Actions

Work Header

Dueling Moons

Chapter Text

John looked up at the moons hanging low in the night sky. They seemed close enough to touch.

The two moons in perihelion meant abnormally high -- and low -- tides. There was a third moon that wasn't visible tonight, that added to the extraordinary event.

He stood on the edge of the water, waves crashing at his feet. The tide was actually going out, otherwise he'd have to move before he was ready.

The shore was rocky, normally under water with a slick coating of slime. That made walking treacherous and odiferous. John watched his feet as he moved carefully along the shore line, every footstep releasing a puff of stale air.

A slight breeze blew in from off the ocean, keeping the odor from the slime down to bearable levels, bringing a tang of salt to every breath. John's coat flapped behind him as he watched the retreating water.

It was only every other generation that this area was exposed. It normally was under at least a couple of feet of water, part of a rocky shoal along the water's edge. The tides and the rocky bottom made it dangerous to navigate any but the shallowest hull craft in this area. Lack of stable dockage along the shore meant the area was rarely traversed.

There were buildings on piers further back from the water. They sat back from the usual shore line, the piers protecting them from the high tides that would be coming over the next days.

John moved off to his right, following a will-o-the-wisp glint of light that only appeared by the light of the two moons. The light hovered for a moment over a rocky outcropping. The tide must have turned as John followed the lights, a wave came crashing in...

John woke with a start, then lay back in the bed. He closed his eyes in frustration, not knowing for a moment what was real -- his bed or that rocky shore. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax and listen to the sounds Atlantis made around him.

Just a dream, he tried to tell himself. But he knew better. He had been dreaming variations of the same scene, although this was the first time the light had stopped moving. He knew it meant something, just not what.

He got up, used the bathroom and took a drink of water. Looking at the time, he sighed and crawled back into bed for what little was left of the night.

"You look like shit, Sheppard," Ronon commented as he met John for their morning run.

"Bad night," John admitted. Ronon looked at him and didn't call him on the fact that there had been several 'bad' nights lately.

Since the team wasn't up for a mission soon, John let Ronon go off on another loop of their running path as he went back to his room to clean up and prepare for the day.

"We have a report of another partial, downed hive ship," Lorne said to John, as Lorne's team walked through the Gate to Atlantis. John had made it a habit to be in the Gate room whenever a team left or came back to Atlantis. Rodney sometime teased about his 'mother hen' instincts, but understood how important this was to John.

Although, when John's team was on a mission, Lorne always waited for them.

"Another?" John asked. "That makes fourteen. Did you get a visual or was it gossip?"

"Gossip, but it seemed new, or at least new-ish," Lorne agreed. "One is an anomaly, two is a pattern..."

"And fourteen are too many to ignore," John completed for him. "Okay, get checked out and we can discuss it this afternoon. I'll organize a meeting."

"Will do," Lorne replied. He followed his team to the Infirmary for the standard post-mission checkup.

John checked in with Chuck to confirm that Lorne's team was the last one in or out for the day. Chuck humored him, knowing very well that John had the week's schedule memorized and that Chuck should be checking with John rather than the other way around.

"We're good," Chuck confirmed. "No teams out at this point, everyone's home for the moment."

"Thanks," John said.

He went back to his office to organize the meeting he mentioned to Lorne. He brought up his email and sent out a message to the already created distribution list.

Lorne's team reports another sighting of a downed Wraith ship. Debriefing at 3 pm today.

John then slogged through the rest of his email. With the return of Atlantis to Pegasus after its trip to Earth, Rodney, Radek and Sam Carter had figured out how to improve security on a new gate bridge. With that more reliable connection, email flowed between Atlantis and Earth twice a day on a store-and-forward basis.

The easier connection with Earth was a good news/bad news sort of thing. The best news was that they got new personnel and supplies regularly. The good news was that regular contact with Earth was a morale boost; contact with family and friends made it easier on everyone and it let them expand their recruiting for both troops and scientists.

The IOA had left Woolsey in charge – John didn’t want to know what Woolsey had done to accomplish that – and John had remained in charge of the military. That had cost him a month of ‘in house’ interrogations by organizations John didn’t even know existed, where John had to constantly remind himself that Atlantis was worth the bullshit he was going through.

The bad news was that the amount of paperwork John had to do had tripled overnight. Between the SGC, the Air Force and the IOA, John essentially had something he needed to make a formal report on daily. Lorne and Teldy between them did a lot of the work, but John had to read and sign off on a good deal of it. The email added insult to injury with the informal requests for one clarification or a tad more detail. John ignored most of the email requests when he could, but there were some he couldn't.

Like the most recent request from General Jack O'Neill. O'Neill asked nastily good questions and John had -- barely -- started to anticipate some of them. This one was a total surprise.

Sheppard, Daniel insists there's something in your database that he just has to have. Won't tell me what. But since you guys broke him the last time I let you play with him, I'll be coming out with him next week. We'll call it an annual review or something. Thought you would appreciate a head's up. --Jack

Great. Daniel Jackson coming out to annoy Rodney and poke around in the city's database. Rodney and the rest of the scientists were no further along in finding anything resembling an indexing system, so that searching was still pretty hit-and-miss.

John had no idea what to expect from Jack O'Neill. Rodney always got a funny look on his face whenever O'Neill's name came up in casual conversation but also seemed to be seriously interested in whatever O'Neill had to say. Maybe he'd finally figure that out.

"Sheppard? Three o'clock? Really? That's the middle of the afternoon and I have..." Rodney whined in his communicator.

"Rodney, there's a dozen people involved in this," John sighed. "There's no perfect time and you know it. If I'm not inconveniencing you, I'm inconveniencing a dozen other people."

"Oh, so my time isn't valuable?" Rodney shot back.

"I know perfectly well that you'll set off a handful of simulations at 2:30, and you'll have nothing to do by 3 pm," John said patiently.

"There’d better be food," Rodney threatened before abruptly dropping off the comm.

John smirked to himself. His distribution list included Nathalie in food service and she'd make sure there was food for them. Coffee and snacks, if not something more substantive.

Lorne and Teldy showed up early, mostly to turn in reports and give John a verbal summary so he could work through them faster.

"We could use some clerical help," Teldy pointed out.

"And a computer person to help with organizing everything," Lorne added.

"I know, I know," John agreed with them. "O'Neill's coming over next week, we can put it to him."

"What does he want?" Teldy asked with a small frown, immediately suspicious.

"Evidently, Daniel Jackson want to commune with the Ancient database, so O'Neill wants to come to keep an eye on him," John told them what he knew.

"Damn," Lorne said. "I owe Walter twenty bucks."

John raised an eyebrow in question.

"Umm..." Lorne hesitated.

Teldy rolled her eyes. "Come on... everyone knew they had the hots for each other. You lost to Walter on that?"

"No," Lorne defended himself. "I had twenty that O'Neill would retire before he'd make a move on Daniel."

"Wait! What?" John demanded. "O'Neill and Jackson?"

"You didn't know?" Lorne laughed. "I think everyone knew. Well, everyone but them, actually."

John rubbed his forehead. He had a headache. "You mean to tell me that we broke a General's boyfriend?"

"Sucks to be you," Teldy smirked.

"If O'Neill was still mad, you'd know it," Lorne advised with a grin.

"Well, technically, Rodney broke him," John suggested, willing to throw Rodney under the bus on that.

Teldy patted him on the arm. "You tell yourself that," she soothed.

At that moment, Rodney bustled into the room. "I broke who?" he asked.

Teldy and Lorne disappeared, having to help Nathalie with pushing the cart with the coffee and cookies.

"Cookies!" Rodney crowed. "Nathalie, I love you!"

"You say that to all the cooks," Nathalie said. "You only love me for my baking."

Rodney drooped dramatically. "I'm heartbroken!" he mock-sobbed.

"Chocolate chip...." Nathalie drawled.

"Okay, I like you even more than Sheppard," Rodney drawled.

"Hey!" John protested automatically. But inside, in a little corner of his mind that he didn't delve into very often, he liked the sound of that. Rodney liking him. He wished he could tell Rodney how he felt, but Rodney's breakup with Keller was too new, and he wasn't going to take advantage of his friend that way.

"Don't worry," Rodney mumbled with his mouth full of cookie. "I still like you."

"Gee, thanks," John drawled.

"Who did I break?" Rodney asked.

Damn. John had hoped Rodney would have been distracted enough to forget that. "Umm... Daniel Jackson?"

"If there had been any other options..." Rodney started. Then stopped. Then peered at John carefully. "Why do you care?"

"Well, Jackson's coming this way next week," John said.

"And?" Rodney prompted.

"O'Neill's coming with him," John said flatly.

"Oh!" Rodney said, with a small grin on his face.

"What?" John demanded without heat in response to Rodney’s odd reaction.

"Nothing, nothing," Rodney said, stuffing another cookie in his mouth.

Just then the rest of the team came into the meeting room. John made a note to ask Rodney more questions later.

"Lorne," John gestured at him. "Tell us what you've got.

"We were on a routine meet-and-greet on P47-32M," Lorne set the stage. "Known locally as Alzo. There was a Market Festival, so there was a bigger crowd than normal and, well, it was a happy sound. Like they were celebrating something. So we kinda asked around, and got the story of another downed Wraith ship."

