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To Forgive ... Divine

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John twisted around, trying to see the extent of the bruising on his back in the bathroom mirror. His muscles ached after a night's rest, but the headache was gone. He didn't feel much of a reaction through the link either, so it appeared Lam was right, all McKay needed was a decent meal and a good night's rest.

He thought back on the conversation with Rodney the night before as he changed into a set of sweats Harriman had found for him. McKay had listened, which had surprised John a little, but he still couldn't shake the feeling of betrayal for McKay's reckless attitude.

"A long run might help with that too," he muttered to himself as he turned toward the door.

John walked out of his bedroom in time to see Ronon about to leave the suite. The way Dex moved, almost as if he were trying to sneak out of the room, reminded John of the way Ronon and Teyla had acted after their return from Belkan. He had planned to talk to both of them once Teyla was out of the infirmary, but with everything that had happened on Earth, he'd never had the chance.

McKay was going to be fine. Bowers was in custody and Landry had every federal agency in the state looking for Vance, leaving John at loose ends until the Daedalus returned. Now was as good a time as any to find out what really happened in the village, and why Dex and Teyla were so determined to keep it a secret.

"Ronon," John greeted.

Dex froze then turned around. "Sheppard. Thought you were still asleep."

"Nope," John replied with an easy smile. "Where you off to?"

Ronon stopped a few paces from the door and glanced over at John. "Shooting range."

John raised an eyebrow, and Ronon continued. "One of the Marines from yesterday, Winters, wanted a few pointers."

"Pointers. Right." John drawled as he leant against the side of the sofa. "Wasn't Winters the one who made the comment about McKay in the briefing yesterday?"

Ronon crossed his arms over his chest. "Maybe."

John shook his head as Ronon turned back to the door.

"Hey, hold on a sec," John said.

"What?"

"There was something else I wanted to talk to you about."

Ronon let go of the door handle and faced Sheppard.

"You never did tell me what really happened between you and Teyla on Belkan," John said.

Ronon shrugged. "Like she said, it was just a misunderstanding."

John stood up straight. "I know there's more to it than that," he said, his tone changing from curious to serious. "If there's a problem with the two of you, I need to know."

"There's no problem," Ronon told him and stepped toward the door.

John shook his head and moved between Dex and the door. What had started out as simple curiosity had blossomed into real concern, and not a little frustration, with Dex's stonewalling. What the hell had happened on a quick mission to trade for seed? he wondered. He crossed his arms over his chest, gave Ronon the same silent look he'd used on Bowers, and waited.

Ronon glowered at him for a few seconds, then crossed the room where he paced back-and-forth between the bedroom door and sofa.

"You heard about the survivors from Sateda?" Ronon asked a few minutes later.

John relaxed and nodded. "I don't think I ever said how happy I was for you. You aren't the only survivor after all."

Ronon stopped pacing and stared at the painting of the Rocky Mountains on the wall behind the sofa. "One of those survivors was a man named Kell."

"I take it you knew him."

Ronon nodded. "He was my taskmaster when I was in military training."

"Sounds like you two were close. I'm happy a friend --"

"He wasn't a friend," Ronon growled. "He was a traitor. He sent whole divisions to their deaths just so he could save himself." Ronon clenched his hands into fists, and John wondered if another wall was about to have a hole in it.

"I found out he was on Belkan to trade," Ronon continued after a few moments. "I asked Teyla to set up a meeting. When he got there, I shot him."

John stared at Dex in stunned silence. Of all the things he thought could have happened on a trade mission, Ronon shooting someone in cold blood never even made the list. He scrubbed a hand over his face as he considered all of the ramifications of what Dex had done.

First things, first, he decided. How hard was this going to blow back on Atlantis in general and his team, and Dex specifically?

"Were there any witnesses?" John asked after a moment.

Ronon looked up, clearly surprised.

"Were there any witnesses?" John asked again, his tone hard, and walked over to Ronon. "Anyone who's going to take what you did personally and come after you?"

Ronon shook his head. "Other than Teyla, just a couple of Kell's personal guards. They won't do or say anything."

John took a step back. "That's why Teyla was angry. You used her. Broke her trust." He shook his head. What the hell had happened to his team. First McKay and now Ronon. Neither one of them stopping to think about how their actions would affect those around them.

"I --" Ronon started to say, but John turned on him, his face set.

