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********
The little things pile up over the years, and he doesn't mean to remember them all, but he is a genius after all.

Sometimes it isn't the words as much as it's the tone, and he almost always listens closely, even though people think that's impossible for him. Of course there's plenty of laughter, and him the butt of the joke, but he knows he invites that with his sunscreen, hypoglycemia (he really has it), and stupid allergies. In some ways, things are worse after Ronon arrives, but Rodney doesn't resent Sheppard's all too obvious man crush on Ronon, no matter what Carson says.

Carson has been Rodney's reluctant friend since before Siberia, but it's different with Sheppard. Sheppard seems to want a friendship, or what passes for it while they were running for their lives, blowing up perfectly good equipment, and generally trying to survive in a galaxy that's determined from the first to kill them.

But the words have meaning, and now he stands in a long hallway, his mind twirling so fast and all he can hear are Sheppard's thoughts, all his thoughts. Memories and emotions pour over Rodney like a waterfall, and he knows. He knows.

Spinning, he clutches his head and staggers toward the infirmary. It's time. His body gives into it, and he's going to die.

"Rodney?

"Rodney!"

He falls into Sheppard's arms, and they both go to the floor. Sheppard is right there, and it's all stripped away, and Rodney nearly covers his eyes from the pain, the ache, and the years of loneliness.

"We love you, Rodney," Elizabeth says.

"Me?" he asks, seeing the sadness in Teyla's heart and feeling the grief of all the people she's lost through the years.

"In the way a friend loves another friend," Sheppard says.

Rodney understands him now, and he picks up on Ronon's flash of anger at Sheppard's words. Ronon lost everyone he loved, but he gets up every day and goes on, and Rodney respects that. Carson touches him, and Rodney feels their friendship, strong and true.

In the background, Zelenka hovers, nearly frantic with worry, and Rodney knows it's time to go.

"I'm going to die," Rodney says, still not quite able to believe it.

"Back to the blue skies. Let your thoughts go. Concentrate," Sheppard says, and Rodney lets his eyes fall shut. The whole universe flashes inside him, making perfect sense, and Rodney slides into it.

"I don't like you," Chaya says.

"It's mutual." Rodney crosses his arms and glares. "Little Miss Perfect."

"You were jealous of his attention to me." She matches his movements. "But John will ascend in his turn."

"I'm sure you'll make a lovely couple." Rodney lets his hate push out to her. "Can I go now?"

She laughs. "Haven't you figured it out yet? Don't you understand?"

He pauses, seeing the beauty and chaos in the way the universe interconnects. She waves her hand, bringing up an image of the lab, and he focuses completely on the Ascension machine. "So simple."

"Only a fool could miss it, and we have no room for fools among our ranks."

Rodney grabs Carson, shoves the information where it will do the most good, and collapses into the black.

"Rodney?"

Feeling every moment of his years, Rodney sits up, shocked, horrified, relieved, and other emotions that he doesn't want to analyze. "It worked!"

"Aye, that it did." Carson's grin is broad, and he extends a hand. Rodney sways on his feet, looking from face to face, glad that their thoughts don't shove at him any longer.

"I'm hungry," Rodney says the first thing that comes to mind.

"He's fine," Sheppard drawls.

Ronon grabs him and hugs him, and Rodney tries to breathe through it. He feels as if he's in the eye of a storm, caught, not sure what to say or do.

"Glad you're back," Ronon says.

"I know you are." Rodney sees Sheppard roll his eyes, but it's too late to explain that Ronon has lost too many. Teyla smiles, and Rodney gently presses his forehead onto hers. "Thank you, Teyla."

"Back to the infirmary, Rodney." Carson cups Rodney's elbow. "I can see your knees wobbling."

"Manly hunger." Sheppard grins at Ronon, and they leave together. Rodney accepts the gurney because his legs can't go the distance. He's so tired, like he ran a marathon. Finally, everyone fades away, leaving only Zelenka, who's fidgeting with a tablet.

"Radek, you should go rest. I know you didn't sleep." Rodney remembers Radek's worry. "Seal that lab. We'll take it apart later."

"The Ancients did foolish things." Radek eases closer and gives him an awkward pat on the arm. "Thank you for my life."

"I think we're even." Rodney refuses to say something sappy and takes the tablet. "Go sleep."

Radek ducks his head, smiling. "I will do that."

Rodney curls around the tablet and does the same, waking up to eat much later. Carson joins him with a tray, and they exchange a shrug before digging into the food.

"I thought you were dead," Carson says.

"I was." Rodney isn't going to share what he remembers, not yet. He shoves his mashed potatoes around, takes another bite, and sighs. "The math of the universe is gone. It was so beautiful."

"What else do you remember? Hanging me in the air?" Carson smiles.

"You liked it." Rodney grins back at him. "The Flying Scotsman."

"Not funny." But Carson laughs. "Do me a favor and leave off tinkering with Ancient machinery for a week or two."

"Yeah." Rodney tries for another joke. "Did you see the job I did on Ronon's back? I could've been a doctor!"

Carson immediately touches his ear bud. "Ronon, report to the infirmary." There's a pause. "Aye, you will! Now!" He fixes his doctor glare on Rodney. "Anyone else you tampered with?"

Rodney doesn't worry. He knows that Carson really is his friend. "Um, not that I remember?"

"The colonel? Teyla?"

"She's sad a lot," Rodney whispers, but he hadn't tried to fix it. "I got rid of Ronon's scars. You knew they still hurt him. Well, they did, so I fixed them."

"I didn't know. Never met a man more closed mouth."

"Not everyone can be Rodney." Sheppard has a reluctant Ronon in tow. "What's up, Doc?"

"Everyone is a comedian." Carson circles around behind Ronon. "Rodney used his powers on Ronon, and I want to check the results under the scanner."

"What did you do, Rodney?" Sheppard's instant angry accusation is so normal that Rodney almost answers with his usual denial and waving of hands, but what he remembers stops him.

Ronon turns his back on them, but his words are clear enough as he's leaving. "No. It was between me and McKay." He walks directly out of the infirmary without looking back, and Carson puts his hands on his hips in disgust.

"Rodney?" Sheppard growls.

Rodney swings his legs over and finds his balance before jumping down. He takes a long stretch and lets himself really feel his body, old, tired, and hungry though it is. It's nice to have one.

"I'll get him later," Carson mutters. He looks Rodney up and down. "Feeling a mite better?"

"Almost human," Rodney says. He spares a glance for Sheppard. "Did you want something?"

"What did you do to Ronon?" Sheppard grinds out the words.

"Ask him." Rodney needs coffee, and he picks up the tablet. "Carson, thanks."

Carson's eyes widen. "You're welcome." He waves his hand up and down at Rodney's scrubs. "Clothes?"

"I'll putter straight to my quarters." Rodney steps around a fuming Sheppard, gives Carson a shrug, and heads for his room. He isn't surprised when Sheppard doesn't follow, and he remembers too much. Maybe if he wasn't a genius, he'd have forgotten it all.

He almost wishes for that, but knowledge is always power, and he's better off knowing the truth. First, he takes a long shower, scrubbing away the sweat and filth of dying. Thoughts skip through his mind, and he doesn't try to order them. For some reason, his mother keeps popping up, and her words wash over him.

If you aren't nice, no one will ever be your friend.

Comb your hair and brush your teeth! If you look like a slob, no one will respect you.

Meredith! No one will ever marry you if you don't learn when to shut up!

Losing a little weight would be good for you, and you'd feel better, and I'm just worried for your health!

"I was skinny," he mumbles, hating her a little. "Not anymore, but I was then." He pushes it away again, finds some clothes, and dresses. Wandering out on his balcony, he looks over the ocean and intuitively understands the flow and ebb of the world around him. The math dances out of reach, but that doesn't hurt as much as it could.

Shutting his eyes, he smiles for what feels like the first time in his life. He knows exactly who he is and where he fits, and words can't take that from him. His stomach rumbles, and he gives in, going to the cafeteria for more food. Apparently, it takes a lot of energy to die. He gets a few things, and coffee, always coffee, and heads for his usual table.

Sheppard is there near the balcony, and Rodney can see Katie Brown at another table, and Lorne gives Rodney a thumbs up, and dealing with them all feels like work. Rodney nearly winces at Katie's hopeful smile, but he's seen inside her, and he knows that he'll hurt her with the force of his personality if he's ever honest with her.

Living a lie after being dead isn't the way he wants to do things. He knows everyone expects him to sit with Sheppard. It's what they do, but he puts his tray down by Lorne and sees his strength and loyalty again in his mind.

"Can I join you?"

Lorne boggles but recovers. "Heard you were dead," he jokes.

"I got better." Rodney sits down, laughs easily, and adds sugar to his coffee. "The artist in you would've enjoyed all the colors."

"The dead part puts a damper on it." Lorne leans closer. "You remember?"

"Big brain." Rodney points at his head. "It likes to absorb stuff." He munches his sandwich and mumbles around a bite, "Where's your team?"

"They'll get here. Late is what they do." Lorne smiles. "I think it's just to annoy me."

"Probably." Rodney grins and then stops because it's freaking Lorne out. "You whine when you're grumpy."

"Me? You're the King of Whine." Lorne points his fork laden with potatoes at him. "I'm hot. I'm tired. I'm thirsty."

There's a look on Lorne's face as if he expects to be yelled at, but Rodney can only grin. "Of course I'm the king. Haven't you heard how important I am?"

The silence is wild in Lorne's eyes, and then he laughs, as if against his will. "I heard that, mostly from you."

"Must be true then." Rodney drinks his coffee, deciding to release more of his burden. "I'm sorry if I made your life hell on that mission, but I am deathly afraid of radiation poisoning. Were you in the mountain when Daniel Jackson died from it?"

Lorne nods, short and tight. "Yeah. It was really bad."

They share a look and go back to eating. "Next time I'll take an umbrella."

The laughter is forced at first, but then they relax into it.

"Eating again, McKay?" Sheppard slides into the chair next to Lorne with his coffee. "Better slow down. You're not super smart anymore."

Rodney can't miss the eyebrow Lorne shoots him. It's the same old, same old, and everyone knows that Sheppard loves to get him wound up.

"I thought you had a mission briefing," Rodney says, checking his watch. He calmly reaches across, appropriating Lorne's ear bud. "Carson, am I on active duty?"

Carson's answer is slow. "You were dead this morning. Can you take it easy for a couple of days?"

"Light duty? No off-world?" Rodney throws it out there.

"Sounds fine." Carson clicks off, and Rodney gets to his feet, handing it back to Lorne. "You heard the man. I'll be in my lab. I vaguely remember leaving a mess of some sort."

"Later," Lorne says, Sheppard just stares at him, and Rodney takes his tray to the dirty pile. He knows he should've said something else, but he'd rather do equations or put empty Jell-O cups in the trash than argue with Sheppard.

"Well, I was certainly busy." Rodney surveys the disaster, knowing that none of his minions are brave enough to come in here and touch anything, even the trash. He picks up a marker and goes to stand in the front of the whiteboard. "Wow, I was smart."

"How do you feel, Rodney?"

He waves the marker at her. "Horrible. Just horrible."

"Should I call Carson?" She's serious, as usual.

"Can he help with a math-related injury to my pride?" Rodney wishes he'd had time to finish.

Elizabeth laughs. "Some Jell-O and a nap?"

"Did that." Rodney finds the trash can and starts filling it with the remains of his genius. He's tempted to tell her everything he remembers from his brush with ascension, but he's afraid of her contempt. She's a lot like his mother, always reminding him of how he falls short. "Carson put me on light duty for a couple of days."

"I heard." Elizabeth looks around again. "Let it settle. Some of it may come back to you."

"It was all so easy." He knows the math is gone for good, and he'll always feel the lack. "Oh well, easy come, easy go."

"Join me for lunch?" Her eyebrows are up.

"Did that."

"A snack?"

"Hmmm." He hesitates, knowing now that she doesn't prefer his company. "So you love me?"

Her astonishment is plain on her face. "I said we love you! We!"

"So you love me." He can always use more coffee. This disaster will be waiting on him. She sputters a bit, and they walk.

"You know Sheppard wants to give it a try, right?"

"Even though the machine is totally random, and he might be reduced to a blob of protoplasm? You should let him." Rodney takes her smack on the arm without complaining. Two cups of coffee later, he escapes her clutches and returns to his lab, or as he's going to call it in the future: his super lab. He makes sure he has copies and backup copies of everything. It's mindless work that lets his thoughts roam. He's seen the workings of the universe, and it all reinforces his hatred of the Wraith, who produce nothing but consume everything.

The Lanteans had wised up and fled the galaxy. Fled the galaxy. He sits down hard, wondering if it could be so simple. Mind spinning, he practically gapes when Zelenka wanders in to join him.

"Your idea of how to speed up computers will earn you a Nobel," Zelenka says with a shrug. "I put a team to implementing it here."

"Good." Rodney isn't sure about the first part of that. "Radek, I've been thinking."

"God help us." Zelenka feigns fear. "Should I run now?"

Rodney snaps his fingers several times, sure of his logic. "Possibly. I have to talk to Teyla and Ronon." He tosses Zelenka the eraser. "Go for it."

Zelenka grins. Rodney stops to get coffee, noticing the lack of people and checking the time. He stares at his watch in bewilderment before sinking down at the nearest table. He's wide awake at three in the morning, and the wide awake part is weird. Sure, he's occasionally up, but he's always groggy, even with coffee to keep him going.

"Back for another meal?"

Getting to his feet, Rodney only hesitates a moment before making his decision. He marvels that he's not angry. "I gave it some thought, and I'm quitting the team. You'll have my resignation in the morning."

Sheppard actually takes a step back. "No," he says. "You can't."

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Rodney regrets the time he wasted trying to be friends, waiting for him, looking for him, hoping for more than Sheppard could give. It all comes down to words again, and he's out of them. He turns to leave, and Sheppard puts his hand on Rodney's shoulder.

"You can't."

A sidestep, and Rodney can only remember the insults, the put downs, and the lack of trust. He's seen everything Sheppard has to offer, and Rodney wants none of it any longer. He really has no idea why he's been punishing himself for so long.

"Rodney."

Usually that's enough to make Rodney do as he's told. He rubs his forehead, knowing why Sheppard is such an asshole doesn't make this any easier. "Colonel, I have another project I want to work on, and the time constraints won't allow me to do both."

"Bullshit." Sheppard's eyes blaze now, but Rodney surprises himself by not giving a damn. Rodney knows very well now that his life is too short to spend it worrying about pleasing Sheppard. It isn't possible to make him happy anyway.

The reasons are still in Rodney's memory, and he wishes they weren't. Years ago, when this all had started, Rodney had latched onto the idea of them being friends, and he hasn't let go until now. There are some things that he can't fix, and John Sheppard is one of them. It only took dying to teach him that.

Sheppard tilts his head, and Rodney gives him a shrug. "I have to sleep," he says, and he's relieved when he isn't pursued down the hallway. He goes back to his balcony and stares out at the ocean, listening to the universe work. Chaya helps him back to his body but leaves him knowing what he can never have. She's a bitch that way.

********

"Rodney, would you mind stopping in for a quick checkup?" Carson's voice rings in Rodney's ear, and he flinches from surprise at the interruption.

"On my way," Rodney says, getting up from his laptop with a long stretch. "I'll be back. You want anything?"

Zelenka stares at him.

"Oh, forget it." Rodney knows Zelenka is watching him, waiting for him to yell at someone. He just hasn't been in the mood, but he's sure he'll get there. This is his second day back in his body, and he hates to even consider that he feels re-born, but he does.

"You actually came the first time I called." Carson stares at him. "Are you ill, man?"

"Probably." Rodney hops up on the gurney and sticks out his arm, refusing to acknowledge Sheppard with even a glance. "I was incredibly hungry yesterday, remember? Not so much today."

"Good thing. Not much left in the cafeteria after yesterday," Sheppard drawls from the corner where he's slouching. "I asked Carson to look you over. Make sure you're fine for our mission tomorrow."

Rodney meets Carson's eyes. "I'd rather have a semblance of doctor patient confidentiality. If you don't mind, Carson? Sheppard is a huge gossip."

"I am not," Sheppard snaps.

"Sorry, Rodney. We're all so close, I forget." Carson sets about removing Sheppard from the infirmary. "Now, what were you saying?"

"I'm not hungry. I'm always hungry in the morning. I actually tremble if I don't eat. You know that." Rodney keeps his voice low. "I had one cup of coffee."

"That's odd." Carson preps Rodney's arm. "Did you eat late last night?"

"No. Went to bed around four a.m., got up at seven, felt rested, and my stomach hasn't demanded a thing." Rodney spreads his hands, not understanding it all. "Do you think I screwed up my metabolism?"

Carson sighs. "You stop playing doctor, and I'll figure it out." He fills four vials with blood. "Under the scanner now."

Easy enough, and Rodney waits patiently until he's told he can sit up. "Carson, I resigned from the team. This is Sheppard's not so subtle way of pressuring me to do what he wants."

"What?" Carson furrows his brow, moving to him. "You quit?"

"Yeah." Rodney isn't going to explain why. "Look at me. I'm not fit." He goes with that theme, trying to sound earnest. "I'm not hungry, angry, tired, or grumpy. I'm a wreck." And he can't help but laugh. Seeing Carson's crazy eyes, he hops down and tries again, "We're friends, right?"

Carson nods. "Aye. We are."

"Then between you and me, Sheppard doesn't trust me. He hasn't since Doranda, and I'm tired of pretending." Rodney rubs his arm and shrugs. "Maybe it took dying to see it clearly."

Carson frowns, going back to his scanner results. "Or maybe dying got it all stirred around wrong in your head."

"Maybe." Rodney leaves it at that. He's been in Sheppard's mind, and he knows the truth, but that's no reason to tell everyone about it. "So, when will I be hungry?"

"Lunch?" Carson doesn't look up. "Let me run your blood work and then I'll get back to you."

"Sounds good. Dinner later?"

Carson gives him an absent-minded nod, and Rodney only makes the door before his radio clicks.

"Rodney, come see me when Carson is finished," Elizabeth says.

