it?"
"I don't know," Rodney said, rolling his eyes. "I was waiting for you."
John got up and reached for one of Rodney's unpacked tablets, slipping the chip in the side. Rodney peered over John's shoulder. There were six files labeled 'sheppard1-6', and one file labeled 'mckay'.
Rodney frowned. "Flick that one over to me, would you?" He picked up the other tablet and waited as John complied, opening the file as soon as it appeared on his screen.
It was a video. Rodney hadn't seen one in years. Most people had switched completely to holos.
"Hi, Mer," Jeannie said. Rodney paused the video, shocked. She looked good. She was alive. He pressed play again. She waved. "I'm alive!" She laughed. "I heard you've been looking for me. I miss you too." Her face grew grave. "But I need you to stop, Mer. I'll find you if I can, but you need to stop looking for me. It's too dangerous. For both us. I don't know if this video will ever reach you, but Elizabeth promised she'd try." She looked at someone off screen and waved them over. A toddler came into the screen and Rodney gripped the tablet harder. "But since I don't know when I'll see you, I want you to meet someone. This is your niece, Madison. Can you say 'hi' to your Uncle Mer, Maddy?" The little girl shook her head and buried it in Jeannie's shoulder. Jeannie laughed again. "I love you, Mer. I'm so sorry. Please don't try to find me."
The video stopped and Rodney wasn't sure how long he sat staring at the tablet before John came and took it out of his hands.
"Rodney?" John sat down next to him, bumping his shoulder.
"I have a niece," Rodney said, dully.
"I heard," John said, quietly. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. My sister's alive and I have a niece." He started smiling. Jeannie was alive. Jeannie was really alive.
John smiled at him. "Yeah, buddy. You do."
Two days later, John flew a gasdiver to Katie's planet. It was filled to capacity with boxes: Rodney's possessions, supplies, and things people on base had just wanted him or John to have. Rodney had no idea so many people on Six actually liked him. Catherine, Carolyn, and Katie came along, unwilling to let Rodney go without a proper send-off. Catherine said it was good for Martinez to get a chance at running the base himself for once.
They transferred the cargo into Freedom's Chance quickly, filling the empty hold. Katie brought over a small hydroponic garden she'd created for them and carefully set it up in one of the empty bedrooms. Carolyn stocked their small infirmary. And then finally, everything was done, and it was time to go.
Katie reached out for Rodney first, pulling him into a hug. "I'll miss you, Rodney. Take care of yourself."
Rodney patted her back awkwardly. "You too, Katie. Keep Carolyn around, she's good for you."
Katie smiled. "I'm going to, believe me." She kissed Rodney on the cheek and let go, turning to give John a hug. John immediately stiffened and didn't even manage the back pat before Katie let him go, kissing him on the cheek as well. John touched his cheek like he wasn't sure what to do with that and Rodney laughed. John was even worse with all of this sentiment than he was.
Carolyn smiled at Rodney. "You'll teach him to be better at that, right?" She asked, grinning, and gave him a quick squeeze.
"I wouldn't bet on it," Rodney said. Carolyn moved on to John, and Rodney turned to Catherine.
"You'd better keep in touch," Catherine said. "You know the smuggler data routes. Use them, or I am going to fly to wherever you are and kick your ass."
"I will, Catherine," Rodney said, moving in to give her a quick hug.
She squeezed him back tightly and whispered in his ear. "I love you, kid. Take care of yourself." He nodded and squeezed her tighter, hoping she got what he meant. By her smile when he let go, he thought she did. "It's time for you to go and live your life, Rodney. Enjoy it. And may the winds lift you safely home."
The three of them put their air tanks on and walked out the airlock, giving Rodney one last wave. He waved back, not just to them, but to everything he'd ever known.
John came up behind him. "Ready to go, buddy?"
"Yes," Rodney said. "Yes, I am." They walked up the spiral staircase, past the living area, and onto the bridge. The view of the sea through the window was breathtaking.
John sat down in the pilot's chair and started his preflight. Rodney walked over to him and tilted John's chin up and kissed him.
"What was that for?" John asked, as Rodney settled himself in the co-pilot's chair.
"Do I need a reason?" Rodney smiled.
John smiled back. "No. No, you don't."
"So where are we going? Elizabeth's letter gave you a contact, didn't it?" Rodney asked, not taking his eyes away from John's.
John nodded. "New Athos. We're going to go find a woman named Teyla Emmagan."
Rodney sat back as John lifted off and he closed his eyes, trusting John to fly him wherever he needed to go.