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I Will Guide You Home

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Rodney was tired of hearing about Major Sheppard’s ass. And Major Sheppard’s super gene. And Major Sheppard’s sexy-but-not-regulation hairdo.

Okay, yes. The man was good-looking, in a tall, dark and slinky way. If you were into that sort of thing, which Rodney wasn’t; he preferred blonde and busty. Although he was concerned that he seemed to be developing a thing for flight suits.

Luckily Rodney didn’t have to interact much with Major Hot Buns. He was busy making arrangements to relocate a large contingent of science personnel to a mythical city in another galaxy, which understandably took precedence over getting to know the new guy. Besides, Sheppard was being read-in to the whole aliens-are-real thing, and getting every medical and psychological test known to man before he was cleared for Atlantis.

That changed when they moved the dog and pony show back to Colorado Springs, and Sheppard became a resident of Cheyenne Mountain. Suddenly he was constantly under foot, which was fine when Rodney needed the Major to activate something with his gene. Otherwise the man was just an unwelcome distraction.

“Don’t you have someplace else you should be?” Rodney snapped when he caught Sheppard leaning over Dr. Bales’ shoulder and showing her how to play an online golf simulation.

“Nope,” Sheppard replied blandly. “Passed my last weapons test this morning.”

“Then go bug Walter, he’s never doing anything anyway.” Rodney waved his hand in the direction of the door. “We’re very busy, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“Come get lunch with me.” Sheppard went from leaning over Bales to leaning against the open doorway. “Whatever they’re serving has to be better than Power Bars.”

Rodney looked at the empty, crumpled wrappers scattered around his desk. When he got busy he rarely took the time to eat a proper meal. The Power Bars were more than enough to keep the hunger at bay, and keep his hypoglycemia in check. Still, now that Sheppard had mentioned food he felt pretty hungry.

“I guess I could grab something quick.”

Really, he had no idea what he was doing. Lunch with Major Sexy? Rodney didn’t normally eat lunch with anyone, at least not in a pre-planned way. On the rare occasions he ate in the Mess, he grabbed an empty table with no expectations of anyone sitting with him, though sometimes people did. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t been secretly pleased to discover that Sam Carter also had an affinity for blue Jello, which just proved how well-matched they were on so many different levels.

Sheppard sat opposite Rodney at the table once they’d gone through the line. “You gonna eat all that?”

Rodney looked at his tray. Two sandwiches, bowl of chili, little bag of chips, Jello cup, pudding cup, and two cups of coffee. “I won’t be good to anyone if I don’t stay fueled,” he replied with a sniff. “Feed the brain.”

“There’s no brain food on that tray.”

As if Sheppard had room to talk. He only had a single turkey sandwich and a slice of pie. Not enough to keep a bird alive, though now Rodney understood why he was so thin. Time to change the subject.

“You need to leave my scientists alone. We have a lot to do before the expedition leaves and I don’t need anyone getting distracted.”

“Emma seemed a little down,” Sheppard said with an unapologetic shrug. “I was just trying to cheer her up.”

“Emma?” Rodney was drawing a blank. Did he know an Emma?

“Dr. Emma Bales. You don’t even know her name?”

Rodney bristled at Sheppard’s judgy tone. “I don’t need to know her name. I know her work, and that’s the important thing. And she’s ‘down’ because she can’t come to Atlantis.”

He started with the pudding. No sense putting off the good stuff, particularly since there was a very real chance he’d be living off MRE’s after they crossed to the Pegasus galaxy. He made a mental note to stash chocolate in the science crates.

“Why can’t she?”

“What?” Rodney asked, his mind already working on the next problem to be solved before the expedition would be cleared to leave.

“Why can’t Emma go?” Sheppard asked. He’d barely touched his sandwich.

“Oh. She’s a Guide.” Which was unfortunate in the extreme, because Rodney really could’ve used her.

“What difference does that make?”

Rodney had heard through the very active on-base grapevine that the Major had a dormant, recessive Sentinel gene – that didn’t fall under the doctor-patient confidentiality thing, for reasons Rodney didn’t care to learn about – and so the rules and regs that governed Sentinels and Guides wouldn’t have been included in his training packet.

“Sentinels can’t Gate travel. Fluctuations in atmosphere and gravity throw them off, and it takes them a while to acclimate. Not very handy when you have hostile natives shooting arrows at you, or so I’ve heard.” Rodney shrugged. “The SGC employs a few pairs, and some unbonded Guides, but they all stay Earthside. The unbonded Guides don’t want to miss out on the chance of landing a Sentinel.”

Both dessert cups were empty, and Rodney moved on to the chili.

“Too bad. I bet a Sentinel would be an asset where we’re going.”

“All the ones I’ve met are pretty volatile. I think we’ll have enough to worry about without adding that into the mix.”

Sheppard looked thoughtful as he peeled the crust off the half of his sandwich he hadn’t yet eaten. “Maybe. I met a Sentinel once, at the Academy. He was a pretty decent guy.”

Silence fell between them, and Rodney took that opportunity to wolf down the rest of his lunch. He’d always been grateful that he didn’t have the extra gene that would’ve made him a Sentinel or a Guide; he had enough problems with his own biology without adding all that other nonsense to it.

Rodney stuffed the last bite of his sandwich in his mouth and got up to bus his tray. When he turned to leave, Sheppard was standing there rubbing the back of his neck and looking ill-at-ease.

“Uh…you want to get together for dinner?”

“I don’t know if I’ll have time,” Rodney said. He dodged around Sheppard and headed for the exit. “And leave Bales alone, she has a lot of work to do!”

It was only after Rodney had gotten back to his lab that he thought maybe he should’ve taken a moment to consider Sheppard’s question. It wasn’t often that a good-looking military man wanted to spend time with him, not voluntarily at least, and he had a moment to regret not saying yes before the Czech with the glasses was yammering at him and he got distracted.

*o*o*o*

Major Sheppard was tenacious. He continued to dog Rodney around the SGC: showing up in the lab, sitting with him at meals, asking him to play chess. Rodney was forced to pay more attention to things going on outside of his department because he wanted to know if Sheppard was so bad at making friends that he was settling for the most disliked member of the science team. Well, besides Kavanagh.

Rodney was surprised to find that Sheppard got along with just about everyone in the Mountain. He worked out in the gym with several of the Marines, was giving golf tips and talking video games with the scientists, and had even spent a weekend out at General O’Neill’s cabin for what they called fishing and was probably just drinking and sharing old war stories.

So why bother wasting his time with Rodney? It was a puzzle, but not one he had much time to devote precious brainpower to. The Atlantis Expedition was leaving in a week, and he was scrambling to make final decisions on staffing and equipment needs. Everyone who’d signed up for the trip, which they all understood would most likely be one-way, had gone through rigorous psychological screening. All approved personnel had been given official SGC cover stories to explain their absences to friends and family.

Rodney didn’t have anyone to call. Well…that wasn’t exactly true. He could’ve called his sister, Jeannie. But since they hadn’t talked in the last four or five years, it hardly seemed to matter if she knew where he was or not. Or that she’d care even if she did know. As it happened, he wasn’t alone in that.

“You going home to say goodbye this weekend?” Sheppard asked, once again perched on the least-cluttered flat surface in Rodney’s lab.

“No-one to say goodbye to,” Rodney said distractedly. “Already found a home for my cat. Hey, can you activate this?”

Sheppard obediently took the small, cylindrical object from Rodney and stared at it for a long moment. “Nope. Whatever it is, it’s busted.”

“That figures. It’s probably something really cool, too.”

“So, listen. I was thinking. Since you aren’t going anywhere this weekend, and neither am I, maybe you want to go out? One last Earth hurrah?”

“You don’t have anyone you want to see? Parents or something?” Rodney couldn’t help asking. He knew Sheppard wasn’t married, thanks again to the grapevine, but surely the man must have a family. It made Rodney feel bad that Sheppard didn’t have anyone else to spend his last days on Earth with, and he didn’t like having feelings. Particularly about sexy military flyboys he didn’t stand a chance with.

