First Contact

by The Grrrl

Title: First Contact

Author: Kylie Lee and The Grrrl

Author's email: kylielee1000@hotmail.com, thegrrrl2002@gmail.com

Author's URL: http://www.geocities.com/kylielee1000/, http://thegrrrl2002.slashcity.org/

Archive: Ask first.

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Pairing: Sheppard/McKay

Rating: PG

Summary: A strange new life form visits Atlantis.

Notes: Written for the sga_flashfic "Underwater" challenge.

"Rodney," Elizabeth Weir said, warning in her voice.

"I don't know," McKay said, stepping back from the console and lifting his hands. "It's being overridden. Don't look at me. I can't stop it."

"Genii?"

"I don't think so."

Weir tapped her earpiece. "We have unauthorized offworld activation," she said. "Team 3, report to the Gate room." Team 3 was the security team on standby. "The iris?"

"Offline," McKay said, resisting the urge to repeatedly punch the iris control. "This is bad. This is really bad." He stared helplessly down at the Gate. He still wasn't used to how quickly it could dial compared with the one on Earth. "But on the up side, the Genii and the Wraith can't do this. I don't think."

Before he could continue, Peter Grodin exclaimed, leapt to his feet, and ripped off his earpiece.

"Peter?" Weir said.

"Static coming through the Gate." Grodin cupped his ear and shook his head. "Very loud static."

"Is someone attempting to communicate with us?" Weir asked.

"Don't worry, we're recording it," McKay said. They recorded everything. "Oh, hell, this is it."

The Gate locked, then whooshed as the energy poured into the Gate room. Team 3 was still scrambling into position—not bad, McKay thought, for less than a minute's notice. But a moment later, the energy signature repeated itself.

"What the—" McKay said when he realized what was happening. It wasn't energy; it was water, pouring through the Gate with incredible force. He watched as Team 3's leader lost her footing and tipped sideways, scrambling for her weapon. Water splashed against the steps, and a few team members scurried back. "The planet on the other side must be underwater. The water will keep coming through in force until the pressure equalizes."

"Until the Gate room is underwater?" Grodin said.

"Pretty much, yes."

"Is anything else coming through?" Weir demanded. "A ship? A—a submarine?"

"Not yet," McKay said, checking the display.

"Team 3, fall back," Weir yelled. "Rodney, thoughts?"

"It's really not going to stop," McKay said. "Grodin, seal the doors down there, so we don't flood the corridors off the Gate room."

"Got it," Grodin said.

The next few minutes were confused. Team 3 made their way up the steps and into the control area. Water continued spraying out of the Gate even after it was partially submerged, causing turbulence in the water. The constant roiling and bubbling reminded McKay of a hot tub, but hot tubs didn't usually contain seaweed, fish, or salt, all of which were evident in abundance.

"Okay, this is it," McKay shouted when the water level reached the top of the Gate. "If something is coming through, it'll come through now that it can be fully submerged."

Team 3 had their weapons trained at the surface of the water. McKay wanted to ask them what was the point—they weren't even going to be able to see what came through—when he saw it, a movement under the surface. It couldn't be—

"Oh, my," Grodin muttered, with typical British understatement. "Am I the only one seeing that?"

A large tentacle broke the surface, curling around the high arch of the Gate. "Okay, I see it," McKay said. "That is, I see it if what you're seeing is a big tentacle with suction cups—and I really, really don't want to know what's on the other end of that." Team 3 aimed their weapons, but to McKay, the P90s seemed exceedingly small and ineffective.

"Don't shoot," Weir ordered.

"What?" McKay asked.

"We don't know if—"

With a single, swift movement, the tentacle disappeared, sending ripples through the water. "Oh, great." McKay shook his head. The water's movement slowed. He checked his readings. "The wormhole is closed."

As they all stared into the depths, a familiar voice behind McKay inquired, "What the hell is going on?" At any other time the astonishment in the major's voice would have been amusing, McKay thought. He liked it when Sheppard was astonished—liked it a lot. He liked astonishing Sheppard, but under very different circumstances.

In answer, McKay said, "Remember that movie, It Came From Beneath the Sea?"

"What?" Sheppard asked, frowning, not getting it.

