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Title: A Fast Walking Man Is Hard to Beat
Author: busaikko
Recipient: ceitie, who wanted Off-world adventures with the team ... gen and team OT4 mainly. Either action adventure or domesticy hurt/comfort
Summary: (post-S5 returned!Atlantis) Kanaan is missing. Guess who found him?
Rating/Pairings: PG, Gen (with canon Kanaan/Teyla)
Warnings: none
A/N: Many, many thanks to the mods and my fabulous beta ♥ Title from the song "Put One Foot in Front of the Other."

Winter: I really am a mean, and despicable creature at heart you know. It's difficult to really change.

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walking 'cross the floor.
You put one foot in front of the other
And soon you'll be walking out the door.

You never will get where you're going
If ya never get up on your feet.
Come on, there's a good tail wind blowin'
A fast walking man is hard to beat.

"Kanaan is missing," Teyla said, sweeping into John's room. She let the doors slide shut behind her and moved to the center of the room, where she crossed her arms and raised her chin and obviously expected John to drop what he was doing to pay attention. John snapped his Nintendo DS shut automatically, straightening up from a slouch and planting both feet on the floor. He grabbed chips from the bag and flicked them hastily at Rodney, trying to rouse him from his laptop-induced fugue.

"What?" Rodney said, glaring, turning the computer in front of his body like a shield and only incidentally noticing Teyla. He blinked. "Hi."

"Missing," John repeated, keeping his voice flat. Teyla's people had disappeared before and the thought of it happening again - he sure as hell didn't want to go through that again.

After Michael, the Athosians who'd survived had found shelter with the Tmolusians, who were some kind of long-estranged splinter group with ideological differences. Less Zen and more militant, in John's opinion, but Teyla believed that rejoining the two peoples was the one good thing to come of Michael's assault. The few hybrid humans who'd been rehabilitated had PTSD and flashbacks and problems with the memories and skills Michael had programmed into their brains. Teyla said being part of a supportive community was essential for recovery, and John knew she meant for Kanaan as well, even though he mostly lived on Atlantis. Kanaan was a family guy; John'd seen for himself how hard he'd worked to make a life with Teyla and Torren.

Now, he tried to remember whether Torren was on Atlantis or with his dad, and then told himself that if Kanaan'd taken the kid, that'd be Teyla's headline news.

"He has not returned to our people for two days," Teyla said, and then sighed. She sat down on John's bed, moved the chip bag, and leaned against him.

She did things like that. It freaked John out. He was getting good at Torren, but he never knew.... Maybe she wanted a hug or something, but he still had his DS in his hands, and clocking Teyla in the ear accidentally seemed like a bad idea.

"I'm not saying someone took him," she said. She sounded a little deflated, or maybe defeated. "He may have left. The traders have heard rumors of a man looking for a pilot. Someone who understands Wraith technology. And while Kanaan is not welcome in... many places, that is something he can do. That he may want to do." John kind of wanted to beat some sense into Kanaan; no one should make Teyla sound hurt like that.

He also wanted to find the guy and drag him home ASAP, because while Kanaan had been cleared as not being a security risk, that was contingent on him not doing shit like this. Michael had had some pretty serious brain-rewriting software in addition to the suite of DNA-altering treatments. Carson Beckett's clone had been implanted with all of the original's memories and skills as a doctor; the hybrids had not been so lucky. Their programming came from Wraith technicians, and Kanaan had been Michael's second in command, piloting his hive ship and working with him in the labs. Who the hell knew what was lying dormant in Kanaan's brain.

When John'd been back on Earth, Sam had shown him a device SG1 had picked up offoworld which implanted memories and skills. She'd given him the demo. After half an hour he knew twice as much Ancient as he used to, and couldn't read any of it without unconsciously licking his lips at every compound-complex sentence... just like Daniel Jackson. It was beyond freaky, and John had wondered if anyone could live for long with a totally messed-up brain and not crack eventually.

"Do you think it was Wraith worshipers?" Rodney asked. He was still pecking away at the keyboard, but the way he'd synched his typing to Teyla's story made John figure he was already worrying at the puzzle. "Though that seems unlikely, Kanaan being - " he waved one hand abstractedly in the air. He lifted his chin to stare at John. "Do the Travelers use Wraith ships?"

"Who'd want one?" John shot back. Hive ships smelled plain nasty, like fish soup left in the back of the fridge until it went bad. Plus there was the slime, and the corpses, and the Wraith. He was kind of selfishly glad that any hive ships that fell into his hands tended to get blown up. He shoved his DS under his pillow decisively anyway and bent over to dig his boots out from under the bed. "I can ask Larrin."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "I'm sure she'd tell you if she was planning a heist. She's accomodating like that."

"Ronon is questioning the traders," Teyla said, easing to her feet while John struggled with his shoelaces. He tied loose sloppy bows and got up, buttoning his jacket and wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. He hated talking to potentially back-stabbing allies while covered in artificial cheese powder.

"Larrin and I occasionally operate on the same wavelength," John said, half-turning to tell Rodney to get a move on and finding him already on his feet, cradling the laptop like a baby. "Who approved of Ronon going offworld?"

Teyla leveled him with a glare. "This is downtime, is it not? I was taking him home with me, for the two days. He's my friend."

"And you didn't invite me?" John waved the doors open and let Teyla and Rodney out. "He's got a radio, right?"

"He told me he'd report when he found the traders."

John held back an annoyed sigh. Lot of good that'd do if Ronon found himself far from home and not among friends. "How do you want to play this?" he asked Teyla, and then made a face, because yeah, John, like anyone'd know what he meant. "As you said, we're on downtime. You want to not make this Atlantis' business... wouldn't make me comfortable, but for you?" He shrugged. "I'd go there." He looked away from Teyla and hooked his thumbs into his pockets, fingers drumming against his legs. "Or we take this to Woolsey, make it a mission, and use all available resources."

Rodney gave John an irritatingly knowing look.

Teyla just nodded slowly. "Why would I not choose to ask for those resources?"

John wasn't fond of answering questions that he figured were rhetorical. "Because Kanaan might not be the good guy here and the more people involved, the harder to... look the other way and make that go away."