"Any details?" Rodney asked.

"Unfortunately, not really," Lorne admitted. "No one there had actually seen the ship but we found a couple of people who said they had talked to others who had actually seen the downed ship."

"Can we get to the eyewitnesses?" John asked.

Lorne shrugged. "We couldn't get good answers to that. There's still a lot of paranoia out there, but two of the group of people we talked to were willing to be on Azlo in two days to talk to us again. Hopefully, and If they really show up, we'll get more out of them at that point."

"Okay, we take three teams, one of them in a cloaked Jumper, to that meeting," John said. "We don't want to be unprepared."

"It could be a trap," Rodney pointed out.

"Which is why we take the three teams," John repeated, patiently. He ignored the snickers that a couple of people unsuccessfully tried to stifle.

"Okay," Rodney sat back, mollified.

Since Lorne's team had been on the planet, John let Lorne lay out the plan for the return visit. The people there would be expecting Lorne, so it made more sense to let him take point.

John sat back and watched Rodney during the discussion. There wasn't much for the science team to do on the first part of this plan. Until there was actually something physical to look at, all they could do was speculate.

"Colonel Sheppard's team can man the Jumper," Lorne put in at the end. "Cadman's team can back us up on the ground."

John was glad not to have to pull rank to be in on this one, although he suspected Lorne was just giving in to the inevitable. Being in the Jumper would also let Rodney be there -- relatively, it is Pegasus after all, safely -- in case there was anything for him to look at.

"I'd like to borrow Ronon and Teyla," Cadman requested. "They'll give us a better feel for what we'll be getting on the ground on Azlo."

"Not a problem with me," John replied. He knew Ronon was just as curious as they were about what was happening to the Wraith and getting information first hand would help him feel like he was being useful. "I'll take Matias and Escudero in the Jumper in exchange."

"That works," Cadman grinned at him.

Radek Zelenka put in, "Two days gives us a chance to go over your Jumper before you go. We can double check the systems." Rodney gave a small nod of thanks in his direction.

"Anything else?" John asked the group.

Shrugging of shoulders and shaking heads was all he got.

"Then we'll be ready to go day after tomorrow. The planet is roughly six hours ahead of us, so leaving here in the morning will put us there mid-afternoon." John looked at Lorne. "That work?"

Lorne nodded agreement.

"Okay, nine am sharp," John said. "Check your mail for updates. Thanks."

The meeting broke up, Cadman scooping up the leftover cookies before Rodney could, to John's amusement. He knew Cadman would take them to the enlisted barracks to share. He let Cadman escape before he brought out a package Nathalie had left for him. He handed it to Rodney.

"Don't spoil your dinner," he said with a grin.

"Thanks," Rodney said with a soft smile. "See you at dinner?"

"Sure," John replied.

Rodney went off to finish up the simulations he had set up while John went back to his office to finish up a couple more reports.

He got one report partially done before dinner. The problem with trying to work in his office meant that everyone knew where he was. A steady stream of traffic meant that he was regularly interrupted.

John finally gave in and called Lorne over the comm, "Got a few minutes?"

"Half an hour?" Lorne replied.

"That'll work," John agreed. "It's not desperate. Tomorrow morning would be okay, if that would be better."

"Nah, be there in a bit," Lorne assured him.

John got a little more done on his report while waiting for Lorne. He had two more visitors during that time. Nothing monumental, just minor problems that needed input from someone higher in the food chain. Since John was available, people came to him.

A tap at the door frame let John know that Lorne had arrived.

"What do you need?" Lorne asked.

"A buffer," John admitted honestly. "I don't want to not be available, but I need someone to filter out the problems that really should go somewhere else first."

"About time," Lorne said with a smirk.

John hung his head. "I know, I know," he agreed. "Got any suggestions?"

"You get a secretary," Lorne said. "You're entitled to one." He looked around. "And a real office. Or an office suite, with multiple rooms and meeting space."

"And I suppose you have something in mind," John sighed.

"Sure," Lorne said. "Come on."

Lorne took John to the transporter and to another level of the command tower. "The stairs are an option in an emergency," he pointed to a door that would lead to the stairwell.

"We should take over this entire floor, actually," Lorne said. He led John through what would be an outer office to an inside office that had floor to ceiling windows. "This would be yours."

John stepped into the room and turned around slowly. It wasn't huge but it was a good size. It had a full bathroom through a door in one corner. Even better, there was room for working space and for a couple of guest chairs.

"This could be a meeting room," Lorne led him next door. There was actually a table and chairs in there, similar to the meeting room Woolsey used regularly. "And a break room just around the corner."

"Has the space been checked out?" John asked. He knew there should be at least a cursory check over since they had checked all the space in the command tower.

"Just the basic search," Lorne admitted. Which meant it had been glanced over, looking for obvious dangers. "But it's a good project for the new folk. They can check it out thoroughly and learn a lot about the city in a controlled situation."

John wandered through the rooms, not touching anything -- you never did know what could be lying around -- but looking at the space, imagining how it could be used.

"What do we need to do?" John asked.

"Get McKay to give us someone to look at the tech," Lorne stated. "I have some Marines paired up, one ATA positive and the other negative, who can work on checking everything once the science folk have done their first sweep."

"I'll put in the personnel requisitions for some paperwork types," John said. "That will take a couple of weeks, at the very least. If O'Neill won't give us military support personnel, we can see if Woolsey will give us a couple of civilians."

"Maybe get a combination," Lorne added. "That will let us provide support to the science department, too. They could use some help, I know."

John considered. He knew Rodney would be reluctant initially, but he knew Radek would appreciate the help and talk Rodney into it. Having help with coordinating, writing and filing reports would be a benefit to everyone.

Back in 'his' office, John stood and looked out the windows. He knew the windows could be dimmed when the sun hit them directly, but the natural light would be a huge plus.

"Let's do this," John decided.

Lorne just grinned. "Been waiting for you to be ready," he admitted. "Everything's lined up, we can start tomorrow."

"I... I've been a pain in the ass, haven't I?" John had to ask.

"Well..." Lorne tried to deflect.

"Come on, tell me," John rolled his eyes.

"Okay, yeah," Lorne said. "But it wasn't going to happen until you came to it on your own."

John sighed. "Okay, okay," he said. "Next time, don't wait so long. I need you to tell me when I'm doing stupid." John paused. "Okay, sometimes."

"It's not that bad, yet," Lorne said. "I was going to give you another six or eight weeks before I would have had to schedule an intervention."

"Oh, you were going to set Teyla on me, were you?" John laughed.

"Nah," Lorne grinned. "I was going to get Nathalie to stop making cookies for you to give to McKay."

"You wouldn't have!" John replied in mock horror.

"Oh, yes, I would have!" Lorne replied.

"Damn, you know how to hurt a guy," John teased. "Okay, which is your office?"

Lorne led John to a suite across the hall from John's office-to-be. "Figured we could spread it out some. If we get more than one or two support staff, then we need to have someplace to put them."

"Think we're ready for a quartermaster?" John asked.

Lorne shrugged. "That was next on the list," he admitted. "Let's sort this out first, get the clerical help, and see how it works."

"This was a good idea," John had to admit. "Good work!"

"Thank you, sir," Lorne replied.

It was "Dinner and a Movie" night. They got new movies more regularly, with the Gate Bridge providing delivery service daily. There was at least one palette dedicated to personal deliveries every time. Which meant more opportunities to get individual deliveries and packages. Larger shipments came with the Daedalus, which came every four to six weeks. But there were a lot of interesting things that would fit into something the size of a shoe box.

The Dinner and a Movie project had developed out of John's team nights. Rodney had started to bring Keller along, Ronon brought Amelia, and Teyla would bring Torren and Kanaan. John suspected that, after the first time that everyone had a significant other but John, Teyla had realized how awkward it was for John to be there on his own. Teyla had single handedly recruited the cooks and, from there, it was a simple matter of moving dinner to a place where they could show a movie to anyone that wanted to join them.

It had easily proved popular and good for general morale. Everyone who could, would show up and discussions of the week's movie would take them into the next week.

John found a seat next to Rodney. John wasn't so sure that Keller's decision to stay on Earth when Atlantis traveled back to Pegasus was completely her idea. He had come upon them shouting at each other about a month before they had left Earth -- he hadn't stuck around to see what it was all about. Rodney had been grim and quiet for about a week, and had never spoken about it.

After his regular check-in with his folk on duty, John went off to bed.

John looked up to see only one of the moons hanging in the sky. That meant the second moon was probably hidden behind the first, but that was when the tides were at their most extreme. This was the opstille -- the alignment of the moons. It was every 'two lifetimes' -- John translated that to about a hundred and fifty years -- that this alignment happened.

The tide was out even further tonight. He couldn't even see the water from where he stood. But the light was there, dancing just at the edge of his vision. He followed it, watching his footing on the slippery rocks.

He recognized the rocky outcropping from this other dreams. He edged closer, skirting pockets of water that had been left by the retreating tide. The light remained stationary, letting him get closer. He started to feel a familiar tingle of Ancient as he approached. He looked down at a dark pool of unknown depth, contemplating how to get across it...

The waking was less jarring, for some reason. John sighed. He repeated his bathroom ritual, shaking the last vestiges of the dream from his tired mind. Morning would, again, come too soon.

