Sequel to Supersaturation, Solvation, Enthalpy, Entropy, Sublimation, Allotropy and Adsorption.
“I don’t usually follow gossip,” Brendon says, which is a blatant, bald lie, “but word is Crawford’s got an imaginary friend.”
A/N: For those of you who skipped Adsorption because of the JoBros, I strongly urge you to reconsider (Carden is awesome!) – I’m gonna say you probably need to have read ALL stories that have come before, and I’m gonna say that because I basically throw every character ever at you in this one. Except for, I’m sad to say, most of Panic. Fear not, they shall be the focus of the very next installment! Saying that, Saponification (title tongue-in-cheek) is about a slight mystery surrounding Joe, Gerard, Johnson and Ian. To make things slightly less confusing, have a Supersaturation Character Cheat Sheet! There are Nickelodeon and Disney people now! I blame Bonus.
Much awesome thanks to insunshine for the kick-ass beta-job. I totally don’t have favorites, but this is for druidspell (my best ‘verse supporter), nunshavingfun (I fixed Joe for you!!!), and starflowers (whose mere existence makes me smile).
“This is so cool,” Gerard says.
The sky is an amazingly bright, crystal blue; birds are singing, trading off lengthy chirrups in the heavily-laden fruit trees above Joe’s head. There’s a buzz and hum of bees and late summer cicadas in the tall grass, a mess of red, orange and yellow flowers. The scent of something honeysuckle-sweet is thick in the air, and Joe’s almost afraid to touch the blossoms on a nearby bush, afraid to risk feeling the creamy yellow petals fall apart in his hands. A breeze ruffles his hair. He wants to lie down in the middle of the meadow and watch the puffy little cumulous clouds float by. He wants to fall asleep with the sun warming his face, his throat. This is the most amazing place Joe’s ever been in.
And then everything goes black.
“Hey,” Joe yells, and Gerard says, “Sorry, sorry, my fault,” and when the world blinks back on, he’s gazing at Joe sheepishly.
He holds up his hands over the console by the doorway, palms spread. “Sorry. But, like, seriously, how cool is this, right?”
“You guys done yet?” Crawford asks, curly-topped head ducking around the doorjamb.
Marshall’s head follows, just above Crawford’s. “Yeah, are you? ‘Cause, um, the elders mentioned ruins, guys, ruins.”
“Ruins,” Joe says, tipping his head to the side. Ruins versus a totally rocking greenhouse that, like, seems to be wholly holographic. “Ruins or eerily earth-like indigenous plants I can study,” and also, also take a nap in, seriously. He stares at Crawford.
Gerard just waves his hands around a little, expression distressed, and looks like maybe he’s a step away from protectively gripping the room’s control console.
Crawford sighs. “Fuck it, I’ll stay.” He pushes Marshall’s head back and shouts out the door, “Colligan! You’ve got Marshall-watch. Try not to let him fall down any wells.”
Joe can just barely hear Colligan’s reply - “What if I push him?” - and Marshall’s indignant squawk.
Johnson pops up from behind a berry bush. “I think we’ve got rodents,” he says, smiling a little.
Joe shoots him a thumbs-up. “Awesome.”
The room flickers dark again, and Gerard says, “Wasn’t me!” just before the clap of thunder, the flash of lightning across the sky, a fast moving rainstorm sweeping away the sunshine in seconds.
The temperature drops and Joe shivers. “Holy crap,” he says. He can feel the cool drops of rain. “How is this even possible?”
Gerard is grinning from ear to ear.
“Um, guys?” Crawford has his head tipped back, scratching at his right eyebrow. “What’s all that?”
“What’s all what?” Joe asks, glancing around. It’s twilight dim, gray, stems of the blue, lily-like flower-bells drooping from the steady rain. And then he sees shadows dancing along where the walls should be – the sky rolls out forever, despite the roughly fifty-by-fifty dimension of the room. “Huh.”
Gerard hums a little and says, “Hang on.” A minute later, the sky starts to lighten again, and the rain slows down to a mild drizzle.
The shadows are still there. They’re kind of creepy, actually.
“Do you get the feeling they’re smiling at us?” Crawford says.
As the room gets lighter, the shadows grow darker. Joe can almost make out a hand, a five-fingered wave.
“Ow, damn it,” Gerard says.
Joe jerks his gaze towards him, and Gerard’s shaking out his hand, frowning down at the console. There’s another fucking shadow on the wall behind his head. Joe feels his eyes grow huge.
Gerard goes back to tapping the console. “Yeah?” he says absently.
The shadow looks like it’s poking Gerard’s shoulder, even though it doesn’t seem like Gerard can feel it.
Johnson sidles up next to Joe and says, “Weird.”
Crawford starts inching cautiously towards Gerard, P-90 angled up.
Gerard looks over at him, nose wrinkled. “What? What are you doing?”
“So why don’t we go take a gander at those ruins, huh?” Crawford says. He jerks his head at the door.
Joe purses his lips. “Awesome idea.”
Johnson says, “Let’s go.”
Gerard had let Crawford steer him from the tremendously awesome fake meadow room, even though he’d really, really wanted to take that console apart and see how it ticked. And maybe the panel by the door. And that little square box by the fruit orchard, the one with the squiggly lines all over.
“I don’t think it’s Ancient,” he says, looking over the data he’d downloaded onto his handheld. He’s curled up on the bench in the back of the ‘jumper they’d taken in with Crawford’s team. “I mean, definitely no ZPM, and if the Ancients had that kind of, of, imagination, I’m pretty sure we would’ve found it on Atlantis.”
Joe says, “Look at this,” and holds up two tiny blue flowers.
Gerard hovers a hand over them. “They’re real,” he says, half-reverential. He still doesn’t get how that’s possible. They even smell real, a hint of sweet over cut grass.
“Yeah, dude, too bad about the creepy shadow people,” Joe says, shrugging.
