The Colonel and His Dragon
"Nothing," Rodney reported absently, eyes on the land below them. "But then I never really expected to find anything. I doubt a human being has ever set foot on this planet."
"Or a Wraith either," John said, trying to sound positive.
"Yes," Rodney agreed, tone only slightly biting. "I know. If we have to be marooned on an alien planet with no hope of getting the hell off, then at least we're not sitting ducks as well."
John briefly considered taking up this discussion again, but they'd played this scene so many times in the last few months even Rodney was getting bored with sarcasm, and that was really saying something.
The other man had lapsed into gloomy silence and John checked his heading, eyes scanning the HUD as it flashed into life then flickered back out.
And that's when he saw it.
"Hey, did you see that?" He adjusted his heading and the jumper swept into an easy turn.
"Something flying at our three o'clock."
"If it is it's bigger than anything we've seen so far." John narrowed his eyes and scanned the horizon.
"There!" he said, just as Rodney straightened in his seat and pointed.
"I see it! It's huge!"
The flying creature was heading towards them now, long wings clearly visible as it swept through the clouds.
"Oh my god," Rodney breathed and John found himself blinking, unable for a moment to process what he was seeing.
"Is that a...?"
"Dragon," John said. "It's a dragon."
Body almost the size of the jumper, long, scaly wings lifting and falling gracefully, the dragon was wheeling and turning, flying back towards a distant mountain peak. At a thought from John the jumper matched its speed, trailing behind it.
"What are you doing?" Rodney demanded, voice high. "Are you following it? Don't follow it!"
"You're kidding, right?" John said, still hardly able to take it in. The dragon, and there was no other word for it, shone green and gold in the sun, clawed forelegs and muscled back legs tucked up against its body, long neck bending as it turned to survey them over its shoulder. Its head was harder to make out, John had the impression of a long, narrow head, wide nostrils, heavy lidded eyes. And all over the gleaming gold and green scales, thick and hard on its back, smaller and more flexible looking on its rounded belly.
"Don't get so close," Rodney was moaning but there was no danger of that, he and the dragon were pacing each other, and still it glanced over its shoulder, as if checking to make sure they were still following. The mountains were closer now, foothills beneath them, when suddenly the dragon swooped, an easy graceful maneuver that faltered suddenly as one wing seemed to give away.
"Hey!" Rodney exclaimed.
"It looks hurt," John said grimly, keeping the jumper well back as the huge beast spun in. "It's dropping too quickly."
Even as he spoke the dragon was plummeting through low trees and crashing to the ground below. The suddenness of its fall after the long, graceful flight was shocking, and the jumper just hovered there for long moments as the two men tried to take it in.
"Was it something we did?" Rodney asked worriedly.
"I don't see how," John said, frowning down at the clearing, looking for a safe spot to land. "It was almost as if it were leading us here, don't you think?"
"Maybe there's more of them down there?" Rodney ventured nervously. "Maybe this is a trick to get us to land."
"Then it worked." John set the jumper down in an open space at the foot of the rocky clearing where the dragon had crashed.
"We could just go back to Atlantis," Rodney suggested. "Maybe bring a bunch of armed marines back here with us?"
John ignored him, shutting down the controls and climbing to his feet.
"Yeah," Rodney said glumly, following suit. "That's what I thought."
It was warm outside, the midday sun throwing heat from the red gold rocks and dust from their landing still hanging in the still air. Rodney looked automatically down at his life signs reader.
"It's reading as still alive," he reported, pointing to their right. "Are we sure we want to do this?"
John firmed his grip on his P-90. "Just keep your eyes on that thing and tell me if it moves".
It was pretty clear though, once they scrambled through the rocks and to the edge of the clearing, that the dragon wasn't going anywhere. One huge wing was crumpled beneath it, and its head lolled in the dust, eyes closed.
"It looks like it was sick," Rodney said in a hushed voice, pointing at the ragged, whitened edges of its visible wing. There were also patches, clear now at this distance, where its scales were brittle and dead looking, flaking away from its long body. "Of course we have no way of knowing what the thing usually looks like, but..."
"It looks sick," John agreed, carefully keeping to the edge of the clearing as he skirted the body. The dragon's sides heaved with shallow breaths and its long tail twitched feebly. "You reading any more life signs?"