When Ronon came looking for him, he waved the other man off. "Need to get some reports done before the morning mail. See you at breakfast?"

"You're working too hard," Ronon commented.

John shrugged. "Too much to do, I know. We're going to get some help, we hope. But with that mission tomorrow, need to get some things done before we go."

"Tomorrow." Ronon looked seriously at John.

"Tomorrow." John promised.

The actual day of the mission, John woke not remembering have dreamed. It felt good to have a more restful night. The mess hall was busier, with three teams all leaving at a relatively early hour but John was glad to see Rodney at the team table, along with Ronon and Teyla. The normal routine was comforting.

"Ready?" John asked into the communicator.

"Ready!" That was Lorne.

"Ready!" Cadman's voice came right on top of the first.

"Lowering Jumper to the Gate room," John informed them, putting action into words.

When the Jumper was in position, he nodded at Lorne.

"Dial the Gate!" Lorne commanded.

The Gate burst into life, and when the event horizon settled, Lorne's team went through the Gate first. Cadman's team were on their heels, to look like they were one large group, not two separate teams.

The Gate hung open, as John listened to Lorne deploy his team around the immediate area of the Gate.

"You're clear!" Lorne said.

John eased the Jumper through the Gate, immediately turning on the cloak.

"Clear!" John reported.

The Gate shut down behind them.

They left two guards at the Gate, in hidden positions, in case they needed to make a quick get-away. The remaining soldiers set off to the nearby town. John lifted the Jumper up and settled into watching from above.

"Town ahead of us," Rodney announced. "The usual scattering of life signs. A small gathering in one place, hopefully that's the tavern."

"We'll take a closer look at that when they're five minutes out," John decided.

In the end, it was just John and Rodney in the Jumper. With Ronon and Teyla working with Cadman, the rest of Cadman's team had -- politely -- refused the offer to be on the Jumper.

"Think of it as more room on the Jumper if anything happens and we need a quick evac," Ronon pointed out.

Rodney had rolled his eyes at that, but John didn't argue against the value in having more folk on the ground.

When the teams got closer to the town, John called to Lorne, "Going to check out your welcoming committee."

"Got it," Lorne replied.

John took the Jumper up a bit and moved to the town, to the location the HUD indicated a small gathering of people. The building looked like a tavern, doors open to the square, an upper floor that could be rooms for rent.

"No unusual energy signals," Rodney decided. "Couple of minor blips that could be energy weapons, but nothing even the size of Ronon's. No Wraith signals. A dozen life signs on the first floor, another six on the second."

"Good," John replied. "Got that?" he asked, directed at Lorne and Cadman.

"Got it!" they both replied. "Sounds good."

"Go for it!" John said.

Ronon and Teyla went into the tavern first and settled in to a position near the door. A few minutes later, Lorne's team went inside. Cadman's team stayed out in the square.

Teyla opened her communicator so John and Rodney could listen in on the discussion.

For once, everything went without a hitch. The traders that Lorne had talked to the other day come back as promised and brought two more traders with them. Traders that had actually seen the downed ship.

John heard Rodney start to babble in his ear, asking questions faster than Lorne could pass them on.

John had to say, "McKay! Breathe! Let Lorne do his job! He knows what to ask." Rodney looked faintly grumpy but sat back in his seat.

In the end, the traders didn't have anything more than the Gate coordinates to offer. When Lorne pressed for why they had been on that planet at all, the traders tried to pass it off as a casual drop in but even John could hear the lie from the Jumper.

"Probably where they keep their stash," John offered. "Tell them we aren't interested in their... wares."

"Unless they are dealing in people," Teyla put in. "You aren't dealing in people, are you?"

The question was a combination of sincere and threatening, in a way only Telya could be.

There were hasty assurance that there were no people being trafficked, only goods.

"That better be it," Ronon growled. Which was enough.

"Get the address and we'll go back to Atlantis," John said. "Tell them their payment is our not taking their goods away from them."

Listening in, John had to admit that Lorne did a good job of passing on that message. Lorne's good looks made many folk not take him too seriously, but he'd get this look in his eyes that made people sit up and pay attention.

The trip back to Atlantis was boringly uneventful. The teams on foot went through first, the Jumper bringing up the rear.

"Good trip?" Woolsey asked, meeting up with John and Rodney in the Jumper bay.

"Good trip," John confirmed. "We have an address to check out."

"Thought I'd catch you before you went to Medical," Woolsey started.

"What now?" Rodney demanded.

"Dr. Jackson and General O'Neill are currently in quarantine on the Gate Bridge and will be here tomorrow," Woolsey said.

Fuck! John thought. "That's a week earlier than they were scheduled to be here!" John complained.

"I know," Woolsey soothed. "As soon as I got the message, I took the liberty of making sure their apartment was ready. Although I did want to check with both of you to see what else you had planned."

"I'll alert Miko that Daniel will be here," Rodney said. "I figured she could help him with whatever he's looking for, this time. She's good on the city database and she won't be pining over him after he leaves."

"About that..." Woolsey said, hesitating.

"About what?" John asked carefully.

"I'm not sure they plan to leave," Woolsey said, apologetically. "They have no return date at this point. And, in chatting with General O'Neill, he mentioned something about 'the rest of their stuff being on the Daedalus'."

John wanted to pound his head on the side of the Jumper. "Great! That's all we need," he groused.

"Shouldn't be all that bad," Woolsey tried to commiserate.

"No, worse," John gritted out.

"Jack's a good guy," Rodney put in unexpectedly.

Jack? How did Rodney know General O'Neill well enough to call him just Jack? He tucked that away for a less public conversation.

"Okay, then," John sighed. "We'll figure something out." He looked at Rodney. "Medical check first, before we do anything else."

"We were just on the Jumper," Rodney protested along the way. "We got in the Jumper here, never got out and came right back. Why do we need to get checked out?"

"Because it needs to be a habit," John said. "Sure, today was simple but it's not always that way. You never know when you're compromised when you come back."

Rodney was silent for a moment. John knew Rodney had been in the SGC program a lot longer than he had, he had probably seen some pretty nasty shit during that time.

The good news was that, since they never exited the Jumper, their post-mission checkup was simple and they were in and out in less than fifteen minutes. One of the nurses took their blood samples, ran a diagnostic device over them and let them go.

John escaped with only a small warning. The nurse who took his blood sample had mentioned that he was looking tired and had asked, "Are you okay?" John had shrugged and replied that he was fine. She eyed him warily but had not stopped him from leaving.

"Planning meeting…" John started to say, remembered their impending guests and then stopped. "Okay, fuck it. If O'Neill has an agenda, he should tell me. Planning meeting this afternoon," he told Rodney.

"Put an appointment on my calendar," Rodney replied.

"Just don't bitch at me when I've 'interrupted' your busy afternoon." John grinned.

Rodney gave a vague wave as he went back to his lab.

John made sure to give everyone time to get through their checkups, get a meal and into clean clothes, scheduling the meeting for later in the afternoon. He also sent a note to Nathalie, asking prettily for cookies. Not that they were just for Rodney, or anything.

Once everyone had gathered, John asked, "How do we do this?"

Rodney offered, "Send a drone through the gate and see what information it can give us."

"Send a drone through the gate from the Delta site," Lorne expanded on that suggestion. "That way, if anyone tracks the drone back, it doesn’t track back to the city."

Rodney shrugged. "It slows the process down, but that's a reasonable precaution," he agreed.

"Not a race," John offered. "We definitely don't want to fall into a trap."

Lorne offered, "If it is a trap, it's not the traders we talked to today. They felt pretty honest. Well, honest enough for smugglers."

"This is Pegasus," Rodney muttered. "Anything can happen."

"Which is why we're doing this by the book," John pointed out. "And carefully." He looked around at the group. "Also, General O'Neill and Dr. Jackson will be here tomorrow. They're on the Gate Bridge now, so they'll be here with the morning deliveries. A head's up that they evidently have no plans to leave anytime soon. Anyone with ideas of how we deal with that can come and talk to me."

John wanted to grin at Lorne's look of dismay at this last news. He wasn't worried, he figured Lorne would pass O'Neill and Jackson off on someone else before the day was out.

They made tentative plans for the following day for deploying the drone. In the end, everyone who went to Alzo wanted to be there to see what the drone sent back, so John made a full mission out of it. John figured O'Neill would want to come with then, to be nosy at the very least.

"If there's nothing else?" John asked. No one had anything else to say. "Okay, then. We'll plan to leave for the Delta site at 1 pm tomorrow. Good work, everyone!"

Teyla stopped John after the meeting. "I do not think you need me on this trip," she said. "I'd like to take Torren to the mainland to play with some of the other children."

"No problem," John agreed. "And it will be boring, so take advantage of that to get away."

"Torren was asking when his Uncle John could come to the mainland with us," she teased. "But, you should plan to come and spend the day soon."

John laughed, "Yes, I'll do that." Days on the mainland with Torren were fun, and he didn't do it often enough. He watched her leave the room.

"Dinner?" John asked Rodney, who was packing up his computer.

"Umm... I have a thing..." Rodney stuttered. "Sorry, just going to grab a tray and run."

"No problem," John forced himself to say easily. "Don't stay up too late. Don't want you yawning during the mission."