"He's done." Rodney sighs loudly, but he's going, and he isn't surprised when Sheppard shadows him all the way there. He does make a quick stop in stargate command. "Chuck, did we get the diagnostics run?"

Chuck stares. "Um, no?"

Rodney stares back at him. "Um, why?"

"Because…" Chuck swallows hard. "I'm an idiot?"

"Even if I'm dead and Zelenka's burned to a crisp, we still can't neglect weekly diagnostics. If the crystals go during a mission, it'll be bad." Rodney keeps his tone mild. "Do them now, and double check long range sensors. They were acting weird when I was in the chair."

"Yes, sir." Chuck practically flies to the console, and Rodney wishes for coffee. He turns, and Sheppard is right in the way.

"See, being nice works too," Sheppard says in that irritating patronizing tone of his.

"He's worried I can still kill him with my brain." Rodney begins to think he'll have to push Sheppard aside to get to Elizabeth's office. "Hey, are you following me around for a reason?"

Sheppard shifts to the side. "Trust me, I have more important things to do than babysit you."

"Then go do them." Rodney crosses his arms and waits. Sheppard glances at her office and doesn't move. Rodney raises his eyebrows. "Are you invited to the meeting too?"

"Not as such." Sheppard shifts on his feet. "I was just going to give you some backup. I think she's mad."

"Colonel, I can handle it. Thanks." Rodney moves to the bridge and makes sure Sheppard is on the other side of the door when he closes it. "You wanted to see me?"

Elizabeth smiles. "I do. Have a seat. Coffee?"

"You have some?" Rodney takes a cup gratefully. "Thanks. I'm having a strange day, and for Atlantis, that's saying something."

"You look relaxed, almost happy." Elizabeth squints at him. "Very strange."

He laughs, seeing it surprise her. "I tried to get angry earlier, but it seemed like a waste of good oxygen, so I skipped it. Maybe tomorrow. I know people are waiting on tenterhooks for my next rant."

Elizabeth begins playing with her father's watch. "We do sometimes live our lives based on other people's expectations."

Rodney sips his coffee, agreeing with her. "I'm resigning from the team."

"For now, or forever?"

"I don't know." Rodney doesn't, and he takes his coffee to stare out the window. "It was uncomfortable, being inside people's hearts and minds. I'm glad that's over."

"Are you?"

"Yes." Rodney counts the constellations on the stargate again. "Tell me, is our stargate round, or does it just end at the floor?"

Her silence makes him turn. He waits, and she asks, "Don't you know?"

"Expectations can be disappointing when unmet." Rodney gives her some truth. "I need some time to find that angry, bitter side of me that you all enjoy so much."

Elizabeth wets her lips with her tongue. "Take the time you need. No one expects you to get back to normal right away."

"Oh, Elizabeth, I was never normal." Rodney laughs and leaves her frowning. He walks down the stairs and stops right in front of the stargate. Focusing tightly, he pushes his gene down, knowing the console is there and wanting it.

No one is more surprised than him when it slides up from the floor. He doesn't hesitate, putting his hand on it and closing his eyes. The city dances under his fingertips.

"McKay? Tell me you're not some evil ancient about to take over the city," Sheppard says.

Rodney opens his eyes. They have three ZPM's, thanks to the replicators, and he knows he has to gather his plan together quickly while they have power. Fast as thought, he initiates a very small localized lockdown. "Just checking a few things." He pulls his hand back and the column disappears downward immediately.

"That was weird."

"Rodney, we need to talk," Carson says on the radio. "Where are you?"

"In front of the stargate." Rodney hears the worry and concern in Carson's brogue. "Let's meet out on the pier. I need to speak with Sam."

"I know the place." Carson clicks off.

"Sam Carter?" Sheppard asks.

"Oh, I see Dr. Weir frantically waving at you, hoping you'll fill her in on whether or not I'm an evil Ancient. Go do that, okay?" Rodney points up at Chuck to remind him to keep busy and heads toward his pier. Carson is waiting at the last door, and they go on together out the long pier.

"Hungry yet?"

Rodney thinks about his stomach. "Um, maybe?"

Carson laughs. "Welcome to the world of normal people, Rodney. You're no longer hypoglycemic."

Stopping, Rodney catches him by the arm. "You better not be lying!"

"I would never!" Carson starts walking again. "I triple-checked. Also, your blood pressure is normal, and I suspect your back doesn't ache."

"Well, no, but I didn't sleep on my laptop last night." Rodney catches up with him, thinking of lemons, lemon bars, and lemonade. "Do you think…?"

"Not possible. You died. You didn't ascend." Carson shakes his head, drawing the wrong conclusion. "But it is damn odd."

Now is the time to tell him about Chaya, but Rodney hesitates. It'll sound stupid. "Maybe I ascended for one millisecond."

"You were dead. And I know dead." Carson hunches his shoulders, and Rodney shoulder bumps him, trying to comfort him.

"But before I grabbed you." Rodney scans the ocean for his friend. "Did you check the video playback to see if I was glowy?"

Carson throws him a funny look. "No. It was too hard to watch it again," he says. "Not very professional of me, I know."

Rodney impulsively puts his arm around Carson's shoulders. "Am I still allergic to citrus? I've always wanted to try key-lime pie!"

Before Carson can answer, a huge blow of water goes up, and Rodney can't help but run. He can feel the water singing, the whales laughing, the world turning, and he figures he's insane now, but he was dead, and he talked to Chaya, and everyone can cut him some slack.

Sam jumps, and even from a distance, the impact is incredible. Waves rush to Atlantis, and Rodney sees the equations in the fluid dynamics. Carson hurries up behind him.

"Holy crap!"

"And he's a baby!" Rodney knows he's being a moron, but he can feel Sam shoving his way through the water towards him. "Sam!"
Another jump, equations roar and splash, and Carson grabs Rodney by the shoulders. "He'll drown us!"

"We're too high. Not enough water being displaced, velocity, and trajectory to achieve that." Rodney can see the math, hanging in the air. "Atlantis is sturdy. Don't worry so much!" He trots closer to the edge and waves his arms. "I lost the ability to understand the universe, but I still have this!"

"You're cracked in the head!" But Carson laughs, waving at the big whale. "Will he come closer?"

"I hope so." Rodney knows Sam's mother keeps a close eye on him. "I need to say goodbye."

Now Carson grabs him hard. "You're not going to jump, you daft fool!"

"To my whale! I'm going to be gone a little while." Rodney glares, slapping the hands away.

Sam roars up out of the water again, much closer, and suddenly Rodney falls down hard. He's flat on the deck, unable to hear Carson because his mind holds nothing but Sam, whale thoughts, and they're as big as he is.

Don't go.

A short time. I have to fix some things.

You will return with more beautiful maths.

I will. You do what your mother says.

*whale pout* Maybe. Sometimes. I will wait.

Rodney is tossed up and out, and he lands spectacularly back in his body, feeling the crash. "Ow."

"You would get as far from my hospital as humanly possible before collapsing!" Carson is all over him, checking this and that, talking in his radio between yelling at him. Rodney shoves his way to his knees and finds his friend with no effort.

"Bye, Sam!"

Close now, and a prodigious leap, and Sam's right there, and Rodney's radio crackles to life. "I'm sending a jumper, McKay. Get away from the damn edge!"

It's just Sheppard, and Rodney ignores him as Sam crashes into the ocean. It's the sound that hurts, and Carson slaps his hands over his ears.

"You can visit your bloody whale alone next time!"

Sinking back down, Rodney laughs and laughs.

*********

They're all talking at him at once. Carson is the only silent one, putting Rodney under the scanner again and bandaging a cut he received on his forehead when he fell.

"Radek, I'll take care of it.

"Elizabeth, I didn't know he'd be so enthusiastic.

"Teyla, I'm sorry.

"No, Ronon, you may not blast him, and the Ancients said they taste bad anyway.

"Thanks for the jumper ride, Sheppard. I'm aware that you hated to bother."

Elizabeth is still glaring so Rodney tries to look sheepish.

"Carson, what's his condition?" she asks.

"A mite banged up from hitting the deck but fine." Carson ducks his head. "Rodney?"

"Just tell them." Rodney doesn't care if they know about the changes to his body. "But I'm going to go fix the flooding and apologize to Simpson, and Teyla? Will you walk with me?"

She nods, and he heaves himself off the gurney. He waits until they're in the hallway, unsure of how to talk to her.

"Rodney, we are all concerned for you."

"I'm fine." Rodney plows on, "Listen, no one knows more about the Wraith than you and Ronon, and lately I've been thinking that our approach is all wrong."

Her steps falter a moment. "We fight the Wraith together," she says with care, as if she doesn't want to insult him.

"And did that work for the Ancients with all their ships and drones? No. We've got to start a more layered approach to our problem, which is that we don't want to be eaten. Let's face it; very damn few of us are going to ascend, so we have to win."

"I have never heard you speak so passionately about our galaxy." Her confusion is clear. "Did you see something while you were…?"

"Super human? No, but yes, and if the Ancients picked up and ran from this galaxy, why do we think we can succeed where they failed?" He stops talking, afraid that now he's insulted her.

Teyla smiles in a way that's sad and puts her hand on his arm. "Rodney, none of us ever thought your SGC would succeed at getting rid of the Wraith." She blinks. "I do not mean to insult you."

"No, I get it." He tucks her hand into the crook of his elbow. "We have three ZPMs and now is the time to make a comprehensive plan, before I do something stupid like send someone to an alternate reality and drain them."

"I thought Elizabeth was sending two of them back to Earth?"

"She is, but I bought us a little time by nearly dying." Rodney isn't going to let them go without a fight. "I have to go pump out the lower levels that Sam flooded, but you get with Ronon, tell him to meet me later so we can do this right, and don't bring Sheppard."

"But Colonel Sheppard--."

"Won't listen and will have to report it all to Elizabeth. Teyla, please. You and Ronon, no one else."

Her nod is quick. "We do not have much time before the ZPMs are sent away."

"We don't." Rodney leaves her at the transporter, hurrying now, and he's glad no one is around to see how fast he can work when he puts his mind to it. Chaya is a bitch, but he has to believe that she sent him back with new abilities for a reason beyond spitefulness.

*********

"You know the ZPMs are going to Earth at the next dial-in!"

"Unless there's another solar flare or Lucius comes back for another round of drug-us-all-into-compliance day!" Rodney makes the final adjustment and can feel that Atlantis is a little lighter in the water. He doesn't question it. He just knows it's true.

Zelenka waves his hands in the air. "Dr. Weir is going to kill you!"

"I was just protecting them, and while I was down here, mucking out Sam's mess, I had a thought." Rodney smiles in a way that always makes Zelenka crazy.

"Gah!" Zelenka begins a tirade in Czech, and Rodney listens patiently until the little weasel calls him a goat lover.

"I am not! Now listen, we know the replicators are nothing if not efficient, so they take over Atlantis, go down to the ZPM room and find, what?"

"Nothing," Zelenka says with a groan. "Except a bunch of empties!"

"Exactly." Rodney pets the console and then turns to put his tools away. "So what do they do?"

"I have no idea."

"I know you don't." Rodney heads straight for the cafeteria. He's finally hungry, and he's going to eat while he has time. "Did you even bother to check the empties?"

"Me? What about you!" Zelenka races to catch up with him. "We had them stored--"

"And neither of us thought to look because of three new shiny ones, but why would they stop at three? They're replicators."

"We are idiots."

"Well, you are." Rodney pushes the light in the transporter. "You work on that. I'm going to eat."

Zelenka snatches him by the arm. "Wait." He lowers his voice, speaking again in Czech.

Rodney sighs and rolls his eyes. "Ronon is a blabbermouth. Fine. You can help." He brushes him off and stows his tools before getting in line for what he hopes is something recognizable, if not good. He finds himself drawn to protein in mass quantities, a few carbs, and some salad.

Turning, he faces the question again of where to sit, and he hates that he's been dealing with that since grade school.

"Over here, Rodney!"

Glad to see Carson, Rodney goes that direction, smiles at Katie but doesn't meet her eyes, and fields a glare from Simpson. "I said I was sorry!"

She flips him off, and he's laughing as he sits down. Carson looks at Rodney's tray, of course, and says, "I'm glad to see you're hungry."

"Me too." Rodney talks while he eats. "You told them?"

"That you've changed on a cellular level? Yes." Carson points at Rodney's salad. "Are you really going to eat that?"

"It looked good. Shut up." Rodney curls his empty hand protectively around his tray. "So I can eat oranges?"

"Probably. The scar on your ass is gone." Carson laughs at Rodney's glare. "So I went and looked at the video feed."

"Cue scary music." Rodney leans in closer. "I ascended."

"Why the hell didn't you just tell me?" Carson squawks like a mother hen. "You are the worst patient and friend I've ever had!"

"True." Rodney shovels his mouth full and chews. He likes this steak whatever. Swallowing, he sees that Carson isn't amused. "Carson, I told you."

"You did not." Carson looks as if he might flick peas at him. "Radek was the one to spot it. One frame, just a flicker, and seriously? You did?"

"Yes." Rodney still isn't telling him about Chaya's insults and the fact that he was kicked out the moment he got there. "It's over-rated. Let's move on. How many supplies for refugees do you have on hand at any one moment?"

Carson blinks several times at the abrupt change in topic. "Never enough. We use them up quickly, and I don't exactly have staff to dedicate to that."

"How many people do you need?" Rodney mentally makes a list of people he knows can be shifted. "Will you need a department head for that area?"

Wide-eyed, Carson just looks at him. "Dr. Weir says we don't have the people or resources."

"She's wrong. Get a tablet, and let's get organized." Rodney scans the room. "Wait. Simpson! Bring me that tablet!"

Her answer is rude, but she limps over and hands it to him. "You and your whale suck."

"He's sorry too. Since you're on light duty, I have a new project for you." He winks at Carson. "Her first degree was in the field of bio-mechanics, and I know for a fact she's bored in her current assignment. Also? She thinks you're cute."

"Rodney!" Carson throws a roll at him. It's Ronon who snatches it up before it hits the floor.

"Hey, is he glowing?" Sheppard asks, basking in the instant laughter.

"Why, you want to have sex with me?" Rodney hears the snarl and feels the fear before Sheppard says anything, and he's up, with his tray, and moving before there's an ugly scene. He's so stupid, and he should have his lips sewn shut, because he's just terrible at being quiet.

You'll never have friends if you make fun of them!

"I know, Mom. I know," he mutters, finding a quiet spot on a balcony to finish his meal. He shoves his tray away, leans his head down to the railing, and listens to the equations.

*********

Before Radek stops running the halls cheering and screaming in two, possibly three, languages, Rodney retires to his office to get a few things done. By the time he's answered four e-mails, Teyla glides inside, finding a seat and smiling.

"Everyone is happy."

"It's nice." Rodney hits send on e-mail number five and shuffles two more people into Simpson's new department. She immediately pings him back an approval. "Simpson is going to need your help on her new project. Not sure she knows it yet, but you should go see her next and remind her that your people have a wide variety of textiles available for trade."

"I will do so." Teyla leans forward. "Are you more intelligent?"

"No." Rodney is sure of that. "It's not like that. I'm, just, able to hear things now."

Teyla nods, and of all the people on Atlantis, she's probably the only one to understand. "Are you and Colonel Sheppard fighting?" Her puzzlement is clear.

"He doesn't like me. I don't like him. It's that simple." He sends number six and shifts his attention to her. "I was fooling myself."

Her eyes are full of sympathy. "He often says things he does not mean in such a manner that could be taken harshly."

"He grew up that way," Ronon says, appearing almost as if by magic. Rodney waits for Zelenka, still flushed with excitement, before locking the door.

"Dr. Weir now says we get to keep two!" Zelenka beams at them.

Rodney snorts. "Generous of her. Okay, this is the plan." He opens a drawer and pulls out a fresh, new tablet. "The Wraith have one huge weakness. We exploit it."

Three puzzled faces stare at him, and he points a finger at his own chest. "People. They have to eat us to live. No people, no food, no Wraith. Simple."

Ronon flipped a knife. "They hibernate and wait."

"A hive ship on the ground is easy to blow up," Rodney counters. "All the Wraith are awake now, and they're hungry, and they're killing each other for hunting grounds. We relocate a goodly portion of people in this galaxy, and things are going to get even nastier."

"People are going to die," Ronon says. "But that happens anyway."

"We have so much power," Zelenka says. "We could fly."

Rodney nods, letting them think it through. Teyla sighs. "What of those who will not leave their homes?"

"Is it any different than usual? I say we give the people of this galaxy a choice, a sanctuary. I know the SGC sent us here to pillage your galaxy of technology that could help them fight the Ori, but we've done that, and now we need to help the people here."

"Could they go to Earth?" Ronon asks.

"It depends on the level of cooperation we get." Zelenka waves his hand. "There are many planets in the Milky Way that need people, but the Ori are merciless as well."

"Out of the frying pan, into the fire." Rodney feels Sheppard messing with the door, trying to get inside, but he's going to be unsuccessful this time. "First, we bulk up our supplies. Secondly, we plant trackers that are taken back to hive ships so we can began to see where they are in real time. And lastly, we bring as many people here as we can convince. Those who are too suspicious, I say we try to convince them to go to the time dilation planet. They'll be safe there."

"They'll die within weeks," Ronon growls.

"Not to them," Rodney says. "Radek, how many people can this city support with the power of three ZPMs?" He can feel Sheppard's anger and frustration building.

Zelenka spreads his hands far apart. "Close to a million, if we push."

Teyla mouths 'a million' and Ronon freezes. Rodney nods. "Easily, but food will always be a problem until we find food replicators." He points at Ronon and Teyla. "Think about all this. We'll meet again tomorrow."

He lets the door fly open, and Sheppard prowls inside. "What the hell?"

"Meeting adjourned," Rodney says, and they bolt from the room, even Ronon. Sheppard is thoroughly pissed, so Rodney tries to look calm. "They were berating me about my choice in aquatic friends. Well, Radek was gloating about how he found more ZPMs.

"I guess it's your turn?"

Sheppard doesn't look appeased or any less suspicious. "I want to know what's going on," he growls.

For some reason, Rodney is forcibly reminded that Sheppard carries Iratus bug DNA. "We've formed a club called, 'People Who Aren't Attracted to Ancients.'"

