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Charming Demeter's Daughter

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"I can't wait to take both of you," John said. "I think you'd love the carnival. Especially the Ferris wheel!"

"Oh, yes," Rodney snorted. "Awful food and cheap rides. Like it could compare to walking through the 'gate."

Teyla and Ronon watched them argue as if it was the funniest thing they'd seen all day. It was very possible that this was the case since this planet was completely unoccupied.

"So where would you take them?" John challenged.

"Oktoberfest," said Rodney smugly.

"Why am I not surprised?"

"What's not to love? Great food, great beer...." said Rodney. John noticed that Ronon certainly looked interested.

He would have argued more, but they'd arrived at the Ancient outpost, the door firmly sealed shut. Ten thousand years of plant-life obscured the outlines, and it took him and Ronon a solid fifteen minutes to clear it away. Then, at Rodney's signal, he placed his hand on the pad next to door and tried to will it open. Nothing happened.

He moved away from the front of the door so that Rodney could get in to fiddle with the mechanism. He swapped out two crystals, and the door slid open, releasing a gust of fetid air. Coughing, Rodney said, "Yuck," as he glanced down at his pad. Then his eyes grew wide and his mouth moved silently.

"Rodney?" John asked tentatively. Rodney responded by shoving the pad at him wordlessly. He took it, not certain what he was looking for, but there was no mistaking these readings. Energy signals. Big ones.

John stopped Rodney from heading in. "We need to let it air out at least a little," he said.

Handing the tablet back, he ignored the way that Rodney fidgeted and bitched about unnecessary wait times. After about fifteen minutes, he gave up and said, "Okay," Turning on the flashlight for the P90, he added "I've got point. Ronon, you take our six. Which way, Rodney?"

It was a maze inside, and it quickly became pitch black as they moved away from the outer rooms. John was grateful for Teyla more than once since she worked to keep Rodney on target, freeing up John and Ronon to watch for anything that shouldn't be there. The P90s had to fight to cut through the dark.

"Why are the lights not coming on?" asked Teyla.

"I don't know," said Rodney distractedly. "See if we can't find some sort of terminal."

They all looked, but they were in the center of the complex before they found one Rodney could get to power up. Slowly, the lights came on. They all looked around, but it looked like every control room that John had ever been in. He could even predict which terminals would control which functions.

Rodney was staring at the corner, which attracted John's attention. Standing there were three ZPMs. They weren't even connected to anything.

"I'm seeing things," said John.

"If you are, then I am too," Rodney said. They stood there, frozen in place, until Ronon made a disgusted sound and started towards them. "Wait," said Rodney. He moved forward, scanning the area around the ZPMs intently. "I need to make sure they're not booby trapped."

The rest of the team held back while Rodney examined the readings thoroughly. Finally, he put the scanner away and bent to pick one up. When nothing happened, Ronon shouldered him out of the way and scooped up the other two.

"Going back to Atlantis now?" Ronon asked.

John grinned and nodded. "Yep, we should get these back."

The four of them headed out. Gone was the idle chatter of earlier. Instead, conversation was dominated by Rodney listing off all the experiments he'd been forced to set aside due to lack of power.

John caught Teyla's eye and rolled his own. She imitated the gesture, and the two of them shared a silent laugh. When Rodney got going like this, there wasn't any point in trying to interrupt.

As they drew within sight of the 'gate, Rodney reluctantly handed the ZPM he was carrying to John. His hands trailed along the smooth sides, and then with a little sigh he turned his attention to dialing the DHD. As soon as the gate opened, Rodney took the ZPM back and headed up the stairs and back into Atlantis.

Atlantis already had a ZPM, but it was designed to run with three, so it was still underpowered. That was the only explanation for the reaction they got when they walked through the gate carrying three of them. Everyone in the gateroom came to a stop and stared at Rodney and Ronon. The silence must have gotten Woolsey's attention, because he came out, staring as well.

Rodney was beaming, clutching the ZPM to his chest. John grinned as well at the look on Rodney's face. Turning, he looked up at Woolsey. "As you can see, the mission was successful."

"Yes, very. Deposit them in my office, gentlemen, and then go to the infirmary. Debriefing in one hour." He turned to leave.

John noticed that Rodney's grip got tighter. "In your office?" he squeaked out. "But we need - "

"We need to discuss their discovery with the IOA, of course," Woolsey said firmly. "They will apportion them according to what they think is best."

"But, but, but - " Rodney looked flabbergasted. "Earth has one. They don't need them as much as we do!"

"So do we, Doctor McKay. Now, my office, please."

If John hadn't been just as disappointed, he would have laughed at the way Rodney dragged his feet up the stairs. But he was. The IOA was such a pain in the ass, and Woolsey was their lapdog. While he'd occasionally question their decisions, John knew that he'd never outright rebel. He knew better than to argue, though. He no longer had Elizabeth on his side, and he doubted that Woolsey would go to bat for him.

Rodney came back down the stairs with Ronon, and the four of the turned towards the infirmary.

"I can't believe this," moaned Rodney, gesturing emphatically. "If Woolsey's going to let the IOA decide, we know what that decision will be! They'll take at least two, possibly all three, and leave us with jack shit."

"Will Earth not benefit from having the ZPM?" Teyla asked.

"Not really. They've got power plants galore, and no infrastructure to use the ZPMs. Besides, we're a secret, so it's not like they can just plug them in and not expect questions."

Rodney turned his head, meeting John's eyes. He knew what Rodney wasn't saying. They both suspected that the IOA was trying to hamstring Atlantis.

"Well, we won't know until tomorrow," said John. "In the meantime, we did good today."

Rodney nodded glumly as the four of them reached the infirmary. "If you say so, Colonel."

Ronon was ahead of them, eager to go to the infirmary. He was excited to see Keller as always, and as John watched, he made a beeline for her. John exchanged a smile with Teyla as he sat on "his" gurney and waited for one of the docs to clear him.

Ronon and Keller looked good together, almost cute. Ronon had lost some of the taciturn quiet that had been second nature to him when he'd first arrived in Atlantis. In its place was happiness and contentment.

Listening to them with half an ear, he went through his physical with Biro. As she drew blood, he forced his shoulders to relax. Regardless of what happened with the IOA, it had been a good mission. Three ZPMs, and no one was hurt.

"Okay, Colonel," Biro said, patting his arm. "Pending your blood test results, you're cleared to go."

Looking around, he realized that Teyla had already left. Rodney was finishing up, and John slid off his gurney and went to stand next to Rodney. "Walk with you to the briefing?"

"Sounds good, Colonel."

The doctor drawing Rodney's blood - one whose name John could never remember - looked over and smiled flirtatiously. "I'll be done in a moment, Colonel."

"No rush."

True to her word, she finished in a minute, and the two of them headed out. John would have laughed at Rodney, who was visibly dragging his feet about going to the briefing, but Rodney wouldn't get the joke. "Come on, Rodney. It isn't that bad."

"Oh, shut up, Colonel. It is that bad, and you know it. This is completely unfair." Rodney sighed.

John let him mope all the way to the conference room, where Woolsey sat, looking prim and proper. It made John want to throw him through the gate, get him all ruffled up. Maybe see why keeping those ZPMs was so important.

Teyla was already waiting, and John and Rodney went to their usual seats as well. Woolsey said, "Well, we're just waiting on Mr. Dex."

"Let's just go ahead and get this over with," said Rodney. "He'll be a while."

"Was he injured?"

"No, he's just... busy," John answered. He didn't want to say to Woolsey that Ronon was busy flirting, because he suspected that would go over like a lead balloon with a by-the-book man like Woolsey.

"Busy. Okay. So, what did you discover on MX6-S0M?"

Rodney pulled out his tablet, and punched a few keys before speaking. "The planet is uninhabited, which we knew. I didn't see any large life signs, but that doesn't mean anything, as we've discovered. We found the Ancient outpost right where it was supposed to be. The facility is low in power, but that really doesn't matter that much - it looked to be in reasonable condition. I suggest sending a small team to download what information we can get from their computers. You already know that we found three ZPMs. The end."

Woolsey nodded, making notes on his own tablet. "Colonel Sheppard? Your observations?"

John shrugged. "If we send a team for any period of time, I'd recommend that they take several marines with them, as we don't know that there aren't large predators, but I think it'd be safe enough."

Ronon slipped into the room. Instead of sitting, he leaned against the wall. As always, Woolsey got nervous as soon as he was in line of sight, which John knew Ronon thought was hilarious. When Ronon pulled a knife from his hair and started cleaning his nails, Woolsey started to practically shake, "Well, I'll take that under advisement. Is there anything else?"

Rodney looked up, but Woolsey cut him off. "Other than demands that we give you the ZPMs, that is, Doctor McKay." Rodney's face fell again.

After a moment of silence, Woolsey nodded and stood. "Dismissed, then."

Ronon was out the door before Woolsey finished speaking, and Teyla was only a second behind him. John knew that she wanted to spend time with Kanaan and Torren, and he couldn't really blame her. John and Rodney followed her at a more measured pace.

They got as far as the transporter before Rodney stopped and said, "You know what? I'm not really hungry. Are you?"

"Not really. What do you have in mind?" John said, already suspecting where this was going.

"My room? We could play some chess."

John smiled widely. "Playing chess" was one of his favorite activities. "Sounds good. Let's go."

When they got to Rodney's room, they barely made it inside before Rodney shoved John up against the wall. "God, three ZPMs," said Rodney. "They have to let us keep them." He buried his face in John's neck, nibbling at the tendon there, muffling his words. "It's not fair."

John had to admit that he agreed with Rodney. But if he didn't distract him soon, this would turn into a bitchfest. "Would you feel better if I blew you?" he asked.

Rodney lifted his head. "Oh, um, yes. That would be good - great, even."

Reversing their positions was easy with Rodney distracted, and John sank to his knees, mouth already watering. "Take off your shirt," he said even as his hands were busy undoing Rodney's pants.

As he unbuttoned them, Rodney's cock sprang out, distorting the front of his boxer shorts. John tugged it through the gap and licked over the head, loving the way it made Rodney gasp.

He knew he wouldn't be able to kneel for long - damn the metal floors - so he didn't bother with finesse. Instead, he opened his mouth and took Rodney as deep as he could. Wrapping his hand around the base of Rodney's cock, he started to jerk Rodney in the same rhythm as his mouth, sucking hard all the while.

Rodney was making awesome sounds - whimpers and filthy pleas. When his hips jerked forward, John was ready, pressing him against the wall with his forearm.

Looking up, he met Rodney's eyes as he redoubled his efforts, and he was rewarded with a harsh cry and a mouth full of come.

He continued to lick and suck Rodney clean until he whined and pushed John's head away. "God, I think you broke me," Rodney slurred out.

John was trying to be patient. He really was, but he'd been hard since he'd gone to his knees, and his balls were starting to hurt. He logically knew that it had only been a few minutes, but he was still desperate. He pressed a hand to the front of his pants. "Rodney?"

"Yes, yes, of course. Stand up, take off your clothes," said Rodney, pulling him to his feet. John obeyed hurriedly, stumbling over to the bed. He sat on the edge to take his boots off, his hands shaking with lust and making it hard to unlace them. By the time John stood to shuck his pants, Rodney had shed his own. "Lie down."

John lay back, his cock hard and resting on his belly. Rodney crawled up on the bed, straddling John's thighs. Licking his palm, Rodney wrapped his hand around John's cock firmly. It felt so good that John's eyes rolled back in his head. "God, Rodney."

"Go ahead and come for me," said Rodney, stroking him hard. It didn't take much, a half dozen strokes or so, before John shot all over himself.

Rodney lifted his hand to his mouth, licking it clean. John's cock gave a hopeful twitch, but it was pretty much down for the count.

"Okay, I think we need showers," said Rodney. "And then we should probably get some dinner after all."

"Do I have to move?" John groaned. Just the thought seemed overwhelming. All he really wanted to do was curl around Rodney and sleep, but he knew Rodney was right. They couldn't spend the night together anyway.

Rodney leaned down and kissed him, soft and full of affection. "Yes, you do." He climbed off the bed clumsily and held out a hand. "Come on. I'll wash your back."

***

Rodney got to breakfast just as Ronon and Teyla were finishing. When he sat down, though, Ronon leaned back in his chair. "So you're calling Earth today, right?"

"Yes. And I'm so looking forward to it. They're going to take away my ZPMs."

Teyla raised an eyebrow. "Your ZPMs, Rodney?"

"Well, Atlantis's. But the point is that they're going to take them away. I just know it."

"That's our Rodney." John's voice came from behind him. "A little ray of grumpy sunshine."

Rodney rolled his eyes. "Yes, Colonel. Succinct as always."

John sat down his tray and pulled up a chair. "It's possible they won't take them."

"Right."

Torren started to fuss, and all of them averted their eyes as Teyla swung him up into her lap so that he could be fed. Rodney had gotten used to how blasé Teyla was about whipping out a breast to feed him, and he'd admit that he couldn't actually see anything, but there was still something uncomfortable about it.

They ate in silence for a bit. Rodney tried his best not to think about all that potential, sitting in some IOA bureaucrat's office. Or worse yet, buried at Area 51. He sighed and finished his coffee.

"Buck up, Rodney. Maybe they won't take all three."

He just glared at John, then glanced at his watch. "We need to go, Colonel." Reluctantly, Rodney bussed his tray and hurried to the control tower, where they joined Woolsey.

"Gentlemen," Woolsey said.

John murmured a greeting, but Rodney couldn't keep the glare off his face, even with John nudging him. If it wasn't for Woolsey, Rodney would have already installed two of the ZPMs, and they'd still have a spare to give to Earth.

"Sergeant, dial in, please," said Woolsey, and Chuck started the sequence.

The last chevron failed to lock.

"Sir, I can't connect."

"You must have dialed wrong," Rodney said. "Try again."

Chuck shook his head but tried to dial again anyway - this time with Woolsey, John, and Rodney all hanging over him. He pressed the last key, and all of them looked up to see the 'gate flicker and die.

"Dial the alpha site," John ordered, and Rodney nodded, relieved. Good idea. The network was down, or a crystal burned out, or -

The gate connected.

"This can't be right. Out of the way," he said to Chuck, and once Chuck had gotten up, Rodney sat down in his chair.

Without waiting for orders, he disconnected from the Alpha site and tried Earth again. Without thinking, he tried a second, and then a third time. He only stopped when John grabbed his shoulder. He met John's eyes, seeing his own fear echoed there. But all John said was, "You know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Rodney shook him off. He tried once more - more to prove a point than because he expected to get through. When that failed, he slid to his knees and pried the front off the DHD. "Get me Zelenka."

"Wait a moment, Doctor McKay," Woolsey ordered.

"What? It's got to be a problem with the DHD, and I need to get it fixed."

"I'm sure, but we have three teams off world right now. Shouldn't we recall them before you take it apart?"

Rodney sighed. "Yes, I suppose." Levering himself to his feet, he pointed at Chuck. "Get them back while I get my team up here." Without waiting for an answer, he turned away and radioed Zelenka. "I need you in the control room, and bring Miko and Smythe. There's something wrong with the DHD."

"What is the problem?"

"If I knew, I would have already fixed it. Just get up here!"

As the gate opened and closed and opened again, John came over and rested a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "You'll figure it out."

"Of course I will," but Rodney was afraid that it was all bluster.

As the last of the off world teams arrived back, looking very puzzled at being recalled, Rodney, Radek, and Miko started disassembling the DHD. Smythe was proving to be a moron, though.

"Why are we wasting our time? Earth will dial us as soon as they realize we're late. For that matter, we might have missed their attempt already, what with calling back the teams. And that's another thing - "

Rodney looked from where he was inspecting part of the wiring. "You know, I asked for you because you claim to be an expert on Ancient crystal arrays. If you're just going to stand there and tell us we're wrong for trying to fix it, you can go work on the sewage system."

"But - "

Rodney heaved a huge sigh and looked at Radek. He was the best at translating what Rodney said to something the idiots understood. "Perhaps you would like to return home when we fix gate? No? Then you should start looking at the crystals you have been assigned."

Smythe gave a disgusted snort, but he started going over the crystals. Rodney just caught Radek's eye and rolled his own. He really missed being able to work solely with the first wave people. The scientists that he'd been sent recently were all idiots.

They sorted through crystals and wires, looking for a short, a burned out crystal, anything that would explain the malfunction. But in the back of Rodney's head, an invisible clock counted down first the minutes, then the hours. Why hadn't Earth dialed them yet? They had a ZPM...

When John shook him, Rodney looked up blearily. "What?"

"You need to eat, buddy."

Rodney dug in a pocket, pulling out a powerbar. "I'm fine. It's not fixed yet."

John nodded. "I know. But you need real food and a break. Come back to it with fresh eyes."

"A break? Wait, where is my team?" he asked, realizing that they were alone.

"I sent them away twenty minutes ago."

Rodney wanted to argue, he really did. But he knew that John was right. He wasn't going to find anything if his eyes were blurring. Standing up, he frowned at the way his back cracked. "How long was I down there, anyway?"

"About six hours."

"Is that all? It felt longer." Rodney realized that John was herding him towards the transporter, but he didn't argue. "I guess I can eat something and come back."

"No. You're done for the day," John insisted.

"What? I've got to fix it!"

"Rodney, it's not an emergency. You'll figure it out after a good night's sleep."

"Are you going to tuck me in, too?" Rodney asked bitterly. "I am an adult, you know."

John glanced around cautiously and then dragged Rodney into a small alcove. "Look. It's been six hours. If it were a simple problem, you would have figured it out already. And we don't know why Earth hasn't called us. So unless you want to see a panic, we need to act like it's not crunch time. That means meal breaks and sleeping at night."

Rodney started to argue, and deflated when he realized that John was...well, a little right. "Okay, okay. But during the day, I work on the DHD."

"Unless something more urgent comes up, yes," John agreed.

Privately, Rodney doubted anything would come up, but he didn't voice it.

John stared into Rodney's face, and then, apparently satisfied with what he saw there, nodded firmly. He backed out of the alcove, letting Rodney out, and the two of them made their way to the mess.

As soon as they entered, a small crowd of people demanding to know what was going on surrounded them.

Before Rodney could answer, John stepped in. "It's probably nothing - just a glitch with the DHD. But do you think I would have been able to pry Doctor McKay away if it was an urgent problem?" Several people shook their heads no, and John's face broadened into a grin. "No. So everyone relax, eat your dinner, okay?"

The crowd dispersed with soft murmurings. Rodney stared at John amazed. He knew that if he'd tried that, there would have been three screaming matches and half a dozen people in tears.

"How do you do that?" Rodney demanded.

John just chuckled and led him to the food line and then to the team table.

The next day, Rodney wasn't feeling like laughing. There was nothing wrong with anything they had checked. The crystals were so clean they sparkled at this point, all the wiring had been replaced, and everything was seated firmly. Speaking quietly with Zelenka, he was frustrated enough to admit that maybe there wasn't a problem to solve. Maybe, just maybe, the problem was at the other end.

If that was the case, then there was nothing they could do until either Earth contacted them or the Daedalus arrived.

Rodney hated feeling helpless.

Every time he went he went into the mess he got stares, and people muttered under their breath. It brought back distasteful memories of that whole Doranda episode. The only relief was that John was still on his side.

Every evening they went to Rodney's room since it was bigger. They watched movies, they really did play chess, and they lay on the bed touching each other.

They didn't have sex.

The stress meant that Rodney couldn't have felt less like sex if he'd tried. Thankfully, John didn't push, though Rodney knew that he wasn't aware of why Rodney stopped everything before it could escalate; he was showing more sensitivity than Rodney expected.

The muttering took almost two weeks to come to a head. By the time it did, even Rodney failed to be surprised.

The whispers had gotten worse, with plenty of comments about how Rodney had given up too easily, about how he was reluctant to make contact because he didn't want to lose the ZPMs. A couple of rumors even implied that Rodney had sabotaged the gate.

It got bad enough that the team made a point of going to meals with Rodney. There were few people willing to tangle with Ronon, after all.

The tension was ratcheting higher, though, the pressure becoming nearly unbearable.

The day finally came that Rodney arrived at the mess without anyone else from his team. He hesitated at the door when he realized the lack, but ultimately he decided he could tough it out. What was the worst that could happen?

It didn't take long for Rodney to decide that he'd made a tactical error. The murmuring was louder, and several of the newer marines were moving towards the door, blocking Rodney's exit. He spared a thought that field work had changed him, that he'd even notice that, but then his priorities shifted back to keeping himself safe.

Deciding that it would be best to bluff his way through it, he picked up a tray. He hadn't gotten very far before a small knot of scientists and marines formed around him. It didn't make him feel any better to realize that they were all new arrivals to Atlantis - within the last six months.

"We want a word with you," Ackland said demandingly. He was one of the biologists, if Rodney remembered right.

"Yes?" He tried to sound like he wasn't intimidated, but wasn't sure how successful he was.

"Why aren't we making more of an effort to contact Earth?"

"And how do you suggest we do that? The gate won't connect."

"So try another address in the Milky Way!"

"I wonder why we didn't think of that?" Rodney sneered. "Oh, yeah, it's because as far as we can tell, the only gate that can receive eight chevrons is the Earth gate!"

"What about Midway?" One of the other scientists put in.

Rodney boggled at him. "Have you forgotten that it was destroyed?"

"We could rebuild it," Ackland said stubbornly.

"Of course - with all the welding crews and metal smiths we don't have on staff."

One of the marines, whose name he didn't know, pushed to the front, getting right in Rodney's face. "You're going to find us a way home."

"Or what? You'll beat me up? There isn't anything I can do until Earth contacts us or the Daedalus arrives." Rodney was really getting pissed. Did these people think that he didn't want to go home? "Look, I've got family on Earth too, and I'm just as worried as you are. But this isn't going to help anything."

The marine shoved Rodney. "Everyone knows that you don't give a damn about anyone but yourself."

Even Ackland looked surprised by the way that the argument was escalating. Rodney didn't care. He shoved the marine back. "What? Are we in elementary school? Ever hear of 'using your words?' Three-year-olds have mastered this concept - why haven't you?"

"Why you, you, you coward," the marine spit out. "You don't give a shit about our families or anything but your precious skin!"

Rodney didn't consciously decide to do it. His fist went out without any guidance from his brain and smashed into the guy's cheekbone.

His head snapped to the side. It took no time for him to recover, though, and then he started to press forward. "I'm going to kill you," he said in a low growl.

"Lammerman!" John yelled from the doorway. "Back off!"

The guy didn't even turn around. Instead he swung, only to be stopped by Ronon grabbing his arm.

Within seconds, John was there as well, standing between Rodney and Lammerman. "Stand down." Clearly trusting that Ronon had him under control, John turned his attention to the rest of the people standing around. He didn't even have to say anything, Rodney noted jealously. With just a look, he managed to break up the small crowd.

He then called over a couple of marines from where they were sitting. "Duke. Baird."

The two men hurried over. "Sir?" asked Duke.

"I want you to take Lammerman to the brig, and then I want the rest of the military personnel assembled in the ready room in one hour."

"Yes, sir," said Baird, taking the arm that Ronon was holding.

"But he hit me!"

Rodney shivered at the cold eyes that John turned on the marine. "And you threatened a civilian after provoking him. You will go to the brig and stay there until I have the time and inclination to deal with you. Take him down, men."

Ignoring further protests, the two men dragged Lammerman out of the room. "Okay, Rodney?" he asked.

"Other than a sore hand, I am," said Rodney.

"Okay. I'm going to let it drop while we eat, since I know you haven't eaten since breakfast, but we're going to talk about this later."

"Oh, joy." Rodney couldn't help but be mad at himself. He shouldn't have hit Lammerman, even if he was asking for it.

The three of them loaded down trays and went to sit down. Rodney noticed that he was still being stared at, but there seemed to be some respect thrown in.

They had just started eating when Teyla joined them. "What is this about you hitting a marine?" she asked.

"I was provoked!" said Rodney, stung at her tone of voice.

"Rodney - " John started.

But he cut John off. "Yes, I know it was stupid, but I wasn't getting through any other way. Plus he was pushing me first. And I'm not sorry."

Ronon chuckled, breaking the tension at the table. "Lammerman is an ass. Always has been. Served him right."

It made Rodney feel a little better, and he turned to John. "See?"

"Just because someone's an ass doesn't mean that you should punch them." John paused for a second, but when Rodney would have defended himself, he continued "I know it wasn't that simple - we saw most of it from the doorway. Lammerman was trying to intimidate you, and we all know how well that works."

Rodney snorted. "Yeah. Like that was going to happen."

They finished eating quietly. Rodney discovered that his hand was stiffening up, but he didn't want to complain, because that would just give John another reason to scold him.

"Okay, you need to go to the infirmary, Rodney," John said. "I need to go meet with the marines."

"I don't - " Rodney started to object.

"Your hand is hurting," said Teyla. "I will escort you there."

"I suppose arguing will do no good?"

Ronon laughed. "Are you stupid enough to disobey Teyla?"

"Of course I'm not stupid!" Rodney said and then stopped. "Well, crap. I guess I'll go."

