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the chambers of the sea
by shalott

John's got himself a room in the south corridor that probably used to be an office for someone unimportant. It's below the city's water line: cold, no windows, and his bedroll is on the bare metal floor, but he can make it to the command center in less than a minute at a flat-out run. Elizabeth wants him to start thinking about a team, and Teyla's promising him they'll make lots of friends out there. But tomorrow he's going to have to sit down with Ford and Bates and learn the names of all eighty-one of the Marines here first: they're his men, now.

In his head, Sumner's still dying. The gunshot's still ringing in his ears. Behind closed doors, the city's whisper-quiet, and there's no other noise to drown it out. Even when John leaves the room, it's still too quiet; the party's over, and everyone's crept away to huddle in their small claimed spaces.

The Athosians have taken over an upper level of the north tower, a hallway full of stained glass light. Teyla lets him into her moonlit bedroom and offers him a drink of water. Her smile is warm, and her arms too, with a kind of muscle underneath the velvet skin he's never felt on a woman before: not exercise but hard labor, day after grinding day, and lean from lack of protein. But there's something too clear and knowing in the way she looks at him; not angry but sad, maybe pitying. In his head, she lies back yawning, touches his face gently, and says, "I think we will be better friends than lovers, you and I." He leaves without asking, after all.

He's memorized the limits of the territory they've secured so far. He walks out all the way to the edge, and when he gets there he doesn't cross the line, even just for a look. He can't, anymore; it's his job to keep everyone else from doing it too. He goes back the long way, down three staircases to the submarine levels again, and suddenly there's noise around the corner: human voices and fluorescent lights spilling into the hallway, discordant.

McKay's kneeling in the middle of the lab, up to his elbows in the open guts of some formerly sleek and gleaming piece of Ancient machinery. Half a dozen of the research staff are scurrying around him, moving equipment while he barks orders at them, never looking up from his work. He's down to short sleeves and less temper, but there are twenty laptops already up and running, cables snaking everywhere, generators humming out of tune.

"Why are you up?" he says, seeing John, and doesn't wait for an answer. "Bring me that box of solenoids."

The box looks small, but it's heavy enough to make John stagger, picking it up. McKay says, "Careful," impatiently, when John puts it down next to him with a thump; he's already reaching into the box. "Hold this steady."

John doesn't even know what it is, but he sits down to hold on to it anyway. The metal's hard and cold, except where McKay's left fingerprints of warmth. He curls his hand around the fading heat and listens to the still-rising tide of McKay's voice, echoing into chorus off the undersea walls.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

= end =

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