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Against all odds

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"And then Levi rolled in the mud, trying to get his footing," Rodney said. "If Ford hadn't gone to retrieve the moron we'd have had a fatal training accident because he'd have drowned in the damn mud." Rodney hadn't believed John when he'd said he could dress himself, so Rodney was helping him with his tac vest, all the while telling stories about the training exercises. "Carson shouldn't have put you on full duty," he said as he clipped John's P-90 on.

John really wanted to shrug, but that was one of the few movements he still had to be careful with. "He said the shoulder is healing great."

"Huh," Rodney said, tugged on a few strategic places on John's clothes, then combed a hand through John's hair. He was so obviously getting carried away that John didn't have the heart to slap at his hands for fussing. "So he's not worried that you can't even shoot?"

With a little effort, John ignored that. Rodney had been overly careful with John lately. Some mornings, John even woke up to Rodney frowning down at the pink scar. John could shoot, he'd been to the shooting range every day in the last week.I First off, it was the other shoulder that was still a bit sore. Secondly, he felt fine most of the time. Unless he overdid it.

. Trying to convince Rodney of that was an exercise in pointlessness, though. There were some things his mate was completely deaf about, especially after John had been hurt so badly. By now John was used to it. "Elizabeth said in the mission briefing that she doesn't expect any problems on Dagan," he said. "The preliminary reports said it's a pretty peaceful place." By an unspoken agreement no one mentioned the other Elizabeth. John was surprised Rodney had taken notice of it, but he'd been rather kind to their own Elizabeth by pretending they hadn't watched her older self die. John himself was terribly thankful for the sacrifice of that other expedition, without their deaths, Rodney would have gone to Atlantis without him. He'd also have drowned, saving Elizabeth's life. It sounded exactly like something Rodney would do, too. Rodney's hand ran over John's hurt shoulder, the movement gentle and barely there, but John could read the worry in it easily enough. He wished there was something he could do or say to convince Rodney that he was fine already. Or at least that it hadn't been Rodney's fault John got shot in the first place.

Rodney was far unhappier about John coming on this mission than Carson had been. The doctor had put John back on the roster readily enough. He'd clearly been awed by the speed of recovery. The only thing was that he'd cautioned John to be careful with the shoulder for another week. So the only missions they'd be going on were milk runs, but at least John could leave the city again. He was really looking forward to that.

"We'll be fine," John said gently.

Rodney sighed deeply. His hands had stilled where he'd been triple checking John's equipment. "We'll see." He sounded unconvinced. When Rodney let go of John he took a deep breath and a step away, like he knew if he didn't they'd never leave. "They're probably waiting for us already."

"Yeah."

Rodney had been hovering the past weeks whenever he wasn't busy in the labs or with training. It wasn't something Rodney did with grace or anything approaching normal, but John had let him anyway. It was annoying sometimes, yeah, but it also felt good, to be cared for, even if Rodney had the tendency to do everything he put his mind to completely over the top. Work, protecting his mate, Rodney didn't do small. But the overprotectiveness would fade when Rodney finally got that John was fine, that he wasn't going to fall over and die any moment. It always stopped, eventually.

"I really hope we'll find a ZedPM on Dagan. It should be pretty easy," Rodney said as he led the way toward the gateroom. They quietly walked side by side before Rodney gave John a bright smile. "It'll be like a small super-nova," he said just as they entered the gateroom.

Miko gave them a wide-eyed stare, she looked terrified. "Super nova?"

Rodney nodded absentmindedly, he was too engrossed in double checking both their equipment. "A ZedPM contains enough energy to rival a small one."

It startled John every damn time someone asked them a question. It was even worse when the anthropologists sat down with them for dinner. The range of questions they asked still made John both uncomfortable even if the easy acceptance was a huge relief at the same time. John didn't know if it was the careful selection of personnel for the Atlantis mission or whether the humans of Earth were just different from the other places John had been born into recently, but most of them didn't seem fazed.

"Rodney was just explaining to me how easy it will be to find that ZPM," John said, enjoying how Miko's face lit up. Reactions like this reminded John of all they'd lost when the humans had started hunting them mercilessly. Having a group of people know what they were, but still trust them was … John didn't have the right words for it. Covering the way his vision went just that little bit fuzzy, he waved up to the control room in the universal sign of "dial it already, I want to get out of here yesterday." He'd been sitting around the city for too long, a brisk walk on Dagan, some research, and a quest would be just the thing to get back into the swing of things again.

"Okay!" He put a hand on his P-90, stopping it from swinging as he turned to his team. Rodney and Teyla both looked as eager to go as John felt while Miko appeared vaguely sick – it was her first trip through the Stargate. He both heard and felt the wormhole erupt into existence behind him, but ignored it in favor of giving their team-member-of-the-mission a look. "Miko, you're with Teyla." He'd told her at the mission briefing, but John was a devoted believer in "better safe than sorry."

"Yes, Major," Miko said, nodding twice.

John knew she was bright, but he wanted to make absolutely sure she did exactly what she was supposed to do: stay alive. Off world missions had a tendency to go pear shaped. At Teyla's nod, he relaxed. Teyla wouldn't let Miko get carried away or distracted. "Let's move out, then."

Rodney rushed to the event horizon so quickly John wanted to slap him upside the head. At least he stopped right there, bouncing on the balls of his feet while giving impatient "come on, come on" signals with his free hand.

"Geez," John said, and while he was sure he was the first through the Stargate to Dagan Rodney had only been half a step behind. Maybe it was time to have a repeat of their talk on travel protocols. "Ari," he said, frowning at Rodney.

Rodney waved him off. "I know, I know, you go first. And you did! I was right behind you," he said. With wide eyes, Rodney put a hand on John's chest with a haunted expression on his face. A second later Teyla and Miko stepped through. Like that had been a secret signal, Rodney started talking a mile a minute, gesturing wildly.

Their welcoming committee was a little late, but after about ten minutes a group of four came down the hill. "Welcome to Dagan, I am Allina." The woman in the lead bowed and smiled at them. Her eyes fixed on Rodney almost instantly. "You must be Doctor Rodney McKay. Lieutenant Ford has told us so much about you! He said if anyone could solve the puzzle it was you."

Rodney preened at the compliment. "I'll have to thank him then," he said, giving her a smile in return. Then his eyes dropped back to the Ancient scanner with the frown returning almost instantly; so much for finding the ZPM easily.

Reaching out just a little bit, John winced when he came in touch with a strand of Essence. Fuck. He still hadn't recovered completely from the overload he'd experienced during the mother of all storms. Rodney had said it was a bad idea, trying to get John to let him do it alone. But there was no way John would have allowed Rodney to attempt the tame one of those on his own.

Now he was paying the price for his insistence. Yes, Atlantis had survived. It had been almost too easy, really. They were a Wind Shield and a Celestial Blade, air was both their natural element. Creating those kind of storms was within their capability, taming them was nothing in comparison. Handling those energies on top of the gunshot wound had done a good one on John, though. For now touching Essence still grated a little along his nerves. It wasn't painful, just uncomfortable. At least he was getting better. He could already handle small amounts of Essence again if he was careful.

Next to him, Rodney winced in sympathy, but he reached out and swatted John anyway. "Stop doing that," he said. The short contact gave John an idea of what Rodney was doing. He could almost feel Rodney's presence, stretched out all around him as far as he could go. The area Rodney could cover wasn't nearly as big as it could have been if John had been helping him, but it was still a good deal of the surface of the planet. The search turned out nothing either. Rodney's frown grew deeper; he'd banked on being able to just feel the ZPM. That he couldn't put a wrench in his plan. But John didn't doubt for one second that if there was a ZPM on Dagan, they'd find it, whether they could feel it or not.

"Please," Allina said, looking back and forth between them with a puzzled expression, "follow me. We have much to do."

Ooo00O00ooO

Allina's "much to do" turned out to be the equivalent of "be bored out of your minds" while at the same time she tried pretty much everything but climbing on top of Rodney to get his attention. She hadn't left out an opportunity to touch Rodney, give him shy smiles, or push her assets into his line of sight over the past few hours. John wasn't hugely bothered, the whole thing was actually funny to watch. Especially as Rodney couldn't have been more oblivious to her advances if he'd actively tried. John was kind of proud of that in a stupid way. Also, it was a thing they had. Usually it was John on the receiving end, which had been a source of amusement to Rodney for … well, forever. It was great to have the tables turned this once.

They'd been doing a whole lot of reading in the library after Allina had given them the run-down on what her group of researchers had already found out. All they really had were myths, pieces of letters, nothing Rodney would usually see as hard evidence, until Allina showed them the picture. It depicted a ZPM on a level of detail that couldn't stem from handed down descriptions. From that point on it wasn't just a possibility that they'd find a ZPM. The only two questions that remained was how full it still was after all this time and how long the line of bread-crumbs left for them was.

With all the research they were doing now that they were sure there was anything to find on Dagan the only conclusion John came to was that the Brotherhood of the Fifteen was a bunch of wily old men, who – much to Allina's admiration and Rodney's disgust – knew how to hide stuff very, very well. For his first mission, John couldn't have wished for a better one, because who didn't want to play Indiana Jones for a few days? This had the potential to become a really cool quest. John kept mouthing the word to Rodney until he got poked in the ribs "by accident."

"The Brotherhood created nine stone markers," Allina said. "When united they are supposed to reveal the final resting place of the Brotherhood's treasure, the Potentia. So far we've only found three of them." She really did have a nice smile, John had to give her that. She leaned over to pass a stone tablet to Teyla, giving Rodney an excellent view in the process. A view – John noted with some satisfaction – that was totally wasted on Rodney. John wondered why she didn't just stop, considering by now it was probably frustrating as hell. "The etchings on the rocks involve many lines and dots. We think it's a map."

Rodney hummed, but didn't immediately snatch the marker from Teyla, instead he waited his turn with unusual patience while looking at it thoughtfully from afar.

John just inspected it as Rodney rotated it in his hands. He frowned. "This looks like an Ancient numbering system," he said. A newer one than John was familiar with, but still decipherable.

At that, Allina gave him an odd look, part surprise and part grudging respect. It wouldn't haver been quite so offensive if Allina hadn't also frowned right after before a forced smile appeared on her face. "That's what we thought. From what we can tell the three markers we found are inscribed with the numbers three, six, and seven." She handed the last two over to Teyla, who looked at them briefly before handing passing them on. "We managed to piece together some of the information we found here, in there monastery. There were clues that led us to number six and seven. We found the number three stone on an unrelated dig just last week."

"So if we find the rest of the stones we find the map to the Brotherhood's treasure?" John asked, thoughtfully. Until Rodney said differently John was prepared to just go with the map idea. Still, it was odd to use numbers in a map, unless there were multiple layers to this puzzle.

Allina nodded. "Yes exactly."

Next to him, Rodney froze for a moment before he exploded into action, grabbing the stones from Miko to line them up in front of him. "Do you see this?" he asked of no-one in particular. In his excitement he forgot to give them a hint for what "this" was. He just started to arrange the markers in different patterns.

"Part of the design?" Miko asked. She got up and walked around the table to look at the stones over Rodney's other shoulder. "No, no, these don't seem to be designed for aesthetics."

"Yeah, each of the stones has a different part of a grid pattern on it." Rodney traced it with a finger.