John smiled at him, and it made Rodney think he was doing the right thing.

***

Dan paced in the brig. He was due to rotate home. He'd only taken this posting because he could rotate home. Now the gate was "broken" and he was supposed to just accept that. No fucking way.

This was all McKay's fault. Everyone knew that he didn't get along with his sister, so what if they couldn't reach Earth? Besides, he was sleeping with Sheppard, and if someone told Landry that, Sheppard would be out of there so fast his head would spin. Given that, McKay had probably sabotaged the gate himself.

Sitting on the bed, Dan rested his head on his hands. His sis was due any day now. He'd promised that he'd be home to welcome his new nephew home, but that didn't look like it was going to happen. His mother was going to kill him if he didn't get home in time - bad enough that he hadn't been there when his niece came home, but he'd been in Iraq then. This he couldn't even explain to his family.

Hold it together, marine, he thought. If you are arrested and kept here indefinitely, you won't get home either.

He took deep breaths, trying to keep from losing it. Calm. He needed to be calm.

***

Ronon lounged in the corner of the ready room, watching the marines mill about. Sheppard came in and went over to speak quietly to Lorne.

A few seconds later, Lorne called out, "Attention!" Clearly surprised at the order, it took the marines a second to react, and then everyone stood, eyes to the front of the room.

"Okay, folks. We have a problem. Marines are not supposed to try and intimidate members of their own team. When they see fellow marines doing so, they should break it up."

Sheppard started to walk among the stiff marines, meeting each soldier's eyes. "Today, we saw a marine threaten to kill a scientist, after provoking him into a punch."

He got right up in Baird's face. "And yet, when I broke it up, there were at least fifteen marines sitting on their asses. Why was that, Baird?"

"Permission to speak freely," said Curtis, towards the back of the room.

Sheppard's head snapped up. "Granted," he said.

"I didn't interfere because I want to know why we aren't doing more to contact Earth."

Ronon watched with admiration as Sheppard moved into Curtis's space. Based on size alone, Curtis should have been able to break Sheppard in half, yet it was Curtis backing down.

"What, exactly, do you think we should try?"

"I don't know. Something. Anything! Look, Colonel, I've got a little sister who's getting married in three months. I want to be there, and if we can't get back to Earth, I can't."

"I'm sorry about that, Curtis. But McKay has a sister, a niece, and a nephew on the way. He wants to make contact just as bad as you do, and it's killing him that he can't." Sheppard paused, clearly searching for the right word. "He feels... responsible for everyone here. Accusations and attacks aren't going to fix the problem."

Glancing around the room, he said, "Look, if you have a reasonable suggestion for something to try, bring it to Dr. McKay or me. Don't hesitate. But don't think for one second that McKay hasn't been pulling out all the stops."

"Are we clear?" There were minuscule nods all around the room.

"Not good enough. I expect no more intimidation of civilians, and if you see it happening, I expect you to break it up. Is that understood?"

"Yes, sir!" the marines yelled in unison.

"Good. Dismissed."

The men made their way out of the room, talking softly among themselves. For the first time in a long time, though, they didn't seem as angry.

This time when Sheppard went over to Lorne, Ronon joined him. "Okay, Lorne, I need to make sure we've got people keeping their ears open so this doesn't happen again. Next time we may not get there in time."

"Yes, sir. Is McKay all right?"

"He'll be fine. Now I just need to figure out what to do about Lammerman."

"If you'll take a suggestion, Sheppard?" Lorne leaned a little closer.

"Yeah. Sure. Why not?"

"Don't put him on punishment detail this time. He may have provoked it but he did get hit first. Just make it clear that it won't be tolerated, and that next time he'll have to report to Sergeant Jahshan for punishment for a week."

"If he tries to hit McKay again, there won't be a punishment detail," put in Ronon. "I'll kick his ass."

Lorne said, "Lammerman thinks he's a good marine. You have to work with that, because if you don't, he'll just fight back."

Sheppard nodded. "Good advice - thanks."

"You're welcome."

The two of them took their leave from Lorne and headed down to the brig. Once there, Sheppard motioned with his head for Ronon to stay back, out of the way. He turned off the force field. Lammerman was sitting in the corner of the cage, arms on his raised knees, head hanging low. "On your feet," ordered Sheppard.

He moved slowly, but he did move, coming to his feet and then to attention without being ordered. "Yes, sir," he said dully.

"At ease, Lammerman."

Slowly, the man relaxed.

"What do you have to say for yourself?" asked Sheppard, voice tightly controlled.

"I was just trying to get the truth, sir." Lammerman wasn't meeting Sheppard's eyes, Ronon noticed.

"And you thought that beating up a scientist was the way to do it?"

"He hit me first!"

"After you provoked and pushed him. We saw most of it." Sheppard leaned against the bars, giving every indication that he was relaxed and just having a conversation. Ronon was pretty sure that Lammerman didn't even notice the coiled power.

Lammerman didn't respond.

"Look, you're a good marine who's nervous and upset. I can understand that. Hell, I'm upset! But you know better than to do stuff like this."

"Yes, sir," Lammerman looked at him for the first time. Hell if Lorne wasn't right.

"If you've got questions or suggestions, bring them to me. Or go - politely - to Dr. McKay. He'd be happy to discuss it with you if you're not getting in his face."

Lammerman nodded. "I assume I'm on punishment detail?"

"Not this time. McKay did punch you first. But if I ever catch you trying to intimidate a civilian again, you'll be facing off against Ronon in addition to detail. Are we clear?"

Swallowing hard, Lammerman said, "Yes, sir!"

"Good." Sheppard opened the door to the cell. "Go on now."

Lammerman came out of the cell, only then spotting Ronon next to the door. Carefully, he edged out of the room. Sheppard was still leaning on the bars, but now it looked like it was the only thing holding him up. "I hate this."

"I know. But you did well."

Sheppard's eyes opened. "Did I? Okay, then." Pushing himself away from the bars, he headed towards the door. "Want to go for a run?"

"Sure."

***

Teyla sat in the conference room, wondering why Mr. Woolsey insisted on having these meetings. All they seemed to do was cause Rodney distress as they talked about what they had tried and just how it had failed. She saw no point in them, to be honest, and had suggested to John that they be discontinued or at least not held as often.

According to John, Mr. Woolsey believed in beating a dead horse - whatever that meant. Personally, she felt they were his way of exerting some control in a situation where he had none.

Mr. Woolsey came in and had a seat. "Are we all here?" he asked, looking around the room. "Good, good."

Rodney was staring at his computer screen, even though he wasn't typing anything. He didn't look up when Mr. Woolsey addressed him. "Doctor McKay? Do you have anything to report?"

"No," he growled. "I didn't have anything yesterday, and I won't have anything tomorrow. Remind me again why we have these exercises in futility?"

"Because brainstorming may lead to a new idea," Mr. Woolsey said primly.

"It hasn't in three weeks. What makes you think that today's going to be any different?"

John spoke up then, interrupting the two of them before it could degenerate into an argument. "We do have a new problem that needs to be discussed."

"Oh?" Mr. Woolsey said, taking his attention off Rodney. Teyla noticed that Rodney looked towards John with an expression of relief.

"Yeah. The Daedalus is due to arrive in a week but there's no sign of them on the long distance scanners, and with everything that's going on I don't think we should count on them." John shifted uncomfortably. Clearly, he did not like saying this. "We're starting to run low on food and supplies. We need to restart off world missions and try to reestablish our contracts for food, maybe find new allies."

Mr. Woolsey made a face. "Are you sure that's necessary?" he asked. "While I see the benefit in continuing to make allies, I don't know that we want to appear weak to them."

"Would you rather starve?" asked Ronon.

"Well, of course not. But we can't be that short of food."

Teyla decided that Mr. Woolsey was wavering and just needed a little more persuasion. "Mr. Woolsey, please remember that it is necessary to barter for foodstuffs. Additionally, few societies in the Pegasus galaxy grow a surplus capable of feeding all of Atlantis. Contracts will need to be made with several planets."

Mr. Woolsey still looked as if he was going to argue, but John said, "The fact is, without allies and without contact with Earth, we are weak. Trust me, it would be better for us to seek allies now than wait until we're desperate."

"We've been that desperate," said Rodney. "It led to stupid mistakes."

"Yes, I've read the mission reports," said Mr. Woolsey.

"Then why are we still discussing this?" Rodney asked.

"How much of this is because you're bored here on base, Colonel? I have Doctor Weir's notes, and she's very clear that you don't do well staying in one place."

"It has nothing to do with that. Sir." John's face was stiff, and Teyla knew that he was craving the excitement of off-world travel. But surely Mr. Woolsey would see the truth of his words?

"That's good, because until Earth contacts us, or until we're sure that the Daedalus isn't coming, I don't want your team going off-world." Mr. Woolsey sat back in his chair, as if expecting an explosion.

He got one from Rodney. "What the hell, Woolsey? We're the team with the most experience, the most knowledge of the Pegasus galaxy, and you're grounding us?"

"You're also two-thirds of the leadership of Atlantis, Doctor McKay. With no contact with Earth, we have no way to replace you if something happens. View this as a chance for other teams to gather valuable experience."

"But - "

"My decision is final, Doctor McKay." Mr. Woolsey turned his attention to John. "I expect you to draw up a list of teams, while I expect Doctor McKay to give me a list of planets worth visiting."

"Yes, Sir," John grated out, staring at someplace over Mr. Woolsey's shoulder. Teyla had never heard him sound so flat, and it bothered her greatly.

"What about the ZPMs?" asked Rodney.

"They will continue to stay in my office until we're sure that Earth and the Daedalus will not be contacting us."

Rodney looked positively apoplectic, but he did not say anything.

"Dismissed," said Mr. Woolsey. John and Rodney hurried through the door, both clearly upset.

Teyla picked her words with care. "This... is not wise, Mr. Woolsey."

"Again, my decision is final," he said. "The sooner they accept that, the happier everyone will be."

***

As the days passed, Rodney watched John get more and more stressed. True to his word, Woolsey wasn't allowing them off-world, and the newer teams weren't having much success with negotiating new contracts. Rodney could always tell when John had been doing inventory, because he'd be grim-faced and silent for hours.

Unsure of what to do, Rodney didn't say anything, instead watching and waiting for John to snap.

It took longer than Rodney would have predicted, but Rodney knew it was going to happen sooner or later. With the other teams going off-world, he'd have put his money on sooner. "If I don't get out of here soon, I'm going to lose it," John declared as he paced.

"I know," mumbled Rodney. He did know - it was only the fifth time that John had said it. He was just grateful that John was having his meltdown in the privacy of Rodney's quarters and not in public.

John turned to face Rodney, his hands coming out to shake him. "No, you really don't. I'm not even being allowed to fly to the mainland."

"Huh? Why not?" This was news to Rodney.

"I have no idea. Honestly, I think Woolsey just wants to see how long it takes me to snap."

Frustrated by John's pacing, Rodney reached out and grabbed him by the belt loops. "Come here," he said.

John resisted for a moment, and then folded himself onto the couch. "Sorry, sorry. This isn't your fault, and I shouldn't take it out on you. I'm just frustrated. The teams aren't having a lot of success, and Woolsey won't let Teyla and Ronon join any of them. I - " John slammed his fist down on the arm of the couch as he cut himself off.

"Hey, I'm your..." Rodney wasn't sure what to say. "Lover" seemed like something a Victorian woman might say. "Partner" sounded cold and clinical. He compromised. "I'm yours. I'll do whatever you need."

"Oh, thank god," said John. "Can you fuck me? Hard and fast? Really make me feel it?"

That wasn't anything resembling a hardship, so Rodney said, "Of course. Get over here and kiss me."

John hurriedly obeyed, leaning over to Rodney, and immediately opening his mouth when Rodney started to kiss him. They kissed for a long time, and by the time they broke apart, John was practically in Rodney's lap, with Rodney's hand under his shirt. "Naked. We need to be naked," Rodney gasped out.

With a final peck of a kiss, John slid off Rodney's lap and started to strip quickly. Rodney had barely gotten his shirt off by the time John was naked completely, and his mouth went dry as he knelt on Rodney's couch, sticking out his ass, his arms folded along the arm. Rodney hurriedly stripped off his pants and went to the nightstand to grab lube, his dick bouncing uncomfortably with every step.

As soon as he got back, he knelt between John's legs, thanking god that the couch was deep enough to do this. He slid a slick finger inside John, but John said, "No."

Shocked, Rodney froze.

John turned to look at him, and Rodney met his eyes squarely. "I don't want your fingers. I want your cock."

"But – " The last thing that Rodney wanted was to hurt John.

"Please, Rodney."

Rodney couldn't stand to hear John begging. He moved his finger around just enough to make sure that John was wet, and then pulled it out. Slicking up his cock, he lined it up with John's hole.

He had to take a deep breath to steel himself before he pushed in, hard and fast and deep. John didn't yell. He just hissed out the word, "Yes," and pushed back into Rodney.

John was tight, so fucking tight, and it was all Rodney could do not to just go ahead and come. Instead he worked at giving John what he needed. His cock slammed into John over and over again, his hips slapping against John's ass with an obscene noise with each stroke.

It took work to keep his balance, but he managed to reach around John, wrapping his slick hand around John's cock. He couldn't manage to actually jerk him off, but with the way that John was moving his hips, it really wasn't necessary. John was groaning with each thrust, taking everything that Rodney had to give him and then some.

With a heartfelt cry, John came, clenching tight around Rodney's cock, come spilling out over Rodney's hand. The feel of it pulled Rodney along with John, and with an embarrassingly loud grunt, he came as well.

He collapsed onto John's back until John shoved at him. "Need to breathe," he said.

"Oh, yeah." Rodney pulled out with a groan of loss, then stumbled off to the bathroom to get a washcloth. He cleaned John up, ignoring his token protests to make sure that he wasn't injured before he'd let John turn back over.

"I'm fine," John said. "Just a little sore, and it feels good."

"If you're sure?" Rodney said doubtfully, but John just tugged him down until he was lying part of the way on John, and closed his eyes. "Shhh, sleeping now."

"Oh, okay," said Rodney, closing his as well.

***

Richard was readying his arguments for yet another round of arguments with Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay about why their team wasn't being allowed off-world. He thought it was quite simple, actually, and wasn't really sure why they were failing to understand it.

With Earth out of contact, the three of them were the only ties they had to the right way of doing things, and to be frank, Atlantis couldn't afford to lose either her military commander or her Chief Science Officer simply because of cabin fever. Surely two men as smart as Sheppard and McKay could see that if they bothered to think beyond the immediate?

Just as he stood up to let them into his office, Sergeant Campbell announced an incoming wormhole. "It's a Milky Way address. Incoming transmission but no IDC."

"Open the shield," he said, just as Colonel Sheppard said, "Belay that."

Confused, Sergeant Campbell did nothing for one critical second. Then the DHD computer lit up, commands cycling through the screen faster than any of them could read.

"What the hell?" said Doctor McKay, literally pulling Sergeant Campbell away from his position so that he could get in to stop whatever was happening. But just as Doctor McKay started to type, the program or whatever it was stopped, leaving a message flashing on the screen.

"Turn not to look behind you for all will be lost."

A look around the control tower showed every computer blinking the same message. "What is happening, Doctor McKay?" Richard asked.

But instead of answering, Doctor McKay lifted his hand to his ear and said, "What? Go ahead, Radek." There was a pause as Radek talked directly into Doctor McKay's ear, and then he said, "Yes, we're getting the same message up here. Can you see what the program did?" He started typing on Sergeant Campbell's computer as he waited for an answer.

"Crap. Radek, are you seeing what I'm seeing?" he said after a moment of tense silence. "Okay, see what you can get back at your end. I'll try from up here."

"Doctor McKay?" Richard tried to put a tone of command in his voice, only to get Doctor McKay holding up one finger and saying, "Working here."

Colonel Sheppard leaned over his shoulder, looking at the computer screen. "Rodney, tell me that I'm not seeing this," he said nervously.

"It depends. Do you see a complete lack of any Milky Way addresses, as well as a block on dialing Earth that is more complex than I've ever seen?"

"I'm seeing some of that, anyway." Colonel Sheppard stood up and directed his attention to Richard. "I think we should probably cancel our meeting, sir. This doesn't look good, and interrupting Rodney right now may blow any chance we have of getting those addresses back."

"I don't understand. What do you mean, the addresses are gone?"

"Colonel - " said Doctor McKay in a warning tone of voice.

Colonel Sheppard nodded and took Richard by the arm, leading him into his office. "I'll explain the best I can. But we really need to leave Rodney to work."

"Fine." Richard shrugged out of Colonel Sheppard's grip and tugged his jacket down before heading into the office. "Explain."

"From what I saw, it looked like whoever dialed us just erased and blocked all Milky Way addresses. We don't know who, or why, and it really doesn't matter right now. What does matter is that Rodney is trying to get them back, so we need to leave him alone."

"What was the message that showed up on all the computers? Something about turning back?"

"I have no idea, but I have an idea of how to find out." He motioned towards Richard's computer. "If I may?"

"What? Oh, of course," said Richard, signing himself out of his account and turning the laptop around so that Colonel Sheppard could reach the keyboard.

To: Atlantis staff atlantis-staff@aweb.gov

From: John Sheppard jsheppard@aweb.gov

Subject: Meaning of message

We have received a message from an unknown source. If you know the significance of the sentence, "Turn not to look behind you for all will be lost," please report to Mr. Woolsey's office as soon as possible.

Thank you.

Colonel John Sheppard

"There. I suspect that one of the social scientists will be only too happy to explain it to us. Maybe it's an Ancient proverb or something."

"No, there's something familiar about it," said Richard. "I can't place it, but I know I've heard it before, and not here in Atlantis."

Colonel Sheppard shrugged, looking over to where Doctor McKay continued to work. Richard shied away from trying to interpret the expression he saw there - if he didn't think about it, he wouldn't have to report it when they eventually regained contact with Earth.

Instead, he said to Colonel Sheppard, "Well, since we can't help Doctor McKay, you might as well have a seat. We can have our meeting without him, and you can fill him in on the relevant parts."

With an incredulous look, Colonel Sheppard said, "You've got to be kidding me. We just had contact from the Milky Way for the first time in two months, and you want to hold a meeting on why I'm grounded?"

Put that way, it did sound a little ridiculous, but Richard knew that he had to be firm if he expected to stay in control. If he didn't, then Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay would think that they could walk all over him and, by extension, all over the IOA. The fact that there had finally been contact with the Milky Way was proof that at least their network wasn't down.

"Sit down, Colonel," Richard insisted, and finally after a staring match that lasted approximately a century, he did so.

"Now, I'm sure you have very good reasons for allowing your team to go off-world. Instead of wasting both of our time by listening to them, I'm going to tell you, again, that it doesn't matter. You are grounded until further notice. You know my reasons."

"Yes, but your reasons make no sense. The few teams that you're letting travel are barely making any headway. You've not only grounded Doctor McKay and me, you've grounded two Pegasus natives who could be out there making a difference and finding us allies." Colonel Sheppard leaned forward, as if to emphasize his words. "If you want Atlantis to survive, regardless of whether or not we get in contact with Earth, you need to let us do our jobs."

"You are doing your job, Colonel. You are leading the military contingent of this base, as Doctor McKay is leading the scientists."

Colonel Sheppard snorted, a rude sound. "We aren't leading, and by keeping us grounded, you are guaranteeing that I don't have the respect of my men. But you don't care about that, do you?"

Richard recoiled as he'd been struck. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that there's only one person who's treating this as a potential power grab, and that isn't McKay or me. It's you. You know that if we were in contact with the SGC, we wouldn't be grounded." Colonel Sheppard stood and leaned over the desk. Richard had to fight the urge to lean back, out of reach. "You need to think about what you're doing, Woolsey. If things get desperate, Doctor McKay and I will do what is necessary to be sure that Atlantis survives. Don't make yourself an obstacle to that survival."

Richard stood up. "Are you threatening me, Colonel Sheppard?"

Colonel Sheppard straightened up and met his eyes. "It's not a threat, Woolsey - it's a statement of fact. Are you really so certain of your power here that you think you could maintain it without our support?" Without waiting for dismissal, he turned around and left the room, returning to his place at Doctor McKay's side.

Richard sat back down, more than a little shaken up. For a minute he'd actually thought that Colonel Sheppard was going to hit him.

Maybe he was trying to consolidate power in the three of them, but there'd already been an incident - not that Sheppard had done him the courtesy of bringing it to Richard's attention. He'd had to find out about it third-hand. But he was trying to prevent more of those situations. Wasn't he?

He decided to let it drop for now.

***

John was feeling like a fifth wheel. It was clear that he wouldn't be able to help Rodney or Radek, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that it wouldn't matter since they weren't going to be able to fix it.

He was almost grateful for the interruption by Doctor Terina, one of the social scientists. "Colonel Sheppard?"

"What can I do for you?" John turned a smiling face on the young woman. She was blonde and slender, but John knew from the scientist boot camps that Ronon and Lorne ran that she was actually pretty good at defending herself.

"Several of us know the meaning of the phrase you sent, but we decided that you only needed to be interrupted by one person. You looked busy, but Mister Woolsey has locked his office door." She was wringing her hands nervously.

John tried to look encouraging and non-threatening. "And that meaning is?"

"It's from an old Greek myth about Orpheus."

The name sounded vaguely familiar to John, but not enough that he remembered the story. He waved a hand for her to continue.

"He went into the underworld to rescue his wife Eurydice from Hades. Hades granted her release, but only on the condition that Orpheus not look back to make sure that she was following."

Heart sinking, John thought that he probably had a pretty good idea of where this was going, but he needed to hear it confirmed. So he said gently, "And then what happened?"

"He made it almost all the way out without looking back, but near the entrance, he couldn't stand it anymore and turned around. She'd been following him silently, but when he looked, she died again, breathing a farewell and then returning to the depths. Orpheus wasn't allowed a second try."

"Yes, yes, that's all very well and good," said Rodney. John hadn't even been aware that he'd been listening. "But what in the hell does it mean?"

She turned her attention to him. "Well, we can't be certain, but it certainly seems like they're telling us to not look behind us. Maybe... look towards the future?"

Rodney rolled his hand on his wrist with a "come on, get on with it" gesture, and she looked like she wanted to cry as she said, "Maybe we shouldn't be trying to reach Earth anymore."

"No," Rodney said, flatly. He turned his attention back to the computer. When John squeezed his shoulder, he said, "I refuse to accept that we've lost everyone. Not when I've just gotten Jeannie back."

There wasn't anything John could say to that. Yeah, it would mean that he'd lost Dave, but he and Dave were still estranged and probably always would be.

With quiet thanks, John sent Doctor Terina back to her office. He told her that they'd take her words under advisement, and she seemed fairly satisfied with that. Not sure that he could keep his temper if he had to talk to Woolsey one on one, he sent Chuck to go fill him in as he watched Rodney work frantically to try and find a way around the block. Eventually Rodney decided that he wasn't going to get anywhere from the computers in the control room and headed down to the labs.

John wanted nothing more than to follow him down but he had things that had to be taken care of, so he went to his own office for his daily meeting with Lorne. It wasn't good.

"Rumors are flying, sir. People are going nuts."

"What are they saying?" John asked, rubbing a hand over his face as he sat behind his desk.

"You name it and I'm probably hearing it . There's the rumor that Earth contacted us and told us that we were cut off. That another civilization, like the Asgard, has been in contact. That we're being sabotaged by the Genii. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."

"Crap." John sighed. He looked up at his second. "I need to get either Rodney or Radek in here to help deflect some of this, but I can't. They're a little busy right now."

"Yeah, the fact that the entire engineering and physics teams have basically been locked in their lab is not helping things."

"I'm sure." With a grimace, John looked down at his desk. He hated this kind of political bullshit. That's why he was here. "Lorne, we have that meeting with the team leaders in an hour. Let Cadman and Ronon and Barnard know that I'd like them to attend as well. I want to start cross-training more of the junior officers."

Lorne nodded grimly. "I think Sergeant Belden could do with some increased responsibility as well."

"Good thinking." The Sergeant was something of a favorite among the scientists. Bigger than Ronon, he often volunteered to be the muscle to their brains. They knew and trusted him.

Thank god for clever seconds in command.

Watching Lorne go, John missed Elizabeth like an aching limb. He was going to have to go behind Woolsey's back to exert some sort of control, and another military-wide meeting would clearly be too obvious. Woolsey would probably treat it as some sort of power grab as opposed to John just trying to head things off. This sort of maneuvering wasn't his forte, and if they didn't do something, there'd be a full-blown riot among the military on their hands. Additionally, Rodney was too busy to control his people, and they were scared. They would probably be all too eager to contribute.

And Woolsey was too worried about a potential power grab to see it.

Forty-five minutes later, John locked the door behind Cadman and leaned against it. "Here's what we know."

As he outlined the events of the previous few hours, he couldn't help but think that he'd done well, picking his team heads. They were calm, asking reasonable questions and showing no signs of panic.