"Not funny." Sheppard puts his hands on Rodney's desk and leans. "Spill it."

Rodney is fairly certain that Ronon will tell Sheppard anyway. "I want to save all the people of this galaxy from the Wraith. They're helping. Are we done?"

A moment, and then Sheppard rolls his eyes. "I doubt it, but don't you think that you could use the help of the military commander of this base?"

"Not there yet." Rodney opens another email. "Logistics isn't your strength anyway."

"Hey, that's not fair. I'm Air Force!" Sheppard paces away and then back. "And that stunt with Sam was really stupid!"

"He's great." Rodney stops looking at him. It makes his guts twist. They could've been so good, so right, and they could've - he veers off from that line of thinking. Sheppard is too damaged and would never allow it, and they aren't even friends. Rodney needs to stop fooling himself.

"Mission tomorrow."

"Have fun. Bring home pie." Rodney sees that Zelenka has already sent him an e-mail and opens it.

"Rodney, I'm ordering you to go with us."

"I'm not in your chain of command." Rodney types a quick note. He completely ignores the man in his office until a big hand slaps down right in front of him.

"I thought we were team," Sheppard growls.

Disgusted, Rodney gets to his feet and meets Sheppard's angry gaze. "No, you thought I'd do as I was told and be the butt of your jokes." He crosses his arms. "You don't trust me. You haven't since Doranda, and even before that it was only that I hadn't screwed up yet."

Sheppard narrows his eyes.

"I know everything about you, Colonel. Everything. Inside and out. We aren't friends. We aren't team. Hell, we aren't even colleagues. Go back to your planes and guns. When I need some help, I'll follow the proper chain of communication." Rodney sits down and pulls his laptop closer. "Go away."

"I helped you ascend!"

"Dr. Weir made you. You didn't care." Rodney is about ready to give up and leave his own office. He hates the words between them. Nothing is coming from Sheppard but anger and resentment. Rodney shoves all that aside and hears the fear. Sheppard is so scared. And tired of being scared. Rodney gentles his voice. "Please, John."

"No." Sheppard throws a chair against a wall.

Rodney should've guessed that this would push him too far. "Okay, you stop throwing things and fondling your gun, and I'm willing to pretend we're friends."

"Colonel Sheppard!" Elizabeth dashes in the office, eyes wide, scared.

"My fault, Elizabeth. I was being an ass." Rodney slides in front of her, just in case more chairs go flying. "Colonel, you have my apology."

"We're not finished." Sheppard stalks out of Rodney's office.

Elizabeth looks after him and then right at Rodney. "Go after him!"

"He's not my friend," Rodney says, going to his desk, refusing to listen to where Sheppard is going.

"But you're his!" She points at Rodney's guts. "Now go!"

Her truth hits him hard, and he reels from it. He clutches his head, feeling as if he might break open from all the memories that assail him. His mistake is so obvious that it tears at him.

"Rodney?" she asks.

"I know!" He runs after Sheppard, extending all his senses and telling the city to shut down the transporters. Sheppard - John - leaves a trail a mile wide, but Rodney doesn't stop running until he bears him to the floor.

Sheppard fights, of course, but Rodney just sits on him until all the anger collapses in on itself.

"I'm sorry," they say together, and Rodney burrows into Sheppard's neck and holds on tight.

"You know?" Sheppard's voice rumbles in Rodney's ear.

"I know." Rodney shifts his weight, feeling Sheppard's need to flee. "I won't tell, I promise, just please stop--"

"Being an asshole," Sheppard interrupts. "I was…"

"Afraid. I know." Rodney tries to ease some of Sheppard's pain. "I'll pretend. I will." He listens to Sheppard's heartbeat and knows it's safe to sit up. "You broke my face with your pointy elbow."

"You broke my ribs with your ass." Sheppard shoves him. "Now I have to apologize to Elizabeth, and that is completely your fault."

"Yes, your temper and inability to cope with your own sexuality are my fault." Rodney shoves him back. "I thought you liked me. I was nothing but your beard!"

Rubbing his face, Sheppard groans. "That makes no sense."

"It makes perfect sense. You hung out with me to keep yourself from temptation with all those handsome Marines." Rodney gingerly touches his cheekbone. He's pretty sure it's cracked. "I hate you."

"You do not." Sheppard rubs at his ribs and winces. "You shouldn't have gone poking around in my head!"

"You threw it all at me!" Rodney makes his way to his feet and leans against a handy wall. "You forced it down my throat. Your childhood, your abusive father, your moronic brother: the whole lot of it!"

"That's none of your business!" Sheppard gets up as well, but he doesn't run away.

Rodney groans as he straightens up all the way. It's time to get serious. "So let's call it good, okay? You do your thing, find another beard, maybe Zelenka, and I'll forget how much I care."

Sheppard turns very pale. "You're that mad? Because I told a few jokes?"

Once again, the words between them are failing, and Rodney doesn't know how to fix it. He puts his hands on Sheppard's shoulders. Energy seems to ping pong back and forth between them, and somewhere he thinks Chaya is grinding her teeth in frustration.

"You're different now, aren't you?" Sheppard's voice is low.

Pulling him close, Rodney breathes in his smell. "I sloughed away a layer of skin. When you ascend, you won't come back. Remember that."

"Okay," Sheppard says with a shake in his voice.

"Is everything all right down here?" Elizabeth sounds almost scared. "You two are glowing," she whispers.

"We'll be fine." Rodney has to reassure her, and he lets go of Sheppard completely. "He punched me. I sat on him, and we're best friends again."

"Well… good." Elizabeth doesn't step closer. "But I can't have my senior staff brawling. It sets a bad example."

Sheppard nods and heads for the nearest transporter, and Rodney remembers to turn them back on. Her eyes are still wide, and Rodney isn't sure where they stand now.

"It'll be alright." Rodney hopes so at least.

*********

Teyla is at Rodney's door so early that he doesn't have pants on yet. She doesn't seem to notice, and actually begins to pace around his room like a caged cheetah.

"Is the sun up?" Rodney slumps back on his bed and pulls the covers over his bare legs. He has no idea why she's here, but it's Teyla. "Am I breathing?"

"Ronon is bringing coffee." She doesn't slow down, and he burrows into his pillow again.

"The dial-in is in two days. We must be ready." She sounds like she has plenty of energy.

"Yeah." Rodney feels himself drifting. If she's quiet, he can sleep.

"For the first time, I feel a true sense of hope." She's not quiet at all. "We must go to New Athos, and then we will begin."

"Can I sleep two more hours first?" Rodney really hopes he can.

"Get up, McKay," Ronon growls, coming right inside as if it's his own room. "There's chocolate in your coffee."

"What?" Rodney sits up without delay, making grabby hands. "You did what?"

"The cook makes this stuff, with chocolate and coffee. I had her make two." Ronon hands him one and puts the other on the desk. "No reason to shower. It's the rainy season on New Athos. Now move it."

"We agree with your assessment that Colonel Sheppard should not be informed. He's safer that way," Teyla says, and she's back to pacing. "Do I need to get your pants?"

"It'd help." Rodney wants to sit here forever and drink this wonderful concoction. "This cook person, is she married?"

"She does not prefer men." Teyla is beginning to sound a bit impatient. "Dress! Now!"

"Okay!" Rodney fills his mouth before fumbling with his pants. He swallows. "Do I need a gun?"

Ronon rolls his eyes, and Rodney begins to try to hurry. If he's thrown over Ronon's shoulder, he can't drink his lovely, lovely coffee. "Just for the record, I know why we're going, right?"

"Your plan." Ronon spins his gun. "Drink faster."

"I'm going to marry her." Rodney wallows in another sip. "Or be her love slave. Don't care which."

"We are leaving now." Teyla opens the door. Rodney grabs his other coffee, leaving Ronon to get his boots, tac-vest, gun, and whatever else they want him to wear. People are yawning over the DHD, but Elizabeth comes down the stairs.

"Be safe," she says, and she smiles, and Rodney thinks she has no idea what's going on, or she wouldn't be quite so happy. "Rodney, put on your boots first."

Grumbling, he sits on the steps, guards his coffee, and shoves his feet inside his boots. "It's not even light out."

Someone dials the gate, and Rodney goes because Ronon is eying the coffee. It's sunny and warm on New Athos, around lunch by his thinking, and he keeps one eye on Teyla's back as he goes down the trail. They're quickly met, but Rodney's not sharing, and it isn't until he's in the village that he puts on his tac-vest and stares sadly down into his empty coffee cups.

"I can have more of that coffee later, right?"

Ronon doesn't answer, which is not reassuring, and then Halling is there, and Rodney stretches.

"We have much to discuss, Dr. McKay." Halling smiles, and they greet each other formally. There's tea, of course, and for once, Ronon doesn't leave to wander the woods.

"Teyla has told me everything, and we have spoken to everyone in the village, and we are agreed."

Rodney waits for it.

"We are coming to Atlantis to fight for our galaxy." Halling doesn't smile. "But first we must inform your SGC that they may no longer take our ZPMs. We are, however, happy to trade for them."

"My people are coming too," Ronon says.

"All of them?" Rodney knows there are well over three hundred now.

Ronon ducks his head, face tight. "We were culled. I wasn't there."

There aren't any words that will comfort him. Rodney blows out a deep breath. "Shit."

Teyla nods. "Will you go with us to Earth?"

"Yes." He'd known he was going but hadn't known why until now. "Ronon, go to your people. Dial Atlantis, ask for sanctuary. Use that exact word."

Up in a flash, Ronon is gone through the woods, and Teyla stands as well. Rodney looks Halling in the eye. "This won't be easy, and your people must stay this time to help us with the refugees, coordinate supplies, walk patrols, and find more sources for food."

"We understand now." Halling nods. "We must think of the generations to come, not ourselves."

"I do not yet understand how you will plant tracking devices on their ships," Teyla says.

"That's today's project with Zelenka." Rodney yawns, feeling the urgency and knowing sleep will become a prized commodity over the next days.

"Teyla, walk me home and then get your people organized. Don't bring things you won't need. We can use this site for overflow if we have to."

"I have moved many more times than you." Teyla levels him with a glare. He pretends to cower, grabs up a biscuit, and waves goodbye. Halling is already yelling orders, and Teyla doesn't dawdle down the path. Rodney keeps pace and dials Atlantis himself. Teyla embraces him. "What if Dr. Weir says we cannot come?"

Before he pushes the last symbol, the gate flares to life, and they can only stare as a dart whizzes through, almost immediately hitting a tree and bursting into flames. Three more come and he's not sure if they make it or not. The trees are on fire above and around them, and the stargate fizzles out. Ducking, Rodney redials as fast as he can.

"Get your people! Now!" Rodney ducks a burning branch. Teyla is away like a deer, and he yells into his radio the instant the wormhole is stable,

"Atlantis, this is McKay! We are under attack! Lower the shield and keep it open until everyone is through!"

"We hear you, Rodney," Sheppard says. "Are we going to have Wraith visitors?"

"If we do, shoot them!" Rodney jumps out of the way of a tree that's collapsing. To keep the gate open, he snatches up a branch that's only partly on fire and shoves it halfway through the event horizon. "Teyla!"

"We are coming!"

Rodney listens for the whine of darts while pelting back down the path. He grabs up the first two children he sees and it's a race now. The fire spreads rapidly, and he works the math on its probable path given wind speed and knows they have some time. That doesn't keep the sparks from flying, and something burns at his leg to make him run faster.

"Rodney!"

"I know!" He stops at the gate, pushes the kids through, and bats out the fire on his leg. Women and children stream past him, and he hears the tree falling before he sees it. "Teyla!"

Time seems to slow down, and he sees the trajectory, works out the equation, and knows the stargate can withstand a direct hit but Teyla can't.

"Wraith!" Teyla yells, and Rodney shoves her out of the way of the tree and through the stargate. Blue bolts of energy begin to whiz by, and this whole fighting in a burning house is beyond ridiculous. Halling and the men fight and retreat, and the tree hits the gate hard enough to snap in half. Rodney ducks, runs, kills a Wraith, and counts the minutes in his head.

"Halling! Everybody needs to run for it! Now!"

The yelling takes on a new urgency, and Rodney can't stop the Wraith that lumber through the gate. The fire roars, and even the Wraith begin to flee. Halling grabs Rodney by the vest and throws him through, and Rodney promptly falls on his ass.

"Rodney!" Sheppard yells.

"Wraith coming!" Rodney is grateful for the Marine who drags him out of the way. The air tastes sweet, and he can feel Sheppard's worry, anger.
Athosians suddenly pile through the gate, and the Wraith are right behind them, and Rodney says, "Thirty-seven."

Gunfire, yelling, and Sheppard killing, and Rodney counts. "Thirty-eight."

The gate shuts down. The branch is sliced in half, and Sheppard gives Rodney a shake. "Ronon?"

"Gated away earlier. He'll turn up." Rodney looks but can't see much for all the people. "Teyla?"

"Fine. Pissed, but fine." Sheppard squeezes Rodney's shoulder. "Good job."

One last burst of gunfire, and a strange silence falls, broken only by harsh breathing and quiet sobbing. Rodney shuts his eyes. He hadn't done enough. "Raise the shield. Might be a transmitter on one of them."

"Chuck! Raise the shield!"

"Yes, sir!"

The shouts seem to galvanize everyone into action, and Rodney drags himself to his feet and out of the way.

"Rodney, where is Ronon?" Elizabeth asks, suddenly there in front of him.

"He heard his people were culled. He went there." Rodney exaggerates a little. "He'll turn up."

She's gone quickly into the crowd, working with Halling, and Rodney knows he needs to help but it's hard to move. He feels scorched all over.

"Chuck! Dial MR-763! Now!" Sheppard yells from across the gateroom.

"On it!"

The whoosh is loud, and Rodney doesn't watch them shove the Wraith through the gate into space. More people are helping now, and Rodney lets himself sit in an out of the way spot and breathe. Just breathing cool air is so nice.

"You're sorta smoldering," Sheppard says, gentling removing the empty gun from Rodney's fist. "And you trashed my gateroom."

"And I did not need to be pushed through the gate like a child!"

"Teyla, the tree was going to hit you," Rodney says, exaggerating his patience. "On the head."

"Oh." She takes him by the arm and pulls him up. "You need to go to the hospital."

"Won't it be crowded?" Rodney lets her support some of his weight because she's very strong, and his leg is starting to hurt like hell. "I was on fire. I think you were too."

"Perhaps."

"Gives new meaning to coming in hot," Sheppard says. He gets smacked by Teyla, and then he's away to handle another problem, and Rodney might have tugged her a little closer.

"We have lost everything again," Teyla says, soft and low.

Rodney shakes his head. "I think the fire will go south. Did we get everyone?"

"We were lucky that most were gathered to speak to Halling." Teyla stops and pulls him into a strong embrace. "Thank you."

Blushing, Rodney hugs her. "And the day started out so well."

"Later, we will speak to Elizabeth." Teyla sounds strong, despite the fact that they'd both been on fire. He nods, and they get moving again. The hospital isn't as busy as Rodney had thought, and he credits the quick feet of the Athosians for that.

"Rodney! Teyla!" Carson doesn't sound happy to see them. "Christ, man, were you on fire?"

Rodney blinks at him. "Um, yeah, maybe a little?"

"He was very brave." Teyla passes him over. "I will shower and come back if I find anything worse than a burn."

"Nurse Kael, check Teyla over and then she can shower." Carson glares until she sighs, and Rodney feels his leg give out.

"Ow! Ow! Ow!" It's like all the pain crashes into him at once. "Don't even think about touching me!"

"Good God, must we go through this every time?" Carson mutters.

*********

"Off-world activation! Ronon's IDC!"

Rodney fumbles with his crutches but he can't beat the herd to the stairs, and he's not going down because he'll never get back up. Equations pop out of the stargate at regular intervals, and he can't help but watch them dribble to the floor.

"This is Ronon Dex. My people need sanctuary."

All eyes turn to Elizabeth, Chuck's hand hovers over the shield, and Rodney knows this is the moment where it's all decided. Sheppard shifts, impatience all over him, and Teyla holds her breath.

It's strange that Elizabeth turns to look at him, and Rodney hears her worry. He hobbles one step and then says in his most reasonable tone. "We have to choose. Are we here to grab all the technology we can for the fight against the Ori, or are we going to help these people who have been impacted by our presence in this galaxy?"

"Drop the shield," Elizabeth says, and to her credit her voice doesn't waver. "Let's move, people!" Her eyes never leave Rodney's. "Not you, Rodney."

He reaches for her hand, something he's never done before, and she clasps it. "I have a plan, Elizabeth."

"It better be a damn good one." Her eyes spark, and he reassures her by pointing at his brain. It's unfortunate that the crutches clatter to the floor.

The Satedans are the most organized refugees that Rodney's ever seen, and not a one of them is crying, down to the smallest child, who could probably kick Rodney's ass. Mostly, it's women and children, but the men who are left are some of the scariest people alive. Warriors, all of them, and the Wraith, if they were smart, would flee the galaxy now.

Ronon doesn't stop until he's in front of Elizabeth, but he doesn't say a word.

"Welcome home, Ronon," Elizabeth says.

Anyone watching wouldn't have seen Ronon react at all, but Rodney hears him smile on the inside.

"Brought a few friends, buddy?" Sheppard claps him on the back. "Any chance you brought some more blasters?"

"So typical." Rodney scans for those too. "Is this everyone?" He knows it's a double-edged sword to ask.

"A few went to work for the Genii," Ronon growls. "I won't take them now." He glances down at Rodney's leg and then over to Teyla's bandaged hand. "Where?"

"Wraith. After you left." Teyla greets him formally. "My people are here."

Ronon holds her an extra second, and she lets him. "Rodney was very brave."

"Everyone says that like it's never happened before!" Rodney counts heads, does the math, and resolves to hide more coffee than usual in his lab. Ronon grunts and hugs him hard enough to hurt.

"We'll get everyone settled, and then we're going back to New Athos to get whatever is left," Sheppard says. "Think you got a few guys who could come along and help out?"

"Slow down, Colonel. Ronon's men aren't mission ready," Elizabeth says.