Allina leant over the table as well. "Signifying where its correct place should be in the final configuration," she said, continuing Rodney's thought easily. She gave John a triumphant smile. Apparently there was a competition going on in which Allina had just scored a point – and she considered John a contestant.

Too engrossed in his thoughts, Rodney didn't even look up. That was probably a good thing. Rodney found it funny when people flirted with John. He even found it mildly amusing to find a naked woman or man in their bed when they went to sleep off world. What didn't go over well at all was when someone gave John looks like Allina did. Flirting was a-okay in Rodney's book, glaring wasn't. "Exactly." He frowned. "Do you have a map?"

Ooo00O00ooO

Turned out that Allina did have a map. But after a whole day of watching the others dig at different sites, John wasn't sure he was thankful for that fact anymore. He still wanted the ZPM, but maybe not quite as much as before.

Sure, he'd gotten the quest he'd wanted, but in all that he'd forgotten that adventures were generally a lot less exciting when they actually happened to you than when they were shown on TV or told in a story. They had split up in two teams after Rodney had figured the pattern out easily enough. Four of them were exactly where they should have been according to Rodney. The last one was on the plan for tomorrow.

John hadn't exactly been allowed to do much. They'd let him dig, but both Teyla had made him take more breaks than John thought he'd need until he'd agreed that maybe he wasn't one hundred percent just yet. Not even three hours of half-hearted digging in the sun had made John feel so damn wiped out that he didn't even want to think of standing up. So instead of finding something heavy to hit Allina over the head with he was sitting at their table. The food barely tasted of anything, probably because he was watching avidly as Allina showed Rodney all sorts of things. Her attempt at seducing Rodney had stopped being funny a while ago, but it was still kind of amusing at times. It was like a particularly nasty train-wreck with Allina as the train and Rodney the unmovable object she was about to ram into; and John knew it was going to end nasty but still couldn't look away either.

"It's a layout of the village. The walls of this monastery have protected it for ten thousand years," Allina said.

Rodney had grown more bored by the minute but he wasn't communicating that very clearly. He probably wanted that ZPM so much he was putting up with things he'd normally never have allowed in the first place. The painting Allina was showing Rodney now he liked, John could tell from how Rodney perked up. With a little hum of approval, Rodney inspected the plans. He – well, both of them – liked things that endured the test of time. Generally it meant when they managed to visit again there was at least something still there to remind them of past lives. There was something very peaceful about knowing that some things did stick around. "It's … beautiful." John was sure Rodney had meant to say something else there, but he couldn't even start to guess at it.

"It is," Allina said. She wasn't looking at the plans, she was looking straight at Rodney. "And yet my eyes are drawn elsewhere." Now it started to get into the – more – obvious area, but there was no sign Rodney had noticed. John viciously ripped a piece off his bread and stuffed it into his mouth.. John wondered when exactly Rodney would figure it out. Maybe he should put a stop to it right now.

Before John could talk himself into getting up, Rodney gave Allina a tight smile. "Elsewhere?" he asked. The little flick of Rodney's gaze from Allina to John wasn't exactly subtle, but Allina didn't seem to recognize for what it was.

John frowned, had that been Rodney warning John off, or Allina? Well, if he was warning off Allina it certainly hadn't been obvious enough, because she just smiled brightly at Rodney. "I'd like to restore it one day, but I'm afraid of damaging it. Perhaps you could help me, Doctor McKay?"

"Really," Rodney said, shuffling away from her again from where she'd pushed into his personal space, "you have to start calling me Rodney." Rodney kept smiling until he'd turned his back at her on his way to the table.

Allina followed. "Very well, Rodney," She said, her use of the name tentative, but with a pleased smile. The fixed smile on Rodney's face didn't seem to register with her at all, nor did the desperation with which he grabbed one of the apple-like things from the bowl in the middle of the table. He yawned before he could bite into it. Allina gave Rodney a wide-eyed stare, then asked, "I don't bore you, do I?"

Rodney leveled a wide-eyed expression at her. John could never decide if this one was serious or acted. It worked, though, especially when he said, "No, of course not, it's just late." Then a muscle in Rodney's cheek twitched, a clear sign that he was lying through his teeth.

"Yes, it is. Maybe you should go to bed?" Allina asked

"Food first," Rodney said, biting into his fruit so he wouldn't have to talk anymore. He kept looking at John whenever Allina was preoccupied with something else. John wasn't sure what they meant. Maybe "help me", or "don't kill her", or maybe "you're such an asshole, why aren't you doing anything?" but John really couldn't be sure. Next time Rodney looked at him, John shrugged with his good shoulder as he stuffed another piece of his meal into his mouth.

Allina watched Rodney eat with a smile; John started shredding the rest of his bread into little pieces. Maybe he'd been letting this go ahead too long now, he should have put his foot down ages ago. Like when Allina had smiled at Rodney for the first time when she'd been late to pick them up from the 'gate. Rodney really should know Allina was drooling over him, so he could let her down gently.

"What was it like? Growing up in the city of the Ancestors, Rodney?" she asked.

John could see the change in Rodney's mood. It wasn't visible to anyone who didn't know Rodney very well, but John could see it easier. The tension along Rodney's back and the way his head tipped just that little bit to the right were the only tells John got, more than enough to make John tense up in response to it. "Amazing," Rodney said.

It was true, growing up amongst the Alterans had been exciting, exhilarating, wonderful, all that and so much more. It didn't matter that their one lifetime with the Alterans had not been in Atlantis. They had actually lived in a city of the Alterans, one hewn from living rock, but as majestic as Atlantis was. Its name had been lost to John for more than a dozen lives, but he still remembered the spires. In more than one way the city in his memory reminded him of Atlantis, so alike, yet so different. Beautiful in its own right, but not nearly on the same technological level. The city … L-something-or-other had existed millennia before Atlantis. By the time Atlantis had been constructed, the stone buildings of that particular city had already started to crumble.

Normally, it wouldn't have been a problem to reveal any of that, but something in Allina's tone cautioned John from speaking up. Rodney must have felt it, too. John definitely approved of Rodney's caution because running the question through his head it didn't sound harmless question any more.

Allina's eyes brightened. "Tell me about it." John didn't know what was off about her, but something wasn't right. If he'd been able to use Essence without setting back his healing for another couple of days he'd probably have risked it. It was lucky that Rodney was sitting right next to him, open to his surroundings. John didn't need to probe her, all he needed was to look at the increasing tension in Rodney's body.

At that moment Rodney shrugged. It didn't look forced, but he also pressed his tight against John's. A warning. "Nothing to tell," Rodney said, "it's … home. That's it, really."

Allina looked at her hands, then back at Rodney with a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "I'm sorry. Please, do not let me keep you from sleep, we are going to have a long day tomorrow." She gave a little nod of the head, mostly to Rodney, but John returned it anyway mainly out of spite. Then she left, probably to sleep. John didn't really care.

"I think Allina has a little crush on you," John said as soon as Allina was out of hearing range.

"What?"

"You heard me," John said, taking a bite from his bread. He deliberately nudged Rodney's shoulder, then grinned at him. "That's one point for me this time."

Rodney snorted. "Don't be ridiculous, she's just a bit annoying because she thinks we're actual Lanteans. Also, I told you, John, I'm not playing that … it's not even a real game, considering it depends entirely on the fact that the people out here are desperate for new genetic material and would have sex with anyone supplying that."

"You always make fun of me when someone is interested in me," John said. He was not pouting, no he wasn't.

"That's because you never notice." Yup, there was the amusement generally accompanied all of John's I-didn't-see-it-coming moments. John didn't know how Rodney did it, look at those situations like they were just a big joke when John could barely look at Allina without saying something cutting to her now.

Determined not to let any of that show, John pointed at Rodney with the rind of his bread. There was no way John would let Rodney get away with it. "Well, neither did you this time, so point for me."

"What? I so did notice, didn't you just see me noticing?" Rodney asked, giving John a cheeky grin. "I was just pretending it wasn't happening so you didn't have to be jealous."

"I'm not jealous," John said immediately.

Rodney looked at John, eyebrows going up. "Oh really?" he asked, throwing shredded bread at John's head. "Not even a little?"

"Maybe a little bit." It wasn't like the admission would kill him, especially as Rodney already knew that he was anyway. Had he been that obvious?

Apparently not because Rodney's expression brightened considerably As he asked, "Really?" He sounded pretty happy about it. He also looked pretty smug, what with the lopsided smile.

Sometimes it didn't matter how well John knew his mate, he still acted kind of weird. He was way too tired to figure out what exactly was going on in Rodney's head right now.. "I'm tired," John finally said, "I'm going to bed. Good night, everyone." Teyla and Miko waved at him, they were both trying to hide smiles, rather unsuccessfully. John gave a sigh. Using the table to hoist himself up onto his legs he was already by the door when Rodney hurriedly caught up.

"Are you really tired?" Rodney asked, easily keeping up with John's long strides while giving him hopeful sideways looks.

"Yeah, I'm beat. I thought you were tired, too," John said, slowing down a little bit for Rodney's sake.

"No, I just wanted to get rid of her. I hoped she'd leave me alone. You looked like you were about to explode if she didn't." Rodney kept giving him quick glances out of the corner of his eyes. Not quite fearful, more like he couldn't stop doing it.

Alarm bells started to ring in John's head. Something was going on, something Rodney was trying not to communicate. Like that ever worked. They were too much in sync for John to not notice when something was wrong with his mate, even if the bond was blocked to spare John a little bit of "discomfort."

John didn't agree with that at all, but that was something else Rodney was deaf about. It was more of an excuse, John would bet on that. He hadn't wanted to pressure Rodney to talk, assuming Rodney would say something when he was ready. So he'd let the not-talking go, he'd allowed Rodney to help him dress, had allowed Rodney to try and keep John away from everything that could hurt him. But they still hadn't talked. Maybe he should have pushed Rodney a bit more. Well, it was never too late for that. "Ari?" John asked. "What's wrong?" With Rodney it was always best to ask rather than try to figure out what exactly was going on in his head.

Rodney hesitated. For a moment John thought he'd just keep walking, but then Rodney stopped and turned to him. "I nearly lost you," he said. His hand hovered where the bullet had hit John for a moment before Rodney gently placed his fingers there. "I remember more now. You were dying. It's … I can't …" Two false starts and Rodney took a deep breath. "I can't lose you."

Maybe it was the nature of their bond, or because they'd spend all their lives looking for each other, hopelessly entwined and co-dependent in a way humans would shake their head at even if it was exactly what they needed – how they had been made. Maybe it was because Rodney never for a moment doubted how much John cared, or that they'd give their lives for each other. Maybe it was all that, but neither of them had been very good at talking about their feelings. "Ari," John said, his voice breaking slightly, "I'm fine, I'm not going anywhere." He pulled Rodney close, hugging him tightly. "I love you."

With a sense of relief he felt Rodney's hold on the bond relax. For the first time in fifteen days, five hours and twenty two minutes their bond opened to a more normal level. A mumbled "I love you, too" was accompanied by Rodney sagging a little in John's arms as the tension slowly seeped out of Rodney's body. Five lifetimes of looking were a long time apart. They almost hadn't found each other, too, which had taken its toll. They should have dealt with it somehow, but they hadn't

It's not your fault, Rodney said. I didn't want to talk about it.