"I want you to tell your own teams, quietly, what's going on. Belden, I want you to make sure that the marines not on teams know. And then we're in a waiting game: will the engineering and physics departments figure this out before there's mass hysteria on the part of the scientists?" He saw calculating looks on the faces of most of the people in the room. While the marines were better armed and trained, the scientists outnumbered them and knew Atlantis better. Thankfully, they wouldn't have Rodney or Zelenka on their side, or John would have been waving a white flag already.

John slumped, unable to stop himself from rubbing his face, again. "There's no way Woolsey won't take the fact that I'm passing this information on without telling him as an attempt on his position, but you all should know - I do not want that job. I won't take it. If Woolsey goes too far, I'll turn it over to McKay to have him pick a civilian representative to run the place. Telling all of you is simply a preventative measure only until we figure out what's going on."

"Sir." Lorne, looking up at him. "We didn't need you to say that."

"Maybe I needed to say it, then. Go. You know your jobs. Confer with each other as needed and try not to come running to me. Most importantly, stay calm and don't panic. One way or another this will be solved."

They all nodded and made their way out, already murmuring quietly with each other.

Eventually, Ronon nodded. "I'll let Teyla know. She'll want to tell others."

"Good idea," seemed like a good response. It made Ronon grin, a fleeting, hidden thing, as he vanished out the door.

John put his forehead on the desk and tried to remember how to breathe. His lungs felt heavy with ash; fear and sorrow leaving him breathless.

Then he got up and put on his blankest, most military face. He had his job to do, too, and hiding in his office wouldn't accomplish it.

First stop: the mess. It's where most real meetings took place in Atlantis and it was the only office John actually enjoyed spending time in. If people wanted to find him, they'd look there first.

So he better get there.

He heard a few of the biologists gossiping about his email and about the fact that Rodney had the physicists and mathematicians on complete lockdown. John knew that they working on trying to reverse whatever had been done to their computers, but those who wouldn't be able to help were left in the dark. While Rodney was a pretty good leader, he got hyperfocused under stress, and he wasn't doing a very good job of communicating with the other members of the science team.

Forty-eight hours later, the pressure was high enough that it was a miracle that there hadn't been an explosion. There'd been a few loud words in the mess and the gym, but John had been pleased to see that every time a few marines had stepped in, broken it up, and managed to calm rising tempers.

He was also glad that apparently Woolsey hadn't figured out what was going on yet, or at least hadn't called him on it. Given the way that Woolsey had locked SGA-1 down, he suspected that he was afraid of a potential power grab. The fact that John had given orders without going through Woolsey would not welcomed.

But even with all of that, John was worried - really worried - that this was just the calm before the storm.

"Colonel Sheppard?" Chuck's voice in his ear never failed to startle him slightly, though he'd gotten good at suppressing the jump.

"Sheppard here." All he could think was, "Please let it be good news. Please."

"You're needed in the control room. There's something on the long range scanners you should see."

"Have you called Doctor McKay?" he asked, as he bussed his tray on his way out of the mess. It wouldn't do to let anyone see him panicked.

"Yes, but he says he's busy. Could you get him? You're going to want him up here." Chuck was unflappable, usually.

Chuck was flapped right now.

"Will do. Sheppard out."

***

Rodney could not believe this. "What the hell are you doing, Sheppard? I'm a little busy right now, in case you weren't aware," he snapped.

"I'm aware. I'm also aware that there's something on the scanners that's going to need to be identified." Sheppard sighed. "Look, Rodney, you're the best we have when it comes to the computers up there. Take a break, tell Chuck what he's seeing, and then you can come back. In the mean time, let your scientists recover a little before you break another one."

"I - " Rodney looked around. Everyone looked exhausted, worn down, and they hadn't made any progress in two days. He guessed that everyone probably did deserve some down time. "Okay, everyone, take a break. Eat, shower, and take a nap. Be back in four hours, ready to brainstorm some other ideas."

He watched out of the corner of his eye as they fled the room. Within seconds it was just Sheppard and himself. "I can't go, John," he said softly. "I have to figure this out."

"Yeah, I know. And I'm not saying to stop entirely. I'm saying to take a break, come look at what Chuck found, and come back a little fresher."

With a sigh, he turned his computer off. "Fine. But I'm coming right back."

"Fair enough."

The two of them took the transporter up to the control tower, where Chuck was bouncing with impatience. Rodney noticed that Woolsey was there as well, and Sheppard went off to talk to him as Rodney took a seat at Chuck's desk.

It didn't take long to match the signal he was getting. In fact, it was so laughably easy that under normal circumstances, he would have yelled at Chuck for bothering him.

"Is that what I think I'm seeing, Doctor McKay?" asked Chuck. "Or is it just wishful thinking?"

"No, you're seeing it." He turned his attention back to Sheppard and Woolsey, who were having a staring contest but not saying anything.

"It's the Daedalus, right at the edge of our sensor range, which means they're not in hyperspace."

"What?" That got their attention, and Woolsey was looking over Rodney's shoulder in a matter of seconds. "Are you certain? Can we reach them from here?"

"Yes, and yes. Just let me switch over to subspace..." Rodney fiddled with the radio, making sure it was set to the right frequency. "Daedalus, this is Atlantis. Do you read?"

They all waited for a response. Rodney only realized that he was holding his breath when he had to gasp for air. But there was no reaction of any sort, and Rodney's stomach dropped.

"Can you tell if they were attacked?" asked Woolsey.

"I can't tell anything besides the fact that they're there and that they're not answering their radio from here," said Rodney flatly.

Suddenly Chuck said, "Wait a second." Everyone turned to look at him, and he said, "Doctor McKay, can you overlay the sensor reading from an hour ago over this one?"

It took a second for Rodney to get where he was going with that. Hoping that he was wrong, Rodney did as Chuck asked and then found the same area of space where the Daedalus had been spotted. "Shit, they're drifting."

"What do you mean, 'drifting?'" demanded Sheppard.

"Just that - look at these two records. Even though they'd dropped to sublight for some reason, there should be more difference in position than this. If they're moving under their own power at all, it's minimal."

Without hesitation, Sheppard looked at Woolsey. "My team is going to check it out. Rodney, go get Teyla and Ronon and suit up."

Rodney was already out of his chair when Woolsey said, "Don't, Doctor McKay."

Sheppard's voice was tight and controlled when he said, "We need to go - they may be in distress."

"Fine, we'll send a team, but not yours."

Rodney cleared his throat. He hadn't gotten into this tug of war before because he was reluctant to get involved in a political game, but enough was enough. "Um, Woolsey? I'm the only scientist you have who is, one, cleared for EVA work and, two, has any experience on the Daedalus." When Woolsey looked like he was going to interrupt, Rodney added, "And no, I won't go with another team."

Woolsey's mouth snapped shut and his face went red as a muscle in his jaw twitched, but Rodney didn't care. He glanced at John and then hurried out of the room, already radioing Ronon and Teyla.

By the time he got back to the jumper bay, he was met by not only his team, but also four marines, all of whom said they had EVA experience, plus a medical team. Rodney nodded and quickly checked through the equipment that they might need.

As soon as he declared himself ready, Sheppard said, "All aboard," and waited for the last person to take a seat on one of the benches before taking the jumper down to the gateroom. "The nearest gate is this one," Rodney said, bringing up the gate map on his computer. "But it's about eight hours out from the ship."

"Sounds like a lovely trip," said Sheppard, already dialing the gate. He paused, clearly waiting for Woolsey to say something, but when he didn't, he took the jumper through.

Without even a glance at the planet that the gate circled, they headed off towards the last known coordinates of the ship. As soon as they were on course, Sheppard locked in the autopilot and settled in for a nap. The marines in the back pulled out a deck of cards, and Ronon went to join them. Teyla settled on the deck cross-legged and meditated. The medical staff were sharing delightful stories of diseases and injuries they'd seen since coming to the SGC and in order to ignore them, Rodney pulled out his tablet and loaded up one of the small projects that he kept with him on long trips to prevent boredom.

Every so often, Sheppard would stir, check the various HUDs and then close his eyes again. Rodney knew that Sheppard could literally sleep through anything but the alarm on his watch, and yet would wake up without a sign. Twenty years in the military would do that. As for Rodney, he couldn't sleep that easily, and even though he was going on about thirty hours without sleep, he knew that he'd never be able to move if he tried to sleep sitting up like Sheppard was.

At about six hours, Rodney checked the sensors on the jumper. They weren't as sensitive as the ones in Atlantis, but now they were close enough to pick up the Daedalus. The ship had drifted slightly, but was still in approximately the same place. This wasn't good. Not good at all.

At seven and a half, Sheppard's watch dinged softly, and he woke all at once. Rodney honestly envied that ability. He put up his tablet, watching Sheppard out of the corner of his eye as Sheppard's hands moved surely over the controls. At seven hours and fifty minutes, Sheppard said, "There she is." They were the first words that he'd said in hours.

Rodney's own voice sounded rusty to his ears when he said, "Okay. Scanning now."

Everyone in the back was silent, standing at the bulkhead as Rodney scanned the ship. The only sign that they were hoping for good news were the soft sighs when Rodney said, "There aren't any life signs, but the 302 bay is standing open. We should be able to get in through the shield, assuming that they've continued to leave it permeable to the 'jumpers like the protocol says they should."

"Understood." Sheppard's hands were steady on the controls as he aimed the jumper at the bay. The jumper was moving slowly as it nudged up against the shield over the bay, and Rodney breathed in relief as the nose of the ship slid in.

It didn't take long to confirm that the ship appeared to be undamaged so that the EVA suits were unnecessary. The jumper's instruments didn't pick up any contaminants or airborne contaminants, so Sheppard had opened the back of the jumper slowly, and fresh air filtered in. "Okay, seems to be safe," he said. "Stay together."

The eleven of them stepped off the jumper, marines taking point and six without being told. "Where do we need to go?" asked Sheppard.

"Well, the bridge would seem most logical."

Two of the marines led the way, guns held at the ready, and Rodney tried to make some of the data hitting his tablet make sense. "There's a huge power source on board," he muttered to himself, "But where the hell are all the people?"

"That's what we're going to find out," said Sheppard said flatly.

Rodney halfway expected to find bodies lying about but there was nothing, just hallways devoid of people.

The bridge was even stranger because it had always been a place bustling with flight crew, no matter the time of day. To see it empty was just flat-out bizarre.

Rodney slid in behind the communication computer. Looking over the controls, it took him a minute to get oriented. "Well?" demanded Sheppard.

"Give me a moment." He finally found his way to the log, but when he tried to get in the screen at the front of the ship activated.

Caldwell's face appeared on the screen, or at least Rodney thought it might be him. He was nearly unrecognizable. He looked ill, old. The skin on his face was loose and tinged a sickly grey, his eyes sunken in and wary. He looked like he'd lost at least fifty pounds that he could ill afford. "I'm hoping that this is SGA1 on board," said Caldwell's image. "If it isn't, you have ten minutes before the self destruct goes off. If it is, Doctor McKay, your code, along with Colonel Sheppard's, will be able to disarm." At that, the klaxon that declared the self-destruct had been armed began to go off and Caldwell disappeared from the screen.

The whole team jumped at the sudden noise. Sheppard turned to Rodney, but Rodney was already moving over to the command computer.

It took Rodney a few moments to figure out how to input his code, but as soon as he and Sheppard finished, the alarm cut off, and Caldwell reappeared. "Well, it appears that it is indeed SGA1. Listen carefully."

"I'm sure that Colonel Sheppard is already thinking about taking the Daedalus back to Earth. You absolutely must not do that. To try and make it more difficult, you will find that the steering computer has had all the Milky Way coordinates removed from the computers."

"As to why. There's a plague moving through the Milky Way." One of the medical team made a noise that was almost a sob. Rodney didn't turn to look, his attention focused on Caldwell, on what he wished he wasn't hearing. "On most planets it's had anywhere from a thirty to seventy percent death toll. There are planets where the entire population has been wiped out."

"Earth has been lucky. Due to better medical technology than on most other planets, we've managed to keep the death toll down to the twenty to forty percent range." Forty percent was down? That thought was appalling. "But it's still spreading, and so far there's no cure and no vaccine."

"The best scientific minds are working on it. With luck, there will be a cure soon. In the meantime, we absolutely cannot afford for this to spread to the Pegasus galaxy."

Rodney glanced over at Sheppard, who was staring at the screen. The only sign of Sheppard's reaction was a tightening of the muscles in his shoulders. His gut churned as the meaning sunk in. They couldn't go home, because Caldwell was right. They couldn't bring this back to the Pegasus galaxy, and what could their group do except die?

"You'll find that we stocked the ship as well as we could on short notice, and sent it out on autopilot. There's more information on the computers. Good luck." The image of Caldwell faded out, leaving the bridge silent except for sounds of breathing.

Teyla and Ronon exchanged a look, and then Teyla turned towards Rodney. "Are you all right?" she asked softly.

Rodney swallowed hard. He couldn't afford to break down right now. "I'll be fine." When he glanced at Sheppard, he saw that Ronon was talking to him, low and intense. As he watched, Sheppard nodded and shrugged, before the two of them came over to join Teyla and Rodney.

"Can we pilot the ship with the people we've got?" Sheppard asked.

Rodney thought about it before turning to the marines, standing clustered together at the back of the bridge. "Any of you have any piloting or engineering experience?"

Two of the marines shook their heads, but the other two nodded. Baird said, "Before we were stationed at Atlantis, we served on the Daedalus, sir. In the engine room.

"Good, good," said Rodney. "I want you two down there now. Teyla?"

"Yes, Rodney?"

"I know you've been working with Chuck. Do you think you can handle the shielding array?"

"I believe so, yes."

"Sheppard - "

"Yeah, I'm on it." Sheppard had a seat in the pilot's chair, looking over the controls.

They could do this.

***

Ronon listened with interest as Sheppard talked to Woolsey. Personally, he couldn't stand the man, and he had to admire Sheppard's patience in not usurping his position. As Sheppard went over parts of the story again and again, Ronon grimaced.

Finally, Woolsey agreed that the most reasonable thing was for them to at least attempt to bring her home to Atlantis. Even if it turned out that they couldn't control a ship this large with the people that they had on board, at least they'd be closer to a gate, and they could bring more people through.

As soon as they had permission, Sheppard disconnected the call.

It took McKay a few minutes to get the ship started. Unfortunately, it wasn't like starting a puddlejumper - it took time for all of the systems to wake up and get going. Sheppard and Ronon just watched as McKay ran this way and that, yelling at the two marines in the engine bay, standing over Teyla until even she looked murderous. Clearly deciding that they were just in the way on the bridge, the medical team had gone to the infirmary, hoping to find info about the plague.

Eventually, McKay looked over to Sheppard. "Let's get out of here, shall we?"

Sheppard looked down at the controls, and started pressing buttons. Ronon couldn't feel any sort of acceleration, not even the slight twinge that he got from the puddlejumpers, but McKay looked up from the computer he was peering in to. "Yes! That's good. Give it another minute at this speed, and then we'll try hitting hyperdrive."

Sheppard was focused so intently, Ronon didn't really expect to get a response. But Sheppard surprised him by saying "Yeah, tell me something I don't know. Hyperdrive in ninety seconds." No one actually counted down, but Ronon could practically hear it anyway. When he reached one, Sheppard pushed a button on his control panel.

This time, there was the slight jerk of acceleration, and Ronon knew that when he found a window, the stars would be smeared into nothingness. It didn't really matter, other than the fact that it would only take them a couple of days to get back to Atlantis.

He moved up to the weapons console, and started looking it over. It would be just their luck for them to run into Wraith on the way back to Atlantis. Besides, Ronon hated feeling like he was useless, and without something he could do he was just that.

A glance at Teyla showed her concentrating on the computer screen in front of her. Periodically, she would voice a soft question to McKay, who would smile and answer just as quietly.

It struck Ronon suddenly that McKay had changed a lot. There were the tangible changes, of course, like the fact that he was a decent shot now, and that he'd learned enough hand-to-hand combat enough to keep himself alive until Sheppard, Ronon, or Teyla could get there. But more impressively were the intangible changes, like the fact that he didn't seem to need to be the center of attention anymore.

He was still loud, true, and when it was safe, he could be demanding. But he was just as likely to be quiet and competent, doing his job and assisting others in theirs, and that signaled a huge change. It seemed like something that Ronon never would have believed a year earlier.

But then again, so many of the Atlanteans had changed with the fact that they were stranded for a second time. He knew their history, knew that they'd originally expected to be alone, but by the time he'd joined them they'd reestablished contact and that changed things.

To a certain extent, he was seeing the Atlanteans stripped down to the basics, and he couldn't help but respect most of them even more.

But some, like Woolsey, just didn't get that the same things no longer mattered, and it made him very frustrated. Sheppard had said over and over that he didn't want the job, and McKay said he wouldn't do the job, but if Woolsey didn't wake up to reality, then he was going to have to step in, even though Sheppard had asked him not to. He knew that Teyla felt the same way.

Ronon put the whole mess out of his mind. There was nothing that they could do right now anyway. All they could focus on was getting the Daedalus back to Atlantis.

***

John wasn't really surprised when he looked up and four hours had passed. He was exhausted.

He hadn't had to do any actual piloting in at least two hours, but while he knew intellectually that they could let the auto-pilot handle things while they caught a few hours of much needed sleep, he really wasn't comfortable leaving it unattended.

So he carefully took the ship out of hyperdrive, listening for a squawk of outrage. When none was forthcoming, he turned around. Rodney was asleep, face first onto his laptop.

John caught Teyla's eye and smiled. "Do you know how to set the proximity alarm?"

"I believe so, yes." She cut her eyes across to Rodney. "We are all in need of rest."

He stood, taking a moment for his muscles to unlock from sitting for so long. Crossing the bridge to where Teyla was sitting, he reached out and laid a hand on Teyla's shoulder. "Thank you, Teyla," he said, hoping that his tone would convey just how much he had to thank her for.

The corners of her eyes crinkled up as she smiled. "It is quite alright, John."

Stepping across the bridge, he hesitated for just a second before shaking Rodney awake. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead," he sing-songed, trying for silly.

"Urgh," said Rodney, batting at his hands. "Leave m'lone. I'm sleeping."

John shook a little harder. "You need to sleep in a bed, Rodney. If you stay like that, your back will hate you."

Grumbling, Rodney finally started to sit up, only to wince part of the way there. Obviously, his back had stiffened up while sitting there. John helped him stand, and then looked around the bridge. "Find some beds, folks. Six hours sleep and then we'll come back here." Teyla, Ronon, and two of the marines nodded. He radioed down to the engine room and the infirmary, repeating his orders.

He waited until everyone else had left, letting Rodney gradually work the kinks in his back out. Once they were alone, he tried to smile at Rodney. Somehow he suspected that it looked more like pain.

"Let's go find a couple of bunks, okay, buddy?"

Rodney frowned at him, but nodded and started walking with obvious purpose. Soon enough, they were at the room they'd shared on their previous trips on the Daedalus. John wondered a little why Rodney hadn't laid claim to a more comfortable room, but the look on his face was explanation enough. Rodney was not handling this at all well.

John kept his mouth shut, unlacing his boots and kicking them off before setting the alarm on his watch. He shimmied out of his pants, and then looked at the beds. They were bunk beds, and he headed for the ladder, only to stop at a sound from Rodney.

Turning to face him, John said, "What?"

"Um, never mind."

"No, Rodney," he said, his voice unnaturally gentle. He couldn't seem to help it, though. "Tell me."

"Could you stay in my bunk tonight? I - I don't want to sleep alone."

"You're not alone, but of course I'll stay with you."

Rodney gave a short, sharp nod, and finished stripping out of his clothes, leaving him in boxers and t-shirt. Then he climbed into the bed and turned to face the wall, making himself as small as he could to give room to John.

They were used to trying to share a smaller bed back in Atlantis. Eventually they ended up with John wrapped around Rodney, one arm under his head, the other around his chest. Rodney was quiet, but John would never mention the hot tears that hit his arm. He didn't blame Rodney either. To find out that his sister only had three chances out of five of surviving, especially when he'd just made up with her, must have been agony for Rodney.

John wasn't having an easy time with it himself, but he'd been estranged from Dave a lot longer than Rodney from Jeannie. He'd mourn him later, though. Right now, he needed to hold Rodney tight and let him know that he wasn't alone.

Gradually, the tension drained out of Rodney, and he became a limp weight in John's arms. Once he was sure that Rodney was asleep, he let sleep take him as well.

***

Kevin stared the bottom of the bunk over his head, steadfastly trying not to cry. Marines didn't cry. They were stoic, they were brave in the face of pain, they carried on even when others would lie down and die.

Oh, who the hell was he kidding?

He bit his lip as hot tears dripped off his face. Mama, daddy - possibly dead. Definitely unreachable. His brothers and sisters and cousins. Nieces and nephews. All gone. With another sob, he flipped over on his side and curled into a sad little ball.

Earth, a victim of a plague? It didn't seem possible. Earth had stood up to so much, had managed to win against the Goa'uld, the Ori, and a virus takes them out?

But there was no reason for Earth to lie to them. He curled in tight, trying to muffle the sobs. Thank God he'd picked a room by himself.

He tried to push away the thought that maybe it would be easier to just eat his own gun than to try to carry on without ever seeing them again.

Just as he had that thought the door slid open. He brushed a hand across his eyes, trying to disguise the fact that he'd been crying. "Hey, Johanson, you awake?" came Sergeant Gabriel's voice.

"Yeah, Sergeant," answered Kevin, though he really wanted to pretend to be asleep. He'd managed to avoid having a conversation about this all day. It was the last thing he wanted now.

"You okay?"

One last surreptitious wipe of his eyes, and Kevin rolled over and sat up. "Yeah, Sergeant. Just a lot to take in, you know?"

"Yeah." Sergeant Gabriel came all the way into the room and sat down next to Kevin on the small bunk. "I lost my parents and my sister. You?"

"I can't - " to Kevin's horror, he was starting to cry again. He couldn't stop it. Thinking about all the people he'd lost was so overwhelming. He buried his face in his hands and tried to stop the tears.

"Hey now," Sergeant Gabriel rested one hand on his shoulder awkwardly. He didn't say anything else as Kevin finally stopped and mopped his face dry, for which Kevin was very grateful.

When Kevin finally felt like he could breathe again, he looked up. Sergeant Gabriel pulled his hand back slowly, and met his eyes. "Don't do anything stupid," he said gruffly. "You need to talk to someone, you come find me, okay?"

"Yes, Sergeant," said Kevin. "How did you know?"

"That's why I'm the Sergeant and you're not," he said, standing up and going to the door. "Do I need to take your sidearm with me, marine?"

"No, Sergeant!" Kevin said, even though he'd had thoughts about it. Marines didn't give up.

He'd get through this.

***

The next day was long and monotonous as they piloted the Daedalus back to Atlantis. John and Rodney talked about swinging by an orbital gate to bring in some more capable hands, but that would have required a detour that they weren't willing to make. They both felt a sense of urgency about getting back.

Still, even with eighteen hour days, it took an additional four days to arrive at Atlantis. John radioed from orbit. "Atlantis, this is the Daedalus. Do you copy?"

"We hear you, Daedalus. Welcome back. Pier six is ready for your landing."

This was something that John had been dreading for three days. "Uh, Atlantis? Can you ask Captain Rubens to come to the gateroom for beam up? The last time I tried to land something this large, it didn't go so well." John heard Rodney choke in the background, and then say "meteor ship" softly.

Chuck didn't laugh, thankfully, but John could hear other people chuckling around him. "Understood," said Chuck. "Give us ten minutes to locate Captain Rubens."

"Understood," said John. Leaving the ship in orbit, he stood and stretched. He was impressed with how well everyone had done with handling the ship, even though it was well outside their typical job duties.

He was already thinking about the training that would have to be done to make sure that they were able to staff the Daedalus in case they needed her. Chuck radioed up that Captain Rubens was ready and waiting; John nodded at Rodney, who brought her onboard.

"Didn't want to try to land her yourself?" she asked.

"Why should I when I have an expert already here in Atlantis?" John asked with a smile, making her laugh.

She took the pilot's chair, and with a minimum of fuss got them on the pier. As they made their way to the airlock to let themselves out, he found Rodney walking next to him, clutching his laptop. Moving deliberately, he reached out and squeezed Rodney's shoulder. "It'll be okay," he murmured.

Rodney just gave him what John privately called his "brave little toaster face" and kept walking.

Three hours later, he was ready to strangle Woolsey. The bastard had kept all eight of them locked up in his office, going over every detail of the message over and over again, even though Rodney had copied it to his laptop and had played it for him.

From what Woolsey said and implied, rumors were rife in the city but he'd done nothing to quell them, including releasing the truth. John fisted his hands under the table. There was no reason for this.

Rescue came from an unlikely source - Ronon stood suddenly. "There is no point to this," he said. "You know everything we know. It's time to tell people so that they can decide what they want to do."

"What do you mean, 'decide'?" asked Woolsey nervously.

"Well, with Earth no longer dictating the rules to Atlantis, there may be some desire for change," Teyla said sweetly. Rodney and John exchanged a glance. There was no mistaking that tone of voice. Teyla was righteously pissed.

