Chapter 09

Disclaimer: The author does not own any of NCIS or Stargate, only borrows them for the sake of this fanfiction.  No profit is made by the writing of this story.

Warnings: Anything one expects to see on Stargate or NCIS, expect it here; also, slash in the form of Jack/Daniel, and John/Rodney; het pairings include Tony/Ziva, Gibbs/Jenny.

If you dislike such things, or are underage, do not read!


Thank you to Emergency70 for the beta!

Chapter IX

Daniel closed the bedroom doors with a deceptively soft ‘click’ and glared across the room at the partially closed bathroom door.  He folded his arms over his chest, planted himself firmly in front of the door to block it, and called out in a tightly controlled voice, “Jack?  Are you up?”

“Yep.  Just a minute, Danny.”  Water splashed, and a moment later, Jack came out rubbing his head briskly with a towel.  “Good morning, Daniel my love!”  Jack smiled and greeted his lover cheerfully before he got a good look at Daniel’s face and body language.

“Jack.”  Daniel returned, as evenly as possible.

Whiskey-brown eyes flicked over Daniel, then around the room looking for the threat.  Jack dropped the towel on the end of the bed and frowned.  “Daniel?”  He asked for clarification.  “Something wrong?”

“Did you or did you not speak with Sam and settle that issue like you told me you did?  And I quote, ‘It’s done, and it’s just you and me now, Daniel.’”  The irate linguist quoted when Jack opened his mouth to say he never said any such thing.

Jack scowled and sat heavily on the end of the bed.  “What the hell, Daniel?  Where did this come from all of a sudden?  And do you think now is the best time to be bringing up that old broken record, again?”  He countered, avoiding answering masterfully.

“I recently found out some things that tell me Sam obviously has not put the idea of a relationship with you out of her head, and no it isn’t the best time but in my vast past experience dealing with you and this particular subject I’ve learned that there is no ‘best time’ to talk about it.”  Daniel stalked toward the bed and Jack (his bare feet distracting Jack thoroughly) and glared down at the General, planting his balled up hands on his hips.  “Therefore, Jack O’Neill, answer the damn question – and don’t you dare fucking lie to me.”

Beginning to lose his own temper, Jack stood up and got in Daniel’s face.  “What ‘things?’”  He made air quotes mockingly.  “We’ve been around this BBQ a few times, Daniel, and I’ll tell you the same fucking thing I said before: I told her there would never be an ‘us’ and that she was better off moving on!  If those things you learned tell you otherwise, then there’s nothing I can do or say!  I cannot control someone else’s emotions that way!”  Jack leaned in, so close Daniel could smell his minty fresh toothpaste and count the golden specks in the brown of his eyes (if he’d cared to).  “This jealous streak of yours needs to stop, Dr. Jackson!  It’s extremely unbecoming.”

Daniel actually snarled and turned away, taking a few steps apart from the man who infuriated him so much, his arms coming up in his trademark self-hug – only this time it seemed more to contain his emotions from exploding outward and making him do something he’d really regret later.

“It’s a jealous streak born of ten goddamn years of you avoiding the Sam issue and taking out all of your frustrations on me.”  Daniel rounded on Jack again.  “I told you after I got back from the Ori galaxy that I would not be your dirty little secret or your ‘mistress’ if we got together.  Meaning you were supposed to talk to Sam and make sure she understood you were never going to pursue anything with her.  Ever.”  He stared hard at Jack.  “You never did tell me what you told her or what she said.  Every time I’ve asked all I get was ‘Drop it, Danny, it’s over,’ and I never pushed because I imagined it hadn’t gone well and you just didn’t want to think about her.  Because she was – is – your friend, too.”

Jack ran his fingers through his hair.  “I don’t want to think about her, Daniel!  I love you!  Why can’t you just take that and put the past where it belongs?”

“Because Sam’s still got pictures of you all over her quarters and in her office on Atlantis and she still has stars and hearts in her eyes whenever she talks about you!  That’s not moving on or getting over you!”  Daniel yelled.

“…on Atlantis…” Jack repeated, a particularly dark expression slowly forming on his face.  “Goddamn it!  McKay!”  He wheeled abruptly and started for the door.  “I’m gonna shoot that little, egotistical son of a –“

Daniel did the only thing he could think of to stop Jack in his immediate panic.  He tackled him.

They hit the floor with a hard, muffled THUMP.  Despite the sound-proofing and carpeting, Daniel was pretty sure anyone downstairs would still hear it, however at the moment he had other problems.  The only reason the tackle worked was the surprise of it and the momentum created by Daniel’s weight and Jack’s forward motion toward the door.  Now he had about 180 lbs. of muscled, trained General to deal with, a soldier who was fighting Daniel back.  Not to mention a lover that was severely pissed off.