I get it. Just … don't lock me out, Ari. You're not alone. A wave of gratefulness reached John via the bond, choking him in its intensity. John cleared his throat, then ran a hand over Rodney's hair and down his back. "So," he said, "since you're not tired and I'm tired but not enough to go to sleep straight away, how about we go and not-sleep for a while?"

Rodney laughed into John's neck, holding on tightly. "Alright," he said fondly. It took a few more minutes until they could let go of each other.

 

Ooo00O00ooO

"It doesn't look much like a map," Allina said. She was frowning at the eight pieces laid out in front of them. To her it was a setback that they hadn't found anything here. "I guess I was wrong."

Rodney wiped his forehead with his arm, only managing to get a few more smudges on his face in the process. He didn't seem to notice. "Yeah, looks like it." It was the first break in six hours of digging Rodney had allowed himself.

 

"Are you sure we are in the right place?" Teyla asked. She and Miko were sitting underneath some trees, taking their own well-deserved breaks. "We have almost doubled the size of the dig, Rodney, but there is nothing here."

The question, coming from anybody else but Teyla – or possibly John – would probably have led to a glare, some snapping, and lots of gesturing, but Rodney only nodded. "Yes," he said. Allina was seriously annoying him, John could tell by the way Rodney had been giving Allina sideways glances whenever she was busy frowning at John. "I'm sure. Something has to be here."

Today, Allina was far less touchy feely than she'd been for the entire time they'd been on Dagan. Most likely she'd realized her error when she'd knocked on Rodney's door in the middle of the night. It had been John answering it while Rodney had kept on snuffling into the pillow. There was nothing more awkward for John than to open the door to a naked woman standing there only wrapped in some kind of see-through blanket-like thing unless it was said woman trying to visit Rodney.

She'd turned around, but not before John could see the expression of shock on her face, then her bare feet slapped against the cold floor as she'd run away. It hadn't been awkward as much as funny. At least to John, Rodney hadn't shared the amusement the next morning. Ever since Allina had emerged to eat with them, she'd been giving John sideways glances. It was starting to be more annoying than her constant flirting with Rodney.

"We will widen the area more," Teyla said. She looked wary, but picked herself up from the ground gracefully as always. She trusted Rodney's words enough to take her shovel again, even if it was with a sigh. She and Miko climbed back down into the dig, starting up the work while Rodney took another sip of water.

John wished he could help, but Rodney had decided John had overdone it the day before. There had been no talking with him. The thing was, he was probably right, John's shoulder did ache a little bit. In the end, John didn't try to help, but just watched as Rodney climbed back down to join the rest of the team.

"You are being very selfish," Allina suddenly said after they'd watched the dig for several minutes silently.

"Excuse me?" John asked. He automatically turned toward her.

Allina was watching Rodney work, her arms crossed, and frowning. "Keeping him to yourself," she said primly, "is selfish. You can't give him any children, but his genes should not vanish. We value his brilliance, why not let him spread his seed here?"

The only immediate response John had was an incredulous stare because he was too busy gaping at her to say anything. His next impulse was to punch her lights out. There was a giant chasm between flirting with Rodney and telling John to … what exactly? Let Rodney go, like it was John, who kept Rodney from "spreading his seed" across the Pegasus Galaxy? Almost like Rodney belonged to him when – clearly – they belonged to each other.

"Rodney is not my possession," John said, the words pressed through gritted teeth.

Allina looked at him now, the same kind of look that had been driving Rodney crazy all day. "You hold him back. Here, as in most places, we have been culled many times. Pairings such as yours happen often, but these men and women still do their duty."

John was actually at a loss. Who the hell did she think she was, talking to him like this, like he'd just pimp out Rodney to the natives of the Pegasus Galaxy. So instead of answering her, he turned back to the dig. "Rodney!" His yell cut through the easy conversation below and Rodney looked up at him with an exasperated "yes", leaning onto his shovel. John ignored the way his stomach did a little flip at the half-smile Rodney gave him. Instead, he asked, "Do you want to sleep with Allina to make a baby?"

John saw an expression of wide-eyed shock sweep over Allina's face from the corner of his eye. It was priceless.

Just then, Rodney slipped from his perch, the shovel going down with a clank as he just barely kept his balance. Rodney yelped loudly, cursed briefly, then asked, "What?"

"I asked –"

Rodney yelped again then scrambled up the hill. "I heard you the first time. For God's sake, don't finish that sentence!"

"Rodney," Allina said, definitely trying to make her case, but Rodney didn't let her continue.

"Stop making him uncomfortable," Rodney said, rounding in on Allina. He pointed a finger at her. "When he's uncomfortable he says the weirdest things. That freaks me out."

"Doctor McKay!"

Miko's yell stopped Rodney from saying anything more. John, on the other hand, didn't feel the need to suppress his desire to smirk at Allina, who still had that shell-shocked look. "He's his own man," John said more kindly than he felt, but he could so be the better man. "If he wanted to sleep with you I wouldn't stop him." Then John followed Rodney. The loose earth moved underneath his boots, leading to a much more skidding descent than John liked.

John casually walked up to his people. "That looks familiar," he said. It was; they'd seen countless carvings like these already.

Allina chose that moment to come down as well. "It carries the mark of the brotherhood." For the moment, they'd apparently buried the hatchet. John was wondering if that was going to be a permanent truce or whether he should start sleeping with one eye open.

"The writing is in Ancient," Teyla said, frowning. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement. It was a good look for her. "Can you read it, Rodney?"

Rodney's eyes shone as he looked around for John, then his hand ghosted over the stone as he read the inscribed words. "It's a warning. It says only the Brotherhood of the Fifteen should enter the chamber of the Quindozum."

"What chamber?" Teyla asked.

Rodney went still. Through the bond John felt him scan the area below them carefully. There was an open space. "The stone covers the entrance." It felt really big, but it was hard for John to tell, second hand like that. By the time John could react Rodney was already crawling up the side of their dig, sending showers of loose earth down.
When Rodney got down, he pressed a few glow sticks into John's hands before he ordered everybody around. With the help of the tools he'd brought and the three people Allina had insisted come, they got the stone moving. It had been there for a long time, fit perfectly into a round opening in the ground, which was what they all ended up staring down into.

"John?," Rodney asked. It was impossible to tell how deep it was just from the small circle of light that made it to the stone floor.

John bent three of the glow sticks and dropped them down one after another. The drop looked far shorter now that they had enough light.

"I'll go first," Rodney said. John wasn't sure whether that was still because Rodney wanted to protect him or if he just wanted to be the first to put his hands on the ZPM. Either way John figured it didn't matter. There was nothing alive down there and if there were any traps Rodney could take care of them easier than John. Also, if it made Rodney happy, John was prepared to let him go down into the creepy place first.

While Rodney made his way down, Teyla took John to the side, her hand light on his elbow. "I will stay up here," she said quietly. Her eyes were roaming the area already. She looked uneasy.

Suppressing the urge to follow her gaze, John nodded. "You're worried?"

Teyla smiled, but he could see it didn't reach her eyes. "No, but caution has always served us well."

"Be careful." He'd have liked an entire team outside to keep their route clear, but as there wasn't a second team with them, Teyla was the next best thing.

Sanir, Allina's aide, had already started lighting the candles in the chamber when John finally got down there himself. He'd thought the chamber would be big, but it was deceptive when looking in from the top. Now that he was making a slow circle at the bottom John could see exactly how big this place was. It had the feeling of a tomb, quite a lot like what John had expected to see in an Indiana Jones movie, which, yeah, was incredibly cool in addition to the creepy.

Allina was already busy setting up the markers on the raised table that was located in the middle of the chamber when Rodney walked over to her.

"The eight stones must integrate into this center piece," he said, his eyes wandering restlessly over the table. "May I?" he asked. He didn't quite push Allina out of the way, but it was a near thing. There were two handprints on either side of the stone markers, clearly visible as John approached. Of course Rodney had to put his hands on them.

"I think we can rule out a map," Miko said by the time they were all standing huddled around Rodney, looking at the set-up.

"Yeah." To John it definitely didn't look like a map. He just wasn't sure what else it could be. "You're right. Any ideas?"

Rodney lifted his hands off the handprints to run them over the stone markers instead. "I'm getting there." He wasn't talking to any of them, John could tell. At this point Rodney probably didn't even remember that he wasn't alone. Intrigued, he opened the bond, watching Rodney's thought flit around at light speed.

Until Miko said, "This looks familiar." She pointed at one of the markers.

John pulled back, his last impression that of a bird swarm changing direction.

"It's a gate address," Rodney said. "A six symbol 'gate address. Only … not."

Cocking his head, John squinted at the markers. It didn't help, they did look like 'gate symbols, but if Rodney said they weren't, then he'd believe him. John didn't have all the addresses of the Pegasus Stargate System in his head, not like Rodney. "Only not?" he asked anyway. Sometimes prompts like that helped Rodney muddle his way through.

"It's –"

Gunfire sounded from above. John jerked around, his hand going to his side-arm automatically.

"John," Rodney said, reproachfully.

As much as he indulged Rodney's overprotective side sometimes, now was not the right time. "I'm fine." He was aiming at their only exit a good few seconds before the others managed to do the same, even Miko, though her hands were shaking quite badly.

He tapped his radio. "Teyla? What's going on?"

The man who bent over the hole was decidedly not Teyla. He was wearing a Genii uniform, pointing his own gun at John. "I'm sorry, Teyla is … indisposed right now, Major Sheppard."

More Genii peered down, pointing their guns at them. Crap. Maybe the chamber still had the potential to become a burial chamber. A shiver ran down John's spine; lowered his weapon. When he motioned for the others to do the same they followed suit. "Who are you?"

"I'm Commander Acastus Kolya of the Genii. I trust you remember us?"

He hadn't, John doubted he'd ever be able to forget the Genii. Not even when they'd ceased to exist in a couple of millennia. The choking sound from behind him told John that Rodney hadn't forgotten them, either. John took a step back, right on Rodney's foot, making the sign for "urgent", following it up by "shut the fuck up and let me talk" before Rodney could open his mouth to say something unforgiveable to the people who had Teyla.

"Of course," John said.

Kolya smiled. "Good. When we heard that your team was here, looking for something, I thought that this was a good time to ask some questions." The man lowered his gun, walking around the only exit to this damned place slowly. "I see Doctor McKay is with you, how very auspicious." He stopped walking. "Please, all of you, step forward. And let us be clear on one thing: If you try anything, anything at all, Miss Emmagan will be paying the price for your actions."

"Why are you doing this?" John asked, but he complied. With Teyla's life in the balance, he wasn't going to take any chances. Do you know where she is? John asked Rodney.

I can't tell, there's too many of them up there, Rodney replied. He ended up standing right next to John, their shoulders brushing. He was tense as he subtly got ready to blast the men away. Still, he held back right before putting preparation into action by the thought of Teyla being right there, possibly in the way.

There was an eloquent shrug at first, but then Kolya's smile vanished. "Chief Cowen, a whole strike unit and a large area of our arable land were laid to waste. You were the only ones to walk away from it. It makes me … curious."

That didn't sound good. "Curious?"

"Yes," Kolya said, "I believe that is as good a word for it as any. See, with Chief Cowen gone, we have an opening for a new leader. There have been disputes over who would be the best successor, but I am going to put those to rest soon enough. For now, though, I believe you should answer some questions."