"I don't want to hear it." He walked over and stood in front of Dex. "We're going to get a few things straight. First, I don't ever want to hear about you doing something like this again. Did you stop to think about the danger you were putting yourself in?"

Ronon started to answer, and John stopped him with a glare. "And what about Teyla? Did you even bother to warn her what you were planning to do?"

Ronon stared at the wall behind John's head.

"I'll take that as a 'no'," John said, not bothering to hide his frustration.

He watched Ronon for a few moments, then sighed. "You ever do something that reckless again, I'll shoot you myself."

He waited for Ronon to nod then continued, "Second, if this ever comes up again, you come to me, and you tell me. We will figure out a way to deal with it."

"Not your problem," Ronon told him.

John stepped forward. "You aren't alone any more," he explained. "You have a team, people who care what happens to you. That means we'll help you and watch your back the same way you watch ours." He stepped back. "Do you understand that?"

Ronon gave him a stiff nod.

"Good," John said.

"Are you going to tell Weir?" Ronon asked. "About Kell?"

John shook his head. "There's no reason for her to know. You said the situation was contained and it's not going to come up in the future?"

"Anyone who survived from Sateda knows the kind of man Kell was. No one is going to try to avenge his death."

"Then there's nothing to really say to Elizabeth," John said. He walked over to the door and held it open. "I'm going for a run, then the infirmary to see if Doctor Lam is ready to spring McKay." He turned back to Ronon. "Make sure Winters knows who the better shot is," he added.

"Won't be a problem," Ronon replied, and followed John out of the suite.

John returned to the suite an hour later. His body felt better for the exercise, even if he hadn't found any solutions to his various team problems. He showered, changed into a clean uniform, and was outside the doors to the infirmary when he heard his name.

"Colonel Sheppard, sir?" an airman said and stopped a few paces away from John. "General Landry would like to see you in his office."

John glanced at the door to the infirmary, then over at the young woman standing in front of him. "Thank you, Airman," John said with a nod. "I'll be right there."

The airman saluted, turned on her heel, and left. John considered his options for a moment, then pushed open the door.

"He's still asleep," Doctor Lam told him as John stopped at the end of Rodney's bed.

"He's hardly been awake since we got back," John said with a worried frown.

"Don't worry, Colonel," Lam assured him, "Doctor McKay is going to be fine. Once he's awake, I'll release him."

"You said yesterday the drug Bowers used was still in his system. Is that why he's …" John pointed at the bed.

Lam nodded. "That's part of it, certainly. There will be trace amounts of the drug in his system for another couple of days. Doctor McKay may tire more easily as a result, but there shouldn't be anything to worry about long-term."

John nodded and stepped away from the bed. "I have a meeting with General Landry. If he wakes up before I get back, let him know I was here, and I'll be back later."

Lam waved him toward the door. "I'll pass along the message, Colonel."

John nodded and headed out of the infirmary and down to Landry's office.

He tapped on Landry's door, and when the General looked up, said, "You wanted to see me, sir."

Landry waved him into the office and pointed to one of the chairs in front of his desk. "I spoke to a friend of mine in the FBI this morning." Landry sat back in his chair, his expression grim. "It seems Alex Vance slipped their net and managed to escape. They have alerts out to neighboring states, but so far, there's no sign of him."

John clenched his hands on the arms of his chair as his fears about Vance were confirmed. "So what do we do next, sir?"

"The airports have been alerted, but Vance has money and connections. You and I both know he could get out of the country easily enough if he wants to."

John nodded and stared at the commendations hanging on the wall behind Landry's desk. If Vance managed to escape the country, nothing was stopping him coming up with another plan to get his revenge. Vance knew about David and his father, not to mention McKay's sister, Jeannie. Until he was caught, none of them were safe.

"The IOA assures me they will take steps to keep an eye on your brother and McKay's sister," Landry told him.

John looked over at him. "How --"

"It was written all over your face, Colonel. Don't worry about Vance. One way or another, we'll find him."

"And Bowers?"

Landry sat back in his chair. "Mister Woolsey promises he will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law."

John nodded. It wasn't the news he wanted to hear, but it was the best he could expect.

He heard a tap on the door behind him and turned around as Sergeant Harriman opened the door.

"What is it, Walter?" Landry asked.

