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Quarks, Quantum Chromodynamics and Other Unproven Theories

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"Huh."

 

John palmed his pistol out of habit. "What is it, Rodney?"

 

Rodney shook his head and pressed more buttons as the console in front of him
changed colors slowly, giving information in a way only the Ancients could have
programmed. "Huh," he said again, frowning.

 

John knew the day had been too easy. "Rodney?" he prompted again, feeling the
tension string across his shoulders.

 

"I could have sworn -" Rodney went silent again, punching even more buttons.
This time a dull thudding sound accompanied the gesture as he pressed with more
force than was necessary.

 

"Rodney?" Elizabeth's concerned voice came up from behind both of them. John
supposed that's what he got for fondling his weapon in public.

 

Rodney made a rude noise. "Busy here."

 

John shrugged at Elizabeth's look of concern. "He's not speaking to me either.
At this point, I'm thinking it might be a handy skill to be able to repeat."

 

"I'm still in the room, you know," Rodney announced, not looking up.

 

"I know," John threw over his shoulder. "It's not like I talk about you when
you're not around. What would be the fun in that?" The string of tension in his
back coiled tighter; the longer it took for Rodney to figure out his 'huh', the
more running for his life John usually had in his future. John really *hated*
running for his life.

 

Finally, Rodney blew out a large breath, swiveled in his chair and glared. "I'd
give you a snappy comeback for that, but there are more important things to
worry about." He tapped a few buttons and a scrolling torrent of data appeared
on the large screen. "Like these anomalous readings that keep popping up and
then correcting themselves."

 

John pursed his lips and made a clicking noise in the back of his throat.
Apparently he had his own bad news noise. "I'm thinking that's not a good
thing."

 

"Whatever gave you that impression, Colonel?" Rodney eyed him, exasperation
clear in his every move. "Gee, it's just evidence of internal tampering,
whatever was I thinking? Let's go on with our lives carefree until we all die in
the big massive plot we decided to ignore."

 

"Internal tampering, huh?" John thought about that. "I'd have gone for an
intruder in the city." He watched as Rodney's eyes went wide with surprise,
before they narrowed with annoyance. John bounced on the balls of his feet and
grinned. It wasn't his fault that sometimes Rodney couldn't come up with *all*
of the possible negative sides to a situation.

 

Rodney shook his head abruptly. "I don't think so, Colonel, the tweaks are too
precise, too quick. Unless there's a ten-thousand year old training programs for
spies to infiltrate the great city of the ancients, the odds are that its
someone we know doing something they don't want us to know about."

 

"Rodney." Elizabeth stepped forward. "What exactly are these tweaks doing?"

 

Rodney made a frustrated sound. "I don't know. There are no tracks, just blips
in data that are slightly incongruous." His fingers raced over the console,
massaging the inputs with practiced ease. "Most of the time they're not even any
place I'd worry about, database storage mostly. Once in the diagnostic systems
for the chair, several in the medical databases, and mostly notably, the bulk of
the activity is appearing in systems we've yet to fully analyze." Rodney's
entire stance, despite its comfortable slouch behind the computer, held a line
of tension in its sloped shoulders.

 

"My spidey sense is tingling," John murmured, jockeying for a better look at the
screen.

 

"Ignoring that." Rodney pecked at a few more keys. "It's too smooth, it's got to
be someone who knows these systems and unless we've managed to miss an Ancient
floating around somewhere, I think one of our people is trying really hard to
cover something up."

 

John clapped a hand on Rodney's shoulder and gave him a reassuring shake. "Come
on, Mary Jane, buck up."

 

"Still ignoring you." Rodney took a moment to glare at him. "Elizabeth I think
that--"

 

"Rodney!" Dr. Zelenka ran into the control room and proceeded to shove Rodney
out of the way and into John. They tangled with each other, limbs crossing in an
effort to stay upright.

 

Rodney's chin ended up clanging into John's shoulder painfully and he inhaled
sharply – an appealing scent wafting into his nose, making him dizzy
momentarily, his arms going slack. Rodney's body slammed against him for one
scorching instant before it pulled away.

 

"My jaw! It's broken!"

 

John shook his head and rolled his eyes. "It is not."

 

Rodney rubbed his jaw tenderly. "Well it could have been."

 

"Rodney," Zelenka called. "Pretend to have a life threatening condition later,
look at this now."

 

Rodney moved away from John to stare at the screen and John let out a small
breath of relief. His entire left side still burned from the contact and
focusing his attention was a little difficult, "Whats up, docs?"

 

Shooting him an insufferable look, Rodney pointed at him. "There are so many
things I could say to that." He turned back to Zelenka. "What is this?"

 

"This," Zelenka pointed excitedly, "is notes."

 

"And that," Rodney pointed, his excitement also on the rise, "is a ZedPM."

 

Elizabeth joined them by the console. "Did you find a ZPM?"

 

Zelenka shook his head. "Better. These are notes on how ZedPM works, how to--"

 

"--make one, or at the very least, how to make the equipment to make one."
Rodney pointed at the screen. "It looks like, well… it looks like a
twelfth-grade paper on the combustion engine." He squinted. "I think we stumbled
onto some Ancient kid's homework."

 

"What is this ‘we?" Zelenka's insulted voice asked.

 

John didn't pay attention to the slight. There were more important things to
worry about. "You mean there's a chance in hell you two might understand it?"

 

Rodney turned to him, brow furrowed. "Whats that supposed to mean?"

 

"Nothing Rodney," John sighed. "Just that maybe this is a good place to start?
Understand the basics before trying for the hard stuff."

 

"That's assuming this paper is even worth the space it's saved on," Rodney
grumped.

 

Zelenka piped up. "There are teacher's notes at the bottom."

 

Rodney spun back to the computer. "How can you tell?"

 

"It works remarkably similar to Office's draft function."

 

"Oh good, we're doomed."

 

******

 

While Elizabeth, Rodney, and Zelenka holed up in a lab translating and
understanding their new discovery, John reorganized the patrols. He wasn't happy
with that 'huh' Rodney had had earlier.

 

Odds were if someone was doing something they shouldn't be doing, they were
going to *be* someplace they shouldn't be being.

 

The science labs were all a twitter, muted sounds of excitement were still going
on well into John's own patrol. Being in charge meant he could pick his own
route, cross-cutting through the other patrols and allowing him to follow his
gut.

 

He wandered the lesser used corridors, the ones on the fringes of their spaces,
where not every room was in use, and small cobwebs still rested in the corners.
Somewhere between the extra storage areas and the unofficially designated VIP
areas for state visits, the hair on the back of John's neck began to stand up.

 

Something spooky was definitely going on. "I don't suppose you wanna talk,
whoever you are?"

 

A nearby console flashed at him and made him jump. John shook his head and hoped
no one had seen that. "I think I'm going to put in for a vacation."

 

The console flashed again.

 

"What the hell?" John approached it warily. "If you blow up on me, I'm going to
be pissed."

 

It flashed for a third time.

 

He stepped up to it carefully and the screen continued to flicker randomly. John
tapped it on what they had discovered was the 'reset corner' and waited. It
stayed blank.

 

Walking away backwards, John kept a wary glance on the terminal and made a
mental note to talk to Rodney about it later.

 

******

 

The meeting that was called to update them all on the ZPM discovery happened
early the next morning. Elizabeth came in looking like she'd had a late night.
Rodney and Zelenka didn't look like they'd slept at all.

 

In fact, it looked like they'd mainlined all of the coffee on Atlantis.
Intravenously.

 

"Gentlemen?" Elizabeth prompted, "Any success after I left?"

 

Zelenka nodded excitedly. "Yes, it is an overly simplified how-to guide.
However, it has given us many new directions to look in."

 

"I don't like it," Rodney announced.

 

The entire room swung to look at him, Rodney was sitting tense in his seat, head
bowed, computer tapping in full swing.