“Jack!  Quit…fighting me!”  He ground out, trying his level best to keep Jack pinned to the floor on his stomach where he was at least a little more manageable.  “Leave Rodney alone!  He didn’t do or say anything on purpose!  He’s got his own issues, and he doesn’t need you killing him for something he said in casual conversation!”  Daniel didn’t even try denying it had been Rodney who’d said anything, and he wasn’t surprised Jack leapt to the correct assumption it had been Rodney.

“He’s fucking…up…our…relationship!”  Jack growled out, shifting and wriggling and trying to buck Daniel off.  “I won’t let him!  I finally have you…and I won’t let…anything take you…away!”

At that Daniel stopped and just let his weight hold Jack down, panting from exertion and wondering why they always seemed to end up fighting each other to be together.  “Jack…no one’s taking me away.”  He breathed heavily into the back of Jack’s neck.  “I just want you to apply some of that sentiment toward…”

“…putting Sam in her place?”  Came the snide, sarcastic, none-too-pleased reply.

Daniel winced, because no matter how awful and unkind that sounded, it was pretty much the truth.  “Yes.”  He agreed unhappily.  “I can’t help it, Jack.  She’s a threat.  I don’t want her to take you away from me.”

Jack was silent for a moment, tense, and then he went boneless under Daniel and released a deep, heart-wrenching sigh.  “Aww…shit, Danny.”

“Yeah.”  Daniel nuzzled at the nape of Jack’s neck with his nose and lips, feeling the shiver that ran through the older man at the gesture.  “Can I let you up now?”  He asked, subdued and drained of the jealous anger from earlier.

“Please.  My knees are killing me.”  He’d hit the floor and landed partially on his knees, and the joints just couldn’t take things like that anymore and bounce back.

Horrified, Daniel rolled off and got to his feet, allowing Jack to roll onto his back before holding out both hands to help him up.  Swaying a little with vertigo, Jack tugged Daniel into his arms and refused to let go when the younger man struggled a little.

“Listen, Danny, we’re both possessive bastards who’ve been through too much together to get where we are.  I gave you my word that I talked to Carter, and I think you know I’d never have gone back on that or lied to you.  You’re too important to me to have risked losing you because I’m being stupid.”  Jack said quietly, resting his forehead against Daniel’s lightly.  “If she’s still hung up on me, it’s not because I didn’t try, okay?”

“I’m sorry.”  Daniel whispered, clutching at Jack unhappily.  “I’m so sorry.  I flew off the handle when there was no good reason…”

“Hey!  You have good reasons, Danny, and it’s gonna take time for us to make this thing work out and for us to be secure and comfortable, right?”  Jack decided forgiving and forgetting was a better idea here.  He also knew that Daniel was going to be insecure and defensive for some time yet when it came to the whole Carter issue – even if Daniel still treasured her as his friend, teammate, and big sister.

Daniel buried his face in Jack’s neck and hung on.  “I feel really stupid right now.”  Jack brought him in as close as possible and held him.

“It’s okay, Daniel.  Just…let’s not do that tackling thing again, alright?  My knees can’t take it.”  Jack meant it to be a joke, lighten the mood a little, but it really wasn’t one.  He was going to have to take the good stuff this morning if he wanted to function around the pain and throbbing aches.

Sniffling, Daniel pulled away, horrified that he’d caused Jack such suffering.  “I’m so sorry!  Here, let me get your pills…” he rushed off to the bathroom.  Jack sighed and eased himself over to the bed where he sat and proceeded to massage around his kneecaps with his fingers to ease the aching and loosen the tension.  Daniel returned with the two little pills and a glass of water, and once Jack had taken the meds, Daniel took over the massaging.  “I didn’t really think when I did that.  I just didn’t want you killing Rodney for being an unwitting messenger.”

“I don’t understand…what pictures?”  Jack honestly sounded confused, and Daniel glanced up over the rim of his glasses.  He told Jack what Rodney had said – the whole conversation, really – and huddled in on himself a little at the annoyed glare Jack gave him about Rodney now knowing about Daniel and Jack’s relationship.

“Look, I know he’s not really your first choice to come out to, but we can’t change it, Jack, and he’s trustworthy.”  Daniel sat back on the floor, hugging his legs and biting his bottom lip anxiously.  “Rodney…is in much the same boat I was not long ago.  He gets us perfectly, and he would sooner face a Wraith Queen unarmed than out us and get us in trouble.”

Jack’s scowl slid into a frown. “Same boat?”


“Ah.  Really?  He actually admitted it to you?”

“Yes.  He’s quite certain the emotional stuff isn’t returned, though.  He desperately wants – needs – to keep John’s friendship, and he’s willing to keep what he really feels to himself.”  Daniel felt the tug on his heart strings.  “Exactly like I was.”

Jack shook his head, feeling badly for the scientist, too, but not about to play matchmaker or get involved in someone’s personal business.  “Well it’s not something we can do anything about – or should – so leave it alone, for now.  We’ve got other big stuff to worry about.”

