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The Fiery Hound of Lo’r Mawra

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1.

The planet was dry, nearly dead, red sand settled in smooth mounds against the stargate, clumps of blue-thorned plants tilted at angles away from the three hot suns, suggesting periodically strong winds and little rain. There was a stretch of metal traveling far into the horizon, planks of rotted wood layered like railroad ties. Rodney was just waiting for the tumbleweed to blow by and a lonely stranger to show up with his hat tipped low and spurs jangling, shotgun resting across his saddle.

“Anyone else got a hankering for some sarsaparilla?” Sheppard drawled. He slipped his sunglasses up his nose and flashed Rodney a grin.

Rodney rolled his eyes, pulling his datapad out of his pocket. “That way,” he said, pointing northwest. The ground rumbled under their feet and he glanced down, frowning. “Are we sure this place is uninhabited? A giant spinosaurus isn’t going to emerge from the earth and eat us, is it?”

Teyla nodded. “There has been no one here for as long as anyone can remember, and it has never fostered much animal life. My people,” she tilted her head, as if searching for the perfect words to explain, yet again, why the Athosians had named this particular planet Lo’r Mawra—or Globe of Death, as the linguists had way too excitedly translated—“speak only of the Fiery Hound that lays its head in the City of Skulls.”

“Well, this just keeps getting better and better. Couldn’t you have, you know, talked about this hell-beast yesterday?” Rodney scanned their surroundings wildly for any flaming skeleton dogs.

There was only the whistle of lonely air, though, and the heat ripples that miraged water in the distance.

“Do you hear barking?”

Rodney sent him a scowl. “Oh, ha ha, very funny, Colonel.”

Sheppard cocked his head, expression quizzical. “No, really. I thought I heard a growl or something.”

“Please.” Rodney squinted at the scanner. “Let’s just move out so we can not find a ZPM, as per usual, and lock this address out of the database.”

“Way to keep the faith, McKay,” Sheppard said, slapping his shoulder.

“Unless the Fiery Hound of death is guarding a secret Ancient outpost, I really doubt there’s going to be much of anything here.” He shoved a boonie onto his head, tugging the brim out to make sure it shaded his nose.

Sheppard stared at him.

“What?” he snapped. “Three suns, Colonel.” He gestured towards Ronon, who was scratching the side of his neck absently, sweating enough to leave shiny droplets in his beard. “Giant hairy man here is even likely to get burned.”

“And SPF 100 just isn’t going to cut it,” Sheppard said mockingly. “Where’d you get that thing, anyway?”

Rodney tilted his chin up. “Lydia lent it to me.” Dr. Lydia René, who was sweet and stacked and not blonde, but had a dizzying accent that more than made up for it.

Sheppard dropped narrowed eyes to the ground and muttered something about commies pretending to be French physicists, but when Rodney called him on it his face was a mask of adorable innocence and—damn it—Rodney blamed the ridiculous hair and bitten chapped lips.

“We going?” Ronon growled. He slipped off his stinky yak jacket and tossed it onto the bottom of the ‘gate steps.

“As I said before,” Rodney bounced on the balls of his feet, waving out in front of them, “that way.”

“Following the train tracks,” Sheppard said, shifting his weight with slight visible unease.

Rodney nodded. “Yes.”

No one moved.

Finally, Teyla cleared her throat. “Perhaps we should...”

“Right, right.” Rodney took a hesitant step forward, then stopped. “I’ll just, um, Colonel?”

“With you, Rodney,” Sheppard said, pulling up beside him, knuckles white on his P-90.

It was like moving through molasses, and something in Rodney’s mind was screaming at him to stop, to go back, to close his eyes and forget the planet ever existed. Globe of Death. Probably painful and messy, too.

“I’ll go first,” Ronon cut in, pushing past them.

Sheppard forced a shrug and fanned out, leaving Teyla to cover their six, and Rodney stomped along the thick iron-like rods that grooved the sand and sang like the rails were running on the other side of the world.

**

It was eerie.

Spooky, almost, if Rodney believed in ghosts, but mainly it was eerie because—

“I’ve seen this episode of The Brady Bunch.”

Rodney would’ve given Sheppard a withering look if he hadn’t been thinking the same exact thing. Raised wooden sidewalks lined a shallow, sandy road, opening up onto low, crude constructions, thin posts crisscrossed out front for easy hitching. It was the stereotypical Hollywood ghost town.

“The Brady Bunch?” Teyla echoed, eyebrows arched questioningly.

Rodney bent over his datapad. “Pedestrian 70s sitcom,” he explained absently.

“TV,” Sheppard elaborated.

They’d been over television before. Teyla smiled in that silly-Earth-boys way, nodding, and Ronon grunted.

“Whatever,” he said. “I don’t like it.”

“Really?” Rodney asked, following happy little bleeps of energy as they cautiously made their way further into the abandoned town. “I was thinking of building a vacation condo right... here.” He looked up at the swinging doors. “Ah, the saloon. How appropriate.”

He glanced back over his shoulder, catching Sheppard grinning widely at him, the damn aviator glasses hiding his eyes.

Rodney gestured towards the planked sidewalk impatiently. “Well, don’t just stand there. Energy readings and booze. It’s a dream come true.” The remark was biting, of course, but if he actually believed there was a ZPM or Ancient weaponry or alcohol on the premises, he would’ve danced a jig. Or at the very least encouraged Ronon to.

Sheppard stepped past him with a chuckle and a head shake, P-90 up, then paused with his shoulder pressed lightly against the door. His lips pulled downward and his brow furrowed behind his sunglasses as he gazed out towards the center of town.

Rodney huffed. “Colonel—”

“Wait.”

Rodney’s hand dropped to the top of his sidearm automatically, thumb catching the snap as he followed Sheppard’s line of sight. After a tense minute, he asked, “Is there a reason we’re staring at absolutely nothing?”

“Don’t you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Ronon asked, palming his own gun.

“The…” Sheppard’s mouth tightened. “It sounds like a damn dog.”

Rodney froze and listened very, very hard, but couldn’t hear a thing above the lapping rustle of sand as it slid across the worn wood and spun into tiny whirling cones from the wind. “Just how detailed were these Fiery Hound stories of yours, Teyla?”

Teyla cupped a hand over her eyes. “It is said that he licks the bones of the dead, and guides souls from the Last Feast into the Everlasting Fire.”

“Oh, good. I was afraid he’d simply tear us limb from limb, but bone-licking and hellfires?” Rodney rocked back on his heels. “I can’t wait.”

“Rodney,” Sheppard drew out, his you’ve-gone-past-amusing warning tone in full effect.

Rodney waved him off, because while he had no doubt Teyla’s Athosian folktales were nothing more than fancy nonsense, there was never a lack of monsters in the Pegasus galaxy. Mocking was a perfectly valid form of defense against debilitating fear.

Across the road, behind the sprawling, dilapidated buildings, flames rolled up to touch the sky, falling over the roofs like breaking waves, and then an arid gust of air slapped Rodney in the face, tugging the boonie off to dangle by its chin strap, hanging down to the middle of his back. The fire was only red sand, though, illuminated at the edges by one dying sun. Rodney ducked his head, eyes squinched shut as the grit whipped down to pelt their faces.

“Inside!” Sheppard shouted over the howl of the approaching sandstorm. He palmed the door open and jerked his P-90, and Rodney spilled past him into the darkened room.

Rodney could taste the desert in his teeth and quickly uncapped his canteen, rinsing his mouth before spitting the dirty water out onto the rough floorboards.

Once Ronon stumbled in, shaking out his hair, Sheppard slipped past the doors and collapsed against the wall beside it, coughing.

“Well,” Sheppard rasped, rubbing his mouth with the back of his hand, “now we know what the Fiery Hound is.”

“Not really a dog,” Rodney said. He kind of wished it had been. Sandstorms sucked.

“Sandstorms suck,” Ronon growled, latching the doors with what looked like a rope of his hair. He’d picked up quite a bit of earth vernacular sparring with the marines.

“And you can kiss your yak jacket goodbye,” Rodney said cheerfully.

Ronon gave him a dirty look.

Sheppard strong-armed a toppled heavy table over to the door, blocking the bottom wind. Sand seeped under it and spat half-heartedly around the edges, but it seemed to keep out most of the storm.

Teyla had streaks of red-brown on her face, upper arms, sand clinging to the sweaty skin. She sipped at her water, pushing her lank hair back off her forehead, panting slightly. Then she asked, “What is a dog?”

**

“What can I get ya?” Sheppard asked with a grin, leaning onto the bar with his hands spread.

Rodney scowled. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

Ronon moved past him and grabbed a long-necked purple bottle off the shelf behind Sheppard. He pried off the stopper, gave an experimental sniff, then took a large gulp.

Rodney just stared at him, horrified. “What the—”

“It’s solm,” he said, grinning with teeth.

Sheppard’s brows arched. “Solm?”

“It is an extract of solmono leaves,” Teyla explained, taking the bottle from Ronon with pointedly arched brows of her own, “meant to ease pain. I am sure this is several years past its prime use.”

Rodney guided the mouth of the bottle towards his nose, drawing in a shallow breath that made his eyes water. “Stronger than that swill Radek distills with Gomez,” he said, blinking rapidly. “I think this could strip flesh. How the hell can you drink that?”

Ronon shrugged, pulled another bottle off the shelf. It was blue, and he made a face after smelling it. “Klur.”

“Oh, now you’re just making up words,” Rodney said, snatching it from him.