"It appears we have a visitor," Weir said softly. Before McKay could stop her, she stepped down to the first landing, where the water lapped at the edge. The remaining stairs were submerged.

"Dr. Weir," Grodin said in alarm, rising from his station.

"Stop her," McKay said at the same time.

Sheppard trotted down the steps after Weir, reaching for her arm. "What are we dealing with here?" he called over his shoulder. "Besides water."

McKay saw a quick movement close to the surface, something dark and hulking just underneath, and Sheppard pulled Weir from the edge. The water went still.

"It has to be intelligent," Weir said.

McKay shook his head. "Elizabeth, it's an octopus."

"It activated the Gate."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Sheppard interrupted. "You're telling me there's a giant octopus in there?" He began dragging Weir back up the stairs.

"We don't know anything for certain," she said. "Let go, John."

Grodin said helpfully, "For all we know, it might be a giant squid."

"Oh, that's much better."

"Gentlemen—"

Movement in the water again, bigger this time. Two large tentacles grasped the railing, and the creature pulled itself partially out of the water, a glistening hulk, water rolling off it in streams, dark and muddy green in color. McKay's breath caught in his throat as Sheppard and Weir dashed up the remaining stairs. A third dark appendage arced out of the water and slapped down behind them, as if trying to swat them.

"This is so not good," McKay muttered, instinctively backing up.

In the relative safety of the control area, Weir stopped, turned to the steps, and froze. McKay followed her line of vision, taking in what she was staring at. The mass that rose out of the water, large and egg-shaped, as tall as a human, was staring back at her, its flat, lidless eye nearly a half meter in diameter.

"Hello," Weir said.

McKay, struck, turned to Grodin. "Play it back," he said, words tumbling over each other. "The—the static. Play it back."

Grodin didn't argue. His eyes flicked to his console, he punched a button or two, and a moment later, white noise streamed through the speakers. The creature lowered itself slightly, eye still on Weir.

"Play it again," Weir ordered.

Grodin did. Weir held out a hand and wiggled her fingers.

"My tentacles," Weir said. "Can you understand me? We're intelligent."

When the white noise stopped, the creature let go of the rail, plunging into the water and sending it rocking. Then a tentacle broke the water and waved, and another, and another, and another, and another.

"Five," Weir said, looking at her hand.

"First contact," Sheppard said, just as a loud booming and hooting noise sounded.

"She's talking," Weir said excitedly. "Peter, tell me you're recording this."

"I'm recording this," Grodin said.

"She's stuck," Weir said. "Even if we can't communicate meaningfully, she's got to get back home. We can't possibly feed her."

"Oh, I wouldn't know about that," Sheppard murmured.

One appendage reappeared at the landing, then slowly moved over the surface, suction cups down, rippling slightly. It flipped over, suction cups up, feeling up the railing with a gentle stroke. McKay thought that maybe it didn't look quite so intimidating as it investigated. He understood curiosity.

Weir hadn't heard him. "I think she's trying to communicate, to reach out to us."

"And you're getting this how?" McKay asked.

"I need to put on a suit and go in there with her," Weir said.

"Now, there's a problem with this plan," Sheppard pointed out. "It has a fatal flaw."

"Which is?" Weir was already heading to the door.

"The whole getting in the water with the sea monster part."

McKay chimed in. "It's the whole communicating with a nonhuman species part that has me worried."

Weir pointedly wiggled her fingers at them. "That I'm not so worried about," she said. "Peter, play back what she just said while I get a suit on. If she's intelligent, and I think it's clear she is, she'll figure out that we can only mimic her, so if you can alter its pitch or speed, that may help show that we're trying to figure out what she's saying."

Sheppard did not sound happy. "Elizabeth, this is a very bad idea."

"We have to do something. The water level in the Gate room is dropping." She pointed to the top of the Gate, and McKay saw that several centimeters of the arch were now visible above the waterline.

"Why do we have to do something?" McKay asked. "We didn't ask it to come here in the first place. Why is it here?"

"Maybe she's exploring, just like we do," Weir said.

"Maybe she should have been better prepared for open-air Gate rooms," McKay said, and Sheppard nodded in agreement.