“No-one that wants to see me,” Sheppard said with a shrug, like it didn’t matter.

Rodney knew he should say no. He had things to wrap up at the SGC. But the idea of spending a night out with Sheppard held some appeal, and a fancy dinner would be a nice memory to have when they were living on rations.

“Okay,” he said. “I guess I can spare a few hours.”

“Great!” Sheppard grinned and Rodney had to fight to keep from doing the same. “I’ll make all the arrangements.”

He hopped off the desk and headed for the door.

“No strip clubs!” Rodney called after him. “Or sports bars!”

“I’m on it!” Sheppard shouted back over his shoulder.

Rodney sighed, and slumped in his chair. He just knew he was going to regret being nice.

*o*o*o*

As it happened, Sheppard was pretty good at making plans. He’d gotten tickets to the Colorado Springs Philharmonic for a Gershwin retrospective, and followed that up with a late dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall Italian place that had the best marinara Rodney had ever tasted.

Over penne and eggplant rollatini Rodney learned that he and Sheppard shared several interests, including comic books and Sudoku puzzles. The man had a surprising sense of humor, a hideous donkey laugh, and a fair amount of intelligence under his riotous head of cowlicks.

“Why are we here?” Rodney blurted out over dessert. “I mean, not here here. I know what we’re doing here. But…why me?”

And okay, that sounded way more pathetic out loud than it had in his head. Thing was, Rodney knew he was a catch. He was a genius, he wasn’t unattractive, and he had a lot to offer. He also knew he lacked in areas like social skills and thoughtfulness and remembering people’s names. No-one had voluntarily spent time with him in a social setting for longer than he cared to remember.

“You needed to get out of the lab,” Sheppard said with a shrug. “And I needed to get out from under all that rock.”

“You could’ve gone with literally anyone else,” Rodney pointed out, and wished he could shut his stupid flapping mouth. There was no reason to draw attention to his faults.

Sheppard smirked. “You’re the only one who doesn’t fawn all over my gene.”

“Oh.” Rodney supposed there were worse reasons. Truth be told, he was jealous of Sheppard’s super gene. It was completely random biology, which didn’t make him feel any better about not being one of the lucky ones to have it. Of any member of the expedition, Rodney was the one who’d find the gene most useful, given how closely he’d be working with the Ancient technology.

“And you seem like a pretty good guy.”

“Oh,” Rodney said again. “Well, I am. I’m a genius too, you know. The expedition couldn’t happen without me.”

“Someone has to keep the nerds in line,” Sheppard said with a smirk.

“At least the so-called nerds will be doing important work. You’ll just be standing around with the jarheads, waiting for something to shoot at.”

“I’ll look good doing it, too.” Sheppard’s grin only grew wider, and Rodney could feel his face heating up.

Was Sheppard teasing him? Rodney wasn’t sure, and it made him feel off-kilter. He seemed like a pretty easy-going guy, but he was still military

Luckily Sheppard changed the subject to football, and Rodney found his footing again as he railed against the stupidity of the game. Somehow he let himself get talked into stopping at a bar on the way back to base – a sports bar, of course – and they each had one more drink. It was probably the nicest time out Rodney had ever had with someone, even though he lost every foosball game Sheppard challenged him to.

They drove back to base, Sheppard at the wheel, and there was a charged silence between them. Rodney was sure he wasn’t imagining it, despite how relaxed Sheppard looked. He suddenly wondered if maybe this hadn’t been some kind of date, instead of just the last hurrah that Sheppard had said it was. But no, it couldn’t be. Sheppard was American military, and they operated under archaic rules of conduct.

“I had a nice time,” Sheppard said once they were back. He parked the car in the motor pool. “Thanks for coming out with me.”

There was something in his eyes, something Rodney couldn’t quite name. But it made him catch his breath, and unconsciously lean in just a little. Sheppard’s lips quirked up in an almost-smile even as he pulled back.

Not a date. Good to know.

“So, uh…see you. In the Gate room.” It wasn’t the best parting line, but it wasn’t Rodney’s worst either.

Rodney couldn’t wait to get to Atlantis, and put all this awkward Earth bullshit behind him.

*o*o*o*

The Gate successfully dialed Atlantis, not that Rodney had any doubts. He’d thankfully missed most of Elizabeth’s address to the gathered Marines and scientists, which he was sure was full of gung-ho, let’s-go-get-‘em enthusiasm. Elizabeth thought he wasn’t as excited as she was about the upcoming trip through the wormhole, but he was. And he was anxious. Despite what the MALP had to say, there was no real way to know what they were walking into.

He could see John down in the Gate room, looking ill-at-ease, and wondered why the hell no-one had sent him out with one of the teams so he’d know what to expect. Rodney didn’t pay much attention to the goings-on outside of his department, but he was fairly certain all the other military types had done offworld rotations.

"Good luck," General O'Neill called after them as Rodney followed Elizabeth down to the Gate room.

Elizabeth pushed her way to the front, insisting on stepping through with Sumner and the jarheads. Rodney held back with his science team and Carson, who was hovering close by with a pinched expression on his face. Out of everyone making this trip, Rodney understood Carson’s motives the least. Anyone who spent more than five minutes with the man knew he had a mother he doted on; why would he leave her behind? Not to mention he was afraid of his own ATA gene, had never Gate traveled, and seemed to view the whole process with a kind of low-level terror.

“This is a bad idea,” Carson muttered to himself as he slipped on his backpack and picked up a metal medical case in each hand.

“Too late to back out now,” Rodney replied. Carson was their Chief Medical Officer, and was therefore vital to the mission. Not as much as Rodney, but they definitely couldn’t do without him.

It only took one step to cross galaxies, and Rodney couldn’t help wincing as he took it. He had an unshakeable fear that the wormhole, after breaking him down to his core components for the trip, would reassemble him wrong on the other side. As far as he knew that had never happened, but there was always a first time and he knew he had shitty luck.

He arrived in Atlantis in one piece, though, all of his cells presumably put back in the right places.

The city was mostly dark, but no less magnificent. Despite her age, Atlantis was in pristine condition. Rodney dropped everything he was carrying, trailing after Sheppard who was heading up a flight of stairs. As soon as Major Super Gene put his foot on the first step lights came up, Ancient text illuminated on each riser.

“The lights are coming on by themselves,” Sheppard said a little nervously, his P-90 up and at the ready.

Rodney didn’t bother to tell the man that the city was responding to his gene. He also didn’t think they’d have any need of guns. Rodney was no expert, but the Gate room had an empty, disused feeling to it. The air was stale, and every step seemed to echo too loudly. If there were Ancients still inhabiting the Pegasus galaxy, he’d bet they hadn’t set foot in Atlantis in hundreds, maybe thousands, of years.

“I think this is the control room,” Rodney said, pulling plastic covers from consoles. Peter Grodin did the same. “This must be their version of a DHD.”

“If you –” Sheppard started to say, and then all the lights flared on at once, overwhelmingly bright, and when they dimmed back down again he was prone on the floor.

“Sheppard!” Rodney was on his knees in an instant, frantically checking the fallen man for a pulse while Elizabeth called for Carson. He sagged in relief when his fumbling fingers found a steady pulse. “He’s fine. Must’ve just fainted or something.”

Some people reacted badly to Gate travel, which is why it was incredibly stupid that the SGC hadn’t tested Sheppard out prior to sending him to a whole other galaxy. Hopefully Sheppard hadn’t damaged himself when he hit the floor; it was lucky he hadn’t clipped a console on the way down.

“Dr. Biro, please.” Carson was suddenly there with his medical bag, and a woman with glasses and a large expanse of forehead. “Scanner.”

In that moment Carson looked like he should be on an episode of Star Trek. Rodney had no idea what the scanner was supposed to check for, but Carson let Biro wield it while he flashed a penlight in Sheppard’s eyes and took his pulse.