Rodney nudged him, it was gentle, but definitely a warning. Not that John needed a warning, but he appreciated it anyway. "You won't hurt Teyla and you will let us go if we do?" he asked. There was no reason to give in too easily.

"You have my word."

Suppressing the hysterical laughter that bubbled up inside of him, John nodded his assent. After Cowen's betrayal Kolya's word was worth nothing. "Alright then, ask."

"There have been rumors," Kolya said, "about how you and your Doctor McKay are Old Souls."

"Really?" John asked. They had agreed to answer questions, not to supply Kolya with information.

Annoyance flashed over Kolya's face, quickly replaced by wary respect. "Are you Old Souls, Major Sheppard?"

"No," John said. They were Reincarnates, they didn't have to recognize anything else, not even the reverend title the people of the Pegasus galaxy had given them.

"What happened on the surface when you returned from the mission to the Hive ship?"

"I don't know, okay? One minute everything was calm and the next there was this freakish wind and the hurricanes. It was like the whole world went mad. I really don't know."

"How come you and your team are still all here, but Cowen and his men died?" Kolya asked.

"I don't know."

Kolya cocked his head to the side. "I believe I should remind you that Miss Emmagan's life is at stake here. She will die if you keep lying to me."

"I'm telling you the truth," John insisted. If there was one thing he'd learned it was to never change your story. It just opened up a can of worms he never was prepared to deal with. "I don't know what more you want!"

For one long moment Kolya stared down at them, thinking, probably deciding their fate. John clenched his hands. Come on, he thought, buy it already. Buy it and leave before we have to kill you.

Finally Kolya nodded. "Thank you for your time," he said. "Whether you're lying or not doesn't matter, you're just too dangerous to let run free."

Figured. Kolya would never have let them go. John watched as Kolya stepped back, feeling Rodney next to him tense even more, a hairs breadth away from doing something about the situation. Then Teyla was flung down to them, hitting John squarely. They both tumbled, Teyla ending up on top of him, her elbows and knees digging into him quite painfully.

"Goodbye, gentlemen," Kolya said. He stood there, dark against the blue sky, lifting something above his head, but he never got the opportunity to throw that down too: Rodney was too fast.

The energy ball hit Kolya in the shoulder, throwing him back and out of John's sight. The energy barrier Rodney had thrown up between them and the Genii sparked where the bullets hit it, bright and yellow. Some of them zinged right back up, ricocheting wildly, taking out two of their own. Another one went down from friendly fire because one didn't take his hand off the trigger as he fell.

John shivered, the air growing just a little bit colder around them as Rodney sucked up all the Essence he could. Opening himself, he could see Rodney weave the air into something strong enough to stand on. A moment later Rodney was up there, right on top of that damn hole, blocking their light and their view.

"I am sorry, John," Teyla said. She climbed to her feet unsteadily, giving him a hand up, too.

Getting his breath back took a bit, but he waved her off. It wasn't her fault, and he was going to be alright apart from a few bruises.

Men were shrieking up there, screaming, firing everything they had. But they didn't stand a chance against a Blade. It was over so quickly John was still gasping for air when Rodney stepped onto the ledge and dropped the energy shield that protected them.

"All clear!" Those were probably John's favorite words in any language.

Ooo00O00ooO

The rest of their adventure John spent ignoring how Allina and her people jerked away from Rodney whenever he came close. She'd started giving John looks, but now they weren't the I-want-your-mate kind of looks, more how-can-you-be-with-this-man looks. Maybe John was too picky, the flirting had been the least uncomfortable of the whole thing. There was no doubt that the people of Dagan wanted the Atlantis team off their planet as soon as possible – with no return invitation issued. John would have preferred it if they could have parted as friends, but it didn't look that way now.

The bodies littering the area around the chamber hadn't been conducive to friendship, though. Especially Sanir had major problems with it. John could make an educated guess as to why. The way she'd been staring at one particular man like she knew him was a dead giveaway. She'd probably been the one to talk to the Genii, how else would they have known where exactly to find them? It didn't matter, he wasn't going to pursue it this time. Most of the people involved were dead, none of them had more than bruises to show for their efforst, and they had a ZPM. A "wonderful, beautiful, amazingly full ZedPM" according to Rodney. All that put John into a forgiving mood. He wasn't going to forget it, but he wasn't going to put her in front of a judge either. John was fine just listening to Rodney babble excitedly next to him until Allina stopped ahead of them.

She turned around and suddenly there was a whole village pointing weapons at them.

"What?" Rodney asked, he sounded so damn disappointed.

Allina didn't even look at him, instead she fixed her eyes on John. "Ten generations ago, after a severe culling, the Brotherhood was destroyed. Many of us found their writings and decided to complete the task handed down to us by the Ancestors. I am the Master Handler of the new Brotherhood. We thank you for helping us find the Potentia, but it must go into hiding again."

"I thought you understood how important the ZPM is for us," John said. He hadn't expected Allina to turn on them. The suddenness of it all kind of threw him.

Allina looked genuinely sorry, which didn't really seem to make a whole lot of difference. "I know, but you are not Ancients, you are Old Souls, like the Genii Commander claimed. As such you have no more right to the Potentia than anyone else." She took a step forward. "If you are honest, you will admit this."

"Atlantis might fall if we don't take this back," Rodney said. "It's the only place a Potentia would serve a purpose. Do you really think the Ancestors would have wanted for the ZedPM to rot somewhere in a hide-out?"

Allina opened her arms in what came across as a shrug but wasn't quite. "None of us can know their plan."

"You are wrong," John suddenly said. "We've lived amongst the Ancestors."

Allina's eyes flashed with anger. "I don't believe you, you lied to Kolya when he asked you questions, you are lying now."

"Kolya's people didn't deserve the truth," Rodney said, his voice sharp. The edge to it made him sound utterly unforgiving; John didn't doubt that Rodney felt that way, too. "The Genii tried to kill John, they betrayed us."

For a moment John thought that Rodney had gone too far, that they wouldn't manage to get through to Allina. But then something in her posture changed.

He took a step forward, standing next to Rodney again. "We really did live amongst them, a long time ago. And we heard stories of Atlantis. I remember some of the Ancestors … they had just sunk their city to the bottom of the ocean to protect her. Every single one of them wanted just one thing: They wanted Atlantis to rise back up. Their city was supposed to stand the test of time, if you take the ZPM from us now, Atlantis will be destroyed."

Allina raised her chin in a manner she must have copied from Rodney. "You're so powerful, I'm sure you can protect Atlantis, even without a ZPM." Her eyes flicked to Rodney, but returned to John as if she couldn't stand the sight of him for too long.

"No, Allina," Rodney said, his voice still distant. "The city will sink to the bottom of the ocean again. And it'll probably be in pieces. The Wraith are awake, they know we're here, they're looking for us. If they find us, nothing will stop them, not even John and I. What protection we would be able to give the people of this galaxy will die with us. Are you willing to let that happen?"

"Protect us?" Allina asked, her people muttering disquietly behind her. "What do you mean?"

John exchanged a look with Rodney, who was still clinging to the ZPM in a way that gave John the impression Allina would have to pry it out of his cold, dead hands. When Rodney didn't seem inclined to continue talking, John said, "Reincarnates are protectors. Letting the Wraith continue unchecked is not in our intention. Eventually, we'll figure out how to get rid of them, but we can only do that if we're still alive."

For a long time Allina looked at them, her gaze travelling over the whole team, until it came back to rest on John. "You are willing to protect us? Everyone? Even though the Genii wanted to kill you and we are now trying to take the Potentia from you?"

"Yes," Rodney said immediately. John's own "yes" echoed slightly behind his.

"Allina," one of the people behind her said. John wasn't sure whether the man wanted her to kill them for the ZPM or if he wanted them to keep it, whatever it was, it startled Allina out of her frozen state.

"This is a promise?"

Rodney started glowing, he was pulling Essence out of the area, pouring a little bit into John, making them both radiant with it, the marks of the Reincarnate as much a promise as anything else could ever be. "We promise," Rodney said.

Allina frowned. "You speak for both of you now?"

"I am the Blade," Rodney said. "My pledge is our pledge."

Nothing happened, until Allina turned around, walking away without a word. Her people followed, even those who were still looking at them over their shoulders from time to time.

Rodney stared after them. He didn't move until the last one of them had vanished over the hilltop.

"Rodney?" Teyla asked, putting a hand on his elbow. The touch galvanized Rodney into action: he pushed the ZPM into John's arms with a grim expression then walked a bit further ahead. There he stayed, his back turned on them.

John grabbed Teyla's wrist when she made to go after Rodney. "No," he said, shaking his head empathically.

The look Teyla gave him was mostly disapproval. John didn't mind, she couldn't know that this was Rodney, needing the illusion of privacy until he could pull himself together again. He reached out through their bond, offering Rodney companionship that way, but wasn't surprised when Rodney didn't accept it. John was probably biased, but he was inclined to give Rodney all the time in the world. Allina hadn't hurt Rodney's feelings, but she'd shaken the foundation on which Rodney had been operating. John could feel his upset over their bond. The thing was, apart from their run in with the Genii, the Pegasus Galaxy had treated them really well. Rodney had thought they could regain the trust of the humans, go back to a time when they hadn't been mistrusted and hunted, but this … had made Rodney unsure. And sad. John wanted to wrap his arms around Rodney, but he didn't; Rodney needed his space.

You were right, Ari, John told him. Don't let this hurt you.

But Rodney didn't appear to be listening. Instead, he stared off for a few more minutes while Teyla and Miko got restless. Then, between one moment and the next Rodney's bent shoulders straightened. Thanks, he told John, still sad. He sighed loudly and then half-turned to them. "Let's get this little beauty home," he said, but John understood "let's get you home", which made John feel loved and annoyed with the overprotectiveness all at once..

The ZPM stayed right where Rodney had placed it in John's arms, he refused – rather sharply – to take it back. Instead, he put his hands on his P-90. John didn't know what that meant, exactly, but he hoped no one else got between them and the Stargate. Maybe it had been too soon, he should have told Elizabeth to send another team. Too late for that now, though.

Quietly, he walked next to Rodney, staying within easy reach. They were all quiet until the wormhole took them home. Once there, John was prepared to get the post-mission physical behind him, take a long shower, then pin Rodney to the bed for, oh, a few hours, but his plans changed the second he stepped out of the wormhole. The air was full of panic, with people running around heedlessly. But what tipped John off far more was the battle readiness of every single Marine they could see. "Rodney," John said, but he didn't need to go on because Rodney was already taking off, up the stairs and to the command room. John followed closely behind, carrying their treasure, wondering what the fuck had happened to put the whole base on edge.

"You got a ZPM," Elizabeth said first thing when they entered her office. She'd jumped to her feet, but leaned on her desk heavily. "Thank God!"

Zelenka was sitting there, a tablet in his hands. "" Radek followed up Elizabeth's heartfelt exclamation with a quiet "thank god" of his own.

"Yes, yes, point for your impeccable skills of observation, Elizabeth, but I'd rather you tell us what happened here than regale us with the painfully obvious." Rodney's words didn't faze Elizabeth at all, instead she just sank back onto her chair, rubbing her face tiredly.

"While you were off world a Wraith Dart flew over the city," she said.

If this was a practical joke, it really went too far. "I'm sorry?" John asked.

"We lost a jumper along with Markham and Smith," Sumner said from the door way, almost making John jump.