Rodney managed to hit the transporter door in a way that seemed both superior and judgmental. He was letting John dig his own hole, and that wasn't fair, because John was pretty sure Rodney backed him up. Maybe.

"Thank you," Teyla said. "That won't be necessary. I am asking for assistance as an ally. Provided it's known that my people have our own system of justice."

"Sure," John said, holding the transporter door for her as she got out. "Let me handle Woolsey. He and I've got an understanding."

"Is that what they call it these days?" Rodney muttered.

John, very politely, told him to blow it out his... ear.


Woolsey was a hard person to bullshit, but John had enough leverage to avoid spin altogether: they had to do this for Teyla, and Torren, and the Athosian people. The Athosians had been their first allies in Pegasus, and the Atlantis expedition had repaid that friendship by making their lives hell. Even from a PR standpoint and not a moral one, that was a crappy thing to do.

So Woolsey gave them approval to assess the situation, and John didn't have to push hard for their assessment to involve a jumper and ammunition. Woolsey agreed to pick up the phone if Larrin responded to the recorded message John sent, which he doubted she would unless she a) was involved in some kind of plot and b) wanted to use John and/or Atlantis in some way. But John figured that was acceptable: if there was something going down and she was involved, chances were they'd be one step closer to Kanaan.

Ronon had left a forwarding gate address with Wex Charagan, so John dropped off a couple of Marines to set up a communications point by the Tmolusian gate and took off. Torren was staying with Teyla's cousin's kids, and John posted a Marine there as well, just to be safe. He didn't ask Teyla whether she wanted to go say hi, or whether she wanted to stay behind; he was trusting her to tell him.

"Things have not been the same," Teyla said abruptly, as they emerged through the gate and John cloaked the jumper while trying not to smash into the sheer canyon wall that was barely five meters in front of the kawoosh.

"Uh-huh," John managed. He thought equal parts up and don't want to die today at the jumper, babying it with soft suggestions even though Rodney yelped and grabbed for John's arm.

"What the hell are you doing?" Rodney shouted. John ignored him, bringing them up to the ridgeline and leveling out to get a good view of the local area.

"You ever come here?" he asked Teyla. "Know where we're heading?"

She shook her head, but waggled Ronon's note in her hand. "The market is an hour sunset-ward from the gate. There should be a road."

John brought the bottom view up on the HUD. There were a lot of smashed-up darts at the base of the cliff, which made it seem likely that the gate had been deliberately moved there as a defensive measure. A wide dirt track headed ruler-straight out along the canyon wall. John gave Rodney a look, both eyebrows raised, and Rodney huffed and muttered about how stupid questions atrophied his genius.

After a dramatic 10 second pause, Rodney waved a hand to indicate local west.

"Gee, thanks," John said, and put the metaphorical pedal to the metal. He glanced back at Teyla in apology. "You were saying?"

"I have a place in Atlantis." Her tone was sharp, but she didn't look mad at John. He made one of those go-on-I'm-listening noises. "And Michael did not do anything to me. Kanaan does not fit in. People see him... as a willing collaborator, because Michael valued his genetic gift. None take him trading, now, or seek his counsel."

"That sucks," Rodney said, loud and frowning. "Who decided that was fair?"

"More to the point," John said, "is he depressed, or angry? Is he at the end of his options?"

"He has Torren," Teyla said. There was an undercurrent of anger to her voice, and John wondered what cultural context he was missing. "You brought Atlantis back to Pegasus, but things changed while we were gone. Are changing. There is a lack of patience."

John bit his tongue and kept his opinion to himself. The Wraith were still the number-one threat, but he wouldn't be surprised if a whole bunch of little wars broke out over the next ten years. There were fewer Wraith to be the common enemy, and record numbers of people were traveling through the Stargates: not just refugees and soldiers but also traders and tourists, students and revolutionaries.

There were plenty of decent guys like Kanaan who got screwed over one too many times, and suddenly even bad ideas could seem like the best option going.

"Village," Rodney said, overly loud, and John saw Teyla sit back, as if distancing herself from the dirty laundry she'd been airing. Not that he minded. He hoped she knew she could tell him stuff. Anything.

John tapped his radio. "Ronon, you down there?" He looked for a good place to land. Fortunately, there was a wooded area on the side of the settlement away from the river. He didn't want to be seen popping out of thin air, and he didn't want to flatten anyone's field full of food crops. Rodney would bitch about the walk, of course, and John'd have to suck up his pride and ask Teyla to remember where the jumper was.

All in a day's work.

"Sheppard," Ronon said, static blurring his transmission. "There's people you need to talk to." He cut off abruptly, which made John straighten and worry, but then Ronon was back, his voice louder and stronger. "Come to the tavern with the two-stars sign. I'll get a room."

"Understood," John said. Rodney and Teyla were looking at him, and John nodded and pointed at his ear. "Everything's cool?" he asked, falling back on the team code they used when they remembered.

Ronon thought using secret words was ridiculous. John could practically hear him rolling his eyes. "I'm 'green' here. How about you?"

A real Satedan task-master, John reckoned, probably did a lot of yelling, smacking around, and maybe even stabbing to stamp out insubordination. He'd screwed that up out of the gate. But he preferred the people who took his orders to be able to think for themselves and know how to do the right thing, even with him out of the equation. "So green it feels like taking a walk in the woods."

"You're kind of a dork," Ronon told him. John told Ronon he was never allowed to movie nights with Jennifer and Marie again, ever, and cut the connection.

"We're looking for the two-star inn," he said to Teyla. She let him walk in front, but she was the one leading the way. It was pretty impressive how after a quick fly-over she was able to get them from the jumper to the local Main Street in under twenty minutes.

Rodney, of course, complained about the distance and the cold and the waste of time, but John didn't feel like needling him back. It seemed inappropriate to make jokes. He doubted Teyla would appreciate levity, and he was getting the prickly over-awareness of his surroundings that happened offworld, especially when walking into potentially hostile situations. The more watchful he got, the harder it was to concentrate on any conversation that wasn't related to mission success and survival.