Rodney flushed slightly, then said, "No, not a late night. See you in the morning."

John let him go without prying any further. He had a General to get ready for, anyway.

As he had thought, Lorne had passed 'O'Neill sitting' on to Teldy. She had no direct history with either O'Neill or Jackson but she was bright and would be able to work with them.

"Sorry to bust into your evening," John apologized. "Just wanted to double check that everything is ready."

"No problem," she assured him. "Woolsey has their quarters ready, part of the newly opened tower on the West Pier. It needs more furniture, but we figured we'd wait until they got here to see what they want. If they'll really be staying on, then they'll want to do some of that themselves."

"Good plan," John said. "While they've both been here before, Dr. Jackson really wasn't here long enough to get acclimated and General O'Neill's visit wasn't necessarily the best, dealing with the Ancients and the Asurans. Kinda surprised he's willing to come back. So we run them through the full ‘Atlantis for Dummies’ briefing as soon as reasonably possible."

"Damn," she grinned. "Hoped I'd get out of that."

"Nope," John said. "Living here is different from visiting, and O'Neill has as good an ATA gene as mine. So he'll be attracted to things that he shouldn't have anything to do with. Need to make them both understand what's involved."

"And I've heard stories about Dr. Jackson," Teldy offered. "He can be more dangerous than the General."

"And O'Neill may have no love lost," John had to remind her. "The last time Dr. Jackson was here, we returned him broken. So be on your toes there."

"Got it!" she said. "Anything else?"

"In spite of everything, don't let them do stupid," John told her. "Don't let the fact that he's a General sway you. I've got your back, if you need it. Keep them safe and we'll sort anything out later."

"Thanks!" Teldy replied.

"O'Neill will probably want to come with us to the Delta site tomorrow," John said. "I've saved him a seat. If Jackson wants to come also, consider yourself invited."

"The Delta site?" she groaned. "Really?"

"For what we're doing, yeah," John grinned.

"All right," she sighed. "I'll be prepared to tag along."

Taking advantage of a quiet night, John roamed the city. He was just checking on what was going on, seeing that everything else was quiet. He swung by the Gate room to check that Sergeant Heath's team had checked in on time. He knew someone would have called if they had not, but even a routine 'help with the fall harvest' mission could go wrong.

Woolsey had worked out a number of 'manpower for trade' agreements with some of their allies. It let the Pegasus natives spend time with the Lanteans, as well as giving Atlantis some options for fresh food. The fresh food wasn't as critical with the functioning Gate Bridge, but it was good to have new options on occasion.

Making sure he wasn't up too late himself -- remembering his admonition to Rodney -- John headed back to his own quarters to call it a night. He looked around the room, wondering why he was still in this small space. He left a message for Lorne to see about new living space for himself. Thinking about the windows and airy space of his new office, he might as well live more comfortably.

John woke in the middle of the night, remembering the moon and a growing feeling of something Ancient. He turned over and fell quickly back to sleep.

After his early morning run with Ronon and a fast shower, John was in the Gate room to meet the morning contact. He knew the email and electronic messaging would happen automatically; messages were sent and received even if there weren't people and/or goods on the schedule.

A squad of marines was also there, to take care of any deliveries. It was rare that there wasn't something delivered. Foodstuffs for the mess, equipment for either the military or the scientists and always some personal deliveries came with each dial-in from Earth.

The pallets of goods came first. John stayed out of the way as the palettes were sorted for internal delivery.

Then O'Neill and Jackson came through with three scientists who were returning from an Earth-side conference.

"See you guys later," Jackson said as the scientists went off toward Medical for a quick check. John, Woolsey and Carson had decided that everyone needed to get used to coming for at least a quick check when they returned to Atlantis -- no matter where they had been. If it was an 'every one, every time' protocol, it made it easier to enforce and live with.

"General, Dr. Jackson," John said as they stopped in the Gate room and looked around.

"Sheppard! Good to see you!" O'Neill said. He gestured at the Gate room, "I always forget how good looking this place is."

"Colonel Sheppard," Jackson nodded.

"We need to run you through a quick medical check, and then I can get your things taken to your rooms," John said.

"Hope we're in time for breakfast," O'Neill said.

"Yes, sir," John said. "It's not bad, but I know the cold food on the Gate Bridge gets old fast. Just that they don't have a lot to work with. So, two hot breakfasts coming up."

"Good, good," O'Neill grinned. "Lead on."

The three scientists were already gone by the time they got to the Infirmary.

Carson Beckett came out to greet them. "General, Dr. Jackson. Welcome!"

"You're between Daniel and his coffee," O'Neill said with a laugh. "Better get this over with."

"Oh, I've been between Rodney and coffee," Carson smiled. "Can't be any worse."

"Hmm.... I'll have to think about that," O'Neill replied easily.

"Jack!" Jackson rolled his eyes.

"If you'll come with me, General, Marie will take care of Dr. Jackson," Carson said. "And you'll be on your way shortly."

"Go on," O'Neill urged. "Breakfast..."

Jackson laughed. "Don't let him fool you," he said. "Jack's looking for coffee, too."

"Daniel!" O'Neill replied in mock horror. "Don't give away all my secrets!"

"I'll let the mess know to make more coffee," John put in.

"Good idea!" Jackson called as he was led behind a curtain.

Ten minutes later, they were on their way to the mess.

"I like what you've done with the place," O'Neill offered.

John shrugged. "The Ancients did most of the renovations but clearing out the dead plants did wonders for everyone."

They all got breakfast and John noted that Jackson took three cups of coffee just for himself. He also watched in some horror as O'Neill added enough cream and sugar to his cup to turn it into a coffee-flavored beverage.

"So, what's on the agenda?" O'Neill asked, once he was done with fixing the coffee.

"I've assigned Major Teldy to you for the first week," John said. "I need you to really follow her directions until you get your feet under you."

"We've been here before," Jackson protested. "Don't need a guide."

Deciding to go for broke, John said, "If you're planning to stay for more than a couple of weeks?" He raised an eyebrow at that. O'Neill nodded. "Then you need what we call the 'Atlantis for Dummies' orientation. It's different if you're just coming and going. This is an extended orientation and gives you information that we don't provide to the short-termers." He looked at O'Neill, "And once you've settled in, your ATA gene is going to start to assert itself more, and it's too easy to get yourself killed doing something that seemed reasonable at the time."

John went on, "We normally do this in a group, but you're the only new people at the moment, so you get personalized lessons." He grinned. "Think of it as saving me from the paperwork if something happens to you." He also gave thought to the two marines and the scientist they had lost since they had been back in Pegasus. When O'Neill's eyebrows went up in understanding, John could see he could appreciate where John was coming from.

O'Neill drank some of his coffee-flavored beverage and said, "Okay, I can buy the paperwork thing." He looked at John, "What else?"

John shrugged. "Not much, actually. Depends on what your plans are. But we do have a mission this afternoon where we've saved you a couple of seats." He explained about the planned mission to the Delta site to send the drone to find a downed Wraith ship.

"Sounds like a plan," O'Neill agreed.

"When do you think we'll be able to explore the ship, if it's there?" Jackson asked eagerly.

"We're taking this a step at a time," John said carefully. "We can bring you into the planning, but we're not rushing into anything. So, I'm going to speculate that, even if we see it on the drone video today, as much as a week before we actually approach the ship." He thought for a second. "And you'll have to ask Rodney. He's the Chief Science Officer, and, if you're staying, you're going to report to him. In the end, who gets to do what is up to him." He wasn't ready to address O'Neill's 'place' on Atlantis, and he was glad that O'Neill didn't bring it up.

Jackson got the same frustrated look John knew Rodney would have, but thought it interesting that O'Neill looked relieved when John hadn't let Jackson steamroller him.

Teldy came up at that point and John made the introductions. "Major Teldy will be doing the orientation for you, and will be your guide for the first week. If she tells you to do or not do something, listen to her," John said. "If you have questions about something, don't hesitate to come to me. But her job is to keep you safe."

"Got it!" O'Neill said. He turned to Teldy, "Lead the way!"

John watched as O'Neill and Jackson followed Teldy to the transporter as she took them to their rooms. She pointed out the subtle markers that let you know where you were, otherwise all the halls tended to look alike and it was too easy to get confused.

The team helping with the harvest festival came back with bags of tubers that were relatively popular. They weren't as popular as tormack, but the cooks did a lot of good things with them. They also were popular on other worlds, so they always put some aside to re-trade in the near future. Having food supplies they could use as trade or to help in emergencies had brought them as many alliances as military support.

After a quick lunch, John finished getting ready for the trip to the Delta site. Rodney had added Radek to his team, even though he hadn't been to Alzo. Lorne, bless him, had thought to set up mission lockers for O'Neill and Jackson and stock them with tac vests.

Teldy had taken O'Neill and Jackson to the armory and they each had been issued weapons. Since this was the Delta site, everyone didn't need more than a hand-weapon, although there was a weapons cache on the Jumper that John would be bringing along.

It was a relatively efficient trip, everyone wanting to get the drone sent to check out the Wraith ship.

The Delta site was basically a fourth choice emergency-only escape site. The Gate was located in an arid plain, surrounded by sand on three sides while the Gate itself sat in front of a rock wall. The rock wall let them set up a cache of weapons and MREs in a safe location. But there was little water and the heat quickly became oppressive.

