Visiting dignitaries from other worlds come together in Atlantis to make the first attempts at forming an alliance and Cassie is in charge of the entertainment.
They met briefly in the gate room under Elizabeth's instruction and stood in a semi circle around a hologram screen as Teyla gave them a quick rundown on the ambassador's that would be joining them that evening, and the world's they represented. Her soft pleasant voice, echoed warmly in the room and she gestured to the first hologram that showed an enormous mountain man in almost primative combat dress with a mane of long dreadlocked hair and a forbidding look on his face.
“Ronan Dexx, a member of the Satedan military who holds the rank of Specialist. He is an excellent fighter with an especially sharp edged mind. His planet Sateda is industrialised and we enjoy superior trade in minerals. They would be an exceptionally powerful military ally.” At mention of this John's smiled grimly, liking the look of the huge barbarian in front of him.
“Commander Kolya.” Teyla indicated the second image to appear. “He is a soldier in the Genii military, a man who has been feared in this galaxy and successful to date in their decoy to deceive the Wraith. Their planet is mostly covered with forests and open fields and to the eye, they are simple farmers and this hides a large underground city where they operate and test military weapons for future use against the Wraith.” John's eyes were gleaming further and he all but rubbed his hands in glee.
A commanding woman now took up the hologram view. “Larrin – she is the leader of the Travellers and while they are not planet based, they live on ships and possess technological skills as well as a war ship that may assist us in our endeavours to fight the Wraith.”
“A war ship you say? This gets better and better...” John let his mind focus of these particular three ambassadors as Teyla continued her run down on the five other members who would be present tonight. Cassie said very little, her eyes had widened slightly when she had seen the enormous Ronan appear on the screen, finding his barbaric appearance a little disconcering, but it was Commander Kolya who had made her feel cold inside, as fingers of apprehension had wound their way through her stomach. John had noticed the distaste that crossed her face, and standing beside her, his hand had reached lightly for her arm, his touch breaking her concentration.
“You ok? You look like you just saw something that crawled out from under a rock?” He stroked lightly as one would an agitated animal and felt her calm slightly. “Kolya... there's something in his eyes, something without compassion, someone to fear I think...”
“Gut feeling Cass? I would make the requisite joke, but I kinda picked that up with him too... hard to pin down, just something that is 'off'. Is that what you get?” He moved just a little closer so that his thigh brushed hers and felt that jolt of awareness flare instantly. She did not move away, but turned slightly towards him to nod in agreement. “That's it exactly John... and thanks for not making any jokes about women's intuition!” She gave a small smile then and he couldn't resist. “Oh women's intuition... that's got me into trouble a few times...” earning him a hard slap around the head, bringing amused smiles from the others in the room.
Soon after, the team went their separate ways to commence preparation for this evening's entertainment and function. John chose to escort Cassie to the rec room to liase with the tech staff who were in the process of formatting a lighting and music system for her, to interface with her ipod that held all necessary backing tracks. He reluctantly left her in the hands of the young smitten technical engineer who appeared more in awe of working with her, than actually being on Atlantis in another galaxy. In two minds whether he could trust him, John debated remaining there just to make sure he kept his overeager hands to himself, then gave a little chuckle thinking so not my business anyway! But another little voice told a different story inside his head, but he deliberately chose to ignore that one for now.
Cassie enjoyed the routine task of setting up for a concert, reminiscent of earlier days when she had insisted in being a part of the set up and sound check. The technical staff were friendly and if a little too enthusiastic, she forgave them, feeling just a little sympathy for the two young men who had been assigned, in their mind anyway, the envious task of helping her. They had not been involved with this sort of technical work before, but they were superbly knowledgable about all electrical systems and Cassie found herself laughing with them as she bounded around the stage, showing them where their especially rigged speakers systems should be mounted.
John, Elizabeth and Teyla arrived in the rec room just as she had completed the sound check and was climbing precariously on a narrow ledge up towards one of the lights that stubbornly resisted their fine tuning. The tech crew were at a control panel to one side of the stage and it was from there that they would control the lighting for the makeshift stage. They were calling up instructions to Cassie as she attempted to adjust to the right angle.