“He’s not fainted,” Carson said. He stood up and looked around with a scowl. “We need to move the Major. I don’t suppose you can find me a medical lab, Rodney?”

“Oh, sure. I’ll just Google it.”

“Dr. McKay, that’s not helping.” Elizabeth bit at her bottom lip and looked around as if a hospital room would suddenly present itself.

“Not a very auspicious start,” Sumner said. The look he gave Sheppard’s unconscious body made Rodney want to step between them. “Teams four and five, fan out. Look for a room Dr. Beckett can temporarily set up shop in. Team three, find us some bathroom facilities. Everyone else, secure the surrounding area and keep an eye out for hostiles.”

Rodney exchanged a look with Carson, who mouthed hostiles at him. There was clearly nothing to be done for Sheppard, at least not immediately, and so Rodney turned his attention back to the consoles. He and Grodin unpacked laptops and started the process of hooking the devices into the Ancient interface. They needed some answers.

*o*o*o*

The news wasn’t great. Atlantis was submerged at the bottom of the sea. The shield that was keeping them all from drowning was failing, the process speeded along by the increased power consumption that accompanied the expedition. And somewhere between stepping through the wormhole and collapsing in the control room, Sheppard’s dormant, recessive Sentinel gene got switched on.

Unmitigated disaster was an understatement.

Col. Sumner, who didn’t seem to like Sheppard very much, was even less enthusiastic about Lt. Torres, the next highest ranking officer and Sheppard’s replacement while he was incapacitated. Rodney was pretty sure the problem was that Torres was a woman, because Sumner hadn’t made a secret of his disdain for women in power positions. Maybe the trip to Atlantis had been a punishment for the man, instead of the unequaled opportunity it was for the science team.

In the interest of survival, it was decided that Sumner would take Torres and a team of Marines through the Gate to look for either an evacuation site, or perhaps a friendly native settlement that coincidentally also had a cache of ZPMs they wanted to share. Removing all the high-ranking military personnel out of Atlantis seemed like a bad idea to Rodney, but no-one asked him.

Grodin was able to pull up a list of addresses from the Ancient database, though of course the first one they tried was a space Gate.

“Perfect,” Rodney muttered as he watched their one and only MALP drift away. It took him upwards of an hour to cobble something together that would at least ensure the Marines didn’t suffer a similar fate. It wasn’t as fancy, or as mobile, but when Rodney tossed it through the wormhole the sensors reported back enough base data to ensure a safe trip. What would be waiting for Sumner on the other side was anyone’s guess.

Rodney didn’t have time to dwell on it. His staff was getting bolder, exploring areas already cleared by the Marines and reporting back with their finds. Grodin assured them that they had clean water for drinking, Gual and Abrams found a bay full of space ships, and the Czech was keeping a running tally of what items needed to be initialized by someone with an ATA gene.

There was a lot to do, but Rodney still took a few minutes to check on Sheppard. He’d been moved to what seemed to be a conference room, on top of a long table that had been padded with bedrolls and blankets. Sheppard appeared to be asleep, though he was moving restlessly.

“Any news from the Colonel?” Carson asked. He looked tired. One of the Marines was sitting on the floor with his back to the wall, eyes closed, and there was no sign of Dr. Biro.

“Just that they haven’t been captured or killed. How’s your patient?”

“Holding his own for the moment.” Carson ran a hand through his hair. “I’d rather have waited till I had an infirmary up and running before anyone needed my services. There’s only so much I can do for him.”

“But you can help him, right? Genetics, that’s your field.” Rodney was pretty sure he was remembering that correctly. He didn’t keep up with the soft sciences.

“Aye, but I’ve only a basic understanding of Sentinel genetic structure. That wasn’t my field of study, Rodney. And I know very little about the practical aspects involved for the Major to be able to get along, particularly without a Guide.”

“How did this even happen?” Rodney shoved his hands in his pockets to keep from fussing with Sheppard’s bedding.

"I don't know. It’s unprecedented. I’d love to consult with someone from the ISC about this.”

The International Sentinel-Guide Committee would have a fit and fall right in it if they found out a Sentinel had been allowed through the Gate. Sheppard would have been registered, even if there’d been no expectation of him ever coming online.

“Will he be okay?” Rodney looked down at Sheppard, at the frown lines between his eyebrows and the pained expression on his face, and wished there was something he could do.

“I must say I’m a wee bit surprised. Do you know the Major well?”

“What? No. Of course I don’t.” But Sheppard had been nice to him, and they’d had a nice last night out together. That had to count for something.

Carson narrowed his eyes and took a step towards Rodney. “But you’re honestly worried about him, and he’s not even in your department.”

Rodney lifted his chin. “I’m not a complete monster, thank you very much. Of course I care what happens to Sheppard, he’s got the strongest ATA gene on the expedition. We need him.”

“Ah. I knew there was a reasonable explanation.” Carson flapped a hand at him. “Well, there’s no way to tell what his functionality will be until he wakes up.”

“Yes, well, keep me posted. Oh, and Carson?” Rodney paused on his way back to the Control Room. “Get that gene therapy up and running. If Sheppard is out for the count, we need backup.”

“I don’t even have a proper room, Rodney! I can’t just –”

“Life or death. Let me know when it’s ready. I’ll go first.” Rodney left feeling just a little self-sacrificing and virtuous. He liked it.

*o*o*o*

Things went from bad to worse. The readings Rodney was getting on the shield were dire. As much as he hated to say it, evacuation was the only option they had. There hadn’t been time to set up an Alpha site so they’d have to take their chances. Elizabeth didn’t want to do it, but Rodney had to point out that it was preferable to death.

Before Elizabeth could do an all-call and have personnel gather in the Gate room for immediate evacuation, Sheppard appeared out of nowhere, stumbling and cursing but mobile, with Carson trailing after him, clucking his tongue and looking concerned.

“Don’t. Rodney.” Sheppard grabbed hold of Rodney’s arm and collapsed into him, pushing them both against the balcony rail. Rodney hooked his arm under Sheppard’s to keep him from falling to the floor.

“What the hell are you doing out here? Carson!”

“Don’t evacuate,” Sheppard gasped. “Can’t you hear the –”

“Incoming wormhole!” Grodin shouted, even as the dialing sequence started.

“Bring up the iris!” Elizabeth demanded.

Sheppard groaned and clapped his hands over his ears. “Don’t. Don’t.”

“Lt. Ford’s IDC.”

“Let them through.”

Rodney was struggling to keep Sheppard on his feet. Strangers started flooding through the Gate, crying and generally making noises of distress, and Carson practically flew down the stairs to lend a hand. Armed Marines joined the fray, and Rodney was sure things would’ve turned sour pretty quick if Lt. Torres hadn’t come through herself, carrying a little boy on her hip and barking orders.

“Come on, Sheppard, give me a break. Grodin! A little help here?”

“Dr. McKay, the shield is failing!”

“Shit. Sheppard, you asshole.” Rodney half-walked and half-dragged Sheppard over to the console, to take a look for himself. It wasn’t good. In fact, it was pretty damn bad. If they didn’t dial up an evacuation site in the next ten minutes, they were all dead.

“’s okay,” Sheppard mumbled into Rodney’s neck.

“This is the exact opposite of okay, you moron. Elizabeth!”

Rodney wasn’t sure he’d been heard over all the noise, but then he saw Elizabeth break away from the crowd and head back his way. She was on the stairs when the floor began to shake, accompanied by a deep rumbling sound.

Sheppard clutched at Rodney, making pained noises that Rodney almost couldn’t hear over the cacophony all around them. Rodney clutched him back, but only because he was certain this was it. They were going to die. An ignominious end for one of the greatest minds in two galaxies.

But no. There was a familiar feeling in the pit of Rodney’s stomach, the same one he sometimes got in elevators that moved too fast. The city was rising. The shaking got so bad that Rodney and Sheppard were knocked off their feet, collapsing in a heap on the floor.

And then there was bright sunshine flooding through the stained glass windows. Rodney stared at it, Sheppard curled up in his lap.