Half turning John gave Sumner a beseeching look, because really, there were pranks and then there was just plain torture. Sumner just looked back seriously. Damn. Not a practical joke after all. "We lost two men and a jumper," he said, the words tasted like ash in his mouth. "Why is this the first time I'm hearing about it?"

"I tried to reach you," Elizabeth said, "but you were out of radio contact. The Dart scanned us and we know it sent a message deep into space. It self-destructed before we could get to it."

Radek didn't seem to be even blinking as he stared at the ZPM. "We scanned the area with our deep space sensors and then –"

"We have deep space sensors?" Rodney asked, cutting Radek off, but also making him look up.

"Yes. Is a long story."

Sumner cleared his throat; suddenly John felt like he'd swallowed something big and icy that settled into the pit of his stomach to stay there.

"There's more," Sumner said. "Doctor Zelenka?"

Radek turned his tablet around so all of them could see it. There were three large dots visible on the screen, they were obviously moving.

"What are those?" Rodney asked, taking a step closer to study the data.

"Wraith Hive ships," Radek said, "three of them. The system analysis shows that –"

Again, Rodney interrupted Radek. "Wait. Where are they headed?" From the way his spine stiffened Rodney already had a suspicion

Elizabeth swallowed, she looked from one of them to the other repeatedly before folding her hands on the tabletop. "If they maintain direction and speed, they'll be over our planet within two weeks. So you see, your ZPM might actually save our lives."

For a heartbeat, no one said a word. John blinked, stunned, then he carefully put the ZPM onto Elizabeth's desk. "We should get checked out. It's been a long couple of days and –"

"We're dead," Rodney said.

John spun to face Rodney. "Don't say that, Ari, there's always hope."

"It's three Hive ships, Aloneru," Rodney said, his voice sharp from desperation. "Three!"

There was no way he'd let Rodney have his little freak out in Elizabeth's office, so he took hold of Rodney's elbow. "Excuse us, Elizabeth. Briefing for tomorrow morning?" She gave him a stunned nod he saw purely by accident because he was already pushing Rodney towards the door.

It wasn't until John had locked the door to their quarters behind them that he let go of Rodney. Then, he just dropped onto the bed to get out of the way, looked up at the ceiling and waited.

"Oh God," Rodney said, breathing too rapidly as he started walking. Step, step, step, turn. Step, step, step, step, turn. Their small quarters really weren't conductive to Rodney's need to move, but they were the only place John knew Rodney would feel comfortable with later. Step, step, step, turn. "Oh god, Alon, this is all my fault. I should never have dragged you to Atlantis with me. If we'd stayed on Earth we wouldn't be having these problems now. We could have grown old together there, with nothing worse to worry about than making sure they like us." Step, step, step, turn.

"One word to that: Ori," John said. He was sprawled over their bed, getting tired just watching Rodney spend his nervous energy with constant motion. "Actually, I have a second word for you. It's 'Replicator.' And oh, wait. Goa'uld." He struggled onto his elbows, following Rodney's frantic movement with his eyes. "I can go on if you want?"

Rodney whirled to face him, threw up both hands, then apparently abandoned that motion half way through to point at John. "You're mocking me! Why are you mocking me? This is not the time for mocking, Alon!"

"This is not your fault at all," John said, letting himself fall back onto the mattress. "If anybody's at fault it's me for waking them up before their time. Though I think that once they'd tortured the location of Earth out of Sumner the Keeper would have woken the rest of them up anyway. It doesn't matter. Remember? We can't live in the past."

For a moment Rodney looked like he was going to argue, but then he deflated. "What are we going to do now? We can't let them blow up the city. Atlantis is … she's too important." He rubbed his face. "What are we going to do now?"

That was a really good question. One John wished he knew the answer to. "I don't know," he said, "but I'm sure we'll think of something." He reached out to Rodney and pulled him down until he was more or less gracefully huddled up next to John. "We always do."

Rodney frowned and mouthed the words back at John like he couldn't believe John would say such a thing. "We always do? That's your strategy? Just sit here and do some navel gazing while we know they're coming to knock on the door in, oh, a week, seven days and thirty two minutes?" Struggling to get up, Rodney turned a crazed look on John that spoke of too much worry, not enough sleep, and a great deal of desperation. "You can't be serious."

"There's nothing we can do!" There it was. The little bubble of John's own panic he'd worked so hard to bury. "You said it yourself, three Hive Ships is two too many. All the preparation in the world won't let us win this one on our own. And even if we do, there's what? Sixty-four more ships out there? They'll just send more and then we're really fucked. Jesus, I wish the Lanteans had listened to their Reincarnates when they wanted to hunt down the ships one by one and explode them."

Choking back the other crazy things going through his head, like "can you build me a time machine?" and "I really want a turkey sandwich", John sat up, too. "We don't have that kind of time, not before they start attacking us." John snapped his mouth shut as he put his face into his hands. He hadn't meant to say any of that. Yes, Rodney worked best under pressure. Yes, it was generally John creating said pressure. But he hadn't really wanted to air all those thoughts. One of them had to be the positive one; it sure as hell wasn't going to be Rodney.

John expected Rodney to jump up, to start with the pacing again. To be more agitated than before, but Rodney just blinked. "What did you just say?"

"I said we don't have the time," John said, his hands muffling the words.

"No, no, before that," Rodney said.

"I want to have a time machine?"

Rodney turned to stare at him. "What? You didn't say anything about a time machine. I meant the thing about exploding the Hive ships."

"Yes?" It had been Erinalire's idea. They'd done that kind of thing, like a Shield Night Out, to put it in modern terms. They'd gone out tohave a couple of drinks more than they probably should have had. They'd complained about their Blades with their utter craziness before Erin had choked out that of all her regrets never wiping out the Wraith the way they'd wanted to was her biggest one in a couple of million years.

John scowled when Rodney snapped his fingers in John's face a couple of times. "Erin and Elear wanted to hunt the Wraith down. The plan was to use their own energy against them, like what we did when we rescued Teyla and Sumner. Just on a bigger scale. They reckoned it'd take them about ten years."

"That does sound like Elearonde." Rodney gave him a thoughtful look. "He never liked leaving a job unfinished."

John resisted the urge to add "just like you." Keeping his silence was definitely the way to go here.

"We really don't have the time to go and individually destroy every Hive," Rodney said, slowly, like he generally talked when he was in the middle of a problem with the solution already niggling at the back of his mind. "What we need is something that allows us to take them all out at once."

John nodded. There really was nothing to say to that.

"If we found a way to link all the Hives together, like pearls on a string, all we'd need is one single Hive to create a critical overload and kaboom! No more Wraith," Rodney said, his words coming rapidly now. He looked directly at John, catching his eyes, then he crawled over to John, settling himself comfortably on top of him. "We'd need one Hive, just one."

"And how are we going to link them together? It's not like they're us, they don't have a bond they can follow when they go a little crazy with loneliness and itching. The hive mind thing they've got going is nothing like that."

Rodney's didn't stop grinning, but he growled a little. "Are you starting with that again? I told you it was stupid last time, I'm not going to change my mind. You could have …" he trailed off, eyes going far away and face going slack. "Died. Huh. It'd take an incredible amount of energy to do all that remotely. We'd need a planet. Or a sun. In an uninhabited system. But it could work."

"What could work?"

But Rodney didn't answer; instead, he kissed John, messily and enthusiastic, his hands slipping between them to undo the buttons of John's shirt. John got lost in it for a while, at least until Rodney had established the deep bond, then they both stilled.

The pictures and calculations Rodney showed him were breathtaking. This could work, John said.

Yes.

The plan had the potential to go down incredibly well or kill both of them. John shivered. If you die because of this I'll never talk to you again..

Rodney kissed him again.I know.

That settled, John relaxed into their bond and helped Rodney take off his t-shirt.

Ooo00O00ooO

John watched his people line up at the Stargate as he waited for O'Neill to take his call. It was the best solution to evacuate; humans had never done very well against the Wraith. John didn't know why that was, but maybe it was hard for them because they weren't at the top of the food chain here.

Letting them go, even agreeing to the evacuation, had been one of the more painful things John had had to do in recent memory. He'd recalled the people at the alpha and beta sites, had insisted they pack up what they could, and had put Ford in charge of drawing up the plans.

"Sheppard," O'Neill said, his voice a little breathless.

"General," John said. Greetings out of the way, John dove right in. "Rodney and I want to stay behind."

There was a bit of a commotion on the other end, with O'Neill ordering everybody out, yelling for Carter and Daniel. "Turn off the recording," O'Neill said. John wondered whether that was directed at Carter or Daniel, not that it mattered. He started feeling like a bit of a third wheel on his own call.

"I really think we need a kind of code word, Sheppard," O'Neill said.

"Probably," John said.

"Let's go back to the issue at hand, right? Are you guys crazy?" There was a pause and agitated, but muted, noise on the other end. "No, Daniel, this isn't the wrong thing to say. There's three ships coming their way and I've read their classified record. There's no way they can actually blow up all three of them. So again, have you lost your mind, Sheppard?"

"No, sir, my mind is right were I left it," John said, deliberately drawing the 'no' out longer than was natural. Then he became serious again. "We've got a plan."

"A plan? What kind of plan? How to die young? Sheppard, don't be an idiot. Line up for the evacuation, put the city on self-destruct, and come back home."

"No," John said. That had been Elizabeth's argument, blunt instead of phrased diplomatically, but essentially the same. "Look, either you allow us to stay behind to at least try, or we'll do it without you. That's the choice you have. We won't just give up Atlantis like the Lanteans did ten thousand years ago. Not unless we have absolutely no other choice."

O'Neill's sigh was transmitted perfectly.

"Major Sheppard, this is Colonel Carter. We'd love to hear about your plan."

"Okay, short version: We're going to PX-5SG and link together all the Hive ships using the Reincarnate bond as a kind of template. Then we'll wait for them here. We'll be using all the energy we can take from one of the ships to feed it to another until it overloads. It'll be one hell of an explosion. The overload will move along the line of least resistance, which will be the bond between the ships. We've calculated how much initial input we'll need to get all the ships in one go. They should overload one after another until there's nothing left."

There was silence on the other end, then he could hear people talking again in the background, until they suddenly turned loud, filling the command center.

"Can that actually work?" O'Neill was asking – no, demanding, but before John could answer, Carter spoke up.

"If they can stop the energy from moving back the way it came and go through the right channel into the next Hive in the line … it's a possibility. It'll take a whole lot of energy to overload a Hive ship, though," Carter said.

"How much energy are we talking here? Like a nuke?"

"More like –"

"About ten ZPMs worth of energy, actually," John said, cutting Carter off before she had to try and calculate exact numbers. "We could get about half that from a Hive ship if we're willing to sacrifice everyone on it. Including the … food stashes." John swallowed. He pushed the thought away with a vicious efficiency he'd perfected a long time ago. "The rest we'd bring from Dune."

"Dune?" That sounded like Jackson.

"Hello, Doctor Jackson," John said warmly.

"Uhm. Hello Aloneru," Jackson said right before he repeated his question.

John grinned. "It's a desert planet, the name stuck when AR-6 went to check it out. The system is uninhabited; the planet itself only has plant life and some insects. It's the perfect battery for us."

"Are you sure you can do this?" O'Neill asked after a long spell of silence.

John thought back on the expression on Rodney's face as they'd calculated it for the fifth time. The way he'd not quite vibrated with excitement. "Yes," he said, "I think we can do this."

