We’d seen the films of the German blitzes of London that had started back in September; we’d seen the photos of the fires, the aftermath, the devastation. But to live it, to be convinced you were going to die in it, that was another story.
The air raid sirens started wailing on December 29, 1940 just after sunset. Rodney and I were making our way to the docks of Portsmouth when the first sounds of bombers started growling overhead. It was the type of sound that makes the hair stand up on your neck, and I pulled my wool coat a little tighter even as Rodney stopped and looked up into the dark sky. The city lights were out, every window covered with dark curtains, so that the grumble of planes above hung low and ominous between two fields of black. And then the sound changed to a distant boom, boom, boom and the crunch and crumble of buildings caught in its wake. There was the flash of white quickly followed by the red of flames as the incendiary bombs followed the larger more devastating munitions and the answering clatter of anti-aircraft fire.
All the while the grind of engines grew above us, moving closer, and with it the explosions. The blasts of the heavy bombs thudded their way toward us and we could actually feel them vibrating up through the street as the concussions rattled in our chests, so that they drowned out the buzz of the aircraft delivering them, and I saw more than heard McKay say, “John?” with the same panic that had us both glued to the spot.
“Move!” I ordered, shoving him in front of me, both of us breaking into a run as another series of boom, Boom, BOOM! hit a few streets over. Debris from the blast rained down on us, chunks of brick and mortar, and the street rocked so violently I staggered to keep my feet under me and I knew we needed cover or we were dead. Grabbing Rodney’s arm, I swung him toward the nearest building… a warehouse by the looks of it. He tried the door, found it locked, started looking for his kit. BOOM! Pulling my sidearm, I shoved him aside, fired several rounds, and kicked the door in. BOOM! I yanked Rodney inside… BOOM! …and everything went black.
I snapped instantly awake when McKay started shaking me by the front of my coat. “Sheppard!” I really couldn’t hear him beyond a thick and muffled sound trying to cut through the ringing in my ears. Looking up past him, I could see the gaping hole that had been the roof of the building we were now in; a large burning timber that was once a roof support tumbled to the floor several feet away and Rodney ducked over me, guarding me from the flaming pieces then just as quickly sat up and pushed something into my hand.
“Activate the shield!”
BOOM! The explosion sounded like I was listening to it from the bottom of a bathtub full of water but I could feel it vibrating through the ground just as I could feel the heat from the flames surrounding us. Rodney didn’t even flinch, simply swiped at the blood dripping from his nose and ordered, “Now, John!”
The personal shield was another of the Pegasus devices. From what we could tell, it imprinted on the person activating it and then couldn’t be used by anyone else with the gene unless it was reset. It would protect the wearer from just about anything… but only the person wearing it. And here Rodney was, sitting in the middle of Hell itself, telling me to turn it on and save myself.
Turn it on and leave him to fend for himself.
He shook me again, hard and desperate and running out of time.
“Sheppard, do you hear me? Activate it!”
I lunged forward then, wrapping my arms around him as tight as I could and he did the same to me. “Hold on to me!” My own voice echoed in my head, competing with the white roar of the fire and pounding of my blood.
“John, please, turn it on,” he begged, turning his face into my neck, and I knew, for Rodney, this was goodbye.
“Rodney, don’t let go of me!” I ordered again, my throat raw from yelling in hopes that he could hear me.
And then I activated the shield.
When Radek had told me the shield would imprint itself of me when I activated it, I’d actually been kind of surprised the first time I turned it on that it hadn’t leapt across the room and enclosed McKay in the same green glowing field that I had found myself in. Because Rodney had become so ingrained in my existence, so much a part of my life, my being, that I was amazed it could tell us apart.
This time, it couldn’t.
The next boom was stifled by the shield. I could still hear it, but it was muted, distant, even though the ground still shook and another timber fell, the embers bouncing harmlessly off the field. “Sheppard, what did you do? What did you do!”
He started to straighten and I just held him tighter, clenching my fingers that cupped the back of his head and warned, “Don’t pull away, and whatever you do, don’t let go of me. I’m not sure how stable the connection is that’s keeping the shield around both of us.”
I felt a shudder pass through him, a stuttered breath against my neck and he held so tight I thought he might have broken a rib. Or maybe it was already broken in the first explosion. “Fuck!” he exclaimed in relief, shock, disbelief. “Fuck!”
“Yeah,” I agreed, closing my eyes and leaning my head exhaustedly against his. “I know exactly what you mean.”