 

Elizabeth leaned forward in her seat. "Rodney?"

 

Rodney shook his head. "I can't explain it, but something about it seems wrong."

 

"Professional jealousy perhaps?" Zelenka asked frowning. "You are just upset
that you did not come up with this yourself."

 

Rodney glared, shoulders hunched around him. "No, Radek, that's not it." His
hands spread out into the air. "I can't explain it, something just feels… off."
He finished helplessly.

 

Elizabeth studied them both before nodding slowly. "All right, Rodney, you're
advising prudence and that's enough for me. Be careful, both of you."

 

Rodney nodded, apparently satisfied.

 

John let out a little breath, still unsure how to bring up the next order of
business. "Rodney, did you get anywhere with those anomalies?"

 

Rodney's head shot up, a guilty look spreading across his face. "No, I didn't,
there was too much--"

 

John held up a silencing hand. "Not criticizing, just saying that I've noticed
some things are acting a little… wacky."

 

"Your grasp of the English language never ceases to amaze me. What exactly
went," Rodney made a face that let everyone in the room he detested the next
word out of his mouth, "wacky?"

 

John held up two fingers. "Twice, some random terminal on the outskirts of our
inhabited space started spazzing out on me." Possibly, he said that last one on
purpose.

 

"Spazzing out--" Rodney shook his head, "Never mind, I'll figure it out for
myself, I dont suppose you noted where these events occurred?"

 

Smiling easily, John pulled out a scrap of paper and handed it over to Rodney,
who picked it up between two fingers like he expected it to burst into flames or
bite him.

 

When they were all done and filing out of the briefing room, Rodney shuffled up
next to him and glared.

 

"What?" John asked.

 

"You waited until the *morning* to tell me?" Rodney followed him out of the room
and down the hallway.

 

Dropping his head, John ran a hand down the back of his neck. "You were busy and
silly me, I thought you might actually possibly get some sleep." He rolled his
eyes. "What was I thinking?"

 

Rodney followed him into the transporter. "Obviously you weren't."

 

"Obviously."

 

John watched Rodney fiddle with the computer in his hands, frowning intently. "I
still don't like it."

 

"Like what?" John leaned casually against the wall, arms crossed in front of
him. "You've got tons of cool scientific stuff to do, at least I'm pretty sure
that's what you said; that solitaire game I was playing was a killer."

 

Rodney's head shot up. "What?" He stopped himself. "No, once again, I'm not
asking." His hand waved in front of the screen he was holding. "I'm serious
here, something doesn't feel right!"

 

John shifted gears and straightened, taking him seriously. "Something is really
wrong?" he asked, as they made it into the lift.

 

"Yes!" Rodney snapped. "There's just something that isn't right."

 

Instincts were instincts and while Rodney was occasionally spectacularly wrong,
this didn't feel like one of those times. John moved closer to Rodney, peering
over his shoulder. "What is it?"

 

Rodney tilted his head to the left, giving John a look out of the corner of his
eye. John sucked in a deep breath, his body suddenly full of sharp and aching
sensations. Rodney's cheeks flushed and his eyelashes fluttered.

 

"The notes," Rodney rasped. "There's something about them that's…" he trailed
off, his eyes focusing somewhere on John's face.

 

"Wrong?" John suggested softly.

 

The flush on Rodney's cheeks deepened and he swayed gently into John's body, hot
and scorching against his side.

 

The lift stopped and they jumped apart.

 

John licked his lips and gestured for Rodney to go first. Rodney did, walking
quickly. "I don't know," he called over his shoulder. "Something's just not
right." He disappeared into the nearest lab.

 

The air in the lift felt cold and damning. John sighed and pressed another
button, watching the doors close. Not right indeed.

 

******

 

Atlantis sputtered around them in an uneven pattern, alternately perturbing the
science team and filling them with delight as occasional bits of data were
unlocked. They seemed to have found a plentiful cache of information in the last
breakthrough.

 

Rodney continued to make unhappy faces and noises and John studiously did not
take any more from that than normal.

 

Zelenka and Rodney made steady progress in their ZPM hunt, as they learned how
to manipulate the materials and machinery involved. John kept up the increased
patrols out of habit. Rodney's assertion that something was wrong nagged at the
back of his mind.

 

He tried not to be weirded out that Atlantis continued to give him the
heebie-jeebies. John was a paranoid man when it came to the hair on the back of
his neck, and he couldn't help but notice a few coincidences.

 

******

 

 

Days later, John sat at the conference table twiddling his thumbs. "So, you
think they forgot?"

 

Elizabeth shook her head. "He reminded me of this meeting, John, give them a
few--"

 

"--I don't understand how that's possible!" Rodney's voice shouted.

 

"--minutes." Elizabeth sighed. "Gentlemen, is there something I should know?"

 

Rodney lumbered in, his annoyance broadcasted with every fiber of his being.
"Yes, the newest 'paper,'" he bit out the word, "we found in what appears to be
in the bowels of Atlantis' fancy and Ancient recycle bin? Is a fake."

 

John sat up straight. "What? How can you tell?"

 

"Because," Zelenka said. "It does not read right."

 

"The information is wrong?" Elizabeth asked.

 

"No." Rodney shook his head. "It's all correct as far as I can tell. And let me
tell you it's at just about the edge of what I can understand." He slumped into
a chair, looking tired and strung out. "In fact, it's *exactly* at the edge of
what I can understand."

 

John watched Rodney rub the palms of his hands over his eyes. "How exactly does
it read wrong?"

 

Rodney looked at him from behind his hands. "I've spent nearly a year and a half
reading what little we could glean from Atlantis' databases. Everything from
notes about the proper handshake for some long dead head of state to detailed
schematics to most of the equipment in the control room and I'm telling you,
this," Rodney pointed to something on his screen, "reads wrong."

 

Zelenka looked up suddenly, grabbing the computer from Rodney's hands.

 

"Hey!"

 

"Shut up, I am thinking." Zelenka hummed, his brow furrowing. "If I did now know
better…"

 

"You don't." Rodney snatched the computer back, holding it close to his chest,
his left hand petting the edges slightly.

 

Zelenka shot Rodney a dirty look. "If I did not know better, it reads like one
of your papers."

 

Rodney looked at him oddly. "Are you sure?" He began to reread whatever it was
he had on his screen.

 

"Not your earlier works maybe," Zelenka said. "But those you have written since
you started incorporating Ancient technology? It has a very similar feel."

 

"Huh," Rodney said.

 

John went for his pistol. That reflex really had to stop.

 

Silence descended over the room as both Rodney and Zelenka studied the
information before them. John tapped his fingers against the table, whistling
tunelessly, which got him a withering look from Rodney. He gave him a wide smile
and continued whistling.

 

"You might be right," Rodney finally conceded.

 

"What does that mean?" Elizabeth asked.

 

"I'm more brilliant than we thought?" Rodney gave it a beat and shrugged.

 

John looked around the room, the prickly feeling crawling over his skin even
stronger than ever. "Something is going on here." He leaned in closer and
shifted his eyes around, automatically searching for something that shouldn't be
there. "I don't think any of this is a coincidence."

 

"Any of what?" Rodney asked.

 

"The anomalies, the sudden leaps in technological discovery, the McKay sounding
paper, it's all gotta be related."

 

Rodney leaned back in his chair and stared at him. "However did you guess?"

 

******

 

Rodney and Zelenka hatched a plan. It involved monitoring a whole lot of
Atlantis' extraneous systems while John kept up the patrols. It had been decided
that there had to be someone on the base itself doing this.

 

It pretty much boiled down to John being bait. Hooray for bait.

 

"Assuming," Rodney began, pacing around the room. "Whoever it is isn't already
aware that we know something is up, we should stick to a normal routine. Zelenka
is in the next room continuing the ZPM work."