"Consider it an order then."

"Yes, sir," John said.

And Sheppard?

"Yes?"

"If it looks like it won't work? Get the fuck out of there and blow up the city. That's an order as well."

John smiled, but he didn't answer before he cut the transmission on his end.

Ooo00O00ooO

Sitting in a bubble of cool air that Rodney had erected for them, John stared out at the vast sea of sand. John, as a rule, didn't like sand as much as he used to. It reminded him too much of Afghanistan and Iraq. Maybe those memories would fade with time, as they often did. He sighed and returned to watching Rodney.

If what John had done had been stupidly dangerous and dangerously stupid then this was definitely crazy. But they were doing it surrounded by a planet full of Essence but no life, within reach of a sun that looked like it could power them for days if needed but wasn't necessary to keep anything alive. The really bad part of the plan was that Rodney would be the one doing the heavy lifting while John sat there, feeding him energy through the bond. Rodney was putting his life on the line, doing the most dangerous part of what the preparation. There was more to John's job, like strengthening their bond to make sure Rodney could always find his way back, but it wasn't a task John needed a lot of concentration for. He was left worrying, wishing he had something – anything really – to occupy him.

Rodney frowned, his breathing ragged. Watching him do this was harder than doing it himself. John wished he could have been the one who was out there, playing connect the dots. Rodney's point had been really weak, what with it hinging all on John being the Shield and he should do some protecting. John huffed with irritation. Then he retrieved the cloth from their pack. He poured some water over it to run it over Rodney's face at the same time as he gave Rodney another helping of Essence.

The temperature in the hemisphere of the planet they were located in had dropped by three degrees already, it was only a matter of time until what they were doing would have planet-wide effects. He closed his eyes, going back into meditation. He couldn't actually go to watch Rodney working with the Hives, but he got his impressions of the situation if he opened himself up enough.

Almost there. Rodney's thoughts reverberated loudly along their bond. Come on, come on.

That could have meant anything from "I'm almost done with this one" to "I'm almost done." He couldn't even ask Rodney because any break in concentration could have horrible side-effects. So John just drifted there, pulling energy from Dune and feeding it to Rodney gradually, until the activation of the Stargate made waves in the lattice of Essence around them.

John came back to himself in a rush, reaching for his side-arm immediately.

"Weir to Sheppard, how is your progress?"

John put his gun away. Impatiently he tapped the radio. "Which part of 'this is complicated, don't call us, we'll call you' wasn't clear?" he asked.

"I'm sorry, John, there's something you need to know before we leave. The Athosians moved to the Alpha site, they said it's a good place to stay. All of them apart from Teyla, she … doesn't want to leave the two of you behind alone."

"God damn it!" John's hands ached from where he'd balled them into fists. "We told her not to do that. She said 'okay'. I should have known something was up when she wasn't there to say goodbye before we left." He should have. He'd been concerned for her at the time, but he didn't think she'd actually go back on her word … of course 'okay' wasn't exactly a vow of obedience. "I take it sedating her and carrying her through the 'gate isn't an option?"

He could almost see her raise her eyebrows. "No, it isn't."

Of course not. "Alright, if she really wants to keep us company, that's her decision," he finally said. It made him feel warm that Teyla believed in them enough to stake her life on it. She knew the consequences if they failed. "That all?"

"Yes. Good luck, John," Elizabeth said. She didn't say anything else, the Stargate just shut down. At least she hadn't tried to say goodbye again, John couldn't have taken it.

He sank back into the sand, reaching out to take Rodney's hands in his.

Come on, Rodney thought.

Ooo00O00ooO

He heard Rodney puking in the bathroom, but stayed put. Last time John had checked on him Rodney had thrown a toothbrush at him. It was safer to stay in bed and pretend he wasn't awake when Rodney slipped back in, spooning up behind John.

"I know you're awake."

John didn't say anything until Rodney poked him in the ribs. "How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Like I'm going to start taking off my skin if I scratch more," Rodney said, his breath warm on the skin of John's nape.

Having intimate knowledge of just how it felt to be so overly full with energy, John nodded. "It's only a couple more hours now."

There was a single chirp from the door, right before it opened. Teyla had a tray with her and the smell of food filled the room. "I have brought you something to eat," she said, lifting her tray a little up. Her hesitation to barge in was silly. They were team after all.

John smiled at her. "Thanks."

Rodney was already up, making gimme motions with his hands. Teyla handed over his sandwich before giving John his, then she settled on the chair, starting picking on hers. "It is almost time." Teyla sounded as apprehensive as John felt, but he knew just how big this was for her. If it worked her people would finally be rid of the Wraith. They'd finally have a chance at survival, at growing, at developing. They'd be free.

"Last chance to go to your people," Rodney said around a mouthful of food. It came out garbled, but Teyla just smiled.

"I have made my choice. What you are doing will give my people a chance at fighting back. In all of memory nothing like this has ever happened. Even if it does not work, I will be thankful. Spending the rest of my life on Earth with you will be an honor."

John exchanged a glance with Rodney, who only rolled his eyes. Taking that as encouragement John put down his sandwich. "We're not going back to Earth," he said.

"But I thought –"

"If worse comes to worst we'll go to the Alpha site with you. We don't know if there's another pair of Reincarnates in Pegasus, there might be, but if there are then they're not doing their job. Someone has to protect the people here. Rodney and I agree that it might as well be us." He shrugged a shoulder, uncomfortable with the sudden teary eyed look Teyla gave him. "When we left Earth, someone else was born there, filling the gap. If O'Neill and Jackson manage to spread our message those coming after us will have a better chance in the Milky Way than any of us have had in a pretty long time."

Teyla didn't say anything, what she did was put her sandwich down on the tray at her fee. Then she went to lay her hands on John's shoulders and touched her forehead to his. "Thank you, John, for everything you are doing for us. For what you are willing to sacrifice for the people of this galaxy. We will be forever in your debt." She repeated that with Rodney, who looked like he was about as horrified by the whole procedure as John felt.

"We're not doing it so people will –" John started, but Teyla laughed, cutting him off with a firm, "I know."

He caught himself rubbing the back of his neck and immediately dropped his hand when he felt the scratches burning. Damn it. He'd done it again. "We should finish eating and then Rodney and I will have to prepare."

Teyla nodded as she settled back down.

John forced himself to finish half his meal, then he wordlessly handed the rest to Rodney. His appetite was always bad before a battle, he couldn't help it. What little he'd eaten was lying like lead in his stomach, but at least he was reasonably sure it'd stay down. Teyla hadn't eaten much either, but at least Rodney seemed to have a good appetite. John wasn't sure whether that was from the Blade mentality, that tended to be somewhat aggressive, or if it was just Rodney being Rodney. He would need the energy, though how Rodney could get anything down, having just puked his guts out not even ten minutes ago was a mystery to John.

It didn't really matter, because soon they were on the way to the ZPM room. None of them said anything, but Teyla wished them a good fortune before she stood back to watch.

They sat down on the bare floor in lotus position, knees to knees, hands clasped between them. John watched as Rodney closed his eyes in meditation, deepening the bond considerably. He opened himself to their surroundings until he could see the finely knitted lattice keeping the world together. With his changed sight, John could see the glow of Essence around Rodney. John wondered if he looked like that, too, like he was glowing from an inner light, golden and warm rather than cold and silver like a Reincarnate gone primal.

Reality started wavering around them, the only thing grounding John were the places he and Rodney were touching each other at. Time ceased to matter as John very carefully anchored himself to Atlantis and Rodney by using a small amount of Essence. Rodney was just centering himself. The whole universe was open to them now, with the city as the center of their very being. It didn't feel like it had been hours, but when the first Wraith Hive fell out of hyperspace their presence felt like a slap to the face.

"They're here," Rodney said, his voice echoing slightly, because as the words formed in his mind he said them aloud, but just a tic too late. For Teyla's sake, John guessed, because she was now standing in the doorway..

Then they were … elsewhere, soaring over the spires of Atlantis, just inside the city's shields while the Wraith fired uselessly at them. You'll stay here, Rodney said.

John knew an order when he heard one, he acknowledged it with a wordless nudge.

The connection to the single Hive ship they'd left ouside of their chain wasn't gentle. It didn't matter how careful Rodney was as he established it, it still sort of slammed into John. Already brimming over with Essence, John felt like he was a dam at breaking point. John's job was simple: he was their connection to their bodies and served as conduit for Rodney to draw Essence from the Hive ship.

Rodney started the process slowly, taking only the energy they'd contained. It evened out their Essence levels to a point that John didn't feel like an overly full battery. Slowly, Rodney pulled Essence from the Hive until John could feel isolated parts of the organic structure fail. At the same time their other Hive started to become supercharged. They were – amazingly – both still firing, but that couldn't continue much longer.

The Hive Rodney had been been killing bit by little bit tilted to one side, it stopped firing and for a moment just hung there above the shield before it veered off into an uncontrolled dive. John reacted instantly, pulling all he could out of the dying ship, feeding it to Rodney at a steady rate. He barely managed to cut his connection before the ship fell into the ocean, but by then it was nothing but a dried out hulk.

Almost there, Rodney said.

John simply opened himself, offering Rodney everything he had left. The ghostly thump on the head was kind of expected.

I need you still functioning, stupid. Rodney came back down below the shields where John welcomed him by wrapping himself around him protectively. The descent into their own bodies was much harder than John had thought, especially because John immediately felt trapped in his own body. Just moments ago he'd been incorporeal, hovering above his city, the whole universe in the cusp of his hand. He'd been capable of going wherever he wanted doing whatever he wanted. The feeling persisted for a few heartbeats, but passed before he even opened his eyes. His first thought was of Rodney and how he was doing, but his mate looked alright considering what he'd just done.

According to John's inner clock he had exactly twenty seconds to bask in the glory of it all, then he became aware of Teyla's harsh breathing. His gaze panned over the ZPM room, taking in the blood and the blackened marks on the wall.

"Teyla?" he asked, his voice cracking. John tried to struggle to his feet on wobbly legs.

"I am here, John, do not worry."

He stopped before he could fall flat on his face, more tumbling down in a controlled way than sitting down on his own account. There was the Wraith.It was lying in the doorway, a pool of sticky blood underneath it.

"What –" he started, but his throat was too dry to get the rest of his sentence out.

Teyla looked awful, a bruise already blooming on the right side of her cheek. She was limping as she walked over to kneel next to them, too. "I believe it managed to get into the city before the Dart self-destructed," she said. "It did not manage to feed on me." Her reassurance saved him from asking.

"We have a problem," Rodney said. He sounded tired. "The crew of the Hive we used to create the backlash wasn't on full capacity." That … was bad. "We need to feed more energy into the process. As soon as possible, before the chain reaction loses momentum."

John couldn't even push himself into a standing position, he had no idea how he'd be able to get to the Stargate. Or how to get Rodney there. He was still wondering what to do when Teyla hauled Rodney to his feet and draped one of his arms over her shoulders.

"I will come back for you," she said.

They were carefully stepping over the dead Wraith before John could formulate a proper answer. He decided to just lie down until it was his turn, conserving his energy.

"John?"

He blinked his eyes open. "Woah, you were fast."

"You fell asleep."