"Sorry to interrupt, sir, but Doctor Lam just called." He looked at John and continued. "Doctor McKay is awake. She says he can be released as soon as someone brings him some clothes."

John stood from his chair and glanced back at Landry.

"Go," Landry said and waved at the door.

"Thank you, sir," John replied, and left the office.

He stopped at the suite long enough to find Rodney's carry-all and dig out some clothes, stuffed the clothes in a bag, and picked up the new pair of boots an airman dropped off when he brought Rodney's belongings over to the suite. He then headed back to the infirmary.

John walked in as a nurse finished taping a new bandage around one of Rodney's wrists. He noted the other wrist and McKay's ankle were similarly wrapped.

"You're all set, Doctor McKay," the nurse said with a smile as she packed up her supplies. "Come back tomorrow evening so we can check the bandages."

Rodney nodded and absently rubbed his wrist. When he saw John standing a few feet away, he dropped his hands to his sides and hopped off the bed.

John didn't miss the hiss of pain as he landed on the taped ankle.

"Ready to go?" John asked as he handed over the clothes.

"More than ready," Rodney replied. "And hungry."

John chuckled. "Get changed, and we'll find you something to eat."

Rodney disappeared behind a screen with the clothes and John sat down on his bed to wait. He was still there a few minutes later when Ronon entered the infirmary and walked over.

"Finished already?" John asked.

Ronon shrugged. "It wasn't much of a contest."

"Rodney is getting changed, then we're heading to the mess hall."

"I could eat," Ronon said as Rodney came back over to the bed tugging at the sleeves of his shirt.

"I don't suppose you know where I can get --" He stopped speaking when John pointed to the boots waiting next to the chair.

"Thanks." Rodney sat in the chair and pulled on the boots.

Once he had his shoes tied, John led the way out of the infirmary and up one level to the mess hall. He shook his head and hid a smile as both Ronon and McKay loaded their trays. John found his own breakfast and led the way over to a table against the wall.

"The Daedalus is due to arrive in a few days," John said after they'd been eating for a few minutes. "Assuming they didn't run into any problems, we should be back in Atlantis in a month or so."

"Sooner the better as far as I'm concerned," Rodney replied, never looking up from his food. "I don't need to come back here any time soon."

John frowned at the comment but said nothing. He glanced up as a corporal entered the mess hall, looked around, and headed for their table.

Now what? John thought to himself as the corporal stopped at the side of their table. He saluted John and turned to McKay.

"Message for you, sir," he explained as he held out a folded sheet of paper.

"Umm, thanks," Rodney replied. He took the note, and the corporal left.

John watched as Rodney read the note, then pushed his half-full plate away.

"Rodney?" John asked. "What is it?"

Rodney ignored him as he stared at the note. He started to crumple the paper in his hand, but Ronon snatched it away from him.

"Hey!" Rodney exclaimed.

Ronon ignored him, read the short note, and passed it over to John.

"It's from Woolsey," Rodney said with a tired sigh as John read the note. "They're reconvening the enquiry into what happened on Doranda at ten this morning." He rubbed his arm. "I guess it was too much to hope that he would forget about the whole thing."

John frowned and glanced at his watch. "That's in twenty minutes."

Rodney drained his coffee cup and set it down.

John and Ronon exchanged a look as he finished the coffee and stood. "I should …" Rodney hunched his shoulders and nodded toward the door. "I'll, umm, see you later."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Rodney stopped outside the conference room long enough to tug his shirt sleeves back over his bandaged wrists, then took a deep breath and opened the door. The setup was the same as the last time he'd been here. Woolsey and the other IOA members sat at one end of the conference table while a lone chair sat at the other. He tried not to flinch as an airman set a video camera on the table in front of him as he sat down.

"Doctor McKay, thank you for coming," Woolsey said with a nod as he opened the leather folio in front of him.

"I wasn't aware that I had a choice," he replied without thinking.

Woolsey looked up with a glare and Rodney mentally kicked himself. If he wanted to get home, he told himself, he couldn't antagonise these people.

Woolsey let the silence linger a moment longer then said, "Where were we?" He scanned the pad of paper in front of him. "Ahh, yes," he looked up at Rodney, "we were discussing ways the vacuum energy source could have been safely repaired." Woolsey looked up from his notes. "Did you have --"

There was a brief tap on the door before it opened and Sheppard strolled into the conference room followed by Ronon.