The inn was on the river side of the road, down past an open-air stall that sold roast birds that smelled absolutely delicious. John wondered if they had a menu and delivered through the gate.

The innkeeper waved them towards a windowless room at the back with smoke-stained walls. A massive table sat in the center of the room, surrounded by mismatched chairs. Ronon was straddling the one in the corner and looking twitchy. The two traders he was with, on the other hand, had a big platter of fried vegetables and pottery mugs of beer. Or maybe really thick tea.

"Took you long enough," Ronon said, and tipped his head at his companions. "They've got a story."

John crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. "About meeting the guy?"

Ronon smirked and nodded. "Guess he's been asking around for anyone who traded with Athos, not knowing to ask for Tmolus instead."

"He's a good partner," one of the traders volunteered, hands wrapped around his mug. "Funny, tells jokes. Specializes in weapons."

"Which the Athosian people have no need of," Teyla said, chin up and challenge in her eyes. "What is this man's name?"

The other trader wiped his fingers on his beard and leaned back in his seat. "Odin."

Rodney looked up sharply. "Is he a child-sized bald guy with big black bug-eyes? And no pants?"

John was getting a bad feeling even before the traders shook their heads in unison. "Rodney - check on the jumper. " Rodney looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "He's about my height, right?" he asked the traders. "Black curly hair. One eye?" He glanced back at Rodney. "Now, McKay."

Rodney started, and fumbled the jumper remote out of his pocket. He darted John irritated little looks as he started running through the remote safety systems.

The traders were looking between Ronon and the door, and John figured that he could maybe have acted a little less antagonistic.

"He sounds like my cousin Aiden," Teyla said, and John hoped he got his poker face on fast enough. He wasn't used to Teyla flat-out lying to people. "He was ill, and he betrayed my family. I have not seen him for years, but I hope, if he's this man, that perhaps he will come home." She gave the traders a brave little smile that John felt was Oscar material. He could tell by the set of her shoulders just how angry she was.

"Um," Rodney said, and waved the remote in John's direction. "Someone's trying to carjack us."

"That just figures," John said, and then gave the traders his best bright hello we must be going smile. He wondered if Aiden had paid them to be a distraction. Probably. He stood up, and his team followed suit. "We appreciate the information," he told the traders, and hitched his thumb at Teyla. "We really need to tell his mom this good news. Right now."

"You said," the bearded trader started.

Ronon dug a handful of mixed coins from his belt pouch and slapped them on the table. "Get yourselves some pie."

"The inn sells pie?" Rodney protested as they exited and turned onto the main street, moving through the throng of late afternoon shoppers. "We should - "

"Turn here," Teyla said. She slipped into an alleyway, already jogging. "This will be faster."

"But pie," Rodney said. He did a good job of keeping up, though. John figured over the years he'd learned the value of being able to run for his life.

The alley opened on a dirt crossroad, and Teyla scanned the area quickly before starting off at a diagonal, leading the way between two houses, taking a wide leap over a drainage ditch, and nearly disappearing into a meadow of tall yellow flowers.

"Hurry up," John said, keeping pace with Rodney while Ronon and Teyla broke into a full run. "If you slow down the hay fever'll get you."

"But Ford," Rodney said, moving fractionally faster. "Why now? Why the jumper, and Kanaan?"

"Search me." John huffed out his irritation, trying to separate his personal feelings from what would be most useful in bringing Aiden around to the right way of thinking. "If he's looking for a pilot, then he's got a ship, except he needs the jumper to get there. Who the hell knows what his clever plan is this time."

"The same clever plan as the last time," Rodney got out in one annoyed breath. "He's never been Mister Creativity."

"Kanaan wouldn't go on the enzyme." John would bet all his jumpers on that. "He wouldn't trust someone who was using it, either. He's got Torren to think of."

"And wouldn't it be awesome for Torren to know his dad... was a hero." Rodney was breathing hard and red in the face. John could barely see Teyla and Ronon ahead through the trees; he wanted to be up there with them, but he wasn't about to leave Rodney behind. While Rodney could usually be pushed to think faster and better with a sharp word, his body had harder limits.

Maybe John'd get him a treadmill. With a great big red ribbon. Maybe he could bribe Sam to sign the card.

Teyla and Ronon abruptly split to the right and left, circling around, and John slowed.

"We're at the jumper," he said, and ignored Rodney's breathless duh. John would've sworn it was further in and up a hill, but what did he know? "Find a defensible position and hunker down until we know what the deal is."

"And what if I get kidnapped?" Rodney argued. "Or shot through the head."

"So keep your head out of sight." John clenched his jaw and figured maybe for his next birthday, Teyla should get him some sensitivity or something, speaking of much-needed presents.

"Watch out for hopped-up junkies on alien speed," Rodney muttered, and John nodded sharply, like a promise.

Of course, it was harder once he was actually approaching the jumper. Aiden and Kanaan had one of the Wraith tablet-computer things set up on a box, with wires leading out to other pieces of equipment. The jumper's cloak and shield were holding up - or so he figured, seeing as they hadn't been able to get inside yet - and John figured he owed Radek big time for discovering how to do engage both simultaneously... under certain circumstances. John held his P90 at the ready and walked into their line of sight, slow and careful.

They hadn't encountered land mines in Pegasus yet, but Aiden had always liked things that went boom.

"Hey there," John said, after a moment when he was sure they knew he was there, but were ignoring him.

Aiden looked up. Despite the patch he was wearing over his messed-up eye, he looked good. He didn't have the grayish cast to his skin, or the sharp lines of tension around his mouth and eyes. He was calm, not jittery, and when he saw John he smiled and raised one hand ruefully, as if saying, you got me.

"I should have guessed you'd change the security on the gateships," Aiden said. He sounded amused. "Why does plan A never work?"

"We can't keep losing ships," John said. "Insurance is a bitch. How about for plan B we sit down, have a cup of tea, and try to get on the same wavelength?"

"I met a girl," Aiden said. Kanaan looked up at him, and then back at the computer. "We went through a lot together. The Wraith were tracking her, like they did with, um - "

"Ronon," John supplied. "She was a Runner?"

