John squinted at the pale blue sky, watching a distant bird wheel and soar and vaguely aware of the sweat running down his back under the layers of tee shirt, uniform shirt, and tac vest. The dip and rise of Rodney's voice filled the quiet meadow holding the stargate, familiar and necessary as the air and sunshine. Somewhere something like a dog barked, but neither Teyla or Ronon so much as twitched from where they were sitting a few yards away. They looked bored out of their minds.
Just the way John liked his missions to go.
"I could train monkeys to do this. I could even train marines to — Ow!"
John glanced down. Rodney remained on his knees before the DHD console, but he'd backed out and was clutching the top of his head.
"Maybe you should watch your head in there," John suggested, perfectly aware he was about thirty seconds too late.
Rodney twisted to glare at him. "I would never have thought of that, Colonel."
John folded his arms over the stock of his P90 and gave him a bland smile. "Glad to help."
The smile only earned him a huff of exasperation. Rodney turned back to the DHD, then pawed through his portable toolkit, before diving back in.
"How much longer?" Ronon called out, sounding lazy as a lion in the sun.
"As long as it takes," Rodney replied. "What, does he think he could do this faster?" He hummed and wriggled in deeper, resting his weight on his elbows and pulling his pants taut over a tempting target for John's boot.
John resisted. Ronon and Teyla would make him suffer if they ended up stuck here because he made Rodney jiggle the wrong part in the DHD.
Rodney reached back with one hand and groped through his toolkit, muttering in annoyance when what he wanted didn't magically leap into his fingers. John crouched between the kit and the gleaming bronze case of the sealed TID. "Which one?" he asked. The sooner Rodney finished, the sooner they could activate the TID, dial Atlantis and go home. These installation missions were becoming a bore.
"The Number Four Engler."
John stared into the kit at the assortment of tools, meters, sensors, and crystals. Some of them had come straight from Earth — he thought he recognized a Torx wrench and needle nosed pliers — and others had been appropriated from Atlantis' own stores. Still more had been hand tooled in the machine shop Sergeant Portilla had set up, where he and two other marines worked to the exacting design specifications provided by Zelenka and the other engineers. He didn't see a Number Four Engler, probably because he hadn't a clue what it was.
Rodney snapped his fingers.
"Oh, for the love of — orange rubberized handle, octagonal crystal at the point. It telescopes — "
John found it and slapped into Rodney's palm. "You could have just said."
Rodney's hand and the Number Four Engler disappeared into the guts of the DHD. John sighed. Suhash Pratap had charge of the kitchen according to the schedule emailed out every week, which meant dinner would be curried something Pegasus, mulligan stew, plenty of fruit and breads, that vegetable thing with the pepper sauce that made his nose run, and a choice of fruit cobbler or brownies for dessert. No one would say boo if he took one of both.
"If you get us out of here in the next hour, I'll give you my brownie at dinner," he offered.
"What'll you give me if I get us out of here in half an hour?" Rodney asked in a low voice.
John lightly brushed his hand over the sun-warmed fabric stretched over Rodney's back. "Find out."
"Don't distract me," Rodney complained. He twisted to the side, muscles rippling in his back. "Move, you stubborn piece of — gotcha!" He handed out the Number Four Engler. John put it back in the kit. Rodney twisted even further to the side and rose up enough John heard his head thunk inside the DHD again. He muttered unintelligibly and turned enough to present both hands. "Give me the TID. Narrow S-curve oriented upward."
John picked up the Telepathic Interference Device gingerly. The necessity of fitting it inside the already crowded interior of a DHD console so that it could leach power from the stargate had resulted in an awkwardly contorted piece of equipment. Portilla's skills and one of the anthropologists with an artistic bent had created something that looked Ancient, angled and asymmetric yet balanced. Turquoise crystal interfaces on several facets were the only interruption in the Ancient alloy forming the case. As it did each time he handled one, the weight impressed him, as did the way Rodney took it without a bobble and proceeded to thread it into place.
"Done yet?" Ronon asked, a looming black silhouette between John and the sun, outlined in light. John jumped in surprise, then cast a dirty look up at him. Sneaky bastard loved doing that.
"Almost," Rodney answered, muffled voice high with normal annoyance. "I don't see why Zelenka can't go on some of these missions. He's...stunted. It's that bad Communist diet he grew up with, it's a miracle he has a brain at all, but the point is, he can squinch himself into a pretzel and not — ow — smash his fingers."
"Dr. Zelenka does not like going offworld," Teyla observed as she joined them.
"Well, this sucks."
"Buck up," John advised. "You could be installing it on an orbital gate."
"No doubt I will be sooner or later."
