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Rodney looked up from the shattered pieces of pottery in his hands to the look of horror on the high priest's face. He'd only meant to inspect it a little closer as it was covered in Ancient writing. From everything he had seen of the Ancients, he hadn't expected them to use ordinary pottery for anything when they had the unique element that could be replicated using their nanotechnology. Certainly, he hadn't expected it to be so fragile that it practically disintegrated from his touch. As he was about to stammer out an apology, hoping Teyla would weave some of her political magic and get him out of there with all his limbs attached, he felt a slight vibration. Rodney looked down to see a small object among the shards and dust in the palm of his hand slowly starting to glow a familiar blue of Ancient technology.

"Uh... Sheppard?"

Mentally he started a litany of OFF, OFF, OFF, but perhaps it wasn't paying any attention to his mouse gene.

The horror on the priest's face had turned to surprise as the glow increased but for all Rodney knew this could be the Ancient equivalent of a hand grenade. John was beside him in seconds, face pinched in full concentration as he took the object out of Rodney's hand, muscles tensed ready to throw it if necessary but the glow faded as John's superior ATA gene did the trick.

"Well?" Rodney asked.

John shook his head. "I don't know. It didn't feel like a weapon of any kind."

"Huh! Well, that's good." He huffed a sigh of relief before remembering he was still in trouble with the natives for breaking their sacred jar but the priest's eyes were focused on the small deactivated object sitting in the palm of John's hand.

Rodney opened his mouth to protest when the priest reached out and took the object. Fortunately it only seemed to react to the ATA gene, which was probably for the best, but Rodney hated to see any unknown piece of Ancient technology given away before he could examine it to discover its function. Although he had not said a word, the priest's expression grew hard and it was obvious even to Rodney that they had outstayed their welcome and retreat was probably the best option.

"I think we should leave now," John stated, his words mirroring Rodney's thoughts.

It was an uncomfortable walk back to the puddlejumper but a melancholy air settled upon Rodney the moment the team split up back on Atlantis. He watched John walk away and that seemed so wrong somehow. By the time he reached his quarters Rodney was feeling miserable, and even the wall crowded with photos of his great achievements did nothing to cheer him up. Instead it all seemed meaningless; a life wasted on the pursuit of knowledge, leaving him approaching middle age all alone. Katie had gone, Sam had never wanted him, and Jennifer had decided she could do better with some xenobiologist she'd met at the SGC while back on Earth. Apparently Jennifer almost turning into a wraith hive ship had given them something to talk about that had led to other things.

He was alone. Unwanted. Unloved, unless he counted his sister, and he wasn't even sure if she liked him some days. The colors in his room seemed muted and dull, like his life, and his grinning features in half the photos seemed more than a lifetime ago. Happier days. Nothing seemed worth it anymore; his work, Atlantis, even his life. He felt the sting of unshed tears and choked back on a sob as he slumped onto the side of the bed, staring at the closed door that seemed to embody his entire life. As the darkness started to engulf him, all he could think about was the one bright light in his life; one constant in the past years despite the events at Doranda.

John.

He needed to go find John.

As he stood up his door chimed and he stared hard at the closed door, feeling the darkness receding in his mind at the thought of who could be calling on him. With each step towards the door his heart became lighter, and even though he could have opened the door from the bed with a mental command, Rodney was beside the door when it opened. All the darkness of his thoughts slipped away the moment he saw John's face and felt his touch as John reached for him.

"We have to go see Carson."

It seemed a strange request but Rodney nodded because it didn't matter as long as John was with him. His steps felt lighter, his mind less fogged as he walked along the corridor, occasionally bumping shoulders with John or brushing hands. When they reached Carson's domain, Rodney saw the worried look on his friend's face and was perplexed to see Doctor Higgles or Huggles also present, wondering why they needed an expert in the Ancient written language.

"Rodney, Doctor Higgins used the video you took to translate the writing on the jar you broke. Apparently, the device inside the jar had to be handled with extreme care so it was placed in an inert medium-."

"In this instance, clay," Higgins stated.

Rodney turned to John. "I thought you said it wasn't a weapon."

"I said it didn't feel like any kind of weapon."

"And it isn't, Colonel," Higgins interrupted. "It's a biometric assessment tool used to select a compatible life partner."

"A... matchmaker?"

John answered, looking as confused as Rodney.

"Apparently the Ancients didn't leave anything to chance, but the writing warns of the detrimental effects of deactivating the device before it has finished its assessment."

Carson took over. "Loss of focus, depression, leading to paranoia... and eventually to death." He gave them both a concerned look. "I doubt they ever intended it to be left behind in a pottery jar for ten thousand years."

Rodney felt both dismayed and angry. "Yet another ticking time bomb." Then it struck him how he'd been feeling barely ten minutes earlier. "Oh God, it's affected me."

Carson looked even more worried. "Rodney?"

"I... I was feeling... Alone. Miserable." He gave Carson a sickly, worried look, seeing it mirrored back at him until Carson frowned.

"But you're not now?"

"No. I feel fine. Better than fine. Happy even."

"When did you start to feel better?"

Carson asked.

Rodney glanced across at John, seeing hazel eyes widening.

"Me too," John murmured and his eyes held Rodney's even as Carson bustled around them both with a medical scanner.

"Colonel, would you please leave the room for a moment?"

Carson requested.

As soon as John was out of reach and out of sight the darkness descended again, battering at Rodney with thoughts of loneliness, dejection, worthlessness but the weight lifted immediately when John returned. From John's face he'd been affected equally, almost desperate to reach out and touch Rodney.

"It seems the device started the process but it appears you are compatible with each other."

Higgins spoke up again. "According to the translation, you need to reactivate the device to complete the process... one way or another."

"One way or another?" John asked.

"Aye," Carson stated. "To either break the connection forming between you, or to complete it. There's no half measures. If you don't reactivate the device then neither of you will be able to move more than a few feet from each other for the rest of your lives, or risk insanity."

***

It took Teyla two days of political haggling before the priest would agree to let John and Rodney back. He had several guards posted to watch them as John took the device in hand and activated it with a thought.

"You really want to do this?"

Rodney nodded. "Do.. Eh, do you?"

John smiled wanly. "Yeah."

Rodney placed his hand over John's, the device cradled between their palms and closed his eyes. When he opened them several minutes later, John was smiling shyly at him. When they stepped back onto Atlantis a short while later, they laughed when they were greeted with smiles, handshakes, back slaps, and cries of congratulations.

Rodney looked over to John as Woolsey handed them a glass of Champagne, and as Rodney sipped at his he stared across at his new life partner.

The Ancient device had given them a choice to open or close a door in their minds, but Rodney already knew choosing to open up for John was the easiest and best decision he'd ever make.

END