We lay there that night, the building burning around us, the bombs exploding, the world coming apart at the seams, and held each other as we watched the smoke rise from the city and reflect the flames in an eerie pink glow. Waves of bombers flew over every couple of minutes, an almost endless swarm of them, each going after a different part of London and the surrounding area. When they were over us, we huddled closer, if that were possible, awaiting the inevitable collapse of the building that could bury us forever. When they were further away, we watched the skies as they lit up in an odd sort of horrific beauty. We could see the antiaircraft shells popping silver across the sky of rosy smoke, and the barrage balloons that were tethered to the ground to keep the attacking aircraft from coming in too low had taken on the same pink hues on their silver hulls.
“You should go,” Rodney told me during one of the lulls. “You could still reach the ship if it’s still afloat.”
“Not without you,” I told him once again; as I had ever since he had started this bullshit about me going on to finish the mission.
“You could make it with the shield, you’d be safe.”
“Not without you.”
“This is important, Sheppard. If we could get this device, it could stop Hitler in his tracks.”
“Not without you,” I repeated once more.
“Look, we don’t know how long the shield will last. With both of us in here it could run down completely and then we’d both die and that just seems like a total waste and you know how I hate inefficiency. But you could go now, complete the mission, and conserve the shield. Given a choice, wouldn’t you rather live?”
“Not without you.” My voice was a little thicker than I might have wanted it to be. But just the thought of what it would be like to come back and find myself in a world without McKay… “Not without you.”
“Oh,” he said quietly, pausing a beat before adding, “That decision tends to complicate things.”
I snorted, flexing my fingers in his hair when he kissed my neck. “Actually, it’s the least complicated choice I’ve ever made in my life.”
McKay had been wrong, the shield didn’t drain with the two of us and by the time we were convinced it was safe to turn it off and crawl out of the debris, we were standing in little more than a smoldering mass of rubble for blocks around us. We made our way through the destruction in a kind of daze that had me shivering from more than just the cold. And by the time we reached the docks, we knew there wasn’t going to be any ships to search.
“Do you think it was destroyed?” I asked surveying the grey waters stretched out before us.
“I don’t know.” Rodney squinted; his glasses had been destroyed in the initial blast of the warehouse. “Maybe he never docked. Maybe he left early when the bombing started. Maybe he stayed out in open waters.”
We stayed another two days just to make sure he didn’t show late before finally calling it quits and heading back home. Teyla smuggled out word that it had never shown in France, either, and we assumed it was lost at sea. The program was less than pleased that we had potentially let a valuable weapon slip through our fingers. Sumner himself came out and told me how the guys back in Washington didn’t look too favorably on how things had ended up.
“They weren’t there,” I told him. “In fact, what was there isn’t there any more.”
“That’s the point, Sheppard. You survived, you both survived.”
I narrowed my eyes at the implications of his observation. “There was no way I could have shielded us both if we had been on the move.”
“You could have shielded yourself, completed the mission.”
“I can walk out this door right now, too. And never look back.”
My threat had Sumner leaning forward from where he sat on the edge of the desk. “I’m not sure you understand the implications of what this project means and what you may have cost us by putting your personal feelings before the directives of the mission.”
“And I’m not sure you understand the implications of what you’re suggesting I do to accomplish those directives. Or what we’ve been through to complete the missions in the past. So the next time you feel like coming out here and lecturing me about my responsibilities, go sit in a fucking firestorm first.” I stood and stalked toward the door. “And then come tell me to leave someone behind to roast alive in it.”
“Sheppard, you have an obligation to this project,” he called to my back.
“I have more important obligations,” I told him without looking back. “And we’ll be more than happy to pack up our bags and move back to Seattle if you don’t find our contribution to the project up to your standards.”
* * * *
Of course we didn’t leave. I had something that Hitler would have killed to have, had no doubt already killed trying to have, and the brass knew it. And they needed me just as bad as the Germans did. So I wasn’t surprised that our schedule of Puddle Jumps didn’t really decline over the next year. We tracked leads, found another device, found papers that alluded to the Atlantis Project, but nothing solid.
Then, almost a year after we had spent a night huddled together in a burning warehouse on the outskirts of London, we were huddled around the radio listening to the reports coming in out of Hawaii. December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, and the United States was finally, officially, going to war.
The atmosphere changed in Los Alamos. A theoretical bomb suddenly became a priority to bring to fruition, and the Pegasus project was no longer just a defensive strategy against what might come to pass, but an all out attempt to ensure victory for the Allies.
There were personnel changes, as well. When hordes of strong, able-bodied men were flocking the recruiter’s offices to enlist in the armed service of their choice, Detective Ronon Dex decided to make a phone call and take a certain agent up on his offer from a few years before. In January of 1942, Ronon reported to Los Alamos to be in-briefed and begin his training. France seemed to be the hot bed of information for us. Teyla had provided more than one tip to us thanks to her work in Paris and Ronon was being sent to assist and train the resistance, as well as gather any information he could.