The scientists had figured out that the planet had pretty close to a perfectly stable rotation which meant that there were no changing seasons in the equatorial area around the gate. One had to get a long way from the gate to get away from the endless summer. And, since it was hot and sandy, there was the occasional sand storm, to add to the experience.

The good news was that there was no native life, or large animals. They would have to watch for transients, but the odds that someone would settle there were slim.

Fortunately, it was just a standard hot day with no sandstorm on the horizon.

John moved to stand back as Rodney harassed the scientists to set everything up. Lorne was managing the perimeter around the gate.

"It's entertaining," O'Neill commented, hanging back with John. John could see Jackson hanging over Rodney's shoulder and the two of them bickering like they hadn't been apart for almost two years.

"It is that," John had to agree.

The scientists finally had whatever organized to their liking, and Rodney directed Radek to dial the Gate. When the connection was stabilized, he ordered the drone to be sent through.

Knowing the screen for viewing the live feed was relatively small and everything would be recorded for later analysis, John stayed back, letting Rodney hog the best seat. Although Radek and Jackson were vying for a close view.

Rodney's fist pump let him know they had found something. Moving a step closer, John said, "You have something."

"Yes!" Rodney beamed. He peered in the screen. "It's like a Wraith ship... melted. It's definitely a partial ship, several large pieces strewn over a good square mile area." He looked into the screen and commanded, "Move the drone more to the left." He waited while the drone moved. "Zoom in there." He pointed to the screen.

"What are you looking for?" Jackson asked.

Rodney looked up at John, eyes wide. "No feeding thing on the hand."

"Rodney!" John breathed.

"We'll have to clean it up, but looks pretty clear on the body in the field," Rodney said in a low voice. "Body's kinda beat up, so need to double check."

"What does that mean?" O'Neill asked, waving a hand.

"We had a run-in with a Wraith ship that had... experimented with a gene therapy that Dr. Keller had worked on. It... wasn't pretty. The Wraith didn't know how to actually eat food and when they went into hibernation, they actually infected the ship." John summarized the mission they had, shortly before Atlantis ended up on Earth.

"One of the treated Wraith must have gotten off Todd's ship before things went to hell, not knowing he was carrying the infection with him," Rodney suggested.

"Like Typhoid Mary," Jackson offered.

"Typhoid Wraith," Radek nodded his head at the image. "Once one ship was infected, it would start giving what would look like technical problems and a call for help would only expose other ships to the infection."

Rodney gave a grim laugh. "War of the Worlds, the Pegasus variation."

"Not a simple cold, but basically the same thing," John agreed.

"Can we go there now?" Jackson asked.

"No," Rodney and John said simultaneously.

"Not before we examine these tapes, get some samples evaluated and quadruple check for survivors," John added. "We're looking at least a week's worth of work before we even think about going there."

Jackson looked over John's shoulder at O'Neill but didn't say anything further. John was glad O'Neill didn't pull rank on him at that point. Although, knowing how Jackson had been the last time he had been on Atlantis, John figured O'Neill was glad to have someone else tell Jackson 'no' when he wanted something otherwise unreasonable.

"I'd like to send a second drone in... probably another four days," Rodney put in. "Now that we know it's there, I know we're going to want more information."

"You'll want it sooner than that," John predicted. "Let's get what you have back to Atlantis, schedule a preliminary debriefing in 2 days and decide what to do next then."

Rodney nodded absently. "Take the drone up higher, so we can get a wider view of the entire field," he directed. He watched the screen for a bit. "Okay, closer in on that section," he directed.

Rodney pushed the drone to its limits. They set the drone to drifting idly when the Gate shut down and picked right back up when they re-dialed the planet. They weren't going to bring the drone back with them, they didn't want to risk any contamination.

"What about those traders?" Lorne asked. "Should they be okay?"

John had to shrug. "No telling where they were before we caught up with them, how long ago did they actually see the ship?"

"They said over a week," Lorne replied.

"Have to hope it's not human transferable," John decided. "The city didn't pick anything up when we came back from meeting the traders on Alzo. But we'll have to get Carson on that right away."

"Do we need to put people in quarantine?" O'Neill asked.

"I really don't think so," John replied. "We've actually all been exposed to the infection already," he explained and elaborated slightly on the mission on Todd's ship where they had seen the contagion before. "It seems to be specific to Wraith DNA and no one from Earth has any of that."

"What about any of your allies?" O'Neill asked.

"Teyla Emmagen does have some Wraith DNA but she was with us on that infected ship and she got a clean bill of health after that mission," John told him. "But, I will have Carson do a double check at this point, especially since she was on the ground on Alzo."

They got one more cycle of the Gate before the drone started running low on power. Rodney had the tech flying the plane set it down in a semi-hidden location away from the main wreckage, in hopes they could get it back when they did the mission to the planet.

It didn't take long for everyone to pack up their equipment. Lorne's team was the last ones through the Gate, herding everyone in front of them.

Fortunately, Carson knew a large group would be coming through the Gate at the same time. He had most of his staff on hand and had set up an assembly line process to get everyone through as quickly as possible.

John made sure O'Neill and Teldy got through in the first group, while he hung back to let everyone else go ahead of him.

It was quiet by the time John sat on a bed to let Carson finish up his exam.

"I need you to double check Teyla," John said quietly. "We need to be concerned whether Keller's gene therapy has affected her at all and if it can be transmitted to humans."

Carson stiffened slightly as he understood what John was saying. "Aye. Should I have someone fetch her tonight?"

"I don't think we need to do that," John decided. Any exposure to the possible infection had been weeks ago at this point.

"Then I'll leave a message for her to see me as soon as she comes back, then," Carson said. "That should do it."

"Thanks," John murmured.

"Anything else?" Carson asked.

"We need to have everything you have about Keller's gene therapy," John said. "We think it's what's causing the Wraith ships to disintegrate." John outlined what they found on the planet and their previous encounter with a Wraith ship infected by it. "Rodney will probably already have something in your email, but I know you've been busy. I also won't be surprised if he doesn't show up to see you tonight."

"Oh, my," Carson breathed. "Yes, I'll get right on it."

"Once you've checked out Teyla, plan for what we'll need in order to check out the ship," John said. "I'm certain we'll want a full contamination protocol, until we're sure of what we're dealing with. Coordinate with Rodney, he has the lead on this."

"Got it!" Carson said. "Anything else?"

"Not at this point," John replied.

John grabbed a quick dinner and then spent a couple of frustrating hours in his office. He was interrupted enough that he didn't get as much done as he had wanted. He finally shut down his computer and went on a quick patrol of the city.

There were three moons tonight. The third moon was far off, not really an actual factor in the tides, but its presence was a sign that the tides would be at their most extreme. He watched from the shore, not moving out on the rocks.

He slept better than he had in a while.

John didn't see Rodney at all the next day but kept track of him via the flurry of emails he got. By the middle of the afternoon, John downloaded to his laptop the information he needed for some reports he had due and went off to Rodney's private lab to work.

Rodney's head came up as John came in.

"Sorry!" John started to back out. "Just looking for someplace to work where I won't be interrupted."

"Stay," Rodney offered. "I'm here for the same reason."

"You sure?" John felt obligated to ask.

"I'll just kick you out, if you're annoying," Rodney promised with a small smile.

"Do that," John urged. He settled down at a table away from where Rodney was working.

Finishing up the two reports that were most important, John stood up to stretch. He needed to move around some before he worked on the next set.

"Want some lunch?" he offered to Rodney.

Rodney looked startled for a moment. "Sorry, forgot you were here. Sure, if you don't mind," he said. "Whatever they have, you know what I like."

"Coffee," John laughed. "I can do that."

Rodney smiled at him. John liked to think this particular smile was his. He had never seen Rodney smile like that at Keller, or anyone else. For more of that, he'd bring Rodney coffee any time of day.

John was stopped several times on his way to the mess, so the entire trip took longer than he had hoped. Rodney was still focused on his own set of laptops when John returned.

"Hey! Food," John said. "No coffee but it would have gotten cold by the time I got back. Take a break for ten minutes."

Rodney started to shake his head, and John said firmly, "Ten minutes. You need a break."

Reluctantly giving in, Rodney stood and stretched in place. "Now that I've moved, I gotta piss. Be right back," he said.

When he got back, John pushed the tray of food toward Rodney. "Got some of everything," he said. "Help yourself."

Rodney took a sandwich and the soda. He took a bite of the sandwich and mumbled, "Thanks."

"Lorne talk to you about cleaning up some office space?" John asked. "That would help us both if we had someone to act as a buffer."

"He did," Rodney replied. "Don't know how much I'd use it, though."

John shrugged. "It would be more comfortable than this," he said. "And you could even take off your communicator and not have to listen to the chatter, in case something came up."

Rodney got a sly look. "Learn more by listening," he smirked.

"Well, yeah," John agreed. He listened on the chatter on the communicators to keep track of what was going on himself. "But sometimes, you need to turn it off and get some work done."

"Yeah, I know," Rodney reluctantly agreed.

"Think about it," John suggested. "And I asked Lorne about finding me an apartment in the new tower."