Woolsey looked up at John with a frown. "Colonel Sheppard, I believe you were informed your testimony was not required at this time," he said, his posture stiff and his tone severe.

John pursed his lips as he moved one of the empty chairs around to Rodney's end of the table and sat down next to him. "See, that's where you're wrong, Mister Woolsey."

Ronon found another chair and sat on Rodney's other side, his arms crossed over his chest as he glared at the men and women at the other end of the table.

Rodney looked from one to the other, his expression a mix of confusion and gratitude. "Sheppard, what are you doing?" he hissed with a glance at Woolsey and the IOA members whispering at the other end of the table.

John ignored him. "You wanted to know what happened on Doranda, right? Well, I was there, right up until the end."

Rodney flinched at John's bald statement of how close they'd come to dying and focused on the wall behind Woolsey's head.

"What do you want to know?" John finished.

Woolsey set down his pen. "Colonel Sheppard, your actions over the last two days have not been above reproach --"

Rodney glanced from Woolsey's disapproving expression to Sheppard's look of calm resolve. There hadn't been any time for Rodney to ask how John had found him, but from the look on Woolsey's face, he knew it wasn't something the IOA had signed off on.

Rodney turned to Sheppard. "What did you do?" he asked in a loud whisper.

John glanced at him and shook his head. "Don't worry about it."

Rodney saw the irritated look on Woolsey's face, and he wondered if Atlantis was going to lose its military commander as well as its chief scientist. "Seriously, Sheppard, what did you do?" he tried again.

John pursed his lips. "I did what I had to do." He gave Woolsey a hard look, and Rodney was surprised to see Woolsey was the one to look away first. "Like I said," John told Rodney with a tight smile, "don't worry about it."

"Colonel Sheppard? Doctor McKay? If you don't mind, we'd like to continue." Woolsey nodded to the four other people seated at his end of the table.

Rodney gave Sheppard one last questioning look then turned back to the IOA members.

"Now, as I was saying," Woolsey picked up his pen and looked down at his notes, "we were discussing how the vacuum energy device could have been safely controlled."

"The machine blew up," Ronon cut in. "Why are we still talking about it?"

Woolsey sighed and dropped his pen again. "Mister Dex, I really don't think --"

"Now hang on a second," John interrupted. "Ronon has a point. The energy device and the weapon were never going to work. The Ancients stopped that research for a reason."

"You can't know that, Colonel," Woolsey argued. "Given enough time, it's possible --"

John turned to Rodney. "Would it have worked?"

Rodney looked from Sheppard to Woolsey.

"Knowing what we know now …" Rodney met Woolsey's eye and set his jaw. "No, the device was never going to work. Trying to harvest vacuum energy from our universe creates too many unstable particles. There would be no way to contain the energy output safely."

Ronon stood and pushed his chair back under the table. "If McKay couldn't get it to work, no one else was going to, either."

Rodney looked over at Ronon, not bothering to hide his surprise at Dex's vote of confidence. "I, umm --"

Woolsey frowned at Ronon. "Even if we were to concede that point, there is still the matter of Doctor Collins' death."

Rodney swallowed and refused to look at anyone. Collins' death had been a tragic accident, he knew that. But he had ordered Collins into the command access tube where he had died. If he hadn't done that …

John stood and tugged Rodney to his feet. "Mister Woolsey, I suggest you look up Doctor Harry Daghlian. Sometimes, bad things happen, and there's nothing we can do except make sure we learn from them."

"That is not an acceptable explanation, Colonel," Woolsey told him. "Doctor McKay's actions led to that man's death and the destruction of an important piece of technology. I would think you of all people would sympathise with our point of view. You were almost killed when the device overloaded and blew up."

Woolsey's statement hit too close to home, and Rodney flinched. Enough was enough. It was time to end this before Sheppard dug himself into a deeper hole on his behalf. "Can I say something?"

"That's rather been the point of this enquiry, Doctor," Woolsey told him, the impatience and frustration bleeding through his calm façade. "Please." Woolsey nodded to the chair at the end of the table. "Explain yourself."

"Rodney," John drawled, the warning clear in his tone.

Rodney waved a hand at him and sat back down, his back straight and his chin up. "I'm sorry about what happened to Doctor Collins. He was part of my team, and he died on my watch." He looked down at his hands clenched on the table. When he looked back up, his face was set, and he looked Woolsey in the eye.