“Huh?” Gerard narrows his eyes at the flowers. There’s a whisper-soft buzz in his ear, and he bats a hand at it absently. They must’ve brought one of the bugs with them or something. Cool. You know. As long as it’s not iratus-related, and doesn’t want to eat them.
“Here,” Joe says, holding out one of the flowers. “Keep it, dude, I don’t need both of them.”
Gerard beams at him. “Awesome.”
The weird thing is that Mike’s team has shitty luck, but they’re not the worst ‘gate team on Atlantis. As far as actual accidents and incidents go, Lieutenant Smith’s team has got it all over them. So he doesn’t get why everyone always blames them for everything that goes wrong.
“It’s because we’re always getting other people hurt, man,” Travis says, leaning back on his palms, idly chewing on a toothpick.
Travis is suave and charming. Mike thinks this is maybe the only reason they seem to excel at diplomatic trips – they get points for hardly ever getting thrown into off-world prisons, even if they’re constantly breaking guest scientists by, like, basically not paying enough fucking attention. At least, that’s what Captain Gabe always says.
Asher raises her tin cup in mock salute, grinning. “I asked for a transfer last month. I got a ‘tough shit’ from Captain Gabe and the colonel just laughed at me,” she says, and Nick chucks a hard roll at her head.
“Ow, son of a goat fucker,” Asher practically yelps. She twists sideways and kicks him in the shin with unsurprising flexibility – Mike’s learned never to be surprised by anything about Asher, not since that whole unicorn incident on PX5-200.
“Children, play nice,” Travis says mildly over Nick’s, “What the fuck are you packing in your fucking boots, Jesus Christ, I think you broke me, slutface.”
Asher just snickers, dodging out of the way of Nick’s fist as he lunges for her.
Nick grins evilly and says, “I hope you get gonorrhea and die.”
“Eat shit, puppet fucker,” Asher says, and there’s a disturbing gleam in her eyes, a challenge. All she’s missing is the boxer’s stance, the come-and-get-me hand gestures.
Mike sighs and rubs a hand over his forehead. Nick and Asher are kind of always like that. They don’t actually hate each other; they just seem to enjoy coming up with new and inventively crude insults. It’s like some sort of demented off-world game, only they do it everywhere else, too.
“Who wants lollypops?” Travis says. He tugs three Dumdums out of his pack and tosses one to Mike.
Asher and Nick instantly quiet.
“I’ve got cherry and lemon.” Travis waggles them in the air, and Nick makes grabby hands.
“Dude, cherry,” he says, scrambling for it before dropping down onto the ground again.
Asher smacks the back of his head as she passes by. “You’re lucky I like lemon.”
Nick tilts his head back and makes kissy faces at her, and they all settle back down around the fire, sucking on candy, and then something strikes Mike as being off. He absently crunches into the Dumdum, clamping his teeth around the stick.
Something is way off, like epically, they’re-in-deep-shit off, and this is exactly what Captain Gabe had been talking about. “Fuck,” Mike says. He tosses his lollypop stick into the fire. “Fuck, has anyone seen Joe?”
The natives of M30-255 are, for lack of a better adjective, pleasant. They give them vacant smiles as they stalk into the village; they’re complacent, even though Vicky’s got her P-90 propped up and cocked. She presses her lips together and keeps one eye on Kennerty, watching for any signals. She wouldn’t mind taking a few assholes down, even if they don’t know for sure yet what happened with Joe. This entire world is creepy; like everyone got zapped in the head – grinning like fools even when they’ve got the shittiest jobs.
Small, well-kept houses line the main road. From previous visits, Vicky knows they’re not even advanced enough to have running water inside them, but the trims and faces are all gingerbread white and brown, neatly identical, all except the temple at one end and the chief’s house on the other.
Nick leans in towards her a little and says around the end of his Dumdum, “Creepy as shit out here.”
“Same old, same old,” Vicky says. She jabs him with her elbow. “Pay attention, fucktard.”
Nick tips his hat back with his thumb. “Has Lacey given you crabs yet?”
“I really wish I could pistol whip you right now,” Vicky says, mouth twitching. “You’re a real class act, fucking felt-humper.”
“Ever notice your names for me have a lot to do with fucking?” Nick waggles his eyebrows at her.
“You ever notice how I never bring up your pathetic pansy-ass crush on Dr. Ritter, Wheeler? I’m nice like that.”
“Shut your hooker mouth, Asher.”
“I’d call you a girl,” Vicky says, “but that’d be an insult to the entire superior half of the human race.”
Kennerty clears his throat pointedly. Vicky rolls her eyes. Kennerty’s got a killer smile, but he’s not very intimidating. She kind of feels like half their problem as a team is that they don’t take Kennerty as seriously as they should. Maybe if they get out of here with Joe alive she’ll start to remedy that; give him his due as their fearless leader.
If they don’t get out of there with Joe alive, Bryar’ll kill all of them anyway and it’ll be moot point.
An old, gray-haired man meets them at the bottom steps of the temple. He isn’t the chief, Vicky knows that, but he’s a revered elder, and someone Vicky had previously kind of liked. He has clear, honest blue eyes, but his face is creased with worry now.
“My friends,” Chaln greets them. He stretches a gnarled hand towards Kennerty. “My friends,” he says again, “I am afraid for you.”
Joe is good at a select few things. He’s a kick-ass botanist, yeah; he can identify and classify like nobody’s business. He can piss Bob off. That’s a big one: Bob’s a quiet dude, but he’s got a heated temper when riled. And he can blow shit up; even if most of the time it’s accidental. Given that, he’s not so sure why Colonel Sheppard ever lets him go off-world.
Right now, though, Joe’s pretty sure he’s going to die. There’s only so much pain a body can handle, he thinks, before it just gives up. His inner-Bob is telling him to man up and take it, but Joe’d started ignoring his inner-Bob right around the time they snapped his wrist.
It’s almost a relief when they toss him back into his cell – he doesn’t know how long he’s been there, or where the rest of Kennerty’s team is. The small square room doesn’t have any windows and it smells like shit and Joe can taste blood in his mouth. He curls up in a corner, cradling his hand to his chest, and he thinks: I’m not made for this, this isn’t happening, where the fuck is Bob?