They weren’t going to die. Not in the next ten minutes, anyway. For the moment, that was enough.

*o*o*o*

Good news: Atlantis had a built-in failsafe that sent the city rocketing back to the surface before everyone drowned or got compressed by the pressure at the depths of the sea.

Bad news: Sumner had a run-in with the Pegasus galaxy’s version of the boogeyman on his very first offworld mission, and managed to get himself captured.

Torres was raising hell. She wanted to mount a rescue mission because, as much as she and Sumner disliked each other, he was her commanding officer. Elizabeth was hesitant to sign off on a rescue without reliable intel, though the reality of the situation was that Torres didn’t need Elizabeth’s permission to proceed. It was a military matter and Elizabeth was a civilian.

Elizabeth also had to deal with the refugee Athosians, who were doubly in distress because their two leaders had been among those taken by the Wraith. They huddled together, mistrustful of the Marines and fearful of being in Atlantis.

Rodney caught the edge of all of that while he tried to find the right address from the collection of Gate symbols Ford had given him, the address dialed by the Wraith as they sped off with their captives. Two of the Marines had the ATA gene, and could fly the newly-christened Gateships as part of the rescue attempt. It was just taking a while to try all the different permutations of the eight-symbol address.

With the prospect of more injured expedition members looming on the horizon, Carson had gone looking for a place to set up his infirmary, and found a suitable location not far from the control room. It had already been outfitted with some Ancient medical devices, so they’d had the same idea of being close at hand for anyone injured coming through the Gate.

Sheppard had been moved, and Sergeant Akino pressed into service as Carson’s assistant because he had field medic experience. Sheppard was awake but suffering sensory overload, and Carson was frantically trying to prepare a Sentinel-safe space for him.

“Found it!” Rodney called out. He’d been comparing the different Gate addresses to a listing that had popped up in the Ancient database – a coincidence he didn’t care to look too closely at. “It’s a space Gate, but the planet it orbits is marked as some kind of Wraith way-station or something. This has to be the place.”

“Give my team five minutes, then dial it up,” Torres said. She was taking a squad of Marines with her, split between two Gateships.

“I still don’t think this is a good idea,” Elizabeth said as Torres breezed past her.

“Noted. I’ll be back with Col. Sumner as soon as I can.”

Five minutes later the bay door in the ceiling opened up and both Gateships dropped down and disappeared through the wormhole. Elizabeth looked anxious, but they had better things to do than watch and wait.

The Athosians needed to be relocated, Rodney needed to look through the database for any indication of where they might find more ZPMs – a task he immediately shoved off on the Czech – and he needed to corner Carson about the gene therapy. Rodney’s work would proceed much quicker if he didn’t need to have someone with the gene at his disposal to initialize every little thing. He wanted to do it for himself.

Elizabeth was so distracted that she only waved her hand when Rodney told her he was going to the infirmary.

*o*o*o*

Carson wasn’t very gracious when Rodney came to him about the gene therapy.

“I’ve got my hands full, if you didn’t notice.” He was hastily adding notes to Sheppard’s medical file on his laptop. “Dr. Kusanagi grew up with a Sentinel cousin or some such, and she’s told me all she can remember, but a lot of it’s useless. We don’t have the right kind of clothes, the right kind of sheets. One of the Marines brought one of those white noise things that also plays rain sounds, to help him sleep, but even with Major Sheppard in isolation his hearing is far too sensitive.”

“I feel bad for Sheppard, I really do, but time is of the essence, Carson.” Rodney hopped up on the Ancient examination table and rolled up his sleeve. “If we don’t find a way to power that shield, we’re sitting ducks. Especially with some kind of space monsters out there that now know they have new neighbors. I need the gene.”

“Technically you already have it.”

“Yes, dormant gene. Whatever. It’s not flipping on like Sheppard’s Sentinel gene, so hit me with the retrovirus and let’s go.”

Carson sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. “There’s no guarantee it’ll work, you know. In the animal trials it was only about forty-five percent successful, and of that group seven percent were only temporarily able to utilize the gene.”

“I’m not a mouse or a monkey or whatever else you tried this voodoo out on, so you can spare me the lecture.” Rodney wasn’t a big fan of needles, but he needed an edge. Something more than the stimulants Carson had already given him so he could keep working. “Uh…are there any side effects?”

“Dry mouth, headache, the irresistible urge to run a small wheel.”

“Oh, ha, ha.” Rodney glared at Carson until the man got up from his desk and brought over a black case filled with vials of the retrovirus. “Make sure you put this down in your notes. First human test subject: Dr. Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD. Volunteer.”

“Yes, Rodney. You’ll get all due credit.”

Carson swabbed his arm with an alcohol pad, and then filled a syringe from one of the vials. Rodney pulled a small Ancient artefact from his pocket and rubbed his thumb over the bumpy surface of it. He’d liberated it from the SGC, so that when he got the therapy he’d be the first one to initialize the thing and find out what it was for. He was pretty sure Dr. Lee wouldn’t miss it.

“What’s that?” Carson asked.

“Good luck charm,” Rodney replied.

“Looks like a wee turtle shell.”

“Well, I suppose…ouch!”

The needle slid neatly into his vein and the retrovirus was released to do its work. Carson gave Rodney a solemn look.

“If you feel any ill effects, you must notify me immediately. I mean it, Rodney.”

“You’ll be the first to know.” Rodney hopped off the exam table and rolled down his sleeve. “I’d love to stay and chat, but they need me back out there.”

“You need to get some sleep.”

“No time!” Rodney hesitated at the door. “Uh…keep me posted on Sheppard, okay? If there’s anything I can do, short of donating him an organ, I’ll do it.”

Carson stared at him. “Has the retrovirus worked so quickly? Or is it Atlantis that’s turned you into a pod person?”

Rodney flipped him off and went back to work.

*o*o*o*

Lt. Torres came in hot from her rescue mission. It wasn’t how Rodney intended to test out his artefact, a personal shield, but as experiments went it was pretty damn successful. As soon as Torres dialed in, the Gate room erupted into chaos. Weapons fire from her Wraith dogfight passed through the wormhole, causing damage to both Atlantis and anyone who happened to be standing in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

Rodney was one of those unfortunate people.

An explosion threw him into the wall, hard enough that without the shield he would’ve been dead. He got to his feet, well aware that his mouth was hanging open, but any celebrating he would’ve done because of the successful test was mitigated by the body of the Marine lying in front of him. The Marine who hadn’t had a personal shield.

“Carson!” Rodney shouted, thumbing his earpiece to the all-call channel. “Medical to the Gate room!”

Sheppard beat him there.

“Everybody down!” he bellowed, running in with bare feet and wearing white scrubs. He made a beeline for Rodney and pushed him down on the floor. His double take would’ve been hilarious under other circumstances.

“What the hell are you doing?” Rodney sputtered, getting up on his knees.

“What happened to you?” Sheppard reached out to touch him and the shield flared green. “What is this?”

There really wasn’t time for a conversation. The Gateships slipped through the Gate and Grodin raised the shield, just in time judging by the loud thumps impacting from the other side. Torres was already on the radio, shouting for Carson to come immediately the bay.

Elizabeth ran, but Sheppard wouldn’t let Rodney move.

“Take it off.”

“Now really isn’t the time. We have to –”

“Take it off!” Sheppard’s eyes were wild, and he kept reaching out towards Rodney and pulling his hand back.

Rodney assumed it was some sort of Sentinel response, and he hurriedly thought the shield off before Sheppard had a fit. The device dropped into Rodney’s hand and he shoved it back in his pocket.

Sheppard immediately grabbed hold of Rodney’s arm and visibly relaxed. “It’s okay.”

“What about any of this seems okay to you, Major?” Rodney asked, gesticulating with his other arm.

The Marines were tending to the injured, and the Gate room was covered in scorch marks. Rodney could only hope that none of the consoles had been damaged.

But Sheppard wasn’t listening to him, though he was clearly listening to something. His head was cocked to the side, and Rodney saw it when all the blood drained from his face.