"While I have to live with the consequences of his death, I didn't cause it. We were dealing with unknown technology. Mistakes," he glanced up at John, "were made, but none of those mistakes were made out of negligence or malice. Only ignorance." He couldn't help the look of distaste that crossed his face.

"You've read Doctor Zelenka's forensic notes on the first test, and the preliminary report on the second. I can sit here and try to explain the science to you if you like, but what it boils down to is this. The Arcturus Project was fatally flawed. It was the result of a scientific hypothesis that proved unworkable."

"While I may agree --" Woolsey started to say.

"You wanted to know what happened," Rodney interrupted. "That's what happened." He glanced at John, then Ronon, and stood. "The only thing left to decide here is if you're going to waste one of your best assets by recalling me back to Earth permanently, or if you're going to let me go back to Atlantis and get back to work."

Woolsey studied him for a moment, then closed the leather folio in front of him. "I see. In that case, Doctor McKay, I believe we're done here. I will inform you of this committee's decision by the end of the day."

Rodney gave Woolsey a stiff nod, then left the room without a backward glance.

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

Two weeks into the trip back to the Pegasus galaxy and Rodney still couldn't believe he was really going back. Back to Atlantis. Back to his lab, his life. His home. He wandered into the tiny mess hall, filled a cup with coffee and found a table where he could watch the streaking hyperspace effect out the window. He could calculate the math involved in achieving such speeds in his head but didn't bother. It was rather beautiful in its way.

He pushed the metal cup back and forth between his palms and considered how close he'd come to never seeing the light show again. Another trip to Earth, another near-death experience. It said something about his life that he felt safer on another planet in another galaxy than on his homeworld. If John hadn't found him when he did … Rodney felt a shudder run down his spine at the close call.

Then there was the Doranda fiasco, Woolsey, and the IOA committee. When Woolsey himself had shown up at the door to their suite, Rodney had expected to hear the news he was never going back to Atlantis.

"I thought we would have heard something by now," Rodney groused as he paced the room. "How long can it take to make a simple yes or no decision?"

"Hey, don't knock it," John replied from the desk in the corner. "It means their decision wasn't a forgone conclusion. The longer it takes, the better our odds."

"Our?"

John gave him a sour look. "Our. All for one, remember?"

Rodney walked over to the sofa, sank down with his head resting against the back, and closed his eyes. "What am I going to do if they decide I can't go back?" he muttered at the ceiling.

He felt the sofa bounce as John sat down at the other end. "Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

Rodney snorted and glanced over at John. "That's the best you can do?"

Before John could answer, there was a tap at the door.

"Doctor McKay?" Woolsey's voice drifted through the door.

Rodney swallowed and looked at John.

"You get the door. I'll get Ronon."

Rodney nodded and stood.

"Whatever the decision, we'll deal with it," John told him then turned to the bedroom.

Rodney took a deep breath and opened the door. "Mister Woolsey," he greeted, his tone as neutral as he could make it.

"May I come in?" Woolsey asked, his expression neutral, giving nothing away.

"Umm, sure," Rodney replied and opened the door wider.

"I wanted to deliver the committee's decision --" Woolsey broke off as John and Ronon walked into the sitting room. He turned back to Rodney. "This is a rather personal matter, Doctor, do you wish to continue in private?"

Rodney shook his head and walked over to where John and Ronon stood near the sofa. "Just spit it out," Rodney replied, and steeled himself for the bad news he knew was coming.

He hoped Woolsey would at least let him keep his clearance, maybe do some consulting work from time to time. At least that way, he might see Sheppard and the others occasionally through briefings or the weekly update from Atlantis.

Woolsey frowned. "In that case," he said and paused. "It was by no means a unanimous decision, and as head of the investigative committee, it fell to me to cast the deciding vote." Woolsey stopped and glanced from Rodney to John and Ronon. "After careful deliberation, it has been decided that you, Doctor Rodney McKay, shall not be held liable for the loss of the Arcturus device, nor for the death of Doctor Robert Collins. Once the Daedalus arrives, you are free to return to Atlantis."

Rodney sipped at the hot coffee and smiled as he remembered Ronon thumping him on the back hard enough that he nearly fell. John had given him a nod before he politely, but firmly, ushered Woolsey out of the room.