"Major—"

"Elizabeth, did you know that octopuses have these powerful beaks for mouths?" Sheppard asked. "Because they break apart shellfish for food. Their mouths crush things, and I don't even want to think what size mouth this thing has and what it could do to a human body."

"Thank you for reminding me, Major. Rodney, can you get one of your biologists in here? Rudnicky, is that her name?"

McKay nodded, accessing the radio communications. Carol Rudnicky would definitely talk some sense into Elizabeth.

"Major, you're with me. Peter, keep with the recording and playback. Rodney, stand by for dialing the Gate."

"Oh, great," Sheppard said. "Just great."

"You'll be fine," Weir said. "She just came by to say hello."

"We seek peaceful coexistence," McKay said in a slightly nasal singsong. As Grodin's eyes leveled at him, he said, "What, you didn't watch Star Trek: The Next Generation?"

"Suit up, Major," Weir called over her shoulder, and she was out the door.

"I'll help you," McKay said, pushing his chair back. "Last time, you didn't seal it right."

Sheppard said, "Yeah, okay, come on. Men's locker room time. Grodin, you okay for a few?"

"No worries," Grodin said. "I'll explain the situation to Dr. Rudnicky. I think I'll get Dr. Beckett up here, though."

"That's the first part of this plan I've liked," Sheppard said. "Tell him to have lots and lots of blood handy, not to mention a trauma unit."

"Very funny, sir," Grodin said.

"Beaks, Peter. Big beaks," McKay reminded him.

Sheppard eyed Grodin from the doorway. "Not kidding."

McKay followed Sheppard out. They could hear Weir's feet clanging ahead of theirs as she took the stairs. They had divided the Ancients' scuba suits by size into what they'd dubbed the men's and women's locker rooms. Now, as Weir headed down another floor, they entered the men's locker room. Sheppard immediately began stripping. McKay found a suit in Sheppard's size, then leaned against a wall and watched Sheppard. Sheppard didn't waste movement: he removed his clothes with military precision, until all he was wearing were his dog tags.

"Hand it here," Sheppard said, seemingly unaware of McKay's eyes. "Thanks."

He stepped into the legs of the suit and pulled the suit up over his shoulders. The golden suits were supposed to fit tightly. McKay had to help him seal it. It molded to the skin, emphasizing Sheppard's slenderness. "I think I can do without the hood or the gloves. The water seemed warm enough. You have the rebreather?"

"Right here." McKay handed it to him, a ridiculously small package that couldn't possibly have enough air in it. He put his hand on Sheppard's neck. "Major."

Sheppard finally met his eyes. "Rodney, there's no time."

McKay leaned in and pressed his lips to Sheppard's. After a moment, Sheppard relaxed, and his mouth opened. The kiss was brief but intense, but the spark of warmth couldn't kill the cold dread in McKay's stomach.

"Be safe," McKay said.

Sheppard grinned, his stupid, cocky, nothing-can-kill-me grin. "Don't be so melodramatic."

The grin made McKay angry. This was serious business, and he was in no mood for heroics. He put a hand to Sheppard's chest and pushed him against the lockers. "Beaks. You mentioned big, sharp beaks."

"Ah, not sharp, just strong."

McKay scowled. "Thank you, that makes me feel oh so much better."

"Size notwithstanding, from everything I've heard, octopuses are actually pretty shy and retiring," Sheppard said. "At least back on Earth. Also, they're intelligent. There are stories about octopuses in aquariums sneaking out of their cages, eating fish in other displays, and sneaking back in. They caught them on tape and everything."

"What are you, Jacques Cousteau now?" When Sheppard opened his mouth McKay raised a hand, stopping him. "Okay, no, forget I said that. No French accent from you. Also, no more amusing stories about octopuses eating."

"Okay, fine. But you know, problems with these suits aside, I have done some diving in my past, so don't look so dubious."

Mollified, McKay leaned in and kissed Sheppard again. This time, Sheppard kissed him back. "Just keep a safe distance, okay? You and Elizabeth both."

Sheppard nodded.

It was worse than McKay could have imagined when they returned to the Gate room. Rudnicky had arrived, and so had Weir. They both wore suits and sat on the edge of the landing, feet in the water, and Weir was touching—actually touching—one of the creature's appendages, running her fingers over the edge of a suction cup.