Daniel got to his feet and looked down at himself.  “I’d better change.  Gibbs and his team will be here soon.”  He knew the subject was closed for now.



                John was on his way down the stairs when the doorbell rang, so he veered off to the door to answer it.  He was pretty sure he had his reaction to Rodney’s revelation under control now (a freezing cold shower and his new personal mantra – ‘I will not jump Rodney, I will not jump Rodney…’ – repeating over and over in his head) so he felt relatively safe coming back down and facing McKay.

Recognizing the silhouettes of DiNozzo, McGee, and David through the glass panels of O’Neill’s door, John opened it up and stood to the side.  “Morning.  Come on in, Agents, Officer David.”

“Good morning, Colonel Sheppard.”  Ziva returned the greeting for all of them.  John noticed that both she and McGee were rested and alert, but DiNozzo looked like he hadn’t slept in a week.  “We are somewhat early, yes?”

“It’s fine.  Follow me, and I’ll round up everyone else.”  John motioned for them to come along.  “Agent Gibbs isn’t here yet, anyway.”

“He will be.  He was at NCIS this morning to talk to Director Vance.”  DiNozzo said, looking around O’Neill’s house curiously (re. snooping).  “Nice place.”

John opened the double doors to O’Neill’s study and waved them inside.  He figured it was where they’d conduct their meeting.  To Tony’s comment, he shrugged and replied, “He’s the man who saved the world a few dozen times.  Be right back, ah…make yourselves at home but please don’t touch anything.”  John glanced around at some of the things that sat on bookshelves and tables around the room, then slipped out again.

Rodney as just coming down the hall from the kitchen, and nearly walked into him.  “They’re here?” he asked, his tone even and with a questioning lilt, but something in it made John stop and look back at him with a tiny frown.

“Except Gibbs, yeah.  I put them in O’Neill’s study.”  John blinked when Rodney only nodded and moved past him to go there.  “Rodney?  Something wrong?”

“I’m fine.  Better go tell the General they’re here.”  Rodney didn’t even look back at him, simply kept on walking.

Frowning for real now, John puzzled over the sudden chill toward him from the man he called best friend and hoped to one day call his.  Shaking his head, John hurried upstairs.  He’d talk to Rodney later and find out what was wrong.

He stopped first at Teyla and Ronon’s  room, finding Ronon putting on his shoes.

“Teyla’s in the shower.”  The big guy informed him.  “Is breakfast ready?”

“Probably.  Go ask McKay.  He was going to make something when I came up for my shower.”  John left him to knock on O’Neill’s door.

“What?”  the door opened almost immediately and the General stood there staring at him.

“Ah…NCIS are here, minus Gibbs, sir.  DiNozzo thinks he’ll be here soon, though.”  John reported, straightening up under the stare because for some odd reason he was feeling really uncomfortable under its weight.  When O’Neill didn’t say anything, John added, “Sir?”

“I heard, Sheppard.  I’ll be right there.”  He glanced over his shoulder, then sighed and ran a hand through his slivered hair.  “Is there any breakfast made?”

“I think so, sir, but if you want any you’d better go get it before Ronon eats it all.”  John answered with the warning.

“D’oh!”  Jack pushed past him yelling over his shoulder, “Daniel!  Hurry up!” then closed the door behind himself and led John back downstairs.  “Grab a bite to eat, Sheppard, and tell Ronon to save some for the rest of us.”  He ordered, heading for the study.  John took that as dismissal and went back to the kitchen.

Ronon was already polishing off his first plateful, but John could see he needn’t worry about not getting any of the food because there was a real feast spread out on the counter.  Rodney had apparently gone to town.  John made a mental note to go buy groceries to restock the General’s cupboards and fridge before they went back to Atlantis.  They were eating the man out of house and home, after all.

Half an hour went by quickly by the time everyone had eaten, arrived, and gathered in the study.  Gibbs had shown up, too, so as soon as they were all comfortable, Daniel invited Mitchell down from Odyssey to join them.

…and for whatever reason, John was still getting the chills from Rodney.

“Okay, let’s get this going.”  O’Neill started, leaning forward over his desktop.  “What do we know so far?”

“We know that Jenny was killed for the documents that Mike Franks found and…hid someplace, and that now Franks has been abducted by someone who appears to be connected to the Trust – or Baal – or both.”  John stated, slowly panning the room with his gaze.  It stopped on Rodney, who was studiously avoiding his eyes no matter what John tried to do.

“We know that his last location was at that condemned gas station in Phoenix.”  McGee put in.  “And that there was a…um…firefight of some kind.”

“Which is why we assume it’s the Trust or Baal, yes.”  McKay grumbled.  “The problem is that we have nothing to tell us where they took Franks.  Where’s their operation being run?  We don’t have any leads.”