 

"So I'll just be wandering around looking for used candy bar wrappers," John
muttered. "This should be fun, dealing with someone who obviously knows the
systems well enough that it took us this long to figure it out. God knows what
he knows about the physical layout of the city."

 

"Yeah well, be careful," Rodney said from his side of the room, not looking at
him. John could see more words simmering under the surface of Rodney's skin --
moving fast and awkward. Rodney's face was shadowed; the lines around his eyes
and lips looked deep and painful.

 

"Hey now," John said quietly. "This is a walk in the park compared to some of
the things we've done."

 

Rodney shook his head and the shadow dissolved away. "Of course it is, did I say
it wasn't?"

 

"Not at all." John smiled brightly, the grin feeling painful on his face. "I'll
be patrolling about 1600. It's my early day, you two gonna be ready?"

 

"We'll be fine." Rodney shooed him away. "Now leave, I've got a million
important things to do and only enough time for half of them."

 

******

 

Rodney's steady voice in his ear kept John company as he wound his way around
the city in increasingly frustrated circles. After the seventh time he'd been
told to head in the completely opposite direction John made a grumpy noise into
his headset. "Rodney, are you sure you know what you're doing?"

 

"I'm not answering that."

 

Well good, he was annoyed. Rodney always worked better when he was annoyed.

 

Something flicked out of the corner of his eye. John readjusted the grip on his
P-90 and slipped into the closest room. At first glance, it wasn't any different
than most of the other rooms they hadn't cleared yet: panels and consoles
covered with tarps, miscellaneous equipment scattered around in what seemed like
random placement.

 

John spotted a bit of rolled-up material stuffed between the wall and a large
octagon shaped thing. He kneeled down to examine it, to find it was a battered
looking bedroll, standard issue.

 

Behind it was a bag full of unspecified items and behind that was what looked
like an Atlantis Expedition issue tablet computer. Standing carefully, John took
a spin around the room, looking for anything else helpful before collecting what
he found. "What are you doing?" he muttered to himself.

 

"What?" Rodney squawked in his ear. "Are you there yet?"

 

"Not now, Rodney, I think I found something." John shook his head. "What are you
doing here and why are you helping us?" he asked again, staring thoughtfully at
the belongings.

 

"I'm here because I've got nothing left," came a quiet voice from behind him.

 

John spun, P-90 aiming before he even he stopped. A shadowy figure stood in the
corner of the room, computer in hand. He took careful aim. "Who are you? What do
you want, really?"

 

The figure stepped into the light, shadows receding from his face like a slow
blanket pulling away. "Hello, John," the man said softy.

 

John's hand fell to his side in surprise. "Rodney?"

 

"What?" Rodney said in his ear.

 

John's eyes narrowed. He ignored his radio and stared the other Rodney. He was
older, the lines around his eyes and mouth deeper. Gray hair crept up from his
temples and his eyes -- his eyes held a sadness that made John's chest ache.

 

Rodney's mouth tightened and he nodded slightly. "You know, part of me was
worried you wouldn't recognize me." He took a few steps further into the room.
"I assume you're on vox?"

 

Nodding absently and ignoring the yelling in his ear, John got closer to Rodney,
taking in the new scars; there was something just below his jaw, thin and
slightly discolored. "Someone's probably already on their way."

 

"Right." Rodney nodded, but didn't move any further, just stared, his gaze warm
and tired. "I'm sort of disappointed it took this long. I've been around for
about two months."

 

John found himself moving without thought. He tapped his radio. "Hey, Rodney,
call off whatever dogs you've got, I'm fine. Give us a few minutes?"

 

Rodney slumped next to him. "Thank you," he said quietly, just as Rodney
squawked indignantly in John's ear.

 

"No problem," John said as a hand ghosted down his shoulder, a trail of warmth
that slid across his skin leaving goose bumps. He shivered lightly.

 

"Sorry," Rodney said, pulling his hand away and bowing his head. "I just can't
believe you're real."

 

Instinct overcame self-preservation and John curled his hand around the older
Rodney's shoulder, squeezing tightly. Rodney gave him a startled look, and his
mouth twisted in surprise.

 

Suddenly John was being hugged tightly, Rodney's arms bands of steel around his
midsection. Awkwardly he returned the gesture, slowly patting Rodney's
shoulders. As the body next to John's shuddered silently for long seconds, the
patting settled into slow circles.

 

The contact didn't last long. Rodney's hold loosened and he pulled back just as
abruptly as he'd started. His face held no trace of whatever had just gone
through his head, but his eyes looked a little bit lighter. "I'm man enough to
admit that I just might have missed you." He smiled, but it faded abruptly.

 

John's heart stuttered, a wave of understanding washing over him like a cold
shower. "So, I'm guessing it's been longer than two months since you've seen
me?"

 

Rodney nodded. "I might have even missed your hair." He made an aborted movement
towards John, his hand lifting, before dropping back to his side.

 

"How long has it been?"

 

Rodney shook his head. “Too long.” He lumbered over to a chair and sat down
slowly, slumping comfortably against the back, swinging his feet up to rest on a
nearby box. "I could really go for some food and a very long nap. The SubCu wore
off about three weeks after I got here." He rolled his wrist and flexed his
hands. "That ache just likes to dig in.”

 

John tilted his head in amusement. "Make yourself at home." He pulled up another
crate next to Rodney's feet and made himself a space to sit. "SubCu?"

 

Rodney pulled up his sleeve to reveal a small lump on his upper arm. "There were
some very bad birth control comments when it first came out."

 

The skin looked clean and new, the only telltale sign was a barely there scar at
one end. John raised his hand in silent question, and with Rodney's nod, traced
over soft skin and felt the telltale wrongness of the lack of give in that one
spot. "What's in it?" John asked.

 

Rodney rolled his sleeve back down. "This and that: vitamins, a pain killer here
and there, things with lots of vowels that I've given up trying to pronounce."

 

Taking it in stride, John nodded. He lived on Atlantis after all, and the thing
did sound kind of useful. "So why the ruse?"

 

"Blah blah blah, timeline contamination." Rodney sighed tiredly, closing his
eyes and tilting his head back against the wall. "Blah blah blah temporal
paradox, blah blah blah the end of the universe as we know it." His eyes peeked
open. "Did you follow all that or were the words too big?"

 

John couldn't help but smile; time apparently didn't change Rodney much. "So
what was the plan then, spoonfeed us Ancient secrets?"

 

"Purely selfish, I assure you," Rodney said. "I was lonely."

 

"Uh huh." John wasn't buying it.

 

They held each others gaze for long seconds, longer than John had expected, but
finally, Rodney relented. "I wasn't going to change anything other than the
timeline of technology."

 

"And then what? Go back?" John pressed, because Rodney was too quiet, too still.
There was something missing and he wanted to know what.

 

Rodney, however, only nodded, "Yeah, and then go back."

 

"Right." John moved to touch his radio. "You up for some company?"

 

Before Rodney could answer, the door slid open. "Finally!" Rodney stalked in and
stopped short in front of the bed. "Well, at least I didn't lose any more hair."

 

The Rodney sitting down laughed. "Forgot about the radio. I must be tired."

 

John started; he'd forgotten too. At least that saved some repeat conversation.
"Rodney," he said addressing the younger one. "Meet Rodney."

 

Rodney examined his double sitting in the chair and paled. "Good god, how old
*are* you?"

 

The other Rodney on the put his hand over his heart and looked shocked. "My
mother always said you should never ask a lady her age."

 

Rodney's mouth snapped shut with an audible click and for half a beat it looked
like he didn't have an answer. "My mother also said 'Cut the crap.'"

 

John watched the two of them, fighting back laughter. "Rodney?"

 

"What?" they both answered.

 

The older one rolled his eyes. "Call me McKay."

 

Rodney harrumphed. "Don't I get a say in this?"

 

McKay shot Rodney an annoyed glare. "Would you rather I be called--"

 

"Nevermind! McKay it is!" Rodney quickly interrupted.