McKay glared at Grodin, who simply shrugged. "What was I supposed to do?"

"Elizabeth," Sheppard said warningly.

"She's getting to know us," Weir said.

Rudnicky smiled up at them. "There are sensors along where the suckers are. She can taste and smell us that way."

"Taste?" McKay asked. "I don't like the sound of that. And Carol, I'd counted on you to talk some sense into Dr. Weir." He crossed his arms and stared at Rudnicky pointedly. She did not look cowed.

"Rodney," Weir said warningly.

Sheppard broke in. "Anything else we should know?"

"Well," Rudnicky mused, "she seems to be able to change color, much like Earth octopuses can."

"See, her skin is almost the color of my suit now," Weir said, as the tentacle brushed against her arm. Sure enough, the previously brownish black skin was now remarkably golden in color.

"Cool," Sheppard said, impressed.

"Fascinating," McKay said, but his sarcasm seemed lost as everyone stared in fascination at the slowly moving appendage.

"So it's likely that they're also venomous, like all Earth octopuses," Rudnicky added. "And I'd be interested to learn whether she can eject ink. But we'd have to startle her to make her do that."

"Avoiding that would be good," Sheppard said.

"You ready, Major?" Weir asked, and without waiting for him, she stood up and started descending the steps into the water. She dunked her mask, adjusted the rebreather controls, and pulled the mask on as she walked.

"Yeah," Sheppard said when her head disappeared under the water. Rudnicky was right behind him. "Ready." He cast a desperate look at McKay, pulled his mask down, squared his shoulders, and followed Weir in.

"Can you all hear me?" Weir's voice came though on the suit's communication device.

"We've got you loud and clear, Dr. Weir," Grodin responded. He'd put his earpiece back in.

McKay watched the water, heartened by the lack of roiling water, thrashing, and blood. In fact, everything seemed tranquil. "Wow," he heard Rudnicky exclaim quietly. "Okay, it sees us now."

"Look how graceful she is," Weir responded.

"Any news, Grodin?" McKay asked, tuning out the quiet conversation for a moment.

"I hadn't been playing back the sounds because Dr. Weir was making contact physically," Grodin said. "But I am concerned that the water level is dropping fairly quickly. I think there must be drains in the Gate room, but if so, I have no idea where they are or how to seal them."

"That could be a problem," McKay said. "Is there any way for us to flood the Gate room with water from the sea around Atlantis?"

Grodin looked surprised. "Probably," he said.

"Well, get on it," McKay snapped. "I don't want beached octopus in our Gate room. I can only imagine how bad that would smell." He turned when the elevator opened. "Oh, Dr. Beckett, at long last," he said. "Give me a sample container."

"What?" Beckett said. He had a team of four with him, plus a lot of equipment.

"Sample container."

"Aye, of course." Beckett dug around in a bag. "Here you are, Rodney. So nice to see you. And it's always good to hear your briefings on the situation—so succinct, or, as in this case, nonexistent. Yet here I am with my trauma team and, as requested, type O blood, on standby." Something caught his attention. "Good lord, is the Gate room flooded?" His voice took on a decidedly squeaky quality. "What the hell is that?"

As McKay knelt by the water, scooping some up in the clear plastic vial Beckett had handed him, a golden tentacle had lazily broken the surface. "Oh, it's just our latest visitor through the Gate," McKay said. "Apparently nobody thinks she's going to kill us all."

"Well, that's a relief," Beckett said. He didn't sound convinced. "Where's Dr. Weir?"

"In there with the octopus. Along with Dr. Rudnicky and Major Sheppard."

"Everything seems to be going well," Grodin told him.

"Ah." Beckett pointed. "I'll just be over here, um, setting up."

"Good. Oh—here." McKay handed Beckett the water sample. "This is water from the octopus's planet. Analyze it, would you? I want to know whether the water around Atlantis will keep her alive."

"How would we get her out there?" Beckett asked in disbelief.

"We wouldn't. We'd bring the water in here. Get on it, would you?"

"Happy to help." Beckett retreated to the corner his team had staked out.