He maybe cries a little. He’ll deny it later, but Jesus fuck, he’s exhausted.
He tries to remember what world they’re even on, but he can’t think of the freaking address. Somewhere they’ve actually been to before, somewhere with those flowers that look like calla lilies, only bright blue and spicy. The natives use them ground up into paste—as an anesthetic. That’s the only fucking reason Joe had even been with Kennerty’s team in the first place.
He presses his cheek into the grit of the wall and shudders. The cool stone feels almost nice against his skin.
The last thing—the last thing he can remember clearly, actually, is going to take a piss. It hadn’t even been fully dark yet, and Wheeler had waved him off, and fuck, fuck. Fuck, his wrist hurts like a motherfucker. It’s pretty much the only thing keeping him alert.
His brain is fuzzy, though - or maybe that’s just his eyes, unfocused with pain - so he doesn’t notice when the door opens again, but one second he’s alone and the next he’s got someone kneeling in front of him, hands on his arms, and it’s kind of just a dark shape, half looming over him. He recognizes Travis’ voice, though, on, “Shit, Joe, are you—what the fuck, man.”
Joe laughs, a low rasping sound that burns his dry throat, even though it isn’t fucking funny at all.
Travis has two gifts. First, he’s one smooth motherfucker. It only takes a well-timed smile and wink to get them to open up about Joe; maybe he adds in a small bob of his head, a sly I’m-with-you-man look. It’s all so natural he doesn’t exactly have to think about it.
Secondly, Travis is a big guy. He has no qualms about beating the piss out of some shit-for-brains native. He’s a linguist, he’s an anthropologist, but he’s not Daniel fucking Jackson. He doesn’t give a fuck about any villagers or their ass-backwards cultures, not if their culture does this.
Across the table from him, Petram, a youngish guy with a close-trimmed beard and dark eyes brimming with rich superiority, steeples his fingers and watches Travis over the tips. “He was trespassing on sacred grounds. His suffering is his amends to the gods.”
Travis would bet his left nut that Petram doesn’t give a fuck about his gods. His people do, maybe, Travis has seen their faith before, plain on their faces, but there’s nothing of a supplicant in Petram, full of greed, like he’s the god; his people look to him, a leader divinely chosen. What-the-fuck-ever. Travis understands the dynamic of this settlement better than he’d like; this is their fifth visit to this world.
Now, Travis is using his I’m-harmless stance - slouching in his chair, hands open and relaxed on the armrests - because he figures that way he can take this motherfucking robed asshole by surprise. There’s a deep burn of anger coiling low in his stomach.
Travis likes Joe. Joe’s a good guy, and Joe’s been a prisoner for two days, and Joe’s—Joe’s sort of unrecognizable. That isn’t suffering. Screw their suffering, that’s fucking torture.
Vicky’s taking her cue from him – they’ve done this before; the more relaxed Travis becomes, the tighter Vicky winds up, ready for anything, face set. Travis likes that she trusts him enough for that – he’s the rookie. He’s never had military training - he went to Berkeley, for Christ’s sake – but he knows what he’s doing here.
He blames television. With good cop, bad cop, the ones who smile sweetly are the ones you have to watch out for. Good thing the Pegasus Galaxy doesn’t get reruns of Law and Order.
Travis says, “Maybe we can work out a deal.”
Petram’s eyes flick to Vicky and back, and Travis almost gives in to the urge to roll his eyes.
“Not her,” he says.
Vicky grins, sharp. Travis knows what she’s thinking – she’d slice him to ribbons before he could even lay a hand on her – but that’s not what they need. They need to get Joe out of here, and killing Petram would only result in a hot mess of trouble, one that they’d be hard pressed to talk themselves out of unscathed.
“We shall see,” Petram says, then beckons a boy forward, smiling benignly. “Karsa can show you to your rooms. You will, of course, be staying in my home until we can come to an accord. I’m certain you will be more than comfortable.”
“Sure,” Travis says, shrugging a little.
Vicky bares her teeth. Vicky, Travis thinks, is one of his favorite people.
“Fucking Kennerty,” Bob says, hands fisted at his sides.
Wheeler blanches and looks like he wants to take a few steps back. He doesn’t. Bob would be impressed if he wasn’t filled with burning rage.
Bob barely refrains from reaching out and curling a hand into Wheeler’s tac vest. Instead, he says, “You let them take Joe,” and watches Wheeler’s adam’s apple do a slow slide up and down his throat.
“Um, technically we didn’t let them—”
“You let them take my fucking scientist,” Bob says. Bob knows the rules. Scientists are never left alone, and fucking Kennerty lost Joe.
“Travis knows what he’s doing,” Kennerty says, calm, like he isn’t totally fucking incompetent. “I’ve got complete faith.”
Bob wants to shove Kennerty’s faith down his fucking throat.
Frank is bouncing up and down on his toes beside him, like some kind of coked-up monkey. “Bob, Bob, it’ll be fine,” he says. He squeezes Bob’s arm.
Bob wants to punch him. It’s Frank, though, so Bob kind of always wants to punch him.
Beneath all his rage, Bob recognizes that he’s panicking. Kennerty has a reputation, yeah, but Bob knows it’s just as likely that Joe got himself into this. Joe can be a disaster, a fucking mess – he tends to talk too much or blow shit up when he’s nervous. Kennerty might’ve fucking lost track of Joe – and Bob isn’t going to let him ever forget that – but there’s a good chance Joe would’ve been perfectly fine if—if he wasn’t Joe.
Bob knows that Frank would be a complete wreck if he ever had to go off-world with Gerard, but Bob likes that he’s on a team with Joe—he likes being able to keep an eye on him. He feels fucking helpless and not a little guilty, like maybe he should have volunteered to go along with Kennerty’s team, too.
He might have, if things weren’t so weird between them. That’s another fucking thing to feel guilty over. His life had been a lot easier when he and Joe had just been fucking, Christ.