"Are you threatening me?" Woolsey sputtered.

"Threat is such a harsh word," said Teyla, her eyes never leaving Woolsey's face.

"But an accurate one," said Ronon. He pulled a knife out of his hair and started cleaning his nails.

Okay, this had gone far enough. "Ronon, Teyla, back off," John said quietly. He couldn't make it an order - they had to decide what they wanted to do on their own.

Teyla turned to look at John, and then folded her lips. Ronon snorted and threaded his knife back into his dreads. "Whatever." John made a mental note to keep Ronon away from the marines in his off time.

John looked across at Woolsey, who looked shocked. "We have to go out there and do something before there are riots, sir. And before you throw your authority in my face again, please remember that the only reason that you had authority - the IOA - is gone. For now, I see no reason to upset the leadership of this enterprise. Please don't give me a reason to rethink that."

Woolsey turned his attention to Rodney, who just shifted his chair closer to John's, making his allegiance plain.

With bad grace, Woolsey said, "Fine, then. How do you want to approach this?"

Surprisingly, it was one of the marines who spoke up. "We need to get everyone in a room and play the recording for them. They're not going to believe it otherwise."

"Corporal Johanson is right," said Sergeant Gabriel. "I know I wouldn't have believed it without seeing it on the screen."

"How long would it take you to set something like that up?" John asked Rodney.

"We've got the equipment in the mess," said Rodney. "We just need to get everyone assembled."

"Okay," John said. Turning back to Gabriel, he said, "Get as many marines as you need to do a lifesigns check, and gather everyone here in the gateroom. You've got forty-five minutes. Don't stop to gossip! Go."

"Yes, sir!" The sergeant saluted and hustled the marines out of the room.

Deliberately not looking at Woolsey, he motioned at his team. "Let's go get this set up," he said.

"What's this we?" grumbled Rodney, but the team got up and made their way to the mess to get it set up. They ran into more than one group of people who wanted to know what was going on. John just told them to gather in the mess; that there would be an announcement shortly.

Just as John's watched beeped, he looked over to see Sergeant Gabriel slipping in the door and giving him a thumbs up. The room was teeming with people: all eight hundred or so who would be making Atlantis their home, unwilling as they might be.

He glanced to his right, to see that Rodney was looking a little sick. He squeezed his shoulder again, and then whistled. Instantly, the room quieted. "As you know, we've brought the Daedalus back. A recording on board answered the question of what caused Earth's long silence toward us."

He nodded at Rodney, who pressed a button on the laptop. Instantly the lights dimmed and the image of Caldwell was projected on the wall on the front of the room. "I'm sure that Colonel Sheppard is already thinking about taking the Daedalus back to Earth..." the recording began, and John tuned it out, instead focusing on the reaction of the audience.

At first there was silence, and then soft murmurs that gradually grew louder and more heated. Just as the recording cut out, there was an outburst from Lammerman. "This is bullshit," he said, storming to the front of the room. "We should go, now. Who cares about the Pegasus galaxy?"

"And do what?" demanded Rodney. "Die? I'm sure that your family will be thrilled that you came back just for that. I could see asking some of the medical staff if they wanted to go, but you're not a scientist."

"At least I'd be with the people who matter," said Lammerman, looking like he was considering coming over the table at Rodney.

"The people here do matter!" yelled Rodney, frustrated. "In case you haven't noticed, we're the reason for a whole raft of shit that's come down on the people of this galaxy. And now you want to abandon them, to go off and die. If you want that go find a Wraith, or just blow your goddamn brains out, but we're not risking going back to Earth!"

Knowing that Rodney could hold his own in an argument, and that Ronon would step in if it came to a physical altercation, John turned his attention to the rest of the room. As expected there were several people sobbing openly, and more who looked like they'd be crying just as soon as they got to privacy.

Interestingly, none of the marines seemed to be backing Lammerman. They were keeping their distance, listening to the argument but not getting involved. One or two caught his eye, and he made a mental note to make sure that no one had any sidearms in their rooms for the foreseeable future.

In the front of the room the argument was getting louder and louder. "I'm telling you that we're going to obey Caldwell's orders, not because they're orders but because they make sense. You can not seriously stand there and tell me that your family would want you to come home just to get sick - assuming that any of them have survived, that is!"

Several people broke out in fresh sobs at that, and John decided that it was past time to step in. "That's enough!" he shouted as he stepped between Rodney and Lammerman. "Rodney, shut up and go talk to Miko." Rodney looked at him with hurt eyes, but clamped his mouth shut and turned to go. Miko wasn't actively sobbing, but she looked closest to the breaking point - hopefully Rodney would be able to pull her back.

John knew that he was being harsh, but he was stressed to the breaking point himself, and if he didn't stop this argument now the person who snapped might just be him. They couldn't afford to have him be a loose cannon.

When Lammerman opened his mouth to continue, John glared at him till he reluctantly shut it again. "It doesn't matter what you think, Lammerman. You are not in charge of this base. The decision has been made to remain here." When Lammerman looked furious, he said, "That doesn't mean that we're going to do nothing."

Catching Keller's eye, he waved her out of the crowd. "Pull whoever you need to go through the medical computers on the Daedalus with the team we took with us. Hopefully they will have left us some information that you can use to start trying to engineer a cure."

"I'll do what I can, Colonel," she said.

When she continued to stand there, he said, "Well, go!"

"Oh, you meant now." She seemed flustered and, once again, John missed Carson. She moved into the crowd, grabbing several people who turned to follow her out to the Daedalus.

The noise in the room gradually died down as people started to disperse. Turning back to Lammerman, John said, "Now, are you going to control yourself or do you need to be taken to the brig?"

"I'll control myself, sir," snarled Lammerman. "I still think you're wrong."

"And I think that it doesn't matter what you think." Dismissing Lammerman before he could say another word, he was happy to note that Sergeant Gabriel came out of the crowd to shadow him as he stormed out of the room. He just felt better having the man supervised.

He turned to Ronon and Teyla. "I need the team leaders in the ready room in one hour. Can you pass the word?"

"Of course, Colonel." Teyla touched his arm gently, reminding John that he still hadn't taken the time to grieve himself, and that he wouldn't have the time for the foreseeable future. He didn't shrug her off, even though part of him wanted to. "John, you are making a wise choice," she said.

"It doesn't feel like it," he muttered. Catching Lorne's eye, he jerked his head towards the door and then he started to make his way out of the mess. He had an hour to come up with a plan to prevent outright revolt, and right now his mind was a complete blank.

***

Evan followed Sheppard out of the room, and they walked in silence to Sheppard's office. When they got there, Sheppard collapsed into his chair like a puppet with its strings cut. "Are you - are you okay, sir?" Evan found himself asking.

"Yeah. Lorne, if I ever offer you my job, don't take it, okay? The headaches aren't worth it."

"Wouldn't dream of it, sir. So, what's the plan?"

"The plan is that we come up with a plan. Lammerman is going to be trouble, I just know it. But we don't have the resources to lock him up to keep it from spreading. What the hell do we do?"

Evan sank down into "his" chair, rubbing at his face. "I don't know. Even if we did have the resources, we couldn't lock him up without cause."

Sheppard nodded mournfully. "The worst part is that I can see why he wants to go. I'm tempted to just see who he can rally to his cause, and if there's enough of them, send 'em off on the Daedalus. Of course, without directions in the piloting computer, they'd just fly around in circles, but at least we'd be rid of the troublemakers."

Evan didn't even try to stop his chuckle at that. It wasn't his fault if it came out sounding more like a sob. He looked up to see that Sheppard was studying him carefully. Reaching into his desk drawer, Sheppard came up with a bottle of scotch. "A gift from Caldwell, when I got this post," he said softly. "I think we could both do with a medicinal dose. Join me?"

He nodded jerkily. Sheppard pulled out two tumblers that looked reasonably clean, and poured them both small shots. It wasn't much, but they were still on duty. Evan normally didn't drink scotch, so he nursed his even as Sheppard tossed his back and coughed.

"Better than Zelenka's rotgut," Sheppard said when he could breathe again.

"That's not saying much, sir," said Evan with a hesitant smile.

"Okay, I know you need a chance to process. Unfortunately, time is the one thing we don't have right now," Sheppard said, setting his glass back on the desk. "Do you think you're up for this?"

"I have to be, don't I, sir? I mean, it's in the job description: right below 'do Sheppard's paperwork' there's 'be unflappable in the face of certain doom.'"

Sheppard started to laugh, and then didn't stop for a long time. As Sheppard wiped tears away from his eyes, Evan wondered if he'd taken any time to deal with this yet. His guess would be no. It really wasn't Sheppard's style.

Finally, Sheppard seemed to gather himself and said, "The first thing is that I think we need to collect all sidearms for the foreseeable future. We don't want any 'accidents' to happen."

"The marines aren't going to be happy about that," said Evan after thinking for a moment.

"I don't much care if they're happy or not," Sheppard replied. "I care that no one decides to either eat his gun or shoot someone else."

"Understood," said Evan, and he did understand. The fact that Sheppard would even think about that was why he was a good leader.

"Okay, as far as a potential coup goes, my first choice would be to prevent it from getting to that point. Here's how I think we should go about it - "

Evan thought to himself, as Sheppard laid out a plan that seemed workable, especially with a few refinements, that they just might make it through this intact.

***

Dan charged off to his room. He couldn't believe that Sheppard - he was a coward, just like McKay. Or maybe he was thinking with his dick. He certainly wasn't being loyal to Earth.

There was no way that a plague had struck home. That was complete and utter bullshit. He ignored the voice that said that Caldwell had no reason to lie to them. He just was, that's all there was.

Besides, even if it were true, their best and brightest were right here, in the Pegasus galaxy, where they couldn't do anyone any good. They needed to be at home, where they belonged. Where their families needed them. His little sister needed him, his mother and father needed him, and he needed them.

He went to his room, thinking about just going and blowing away Sheppard and McKay. Maybe then people would see that they weren't thinking of the best thing for the expedition members. Before he could follow through, though, his door chime rang. Opening the door, he found Sergeant Gabriel. "I need your sidearm," he said without preamble.

"What?" There was no way he was just handing the gun over. He had plans for that gun.

"Orders from Colonel Sheppard. No sidearms in the rooms. They're all being locked up. Now hand it over, or I'll take it."

Gabriel was six inches shorter than Dan, but he also had fifteen years as being a marine, and Dan wasn't sure that he could take him in hand to hand. Reluctantly, he took off his thigh holster and handed it over.

"Good." Gabriel's eyes were soft when they looked at Dan, and he had to look away. "I know you're upset," he said, "but don't do anything stupid, okay?"

"I won't, Sergeant." He wouldn't do anything stupid, but he was going to fix this.

***

Once Rodney was fairly sure that Miko wasn't going to go do something stupid like jump into the ocean, he radioed for Zelenka. "I need you in the lab," he said, hoping that Zelenka was ready to do what had to be done.

"On my way," came Zelenka's calm voice. Rodney left the mess in the hands of the psychologist and a couple of other people who seemed to be holding it together, and hopped a transporter to the lab. By the time he got there, he found Zelenka sitting in front of a laptop, the schematics for the Daedalus already up.

"I think you may have read my mind," said Rodney.

"Well, if your mind is saying that we should sabotage the Daedalus to prevent rebels from taking off in it, it seems that that is fairly obvious. Now, I suggest that we start with the..."

Rodney couldn't stop himself, he squeezed Zelenka's shoulder. There was something about his voice, like he was trying hard not to break down. "Hey, wait a minute. Nothing's going to happen in the next five minutes. Are you all right?"

Zelenka rubbed his eyes, and then said, "McKay, I appreciate the effort to be a good leader. However, right now I need to work, so if you'll turn your attention to the schematics so that we might plan what we're going to do?"

"Okay, okay. If you need to talk?" he said, only to come to a halt at the expression on Zelenka's face. "Never mind, then. Okay, so you were saying that we should start with the what?"

They planned for the next two hours, and then Rodney thought about radioing Sheppard. Deciding that in this case it would be easier to get forgiveness than permission, he and Zelenka packed up the necessary tools and headed over to the Daedalus.

They didn't even need to sneak aboard. There were medical staff coming and going, as well as marines offloading crate after crate of cargo. They just walked aboard and headed directly to the bridge.

The only reason it had taken so long for them to plan what they were going to do was because it needed to be, one, not easily guessable, but two, easily fixable if you knew exactly what was wrong. As Rodney rearranged crystals in a preplanned sequence and Zelenka systematically rewired the piloting chair, he thought to himself that he hoped that none of this would be necessary.

He wasn't going to count on it though. People were stupid, generally, and he wouldn't put it past Lammerman to not hear sense. And where there was one malcontent, there were usually more.

It didn't take them long at all to complete their sabotage of the Daedalus. She wasn't going to take off without some very specific help, not anytime soon. They packed up their bag of tools and strolled off the ship, in the company of several members of the medical team.

As Zelenka went ahead Rodney fell in with the medical people, who were discussing what they'd found on the Daedalus's computers. Apparently Earth had gotten as far as discovering the retrovirus that was causing the plague. The problem was that none of the anti-virals that were commonly used would work against it - not even the most powerful ones, developed for working with HIV.

The medical staff were talking about various approaches, but none of them sounded particularly hopeful. As one of them put it, "Even if we find something that works in a computer simulation, we won't know that it works without testing it on the virus. And we don't have any of that."

Even though Rodney's first thought was thank god for small mercies, he could see the problem. Unfortunately, he had no solution at all.

As they neared the infirmary, he broke away from the small group and took the transporter to John's office. He could usually go without seeing John during the day, but right now he was feeling drained and hopeless and he really needed to just talk to John, just for a second.

A glance through John's window told him that that wasn't possible. John was in a meeting with the team leaders, and from the look of the whiteboard at the front of the room, it had been going for some time. With a sigh Rodney turned back the way he had come.

He didn't feel up to going to the lab. He knew that there would be other people there, and right now that was part of the problem - they were all bound to be upset, and Rodney just didn't have the energy to play good leader right now.

He looked at his watch and realized that it was well past dinner time, so he decided that he was justified in just going back to his room. Once there, he opened a power bar and took a bite. Then he had to sit heavily on the side of the bed as it crashed through him. After what they had was gone, there weren't going to be any more power bars. Or MREs. Or replacement computers. Or any one of a hundred - no, a thousand - things that they relied on every day, not unless they managed to develop substitutes. And there were no substitutes for the family that they had all lost.

He buried his face in his hands for a long moment, just trying to focus on breathing. Breaking down wasn't going to fix the problems. And the problems were myriad and overwhelming.

Finally, when he no longer felt like he was going to break into a million pieces at the drop of a hat, he forced himself to finish the power bar. Going into hypoglycemic shock would do no one any good. Stripping out of his clothes, he climbed into the bed, where he stared at the ceiling. He felt like he'd never sleep again, but eventually exhaustion won out and he slept.

***

John was practically staggering with exhaustion when the meeting finally let out. The sad part was that he couldn't blame anyone but himself - he'd been the one in charge, after all.

He knew that he had a subtle guard of at least two marines shadowing him back to his room. He wasn't sure if it was because someone expected Lammerman to do something, or if they were just worried that he'd collapse from exhaustion.

Either way, he waved his door open and went inside. The room smelled like he hadn't been there for a few days, like it had been closed up and waiting, which he guessed it had been.

He contemplated a shower, but didn't honestly believe that he could stay on his feet. What he really wanted was Rodney. Thankfully, that was easy to obtain.

They'd had adjoining balconies for years, and when John went out onto his, he looked out over the dark ocean for a bit, before hopping the low wall that separated them. The door opened silently for him, and he went into Rodney's room.

Rodney was nothing more than a formless shape under the covers. John chuckled softly and started unwrapping Rodney. Straightening the covers, he climbed into the bed, grateful that Rodney's was large enough to hold them both.

He hadn't really expected much of a reaction from Rodney - he had to be as exhausted as John, if not more so - but he was pleasantly surprised to have Rodney roll over and wrap himself around John with a soft sound of need.

"Shh," John soothed, hoping that Rodney was still asleep. Running his hand through Rodney's hair, he tried to keep him from waking. He appeared to be successful if the way that Rodney quieted was any indication. Sighing to himself, he closed his eyes and let sleep take over.

Motion on the bed woke him in the early hours of the morning. Turning over to face Rodney, he found Rodney awake and watching him with a peculiar look in his eyes. "I'm glad you came to bed," was all he said, though.

A little puzzled, John nodded. "Of course. What's wrong, Rodney?"

"Wrong? Nothing's wrong, of course. Well, except for the big, huge problems we've acquired recently, but I have nothing wrong." Rodney sounded believable, but he was wringing his hands and looked miserable.

Placing his hand over Rodney's to stop their nervous movement, John said, "Uh-huh. Nothing wrong. I believe that. Not."

Rodney grimaced. "I know. I'm a terrible liar. I'm just... feeling overwhelmed, I guess. So much has happened, and I just don't know where to begin to fix it. There are so many things wrong, and some of them have solutions. Most of them don't, though, and I don't do well with that."

Nodding, John said, "Sometimes, you can't fix it, you know. As for the rest of it... you just pick a point and start. That's all anyone can ask you to do."

Sighing, Rodney laid his head back down on the pillow, still watching John. "You know, I'm glad that I'm with you."

John could feel the tips of his ears turning red, and he coughed. "Well, me too," he said, hoping that Rodney would let it drop.

Rodney being Rodney, that didn't happen. "No, really, I mean that if I have to be stranded across two galaxies from home, I'm glad it's with you."

Still flushed red, John nodded. "Me, too. I mean, the same, Except for you instead of me - "

Rodney interrupted by putting a finger across John's lips. "I know what you mean, John. It's okay."

Relieved, John stopped trying to explain himself. He allowed himself a quick kiss to Rodney's lips. Well, it was supposed to be quick, but he had never been able to keep things simple between them, and what was supposed to be a peck, turned into him licking his way inside Rodney's mouth. Rodney hardly objected, opening his mouth and sucking lightly on John's lip.

He couldn't stop himself from rolling Rodney onto his back, pushing him deeper into the bed as they kissed and kissed and kissed. He only stopped when Rodney pushed lightly on his shoulder. "Wait. Wait! John, what time is it? I have a meeting at eight."

Glancing at his watch, he said, "It's only five-thirty. Plenty of time. Please, Rodney." He didn't even try to resist the urge to grind his erection into Rodney's hip.

Rodney moaned, his voice high and tight, and arched his back so that their cocks rubbed together. John lowered his head, intending to kiss Rodney till they both came. Rodney seemed to be completely on board with that plan, if the way that he was moving was any indication.

They kissed, their hips moving together. Both of them were panting. John was close, and thought that Rodney probably was too; a thought that was confirmed when warm fluid landed between them. Knowing that he'd gotten Rodney off made John redouble his efforts, thrusting hard into the warm mess between them.

A half dozen more thrusts, and he locked up as he came, adding more to the warm stickiness. Through it all, they never stopped kissing.

Finally, reluctantly, they broke apart, and John flopped over on his back next to Rodney. What had been hot while they were having sex now felt gross as it dried on his skin, and he wanted a shower - preferably with Rodney.

Rodney rested his hand on his belly, and then said, "Ew, yuck," as he held up a come-coated hand. "Time for a shower, I think."

"Just what I was thinking," said John. "Let's go."

***

When Doctor McKay appeared in his office, flanked by Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Zelenka, Richard wasn't really surprised. He'd been expecting this for days. "Can I help you gentlemen?" he asked.

"Yes, you can turn over the ZPMs," said McKay. "Clearly Earth has no need for them, and as we do it is pointless to keep them sitting in your office as some sort of trophies, collecting dust."

"We may still hear from Earth," said Richard. "If we do, they clearly will have greater need for them than we do."

"Woolsey, did you actually watch the video we showed you?" asked Sheppard. "Because I honestly think that you're so tied up in what they want that you haven't noticed that they're in no position to want anything from us anymore. They've cut us loose. Man up and accept it!"

"Insults to my manliness, Colonel Sheppard? Isn't that a little low?" Richard said, trying to turn the subject. He wasn't sure why he was so determined not to give in on the ZPMs, except that if he did, without direct orders from the IOA, it seemed like a betrayal of everything he stood for.

But neither McKay nor Zelenka were being swayed. Without saying anything further, they muscled past Woolsey - and when had McKay developed that kind of muscle? - and picked up the ZPMs from where they were sitting on the floor.

"We'll just be taking these to where we can put them to some good use," said McKay, and he walked out the door, pausing only to give a meaning-laden look to Sheppard.

Richard realized that he was standing there, slack-jawed at this insult to his authority, and started after them. He was stopped by Sheppard's hand on his shoulder.

Sheppard pushed him back, and said, "Mister Woolsey, I suggest you have a seat. We're going to have a little meeting, you and I." He turned to look at the door; there was a loud thunk of a lock sliding into place, and the glass windows went dark.

Startled at this show of control, Woolsey found himself sinking into his chair. He didn't have the gene. He didn't have a hope in hell of getting out of here if Colonel Sheppard didn't allow it. Trying to bluff past his sudden fear, he said forcefully, "A meeting about what? The theft that you did nothing to prevent?"

"How about the vote of no confidence that you're receiving from two thirds of this city's leadership?"

"What?" asked Woolsey, startled.

"You think that we don't know the right terms, Mister Woolsey? We've been cut off, which means we're no longer under Earth's control. Instead of being backed by the IOA, the only thing keeping you in power right now is the fact that both McKay and I have made it clear that we don't want your job." Sheppard looked serious, instead of his normal lackadaisical attitude, and Richard wondered if he'd been underestimating the man all along. If so, that could be a problem.

"Do you really think, if we teamed up against you, that you have enough supporters in this city that you could win?" When Richard went to answer that yes, of course he'd be fine, Sheppard said before he could even start, "Please remember that you replaced a very popular commander, most of the civilians think that you are an interfering puppet of the IOA, and that the marines are loyal to me, not you."

That stopped Richard cold, and he groped for an answer. "You aren't popular with all of the marines," he said. "Look at Lammerman."

"Yes, of course, one malcontent. By now he might even have a few people who agree with him."

Suddenly, the city seemed to jump in place, and the lights got marginally brighter. A few seconds later, it happened again. "Looks like McKay got the ZPMs installed," murmured Sheppard.

Richard decided to take a risk he wouldn't normally have tried, but desperate times called for desperate measures. "How much of this is because your lover wants those ZPMs?" he demanded, hoping to put Sheppard on the defensive. It didn't work.

"I support Rodney because he's right, which you would too if you got your head out of your ass." Sheppard's voice lowered, and he suddenly looked tired. "Look, Woolsey, we're not out to get you, or usurp your power, or whatever little Machiavellian plot you think we have. We just want what's best for Atlantis. If you're a decent leader, which I think you could be, you'd see that."

The door unlocked suddenly, and Sheppard started towards it. Turning at the last minute, he said, "A full mission schedule starts up tomorrow. That includes SGA1. End of discussion."

As the door clicked shut behind Sheppard, Richard leaned forward and rested his head on his hands. He really did want the best for Atlantis. At least he thought he did. Maybe it was time to do some hard thinking.

***

Anna hid the smile that tried to break free. Neither Zelenka nor McKay would appreciate the fact that she thought that they were cute when they were excited. They were very excited now, oohing and ahhing as one system after another revealed itself. When the last batch of sensors turned on, Anna thought that they were going to actually hug, right there in the lab.

She returned her attention to the equations on the screen in front of her. Losing herself in them was difficult, as she was waiting -

"Simpson!"

- for her name to be bellowed. "Yes?" she asked, not looking up from the computer.

"Are you seeing this at your station? You're better at Ancient than we are."

She looked up at that. Once glance at the overhead screen had her fumbling, trying to get her computer to the same place as McKay's.

"Well?" he demanded.

She didn't answer. Instead, she held up one finger, asking him to wait. If she opened this field, and that subfield... She could feel a warm presence at her elbow, either Zelenka or McKay. She didn't let it disturb her, tuning them out as she puzzled through the dense Ancient. "This looks like..." she paused, unable to believe what she was seeing.

"Yes, yes," said Zelenka.

"But if this is right, it should be relatively easy to get there," she said.

"It may no longer exist - ten thousand years is a long time, but if it does - "

"Drones! Enough drones to keep Atlantis safe if the Wraith come again," said McKay.

She nodded, still staring at the screen. "And it looks like the facilities to make more."

Looking up, she saw that McKay was practically bouncing, Zelenka grinning ear to ear. "I think we need to go have a look, hmmm?" asked Zelenka.

"I'll get Sheppard," McKay said, already on his way out of the door.

Anna shared a smile at his eagerness with Zelenka. He blushed, surprising her, and she cocked her head, trying to figure it out.

It didn't help, and, puzzled, she asked, "Zelenka?"

"Please, call me Radek," he said, blushing even deeper, and she managed to put two and two together at last, and figure it out.

"Only if you call me Anna," she said, reaching out and taking his hand.

***

John looked up as Rodney barreled into his office, interrupting the meeting he was having with Lorne. "McKay?" he asked, trying to sound as if he wasn't desperately glad to be disturbed. Thinking about supplies was depressing.