 

Not wanting to let them ramp up, John stood. "Come on McKay, Beckett's gonna
wanna get a look at you."

 

"Carson?" McKay's eyes looked suspiciously bright. "Yes, Carson, let's go see
him." Despite his enthusiasm, his movements were slow and practiced. John
offered a hand and McKay eyed it suspiciously, his gaze darting around the room,
before he took it and used it to help haul himself up.

 

The calluses on McKay's hand felt odd and familiar to John; they were the hands
of someone who used a gun often. More often than Rodney currently did. John
frowned but said nothing as they escorted McKay to the infirmary.

 

Zelenka met them outside the door, looking at McKay with wide eyes. John watched
McKay give him a mischievous grin and wave. Only McKay would get this much kick
out of time travel. With only a subtle head bob, John had them arranged around
McKay, so they wouldn't be pinned with too many curious stares along the way.

 

Beckett had his back turned when they entered "What's the emergency, Colonel--"
He turned and got a good look at their visitor.

 

" Carson." McKay waved again. "Long time no see."

 

Beckett sat down hard in his chair. "Well now, this is actually unexpected."

 

"Yes, yes," Rodney busted in. "Let's all gawk at my older, less attractive
looking self."

 

McKay sniffed. "I prefer the terms gracefully aged, and dignified charm."

 

"Well," Beckett said over Rodney's protests, "it certainly sounds like him." He
turned to John, "I suppose it's my job to make sure it actually *is* him?"

 

"Oh goody." McKay clapped his hands together and rubbed vigorously. "I haven't
been invasively examined in months now. I can't wait."

 

******

 

Once Elizabeth got wind of all the details, she demanded an update as soon as
Beckett was done with his examination.

 

Thanks to the Ancient technology, things that might've taken hours took a
fraction of the time and their questions were soon answered. Beckett confirmed
that as could tell, McKay was indeed the real McCoy, and they headed to the
briefing room

 

Beckett and McKay filed into the briefing room last. John watched Beckett watch
McKay sit down; he noted some of the care McKay had needed earlier was missing.
Beckett must have given him something for whatever was wrong.

 

Elizabeth looked at McKay for a long moment. "Well, this wasnt something I was
expecting ever to do again."

 

McKay just waggled his eyebrows and shrugged.

 

Rodney smacked his hand down on the table. "Are through with the pleasantries?
Can we get on to the important things like the fact that he obviously knows how
to make ZedPMs?"

 

"I've got all of my notes," McKay said. "I'm sure you'll have no trouble
following them."

 

"I'll have no trouble following them," Rodney mimicked under his breath.

 

John pinched the bridge of his nose. "Is there anything else you can help us
with?"

 

McKay threaded his fingers and rested them on the table in front of him. "I've
been trying to unlock some of the databases that might be useful, but I wasn't
originally the one who did most of the work, so it might take a while."

 

"Now hold on a minute," Elizabeth interrupted. "It's not that I don't appreciate
all the help, but is this wise?"

 

"I don't plan on giving all of you detailed future histories of yourself. I'm
just going to help you along the technological trail that you'd have bumbled
down anyway."

 

"Hey!" Rodney practically stood up.

 

"Rodney!" John intervened. "Sit down, shut up, and take your personality with a
grain of salt, just like the rest of us."

 

Rodney harrumphed, but kept his tongue.

 

John turned back to McKay, taking in his amused demeanor. "Wow, you've
mellowed."

 

"Not really." McKay replied, not looking the least bit annoyed. "He's just
working on an ulcer."

 

All the heads in the room swung to Rodney who looked as startled as the rest of
them. "Carson?"

 

Beckett donned his comforting face. "It's alright, Rodney, we'll check it out."

 

John turned back to McKay just in time to see the smile slip from his face as
something crept into his eyes. In the background, he heard Beckett placating
Rodney. McKay's gaze caught his and he couldn't look away, John recognized
something inside it, a small wilting spark that he'd seen before in soldiers
back from war, or widows at the end of a funeral. McKay broke away first,
refocusing on the argument happening across the room.

 

Rodney was in the middle of clutching his stomach and Beckett looked about three
steps away from hitting him. "Rodney," he said, teeth clenched. "We'll get you
into the infirmary as soon as possible." He sighed, "I don't suppose it'd do me
any good to suggest you lay off the coffee?" At Rodney's horrified look, Beckett
shook his head. "Thought not."

 

"Gentlemen," Elizabeth chastised. "The subject at hand, please?" Once everyone
settled down again, she went on. "Rodney-- McKay," she corrected herself
quickly, "how did you get here?"

 

"I found Janus' notes a few years ago my time," McKay said. "It wasn't too
complex once we had full power, just time intensive."

 

" Elizabeth accepted the explanation without comment. "The next logical question
would be why?"

 

McKay didn't answer right away and John had the sneaking suspicion there was
more involved than just keeping the timeline intact.

 

"Let's just say," McKay said slowly, voice rough. "I'm the Hail Mary."

 

Oh Jesus, that was just too -- John's gut clenched in horror as he translated --
disaster. Disaster too huge and devastating to think about, the kind that could
hinder Rodney McKay and turn him into the strange shell sitting before them. In
a flash, John added up all the little things that bothered him: the quietness,
the slow movements, the sadness that tinged all of his actions. Sometime in the
future they failed so spectacularly that the only recourse was to go back and
try again.

 

Rodney however wasn't satisfied, "So you've decided to take a big eraser to
history?"

 

"Yeah," McKay sneered. "That's exactly what this is, a playful romp through the
annals of time."

 

"Children!" John barked. "Fight later, pretend to be grown ups now." He pointed
at McKay, still feeling unsettled. "Anything else you're willing to tell us?"

 

McKay shook his head. "I'm not willing to do more than help you figure out the
Ancient technology. Anything more than that and there's no way I could begin to
predict the consequences."

 

"You're kidding me, right?" Rodney asked.

 

"Fine," McKay said. "Try not to die, pretty much all of you do." He turned to
Rodney. "Happy?"

 

"Not really, no." Rodney crossed his arms. "Could you try to be a little more
vague?"

 

McKay crossed his arms right back. "There are things I want to make sure happen
and they're not the sort of things you can plan out."

 

"I believe in serendipity in my old age?" Rodney turned to Beckett. "Are you
sure he's sane?"

 

Beckett shifted uncomfortably. "Yes, his brain is perfectly fine."

 

John frowned and stared at Beckett who continued to look uncomfortable. "But?"
He prompted.

 

"But nothing," McKay answered. "I'm perfectly sane." He straightened his clothes
self-consciously. "Just a bit older."

 

"How much older?" Rodney asked.

 

McKay looked up, humor lighting his eyes. "I thought we covered the age thing
earlier."

 

John watched as McKay successfully sent Rodney into sputtering incoherent
half-sentences, taking mental notes. It seemed like a useful skill. He also
thought that Rodney was exaggerating the age thing; McKay looked more tired than
anything else. The extra wrinkles and graying hair couldn't have added more than
fifteen years.

 

"Gentlemen," Elizabeth interrupted again.

 

"Sorry," McKay said, sounding almost like he meant it. "But my younger self over
there isn't thinking about the consequences of knowing even the most innocuous
details." He turned to John. "Also, you're right, it *is* fun to ramp me up."

 

John's head perked up. "Don't suppose I could get that in writing?"

 

"Actually," Rodney snapped. "That's exactly what I was thinking."

 

"Well stop it." McKay shook his head.

 

"I'm afraid I have to agree with Dr. McKay," Elizabeth said. "The older one,"
she added as Rodney opened his mouth to speak. "I'd prefer if we not corrupt the
timeline more than needed."

 

Rodney pointed a finger at her. "But when you--"

 

"That was different," Elizabeth interrupted. "She was telling us of events that
happened in the past."