Toro’s fastening on his tac vest as he walks into the ‘gate room, hair held back by a camo bandana. “We ready?” he asks, then looks up and catches Bob’s eye. “Okay?”
Bob clenches his jaw and nods.
William does not like little Private Novarro. In fact, he dislikes him greatly. “I dislike him greatly,” William tells Greta. He doesn’t like that Novarro has been sniffing around his favorite lady friend.
“He’s adorable,” Greta says. She shrugs. “And I think he’s sweet.”
William frowns and leans back in the commissary chair, folding his arms over his chest. “He’s trying to woo you.”
Greta winks at him. “I know.”
“He’s trying to woo you with erroneous information about the heavens. He knows that you’re an engineer, not an astrophysicist, right?”
“I like stars.” Greta’s smile turns disgustingly dreamy.
William is horrified.
He’s saved from further poetic waxing – about stars, which you can’t even touch, not like the bright blue colony of crystals set in the most curiously porous rock William had given his very own Captain Gabe just days before – by little Brendon Urie.
He’s got his big eyes on, so William thinks either he’s done something that Smith is going to yell extensively at him about, or—actually, he can’t think of an or.
“Joe’s missing!” Brendon says. He pulls out the chair next to Greta and then scoots in as close to her as possible, elbows up on the table.
“Joe’s missing?” Greta echoes.
Brendon nods. “I feel so bad for Bob, guys, it’s tragic.”
It is indeed tragic, William thinks. Robert and Joe have only just recently been reconciled due to the wily influences of himself and Greta. Tentatively reconciled, but negotiations have been going on, he knows this. “Do we know what’s being done about this?”
“Bob’s going to get him back,” Brendon says confidently. “And Major Ray and Captain Gabe and that rat bastard Lacey—”
William nods his head in silent approval; everyone should be so conscientious of Lacey’s blatant douchebag-ery.
“—and I think they’re taking Lewis, too.”
Lewis is a good choice, William thinks. Lewis is sweet-faced and deceptively soft-hearted. She’ll shank you if she needs to, and do it with a smile. William admires that quality in a woman.
“Well, if Captain Gabe is on the job,” William says, spearing a sugar snap pea neatly with his fork. He lets the statement hang. Everyone knows what happens when Captain Gabe is on the job – things get done, and in a timely fashion.
Joe kind of thinks he’s hallucinating. There’s a kid. A skinny kid with weird hair and thick glasses and, like, jeans and a Misfits t-shirt on.
“Hey,” the kid says. He folds up his long legs and sits cross-legged across from Joe.
Awesome, Joe thinks. This is motherfucking awesome. He’s dying, and his subconscious dredges up some scene kid, what the fuck. Sure, a small part of him – especially now – wishes he’d stuck with his guitar instead of entering into the exciting field of botany, but seriously? Seriously, how is this helpful in any way?
“Hey,” the kid says again, and he leans forward, hands spread, and Joe can’t feel the fingers he knows are sliding along his cheeks, his temples, but there’s a sudden painless moment that’s so pure he nearly passes out from sheer relief.
This hallucination is solidly kick-ass. Joe’s the best at this. He’s overwhelmed by his own awesome here.
The guy grins. A sort of sideways, wonky grin, and he brings his shoulder up to rub at the side of his jaw without taking his hands away from Joe, and even though the pain is slowly rolling back into his body – even then, Joe feels like a huge weight has been lifted, like he doesn’t have to worry anymore, like whatever will be will fucking be or something. He’s suddenly Zen.
He can die now. It’ll be okay.
Bob has never before had any beef with McCoy. “Move,” Bob says.
McCoy holds out his hands and fails to get the fuck out of Bob’s way. “Listen, Bryar—”
“What part of move do you not understand?” Bob asks.
Saporta sighs and waves a hand towards Asher. “Get your boy out of the way, Corporal,” he says.
Asher looks torn for a split-second before curling a hand over McCoy’s bicep and jerking her head to the side. “Come on, McCoy, it’s no use.”
McCoy narrows his eyes. “We’ve almost got him,” he says. “That fucker isn’t going to budge if you threaten him, not unless you’ve got a hell of a lot of firepower to back you up.”
Bob says, “Who says I don’t?”
Saporta clamps a hand over McCoy’s neck. “Travis, I like you. Bills likes you, and you’re a damn good negotiator, a first rate pinochle player, and I admire the way you wield your meaty fists, dude, but leave this one to us professionals, okay? You’ve had two days to get him out, the time for talking is done.”
McCoy snorts and he shrugs out of Saporta’s grip but lets Asher steer him out of the doorway. “Watch out for the boys, Karsa and Liam.”
It isn’t until later, until Karsa, who looks no more than eight, fucking shanks him, that Bob realizes McCoy meant watch out for their fucking knives.
“God save me from fucking religious zealots,” Gabe says, rubbing at his jaw. He spits out a wad of blood and then grins over at Travis. “No need to say I told you so.”
“Of course not, man,” Travis says, leaning back against the back wall.
Bryar’s got a hand pressed against his side, scowling. Travis thinks maybe when they get out of this Bryar’s going to fucking blow the entire planet up.
They’re in a room at the rear of Petram’s house, not particularly secure – there’s a fucking window, even - but Travis figures they’re just regrouping. Gabe wouldn’t be so damn cheery if he didn’t think they could kick their way out after they catch their breath. Fucking sneaky Karsa and Liam. Fucking Petram. The only reason Bryar didn’t put up more of a fight, Travis is sure, is because Karsa’s, like, ten years old - no one wants to be responsible for taking out a kid, even if he’s a vicious little piss-ant.
And then the back wall of the house gives out and Travis stumbles and lands on his ass, looking dazedly up at a grinning Toro and Lacey.
“I tugged on the window,” Lacey says, holding up a piece of wood, “this place is a fucking shithole.”
“Which is good,” Gabe says, “except for the part where the whole village probably heard that crash.”