Then, right before Ronon was to ship out to France, Miko learned that her family was to report to a ‘relocation center’ and there was talk that maybe she wasn’t trustworthy enough to be working on a top secret program. Rodney, as was to be expected, threatened to shut down everything if Miko didn’t work on the program and then he called everyone he could think of up the chain of command to keep her family from being interned in one of the camps that had been set up for Japanese natives. In the end, the Kusanagi family did relocate… to Albuquerque. McKay argued it was close enough that everyone concerned could keep an eye on them. And if I hadn’t known that Rodney only had eyes, not to mention other body parts, just for me, I’d have become a jealous man at the way Miko followed Rodney around like a love-sick puppy over what he had done for her family.
Ronon was sent to St. Éda, a small village about twenty miles down the Seine from Paris that was a central point of the French resistance. It was home to about fifty villagers, predominantly farmers, and provided a safe haven for prisoners being smuggled out of France, as well as a transfer point for supplies and personnel for the resistance. Because of this, it was also a great location to learn information about any plans and technology the Germans might have come across. By the summer, my old partner was settled into his role, and we even got to see him a few times in the fall when a scientist that had decided to seek sanctuary with the Allies came through with coded reports that mentioned Atlantis.
Dex greeted us with a shotgun slung across his shoulders and a smile on his bearded face, wearing knee-high galoshes over his wool pants, a rough cotton shirt and leather vest. We shared a bottle of wine, laughed over old times, and met Melena. The pretty blond was the daughter of the doctor in the small community and acted as his nurse, and it was obvious to anyone with eyes that Ronon was head over heels for her.
Six months later we received an emergency communication from Teyla, short by necessity, which said simply: St. Éda discovered.
McKay and I were sent to investigate, finding the town in ashes and the streets empty except for the livestock roaming wild. We also found Ronon.
The life signs detector revealed a single blip on the screen located in the edge of the woods. I had Rodney stay back, pulled my sidearm, and went to investigate. Ronon came around a tree with his shotgun pointed at me and I raised my hands to show I meant no harm.
“Ronon, it’s me, Sheppard.”
He frowned, as if he were having trouble recalling the name, then asked tentatively, “Sheppard?”
“Yeah, it’s me, buddy. Why don’t you put the gun down?”
He did, almost hesitantly, took a step forward, and collapsed flat on his face. It was then that I saw the criss-cross of scars on his back through his shredded shirt. He’d been whipped. Whipped, beaten, and left for dead by the Nazis who had come looking for him and the other resistance members. And when the town had refused to give them up, they had killed them all. Ronon showed us the mass grave, after we’d treated his wounds as best we could, after we’d fed him the first meal he’d eaten in the week since the massacre. He showed us the grave where the villagers, the resistance members they had captured, and Melena had been told to line up and then been shot into the pit they had dug themselves. I felt the bile rise in my throat at the sight. Rodney flat out ran as far as he could before puking up the meal we had just eaten. And Ronon just stared, his eyes cold and filled with hate.
We convinced him to come back to the States with us. He needed medical attention and the area wasn’t safe for him. He agreed but within a few weeks he was asking to be sent back, threatening to go on his own if they didn’t send him and reasoning that one way or another he was going to kill as many Nazis as he could and the United States government might as well take advantage of what he learned before he finished them off. Evidently the Agency agreed, because he was back in France before the snow had melted off our roof.
I had tried to talk him out of it, tried to convince him there were other ways, more productive ways to handle his grief and anger. But he silenced me with a single question.
“What if it had been McKay in that pit?”
I went home after that. I went home, dragging Rodney from the lab and taking him with me.
“Sheppard, what the hell is wrong with you?” he demanded when I refused to tell him anything during the entire short drive to our house. “Seriously, am I going to have to call Carson? Or, God forbid, that shrink, Heightmeyer?”
Once we were in the house, I sat him on the couch, paced a few steps in front of him, my hands in my hair as he watched me with a growing apprehension. Finally, unable to take it anymore, he stood and headed toward the phone. “That’s it; I’m calling the psychiatrist…”
I pushed him back in his seat and jabbed my finger in his face angrily. “Don’t you fucking dare get yourself killed unless you want me to turn into a vengeance-filled son of a bitch like Ronon. You got it?”
He glowered, slapped my hand out the way, fisted up the front of my shirt and snarled, “The same goes for you, bucko.” And then he pulled me into a firm kiss… for starters.