"No one in the galaxy is more mission ready," Sheppard says, "and it's not like we can stop them."

Rodney sees the wheels in Elizabeth's head turn and lock. She takes a small audible breath. "I'm still in command of this base."

"Yes," Ronon says. "Because we want you to be."

Teyla's nod is instant. "My people and Ronon's will not allow anyone to challenge that."

"You guys are still letting me be the boss of the jumpers, right?" Sheppard asks.

Rodney rolls his eyes and yells over the side of the railing. "Don't worry! They'll stop yapping in a minute and find you some rooms!"

It's a surprise when it's Ronon who laughs. "Where?"

"Come on," Sheppard grumbles. He liberates a tablet from Chuck, and they trot downstairs together.

"Later, give an inspirational speech about how they can fight the Wraith and save the galaxy!" Rodney grins at Elizabeth.

She glares, one eye looking meaner than the other. "I'll do that. Tomorrow at oh-eight hundred, three ZPMs are going to Earth. Are you ready, Dr. McKay?"

He takes that to mean that she's not in a good mood now. Crossing his arms, he narrows his eyes. "No."

"I believe what Dr. McKay means is that we need to discuss our power requirements if we're going to have so many guests." Teyla faces Elizabeth, back straight and proud, and Rodney knows the battle is now officially on. He stealthily retrieves his crutches and leaves them to fight it out.

Zelenka is asleep on the floor of the lab again, and Rodney smacks him with a crutch. Miko smothers a laugh. "I will get him coffee."

"Get me some too!" Rodney finds his desk chair in a corner and sits down with a grunt. "Can we do it?"

Rubbing his eyes, Zelenka doesn't even bother to get up. "Miniaturization is very hard."

"You're the best engineer we have. If you can't do it, we're screwed."

"Of course I did it!" Zelenka bolts up, sways, and points a scrawny finger at him. "You stroke my ego to make me work without sleep!"

"Pretty much." Rodney tries to find a comfortable spot for his leg. It hurts. "I'm mostly worried about the frequency and whether it can be tracked back here."

"We can deactivate with a strong magnet." Zelenka stumbles over to his stool and slumps down on it. He mumbles a few dirty words in Czech about morons who don't know how to wipe computer drives. "Just because it is transmitter, does not mean it is not a computer."

"Just making sure you remembered those itty bitty computer parts." Rodney's grin is wide. "The Satedans are here. Elizabeth thinks we're giving the SGC three ZPM's, and Sheppard wants a blaster."

"Make him one. I am done." Zelenka puts on his glasses and blinks at him. "We must test."

"I'll take care of that. You go sleep somewhere else." Rodney waves him away. "And take a shower!"

Zelenka flips him off before leaving, and Rodney stares at his leg, trying to decide whether to rub it or not.

"Don't even think of rubbing it, lad."

Rodney catches the power bar Carson tosses him. "The Satedans came well-supplied."

"A few injuries and long-term problems, but they are a remarkably healthy people." Carson perches on the stool vacated by Zelenka. "Simpson is doing a good job."

"Of course she is." Rodney runs through his mental checklist while munching his bar. "To take our case to the SGC, I need a Pegasus native with Ancient genes. Any help there?"

Carson stares at him for the longest time. "You want to establish their right to the ZPMs."

"Exactly." Rodney points at him. "And don't even start with the whole 'we're leaving Earth unprotected spiel,' I've spoken with Halling, and we agree that they go, but we want something in return."

"Do you hear yourself, Rodney?" Carson furrows his brow, looking confused. "You sound as if this galaxy is your home."

"It is." Rodney didn't have to think about that for even one second. "Atlantis is my home, and I think the Ancients parked her here for a reason. Maybe they felt guilty about the Wraith. Maybe they knew their descendants would have to come clean up the mess. Either way, my life is here now, and I'll be damned if some over-evolved bugs are going to kill all the people I--"

"Love?"

"Maybe." Rodney lifts his chin and refuses to commit. If he concentrates, he can hear Carson's worry, and dimly, in the distance, he feels Sheppard's tired anger. Underneath his feet, the city is purring with power, and he knows she approves of more people in her hallways.

"Perhaps ascending gave you a greater connection to this galaxy," Carson says.

Rodney grabs for a bit of the listening and opens his ears to all the ATA carriers on the base. Emotions bombard him, but he grits his teeth, weeding out the ones he knows and sniffing down the ones he doesn't.

"One of the Athosians has the gene," Rodney says. He shoves everyone else away and listens with his heart. "Kanaan is his name, and he loves Teyla."

"Don't we all," Carson says. "I'll hunt him up and test him, but Rodney, I hope you realize that you're putting Colonel Sheppard between the rock and the hard place."

Honing back in on Sheppard, Rodney gets to his feet clumsily. "I know." He gets to work checking Zelenka's transmitter, and then wonders again how he's going to mass produce them. It's not as if he can send them to China.

"Dr. McKay."

He swivels, nearly falls, and it's Miko who slides to catch him. Her smile is wide, and he grunts, knowing he shouldn't be trying to work on his feet yet. Then he realizes his entire staff, down to the lowliest botanist is staring at him with puppy dog eyes. The urge to yell is hard to push down, but instead he tries to listen.

They aren't angry, but they are nervous.

Miko helps him sit down, and then he snaps his fingers several times to get them started.

"This is our home too, and we want to help."

He's glad they kept it short, and he listens harder, trying to search out any bad apples in the barrel. "How?" he asks, crossing his arms, wanting them to work at it.

"We can help with food supplies," Johnson, who is the head of the botany department, says.

"We'll make the transmitters," Miko says. "Have you decided how to get them aboard the Hive ships?"

"There's one way," Rodney says. He'd racked his brain, but all he could think of was putting them in the human food supplies throughout the galaxy. Some of those people would be culled, giving them transmitters on hive ships.

One of the botanists steps forward. "Put them in bullets."

Shock and relief at an idea that doesn't make him nauseous races through him. "That's moronic, but… it could work." Rodney taps his radio. "Lt. Cadman, we have need of your expertise."

"Oh, Rodney, you know how to make a girl smile."

He rubs his forehead, pointing at the botanists. "Two things: supplies and helping Lt. Cadman." He shifts his finger to Miko. "You, figure out a way to make a quadrillion of these."

"Can I round down?" Miko asks with considerable spirit.

"Atlantis has not been good for you," he growls. He wobbles to his feet and grabs his crutches. "I'm leaving before Cadman gets here. Prove to me you're actually competent and solve these problems."

"Make the transmitters. Check. Get the transmitters in the Wraith. Check," Miko says.

Sparing a glare at all of them, he clomps away, but he doesn't it make it very far before Cadman is in his face. "Wha'cha need, Rodney?"

"Go help them. Make sure they don't blow themselves up."

"What fun would that be?" Cadman pats him on the head and leaves. He ignores his inner voice that says she's a good person and continues on his painful way. It's probably time to head to his quarters and call it a day, but he can't help but go by the cafeteria first. It's there that Sheppard's anger finally finds him, and he lowers his head, hoping to go unnoticed in the crowd.

Sheppard looms, hands on his hips. "So there's a plan? And you didn't tell me?" He's one notch below yelling.

"No." Rodney keeps it short and simple, watching Sheppard start to yell and then stop to think.

"I thought we were friends," he growls.

Rodney waves that away. "I told you we weren't ready to involve the military yet, and you have outside obligations to meet that might slow me down."

"You don't trust me." Sheppard's glare is hot. "Hey, just forget it. You do… whatever, and I'll go play in the corner."

"Save me from the drama," Rodney mutters, throwing his empty jello cup at him. "Fine. Go see Cadman, Teyla, Carson, Zelenka, and Ronon. They know the plan."

"Just tell me!"

The entire cafeteria stops, silence filling the room. Sheppard flushes, and Rodney tries to save him from more embarrassment. "Yes! I ate the last turkey sandwich! Let it go!"

People laugh, choke in an effort not to laugh, and the noise level returns to normal. Sheppard sits down across from him. "Rodney, this isn't funny," Sheppard whispers, eyes dark and angry.

"No, John, it's not," Rodney whispers back at him. "Do you know Kanaan?"

For a second, Sheppard stares. "Not really. Nice enough guy."

Rodney changes the subject again. "Ronon's people are getting settled?"

Sheppard nods, but Rodney can hear that bright mind twirling like a Ferris wheel.

"Zelenka is sleeping off a project I had him on, and Teyla and I need to plan tomorrow's trip to Earth." Rodney has no trouble seeing the flare of fury go off in Sheppard's now green eyes. "Halling is going too."
Abruptly, Sheppard rubs his face hard with his hands. "Elizabeth has no idea, does she? That you're reordering Atlantis to suit yourself?"

More offended than he thought possible, Rodney lurches up. Explanations and excuses spin inside his mind, but he shuts his mouth firmly. This isn't the place or the time. Crutches make it very difficult to leave with any dignity, but he gives it a try. It doesn't work when the object of his ire refuses to stay behind.

"Okay, so maybe that was harsh," Sheppard says.

Rodney concentrates on getting to his quarters without falling. That's all he does, but it doesn't stop Sheppard from following him, words tripping from his lips. Not insults or putdowns now, just a broken stream of nonsense and protestations mixed with hums and haws.
Finally, arms aching in a horrible way, Rodney palms open his door. He lowers his head for a moment and struggles to find words that will mean something for a change.

"I don't want to argue with you." Rodney meets Sheppard's intense eyes. "I want to do the right thing in this galaxy, for this galaxy, and for Atlantis."

"You?"

"And that is why you and I don't talk anymore." Rodney doesn't look away and struggles not to hear the fear and worry that Sheppard is pouring out onto him. "God, you are so messed up." He tears himself away and goes inside. "I'm a damn genius. How did I miss it? How could I think for even one minute that you cared about anything and anyone?"

Sheppard shuts the door. "That's a damn rotten thing to say, Rodney."

"Well, you would know a thing or two about saying rotten things." Rodney throws his crutches down and hops to his bed. "Son of a bitch!"

"Rodney!" Sheppard saves him from dumping right to the floor, and the contact of Sheppard's hands makes Rodney convulse.

So hurt. Needs so much. Want so much. Nothing. Nothing.

It's like a maelstrom, and Rodney is sucked right into the middle of it. Distantly, he hears Sheppard call for Carson.

"Rodney!"

"John, I'm sorry." Rodney sweeps him up, holding him close and shoving everything boiling through them away.

Pain. Hurts. Rodney!

"Holy crap."

Rodney has no time for Carson. He presses his face into Sheppard's neck and loves him through and though, knowing that it hurts him.

"Don't touch them. I have no idea what it'll do to either of them!"

Sheppard jerks, and Rodney tightens his grip. Love hurts, damn it.

No. You can't! Don't you dare! Sheppard shudders all over. Christ, Rodney, how can you?

The only answer is more, and Rodney pours himself empty before letting it all fade away.

*********

He listens before he opens his eyes, making sure the three ZPMs are there before moving on to people, and he's more or less surrounded.

"Rodney?"

"I'm here." Rodney refuses to open his eyes. "Sheppard?"

"He's fine." Carson pats Rodney on the shoulder. "He didn't pass out."

Rodney is very sure that Sheppard is nowhere near the hospital, and sure enough there's a confused mess of a colonel out on a pier. Rodney takes a deep breath. "I'm just tired." He reaches without looking and catches Teyla by the hand. "I never thought, but I hoped, because of course I love you, everyone does, really." He tries to make sense and fails miserably.

Teyla's other hand strokes through his hair. She whispers right in his ear, "For you, it has always been John."

"And you, Kanaan." Rodney feels her wince, but he knows he's right.

Carson butts between them, fussing with this and that, and Rodney finally agrees to sit up and open his eyes. Elizabeth has her arms crossed and is glaring. He wants to pull the covers over his head.

"You locked them down?" Her question is sharp and hard.

"Just for safety's sake. We were invaded!" Rodney tries very hard to look innocent. "We still have two extra to send to Earth, and I'm all for that."

"Oh, really?" Elizabeth cuts at him again.

Teyla nods. "My people agree. For a few small concessions, we are happy to give them to Earth."

"Teyla, your people aren't descendants of the Ancients," Elizabeth says, and the way she says it clues Rodney in to the fact that it isn't the first time.

"But we are, and I am," Kanaan says, coming close and standing at Teyla's right shoulder. "This is my galaxy, and I have a right to know why you are sending our wealth away. Your people came here to loot the City of the Ancestors, and you have no right."

Rodney blinks several times in shock. Either Halling has been coaching him, or the guy is a natural.

"We have been patient, but no longer." Kanaan looks fierce now. "You will trade for them, or you will not have them."

Elizabeth is frozen with shock, and Rodney looks away to give her a minute to collect herself. Carson clears his throat. "Kanaan has the ATA gene, and the same Wraith DNA that Teyla carries."

"The city speaks to me," Kanaan says. He edges closer to Teyla, and Rodney hears a faint click as their hearts and minds come together. He wonders when Teyla will give in to it.

"What do you want," Elizabeth grinds out. "Guns? Explosives?"

"Sanctuary in your galaxy," Teyla says, but Rodney hears her fury at the insult. "A small thing. The Wraith must eat to live. The more people we can evacuate, the more Wraith will die."

Elizabeth rubs her face, turning away slightly, and then whirls back. "Rodney, this has your fingerprints all over it!"

"We have a plan," Rodney says, trying for firm. "And I know deep down you agree. I can feel it."

She glares, crossing her arms again. "And Ronon's people?"

"We want to fight," Ronon says from his shadow on the other side of the room. "McKay promised us that we could fight."

"What if the SGC says no? And keeps them from coming back?" Elizabeth looks very upset, and Rodney wants to hold her, reassure her.

"That's why I'm going." Rodney hopes Sheppard doesn't touch him again in the meantime. "We'll negotiate for the right to re-locate to Milky Way planets, and then we'll send the ZPMs through."

Elizabeth shakes her head. "That's a mistake. Landry will go through the roof, and we'll all pay the price when the Daedalus tries to nuke us. We have to act as flummoxed as they will be."

"Hah! I knew you were on our side." Rodney grins, proud of her. "So, what do we do?"

"We hit them with a real weapon." Elizabeth smiles like she has a brilliant idea. "A lawyer."

"Wow, now that's mean." Rodney admires her thinking. "Can you guys go take care of that? I have transmitters to check on and pants to find."

At the mention of pants, Teyla and Elizabeth head directly for the door. Kanaan follows, watching Teyla's ass, and Ronon slaps Rodney on the shoulder. "Good work."

"Now," Carson says with menace in his voice, "what the bloody hell is going on with the glowing and such?"

Rodney picks helplessly at the tape on his arm that secures the IV. "When he touches me, I sorta…"

"Glow?"

"Yeah." Rodney blushes from head to toe.

"Perhaps you have a clue as to why you passed out?" Carson glares, ripping the tape off much harder than necessary.

"Ow! No!" Rodney lies. It's unfortunate that he does know. "I'm sure Sheppard is beyond mortified. I missed the edge of the bed, he grabbed me to save me from falling on my ass, and I…" He makes several movements with his hands, hoping Carson will understand.

"Glowed?"

"Yes! Now shut up about it!" Rodney winces as the needle is removed from his arm. "Is my leg well? I have to go to Earth in the morning."

Carson mutters several mean things under his breath. "No! You didn't receive healing powers, did you?"

"Well, no, none that I've noticed." Rodney regrets that. It'd be more useful than this stupid listening thing. "But I can see equations in the air now."

"What?" Carson pauses to stare with his jaw hanging open. "Does that even mean?"

Waving his hands, Rodney scoops up a tiny paper cup and throws it at him. As it flies, the equations fill the air, and he tries to explain about the trajectory and velocity, but he can see Carson doesn't get it.

"The equations! They hang in the air, pop out of walls, dribble down to the floor! Mostly, I ignore them because I know them, but occasionally I spot one that's new and interesting and I get my tablet..." Rodney trails off when he Carson doesn't say anything.

"That's it. I'm scanning your brain." Carson stares down at the tiny cup. "Anything else impossible you're doing?"

Rodney shrugs and gets his feet on the floor. He can't help but shut his eyes and listen for Sheppard. Carson takes him by the arm, interrupting Rodney's concentration, but he catches a glimpse of pain and confusion somewhere out on the East Pier.

"Easy there, lad," Carson says.

"I'm not too bad." Rodney tries to put some weight on his leg, but it still hurts too much. "Damn it!" He doesn't have time to be lame. There's too much work to be done, and it's impossible to run from or chase down Sheppard.

*********

He'd forgotten about the ramp, and the crutches slip out, and somehow, it isn't Rodney's fault, he ends up nose-to-nose with Sam Carter, who shoves him down. In the instant before he hits the floor, he's bombarded with her frustration, anger, and a deep miserable longing for someone she can't have.

"Rodney!"

Teyla takes Sam's feet out with one quick move, ten rifles snap up, and Rodney gets a hand on Teyla's leg as she protects him.

"Stand down!" General Landry's voice booms through the room.

O'Neill helps Sam up, arms linked together, and Rodney can almost taste her pain. Rodney shifts his focus to O'Neill, and it's a shock. O'Neill and Sam are linked, bonds tight and loud, but they're not together, and Rodney gasps from their hurt.

"Dr. McKay?" Kanaan kneels by him.

"She didn't mean it," Rodney whispers, feeling Kanaan's anger. Kanaan takes him by the forearm, and it's then the pain hits. He doesn't know why it waited, maybe fear. It hurts enough to make listening impossible, but Halling's voice suddenly cuts through it all.

"He was injured saving our children!"

Rodney thumps his head back down on the floor. They're off to a great start.

*********

There's an ache in Rodney's chest, and after deciding that he isn't having a heart attack, he finds a quiet corner off the conference room, where everyone is arguing, to stand and listen to himself. He's never done this in his life, but he figures it can't hurt to try.

"Rodney?"

Rodney sighs at Daniel. "What? Can't you see I'm busy?"

"I thought you were having a heart attack." Daniel looks serious. "Shouldn't you be in there?"

"I needed a break." Rodney will never admit that he's overwhelmed by the high-running emotions of both camps. He rubs his chest one more time and shrugs. "They're going to fight for hours."