“What? What is it?”

“He’s dead.”

“Who’s dead?”

“Colonel Sumner,” Sheppard said in a hushed voice.

That turned out to be a bit premature. The Colonel was very much alive, though Rodney could understand how Sheppard had made that mistake. Whatever the Wraith had done to him, Sumner was little more than a mummified horror-movie version of himself, gasping and unresponsive.

Torres was an angry mess. She kept kicking the wall in the infirmary, swearing. “He wanted me to kill him. I could see it in his eyes. But I couldn’t! Qué chingados!”

“No-one should have to make that choice,” Elizabeth said. She put her hand on Torres’ shoulder, but her offer for comfort was rebuffed.

Rodney was still stuck on the almost-laughable B-movie villains they now found themselves fighting. Space vampires, only instead of blood they literally sucked the life right out of you. He was suddenly on the wrong end of the food chain, and he didn’t like it. No-one wanted to think of themselves as food.

“Soylent Green is people,” he muttered to himself.

*o*o*o*

Sumner didn’t last out the day. Sgt. Crenshaw, the Marine Rodney had thought was dead, pulled through. So Sumner alone was the first death that the Atlantis expedition had to mourn. The civilian staff hadn’t known him, and only a handful of the Marines had served with him prior to their Pegasus posting, but it was a definite blow to morale.

They ended up doing a burial at sea, since no exploration had yet been made of the nearest landmass to Atlantis, assuming there was one and the whole planet wasn’t just water. Rodney had hoped to avoid the whole thing, but Sheppard insisted on going and since he hadn’t left Rodney’s side since the dust-up in the Gate room there wasn’t much Rodney could do.

Sheppard had located transporters, which made getting to the pier much easier than if they had to walk all the way from the Control Tower. Conservative estimates put Atlantis at roughly the size of Manhattan, which meant they had a lot of exploring to do. It was also keeping Grodin busy shutting down power to all the various sections because when the Ancients left, none of them bothered to turn the lights off. It was no wonder the ZPMs were drained.

No-one was talking about Major Sheppard’s unbelievable recovery, or how well he was dealing with his newfound sensory enhancements. It was like they could only handle one insane event at a time.

But Rodney was able to think of several different things at once, and he was certainly curious about Sheppard’s ability to be upright and coherent, and not off in a corner somewhere, zoned into oblivion. He asked Sheppard as much as they headed for the transporter to take them to the pier.

Sheppard shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s like…there’s this low-level hum. And whenever things start to get too overwhelming it gets louder. Distracts me.”

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t find that comforting.” Rodney palmed the transporter door open and they stepped inside. “Can you narrow down a fixed point where it might be coming from?”

“I tried. But it’s like it’s coming from everywhere, all at once.” Sheppard leaned against the wall. “I can’t focus enough.”

Rodney nodded. “You need a Guide,” he said, and indicated their destination on the Atlantis map.

White light filled the small space, and seconds later they arrived at the transporter closest to the pier. Rodney stumbled a little getting out. His skin felt strange, tingly and hot and a little too tight. Not for the first time, he wondered what kind of damage he was sustaining on a cellular level thanks to all this convenient, instantaneous travel.

“Don’t need a Guide,” Sheppard said. His whole body radiated tension, from the set of his shoulders to the tic in his jaw.

“Why am I not surprised you’d be so cavalier about this?” Rodney rolled his shoulders, trying to work that weird sensation out of his skin. It wasn’t the hypoglycemia; he was well aware of the warning signs for that. “I know you can’t be too happy about all of this, but –”

“Not too happy?” Sheppard turned on him, scowling. “Not happy to have all my senses out of whack? Or not happy to be attending my CO’s funeral because I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and maybe if I was things would’ve gone differently? Maybe I should be glad that I’m stuck here, that I can’t go through the Gate because I’m a fucking Sentinel. Is that what you meant, McKay?”

He stalked off before Rodney could think of a reply. Sheppard was normally such a laid-back guy, it was a bit of a shock seeing him so angry (scared). And really, Rodney was surprised the Major hung around as long as he had; Rodney’d never had an easy time making friends. Or keeping them when he did.

He let out a breath, disappointed but resigned, and joined the fringes of the assembled group. There were no dress uniforms, no honor guard, not even a proper casket. Just Col. Sumner’s wizened body wrapped in a sheet and weighted down with pieces of metal.

Elizabeth said a few words, working in a ‘we will prevail’ pep talk before she turned the floor over to anyone else who wanted to say something. She pointedly looked at Lt. Torres, who shook her head. She still looked angry (guilty), and so did some of the Marines.

Rodney narrowed his eyes and really looked at the group that had come out for the slapdash funeral service. There was a lot of anger and fear, some pockets of remorse, and one or two people who seemed genuinely relieved that Sumner was gone. Probably normal emotions to have, given the circumstances, but Rodney almost never noticed one person’s feelings, never mind twenty.

It seemed that once he focused in on the problem, it only got worse. Louder. As if everyone was shouting their feelings at him.

(SORROW)
(ANGER)
(REMORSE)
(UNCERTAINTY)
(FEAR-FEAR-FEAR)

Rodney clapped his hands to his ears. “Stop it!” he shouted.

He twitched away from the hands that landed on his shoulder, his back. He closed his eyes and stumbled away from the group. He needed to get away from all the damn feelings.

(concern)
(fear)
(PANIC)

It reached a crescendo, an awful, overwhelming cacophony in Rodney’s head until he couldn’t even hear himself screaming. When his eyes rolled back in his head and everything faded to black, the only thing that followed him down was his own gratitude.

*o*o*o*

Rodney walked down strange halls, fingers trailing along a metallic wall that was warm to his touch. He didn’t hear anyone, see anyone, yet he didn’t feel alone. He moved from hallway to hallway until he found himself standing in front of an enormous metal ring, set right into the floor.

Astria porta, he thought, though there was another name. One he couldn’t quite remember.

The lights on it began to flash and he stepped back, instinctively knowing not to be too close. When the lights stopped flashing there was a loud whoosh as water erupted from the ring, only to be pulled back and held there, a shimmering blue puddle. Not water. Something more, something greater.

I did it for you, a voice said. It might’ve been in Rodney’s head, or echoing in the room, or emanating from the rippling blue puddle. I did it for us.

“What did you do?” Rodney asked. He wasn’t sure he’d spoken the words aloud, but it didn’t matter.

Custas, the voice said. It was both male and female, old and young. Returned after so long away.

The word was familiar, but incomplete.

“Sentia,” Rodney supplied.

As it always was. Two acting as one, bringing order.

Something niggled at the back of Rodney’s mind, a discrepancy in the formula, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

Go to him. And remember.

There was a sudden weight in Rodney’s hand, and he looked down to see that he was holding something familiar. An artefact with an evocative shape (wee baby turtle). It started to glow, green light spilling out of it and into Rodney’s palm. He closed his fingers around it, closed his eyes, and waited.

*o*o*o*

The infirmary was quiet, the lights dim, when Rodney woke. His mouth was dry, there was a low-level throb in his right temple, and someone was holding his hand. That someone turned out to be Sheppard, which Rodney supposed shouldn’t have been all that surprising. The man was curled up in a chair next to the bed, his neck at an uncomfortable-looking angle, and he had Rodney’s hand loosely clasped in his own, fingers lax in sleep.

Rodney didn’t know what to make of it. Probably it was just more new-Sentinel clinginess, but a part of him wished that maybe it was something else. Maybe Sheppard really did want to be his friend. Maybe…

(frustration)

Rodney winced, his hand clenching around Sheppard’s hard enough to wake the man up. He raised his head, blinking blearily at Rodney, and grinned.

(relief)

“It’s happening again,” Rodney said, his voice shaking. He didn’t think he could stand another bout of emotional battering. “Where’s Carson?”

“I’ll get him.”

(concern)
(possessiveness)

The frustration was coming from Carson, with a dash of guilt thrown in. “Something went wrong with the gene therapy,” he explained apologetically. “I don’t know how, or why, but there’s been a mutation.”