John huffed out an angry breath and stood underneath the ledge she was balancing on. “Get. Down. Now! Before you damn well fall woman!”
Choosing to ignore him apart from a disparaging glance sent his way, she carried on adjusting the light and heard the ok given by the technical engineer that he was happy with it. Wiping her forehead to combat some of the grime and sweat that had beaded there, she then wiped her hands on her BDU jacket that was off and slung and tied around her waist. Only then, did she attempt a careful descent, difficult in front of John's angry glare that was aimed her way.
Distracted slightly by the rather fetching picture she made, nicely fitting BDU pants, tight singlet top and the casually tough swagger accentuated by the tied BDU jacket. Her long blonde hair was tied back in deference to keeping it out of harms way, but more than one strand had long since escaped and curled riotiously around her grime smudged cheek. John almost forgot his anger, then a slip of her foot had her off the ledge and dangling by her hands, hanging several feet above him. She yelped, not from fear, but from the pain of her strained shoulder and knew that this would support her weight for long.
“For God's sake, let go, I'm right underneath you. I”ll catch you.” John positioned himself under her dangling feet and while the engineers looked on in fascinated horror, she let go, trusting that John would catch her. She dropped a short distance and was caught at the waist and he held her slightly off the ground for a brief minute his face pressed into her hair as he closed his eyes in relief. Only then did he slide her down his body until her feet touched the ground, but kept his hands in contact with her waist lightly and his face buried in her hair and his mouth close to her ear said quietly. “I swear you must have given General O'Neill more than his share of gray hair. You are a right pain in the ass woman, dangerous, willful and extremely disobedient, and you know what I'd like to do to you right now... hmmm?' He forgot his train of thought as he inhaled the scent of her hair and closed his eyes briefly, imagining exactly what he would like to do to her right now, before pushing that thought away firmly.
Her waist tingled where his hands rested and she pulled out of his embrace and turned to face him, opening her mouth to speak, but closed it again when his hand came up to wipe a smear of grime from her face. “I hope you get yourself cleaned up before this evening... you look like you've just crawled out of the gutter!”
With a yelp of outrage, she slapped him hard on the arm, bringing a delighted smile to his face and huffed off muttering under her breath.. “Gutter? Is he serious? I'll give you something to really look at tonight, Colonel John Sheppard.”
Later that evening the rec room had been transformed by the activity that had taken place there during the afternoon, with a makeshift stage at the front, smaller, intimate tables off to the side with seating, long tables that would soon be filled with Earth specialties designed to impress the visitors that were due to arrive any minute.
With a “whoosh” the stargate activated, the wormhole expelling a blue vacuum, settling back to a shimmering event horizon and the first arrival stepped through the gate. Elizabeth, John and Teyla were keeping a respectful distance, and allowed Ronan Dexx to stand briefly to survey the city of Atlantis and both the Earth and the Athosian people. His large weapon rested at his hip and his eyes shifted quickly and expertly around the room, coming to rest on John. Correctly assuming that he was the military commander, he strode forward and began unclipping the weapon from his belt, hefting it and flipping it over, handing it grip forward to John. “You'll be wanting this...?” The voice was deep and there was an economy of movement that suggested little tolerance for procrastination and a penchant to get things done by any means possible. Once John had taken his weapon, there was a shift in tension amongst the military personnel and Elizabeth came forward at that point to begin her role as hostess. As she passed John he gestured to Ronan's weapon and to the big man himself and stage whispered... “We'll take a dozen of these...”
As the ambassadors began to arrive, John looked around the room and not seeing Cassie, made to tap his ear comm to find out where she was. At that point, Commander Kolya came through the stargate, creating a stir with his commanding presence and causing John to feel a fissure of unease.
“What is it John?” Elizabeth asked softly noticing the frown that crossed his face.