"I was going to go to Atlantis and get help for her, even if it meant being sent back to Earth, going to jail. I quit using the enzyme so you'd trust me. She saw me through withdrawal, which sucked worse than anything. But we stayed too long and the local people, they killed her for being a Wraithbringer. She told me to get away, and made me promise to finish her mission." Aiden shrugged, trying to clear the grief and anger off his face.

"I'm sorry," John said.

Aiden glared. "You didn't kill her, John. But I'm not going to let you stop me now, when I'm so close."

John spread his hands, slow and easy. "Talk to me."

The corner of Aiden's mouth went up, less a smile than a grimace. "Trust me, and you'll get the full story when we return."

"I can't give you the jumper, and you already know you can't steal it."

"Plan B," Aiden said, ruefully, and Kanaan twisted around suddenly. He leveled what looked like a sawed-off Genii shotgun right at John's middle, and John froze. "Drop the P90 and your pistol, kick them to the side." He watched as John did so. John only got rid of the two obvious knives; he'd learned some tricks here in Pegasus. "Now tell the rest of your team to come out of hiding. We saw you arrive," he added almost gently. "I know Teyla's a mom now, which is awesome. I respect that. She'll be safe."

"No," John said, matching Aiden's soft tone, letting regret edge his words as if they were true. "They're not at the gate yet, but they will be soon, and then Atlantis will send more people through and keep the gate open so no one gets off this planet without a ship. Which you're not getting your hands on."

"I don't want to hurt you," Aiden started.

John cut him off. "What about Kanaan? You think Atlantis or his people will let him back? Not to sound egotistical, but people are not going to be happy if he shoots me." The gun didn't waver, but John saw Kanaan's eyes cut to the side, in silent appeal. "Plan C. You trust me, and we all go off and - " he made cautious air-quotes - "complete your friend's mission. And everyone goes home alive to their families at the end of the day."

"I betrayed you last time," Aiden said, face smoothing into impassiveness.

John shrugged. "Yeah. You did. I'm still pissed about that. You going to do that again?"

Aiden sucked in a deep breath, released it, and reached down. He put his hand on Kanaan's wrist and moved it gently to the side. John had no idea where Ronon and Teyla were, but he tapped his radio and told them to stand down and come on out. "Crisis averted," he said, feeling like he'd been an unwilling participant in some kind of improv drama. Aiden snorted, but John didn't want to get into the whole feelings and trust thing. "You have a Wraith ship. Where is it, and what are you going to do with it?"

"It's in space," Aiden said, rolling his visible eye. "About an hour from the nearest gate. The Wraith on board got that food poisoning that was going around, and went into hibernation. The skeleton crew died and the ship just drifted until - you know the ship-dwellers?"

John's mouth twisted. "We've met."

"They cleaned out the Wraith, but couldn't pilot the ship. So they hid it in a stable orbit and started asking questions that put them on my radar." Ronon emerged from the woods, shaking his hair back and gun in hand, Teyla behind him to the right, Rodney to the left. Aiden watched them warily as they approached. He didn't seem surprised that John'd lied to him. "There's a place in Wraith legend called the Birthplace, where the first Wraith fed. My friend... met a Wraith who discovered its location, after millenia of being lost. She killed him, but kept his research." Aiden patted the strap of the bag slung over his shoulder. "A Lantean ship would never get through the planet's defenses. So I need a hive ship."

Teyla did not say anything to Kanaan as she came to a halt. She crossed her arms instead and watched Aiden, which John thought was a bad sign, relationship-wise. But it wasn't like it was his place to go pointing that out, at least not in the middle of a mission.

He clapped his hands together, instead, and smiled false and wide as everyone turned to look at him. "So, are we all on the same page with plan C? Rendezvous with an abandoned Wraith cruiser and check out what might be the labs where the Wraith were made?"

Rodney pointed at Aiden. "He nearly killed us."

John shrugged, because yeah, everything that had gone down before was replaying in his head, ways he'd screwed up, things he should have done. "I'm not asking you to forget that, or forgive. But it could be a hell of a lot of good intel."

Ronon crossed his arms. "You think it's another clone farm?"

"If it is, it should be destroyed," Teyla said. "Otherwise, some day, it could be used and all of us would suffer."

"Teyla says go." John cracked his neck and then dropped into a crouch to collect his stuff. Ronon'd definitely kick his ass later on for not treating the knives with respect. "Unlock the jumper, McKay, and let's get this show on the road."

"This is a spectacularly bad idea," Rodney insisted, but John gave him a hard look and he folded. "If you insist."

"Don't I always," John said, and popped the back of the jumper as soon as the shield lowered. He looked at Kanaan and Ford, who didn't look like very happy campers. "Pack that stuff up," he added, waving at the Wraith computer stuff. "And let's get this show on the road."


"It might just be me," Rodney said, his tone implying heavily that he spoke for everyone, "but I don't get why you'd do this. You have Torren and Teyla to think of. You could have died, and they'd never have known what happened."

Kanaan was seated next to John in the co-pilot's chair, and he'd been resolutely silent since the jumper got airborne, except for telling John the gate address to dial. Now he looked up from his quiet contemplation of his hands, which were curled around the Wraith tablet in his lap, and twisted half around to stare at Rodney. His eyes were fierce, but his voice was flatly matter-of-fact. "A few months ago, when I was first on Atlantis and Teyla was away leading training exercises, Colonel Sheppard visited me."

"If you're talking about the beer," John said, giving Kanaan a sideways look, trying to figure out where this was going, "it wasn't the Colonel dropping in. I told you to call me John."

Kanaan smiled faintly, as if that was beside the point. "You told me that there were no children on Atlantis because your people returned home if they conceived and wished to bear the child. Which I understand. But you said of yourself, that people like you don't have children of your own. You said you'd do anything to keep other people's children safe."

"I was drunk," John said. "I was just back on my feet after surgery, my tolerance was shot."

"Torren is my son," Kanaan said. "I was taught that the responsibility for our future... belongs to each and every person. I don't have the right to hand that responsibility over to anyone, no matter how much my own fear makes me want to stay at home." He smiled, this time an apology. "You are also someone's son."