"I get that feeling too." Daniel looks him up and down. "Let's get you to the infirmary."

"A pain pill is the only thing that could make me want to tackle all the stairs in this place." Rodney misses Atlantis, and in that moment, the ache pulses, and he knows the truth. Atlantis is part of him now, and he needs her, and he's very sure Chaya had done that to him, along with everything else. Chaya never intended for Rodney to go home to Earth. His life, his responsibilities are on Atlantis now, and he's known it, but now the knowledge is visceral. He literally aches for her.

"Seriously, you're pale."

"Okay." Rodney glances back at the conference room door. "Involving Woolsey was the right thing to do."

"I agree." Daniel tugs a radio off his belt. "Apollo, this is Daniel. Two to beam up."

Rodney wholeheartedly agrees with that mode of transport. He'll fall down a lot less. The Apollo beams them back down to the hospital, and Rodney lets himself be bullied into a real examination. He keeps his grumbling to a minimum, and it's there that he finds a quiet second to once again put his hand on his heart.

Atlantis. Home. Ache. John.

He makes up his mind right then and there never to listen to himself again. Obviously his new-found abilities are evil, because he does not miss Sheppard.

Sheppard had been up at the rail when they left, and he hadn't met Rodney's eyes once. Rodney does not miss him, not one bit. Not even a tiny bit. Sheppard doesn't even like him anymore. Sheppard keeps his secrets close, and he hates that Rodney knows them. Rodney is sorry for that, but he can't change it.

"Rodney? You're freaking me out again," Daniel says. "And I brought food."

"Oh good." Rodney scrubs his face, determines that he has to look and act normal, and takes the tray. "Thanks."

"Okay, so…" Daniel pulls up a chair and sits down. "You've changed."

"Damn it," Rodney mumbles around his first bite of real mashed potatoes in far too long. He swallows and wants to lie, but he can sense Daniel's honest worry. "I died."

Daniel's eyes widen, and he bolts up to put his hand on Rodney's forehead. "You ascended. That's why I feel… drawn to you." He yanks his hand away and sits back down hard. "Don't bother lying."

"You have a thing for ascended people too?" Rodney rubs his forehead briefly before eating some more. "Sheppard seems to love them." Changing the subject before Daniel asks a ton of questions, Rodney asks, "Have you heard how it's going upstairs?"

"Carter says that Teyla is still glaring at her." Daniel tilts his head. "How did you get back?"

"Easy enough." Rodney isn't discussing it, not ever. "And if you tell anyone, I'll deny it." He sees Daniel duck his head. "No, don't play the guilt card."

"Are you reading my mind?" Daniel draws back now.

"Absolutely not." Rodney glares, but he knows that Daniel doesn't quite believe him. "I need to get back up there."

Before Daniel can answer, the doctor comes around the corner to Rodney's bedside. "Eat first." The doctor hands him a small cup with a pill in it. "That'll help the pain, and check in with me every day you're here. Burns get infected easily."

"I'm aware of that!" Rodney swallows the pill fast. He pushes the half-eaten tray away and fights to get up, get his crutches, and steal Daniel's radio. Daniel stares down at the food, looks up quizzically, and then shrugs. Rodney snaps his fingers twice. "Get us a ride."

Daniel smiles and pushes his glasses back, and it's more annoying than when Zelenka does it. "You're only a little nicer."

"Exactly. Now move." Rodney nudges him with the crutch.

*********

"You do remember who you work for, right?" Landry yells.

Rodney slumps down a little farther in his chair. The Athosians have been escorted down to the cafeteria, Woolsey has fled, and everyone left in the room is angry with him. He tries to dial down his ability to hear every emotion and takes a deep breath.

"I'm not sure that's the point," Daniel says into the silence. He's angry too, but Rodney has a feeling that it isn't focused at him.

"We're not turning over Atlantis to them!" O'Neill is doing something other than slouching for a change. Carter nods in counterpoint, and Rodney tries desperately not to see how much she loves O'Neill. It hurts him for her.

"Atlantis is a gateway to Earth, McKay!" Carter hisses. "You want Wraith on our doorstep?"

"You've never provided Atlantis with enough manpower and weaponry to fully prevent that possibility, and counting on us to blow her up is ridiculous." Rodney crosses his arms over his chest. "Yes, Sheppard would try, but nothing is certain."

Everyone stares at him. "The Athosians have been our allies from day one," Rodney says.

"We're fighting a war in this galaxy!" Landry yells again.

"They're fighting one too!" Rodney yells right back at him. "Only they get eaten by the enemy! Yes, the Ori make people worship them, but it has to be better than being sucked dry!"

"Not sure about that," Daniel mutters. His flash of pain is so loud that Rodney nearly doubles over from it. Rodney clamps his lips together, trying to shove it all away.

"We need those ZPMs!" Landry is furious, and there will be no reasoning with him.

"Then take them. Kill Teyla, Kanaan, and Halling. They're nothing but savages who happen to have technology you need." Rodney makes sure not to yell. "There will be no repercussions. The Athosians will leave Atlantis, but they won't actually do anything about it. Go. Shoot. Them. Our survival, at any cost, isn't that right?"

"Rodney," Sam whispers.

"Well, we went there to take the technology. We weren't going to ask anyone. It's not our fault the Wraith are awake, and Atlantis is ours." Rodney catches O'Neill gaze and goes for the kill. "We don't care about native populations and how they're impacted by our fight for survival, especially if they're not as technologically advanced as we are."

The silence that falls is loud enough that Rodney can practically hear their heartbeats. Even Landry is coming down off his high horse. Daniel scrubs a hand across his mouth, probably biting back words, and O'Neill sighs.

"All they want is a home where no one will come and kill their children. They know it's dangerous in the Milky Way, but they also know if they stay in Pegasus, they're all going to die. All of them. The Wraith feed on everyone. Every young man. Every old woman. Every baby."

Sam gets up and leaves the conference room, face pale. Landry taps his fingers on the table. "What the hell happened to you?"

"Atlantis," Rodney says. He rubs his chest, aching for her and Sheppard, and gets to his feet. "I'll be with the Athosians when the shooting starts."

Daniel drops his face into his hands, and Rodney manages to get out in the hallway without falling on his ass. Leaning against a wall, he shuts his eyes and breathes. He feels assaulted on several levels.

"I'm sorry I pushed you down." Sam pats him on the arm, leaning next to him. "You startled me."

"I know." Rodney never thought it was done in malice. "Stupid ramp. Put the ring on the damn floor."

She laughs, but it's raw. "I'll get on that. Are you and Teyla…?"

"She's with Kanaan," Rodney snaps. He's starting to truly hate his stupid crutches. "Come on. I'll get you a ZPM."

"Really?" She goes for her radio.

He pushes her hand away. "No radio, just come on."

Sam frowns, but she follows, and Rodney is tired by the time he finds a seat at the table in the cafeteria with his friends. Dropping a crutch, he yanks Sam down into the chair next to him.

"Teyla, it was an accident. Sam apologized."

"I am glad." Teyla gives Sam a small nod.

Rodney points at the case holding the ZPMs. "Give her one, Halling."

Halling doesn't hesitate. He opens the case and hands a ZPM to Sam without a word. Rodney wants to snatch it back, but his sister lives on this planet, and he loves her.

Sam's eyes practically glow. "I don't have to give--."

"We want Earth to be safe," Teyla interrupts. "We have never known safety, but we would never deny anyone else that privilege."

"I feel like a heel," Sam says.

"Good." Rodney looks longingly over at the food. Kanaan gets the message, rolls his eyes, and goes to get a tray. Rodney is pretty sure that Sheppard taught him the perfect eye roll. Sam sighs, and Rodney frowns. "Why are you still here? Go away before I grab it back."

"You're still an ass, McKay." But Sam grins and takes off with one of their precious ZPMs.

Halling leans close. "A wise decision."

"We'll see." Rodney has never liked Landry. "Woolsey?"

"I can tell he is conflicted, but Dr. Weir was correct. Woolsey is a man bound very tightly by the law, and Kanaan is clearly a descendant of the Ancestors, like your John Sheppard." Halling lowers his voice. "What if they take that one and refuse to deal with us further?"

"We're up a ZPM, and we've lost half as much as we would have." Rodney doesn't think that will happen. "Tomorrow, we're going home."

Teyla rests her hand on top of his. He squeezes her fingers, and she says, "I had not realized how ignorant they are. Poor Elizabeth."

Rodney can't help it. He laughs, wishing Sheppard were here to listen to Rodney's vindication. A tray plunks down in front of Rodney, and he looks up to see Kanaan's obvious irritation. Rodney takes his hand off Teyla and grabs his spoon. Kanaan pretends that he's not jealous and sits down by Halling.

"Hey, can I join you guys?" Daniel asks, loping up.

Halling, Teyla, and Kanaan all freeze into their polite faces, and Rodney groans. "I am not going to sit through a discussion of Athosian harvest festivals!"

"You have harvest festivals?" Daniel's enthusiasm lights him up from the inside, and Rodney nudges Teyla under the table in the team signal to relax. Her smile is immediate, and Rodney concentrates on eating corn. He likes corn. He misses corn. It's such a simple, perfect food, with lots of butter. He moves right on to the potatoes, this time they're scalloped, sparing a glance for Kanaan, who is churning inside as Teyla flirts with Daniel.

Okay, flirt might be a strong word, but she's definitely leaning towards him, and Rodney hates that he can feel Kanaan's frustration. For some reason, Teyla's actually being mean, and knowing her, she has a good reason.

"Hey, kids," O'Neill says, coming out of nowhere and putting down a big bowl of cereal. For the rest of his life, Rodney will be very sorry that he looks at him. At that very second, Daniel and O'Neill's eyes meet, and it's all hanging out there, and Rodney hates that he wants to fix it. They're all being so stupid, and he highly doubts they'll listen to him.

"We're going home tomorrow, so don't ship that ZPM to the Antarctic base just yet," Rodney says, lifting his chin. He wants to eat at another table so he doesn't have to hear Daniel's pounding lust.

O'Neill takes a bite so slowly that Rodney's annoyed. Daniel glances all around the table. "Really?"

"If there are no negotiations to take place, we will go home and fight our battles." Halling clearly means that, and his quiet dignity almost hurts.

Daniel clears his throat. "I'm sure that General Landry is working something out."

Kanaan snorts. "Do not pretend you care when we die at the hands of the Wraith."

Rodney likes him more and more. The words also throw a damper on Teyla, who sits a bit straighter and nods at Kanaan.

The uncomfortable silence is only broken by O'Neill's cereal munching. He finally says, "So you think Sheppard could use an extra gun or two?"

"What we really need are some nukes," Rodney says, seeing their eyes widen. He crosses his arms, prepared to school them. "How else are we going to blow up Wraith ships? With the power of love?"

Daniel barks a short laugh, but O'Neill tilts his head and then nods. "Can do."

They all stare at O'Neill in surprise, and he slowly - he never rushes - grins. "Hey, I'd rather not fight the Wraith and the Ori, and our nukes do damn little against the Ori."

Daniel starts searching his pockets. "We should make a list of things you guys could use."

"We send one monthly," Rodney says, moving from annoyed to angry. "Don't you people read your emails?"

"You never ask for nukes!" O'Neill points at him with a full spoon. "And no, I don't."

Halling pulls a piece of paper out of his coat pocket and hands it to O'Neill. "Sheppard told me to give this to you, if you were feeling generous."

Rodney clamps down on showing his anger. There was a time when Sheppard would've trusted him with that. Ascending has ruined everything, and Rodney hates Chaya a little more. She should've let him join the club or sent him back human again, none of this listening crap.

Listening isn't even a good way to describe it. He shovels meatloaf in his mouth and tries to find a better word. Sensing sounds far too Sentinel, dumb show, and he refuses to go with empathy. He is not, nor ever be, empathic. That's Teyla's job. It's more like he can't shove what they show him away. All those messy emotions pour over him, and he doesn't like it at all.

O'Neill gingerly takes the piece of paper, and Rodney sees the handwriting. Sheppard has printed his list in big block letters, and it's just so him, and Rodney's chest gives a huge twist. Rodney wants to grab the paper, but Teyla is in the way, and O'Neill winks at Daniel. It's all suddenly too much, and Rodney aches for a pier, an ocean view, and fresh air.

"Rodney?" Kanaan steadies him as he jerks to his feet, groping for his crutches.

"Need some air!" Rodney knows he doesn't have a hope of finding any because his leg will never hold out long enough to get him to the surface. Instead, he hobbles to the gateroom and sits down on the ramp. A few people stare, but he glares them away. The occasional equation pops out of the glass far above his head, but the twist in his chest begins to loosen, and he wants to go home.

"Hey, Rodney." Sam appears out of nowhere, and he realizes his eyes were shut. She stares down at him. "You're freaking people out."

"Sorry." But he's not. "This mountain is crowded. Claustrophobia and all."

She sits down on the ramp next to him, pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms tight. "And you're used to your city on the water."

"I am." Rodney rubs his face with his hands and stretches out his leg until it hurts. She looks small, almost vulnerable, and he wants to help her. "You can have what you want."

Her eyes are sharp now as she glances at him. She takes a deep breath. "No, I can't," she whispers, "and how do you know what's going on?"

"Look, Sam." He lowers his voice to just a bare whisper. "Just get them both."

Sam flinches hard, standing up fast. "Sergeant! Help Dr. McKay to his quarters!"

"Yes, ma'am!"

Rodney doesn't protest more than usual when he's hauled up and dragged toward quarters. He intentionally hits them with his crutches, not afraid even a little of their anger. The mountain pushes down at him, and he curls up on the hard mattress. He'll sleep and then go home.

********

The negotiations begin in real earnest the next day, now that everyone seems to realize the Athosians are serious, and Rodney wants to kill himself by lunch. No one picks a nit like Woolsey, and he seems to be thoroughly enjoying the picking. Once or twice a lone equation comes drifting through the glass, and Rodney sighs, wanting to run far away. It doesn't help that the ache in his chest is worse today. After a long night of tossing and turning, he's starting to feel like his heart is being pulled out without benefit of anesthesia. Also, the drama of having a heart ache over Atlantis - and Sheppard - makes him want to stab his eyeballs. Added on top of all that is his leg. It hurts, like hell, and no amount of coffee is making it better.

"Rodney, lunch is being delivered," Sam whispers. "You look awful."

"Thanks." He slumps a little lower in his seat, tired and grumpy becoming his default. "Can you ask someone to bring me a pain pill?"

Her concern flares, and once where he'd have been glad to see it, now he just hurts for her. She can barely stand to look at Daniel and O'Neill, and that's all kinds of wrong. Reluctantly, he lays his hand on her forearm to comfort her.

She gives him the look of death, and he snatches his hand back. "Sorry," he whispers. "I hate it when you're sad."

"Stop it," she hisses at him. "We never even dated!"

Rodney is keenly aware of that sad fact. "Excuse me for caring about you as a person!"

"Um, kids, we're trying to work down here," O'Neill says into the awkward silence, which is laughable. He's the biggest slacker in this galaxy since Sheppard left. The thought of him makes Rodney rub his heart, and knowing that they all saw that makes him cringe in horror.

Daniel raises his eyebrows. "Rodney, have you been to the infirmary today?"

Rodney's glare is his answer. "I'm fine."

With a sigh that sounds tired, Daniel returns the glare without a qualm. "Blood sugar acting up?"

Rodney waves his hand, wishing everyone would look at someone else. "I don't have that anymore since--" He bites that sentence off, crosses his arms, and ramps up his glare. "Continue. We're listening."

Sam rolls her eyes. "I'll get him there. I'm no help here anyway, and where is Vala, Daniel?"

"How would I know?" Daniel lies easily, but Rodney doesn't call him on it. Landry looks annoyed at all of them and shoots O'Neill a very disgusted glare. The group dynamics here are making Rodney's eyes cross, and he gets out of the room as quickly as possible. Sam commandeers the Apollo transporter again, but Rodney doesn't thank her. She wouldn't believe him anyway.

Up on the Apollo, she drags him to a quiet corner instead of asking for an immediate beam down. Her sadness and frustration are ramped high, and Rodney makes sure not to touch her this time.

.

"Now, what did you mean by I can have them both?" she snarls.

Taken somewhat aback, he blinks several times. Trying hard to sound reasonable, he says, "Daniel loves you. O'Neill loves you. The rub is that they also love each other. You just need to expand your horizons. You're all bound together."

Her face goes completely slack in shock. "Daniel? Likes me?"

"Duh. Are you sure you're still a genius?" Rodney needs a pain pill now, and he starts for the Apollo's infirmary. He likes it better than the one down in the mountain anyway. She trots after him, and her emotions are all over the place.

"How do you know?" she demands.

"Because I have eyes. O'Neill is in Washington a lot, right?" Rodney doesn't wait for an answer. "You and Daniel are still here. Just be brave." He hates talking about this. "And I never gave you advice about anything."

"No one would believe it!" Sam gets a door for him, and a nurse turns to come over to them.

Rodney is ready for Sam to ditch him. "Hey, are you going to stay and see my naked bits?"

Now her anger is laced with amusement. "Not in this reality." She turns on her heels and is gone very quickly. Rodney heaves a sigh of relief and lets the nurse boss him around right up until he hears the words 'infection' and 'broad-based antibiotics' and then the absolute kicker.

"Your body is acting as if it's having an allergy attack."

He stares open-mouthed at the doctor. "You're sure you're a medical doctor?"

"Harvard." The guy sniffs. "You have all the symptoms."

"Except for the sneezing!" Rodney wants his pants back now. It's time to find a real doctor. "I'm out of here."

"Dr. McKay! Your leg is infected, you have elevated allergen antibodies of unknown origin, and your lung capacity is diminished!"

Rodney believes him, spots his pants, and gets into them, refusing to look at the doctor and looming nurse. "I'm going home. Get out of the way." He's made up his mind in an instant. No wonder his chest has been hurting. He can't breathe, and he knows what he's allergic to - the Milky Way galaxy. It sounds ridiculous, but he'd been practically well until he'd gotten here and now he's near death.

"Stupid allergies. I knew it was too good to be true. Sure, I'm not allergic to citrus anymore. I'm just allergic to an entire galaxy!"