* * * *
I kept tabs on Ronon as best I could. Word out of France was hard to come by, especially when the man you were looking for had gone a little rogue. But I always managed to hear something every couple of months at the very least. Whenever possible, I made sure he was well armed, that supplies were getting to him and those he was training in the resistance, even if Rodney and I had to deliver them ourselves.
Over the next several years, we continued our Puddle Jumps, gathering information about the large stash of Pegasus devices Hitler supposedly had, although never able to find their exact location, helping with Allied military assaults whenever possible. We had assisted with radio interceptions during a few battles in the Pacific and had scrambled communications between Japanese fighter planes and their carriers during the Battle of Midway. In the summer of 1944, we used a false image projector on the days leading up to the D-Day landing in Normandy, drawing the Germans’ attention away from the main force of the attack and convincing them that Dover was where the offensive would originate. Hitler was so convinced that’s where the attack was coming from that when they’d landed in Normandy, he held the majority of his troops in Calais, waiting for an attack from Dover that was never going to come.
Then, in the spring of 1945, we caught a break. Teyla met with the private secretary to Joseph Goebbels; he’d been dismissed from service when his previous employer and his family moved into Hitler’s private bunkers in Berlin. The man remembered her from his time in Paris during the occupation and when he had been captured trying to escape Europe and head to South America, he had welcomed seeing the familiar face, even if it was in an interrogation room. Teyla had realized she’d have a better chance of capturing this fly with honey… or wine as it were, and ordered several bottles brought to the room. After a few bottles, he told her that Hitler, facing defeat, had admitted days before that he planned to commit suicide when Berlin fell.
Defeat was imminent; the Russians had the city surrounded and were moving in on the bunker complex. What the Red Army didn’t know was that there was a second bunker complex that sat on the other side of the city from the one Hitler used as his private residence. And that one was where most of the prized possessions of the Nazis were stored. We knew we didn’t have much time. Once the Russians stormed the bunker, there was little doubt they’d find out about the second storage area. And that meant we needed to act fast if we wanted to keep the Pegasus Project under wraps.
And that was why I was standing over Rodney’s shoulder on May 1, 1945, as tanks rolled through the streets of Berlin a few blocks over while he fumbled with the lock to the door.
“Any day now, Rodney.”
“Look, do you think you can do any better? Because if you do, then I’d be more than happy to let you do this while I stand around and complain.”
“I would, but I’m busy.” I waggled the detector I held in my hand.
McKay rolled his eyes even as he turned his attention back to the door. “Yes, because there’s no way we’ll hear the approach of the entire fucking Red Army without you keying us in to the thousands of little dots heading our way.”
“Well, between smart ass comments and lock picking, you are rather preoccupied.” My grin was met with a flip of his middle finger over his shoulder without even looking back.
“Hey, Rodney, what say we head back to Paris for a few days after this is done?”
He glanced over his shoulder at me and blinked. “Really? Paris?”
“I was just thinking, when was the last time we had a real vacation?”
Shaking his head, he turned back to the lock. “We’re at war, Sheppard. No one takes vacations during wartime.”
“We won’t be for much longer,” I noted, the sound of artillery fire from a Russian tank just accentuating my point.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “What the hell is Ronon going to do when he can’t kill Nazis anymore?”
“There’s always the Japanese,” I suggested.
“If the Trinity bomb test goes as planned in a few months, even that won’t last long.” The door snicked open and Rodney gave me a smug grin.
With a check of my watch I shook my head in disappointment. “Almost two minutes. You’re slipping, McKay.”
“Two minutes? That was forty-five seconds, fifty tops.”
Stepping in the door, I checked the detector and saw that the coast was clear. I flicked on my flashlight and led the way down the hall until we found the stairs going to the lower levels. Rodney walked a step behind me with his own flashlight, mainly so he could see the readings on the detector as well as I could.
“Well, with a time like that, you’ll never be able to support us as a cat burglar once we’re out of a job.”
“Why do I have to support us? I thought maybe I’d just become a man of leisure and let you bring home the bacon for a while.”
Hefting the detector, I reminded him, “I’ve been bringing home the bacon for five years now, thank you very much.”
“Oh, and what have I been doing? Eating bonbons?”
At the bottom of the stairwell I turned and patted his stomach. “Only when we pass through Switzerland.”
“Ohhhhh,” McKay’s face took on a dreamy quality. “Screw Paris, let’s go to Zurich instead.”
I rolled my eyes at how easily he was distracted from an insult by the mere thought of confections. “I’m almost afraid to ask which you love more, me or chocolate.”