Chaln is hovering over Lacey’s shoulder, wringing his hands. “You must hurry,” he says, and Travis gets why Asher always liked this dude now. He’s an all right guy. Chaln presses a heavy key into Travis’s hand. “He is still at the cave. I’ll tell Petram I saw you near the temple, but you must go quickly.”
Lewis jogs up, Gaylor right behind her, a bulky pack on his back and a silver case in hand.
“All clear for now,” Lewis says.
“You know where this cave is?” Gabe asks Travis.
Travis nods and rolls up onto his feet. He does a quick scan for the rest of his team – Asher takes a half-step in front of him.
“They’re guarding the gate,” Gabe says, clapping him on the shoulder. “Lead the way, Dr. McCoy.”
Cave is kind of a misnomer. It’s carved into the side of a mountain, yes, but the walls are too smooth to have occurred naturally, and ten yards in the stone bleeds into sleek blue-gray metal. An Ancient outpost.
Lacey whistles, glancing around the airy, high-arched ceiling, flashlight sighted along the barrel of his P-90.
Gabe swipes a hand over the top of a console and asks, “Did we know this was here?”
“It’s inactive,” Travis says, and currently not something he’s concerned with. If McKay wants to risk sending another group through after this debacle, he can knock himself out. Travis isn’t stepping foot on this planet ever again. “Through here, I think.”
Bryar grunts and moves around him. He’s got his jacket stripped off, a hastily and messily done bandage wrapped around his midsection, and Travis wonders how Gaylor even got him to pause long enough for that.
There’s an unlit torch hooked onto the wall before a downward spiral of steps. Lacey tosses Bryar his lighter and the oil-laden twigs puff into flames. Travis follows Bryar down, the carved stone steps illuminated orange in the firelight, Lewis tucked close to his side with a frown of concentration on her face, brow furrowed.
He glances once behind them, only long enough to see Gaylor fumbling with his case, to see Gabe roll his eyes and heft the med pack onto his own shoulder.
And then they’re in front of a thick wooden door.
Travis says, “Bryar, here,” and tosses him the key. He doesn’t really want to get in Bryar’s way. It’s bad enough that, technically, this mess is partly his team’s fault. There’s a good chance Bryar’ll still take that out on them later. Travis is a big guy, he can hold his own, but Bryar’s been trained to kill.
Bryar doesn’t say anything as he unlocks the door and yanks it open.
Joe, dirty and bloody and huddled into himself, one arm cradled to his chest, the other sort of tucked protectively over his head, gives them a vague, little smile. “Oh, hey guys, awesome.”
“Dude, I’m fine,” Joe says.
Joe doesn’t look fine. Joe looks as far from fine as fucking possible. Bob, kneeling down in front of him, peers into his eyes. “Are you drugged?”
“Nope. No way, I’m in more freaking pain than you can imagine here, but I’m fine.” Joe squeezes Bob’s arm. It’s a weak squeeze, but a pressure that’d been building in Bob’s chest finally breaks, settles down sourly in his belly as justifiable concern instead of nearly debilitating fear and rage.
“Christ, it’s fucking good to see you,” Joe says, and then he passes out.
Bob has a mild heart attack.
Gaylor takes care of Joe’s wrist and pats Bob’s shoulder. “He’s good for right now,” he says. “I wish we’d brought a fucking ‘jumper, though.”
Lacey’s voice echoes as he yells down the stairwell, “Incoming. They’re all kids, what the fucking fuck?”
“Why the hell are we still coming to this world?” Gaylor asks, shaking his head. He snaps his case shut and stuffs his supplies into his pack, then shoves it at Saporta. “Try not to jar him too much, Bryar.”
Bob arches an eyebrow, but doesn’t bother commenting. Just hefts Joe carefully into his arms – he’s heavier than he looks, and Bob tries not to think about how, in the past year, he’s gotten entirely too used to lugging around unconscious scientists.
They make it outside the cave without incident, but then Lacey’s there, brandishing his gun at a small contingent of preteens. He’s saying, “This’s a motherfucking cult, right? Look, Isaac or Malachai or whatever, I’m gonna have to ask you to part the ways here and let us through. I’m not above bashing some skulls—”
“Lacey,” Saporta says. He scratches at his neck, stance impatient.
“Only telling the truth, Captain,” Lacey says, turning a crazed grin on them.
Bob would like to bash a few skulls himself, his side is throbbing, but he’s not going to raise a hand to these kids.
Lacey, on the other hand, can do whatever the hell he’d like. Bob isn’t going to stop him. Maybe it still makes him a shit, turning a blind eye, but he doesn’t happen to currently give a fuck.
Saporta blows out a long breath.
The kids are staring at them, but not in any particularly menacing fashion. Bob’s sure this is how they disarm their enemies. You take your eyes off them for a second and they’re burying daggers into you.
And then the small one out front, the one that’d been with Karsa earlier, tugs on another boy’s tunic and says, “They should go now, Sorn.”
Sorn nods. He lifts a hand and beckons them with a solemn, “This way, there’s a better path to the ring,” and Lacey tips his P-90 up onto his shoulder, tucks a thumb into his belt.
“Well, hell,” Lacey says. “Helpful psycho kids, awesome.”
Saporta slaps him on the back of his head.
Carden lives a surreal fucking life, that’s for sure. Months ago, if anyone’d told him he’d be dating a sexually repressed dude who, albeit grudgingly, answers to the name of Skippy, well – there’s a good chance that anyone would’ve gotten punched in the balls. Now, Carden’s kind of attached to Skip. It’s almost like having a puppy. Sure, he may have to actually marry him to get into his pants, but accidental marriages happen all the time off-world. Maybe he’ll just have to figure out a way to get both of them out on a mission. Carden’s actually not too worried about it.
He bites into an apple and leans back against the corridor wall, absently listening to the back and forth shouting of the two younger Jonas brothers inside the sub-level ‘jumper bay.
Crawford’s sitting on the floor across from him, dozing with his arms crossed over the top of his drawn-up knees.