"Uh uh." Rodney followed him nervously as they skirted its head, and now John could see its face clearly, sharp teeth visible as it grimaced in pain, wide nostrils flaring its labored breathing. "Maybe we could get the xeno-biologists out here?" he suggested softly. "Maybe they could help it."
Large eyes, dark green and slitted like a snake, flicked open and Rodney shot back a few feet, stumbling into the underbrush. Caught by surprise, John froze, hands tightening on its weapon.
And then the most curious thing happened. He was gazing into the creature's eyes and he could swear, in that moment, that the dragon was staring back at him. Not as an animal or a beast might, but as if it were another person, for all the alien eyes and the scales and wings.
"Sheppard," Rodney was hissing, but John ignored him, lowering his weapon as he stepped forward. The dragon's eyelids fluttered, and it breathed another harsh breath of pain.
"I'm sorry," John said. "We don't know how to help you."
The dragon blinked again, and then, slowly, with low, pained hisses, it lifted a clawed foreleg.
"Sheppard," Rodney was saying again, panic in his voice, but the dragon didn't reach for John. It uncurled its six inch claws and pointed up the hill behind them.
John's eyes followed the movement, behind him Rodney was doing the same, craning his neck and gazing up at the rocks above.
"Is it pointing?" he said in disbelief.
John turned back to find that gaze fixed on him again, so full of life and intelligence that the breath caught in his throat. The claw gestured again, and then all the energy seemed to drain away and the foreleg fell back into the dust. The great beast sighed, eyes half closing again.
"It's okay," John said, raising his voice. "I understand. Don't worry, just rest."
But the heavy lids were dropping, there was one, two breaths more, and then nothing.
The men stood in silence for a moment, and John felt a coil of grief inside him. Just minutes before it had been soaring so majestically above them, the most wondrous creature he had ever seen. And now it was still and dead.
"Did I imagine that?" Rodney said tentatively. "Or was that thing really trying to tell us something?"
John heaved a sigh, fighting down his melancholy. He tightened his grip on his gun and turned towards the rocky outcrop above them. "Let's find out."
It took half an hour to find a way up, and John was considering taking the jumper back up to try and find a safe path, when Rodney turned a corner and found a narrow gully between two rocks, probably a water run-off in the wet season. The two men scrambled up its pebbled surface, emerging at the top of the outcrop sweaty and panting.
"Water," Rodney gasped, unbuckling his canteen, but John had already caught sight of the opening in the rock's face, dark against the red-gold rock around it.
It was about three meters high, sloping back into a cave, shallow enough that he didn't need his torch as he peered cautiously into its depths. At the back a small cairn of stones stood, topped by brilliant green moss, wilting a little in the warmth of the day. And atop this small edifice, was an egg.
"Wow," John breathed. He approached cautiously, not out of fear, the small cave was bare of any other sign of life. It was almost with reverence that he stepped up to the cairn of stones and lifted his hand.
"She was pointing up here," Rodney said, voice hushed. "She wanted us to come and find her egg."
The egg's surface was hard beneath his fingers, and John stroked his hand over its smooth and slightly pitted surface in wonder. It was maybe two feet high, round like a reptile egg rather than ovoid like a birds "She knew she was sick," John said softly. "Dying. She led us here."
"We should call Atlantis," Rodney said, and John vaguely registered as a hand descended onto his shoulder. "Colonel, we should call home. If we're right, then we just made First Contact with a sentient life-form. There may be more of them out there, and we need to warn Atlantis."
"I wonder when its going to hatch?" John said, still stroking the egg gently. "Do you think it's warm enough? Maybe we could move it to the jumper, I can turn the heat up in there and keep it warm."
The hand on his shoulder tightened and Rodney pulled him around, frowning into his face.
"Colonel, will you snap out of it? Yes, this is cool, I get it, Dragons, flying dragons, maybe even sentient flying dragons. But this is not the time to go all fan-boy on me, okay? We need to get some more people out here, xeno-biologists, security people. Okay?"
John blinked, pulled out of his reverie by Rodney's urgent tone. "Yeah, okay," he agreed, unable to help glancing back at the egg. "But I don't want to leave it alone. What if there are predators up here?"
Rodney looked around nervously. "Something that preys on a dragon? I don't think I want to meet that."
"One of us should stay here and guard it," John said, making up his mind. "The other one should go back to the jumper, radio Atlantis with what we know and our position. Leave it up to Elizabeth who they send out here."
Rodney grimaced, shooting another look around the shallow cave and then down at his life signs reader. "Fine," he sighed. "I'll go back, you stay here with your egg. I'll grab us some supplies and head back up here once I've checked in."