 

John heard Rodney mutter quietly. He shook his head in amusement; Rodney wasn't
going to give up without a long and dirty fight. There might possibly be hair
pulling. "Rodney, give it up, he's older than you and knows your bag of tricks."

 

Rodney made an angry noise, but slumped in his seat.

 

McKay opened his mouth go say something, but yawned hugely instead. "Sorry," he
muttered, "but manipulating a 10,000 year old system so that there are as few
traces as possible and then sacking out on the floor, isn't conducive to a good
night's rest."

 

John watched Beckett abort a movement to the older man's side. Elizabeth's sharp
eyes must have caught it too because she nodded. "Let's let our guest get some
rest." She held up a hand to forestall the protest they all knew was coming from
Rodney. "I'm sure Dr, McKay will be happy to hand over enough material to keep
us all occupied while he's indisposed."

 

Backing her up, McKay nodded. "I dug up an older flash drive. It's still a few
years ahead of you guys, but backwards compatibility was still in style last
time I checked." He attached it to his computer and started moving files. "I'll
throw all the ZedPM notes on there and few other things besides." He looked up
with a small smile. "You'll be in heaven and won't even notice I'm not there."

 

After that, the meeting cleared out quickly. Elizabeth stopped John before he
could get up. "I think you should spend some time with him." She gestured to
where McKay and Beckett were talking quietly. "As much as I agree with what he
said…" she trailed off meaningfully.

 

John nodded. "He's been on the run for god knows how long; it'd be cruel to
leave him to his own thoughts." He eyed McKay from across the room; the older
face, the thin veneer of strength stretched over frailty. He looked thin and
tired. With Beckett towering over him, even the force of his personality wasn't
enough to even out the visual.

 

Elizabeth patted him on the shoulder and left.

 

"Rodney!" Beckett's raised voice came from where he and McKay were talking. He
was obviously having trouble remembering the name thing. John didn't blame him.

 

"Carson," McKay's lowered voice said. "I said no." He left no room for argument.

 

Beckett's shoulders slumped. "Fine." John had to strain to hear as Beckett bent
close to McKay, "but I'll be checking in on you so often you'll wish you said
yes."

 

McKay nodded. "You can try."

 

John decided it was time to step up to the plate. "Come on, McKay, I think I got
volunteered to find you a place to stay."

 

McKay pushed away from the table, standing up with only a small wince. "Carson,"
he acknowledged and then moved past him to stand next to John. "Well, lead the
way."

 

******

 

John let McKay set the pace, surprised when it became a slow amble. Even when
injured, Rodney seemed to run off of some sort of weird frenetic energy source.
When McKay veered off from their path, John let him, following curiously without
a word. They wandered through the corridors carefully, McKay taking turns
seemingly at random, but he never hesitated, never stopped to think about it, so
John didn't speak up.

 

Finally they stopped in front of one of the more isolated balconies. McKay
looked at him, silently asking for permission.

 

John shrugged. "Sure."

 

McKay swung the doors open and stepped outside, stopping just on the other side
of the threshold, basking in… something John couldn't see.

 

"Like the view?" McKay called back to him.

 

John stepped out next to him and looked around. It wasn't all that different
from most of the other views on Atlantis, spectacular, but you' seen one, you'd
seen them all. He took another step and as the angle shifted, the mist aligned
with the sunlight. He gasped in surprise at the rainbow danced in the air,
wrapping around Atlantis like a bow. Then he squinted; by tilting his head, the
spectrum of colors seemed--

 

"The white light here isn't quite the same as that on earth," McKay explained.
"It breaks down differently."

 

"Oh," John said, too distracted by the wavering rainbow to say anything else.

 

"We discovered it a few years ago, or from now, depends on your perspective."
McKay moved to stand next to him. "Sorry I took us on this little detour, but I
figured if I was going to be interrogated, I might as well have a good view."

 

John looked at McKay only to discover him still gazing off into the horizon.
"This isn't an interrogation."

 

"Excuse me." McKay gave him an awkward smile. "Friendly conversation." He
wandered over to a shadowed section to their right. "Now, if I remember
correctly, ah ha." He lifted off a white silken tarp, unlatching its secure
holdings with ease. Beneath it were several low-laying mutated beach chairs.
McKay dragged two of them out to the center and sat down on the one closest to
him. "There, all comfy. Please commence the questioning that's carefully
disguised as friendly conversation but is actually meant to elicit little bits
of information."

 

John snagged the other chair and settled in. "There is no interrogation," he
insisted. "We just thought you'd like some company."

 

"No." McKay shook his head, gathering the drape that had been covering the
chairs in his lap. "You thought that. Elizabeth is hoping that by sending you to
keep me company, she'll be able to say it wasn't her idea when I accidentally or
not so accidentally feed you information."

 

"Youve gotten paranoid in your old age." John settled into his chair, surprised
at how comfortable it was.

 

"I've always been paranoid." McKay arranged the fabric in his hands so that it
draped over his legs. "The knees respond to cold more than they used to," he
explained.

 

"So," John started after long moments of silence. "Got any words of wisdom?"

 

"Yeah," McKay said. "Don't piss off the Wraith."

 

"Good advice."

 

"I know."

 

McKay seemed content to sit quietly. His eyes fluttered halfway shut and his
breathing evened out. John watched his chest rise and fall carefully,
contemplating the movements, something bothering him about them.

 

"You died slowly and horribly, screaming in agony." McKay's voice startled John
in its suddenness. "And I got to watch," he finished tightly.

 

"What happened to not corrupting the timeline?" John asked, trying not to think
of dozens of the most obvious ways his death could fit that description.

 

"What can I say?" McKay's eyelids didn't flicker; he continued to resemble
someone mostly asleep. "I'm a selfish bastard. Besides, I haven't really told
you all that much."

 

There were times that John knew you had to shut up and let it come to you.
"Well, I know that I die slowly, probably while captured, most likely by the
Wraith, that you're there, and that you escape." John was never very good at
shutting up. He ticked off each bit of information on his fingers.

 

"Very good." McKay still hadn't moved. "Is this where Im supposed to absently
correct you?"

 

"I'm not trying to trick you!" John snapped, annoyed.

 

"I wish you would," McKay said quietly. "There's a lot of things I'd like to
talk to you about."

 

John's eyes widened in surprise. "So then, this," he gestured between the two of
them, "was you being subtle?"

 

A smug grin tugged at McKay's lips. "Maybe."

 

"You little shit." John laughed. "Older and wilier."

 

"Pet names aren't going to get you anywhere."

 

Something in the lilt of McKay's voice stopped John short. There was an extra
layer of warmth added to the already complex web their Rodney hadn't quite built
up himself. It hid beneath the strange vulnerability that McKay carried with
him, but it was still there. "What aren't you telling me?"

 

McKay opened his eyes fully and swung his legs over the side of the foot rest,
pulling himself completely upright. John followed suit. "A lot of things, John.
A lot of things."

 

They faced each other, a strange tension palpable between them.

 

"Ask me," McKay said. "Ask me why I call you John." He leaned forward, pressing
one hand gently on John's knee. "Ask me," he said again, almost pleading.

 

John swallowed roughly; a tingle of energy ran from the hand on his knee up his
spine. "I-- I-- what happened to the rules?" His voice had dissolved into a low
rasp and his hand moved to cover McKay's.

 

"Screw the rules," McKay said harshly. "I can't--" He stopped when his voice
broke. "I can't do this without bending some of the rules."

 

That's when John saw him break just a little, the calm man that had answered all
of their questions, who had submitted to all of their tests, cracked around the
edges. "Why?" John whispered, the word falling from his lips before he could
stop it.

 

McKay surged forward, showing more energy in that second than he had the entire
time since John had met him. His lips collided with John's; hungrily kissing him
with a desperation that scared him. John made a small noise in the back of his
throat, because any way you diced it, this was Rodney kissing him so fiercely
and it was perfect and amazing and like a hurricane on a clear day.