"Drones!" said Rodney, his voice not much below a shout.

"Dro - " It took John a second to figure out what Rodney was talking about. He jumped to his feet. "Drones! You found more? Where?"

"Better than that - if the database is right, we found the production location."

John wanted to go, run to the puddlejumper and head out to see, but he was supposed to be meeting with Lorne. Torn, he looked at Lorne, only to see him biting his lip, trying to keep from laughing. "Lorne?" he asked, trying, and failing, to sound stern.

"Go, sir. Even if the production facility doesn't work, more drones would be good."

John didn't try to stop the smile as he stood up. "Keep Atlantis safe," he said as he walked to the door.

"Always do, sir," Lorne said. John pretended that he didn't hear laughter as the door slid shut.

"Can we get there in a puddlejumper?" he asked as they made their way to the ready room to meet Teyla and Ronon.

"Yep. According to the database, it's the only way to approach it, actually. It won't decloak in the presence of anything other than Ancient ships, even with the password."

"You need a password?" Damn, this might be a short trip.

"What kind of moron do you think I am? I have the password."

"Hot damn." They got to the ready room. Teyla was already there, zipping up her jacket. She smiled at them as they both started getting ready.

"We have a mission?" She sounded relieved, and John wondered if she was suffering from cabin fever as well.

Ronon came through the door, grinning widely. He pulled his gun, twirled it, and holstered it again, all in one move, and then said, "What's the hold up?"

"Just a minute," said Rodney, as he slipped his tablet into its case and attached it to his pack. Picking up his P90, he gestured towards the door and said, "We may have found the production site for drones."

"Cool," Ronon said. "Let's go."

Teyla's smile got even wider and John was reminded how bloodthirsty she could be when it came to the Wraith, especially now that she was a mother. "Truly? If it is still there, that would be wonderful."

"Only one way to find out," said John. As they walked to the jumper bay, John asked, "So, how many hours are we going to be in the jumper anyway?"

"Shouldn't be more than thirty to forty minutes, actually."

As they entered the jumper, John radioed Chuck. "We're going to M4R-271 to check something that Rodney found in the database," he said. "Check-in in two hours."

"Yes, Colonel. Two hours, got it."

"Woolsey there?" asked John, morbidly curious.

"No, sir. He went to his quarters after you left, and hasn't been back to the control room since."

"Good," Rodney said viciously, surprising John a little. "Hopefully, he's thinking about what an idiot he's been."

John couldn't help nodding as he powered up the jumper and moved it into position in the gateroom. Rodney's hands moved over the DHD, setting coordinates, and the gate powered up. "Okay, here we go," John said, as he directed the jumper through the gate.

A split second later they came through the gate on M4R-271. Unlike most of the worlds they'd been to, this world wasn't forested or a grass plain. Instead there was desert as far as the eye could see, and when John checked the environmental controls, he found that the atmosphere was breathable but was going to be harsh.

Rodney didn't look up, as he was taking energy readings. Still without looking, he said, "Take us forty degrees southeast, Sheppard." Unsurprised by Rodney's involvement, John reoriented the jumper and started to fly.

He hadn't gone very far when he saw the distant glimmer that he associated with Ancient structures. "Is that our target?" he asked.

Rodney finally looked up. "Yes, that's our baby."

"Any interesting signals?"

"Yes, actually. Not as much power as I'd expect from a drone facility, but more than if it were dead. According to the database the truly interesting parts are cloaked, and therefore we won't be able to scan it until we get it open."

"Why have any of the facility outside the cloak?" Teyla asked, making Rodney look puzzled.

"I don't know, Teyla," he said. "But that's a good question. It's possible the cloak failed."

"Let's not borrow trouble," John said. They were coming up quick on the facility, and he brought the jumper to a gradual stop. What had looked like a full facility from a distance appeared to be just a very long wall up close, with the only greenery in the area. The whole thing appeared to be covered in ivy. John wondered about that, since they were in a desert, but figured that maybe they were like cacti - not requiring much water. "Great Wall of China," he muttered, before saying to Rodney, "Any idea where we should park?"

Rodney looked around before pointing out a spot about halfway along the wall and about fifty yards away from it. "Might as well start in the middle and work our way both ways," he said. When he lowered the ramp, everyone made faces at the sulfuric scent but no one started coughing, which John took to be a good sign.

John could have laughed at the look of impatience on Rodney's face, but he didn't. He might have hurried a little bit, though, as he and Ronon cleared the area. They were thorough, even though the area was clearly abandoned. They'd been fooled before.

As soon as they were sure that there was no one there, he radioed for Teyla and Rodney. The radio hadn't even cut out when Rodney burst out of the back of the jumper, followed by Teyla at a more reasonable pace. He bustled over to the wall and started to clear away vines. After a minute he said, "Are you all going to stare at me or are you going to help?"

All four of them were quickly involved in pulling the vines off the wall, but it was Ronon who found the small touchpad mounted into the wall. Rodney hurried over, and didn't even pause before he put his hand on the pad. He took a deep breath and then closed his eyes, face wrinkling up in concentration.

The whole section of wall lit up, Ancient scrolling across it like a marquee. Rodney jumped back, eyes opening and locking on the symbols scrolling past. "Should've brought Simpson," he mumbled.

John shared a smile with Teyla before he stepped forward. "You doing okay there, Rodney?" he asked, bumping Rodney's shoulder.
"Fine, Sheppard. Now, if you don' t mind, I need to figure out how to enter the password when the Ancient is moving too fast to read."

"Perhaps I can help, Rodney?" Teyla asked, and he twisted to look at her.

"You're better at Ancient than I am, that's for sure," he said.

She studied the marquee for a few moments. "It appears to be a prompt of some sort." She sounded out a few words. "Pacer - that means peace. Sapieso means a wise one. Bellorosu means to wage war. So the complete prompt is something like, "In peace, like a wise man, he prepares for war."

Rodney studied the moving words for a few more moments before nodding. "Okay, I see that. But how do I enter the password? I don't see a keyboard, do you?"

"You should probably just try saying it, McKay," said Ronon. "Might not work, but on the other hand it might."

John added, "Try putting your hand on the touchpad."

"Okay, saying it. I can do that." Rodney turned to face the wall, placing his hand on the touchpad. "Ipsago scientesa potesta es."

The wall flashed but didn't open. Rodney snorted in disgust. "I bet you're just picky," he said, before he looked over his shoulder at John. "Want to come flirt with a wall?"

John chuckled but took Rodney's place willingly enough. Placing his hand on the touchpad, he said, "What do I have to say?"

"Ipsago scientesa - "

John repeated it.

"Potesta es."

As soon as the last syllable left his mouth a section of the wall dissolved, showing a plain Atlantis-style door. Before John could react, Rodney had triggered it open.

The building was huge on the inside, like Doctor Who's Tardis. There were row after row of drones just waiting to be brought back to Atlantis. John stopped by the first rack, attempting to estimate how many thousands there were.

Rodney kept going, though, and after giving up John followed him. Rodney had his face buried in his tablet, and John occasionally had to steer him around things in his path. Finally Rodney came to a halt, looking up and up and up. John found himself looking up as well, at one of the largest pieces of machinery he'd ever seen. "Rodney?"

"Hmm?"

"What are we looking at?"

"Oh, it's the equipment used to make drones. But I don't think it's working right now. I suspect that the ZPM that the Ancients used to power it is dead."

"So let's check?"

Rodney nodded, and then walked right into the machine, disappearing almost immediately as part of it swung shut behind him. Nervously, John watched the equipment for any sign that it was going to turn on and make Rodney-drones, but it stayed comfortingly dormant. Pretty soon there were banging noises from inside the equipment, accompanied by the occasional swear word.

Teyla and Ronon joined him after a few minutes. Teyla was pretty much petting one of the drones, and he had to ask, "What are you thinking?"

"I am thinking that the next time the Wraith come, there will be a surprise for them in Atlantis. This is good, as we cannot expect rescue from Earth this time."

"Next time? Teyla, do you know something you're not telling us?" John couldn't help the stab of fear.

"What? No!" she exclaimed. "It's just - the Wraith always come eventually, John. Fighting back would be good."

John still had that little clench of fear, but Teyla was right, so he agreed with her. "Yeah, fighting back would be awesome. And can you imagine the faces in Atlantis when we come back with this many drones? That reminds me," he raised his voice. "Rodney, how are we getting these home? They wouldn't even fit in the Daedalus."

There were a few more banging noises, and then the machine spit Rodney back out. He was holding a darkened ZPM. "Just as I thought - it's dead."

John nodded. "Good thing we have a spare back in Atlantis, then, isn't it?"

"Yeah. Better to get this place up and running now, when we don't actually need them, than try to do it in a rush." Rodney still looked distracted, though, and John wondered what was going on in his head.

Trying to distract him, John asked again, "Any ideas on how to get these things home? We don't have a large ship other than the Daedalus."

Rodney shook his head, as if to clear it. "No, we can't use the Daedalus. As soon as it comes into orbit the damn factory would lock down. What I wouldn't give for the Orion." He paused, thinking, and John didn't interrupt him. "We don't actually need all these drones, and in fact we don't have safe storage for them, so it might be best to leave most of them here unless it looks like we need them."

"Uh, Rodney - "

"I know, Atlantis is mostly depleted of drones, so what I suggest is that we get every pilot into a jumper and bring 'em on over. Fill each one to the brim with drones, and then they can carry them back to Atlantis. That will let us restock at least. Leave what we don't have space for here."

John nodded; Rodney was right. "Fine. Let's load up our jumper, then we can head back to send the next couple of jumpers out."

Surprisingly, Rodney didn't bitch about the physical labor of moving the drones out to the jumper - mostly because they were on rolling platforms. They were heavy, though, and it required both Ronon and John to stack them to the ceiling. John was starting to worry that Rodney wasn't complaining, until he caught sight of Rodney's face. He looked content, happy even, and John felt the hard knot of anxiety in his gut unclench a little. When the jumper was filled literally to the ceiling with drones, leaving just enough room for the four of them, John put his hand on the touchpad and thought, cloak, at the building. Quietly, the rest of the building disappeared from view.

The four of them crowded aboard the jumper for the quick ride home. As the gate opened John glanced over at Rodney. When he saw the wide grin on Rodney's face, he had to smile in return. They punched in their code, and then went home.

Woolsey still wasn't in the command center, which surprised John. As they started to unload their booty, the marines got excited, which didn't surprise John. And when they heard that they had found thousands of drones and the facility for making more, John had more volunteer pilots and muscle than he had jumpers.

He wasn't really surprised to realize that Rodney had disappeared. John spent some time working out what order the pilots were going in and who was going with each to load the jumpers. He went with the first group of three jumpers to open the cloak, but came back with the first load. He didn't bother to recloak it, as they were going to be taking drones for at least the next four days, around the clock.

There were actually more marines volunteering to load than there was space in the jumpers, so he put them to work moving the drones as they came back, loading them into the various weapons platforms throughout the city. Gradually, as the day went on, John acquired more and more assistance in getting them where they actually needed to be. He was surprised at one point, when he looked up and saw Lammerman opposite him, helping. He didn't say anything, just tossed off a quick smile and kept going.

By the time John begged off, nine jumper's worth of drones had been brought back to Atlantis, and there was a completely different group of marines helping. He was stiff and sore from the unusual physical demands of moving so many heavy platforms, but he was content.

He thought about going and finding Rodney, but figured that he was probably busy trying to figure out how to bring the drone factory back to life and wouldn't appreciate being interrupted. Instead, he detoured by the mess, grabbed a snack, and then went to his room to get a shower. He considered jerking off in the shower but, well, it was more fun getting off with Rodney than by himself. He wasn't a teenager, he could wait till Rodney wasn't busy.

Cursorily drying off, he went out in the other room, only to jump when Rodney said, "Hi," from the bed. He had taken his boots off and was relaxed, like he'd been there for a few minutes.

"Uh, hi. I hadn't expected to see you today."

"Mmm, yes. I turned over the drone project to Jani. He's been researching them in greater depth than I ever have. Come here."

A little uncomfortable, as he was naked and Rodney decidedly was not, he debated for a split second pulling on a pair of sweats first. Then Rodney shifted, sitting up straighter, and he thought, oh, what the hell. Walking over, he was a little surprised by Rodney's hands on his hips, but that clued him in enough that he wasn't surprised by Rodney's mouth on his cock. Pleased, yes, but not surprised.

The warm, sweet suction slid through him, getting him hard so fast it almost hurt. He groaned, not wanting the feeling to ever stop. Rodney's head bobbed up and down over his cock, sucking him hard. John patted frantically at Rodney's head, his shoulders, trying not to grab his hair.

Rodney's hands on his hips tightened, pulling him a little off balance, and John thrust a little before he managed to stabilize. Then Rodney did it again, swallowing at the same time, and John wondered if Rodney was offering what he thought he was offering. Curious and turned on, he thrust gently, only to be met by a moan.

Oh, god, he'd never been able to fuck someone's mouth. Not ever. And here was Rodney, offering. He forced himself to let go of Rodney's shoulders so he could pull back if he needed to, and started to thrust slowly into Rodney's mouth.

Every thrust was met by whimpers and moans, and one of Rodney's hands dropped to his cock, pressing at it through his pants. The idea that this was turning Rodney on made John even hotter, and he whimpered, his hips moving faster.

Just as he thought for sure he was going to come Rodney pulled back, and he cried out at the loss. Rodney kept stroking his cock, though, hard and fast, and said, "You can come on my face if you want."

Oh, fucking hell. Just the thought... his cock jerked in Rodney's grip, shooting all over Rodney's face, come dripping down his cheek and over his lips. John hit his knees with a distant thud, leaning forward to kiss Rodney's messy face, licking his own come off. "Oh, my god," John said, more than a little stunned.

"You like?" asked Rodney, but instead of smug he sounded strained, and when John dropped a hand to his fly and pulled out his cock, he could feel why. His cock was hard, wet at the tip, and a single squeeze made Rodney moan. "Oh, god, John, please," he begged.

John cut him off at the lips, kissing him deeply while he jerked Rodney off. Not that it took much, a few strokes and Rodney pulsed over his wrist, warm and wet. He only let go of Rodney's cock when Rodney pushed his hand away, but he kept kissing him and kissing him until his lips were sore and his knees were screaming at him.

They separated with one last peck, and a sigh from Rodney. "God, that was good," said Rodney.

"You found me a drone factory," said John happily as he pulled himself up off the floor. "And you're going to make it work again, so that we don't have to worry about where more drones are going to come from." He pulled Rodney to his feet and pulled back the sheets, heedless of the fact that he was getting come everywhere.

When he gave Rodney a gentle shove he sat on the edge obediently enough, and another made him lie down. "Have I mentioned lately that I really like you?" John asked, climbing in next to Rodney and lying down, his head on Rodney's shoulder.

"Yeah, John, you have. I promise, we'll make it go again." John could hear the smile in Rodney's voice, and it made him smile as well. Then he closed his eyes. Just a little nap.

***

Dan looked around furtively. These days it seemed like wherever he went, Sergeant Gabriel followed, and he didn't want to be seen right now.

Satisfied that he wasn't being watched, he carefully approached one of the chemists, one who had been yelling in the mess the night before. Samson was sitting at his bench, staring into space, and Lammerman didn't see a single project open. In fact, his computer had gone to sleep. "Hey," he said, keeping his voice low and even.

"Huh?" George Samson jumped, his mind clearly billions of miles away.

"So, I heard you getting into it with Glass in the mess last night." Dan was trying to step carefully. He didn't want to give Sheppard more of a reason to be suspicious.

"Oh, yes. Not my finest moment, I'm afraid. It's hardly his fault that we can't go home." Samson took off his glasses and cleaned them, ignoring the tear tracks that were drying on his face.

Careful, Dan, Lammerman thought to himself. "Yeah. I know we all want to go home." He paused for a moment for effect. "At least, most of us do."

"What do you mean, 'most of us'? We've all got family at home." Samson looked confused.

"That's not what I heard," said Dan. "As I understand it, the first wave people were mostly loners. They may have family, but they weren't close, you know?"

"Most of the them had gone home before this all happened anyway." Samson shrugged.

"Yes, but not McKay or Sheppard. I heard that when Sheppard went home for his own dad's funeral, he missed it because he was busy chasing a replicator around. McKay and his sister didn't talk for years, until the military needed what she knew. Plus, Chuck said that they pushed Woolsey out of the way and stole the ZPMs, even though Woolsey had been saving them for Earth."

"Sheppard's a good guy. If he missed the funeral - and that's a big if - he had reason, and from what I've heard, McKay had been emailing his sister at least once a week until this happened. So I don't really think you know what you're talking about."

Dan couldn't help it, he was starting to get frustrated. Didn't Samson see that if it wasn't for McKay and Sheppard, they could have already taken the Daedalus and been home by now? "Yeah, they're great here, where they're sleeping together. You think if we went back to Earth, the IOA would allow that to continue?"

Samson sat up straight and turned to face Dan head on. "Who they may or may not be sleeping with is none of my business, Corporal Lammerman. I'm not quite sure what you hope to accomplish by being here, nor do I care. I suggest you remove yourself from my presence before I need to report this conversation to Sheppard, though."

"Fine," said Dan, realizing that he'd blown it with Samson. He held his hands up. "I'm gone."

"Good."

Dan slipped out of the lab and looked around. Still no sign of Sergeant Gabriel. Good. He'd try Rodriquez, and he wouldn't make the same mistakes he'd made with Samson.

One way or another, he was going to get home.

***

Richard was not sulking, even though he had to admit that it probably looked like it. He was thinking.

His thoughts weren't comfortable ones. They circled Sheppard's words obsessively. "Do you really think, if we teamed up against you, that you have enough supporters that you would win?" he'd asked, and now the words played over and over again in Richard's head.

He wouldn't have put it so baldly, but he had to admit that that was what it boiled down to - him against them, and the deck was stacked against him. He was good at the IOA's politics, but Atlantis's seemed beyond him. He wondered if Sheppard and McKay had always been so stubborn.

He stared sightlessly at his computer, ignoring the way that the screensaver had come up and locked the screen. His whole life, since he found out about the IOA and the Stargate program, had been focused on working to further the IOA's aims. While his reports of Weir and Carter had been worded in such a way to make sure that they stayed in charge, he'd never lied outright, and in general he supported the IOA's goals. After all, such a sensitive program as the Stargate needed oversight, and due to the militaristic nature of the program, civilian oversight was better.

But now it appeared that both the IOA and Stargate Command were gone, and they were on their own. While it was clear that McKay and Sheppard were both used to doing things their own way, neither one of them had demonstrated anything but Atlantis's best interests at heart.

While that might have been a problem if they were still reporting to Earth, Richard guessed that it was probably time for Atlantis to be a little selfish. Clearly, enough members of the SGC had thought that it was important for Atlantis to survive - to thrive - that they'd sent them the Daedalus.

Maybe instead of digging in his heels to do things the IOA way, he should try doing things Atlantis's way. After all, they'd been doing okay out here for the last six years, which meant they had to be doing something right.

Of course, that not only meant letting Sheppard and McKay have their heads, it meant trusting Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan. Richard was self aware enough to know that just because Ronon scared the pants off of him, was no reason not to trust him. And he supposed that anyone who'd grown up in another galaxy would be mysterious.

But could he set aside these gut level responses? Could he say to SGA-1, "Good luck," and send them out on missions knowing that, if they didn't come back, Atlantis would be in serious trouble? Because it sounded like if he couldn't, then he should just save everyone the trouble and step down now.

Then the problem became that he didn't know what he could do otherwise. Atlantis didn't have enough resources to support someone who didn't pull his or her own weight in the community, but all of his skills were in administration. And with the inevitable shortages that were going to be coming, Atlantis needed those skills, whether John Sheppard believed it or not.

"Mister Woolsey, to the control room. Woolsey to the control room," the PA announced, shocking Woolsey out of his thoughts. He hadn't really made any decisions about long-term but, to be brutally frank, the short-term ones had been taken out of his hands.
Glancing in the mirror to make sure that his uniform was straight, he tugged his jacket down and left the room, head held high and working hard to hide how very much he did not want to be out there.

It was a quick transporter ride to the control tower, and there he found controlled chaos. Rolling racks were everywhere, loaded down with what looked like drones, as marines pushed them this way and that. "What's going on?" he asked Chuck.

As Chuck explained what Sheppard and McKay had discovered, his eyebrows climbed higher and higher. Spend the afternoon away from everyone else, and the first team goes and discovers a drone factory.

"So why do you need me?" he asked, voice harsh.

"He doesn't," said McKay from behind Richard. "But Sheppard and I do."

Richard found himself standing even straighter and taking a deep breath before turning around. "Congratulations, gentlemen, on a day well spent," he said, trying hard not to sound snotty. He noticed that both Sheppard and McKay had wet hair, and found himself wondering if they'd had an afternoon quickie. Deciding that that was neither here nor there, he dismissed the thought.

"Thanks," drawled Sheppard, who then gestured towards Woolsey's office. "If you would?" he asked, but there was a thread of steel in his voice, making it clear that Richard didn't really have a choice.

He went into his office, nodding acknowledgement of Ms. Emmagan and ignoring Specialist Dex. Settling behind his desk, he said, "Yes?"

He was unsurprised this time when the door slid shut and locked, when the windows went opaque. He just folded his hands and waited.

"As you can see, our first mission back out was a success," Sheppard said. "Right now, the marines are in the process of getting drones to all the launching platforms, and bringing back more from the facility. McKay says that a couple of his people should be able to get the factory up and running, though I don't believe that's a priority at the moment." He glanced back at McKay, and smiled, before turning his attention to Ms. Emmagan.

Not being stupid, Richard looked at her as well, and waited for her to speak. "What we need to do now, Mister Woolsey, is decide what supplies we're running low on, what is urgent for us to find replacements for, so that we may appropriately set up a schedule for missions. Colonel Sheppard has suggested that you would be the best person to ask, as you are intimately familiar with administrative duties and thus would be able to set priority lists."

Richard really doubted that Sheppard had phrased himself that way. It was much more likely that he'd said, "Ask the desk jockey," or something similar, if he'd actually brought Richard into the discussion at all.

Still, beggars can't be choosers, and regardless of how he got there, they were asking him. Maybe he wasn't as obsolete as he feared.

He took a moment to organize his thoughts. "I can't tell you anything about military supplies," he said. "I haven't been kept apprised of their inventory."

Sheppard nodded. "That will be rectified this afternoon. I'll tell the quartermaster to send you the inventory reports, as well as what we've requisitioned for the last year, so you can see if there are any patterns."

That sounded almost cooperative. Maybe Sheppard really meant it about wanting to get along. "That would be fine - thank you," was all he said.

"I'll get you a list from the science departments as well," said McKay. "We have fairly routine, but specific, needs that we're going to need to find substitutes for."

"All right." Richard was a bit overwhelmed by the lack of animosity. Something had changed. He wasn't going to question it, though.

"Once you have a list of Atlantis's needs, we can then evaluate if we know of any worlds that might be able to supply us." Ms. Emmagan looked completely unflappable. "While you are making those decisions, we should revisit those worlds that have previously traded with us for food, to see if we can renegotiate those agreements."

Richard wanted to make an effort to indicate that he was willing to try, that he'd listened to what Sheppard had had to say, but he wasn't sure what to say. So, in the end, he just agreed with her, hoping that his lack of arguing would make his change of heart obvious.

***

As they geared up the next morning, Ronon felt like laughing. They finally were going off world without having to directly challenge Woolsey. He didn't exactly mind going against him because he was a sniveling worm, but it certainly put McKay and Sheppard under less stress, and that meant that they were all a lot happier.

A happier McKay whined a hell of a lot less, and that made missions a lot more pleasant.

"I still think we should take a jumper," said McKay.

Sheppard laughed. "Suck it up, buttercup. I told you that you should keep running, even with us not going off world."

With a grimace, McKay swung his pack onto his back. "If you're done making fun of me, shall we go?"

"Oh, relax, McKay. We've been to see the Physsgshy before," Ronon said, still smiling. "You know they're not very far from the 'gate."

He couldn't help the laugh at the look on McKay and Sheppard's face. Neither one of them had ever had any luck with saying the name of the people or planet that they were getting ready to go see, and it frustrated them no end that both Teyla and Ronon had no problem with it.

"Okay, okay. Let's go see the fishy people," said Sheppard, clapping his hands.

"Now, John," said Teyla. "You know that they don't pronounce it "fishy," and that it bothers them when you do." The corners of her mouth were twitching, though, and Ronon knew that she was trying not to laugh.

"And that's why I won't say it in front of them," said Sheppard, already herding them towards the door.

After a quick stop at the armory, they went to the gateroom. Unsurprisingly, Woolsey was nowhere to be seen. The Ancestors forbid that he be seen publicly backing down after he made such a point of keeping the team grounded. McKay looked up at the technician in the control room and nodded, and he started to dial the gate.

The gate settled into its familiar blue surface and the four of them walked through without even glancing backward.