Surprised by the offer, but just as happy not to be parted from the egg, John followed Rodney back out onto the outcrop and gazed down at the view. They could see the clearing where the dragon lay dead through the trees, and beyond it the dull gleam of the jumper.
"You know," Rodney said, taking another sip of water from his canteen. "It's possible that the egg is... you know. I mean, she looked pretty sick."
"She used up the last energy she had to lead us here, Rodney," John said. "She wouldn't have done that for a dead egg."
Rodney shrugged. "I'm just saying... Don't get your hopes up."
"Bring back more water," John ordered. "And the thermal blanket. And don't eat all the sandwiches," he called as Rodney stomped off and began his sliding descent down the gully.
Inside the cave was dry and cool, and John laid his gun down near the cairn of rocks before hauling himself up a little and perching next to the egg. "Hey, buddy," he murmured, touching the egg's warm surface. "I'm not sure what a dragon's egg needs to hatch, but I'm pretty sure me warming you up a little can't hurt. I wonder if your mom sat on you, like birds do? Or maybe curled around you?"
He settled himself more comfortably, draping an arm around the egg and leaning carefully against its smooth hardness.
"I'm really sorry about your mom. But you should know she spent her last moments alive leading us to you. Making sure you'd be safe. And you are safe, I promise. Nothing and nobody is going to hurt you."
John sat in silence for a little while, mind going over the day, replaying the flight of the dragon over the rolling plains to the foothills where she'd laid her egg. He closed his own eyes and remembered her intense gaze, the pain in her eyes, the determination. Without words she had spoken to him, and her dying sacrifice had awoken something in him now, an urgent need. This egg, and the precious life within it, had become his responsibility, and John was man who took his responsibilities seriously.
Drowsiness was drifting over him and he straightened a little, determined not to fall asleep on his watch. "I should introduce myself," he said in an effort to keep awake. "Colonel John Sheppard, US Air Force. You can call me John. I'm military head of a city called Atlantis, which is a long story in itself." He looked around the cave and chuckled. "I guess we have time."
So he told the story of Atlantis, just a little. The stargate, the city, their flight from enemies who had found their home planet and meant them harm.
"So there we were, just floating. No habitable planets in range, hardly any power left. Out of options, even for Rodney, who, while a pain in the ass, can usually be relied on to pull some brilliant last-minute scheme out of his hat and save us all. But this time even he was out of ideas."
John shifted a little on his rocks, glancing at his watch and calculating how long Rodney should be. He could only imagine the report Elizabeth was receiving right now.
"Anyway, it was Atlantis herself that saved us. She detected what we couldn't, took over our controls and flew us right into what we thought was a gas cloud. Everyone was running around trying to figure out what was going on, systems were failing left and right, and then..." John smiled, remembering the moment. "Then we were in atmosphere, descending towards a planet we hadn't even known was there. That we would never have detected through the gas cloud around it, not in a million years."
John climbed down from the cairn, stretched his back and rubbed his butt ruefully. "Wish your mom had picked a softer place to lay you, Lockheed. Anyway, where was I?"
He climbed to the opposite side of the egg and sat down, curving his other arm around its warm hardness.
"Oh, yeah, we landed. Nice new planet, capable of sustaining life, full of water and game and edible plants. I'd have thought we'd died and gone to heaven except McKay was still there, yapping away in my ear, so I knew it wasn't likely. We have everything we need to survive here, with only a few drawbacks. Well, one big drawback really. The gas cloud that surrounds this planet and keeps it so safe, also keeps us from leaving. Our jumpers start to fail when we try to leave the atmosphere. And we can't use the stargate because we were lost and we didn't have any co-ordinates... Blah blah, lots of technical stuff. I'll get Rodney to explain it to you."
John rubbed at his weary eyes, hand automatically stroking the egg. "It's been months. And we all know we are damn lucky to be alive. But... This isn't home, Locky. It's a nice planet and we're all adapting to being pioneers. But it's sure not home."
John straightened as Rodney staggered theatrically into the cave, laden with a backpack and shoulder bag.
"You took your time," John said, jumping back to his feet.
"Yeah, well, I had to speak slowly and repeat myself several times. For some reason Elizabeth was having trouble with my story about flying dragons who might be sentient. Oh, and you going all broody took some explaining as well." He dumped the bags onto the dirt floor and collapsed into a heap. "You know, for a diplomat, she wasn't very subtle if she asked if we'd eaten or smoked anything suspicious lately."