"Dr. McKay?" Novak flutters up from her station, equations spilling all around her.

"Beam me down to the gateroom!" Rodney snaps, feeling the strain in his lungs now. Staring down at his arms, he can barely make out the bloom of a full-blown body rash. He is so screwed unless he can get home. There isn't a big enough Epi-pen to save him from this! He re-materializes, nearly falls down, and feels his lungs contract. "Daniel!" he yells at the top of his voice. "Daniel!"

The gateroom doors open and medical personnel pour inside, but he only has eyes for Daniel. He slaps away a grabby hand, sees Daniel, and throws aside the crutches to limp to him.

"Rodney, what's going on?"

Rodney shakes him just to make sure he's listening. "I have to go home. I ascended there!"

Daniel stares at him, eyes blank, another nurse takes Rodney by the shoulder, and Rodney shakes him again.

"I can't stay here!" Rodney's lungs feel as if they're squeezing him, and his skin begins to itch like crazy.

Teyla, Halling, and Kanaan are coming towards him, and he shoves Daniel back to grab her. "Teyla, I have to go home," he wheezes.

"Then we will send you." She tucks her shoulder under his arm, holding him up. "Daniel, how do I dial the gate?"

Rodney sags on Teyla, knowing he's running out of time, but in a blink he feels Daniel get it.

"Oh crap. You ascended there! There!" Daniel bolts away. "Dial Atlantis! Sam!"

"Rodney?" Teyla is confused.

"Hurts to stay here." Rodney holds her tight now. "Get that treaty. Bring us lots of nukes, okay?"

"You have my word."

The gate begins to dial, people get the hell out of the way, and Rodney hopes he has enough air to make it home. When the splash zone clears, Teyla and Kanaan help him up the ramp. Rodney surges through on his own power, falling in a heap on the Pegasus side.

"Rodney!" Sheppard is there, rolling him over, and Rodney forces himself not to grab him, but even the smallest touch connects them at a base level.

Fear. So much fear.

"Did you eat a damn lemon?"

Rodney spreads his hands flat on the floor and feels the pounding of footsteps as medical rushes to him.

Sheppard brushes Rodney's hair back, and their eyes meet, and the twist in Rodney's chest eases enough for him to take a huge, gasping breath.

"John, I'm sorry," Rodney rasps. He feels a jolt through Sheppard's body, and then Carson is right in his face.

"Breathe, Rodney! Lips blue. Pulse weak. Systemic reaction. Move, people!" Carson's exam is lightning fast, and the slam into his thigh is expected, but Rodney suspects the Epi-pen won't work. He's home. Atlantis is his cure, and he'll live, but as usual, it's going to hurt for a while.

"He's going to be all right?" Sheppard asks. "Carson?"

"No promises."

Rodney puts his hand on Sheppard's boot without looking. They lift him, and he gags, and everything spins away.

********

Waking to Sheppard - John - by his bedside is like waking up to a searchlight in his face. He throws an arm over his eyes to block some of it out.

"Hey, buddy."

Rodney tries so hard to turn off his new found listening skills. He feels scraped raw, as if his mind and body are nothing but a big rug burn.

"Breathing is nice," Rodney mumbles around the ache in his throat. He can already feel Sheppard's worry, and it's tiring. "My mom, she used to say, 'Rodney, be nice or you'll never have friends.'"

Sheppard doesn't reply.

"So I never had friends." Rodney thinks he should shut up, but he wants to get it all out. "Then I came here. I wanted you so much that I didn't care how you treated me."

"Good that he's awake. What's he whispering about?" Carson asks, suddenly just there.

"I don't know," Sheppard says, lying. "He's going to be okay, right?"

"He's better." Carson works all around him, and Rodney accepts the sip of water, glad the pain in his chest is gone. He'll deal with the rest later.

Carson shines a light in Rodney's eyes. "I still don't understand what set him off, but it was the worst I've seen."

For some reason, Sheppard isn't running away, and Rodney makes his hand grab for him. His skin is mottled pink, but he gets a solid grip.

Confusion. Heartache.

For once, it's nice that Sheppard's not scared, and Rodney finds some words that he hopes make sense. "Maybe we should stop talking to each other. You always say the wrong thing."

"Rodney, you should not be throwing insults at the colonel." Carson groaned. "And you're starting to glow!" He wrenches their hands apart, jolting Rodney into yelping. He wants that touch back, right now.

"He can insult me all he wants," Sheppard says, but he edges away, and Rodney knows they're done talking, or whatever it was they'd been doing. Carson fusses, checking this and that, and Rodney suffers through it. Finally, Carson leaves, and it's a shock when Sheppard wanders back to him. "Sam has been circling the city."

"I need to go see him." Rodney doesn't dare try to listen for him. "Maybe I should take the puddlejumper this time."

"Ya think?" Sheppard's eyes are laughing. "Simpson is still mad."

"The whiner. She should go on a mission with you once or twice. Then she'll come home limping!"

They share a smile, and Sheppard ducks his face away. The silence stretches, and Rodney knows he should be talking a mile a minute about Batman or something to keep Sheppard from walking away.

Sheppard bites his lower lip. "You won't ascend without me, right?" The words are practically stuttered out, and Rodney hates that he can feel how much it cost Sheppard to say even that much. There's no way to reassure him because Rodney's certain that he won't have another shot at ascending if Chaya is in charge.

"Who would I talk to about movies?" Sheppard's ache hits a new level, and Rodney can't bear it.

"John, you know how much I--" Rodney stops because he sees panic swirling in Sheppard's eyes. "But you can't, and that's okay," he trails off weakly, feeling tired now. He fiddles with the blankets, drinks from a tiny cup of water that Carson left close by, and tries to get comfortable. "I have to sleep," he whispers, and Sheppard must've dimmed the lights.

"Rest, Rodney, and then we'll go visit your whale," Sheppard says.

Listening to Sheppard's stark confusion, Rodney dimly hears something that might be hope. He latches onto it and falls asleep.

*********

"Did you even think about getting prior approval from me before implementing your crazy plan?" Elizabeth is in full rant mode, and everyone but Rodney has managed to scramble to safety. The damn IV is pinning him down, and Carson had been the first to run away.

"Yes." Rodney swallows hard. "I just wanted to have all the details worked out first!"

"Like the nukes? And the trackers? And using the Satedans to blow up hive ships?" Her voice hits a level that's painful to the ears.

"That was Ronon's idea!" Rodney clutches the blanket and tries to sit up further. He wishes they were having this conversation in the privacy of her office, but she always punishes him in public. Blocking out her emotions is impossible because she's shoving it all at him, and he reels from it. His lunch churns in his stomach, and he tries to breathe through his mouth.

"Rodney?"

One concerned word from her, and Carson, the coward, is back in a flash, taking Rodney's pulse. "Through the roof. Rodney, settle down now. Breathe."

"I thought he was better," Elizabeth says.

"Too much." Rodney chokes on the words, focusing tightly on Carson and his soothing concern. "Holy crap, Carson, I'm--"

"It was my plan, Dr. Weir, so if you want to yell at someone, yell at me," Sheppard says, blocking her from Rodney's bed. "Do you really think Rodney could coordinate all that? Hell, he's been nothing but sick, when he's not on fire!"

Rodney can feel her hesitation, and he wants to demand credit, but she's tearing him to shreds.

"We'll discuss it in your office. Now is fine." Sheppard gets her moving, away from him, and Rodney shudders from relief.

"The colonel has your back," Carson says.

"He always does." Shame that he lost sight of that fact collapses in on him, and he sits straight up. "I'm better, you said so yourself. I could go to my quarters." He gestures at the IV. "Carson, please."

"That rash is still ugly, but as long as you rest, I suppose it'll be fine." Carson begins the process of getting rid of all the wires. "I'd feel better if I knew what exactly you were allergic to."

There's no way Carson will believe it, but Rodney tells him anyway. "The Milky Way galaxy is what I'm allergic to," he says, rubbing at his fresh new band-aid. "It was like I couldn't breathe. I ached for here."

Carson stares at him. "Well, then, that's --" He makes a strange hand gesture when he runs out of words.

"Yeah, I'm screwed on the whole going home thing." Rodney doesn't bother trying to sound sad. This is his home, has been since he first stepped through the stargate. "Also, yes, impossible, blah, blah, blah. Clothes?"

"Your leg is far from healed." Carson gives him the doctor voice. "If I catch you in the lab, I'll drag you back here by your ear!"

"No working in the lab, check." Rodney will work in his quarters, or more likely hide in his quarters until he gets his abilities under control. No listening. None. A nurse hands him some clothes, and he changes quickly, not even bothering to tie his shoes, and he's ready to go. Carson tries to hand him a crutch, he ignores it, and he's limping to his quarters.

He manages to avoid seeing anyone on the way, and his dark, slightly dusty quarters are a relief. Leaning against the wall, he locks the door and takes a deep breath. Parts of him ache, but he feels well enough all things considered.

First, he opens his balcony doors, and then he spends some time staring out at the ocean. Equations bounce from tower to tower and roll in with the waves. Putting his hand where the ache was, he rubs, glad to be home.

Pulling himself away, he cleans up the place, makes sure his favorite laptop is fully charged, and curses Chaya every time someone's emotion pushes its way through the wall. He's gone from having to actively listen, to being bombarded, and at this rate, he'll be insane by the end of the week.

He doesn't know how to protect himself, if it's even possible, and a lifetime of solitude on a deserted planet is looking pretty good when Sheppard opens the door and stomps inside.

"You've doing a lot of stomping lately," Rodney comments in a mild tone, "and thank you for rescuing me from the crazy lady."

Sheppard glowers, but it doesn't have the impact that it used to when Rodney can feel a mixture of amusement and disgust from him. "She thinks we did it together!"

"Didn't we?" Rodney strikes a thinking pose. "Wasn't it you who wanted to be involved and was furious when I said no?"

"Yes, but I didn't plan any of this!" Sheppard growls. "Not that it's a bad plan. It's good, but wow, way to piss her off."

Rodney limps to him. "I did warn her." He wants to touch, so he tucks his hands in his pockets. "Are you okay?"

"Don't you know?" Sheppard tilts his head, assessing.

"I know what you're feeling but not thinking," Rodney says, wishing he were a better liar. He gets some distance by going out on his balcony, hoping that will make Sheppard's emotions less invasive. Sheppard doesn't follow, and Rodney focuses tightly on all the equations he sees falling from buildings and splashing up with the water. Some of them he doesn't understand, and he turns to grab a laptop and write them down but a sound deep in the ocean keeps him rooted.

"Sam," Rodney says, searching for him but seeing nothing.

"Sun's almost down."

"Get Carson to meet us in the jumper bay." Rodney can barely think through all the 'Sam' that's coming at him and wrapped inside his whale is the solution to his problem. "Hurry!" He runs for the jumpers, ignoring the pain in his leg and the cursing coming from Sheppard.

The jumper can't move fast enough, and Elizabeth slows them down, and Rodney begins to think that he should've jumped off the pier. But finally, finally, the jumper is hovering over where Rodney knows Sam is.

Carson swivels in his chair. "Now what, you bloody fool?"

"Wait here." Rodney shuts the connecting door so Carson can't stop him and lowers the ramp. This is the dumbest thing he's ever done, bar none, but they have to touch. He knows it in his gut, and he scares spitless.

"Rodney!" Sheppard's voice is loud over the intercom system. "Do not do this!"

"I have to. Just stay put to pick me up when I'm done." Rodney walks out on the ramp, wind blowing and waves reaching up for him. Sam keens again, and the jumper gets lower. Rodney jumps, sinking into the cold water, and Sam is there. All around him. In him.

You hurt. The emotions of them all pound at you like the waves pound at me. You must use the maths like I do.

How? Show me.

"You're a damn moron!" Sheppard grabs for Rodney's arm and pulls, getting him partway up the ramp. Waves splash them both, and Rodney feels like he needs new lungs. Sheppard gives a great jerk, and Rodney slides all the way inside.

"Water all in my jumper," Sheppard mutters. "Carson!" He heads for the pilot's seat, and Rodney continually gasps for air.

"I'm starting to dislike that whale!" Carson yells, shutting the hatch. The jumper lifts off, and Rodney reaches out.

Thanks.

Sam's squeal of glee fills Rodney's ears, and Sheppard curses, and Rodney laughs brokenly, feeling the power of the leap and the landing.

"Every astrophysicist needs a pet whale." Rodney can't lift his tired arms to towel off his head, but Carson wraps him in a blanket.

"Let me check you." Carson's hands seem everywhere. "Your leg?"

"Not any worse than it was." Rodney coughs, spits out some ocean water, and knows Zelenka is going to give him hell for this mess, but it's been worth it. He can survive now, and the whales are geniuses. Smiling, he curls into the blanket and shuts his eyes. Tomorrow, when he feels better, he's going to tackle the world, maybe the galaxy.

********

Throwing off the sheet after a long stretch, Rodney puts his feet on the floor of his quarters and nearly screams in surprise when his eyes are fully open. He manages to keep it to a loud gulp. "What the hell?"

"Just sitting here, contemplating what possible fool-ass thing you could have planned for today," Sheppard, legs crossed, relaxed, says with a smirk. "I know that big brain of yours. It plots in your sleep. Today, I'll catch fire. Today, I'll jump in the ocean!"

Rodney crossed his arms, irrationally glad he was somewhat dressed. "Do you really want to argue about who has done more fool-ass stunts?"

Sheppard narrows one eye. "I get paid for that!"

"For me, it's the thrills." Rodney stifles a yawn, but he feels okay. He looks at his arms, seeing that the rash is fading. When he glances up, Sheppard dramatically rolls his eyes. Rodney finds a laugh. "That's it? That's your comeback. Come on, Shep, you can do better than that. Insult my eating habits, or my lack of physical fitness, or my hair, what's left of it, or--"

"Shut up!" Sheppard jumps to his feet. "I didn't mean all that crap!"

"Yeah, you did." Rodney itches his chest and stares down at his bare leg. The wound looks better, and he's hopeful he can spend a day without visiting the infirmary. Sheppard is near the door, but he's hesitating, and Rodney considers switching the equations around in his mind long enough to listen to Sheppard's feelings. He grimaces from that idea, and then it hits him that he's doing it, without even trying, and holy crap, it's so nice to be alone in his brain again.

"Okay, I gotta shower," he says, but he wants to cheer and bounce and maybe slap Sheppard on the ass in celebration. For some odd reason, Sheppard is still standing there, looking uncertain.

"Thanks for checking on my plans for the day," Rodney says. He's oddly grateful that he hadn't woken up alone. "If you see Ronon, will you tell him we need to talk?"

Sheppard's eyes seem very dark, and he licks his lower lip. "Tell me what I'm feeling."

"I turned it off. Seriously, I couldn't handle it. Too many people, emotions, all pushing at me. It was hell." Rodney wants to cross to him and kiss him, bear him down to the floor. It isn't anything new. "Sam showed me how, and it feels so good to be alone in my head."

A sharp intake of breath and some of the tension goes out of Sheppard's shoulders. "Then the swimming was worth it." He's out the door almost immediately, and Rodney locks the door after him. It's obvious that Sheppard won't be back. His relief at having some privacy again is easy to see, and Rodney doesn't blame him.

Having a friend, of sorts, who reads emotions would be terrible, but Sheppard can relax now with his secrets and his worries, and Rodney can get some work done. That's the way it's been and will be. In a day or two, the insults will start and life on Atlantis will be back to normal. Rodney's fine with that. It's going to be nice, in fact, and he goes to shower, shave, and get ready for a full day. He's not slowing down for anything.

*********

"Yes, yes, we are getting real-time results!"

Rodney yanks the laptop closer so he could see, nudging Zelenka aside. "Ronon's men have been busy."

"Cadman, myself, Miko, and the entire base also!" Zelenka switches to Czech and then flops down on a stool to swig some coffee. "One ship, but it is a beginning. Ronon lost no men and came home with a huge deer-like creature that was excellent for dinner."

"I miss all the good stuff." Rodney watches avidly, resisting the urge to poke at the data. "Elizabeth might kill me for all of this."

"I will laugh." Zelenka stays with his coffee, drinking steadily. "You are better?"

"Peachy." Rodney sees the blip and studies the new stream. "They're headed for the Genii."

Zelenka pushes his way in front and stares. "I agree. I will tell Elizabeth, yes?"

"Yes, and we need someone on this feed at all times." Rodney steals Zelenka's coffee and downs it. "You doing okay?"

Rising up to his full height, Zelenka stares at him. "You… I… am I ill? Do you sense something?"

"No! I was just asking! Forget it!" Embarrassed, Rodney flees to his office. He boots up three laptops and starts working his way through the backlog of e-mails and reports. When coffee appears on the corner of the desk, he looks up. "Thanks, Ronon."

"Teyla?"

"She's working on getting us some nukes." Rodney sips and smiles. "Your people?"

"Good." Ronon cocks his hip on the desk. "How can I get ahead of the Wraith to shoot trackers in them if I don't know where they are? We got lucky when you were gone."

"Lucky being a relative term." Rodney doesn't have the answer to that question. "The plan is to gather everyone here, right?"

"Right."

"So get started." Rodney sees the light in Ronon's eyes. "I can see we need to have a senior staff meeting, and here I was hoping to put it off for a year or two."

Ronon barks a short laugh. "All we do is sit around and talk, talk, talk."

"So go. Start with…" Rodney calls up a database.

"The planet with that idiot." Ronon nods. "Later," he says, leaving without another word and making Rodney wonder which planet that was exactly. It could be anywhere. He shrugs and goes back to work, humming happily into his coffee. They've made excellent progress across the board in all areas necessary for his plan to work, especially in medical, and even though he'd never tell them, he's proud.

When his stomach growls and twists, he gives in and heads for the cafeteria. Stopping in shock, he takes a minute to stare at the new décor, the new table arrangements, and all of the women serving up food.

"Move it, loser," Cadman says, giving him a push.

"Hey! I've got a bad leg, you moron!" Rodney gets moving though, before Cadman steals all the good food, and from the smell, it's good. She laughs and falls into line behind him. He limps slowly along, making her wait. "What happened to the Marines who couldn't cook?"