“Yeah, that’s probably not a smart question, especially when it’s past breakfast time.”
We’d found another locked door and I held my flashlight so Rodney could work. “Seriously, McKay, what are we going to do when the war is over?”
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and a new war will break out,” he patronized. “I hear Southeast Asia is fairly unstable.”
“You aren’t taking this seriously,” I grumped.
“Look, we still have tons of research to do on the devices we have. And if we’re lucky, we’ll find more on the other side of this door that will keep us gainfully employed by the United States government for many years to come.”
I grimaced at the thought. “Just sitting around playing lab rat making things light up for the rest of my life?”
“Fine, you be the man of leisure and I’ll support your lazy ass. But I expect lots of sexual favors when I come home from a long day in the lab.”
My eyebrows rose with a smirk. “So not much would change except that I’d just sit around the house waiting for you to come home?”
“You can use that time for the prep work… diagramming, calculating angles of trajectory, computing temperature/pressure gradients… that sort of thing.”
The door swung open and all thoughts of sexual arithmetic went out the window. “What the hell is that?” Rodney asked, his voice echoing in the large open space we found ourselves in as our flashlights ran over the smooth, bronze shape.
“A tank maybe?” Although I’d sure never seen one that looked like this before.
“There aren’t any treads… or wheels even.” Circling around the thing, McKay pointed out, “It has a windshield though.” He craned his neck to see inside the sloping window. “And seats. Do you see a way in?”
Moving around further, I looked for any indications of a door or hatch, finally seeing something in the back. “Here, I think I...” I touched a panel and the back started lowering. “Found it.”
Rodney quickly caught up with me and the two of us stepped inside, the interior of the craft lighting up as soon as I crossed the threshold. “Did I just do that?” I asked quietly, stopping in my tracks.
“Holy shit, Sheppard!” He was already opening panels, looking at the marking on the crystals that we had seen in a few other pieces of equipment we’d picked up along the way. “It’s a goddamn Pegasus device!”
I moved forward to the seats, sitting and looking at the controls. “But what the hell is it used for?”
At my question a display came up, floating in the air before me. It was running through schematics, showing the craft in various configurations with the sides popped open, the sides closed, and lots of gibberish in a language that seemed to be made up of squares and rectangles.
“Can you make it work?” Rodney asked me, taking the seat across from mine.
Placing my hands on the handles in front of me, I thought the simple command I’d learned to use with any new device… work. Opening my eyes, I looked over at McKay. “Is it working?”
“I have no idea. Nothing seems to be happening.”
But looking out the window, I could see the beam of Rodney’s flashlight that was laying on the dash in front of us tracing across another object outside the craft… tracing up. I couldn’t stop my excited grin. “Hey, Rodney, I think we just found the ultimate Puddle Jumper.”
“What?” he demanded. “What are you talking about?”
“We’re flying.” My grin just grew when I heard my thoughts spoken out loud. “I’m flying.”
“How can you tell?” He squinted, adjusted his glasses, and looked again. “I can’t see anything in this room.”
“Maybe this thing has some headlights.” At that comment, the area in front of us was flooded with lights before I could even look for a switch, and sure enough, we were hovering a good fifteen feet off the floor. “See,” I gloated happily, “I told you I was flying it.”
But Rodney was staring out the window, his mouth hanging open in awe. “Hello, gorgeous.”
Turning my attention out the window, I saw what had McKay so dumbfounded. We were sitting halfway up the height of a metal circle, the diameter probably large enough for the craft I was piloting to fit through, triangular shapes placed periodically around the circumference and distinctive markings around the outside. “Are those… hieroglyphics?”
The funny thing I’d learned over the years was that sometimes the best beginnings came from an ending you didn’t even know you wanted. I’d left Texas in search of rain. Just a little rain. What I found was so much more. Seattle to Los Alamos to Europe and each stop had brought me something I’d never thought I’d have. I found McKay, I found us, I found a purpose and I found that I liked, hell, loved, all three. And now, staring at a giant metal ring as I hovered in a craft I could control with a touch and a thought… who knew what we might find in the future? But Rodney was with me, would be right beside me, no matter what came our way. So how the hell could it not be pretty damn amazing?
McKay turned and looked at me, shaking his head as a slow crooked smile spread across his face. “Sheppard, I don’t think we need to worry about what we’re going to do when the war is over.”
You know, I had a feeling he was right.
The Enda/n I tried to be as historically accurate as I could with this fic.. although I did, of course, insinuate John and Rodney and the others into a few historical situation. Thanks again, and huge hugs to my betas Koschka and kodiak_bear You guys seriously rock!