Then Sheppard snatched it from Rodney with a saucy grin. “Licorice,” he said, mouth falling into a pained grimace. “Smells like hot Jagermeister and cheap frat parties.”

Rodney snorted. “I’m sure you’d know, Colonel.” He waved a hand, gesturing towards the neat and dusty row of brightly colored bottles. “I can’t believe there’s actually alcohol in here. Toxic alcohol, of course, but I bet we can get Chuck to drink it.”

“Klur is for drunkards,” Ronon said, curling a lip in disgust.

“And I guess this paint thinner is reserved for high-class lushes,” Rodney scoffed, hooking a thumb towards the solm Teyla had gingerly placed back onto the shelf. He could still smell the fumes. It was burning the insides of his nostrils. “Is anyone else having problems with their colors?”

“The whole place is just shades of brown, Rodney,” Sheppard pointed out. He slumped down on the bar, though, eyelids sliding in a thick, slow blink.

**

“Lee Majors.”

“Easy. The Six Million Dollar Man.”

Sheppard cocked a finger at him. “The Fall Guy.”

“Oh, come on. A veritable bionic superhero against a stuntman?” Rodney rolled his eyes and leaned back against the wall, bending his knees up. He drew circles on the sandy floor with his fingertips.

“Bounty hunter by night.” Sheppard grinned loosely. “Howie was hot.”

Oh. Rodney’s breath stuttered. Interesting. “You’re aware Howie was a man, right?”

“Kinda hard to miss,” he said. His body was tensed, though, palms flat on his thighs, gaze studiously avoiding Rodney’s.

Nodding slowly, Rodney said, “Erin Gray.”

Sheppard let out a deep breath. “Silver Spoons.”

“Are you insane? Silver Spoons?” Rodney spluttered, hands flailing. “You, of all people—I mean—you can’t be serious—”

“Relax, McKay, I was joking.”

The floorboards creaked, and Sheppard and Rodney both looked up to watch Teyla arch her back in a stretch. Ronon was sprawled out, head pillowed on his arms, snoring. One gulp of solm had proved to be too much for him, but just the scent had made all of them drowsy, so Rodney really couldn’t call him a lightweight.

“I believe the storm is over,” Teyla said. “The howling has stopped.”

“Cool.” Sheppard got to his feet.

Rodney struggled up too, grabbing for his datapad and walking the perimeter of the saloon. His earlier suspicions were confirmed: any energy readings had disappeared with the onslaught of the sandstorm, and the building was no longer making his sensors happy. “And, as I predicted, this entire trip was a waste.”

“Nothing?”

“Not even a—wait.” Rodney moved towards the far left corner again. The reading was back, but then faded while he stood still. He walked five paces and stopped again when the blip grew brighter. “Okay, huh.”

Sheppard stepped closer, leaning over his shoulder. “What?”

“Whatever it is, it’s moving away.” It faded again, hovering on hazy, and then disappeared completely.

**

Outside two suns had already set, the third a tiny speck of yellow-white that left the world washed orange, the sand a near blood-red. Rodney couldn’t really fathom why the town wasn’t buried, but it looked exactly the same, the road carved out between ghostly wooden shells, the iron rails running so tightly by that they nearly skimmed what was at one point probably a general store or a brothel.

He was just waiting for the crazy old prospector to appear and lock them all up in a rotting carcass of a jail.

Ah, the 70s.

Sheppard snapped off a piece of tilting hitching post and called Teyla over, hunkering down in the sand, balancing on his haunches. “Here. This,” he said with a flourish, tracing curves, “is a dog. Man’s best friend, and don’t let Rodney tell you otherwise.”

Rodney snorted.

Teyla frowned. “It is a harbinger of death.”

Curious, Rodney peered over her shoulder. “Hmmm. That’s actually a pretty good rendering.” Sheppard had given it a little smiley face.

“Thanks, McKay,” he said dryly. Then, “Harbinger of death?”

Teyla nodded. “They show themselves before events of great tragedy.”

“A barghest, or grim,” Rodney said. “We have something similar, but a dog’s just a companion animal that slobbers a lot, contracts fleas and barks in your face.”

Teyla still looked uneasy, staring down at the funny little dog, and Sheppard erased the sketch with a sweep of his hand.

“Let’s head out, campers,” he said, pushing off his thighs, straightening up.

Rodney kept the energy sensor on as they headed back down the rail line, the numbers racing high then low, then holding steady for a few moments before drifting down to bare traces, and he carefully recorded and noted all changes, willing to get down and dirty with the calculations once they were safely back on Atlantis.

But then the ground shook again, longer and more violently than it had when they’d first arrived. Rodney dropped to his knees, his palms slipping as a crack opened up, exposing jagged dark rock, sand pouring over the edge like water. He heard Sheppard shout his name, and then everything went black.

**

There was something growling in the darkness.

It was completely pitch black, and Rodney fumbled with his pack, feeling blindly for a glowstick with fear-clumsy fingers. He snapped it, spreading a blue-green light around the small niche, stretched long in front of him, but boxing him in tightly on both sides.

An Irish Setter was baring its teeth at him. Sleek, sloping head, droopy ears, smooth, long fur, flipped up in loose curls towards the ends. Definitely an Irish Setter.

“Um, good dog,” he said placatingly, eyes wide.

The setter growled again, low in his chest, then bit out a vicious snarling bark when Rodney shifted uncomfortably.

“All right, all right, not moving.” Although, really, what were the chances that he wasn’t hallucinating the thing? His head felt okay, a little achy, so he didn’t think he had a concussion, but it was dark and he was obviously underground and oh god, he was starting to feel dizzy, panicked. He closed his eyes, wheezing and counting backwards from twenty, and called up his Happy Place—Sheppard in a tight black tee, conveniently drenched, smiling a peculiarly inviting smile, and holding out an ice-cold beer. Salieri played softly in the background.

When he got himself under control he opened his eyes again. The dog was gone. And then a sliver of light sliced down from above.

“Rodney? You okay, buddy?”

Rodney sagged in relief. “I’m trapped in a space barely the width of my shoulders, Colonel, what do you think?”

“Give me a few minutes and we’ll rig something up. Nothing hurt?”

He cataloged his body, noting soreness, but nothing felt horribly wrong. “This whole planet is likely unstable,” he grumbled. “I’m probably breathing in deadly pathogens and microorganisms that will feast on my lungs before infecting all of you, as well. Also,” he added quietly to himself, “I’m seeing dogs.”

Or a dog, really. And it was back, staring at him with dead eyes that probably weren’t dead, just shadowed by the weak light.

Rodney inched his hand up his vest, prying open one of his front pockets. The setter watched him intently. As soon as he ripped the wrapper covering the powerbar, though, it sat up straighter, ears alert. He split the bar in two, then tossed the smaller half towards the dog. It caught it out of the air, teeth clicking shut around it.

Rodney swallowed convulsively.

The dog whined and thumped its tail.

“More?” Rodney asked warily before tossing the other piece.

The animal ate it just as quickly, licking its maw, and then its tongue lolled out and it cocked its head and the next thing he knew the setter was right in front of his bent legs, leaning heavy, warm weight into his calves. It nosed his hand, wriggling until his palm rested just behind its ears.

“Um.” Okay. That was just odd.

**

2.

Chuck would eat just about anything, and it was a little like middle school whenever he was in the commissary. He could sip milk through his nose, and mixed raisins in his reconstituted mashed potatoes, and Rodney admitted he was kind of fascinated by the way he unabashedly burped the periodic table of elements. Chuck may’ve been military, but he was Canadian.

There was a clear divide in the room at those times, too. Raucous geeks on one side, the botanists giggling like dolts, Taber switching the sugar for the salt with all the stealth of a hippo, Radek snorting the occasional noodle out of his nose, Miko’s staple impressions of Bates and Lieutenant Miller so ludicrously bad they were hilarious. Hand puppets were often involved.

The grunts and flyboys shook their heads at the antics and avoided them with the sort of overdone machismo and stoic posturing that merely proved that they wished they were part of the fun—but were too pansy-assed to do anything about it.

Except for Colonel Sheppard, of course, who proved himself a grade-A dork when he demonstrated his proficiency at spoons like the hillbilly he was.

Rodney placed the blue bottle in the center of the table. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present this bottle of klur for your drinking pleasure.” He had absolutely no intention of imbibing himself, of course. He was just looking for a show.

Carson eyed it warily. “And what’s klur?” he asked.

“Something you don’t want to try,” Sheppard said dryly, lounging back in his chair.

“In that case,” Chuck said, grinning. He grabbed the bottle, pulled the cork, and took a fairly large mouthful. Half of it ended up coughed out across the table. “Oh god.”

“That good, huh?” Sheppard said, eyebrows peaked.

“That’s foul.” Shoving the bottle away, Chuck made the sign of the cross, and Simpson burst out laughing.

“Oh my god, Chuck, your face,” she gasped, slapping a palm over her mouth, stifling giggles. Lydia and Miko both averted their eyes, heads bent together and shoulders shaking.

Sheppard slanted a sharp grin at Rodney. “I believe you owe me two caramel bars, McKay.”

Rodney scowled. “Thanks, Campbell. You picked a great time to be discerning.”

Chuck shook his head. “Not my fault. I don’t think that stuff was meant for human consumption.”

“Since when has that stopped you?” Radek snickered.

Leaning the slightest bit towards him, Sheppard offered in a low voice, “I think I could be persuaded to share my spoils.”

“What?” Rodney gaped at him. “You—”

“I also have Lorne’s copy of Dune.” He waggled his brows, expression encouraging.