“How’d you pull this gig?” Carden asks him. They’re babysitting. Carden’s part of the regular base security detail, so it’s pretty normal for him to end up trailing after scientists - making sure they don’t blow themselves up or get lost or fall off a pier or whatever - but Sergeant Crawford’s usually not in the rotation.
Crawford shrugs. “Bored, man. Colligan got us grounded.”
“Unsurprising,” Carden says. Colligan bugs the shit out of Carden. He keeps getting up in his face and saying shit like fo’ shizzle and calling himself Cash Money and Carden’s practicing his restraint – Skip says he’s proud of him; how fucked up is that? – and he very carefully does not punch Colligan in the head.
Carden’s been escorting Skip’s brothers to the sub-level ‘jumper bay almost every afternoon for the past three weeks. He has no idea what they’re doing – he doesn’t really care – but he’s heard a lot of strange noises. Crawford jumps at a piercing screech and cut-off yelp, but Carden just takes another bite of his apple.
Scrambling to his feet, Crawford says, “What the—?” He peers around the doorjamb. “Oh shit.”
Carden takes his time chewing. “What?” he says, a little garbled.
“They’re gone,” Crawford says, then ducks as a streak of light darts through the doorway, leaving a smoking black hole in the corridor wall by Carden’s head.
“Fuck,” Carden says. He drops what’s left of his apple and pushes past Crawford. Somehow, he doesn’t think Skip’ll forgive him if he loses his brothers.
The bay’s empty – only two of the three submersible puddlejumpers are still docked.
“Jesus,” Crawford says, scratching his forehead.
“They could be cloaked.” Another flash of light – electricity, Carden thinks – circles the room, jumping from panel to panel, sparking. Carden taps his radio. “Dr. Jonas, report,” he says, and refuses to panic when there’s no answer.
Crawford cautiously slinks further into the room. “Do you think it really worked?”
Carden shakes his head and says, “What?” absently as he steps back into the hall, trying to hail Jonas again, feeling only slightly better when he realizes his comm.’s actually dead.
“The time machine,” Crawford says. He’s staring at the ceiling.
Carden follows his gaze, sees the black scorch marks in the metal, spreading out like a starburst. “Huh.” That’s actually pretty fucking cool.
“All right, look. I’m going to poke around,” Crawford says. He taps his radio, says, “Colonel—” before cutting off and pulling a face. He looks over at Carden. “Your link dead, too?”
“Yeah,” he says. “I’ll go track the colonel down the old fashioned way.”
Crawford nods. “Right,” he says, and then the lights flicker off and Carden stumbles out of the doorway, almost overwhelmed by the acrid scent of electrical discharge.
His fingers catch at the doors as they slide closed, and he strong-arms an opening wide enough for his shoulder. “Crawford,” he shouts. The pressure from the door is intense, he’s not sure how long he can hold it open, but it’s completely silent in the pitch-black bay. “Crawford,” he says again, then, “Fuck, fucking shit,” between panting breaths. With another curse he twists and lets the doors shut behind him, loping off to get help.
Ian has been trapped in the sub-level ‘jumper bay for the better part of a half hour. Maybe longer, he’s not sure – he’d woken up with a killer headache and water lapping at his prone body, bay lights on but dim and static. He’s got a dead radio and the door mechanism isn’t working, but there are thumps on the other side and he’d managed to shout, “I’m fine!” up against the crack and heard two knocks in response.
The good news is that, from his position near the doors, the water doesn’t seem to be rising any higher than his mid-thigh. The bad news is that the heater apparently shorted out and it’s steadily turning fucking freezing, and he’s starting to lose feeling in his feet. He’s marching in place, but the tingles that had been shooting up his ankles, calves – they aren’t so much tingles anymore. They’re more like twinges, barely there messages from his nerve-ends, and Ian thinks he’s dangerously close to succumbing to hypothermia here. Awesome.
Okay, so, higher ground. Higher ground would be great, but the highest ground in the chamber, other than where he currently is, is on top of one of the puddlejumpers – in the middle of the room, right where the water is deepest. Ian’s going to have to swim for it.
“I can do this,” Ian says, taking deep breaths. He peels off his still relatively dry jacket, hesitates a second, then skims off his shirt, too, holding them both awkwardly over his head as he starts trudging towards the ‘jumpers.
Thankfully, his feet never fully leave the ground, but the water’s up to his chin by the time he reaches the first ‘jumper, and then he’s got to figure out how to climb the fucker. He struggles for hand and footholds with shaky fingers, muscles of his legs cramping as he pushes and pulls himself topside. He’s panting by the time he flattens out on the blessedly dry metal, gazing up at the burnt ceiling blearily, tired beyond all reason.
He thinks he should tug his shirt and jacket back on, but he can’t get his arms to work yet. He’s barely shivering, but he can hear his teeth chattering in his head, and his vision blackens around the edges. He fights a blink, eyelids heavy.
“Fuck,” he slurs.
The other voice barely registers; at least, not until warm fingers close over his arm, pressing into the inner curve of his elbow. The warmth spreads into a painful, searing heat and Ian jerks his arm away with a shaky, “Shit, ow.”
“Sorry, sorry,” the voice says, and Ian turns his head, ends of his curls sliding icy-wet along his shoulders.
The guy attached to the voice is sitting next to him, folded up on his knees, hands pressed against his chest. He’s skinny, with a shock of brown hair and knobby wrists and a pale strip of thigh peeking out from a rip in his jeans. “Sorry,” he says again, “you’re cold.”
“Um.” Ian’s teeth cut into his lower lip, jaw locked to keep from shivering. Shivering’s good, though. Shivering means he’s not going to fall asleep, means he’s probably not going to die, which is awesome. “Yeah,” he says, and laughs a little, almost breathless.
Big dark eyes watch him unblinkingly, curious, behind a pair of square glasses, and then he reaches out a hand for Ian again, touch lighter, skimming along the inside of his bicep.
Ian stops shivering. He stops shivering, mouth relaxing around a sigh, even though he’s still cold; he’s freezing, the ‘jumper at his back like a block of ice, but it’s like—it’s like it doesn’t matter anymore.