As Beckett sent the water off to a lab to be analyzed, McKay listened to the new booming remarks from their visitor, along with Weir's attempts at communication and Rudnicky's quiet suggestions. After ten uneventful minutes, McKay was able to relax, and after fifteen, he was able to focus on researching the structure of the city around the Gate room to try to figure out how to flood it. If worse came to worst, they could form a bucket brigade, but it would be much easier to flood it from the comfort of the control area. Every now and then, he glanced out at the water. Things looked calm, although the water level was dropping rapidly.

He looked up sharply when Weir exclaimed. A moment later, Beckett said, "Dear lord." McKay stood up. The water around the Gate had begun to swirl. As he watched the Gate, a tentacle crept up along one side, then the other, wrapping around the top of the circle.

"Oh my god," Weir's voice said over the radio.

"Elizabeth," John said in warning, "Don't get any closer, okay?"

"But she's trying to give us a Gate address—I know it is. Yes, yes, we understand you. Look, she's actually indicating the address by pointing to the chevrons."

McKay leaned over the mike. "We'll be more than happy to send her home. Just let me know the coordinates and I'll dial it up. The sooner we rid the control room of sea monsters, the happier I'll be."

His only response was silence. McKay suddenly wished he had put a suit on too, that he had joined them beneath the surface of the water, because he really needed to know what was going on. He knew he could count on John to get himself out of a sticky situation, but it wasn't the same as being there. He cast a look at Grodin, who appeared worried—startling, because Rodney had always pegged him as cool and calm under pressure.

"Dr. Weir," Grodin finally said into his microphone. "Is everything all right?"

"We're fine." Was it McKay's imagination, or did Weir sound tense?

"Elizabeth, would you please stop touching it?" Sheppard's voice was beginning to sound harried, and McKay couldn't blame him.

"She wants us to come with her."

"Well, she's going to have to learn that she can't always get everything she wants."

"That's not your decision to make, Major." Weir's voice took on that steely tone that McKay knew all too well. He would have smiled if he hadn't been ready to throw himself into the water at a moment's notice to save John from himself. "I think an underwater mission is in our future."

"Elizabeth," McKay said, striving for logic, "the water level is continuing to drop, and I don't know if we can do anything to supplement it." He turned to Beckett, who was hunched over his computer.

Beckett shook his head. "Doesn't look like we can, Rodney," he said. "A quick chemical analysis indicates that this water is at least two times more saline than ours. We could certainly concentrate it down, but given the rate it's dropping—I don't think we have the time."

"Did you catch that?" McKay started, but someone was coming out of the water—Rudnicky. She was waving her slate and pulling off her mask.

"I've got the coordinates here," she told him. "It's amazing, truly amazing—I never thought—" Her dark eyes sparkled. "She's truly a sentient creature."

"Let me see that," Grodin said, reaching for the slate. "I'll check it against the Ancient database."

"Yes, yes, amazing. Now, can we get her—it—out of the Gate room? Soon?"

"I'll wait down there with her and the Major. Will the water will run out when the wormhole engages?"

"Maybe," McKay said. "It won't have equilibrium because I think the Gate on the other side is fully submerged, and right now, the water level is below the level of the top of the Gate by about a foot. But anything goes through the Gate at the rate it enters, so yes, the water should press through the event horizon. I doubt it will go through with the force it entered with, though."

"All right. I want to be there to say goodbye. Or else it would be like kicking her out—that might not leave a very good impression."

McKay stared down into the depths. The water was starting to clear, and he could see shadowy movement. "Of course we wouldn't want that."

Sheppard added, "We don't want to have a bad name in the undersea world of giant octopuses, Rodney."

"We could use all the friends we could get." Weir's voice held a note of suppressed humor. "Can you imagine how useful she and her kind could be? If we had a species on our side capable of visiting underwater worlds and reporting back? Dial it, Rodney."

"Hang on," Rudnicky said, heading for the steps. "I'm coming back in," she announced.

"Just make sure you anchor yourselves securely," McKay said. "All that stuff I said about there being no force as you go through? Physics says I'm right, but where Gates are concerned, sometimes reality and physics don't seem to agree. If you want to stay on this side of the Gate, then tether yourselves."

A moment later, Weir's voice came over the radio. "Done. Whenever you're ready."