Rodney thought he might’ve been missing something, but Dune was Dune and he wasn’t going to pass up a caramel bar. “Eight o’clock. My room.”

Sheppard grinned, then drew out a lazy, “Cool.”

**

“It does not make sense!” Radek stated, staring incredulously down at his console. “Was working perfectly, then poof, all heating systems offline. There are no differences from yesterday, no glitch to cause failure.”

Rodney took a sip of coffee, typing with one hand. It was already past eight. He’d downloaded the data he’d collected from Lo’r Mawra, and the weird thing was. The weird thing was that the erratic pattern seemed to have followed them back through the ‘gate.

“Well,” Rodney said, pulling up the environmental schematics, “it obviously wasn’t working perfectly, then, was it?” Power fluctuations were cropping up all over the city, though. Bursts of unexplainable energy, disaster causing energy, and Rodney was pretty sure it had something to do with the bone-licking Fiery Hound of Lo’r Mawra that may or may not have been a hot, scouring sandstorm. He was beginning to have his doubts.

“This is very strange. I think I—” There was an electronic screech, a flash of light, and Radek palmed his forehead.

“Oh, dude. This is so not cool.”

“Practicing your surfer lingo?” Rodney sneered. “Are you suddenly high?”

“McKay,” Radek said, eyes wide with a mixture of fascination and horror, and Radek hadn’t called Rodney ‘McKay’ since the great sugar battle of ’05, so he narrowed his eyes and growled, “Who—?”

“Taber, man.” He pressed his nose with a finger and pointed at Rodney with his other hand. “Pegasus bites sometimes,” he said.

Rodney was inclined to agree with the xenobiologist. “Okay, what just happened? Where’s Radek?”

Then the lab doors slid open and Taber’s body came walking in, a resigned, exasperated, tired look on his face. He folded his lanky form up into a chair, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“There are some days,” Taber-yet-Radek said in carefully precise words, “when I wish I was too stupid to have been approached for this expedition.”

Radek-yet-Taber nodded. “Dude, totally. Or smart enough to say no.”

**

“You standing me up, McKay?”

Rodney jerked his head towards the door, watching as Sheppard lounged against the jamb, arms crossed and lips half quirked.

“If by ‘standing you up’ you mean busy being far more indispensable than yourself, then yes. Yes, I am.” He waved him into the lab. “Here, touch this.”

Sheppard ambled over, hands sliding into his pockets, eyeing the device warily. “What’s it do?”

“Reverses the polarity of the fourth moon of Hoth and slimes your hand with iridescent goo,” Rodney said, rolling his eyes. “Would I have told you to touch it if I had any idea what it did?”

“Wow, now I really don’t want to touch it,” Sheppard said, taking a step back.

“All right, fine.” He pointed at the Taber-shaped Radek hunched over the next table, stringy, dirty-blond hair pulled up in a topknot to keep it out of his face. “We’ve had a mix-up, and I’m almost eighty percent sure this device will reverse the effects, except it seems to be dead.”

“A mix-up?”

Radek spat out a stream of Czech—curses, probably, and a couple of words that Rodney recognized as food—and squawked, “These hands, they are too big! I cannot—” He mimed typing. “I am a clumsy oaf, with fingers like sausages.”

Sheppard’s eyes widened. “I see. And Zelenka was holding that,” he nodded towards the sphere, “when this happened?”

Rodney frowned. “Actually, no. He wasn’t holding anything at all. We were going over the heating system malfunction in the outer quadrants, and—”

“A shock came through the console, and suddenly I was in hall, in this overly-large, smelly body.” Radek shook his head, and his stomach growled. Loudly. “I am also constantly hungry. It is very annoying.”

“I can see how that would be,” Sheppard said, grinning. Gamely, he picked up the round device, spinning it between his fingers. Nothing happened, and he flicked his wrist, tossing it a few inches into the air. “Pretty sure it’s dead. Also, I think it has something to do with sloughing skin, not body-switching.” He shrugged.

“Really? Ah, well, I didn’t actually think it’d help. That would’ve been far too simple a fix, and god knows the Ancients really hated easy fixes.” Rodney scowled down at his laptop.

Sheppard fidgeted behind him.

Rodney hummed and tried to ignore him. Finally, he snapped, “You’re hovering, Colonel.”

“Sorry.” Rodney could hear the smile in his voice. Then Sheppard leaned closer and said, “William Shatner,” breath ghosting his nape.

Rodney shivered slightly, and his eyes narrowed on his screen. That was way too easy. It had to be a trick. “William Shatner?” he repeated, stalling for time.

“S’what I said.”

William Shatner, and it obviously wasn’t Star Trek, and Sheppard had chosen The Fall Guy over the bionic man, so Rodney twisted his face up in distaste and ventured, “TJ Hooker?”

“Bingo.” Sheppard clapped his back. “So, tomorrow?”

“I’ll bring popcorn,” Rodney offered, because he felt a little bad having to beg off that night, even though it clearly wasn’t his fault.

Sheppard flashed another grin. Rodney shooed him out of the lab with impatient hand motions, and Radek stared at him curiously with his creepy Taber eyes.

“You and the colonel are very odd,” he said.

“I think it is adorable.” Lydia, with her pretty brown eyes and snub nose and generous lower lip, slid onto the stool across from Rodney and sighed.

“Excuse me?” Rodney asked.

“You two.” She cocked her head, as if searching for the perfect word. “You are very sweet with each other.”

“Sweet,” Rodney echoed.

Radek chuckled evilly. “Oh yes, you are correct, Dr. René. Very sweet.”

Rodney glowered at him.

“He knows you so well.” Lydia’s eyes grew alarmingly dreamy. “I have always wished for so astute a suitor.”

Radek choked out, “Ha!” before biting his fist and ducking his head so far down he nearly knocked himself out on the table.

Stunned, Rodney snapped, “Wait, wait. Are you telling me that Sheppard,” he whirled his hand around, then stressed, “Sheppard—is, is—”

“Courting you?” Radek suggested, sounding like he was on the verge of literally dying, his face bright red—Taber had unfortunately blotchy skin—and cheeks puffed out in suppressed laughter.

Dr. René shifted forward, threading her fingers together, and stretched her arms in front of her. “He brings you trinkets—”

“What, like that Alf pog he stole from Hicks?” Rodney scoffed.

She ignored him, half-smiling. “And he saves you coffee, and plays these ridiculous little games with you that no one else understands.”

Well, that was true enough. But the games usually sprang from tremendous boredom, and most of the time even Rodney didn’t fully understand them. Although he was pretty sure he was ahead by one now, since Lynda Carter had been a damn freebie. He’d used her under duress when Ronon and Sheppard had been pulling him out of the deadly, miniscule crack in the ground of Lo’r Mawra.

“I don’t see it,” he huffed.

She reached over and patted his arm and said slyly, “You will,” and suddenly her accent was dizzying for an entirely different reason.

**

Radek was still housed in Dr. Taber’s body the next morning, and the table full of scientists was scarily subdued, despite Chuck’s presence. Although the haze of lethargy and depression had less to do with Radek’s predicament—because Rodney thought that was mainly hilarious—and more to do with the disappearance of the Daedalus’ entire shipment of coffee, as well as the only slightly less disastrous hijacking of any and all foodstuffs that seemed to contain even the barest traces of caffeine.

Rodney acknowledged that he might possibly monopolize more than his fair share of coffee grounds—‘fair’ being clearly subjective—but even he wouldn’t stoop so low as to withhold such a vital stimulant from the populace. Caffeine. Coffee was lifeblood, but right at that moment Rodney would’ve killed for just a Coke.

“Has anyone at least found the tea?” Corrigan asked with a strained voice, head rocking back and forth on the table.

“What’s up, fellas?” Sheppard was far too cheerful for seven in the morning.

“Someone’s gone completely insane and confiscated every bit of caffeine in the city,” Rodney snapped irritably.

Sheppard fiddled with the radio at his ear, giving him a strange, slow look. “Okay.” He bounced his gaze between Taber and Radek. “You two still...?”

“I’m like an elf,” Taber said, grinning. “With little tiny doll’s feet.”

Radek narrowed his eyes. “You must watch yourself, Taber,” he said ominously. “There are many ways in which I can make your life worse than hell.”

“But Z-man, you can totally fold up inside one of those pigmy bat cages,” Taber went on, unheeding. “It’s so awesome. Luella wouldn’t come out for her shots, so I just shimmied through the door to grab her, and it’s, like, barely over a foot wide.” He approximated the distance with his hands. “You’re, like, magically small.”

Radek growled and muttered something about the Ancients hating him and painful deaths that would leave no incriminating marks.

Taber just chuckled.

Rodney doubted Taber’s sanity, since vicious mutterings from Radek were certainly nothing to dismiss. He was an openly vindictive, angry little man with access to every regulated system on Atlantis. He was possibly more dangerous than Rodney himself, since Rodney had a habit of spreading the vitriol a little too thinly among his minions. Radek had much more concentrated amounts of vengeance-reaping rage built up inside him.

Sheppard shook his head, a close-mouthed half-grin curving his lips, then moved away with an absent wave encompassing the whole group. Rodney scowled at the blatant snub, but was determined not to fixate on it. The lack of coffee had them all off balance.

**

The late afternoon briefing was for an early morning jaunt to P32-M44 the next day. P32-M44 was one of Rodney’s favorite planets. They farmed a kind of chewy legume, and the air was always thick with roasted peanuts. The trade mission was routine, but Elizabeth was a stickler for details, and there’d been a minor incident the month before between one of the more enthusiastic botanists and a pack of village children.