Oh. That explained it. The way to the Stargate was slow, but he bet he managed it quicker than Rodney had. Blood was rushing in his ears by the time she helped him to sit down by Rodney's side, who was curled up next to the Stargate, one hand tucked under his cheek, deeply asleep.

The iris hissed and vanished at the same time as the 'gate dialed, breaking John's concentration. He shook Rodney's shoulder gently. "Come on, buddy, time to get up and finish this."

Rodney groaned, but he did open his eyes just as Teyla came running towards them.

"I will come with you," she said, but John shook his head immediately. Once they were on Dune they could top off their energy without problems, they'd be fine enough. They'd been prepared very well for this day and the exhaustion both of them felt just now was nothing more than a reaction to pretty much going from almost overcharged to close to depleted. Stocking up on Essence again would take care of that problem.

John shook his head. "Stay. Someone needs to look after our city."

She nodded, her face grim with determination.

John almost felt sorry for anyone brave – or stupid – enough to come through that Stargate. She pushed an IDC into John's hands, then helped him get through the 'gate. Moments later Rodney stumbled through beside John. He promptly sat down in the sand, pulling John with him into a clumsy heap. Beside them, the wormhole shut down.

"You think she'll come after us?" John asked.

Rodney sighed. "I hope not. We've given her a task. It's for the best. Dune will be extremely unfriendly by the time we're done here." He already looked better with color returning to his cheeks. He grabbed John's hand, impatience making his movements jerky, and pushed Essence at John.
Taking the hint, John breathed deeply. The air alone was charged enough to top him off to a point where he could move again freely. He pulled Rodney up, ignoring the wind whipping them with grains of sand, he just wanted them to be out of the splash zone. They ended up settling down next to the DHD.

Rodney took his hands and squeezed them. "Let's do this."

Establishing the connection to the planet again was easier than before, but letting go of Rodney enough so he could do his thing was so much harder. Even when brimming over with energy, this wouldn't be easy. A part of John was scared of all the things that could still go wrong.

It'll be okay, Rodney said. They left their bodies again, floating up and up until they were in orbit around the planet with John clinging to Rodney, afraid to let go of him. Rodney gently disengaged from the death grip John had on him speeding away towards the Hive. Alon, it'll be okay. Rodney saying that didn't make John feel any better at all. They'd started something, though, and now had to finish it, one way or the other.

It better be.

Still, it was hard remaining connected to the planet while Rodney was off handling the situation almost on his own. Distracting himself, John collected massive amounts of energy until he was ready to burst again, even as he fed it little by little to Rodney. The Hive Rodney was zeroing in on had moved a considerable distance from where it had been a week ago, finding it was still easy. From a distance, John watched the feedback move along the chain. They had a time window of maybe thirty minutes, forty minutes as an absolute maximum. That was cutting it damn short, but it was still doable.

We can't take one further down, I don't know if the energy we fed in will be enough to get there, Rodney said.

John agreed, but that didn't make him feel any better about the situation, as he started funneling energy through their link to keep Rodney well supplied. On afterthought, John formed a tight ball of air around them to keep the cold out as long as possible. The planet showed signs of stress, storms and earthquakes the most common ones, forcing John to reach into the heart of the sun for more energy while he kept a tight grip on their little place of the planet.

Rodney had reached his position now. Rather than let John pour energy into him he took control of he bond and started pulling. It was all John could do to keep up with the demand, taking more and more from both sun and planet without regard for the destruction they'd leave behind. If they didn't get it right this time, the opportunity would be lost. The bonds between the Hives would start to deteriorate in hours, they'd be gone by tomorrow.

Hurry up, more.

They were already operating at maximum capacity, John couldn't give Rodney what he wanted without risking them burning up. Rodney …

I said more.

John bit his lips and decided to go for it. They were about to run out of time now as well. Getting to the Hive had taken pretty long due to the distance, and Rodney still needed to get away from there.

Ari, our time's almost up, you need to disengage now, John said.

It was still day on Dune, summer, for all intends and purposes, but the sand had frozen all around them. The sun had dimmed significantly, too, and it was still turning darker as John kept pulling Essence from it.
Ari!

Not yet.

God damn it, Ari, get your ass back here! Rodney, though, just ignored him. John wanted to stop giving Rodney Essence right then, but he couldn't. They were committed to this course of action; from the moment they'd come back here to continue their – in retrospect – somewhat crazy plan John had given up the choice. What a damn idiotic thing to cling to when he knew that not closing the connection right now was going to backfire on them.
A wash of energy hit him, it was burning and hot. Too much. Ari! Not giving in to the heat, John forced it away from the planet, through his connection, and straight into the sun. At the same time he practically reeled Rodney in. He was half-way back to the planet, but from what John could tell not because he was consciously moving. No, the backlash had pushed Rodney along their bond. Now John carefully embraced Rodney, pulling him back down onto the planet, pushing him into his body before the overload could fray the connection.. Ari?

John's eyes snapped open to chaos. The sand had melted all around them, making the ground into a mirror surface. He himself was lying with his back pressed against the air bubble. It was amazing that he had managed to keep the energy barrier up, especially as he had no memory of doing that. John cautiously moved, but he felt fine apart from the burning sensation on his face and arms. He'd have sunburn for sure.

"Alon," Rodney whispered, his voice rough.

Scrambling to his feet, John carefully made his way across the slippery surface to Rodney. He was still next to the now completely destroyed DHD. Every bit of skin John could see was burnt in varying stages. Blackened bits of burnt fabric were sticking to his oozing skin. Oh, God. John let himself drop at Rodney's side, ignoring the stinging pain in his knees. Scared to touch Rodney, John balled his hands into fists.

"Alon," Rodney repeated, holding a hand out. John took it, careful not to put any pressure on it. "I … love you."

No, no, no no no. This couldn't be. They'd done it, they'd wiped out all the Hive ships in this galaxy and Rodney just couldn't do this to him. "Don't you dare," John said.

Rodney gave a brave little smile, his eyes brimming with tears. "Find me."

"No! Shut up, you're not dying!" John was shaking with grief and rage.

"Alon, please, don't make this any harder than it has to be," Rodney said. "Find me."

"No, no I won't!" This was so unreal. It was so much like a nightmare that it just had to be one. He'd wake up any moment in cold sweat, crying. He'd wake up and Rodney would be there, snuffling and maybe even talking in his sleep. He'd wake up and all this would just have been a new and exciting form of torture his brain had come up with just for him.

"Alon …"

"Shut up. Just, shut up, because you damn well better not die or I will kick you into the next century when I hunt your sorry ass down again." But Rodney was unconscious, he hadn't heard any of that. Desperate now, John reached out to the dying sun one last time. The Stargate sprang to life, even if he had to force it to accept every single one of the glyphs that made up the address to Atlantis. John didn't know where the IDC was, not that it mattered, they couldn't stay here, not if John wanted Rodney to have a chance.

Boosted by what energy he could take, John made it to his feet. He was glad Rodney was unconscious, because hoisting Rodney up over his shoulder would have been very painful otherwise.

John more staggered than walked through the 'gate, but he made it. On the other side was Teyla, her P-90 pointed at the puddle. And, bless her, next to her was one of the mobile stasis chambers. John didn't know what had made her get it, but maybe she had guessed that making it back home would be a close call. Whatever it had been didn't matter though, all that counted was that he would be able to stabilize Rodney right away. John couldn't remember ever having felt that relieved. Teyla reached out, helping him put Rodney down. Together they managed to manhandle Rodney into the stasis chamber. As soon as Rodney was in position, John activated it, watching the force field build up rapidly. It swallowed Rodney, bathing him in icy blue, protecting him.

"John?" Teyla's voice seemed to come from far away.

Try as he might, John couldn't react, his vision had gone all weird, fuzzy and dark.

"Are you well?"

John reached for the stasis chamber. He wanted to crawl into it so desperately, just to be close to Rodney. Then darkness swallowed him up to Teyla's desperate cry of his name. John's last thought was of how lifeless Rodney looked.

Ooo00O00ooO

Ari, was John's first thought when he came to. There was a gaping hole in his being where Rodney was supposed to be. "No," John said, shaking his head in denial.

Rodney was dead.

"It's okay, lad." Carson. That was Carson. "You're alright."

John refused to open his eyes, looking inwards instead, brushing invisible fingers over the dark link. He had no memory of what had happened. No memory of Rodney turning into dust and returning to the Source. But there was nothing there, nothing.

The only explanation was that Rodney was dead.

"Rodney's fine."

No, no, Rodney wasn't fine. Rodney was gone. He wasn't there anymore. Something cold was flowing into John's arm now. Terrified, John fought against it, he felt his fist connecting with something, but he couldn't understand the yells around him. Then there was someone on top of him, holding him down. People were shouting, but John didn't care enough to try and figure out what about.

Ari was dead.

John was thankful when he fell back into the darkness, hoping he'd never wake up again.

Ooo00O00ooO

"How are you feeling?"

John blinked a few times. He'd been staring off into the distance, all his attention entirely on his bond with Rodney. A part of him still couldn't believe that it was back, but it was. He brushed over it constantly just to make sure. Until he could put his hands on Rodney it was the only reassurance he had. God, it felt so damn good. Rodney wasn't dead. It had all just been the drugs they'd given them, after all.

"John?"

"Ari isn't dead," he told Elizabeth just like he'd told everybody else who'd stopped long enough near him to be talked to. He didn't know how long exactly he'd been awake now, he didn't really care. The bond was back. Rodney was there. That was all that really mattered. Earlier, he'd tried to go to Rodney, but Carson had caught him before John had made it out of the bed. There had been an addition to the IV, making John feel … mellow.

Elizabeth patted his hand. "I know."

He looked away again, to where he knew Rodney was. With little effort he sent a nudge down the bond. It was one of many, but Rodney had yet to answer him.

"Do you remember what happened?"

When he shrugged; the IV itched a bit and he carefully scratched around the band-aid. "Did we do it?" he asked, it was the first thing that popped into his head. Rodney would want to know whether it had worked or not once he woke up.

With a small smile that was a bit too watery for John's taste, Elizabeth nodded. "Yes, you did it."

A bit of the fog around him lifted as John frowned. He blinked and leaned back against his pillow. "Good, Rodney will be happy about that." Absently he rubbed his chest. The bond was still weak compared to what it should be. He didn't like it.

"John," Elizabeth said. There were real tears running down her cheeks now. "Rodney was hurt pretty badly. Carson isn't sure if he'll …"

But he stopped listening, because there it was, a weak nudge in their bond. "He'll be fine." His forcefulness made Elizabeth take a step back. He hadn't meant to snap at her, or raise her voice.

"I know that you want him to be, but he's been very badly hurt."

"He's Reincarnate," John insisted. Whatever Carson had given John – and he was eternally grateful for that he'd needed it – it was wearing off. Taking out the IV didn't hurt, but when he pushed to his feet the room was spinning dangerously around him.

"John!"

He ignored Elizabeth in favor of staggering through the infirmary. The only thing on his mind was to get to Rodney, everything else paled in comparison to that impulse.

"John, you can't go in there, it's a sterile room."

There was another nudge over the bond, beckoning him. The doors hissed open automatically in front of him as Atlantis reacted to John's need to get to his mate.

"What is going on here?"

Then John was at Rodney's bedside. Carefully he picked up a bandaged hand, the need to touch overwhelming. Ari, he said to Rodney, nudging him oh so softly. Mate. But Rodney didn't open his eyes, didn't even react apart from a weak answer over their bond.