Now that he was going home, he allowed himself to think about the projects waiting for him once he was back in the city. He'd talked to Zelenka during the weekly check-in before Daedalus arrived. Radek had informed him he had found information in the database that referenced an underwater jumper bay somewhere along the northern arm of the city. He planned to send out a team to see if they could locate it in the next few days.

He and Radek had hypothesised the jumpers could be used as submersibles ever since the hurricane the previous year. If the new area proved to be an actual bay … He felt a jolt of excitement at the idea of exploring the ocean near the city. He suspected Sheppard would jump at the chance to try out one of the shuttles underwater.

Thinking of John reminded him that while things may be better between them, there was still an awkwardness, a hesitation on Sheppard's part that hadn't been there before Doranda. There had been several times over the week they had in Colorado while waiting for Daedalus where Rodney had suggested something they could do to pass the time, but John begged off, claiming meetings with General Landry or some other excuse to avoid contact.

He crossed his arms and stared out the window, no longer seeing the streaks of light. He knew Sheppard was still angry, John had said as much when they talked in the infirmary. Sheppard's actions, avoiding him as much as possible since then, proved he wouldn't be forgiven so quickly or so easily for what he had done.

He needed to talk to Sheppard, he decided. And sooner rather than later. The Daedalus had entered the Pegasus galaxy that morning, they would be back in Atlantis soon. He needed to know where they went from here. Could they still work together or not?

He picked up his coffee cup, found it empty, and stood. At the same time, John walked into the mess hall and froze when he saw Rodney standing by the windows.

"Umm, hi," Rodney said, and set the cup back on the table. " I was just, umm, coming to look for you."

"Oh?" John replied, his tone bland.

Rodney stuffed his hands in his trouser pockets. "I know Woolsey and the IOA determined I wasn't to blame for what happened to Collins and the Arcturus device. But I wanted to know …" He paused and stared out the window, then took a deep breath. "I wanted to know if you agreed with their decision."

John walked over and stood a few feet away from Rodney. He crossed his arms over his chest and refused to look at him as he watched the streaks of light out the window.

Rodney ducked his head. "I see," he whispered and sank back in his chair.

"I'm glad the IOA agreed to let you come back to Atlantis," John said and glanced at Rodney. "I told Woolsey after you left the meeting that you were probably our best chance for finding a way to defeat the Wraith once and for all."

He blew out a breath and stepped closer to Rodney's chair. "And I believe that I really do. But you asked me to trust you, and I did. And we both know what happened. It's going to take some time before I'm ready to take that chance again."

Rodney hunched his shoulders and stared out the window. "I'll do whatever I have to in order to earn that trust back," he promised.

John glanced over at him and nodded. "I'm sure you will."

Rodney sighed. "So, what happens in the meantime?"

John leant against the window and looked down at him. "We do what we always do. Like I said before, I'm still mad about what happened, but that doesn't mean I'm cutting you out of my life." He gave Rodney a tiny smile. "With how small Atlantis is, I doubt I could if I wanted to."

"Oh, ha-ha," Rodney replied in kind. "Still," he added a moment later, "you're doing better than Jeannie, I guess." He looked down at his hands. "She never saw the video I made before the siege," he admitted softly.

Rodney saw John flinch at the mention of the video and frowned. "What?" he asked.

"About that," John said, and hesitated. "Sergeant Harriman found the disc."

Rodney stared at John for a moment, unsure of what to do. He had tossed the disc in a drawer, hoping to forget about it. Forget the reminder of the rejection.

"He wasn't sure what to do with it and gave it to me," John added.

"Oh, umm." He gave John a sideways look. "Did you watch it?"

"No!" John exclaimed and stood up straight. "I wouldn't do that. Not without telling you first. I told him I'd get it back to you."

Rodney shook his head. "It doesn't matter now, I guess. Jeannie made it clear she's not ready to either forgive or forget yet."

John started to say something, but Rodney shook his head. "It's okay," he said with a crooked smile. "At this point, I'm used to it." He stood and took a few steps towards the door. "You said you have the disc? Here?"

John looked over at him and nodded.

"Go ahead and watch it if you want," Rodney told him. "Someone should."