“Abby is running the tire tracks that Ziva took pictures of from the scene.”  Gibbs informed them all, gaining their immediate attention.  “She was working on it when I stopped by earlier this morning.  Her hope is to match the tire treads to some vehicles then narrow it down with the footage from any security or traffic cameras in the area.”

“See?  This is why we needed you and your team, Gibbs!”  O’Neill slapped his desk emphatically.  “We likely wouldn’t have thought of that.  We aren’t investigators.”

“At least you had the sense to know that.  Most others we’ve worked with in the past haven’t been as…intelligent.”  Gibbs replied with a grunt of annoyance.

“So what do we do while we wait to find out if Abby finds anything?”  Tony asked.  “’Cause I’m all out of ideas.  I tried everything else I could think of last night.”

John frowned and pinned wary hazel eyes on Gibbs.  “You could explain to us – to me, Agent Gibbs – why you torched Jenny’s home.”  It was a mystery he’d had no chance to ask about until now what with all the commotion in the last day or so.  To his credit, Gibbs didn’t deny the accusation or flinch away.  He met John’s gaze solidly and nodded once.

Interestingly enough, Gibbs’ team was looking back and forth between the two incredulously.

“Boss?”  Tony questioned, eyes wide.

“What you probably don’t know, Colonel, is that there were three agents on that mission nine years ago.  William Decker, Jenny…and myself.”  Gibbs  paused, letting that sink in.  He could see the wheels and gears turning in the group’s heads, and continued, “Our mission was a simple one; we each had a target to eliminate – they were rogue spies operating in Europe from among the Eastern countries Russia used to control.  Decker was our go-to guy, stationed in Europe.  Jenny and I were tasked to help him out.”  Gibbs sighed, rubbing his face with a hard.  “Without getting into stuff I’m not supposed to say, Decker and I succeeded, and until just recently I – and our superiors – believed Jenny had succeeded, also.”

“But she didn’t.”  O’Neill guessed.  Gibbs glanced at him, nodding, and was surprised to see the look of total understanding in the General’s direction.  Gibbs wondered briefly what the man’s record would tell him if he ever were to see it.

“Assassinations?”  Rodney cried, horrified.

“McKay…” John warned, and frowned when the scientist gave him an icy glare and looked away.

“No, General.  Apparently not.  I doesn’t surprise me, really – didn’t when Mike told me what she’d told him.  Jenny…she was an excellent agent – intelligent, quick, strong willed, loyal and patriotic.  She had no qualms about using a weapon if she or her people were being attacked.  But…”

“It’s different to take a gun and deliberately hunt down and kill someone, even if it’s a sanctioned hit and considered a righteous combat kill.”  John murmured.  He hadn’t had to do anything much of that kind of thing as a soldier, yet, even as a Special Ops one, but he understood regardless.  “Jenny isn’t the type to be able to do that as easily as others.”

“Yeah.”  Gibbs agreed, staring at a spot on the carpet.  “To be honest, I believed she wouldn’t be able to do it, even back then, but…well, long story short, she assured us she was successful, and as her target never resurfaced to contradict her claim…”

“Okay, so why does all this have anything to do with burning down her house?”  McKay asked, still disturbed but moving on.

“I finished what Jenny couldn’t.”  Gibbs glared at his impatience.  “Mike and I.”

Jack’s eyes widened briefly.  “Are you telling me the target came after her?  And you burned down the house to cover it up?”

“That explains the body found in the wreckage.”  Daniel added, faintly.

“You’re not getting it.”  Gibbs huffed.  “The one who killed Decker, and his wife, and set those goons on Jenny at that diner was her target – a woman named Natasha Lenkov.  From what I figure, it’s taken the bitch this long to weather the heat after her partners were taken out, and then to find a new…employer.”  Gibbs stopped, shook his head at himself, and went on.  “She took the time to track Decker down, lure out the rest of us by killing him and get her revenge.  Mike told me…he said Jenny was trying to protect me from her mistake.”

There was a long moment of silence while the full story sunk into everyone’s heads.  John abruptly got up and walked away, heading over to the big picture window to stare out at the world.  Hugging himself against the grief, he leaned one shoulder against the window frame.

Teyla watched him, concerned, but left him to deal with things on his own – at least for the moment.  She glanced first at Ronon, who shook his head, and then at Rodney, who appeared to be moving back and forth and all around through emotions ranging from worry and concern, to anger and annoyance, and…confusion.  Teyla wasn’t certain what had occurred after she and Ronon went upstairs to shower that morning, but she was too well tuned to her teammates and their moods to have not noticed the change between their Earth members.  Looking back at Ronon, she saw he, too, had noticed by the slight frown on his face as he watched McKay silently.

“Yes, well…” Jack cleared his throat and, after a brief glance at John’s stiff back, pushed on.  “Thanks for clearing that up, Gibbs.  It completely sucks that it came down that to that.”