"I think the Pegasus Galaxy might have eroded Elizabeth's diplomatic skills."
"More likely having to deal with you has eroded her diplomatic skills."
"So what did she say?"
Rodney grabbed his bag and unbuckled it eagerly. "Man, I'm starved." He pulled out a plastic baggy and tore it open with his teeth. "She's sending out the xeno-biologists and Lorne's team. She's worried about this illness momma dragon may or may not have been suffering from. I think we're gonna be under quarantine for a while, until the doctors run some tests and make sure we're not already infected with the dragon equivalent of foot and mouth."
John glanced at Rodney tearing into his sandwiches. "You don't look too worried about that possibility."
"Au contraire," Rodney said around a mouthful of bread. "It's number one on Rodney's Worry List for the day. Right above the possibility that daddy dragon is going to turn up and turn us all into shish kebobs, and all the general day-to-day ones about running out of food and medicine and dying on this god forsaken little rock in the middle of nowhere." He finished his sandwich and pulled another one from the bag. "You want this?"
"Yeah." John Accepted the sandwich and then laid it aside while he opened his backpack and pulled out the emergency blanket. It had its own limited power source and when activated generated human body temperature. John pulled the tab and carefully tucked it around and over the egg.
"How's junior?" Rodney said around a mouthful of sandwich. "And by the way, Locky?"
"I named him," John said, striving for casual as he folded himself down onto the ground and selected a sandwich. "Lockheed, after the Aircraft Manufacturing Company."
"Lockheed," Rodney repeated. "After the Aircraft Manufacturing Company."
"They made some very cool aircraft," John said, biting into his sandwich and trying not to sound defensive. "I flew a Nighthawk in the gulf, and I'm rated on the F-22 Raptor. And every pilot you've ever met trained in a T-33 Shooting Star. They are all very cool aircraft."
Rodney just stared at him narrow-eyed for long moments, before finally shaking his head. "You are such a closet nerd. You named him after the dragon in the X-Men comics, didn't you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," John said in dignified tones. "I'm a pilot, and I named the flying dragon after a Aircraft Manufacturing Company. Don't transfer your inner dweeb onto me, McKay."
"Huh," Rodney snorted. "Come out of the closet, Colonel. Embrace your nerdiness."
John ignored him, glancing over at his egg possessively. "So, we're getting a team of geeks?"
"Geeks and guys with guns," Rodney confirmed. "I might have mentioned the six inch long claws and the huge teeth."
"Way to stir up panic and alarm, McKay."
"Your marines need something to do anyway. They are all turning into cavemen, hunting and gathering for a living."
Since this was the most exciting thing to happen on New Lantea since they'd landed here, John couldn't argue.
"I won't have those scientists crowding around in here," he said. "They can measure and take samples and all the other creepy stuff biologists do out there." He nodded through the opening to the clearing beyond, where the body of the large dragon lay.
Rodney shrugged and attacked a power bar. "You're getting unnaturally attached you know," he said conversationally.
"Just shut up and give me one of those."
The geeks arrived with his 2IC and the marines. John blocked the entry to the cave long enough to order Lorne to secure the perimeter, then graciously stepped aside to let the xeno-biologists get a glimpse of the egg.
"Can't I just measure it?" Keyes said longingly, fingers twitching.
"I'll measure it," John said, crossing his arms and frowning when it looked like the scientist might argue. "You have plenty to work with down there." He nodded at the clearing and watched narrow-eyed as they trailed away, casting glances back over their shoulders and murmuring about military guys bogarting the dragon's egg.
"You're going to have to share eventually," Rodney said, busily applying a fresh coat of sunscreen to his face.
"Not if I can help it," John muttered, and went back to his post next to his egg.
"Dr Keyes tells me you're not letting them do their job," Elizabeth said, her voice sounding strained through the radio connection. Or maybe it was her long convalescence catching up to her. She had barely been up and around a week, and still limped and tired easily.
"Dr Keyes has a lifetime's worth of work just studying the mother dragon's body," John returned. "It's a small cave and I don't want anyone else tramping around in there." The only reason he was here now was because Elizabeth had insisted on speaking to him personally, and even then he had made Rodney swear to guard the cave and the egg with his life.
"I'm sure they would be very careful," Elizabeth murmured. "John? How sure are you that the mother was... intelligent?"