I did it for you.

Rodney shook his head. “It wasn’t you, Carson. Or, well, not all you. I think it was Atlantis.”

“That’s impossible.”

(affirmation)

Rodney looked at Sheppard, who was watching him with a guarded expression. “I’m telling you, Carson, it’s the city. It switched on the Major’s Sentinel gene and…and did something to me. To the gene.”

(denial)
(fear)

“You’re saying there’s an intelligence here?” Carson scanned the room for a quick minute before shaking his head. “Even if there were some sort of AI, Rodney, it wouldn’t be able to manipulate anyone on a genetic level. It’s impossible.”

“What’s happening, Rodney?” Sheppard asked, still holding his hand. “You feel…different somehow.”

A word bubbled up from Rodney’s subconscious. “Custas,” he muttered to himself. He’d studied the language of the Ancients – he’d needed to, if he had a hope of working with their tech – and he knew what the implication was. Carson was right, it was impossible.

“What is that? Custas.” Carson asked.

“It means guardian,” Rodney said. “I think it’s the Ancient word for Guide.”

Sheppard dropped his hand like a hot potato and sat back in his chair, his emotions projecting loud and clear.

(anger)
(disgust)
(rejection)

“Well, thank you so much for your support,” Rodney snapped at him, head pounding. So much for friends. “You know, I didn’t ask for this either. Jerk.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and did his best to ignore the emotions that beat at him, Sheppard’s louder than Carson’s. He didn’t care if Sheppard felt embarrassed or guilty or whatever. What he did care about was that the pain in his head was getting worse.

“Carson, you have to do something. I can’t think. I can’t work. Just being around the two of you is hard enough.” Rodney gave a side-eye glance to Sheppard. “Although not all of you need to be here.”

“Major? Perhaps it would be best if you left.” Carson’s immediate support made Rodney feel slightly better.

“Rodney, I…” Whatever Sheppard wanted to say, he couldn’t seem to articulate it. He got up and left, trailing emotions behind him like a cartoon cloud.

(regret)
(shame)
(frustration)

“You can't be a Guide, Rodney,” Carson said once they were alone. “You don’t have the gene.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. I can feel what other people are feeling, Carson, and it pretty much sucks. I can’t turn it off.”

“You’re talking about empathy. Fascinating.”

“It’s not fascinating! You have to fix it!” Rodney hunched in on himself. “How can I get any work done like this? We’re all going to die out here because of feelings.”

“I think you’re being a bit dramatic,” Carson said. “Let me do some research, see if I can find something useful. In the meantime I’ll do my best to keep people away.”

(honesty)
(determination)

It wasn’t much, but Rodney would take it. He couldn’t go on like this.

*o*o*o*

Assistance came from an unexpected source. The leader of the Athosians came to see Rodney in his room. He was hiding out there, away from the emotions that were bubbling so close to the surface of everyone around him. There was a lot of fear and uncertainty in the expedition at the moment, and he had plenty of his own to deal with.

“May I come in?”

Rodney studied her for a long moment before nodding and stepping aside to let her in. She was very pretty, in an exotic Pegasus alien way, but more importantly he wasn’t getting a single emotional read off of her.

“I am Teyla Emmagan.”

“Right. Uh, Dr. Rodney McKay.” He held his hand out, and after a moment Teyla shook it, looking amused.

“I wish our meeting were under better circumstances,” she said.

“I’d offer you a seat, but…” Rodney waved his hand at the mess in his room. He had a crate of computer equipment sitting beside the desk, which he hadn’t located a chair for, and he hadn’t exactly been tidy during his self-imposed exile. The bed was unmade, and there was a small pile of clothes on the floor by the bathroom door.

“That is quite all right. Dr. McKay, if I may get straight to the point?”

“Of course.” The thought of sitting on the bed while Teyla remained standing was uncomfortable, so Rodney leaned against the desk and tried to look nonchalant. “Was there something you needed help with? Because I think Elizabeth would be more suited for that kind of thing.”

“Actually, it is I who would like to offer my assistance to you.”

It occurred to Rodney that he had no clue about the Athosians or their culture. Maybe this was some sort of proposition? Which, yes please! He would never turn down a beautiful woman who wanted to have sex with him. Or anyone, really. Not that he was easy or anything, but those kinds of opportunities were few and far between, and Rodney knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“I have heard you are having difficulty controlling your newfound gift.”

Oh. Well, that was disappointing. “You could say that.”

“I, too, have a gift that can be a burden at times. But I was taught how to block out that which I do not want to know.”

Rodney felt a glimmer of hope at her words. “You can help me block out the emotions?”

“If that is what is troubling you, then yes. I can try.”

“Is that why I can’t feel yours? Because you know how to hide them?”

Teyla nodded. “Yes.”

“Let’s do it! I need to get back to work before I lose what’s left of my mind.” Rodney pushed up from the desk even as Teyla laughed.

“Major Sheppard said that you would be eager to learn.”

That gave Rodney pause. Was Sheppard the one who pointed Teyla in his direction? Well, Rodney refused to feel grateful about it. The Major was probably just trying to assuage his own guilt at being a jackass. Well, he wasn’t going to spite himself and send Teyla packing.

“What do I have to do?”

*o*o*o*

One of the Athosian boys got lost playing hide-n-seek in the transporter, and his father – a tall, bearded guy hobbling around with a crutch – was frantic. Torres was adamant to lead the search party, but Elizabeth turned to Sheppard.

“Major, I know you haven’t had time to get used to your new situation, but I think you stand the best chance of finding Jinto.”

Sheppard opened his mouth, but Carson beat him to the punch. “With all due respect, Elizabeth, Major Sheppard hasn’t had any access to proper Sentinel training. I’ve cobbed together what I can, with input from people who have more immediate knowledge, but it’s still not enough.”

“I realize that, but Jinto has been unable to contact us. And Atlantis is much too large to simply send out search parties. We need a Sentinel.”

Rodney had been concentrating on keeping his mental shields up, not needing his newfound empathy to tell how frantic the father was, but he let his control slip just a little so that he could contribute to the conversation.

“He’s probably in one of the damaged areas, otherwise the sensors would’ve picked him up.”

Grodin was helping him work on inputting the unique signatures from the expedition members’ subcutaneous locator beacons into the Ancient system, so that they could be easily located anywhere in Atlantis. And on the hand-held life-sign detector that Sgt. Markham had found in one of the Gateships. They could use the LSD to find the kid, but that device only worked in proximity. They’d need a starting point.

“I can do it,” Sheppard said. His body language exuded confidence, but Rodney could hear the waver in his voice. Sheppard wasn’t sure, but he wanted to try. “If Rodney helps me.”

“What?” Rodney yelped. His shield slipped, and a whole host of emotions tried to push through the crack.

(dread)
(determination)
(uncertainty)
(affection)

He closed his eyes, shored up his fortifications the way Teyla had taught him. Rodney’s shields were constructed of math, numbers slotted into neat and tidy equations that kept other people’s emotions at bay. In a pinch, he found that reciting pi was a good temporary fix.

“You’re the closest thing we have to a Guide,” Elizabeth said. It was clear where her allegiance lay.

“We can make it work,” Sheppard said. He was looking right at Rodney.

“Yes, please. I will give anything to get my son back,” the father pleaded.

Rodney sighed. “Fine. But you better send backup in case Major Sentinel goes feral or something. I’m not wrangling him.”

Sheppard scowled, but Elizabeth beamed.

“Thank you, Rodney. Lt. Torres?”

“I’ll get two of my men,” Torres replied eagerly.

“Major Sheppard is taking the lead on this. Will you have a problem following his orders?”

Torres glanced quickly in Sheppard’s direction and shook her head. “No problem.”

“Okay. Keep your radios on, and keep in regular communication with me. And stay safe.”

The search-and-rescue team met up at the transporter closest to the quarters that Jinto and his father were sharing. Torres brought Lt. Ford, who looked too young to be a Marine, and Sgt. Akino, who made a joke about the United Colors of Benetton that got him a sharp look from his acting CO.