“No shit.”

“So we’re assuming, then,” Mitchell spoke up, having been silent the entire time, “that this Lenkov woman found her new employers in the Trust?  Or someone connected to them?”

“Seems that way.”  Daniel agreed.  “She probably didn’t know they were using her as much as she was using them.”

“Or perhaps she did not care as long as she achieved her revenge.”  Ziva speculated neutrally.  She didn’t seem to notice how Tony inched closer to her on the sofa, though McGee and Gibbs did, when she spoke.

Gibbs cell phone rang at that moment, and he pulled it out of his pocket to answer.  “Yeah, Abs.”  He said when he saw the number of her lab’s line on the display.

“Gibbs!  I totally rule!” She announced excitedly, her jubilation coming across loud and clear, even over the phone.  “For my extraordinary feats of forensic matchmaking, I have earned at least a week’s worth of Caf-pows!”

“Point me in Mike’s direction and you’ll get them.”  Gibbs promise, despite his apprehension at having her even more jacked up than normal on her favourite pseudo-beverage that was full of caffeine and sugar.  “What’d’ya have, Abby?”  He put her on speaker.

“I sent all the info to McGee, but I did it!  I matched the tread marks to the tires, and the tires to vehicles, and after only a couple of hours of crappy traffic camera footage I found a match!”  Abby exclaimed gleefully.  McGee had hastily pulled out his own cell – the über-smart kind that did nearly everything but hold your conversations for you – to check his email.

“Got it, boss.”  The youngest agent confirmed, opening it up to view the contents.

“I found a black van belonging to one of the companies that turned up on my list of vehicles that had these tires on them.  Even better, the van got caught running a red light!”  Abby informed them.  “They even had the company logo plastered all over the side of the van!”

“Skye communications Inc.”  McGee read loud.  “A media and communications company based out of Las Vegas, but owns several networks and publications nation-wide – including one in Phoenix.”

“Vegas!?”  McKay exclaimed, head whipping up at that bit of information.

O’Neill and Daniel shared a look.  “Baal.”  They stated at the same time.

John wandered back over and leaned a hip against Rodney’s sofa-chair.  “Sounds like we have a winner.  McKay, find out every detail possible about this company, specifically…”

“Addresses, buildings, blueprints, etc.  I’m already working on it.”  Rodney interrupted, tone clipped but less cold than before.  It was more his “Shut up, I’m busy, here” voice.

“Thanks, Abs.”  Gibbs said before hanging up.  If this panned out, he would find something much better than Caf-pows for her to show his gratitude.  “McGee!  Check flight records and see if anyone travelling under that company name flew in or out of Phoenix in the last week – commercial and private flights.”

“On it, boss!”  McGee, who’d been looking a tad put out at having his usual role usurped by the grouchy astrophysicist, brightened and went to work.  “Though…this would be faster and easier on a computer…”

The General crooked a finger.  “C’mere.  Use this thing.”  He pointed at the computer on his desk.  McGee hurried over and took the seat O’Neill vacated.  Jack hovered nearby, watching the young man play the machine like a finely tuned instrument.

“May I ask why this new information makes you so certain it is the correct company and that it is one that is associated with the Goa’uld, Baal?”  Teyla asked.

Mitchell had caught on, too, and answered before either Daniel or O’Neill could.  “His ego is big enough that of course he wouldn’t hesitate to use a name that is associated with him – as in his persona as a deity.  That and the fact that the company’s headquarters are in Las Vegas…”

“Not good.”  Rodney muttered, still focused on his screen and typing away.  “That’s way too close for comfort.”

“I don’t get it.”  Tony said flatly.

“In Middle Eastern mythology, Baal was a prominent god of the sky and storms.”  Daniel explained, going into lecture mode. “He was later absorbed by the ancient Egyptians into their mythology as an aspect of Seth, the god of Chaos.  In reality, it’s more like Baal was a lesser System Lord who worked for Seth – at least until Seth got himself stuck here and lost his power base among the other System Lords.”  Daniel smiled faintly.  “Don’t worry; Seth was found years ago and he’s long dead.”

“And Las Vegas?”  Ziva prodded.

Frowning, John tapped his fingers restlessly on the back of Rodney’s chair.  “We have a facility located not far from Vegas.  It’s unlikely that the Trust and/or Baal would set up one of their front companies so close to it by coincidence.”

Rodney snorted, “Ha!” in agreement.

McGee peered around the desktop monitor, wide-eyed.  “Don’t tell us this facility of yours is at Groom Lake.”

“Groom Lake?”  Ziva echoed, confused.

“Oh for cryin’ out loud!”  Jack huffed.  “Area 51, yes.  It is real, and there is research going on there that has plenty to do with all kinds of alien technology.”  He rubbed his face, exasperated, with one hand.  “Fantastic.  When this is over, I’ll have to order a full security check of all Area 51 personnel to weed out Trust spies.  Again.”  He nudged the youngest agent.  “Hey.  Find what you’re looking for?”