 

The hands on his knee tightened in a vice grip, so John used his other hand to
cup McKay's cheek, to slow him down before they both drowned. McKay's sweet
mouth nibbled at John's lips then licked his way inside, mapping each curve with
determined enthusiasm, all the while making small desperate noises.

 

John's back burned with the awkward angle and McKay's energy slowly dwindled
until finally they separated in a series of small, aching kisses. McKay slid off
the chair and to his knees and pressed his chest firmly against John's, locking
arms around him and holding tightly.

 

He buried his face in John's breast bone and breathed deeply, shaking. "Sorry,"
he said, voice muffled. "It's been a while."

 

Carefully, John hugged back, tracing down McKay's spine, frowning slightly at
the easily felt bones. Eventually he ended up drawing slow circles on his back.
"S'okay, Rodney," he said, breaking the name rule. "S'okay." He pressed a short
kiss into McKay's hair.

 

Eventually McKay pulled away, looking up into John's eyes, and for a brief
moment he couldn't help but feel like an intruder into something he couldn't
understand because he hadnt lived through it, but then McKay kissed him again.
Slowly and carefully, they traded kisses; hands trailing warm tingles down
John's back, knowing exactly where to touch.

 

John found his way to McKay's neck, nibbling lightly at the stubble, smiling at
McKay's uncontrolled gasp. It was slow and dreamlike and warm and comfortable
and sweet and John found himself aching from the inside out.

 

Until McKay shifted and hissed in pain. "My knees," he murmured.

 

John eased away and helped him back into his chair. Once McKay was seated again,
he smiled at John brightly. "And to think, I could barely keep up with you
before."

 

"Okay, self pity really isn't your style," John said, squeezing his hand.
"Complaining till you're blue in the face? Maybe."

 

McKay made a face that seemed to say 'blah blah, heard it all before.' "So," he
said tracing a finger over the back of John's hand. "I really am beat. Think we
can find those quarters now?"

 

John kissed him again firmly, enjoying the strange illicit feeling. "Come on,
before I forget myself and drop you off a ledge."

 

McKay laughed, standing slowly. "Just go ahead and pull my pigtails. I promise
not to go crying to Elizabeth."

 

******

 

Later, after McKay stumbled wearily into bed, John watched him drop off into
sleep within the blink of an eye and thought very hard about what had happened.

 

He couldn't quite bring himself to feel bad. Of course, there was a part of him
that knew it was all a horrible idea, that McKay was clinging to him like John
was his security blanket. Considering how much they needed McKay whole and in
one piece for as long as possible, the ruthless soldier inside of him was all
for the idea. However, the best friend inside of him wilted at the thought of
stringing McKay along. Then, deep in the dark recesses of his own mind, he
admitted that maybe he was doing a bit of using himself.

 

McKay twitched in his sleep, clutching at his pillow tightly. John smoothed a
hand over his brow, feeling the deep lines in his skin. "I'm here, Rodney, I'm
here." The effect was almost instantaneous; McKay quieted down and his fingers
relaxed their hold.

 

Trapped like a rat on a sinking ship. John resigned himself to getting the shit
kicked out of him on a number of different levels over the coming days.

 

He slipped out once he was sure McKay was well and truly asleep and snagged his
laptop from his office. It wouldn't be fair to leave the man alone, but he
wasn't going to be bored while doing his good deed.

 

He took the opportunity to catch up to Elizabeth and inform her of his new plan.
Not the one that involved kissing and hugging and possibly sex, but the one that
was sane, if a bit sentimental. He also ran into Rodney, who he hoped hadn't
seen the flush creeping up from under his collar.

 

"How's naptime at the retirement village going?" Rodney asked.

 

Okay then, obviously not noticing. "Well it was a little dicey earlier when he
got a whiff of the mashed banana, but he settled down when I threatened to take
away his Ensure --what the hell is the matter with you?" John asked, annoyed.

 

"Nothing," Rodney dismissed, already walking away.

 

"Well then," John called after him. "I'll tell him you inquired about his
health."

 

Rodney ignored him and ducked into a side corridor.

 

"I'm sure he'll be glad to know you cared!" John yelled, mostly in good nature.

 

Rodney's "Shut up!" could be heard faintly in the distance.

 

John smiled, whistling an off-key tune as he strolled back to McKay's room.

 

Hours of paperwork, email memos, and endless games of solitaire later, the door
slid open soundlessly. Beckett stood framed in the doorway, startled to see him
in the room.

 

"Hey," John greeted quietly. "Looking for me?"

 

Beckett shook his head and pointed. "Him. The lunatic that thinks I'll just let
this go."

 

John put down his computer and assumed his usual careless slump. "Let what go?"

 

"You tell him," McKay's rusty voice said from under the covers, "I talk about
that incident with the rice pudding."

 

John watched Beckett go bright red, straighten his shoulders, and make a grim
face. "I was twenty," he said. "She was a red head, and there was a lot of
slipping."

 

McKay's head popped up from under the blankets and blinked at him blearily.
"Huh, didn't really expect that."

 

Oddly, it was a relief to see McKay not all-knowing about something.

 

"Now." Beckett set his case down and sat on the edge of the bed. "Will you let
me check up on you?"

 

"Fine," McKay grumbled, shuffling into an upright position. "But I'm not going
to change my mind."

 

"Bloody stubborn mule," Beckett muttered, digging into his bag taking out his
stethoscope and an Ancient scanning device.

 

The juxtaposition of the two, as always, made John blink. "I'll leave you two
alone for this bit." He went to stand.

 

"No," McKay said quietly. "Stay." He waited patiently for John to resume his
previous position before going on. "Carson can just learn a bit of discretion."

 

"He's got a serious condition that he won't let me treat," Beckett said
pointedly, not looking up from his scans.

 

"Godamnit." McKay blustered. "Would you *stop* that?" He glared at Beckett
before turning to John. "Fine, I have cancer, now maybe he'll stop holding it
over my head."

 

"Aye, and I've got a sheep that shits gold," Beckett muttered.

 

"Cancer? What kind?" John asked, reeling from the word. Cancer. It boomed around
in his head, echoing, although it did explain a lot

 

"Leukemia," McKay answered. "Possibly the beginnings of bone cancer, though I
think I'm just not used to running around without my meds."

 

John ran a hand through his hair and let Beckett finish his scans while the
information sank in. The point of contention between McKay and Beckett seemed to
be treatment. From the snippets of conversation John overheard, McKay only
wanted to treat the symptoms, but not the cause. Beckett objected strenuously
and John frankly agreed with him.

 

"I trust," McKay said conversationally, "that nothing's changed all that much in
the last few hours?"

 

The glimmer of hope in McKay's eyes made John sit up and take notice. On the
surface, McKay had a sort of casual air about him, that of a man who knew his
fate and was pretty much resigned to it, but underneath was something more, a
spark of knowledge that--

 

"You're using it as a gauge?" John asked incredulously. "You're assuming that
the cancer was caused by some event that you're hoping to avoid?"

 

McKay ducked his head. "No assumptions necessary. I'm fairly sure of it."

 

"That's ridiculous!" Beckett snapped. "You can't be sure."

 

The distant reflection of memory shone in McKay's eyes. "Yes I can."

 

"You're insane," John pronounced slowly, just in case McKay had trouble hearing.
"You're refusing treatment because you've got some crazy idea that it's all for
the greater good?"

 

"No," McKay said. "I've already told you, I'm a selfish bastard."

 

Beckett huffed, slamming his bag around as much as he dared. "You're a dying
selfish bastard."

 

McKay flinched and looked away, eyes focused steadily on the floor. "Yes, I am."

 

"Here." Beckett fished out a small bottle. "Take these once a day and these," he
fished out another bottle, "twice a day, with food."