Rodney was dragging, because Carson refused to give him any stimulants and instead provided him with a small bottle of practically useless ibuprofen for the immense hammering inside his skull. He dug his palms in his eye sockets, yawned, then fixed Sheppard with a stop-humming glare. How could the man be so incredibly upbeat?

Sheppard quirked his mouth, but his eyes were strangely blank. Rodney had a brief moment of extreme panic at the thought that Dr. Bigmouth René—previously more than tolerable, but now a busybody who deserved to be banished to the south pier with Kavanagh and that annoying anthropologist with the huge nose and muddy boots—had mentioned her little courting theory to him.

But then Sheppard blinked at him and smiled a little more warmly and said, “You know, I’m kind of embarrassed about this, but I don’t know exactly who you are. Botanist, right? I saw you sitting with Brown and Parrish this morning.”

“Oh, that’s just in poor taste, Colonel. Botanist? Please.” Rodney waved a hand.

“Um.” Sheppard’s grin froze.

“Gentlemen,” Elizabeth said, striding into the conference room.

Teyla was a few paces behind her, and Ronon came through last, crunching on a paper cone of shaved ice doused in mystery berry syrup. It was the third one Rodney’d seen him with that day. His lips were stained blue.

Elizabeth arched her brow pointedly at Rodney when she’d settled down in her seat, and he could see the lack of caffeine in the smudges under her eyes.

“What?” he demanded.

“Dr. Hernandez was locked in his quarters this morning for five hours,” she said sternly.

Rodney rolled his eyes. “And this is my fault how? Hernandez is an idiot, and the only thing that surprises me about that scenario is that it was mere hours.”

Sheppard frowned across at him, and Ronon snorted.

“Rodney,” Elizabeth said, lacing her fingers together and choosing to ignore most of Rodney’s rant, “I’m not saying it was your fault, but there’s been a rash of unexplainable incidents in the city the past couple days. Do you or Radek have any idea what’s going on?”

“I’m working through the data we collected on the Globe of Death planet,” Rodney said, pulling up the details on his laptop. He turned it towards Elizabeth. “See this pattern? This is the energy signature from Lo’r Mawra. And this. This is Atlantis the past two days.” The two were only similar in the nearly erratic spikes of mid to intense power surges.

“I see,” Elizabeth said slowly. “Is there any reason to suspect something followed you back through the ‘gate?”

“Not really,” he hedged, which wasn’t exactly true, and he knew he’d probably have to come clean about the dog thing at some point, except he wasn’t too excited about the inevitable set of sessions with Heightmeyer that confession would inspire. The whole imaginary Samantha Carter episode had been a nightmare. Maybe he was just really susceptible to hallucinations. Brilliant people had highly active minds, so it really wasn’t that farfetched.

And the power fluctuations could honestly be anything, could be something from the planet that had absolutely nothing to do with the cranky Irish Setter that’d sat with him at the bottom of the sandy hole and eaten almost all of his powerbars.

Hell, for all they knew the sand itself was the problem, and any number of granules had clung to their clothes for the trip back. Huh. That was probably worth checking out. Good thing he hadn’t sent that uniform to the laundry yet.

Elizabeth leaned back in her chair. “Well, just keep me apprised and let me know if you find out where the coffee’s gone. As for P32-M44, I assume you’ve all read the mission report from Lieutenant Miller about Dr. Lear.”

“Should we be wary of an unfriendly welcome?” Teyla asked.

“Any misunderstandings seemed to have been cleared up, but all the same I think you should be cautious about what you do and don’t say to them.”

Sheppard hooked an arm over the back of his chair, tapping lazy fingers on the table. “Shouldn’t we be bringing a botanist with us?”

Elizabeth cocked her head with a small frown. “Dr. Brown volunteered to go this time around. I’d like to get her acclimated to traveling off world, since we’re losing Lear and Felton when the Daedalus leaves.”

“And him?” Sheppard jerked a thumb towards Rodney.

Rodney harrumphed. “For god’s sake, I’ve already been to this planet three times, and I’m not going to insult anyone who can’t take it. Peanuts, Colonel. The base ingredient to peanut butter.”

Sheppard fixed his stiff, placate-the-natives expression on his face, and it looked patently out of place with only their team and Elizabeth present. “Listen, I’m sure you’re great with your own team, but I’m just saying—” he spread his hands and sent Elizabeth a tense, little shrug—“do we need an extra scientist tagging along on what’s really just a routine trade?”

“Extra...” Rodney felt himself grow hot, red.

Teyla leaned over and pressed a hand onto his shoulder.

Ronon, who was normally surprisingly well-attuned to underlying threads of humor and teasing, didn’t laugh, so Rodney blustered, “What the hell is going on?”

**

At quarter to eight there was a firm knock on his door. Rodney ignored it. He was busy sulking with the biggest mug of coffee he could scrounge.

It’d only taken an hour of focused, intense, angry searching to find the tiny twig in the city regulatory system that had suddenly decided to define caffeine as a deadly contagion. Every bit of coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, etc, had been holed up in a lead-lined bunker at the bottom of the city. It had been a chaotic free-for-all when they’d reversed the codes, spilling frantic military and civilian personnel into the small room, any previously private stashes open to whoever could get their hands on it first.

Rodney had made off with a bag of Kona, five bars of Cadbury, and a 15-ounce tin of Lindt hot cocoa mix. He’d already eaten two of the chocolate bars, and was eyeing a third.

Another knock sounded, a little more hesitant, and Rodney snapped, “Unless you’re blonde, chocolate filled, or offering me amazing amounts of coffee for no reason whatsoever, go away.”

The door slid open to reveal, of course, Sheppard, sheepish and stiff enough for Rodney to surmise that Teyla and her serenely disapproving facial expressions probably had something to do with the visit.

“Can I help you?” Rodney asked, perfectly aware he sounded as petulant as he felt. Sheppard had forgotten him. Granted, he’d apparently forgotten everyone with an artificial ATA gene, but still. They’d been… buddies. And suddenly Rodney’s role in Sheppard’s life had been deemed not just irrelevant, but nonexistent altogether.

Sheppard wagged a thin jewel case in the air. “I brought Dune.”

Rodney narrowed his eyes. “You have no idea who I am, Colonel.”

“So.” He shrugged. “You were in my date book.”

Rodney stared at him incredulously, stared at the pink tingeing the tips of his ears, and since when was Sheppard organized enough to have a date book?

Suitably stunned, he didn’t protest when Sheppard pushed past him. Then he shut the door and found himself fidgeting and asked, “Uh, did. Did Carson…?” He pointed towards his head.

Sheppard dropped into Rodney’s desk chair. “Said it was weird brain waves or something.”

“Weird brain waves?”

“He didn’t explain it exactly like that, but yeah. Essentially.” He smiled, but the gesture felt empty. “Something kind of messed with my mind.”

“Obviously,” Rodney huffed, but for all Sheppard’s nonchalance, Rodney recognized the tension around his eyes. Sheppard, understandably, didn’t like things playing with his head. “Colonel, I—”

“John.”

Rodney sucked in a thin breath, poleaxed. “What?”

“Shouldn’t you be calling me John?” He gazed at Rodney seriously. “I mean, we’re watching movies together, right? So we’re… friends.” It was almost, but not quite a question, and Sheppard had never ever before asked Rodney to call him John.

And this… this guy who was Sheppard, but. No, he really wasn’t his friend. At least, not the one who knew Rodney, and brought him coffee and stupid toys to make him laugh and played ridiculous games with him, and somehow. Somehow, this Sheppard asking him to call him John made Rodney totally and irrationally furious.

It was unfair. Rodney knew it was completely unfair to Sheppard. But he pressed his lips together, and said quietly, “I think you should go.”

There was a sticky pause, but Sheppard left without a word, and the minute the doors whooshed shut Rodney was inundated with guilt. Sheppard had been trying at least, and it wasn’t his fault all the Ancient systems in the city were steadily going pear-shaped.

He sighed and sank down onto the edge of his bed, burying his head in his hands. And then he heard a small whine, and he jerked upright and... nothing.

“Er. Poochie?” he called out tentatively. Still nothing. Only the busy hum of Atlantis.

Christ, he was going insane.

**

3.

The peanut planet always relaxed Rodney. Something about the fumes and the warm air and the gigantic, tasty welcome feast. The wait while Teyla and Katie haggled with the natives, though, was a little boring, and just about the time Sheppard usually rolled out another impossibly inane but ultimately enjoyable game to entertain them.

Rodney sat scowling at the low-banked fire and picked through a bowl of roasted nuts.

Ronon dropped down beside him.

He was silent, but it was a damning sort of silence, and Rodney hadn’t done anything wrong, so he snapped, “What?”

“Sheppard drinks like a girl.”

Well, no surprise there. Although, if they were talking solm or klur, pretty much everyone drank like a girl. Also—he darted his gaze around warily—he really hoped Teyla was far, far away.

Ronon grabbed a handful of peanuts out of his bowl. “You should stop being mad at him.”

“I’m not mad at him,” Rodney automatically countered.

“You weren’t,” Ronon shrugged, “but then you kicked him out of your room, and he’s upset because you’re not friends.”

Rodney stared at him, considering several biting rejoinders, but then pure curiosity won out and he settled on a fairly innocuous, “And you know this how?”

“I told you,” Ronon said gruffly. “Sheppard drinks like a girl. He may’ve been crying at some point last night, but I sorta tuned him out after he started slurring.”

“He was not crying,” Rodney scoffed.