“Are you sure about this?” Rodney asked Sheppard. “I don’t know what to do.”

“You worked with Guides, didn’t you pick up anything?”

“As a matter of fact, no I did not. That was never part of the work we were doing. Why would I have been interested?” Although Rodney could kick himself for that now. He’d been getting all kinds of advice from people who knew Guides, or had read an article about Guides one time five years ago, but most of it was useless.

“Just be here,” Sheppard replied. He stepped into the transporter and focused in on the map. “I should be able to see where he touched it.”

Ford was practically hanging over Rodney’s shoulder, trying to watch, and Rodney elbowed him back.

“Stop breathing down my neck,” he snapped. “He’s not doing a magic trick, he’s looking at a map.”

“I think…here.” Sheppard reached out, and then kind of froze there with his hand out.

“Sheppard? Hey. Sheppard.” Rodney put a hand on the Major’s shoulder and squeezed it, and Sheppard completed his movement seemingly unaware of having paused.

It was a tight fit, the five of them crammed into the transporter. Especially since three of them were fully geared up with tac vests and weapons. Luckily it was a short trip, and Rodney was the first one to step out. He waited for that weird skin thing to happen again, but it didn’t. Maybe it had been a one-time…oh.

“I think it was the transporter,” he said to Sheppard. “That day on the pier. I felt weird after, and that’s when all this stupid Guide stuff started. Remind me to tell Carson.”

I did it for you.

Rodney was sure that’s when it had happened. The city – which he absolutely believed had some level of sentience – had taken advantage of his cells being so readily available in that split second and tweaked his ATA gene.

Two acting as one, bringing order.

What he couldn’t understand was why the city had picked him to be Sheppard’s counterpart, when there were others far more suited to the task, others who already had an active ATA gene. He was the least likely person to embrace the touchy-feely Guide thing.

“You think the transporter altered you?” Sgt. Akino sounded dubious. “No-one else has experienced any unusual side effects.”

“We can debate this later,” Torres said. “Major, are you picking anything up on the kid?”

“He’s been missing too long to look for echoes of heat signatures, Sir,” Ford said.

Rodney recalled that the young Marine was helping Sheppard with some of the Sentinel stuff. He’d apparently taken a class or something, which made him one of the most qualified members of the expedition.

“Hearing, then.”

“Wait.” Rodney held up his hand. He was pretty sure Sheppard had been on the edge of a zone in the transporter, and the strain of trying to listen over what might prove to be a large distance was sure to tip him right over the edge. Rodney wasn’t confident in his ability to pull Sheppard back out.

“Rodney –”

“No, listen. The kid has to be scared, right? Like, really scared. I should be able to feel that.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sheppard gave him an intent look, and Rodney nodded. He couldn’t have Sheppard doing all the work. Maybe the man didn’t want to be affiliated with him, and do the Sentinel-Guide thing, but Rodney couldn’t help worrying that he might overextend himself.

“No. But I’m going to anyway.”

“Right. Everyone, start blocking. Let’s make this easier for McKay.”

Rodney looked around, startled, as everyone closed their eyes. “What are you doing?”

“We’re blocking our emotional feedback so you can concentrate on Jinto,” Sheppard explained, as if it were obvious.

“How do you know how to do that?”

“Teyla is teaching everyone.”

Rodney was floored. They were doing that for him? Even the Marines, who didn’t even know him? He didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. He focused on his shields, lowering them a little at a time to see if anything came through. There was nothing but a kind of formless hum coming from the Marines, but either Sheppard was really bad at it, or he was purposefully letting his feelings through.

(confidence)
(affection)
(attraction)

Rodney whipped his head around so fast he almost pulled a muscle, and found that Sheppard was watching him with a smirky grin on his face. And then, one by one, the emotions pulled back until they were just another hum.

“Showoff,” Rodney muttered. Had Sheppard really gone through that much of an about-face? It seemed unlikely, but the feelings didn’t lie. At least, he didn’t think they did.

“Can we move this along, Dr. McKay?” Torres asked.

“Right. Sorry.” Rodney dropped his shields completely, and almost immediately got a faint hit.

(fear)
(regret)

He couldn’t pinpoint an exact location, but he could give them a direction to start. “Okay, got it. This way.”

Rodney took the lead, but Sheppard quickly outpaced him. The corridors they moved through had clearly been water damaged, and there was a dank smell that Rodney could’ve done without. Many of the lights weren’t working, and they had to use flashlights.

From his position behind Sheppard, Rodney could see the man tipping his head to the side periodically, and figured he had to be listening for Jinto. Sentinels weren’t even close to his field, but Rodney was itching to do a study. Sheppard should’ve been little more than a vegetable, getting all his senses switched on at once like that. No proper training, no proper Guide. It was nothing short of a miracle that the man could use his senses so easily.

Sheppard had said something was helping him. Rodney would bet money that it was the city itself. If Atlantis really was sentient, maybe it had sensed Sheppard’s dormant Sentinel gene and decided to activate it. For what purpose, though? There’d been no indication in any of the artefacts or literature that the Ancients had Sentinels and Guides in their number. Rodney’s dream, if it had been a dream, seemed to say otherwise.

Sentia and Custas. Sentinel and Guardian.

If they ever had the ability to contact Earth, Rodney was going to blow Daniel’s mind.

They came to a cross corridor and Sheppard stopped. He turned left, turned right, then back again.

“I can’t hear anything. I lost him.”

“No, you didn’t. Just focus.” Without even thinking, Rodney reached for Sheppard’s hand and twined their fingers together. Touch had helped Sheppard in the past, and he hoped it would again.

Sheppard squeezed his hand and let out a breath, going absolutely still for a few seconds before leading them down the left corridor. He didn’t let go of Rodney’s hand.

They found Jinto huddled in the corner of a lab, head resting on his knees. Sgt. Akino took over from there, checking the boy for any injuries and giving him water and something to eat. Torres radioed back to Elizabeth that all was well. Rodney attached a beacon to the wall of the lab, so that a science team could come back and take a look around when there was time for that kind of exploration.

“I told you we could do it,” Sheppard said, leaning against the wall in that slouchy way he had.

“Score one for optimism,” Rodney replied. “Can we go now? It’s time for lunch and my blood sugar is getting low.”

Sheppard nodded at Ford, who pulled a Power Bar out of his tac vest and tossed it to Rodney. “That should hold you over.”

They made their way back to the transporter, Rodney too busy thinking to take part in the banter between Sheppard and the Marines. He was going to go through the Ancient database with a fine-toothed algorithm and dig up anything he could find on Sentinels, Guides and artificial intelligence.

He was tired of guessing.

*o*o*o*

The call came in the middle of the night, well past the happy reunion of Jinto and his father. Rodney had only just gone to bed a couple of hours earlier, after setting his searches loose in the database, and it took a while for Carson’s voice squawking at him from the radio on the nightstand to wake him up.

Rodney! Wake up, you bloody bastard! I need you!

Rodney fumbled for the earpiece. “Carson? Do you know what time it is?”

I need you in the quarantine room immediately! Sheppard’s in a bad way.

That had him rocketing out of bed and digging around for his pants. “What happened?”

I’ll explain when you get here.

“Don’t be cagey!”

Just get here, Rodney.

Carson clicked off and Rodney scowled. He pulled a t-shirt over his head and shoved his bare feet into his shoes. It didn’t take a genius to know that Sheppard was probably in the middle of some kind of Sentinel crisis. He’d been lucky up till now. Rodney didn’t know exactly what Carson wanted from him, but he knew he probably wouldn’t like it.

“You want me to what?”

“Look at him, Rodney. He needs help.”

Down in the quarantine room Sheppard was pacing and growling. He looked manic, pale with rosy patches high on his cheeks that spoke of fever. His movements were jerky, displaying none of the easy grace the man normally had.