Carson was there a moment later. "This is a clean room, John, you need to let go of him." He tried to lead John out of the room, but there was no way John was going to budge. Not for anything. "Lad, if you want him to get better you have to come with me," Carson said.

"He'll be fine." Two nurses came into the room, John sensed them more than saw them because he couldn't look away from Rodney. They didn't touch him though, just stood there.

"He's got extensive burns, especially on his arms. Thankfully he managed to protect his face, so his lungs are alright, but injuries like these need –"

John tuned him out as Carson started giving him statistics on the recovery – or lack thereof – of burn victims. Just content to hold Rodney's hand a little while longer, John started doing the only thing he could do to make his mate better: he took some of the energy he had hoarded on Dune, feeding it in small increments into Rodney. He wasn't entirely conscious yet, so John didn't blame Carson for not noticing, but he was aware enough to be soothed by John's presence.

"– and there's still a chance he could die!"

"Nah," John said, moving his hand up Rodney's arm in order to find some bare skin. It was red, like he'd been in the sun far too long. It was good to be able to touch at least for the second it took Carson to push John away from Rodney with the nurses holding both John's arms now. "He's going to be fine, Carson." His insistence didn't stop Carson from muttering vicious things that John chose to not hear. Rodney was obviously glowing now, warm and gold, the Marks showing quite prominently against his reddened skin.

"This isn't a joke, John, people with his percentage of burns often die of infection. I'm trying to keep your mate alive and you should be helping me rather than undermining my efforts." John let the nurses pull him outside, he didn't even resist when Carson shut the doors again. "What exactly did you do to him?"

He was let go, but now there were five people between him and the door to Rodney's room, all ready to intervene. If the situation hadn't been so damn serious, John would have laughed. It wasn't like any of that could stop John if he put his mind to getting in there. "I gave him some of my Essence to speed up his recovery. The better he's supplied, the faster he'll heal."

"That might be the case, but you shouldn't have just walked in. We need to protect him from infections, otherwise there's no guarantee he'll ever wake up."

Anger pushed itself to the front. "Get real, Carson, do you think I'd actually endanger Rodney? Did I mention that he's my fucking mate and our lives are tied together? You may be a doctor, but you can believe me when I tell you that I know the physiology of my mate better than you do." He took a step towards Carson, wanting to plead with him, but suppressing that at the last moment. There was only one place he belonged at right now, which was – unsurprisingly – by Rodney's side.

From the way Carson flushed an alarming shade of pink John's words hadn't made a difference. He didn't give way to John, just crossed his arms and glared. "You have to know that he might never regain his eyesight. There's going to be extensive scarring as well, we're not sure he'll be able to use his hands again. You need to prepare yourself for that reality –"

"Reincarnates heal differently. The only reason I put Rodney into the stasis chamber was because I didn't like his chances without medical care. I needed you to tip the odds in our favor. It's really everything or nothing. His eyesight will recover and he's not going to have any scarring."

Carson sighed. "John, I know you want to believe what you're telling me and maybe that was true for you in another incarnation. But not today. Not in this body. Or have you forgotten that I saw the scar you have from where Kolya shot you? So don't you tell me you don't scar."

"For fuck's sake." Normally John was way more patient, but it was rapidly running out. John's hands were on the neckline of his flimsy hospital gown before he'd even though about what exactly he was doing. He pulled on it until Carson could inspect the site of the injury himself. There wasn't even a white line left there. "I healed slowly because I was drained from the mission with the Genii, but Rodney was full to capacity because I kept him topped up. It didn't kill him, he's healing, so he'll be fine." He swallowed down the "should I repeat that in smaller words" that wanted to escape him. Rubbing his hands over his face, John sighed. "Look, I'm sorry we didn't sit you down and tell you about our healing abilities before –"

"Or you could just have put it into the manifest." Carson crossed his arms and glared at John.

"Manifest?" What manifest?

Carson looked angry. A lot. "Aye, the two hundred page dossier circulating at the SGC explaining what Reincarnates are. How come we never got anything like that out here?"

Feeling a little stunned, John really didn't know what to say. "Two hundred pages?" he asked weakly. John had read the booklet Rodney had left for O'Neill and Jackson. It had been a twenty page dossier John liked to call "Reincarnates For Dummies" in his head.

"You didn't know about it?" Carson asked. He sounded so relieved, like he'd hoped he'd been wrong about something or other. "I got a copy to keep me occupied on the way back."

"Carson, I have no idea how the short booklet that was barely covering the minimum we thought people need to know mutated into a two hundred page dossier, but I'm sure we'll find out eventually. In the meantime, I'd be grateful if you would just let me sit with my mate for a while. I kinda need to know he's really not gone." John smiled at Carson sheepishly, who walked away muttering something John didn't even try to understand.

Ooo00O00ooO

Just take him with you," Carson said sharply to John as soon as he'd taken a step into the infirmary. "Before I throttle him.

John suppressed a smile, deliberately giving Carson a blank expression. It didn't really matter anyway, because Carson ignored him in favor of vanishing into the depth of the infirmary. Well, looked like Rodney was feeling better. Grinning now, John made his way into the not-so-sterile-anymore clean room.

"Carson keeps glaring at me, "Rodney said, his voice not quite a whine but his glare had a bit of an accusation to it. "What did you do to make him angry with me?"

"Good morning, Rodney. I'm great, my hands only itch a little bit now, how nice of you to ask." There was a flash of something that crossed Rodney's face so quickly John couldn't make it out. "How about I break you out of here?"

Rodney visibly perked up. He immediately swung his feet over the edge of the bed. At least he didn't immediately get up. Instead, he made impatient gestures with the hand he wasn't using to keep himself upright. "Clothes?"

All John had to do was follow Rodney's gaze. Someone had put a set of clothes on one of the visitor's chairs. It spoke a lot of how bad Rodney felt or he would have snuck out much sooner.

Not giving Rodney a choice, John knelt in front of him. Healing had taken a lot of Essence. Something they'd both – thankfully – had in abundance at the time of the explosion. Otherwise … John swallowed heavily and helped Rodney to find the right legs of his sweat pants. It was very much like dressing a rather grumpy, overgrown child, an observation John wisely kept to himself.

"Carson is angry because General O'Neill gave him a copy of what they started calling 'The Manifesto.' Did you know Daniel would add to your 'Reincarnates For Dummies' booklet?"

Rodney waved his free hand; he suddenly looked shifty. "No?"

"Right." John grinned at Rodney.

"Anyway, I think we really need to give Carson some medical information about us, or he'll never stop pouting. Not that it matters much now, since there is a two hundred page dossier out there and I'm not yet sure who besides Carson has read it. Is that what you call baby steps, Ari?"

"Look, John, I'm sorry, I-"

"Nah, it's okay. Don't worry about it. It'll make things much easier, not only for us, but also for the next Reincarnate pair born on Earth. Now come on, let's get you out of here." John grinned at Rodney and led him out of the infirmary. Some nice alone-time was in order.

Ooo00O00ooO

Walking down the stairs to the 'gate, John checked his P-90 for the last time. Parrish, the botanist they were accompanying, was already there, fairly bouncing on his feet. Teyla was next to him, patiently listening to the patter of his voice.

"This is so exciting," Parrish said. "I can't believe the planet has actual plant life. Nothing should be able to withstand the sunlight, but somehow these plants do. We're hoping studying this planet'll help us understanding the possible long-term effect of severe ozone depletion on plant life."

Teyla gave him a patient smile, accompanied by a nod. John was sure she had no clue what Parrish was talking about, but that didn't matter.

"Where's Rodney?" John asked, interrupting Parrish's explanation of how fascinating it was to see plants thrive under conditions of "extreme destructive ionizing radiation."

"Las I saw him he was on his way," Teyla said.

As if her words had summoned him, Rodney walked through the door. "Time, Rodney," John said, bumping his shoulder into Rodney's. "You almost missed the entire thing."

"It's a planet," Rodney said. "With lots of plants. I can't possibly contain my excitement about that, except I can. It's a waste of my time and I don't understand why Elizabeth insists we have to go. Ford would do just as well, and you know it."

"Yeah well, Ford's team is full. And Parrish needs the 'gate experience. So buckle up and let's get a move on," John said. He, for one, was happy to go on this mission. It was going to be a walk in the forest, plenty calm, nothing overly exciting. They needed those kind of walks in the park now or then.

"I still don't think this is the right team for the mission," Rodney said.

John grinned at him. "We're a good team for this, Rodney." He decided to try a distraction. Telling him now would probably be best anyway, after all, there'd be a whole forest to rant and scream in before they'd come back home, nice and calm. "Did Elizabeth tell you that she had a very long talk with General O'Neill and Daniel Jackson?"

"No. Possibly because she knows at least some things are just not important enough to bother me with. Though she's remarkably obtuse about other areas that fall under the same header. I wonder if she does it on purpose or if it's purely accidental."

"Oh, this one definitely is something you should know about," John said, taking Rodney's elbow and guiding him away from Parrish, who'd started talking at Teyla again. "They not only sent her your manifesto, they also initiated her into the Cult of Reincarnates."

Rodney stopped so abruptly, John was nearly pulled off his feet. "You're joking."

"I think that last bit was a joke, if that makes any difference," John said.

"No, it doesn't make a difference! Do you know how many jokes started these kind of ridiculous things? I have to go have a talk with them right now. They can't go around saying things like that. It could backfire spectacularly."

John grinned. "I've been told they're very selective about whom they talk to."

"Very selective," Rodney repeated. "They told Elizabeth! Who lives with us!" He lowered his voice until he was basically whispering. "Who'll think we're assholes for not telling her some of that stuff personally."

"They also told Teal'c, Cameron Mitchell, several dozen scientists and military on base, including General Hammond, General Landry, and about three hundred people outside of the mountain. They'd even debated giving every member of the expedition a copy – in case they get bored on their way back to Atlantis."

Rodney stared at him. "You're telling me this before we walk through the 'gate why, exactly? Because dumping things like this on me is not very fair, if you ask me. Why haven't I been told? I should have been told, too!"

"I asked you if you wanted to come to take O'Neill's call. You said, I'm quoting here, 'No, leave me alone, can't you see I'm busy.' So I left you alone and you're only now finding out because for the past five hours you've been in the labs and glared at me whenever I came by."

Rodney was glaring at him again, but it really meant "you're such an asshole sometimes" rather than "you're in trouble, Alon."

"So Elizabeth –"

"Read the whole thing."

"And the manifest –"

"Has been sent around. Radek has a copy, too, I believe."

"I should never have written that damn thing," Rodney said.

"Well, it was your plan."

"Yeah," Rodney said. He didn't sound too happy about being reminded of it.

"And I already told you: it's a good plan, Rodney."

"It is?"

"Yeah, it really is. It just took me a while to get used to the thought. Being able to tell people who we are, that's worth a bit of a hassle." Behind them, the wormhole erupted.

"Really?"

"Yeah. Even if your 'baby steps', got a bit out of hand."

Rodney grinned goofily at John, the warmth in his eyes taking John's breath away for a second. "Yeah," he said, "I know. But we're gonna be alright."

"Hey, it's about time we get our happily ever after," John said teasingly and Rodney just laughed.

Together, they stepped through the Stargate, Teyla on John's left and Parrish trailing after them like a lost puppy.

The End.