John took a breath, then tilted his head to the side, mouth twisting. "Not anymore," he said. "Not for a long time."

"Torren'll grow up," Ronon said. He had a way of using the pauses and lulls in conversations to frame his statements and give them weight. Now, all heads turned to where he was slouched against the partition wall, too antsy to sit down for the hour's trip through space from the gate to the hive ship. "You can take time until he can do stuff for himself. My people used to."

"Teyla didn't."

"She delegated parenting to you," Rodney snapped impatiently. "Because she's a soldier or a fighter or whatever your word for it is."

"And I am a pilot," Kanaan said, quiet but strong. "Not a skill I asked for and not gained without pain, but something I too have a responsibility to use."

"Just use it well," John said. He weighted the words, making it an order, figuring even if Kanaan didn't owe allegiance to the US military or Atlantis, appeals to conscience worked, provided the person he was talking to had a conscience.

Ronon snorted. "Just let us know if there's a chance to kill Wraith. No one wants to miss out on the action." He pushed off from the wall and crossed to clap Kanaan hard on the back of the shoulder as he dropped back into his seat; John figured it was a friendly gesture, going by the eyebrow-waggle that went with Ronon's grin. Kanaan turned even further around and put his own hand on Ronon's shoulder, leaning in. Ronon bumped foreheads with him, and Kanaan said something too low for John to make out. Not that he was trying to eavesdrop.

Teyla and Aiden were sitting together at the back, side by side in a silence so loud that John felt it like a prickling at the back of his neck.

"You should probably get ready to do your thing," Rodney told Kanaan, as if completely unaware how tense everyone was. "That's what you're here for, after all."

Kanaan brought his tablet up and turned it on. Rodney had wired it into the command crystal array, and John could feel the jumper react in a way he'd describe as unhappy if he wasn't afraid of being ridiculed for the rest of his days. Aiden and Kanaan had picked through the piles of wrecked darts in front of the planet's gate, and had been able to salvage a data storage device - the equivalent of a dart's GDO. That plus the program that Kanaan was running now, which made the jumper's energy signature look like a dart's, should get them into the hive ship. Rodney had picked the data apart, shaken it, put it back together, and pronounced it probably likely to possibly work.

They were making their approach, with Kanaan waiting to open the dart bay doors on John's signal, when suddenly the jumper shuddered under the heavy dull percussions of weapons fire.

"What the hell was that?" Rodney yelped. "What are you doing?"

John was too busy struggling to get the shields online to vent his frustration properly. Times like this it would be nice to have the shields-and-cloak option, but Radek had twenty good reasons that wasn't possible yet. No cloak meant the shields would take a heavy beating, but no shields would mean that if the other ship made a lucky guess, the jumper would be toast.

"Looks like an Ancient ship," Ronon said, peering at the sensor data. "Least it's not the Wraith?"

"Weapons are down." Rodney sighed like John'd taken fire on purpose, and started running stuff off his tablet.

The communications console lit, and John patched the call in.

"You're not here to steal my ship, are you, Sheppard?"

And that was just what John needed today. "Hi, Larrin."

Aiden shot to his feet and crowded his way into the front. "Why are the ship-dwellers here? You know them?"

Rodney scoffed loudly. "She beat the crap out of Sheppard a few times and now they're buddies."

"I believe in giving people second chances," John pointed out irritably, through gritted teeth. He held a hand up to shut the chatter up, and opened the channel again. "We do not want your ship, trust me. We're just after that Wraith cruiser."

"My Wraith cruiser, you mean? That takes balls," and John could hear her anger clearly over the static, even before she told him what would happen to his balls, and his face, and his general health the next time she got her hands on him.

Kanaan held his tablet up and gestured towards the hive ship, miming something with his free hand. John was no good at charades, and set broadcast to off. "What?"

"I can shield the ship now that we are close," Kanaan said. "I have access to most systems. Navigation, weapons, propulsion."

"So you can blow them out of the sky." Aiden sounded pleased about that. "Do it."

"Don't," John snapped, and gave Kanaan a hard look. "You take orders from me," he added. "Or this ends here." He winced a little, listening to himself. He didn't mean to come down so hard on Teyla's partner; somewhere along the line he'd developed the ability to come off like a complete asshole. Maybe it grew in with the gray hair.

"They are our allies and have helped us several times when we were in trouble." And now Teyla was in the front, getting all up in Aiden's space.

"Raise hive shields," John told Kanaan, and fuck, giving orders like that made him feel like Michael. "And see if you can get hyperdrive ready to go." When his frustration was simmering so close to the surface, he really shouldn't give Aiden the talking-to about who the boss was, so John opened the line to Larrin again. "We'll bring the ship back when we're finished with it. And I have a tech guy who can probably fix it up for you, make it a little more livable, a little less creepy."

"We don't want to house people in a Wraith ship," Larrin snapped, like John was sick and twisted just for suggesting the idea. "But they have their uses." She lowered her voice, in the way that John's brain interpreted as sexy but which really meant some kind of mindgame was starting up. "A human or a Wraith technician?"

"Yes," John said, assuming she knew about Michael's hybrids and what they were trained to do, and so making sure not to give her any leading information - better safe than sorry. "You guy'd get along great. We'll talk it over later." He cut the transmission and breathed his irritation out. "Okay. We ready to get in and take off?"

Kanaan nodded. "Opening the bay doors - now."

John shot the jumper forward, spinning neatly to avoid another volley of Traveler fire. As soon as they were safely inside, the hive made the jump to hyperspace. John figured Larrin was going to be pissed, but as far as he knew her people were all about possession being nine-tenths of the law. Maybe he'd pick her up a souvenir from Wraith-world.

"So this is not a bad way to travel," Rodney said. He pushed his way to the back of the jumper and set up shop on one of the benches. "We just stay in here, like Trojans in a horse."

"Trojans," Ronon repeated, and raised both his eyebrows. "Those rubber bags you put on your - "

"No," Rodney cut in loudly. "Just... no. Have all the safe sex you want, but I do not want to hear about it."