"As sure as I am of anything," John said. "Honestly, Elizabeth. If you could have looked into her eyes..."
"That's what Rodney said. Okay, John, you and Rodney are there, I trust you to do the right thing. I don't want to risk bringing a life-threatening illness back to Atlantis, or any harm to the egg by moving it for that matter. Your position there seems secure enough. Just be careful okay?"
John promised, as he had so many time before, and signed off before hurrying up the hill. The biologists were directing Lorne and his team in tying up the dragon corpse for transport further up the foothills, to a large cave they had come across, something John was fervently glad about. He hated the idea of the graceful creature being dissected and examined, but he also could not bear the thought of it rotting in the sun, only meters away from her egg.
He nodded at Lorne as he passed, glad the biologists were too busy to spare him further resentful glances. He wasn't even sure himself why he wanted to keep everyone away from the egg. Only that his instincts told him to keep it safe, and his palms itched at the thought of anyone else crowding into that small space around its fragile surface.
Rodney was standing guard as promised, squinting through his sun glasses at his laptop screen, legs crossed and back braced against the rock wall.
John glanced in the cave before sitting down in the dust beside Rodney.
"She still sounds tired."
"She's better though," Rodney said, clicking his laptop closed. "You taking charge the last few months gave her some peace of mind."
"Yeah, because even I couldn't get us into trouble in Eden," John said, a little bitterly.
"You're bored," Rodney said. "No bad guys to fight, no suicide missions to look forward to."
"I miss gate travel," John said, squinting at staring up through the rocks at the lowering sun. "I miss new worlds and new challenges. I miss being useful."
"You are useful," McKay said, sounding surprised. "You're military commander."
"Military? Rodney, how much does being military mean when we're cut off from Earth? What difference does rank make to these guys now?"
"You're talking like this is forever and it's not. We'll figure something out."
"If I hear the 'we've been in worse spots before' speech one more time..."
"No speech. We have time, we have enough power to scour through the Ancient database. We'll figure it out."
"Yeah yeah." John's shoulders twitched. He'd heard it all before.
"See, I'm not like these other guys," he said in a low voice to Lockheed's egg. It was their fifth night out, and McKay had elected to sleep in the cave again. A few marines and scientists had commandeered the jumpers, and the rest of the scientists and Lorne were camping a hundred meters above them in the cave they had transformed to study the large dragon's corpse. John and Rodney had stood on the rocky outcrop and watched her borne upwards on her makeshift sling without a word. It had been a terrible sight
"I didn't come here because I had a bunch of stargate experience, or because I have half a dozen PHD's. I'm just here because I light stuff up. Because of some Ancient gene I have. Which, by the way, isn't much use any more with so much of the city being shut down. Sure, I was running things while Elizabeth was off duty, but now she's back, what use am I? I think she only sent me and Rodney out on that exploration mission to give me something to do."
John thought about it and huffed a low laugh. "Which I can't regret, because otherwise I wouldn't be here with you." At the thought that his egg might very well be sitting here cold and alone if not for that quirk of fate, John put out a reassuring hand and stroked its warm smooth surface.
Beneath his fingers something vibrated, just a little.
"Rodney," John hissed, shaking the other man's shoulder.
"Wha!" Rodney jack knifed into a sitting position. "What is it? What's going on?"
"I think the egg's hatching," John told him, flicking on the portable lamp and setting it down on the rocky nest. The egg was still and silent for a moment, and then they clearly heard a damp, rustling sound and a tiny creak.
"Oh my god," Rodney muttered, crawling out of his bedroll and gingerly approaching the rocky cairn. "What do we do?"
"I don't know," John answered, reaching out and carefully laying his hand on the egg's rounded top. Under his fingers a spider-web of cracks stretched out, widening and spreading as he watched.
"Well don't stand so close!" Rodney hissed. "We have no idea of what is actually going to come out of that thing!"
"I'm thinking baby dragon," John said sarcastically, but all the same he stepped back a little. The cracks in the eggs shell widened, and then suddenly it was just coming apart all over as something from within seemed to stretch and expand. Rodney was now hovering in the cave entrance whispering into his radio, but John could only stand and stare as the egg shell fell away, piece by piece.
And there was his dragon, stretching out its long neck, ruffling its leathery wings, the dull gleam of the egg's slime covering its body. Mesmerized, John stepped forward and carefully pulled away a piece of shell, dropping it down into the moss.