He did not answer right away, but continued to stare at the Commander as though trying to read his body language “Not sure...I'm picking up something from this guy. I think I'll reserve judgement on that one. Damn!” he said, remembering Cassie and noticing that she still had not arrived. “Where the hell is she... lost again? I'm going to have to put a tracking beacon on that woman!” Elizabeth, who suspected John was in for a little surprise, gave a small smile. “Ah... I wouldn't worry John, she'll be along soon I'm sure!She'll be wanting to make an entrance...”
Her sentence was barely out her mouth when lights suddenly came to life on the makeshift stage that had been quickly and expertly assembled by the technical staff. A spotlight centred the stage and the newly assembled, and brilliantly “Macgyvered” speaker system came to life with the strains of Cassie's latest hit single “Welcome to my Life” With that, John lost all conscious thought as a vision in a shimmering gold dress that ended mid thigh, balancing on impossibly high heels suddenly appeared centre stage bathed in a heady golden glow in the spotlight. Her hair was a riotious mass of golden curls spiralling down her back and her eyes too large and too bright in a face that would never need artificial colouring but was this time expertly made up with smokey colours and glossy lips. A discreetly attached mike caught the opening notes that sizzled the air and sent a thrill of excitement and longing through John.
“Oh...Wow...” Evan Lorne had come up beside John and on the other side of Evan, Rodney stood open mouthed having dropped the sandwich he was holding. John did not take his eyes from the stage. “Oh yeah... double wow.. and even that seems like a serious understatement”. From the corner of his eye John noticed Kolya making his way closer to the stage and something in the man's expression forcibly severed the connection he had with the music and allowed him to concentrate on his job. Kolya was too intent on Cassie, his eyes did not leave her and John detected a somewhat hungry gleam in his eye as though coveting the stunning singer. Recalling Cassie's recent experience with an over zealous fan, he slowly edged his way after Kolya.
For one hour Cassie smoothly switched from number to number and as she looked out at the eclectic crowd made up of earth people, Athosians and visitors from other worlds, she had to remind herself that she was doing something that no other singer from earth had done before, performing in another galaxy. Totally in control on this stage, as she had been in control on all stages, she let the music flow through her, held nothing back and without force or conscious thought was able to project a range of shimmering emotions into both her lyrics and her breathtaking body movements. Music had always been her inspiration and performing the icing that topped the sweetly flavoured cake that was her reason to be. While her lithe body unerringly found the beat, her gold dress sometimes riding dangerously high, skin glistening with a fine sheen. At one point she made eye contact with the silent Kolya standing near the front and felt distinct unease and she was aware, always, of John's hot stare that seemed to be rarely far from her as he made his way throughout the room, paying particular attention, she noticed, to Commander Kolya.
When the music stopped she gracefully stepped down from the stage to accept a glass of champagne from a smiling Carson and the magic that had bound a roomful of people, slowly began to fade away as conservations were started and the smell of hot food began to permeate throughout the room. “Oh Cassie my love, that was brilliant, just brilliant!” Carson raised his glass against hers and tucking her arm through his, he proceeded to escort her through the room, pride and a little too much of the brown liquid that he was drinking, causing a pinkness to flush his cheeks.
They continued through the room, stopping periodically to accept congratulation on her performance and to accept a refill for her glass that appeared never to fully empty. Laughing at something that Carson was saying into her ear, she came up against a rock hard chest of pure steel and looked up to see Ronan Dexx. He had been deep in conversation with John and had faltered when she had arrived in front of him, all laughing green eyes, bouncing golden curls and soft flesh that just begged to be touched. He had to forcibly gather his thoughts and push these particular ones away to a very small and unused corner of his mind and looking down at her, he smiled and reached out a giant hand.
“If they package you up, I'll take a dozen...” Winking at her to show he wasn't serious, he turned and grinned at John, indicating that his stage whisper earlier had been heard. She immediately liked the dark and brooding Ronan, feeling comfortable with the deferential way in which he treated her and the others around him. “You have a certain presence Miss Devon, both on and off the stage and we would certainly be most inerested to acquire your services and to make an alliance with your people. Your Colonel here has been telling me a little of your world, and it sounds a rather fascinating place.” Cassie had given her full attention to Ronan but now found her gaze shifting to John, who had moved slightly back from the Satedan to allow their conversation to continue.