McGee blinked, shaking his head.  “Uh, right.  Searching…” Silently he resolved to never, ever tell Abby the truth about that particular bit of alien/UFO lore.  It was bad enough already.

“Wow.”  Tony was looking as amazed and dumbfounded as his junior partner.  “It totally is an episode of the X-Files.  I can’t believe the government’s managed to keep everyone in the dark all this time.”

McKay got up and carried his laptop over to the TV, where he spent a few minutes fussing with cords and connections until he had the two machines hooked up.  Then he brought up the results of his search. “Skye Communications Inc. was founded three years ago by a group of smaller media companies that sold out to, you guessed it, Baal.”  Rodney tapped a key and up came a picture of the snake himself, dressed to the nines as a rich, successful media baron in Armani and Louis Vitton.  “Also known as Maxime Skye, CEO and primary shareholder of Skye Media Ltd., the parent company of Skye Communications Inc.”  Rodney sighed.  “He’s brilliant as a businessman, by the way, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone considering he’s a Goa’uld, but…” he shrugged.  “Anyway, they’re currently looking into grabbing up land on the Vegas strip and getting into the casino business, but from what I gather they’re having trouble deciding on a theme.”

“Casino?”  Ronon queried.

“A large, public gambling establishment.”  Daniel answered.  “The ones in Vegas are…way, way more…” he hesitated, searching for an appropriate term to describe the outlandish city that had long ago earned the title of ‘America’s playground.’

“Ridiculous.”  Rodney scoffed.  “Outrageous.  The best way to lose all your worldly possessions in less than an hour.”

“I don’t know…” John drawled, the urge to needle his friend and get back at him for the cold shoulder was too strong.  “I’ve always liked Vegas.”

“Hmph.  You would.”  Rodney sniffed disdainfully, muttering something about showgirls under his breath.  John glared at him, ignoring the hurt that was making his chest ache.  “So anyway, I’ve got blueprints for their building in Phoenix that houses the TV station and an independent publishing house the company owns.”

Gibbs studied the picture, then the blueprints.  “We could each take a team and hit both places at once.”

“We don’t know that Mike is at either location, though.”  Tony felt obligated to point out.  “If we hit both, and he’s not at either, than we’ve not only wasted time but alerted this Baal guy to the fact that we’re on to him.”

“DiNozzo’s right.  Baal could have your friend anywhere, by now.”  Jack agreed, but not looking very happy about it.  “We need more confirmation, especially because at this point the snake probably doesn’t know the SGC, specifically, is on to him.  He thinks he’s only dealing with a bunch of ignorant, dumb humans with no clue about what he really is or what he’s capable of.”

“Ah…there’s no record of any commercial flights, boss,” McGee spoke up, “but a Maxime Skye filed a flight plan in Phoenix, destination Las Vegas, for his private plane yesterday evening.”

“There’s our confirmation that Vegas is a good target.”  Gibbs stood up, ready to just go and tear the place apart.

“Or it’s a clever way of distracting anyone looking for Mike from where he truly is – namely still in Phoenix.  Especially if Baal thinks he had the documents with him when Mike came to Phoenix.”  Mitchell shook his head in cautious disagreement.  “He’s a sneaky son of a bitch like that.”

“How are we to find out, then?”  Ziva demanded impatiently.

John, who was standing in front of the TV and studying the blueprints very carefully, said absently, “If I were an egomaniacal parasitic alien bent on world domination, but had to hide what I was from the majority of dumb Tau’ri until I’d gotten everything I needed in place to take over, then I’d probably have a secret – or at least totally off-limits area – where I could do my evil scheming and such important things like hold prisoners and interrogate them.”

Everyone stopped and stared at him, then at the TV.  At the sudden silence, John turned to look at them all, flushing a little.  “That’s how it goes in the movies and on TV, anyway.  The bad guy always has a lair and Baal is a cliché bad buy.”

Jack burst out laughing.  “Hell, John, they all are!  And you haven’t even had to deal with them.”  He shook his head.  “Daniel?”

“Yeah, you pretty much nailed it, John.  So let’s see…” he moved over to the TV, along with the others, and they all crowded around it as Rodney expanded both sets of blueprints.

“Hmm…the Vegas building is much larger, as to be expected.”  McKay mused. “More complex, too.”

“I could use the Asgard sensors to try and find out if there’s anything to the buildings that aren’t on the blueprints.”  Mitchell offered.  “Or rather, McKay should come up and try that, since he’d have a better idea of what he’s looking at than I would.”  Cameron hadn’t quite gotten the hang of interpreting sensor data yet, much to his chagrin. The tech stuff wasn’t his thing.  He left that stuff to Sam and Daniel – and occasionally Vala.