Rodney grunted, pushed at something, and finally backed out of the DHD again. His face and neck were red and shining with perspiration; his hair matted down and dark with it too. He blew out a loud breath. "Did someone ever say I did?" he demanded of Teyla. He swiped at the sweat on his upper lip. "Because not so much. It's like an oven in that thing."
Teyla smiled down at him and handed over her water bottle. Rodney took it, gulped down a swallow and poured the rest over his head. Droplets glittered on his eyelashes. John stared, then ostentatiously checked his watch, making sure Rodney saw.
"No one's shooting at you," John pointed out.
"Yes, I will admit, that is a major improvement in our missions of late."
"Are you done now?" Ronon asked.
"Yes," Rodney snapped back.
"You sure?" John asked. "'Cause I don't feel anything."
The field the TID generated made John itchy. He hated admitting it, but it made him cranky too, like someone was hissing in the back of his brain. It gave Teyla a piercing headache and bothered more than a few other members of the expedition too, though not nearly to the extent it affected the Wraith. Given an opportunity, Wraith would do anything to get out of range of the field. If they couldn't, they seemed to go insane or catatonic. Any of which worked to protect a planetary populace from them. So far it had worked on every planet they'd equipped with a TID.
"I've told you before, that's all in your head."
"Right," John drawled. He got to his feet, pleased his knees hadn't creaked as he did. "So turn it on and we can head home."
Rodney closed up his toolkit before he rose with a groan and a hand clutching at the small of his back. That meant he'd want the brownie and a back rub later.
Teyla touched John's arm. "Do you not think we should try to explain what we have done to the Elbixi again?"
John shrugged. "Well, you know, we already tried twice. Do you think the third time'd be the charm?"
She gave him a wry smile.
"It doesn't actually need them to know what it is for it to work," Rodney asked, "so why does it matter?"
"He's got a point," Ronon agreed.
Teyla sighed and gave in.
Rodney began entering the symbols for Atlantis into the DHD. The stargate activated with its normal half mechanical, half electrical noise. At the same time, the hairs on John's arms stood up like he had a swarm of bugs running all over him. Teyla sucked in a deep breath, her brow pleating in pain. John rubbed at his arms and glared at Ronon, who was watching him and Teyla.
"Guess it's working," Ronon commented.
"Of course it is." Rodney didn't bother turning around.
The wormhole splashed open, bright even in the daylight. Rodney sent through his IDC and John activated his radio to give the word of the day. "Atlantis, this is Sheppard. Everything is copacetic. Is it still raining there?
A faint crackle of static accompanied Chuck Campbell's familiar voice replying the counter-sign.
"AR-1, this is Atlantis. Everything is here is tickyboo too and, yeah, it's coming down in buckets."
'Tickyboo,' Rodney mouthed and John grinned. Every day a randomly chosen expedition member provided the signs and counter-signs for radio communication in the form of four innocuous words that had to be included in any wormhole contact, two for all okay, two for something wrong.
"Really?" John asked.
"No sir. Shield's down."
John waved the team forward and they stepped through the event horizon together into Atlantis. Rodney turned to him and snapped his fingers imperiously. "Under half an hour. Pay up."
John gave him a slow smile and a look. "Right here in the gate room?"
Rodney gulped and then sneered. "Fine. Later. Don't think I'm forgetting about the brownie, either."
Ronon slapped Rodney's back as they exited the jumper, nearly sending him to his knees.
"I can't believe it was that easy," John repeated for the third time.
"Stop saying that, you'll jinx the next mission," Rodney told him, but he grinned with the same glee bubbling through the rest of the team.
They handed their weapons and the remaining explosives off to Corporals Mullen and Parker for return to the armory on the way to medical, received Keller's all clear, and reported to Woolsey to debrief. He was waiting for them, arms crossed over his chest, wearing the same expressive mixture of emotions he did at every debriefing: disapproval, apprehension, fascination and concern.
"I see you've all survived unscathed once more," he commented. "Did it work?"
"Did it work?" Rodney repeated. He glanced at John, who was grinning, to Ronon, who smirked and to Teyla, who also had a wide smile. Rodney ducked his head, an answering smile spreading over his own face.
"Yes, did it work?" Woolsey demanded.
John strolled over to the conference table and perched on it. "Waltz in the park."
"Candy from a baby," Rodney said.
"Beating up Sheppard."
Sheppard slanted Ronon a sour look, then laughed anyway.
The conference room oriented to the west and morning briefings saw it always still on the shadowed side and requiring lights, but by afternoon light reflected from the reddish walls and gave the entire room a warm cast. It gleamed off Woolsey's skull, too.
"Perhaps you might supply a little more detail than that?"
"The Wraith had no idea we were even there until it was too late," Rodney said. "With the jumper cloaked, we landed in one of the dart bays and simply waited for half an hour after activating the TID."