“You’re the closest thing we have to a Guide,” Ford put in. He’d been the one to drag Sheppard to the infirmary. “He needs to imprint.”

“But he was doing fine! You saw him today, he had a handle on this.”

Carson shook his head. “Whatever has been keeping him sane and functioning has been a temporary fix. Without the proper training, without suppression medication, the Major needs to bond. He needs a connection.”

“It doesn’t have to be…uh…you know. Sexual.” Ford blushed, which only made him look younger. “Some pairs are platonic.”

“Anything short of organ donation,” Carson reminded him.

“I’ll thank you not to throw my words back at me.” Rodney looked down at Sheppard. They’d worked together pretty well, hunting down Jinto. Would it really be that bad, having some sort of connection with Sheppard? His behavior had been pretty waffley, but maybe that was because he was struggling with the Sentinel thing.

Maybe this was a huge mistake.

“Can we get some privacy?” Rodney asked.

“Of course.” Carson pushed a button that turned the windows opaque. “Call me on the radio if you need assistance, or if Major Sheppard gets any worse. Lt. Ford and I will be standing by.

“Good luck!” Ford called after him as Rodney headed downstairs.

“Yeah, right,” Rodney muttered.

Sheppard had really gotten under his skin. There was no other reason why Rodney would willingly enter a room with an agitated, unbonded Sentinel without backup. Probably he’d just gotten used to having Sheppard hanging around back at Cheyenne Mountain. Or it could be that last-night-on-Earth dinner they’d shared.

When Rodney entered the quarantine room, Sheppard immediately stopped moving. He was several feet away, and even in his Sentinel mania he was ridiculously sexy. Barefoot, wearing his black cargo pants and uniform shirt, both of which were unbuttoned. His bare chest was heaving with his quick, panting breaths.

“Sheppard? You with me?”

“Everything hurts,” Sheppard replied. His voice was rough, as if he’d been shouting.

“General consensus is that this is a Sentinel thing. Ford says you need to…uh…imprint.”

“Didn’t want to.” Sheppard’s hands curled up into fists. “Didn’t want to be a Sentinel.”

“Believe me, if anyone understands I do.” Rodney took a hesitant step forward. “But you can’t go on like this, Major. So it’s okay. To do the imprint thing, I mean.”

In the blink of an eye Sheppard closed the space between them till only inches remained. “Do you know how good you smell?”

Rodney stared back at Sheppard with wide eyes. “Um…no?”

“Like math and coffee.” Sheppard leaned in and scented Rodney’s neck. Rodney flushed.

“I didn’t know math had a smell.”

There was no response to that, just more scenting. Rodney tried to remember what he knew about Sentinel imprinting; it wasn’t much. All five senses needed to be involved, obviously, and that was to provide a full picture of the Guide to the Sentinel, so that they could be found even amidst the largest crowd. Heartbeats could be unique, if there were murmurs or other anomalies, but for the most part they weren’t and so the Sentinel had to pair that with scent. Be able to tell their Guide from even the quickest glance.

“I wanted to kiss you,” Sheppard murmured next to Rodney’s ear, startling him.

“What?”

“When we came back from dinner that night.”

“It was a date!”

Sheppard chuckled, his breath hot on Rodney’s neck.

“Why didn’t you?” Rodney asked. The close proximity was starting to make him a little crazy, especially since Sheppard still hadn’t touched him.

“UCMJ. But you know what?”

Rodney shook his head.

“Sentinels and Guides are exempt.” That was the only warning Rodney had before Sheppard kissed him, an insistent press of lips that quickly involved tongues and teeth and Sheppard’s hands up the back of Rodney’s t-shirt.

“Is this how all Sentinels imprint?” Rodney gasped when they came up for air.

“How the hell would I know?”

Sheppard had plastered himself against Rodney, who was taking advantage of the unbuttoned shirt to run his hands over Sheppard’s bare chest. He was lean and hairy, and as far removed from blonde and busty as it was possible to be. It had been a long time since Rodney had been so turned on by a man, but he was fully prepared to seize the opportunity.

“Is everything still hurting?” Rodney asked. He tucked his fingers into the waistband of Sheppard’s pants.

“It’s gotten more localized.” Sheppard ground against him, his interest plain.

Rodney didn’t think about Carson and Ford upstairs in the infirmary. He took off his radio and tossed it carelessly aside. He kissed Sheppard again, hot and dirty, and then slid to his knees. He didn’t need to do much to get those cargo pants down and puddled on Sheppard’s slender feet. He took a moment to enjoy the sight of Sheppard’s hard length encased in black boxer briefs before he pushed those out of the way too.

“Too much. Too much,” Sheppard said, hissing.

Too much what, Rodney wasn’t sure. He rocked back on his heels, looking up the long line of Sheppard’s body with open appreciation.

“Think about something else.”

Sheppard looked down at him, incredulous. “What?”

“Think about something else. Like flying, or golf. Distract yourself. That’s how I keep my mental shields up.”

“Throttle back,” Sheppard whispered, nodding. “Okay.”

Rodney waited until the Major had relaxed again, then took hold of his cock and licked a stripe up the length of it. Sheppard’s hips jerked, and he made a pained sound in the back of his throat, but he took hold of Rodney’s shoulders and very clearly indicated that he was good to proceed.

It had been some time since Rodney had sucked cock, but it was like riding a bike. He didn’t remember liking it quite so much, though. Maybe it was part of his mutated gene, or maybe it was just Sheppard, but Rodney couldn’t get enough. He licked, sucked, nibbled. He wanted to memorize the heavy feel of that cock on his tongue, and the slightly bitter taste of Sheppard's precome.

When Sheppard came it was with Rodney’s name on his lips and his hand fisted in Rodney’s hair. Sheppard was beautiful even in this, and Rodney came without even touching his own cock.

He was still riding the wave of his orgasm when Sheppard pushed him back and relieved him of his pants, scenting around his groin and dipping his tongue into the sticky mess there.

“I want to fuck you,” he said in a throaty voice.

“Not here,” Rodney gasped in reply. “My room. I have supplies.”

Sheppard kissed him, and Rodney could taste himself on Sheppard’s tongue. That was hotter than it had any right to be, and his spent cock twitched in response.

Maybe this Guide thing wasn’t so bad after all.

*o*o*o*

Epilogue

John was practically vibrating with excitement. Rodney didn’t need any special skills to tell him that. He had to admit that John looked pretty good behind the controls of the Gateship. It was their first time taking one out, after several successful trips through the Gate on foot.

It had taken Rodney almost a month to modify the personal shield for John, but it had been well worth it. Whenever John wore it, he took Lantea with him: the atmosphere, the gravity, everything that his senses were attuned to as ‘normal’. He couldn’t touch Rodney with it on, but he could scent him and hear him and see him, and that seemed to be enough.

They were still working things out as they went, creating their own Sentinel-Guide protocols, but John had been able to take over as CO. And his command over his enhanced senses had saved the day on more than one occasion.

“You guys ready?” John asked.

It was also their first time going out as a team. He’d chosen Lt. Ford and Teyla to join them, and while Rodney didn’t always get along great with Ford he was certainly eager to please. Teyla, as a native of the Pegasus galaxy, provided them with much needed insight into local customs. She also continued to work with Rodney on strengthening and refining his mental shields.

“You bet, Sir,” Ford replied with a big grin.

“Flight, this is Puddlejumper One. Are we cleared for departure?”

“Wait, what?” Rodney frowned at Sheppard. “This is a Gateship.”

“You’re not allowed to name anything,” Sheppard replied with a fond grin. He leaned over and gave Rodney a quick kiss. “Trust me. This is a puddle-jumper.”

You’re clear, Puddlejumper One.

“Keep the lights on,” Sheppard said. “Dr. McKay?”

Rodney dialed the address with the ship’s DHD as soon as they left the bay and entered the Gate room. He also tapped the shield clipped to John’s shirt.

“Shield on.”

“Yes, Sir,” John said with a smirk. The shield lit up, green and glowing, and then they were slipping into the wormhole and their next adventure.