“Yeah, okay.  Go.”  Jack waved the Colonel off.

“Sheppard?”  Rodney asked, back to his cool voice of neutrality.

“Get our comms, first, then go with Mitchell.”  John nodded, then frowned as his friend quickly left the room without another word.  “Sir, may I suggest finding out if the NID has any more info on this company or alias of Baal’s?  There might be other facilities we’re unaware of.  McKay only looked up the ones associated with the company.”

“Right.  Daniel, call Davis.  Please.”  O’Neill added at Daniel’s raised eyebrow.  The linguist walked over to Jack’s desk and picked up the phone.

John stuffed his hands in his pockets, shifted back and forth on his feet, and gave up.  “I’ll just go see what’s holding Rodney up.”  He said, doing his best not to run out the study door and up the stairs.

Gibbs, sensing trouble in the ranks, looked at the General questioningly.

“Don’t look at me, Gibbs.  I don’t pretend to understand the minds or moods of scientists.”  Jack responded with a shrug, then jerked a thumb in Daniel’s direction.  “Except his, and then only after years of experience.”

A wadded up ball of paper hit the back of Jack’s head.  The General just smiled.


                In the bedroom they were sharing, John found Rodney sitting on the bed with his earwig in his hands and the open case beside him, staring down at the tiny radio disconsolately.  John crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorframe, and asked quietly, “What’s wrong, buddy?  You’ve been acting weird all morning.”

Rodney stiffened at his voice and turned his head to glare.  “Nothing’s wrong.  Why would something be wrong?”  He looked away and made a big show of putting on his earwig and getting ready to leave.  “Yours is in the case.  I tested them and they’re ready to go.  Full power.”

John didn’t move, continuing to block the door even when Rodney approached and tried to leave.  “Okay, but that’s not what I’m here for.  What’s going on?  Since I got back from my run and came up to shower I’ve been persona non gratis with you.  What did I do?”

“Nothing.”  Was all the answer he got – which was an answer, even if he didn’t explain it.  “We can talk later. I have to go.”  Rodney tried again to squeeze past John, but the officer easily blocked and pushed him back into the room.  “Colonel…”

“I’m trying to think about what I said or did this morning to make you mad, and I’m coming up blank, but I obviously did something, so whatever it was, I’m sorry, Rodney.”  John tried to catch his gaze, but the blue eyes that normally focused on him with all the precision of a laser darted away whenever he did.

“If you want to find Mike Franks, you need to step aside, Sheppard.”  Rodney growled.  Inside he was almost screaming with the desperation to get away before he did or said anything to further drive John away. He was so confused by John’s reaction earlier and how he was now here acting normally like nothing had happened.  He didn’t know what to think, and really, he didn’t want to right now.

Torn, John hesitated, but suddenly became grimly determined and reached for Rodney.  He grabbed the other man by the arms, shuffled him backward far enough into the room that he could close the door, then gave Rodney a long, hard stare.  “I thought we were friends, Rodney.”  He stressed McKay’s given name, in acknowledgement of how the scientist had stopped using John’s.  “Best friends.  Now I’m suddenly getting the cold shoulder from you and I don’t understand why.”  When Rodney stubbornly raised his chin and glared, but stayed silent, John ran a hand through his hair in frustration and scowled unhappily.  “Talk to me, damn it!  Don’t you get that I need you?  I can’t…not alone…”

He hated how weak he sounded but if it got the stubborn ass to talk, then fine.

It worked, too.  Rodney’s expression crumpled and he was reaching out almost unconsciously.

“Oh no, don’t you lay that guilt thing on me.”  Rodney protested, his resolve crumbling into dust at the expression on John’s face.  “Damn it, John!  I’m trying to help!  Don’t you fucking look at me all forlorn…” he suddenly threw his hands up in the air and exclaimed, “Fine!  I’m pissed because I thought I could trust you, and then I tell you the most personal thing I have left to tell anyone in the whole goddamn universe, let alone my supposedly best friend, and all you can do is run away as fast as you can without even acknowledging what I just told you!  Happy now?!”

John stared at him in shock, mouth open in a surprised ‘O.’  He thought quickly back, and it hit him that Rodney was right.  He had reacted that way – or at least that’s how it looked.  Cursing and kicking himself mentally, he snapped his mouth shut and, feeling pretty miserable himself, reached out and pulled Rodney into his arms, hugging him hard.

“Shit, I’m an asshole.  I’m so sorry, Rodney.  It wasn’t…I didn’t mean to..” John swallowed his words and only tightened his hold when Rodney tried to dislodge himself.  “I’m sorry.  I swear I don’t care about your sexuality, Rodney.  I mean, I care, just not in a negative way…I’m not saying this very well, am I?”