"It all went exactly according to our plan," Teyla finished. "Though I admit to a certain amount of relief that it is over. Being too near the device is quite...unpleasant."
"Were there other humans on the ship?" Woolsey asked
Some of the euphoria drained away.
"We didn't check the cocoon holds," John said. He rubbed the back of his neck. "Not that we could have done anything for anyone there if we had. The jumper will only hold so many people and we really didn't know how long the TID would affect the Wraith...We didn't see any worshippers wondering around, though. That hive might not have had any."
"I don't think we need to worry much about what happens to Wraith worshippers," Rodney said.
"They are human, Rodney," Teyla said.
Ronon scowled at her. "Not to me."
"Quite understandable," Woolsey said. He straightened his shoulders. "Well. I'll begin my own report for the IOA. I'll expect your reports by tomorrow afternoon." He made a shooing gesture toward all four of them.
"No problem," John told him. He slid off of the table and headed for the door, snagging Rodney's tac vest in one hand. "Let's get some dinner. I wouldn't want to pass out from low blood sugar, after all."
Rodney trotted after him. "Oooh. Lasagna tonight."
Teyla laughed behind them.
Rodney walked back from disposing of the clean towel in the washroom. John had come out of his post-sex coma and taken it upon himself to change the sheets. Which meant John wouldn't be dressing and heading back to his own quarters yet.
Rodney smiled and rejoined him, tucking in a sheet corner, only to have John redo it to his exacting standards.
John insisted on hospital corners. John also hated the wet spot, which meant Rodney's bed often received this treatment, since they usually had sex in his quarters. It made sense; bigger, better bed and even the marines had grown used to John's nocturnal rambling through the city, so seeing him in a corridor outside, even at the earliest hours, raised no eyebrows. A few people knew about them, but they'd remained discreet as possible over the years.
He stepped back and let John finish, admiring the play of bare skin and muscle, then slid into the crisp sheets and patted the spot next to him. He was already thinking of how messy they could get this set of sheets in the morning. They'd both have to have a shower anyway before heading out.
John got into the bed and after a moment of hesitation — he always hesitated and Rodney always wondered — squirmed closer and wrapped an arm around Rodney's middle. They'd wriggle apart some nights, when one or the other of them dreamed, but just as often Rodney woke to this same tickle of warm breath against his neck, John pressed close, whether Rodney was on his stomach or facing up the way he was now.
He could tell when John was awake by that breath, the slowed rhythm and faint snuffle on each inhale, the weight of him against Rodney's side, slack with sleep. He'd learned so much about John in the years they'd slept together, since the first nights on Nsheen and since, much more than just his secrets. He knew for instance that John didn't talk often in bed, but he didn't mind if Rodney did.
The small lights along the floor and next to the door dimmed to their lowest setting automatically without any movement in the room to keep them on.
Rodney relaxed and let his thoughts roam and tumble out while looking up at the dark ceiling.
"You know that this proves that the Ancients weren't all that bright," he said.
"Ung?" John mumbled.
Rodney shifted and got his arm around John's shoulders, where he could pet his back.
"Yes. At least the ones who were trying to fight the Wraith. Maybe they suffered some sort of brain drain. They were certainly past their prime. I mean, you don't really think those ascension-obsessed egomaniacs could have built Atlantis, do you?"
He took that as agreement. In reward, he stroked his fingers over John's nape.
John hummed contentedly and murmured, "Go on."
"I mean, the TID isn't that complicated. But no, the Ancients thought they'd fight the Wraith with sentient robots or nanites or exploding freaking tumors. When they ran into a disease, they fled to another galaxy and when they ran into the Wraith they ran away again and even when they ascended, they were pretty much all useless."
"What about, um, whatsername, Ganos Lal?"
"Pretending to be a hologram?" Rodney snorted his derision. "Very classy. Very useful. Only not."
"Give them a break, they were just afraid of dying," John said. "Just like everyone else."
"I don't think so," Rodney replied, feeling stubborn and slightly arbitrary enough to continue arguing his point, despite his body's desire to slide into sleep now that it was warm and sated. "The two best minds they had, Janus and Merlin, had to go behind their backs to accomplish anything. What does that tell you?"
"That they didn't want them exploding any solar systems?" John replied, sounding snippy and more awake.
"Maybe," Rodney conceded.
John nosed against his jaw. "Can we go to sleep now?"
Rodney hmphed and turned enough to pull John tighter to him. "If we must."
"I must. I've got a five o'clock run with Ronon." John settled closer and sighed with what sounded like contentment. "Maybe they never thought of it because they were trying to kill the Wraith, not save people."