"It's this old story from Earth," Aiden explained. He stumbled through an explanation of the Aeneid, and Rodney chimed in with long-winded corrections. Ronon thought it sounded cool, and had apparently seen way too many gladiator movies. John let the conversation fade into the background and tried to figure out if it would be more awkward for him to get up, to give Teyla and Kanaan some privacy, or to sit tight. Teyla was giving Kanaan long sideways glances, which he met until her eyes skittered away again. John felt the urge to give relationship advice, except he didn't have any at hand.

"Kanaan," Teyla said finally, stepping forward, as if planning a hug.

Kanaan turned and looked up, right into her eyes, and John wasn't watching really; he kept his eyes glued to the console in front of him like it was fascinating. "Yes," Kanaan said. "I feel it, too."

Teyla nodded. "John," she said, keeping her voice low. "There are Wraith on board."

"Not many," Kanaan said, as if that was supposed to be reassuring. "But once we leave hyperspace, other Wraith will be able to sense their location. And ours, and the Birthplace's."

"Right," John said, and pushed to his feet, grabbing the life-signs detector. He was glad that Teyla and Kanaan's mind-reading powers didn't work on other humans, or he might have embarrassed himself. "Ronon, Ford, you're with me. Teyla, keep the jumper safe, you're the boss if things go south."

"Boy," Aiden said, with a distinct lack of interest. "This is just like old times." He paused. "So, McKay, you have any chocolate bars on you that you wouldn't mind sharing?"

"I might have one for you when you get back," Rodney said, nervously checking his weapon. "Stay safe." He pointed at John with his free hand. "He worries. You see all those wrinkles? Don't give him more."

John rolled his eyes. "It's my decrepit ass between you and the Wraith," he pointed out, as Ronon opened the door and moved out into the fog - why was it always fog? "I'll let the kids do all the hard work."

The thing was, he thought later on, when he was pinned flat on his back by a dead Wraith, he suspected that the universe took offense when he said smart-ass things like that. He made a mental note to not do that again, and blinked up at Ronon, who was staring down at him from a very far way away.

"Life-signs detector says they're all dead in your section," Ronon said, and it took John a moment to figure out that he was using the radio to talk to Ford. "Sheppard's down. Got ambused by a Wraith." There was a pause. "He's alive, but the damn thing fell on him when I shot it. Might've shot Sheppard a little, too. Happened pretty fast. But you need to get over here while I drag Sheppard back to the jumper."

"I'm fine," John said, and coughed. He felt like crap, and also pretty embarrassed.

"Yeah, well." Ronon grabbed hold of the Wraith's shoulders and rolled it off, giving it a quick check with the LSD before dragging it over to its buddy. "You're bleeding, so don't go getting up."

John pushed himself up on his elbows, wincing. He was going to have Wraith-shaped bruises tomorrow. His fingers and toes all worked, his ribs didn't feel broken, and... crap.

"I was in a firefight with the one guy, his friend came up from behind, grabbed my P90," John said, looking at the long rip through his trousers. "Closest thing I could get my hands on was my knife." Which looked like in the struggle had gone straight into his leg, judging by the blood, and the pain.

"Next time maybe you'll hang onto it," Ronon said, widening the rip with his hands to get a good look. He took out a small bottle of something and dribbled it all down the length of the cut, which suddenly stung like John'd been set on fire. When he had breathed through the pain and was pretty sure he could unclench his teeth enough to yell at Ronon, he found that he was already bandaged up, and Aiden was there, looking twitchy.

"Picked off two on the way here," Aiden said. "Hope that's all of them. It's not so easy..." He punched the air, twice, right-left, and then cracked his neck.

"Yeah," Ronon agreed. "Know what you mean." He got an arm around John's back and levered him up off the floor, careful to keep John from putting weight on his bad leg. "Did the withdrawal thing myself last year. Sucked. Would have killed for the enzyme."

"Cold turkey, man." Aiden shook his head. "My grandma would have lectured me for a week and a day if she knew. But it was... so good at the time."

"Wouldn't want to try it again," Ronon said, and jerked his chin forward to indicate that Aiden should take the lead as they headed back. "Not sure I could stop."

"It's possible," Aiden said, but he didn't elaborate. John was glad for that. He hadn't thought before how a ship full of dead Wraith was like a convenience store for Wraith enzyme, but now he wasn't able to get the thought out of his head. He was the only one here who didn't feel the temptation, he suspected, and that made what Aiden was doing even stupider... and braver.

He wondered how much blood he'd lost, for his thoughts to be turning to glurge.

"So," he said, and Ronon looked down at him.

"You feeling okay?" Ronon asked, and readjusted his grip on John's waist, straightening him absently as John wobbled.

"Peachy." John put his hand on Ronon's shoulder for stability. "So the Wraith are all dead?"

Ronon shrugged, and then had to make a quick grab to keep John from falling. "Sorry. Ancient tech says so. I'll believe it when Kanaan and Teyla say so. Killing these Wraith is pretty easy. They're weak from hunger."

"You think they're going to be okay? Teyla and Kanaan, I mean."

Ronon didn't answer straight away; when he did speak, he sounded wistful. "War changes people anyway. You have to look to the future, not the past, and to learn if you're seeing the same future together." He coughed. "That's from this song my mother used to sing. No one in my family could carry a tune, but everyone sang all the time. It was weird."

Aiden half-turned to look at John, walking sideways. "Have you heard anything about my family?"

John took a breath; he'd been preparing for the question. "I saw Lara when I was on Earth. She's good. Got a promotion, bought a new car. Your grandfather's got heart trouble. I hear he hates the diet they've got him on."

Aiden shook his head. "If I went back, the SGC'd never let me through the gate again."

"What's keeping you here?" John's mouth asked before his brain could shut him up. He mashed his lips together and held all his justifications inside: Aiden's enzyme-using buddies were dead, the Runner who'd saved his life was dead, and the SGC wasn't going to take Aiden back as just another one of Atlantis' Marines.

"Kill the Wraith," Aiden said absently. "Try and convince Teyla her boyfriend's not a dick?"

"And then go home," John said. "Seriously."