Rodney looked faintly startled at that. "Really?" he took another bite of his sandwich.

"Figured it's about time I moved to some real space," John said. "Not in a hurry or anything."

"It's hard to find the right space," Rodney agreed.

"Lorne did good on the office space," John replied. "Figured he could keep his eyes open for something that might work."

"Sounds like a good idea," Rodney said. "Gotta get back to it." He nodded toward his computers. "Thanks for the food."

"You're welcome," John said.

They worked in silence for a couple more hours, John getting a couple more reports finished up. He looked up at Rodney, who was typing steadily on one of his computers.

"I'm going," John announced. "Make sure you get some dinner."

Rodney looked up, blinking as his eyes refocused. "Okay, thanks."

John transferred his reports to the main system, making sure they'd be delivered on the next transmission to Earth. He also set up a debriefing meeting for late afternoon the next day, so they could start to consider their next steps.

He saw a message in his email from Carson that he opened immediately. Teyla had checked out clean, fortunately, but Carson did support John's suggestion of full containment when they visited the planet with the Wraith ship. Unless they got more suits from Earth, and John immediately dropped a note to Lorne to order more suits, which would limit the size of the contingent that would be able to examine the debris.

John didn't see Rodney at dinner and made a note to check on him before he went to bed. He stopped in to see Richard Woolsey, to bring him up to date on what they had found and to see what else was going on. They traded stories easily.

On his night time patrol, John swung by Rodney's lab, but it was dark when he got there. He swung by the main lab to find Radek closing it down for the evening.

"How's it going?" John asked.

"Pretty well, I think," Radek admitted. "Rodney, of course, has a dozen different simulations running to see if he can figure out the rate at which the infection would disable a ship. But no idea if that is showing any answers."

"We'll put what we have together tomorrow," John said.

"I will be interested in what everyone has," Radek replied. "Good night."

"Good night," John replied.

The feeling of something Ancient thrummed through his body. There was something buried under the sea bed. Something that was normally covered by feet of turbulent water. Only when the tides were right was it possible to get near the spot.

There was something John needed to do... soon. He just didn't know what. Or where.

John did his morning run with Ronon, who John knew was curious but knew that John didn't have any answers at this point. John queried Teldy and found that O'Neill was at breakfast while Jackson was in the labs with Rodney and Radek.

"Morning, sir," John said, sitting opposite O'Neill.

"Morning," O'Neill said. "And, since I'm not here officially or anything, you could call me Jack."

John ate some of his breakfast and hesitated before deciding to address the elephant in the room. "How long will it be before you get bored?"

O'Neill laughed. "Knew you were bright. Probably at least another few days," he admitted. "Maybe even a week. Although I can go for almost a week if you have anything that resembles fishing."

"There's some fishing on the mainland. Pretty good eating when we can get enough to go around." John ate some more of his breakfast. "Are you retired, or what?"

O'Neill looked around casually and saw that no one was sitting too close to them. He hitched his chair closer to the table. "Well, the President essentially refused to let me retire," O'Neill admitted softly. He shrugged. "But, well, damn it, it's time. Coming with Daniel to Atlantis makes it harder for anyone to make me do anything."

John picked up his coffee and considered. "Who's taking over for you?"

"Carter's going to take over the SGC," O'Neill informed him. "Since you've worked with her, that makes the transition easier. She'll do what she can for you."

John nodded agreement and was pleased for Sam. She's be good in the Mountain, and, more importantly, she'd be someone the soldiers could work with.

"Homeworld? That's trickier," O'Neill admitted. "Paul Davis is way over-due for something like that, but he's been in a secondary role for so long that it's a tough sell. I've put Cam Mitchell's name into the hat at this point."

John just about snorted coffee through his nose. He grabbed a handful of napkins to clean up the mess he made. "Mitchell? Really?"

"I know! Isn't it a fun idea?" O'Neill grinned.

"What did Mitchell ever do to you to deserve that?" John asked with a grin.

"Cam's the type the President needs," O'Neill explained. "He's got enough of the 'saved the Earth a bunch of times' credentials, and he's about ready to settle into something more permanent." O'Neill gave a small grin. "And he's a package deal with Vala Mal Doran. He'll let her kick ass whenever it’s needed."

"Cam and Vala?" John asked, surprised. He had originally though that Jackson and Vala were.... Oh! John resisted banging his head on the table.

He looked at O'Neill, now a bit wary. "It was your plan all along, wasn't it?" he asked.

O'Neill waggled his eyebrows slightly. "More of... taking advantage of some fortuitous situations. Daniel wanted to come from the beginning, but we couldn't afford to let him. We were still fighting the Ori and, well, we got lucky there. Once things settled down, though, indulging Daniel seemed like a reasonable thing to do."

John considered. He touched his communicator. "Lorne? Got a minute? I'm in the mess with General O'Neill and we have something to run by you."

"Be there in fifteen," Lorne replied.

"We do?" O'Neill asked, curious.

"We do," John declared. "More... coffee?"

"Sure," O'Neill agreed. "I'll take another of those muffins, but only if it's on your way."

"I can do that," John agreed. He got himself another muffin when he got O'Neill's.

They were just about done eating when Lorne joined them.

"What can I do for you?" Lorne asked, standing at the end of the table.

"Sit for a minute," John said.

"That bad?" Lorne asked with a frown.

"No, I don't think so," John said. "As we suspected, General O'Neill here isn't going back to Earth any time soon and, well, he's going to get bored before too long."

Lorne didn't look terribly surprised at that statement. John remembered that Lorne had worked in the SGC well before John had come along.

"We certainly don't want General O'Neill to get bored," Lorne agreed, a puzzled look still on his face.

"The General also is going to be less than thrilled with anything that resembles paperwork," John continued. "Or at least anything that's purely paperwork. And he's probably pretty bad at it. No offense."

"None taken," O'Neill agreed, waving his coffee cup a bit.

"Although they don't let stupid people be Generals, usually," John went on. He smirked when O'Neill raised an eyebrow at that. "And, he has one of the stronger expressions of the ATA gene."

"He does like to let people forget that," Lorne started to get a speculative look on his face.

"So, what do we do with an intelligent, bored ATA carrier?" John asked, mostly rhetorically.

"I'll bite," O'Neill said, taking a sip of his coffee. "What?"

"We put him in charge of clearing new space in the city," John said. "Give him a team and let him loose." He sat back to watch the reactions.

Lorne's eyes got wide at that, then started to dance in merriment. "It would keep him busy and out of trouble," Lorne agreed.

"Needs to be done," John nodded. He looked at O'Neill, "It's a good job, actually. You can work with Jackson, he can be your geek." He tried to keep the grin to himself. "Build your own team, although you'll need someone who's ATA negative, and, sucks to be you, the newbies get a rotation helping you."

"Can I keep Teldy?" O'Neill asked.

"She can help you with managing the newbies the first time around, but not permanently," John countered.

"I can live with that," O'Neill agreed with a fake sigh of resignation. "And Daniel's ATA negative."

"Not once he gets the gene therapy," John replied.

O'Neill frowned, then considered for a moment. "I suspect you're right about that," he allowed.

"Colonel Sheppard's right 100 percent of the time," Lorne put in.

John shrugged. "It's an art," he offered. Everyone had learned quickly never to bet against John when he decided whether the gene therapy would work. Although John had cleaned up in the early years.

"I suspect it is," O'Neill replied with a grin. "Do I get an office?"

John heard Lorne smother a laugh. "Sure," John said airily. "Soon as you clean it out."

O'Neill laughed out loud at that. John counted that as a win.

The afternoon debriefing gave them more questions than answers for the moment, but the pictures of the Wraith hand without a feeding aperture was telling.

"Okay, then, let's send up two drones next time," John said. "You sort out what you want more images of, and we'll get them. Tomorrow or the day after?"

That question was directed at Rodney. "Tomorrow, I think," Rodney said. "We'll have identified what we want more images of. And we're working on rigging a LSD to one drone so we can see if there are any survivors."

"That's a good idea. Don't want to run into any stray Wraith." He looked at Rodney. "Can we tell if there's a hibernating Wraith?"

Rodney shrugged. "Probably not a one hundred percent guarantee, but we can turn up the sensitivity so we have a better chance of finding if there is one. Best we can do."

"Fair enough. We'll use the information from the second set of images to plan the mission to the planet," John decided. "The more information we have, the better I'll feel."

The second mission was considered a success. The LSD didn't pick up any Wraith life signs in the immediate area of the ship, but that didn't mean one or more had not gone away from the ship to hibernate outside the range of the LSD. They'd still take full precautions.

Based on the images from the second scans, they decided to schedule a visit to the planet in another week. They'd send another drone through with a LSD to double check for Wraith -- or smugglers -- before they went through the Gate.

In the meantime, O'Neill fit in amazingly well, John realized. He let John do his job without interference, and worked on the clearing project with enthusiasm. In spite of his protests about paperwork, O'Neill gave him regular reports on his team's progress in clearing the office space.

"Fucking Daniel Jackson," Rodney muttered at lunch on day. Ronon was off training with a group of Marines and Teyla was eating in her quarters with her family. So it was just John and Rodney.

"What's wrong with him?" John asked.