"The Satedan grandmas got a hold of them." Cadman smiled. "First, there was shouting, and then pots and pans started flying, and then Colonel Sheppard had to save them."

"The Marines, right?" Rodney has seen some Satedan grandmas.

"Right." She laughs and darts in front of him. "Slowpoke. The food is amazing now, and Colonel Sheppard is afraid we're all going to get fat."

Rodney groans internally, sure he'll take some heat for that in the future. He glances around the cafeteria, glad for the silence in his head. Everyone is eating with gusto, but he hesitates, unsure. It smells good, but he has no idea what spices they cook with and he really, really, doesn't want to be sick again.

Cadman looks back. "Rodney?"

He doesn't want to say it. "You'll laugh," he mutters and weighs the chances, odds, and outcomes.

She blinks. "Oh, the citrus thing."

"What's the holdup?" Sheppard asked, striding up. "I don't want any more thrown spatulas, McKay."

"He's worried about the citrus," Cadman says brightly. She's always so enthusiastic about things that make him look bad, and Rodney wants to hit her with a spatula.

"Just eat, McKay. It's good, and we all know how you love good food." Sheppard is loud enough to draw attention. People are starting to snicker, and one of the grandmas is giving him the evil eye. Deliberately, Rodney puts his tray back down and walks away. He makes sure not to limp. His stomach isn't very happy with him, but it can wait a minute.

The jumper bay is quiet, and he drops the hatch, going inside to find an MRE and a bottle of water. He sits on the bench and eats, taking his radio out of his ear and tucking it inside a pocket. Intellectually, he knows he's being ridiculous, but he can't bear the thought of another allergic reaction, so he's going with his irrational gut. Better safe than sorry is always a good motto.

Meredith! Just eat! You always make things hard, Meredith. We can't take you anywhere!

He chews and shoves the memories away. No one ever believed him, and screeching about it got results, but he isn't dumb enough to yell at a Satedan of any age. In a few days, he'll find a way to ask them about it that won't get him knifed. He's only had two mild attacks since he got to this galaxy, and he has every reason to believe that he's cured, but today, an MRE is good enough.

"McKay," Lorne says, coming up the ramp with his brow furrowed. "Is there a problem?"

"Having some lunch." Rodney knows none of the jumpers are going out today. "You?"

"Security sweep let me know the ramp was down, and I was close enough to peek inside." Lorne sits on the bench opposite from him. "How's the leg?"

"Better." Rodney stretches it out and manages not to wince. "How are things on Atlantis?"

Lorne tilts his head. "I would've thought you'd ask Colonel Sheppard that question."

Rodney stands after gathering his trash. "Never mind then. Gotta work." He leaves before Lorne can summon up the courage to ask an intrusive question, but he'll make time to have dinner with him again. Lorne knows everything that goes on, and he'll have good ideas about the plan. Of course, Rodney will never tell him that.

Down the incline to stargate command, Rodney sees Sheppard in Elizabeth's office and nearly turns around to run the other direction. As if his thoughts have given him away, they both turn to look at him. He pretends not to notice, but Elizabeth crooks her finger at him.

The chair next to Sheppard is empty, and Rodney throws his trash away before sitting down. "Um, hi?"

"How are you today, Rodney?" she asks with that big smile that means nothing.

"I feel pretty good. Thanks." Rodney wants to edge his chair away from Sheppard's scowl. "Did he tell that I turned it off?"

"He did." Elizabeth leaned forward, intent. "Why?"

"Everyone pushed all their emotions on me. I could barely breathe, let alone think." Rodney wishes he had a laptop to fiddle with so he didn't have to look at her. "I can turn it back on, if we need it for some reason."

She taps her fingers several times, playing with her father's watch. "I'm not sure I believe any of it."

"I'm sorry," Rodney says, wavering between anger and disgust. He doesn't blame her because if it hadn't happened to him, he'd have laughed it off as impossible. Sheppard shifts around, not saying a word, and Rodney turns his brain back on out of curiosity.

Disbelief from both of them hits him right in the face, and he fights to get all the equations back in the correct order. He leans over, feels a headache coming on, and says, "I'm going to go rest. I'll be in my quarters."

"Light duty for now, Rodney," Elizabeth says. "We're all glad you're home."

He nods instead of asking for proof or peeking again. He's done with that. No more looking. It only hurts to know how they feel about him.

********

Of course, he ends up back in his office, continuing to work on the backlog of things that Zelenka refuses to help with out of sheer spite. It wouldn't kill him to do some of the administrative paperwork that Elizabeth insists is necessary or the IOA will shut them down. Like that would ever happen now that they'd hand-delivered two ZPMs.

Instead of dinner, he has a powerbar, and he blinks in surprise when Carson suddenly appears in the chair across from his desk. "I thought we agreed that you'd be visiting me today." Carson doesn't look happy. "I called you on the radio ten times!"

"Oh." Rodney pulls it out of his pocket and waves it in the air. "Sorry." He leans back, stretches, and shuts off his laptops one at a time. He's tired but not exhausted. "How are your medical supplies for refugees?"

Carson's eyes widen. "Ronon?"

"He went somewhere." Rodney nods. "You need some help getting ready?"

"Well, I should check on a few things." Carson gets to his feet, frowning. "You're volunteering?"

"God no. I'll get Simpson." Rodney will never be that nice. "I don't even like looking at medical supplies. It makes me more of a hypochondriac."

"As if that's possible." Carson still gives him a friendly shoulder bump as they go to the infirmary together. A quick scan, some lotion to help the dry skin on his leg, and he's standing in the hallway wishing he knew where to go. He's too tired to work, hungry but unwilling to eat, and missing something but he doesn't know what.

He hears laughter around the corner, and he instantly knows exactly who he's missing, and he takes the long way around to avoid seeing who made Sheppard laugh. The cafeteria is down to coffee, deserted, and he fixes himself a cup, taking it out to a balcony where the stars are shining.
The coffee is good, the hum of the city soothes his soul, and he tries very hard not to get maudlin about his life. It's good, fine, and he's always grateful to be here.

"Incoming wormhole," Chuck intones over the radio. "Ronon's IDC."

Rodney takes his coffee to stargate command, making it there as the wormhole snaps off. He taps his ear bud. "Carson, you need to get everyone up!" He throws his coffee away and takes a small crying child in his arms. "Ronon!"

Ronon whirls, face still full of anger, Wraith blood on his clothes. He doesn't say a word. He doesn't have to, and medical arrives, ramping the noise up higher.

Elizabeth practically flies down the stairs, and for some reason, it's his arm that she grabs. "Was this what you wanted, Rodney?"

Fury grabs him, but he tucks the child even closer. "This is the galaxy we live in. You want to stick your head in the sand? Go right back upstairs! But this!" He strokes his hand down the trembling child's back. "Is the truth!"

"We can't save them all," she snarls in a near whisper.

"Why the hell not? I refuse to accept that, and so should you." Rodney sees the Athosians have arrived to help bolster the medics, but he keeps hold of the small boy. "You know what's wrong with this? Is that I'm the one telling you this!"

"Dr. Weir!" Sheppard calls from the top of the stairs, and Rodney makes his getaway. He makes it to Carson's side in time to hear him grumble.

"I can't put them all under the scanner at the same time." Carson is setting up triage right in the gateroom, trying to sort the very injured from the mildly wounded.

"I can help." Rodney has to make himself say it. He's scared, and he's sure it's going to be hell, but equation by equation, he lets it all inside again, and for a moment, he nearly screams. Dimly, he hears the ocean and the high-pitched keening of a whale and then he focuses tightly. He can do this, damn it.

"She's really bad." Rodney points to a woman who is passed out on the floor. Carson stares and then jolts as if waking up.

"Rodney?"

"I can feel it." Rodney relents to passing the child to a Satedan woman. "You go organize surgery. I'll send all the worst to you."

"I-I-I'm not sure." Carson's confusion and worry almost overwhelm them both. "Rodney?"

"Go! Trust me. This one time, Carson, trust me." Rodney sees him make up his mind and he's off, gathering his team and shouting orders.
Taking a deep breath, Rodney goes from man to woman to child, assessing, yelling orders, and not taking shit off anyone. Giving people orders isn't his specialty, but he's damn good at it.

"McKay, I hope to hell you know what you're doing," Sheppard says.

Rodney hones in on his team. "Ronon has a broken leg, but he's hiding it. Get him to the second group if you can. Damn, I wish Teyla were here." He nearly gasps from a wrench of pain and moves to the man's side, yelling for an immediate gurney to surgery. "Hang on, hang on." He kneels in the blood and does his best, but he feels it all slipping away.

"He'll be okay," Sheppard says.

"He's dead." Rodney shuts the man's eyes and moves to a woman who's collapsed. He tries to work faster, harder, and no one is more surprised than him when Lorne puts his hand on Rodney's shoulder.

"That's all of them. We got this now. Sit down."

Lorne catches Rodney as he goes to his knees and then slumps against a wall. He puts his face in his hands and forces himself to do the math that will protect him from all their horror. He can feel Lorne's concern fading and then with a snap, it's gone. Rodney takes the water offered him.
"Thanks." He fumbles the lid off and pours most of it over his head. The rest of the water, he drinks and then he curls down to his side. Never in his life has he been so tired from doing what could be considered nothing. "Wake me in a couple of hours so I can check everyone," he says, and he doesn't hear Lorne's answer.

*********

"Ronon, what happened?"

"Wraith ship fired from orbit. Something blew. Half the mountain fell on us before the darts showed up." Ronon's voice is like gravel. "Gate was half-buried."

Awake now, Rodney pushes on the floor until he's sitting upright. "Did the Wraith come down?"

"Oh yeah."

Ronon's leg is in a cast so Rodney figures he's been out a while. Also, the blanket he's under is a clue.

"They might've hit a pocket of naquadah or natural gas, or hell, anything combustible." Rodney clutches the blanket close and pushes enough equations aside to scan the room. The people who are left are in pain but nothing sharp, piercing. He puts his bricks back up fast. "Everyone is okay in here. How many?"

"Over a hundred," Sheppard says. He levers himself up. "Gotta get the rest of these people settled in rooms."

That leaves Ronon and Rodney on the wall, and Rodney hesitates to say anything.

"Good thing we went." Ronon motions at Lorne, who comes over with a yawn. "Let's get him to his quarters."

"First, I have to see Carson," Rodney says.

"I don't think so," Lorne says. "Not unless you're hurt. The man is running in circles."

"We need more doctors," Rodney mumbles, and he isn't sure where they can get them. Ronon, with his broken leg, helps Rodney up. Lorne steadies them both. Rodney gets to his quarters mostly under his own power, and Ronon is sent away by a fussing Lorne.

"You okay, Doc?" Lorne says, pausing in the doorway.

"Wake me up soon." Rodney knows he'll sleep through his radio. "And thanks for your help."

"Rodney, I gotta tell you. You're losing your bad reputation." Lorne shakes his head in mock dismay.

Rodney agrees with that, but he'll yell at people in the morning.

*********

It's the senior staff meeting from hell. None of them have slept more than four hours in the last two days, and Carson's eyes are practically black from fatigue. Rodney can't decide whether to yell at them for being morons or scream at them to shut up.

"We don't have the resources," Elizabeth intones so seriously.

"I don't have enough doctors," Carson laments.

Sheppard and Ronon glower but say nothing, and Teyla isn't there to make Rodney feel less like killing people.

"I really do have to do everything." Rodney wants to bang his head on the table. "Carson, I will find you more doctors, but in the meantime, Sheppard has field medics and they can help train your people for another triage situation."

Everyone glares at him.

"Ronon, are the Athosians going out for more food today?" Rodney asks.

"That's the plan." Ronon isn't going because of his leg, and he's pissed about it. "Why?"

"We simply need more people."

"What?" Elizabeth squawks.

"Huh," Sheppard grunts.

Zelenka finally comes out from behind his laptop. "It is true. More people, more help, and they bring more available resources with them. We also must warn the Genii that the Wraith hive ship will be there tomorrow."

"I hope you're not suggesting we take all the Genii in!" Elizabeth snaps.

"They wouldn't come," Ronon says, shrugging. "Radim said they could handle it."

Rodney rolls his eyes. "We need Teyla and Halling back here."

"I agree with that," Sheppard says. "Let's make a collect call."

"We are now tracking the ship from Ronon's last encounter." Zelenka pushes his glasses back. "They are still above the planet."

"Looking for survivors," Ronon snarls. He wrenches himself to his feet and tromps out the door. Sheppard glares at Rodney, and Carson just sighs.

The silence is thick, and Elizabeth finally breaks it. "We're out of control, and we can't continue this way. Our mission was one of discovery and exploration."

Rodney doesn't have to feel her emotions to know that as far as she's concerned this is his fault. He shuts his laptop and gets to his feet. "I'll be in my office."

She takes a deep breath and stands. "You're relieved of your duties until further notice. I can't trust your judgment any longer."

It cuts so damn deep that he goes cold and pale. "I'll… pack my things." He sees her small nod, and he hears Carson gasp. No one says anything as he leaves the conference room office though, and his options in life just narrowed further. He can't go home to Earth. He can't stay home on Atlantis, and somewhere, Chaya is laughing her head off. He still stops by the DHD to make sure everything is working, but on the inside he's starting to panic. He can't picture himself living anywhere but here.

You knew this would happen. You always do this to yourself.

"Shut up, Mother," he mutters, turning to go down the staircase for what might be the last time. He stands in front of the stargate, options flittering through his mind, everything from insurrection to stealing a puddlejumper to slinking away to live with the Tree Kids.

What stings the most is that she had backed him. Sure, she'd yelled about it, but she hadn't said no. On the other hand, he's glad to know now that she doesn't want to fight. Nothing like a hundred casualties to bring one's resolve sharply into focus. With him, and his damn plan gone, Atlantis can go back to hiding and shipping home technology to fight the Ori. It tastes bitter in his mouth, but it's the truth. At least General Landry will be happy.

Ronon moves damn quietly for a man in a walking cast. "Where will you go?"

Rodney doesn't have an answer for that. He shrugs. "I'll have to keep moving until I find a safe place."

"No." Ronon has never looked so angry. "Do you hear me? No!"

"I think people on Earth heard you." Rodney doesn't get another word in because Ronon is already halfway up the stairs. Before Hurricane Ronon hits the conference room, Rodney plans to be in his quarters so he trots that direction, hoping he'll be under cover when the shit hits the fan.
By the time he crosses his threshold, he's angry, and he childishly throws his radio out the balcony door. If they want to talk to him, they can walk their ass down here. He nearly follows it up with his laptop, but he controls himself, putting it on the desk. He can pack now, or later, but either way, he can't take much with him. Opening his closet, he hopes they'll let him take a field pack. Anger ramps up into fury, and he wishes he were the kind of man who could shoot or throw things in his anger. Instead, it always curls inside him, making him doubt that he deserves to be furious in the first place.

Kicking the pack, he drops his equations and goes out on the balcony, seeking with his mind. The music of the ocean is noisy but he shoves it aside, honing in on the whales. They're far out and moving away fast, but he hears Sam call back to him and then they're gone.

Anger pours in the door behind him, and he grips the rail tightly, not sure he even wants to turn around and face it. "I'm on-line," he says, warning.

The anger fades a little, joined with a touch of confusion and a lot of worry. "Is that what you're calling it?"

"I have to pack. Go away." Rodney is afraid of his own temper, and the words biting at the back of his throat about loyalty and team. The one thing that he can count on was that Sheppard won't say much either, not about anything.

The emotions coming across the room dim. "She's not sending you back to Earth."

"Damn right. I won't go." Rodney isn't going to try to educate them all about how he's allergic to the Milky Way galaxy. Hell, they hadn't believed him about the lemons. He turns around and snatches up the pack. "I guess I need to get a move on before she has you throw me out!"

Sheppard grabs the pack and tosses it behind him. "No."

"Oh, so mature." Rodney crosses his arms, waiting for Sheppard to say or do something that makes sense. "You were there. She said to pack. I'm fired. Were you listening at all?"

"We've had a difficult couple of days. We're all tired. She didn't mean it." Sheppard is using his best be reasonable voice, but his worry and uncertainty coat every word. "Give it a day."

Rodney stares at him, wondering how the man could be so oblivious. "Shep, in a way, she's right. Our mission was never what I'm trying to make it." He hates to fail at anything. "I thought she'd come around and see how much good we could do."

Sheppard opens his mouth to say something, but Rodney stops him by raising his hand. "No, just no. Don't make excuses. Those people we saved? They'd have all died if we hadn't helped. All of them. You know it, and I know it. Was it hard? Yes. Was it the right thing to do? Yes!

"When Teyla gets back, tell her to take her people to the Milky Way galaxy." Rodney knows he's talking too fast, saying too much. "Keep using the trackers. At least Atlantis will have some warning if a hive heads this way."

"Rodney," Sheppard says, "it's not happening that way. You won't last ten minutes out there."

Before Rodney can snarl his thanks for the insult, Sheppard lifts his finger to his ear bud. "Roger that." He frowns and a weird mixture of hope and fear rolls from him. "Gateroom. Now."

That's the worst idea ever. Rodney opens his mouth to tell him about it, and Sheppard's big hand lashes out, catching him on the back of the head hard enough to shut him up.

"Now is not the time. Move." Sheppard takes a hold of Rodney's jacket and is going. Rodney glares, mutters curse words, and trots along with him. Bad idea or not, he's going, and he puts the equations back bit by bit so he's protected by the time they hit the chaos that's become the gateroom.

********

The nukes are being pushed through when Rodney gets there, and he waste no time making sure they're safe, blocking out the people talking and scurrying. Only when a strong, familiar hand touches his shoulder does he pull his attention away.

They touch foreheads, and he only has one thing to say. "Good job, Teyla."

She smiles wide and true. "Things became easier--"

"After I left." Rodney has no illusions about how much they dislike him. He straightens to his full height and sees Elizabeth near the stairs talking animatedly with… he looks again… and tries not to gape at Colonel Carter. At that exact instant, she turns on the stairs and waves.

Mouth open, he doesn't even return it. "Teyla, what have you done?"

"Merely what is right for my people and my galaxy." Teyla smirks in her very pretty way and leaves him with his nukes.