McKay nodded at Grodin. "Peter?"

"These coordinates are actually listed. Interesting." Grodin began entering the symbols on the DHD.

The Gate began to light up, in that electronic way that had McKay convinced that they had the coolest Gate of all. He saw a sudden swirling and splashing of water around and beneath the stairs. "What's happening?" he asked, nervous. "Major? Elizabeth? Carol?"

"She's moving away from the Gate, to stand by us," Weir said. "She seems excited."

"As am I." McKay left the mike and leaned over the rail, curious as to the effect of a Gate opening underwater. A loud whoosh, a roar of water, and a moment later he was wiping seawater from his face. "I should have expected that." He could hear a snicker to his left—Grodin, enjoying himself. "Very funny."

As he'd suspected, the water didn't rush out with the force it had demonstrated when it sprayed into the room. It began to drain rapidly, however. McKay couldn't wait until the Gate room would be dry again, although it was clearly going to take a lot of scrubbing to get rid of the salt and the bad smell. He thought he heard Weir say something, but over the rush of water, it was impossible to hear her. A golden appendage flashed, slapping the water, and then the huge bulk was through the Gate. McKay breathed a sigh of relief.

The last of the water emptied from the room, leaving behind puddles, streaks of mud, a few flopping fish, and seaweed. "Oh, great, what a mess," he said, stepping gingerly down the slippery stairs. "Elizabeth." He twisted around to where he knew they would be, but apparently he was wrong, because only Weir and Rudnicky were there. Weir looked solemn and worried as she pulled off her mask. "Major?" he said, head jerking as he scanned the Gate room, because Sheppard was still here. Of course he'd still be here—he had anchored himself, right?

"She took him," Weir said quietly.

For a second, McKay was positive he'd heard wrong. "What?" he said. "No."

Weir was already heading for the steps. "Peter, Dr. Rudnicky and I will go through and get Major Sheppard. Give us a few minutes to get some supplies."

"I'm going with you," McKay announced.

"Rodney, that's not necessary. Dr. Rudnicky and I are both divers, and our friend knows us. I'm sure it's just a simple misunderstanding."

"Yes, a simple misunderstanding, or he's a snack," McKay snapped. "I am perfectly capable of diving. I'm coming with you."

"I think his coming is a good idea," Rudnicky interrupted. "We really could use a Gate expert on the other side. Someone who knows technology could be really valuable. I know my biology, but getting us back from the other side if there's no DHD—"

Weir had been convinced. "All right. Suit up, Rodney."

Rudnicky nodded. "I'll get flashlights and food while Dr. McKay suits up."

McKay telegraphed wordless thanks to Rudnicky as he headed for the door. As he left, he heard Beckett say, "I'll just stand by, then, shall I?"

"Damn right you'll stand by," McKay muttered, jogging toward the men's locker room. He had persistent visions of Sheppard's limp, lifeless body hanging from a golden tentacle. The sea monster could hurt Sheppard without intending to. Or he could be drowned, his face mask ripped off by currents or god-knows-what that might be living on the other side. Or captured. Or tortured. Hell, the Genii were involved, he just knew it. They were everywhere, those bastards.

He got into his suit in record time. He couldn't believe how little time had passed since he'd sealed up Sheppard's suit: a mere two hours. He attached the rebreather pack to his chest and slug his weight belt temporarily over his shoulder. He met Rudnicky in the corridor on his way back to the control room. She was wearing a waist pack, and she carried two more by their straps, one in each hand. He took the one she extended to him, and when he ripped the Velcro pocket open, he saw that she'd stashed some ration bars.

"Dr. Beckett is preparing some backpacks with fresh water," she told him. "We can eat and drink underwater, although it won't be appealing. And I hope you added extra weight to counteract the water's salinity."

"Great," McKay muttered. "Underwater missions. Sea monsters." And a goddamn Air Force major who wouldn't stay put.

"Isn't it exciting?" Rudnicky said. "The Ancients clearly had business there. Don't you wonder what it was like then? Travel and commerce through the system of Stargates?"

"All the time," McKay said. "All the time."

"They're here, Dr. Weir," Grodin called.

"Dial it up," Weir ordered.