Cassie caught John's eye, tossed back the remainder of her glass of champagne only to find it quickly refilled by a passing wait staff. He had been watching her intently, she had felt his hot stare throughout her conversation with Ronan, but he had said nothing. She moved closer to him, feeling a rather innate urge to rattle his calm composure just a little, and tipped her face up towards his. She felt the heat rolling off him and resisted the urge to touch him, saying lightly, and somewhat cheekily “So, Colonel John Sheppard...? Gutter eh? You look like... the cat suddenly got your tongue...nothing to say now... hmmm?” Fluttering sooty thick lashes at him, she raised her glass to her lips and left him standing there glaring at her. Muttering an oath, he left Ronan's side, missing the amused look that the Satedan threw after him and quickly caught up to her as she carried on through the room with Carson.
His hand snaked out to grasp hers, stilling her for a moment and he used his own body's momentum to bring himself close behind her, so that her head came up just under his chin. He dipped his head so that his mouth hovered just near her ear and she felt his hot breath. “Cat got my tongue?... I don't think so, and you might want to take it under advisement to watch what you say and who you say it to sweetheart, or you'll find you've got more than you can handle. Men aren't toys, and one day you'll bite off more than you can chew.” He closed his eyes, remembering too late that she already had first hand knowledge of this, berating himself for reminding her. She pulled out of his grip and whirled around, flirtation gone from her eyes and replaced by anger. “Thank you for your wise words Colonel Sheppard, but I bear the scars of that message daily.” and catching Carson's concerned eye, she caught back up to him and tucked her hand into his elbow, not sparing John another glance.
Demonstrations by the scientists and speeches followed and if the noise level in the rec room was anything to go by, the event was a highly successful one. Some generic background music was fed through the speakers and members of the expedition and the visitors got up to dance and Cassie was passed from partner to partner, briefly stopping to take a sip of the ever present champagne that she was constantly plied with.
Commander Kolya was the last visitor to be introduced to her and she experienced the same cold sinking sensation as when she had felt his eyes on her during her performance. Ronan was also eyeing the Commander with a measure of distrust and stayed close to both Cassie and Kolya. He had noticed her reaction to the man and noticed also that Colonel Sheppard's assessing eyes were never far from either of them, and motioned to John through a flick of his eyes that he would stay close.
As she stepped away from her last dance partner, Kolya was there and produced yet another glass of champagne, overwhelming her already spiking senses. He thrust his large cold hands in the small of her back that had been left exposed with the plunging line of the dress and using his size and momentum, he pulled her close to him. His hand began an exploration of her back, and caught in his tight grip, she wriggled slightly to get away, but found herself trapped there against his much larger body. He seemed oblivious to her discomfort and she shivered as his hand, rough and harsh, dipped lower on her spine.
“You are a most stunning woman Cassandra. I have been unable to take my eyes off you the whole evening. I would be most honoured if you would agree to visit our world and bring your beauty with you... but first...a dance is in order I think my dear..hmm?” His grip on her was uncomfortably tight and he moved her back amongst the dancing couples, expertly using one hand to urge the glass towards her mouth.
Suddenly John was there, his hand taking the champagne and handing it to a passing wait staff and easing his way between Cassie and Kolya. “The lady has had enough, and she's with me...” The quiet authority in his voice had Kolya coiling his body in tension then stepping back in a hands out gesture. “Sorry Colonel, my mistake. Cassandra is a most beautiful woman and I am used to taking what I want.” His cold unemotional eyes dragged over her face and body and she shivered , unable to meet that cold glance. Abruptly he turned and strode from the dance floor and John placed a light hand at her back and drew her close.
He had seen the discomfort in her posture and the uneasy look on her face and chose a little sarcastic humour to diffuse her fear. “ Looks like you had that one under control... not! A thank you will suffice...” he murmered in her ear. The sarcasm had the desired effect and she stiffened, starting to pull away. “I was FINE Colonel, and I”LL decide when I've had enough! And FYI? I'm NOT with you...”