"Maybe," Aiden said, but then they were at the jumper and there was no more time to stumble through the awkward conversation. Rodney was still in the back, but he had his earphones plugged in and rolled his eyes towards the front of the jumper in response to John's questioning look.

"Why are your pants being held together with bandages?" Rodney asked suspiciously. "I can't take you anywhere."

John couldn't think of anything snappy to say, so he detached himself from Ronon and limped up to say hey to Teyla. She was sitting in his seat with her knees tucked up, and Kanaan was - for some reason - on the floor leaning against the chair. John kind of had a suspicion that Teyla's hand had been brushing his hair, until a moment ago.

"All the Wraith gone?" Ronon asked, and then added, "Sheppard stabbed himself."

"Yes, I sense nothing," Teyla said, and flowed gracefully to her feet in a way John would never be able to copy, even when he wasn't beat up and hurting. "I was listening over the radio. Do you want me to -?"

John shook his head. "I'm good. Ronon patched me up. We almost there?"

"Another ten minutes or so," Rodney called out. "I have a theory about where we're going."

Teyla insisted that John sit down and had Ronon bring him a bottle of nasty sports drink when John waved off painkillers. He was still designated driver, at least of the jumper, and he was still in the middle of a mission.

He told Rodney to give him the news, but Kanaan did most of the talking; slowly and circumspectly, but followed along, nodding.

"Wraith evolved from the Iratus insects," Kanaan said, and touched his screen so that a line-drawing of one of the bugs floated across the HUD. "They absorbed human genetics while feeding on life. Their society still mirrors that heritage." He put up a graphic from Anthropology showing the Wraith hierarchy. "But genetics... cannot explain how they came to learn speech, or to write the letters of the Ancenstors. How they knew to grow and fly ships to attack other worlds." As he spoke, he put up one slide after another, until finally a hive ship and swarm of darts appeared and then faded from view.

"You think someone taught them," John said slowly. Rodney nodded and snapped his fingers. "The Ancients couldn't tell right from wrong if their lived depended on it, but I think they'd draw some kind of line at running a training camp in how to better murder the humans who worshipped them as gods." Rodney spread his hands, as if waiting for the lightbulb to go on over John's head. "What?"

"The Ancients had a sister clan, did they not?" Kanaan said. "I learned this when I studied your people, on Atlantis. A clan that sought to gain great power by feeding on belief, much as the Wraith feed on life."

John knew his gobsmacked face looked stupid, but he couldn't stop it from appearing. He took a long swallow of sweet vitamin-fortified drink and tried to compose himself. "The Ori?"

Rodney shrugged. "Ninety percent of the Wraith are controlled by instinct and orders. If they could be civilized and given an instinct to believe in a higher power, not only would they wipe out the Ancients, but they'd also have perfect faith. Win-win." He frowned. "Well. If you're evil, that is."

"It is only a theory," Kanaan said, sounding apologetic. "We do not know. But even the humans of this galaxy were rarely invited to receive learning from the Ancestors, who bestowed gifts at their whim. And yet the Wraith travel between the stars."

"It could also be the Asgard," Rodney said. "That's another possibility. Except Wraith tech is quite dissimilar. It could be the Nox. I'm open-minded. We'll see what evidence there is."

"Huh," John said, and leaned back in his chair, shifting his bad leg to try and get it to stop throbbing. "Well. Carry on."

He closed his eyes for a minute, because it had been a long day, and somehow fell asleep. No one woke him, either, until suddenly the back of the jumper opened and a cool hand was pressed to his forehead.

"We should not stay long," he heard Teyla say. "Colonel Sheppard is running a fever."

"I'm cool," John protested, getting his eyes open.

"There were, like, Wraith space mines and some awesome laser satellites," Aiden said. "Don't worry, between McKay and Kanaan, we got them disarmed pretty quick before landing the hive." he peered around Teyla, frowning a little. "You should stay with the jumper. We'll just have a look around, it shouldn't take long."

"Hell, no," John said. He pushed himself up. "We came all this way, I'm not going to let you guys get in trouble on the last lap."

"Of course," Teyla said. John narrowed his eyes, pretty sure she was humoring him, but she just handed him his P90 and turned away before checking that he clipped it on properly, so maybe not.

Kanaan and Ronon had managed to get the lower-level doors open, and the walk from the jumper to the outside was fairly short and mostly painless. John had half-expected the planet to have a Wraithy look to it - slime, fog, and eldrich horrors - but instead the sun was shining over a broad plain ringed by dense woods.

"Probably chock full of iratus bugs," Rodney said. "And I forgot my spray, so - no going off the beaten track." he pointed to a low hill. "Energy signatures are coming from there, and as far as I can tell they're Ancient and not Wraith."

"Great," John said, and started walking. Kanaan and Teyla fell into step beside him, Rodney on their heels, and Ronon and Aiden took up the rear.

"So," John started, looking sidelong at Teyla, who raised her eyebrows at him. "Did you guys talk?"

"We did," Teyla said.

"Not that it's any of my business."

"Ford and Ronon have already given me... much unasked-for advice. But I appreciate the support." Teyla reached over and wrapped her hand around John's arm. He tried not to lean into the touch.

"We're family," John said, just in case Teyla didn't know that. "And you - and Kanaan and Torren - I'll do just about anything to help you get what you need to be happy."

"I did not know what I needed," Kanaan said, and John saw Teyla reach for him as well. "I was lost and reaching for the past, instead of creating the future. My responsibilities are the same, but I'm not. I don't think... I have the patience for trading or politics."

"My department will hire him," Rodney called out. "You just sell the idea to your pal Woolsey."

"Sure," John said, feeling a little steamrolled. "No problem." And then, because changing the subject quickly seemed like a really good idea, "Hey Ronon, that look like a door to you?"

"Probably booby-trapped," Rodney said, pushing his way forward and dragging Kanaan with him. They argued and ran diagnostics and hooked things up, and in the end announced that actually, no, the door had barely been locked at all, and the lights still worked just fine after millennia of dormancy.