Beckett and one of his colleagues helped McKay and Rudnicky put on their water-laden backpacks. The Gate began dialing as they headed down the steps—a difficult task, McKay learned, while heavily laden. He strapped his belt on, but he had to hold it up while he walked. Even though skin-tight suit was soft and stretchy, it felt uncomfortable, tucked tight up against all the wrong places. They all paused by the faintly glowing event horizon. Rodney slipped on his mask and connected the rebreather. He took a deep breath, then another. He felt a little dizzy and light-headed. As he checked his oxygen level for the third time, he realized Weir and Rudnicky were watching and waiting. He nodded, then stepped though the event horizon. The fact that it looked like a pool of standing water had never seemed ironic to him before, but it did now.

His first impression was of weightlessness. His second was of darkness and a creeping sense of claustrophobia. His air tasted stale, the mask crowded his field of vision, and the resistance of the water caused his movements to be slow. Just raising his arm required effort. The salinity made him buoyant, despite all the weight. When he stepped forward, toward the descending steps he could now make out in the watery, filtered light, he was afraid he'd keep going, pushing toward the sky, but he didn't. He came to earth slowly, landing on the stone steps. He turned, carefully this time, and watched as the Gate abruptly shut off. He took in his surroundings and tried to get over the fact that even though he was under hundreds of feet of water, he wasn't suffocating.

Weir was the first to speak. "Dr. McKay? Dr. Rudnicky?"

"I'm fine," Rodney said, just as Rudnicky said, "Yes, I'm all right." Rodney continued, "It's just like a thousand other Gate portals: steps, DHD, standing Gate, and seaweed."

"Lots of seaweed." Rudnicky added.

"Everything seems really...quiet," McKay said. That wasn't so bad—no corpses were floating around, which was always a good thing.

Rudnicky said, "The Gate makes a lot of noise when it goes on and off—it creates a lot of energy. Probably everything swam away to avoid the shockwave."

"I'd rather hoped they were expecting us," Weir admitted. "We're only ten minutes behind them. How can we tell them we're here?"

"We can bang the DHD," McKay said. "Some kind of regular rhythm?"

"The DHD?" Rudnicky said doubtfully. "Do you really want to risk hitting it?"

"It's like black-box material," McKay said. "You'd need a nuke to move that thing."

A new voice cut in. "Or you could get on the radio and say, 'Hi, John! We're here to get you!'"

McKay opened his mouth to speak but couldn't. No sarcastic remark, nothing, just knee-weakening relief and thank god Sheppard was alive.

"Major Sheppard!" Weir said. "Are we glad to hear your voice."

"Our friend really wanted me to stop by," Sheppard said. "Thanks for coming so soon. And I think you'll really, really want to see why she thought we had to visit."

"Why?" Weir asked patiently.

"Here, I'll let her tell you herself. Sue?"

A moment later, a surge of static sounded, and a slightly mechanical voice, not at all feminine, said, "Welcome. It has been many millennia since you have last visited. We look forward to a reopening of peaceful relations and negotiations."

"Trade partners," Sheppard clarified. "Sue's people used to pal around with the Ancients from Atlantis."

"Sue?" McKay managed. "And where the hell are you?"

"I had to call her something," Sheppard said. "Just head straight on over from the Gate. We're not far. There's a kind of bunker thingie. I'm in one side, the side with the air, and Sue's in the flooded section, so I can see her. Oh, and there's all this really interesting equipment here, including this nifty translation device. Rodney, you're going to love it."

By time they reached the structure there were octopuses all around—big ones, small ones, and in-between-size ones. Their form of locomotion was fascinating: they pulsed and contracted, darting along gracefully. McKay, able to appreciate it now that he knew Sheppard was alive and he probably wasn't going to die, had to admit it was interesting, along with somewhat odd and eerie. When they reached the enclosure, a single large octopus came to greet them.

"Hello again," Weir said, holding out her hand.

The octopus—Sue—touched it in greeting.

All well and good, McKay thought. "Major, where are you?" he asked. He stepped inside, taking slow, bouncy steps, and then blinked at the sudden brightness. The walls were glowing, providing lots of ambient light. The water ahead looked odd, as if his depth perception was suddenly off-kilter. Squinting, he could see a slender, gold-suited figure in the water, waving to him.