“You should probably tell him you’re sorry.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong!”

Ronon shrugged again. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Rodney echoed. He scooped up more peanuts and crunched them in a totally not angry way. He wasn’t angry at anyone. With the possible exception of Ronon, who seemed intent on eating all of his peanuts.

He poked his hand. “Get your own, Chewbacca.”

“Ever heard of sharing, McKay?” Sheppard asked, strolling up. He had his P-90 angled down, and his sunglasses were folded up, hooked in a strap of his vest. He was smiling with his eyes.

It made Rodney feel irritatingly warm and fuzzy inside.

And for someone who’d supposedly been smashed the night before, Sheppard looked completely nonhungover. He looked handsomely put together, and not even the least bit upset about the whole Rodney throwing him out thing. He looked determined. Resolved. Focused.

“Feast time, guys,” Sheppard said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder.

There was a wink of teeth in his grin.

**

It started raining heavily as soon as they bowed their heads for the blessing. Which was just great. The ‘gate was located at the top of a hill in the middle of a valley, and the valley, mostly made of a worn nonporous rock similar to limestone, was abnormally prone to flooding. Rain on P32-M44 almost always secured an uncomfortable overnight stay.

It was only early afternoon, but the sky was muddy, dark, and Rodney shoveled food into his mouth with an unhappy chuff.

Teyla sent him a slightly censorious look, but he just rolled his eyes. Honestly, he couldn’t be expected to be the perfect little guest when it was pouring out, and the only places they had to sleep in were small clay houses that melted slick brown drops on everything when the air thickened.

Ronon was eyeing up one of the larger female villagers. Ronon eyeing up villagers was somewhat of a rare occurrence, since the man was practically asexual as far as Rodney could tell, so he decided that whatever was in Ronon’s chalice was strongly alcoholic.

From the loose way Sheppard was sitting, half-lidded and way more boneless than was prudent on even a routine off-world mission, Rodney figured Sheppard’d had a drop or two himself.

Several natives licked their lips in his general direction, and Rodney clenched his teeth. He leaned over and hissed, “You’re splayed like a whore,” in his ear.

Sheppard swiveled his head towards him and arched a brow. “Thanks for noticing,” he said.

Rodney bristled. “Yes, well, I’m not the only one noticing, Sheppard, and since we’d like to keep friendly relations with this planet, I’d suggest trying not to spark a few fist fights between your suitors by batting your eyelashes at them.”

Ronon, on the other side of Sheppard, shifted in his chair and said, “That doesn’t sound like an apology.” He seemed genuinely puzzled about it, and Ronon hardly ever actually sounded puzzled, even when he was. Another point for alcohol.

“You were apologizing?” Sheppard asked Rodney, bemused.

“No, no I wasn’t,” Rodney ground out, then wagged a finger at Ronon. “And you, stay out of this. Go proposition your giantess.”

“Wait, so Ronon’s allowed to proposition the villagers, but I’m not?” He was openly amused, and that was annoying as hell.

“First of all, one villager, not thirteen.” Rodney pointedly glared across the room at a long table filled with giggling, nubile young women and men shooting coquettish looks towards Sheppard’s hair and chest and pretty grin. “And second of all, are you kidding? The morning after is going to be hilarious. I plan on taunting him with this for years.”

Teyla gave him a look akin to a glare, except Teyla never actually glared. She normally just pursed her lips disapprovingly, coloring her face with a hint of affection to really draw out the guilt, but Rodney’d always assumed she thought blatant glaring was ill-mannered.

“There is no way you can’t find that funny,” Rodney groused.

Teyla arched one telling eyebrow.

“Fine,” Rodney muttered. “No taunting.” Then he immediately brightened, because, hey, there was a good chance Ronon’s sexual tryst would end up with him accidentally married, and those sort of tribal misunderstandings were always fun.

**

“Wanna play Not Canadian?”

“No,” Rodney snapped, “and what?” The four of them were sprawled in their assigned hut, Ronon unfortunately having forgone a romp with his female counterpart, most likely because of misplaced team solidarity. Katie was off somewhere dancing naked, communing with plants, or whatever the hell hippies did in warm rain.

“You know.” Sheppard’s earlier lazy composure seemed cracked, his tone bordering on forced casualness as he shrugged. “The one where I name not-Canadian people, and you decide whether they’re worthy of Canadian citizenship.”

Rodney gazed at him mutely. He wasn’t actually speechless, but he was deciding on the best possible way to verbally slap Sheppard about the head—

“Or Simple Math? We can trick Ronon into subtracting with his fingers.”

—although, seriously, “You named our games? And also, you named them?”

“Uh...”

“Did you get your memory back and not tell me?” Rodney demanded, eyes narrowed.

Sheppard bit his lip. “Not really,” he said, and all the little details of the day started adding themselves up in Rodney’s head—the powerbar he’d slipped him on the hike from the ‘gate an eerie twenty minutes in, which Rodney’d always thought was coincidence or some sort of bizarre internal clock; the way he’d stood just ahead of him on his left, blocking the sun from his eyes; the big show of searching their dishes for citrus; the wary looks tossed at curious, buzzing insects—and he’d thought before that maybe Sheppard’d had a nice, revealing chat with Teyla or Carson, but.

“Oh my god, you keep a diary, don’t you?” Rodney accused, openly goggling at him.

Sheppard palmed the back of his neck, dipped his eyes and grumbled, “It’s called a journal, McKay,” and Rodney’s mouth gaped open even farther, because he certainly hadn’t expected Sheppard to flat-out come clean about it.

That was so weird.

“Journal, diary, same thing.” Rodney waved off the explanation. “It’s still where you jot down your girlish hopes and dreams.”

“I keep a journal,” Ronon growled.

“You can write? Huh. I figured you for an x marks the spot sort of guy.”

“McKay,” Sheppard drew out warningly.

“What? That was a prime setup. You can’t expect me to ignore that sort of thing, and if you’d bother to actually remember me, you’d know that,” Rodney huffed. Although, really, a large part of their shtick was Rodney saying something insulting and Sheppard drawling his name in varying degrees of amusement, sarcasm and censure. But that wasn’t the point.

Sheppard rolled his eyes. “Like I have any choice about it.”

“Maybe you do.” He tipped his chin up. “Maybe this is willful forgetfulness on your part.”

“I’ve got a full journal that suggests otherwise, Rodney,” Sheppard said tightly, face pinched.

Rodney’s eyes widened.

And then Sheppard’s brain seemed to catch up with his mouth, and he flushed pink, obviously embarrassed—he totally hadn’t protested before about the girlish hopes and dreams comment, either—and for a moment the air between them was thickly awkward.

Teyla coughed delicately.

Sheppard cleared his throat. “So. I still have Dune.”

Rodney twisted his fingers together in his lap and said, “Okay.”

**

Anything easy between him and Sheppard had evaporated with the introduction of. Well, he wouldn’t honestly call it sexual tension, since Rodney mostly felt like he wanted to throw up. He was starting to think the whole thing had been a very bad idea, actually.

So. They were both apparently attracted to men. Sheppard liked men. Rodney’d had a couple days for that to digest, and it was a surprisingly easy fit for his view of the colonel, despite the overabundance of space bimbos throwing themselves at him over the years. And they were best friends—at least when Sheppard wasn’t going around getting his mind wiped—and it wasn’t like Rodney could deny Sheppard was hot, either, because just about everything about him was freaking amazing. But that didn’t mean… anything at all, really.

“This isn’t working, is it?” Sheppard asked, staring at the laptop screen.

They’d been sitting there for an hour. Rodney doubted either of them had been paying very much attention to the movie.

“Uh.” Rodney shifted on the couch.

Sheppard shrugged, set of his shoulders stiff as they brushed Rodney’s. “S’okay.”

“No, I.” His palms were damp, and he smoothed them up and down his thighs, then froze when he noticed Sheppard’s sideways glance, lashes veiling dark eyes. Rodney’s left thumb caught the inseam, rubbed, and Sheppard’s breath hitched, and wow. Wow, that was... good.

He relaxed a little into the cushions and tilted his head, catching the sardonic curl of Sheppard’s mouth.

“You know,” Sheppard said carefully, tone almost matched to when he’d let it slip about Howie and The Fall Guy and finding men hot, “you don’t have to watch Dune with me if you don’t want to. I won’t be mad.”

He looked just like a kicked puppy, though, and he was using his damn girlish pout, and since when had Dune become a euphemism for sex?

“Just to be clear, we aren’t actually talking about,” he waved towards the laptop, “watching Dune, right?”

Sheppard nodded slowly. “Do you want this to not be about watching Dune?”

Rodney bit his lip. Finally he frowned and said, “I want you to have your memories back,” and he could see that Sheppard could see that it wasn’t exactly a no.

**

4.

Rodney woke up to a city-wide blackout, and everything went downhill from there.

“It is taunting us,” Radek said, crouched down under a console in the control room. His big Taber feet kicked out and a rolling chair went careening into Chuck.

“Ow,” he squawked, rubbing his shin. “Watch it. Shouldn’t you be used to that body by now?”

Radek poked his head out just to glare at him, though the effect was minimized by Taber’s dimples.

Rodney was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to him, hooked up and running a fairly routine diagnostic. There was no real reason for the power outage. The generators were working fine, the ZPM was installed correctly, they had enough raw power to last a long, long time. Radek was right; it felt like something was taunting them.

Before Radek could slip back under, the lights flickered on again. Radek cursed under his breath.

“What?” Chuck asked, bewildered. “That’s a good thing, right?”