"He has the attention span of a gnat," Rodney sighed in frustration. "He's working on the city database with Miko, but he wants to learn more about the Wraith, so he wants in on the mission to the ship, and he's off doing heaven only knows what with O'Neill. When he's not talking to Teyla and Ronon about their people."

"You're his boss," John said. "Tell him to pick a couple of things and focus."

"But Jack will..." Rodney began.

"O'Neill will do nothing, I suspect," John replied. "Working on clearing space on the city is a good thing for Jackson to do. And I'm the one asking for that, not O'Neill. But what he does overall is up to you, not him." John ate some of his lunch. "Treat him like... Radek. Heck, put him in charge of the soft science folk you complain about all the time."

"Huh," was all Rodney said, but with a thoughtful look in his eyes.

"See you at the movie?" John asked.

"Umm.." Rodney hesitated, obviously about to beg off.

"Come on," John wheedled. "You're entitled to a break, you know."

Rodney sighed. "All right, as long as it's not some chick flick," he agreed.

"If it is, we can sit in the back and make fun of it," John promised. "And throw popcorn."

Rodney grinned, "Deal!"

Dinner was bar-b-que mystery-meat burgers, which was actually a popular option... the bar-b-que sauce disguised the mystery-meat and made it tender enough to eat. Some of the Pegasus meat options were sketchy at best, but bar-b-que sauce made most of it enjoyable.

The movie was Despicable Me 2, at which Rodney gave a groan.

"A kid's cartoon? Really?" he pouted.

"Relax, if it's half as good as the original, it will be fun," John teased.

"Oh, my, god!" Rodney moaned. "You've seen the original?"

John tried not to blush, but must have failed when Rodney started to smirk at him. "Okay, yes, Mr. Smarty Pants, I watched the original when I was at the SGC," he admitted, without thinking, then winced.

Rodney face was immediately serious. The month John spent in what wasn't officially called 'house arrest' at the SGC was never discussed. John refused to talk about it, and no one else dared to bring it up.

John shrugged. "I had a lot of... down time," he admitted. He knew Rodney wanted to ask questions but... if nothing else, here was neither the time nor the place.

Rodney settled back and looked like he was going to enjoy this movie if it killed him.

Fortunately, the minions stole the show, even as Rodney criticized the science. "There's no way she should have been able to open that door on an airplane! And doors on planes open inwards, not outwards!"

"Rodney, it was a cartoon!" John laughed. "Relax." He nudged Rodney in the ribs. "I'll bet you could get more work done if you had new minions!"

Rodney grinned. "Probably, although -- and don't tell them -- I've gotten used to the ones I have."

John held up a hand, "I promise to never tell."

"Which was better? This or the original?" Rodney asked.

"Hmm... I'm going to go with the original," John admitted. "But, as sequels go, this wasn't bad at all."

Rodney put a warm hand on John's arm, one that John couldn't help but lean in to. "John... if you ever... need to talk... well..." Rodney grinned. "You could do worse."

Touched at the thought, John put his hand on Rodney's. "I'll keep that in mind," he said softly.

The moment was broken by Torren running up to them.

"Up!" he demanded, holding out his arms.

John took his hand off Rodney's and picked Torren up. Teyla followed her son more sedately.

"Torren," Teyla said. "You're not supposed to run off like that."

"Did he enjoy the movie?" Rodney asked.

"He laughed at the minions but I am not sure he understood the story," Teyla said. "In another year, perhaps."

John bounced Torren on his knee, making faces at the toddler, who made equally funny faces back at him, giggling all the while. "Okay, okay, I can take a hint," John laughed. He looked to both Teyla and Rodney. "Anything going on this weekend? There's nothing major going on here, we should be free."

"This weekend would be fine," Teyla said.

Rodney didn't reply, but John knew he had a couple of days to work on Rodney. In the end, he'd go along also.

"We can get O'Neill and Jackson to go, also," John suggested. "They haven't been to the mainland yet and, somehow, I suspect Torren will wrap Uncle Jack around his fingers in like two seconds."

Rodney snickered at that thought.

"General O'Neill and Daniel Jackson would be welcome to come with you," Teyla said.

"It's a date," John agreed.

It took a double batch of Nathalie's cookies to lure Rodney to the mainland with them. John had to promise he could bring his laptop and would have a couple hours to do some work.

It didn't take long for Torren and the other Athosian children to charm O'Neill and Jackson completely. "Uncle Jack" and "Uncle Daniel" spent the day playing variations on soccer and hide-and-seek, while John and Rodney just sat around a fire and talked with the other Athosians.

Rodney got antsy by mid-afternoon, which John took pity on.

"If you work for a couple of hours now, will you stop for dinner?" John offered. "There's a Thermos of coffee and cookies in the Jumper for you."

Rodney's eyes lit up in appreciation. "You have a deal," he agreed. "Come and get me in time to wash up before we eat?"

"Sure," John promised.

A panting and sweaty Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson sat down with them while the Athosians took the children off for pre-dinner naps.

"I hope you send marines out here for PT," O'Neill said once he had his breath back. "Those kids are ruthless."

"Which is why we sent you out there, we know better," John laughed. "Gotta learn to mix it up some. They'll take stories just as well as anything."

"Now you tell me!" O'Neill moaned. But from the smile on his face, John knew they had had a good time.

John rousted Rodney out of the Jumper for a meal, and sat next to him as they talked around the fire. All the extra fresh air had the Lanteans falling asleep as soon as it got fully dark and John guided a sleepy Rodney to their shared hut. John tried not to think too hard about sharing space with Rodney on a more permanent basis.

There were no dreams of moons that night. John muzzily considered for a moment if it was being away from Atlantis or near Rodney. By the time he was awake, the thought was gone.

John had the Athosians show O'Neill some fishing options -- a couple were close to the settlement, another just down the coast and off a beach, and one about an hour's walk in a spring fed lake.

"Lake fish are good eating," John said. "But they're smallish and catching enough to serve more than yourselves is more work than it's worth. But it makes for a nice option for dinner out, since, well, the options are somewhat limited."

"Don't need to catch anything," O'Neill bounced on his toes on the edge of the lake. "Just... like to fish."

"Then this is the place for it," John said waving at the lake.

They had left Daniel and Rodney sleeping in while John, Teyla and Ronon took O'Neill out to the lake. Rodney had been there before and John wasn't going to listen to him grumbling about "unnecessary walking" on a day off.

Back on Atlantis, everything started to settle into place for the trip to the downed Wraith ship. They got another dozen containment suits from Earth in the daily shipment, which made John feel better about the ratio of geeks to goons on the trip. He could let Rodney take most of the minions he wanted while also taking enough military to keep the site secure.

From the Delta site, they sent a drone with a LSD to check yet again for any survivors.

"Nothing but small animal sized readings," Rodney announced. "We should be good to go."

"Okay, no wandering around on your own. And if you get orders to evacuate, don't argue, just do it," John reminded everyone. He looked at Rodney, who smirked at him.

Lorne had worked with the scientists to set up a basic decontamination station at the Delta site to allow them to clean up there and -- hopefully - not drag anything back to Atlantis. Carson was set up with all of his people on call to handle whatever emergencies came up. They had debated whether to have medical staff waiting on the Delta site, but they decided it wasn't necessary since someone could come through quickly if needed. And one of the scientists who would be monitoring them had advanced first aid training, in an emergency.

On the planet, they were soon sweating in the suits. The planet was wasn't as warm as the Delta site but was much more humid, making the suits into saunas. John heard some minor bitching on the back channels, but no one was asking to take the suits off.

John made himself a part of the group that guarded the Gate. That allowed him to tag along on the mission without being in Rodney's way.

Since they didn't want to risk contaminating a Jumper, it also meant those going to the site were walking to the downed ship. It was relatively flat, fortunately, but the walk in the suits added to the discomfort.

When they got to the first debris field, Rodney left a couple of scientists working to take samples as most of the group moved on to larger pieces of the wreckage. They had picked three main locations to take samples, and they would use the results of those samples to determine their next steps.

John looked around at the area around the Gate. It was unremarkable, grassy areas and shrubbery surrounding the area. John glanced up... and froze. That was one of the moons from his dream! He turned to search for the other moons.

"Suit breach!" Rodney's voice came almost calmly over the radio. "Fucking debris is sharper than I thought," he muttered.

Not finding anything else in the daytime sky, John dragged his attention from the moon and took a deep breath. "All right, boys and girls, you know what to do."

The soldiers in Rodney's group moved to place a patch on the hole. "Small puncture, sir, but definitely breached." The soldier assigned to Rodney reported to John.

"Take McKay back to the Delta site, keep a close eye on him along the way," John ordered. He switched channels to talk to just the Delta site. "We have a suit breach, the puncture is confirmed, but contained. They're on their way to you," he informed Teldy, who was manning the station along with a handful of scientists who were taking in telemetry readings.

"I'll have a doc waiting by the time you get here," she replied. "Closing down the Gate to call Atlantis. It will be less than fifteen minutes before we're connected again."

John watched with his heart in his throat as Rodney was escorted back to the Delta site, cursing himself for stupidity every step of the way.

The rest of the contingent on the planet worked carefully, not wanting another suit breach. John listened to the radio as the Gate opened and closed when Rodney and his escort went back to the Delta site.