Ian says, “What?” and the dude says, “Shhhh,” and, Ian’s eyes flutter closed.
The coolest thing about time travel, Nick had always thought, is that it’s one of the ways multi-dimensions are formed. You’re there one moment and then you’re not, and it’s the same, but different – and there’s this world out there, almost exactly the same, down to the tiniest, minutest detail, except you’re not there anymore, you’re here. It’s why you can technically go back in time, but you can’t jump forward; discounting solar flares and the surreal magic of General O’Neill and SG1. Joe says it gives him headaches, thinking about it.
The uncool thing about time travel, apparently, is how everything goes a little unstable and wonky. Nick’s jacket is smoking. He smells burnt hair, the fingers gripping his datapad are a little raw, and Joe’s got this dazed, fuzzy look in his eyes.
“Whoa,” Joe says. He spreads out his arms, like he’s losing his balance, but he doesn’t tip over.
Nick glances down at his datapad, does a quick calculation in his head, then beams at Joe - and promptly stops beaming, because his mouth feels like it’s being pulled apart, his lips are so dry. “Ten minutes,” he says. Ten freaking minutes.
“You mean.” Joe blinks, eyes clearing. “You mean we did it?”
“We did it,” Nick says. He does a little dance. Their calibrated landing position in the cloaked ‘jumper is approximately five feet to the left of the puddlejumper of ten minutes ago. He rushes to the front of the ‘jumper, and Nick watches out the windshield, watches himself argue with Joe before ducking inside, and it’s a little like seeing a home movie; the pane of glass gives him a little perspective, downplays the complete weirdness of seeing himself – a live walking and talking ten minutes ago version of himself. It’s freaking awesome.
They wait it out, because even without the Ancient’s dire warnings, Nick knows it’s not a good idea to mingle. If they manage to accidentally stop them from leaving, well, who knows what could happen – entropic cascade failure could be the least of their problems.
And then the room kind of explodes.
“Oh, man,” Joe says from beside him.
No wonder pieces of Nick’s uniform are burned off – they sort of disappeared in a whoosh of blue sparks and flames.
“Uncloak us,” Nick says.
Joe calls up the HUD, but an electrical current rips through the center of the ‘jumper and the entire bay goes dark.
When the lights come back on, there’s about a foot of rising water flooding the bay.
Joe doesn’t think twice, just elbows Nick out of the way and heads to the back of the ‘jumper, prying open the control casing for the doors. He hooks up his handheld and starts working on rerouting the minimal power they’ve got juicing the rest of the ‘jumper’s core systems – she’s barely alive; Colonel Sheppard might actually kill them if they can’t fix her.
It takes about twenty minutes for Joe to get the doors open, and Crawford’s managed to make it across the bay and up onto one of the other puddlejumpers.
“What the actual heck,” Nick says, sloshing through the water that’s rapidly spilled into the back of the ‘jumper.
And there’s—there’s some sort of shadow hanging over Crawford. It twists, and Joe sees an impression of a person, maybe, blooming from a silhouette into a skinny guy in jeans, then just as quickly darkening to a shadow again. The head whips towards them as they stomp down the ramp into the bay, and then it disappears, poof, like smoke.
Joe blinks, and thinks maybe he imaged the whole thing.
“What?” Nick says again.
“I think I hit my head,” Joe says.
“No, no, I saw it, too,” Nick says, and Joe only thinks that means Nick also hit his head, but whatever.
Crawford isn’t shaking, but he’s too white. Like, scary pale, and Joe scrambles up the back of the ‘jumper and strips out of his jacket, the thin, stiff material not really warming at all, but better than nothing. “He’s not really responding,” Joe says. He gropes for Crawford’s neck, presses his fingertips to his pulse and tries not to panic.
Brendon had been on his way back from visiting Joe in the infirmary – he’d actually been there for Bob, though, because Brendon and Bob are, like, totally tight now, and Brendon had been worried about him, about his fragile state of mind with Joe all hurt – when he was accosted by Corporal Carden.
Carden had grabbed hold of his jacket collar, said, “Let’s go, Urie,” and then stole his comm. link from his ear and pulled him down the hallway.
Brendon does not know Carden. Carden kind of keeps to himself and the ‘gate techs – Brendon’s heard rumors that he’s dating Nick and Joe Jonas’s older brother, even though he can’t be sure; who the heck is Skippy, right? – and he’s got a mean resting face to rival Bob’s, so Brendon usually stays a respectable distance away.
But Carden drags him down to the sub-levels of Atlantis and pushes him at a really dark and scary corridor and says, “Lights, now, then doors,” and Brendon’s been at it for nearly twenty minutes. He’s got minimal power and the arm-strength of a gnat, apparently, since the doors aren’t budging. The actual door mechanism is fried. He doubts even Dr. McKay could get it working – which, okay, is a total lie, and he really wonders why they haven’t sent him down here yet.
They sent Greta, though, and she’s sitting cross-legged on the floor next to Brendon, brow furrowed at the datapad that’s hooked up to the crystals.
“Every time we get it running it shorts out again,” Greta says, frowning. “It’s—there’s a looping power surge.”
“Right, right,” Brendon says, “something’s—it’s not a time loop, right?”
Greta rolls her eyes. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Brendon isn’t so sure. He knows the Jonas brothers were working on a time-traveling puddlejumper down here, at least, so it’s, like, a possibility. An awesome possibility. Maybe whatever’s in that room is living the same day over and over again. Brendon’s pretty sure that’s happened at the SGC before.
“And even if it did,” Greta says, “the energy readings are different each time. We just got a—Bren!”
Brendon jerks his fingers out of the way just in time – there’s possibly a small fire in the door panel now. Great.
Carden shifts forward from where he’s been leaning against the wall and says, “All right, that’s it, anyone got a crowbar?”