“Not if we have no idea why it even happened,” Rodney snapped, struggling up. “All right, back to the lab.”

“Yes, so we can waste even more time on schemes that will ultimately be of no help in figuring this out,” Radek groused. He was starting to sound as sour as Rodney.

Rodney wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.

“Have you ruled out sabotage?” Chuck wheeled his chair across the room to his tech station. Rodney could only recall a handful of times he’d seen him up and actually walking around, not including mealtimes. He was possibly lazier than Sheppard.

Radek snorted. “Something this large-scale would leave tracks like muddy prints all over halls.”

“Unless we were the ones doing it,” Rodney said, giving Chuck’s console and the one next to it a few last tweaks. “Which I can assure you is not the case.”

“Dr. McKay.”

Rodney tapped his radio. “Yes,” he answered, slightly irritated. It was Teyla, though, and it was sort of impossible to be really irritated with Teyla.

“Are you still in the control room?” Her voice sounded strained, breathy.

He started down the steps, Radek bounding ahead of him with his annoyingly long-legged stride. “Just leaving,” he said, and then they trooped out into the hall and Teyla was standing there, white-faced, pupils blown, a hand clutching her bare stomach.

“What?” He rushed forward, panicked. “What’s wrong? Oh god, are you sick? Do you need the infirmary? Why in god’s name did you call me?”

“I have seen it,” she rasped cryptically.

“You have seen what?” Radek asked, stepping up to brace her as she staggered back against the wall.

She sagged into Radek briefly, then straightened again, lengthening her spine and pinning Rodney with her gaze. He’d never seen her so rattled. Not even the Wraith had put that much fear into her eyes.

“I have seen a harbinger.”

Radek kept a big hand around her forearm. Rodney could tell he was, for once, enjoying his borrowed body. “A harbinger?”

“With its,” she curled her fingers up by her mouth, her sudden lack of serenity obviously stunting her descriptive skills, “sharp teeth and flaming hair and... floppy ears.”

“Ha!” Rodney jabbed a finger at her. “You’ve seen the dog, and I’m not crazy!”

Teyla and Radek stared at him, Teyla with an air of disappointment—that Rodney brushed off easily, since disappointment was a far cry better than her uncharacteristic panic—and Radek with a bemusement born most likely of sadistic visions of Rodney actually being crazy.

Rodney bounced on the balls of his feet. “The dog. The.” He snapped his fingers. “Wait. Wait a minute, the dog.” If Teyla could see it… God, it was all so simple.

**

“Everyone, meet Gizmo.” Rodney surveyed the conference room with a big grin.

Gizmo plopped his ass down next to him and curved his body into a comma for a nice, long ear-scratch.

Sheppard arched his brows. “Gizmo?”

“He’s a semi-holographic representation of an Ancient gremlin program,” Rodney explained, grinning even wider. “And he’s been wreaking havoc ever since following us back from Lo’r Mawra.”

“You mean following you,” Radek put in, sliding his glasses up his nose, finally back in his own skin—which didn’t really have anything to do with finding Gizmo, but with a kind of Freaky Friday understanding the two scientists had come to, and Rodney really didn’t want to explore that any deeper.

Rodney also regretted confessing the powerbar incident to the little bastard.

Sheppard leaned back in his chair, eyeing the dog warily. “And by wreaking havoc, you mean...?”

“Destroying as many things as he could.” He patted Gizmo’s head, his texture not exactly real, but not fully incorporeal, either. He was still amazed at how non-holographic Gizmo actually was when he wasn’t invisible. They hadn’t come up with a precise term for his dense, unstable molecular makeup yet.

“I hope this damage isn’t irreparable,” Elizabeth said. But she smiled at Gizmo and held out her hand, and the setter wriggled over and licked the tips of her fingers.

Teyla was quietly freaking out in the corner of the room. Deeply ingrained horrific childhood fairytales were apparently hard to overcome in mere hours. Although what that said about the Wraith, Rodney wasn’t quite sure.

“I have every confidence that Radek and I will be able to pinpoint all the corruptions and flush them out of the corresponding systems,” Rodney said. “I’d even hazard a guess that the colonel’s selective memory loss has something to do with his interfacing the radio comm. links through the city monitoring controls.”

“Here’s a question.” Sheppard swiveled his seat back and forth. “How did he follow us through the ‘gate? If he’s essentially a computer program—”

“Easy. He hitched a ride on our tech. There’s no—” Rodney waved a hand—“downloading with this, Colonel. He’s a gremlin, not a virus.”

“Okay,” Sheppard said, nodding. “How about this, then: what was he even doing on that planet to begin with?”

“Exactly what you think he was doing,” Rodney answered, noting the gleam in Sheppard’s eyes. Jesus, he loved that gleam. It was his this-is-so-cool gleam, and Rodney felt it all the way to his toes whenever it was aimed right at him.

“Care to fill the rest of us in, gentlemen?” Elizabeth asked.

Rodney turned to her. “There’s something on that planet,” he explained, “that the Ancients didn’t want anyone to ever find.”

**

“Come on, Elizabeth, we’ll be extra careful,” Sheppard said. He shot Rodney a say-something-wheedling-but-not-too-wheedling stare behind her back.


Rodney rolled his eyes. “Look, there’s clearly no hostile natives there, and I promise not to turn anything on that might blow up—what? What are you doing that for?” Sheppard was making a cutting motion across his throat. “Oh, like you both weren’t thinking about Doranda anyway.”

“I appreciate the assurances, Rodney,” Elizabeth said wryly, continuing down the hallway. “I just don’t think this mission is worth the risk at the moment.”

“What happened on Doranda?” Sheppard hissed at him, and apparently forgetting who he was meant forgetting that he’d blown up five-sixths of an entire solar system, and there was no way Rodney was going to get tricked into that conversation.

“Never mind, not important. Elizabeth,” Rodney stressed, “whatever is on Lo’r Mawra could be vital to our fight against the Wraith.”

She paused mid-step and sent him a skeptical frown. “So they placed it on an uninhabitable world with a holographic dog that could simultaneously destroy it and any other advanced tech he came in contact with?”

“See,” Sheppard said, “there might not be anything left to worry about.” He grinned winningly.

“Although if it was something that could be outright destroyed, I’m sure they’d have taken a more expedient approach,” Rodney added thoughtfully. “It’s extremely probable that Gizmo was programmed to protect something.”

“Protect something,” Elizabeth echoed, slightly incredulous. “And yet he left with you four, despite this.”

“Hey,” Sheppard shrugged, “ten thousand years. Maybe the guy went a little wonky.”

“Wonky?” Rodney snorted derisively. “Is that a technical term, Colonel?”

“All the cool kids are using it,” he shot back, expression bright.

Elizabeth pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.

Rodney sent Sheppard a thumbs-up. The weary, broken sigh was always a sign in their favor.

**

5.

The planet felt different. It looked the same, but the air was still, the sand deeply settled.

“So I’m guessing the sandstorms were Gizmo’s doing,” Sheppard said.

“Hey.” Ronon kicked at the sand surrounding the ‘gate platform, then bent down. “My coat.”

“Oh excellent,” Rodney cracked. “I’m sure it’s extra stinky now that it’s been baking in the sun for four days.”

Ronon glowered at him. Then he tossed the jacket back on top of the steps.

“Did the Ancients even have dogs?” Sheppard asked, surveying their surroundings with deceptive absentness.

Rodney hmm’d. He’d already thought about that. “I think that’s my fault, what with the Fiery Hound and the picture you drew Teyla. My grandfather had an Irish Setter. It was the only dog I ever liked.”

It was still hot as hell, the three suns fierce and the shade non-existent. Rodney tugged Lydia’s boonie onto his head again, adjusting the chin strap.

Sheppard cocked his head, lips twitching. “Is that yours?” he asked, and Rodney rolled his eyes.

“No, it’s Lydia’s, and not one word.”

“What?”

One of the arguably good things about Sheppard forgetting him was his utter lack of enmity towards Dr. René, whom he’d previously thought was akin to the devil. Which actually said a lot. Rodney beamed at him. “You were jealous,” he accused brightly.

Sheppard blinked. “I was jealous?”

“Justifiably, of course,” Rodney nodded, “since Lydia is seriously hot.” Rodney didn’t bother to mention the fact that Lydia thought he and Sheppard were Made For Each Other, and had tried to get him to play the Pegasus version of Mystery Date with her and Miko and Katie the day before. They’d used Polaroids of Atlantis personnel, and giggled like ten-year-olds in the corner of his lab. Rodney’d been caught between intrigue and horror, and had bolted before his innate curiosity roped him into what would’ve most likely ended up with him and a picture of Major Lorne going on a pretend date to Make-out Point.

“I was jealous of Dr. René lending you her boonie?” Sheppard’s face was screwed up incredulously. “I don’t even like boonies.”

“You’re just being deliberately stupid and obtuse,” Rodney said, disgruntled.

Sheppard grinned and slipped on his sunglasses.

“I hate you,” Rodney growled, then dug out his datapad. “Whoa.”

Moving to look over his shoulder, Sheppard made a choked sound. “I’d say that’s more of a holy shit kind of thing.”

**

“I do not understand,” Teyla said, frown marring her forehead.

They were standing outside the saloon. If possible, the town seemed even more abandoned, the sunken shells of buildings sagging almost elastically, a trick of the layered suns.

“What’s not to understand? Gizmo was cloaking the entire planet,” Rodney stressed. His sensors were going wild. He felt like kissing everybody. He felt like stripping down to sweat and nothing and nailing Sheppard against the hitching post.