On the other side of the gate it was early morning, the two moons still up. It was pleasantly cool and Ronon could smell the healthy fields. There was no taint of death or decay so Ronon nodded at Sheppard and waited for him to take point. Teyla and Rodney were in the middle. Teyla had objected to this placement, only to have Ronon take Sheppard's side. No one wanted to leave Torren without his mother.

Knowing that Teyla would make sure that Rodney stayed on the path, Ronon started to range over their six. He didn't necessarily stay on the path, roaming from field to field to make sure that their way was clear.

They hadn't gone far when they met Lliw, one of the elders, coming down the path towards the gate. He was accompanied by his granddaughter, Blyckr, who was holding his arm. Sheppard hailed him, one hand coming up in greeting.

"It has been a long time, Colonel Sheppard," said Lliw. "We had thought that perhaps something had happened to you."

"It's a long story," said Sheppard. His busy eyes obviously caught sight of the tremor in Lliw's hands, and his voice softened slightly. "Perhaps we should go back to the village, so I only have to tell it once?"

Lliw snorted. "I don't need your pity, Colonel Sheppard." Blyckr tugged impatiently on his arm, though, and he said, "Interfering children. Neither of you are going to relax until I'm sitting, are you?"

Blyckr's musical voice was filled with laughter when she said, "Maybe I'm tired, grandfather. And it's inhospitable to make Colonel Sheppard's team stand here when we could be sitting in comfort in the village."

"Fine, fine," he grumbled, turning to go back to the village that was just in sight down the path.

Sheppard took up position on Lliw's other side, not actually touching him, but clearly ready if the older man were to stumble or fall. He didn't have to worry, though - Lliw had been walking this path all his life, and being old hadn't made him feeble.

The village was bright and cheerful. Like most farm communities, most of the population was out and about despite the earliness of the morning. Ronon had noticed that the higher the technology of a planet, the later the people seemed to get up, until he got to very advanced groups like the Atlanteans. Then they just didn't seem to sleep at all - people worked at all hours of the day and night.

Deciding that that was enough mind-wandering, he tuned back into the discussion as they entered the town inn. The tavern was clearly still closed, benches up on the tables, but the innkeeper was behind the bar sweeping, and when he saw the team he hurried around the bar.

Vylsay approached Sheppard and enveloped him in a huge hug, never noticing that it clearly made Sheppard uncomfortable. "Colonel Sheppard! We have not seen you in far too long!"

"Hiya, Vylsay," he said, once he was released. "Do you think we could sit in here for a while? We owe you an explanation of what's been happening."

"But of course!" He scurried over to the nearest table, pulling down the benches and arranging them carefully. "Would you like some ale?"

"No, thanks," he said. Ronon was a little regretful, because the Physsgshy made really good ale, but it was always better to keep a clear head.

Lliw settled on the bench, folding his hands on the table and looked between Sheppard and Teyla. "So, what brings our allies back after their long absence?"

Ronon had been there when McKay and Sheppard had argued over what to tell allies had happened. Neither one of them had wanted to admit that they were in trouble, but they couldn't agree on a cover story. Teyla had finally cut through to point out that unless they wanted to do all ongoing contact with other planets, the truth was really the only option they had. Even if McKay was able to lie convincingly - and Ronon doubted that as much as Teyla - the more people involved in a lie, the more likely that it would all go to hell, and if word got out that they weren't to be trusted, they'd be fucked.

So Teyla and Sheppard told the tale as they understood it: a virus had infected their home world and caused them to cut contact. Thankfully, they weren't quite at the point where they were desperate, because that was never attractive in allies, but it was clear through their words that they would be in trouble if their friends couldn't come through for them.

Lliw nodded consideringly, even as Vylsay fretted about how terrible it was, how it was sad and depressing, and wasn't there anything he could do? Perhaps a glass of wine?

"And so you come to us to bargain for food?" Blyckr asked, cutting right to the chase and showing why she was clearly Lliw's heir apparent.

"We come to you to renew old alliances, and yes, to perhaps bargain for a trade agreement," Teyla said. "You know that we are fair traders."

"Yes, as far as that goes," said Blyckr. "But when you no longer have need of your trading partners, you are rather frustrating. While we could certainly understand not needing our grain or fruit due to being supplied from home, we have not heard from you in many turnings of the moon. As you were a very good source of information of what was happening on other planets, that was... unfair."

Sheppard rubbed the back of his neck, clearly uncomfortable. "There were... issues with the leadership of Atlantis. It took time to resolve those issues, Blyckr. And as the Physsgshy will only deal with my team, I couldn't send another team to keep us in contact."

"True," said Lliw. "Your team we trust to be fair and honest with us. Another representative of your planet - not so much. I take it that your presence here means that those issues are resolved and that we will no longer be left out in the cold when it comes to information."

Sheppard reached out and gripped Lliw's arm. "You have my word. Though, I would appreciate if you would let me bring my second in command with me the next time we come. This is a dangerous galaxy, and I can't guarantee that nothing will happen to our team."

Lliw glanced at Blyckr, who nodded slowly. "I believe that to be reasonable, Colonel Sheppard. Now, let us get down to specifics. As you know, we have grain and fruit in plenty, and even a limited amount of meat."

Since Lliw and Blyckr had clearly decided not to throw them off the planet, Ronon let the words wash over him as he kept a watch out. There had never been a threat on the Physsgshy planet, but there was always a first time. As word spread through the town that SGA-1 was here, several more of the elders came to join them in the tavern, and Ronon knew that the bargaining would go on for hours. He also knew that the Physsgshy would not let them starve.

***

Jacob Gabriel was a suspicious man by nature, and Lammerman wasn't helping things. He was skulking around, talking to people who appeared to be unhappy with the status quo, or didn't seem to like Sheppard or McKay. Jacob had to admit that when he'd gotten to Atlantis, he hadn't trusted Sheppard - a zoomie in charge of a bunch of marines? There was no way that that was going to work well.

But Sheppard had more than earned his trust, between his "no man left behind" attitude and the fact that he was willing to get down and dirty with the lowest private. The fact that he was a decent fighter and had survived a year in Pegasus with no Earth contact just confirmed his opinion that Sheppard was a good guy.

Thankfully his attitude was the common one among the marines, so Lammerman was having problems getting any other marines on his side, at least as far as Jacob could tell. Unfortunately, he did have other duties, so he couldn't spend all his time following Lammerman around to make sure of that.

What he could do, however, was keep his ear to the ground to see if he could catch any gossip. He was hearing grumbling, but nothing like he expected to hear if there was a coup in the making. He couldn't relax, though.

His distraction was obvious to Kevin Johanson, who he was meeting with. "Sergeant, everything okay?" he asked, clearly concerned.

Since the subject of the meeting was supposed to be how Johanson was holding up, Jacob ignored the question. "What have you been up to, Johanson?" he asked, trying to sound gruff but kind. He had no idea how his old sergeants had managed it - he thought it just made him sound mean.

Johanson didn't seem to think so, though. "I'm doing okay, Sergeant. The fact that we're back up to a regular off-world rotation helps, you know? Gives me something to think about, worry about."

Jacob nodded. He did know exactly what Johanson meant. "So you've been losing yourself in your work?" he asked. He knew that that probably wasn't the healthiest thing for him, but Jacob didn't exactly have a plethora of other ideas. He was hardly a head-shrinker. But when he'd suggested that Johanson see the base psychiatrist, he'd been met with a flat refusal. It didn't really surprise Jacob in the slightest - he knew that he'd view going to the psych for anything but the most basic clearance for duty as unacceptable.

Johanson nodded, then shook his head a little. "Well, I've been doing some reading too," he said. "I figure that with no more science techs coming from Earth, they might need some of the marines in the labs, so I've been borrowing some of the chemistry journals and books, to refresh my memory."

"Oh?" Jacob hadn't thought of that - Johanson was pretty bright.

"Yeah, I was a chemistry major until my daddy lost his job and I had to go home. Figured that they might need someone with a basic knowledge, you know?"

"That's a good idea, Johanson. And it keeps you busy."

"Uh huh." Johanson paused, and then said, "Are you sure everything's okay with you, Sergeant? Just, you seem distracted."

Jacob sighed. Sometimes, Johanson was too bright. Well, they were here, he might as well see what the lower ranks thought of Lammerman. "Do you know Lammerman, Johanson?"

Johanson froze for a split second. If Jacob hadn't been watching closely he would have never noticed. Then Johanson said, "Just to say hello to, Sergeant."

"What aren't you telling me?" asked Jacob.

Johanson was quiet so long this time that Jacob started to get nervous that maybe he'd misjudged how much influence Lammerman was having. Finally, Johanson said, "Permission to speak freely?"

"Go ahead." Jacob's stomach was tied up in knots.

"I think he's nuts," said Johanson bluntly. "Most of us think so. He's desperate to get back to Earth, and doesn't care that we've been ordered to stay here in Pegasus, or who he has to hurt to get there."

Jacob nodded slowly. While it was a relief to know that Lammerman had minimal support, it didn't make it any easier to decide what to do about him. "Thank you for telling me," was all he said, though.

They made small talk for a few more minutes before their meeting time was up. When he dismissed Johanson, though, he stood there for a moment before saying, "I just wanted to tell you thank you. I know it's not part of your job to take care of me."

Jacob couldn't stop the smile. "You're a good marine, Johanson. It is part of my job to make sure that good marines stay good, so just relax. I'll see you next week."

"Yes, Sergeant. Thanks, Sergeant."

Johanson let himself out of the room. Jacob continued to sit there for a while, turning over what he'd learned in his mind, trying to decide what to do.

***

Rodney shut down his computer with a sigh. He really wanted to be off world getting the drone factory going again, but he'd decided in a fit of madness that it would be better to send a couple of junior scientists who just happened to have more experience in studying the drones. Besides, the machinery had looked pretty well gunked up and he didn't feel like cleaning it all up.

Instead, he was on Atlantis. Normally time in his lab would be a godsend but Woolsey had "requested" that both he and John do personnel evaluations to see who was having issues with the current situation. As much as Rodney really wanted to take the science team roster and drop it on Woolsey's desk with a note saying, "We're all having problems," he actually saw what Woolsey was trying to do, and it had a point. So Rodney had spent the last nine hours filling in questionnaires about each of the scientists.

His head was pounding from staring at the computer screen and he was hungry, so he picked up the laptop and headed towards John's office to see if he was done yet.

Peeking in the window to the office he saw John and Lorne, both hard at work on their computers. He knocked on the door and then opened it. "Dinner time," he said, as both of them looked up.

"Not yet," said John. "We have a few more to do."

"And they can wait till tomorrow," said Rodney flatly. "Have you eaten at all today?" He ignored the way that Lorne was clearly trying to swallow back laughter. He didn't much care if he sounded like a nagging spouse.

With a sigh, John started to shut down his computer. "Fine. We'll go eat." Turning to Lorne he said, "Take a break. We'll finish in the morning."

"Yes, sir."

The two of them started walking to the mess. They weren't talking, but for once Rodney saw no need to break the silence. All he wanted was dinner and then bed, before he set himself up to dream about questions like, "Do you believe that this individual might be tempted to do something dangerous in order to get home?" There was no one here who wasn't willing to take risks. That's why they were here.

Filling their trays, they went to the team table, where Ronon and Teyla were already sitting. Teyla was nursing Torren, and Rodney averted his eyes. "How was your day?" she asked.

Still looking at his plate, Rodney answered, "Long. Tiring. Boring. Tell me again why I decided that Jani was capable of getting the drone factory up and running? If I hadn't done that then I could be there, and not here in paperwork hell."

John and Ronon both chuckled. "Because you didn't want to get dirty," said Ronon. "You said that that's what you have minions for."

"Oh. Yeah."

Teyla finished feeding Torren and moved him up to her shoulder before resecuring her blouse. Relieved, Rodney looked up. "What are you up to today?"

"I have been working with Sergeant Campbell to refine my control over the sensors and shields." She smiled. "It is not as difficult as you always made it out to be."

"Hey! I work damn hard on those things."

"Oh, Rodney, I am just teasing you." Teyla laid a hand on his arm. "All of the work you have done shows in the very fact that it is easier to control."

Mollified, Rodney relaxed somewhat. "Well, yes, of course."

Ronon spoke up, "I've been sparring with the marines, and you may have a problem." He addressed this to John.

John looked concerned. "What kind of problem?"

"Not here. After dinner." Ronon waited for John's nod, and then resumed eating.

After that, the four of them were quiet, eating their food and teasing each other gently. Once Teyla finished eating and turned Torren over to Kanaan, the four of them went to Rodney's room, which was the largest and had the biggest selection of chairs and couches. Once they were all settled, John turned to Ronon. "Okay, spill."

"Lammerman."

John swore and thumped his head on the back of the couch. "Now what has that son of a bitch done?"

"He's apparently talking to everyone who might possibly be unhappy with you. He's trying to start a coup." Ronon sounded pissed, not that Rodney could blame him. He was pretty pissed too, and he was ready to go exact some revenge on him.

Rodney hadn't actively decided to say anything when his mouth opened up and said, "He's never going to have hot water or heat again."

"No, that won't work," John said to him. "It'll just set him up as persecuted, and that might sway people to his side." John returned his attention to Ronon. "Has he had any luck getting people to agree with him?"

"Not that I've heard of," Ronon shook his head. "None of the marines I work out with have changed allegiance as far as I know."

"It gets worse, John," said Teyla.

"Always does," John mumbled. "Now what?"

"He is not just targeting the marines, from what I have been able to find out. He has also been trying to persuade the civilian scientists to his line of thinking. He has not had any more luck there than with the marines, though."

"Good," said Rodney. "That demonstrates some actual intelligence on their part."

"What should I do?" John asked the room at large. He was still leaning back against the couch, looking at the ceiling. "I can't arrest him - talk isn't illegal, and even if it was, I don't have the people to guard him. I've tried to set him up with the psychiatrist, but he just avoids the appointments, and I can't exactly escort him there under armed guard, as he hasn't really done anything. I can't even really blame him for wanting to go home! So what do I do?"

"Got me," said Ronon, shrugging. "Don't have any clever ideas, but I thought you should know what the marines are talking about."

"I appreciate that. Teyla? You're better with people than I am."

"I do not know, John. Typically, when someone is as deeply unhappy among my people as he is here, they leave through the Ring to join another group. Clearly that is not happening in this case, and it leaves me with no solution."

John sighed. "Okay. So for right now, we just all keep our ears and eyes open, trying to spot whatever it is that he's going to do before he does it. Got it?"

The three of them agreed. Then John said, "Who wants a movie?"

"Only if I can pick," said Ronon.

"No. Nein. Absolutely not. We are not watching Fried Green Tomatoes again," groaned Rodney. "Who showed you that movie in the first place?"

"Jennifer did," he said. "And I like that movie."

"I too like that movie. I particularly like the scene with the cars," added Teyla.

Rodney stared at her. "Are you talking about where Kathy Bates says something about insurance? Do you even know what insurance is?" he demanded.

"Yes, John explained it to me," she said. "I very much enjoyed watching an elder putting youngsters in their place."

With a sigh, Rodney said, "Fine. We'll watch it again."

He stood up, and went over to hook his laptop to the monitor. From behind him, he heard people shifting around, and the door open and close. When he turned around, John was gone. "What?" he asked.

"John has simply gone to get popcorn and beer," said Teyla. "He will return shortly." True to her word, John was back within five minutes, and the four of them settled in to watch Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy reminisce about a small town in Alabama.

After the movie, Teyla and Ronon stood and made their excuses, going off to do their own thing. John and Rodney stayed on the couch as they left, turning their attention to each other after the door closed. "I hate that movie," grumbled Rodney.

"No, you don't. If you did, you'd make sure that it was deleted off the server without a trace."

Rodney snorted. "No, because Ronon would break me in half."

"This is true." John scooted a little closer to Rodney. "What should we do now?"

"Gee, I don't know." Rodney moved so that he was closer to John. "Do you have any ideas?"

John moved again. "Maybe..."

Impatient, Rodney wrapped his hand around the back of John's neck and tugged him into a kiss. It started shallow and teasing, only deepening when John moaned into Rodney's mouth. John tasted like popcorn and bad American beer, and Rodney couldn't stop the matching groan.

By the time they broke apart, John was practically in Rodney's lap, his hands laced through Rodney's hair. Rodney nipped at John's lip as they panted, trying to get oxygen to their overheated brains.

John tugged at Rodney's shirt. "You're wearing too many clothes," he mumbled.

"So are you. And you're in my lap, so I can't even undress." That got John moving, up and off of Rodney, so that Rodney could stand and start to strip. John was undressing just as fast, and the two of them were naked within minutes.

Grabbing Rodney by the shoulders, John started to push him backwards. Rodney went willingly enough until the back of his knees hit the bed, and he sat suddenly. This put him level with John's cock, which was half hard and right there. Rodney saw no reason to restrain himself, and leaned forward to lick it from root to tip.

John whimpered, his hands tightening on Rodney's shoulders. "Fuck, yeah," he said softly. "Lick it, put it in your mouth, please, Rodney."

Chuckling, Rodney did as he was asked, sucking the head of John's cock into his mouth, and licking around the ridge as it lengthened and hardened in his mouth. He started to bob his head slowly, taking a little more on each downstroke. John wasn't quiet, making noises of pleasure and desire above him. His legs were starting to shake and when Rodney released him, he cried out. "Oh, god. Please don't stop."

"You're going to fall," said Rodney. "Come lie down with me."

It took some maneuvering to get both of them on the bed, but they managed through long practice. John's mouth found Rodney's and they started kissing again like they were never going to stop. Their hips ground together, cocks rubbing up against each other, and they were trading moans. But Rodney wanted more than that, and pulled back.

John was clearly lost in a haze of lust. Before he could question what Rodney was doing, Rodney had already turned over, pressing his ass back against John 's cock. The swift intake of breath told him that John knew what he wanted, and he could feel John shifting around to find the lube. A slick finger found his hole, pressing in deeply and making Rodney gasp with pleasure.

Within seconds, John added a second finger and started to finger fuck Rodney, nice and slow. Rodney didn't want that, though. "Come on, John," he whined. "Fuck me already."

John made a sound deep in his throat before pulling his fingers out. Rodney could hear him applying lube to his cock, and then the slick, swollen head pressed up against his hole and started to nudge inside. It burned a little as John worked his way in with a series of short thrusts, but eventually they were pressed together from knees to shoulders, John buried as deep as he could go.

Rodney let his head fall back to rest against John's shoulder, and John kissed him on the temple before saying, "Rodney, I need - I can't - "

"I know." Rodney pulled up his top leg, to give John more room to move, and he started to rock. This wasn't a great position for thrusting, but that didn't matter. What mattered was how close they were, how much they both wanted it. Rodney rocked back to meet each of John's gentle thrusts, loving the feeling of John inside him so deep.

Gradually, their movements became faster, more frenzied as they both got closer to their climaxes. Rodney spilled first, with a soft, wordless cry. John paused, buried deep, until Rodney was no longer shaking from the force, and then said, voice tight, "Can I move us?"

Suspecting that John needed it a little harder than was possible in this position, Rodney nodded, and went willingly when John rolled them so that Rodney was on his stomach. Propping himself up on his hands, John began to thrust hard and fast. Soft words spilled from his lips, "Need you," and "Want you," and "Always," words that Rodney wanted to hear but would never mention to John, for fear that he'd stop saying them.

When John broke his rhythm, hips stuttering as he came, Rodney whimpered. John being done meant John pulling out, and Rodney didn't want to lose that connection. But he didn't have a choice in the matter, and he hissed as John withdrew. John collapsed on the bed next to Rodney, and Rodney turned his head to look at him.

"Well, that was awesome," said John.

Rodney couldn't help it. He started to giggle, and then laugh, and before too long they were both laughing. Every time their eyes met, they started all over again. Finally, John managed to say, "Why are we laughing?"

"Because you sounded all of twelve," said Rodney, still gasping with laughter.

John tried to look offended, but the occasional laugh that sprang loose made it impossible to take him seriously. They lay there, giggling and touching, until they fell asleep.

***

Richard grimaced at the state of the supply reports. He'd known that they were already short of many staples - flour, egg substitute, various juices, but he was a little appalled at how quickly it was happening. Maybe he had been wrong to ground SGA-1 for so long.

The debriefing had been awful, with Colonel Sheppard and Doctor McKay painfully polite and Ms. Emmagan and Specialist Dex doing most of the actual reporting. Ms. Emmagan was carefully thorough, going over every bit of the trade agreement, but she was even more formal than she'd been previously.

Having seen her interact with her team in the mess and other places, Richard knew that she was only like that because she disliked him. He guessed he really couldn't blame her.

He pushed away his computer in disgust. The agreement with the Physsgshy would help greatly. They weren't going to run out of food, at any rate, but it wasn't going to be Earth food. He knew that the early expedition members had done all right on Pegasus foods, but he wasn't really looking forward to it.

Even though he wasn't particularly concerned about the foodstuffs, tech supplies were different. They had bullets, lots of bullets, thanks to whoever had packed the Daedalus, and now they had drones, but they didn't have things like uniforms. Computer parts. Medical supplies. Once they ran out of what they had, that was it. They were so screwed, unless the teams managed to find societies capable of producing what they needed, and from what Richard understood, that was unlikely - Wraith cullings rarely let any planet get that advanced.

He put his head in his hands and tried to think. Maybe he suggest to Doctor McKay that he pull a few people off less practical experiments to work on seeing if they could perhaps build things like computer parts themselves. If all they needed was the raw materials instead of already prepared supplies, then they could be a little more independent.

As far as uniforms went, they were going to end up trading for clothing, because even if sewing as a skill set existed in the expedition, there was no one with the time to make them. As for medical supplies, he knew that he needed to talk to Doctor Keller to see what was necessary. Surely there were Pegasus substitutes for some things?

He pulled his computer back and started to type up what few ideas he had. He'd have to broach them with the right people, but that could wait. First of all was just getting them down.

***

Evan couldn't believe it. There was no reason for the Quil to be mad at them, but apparently they were. He pounded on the door again in frustration, knowing that the guards outside were going to ignore it the same way they'd ignored it every time previously. His only hope was that Brewer or Ashshyo had gotten away from the Quil and made it back to the 'gate. He knew that Parrish was in the cell next door because he'd heard him trying to convince the guards to at least put him with Evan.

He slid down the wall to sit on the floor since, hey, there was no furniture in the room. He knew that he should be trying to find a way to escape, but these were basically caves in the hill, with heavy wooden bars across the doors. There weren't even locks that he could try to pick. The cell was dark, with the only source of light being the small window in the door. All he could do was wait, so he waited.

Eventually, he heard the bar being lifted away, and he scrambled to his feet, not wanting to be sitting when the guards came in. He thought about charging the door as it opened, but any possibility of that disappeared as guards flooded into the room. Two of them grabbed him by the arms and forced him to his knees, as several stood behind him.

In came Sayxurn, the mayor of the Quil, and Evan breathed a sigh of relief. "Sayxurn, I think there's been a misunder-"

"Be quiet," ordered one of the guards. Then Evan noticed that Sayxurn was playing with the gun taken from Evan, switching the safety on and off.
"I wouldn't do that," said Evan. "You might hurt someone." The last time they'd been here, the Quil had been at the bow and arrow stage of technology. There was no way that they could use a gun successfully.

"You know," Sayxurn said, "we trusted you. You came to our village, called us allies, and offered us medicine and technology in exchange for food and information. We shared willingly. After all, other than food, what do we have to steal?" Sayxurn sighted down the barrel, and Evan swallowed hard. If he pulled the trigger Evan was going to be in a world of hurt, if not dead.

"I don't know what's happened, Sayxurn. Why don't we talk about this rationally?" Evan spoke calmly, soothingly.

"We've been talking to some of the Genii, and not the ones that you convinced that you're good guys. They tell us that you have a shield on your gate, one that keeps others out unless you choose to lower it. With the Wraith active throughout the galaxy, you didn't think that this technology was worth sharing?" Sayxurn was practically yelling by the time he finished. "The Wraith were here a ten-day ago. They took my wife! If you'd shared the technology, she would still be here!"

Evan hesitated for a moment. He wasn't sure what he could say to defuse the situation, but he decided to go with the truth as he understood it. "Sayxurn, I'm sorry about your wife, and we'd have been happy to share the technology. But we don't know how it works. We can't build it for your people if we don't understand it ourselves."

"Lies!" Sayxurn lashed out with the butt of the gun, catching Evan just below the eye. He would have fallen back except for the guards' grip on his arms. "You will stay here until someone from Atlantis comes to put a shield on our gate."

"Sayxurm," Evan tried again. "No one understands how the gate shield works! They're not going to be able to build one for you."

"You'd better hope that they can, Major Lorne, because if they don't, you die." With that, Sayxurm turned around and left the cell, the guards following. Evan slumped to the ground, pressing a hand to the bleeding wound on his face, and sighed. He was fucked.

Crawling over to the wall, he propped himself up once more. Well, this really sucked. He knew that Sheppard would be frantic, but Woolsey wasn't as good at negotiating as Doctor Weir had been, and to be honest, the Quil didn't deserve to die for being rightfully upset. He couldn't really blame them for being mad at the Atlanteans.