 

"Never thought I'd miss the SubCu injections," McKay sighed. "Fine, I'll take
the pills, they'll help me through the day anyway." He carefully popped open one
of the containers and swallowed a pill dry. "That reminds me; you should take
mine out and study it."

 

"Aye," Beckett agreed. "I have to admit I'd been curious about the little
bugger."

 

John listened absently as the two discussed injection methods, leaps in medical
potential and long-term effectiveness. McKay was using his own body as a judge
for his own success. That certainly took hubris to another level; it also
explained the desperation in his actions. John was fairly sure he'd just become
a dying man's last wish and he wasn't sure if he had it in him to say yes, or to
say no.

 

"Oh for god's sake." McKay's voice interrupted his musings. "Just cut it out,
I'll do it for you if you want."

 

"And have you complain about shoddy workmanship? I don't think so." Beckett
frowned at him. "If you think I enjoy performing minor surgery in less than
antiseptic conditions--"

 

McKay held his hands up. "I give; we'll visit your chamber of horrors at some
point so you can take it out."

 

John was amused that McKay could somehow remain so much himself over the course
of a number of, if he was reading the material right, rough years, but McKay had
some 'splaining to do and he wasn't going to do it with Beckett in the room.
"You about done there, Doc?"

 

"As done as he'll let me be." Beckett favored McKay with another angry glare.
"Rodney," he softened fractionally, "I don't want to watch you do this to
yourself."

 

"I appreciate that Carson." McKay smiled sadly. "I do, but somewhere along the
way, the sacrifices get easier and they really shouldn't."

 

Beckett swallowed at the unspoken implication. A self-sacrificing McKay, when
danger wasn't breathing its halitosis laden breath down their necks, was a scary
concept indeed. "Call me if you need anything."

 

"I will." McKay patted the pill bottles in his hand. "Now go off and practice
your mad science on someone else."

 

Beckett nodded, giving his friend one last look and John a tight, "Colonel,"
before turning on his heel and leaving.

 

The silence was tense. McKay rattled around the pills bottles for a while,
reading the labels before carefully placing them on the table next to the bed.
"How long have I been asleep?"

 

"Couple hours."

 

McKay nodded, stretching. A loud popping noise came from his back, "I can't tell
if that means I slept really well," he stretched again, "or really badly."

 

John didn't say anything while he watched McKay's careful movements. It seemed
practiced and routine, the flexing of fingers, the slow swinging of legs over
the edge, the careful shift of weight to his feet. Normally it wasn't anything
too worrying, some mornings John himself was starting to feel a little extra
stiffness. Now, however… now it was a whole other thing.

 

"So are we not speaking now?" McKay asked after he was standing. "Because Id
love to skip this conversation if I have a choice."

 

John stood up and took the half-step he needed to be in McKay's personal space.
"Cancer," he breathed closing his eyes. "Didn't see that one coming."

 

McKay leaned his head on John's shoulder. His warm breath skirted across John's
skin, raising goose bumps and making him flash hot then cold then hot again.
"You should have, I warned you about it enough."

 

That was true, Rodney constantly complained about the many ways he could die,
radiation poisoning of one type or another most recently at the top of the list.
John had just never thought he'd be right. His hands found their way to McKay's
shoulders, kneading softly. He opened his eyes as McKay pulled back. "Whats
this?" John asked, as his thumb traced up the side of McKay's neck and down his
jaw line.

 

"This is me," McKay said, leaning in, "being a selfish bastard." He gave John
one last condescending look before brushing their lips together. "We've been
over that."

 

John gave in enough to kiss back gently, feeling the small shudder run through
McKay's body.

 

"God, I missed you," McKay said into his neck. He breathed deeply, causing small
wisps of air to run across the skin. John shivered into the touch, moving his
hands to the small of McKay's back.

 

There were people in life you weren't supposed to have tumultuous secretive
relationships with. Married people, in-laws, bosses, the older version of the
person you *would* be having that relationship with given half the chance. As
soon as McKay kissed him just so under his ear -- a desperate, needy kiss -- all
of that fell away in a shiver of pleasure.

 

McKay directed John to the bed, pushing gently at his chest until he flopped
backward. He pushed up onto his elbows in time to see McKay fumbling with his
pants. He blinked in confusion for a half a second before stopping him with a
firm flick of his hand. Reaching, he cupped McKay's cheek again, moving forward
to kiss him.

 

The kiss ended and began again, over and over and McKay wrapped himself around
John, arms pulling tightly around his neck. It was just like on the balcony,
John needing to reach down only the smallest of spaces to kiss McKay. This time,
though, the kisses made it past the gentle desperate stage and into something
scorching hot and dizzying in intensity, the firm press of another body against
his just helping the cause.

 

This time when fumbling hands reached for John's pants, he didn't stop them,
already achingly hard, he gave McKay one last kiss before falling back to the
bed.

 

McKay sucked cock like a pro; actually, he sucked John's cock like a pro. His
tongue did obscene things to the underside that left John gasping so hard the
edges of his vision blurred. He was racing towards the end already, but it had
been too long since anything like this had happened and it felt way too amazing
for him to have any sort of control.

 

"Rodney," he breathed. "RodneyRodneyRodney." Their hands threaded together,
holding tight. Surprisingly nimble fingers traced under his balls, pressing
firmly into that sweet spot. McKay swallowed him whole, Johns body jumped and
shuddered, and he was lost in the sweet, wet, heat that was McKay's mouth.

 

John had just enough warning to say," Rodney, I--" before he came in long
devastating pulses that McKay swallowed enthusiastically, making John shudder
more with each careful swallow until finally he was wrung out, empty inside.
Only then did McKay let him slide out with a quiet pop.

 

John was sweating down to his toes, hell, his hair was still twitching as Rodney
climbed up into the bed next to him. John shifted and paused momentarily as he
realized he hadn't even noticed McKay had tucked him away and zipped him up.

 

McKay slung an arm over John's chest and made himself comfortable on his
shoulder. John eased an arm free going to return the favor but found it got
tangled up in McKay's hand.

 

"It's okay, John," McKay said, eyes still closed. "I appreciate the thought, but
we don't have the time to work around all the obstacles."

 

"Obstacles?" He had trouble saying the word; his muscles still hadn't managed to
re-coordinate all the way.

 

McKay pushed up and gave him a dopey grin. "Meds, age, illness-- shall I
continue the depressing litany?"

 

"Oh," John said, his buzz already cut short.

 

"No worries." McKay kissed his shoulder. "I plan on getting off, just later,
when we have hours to work with."

 

A small little thrill went through John. Of course. Hours. What was he thinking?

 

******

 

Elizabeth cornered him at his late dinner and there was no one to hide behind,
because both Rodney and McKay were hidden away in the lab trading insults. Ronon
gave him an 'are you kidding me?' look when John made a move towards him and
Teyla was off somewhere being Athosian.

 

"Colonel Sheppard," she called to him.

 

Resigned, he gestured to the free seat in front of him, which she took.

 

"How is Dr. McKay doing?"

 

John pressed his lips together, trying to think of an answer that would get her
to leave him alone. He liked her and as a general rule valued her opinions, but
at that very second he really didn't want them. "He's old and tired and probably
a little bit less sane than the Rodney we're used to."

 

She nodded and it was quite possibly that she'd come to a similar conclusion.

 

 

He went on. "Pretty much what you'd expect from anyone who was the survivor of a
post-apocalyptic civilization."

 

Surprised, Elizabeth gasped. "You think so?"

 

"He said it himself," John explained. "He's their last chance, and a long shot
at that."

 

He watched Elizabeth nod slowly; covering her horror with a sip from the cup she
was holding. Diplomats had a tendency to forget the realities their hard truths
and stunning speeches often referenced. "Learn anything interesting?" she asked
eventually.