From Sheppard’s hot gaze and crazy smile, Rodney was going to assume he was thinking close to the same thing.

“Cloaking?” Ronon asked. He was staring up at the saloon. Probably wondering if he could snag some more solm without Teyla noticing.

“All right, well. Dampening,” Rodney clarified, rolling a wrist. “I mean, there’s obviously an energy source here that’s been hibernating—”

“Obviously,” Sheppard echoed, still grinning.

Rodney grinned back.

Teyla cleared her throat pointedly.

“Right,” Rodney said, and tore his eyes away from Sheppard. “Anyway, the most stable signature is still emanating from the saloon, so.” He flapped a hand.

The inside of the saloon was exactly how they’d left it, two—no, four? Ronon was sneakier than he’d thought—bottles missing from the shelves, impressions of their bodies left in the dust along the floor, the bar, the walls.

A pipe lining the bar flickered bright blue as Sheppard stepped towards it. He patted the smooth surface. “Hi, there,” he purred.

Rodney rolled his eyes. “Just be careful what you turn on, Colonel,” he said, and before Sheppard could rebut with something no doubt embarrassingly coquettish, the bar top whirred and flipped and all sorts of buttons and screens and levers lit up, and Rodney just barely refrained from cooing, “Oooo, pretty.”

Then he said, “Don’t touch anything,” just as Sheppard pressed three buttons at once, and the ground started its angry rumbling again.

In the distance, a whistle sounded.

**

“I didn’t do it.” Sheppard had his hands up, eyes wide.

“That sort of defense actually works better with no witnesses,” Rodney grumbled. “And what are you? Five?”

The rumbling had stopped, though, and they stepped out of the saloon to see... a puddlejumper. Well, it looked like a puddlejumper, but it was three lengths longer and had linked wheels and was slowly rolling along the metal and wooden tracks, sliding to a stop right outside the brothel, gray-white smoke billowing out the back. Like a ghost train.

“Wow,” Sheppard breathed. He shouldered his P-90.

“What’s that?” Ronon asked.

“It’s the dream of every boy who ever wanted to be a white hat,” Rodney muttered. “Or a coal miner.” The entire rotting carcass of a town was straight out of a kid’s old west fantasy. Rodney really wondered what the Ancients had been playing with. Or taking.

“Gold rush, Rodney.” Sheppard grinned with his mouth closed and hummed Clementine with a twang—yes, Rodney could hear it—and strolled toward the train with a loose-hipped swagger. The bastard.

Up close it looked even more like a puddlejumper, the same rounded shape, the angled front end, and it was coated with a dark, shimmery dust that rubbed black between Sheppard’s fingertips.

“Good to see you’re adhering to protocol, Colonel,” Rodney said. “Let’s hope your hand doesn’t fall off.”

Sheppard arched an eyebrow at him. He rivaled Teyla in the my-face-is-talking arena. Rodney didn’t see the point, since being loud was ten times more satisfying.

But Rodney waved a hand and said, “Carry on.” He was ninety-nine percent certain nothing on the train would kill them. Unless there was a ninja miner hidden somewhere, in which case, Sheppard would no doubt warn them all with a manly scream of surprise.

Sheppard was already towards the front of the car by the time Rodney climbed aboard, and there was a large, shiny blue Y glowing on the wall to the left of the console.

“Hey, doesn’t that look like—”

“Oh god, no. No, no, no, we are not having this conversation, and no. No, this is not a time-traveling ghost train.”

Sheppard pouted.

He seemed kind of lost at the controls, too, and Rodney demanded, “Can you drive it?” He took the copilot seat, settling down next to Sheppard.

“It’s a little less complicated than a spaceship, Rodney,” he said dryly. “I think I can handle it.”

The specs that scrolled across the air in front of their faces were almost exactly like the ‘jumpers, and the thing loved Sheppard just as much as any other Ancient tech. It powered up with a whine, wheels grinding metal as it started forward.

About five minutes out of town, the ground opened up into a tunnel, steeply pitched, and Rodney squeezed his eyes closed as they went flying down.

**

“Are we dead?” Rodney cracked open an eye. His fingernails hurt from where he’d dug them into the armrest.

“I do not believe so,” Teyla said, amused.

Sheppard bounced out of his seat. “Time to explore,” he said, clapping his hands once. His eyes were dark. The pulse at the base of his neck was beating prominently. Sheppard was a definite thrill junky.

Rodney liked to think that possible eminent death did nothing for him, but there was something to be said for the thank-god-I’m-alive euphoria. If he and Sheppard had been at the licking-each-other stage of their... whatever the hell it was they might have, Rodney wouldn’t have minded placing his tongue there, right next to the notch at his throat.

Sheppard flashed him a knowing brow-waggle as he slipped past, P-90 raised as Ronon opened the door, and. They really were on a mining planet, apparently. Huh.

The shaft was dimly lit, but brightened at Sheppard’s say-so, of course, and the walls glittered with the same obsidian dust that covered the ‘jumper-shaped train.

“What do you think it is?” Sheppard asked.

“Something important enough to warrant a gremlin,” Rodney said.

Ronon snorted. “Or dangerous enough.” He reached out, fore- and middle fingers sliding over the gritty rock, and Rodney snapped, “For god’s sake, don’t taste it,” just before they entered his mouth.

“I’ve been cursed with morons in every facet of my life,” Rodney groused, scrambling for his canteen.

Sheppard squeezed his arm. “Just focus on the entertainment value.”

Rodney glowered at him.

“It’s leesil,” Ronon grunted after rinsing out his mouth.

Teyla started with surprise. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” Ronon shrugged.

Sheppard leaned forward, swiping the wall like Ronon, but giving it a tentative sniff instead of ingesting it, thank god.

“It is usually burned to release energy,” Teyla explained, eyeing the mine with awe, “but the smoke can be toxic if breathed in. I have never seen so much of it in one place.”

Sheppard’s brows furrowed. “Coal?” he asked.

And that’s when the crazy old prospector showed up.

**

Never mind the fact that Rodney was most likely going to contract black lung, since they’d been deep in the heart of a coal mine. The mentally imbalanced old man with the sawed off shotgun and tattered Genii uniform was probably going to kill him first.

Trust Sheppard to be almost giddy at the thought of being locked up in the jail, though.

“Come on,” Sheppard whispered as they were ushered through the empty town, “what’s he gonna do? He probably doesn’t have any rounds for that thing, if it even works, and he looks about seventy years old.” The crazy Genii had left their own guns down in the mine. Typical rookie sitcom villain mistake.

“And you’re going to just let him lock us up?” Rodney hissed.

Ronon looked a little confused about that, too, but since the threat wasn’t immediate, the old man was talking about himself in third person, and was—Rodney conceded the point—just about seventy years old, he seemed content to go along.

“You are all really, really stupid,” Rodney grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest, falling back to pace Teyla.

She smiled over at him. “I believe Colonel Sheppard wants the—”

“Crazy man,” Sheppard prompted over his shoulder.

Teyla nodded slightly. “To tell us what he is doing here, and perhaps he will be more inclined to share if we cooperate with his—”

“Crazy delusions.” Sheppard cocked a finger at her.

“All right, stop it with the crazy,” Rodney demanded.

And then the crazy Genii let out a garbled, “Yee-haw!” and fired his shotgun into the air. Though it was an alien shotgun, and it sounded more like a repeating laser before it coughed up a plume of black smoke and melted.

The old man dropped it with a yelp.

Rodney slapped a palm over his forehead and closed his eyes.

**

“This is kinda cool, Rodney,” Sheppard said, settling down next to him on the floorboards.

“Yes.” If you liked being locked up in a rotting jail cell that Rodney’s grandmother could’ve broken out of, waiting for an imbecilic alien to spill all his most important secrets.

Sheppard drew a knee up and tilted his head towards him. “Look,” he said, voice suspiciously low and thick, “I completely understand about you not wanting to,” he glanced across the room where Teyla and Ronon were locked in their own prison and playing oblivious—which Rodney totally wasn’t buying—“watch Dune with me yet. I really, really do.” A hand slid onto Rodney’s outstretched leg, palming just above his knee, and Rodney pointedly glanced down at it.

“Oh, yeah, you seem like you understand,” Rodney said.

“But here’s the thing.” Sheppard shifted, catching Rodney’s eyes. “What if I never remember?”

A twist of panic clenched Rodney’s stomach, but it fizzled away at the feel of Sheppard’s fingers wandering casually up his thigh. “We’re working our way through all the communication backlogs—”

“What if this is it, though? What if all we can do is go forward? Are you going to tell me that’s wrong?” he half-growled.

Rodney could tell he was a little pissed off. God, that was hot. “Um.”

“From what I’ve read, I’ve already put in an awful lot of effort with you,” he whispered, close to his ear. “Are you saying I have to start over? Because I don’t think that’ll work for me.”

“It,” Rodney’s voice did not break, “it won’t?” What were they talking about again?

“No,” Sheppard said, and opened his mouth up along Rodney’s jaw, and Rodney babbled, “Okay, wait, we’re in public, Colonel,” and jammed an elbow into Sheppard’s sternum. “Public! As in on display for two aliens easily amused by Earth culture!”

Sheppard mouthed a quiet ”ow” and rubbed at his chest. His other hand remained stubbornly on Rodney’s leg. “Are you going to call me John?”

“What? No! Let go of me, you idiot. We’re in a hostage situation,” he hissed, shackling Sheppard’s wrist and shoving him back.

Sheppard blinked at him blankly, then bounced his gaze to where the gnarled old coot had passed out in the sheriff’s chair about a half hour before. He looked kind of dead.