"For god's sake," Rodney muttered from behind him. "Will you be careful! Look at the teeth on that thing!"
John was looking. From the small, bony horn on the top of its skull, to the long wings, down the softly scaled back to the smooth stretch of tail, he was looking. The dragonet was maybe a meter long and a soft golden color, damp and gleaming. It lifted its head and blinked, huge slitted eyes shining emerald green in the lamplight.
John was aware of movement in the cave entrance and mutters and exclamations from the arriving scientists and marines. But all he could see were those eyes, the tender sweep of the long dragon face, the curious tilt of its head as the dragon blinked slowly and stared at him.
"Hi, little guy," he murmured, lifting his hand and presenting it for inspection. The dragonet opened its mouth, but contrary to Rodney's fears it did not bite. Instead a long pink tongue touched him in a gentle lick.
"Yeah, you're not gonna bite me, are you?" John crooned, slowly moving his hand to the dragonet's face, finally settling on the soft, tender skin of its cheek and stroking gently. The small head bent into the caress, and a moment later the dragonet was nudging him, nuzzling into his hand with a baby soft sigh.
"Good boy," John said, stroking up now and around the skull, feeling the tiny bumps of horns under exploring fingers. "I knew you weren't gonna hurt me, were you? Huh?"
The dragon drew back and huffed a soft breath on his cheek.
"No, John," he said.
The people milling around behind him had fallen into deathly silence, John probably could have heard a pin drop here in the dim light of the cave in the depths of the night. In front of him the dragonet was blinking slowly at him, extending his wings and turning his head a little to survey them curiously.
"What?" John said, dimly aware it was a pretty stupid thing to say.
"I said I wouldn't bite you, John," the dragonet said, his voice low and melodic. And oddly undeniably masculine. He nuzzled at John again and the man stood there, staggering slightly under the caressing nudge. "I'm hungry."
"Am I still asleep?" Rodney said from behind him, echoing John's dazed confusion.
"How can you be talking?" John asked blankly.
The dragonet ruffled his wings and folded them against his body. He lifted expressive brows, his curious expression easy to read. "I learned from you," he said, as if it were obvious. He tilted his head and indicated the broken pieces of shell littering the nest and rocks. "In my egg."
Someone exclaimed in what sounded like German, and a babble of excited voices sounded out behind him, muttering words and phrases like cultural transmission and interspecies telepathic communication. John tuned them out, mind racing.
"In your egg?" he asked the dragon. "You could hear what I was saying? You understood me?"
The dragonet nodded, heaving a sigh. "Can we talk about this later?' he said, a little wistfully. "I'm really hungry."
A moment longer while scientists exclaimed and Rodney crept closer and grabbed his arm, and then his words sunk in and John started.
"Right, hungry. Of course."
"What does it want?" Keyes whispered stridently. He was at Rodney's shoulder, clutching the physicist's arm urgently. "Ask it what it wants to eat."
"He," the dragonet said indignantly. "I'm a he and my name is Lockheed." He shot a look at John and lowered his head, looking uncertain. "Isn't it, John?"
John nodded, and found his voice. "Yes," he said huskily and then cleared his throat. "Yes, of course it is." He lifted his hand again and stroked Lockheed's head lovingly. "If you like the name that is."
"It's my name," Lockheed said in a firm voice. Then his brows lifted again. "Food?"
"We have some of the rabbit-like things we've been snaring?" Lorne volunteered from the cave's opening, and John tore his eyes away from his dragonet to flick a glance at his men. Lorne and his team were gathered on the threshold as if wary of placing a foot into the cave. With good reason, as their commanding officer had barred everyone but himself and Rodney from the cave all week. Lorne's eyes were huge and every member of his team was gaping in stunned surprise. Of the scientists one had a sketchbook out and his pencil was flying over his page, another one was talking urgently into a tiny digital recorder, while Keyes was still standing by Rodney, both of them staring.
"Get the meat," John ordered Lorne. "And water and some of the dried vegetables as well," he called as Lorne nodded dumbly and turned on his heel.
"I have a power bar," Rodney said weakly, groping in his pocket and tugging out a foil wrapped bar. "It's my last one. It's honey and oat," he added, then blinked and seemed to come back to himself. "Do you think he wants it?'
"Is it food?" Lockheed said eagerly. He leaned forward and Rodney stepped back a little, stumbling up against Keyes.