He pulled off his t-shirt and folded it into a pad, pressing it against the still-bleeding gash. Well, from in here he couldn't do anything at all. He just had to hope. The only way to tell the passage of time inside the cell was the way the light faded from the small window, leaving Evan in a pitch black cell. Knowing that there was nothing else for it, he closed his eyes and did his best to sleep.

Waking with a start, he listened hard to figure out what had woken him. He realized that he was hearing the bar on the cell next door opening. Knowing that Parrish was in there, Evan bit his lip. He hoped that none of the guards decided to assault Parrish, because that would mean that they'd have a reason to kill people, and he really didn't want to.

He strained to hear what was going on, but the walls were too thick. Then the bar on his door was being moved, and he forced himself to his feet, ignoring the way that stiff muscles tried to cramp up. There was whispering right outside the door, and then it swung wide. Two of the townspeople stood there with Parrish. "Aughtana?" he asked, recognizing one of the people. "What's happening?"

"Quickly, Major Lorne. We must go!" she beckoned him out.

Evan knew better than to hesitate when offered an escape, and he hurried out of the cell, joining Parrish in following Aughtana and her friend. "Where are we going?" he whispered.

"We will take you to the gate," she answered as they hurried through the sleeping town. "Not everyone supports Sayxurn's treatment of you. We beg you not to judge us too harshly."

"I don't. I know people do things in grief that they would never do otherwise."

"Yes, well, it is more the Genii than grief, I believe. I wish that we could make them leave, but Sayxurn has welcomed them with open arms, believing that they will help keep the Wraith away."

Evan sighed. The Quil had been good allies, but the damn Genii were once again making life difficult for Atlantis. They were almost to the gate when the sudden flash of light tipped them off that the 'gate was opening. Completely unsurprised to see Sheppard and his team come through, Evan stepped forward, waving an arm.

When he turned to thank Aughtana and her unspeaking friend, they were already running back towards the town. Evan knew that they needed to get back before anyone realized that they were gone, but he still wished they'd stayed long enough for him to thank them.

Sheppard got close enough to talk without shouting, and said, "Major, are you okay?"

"Yes, sir. A little beat up, but I'm fine."

Taking him by the chin, Sheppard tilted his face so that he could get a better look at the cut on Evan's face, and then nodded. "All right. Rodney, dial the gate."

Fatigue was starting to set in, and when Parrish wrapped an arm around his shoulders, Evan didn't object. He watched dispassionately as Rodney sent their IDC and radioed that they'd need medical in the gateroom. Finally Sheppard waved him through, and he went willingly, back to the light and warmth that was Atlantis.

***

He watched as Sheppard's and Lorne's teams came back through the 'gate. Other than the dried blood on Lorne's face and chest no one looked hurt, injured, or even overly tired. Dammit.

Dan didn't understand. Not one person he'd tried had seen the overwhelming need to go back to the Milky Way. They all missed home, missed their families, but were mostly content to stay here and let them rot. Dan knew, though, that they were wrong.

Sheppard kept scheduling appointments with the base psychiatrist, but the man was laughably easy to avoid. Besides, there was nothing wrong with Dan – the problem was with everyone else.

He'd tried hovering around the medical areas, and had managed to stay undetected long enough that he'd found out that they'd not been able to engineer a cure before Keller had found him and ordered him away. Of course, not everyone was working on it, and how wrong was that? If he were in charge, one hundred percent of the effort of the expedition would be towards finding something that worked. Of course, if he had his way, they'd be doing it on board the Daedalus on their way back to the Milky Way.

When he watched Sheppard and McKay together, he couldn't help but wonder if they'd come up with the whole thing. It was easy enough to make a video, even if Dan didn't know how to do it. McKay claimed to be the smartest man in two galaxies - it would probably be simple for him.

He resolutely didn't think about the Daedalus drifting in space. There had to be an explanation for that too, and just because he couldn't think of one didn't mean it didn't exist.

Slipping away from the control tower, he realized that he was being followed again. Sergeant Gabriel was a stubborn son of a bitch who wouldn't leave him alone. It was clear that he was on Sheppard's side, and therefore Dan didn't even try to approach him. He just knew that Gabriel was looking for a reason to arrest him.

He started towards his room, and halfway there got an idea. It was so good it stopped him dead as he wondered why he hadn't thought of it before. The Daedalus had been designed to fly with a skeleton crew. Well, a crew didn't get much smaller than one. Maybe it would be possible to fly it by himself?

He knew that the specs should be in the database, so he hurried back to his room. Apparently Sheppard was dumber than Dan thought, because he hadn't taken away Dan's laptop. It was almost like he wanted there to be a coup.

Opening up his computer, he started doing searches on the Daedalus. Maybe that would let him get home.

***

Kevin stared at the picture of his family. He missed them with an ache that didn't seem to end, but he knew that the Sergeant was right. They wouldn't want him to be sad and miserable for them. They'd want him to live, make a life here.

He was doing his best, and most days that was almost good enough. Having Lammerman around actually helped, since he was a pretty clear example of what would happen to a marine that went off the rails. Everyone knew that Lammerman was nuts, and he'd approached most of the enlisted personnel about doing... something. No one was quite sure whether he wanted to overthrow Colonel Sheppard, or just steal the Daedalus, mostly because when he started talking they shut him down.

He knew that a lot of the marines were wondering why Colonel Sheppard hadn't done anything about the loose cannon in their midst, but after talking to Sergeant Gabriel, he understood a little better. There really wasn't anything Sheppard could do until and unless Lammerman did something overt. So far, he'd maintained enough sanity to not do that.

Kevin really wondered what Sheppard would do when Lammerman finished snapping, though. It wasn't like they had a lot of extra guards. Most everyone was on gate teams now, and the few who weren't were needed as security around Atlantis. It wouldn't be fair to just lock Lammerman up and forget about him. It wasn't his fault he was crazy, after all.

Setting the picture down on the nightstand, he turned so he could lie down on the bed. He was tired, and when he got tired, he got sad. He knew that, and that was the reason that he was here, trying to sleep, instead of out there at the poker game. He needed to sleep, but he couldn't get his brain to shut off.

Sitting up, he slipped down to the floor and started doing push ups. Maybe physical exhaustion would do in this case, since just being mentally tired wasn't cutting it. He thought about calling Sergeant, but he was a marine. He shouldn't be quite so dependent on someone else.

He didn't bother to count the push ups; he just kept going till he was too exhausted to continue. It took effort to pry himself off the floor, but he finally managed. He thought about a shower, but decided that that might just wake him up, so instead he laid down.

And then he stared at the ceiling for what felt like hours.

Finally, he got back up. Maybe if he couldn't sleep, he should just read for a while. Grabbing one of the chemistry texts sitting on his nightstand, he flipped it open to the last page he'd been on and started to read.

***

Radek was working on the ZPM research when one of the computer alarms dinged. He started to absently close the alarm, but then he happened to notice what it said. "No, kurva," he muttered. "Už bylo načase." Then he triggered his radio for the command staff frequency. "Colonel Sheppard, Doctor McKay, to lab three, please."

They both acknowledged, and as he waited he tried to trace what the computer had found. He hadn't gotten very far when Sheppard and McKay came in, their hair still damp like they had just gotten out of the shower. "What is it, Radek?" asked McKay.

"Someone has triggered the alarms that we put in on the Daedalus specs. I was just trying to see what in particular he or she was looking at."

"Who did it?" asked Sheppard. "Was it Lammerman?"

"I do not know, Colonel," said Radek. "I had just started looking at it when you got here."

"You know it's him," said McKay angrily. "I wish you'd just deal with him already. He's going to get someone killed if he actually manages to convince someone to follow through on whatever cockbrained idea he's got."

Sheppard sighed. "So far he hasn't done anything I can address," he said. "Even if he had, what exactly do you want me to do about it?"

"I know, I know," said McKay. His hands were busy on the keyboard as he and Radek raced to find who and what. Radek had just found the what when McKay said, "Well, color me unsurprised. It was him. Is this finally enough to do something with?"

"I don't know. What was he accessing?"

Radek turned his computer around. "The Daedalus's propulsion and steering systems. It looks like he was trying to figure out how to pilot the ship."

"Well, crap. What's the minimum number of people you need to run it?" asked Sheppard.

"We did it with six, but that's really pushing it," said Rodney. "To be safe, I'd say ten to fifteen minimum, especially since they wouldn't have me."

Radek and Sheppard both rolled their eyes - it wouldn't do to let McKay get too full of himself after all. "McKay is right," said Radek. "He certainly couldn't do it by himself, and I don't believe he has any allies in this endeavor at all."

"Well, that's something of a relief," said Sheppard. "At least we don't need to increase the guard on the Daedalus." Radek and McKay very carefully did not look at each other. Unfortunately, Sheppard was not stupid. "What did you two do?"

"We just made sure that no one could decide to steal the Daedalus," said McKay. "Nothing big, just a little bit of creative sabotage."

"Rodney..." Sheppard said warningly.

"We didn't do anything that we can't undo fairly quickly. But the ship isn't moving without us, and it's not like either of us are likely to help Lammerman, even if I do want to boot him through the gate."

"You're sure it's fixable?"

McKay looked at Sheppard like he was sorry that Sheppard was fatally stupid.

"I am most disappointed in you, Colonel Sheppard," said Radek. "Do you honestly think we'd damage a fine piece of equipment like the Daedalus if we couldn't fix it?"

"Well, okay. Until we know what Lammerman is planning, it's probably a good idea to leave it alone." Sheppard yawned, and McKay followed a split second later. "All right. We're not going to be able to do anything till I talk to Woolsey in the morning and make a decision about him. I'll make sure that there's a guard on him so that he can't try anything tonight, and then we'll deal with it tomorrow."

Radek nodded. He started to turn to go back to the computer holding the ZPM research, but McKay took his arm. "I don't want you in the lab by yourself, Radek. I don't think this guy is stable, and I don't want him trying something. For that matter, I don't want anyone in the lab on their own till we know that he's not going to try something."

"But I was working on - " Radek tried to argue. Why, he didn't know, since when McKay had made up his mind there was no point, but he felt he needed to make the effort.

"I know what you were working on, and it can wait until morning. Shut it down, and let's go."

Grumbling under his breath, Radek shut down his computers. Picking up his laptop and tucking it under his arm, he joined Sheppard and McKay on their way back to the residential quarters. He tried very hard not to notice if they went into the same room.

***

Dan swore. According to the schematics he'd found, there was no way that he was going to be able to operate the Daedalus by himself. He'd thought about trying to talk to Zelenka. He knew almost as much as McKay and wasn't in cahoots with Sheppard, but apparently they'd gotten to him first.

As they walked down the hall, he listened. Unfortunately he didn't hear anything of use. He was ready kill something, he was so frustrated. Maybe he should kill McKay? No, that would just get Sheppard after him. Dan didn't like Sheppard, didn't trust him, but he'd heard the stories, same as every other marine. He'd killed sixty people without blinking an eye. He wouldn't hesitate to kill Dan if he was threatening McKay.

After checking to make sure that he wasn't being followed, Dan headed off in the opposite direction from McKay, Sheppard, and Zelenka. A plan. He needed a plan. The Daedalus was out, so that left the gate. But he'd never be allowed to get into the control room. Gabriel would probably stop him, and even if he didn't, he had to assume that Sheppard had put out the word that Dan wasn't to be trusted.

Well, if he wasn't to be trusted, then it was time that Dan just act the way that they clearly expected him to act. He knew that they were lying about the gate for whatever reason. That meant that the Milky Way could be dialed, and he could get home to Earth that way. They just needed to be persuaded.

He knew better than to go back to his room - Gabriel would just be able to find him. So instead he took the transporter to part of the city that hadn't been explored yet. He'd already set up a bedroll there, so he was at least reasonably comfortable. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he'd figure out a way to make them dial Earth.

When he woke up the next morning, he had the beginnings of a nebulous plan. It was shot to hell when the announcement went out to everyone that no one was supposed to be alone in the halls or labs.

He needed to get at least one of the scientists alone for his plan to work. He'd thought about using a marine for this, but he didn't think that he'd be able to handle distractions and hold on to one without whoever he caught breaking free. No, he definitely wanted a scientist for this.

Sitting on his bedroll, he frantically tried to think. How could he get one of the scientists alone? Then he realized - the grounding station! Grounding station three was always giving the scientists trouble. He could figure out a way to make it break, and then one of them would come to fix it. Even if they came in a pair, they were scientists. Easy enough to knock one out, and use the other to get into the control room.

Having made the decision, he started to make his way back into the occupied parts of the city. A quick run would bring him to the grounding station.

This was going to work.

***

John couldn't believe that Woolsey was back to being a obstructionist jackass. "What do you mean, 'there's not enough evidence to arrest him'? He's hacking into restricted files, he's been trying to foment a coup for weeks, and there's not enough evidence?"

"All he's been doing is talking to people, and that is not a crime, Colonel Sheppard. According to your own sources he's found no support, and you aren't even sure what his goal is – is it control of the city? Or is it a forced return to Earth?"

Woolsey folded his hands on the table. "As far as the computer hacking goes, the only evidence that it was Lammerman was Doctor Zelenka and Doctor McKay's word. Neither of them like Lammerman, and I suspect both of them would be too happy to see him arrested."

John took a deep breath. Throttling the man wouldn't accomplish anything. "I didn't come here to debate this with you," he said. "Lammerman is part of the military, and therefore he falls under my jurisdiction. I believe that he's a danger, and as such, I'm going to have my people arrest him until we can be certain that he's not going to hurt anyone."

"Ah, but Colonel Sheppard, you fall under me, and I'm telling you that you may not do so. At your request I've been looking at supplies and personnel, and we don't have the people to keep him under arrest unless he's already done something."

Rubbing his eyes, John tried to come up with something, anything, to convince Woolsey that he was being a moron, when his radio went off. "Sheppard here," he said.

"I'm sorry to interrupt you," said Sergeant Gabriel. "I just wanted to let you know that I've been unable to locate Lammerman since last night."

"Where was he?"

"The last time I saw him, I thought that he was on his way to the labs, but he got in a transporter and when I got the next one, he was nowhere to be found. I'm still looking for him, and would like to pull Johanson and Todd off their patrol duties to help me look."

John grimaced. "You do that, Sergeant. Keep me apprised of the situation."

"Yes, sir." Gabriel disconnected.

Looking at Woolsey, he said, "Well, you get your way for now, since Lammerman has disappeared. I can't arrest him if I can't find him, but I'm telling you the man is dangerous."

"That may be, Colonel, but he deserves to have there be actual evidence before he's arrested."

Not sure if he could keep his temper, John stood. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to be putting additional guards on the chair and the ZPMs, because I don't want him able to destroy them before we can get there to stop him."


Woolsey nodded. "That, of course, is reasonable," he said. "Just because he hasn't done anything doesn't mean he won't, and I fully support making it difficult for him to do something that will get him arrested."

Folding his lips to keep silent, John left Woolsey's office and went down to his own, radioing for several team leads to meet him there. He was going to put full teams in each sensitive location, and several guards in the labs. No one was going to get hurt if he could help it.

***

Grounding station three was a mess when Miko and Anna Simpson got there. Panels were ripped out, cables were cut, and crystals were smashed. "This does not look good," said Miko, as they surveyed the damage.

"This looks like it was done by a person," Anna replied, hand already on her radio. "McKay, we need help. Grounding station three was smashed up by someone."

"What? Get out of there," he ordered, and Anna grabbed Miko by the shoulder, tugging her back and away from the station.

"Let's go," she said.

Then a male voice came from behind her. "You're not going anywhere," he said.

They both whirled around, Anna marginally faster than Miko. Lammerman was there, holding a Wraith stunner. "I only need one of you," he said, and fired, hitting Miko squarely in the chest. Anna did the best she could to catch her and keep her from hitting her head as she fell. As she lowered Miko gently to ground, there was the sound of a safety being taken off a gun. "Stand up," he said.

"Just let me - " Anna began, trying to stall for time, only to have him fire off a shot that only barely missed her and Miko.

"The next one goes into her head," said Lammerman, pointing it at Miko. "Get up, I said." Slowly, not wanting to make any sudden moves, Anna got back on her feet. She went to grab the toolbag, only to have it ripped out of her hands. "Let's go," he said.

"Go where?" she asked.

Lammerman lifted the gun as if he was going to hit her with it, then lowered it again. "We're going to the control tower."

Anna couldn't think of a situation where being a hostage was a good thing, but she also didn't see any alternatives. Holding her hands up and out so that Lammerman wouldn't think that she was threatening in any way, she started to walk towards the transporter. He was so close behind her that she could feel his breath on her neck, and she swallowed convulsively. "Faster," he said. "Move your ass."

"Simpson?" McKay squawked through the radio. "Where are you and Miko now?"

She turned to face Lammerman slightly. "It's McKay on the radio. Can I at least tell him to send someone to Miko?"

"Fine," he said, "but if you slow down again we'll see how fast you run with a hole in your arm."

"Miko's down, McKay, at the grounding station. Send a med team. We're - " the radio was ripped off her ear. "Ow," she cried.

"I told you that you could report Miko's location. Not your own." He gestured for her to keep moving, and she did the only thing she could. She ran.

When she would have turned right to go to the nearest transporter, he grabbed her arm. "This way," he said, pointing straight ahead. Already stumbling, she wondered how she was going to keep up the pace that Lammerman demanded.

***

The transporter opened, letting the medical and security personnel out, Rodney following. He knew that John was going to kill him, but it was one of his people down, and another being held hostage. There was no way that he was sitting in the control tower and waiting to find out if one of them was dead or injured. As the medical team made their way down the hall to the grounding station, Rodney looked around, remembering Kolya threatening to kill him.

That reminded him of John sneaking through the halls, and then he realized that there was another transporter a little further away. If he was Lammerman, that would be where he'd be headed. He thought about taking one of the guards with him, but decided that he didn't want them going all Rambo and setting Lammerman off. No, it was better to see if he could catch up with them on his own.

He took off at a steady run, grateful for once for Ronon and John insisting that Rodney run every day. He turned the corner to the long corridor, and there they were, Simpson being shoved along by Lammerman. "Lammerman!" he yelled.

The two of them stopped, Lammerman wrapping his arm around Simpson's neck and holding a gun to her head. "Get out of here, McKay. You're not going to stop me."

Rodney slowed to a walk, holding up his hands. "You don't want to shoot her, Lammerman. There are security guards just behind me, and they'll hear it. You'll be dead before you can go five feet."

Even at this distance, he could hear the faint echoes of Simpson whispering; prayers, it sounded like. "Shut up," growled Lammerman, shaking her. She stopped, and Lammerman returned his attention to Rodney. "I don't care. I'll shoot her, I will!" he yelled.

Brain frantically turning over options, Rodney tried to figure a way out of this that would get Simpson out alive. Then it came to him in a brilliant flash. Oh, John was going to kill him.

"Look, you don't want her," he said, pitching his voice to carry. "Whatever you have planned, she's not going to be able to do. You've scared her too badly."

"She'll be able to get me into the Control tower and to the DHD. That's all I care about."

"And then what?" asked Rodney, walking a little closer. "You're going to just go to some random planet in Pegasus?"

"No! I'm going to dial Earth. Without you fucking with it, it'll work. You'll see!" Lammerman's eyes were wild and his hand was shaking. Rodney was terrified that he'd shoot Simpson by accident.

"Fine, fine. Sounds like a perfectly reasonable plan," in Bizarro world he thought to himself. "But don't you want a better hostage than Simpson? She's a nobody, just another scientist. We've got plenty of 'em."

"Oh, like who? You? Like you'd risk your skin, or the chance that I'd get back in contact with Earth. Everyone knows that they'd recall Sheppard for being a fag." The gun was waving all over the place now. Simpson actually looked like she was thinking about trying to disarm him, but Rodney caught her eye and shook his head a little.

He had to do something, and he had to do it now. "Look, if it doesn't work - and I'm not saying it won't - Simpson won't be able to do anything for you. I will. Let her go, take me, and we can head to the control tower right now." He was wavering, but clearly he needed a little more to push him over. "Sheppard won't even know that you've got me, so you'll throw him off balance."

It was working - Lammerman was clearly thinking about it. "Why should I trust you?"

Rodney rolled his eyes. "For the same reason you currently trust Simpson - because you have a gun on me. And you'll be able to watch what I'm doing up close and personal. If I start fucking with things, you'll know."

"True." Suddenly Lammerman shoved Simpson away and aimed the gun at Rodney. "Get over here."

"McKay – " Simpson said. "Don't!"

"It'll be fine," said Rodney as he moved towards Lammerman. "Now get out of here."

Simpson hesitated for a second, and then started to run down the hall towards the security people. Rodney thought that that was a nice try, even though there was no way she was going to get there in time.

"Let's go, McKay," said Lammerman, giving Rodney a shove down the hall. He thought about trying to slow their pace, but Lammerman had seen him running and he had no desire to get shot, so he started to run again.

The transporter was just where Rodney remembered it and Lammerman practically pounded on the door panel, crowding Rodney inside when it opened. He reached past Rodney to push the location on the map and then the transporter flashed, taking them to the central tower.

When the door opened again, Lammerman wrapped his hand around Rodney's upper arm and started to drag him towards the control room. Not wanting to antagonize the man with the gun any more than he already had, Rodney kept his mouth shut and his feet moving. There wasn't anyone in the hall, a fact that Rodney was immensely grateful for. He hadn't gotten Simpson out of the crazy man's hands just to have someone else get hurt.

Going into the control room was a different story - it was packed with people, including John and Woolsey. As they walked in the door, everyone froze.

Lammerman paused, his grip on Rodney's arm pulling him to a stop as well. "Everybody out of here," he yelled, pressing the barrel of the gun to his head. "Or I'll kill him."


Slowly, the room emptied of people. McKay found it interesting that even those people who were closest to them found another exit rather than cross in front of him.

He focused on his breathing, trying to stay calm. He knew that he had a pretty good chance of ending up dead when Lammerman couldn't dial Earth, but he was strangely okay with that. He knew that John wouldn't let anyone else get hurt.

When he opened his eyes - and when had he closed them? - he saw that the room was pretty much empty except for Woolsey and John, who were standing on the balcony. "You don't want to do this, Corporal," said Woolsey. "You need to let Doctor McKay go, and then we can discuss what you hope to accomplish."

"Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!" screamed Lammerman. "You aren't supposed to be here anymore - it's just supposed to be me. So leave, or I'll kill him."

"If you kill him, you'll be dead too," growled John. "A dead hostage is useless."

"John, go," said Rodney. Lammerman was already close to the edge, and any more resistance was going to lead to more bloodshed. Rodney could just about cope with the thoughts of his own death, but if Lammerman shot John, it would be too much. "It's okay. Get out of here and take Woolsey with you."

Lammerman was panting like a panicked horse, and Rodney could feel the trembling in his hands. Since one of those hands was still wrapped around the trigger of the gun pressed against his forehead, he was willing to do anything that he could to calm the man down.

John met his eyes, silently promising Rodney that he was going to be in so much trouble when he survived this. When, not if, Rodney had to repeat to himself. John would find a way to keep him alive, and if he didn't, John would make sure no one else got hurt.

Slowly, John started to back away, not looking away from Rodney. When Woolsey didn't immediately follow, John grabbed his arm and started to pull him backwards. "We're going, but you remember that what I said about a dead hostage, Lammerman."

"As soon as the wormhole opens to Earth, I'll let him go," said Lammerman, a little steadier than he'd been a few seconds earlier. Rodney knew that that was only a temporary thing. When they tried to dial Earth and failed, Lammerman was going to blow his stack. Hopefully John would have a plan by then.

***

"Give me options, people," said John to the assorted military personnel gathered around him. "We need to act and act quickly, before McKay gets hurt."

One of the marines said, "What about Ronon? He could shoot them both to stun? Or we could get a stunner from weapon stores?"

"Go get a stunner," John said, but he didn't think that there was enough time for him to get there and back. Maybe Ronon was close by? "Ronon?" he said into the radio.

"I heard, and I'm on my way," Ronon said. John could hear the pounding of his feet as he ran.

"Where are you?" Please be close. Please be close.

"On pier six," said Ronon, and John swore. Even at his fastest, Ronon was going to take time to get there.

"Get here as fast as you can," said John. Disconnecting the radio, he looked around.

"Can we charge the room? If several of us run at him, he should only have time to maybe hit one target before we overwhelm him with numbers," Gabriel said calmly.

"No, too much risk that someone will get hurt." John looked around, and saw frustration on almost every face. "Come on, folks. There's got to be another way."

Woolsey pushed his way into the middle of the group. "Let me try to talk to him again. Maybe I can calm him down."

"Are you kidding me?" said John. "If it wasn't for you, he would have been in custody yesterday, and this wouldn't have happened!"

"Colonel Sheppard - "

"No. My answer is final." John couldn't believe that Woolsey didn't understand why John couldn't let Lammerman have two hostages. Besides, if they went back in to try and talk, he might shoot Rodney just to prove his point. There had to be a way to get them both out of there whole. Lammerman needed therapy, clearly, and lots of it, but there had to be a way.