Radek had everyone working quickly to do their assigned tasks. "We do what we came to do, nothing more," he declared. "Let us finish up and go home."

They were ready to return in another ninety minutes, instead of the two or three hours they had originally considered. The heat in the suits was part of it, but Rodney's suit breach was a sobering reminder of how dangerous their work could be.

John was the last through the gate to the Delta site. By that time, Rodney and any medical staff that had come through were gone. John looked up one last time before he stepped through the Gate.

"Dr. Beckett felt that he could do more on Atlantis," Teldy explained as soon as John stepped out of the decontamination tent. Basic decontamination was mostly warm mist and sonic showers. They'd leave the containment suits at the Delta site and only bring them back to Atlantis if everything proved to be benign. Data gathered on equipment that went to the planet was efficiently transferred to clean equipment to go back to Atlantis.

"Dr. Zelenka, take the first group through," John ordered. Radek nodded and gathered up the team of scientists that were to go back to Atlantis first. The group that would need to go through thorough decontamination were the first wave. John knew they'd want to get to work on the data and samples they had gathered as soon as possible. With the extra precautions that would be needed, they broke the return to smaller groups so that Carson's medical teams wouldn't be overwhelmed.

The next group was mixed scientists and military but included the now-secure samples from the planet and the wreck. John knew there would be special handling once that arrived on the city.

John waited patiently to be among the last group to leave the Delta site. He didn't let the worry he was feeling bleed through to the others. At least he hoped not. He could see Teldy keeping a close eye on him.

Finally back on Atlantis, John went through the full decontamination procedure. All their clothing went into special bins, there were full showers and scrubs to wear while waiting for someone to perform the medical exam.

John got a communicator and asked Lorne, "Updates?"

"No news is good news," he reported. "Everyone is clean so far. There's about a thirty minute delay going through Medical at this point. But that mostly affects just your group, so shouldn't be too bad."

"Any news on Dr. McKay?" John had to ask.

"Sorry, nothing," Lorne replied. "I know Dr. Beckett has put him in an isolation room. But there's been nothing on his condition."

"Thanks," John said. He settled in to wait for his turn in Medical.

It was closer to forty-five minutes before John settled into a bed, but he had also made sure everyone else went ahead of him.

"Last one!" Marie said.

"How's it looking?" John asked.

"Pretty good so far," she replied. "Initial scans are clean, we'll double check with the blood work."

"That's good to hear," John replied.

She efficiently ran the scanner over John, taking her time. When that was done, she took blood samples.

"What? No penlight of doom?" John teased.

"Oh, I can get it out, if you want," she laughed. "Not today."

"Good to know," John said. "How long on all the blood tests?"

"A day," she said. "There's enough of them to take longer than normal."

"Good to know," John said. "Any update on Dr. McKay?"

"I haven't heard anything," she admitted. "I can check..."

"Nah," John said. "I'll just go bug Carson."

"Good plan," she said. "Go ahead and do that!"

John walked back to the isolation rooms, to find Rodney sitting morosely on a bed, dressed in scrubs.

"Hey!" John said through the intercom.

Rodney looked up. "Hey! When's Carson going to let me out of here?"

John shrugged. "I was going to ask you that!"

"Damn," Rodney sighed. "I suppose I'm stuck here at least overnight."

"I suspect you're right," John agreed. "Do you need anything?"

"I'd kill for something to do," Rodney admitted. "I feel fine, so it's hard not doing anything. It's only been a couple of hours, and I'm bored to tears already."

"Let me see if Carson will let you have a laptop," John suggested.

Rodney brightened up at that. "Thanks," Rodney said. "Get the laptop from my room. It'll let me work on some of the raw data."

"One laptop, coming up!" John said. He was grateful to see Rodney looking well at the moment.

Letting himself into Rodney's room, he was startled to see how... stark it looked. It was more than simply organized, it looked like no one lived there. Rodney's degrees were missing and the stack of books and journals that were usually all over were gone.

John debated before looking in Rodney's closet. It was usually packed tight, but now it was half empty, like his clothes were missing. Unless Rodney had conned someone into doing his laundry, which was doubtful, something odd was going on. John scavenged a clean set of clothes, figuring Rodney would appreciate having something other than scrubs to wear at some point.

The laptop was the only thing on the clean desk. John picked it up and stacked it on top of the clothes.

John found Carson in his office. He held up the clothes and laptop. "Brought some stuff for Rodney," he said. "Can he at least get the laptop?"

"Good idea," Carson replied. "It'll keep him from terrorizing the staff."

"How long do you think you need to keep him?" John asked.

Carson sighed. "Not sure, at this point," he admitted. "At least a day, I think. But since they've brought back samples to work on, that will make it easier. And I've asked Radek to give some of the cultures I need priority. Don't want Rodney here any longer than he needs to be."

"I brought him a change of clothes, so he has something to wear when you let him lose," John said.

"Good idea," Carson replied. "Anything else?"

"How did everyone else do?" John asked.

Carson reported that everyone else checked out negative so far. The blood work would be another day, but at this point, no news was good news.

"Keep me in the loop," John requested. "I'll go hang out with Rodney for a bit."

"Good, keep him distracted for a while and I'll get his laptop into isolation shortly," Carson said.

"Can do," John replied.

John found O'Neill chatting with Rodney when he got back to the isolation room.

"Figured Rodney could use some company," O'Neill explained.

"My laptop?" Rodney asked, curious.

"Carson has it," John reported. "He'll get it to you shortly."

"Oh, thank god," Rodney murmured.

"Hey! And I've gone out or my way to be entertaining," O'Neill pouted with a grin.

"No offense, Jack, but, well, you're not so entertaining," Rodney laughed.

"Don't make me send Daniel down here," O'Neill laughed.

"No! Not that!" Rodney cringed in mock horror.

"Okay, looks like my replacement is here," O'Neill said. "Get some sleep."

"Thanks," Rodney said sincerely.

John found a chair and settled in to sit with Rodney for a while.

"You don't have to sit there," Rodney protested.

John shrugged. "Like you'd do anything different."

Rodney grinned. "Well, I would have brought something to do while I'm hanging out." He considered. "Did you at least eat?"

"I'm good," John said easily.

"Go and get a meal," Rodney ordered. "I won't die of boredom in an hour. And Carson will bring my laptop shortly and I'll be fine."

"I can wait a bit," John said. He hesitated, "Hey, what's with the empty room? It's like you've gotten rid of everything you own."

John was fascinated at the blush that came up Rodney's face. "I... I've been cleaning out, is all," he said. "Just haven't gotten the new things in place."

"Oh, got some deliveries coming soon?" John was curious.

Rodney's turn to shrug. "Couple of things on the next Daedalus run," he said. "There are a couple of things I'm waiting for before I make some decisions."

"If you have IKEA furniture on order, you're on your own for that," John laughed. "I've put some of that together. It's good stuff but an exercise in masochism."

"No, nothing like that," Rodney said. "Hey, anyone else got exposed?"

"Nope," John said. "You're the only lucky one."

"Yeah, sometimes if it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all," Rodney gave a small grin.

"You've done good so far," John soothed.

Just then Radek walked in, he stopped at the door. "I can come back," he offered.

"No," Rodney commanded. "You stay, and Sheppard can get a meal."

"I'm fine," John offered.

"John, get a meal," Rodney said gently. "Drink a cup of coffee for me. I know Carson won't let me have any, so you'll have to drink it for me."

"Okay, okay," John agreed reluctantly. He looked at Radek. "An hour long enough?"

Radek nodded, "Sure, I was going to hit the highlights and talk through the preliminary report."

John really wanted to hear that report but he knew he should get some food, so he left the two scientists chattering away.

In the end, it was closer to two hours before John got back to the infirmary. Lorne stopped him to make a report, Teldy gave him a brief review of what Jackson and O'Neill were up to, and Woolsey reminded him of a report he needed to get done for the IOA. It was mostly done but it needed to be proof-read and the executive summary written.

Carson had given Rodney his laptop in the meantime. John found Rodney working at something, muttering to himself at whatever he was reading.

"How you doing?" John asked.

Rodney frowned at him. "Still here," he replied.

"Just checking," he grinned. "You didn't miss anything special at dinner."

"Ha! I got ice cream," Rodney teased. "Chocolate."

"Not fair," John pouted. "Carson likes you better than me!"

"Sucks to be you!" Rodney grinned.

"So, what did you and Radek talk about?" John asked.

That set Rodney off, recounting the conversation he and Radek had earlier. The good news was that there wasn't anything obviously unexpected in the initial results.

"Luckily we still had samples from the work Keller did," Rodney said. John caught the Keller instead of Jennifer. "They're running comparisons right now but it looks like the same virus."

"That should be good news, I take it?" John hazarded.

"Excellent news," Rodney said. "If it is, then we've already been exposed and, unless it's mutated, we'll be good to explore the ship in more detail if we don't need suits. And we'll get results faster."

"How soon before we know for sure?" John asked.

Rodney deflated slightly. "A week," he said. "Some of the cultures need to be done more than once, so it just takes time."

"Will you have to be here a week?" John frowned, concerned.

"Doubt it," Rodney said. "We should know something about human transfer by morning. Don't tell them I said so, but the bio guys are good at this part."

"I'll never tell," John promised solemnly.