Pete says, “There’s intricacies to this, you know,” before jamming the flat end of the pry bar into the seam between the doors and wriggling it into a more solid position. Gerard slips two flat pieces of steel on either side and Pete jimmies the crowbar in further, slip-sliding against the metal. Then he steps back and gestures towards it with a flourish, mouth quirked up at Carden. “Go to it, my friend.”
Carden arches an eyebrow. “I think I could’ve done that.”
Pete pats the corridor wall. “No damaging my sweet baby,” he says fondly. “You would’ve scraped the shit out of her, you heathen, and then bent her all to hell. We just need you for your guns.”
Gerard is in complete agreement with Pete; he even claps his hands over his eyes when Carden grabs for the crowbar. “I can’t watch,” he says.
“Chill,” Carden says.
Gerard cringes a little at the ominous creaking, the screech of the locks giving way. The only good thing about this is that it’ll probably be pretty fun fitting the door back together again. The panel crystals are entirely black, tangle of wires unrecognizable – they’ll have to scrounge up all kinds of parts all over Atlantis.
“You’re certainly calm about this,” Pete says.
Carden’s voice is strained when he says, “Not really.” The steel plates clatter to the floor, something sloshes, and Gerard peeks through his fingers to see Carden’s shoulder jammed in the door, face red with exertion, water flooding in from the bay, washing over Gerard’s boots.
Carden curses, low; Gerard barely catches the, “Fucking shit, fucking Crawford, fucking Jonas brothers.”
He watches as, inch by inch, Carden strong-arms the door wide enough to slide through sideways.
It’s darker in the bay than in the corridor.
Pete splashes in the ankle deep water and says, “So this is gonna be a bitch to clean up.”
Chris is not exactly sure what he’s doing on Atlantis. One day he’d been bored as fuck, working out of Mercy, shelling percoset to the misguided masses, and the next he’d been trache-ing this huge black dude with a gold tattoo on his forehead. He’d signed a confidentiality agreement, met Mike, worked under a fucking mountain for three years, and that had been that.
He doesn’t regret a thing – hell, no. Discounting space vampires and evil robots, Chris’s life on Atlantis is pretty sweet: cushy quarters, cutting edge alien technology, hot military chicks. Of course, like anywhere, sometimes people die on you. And sometimes you get bodies of friends or coworkers, shot to hell or sucked down to dry, barely recognizable husks and there’s nothing you can do except bag ‘em and send ‘em home.
Comparatively speaking, Crawford’s not that bad off. He’s pale and cold, lips tinted blue, unresponsive, but his pulse is steady and strong – Chris isn’t exactly sure how that’s possible, but he’s not going to question it. Weird shit happens all the time here.
Chris hooks his stethoscope around his neck, frowning thoughtfully, and turns to Simpson. “Warm him up slow,” he says. There’s a chance he’ll crash, but Chris doesn’t think so. Whatever’s going on with Crawford is well beyond him; as a doctor, this kind of mysterious shit used to bug the crap out of him, but he’s learned that sometimes Atlantis takes the lives of her people into her own hands, and there’s not much he can do about it.
Carden and Johnson are – well, they’re not hovering. Chris has yet to see either of them visibly anxious about anything, even when they so obviously are. Now, they’re leaning against the wall about two feet apart from each other, Carden’s arms crossed over his chest and Johnson’s loose at his sides, fingers half-curled inward. Both the very picture of nonchalance.
They’re not fooling him, though. Chris is a fucking expert at tells, and Johnson’s biting into his lower lip - he looks a little wan and worn around the edges - and Carden’s eyebrows are just the slightest bit furrowed, even though both their expressions are carefully blank.
“So,” Chris says. He pauses, slips a pen out of his pocket, and resists the urge to smirk – there’s no guarantees, gut feelings aside; he really shouldn’t find this as amusing as he does. He shakes the pen between his fingers, not really a nervous habit – more like a constant need to always be doing something with his hands. “While I’m not exactly sure why, he seems to be stable.”
“You’re not sure why,” Johnson says, eyes narrowed.
Chris shrugs. “He feels like a corpse, but his vitals are strong. We’re fairly confident he’ll pull through.”
“He was in there less than forty minutes,” Carden says, slowly. “He said he was fine. The Jonas brothers are fine.”
“Yeah, and Crawford essentially is okay,” Chris says, even though he maybe shouldn’t be. “The water probably cooled at a faster pace than he’d been anticipating.” Either that, or he’d just manned up and taken the pain, accepting that help would come when it came. Chris doesn’t exactly get that attitude. Chris would’ve been cursing them out through the door the entire time until they finally brought out the explosives. Forty freaking minutes, geez. If they weren’t off-world, Chris is pretty sure Sheppard and McKay would’ve had that door in pieces in under ten.
He doesn’t even want to discuss Nick and Joe Jonas, who, while scathed and minimally burned, appear to think they’ve successfully traveled back in time – that’s a job for Blackinton, not Chris.
“Oh my god, Alex,” DeLeon says, whipping aside the curtain and tumbling into Johnson, fisting his hands in Johnson’s jacket. “What happened, is Ian okay, oh my god!”
Johnson curls an arm around DeLeon’s back and pats his shoulder. “He’s fine,” he says.
Johnson sends him something very close to a glare and says again, “He’s fine, he’ll be fine.”
“Sure,” Chris says. He clicks the end of his pen, off and on and off again, before sliding it into the pocket of his white coat. Sometimes, he has trouble believing that DeLeon’s an actual licensed medical doctor – but then, sometimes he has trouble believing that he’s a licensed medical doctor. And that someone out there thinks they’re both at the top of their field. Or expendable. That could be it, what with all the aliens trying to kill them and everything.
DeLeon abruptly lets go of Johnson and takes a step back. “All right,” he says, waving a hand towards the door. “Shoo, get out of here, I’ll find out everything and spill at dinner,” then he spots Dex lurking around for his post-mission exam, goes, “Eep,” and scurries off into the next room. Weird.
Johnson has a disgusting indulgent grin on his face, and Chris rolls his eyes.
“Seriously,” he says. “Get out.”