Rodney stopped struggling, listening to the truth and sincerity in John’s words and voice, and felt all the tension drain out of him along with his anger, fear, and loss.  Tentatively, he lifted his arms and curled them around John, returning the embrace shyly.  “I may have overreacted…a little.”  He mumbled in concession, muffled by John’s shirt.

“No, you didn’t.”  John closed his eyes in relief, and took a quiet breath, inhaling Rodney’s scent and committing it to memory.  At which point he came to a decision.  “If it’ll help…I’m not exactly straight as a ruler, either…”

It seemed to take a moment for that to sink in, and when it did, Rodney reared back and stared at him from inches away in shock.

“What?!”  He cried, sputtering in confusion.  “You’re not serious!  You…you’re the Kirk of the Pegasus Galaxy!  You’ve never so much as…”

“Hello, Colonel here!”  John rolled his eyes, but they were sparkling in wry amusement, too.  Rodney had to remember to breathe, as he’d never really looked at those hazel eyes up close like this before and it was supremely distracting.  “I’ve had that side of myself wrapped up tight and locked away for safe-keeping for a very long time, Rodney.  I could never risk it.  Not with my already questionable record in the service.”  He admitted softly.

To his surprise, Rodney flushed a deep red, and dropped those eyes that John likened to the blue of Atlantis’ ocean on the original planet the city had rested on, to stare down at their feet.  Wondering what was going on in that big brain of his, John tilted his head and squeezed Rodney’s upper arm where his hand had come to rest.


“Oh, ah…sorry. Just…a lot to take in, you know?”  Clearing his throat, Rodney seemed to pull himself together again and took a couple steps back from John, straightening back up to his usual confident stature.  “So, we’re good, then?  Because I should really…” he pointed at the door.

John smiled slightly and nodded.  “Yeah, of course.”  He blinked when the light bulb and his greatest hope merged in his brain as Rodney flushed a pink-faced, little shy grin and turned toward the door.  Before he even realized he was moving, John was reaching out to grab hold of Rodney just as he was gripping the doorknob to open the door.  “Wait, Rodney!”

The scientist paused and half-turned back.  “Wha-“ he began to ask but suddenly found himself back in John’s hold and a surprisingly soft set of lips pressing earnestly but cautiously to his.  He froze for a moment, absolutely dumbfounded, and then his mind caught up with the sensory input and he made a noise of surprised pleasure deep in the back of his throat even as he grabbed a fistful of John’s shirt and hauled him in as close as possible, eyes closing and body yielding to the kiss, welcoming it.  John shivered at the sound, responding to it by tilting his head just a little…  It went from warm and tentative to hot, demanding and desperate from one second to the next.

Overwhelmed, but in no way willing to let go of John, Rodney let himself go, giving in to the physical and emotional storm that was John Sheppard and opening himself up to his deepest, best-kept secret in the hopes that John would understand what Rodney couldn’t say.

A moment later, as abruptly as he’d started it, John ended the kiss and took a big step back from Rodney, breathing hard and eyes very wide – and very dark with lust and emotion.  Rodney blinked at him, somewhat dazed and really turned on.

“Sorry.”  John rasped, the apology coming out rough and low in the wake of his actions.  “I just had to…’cause I, you know…” he flushed in embarrassment when Rodney just looked at him with a hot, glazed expression and rubbed at the back of his neck in a nervous gesture rarely seen.  “…like you, and…” he cleared his throat, “Well, now we have something to look forward to after this mess is over with…”

Rodney’s crooked mouth twitched, and a fond smile took over – even as a dull red flush crept back up his neck toward his face.  “We both suck at this.”  He said, grinning when John nodded fervently and looked relieved.  “But that was a good place to start.”  Rodney winked at him and turned, opening the door.  “So let’s go save the world so we can…discuss this more satisfactorily sooner rather than later, Colonel Sheppard.”

Feeling infinitely lighter in mind and heart, John grabbed the case containing his comm units from the bed and rushed after the man he’d just kissed and basically declared his undying devotion to in the only way either of them understood perfectly.

Striding into the study, Rodney declared, “I’m ready.  Let’s go, Colonel.”  He snapped his fingers impatiently at Mitchell.  “Chop chop!”

Mitchell gave him a look, completely un-intimidated, and reached for his ear, even as he said, “With your leave, sir?” to O’Neill.

The General nodded, raising an eyebrow at McKay, then Sheppard as the other officer came in behind his scientist.  Whatever had been wrong between them was obviously gone, and Jack was relieved enough to put it completely away, never to be worried about again.  “Yeah, go.”  He waved in dismissal.

“McGee, go with Dr. McKay.”  Gibbs ordered.  The junior agent blinked in surprise but didn’t protest.  Instead he moved to stand with McKay and Mitchell obediently.

“We’ll be in touch.”  McKay said to the room in general.  “I can’t say how long this will take.”

Between one second and the next, they were enveloped in light and were gone.


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