"Keep coming forward, McKay, that's it—a little further," Sheppard told him, a hint of mischief in his voice.

"I am coming forward," McKay said, suspicious. "Why—?" And suddenly the resistance was gone, and he stumbled, nearly falling on his face as Sheppard caught him. "What was that?" Then it struck him: Sheppard had no mask on. McKay flung his mask off. Air. He was out of the water.

Sheppard grinned. "Force field! Isn't that cool?"

McKay spun around, and sure enough, there was a wall of water shimmering behind him. Stunned, he turned back to Sheppard, wet-haired, golden-suited Sheppard, who was alive and well, who had scared the hell out of him by disappearing through a water-flooded Gate, who was smiling at him with his wide, shit-eating grin. "Damn it, John," he said, the anger and panic and fear rushing back up at him.

"Come on, let me show you something else," Sheppard said, motioning for McKay to follow.

Before McKay followed, he tossed his mask aside, dropped his weight belt, and shrugged off his rebreather pack. He started after Sheppard. "Major, what part of 'tether yourself' didn't you understand?"

Sheppard shook his head dismissively. "I'm fine—but you have to see this." He lead McKay into another room. Excited, Sheppard pointed to a large object in the center of the room. "Look."

McKay grabbed his wrist, forcing Sheppard to turn and face him. "I know you're fine. I can see that you're fine. That's not the point, and I can't believe that you can't even tell that that's not my point, because fine, you're fine, that's just—just—" Frustrated, McKay squeezed hard, feeling the tendons move under the skin. Sheppard's wrist was narrow, narrow enough that McKay's fingers overlapped. McKay wanted to shake Sheppard because Sheppard looked puzzled, as if he had no idea how scared McKay had been.

"Rodney," Sheppard said, bending forward to brush his lips against Rodney's mouth with a soft kiss. "It's okay,"

A soft exhalation of warm air on McKay's cheek, and Sheppard stroked the side of his neck before kissing him again, a gentle, unhurried kind of kiss, gentle, sweet, and soothing. But McKay didn't want gentle, and he certainly didn't want to be soothed. He tried to tell Sheppard that but he couldn't, because Sheppard kept right on kissing him. It was pretty damn arrogant, and such an incredibly Sheppard kind of thing to do. McKay had no choice but to stop trying to talk and kiss him back, and maybe that wasn't such a bad thing, since Sheppard's mouth was warm and wonderful. Sheppard kissed like nobody's business, kissed in a way that made McKay's brain wind down and then go offline. Before he knew it, the knot of tension between his shoulder blades eased, and his fear and anger faded away to a faint memory, giving way to the realization that the most important thing was that he was here, Sheppard was here, and really, everything actually was okay.

When McKay pulled back, Sheppard's fingers trailed across his cheek, his expression tender and earnest. "Better?" he asked.

McKay nodded. "Yes. I think so."

Sheppard smiled at him. "Good."

"Although you should know," McKay added, "I really hate diving."

"And yet you came after me anyway." Sheppard smile broadened.

McKay rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, I did, but don't let it go to your—hey, is that what I think it is?" He stared at what had caught his eye: a familiar object in the center of the room. It was oddly shaped, with swooping, streamlined curves, but it definitely resembled—

"A chair," Sheppard answered. "That's what I was trying to show you, Rodney. It's a control chair. Can you believe it?"

McKay suddenly realized the room was filled with access panels and displays, all adorned with Ancient text. "Oh god, it really is a control chair. What does all this stuff do? Have you tried any of it? Oh, this is really, really, cool," he said.

"Well, no kidding. I think that's why Sue grabbed me and not Dr. Weir. She must have sensed somehow that I had the gene. And no, I haven't tried it yet."

"Here, sit in the chair," McKay propelled Sheppard forward, then jerked him to a stop. "No, wait, maybe we should drag Weir away from her new friend and have her tell us what all this stuff is first."

"Good idea," Sheppard agreed. He started toward the door, but McKay pulled him back. "What now?"

McKay kissed him, hard, just because he could.

"Oh," Sheppard said with a grin. "That." And kissed him back.

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