“Shhh...” John gentled his touch as one would to a thoroughbred about to bolt and he felt her relax back against him. Tucking her head beneath his chin, she sighed, surrending herself to the warmth his body provided, feeling his warm breath against the side of her face. The effects of more glasses of champagne that she could count had crept up on her. A slight wooziness overcame her and feeling her stumble, John tipped her face up to see that she was extremely flushed. “More than enough, I think sweetheart...” he said softly.
Manoevering her toward the buffet table, he found Rodney in fine form, chattering contentedly about what they had learnt this evening and in between breaths, consuming as much food as he was able. Carson appeared beside them and pressed a hand to Cassie's forehead. “The lass looks a little flushed... is she OK? Should I take a look at her?” John shook his head and mimed a drinking action, then pointed to the food in front of them and Carson's eyes widened in understanding. “Oh dear, and I'm guilty of giving her the first glass too! And such a tiny wee thing and probably hasn't eaten a speck of food all day!”
His arms still wrapped around her, more for support than anything else, John relinquished his burden to Carson, waiting until the doctor had her secure so that he could turn and take a look around the room. “Time to wrap this party up and get everyone tucked up in bed. Tomorrow will be a big day, accompanying Ronan back to his world and I don't want anyone more the worse for wear than what they are going to be! Rodney! Quit stuffing your face and take care of Cassie for me. She needs food and bed and I need to make sure everyone departs safely.”
Leaving Cassie leaning on a suddenly nervous Rodney, giggling at something that Carson was saying, John shook his head and went to find Elizabeth to make sure everyone was cleared out and accounted for. It had been an extremely productive evening and Cassie's performance had been the highlight and all ambassadors departed the stargate, with the exception of Ronan who would be travelling back with them tomorrow, confident that alliances would be successfully formed and future negotiations would ensue.
About to turn in himself, John made a last pass through the rec room and found a scared Rodney nervously awaiting his return. “I lost her!” he blurted out. “I turned away for just a minute to get something else to eat and she was gone! I've been searching everywhere, checked her room, no one has seen her. Oh God Colonel, you're going to kill me now, aren't you?”
“For God's sake Rodney. I don't believe this! Lost? Crap, where the hell can she be..” John's anger exploded again. He was tired but suddenly overcome with a fear that yet another accident had befallen her. She had had far too much to drink and in a sober state she was certainly trouble enough wandering lost around this base, drunk, now that brought home a very real danger.
“You go and alert security and get them to get the city scanners to see where any life signs are. Most people are in their living quarters now, so we should be able to find her that way.” Running a very weary hand through his hair he dropped his head and lightly massaged his neck picturing her laughing face in the stunning gold dress and felt a fist clench in his stomach. “This one is causing me nothing but trouble!”
Relieved to be given a task to do, Rodney rushed off to the control room and John, after searching all the rooms in that quadrant, by chance saw one of the balcony doors open. Fear went spiralling through his body, thinking about the dangers of falling over the balconies into the dark and unknown waters below. The light night breeze sent his unruly hair into further disaray and he breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted a tiny bundle clad in gold curled up asleep on one of the benches near the railing. Dropping to a knee beside her, he keyed his comm. 'Stand down Rodney. She's safe and sound and having a nice nap outside. Go to bed. I”ll see you in the morning in the gate room 9 sharp.”
“Long day, love...” he murmured rubbing a hand gently over her hair. When she didn't stir, he sighed and placed his hands under her knees, lifting her up against his chest. She promptly snuggled into him, sending his senses into a frenzied overdrive. Trying to think pure thoughts, John mentally went through pre flight checks for all the aircraft that he could think of striding quickly through the hallways to the living areas. Reaching her room, he pushed open on the electronic pad and went to the bed, laying her gently down in the centre. Thinking the only safe item of clothing to remove were her shoes, he grabbed a blanket from the end of the bed, laying it softly over her.
For a long time he stood staring down at her, just watching the moonlight play softly over her face as she slept, and for an even longer time after exiting the room, he lay tossing and turning in his own bed.