Rodney frowned at the ceiling, parsing that out. Did John mean that philosophically, as in the Ancients had been a selfish bunch who didn't really care about the human population the Wraith would prey on when they gave up? Or had he been referring to specifics, to the Athosians and Michael's other victims, the ones the TID had been developed to free from his influence? Which reminded him...He needed Captain Hailey assigned to the science department permanently. Her work on powering the TIDs had been impressive. Plenty of the marines could fly jumpers and all of them could shoot, but how many of them were world class astrophysicists who had been mentored into the Stargate Program by Sam? Hailey was being wasted in the Air Force. Something he meant to change.
John made a grumbling sound.
Rodney decided to let it go. After all, they had Teyla and her son back, safe and sane, though some of Michael's other victims would never be the same or, like Kanaan, had not survived at all. He could talk to John about Jennifer Hailey at morning staff.
He listened to John's steady breathing and let it lull him into sleep too.
Rodney actually waited until Teyla had finished telling them what was known about the Zidari.
He concentrated on Hailey's work. If an error slipped through the simulations, into the testing phase, the best they could hope for was large scale destruction, with casualties minimized only because Rodney had every intention of evacuating anyone not critical to the first test charge.
"McKay." Significantly more emphasis and annoyance colored John's voice.
Enough to make Rodney look up. "What?"
"You with us?"
"Actually, no," Rodney said. He ignored John's frown. "This is completely beneath my skills, not to mention a criminal waste of my time. Someone else can do it."
"You're part of the team," John replied, definitely sounding annoyed.
"Yes, whatever," Rodney said. "Look, I know I can do the job twice as fast as anyone else, but Bryce is willing to go — I talked to her — and she's not incompetent." He didn't look up from his screen, scrolling through line after line of symbols, following the logic of the attributes they described, looking for flaws. "Zelenka and Hailey and I are incredibly close..." His voice trailed away as he frowned at the laptop. His hands paused over the keyboard, hovered, then he blew out a breath, muttering, "Still smarter than you, Hailey. We have to account for the..." and tuned out everything else, forgetting where he was entirely.
He heard John tell Woolsey. "It really is routine at this point. We can take Dr. Bryce. It looks like Rodney's pretty busy."
"You won't be sorry," Rodney muttered as everyone else gathered their tablets, clothes rustling as they rose. Hailey hadn't made an error, but she'd jumped five steps without supporting her methodology.
"I'll leave that up to you, Colonel Sheppard," Woolsey said.
Rodney blinked tiredly. If he hadn't been up until three in the morning, it might have been different. He might have found the prospect of getting into the field for a few hours a pleasant break. He couldn't turn his brain off though. He kept circling the concept. It wasn't radical, not by the standards of science as practiced in Atlantis, but he felt sure that it went a different direction entirely than what the Ancients had done. However they had actually manufactured ZPMs, they hadn't intended to recharge them or there would have been some facility or reference to it in the database.
This, what he and Radek were pioneering along with Hailey, was something new.
Last night the three of them and Mundy, the expedition's best pure mathematician, had gone over every calculation. Rodney had looked up finally when a rattling snore startled him out of his own daze and found Hailey asleep on the lab floor. Radek had the lab cot, proving that tired scientists were seldom gentlemen, and Mundy had been sitting upright on a stool. Rodney had considered waking him for a half second, then shrugged. Sooner or later, Mundy would fall over and wake himself.
He'd staggered back to his own quarters and faceplanted on the bed, not even kicking off his boots.
Four hours sleep weren't enough to operate on offworld. They'd once traded with a people who considered yawning a deadly insult. Ronon had been the one to get them chased off that planet.
"I have more reports to write for the IOA. Though, admittedly, the successes we've had lately have made for a nice change in writing them. I'll leave you to your own work."
Rodney nodded absently.
If all the math checked out, they would begin running a simulation the next day. He knew if he went down to the lab now, Hailey would want to start the simulations. If he waited until after lunch though, she could be threatened with sitting up to wait through the night for any results.
Woolsey walked out.
Rodney went on working until he heard the stargate cycle, then shot up out of his seat and out of the conference room. He might not be going with them, but he'd see his team off.
Ronon was carrying the TID and Bryce had on more gear than Rodney usually carried. He watched her balk for a second at the event horizon and sighed. She'd said she wanted more offworld experience. Ronon gave her a little push and she went through.
John turned and looked back and up, his face creasing into a smile when he caught sight of Rodney. Teyla turned and smiled too before walking after Ronon and Bryce.
Rodney gave him a thumbs up and grimaced the instant John disappeared into the gate. His stomach protested and he remembered that he hated it when his team went anywhere without him. He walked back to the conference room with the full intention of finishing his review before lunch. They would begin the simulations and Hailey could stay up all night monitoring them. The next mission the team went on he would be with them.