So, fine. Not exactly in dangerous territory. He still wasn’t giving Ronon and Teyla a show. Although Rodney was mainly blocking Sheppard from sight, and it probably just looked like they were having a heated conversation. Or playing a game. But the bigger problem, the one that actually mattered, was that Sheppard was trying to skip a whole lot of courtship.

“Keep your hands to yourself.” Rodney jabbed a finger at him, scrambling to his feet, because there was a time and place, and preferably Sheppard would get his memory back, since it was only a simple matter of pinpointing what Gizmo did and reversing it, but even if he didn’t Rodney wanted Sheppard to have more than just a paper trail. He could totally hold out.

**

6.

They’d dragged the crazy old Genii back through the ‘gate with them after learning he’d been exiled for being old and crazy, and Carson had his hands full with him in the infirmary. Elizabeth didn’t seem all that pleased with their guest, but Sheppard had stubbornly refused to leave him behind. Rodney just hoped he didn’t get loose in the city. That’s all they needed: a senile hobo camping out in the bowels of Atlantis, hoarding rubber bands and warm cans of pop.

“So.” Elizabeth gazed at them expectantly, hands clasped in front of her on the table.

“Turns out the Ancients were hippie environmentalists,” Rodney said, biting into a powerbar.

“Leesil mines, almost like coal,” Sheppard elaborated, slumping lower in his chair, legs spread as he angled towards Rodney. “Looks like they decided fossil fuels weren’t the direction to go—”

“Right, yes. Health concerns, pollution, etcetera. I’m happy I don’t owe my soul to the company store. Are we done?” Rodney wanted to get out of there before Sheppard tricked him into watching Dune, damn it. A little shameless flirting and hot eyes and Rodney would give it up without any other incentive at all. He deserved more chocolate. And coffee. And that little figurine of Darth Vader Vogel had peeking out of his lab coat pocket.

Elizabeth pursed her lips, eyes dropping to Gizmo sitting by his side, head propped on the edge of the table. “Not entirely, Rodney.”

“What? What’s wrong?” Rodney demanded, slightly indignant on his gremlin’s behalf.

“Rodney,” Sheppard said.

“The east pier almost fell into the ocean this morning,” Elizabeth said, brows arched.

“I can fix him,” Rodney insisted. Gizmo had been faithfully following him everywhere. “He’ll be an important addition to the city.”

“Rodney,” Sheppard drew out again. He tapped the table with his fingers. “He was there for a reason.”

Rodney harrumphed and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Radek informed me you recorded all the information you could about him,” Elizabeth pointed out calmly, “and I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave the planet unguarded. Do you?”

Radek was a dirty traitor.

“But—”

“You can’t keep him, Rodney.” Elizabeth had a stern, final decision frown on her face, and Rodney shot Sheppard a glare. He’d been no help at all.

“Give me a week,” he said to Elizabeth, but his eyes told Sheppard that he’d better spend that entire week plying Rodney with cupcakes and spectacular feats of math if he wanted to get into his pants with all his limbs intact.

**

Ever since walking a few miles in each other’s shoes, Taber and Radek had some creepy mind-meld thing going on. It weirded Rodney out. Everyone else thought it was neat.

“Neat?” Rodney asked disdainfully.

Chuck shoved a corn muffin into his mouth and nodded. His cheeks puffed out as he chewed.

“You’re just jealous, Doc,” Lieutenant Miller said, setting his tray down between Lydia and Carson. Carson smiled at him and shifted over to make room.

Rodney narrowed his eyes. “Aren’t you on the wrong side of the mess?”

He scooped up what looked like shredded carrots with his spoon. “Nah. Got my geek clearance while you were off coal mining.”

“He is circus freak,” Radek explained fondly.

Miller grinned. “I can swallow fire.”

“Jesus.” Rodney rolled his eyes. He was secretly impressed, though. Swallowing fire was pretty awesome, if incredibly stupid in the grand scheme of things. Still, they’d never specified that you had to be smart to sit at their table. Just entertaining.

“That klur stuff works really great as lighter fluid,” Miller went on, nodding.

Rodney was unsurprised by that revelation.

There was a gleam of admiration in Chuck’s eyes, and Miko giggled behind her hand. Looked like the marine already had groupies.

And he was kind of right about Rodney, too—though all the seas of hell would freeze over before he ever admitted it. Rodney might’ve been a little jealous. When they really got going, he and Radek could communicate in rapid-fire half-sentences and still know what the hell they were talking about. Seeing Taber finish Radek’s thoughts or reach for things before Radek asked for them was a little disconcerting. Thank god Taber was normally all the way across the city in the biology labs. He’d probably end up killing him, otherwise.

Radek kicked his shin under the table.

“Motherfucker, what was that for?” Rodney yelped. The entire table went, “Ooooo,” and he sent them all clench-jawed death glares.

“He’s got pointy feet, doesn’t he?” Taber jostled him good-naturedly with his elbow.

Radek stuck his tongue out at him.

Rodney buried his head in his hands. “My god, you all make my life miserable,” he groaned. “Sometimes I wish they’d just sent me out here with a bunch of helper monkeys.”

“Secret simulation is ready,” Radek sing-songed, a cheerful lilt to his voice.

Rodney perked up immediately, grin spreading across his mouth. “Excellent.”

**

Rodney set up a little catch and release program on his handheld. It would isolate Gizmo long enough to get him through the ‘gate, though once on Lo’r Mawra it’d be a matter of making the gremlin stay.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” Sheppard said, stepping up next to him at the edge of the ‘gate room.

Rodney shot him a dry look. “I’ve been busy.”

“Yeah.” Sheppard rocked back on his heels. “Seen Miller’s trick?”

“Hmmmm?”

“Hey, are you ignoring me?” Sheppard poked his side.

“I’m making sure Gizmo’s with us.” Rodney glowered at him. “That is why we’re going back, isn’t it, Colonel?”

Sheppard pressed his lips together and smiled like a dork.

Teyla was conspicuously absent for the mission. Ronon was eating a sandwich.

“Are we ready?” Sheppard asked. He was mainly looking at Rodney, even though he wasn’t the one wolfing down a messy salami on rye.

Rodney waved a hand. “Yes, ready, let’s go.”

Ronon grunted, popped the last bit of bread into his mouth and swiped his fingers on his thighs. No wonder his clothes always smelled like old cheese.

Sheppard called up to Chuck, and Elizabeth gave them her patented good-luck smile, and Rodney was still a little bitter about having to give up his gremlin, so he made sure to add an extra-pissy edge to his stomp through the ‘gate.

On the other side, the day was blinding. Rodney winced, eyes blinking rapidly as he stepped down off the platform. The still air almost choked him, and he was a little wary of more exiled Genii popping up with rusty fire-power.

When nothing happened other than Ronon growling, “Get on with it, McKay,” Rodney fished out his handheld.

Entering three codes, he quickly coaxed Gizmo into materialization, and the Irish Setter barked excitedly and ran off, chasing the rails until he disappeared into the red-sand horizon. The wind kicked up.

“Well. That was easy,” Sheppard said, hands on his hips.

And then Gizmo popped out of thin air and wriggled on his back at Rodney’s feet, tummy bared for rubs. Rodney crossed his arms over his chest. “Gizmo, no,” he said sternly.

Tongue lolling, the setter twisted onto his feet with a playful hop. His tail wagged his whole butt, and he snuffled his snout into Sheppard’s palm, and Sheppard started a little, then smiled into Rodney’s eyes.

Rodney really didn’t like dogs. His throat was not tight at all. “Dial out,” he croaked.

Sheppard’s expression was heavy and concerned as Rodney leaned over his datapad. “Are you sure? You don’t want more—”

“Just do it.” Rodney made a few more adjustments, and when the ‘gate whooshed open behind him, he called up the project he and Radek had been working on practically non-stop for the past week.

A small white and brown Jack Russell Terrier appeared on the sand, dancing in circles.

Gizmo went ballistic. A clearly joyful ballistic, complete with ecstatic butt-wiggles and paw-prancing and crotch-sniffing, and little whiney growls in the back of his throat. The Jack Russell yapped and bit Gizmo’s tail and they were immediately best friends forever.

“John,” Rodney said. Just to test it out. The terrier glanced back at him once.

Sheppard bumped his shoulder. “Rodney.”

Rodney sent him a smug grin. “I named the dog John.”

“Funny, McKay,” Sheppard said.

“I thought so.” He frowned at Gizmo. The gremlin was obviously fickle with his affections.

Sheppard slid a blatantly comforting arm around his shoulders, tugging him towards the wormhole. “Come on, while he’s busy.”

“He’d have been lonely,” Rodney said, half-defensive. Sheppard had a whole I-am-greatly-amused-by-your-soft-heart thing going on.

“I know,” he said as they gained the steps, and Rodney felt the need to point out, “And this one can’t do any damage. He’s just a toy.”

Sheppard nodded. “Hey,” he insisted, “it was a good idea.”

Ronon smirked at him.

Rodney narrowed his eyes. “Radek and Taber helped,” he added petulantly, spreading the blame, and then Sheppard pushed him into the puddle.

**

That night, Rodney’s door slid open to reveal Sheppard, one hand leaning on the jamb, the other holding up a DVD. He tapped the sharp edge on Rodney’s chest.

“You know,” he said, “you still owe me two caramel bars.”

Rodney beamed at him, curled a fist into his shirt and jerked him inside. “You said you’d share.”

Sheppard palmed the door shut behind him. “I remember.”