"Um, yeah," Rodney said, eyes on gleaming white teeth. "Sort of."
John accepted the power bar and ripped it from its wrapping, breaking off a portion and holding it out for Lockheed to sniff. The dragonet snuffled his palm and then accepted the morsel, chewing thoughtfully and then swallowing. "More?" he appealed, and John fed him the rest, and then remembered some trail mix in his pack. By the time Lockheed had hoovered the nuts and raisins from John's palm, the marines had arrived with that day's catch and Lorne pulled out his knife and began cutting off chunks.
"Shouldn't we cook it?" Rodney ventured. "Raw meant isn't good for you."
"Because I'm sure dragons in the wild regularly have barbecues," John said, rolling his eyes and presenting a chunk of meat to Lockheed, who eagerly snatched it up and gulped it down.
Lockheed lifted his head, long tongue swiping around his mouth. "That's me," he said eagerly. "I'm a dragon, aren't I, John?"
"Best dragon ever," John confirmed, patting his muscled neck, stroking over the soft scales with real pleasure as Lockheed huffed a pleased sigh and went back to his meal. Half a dozen rabbit-like things later he collapsed back onto his nest of wilted moss with a sigh of repletion.
Then he was grimacing and standing back up again on slightly unsteady legs.
"Let's get you cleaned up," John offered and he stepped forward, feeling a piece of shell crunch under his boots. The nest was littered with egg shell and the bedding that Lockheed's mother must have laid out for him at least a week before was dead and limp. He surveyed the dragonet uncertainly for a moment, not even sure if he could lift him, let alone where to grip him, but Lockheed took matters in his own hands and opened his wings, jumping off the small cairn of rocks and alighting easily on the hard dirt floor of the cave.
Rodney and Keyes sprang back, but the dragonet merely ruffled his wings again, and sat down, like a large, scaly dog.
"Nice," John admired. He looked at the wide eyed scientists and nodded at Neeru, a dark skinned Indian woman with a fall of long, sleek hair. "You want to collect the bits of shell? And you," he nodded at the German scientist, Gerber. "Get my pack, will you? And my bed roll."
"Can I measure him?' Keyes asked, tape measure in hand.
John considered it, and nodded. "But that's all," he said curtly. "Everything else can wait."
"John, I'm tired," Lockheed said, head drooping, and John wasted no time, directing an uncharacteristically quiet Rodney to lay John's bedroll back out, and taking his worn old shaving towel from his shaving kit and carefully applying it to Lockheed's muzzle, now dark with blood from the raw meat. Lockheed half-closed his eyes at the ministrations, then stepped onto the bedroll and rested his head against John's chest as the colonel folded the towel and wiped it over his face, down his neck and along his flanks, removing the last traces of the dampness on the soft scales.
"That feels good," Lockheed sighed, and even as John stroked carefully over his wings, the creature leaned more heavily against him and dropped off to sleep.
For long moments there was silence again, as John eased himself down into a cross-legged position and let the dragonet relax bonelessly against him.
"Of all the wonders I have seen since first stepping through a stargate," Keyes said thickly at last. "This is surely the most miraculous."
Which pretty much summed it up for everyone.
The sun was barely a glimmer on the horizon, but nobody was going back to bed any time soon. The marines built a fire on the outcropping and boiled water for the local version of tea the botanists had been collecting and drying, while the scientists huddled together and whispered excitedly.
"You're just going to let him sleep on you like that?" Rodney said, sitting on his own bedroll and rubbing at his eyes.
John nodded, not wanting to risk waking the sleeping dragonet, and quietly content with the warm weight and the soft rumble of heartbeat and tummy against him.
"You do recall he emerged from his shell ravenously hungry, don't you?" Rodney pointed out. "What if he wakes up even hungrier?"
John shrugged with his eyebrows, dismissing this concern.
"Well, don't blame me if you wake up and he's eaten your head," Rodney declared, then rolled his eyes and climbed to his feet. "I'll tell Lorne to go hunting with his guys as soon as it's light. I think that new buddy of yours is going to be a bottomless pit."
Which was something like the pot calling the kettle black, John thought, but it was a dim, far off thought. He stroked one hand down Lockheed's back, fingers already learning the sensation of baby soft scales,
"I can see I'm not getting any sense out of you for a while," Rodney said, shaking his head. "Congratulations, Colonel. Looks like you got your sentient, flying dragon after all."
Yeah, John thought, blissfully.