John sent Ronon and Aiden in to give the place a quick look-over; they were the only two who wouldn 't be affected by anything that targeted either the Wraith or the Ancient genes. Peering in the door, he thought it looked like any number of Ancient facilities he'd been in, a combination of stark, ruthless cleanliness and baffling technology. Lots of consoles, no users' manuals. But he wanted to be reasonably sure that none of them would be in danger.

Jogging up the stairs from the lower level, Ronon at his heels, Aiden gave John a wide grin and a thumbs-up. "There's labs down there, and a holographic interface for the site database, and a chapel cum power center with two ZPMs plugged in." Rodney made an undignified sound of pure greed, and John ducked his head to grin. "So I guess we may have found what we came for."

John tried to act non-chalant, but he was feeling pretty successful. "You guys did good," he said. "I'm pretty sure your friend would be proud of you, figuring out how to get here and all. We owe her." Aiden's expression went distant and closed, but then he gave a short sharp nod. Ronon punched him in the shoulder in solidarity, and John straightened and looked away. "So you kids ready to study some Wraith history and learn how to make them history?"

Teyla smiled, looking young and happy, holding Kanaan's hand with their fingers interwoven. "Yes," she said. "And, John?"

John raised his eyebrows, trying not to let on that he was feeling kind of dizzy and probably needed to find a chair sooner rather than later.

"Thank you," Teyla said.

Okay, maybe there was one good thing about being injured, even in a stupid way. It gave John a good excuse for grinning ear to ear and saying stuff that normally never made it past his filters. "No problem," he said. "That's what friends are for."

t h e * e n d


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 20th, 2012 10:04 pm (UTC)
Very cool adventure! And you brought Ford back :D Team, Kanaan, Larrin, a spaceship fight, a mystery that leads to an abandoned lab, a great typical mission. The Ori being involved in creating the Wraith is an interesting and terrifying thought.
Dec. 21st, 2012 12:08 am (UTC)
I liked the relationships portrayed here a lot. Go make Woolsey hire Kanaan, John!
Dec. 21st, 2012 04:43 am (UTC)
SGA Newsletter - December 20, 2012
User neevebrody referenced to your post from SGA Newsletter - December 20, 2012 saying: [...] : A Fast Walking Man Is Hard to Beat (Gen, PG) [...]
Dec. 21st, 2012 11:46 am (UTC)
Very interesting! :D
Dec. 21st, 2012 12:15 pm (UTC)
Ford! Yay, Ford! Your plot here was interesting, and the Ori instructing the Wraith is a very scary thought.
Dec. 21st, 2012 01:13 pm (UTC)
Very interesting theory about the birth of the Wraith! Lots of tension with some humour here and there (like John thinking at the jumper 'don't want to die today' and Rodney hiring Kanaan and then arguing with him whilst running diagnostics made me laugh, along with a few other bits!). We even have Ford! Nicely done!
Dec. 22nd, 2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
So many things I love about this story. John being thrown when Teyla leans on him and worried about clonking her in the ear;  Rodney's snarky teasing and John's awareness that he can't be pushed too hard physically in a crisis;  Ford all cleaned-up & adult - very much his own man. 
And Kanaan is great - bitter and doing stupid things for good reasons, and smart with tech and brave. There's nowhere near enough Kanaan in canon so this was excellent. 
 I loved so many of the details like "Torren'll grow up," Ronon said. He had a way of using the pauses and lulls in conversations to frame his statements and give them weight.  That's exactly what Ronon does, yes!  And that bit where John's all squirmy because he thinks Teyla & Kanaan are going to talk about feelings but no, it's just their Wraith spidey-senses pinging! Ha. Oh, and John going why was it always fog? like Sigourney Weaver in Galaxy Quest moaning about always having to crawl through goddam ducts! 
Yay for teamy goodness, and plot, and of course, a little John-whumping. An excellent read!
(Edited because smartphone typing finger is clumsy :S )

Edited at 2012-12-22 09:47 pm (UTC)
Dec. 24th, 2012 03:10 am (UTC)
That was a fun rollercoaster ride! Your characterization was spot on for the whole team -- including Ford. I love that you brought him in. And really liked what you did with Kanaan. Enjoyed the story very much!
Dec. 24th, 2012 03:56 am (UTC)
Woo, thank you Santa! This story is amazing in so many ways! I love your John POV, he's very aware of his own flaws - such as not knowing whether to hug Teyla when he might bop her with the Nintendo controller. :D But he's also a good leader, talking Ford and Kanaan around from their plan to his plan, which involves not shooting him, thanks very much.

And yay, Aiden Ford! I did a little seat dance when I figured out who "Odin" was! An awesome, plotty adventure with peril and past friends coming back and Kanaan being a real person with skills and issues - \o/ So many things that make me happy!

Also, Ronon's line, "Sheppard stabbed himself" completely cracked me up. I can just hear him saying it. :D Thanks so much, secret Santa person!
Dec. 27th, 2012 11:59 pm (UTC)
A very enjoyable story. I was intrigued by the idea that the Wraith were created by the Ori.
Jan. 1st, 2013 11:04 pm (UTC)
This is an interesting story with a lot of nice character moments. Teyla leaning against John and John not sure what to do, the way Ronon waits to speak and uses the others' silences to frame his thoughts. There's so much team love, though the situation is not without its tensions -- Teyla worried about Kanaan, John impatient with Rodney, everyone wondering if they can trust Ford.

Plus it's funny! Like Ronon saying John stabbed himself.

I enjoyed this. Thanks!
Jan. 3rd, 2013 05:13 am (UTC)
stargate atlantis secret santa recs
User runpunkrun referenced to your post from stargate atlantis secret santa recs saying: [...] A Fast Walking Man Is Hard to Beat [...]
Jan. 7th, 2013 04:00 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this! :)
Jan. 10th, 2013 01:37 am (UTC)
Ford and Kanaan bonding is such a great idea. They're natural allies. I'm hurting for both of them, but Ford getting clean for a runner and losing her is extra woeful.

I liked that Ronon, post-his own wraith enzyme experience, was able to connect with the two of them. This is really nice character stuff.

Also, so not the point, but this

"But pie," Rodney said.

made me giggle.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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