Giving himself a shake, he organizes getting the nukes moved to a safe yet accessible location. Technically, it's not his job any longer, but his sense of self-preservation insists he make sure it's done right. Zelenka is right beside him the entire time, and Rodney knows when the job is done, they'll have to talk.

Right on cue, Zelenka catches him by the arm. "Everything is different now."

Rodney wonders if Zelenka is right. "You're saying I should stop packing?"

"We both know you never began." Zelenka nudges his glasses back, lowering his voice further. "There was no way to know what we would find when we arrived here. It is time to change."

"We both know that the American military is far from reasonable when it comes to that sort of thing!" Rodney snaps, irritated that he doesn't know what's coming at him. "They could send me home in shackles!"

"They will not." Zelenka shakes his head enough to send his hair flying. "Stop hiding in here and go find out from Colonel Carter what is going on."
Hating it when Zelenka orders him around, Rodney goes anyway, but he doesn't rush, and he even stops for coffee. He's slowly wandering towards the continuing insanity of the gateroom when Sheppard screeches to stop in front of him.

Eyes wide, Sheppard pokes him in the chest with a long, bony finger. "I don't know whether to thank you or punch you."

"Why do I get blamed for everything?" Rodney yowls.

"Because this is all." Sheppard waves his arms. "Your fault!"

"Wow." Rodney can't help but stare at the totally uncharacteristic behavior. He finds himself smiling when he probably should be running. "You've lost it. I'll be over there." He points in a random direction and starts again for the gateroom. Sheppard paces after him, muttering about murder, shallow graves, and getting Ronon's help.

Rodney is relieved to see Carter, who honestly smiles at him. He's starting to think everyone had brain transplants while he was securing the nuclear weapons. "Carter."

"Rodney!" She wraps him in a hug, whispering in his ear, "You were right, and I'll always hate you for it."

It takes him a moment to catch up, and then he relaxes into the hug. He whispers back at her, "Good." He pulls away and snaps, "Why are you here?"

Her eyes shine. "Why to save the day, of course, and because we promised Teyla. She drives a hard bargain." Carter sounds approving. "Also, she was right. We can fight the Wraith here or in the Milky Way. We prefer here."

Sheppard gives a strange grunt that might have been exasperation tinged with agreement. "Carson got his doctors, Rodney."

"All senior staff to the conference room. All senior staff."

For once, it's a relief. Now that the nukes are safe, Rodney wants to know exactly what is going on with his city, and if he needs to finish packing. They walk together, and Rodney slides into his customary seat, blinking in surprise when he spots Daniel Jackson whispering in General O'Neill's ear. From there it's only one chair to Elizabeth's stormy face. Whatever has been going on up here has definitely pissed her off, and Rodney considers making for the door.

"Am I still fired?" Rodney asks into the awkward silence.

O'Neill glances at Elizabeth. "You fired him? For real? Man, I wish General Landry were here."

Elizabeth crosses her arms. "I relieved him of his duties. He was never fired."

That isn't exactly how Rodney remembers it, but now is not the time to get picky. "So you want me to leave, Dr. Weir?" he asks politely, or at least he tries to sound polite.

Her shoulders come down about two inches. "I'm no longer in command of this mission, Rodney."

His mouth drops open and stays that way. No wonder Sheppard wants to murder him. He tries to stammer out something about 'sorry' and 'please don't kill me,' but O'Neill interrupts, thank god.

"Now, Lizzie, that's not what's happening." O'Neill motions for Ronon to sit down. "I guess we're all here. Sheppard?"

"We're all here, sir," Sheppard says, eyes down. Panic suddenly grabs Rodney, and he nearly gets to his feet. If Elizabeth has been replaced, then so has Sheppard and the thought of O'Neill running this base is a scary one.

"Officially, this mission has been re-tooled." O'Neill gives each of them a brief look that he might've thought was reassuring before continuing, "When we started this thing, we honestly expected a quick in and out. Grab some technology, use it to beat the Ori bad guys, that sort of thing."

No one says a word to contradict him. Rodney sips his coffee, trying desperately to look calm. He's so tempted to shove the math away, listen to everyone's emotions, but the faces around him discourage that idea.

You never think these things through, Rodney. Now look what you did!

Pressing his lips together so he doesn't accidentally yell at his dead mother, Rodney waits for the bad news. He makes sure not to meet anyone's eyes, especially Sheppard's.

"So this is what's happening in a nutshell. More soldiers, more guns, some nukes, and enough doctors to make Dr. Beckett there swoon." O'Neill glances at Daniel. "In other words, we're going with McKay's plan. Daniel is staying here because…"

"I begged," Daniel says into the awkward silence. "A lot."

O'Neill rolls his eyes. "Sheppard is still the head of the military. He'll report to Colonel Carter, who will share joint command with Dr. Weir. His new orders are to evacuate the natives of this galaxy and attack the Wraith as is prudent. I'll be making sure he has the manpower and firepower to get the job done."

Rodney finds himself staring at Ronon, who suddenly leans back with what is almost a smile.

"McKay, you went about this the wrong way. You screwed up and pissed off Lizzie." O'Neill gives him the full-on glare. "Teyla says it's because you ascended." He waves his hand. "Whatever. I'm docking you two months pay and give yourself a crappy job for a week or two, okay?"

"What?" Rodney blurts out, shocked. "I told her! Sheppard told her! She…" He trails off when he sees Elizabeth's eyes. He doesn't need to drop his math shield to know she's devastated by having to share command, which is not his fault, by the way. "Never mind. I'll put myself on sanitation duty for the month."

"Good." O'Neill grins. "Lizzie, anything else?"

Rodney cringes, and she's still got her arms crossed. "Dr. Weir, I apologize," he says, not out of a sense that he did wrong, but because he'd never meant to hurt her in his impatience.

She gives him a stiff nod, and that has to be enough.

"Carter, go to it," O'Neill says, pointing at her. Rodney edges his chair closer to Zelenka to make sure he takes good notes on his laptop. Zelenka gives him a look, so Rodney takes the laptop, ignoring the Czech snarl.

By the end of the meeting, he feels somewhat like he did that time he got shot in the butt with an arrow: breathless, stunned, and wondering when the good drugs would arrive to make it all blurry. He shoves the tablet back at Zelenka and makes his way to a balcony to grab a fresh breath of air.

Atlantis will never be the same now. And he's the one who did it. Technically, it's entirely his fault. Sheppard's right. Rodney doesn't know whether to congratulate himself or punch himself in the face. There's also the fact that Elizabeth will never call him 'friend' again. He'll still be reporting to her, and she's so very angry. Wrapping his hands around the rails, he squeezes and shoves the math aside to reach out to Sam.

Emotions clamor behind him, but he pushes forward, finding the whales hunting near land. They're happy, content, and he tries to grab hold of some of that for himself. Sam shows him the currents, the paths they carve, whispering of trajectories that lead to a full stomach.

Wide open, vulnerable, the hand that lands on his shoulder feels red-hot, like fire, and he bursts into flame, turning fast.

Sheppard's eyes are blown wide. "Again with the glowing?"

"I'm on-line!" Rodney yells back at him. "Stop touching me!" But he doesn't mean it, and he might've even stepped closer.

"Talking to Sam?" Sheppard's question is low and growly, and his hand slides down but doesn't drop away.

"Yeah," Rodney whispers. He ducks his face so he doesn't have to look in Sheppard's eyes. "They're hunting." He hears everything inside Sheppard. Pain, loss, fear, more loss, denial, and it all hurts Rodney in a way that he didn't think was possible. "I know you hate me because of Elizabeth."

"Can you feel it inside me?" Sheppard asks.

Rodney swallows hard, knowing all the good, bad, and awful inside him and still loving him. "No," he croaks, "but there is a bit of anger in there." He impulsively taps Sheppard on the chest. "I screwed it all up."

Sheppard sighs and slings his arm around Rodney's shoulder. The glow around them intensifies, and he says, "Or maybe you fixed things. I'm not sure we could've gone on hiding forever with little power and sending all our best technology to Earth." He shakes his head. "Sooner or later, the Wraith are going to find us."

The words are a peace offering on a massive scale, and Rodney accepts. "We can fly away now. Think O'Neill will let you sit in the chair?" he teases.

"Let him try to stop me." Sheppard looks out the window, getting a far away gleam in his eyes, and Rodney feels the joy at the simple thought of flight.

"What the hell?"

"Holy crap!"

Grimacing, Rodney puts his equations, plus a few new ones from Sam, back in place, and the wash of constant emotions cuts off. Sheppard slides away to a casual distance, and the glow fades. Rodney spreads his hands at Carson and Carter, silently asking them what they wanted.

They continue to stare mindlessly, and it's very annoying. Rodney points at Carson. "You should be used to it!"

Carson looks him up and down like he might be preparing to ask for a pint of blood to test, but Carter steps closer. "Rodney? Sheppard? You two are okay?" Her brow is knitted in confusion.

Sheppard rubs his hand down the back of his neck. "We're fine. I'll let McKay fill you in on the details."

Carter nods, and Sheppard grabs Carson by the arm, and they beat it out of there. Rodney doesn't want to give her any details. In effect, she's Sheppard's new boss, and the glowing thing is none of her business. She might get the wrong, or the right, idea, and that could be bad.

"There are no details." Rodney lifts his chin. "The Ancient device left me with a few side effects. I occasionally glow. Nothing to see here. Move along."

She tilts her head and then smiles. "I agree. Nothing to see. I was going to ask for a tour of the labs. It'll give us a chance to talk about your plan without everyone else in the room."

Rodney flushes. "The fact that you think it's my plan fills me with fear."

"Start from the beginning." She points at the archway. "Walk and talk?"

"Sure." Rodney is both relieved and alarmed. He's a terrible liar, and she knows it. "But Sheppard is off-limits," he says, feeling a little desperate.

"Absolutely. At the SGC, we never ask, and if people try to tell, we stick our fingers in our ears." She walks close enough to bump him occasionally. "And what's this about a whale named after me?"

********

Hiding under his desk seems like a perfectly reasonable way to spend the day. It isn't that Rodney's tired, any more than usual, but he'd seriously enjoy an hour or two without someone asking him to do something.

"Rodney!"

Groaning, Rodney walks faster, trying to get under a piece of furniture before he's spotted. Unfortunately, Sheppard thinks it's hilarious, chasing after him and wedging himself under the bench also. Rodney goes ahead and puts his head on Sheppard's shoulder.

"Why are we hiding?" Sheppard whispers, not pushing Rodney away.

Rodney sighs. "I'm tired of people."

Sheppard nods. "Me too." He squishes around until he can put his arm around Rodney. "Wait, aren't we people?"

"No." Rodney shut his eyes, relaxing into him. "I haven't seen you in three days. Where have you been?"

"Here and there, mostly there." Sheppard sounds tired but okay. Rodney is tempted to poke a hole in his math shield and make sure. Sheppard squeezes him. "You can go on-line, if you want. It doesn't bother me."

A little shocked, Rodney opens his eyes and stares into Sheppard's eyes. "Really?"

"Really. You saw it all inside me. I don't have anything else to be embarrassed about." Sheppard lowers his face until they're nothing but a breath away. "Are we okay?"

"I hope so." A little reluctantly, Rodney brings his wall down, but he puts up an umbrella to keep out the ragtag of emotions from the rest of the base. "I hate Chaya."

Sheppard draws back. "Still? Shouldn't you get over that?"

Rodney pauses and then tells him the truth. "I ascended. She was there. Mocking me. She sent me back like this. I'm ruined, absolutely ruined. Stupid emotions that I hate. That I never had to deal with before, and now it's in my face every moment of the day. I have no doubt she spends hours every day laughing at my pain."

Frowning, Sheppard leans close again. "She doesn't have the power to do that."

Confused, eyes wide, Rodney glares at him. "She did it. I know it!"

"I've, um, shared, well, stuff with her." Sheppard turns a little red, swiping his free hand through his hair.

Rearranging his thinking took a minute, but Rodney ran through it all again. He has every reason to believe Sheppard. "She showed me how to get back here."

"Then I owe her." Sheppard shrugs, lips close enough to kiss. "But she couldn't do this to you."

"Maybe not," Rodney concedes. "Stupid machine," he mutters. He shoves it all away for another day, deciding to focus on how good Sheppard feels. The emotions flowing from him are easy, mild, full of good things, laced with only a small amount of worry and concern. Rodney shuts his eyes again, leans into Sheppard's kiss, and wallows in just feeling happy.

"He is there. See the glowing?"

"Oh. Huh."

"Maybe we should leave."

"Right behind you."

Rodney stops kissing and buries his face in his hands. "Next time I come up with some grand plan--"

"I will smack you so hard it flies right out of your head." Sheppard grins, stealing another kiss. "Let's go whale watching."

Surprised, Rodney reaches for Sam and nearly bangs his head on the table. "He's here. Come on!" He grabs hold of Sheppard's hand. "Are you dragging your feet?"

"No!" Sheppard knocks his knee on the table, grimaces, and hobbles after him. "Slow down!"

"Wimp." Rodney isn't turning him loose. Sheppard has a way of scampering off, not to be seen for days on end. The closest balcony isn't near close enough so they end up out on a pier, watching the whales jump and squee. Sam's mother and father get in on the act, and Rodney smiles at Sheppard's gasp.

Sheppard pulls him down, and they sit together, equations roiling at their feet, whales in the distance, and Rodney wonders if he's ever been this happy.

Don't screw it up, Meredith.

His mother's voice doesn't dim his smile. She had talked too much, and very little of it nice. In retrospect, he loved her despite it all, or maybe because of it.

"Hey, Rodney. Dunno if I mentioned it, but you did good." Sheppard slips his hand onto Rodney's thigh and squeezes. "Even if our lives are insane now."

"Thanks. I think." Rodney wants more touches like that. "I'd given up on you, but I'm re-thinking that position." The smack to the back of his head is gentle, and he glares at the velocity/impact equation that slides off his shoulder. He feels Sheppard's amusement, and then, something powerful rolls over him, nearly tossing him off Atlantis. "Wait. What is that?"

The grin on Sheppard's face widens a bit. It's Rodney's turn to gasp, and he grabs handfuls of Sheppard's shirt. "You're not scared any longer!"

Sheppard laughs. "Ronon beat it out of me."

"I'm going to have to find a Wraith hive ship to destroy to thank him." Rodney sees Sam breach the water again, and almost instantly their minds connect.

You are happy now!

I am.

Watch the maths!

I will.

"Rodney?"

"Sh-h-h." Rodney stealthily wraps an arm around Sheppard. "Sam is explaining maths to me."

"Let me know when he's done. I want to take you to bed and explain--"

Rodney covers Sheppard's mouth with a hard kiss and then gets jerkily to his feet. "Bye, Sam!"

They laugh together, no sarcasm in either of their voices, and Rodney always listens closely to John. Always, and this time, he hears all the right things, and somehow they've gotten here without talking. It's like a miracle made of perfect equations.

John taps his ear bud. "Colonel Carter, Rodney and I are taking the day off."

The answer is easy to hear. "Good idea. We're all tired after that last batch of refugees. I even saw Ronon yawning."

"Thanks, Colonel." John clicks off and walks faster, practically tossing Rodney into his quarters. Rodney finds that he doesn't mind, and he locks the door because John is busy stripping off his gun. The sight transfixes Rodney for a long moment, and then he frantically tears off his clothes before John freaks and runs away.

The bed is stupidly small but big enough if they pile on top, and Rodney wants to do that. He wants to do that a lot, even as much as possible. Right before their skin touches, Rodney swears his brain overloads on lust, and he's sure it's not all him. It winds him even tighter, and he comes the instant that their cocks shove to slide along the other. It rockets through him, and he basks in the echoes he gets as John roars to his own orgasm.

Rodney estimates that it was the shortest sex of his life, even counting that time he never got his pants off, but it's still the best. Hands down. The best. And he hopes his ability to think about something other than doing it again returns at some point.

John laughed in Rodney's ear. "I haven't had that problem since I was thirteen."

"Me either," Rodney lies without a bit of shame. He tries to catch his breath, but John is wiggling and moving about, and it's impossible. John should've been heavy, hot, and sticky, and he is, and it feels so good. Rodney skims his hands up and down John's back and ass, getting a feel for the territory.

"Am I squishing you?" John asks, taking more weight on his arms and thrusting with his groin.

"I don't know," Rodney manages to say before capturing John's mouth and trying to kiss him senseless. They should both be in a state of mental collapse, not just Rodney. John is the best kisser on the planet. Rodney is sure of it after a few hundred experiments and a brief survey of the data. John begins to fuck Rodney's mouth with his tongue, and Rodney has just enough intellect left to worry that he might actually burst into flames. Spontaneous combustion is real threat because John's skin and mouth are hot, hot, hot.

"We can do this all day," John says, sounding smug.

Smug is a good feeling, and Rodney will remember when things get tough later, not that they will, but it's good to be prepared. Then John's tongue drives coherent thoughts to a distance, and Rodney is happy to see them go. For once, feeling good is good enough, and it's better than good. It takes forever, and once when Rodney's entire body is tingling he's sure he might be ascending again, but the sparkles clear and John's breath ghosts across Rodney's neck, reassuring him that he won't be arguing with Chaya tonight.

"Wow," Rodney says, knowing how inadequate that one word is now. "Really."

"Let's go shower and do it again." John's enthusiasm for that idea gets Rodney up and moving, and they stagger together, legs weak and hearts still racing. Soap and kisses, and John has grabby hands, and Rodney hopes that never stops. John slicks his hands across Rodney's nipples and grins. "You haven't said anything coherent in forever."

Rodney cups John's balls and enjoys watching John's eyes widen. "You're the most fascinating equation I'll never solve."

"I'm flattered," John says, licking at Rodney's ear. "You think we'll ever stop glowing?"

"I hope not." Rodney laughs, feeling John's joy. "But my mother would say we better enjoy every minute together because good things always come to an end."

"Was she wrong a lot?" John bites his way down Rodney's neck.

"You have no idea." Rodney plans to live his life in such a way that none of her hurtful words ever come true. "All day, huh?"

John's mouth is sliding lower. "Yup."

"We should get snacks."

********
the end