Well, one thing was for sure, he wasn't going to let Rodney die. He gestured for Gabriel to come closer. "See if you can find a spot that gives you a clear shot. Do not fire unless there is no other choice. Do you understand?"

"Got it, sir." The sergeant took off at a run.

John looked around at the other people's faces and saw nothing but frustration and anger.

***

No, no, no, this had to work. Dan knew it had to work. He was dialing the right sequence, McKay hadn't had a chance to meddle with the controls. It should be working. Why wasn't it working? "What did you do to the gate?" he demanded. "You did something to it to make it not dial Earth!"

"Corporal, it's not on this end. It's at Earth's end - they've done something to their gate and we can't get through." McKay met his eyes squarely, but that just meant that he was a better liar than Dan thought.

Dan backhanded Rodney. "You're lying. Now fix it." He'd opened a cut on McKay's face, and blood was already running down it when he looked back at Dan. Dan ignored the pity in his eyes and raised the gun. McKay could fix it. "I'll shoot you. Don't think I won't."

"You can shoot me. It's not going to fix the problem." McKay wiped away some of the blood, which was already dripping onto his shirt. "The only thing that's going to fix the problem is if you give up, Corporal. If you do that, we can get you some help."

"I don't care what you say," Dan screamed. "Get under the console and fix it, right now."

With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Rodney went under the console and opened it up. Dan came to stand over him, gun pointed at his head as motivation. McKay pulled a few crystals out, switched their places, and then said. "Let's play this farce out. Try it again."

"You haven't done anything, really. You haven't fixed it!" Dan couldn't believe McKay. Didn't he know that Dan had every reason to kill him if he didn't fix it?

McKay got back on his feet, yelling back. "That's because there's nothing to fix. The gate is working perfectly. The problem is on their side. They've cut us off from contact to save us, and everyone in this galaxy."

"I don't believe that," said Dan, his hands shaking. "They wouldn't keep us from our families."

"If our families wanted to keep us safe, they would," said McKay, his voice unbearably gentle. He took a step forward. "You can't tell me that your family would want you to come home, just to die."

Dan shook his head. He was lying. He had to be lying. The alternative was unacceptable. He firmed his grip on the gun and clicked off the safety. "You're going to make the gate work, or I'm going to blow your brains all over the consoles," he said. "We'll see what Sheppard does then."

"He'll kill you if you kill me," said McKay as he took another step.
"Get back under there!" he demanded. McKay just shook his head and took another step. He was almost within reach now, and Dan realized that McKay thought he might actually disarm him. That was a laugh - McKay was a scientist. Dan was a Marine. It was no contest.

Flipping the gun over, he used it to hit McKay across the face, knocking him to the floor. "I said, fix it," he said.

McKay spit a mouthful of blood on the floor. "I can't. If we could, I'd already have gone home. Please, just stop and think."

"That's it, you're a dead man," said Dan, lifting the gun and pointing it at McKay's head. There was a soft sound to his right, and without thinking he turned to face the noise.

He didn't see anyone, but before he could swing back, he got tackled around the knees. "Sheppard!" McKay cried as Dan struggled, trying to get the gun up and pointed. McKay's arm was in the way, though, and damn if he wasn't more solid than he looked.

They wrestled for the gun for what seemed like an eternity before he managed to get the gun aimed. He started to pull the trigger, and there was an explosion of sound, but...He looked dumbly down at his shirt. There was a spreading red stain on the front. It didn't hurt, though.

Then it all went dark.

***

John paced in the waiting area of the infirmary. He could see Rodney sitting on the gurney as they stitched up the gashes on his face and gave him an ice pack for his jaw. The expedition dentist was also there, checking to make sure that Lammerman hadn't managed to loosen any of Rodney's teeth, and he could hear Rodney from here bitching that he would have said something. Unsurprisingly, he just wanted to go back to his quarters and go to sleep, but the doctors wouldn't discharge him.

He heard the door to the OR open, and he turned around to face Keller, who was stripping out of her bloodied gown. It was far too soon for her to be coming out and his stomach dropped at the grim look on her face. "Well?" he demanded.

She met his eyes and shook her head. "There was too much damage. He bled to death on the table."

John dropped into a chair. He wanted Rodney safe, and he had that at least, but Lammerman hadn't been in his right mind from what Simpson and Rodney had said. He wasn't fully to blame for his actions either. The only person to blame was him, because he hadn't forced the issue with Woolsey. If he had, Lammerman would still be alive and getting the help he needed to fix whatever was wrong with him.

Now Lammerman was dead. Fuck. Just... fuck.

Rodney's voice raised from the opposite corner of the room, and he looked up. In a way he was grateful, because it could have so easily gone the other direction. He could have been mourning Rodney right about now instead.

With a final shout at Biro, Rodney jumped down from the gurney and stomped across the room to where John was sitting. He visibly hesitated before sitting down next to John. "They won't tell me anything," said Rodney. "How is he?"

A little surprised that Rodney cared, and then ashamed for being surprised, John said, "He died on the table."

"Oh," Rodney's voice was soft and shocked. "Well..." his voice drifted off, as if he wasn't sure what to say. Then he stood up and said, "Come on."

John stood as well. "Where are we going?" he asked, but since he wanted away from the infirmary, he was happy enough to follow as Rodney made his way out.

"My quarters," Rodney said, and then kept quiet as they walked through the hallways. Thankfully, he seemed to know the best routes to keep John away from people, because right now if he had to deal with someone telling him it was a good thing that Lammerman was dead, he'd probably lose it. The door slid open and the two of them made their way in.

Sitting on the couch in silence, John stared at the coffee table. He wasn't sure what to say. Thankfully, Rodney said it for him. "This wasn't your fault."

"It was. I should have realized sooner that Lammerman was cracking up. Should have him escorted to the psych – under gunpoint if necessary."

"How? No one realized."

"Because it's my job, Rodney. Every man and woman under my command is my responsibility. I fell down on the job." John rubbed his eyes and rested his head on the back of the couch. Pretty soon he was going to have to go back out there and deal with the rumors, the people staring at him, blaming him. He might not have fired the shot, but it might as well have been him.

"That's bullshit," Rodney said. The couch dipped as Rodney sat down, but John refused to look at him. "Look, when there were a hundred soldiers here, it was one thing. But we're up to almost three hundred, plus three hundred more scientists, plus I don't even know how many support personnel. There comes a point when you have to rely on other people to let you know that there's a problem."

John opened his eyes and looked at Rodney. "But that's the issue. Gabriel did warn me that Lammerman was in trouble, and I let Woolsey overrule me as to what to do about it. That's my fault."

"Again, I say that's bullshit. Did you know that he'd lost it? That he was going to start kidnapping scientists?"

"Speaking of which, how exactly is that you ended up being held hostage? I thought he had Simpson?" John knew that he was shifting the topic, but he needed to think about something other than the guilt that was eating a hole in his stomach.

Rodney flushed and looked away. "Would you have let him near the gate with Simpson in tow? Even if stopping him sooner had meant putting her at greater risk? Or would you have been willing to take greater risks with her than you were with me?"

"Of course I would have made the same decisions," John said, but when Rodney didn't say anything, he stopped and thought. "At least I think I would have."

"That wasn't a risk I could take. They're as much my people as the soldiers are yours. I couldn't risk Simpson dying if I could stop it."

John understood exactly what Rodney was saying. He even agreed with him to a certain extent. It hadn't made it any easier for John to watch, though. "Do me a favor, okay? Don't get taken hostage anymore."

Rodney smiled and then winced, as if he forgot that it would pull on stitches. "I'll do my best, if you promise to forgive yourself for Lammerman's death."

Scrubbing his hands across his face, John said, "I can't. If I'd taken him into custody, we'd have known that he was out of touch with reality. He'd be getting treatment right now, instead of a box."

Rodney sighed, the sound full of frustration. "Fine. Why didn't you take him into custody?"

"Because Woolsey wouldn't let me," he said and then some sense of fair play made him say, "And because the person following him lost track of him."

"So even if Woolsey had been all for it, you couldn't have arrested him anyway." John looked away, only to look back when Rodney shifted, catching his attention. "If Woolsey said that you could arrest him, what charges would you have used?"

"Breaking into the Daedalus schematics," John answered firmly.

"Except that we never formally said they were off-limits, and Lammerman would normally have had the security clearance he needed to go into them. So you couldn't actually charge him with that." Rodney sat back, his eyes intent. "Come up with something else."

John thought for a moment. Lammerman had been trying to start a coup, but he didn't actually have any proof, and Rodney was going to demand it, he knew. He rubbed his face again. "You're right. I didn't have a legal reason to arrest him, but we knew he was off-balance. We should have done something."

"We couldn't, not without proof that he was a danger to himself or someone else," said Rodney. "We don't have contact with Earth anymore. That means that it's up to us to hold up the best of what we knew of her culture. Not arresting people without cause was something that both of our cultures could agree on, and with good reason."

The sounds John made was pure frustration. "There had to have been a way," said John. "He didn't have to die."

"No, he didn't. Had he asked for help, we would have gotten it for him. Had he done something actually illegal, we could have arrested him. But these are all 'could haves' and they don't matter worth a damn." Rodney squeezed John's shoulder. "Let it go," he said.

"I wish it was that easy," John said. He knew logically that Rodney was right. It didn't make it any easier, thought. There had to have been something that he could have done. Rodney didn't say anything else. He just squeezed John's shoulder again and left his hand resting there.

***

Life went on. It had to.

Three days after Lammerman's death, Rodney received an email, scheduling a meeting for John, Woolsey, and Rodney. Rodney thought to himself that this wasn't going to be good.

He was actually surprised. John came in with Doctor Nayler, the mission psychologist. Under John's prodding, they analyzed Lammerman's known behavior, trying to figure out just where everyone had gone so spectacularly wrong.

"I know that most of the western countries on Earth believed that there needed to be a certain level of reasonable cause before someone was taken into custody for mental health reasons," John said, obviously choosing his words with care. "But to be frank, we can't afford that level of evidence anymore. What if he'd decided to open fire in the mess at dinner?"

"But - " Woolsey began.

"I understand concerns about personal rights," John said. "And I'm not talking about locking somebody up for no reason. I just think we need to lower that bar, in case someone else becomes… unbalanced."

Woolsey, clearly reluctant, nodded. "I don't think that that authority should rest with you, though. I believe that your judgment could be clouded."

Rodney suspected that Woolsey was still viewing this as a potential power grab. He wanted to throttle the man.

"It won't rest with me. Not entirely. It would take two people, one of whom would be either Doctor Nayler or Doctor Keller, to restrict someone to their quarters. As to the other person - McKay knows the scientists best, I know the marines. That leaves the support staff to you."

Rodney broke in, trying not to sound as snotty as he felt. "This means you'll actually have to interact with them, Woolsey. No more hiding in your office. You can't tell if someone's gone off the deep end if you don't know what they're normally like."

Woolsey sat up straight, tugging his uniform shirt down. He looked determined. "I can do that." Turning to John, he said, "I suppose that your plan is reasonable. I would certainly prefer not to see any more hostages in Atlantis."

Sensing that an escape from the meeting was in view, Rodney stood. "Good, so we're all in agreement. I need to get back to work." No one stopped him as he left the meeting room, so he headed straight for the lab. Once there, he composed an email to the lab staff:

To: Atlantis Scientific Staff science_staff@aweb.gov

From: Rodney McKay rmckay@aweb.gov

Subject: All of you

I know that I am occasionally considered unapproachable, or unreasonable. I want you to know that when it comes to the health and safety of my staff, I am completely approachable.

If you feel you are under an unacceptable amount of stress, or if you are concerned about someone else, please see me immediately. I will make no judgments and it will be completely confidential.

I respect all of you as scientists and I care about all of you as people, and I want you all safe.

Sincerely,

M. Rodney McKay, Ph.D., Ph.D.

He thought about it for a minute, debating if he should actually send it. He was afraid that it was too… mushy or something, but perhaps if someone had reached out to Lammerman, they could have caught what was going on.

He pressed send, even though he knew that his scientists would be looking for the pod.

***

Richard was a little surprised at how willing the support staff were to talk to him. He'd expected the same resistance he got from the scientists and military, but they were more than happy to sit down with him and discuss how they were feeling. More than one expressed how glad they were that the senior staff was thinking about them. It made Richard feel bad since, until McKay and Sheppard had told him that he was responsible, he hadn't thought of them.

Most of what he heard was that they were sad, but functional. There were a few people that he suggested see the psychologist, but for the most part they seemed to be operating adequately. No one seemed to be teetering on the edge that Lammerman had thrown himself off.

The other thing that surprised him was how forthcoming McKay and Sheppard were in providing him with reports of how their people were doing. Most of the military were well adjusted and dealing. A few of the scientists had reported themselves or others in need of help, but they were receiving that help.

He had a meeting with Sheppard in five minutes, regarding resuming the off-world schedule. It had been two weeks since Lammerman's unfortunate death, and Richard agreed that it was time for them to start resuming regular duties. Besides, they were starting to run low on staples again.

Sheppard knocked on his door, and Richard stood, tugging his uniform shirt down. He hated how the damn things rode up every time he moved. He waved Sheppard towards a chair, and before he could give any of his very good arguments to why they should get back out there, he said, "Yes."

"Huh?" Sheppard asked, clearly thrown for a loop.

"Yes, we should start missions up again. According to the reports I have from Doctors Keller and McKay, we have people twiddling their thumbs since their projects are no longer applicable. Several of them have volunteered their skills to be used as trade items."

Sheppard looked pleased. "Good. I'll let the teams know today, and we'll resume tomorrow if that's okay?"

"That sounds reasonable to me," said Richard. He brought up the graph of supplies that they had on hand. "As you can see, we're running low on protein supplies. Perhaps you can make that a priority?"

"Easily done, plus we can ask the Athosians to send out a hunting party," Sheppard said. "Protein supplies are fixable."

Richard couldn't keep from making a face. He'd eat whatever the teams came back with, but he still missed prime rib. Sheppard chuckled. "I know it's not beef, but most of it's pretty good if you give it a chance," he said.

With a sigh, Richard nodded. Sheppard looked poised to leave, and he didn't really have anything else to say, except, that, well, he guessed he owed the man an apology.

"I am sorry, you know," he said. Sheppard looked surprised and sat back in his chair, staring at him.

"For what?" he asked cautiously.

"Grounding you for so long," he said. "I know that you and Doctor McKay don't understand my logic. I'm no longer sure that I understand it. But you never tried to force me out of the chain of command, and for that I'm… grateful. I'm also sorry for Corporal Lammerman's death. I wish that there was some way for us to go back and fix what happened."

Sheppard thought that over for a moment and then said, "Apology accepted. If you like, I can extend it to McKay as well?"

"No, I should tell him," said Richard. "But I do appreciate the offer. Now, unless you have something else to bring up, I think we should end this meeting. We both have things we could be doing."

Standing, Sheppard hesitated, and then reached over the desk, offering his hand. Richard shook it and smiled, keeping the smile on his face until Sheppard left the room.

Only then did he rest his head on his desk, taking a deep breath or three. He'd had no reason to expect that Sheppard would take the apology as offered, and that was the reason he'd hesitated for so long. He was immensely glad that he'd chosen to believe him.

There was a knock on his door, and he sat up, tugging his uniform shirt back down. "Come in," he called.

***

"Major, could you come to the gateroom?" Sheppard's voice came over Evan's radio.

"Of course," Evan picked up his tray in the mess. Good thing that he'd already finished eating, he thought. Meals were getting odder and odder as time went on. They no longer had any Earth food left, and their meals were made up from supplies from many different worlds. They didn't always go together very well.

Today had been pretty good. They kept up with a certain amount of the paperwork that the SGC had required - mission reports and duty rosters - but no longer bothered with the piddly little stuff. It meant that Evan had more time for the things that made life worth living - things like painting, working out with the marines, spending time with Parrish.

Arriving in the gateroom, he was a little surprised to see Aughtana from the Quil. She smiled at him. "Major Lorne. It has been a long time."

"It has been," he said, bowing to her. "Why are you here?" he asked, puzzled.

"Sayxurn has been... displaced," she said. "His treatment of you and your team was a point of contention for a long time, and finally things came to a head in the last election. I have been asked to come and see if you would be willing to trade with our people again." Her eyes met his squarely.

Evan glanced at Sheppard, whose face was a complete blank. Obviously, he wasn't going to advise Evan one way or another in front of Aughtana. "Why now?" he asked, stalling for time to figure out what to do. "It's been more than six months since we were there."

She sighed. "To be honest, we've had a recurrence of the Xodek."

"The what?" Evan asked.

"It's a sickness that usually only affects the very old and the very young. But it's spreading this time, and while it doesn't kill, your medical supplies would be Ancestor sent."

Startled, Evan looked up at Sheppard. The last thing they could afford was for an illness to get into Atlantis. As if he knew what Evan was thinking, Sheppard said, "There's no risk. Atlantis would have quarantined us by now if she was contagious."

In that case - "Aughtana, I think we can probably help, but I need to talk to my boss. Can you give me a few minutes?"

"Of course," she said, stepping away, towards the gate.

He turned to Sheppard. "We should help them."

"I agree. I'm just a little concerned. They've arrested you before, and in order to actually help, we're going to need to send a medical team, which means even more people at risk." Sheppard looked worried, and Evan could sympathize. He hated putting civilians at risk too.

"I bet we could get some military volunteers to come," Evan said. "If we don't take them seriously, and people do die after they've appealed to us for help, then we'll bear at least part of the blame. It won't be fair, but it is true. We can't afford for our reputation to take that kind of hit."

Sheppard thought about it for a moment. "You have a go, Major. For every medical person you take, you take at least one marine. If we prove to just be paranoid, they can always fetch and carry for the docs."

"Thank you, sir." Evan turned to Aughtana, who was studying the carvings on the gate. "We'll come. If you'll come with me, we'll get together a team and some supplies, and see what we can do."

Evan didn't wait for her thanks, already making mental lists of what they'd need. First stop was the infirmary, where he left her answering Keller's questions about symptoms, and he went to see who he could round up in terms of marines. Unsurprisingly, when he explained the situation to the marines in the gym, he had more volunteers than he needed, so he radioed Keller, asking how many medical staff she was sending.

When she answered, he picked out four marines he could trust to keep their temper and stay calm, and sent them to the infirmary to help with packing supplies. He then radioed for his own team to suit up. He thought about leaving Parrish behind, but he suspected that the Quil had medicinal plants they used to treat the Xodek. Parrish would be able to assist with that.

By the time he made it back to the infirmary, the marines were packing the last of the supplies, and the four medical staff were receiving last minute instructions from Keller. Aughtana looked a bit overwhelmed, but she was bearing up. Not wanting to embarrass her, Evan didn't ask how she was.

They gated back to the Quil without incident, and as soon as they hit the town, the medical personnel all but ran to the small inn that had been converted to a hospital. The marines followed in their wake without complaint.

Evan went at a slower pace, casting a practiced eye over the fields and houses. They'd clearly had a problem for a while - the crops weren't being harvested, and many of the houses had out of control weeds in the front yard. "Aughtana, are you going to be able to harvest enough to get through the winter?" he asked, concerned.

"We don't know, Major Lorne," she said. "While not fatal, the Xodek has a long recovery period, and too many people have been taken ill to be able to work in the fields."

Here was a problem that Evan could help with. "I'll tell you what - once we make sure that everyone's on the road to recovery, I'll see if we can get some volunteers to help get your harvest in. For perhaps a tenth of the harvest?"

The worry lines around her eyes faded a little. "I think that that would be an adequate trade, Major Lorne. But first we must see to the people who are ill."

"Of course."

***

John went back the quarters that he unofficially shared with Rodney. Given the way that the expedition was partnering up, no one had said a word when his stuff moved into Rodney's room. It had been a year since they'd heard from Earth, and no one expected to hear from them again, so old Earth regulations were the last thing anyone worried about.

One of these days, they'd make it official.

"Hi, honey, I'm home," he called, ducking the entirely expected pillow thrown his way. Rodney was lying on the bed on his belly, laptop open in front of him, working on something.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he looked over Rodney's shoulder, trying to figure out what he was working on. "What have you got there?" he asked, seeing blueprints.

"Schematics for the new plasma guns we're engineering for you," Rodney said with a smile before he closed the program and set the computer on the floor. Turning to face John he said, "Hi. How was your day?"

"Pretty good," said John. "Better now." Then he leaned forward to give Rodney a kiss, a kiss that was returned with interest.

"Mmm," moaned Rodney into his mouth before breaking the kiss. "What do you want?"

Flashes of all the things that they'd done went through John's head, but he was a little tired, not up for anything athletic. "A sixty-nine?" he asked hopefully.

"That sounds like a good idea." The two of them stood and started to strip. It wasn't fast and urgent, like it had been so many times. Instead it was slow and steady, the two them watching one another and occasionally reaching out to touch some piece of newly bared flesh.

They settled on the bed in position, and John leaned forward so that he could take Rodney's cock in his mouth. Slowly he worked his way down, taking as much as he could, before pulling back and clearing his throat.

Rodney laughed, and then licked John from his balls to the tip of his dick. John groaned and returned his attention to Rodney's cock.

He pillowed his head on Rodney's thigh, and licked and sucked. He didn't make any effort to match Rodney. Instead they each did what they felt like. A sixty-nine meant that it would take longer than just blowing each other, as they were distracted, but what a great distraction.

Even with that, eventually Rodney tensed around John, as his cock spilled into John's mouth, and John swallowed it down, licking Rodney's cock till the aftershocks had passed.

Rodney had released John's cock while he came, probably so he wouldn't accidentally bite down, but as soon as he'd caught his breath he returned his attention to John. Here was Rodney's focus, all aimed at him, because Rodney had John at the edge in a matter of moments.

Groaning quietly, he came. It wasn't a fierce, overwhelming orgasm, but rather gentle and just what John had wanted.

They twisted around, so that they could lie on their sides, looking at each other. John ran his fingers down Rodney's face. Even with losing Earth, they were finding ways to be happy.

***

Rodney sighed, taking a break from reviewing the reports from the medical teams. The Quil were well on their way to recovering from the Xodek and there had been enough volunteers among the marines, support staff, and stronger scientists to get their harvest in. Between that and the agreements that had been negotiated with other planets Atlantis was in no risk of starving, and its reputation had never been higher among the Pegasus worlds.

There were still occasional flare-ups of Woolsey being an ass, but they were thankfully fewer and farther between than they had been. It was a good thing, because there were days that Rodney was tempted to toss him through the 'gate. He'd like to think that he'd at least make sure that there was a breathable atmosphere on the other side.

John came into the lab, walking up behind Rodney. "Reports about the Quil?" he asked, as he started to rub Rodney's shoulders.

"Yeah," said Rodney. "Oh, that's good. Don't stop."

John chuckled, and really started to put some force into his strokes, breaking up some of the knots in Rodney's shoulders and back. For a long time they were quiet – John because he was concentrating, Rodney because of pleasure.

Finally John's hands slowed, and Rodney sighed again. "Thanks," he said.

"No problem," said John. "Any other news?"

"I think I might have found a source of the metals the Ancients used for the alloys that built Atlantis. If I'm right, some of the patch jobs we've done could be repaired right."

"Well, that's good news," said John.

"Yeah. As a reward, don't you think I should get a backrub?"

John's laugh was natural and unforced. "I think so, but it would be better naked, wouldn't it?"

"Oh, yeah," Rodney said eagerly.

"It's a date, then. I'll give you a backrub after we go to – what planet are the metals on, anyway?"

"Oh, um, P4C 567," said Rodney. "I have to wait?"

"Yep." John raised his hand to his ear, triggering his radio. "Teyla, Ronon – you guys have some time to go on a mission today?"

"Of course," said Teyla, echoed a moment later by Ronon.

"Meet you in the ready room in a half hour."

Rodney heard them sign off the radio. "You want to go today?" He was a little surprised. Usually there were meetings and preparation.

"Will this help fix our plumbing issues?" John asked, amusement clear in his voice.

Remembering the mess that had been made when the plumbing backed up all over Atlantis, Rodney guessed that he couldn't really blame John for not wanting a repeat. "Well, yes, but it'll take time to turn it into the alloy."

"Then there's no time like the present to start," said John. "Besides, we haven't gone anywhere in a few days, and we've all got the time, so why not?"

"Why not, indeed." Turning to face John, he wasn't surprised when John leaned down and kissed him. Instead, he just wrapped his arms around John's waist, holding on.

In the time since they'd had contact with Earth, John had relaxed a lot. It seemed that with death of Lammerman, and the loss of all of their families, he'd decided that his chosen family here on Atlantis was more important than anything else, and he never wasted an opportunity to let them know – in typical understated John ways, of course.

When the kiss ended, Rodney hung on for another moment, and then reluctantly let go. "We need to get ready if you want to leave in a half hour," he said.

"Yep," John dropped another kiss to the top of Rodney's head and then stepped back. "Let's go."