~*~*~*~ SGA ~*~*~*~

A week later, John stood looking out the window in his quarters as the lights from Atlantis played across the water. It had been a long, frustrating month since the last time he'd had a chance to admire the view. Doranda. Vance. Finding out what Ronon did on Belkan.

How had so much gone so wrong so quickly? he wondered.

Alex Vance was still at large. Landry's contact at the FBI had several unconfirmed reports he had managed to escape from the US. One report said he was in Ecuador, others claimed he was somewhere in Asia. The bottom line was, he wasn't going to be caught any time soon.

Then there was everything with McKay, not to mention Ronon and Teyla's issues. They were all telling each other everything was fine, but John knew better. There were some serious problems with his team, and he needed to find a way to fix them. Before they ran into trouble on a mission.

He turned away from the window and spotted the computer disc sitting on the edge of his desk. He had yet to sit down and watch Rodney's message to his sister. Even though McKay had given him permission to watch it, a part of him still wasn't ready to start caring again.

Another part, however, was curious to know what Rodney would have said when faced with imminent death. Why would he be okay with John seeing what he assumed would be something incredibly personal given Harriman's reaction?

He stared at the disc a moment longer, then picked it up along with his computer, and sat on the bed with his back against the wall. After another brief hesitation, he inserted the disc into the computer and waited for the video to start.

Rodney sat in his lab in his shirt sleeves, staring at the camera.

"Ford, if you cut everything else, just … Keep this part, okay? Jeannie? This is your brother, Rodney ... obviously. I wanna s-say, um ... I wanna say something. Uh ... Family is important. I-I've come to realise that because the people here have become a sort of a ... kind of a surrogate family to me."

He gave the camera a shy smile and looked away.

John hit pause on the computer and stared at the happy expression on Rodney's face. McKay had no problem telling anyone around him what he thought when it came to a science problem or something they should be doing, be it repairs to the city or the planets they visited. But he rarely allowed anyone to see him so vulnerable.

Other than their conversation on a balcony where he'd told Rodney of Teyla's chaguo ndugu idea, McKay never talked about how important their relationship was to him. And he'd never said how he felt about Teyla, Elizabeth, or Carson, how important they were to him. To hear Rodney admit how much John and the others meant to him, and that he would say it so easily, surprised him.

He glanced over at the picture he'd found at the mine of himself and Rodney standing in the embarkation room after he'd been promoted. There had been a natural comfort to their relationship then. Something that had been missing over the last month of awkward encounters on the Daedalus and sideways glances.

Still, he reminded himself, once bitten, twice shy. McKay had said he understood John's point about taking unnecessary chances. Had even promised not to let his ego get so far out of control again. But until John saw the evidence for himself, he wasn't going to risk his trust.

He pursed his lips and hit the play button.

"Now, I know what you're thinking: I've never really been the poster child for that kind of sentiment but, uh, when ... when one's contemplating one's own demise, one tends to see things more clearly."

Rodney stared into the camera.

"I really do wish you the best, you know, and I'm sorry we weren't closer. Perhaps, um ... if by chance I make it out of this, perhaps one day we can be. And I would like that."

John paused the playback and pushed the computer off his lap as what Rodney had said sank in.

Everything came down to forgiveness. Alex Vance couldn't forgive or forget what had happened to his brother. He needed to blame someone, and Rodney had nearly paid the price for that anger.

Ronon refused to forget what happened with Kell. Now Kell was dead, and Ronon's relationship with Teyla had suffered as a result.

Rodney had never told John much about what happened between him and Jeannie to cause their estrangement. McKay, however, had tried to make amends. Jeannie had refused to even listen. She refused to forgive.

Which left Doranda. Rodney had apologised, more than once, for what had happened. John knew Rodney was sorry about what had happened, and he believed McKay when he said he would work to earn back the trust he'd lost.

Which meant John had to forgive. He hadn't been able to forgive David for what happened when they were younger, and he'd lost touch with his brother as a result. He glanced at the photo on the desk. He didn't want to make the same mistake again.

Sitting in his quarters, staring at McKay's frozen image on his computer screen, John set aside the anger and forgave. Willing to trust unconditionally again, would take longer, but he hoped they would get there in time.

He popped the disc out of the computer and stored it back in its case. He set the case on the shelf next to his bed. Safe. Someday he'd make sure Jeannie saw the video. He'd give her the chance to forgive as well.

FIN