 

Somehow, 'Rodney gives great head', didn't seem like the sort of thing she was
looking for. He shook his head. "He seems to have learned a bit of discretion
over the years." John had a very good idea of why. He thought about the whole
cancer thing -- the word still echoing in his head like a bad cartoon sound
effect -- but decided against mentioning it just yet.

 

Elizabeth took another sip of coffee, her hand clutching the mug tightly.
"You'll keep an eye on him?"

 

Swallowing a bit of food that had turned cold when he wasn't looking, John
nodded. "I'm not sure he'd tolerate anyone else." He tried for an amused, but
annoyed smile. "Or so he's implied."

 

Minutes after Elizabeth left him to his cold dinner, Zelenka wandered in;
looking like he'd spent the morning getting his eyes rolled around inside his
head. John really didn't want to think about what it had to be like trying to
keep up with the dueling McKays back in the OK Corral.

 

Zelenka hurried past him, tray laden with enough food to feed most of the
department. He made a concentrated effort to blow a stray hair out of his face
and ended up looking like he was blowing up an imaginary balloon.

 

John checked his watch and was surprised at how late it actually was. Suddenly
the lack of people in the mess made a whole lot more sense. Briefly he thought
about checking in on Rodney and suggesting it was time for a break, but in the
end he figured Beckett would probably descend on the elder one with a frown and
a medical directive.

 

******

 

John woke up later that night to someone peeling the blankets back. He'd fallen
asleep surprisingly easily considering the constantly running and circular
nature of his thoughts.

 

"Move over," someone whispered in his ear, making him shiver contentedly.
"Move." It was said again more forcefully. "Or I'm rolling you onto the floor."

 

"Rodney?" He peeked his eyes open to see a ghost of a pale oval face floating in
the dark room. "McKay."

 

McKay nodded. "Yes me, old, tired, decrepit me who wants to sleep through the
night without Carson interrupting me every three hours hoping to annoy me into
accepting treatment." He pushed at John's arms. "Now move."

 

John was struck by the odd sensation of having someone climb in next to him. He
felt utterly at ease, not even needing to shift around to find a comfortable
position for both of them. They just fell into it, McKay's arm around John's
stomach, his head resting comfortably on Johns shoulder. Within two eye blinks
they settled, practically with an audible click.

 

McKay brushed two kisses against Johns bare skin and relaxed quickly into
sleep. John ran a slow hand down McKay's back, once again feeling the various
bumps of bone with startling clarity. Like a blind man in the dark he read
McKay's back until he fell asleep.

 

John woke up to a slow and dirty hand job, pleasure so simple and deep it only
took two steady strokes before he was falling over the edge, flushed all over,
and shaking slightly.

 

Kissing him lightly, McKay murmured, "It was good for me too," against his lips,
before standing up. "I'm going to take a shower."

 

John spent a few minutes blinking at the ceiling in confusion, until finally he
couldn't ignore his bladder any longer. He paused outside of the bathroom for an
agonizing three seconds, hopping around until finally he pushed ahead. McKay had
probably had no problem with the shower/toilet conundrum mornings after tend to
have. Sighing with relief, John threw on a shirt to cover the chill while
waiting for his turn in the shower.

 

Wait a minute, the man who'd just jerked him off was in his shower. He could
probably get away with sharing a little running water. He was just about to take
his shirt back off when there was a quiet knocking at his door. Shit.

 

He froze, hoping whoever it was would go away, infinitely glad that neither of
them had turned up the lights.

 

Whoever it was knocked again.

 

John sighed and opened the door, covering as much of the entrance as possible,
squinting into the bright lights of the hallway.

 

"Oh good, Colonel, you're awake."

 

"Rodney," John said, holding back a choked squeak and wiping a hand over his
face. "Is there something I can help you with?" He prayed he didn't smell as
much like sex as he thought.

 

Rodney flailed about a bit, mouth opening unnecessarily. "I'm not sure, can I
come in?"

 

"No," John said a little frantically, continuing when a hurt look appeared on
Rodneys face. "Listen, Rodney, I just woke up. I need a shower and some
coffee."

 

Rodney frowned at him. "I'm trying to have a moment here, you know when one
friend goes to another friend and tries to talk?" Rodney pushed at the arm
blocking his way. "At least that's how it works on TV."

 

John had lost all control of the situation; Rodney should not have been able to
get past him. John was in the military, he was fit, he knew all sorts of ways to
incapacitate a man. Yet he was helpless before Rodney McKay's pushy hands.

 

"It's just how often are you confronted with your older self?" Rodney asked,
once he was inside the room.

 

John kept himself within the door sensor for an extra few seconds in the feeble
hope that Rodney would talk himself right back out of it. "I dunno, why don't
you go ask Elizabeth." He waved at the doorway. "Please."

 

"Oh, well, I suppose there is that."

 

John held his breath in hope.

 

"But somehow it doesn't feel the same," Rodney went on, taking a seat.

 

John sighed.

 

Rodney went on, oblivious. "I'm a man, she's a woman, my alternate self is from
the future, hers was from the past, I'm apparently actively trying to--" He
stopped suddenly. "Is that your shower running? You do know that we don't have a
limitless supply of energy quite yet?"

 

"Right!" John said quickly, seeing a way out. "I'll just go turn that off." He
started for the bathroom. "Or you could just go away and let me shower," he
called over his shoulder.

 

The shower stopped.

 

Rodney's eyes went wide. "No way."

 

John winced.

 

"You cant control the showers with your mind!" Rodney waved his hands
decisively. "I demand it! Not possible Its not possible!"

 

"Um -" John's brain whirled frantically. Not good, not good! "Yes, that's it! Go
away or I'll confound you with more amazing things I can do." He paused for
affect. "Or I'll," he continued just louder, "turn it back on."

 

The only sounds John heard were the muffled noises of towels being moved. Shit.

 

Rodney's eyes narrowed and John could see the synapses firing, connecting the
dots. "Oh I cannot believe you," he said fiercely. "What, am I supposed to beat
my chest and be proud for the male half of my species?" He started to peer
around John's body, trying to get a better look at the doorway behind him, so
hed be at the optimum angle for when it opened. "Is she hot?"

 

"Rodney," John whispered. "This isn't what you think it is and it's also none of
your business." Since the ruse was broken, John had no qualms about getting
handsy. He grabbed Rodney by the arm and started pulling him to the door.

 

Rodney smacked at him in a surprisingly effective manner. "Stop manhandling me!
Don't you think you've done enough of that? Who's in there? Tell me it's not
that number from the planet with the fuzzy chicken!"

 

"What part of 'none of your business' do you not understand?" John hissed,
tugging harder.

 

"I just thought that--" Rodney started vehemently and then stopped abruptly. "I
just thought that it might've been--"

 

The bathroom door opened and Rodney's eyes went impossibly wide as his lips went
slack with surprise.

 

McKay was at least wearing a towel, John noted with relief, before he was
momentarily distracted by his first unencumbered view of McKays body. McKay
wasn't by any means old-looking, just older than Rodney. There was actual muscle
mass to be seen, but there were also the shadow of illness; small places where
his skin bagged unnaturally, telltale signs of sudden weight loss.

 

Rodney ripped his arm from John's grasp. "Well if it isn't Mrs. Robinson," he
sneered and then shook his head. "No, never mind." He turned to John. "Funny
definition of none of my business," he spat, before turning on his heel and
leaving.

 

John nearly went after him until he realized that he was only in boxers and a
t-shirt and also that McKay was still there, looking gray and sick. He led him
to the bed and pushed him down without any resistance. "Need some water?"

 

McKay shook his head. "No, just give me a minute," he said shakily. "I didn't
actually expect to feel that bad, which is stupid I suppose."

 

"I should talk to him." John sat down next to McKay.

 

"No." McKay shook his head. "I should." He stood up, palmed the pill bottles on
the table, and shuffled into the bathroom. He reappeared dressed a few minutes
later, and stared at John sadly. "A better man would say we probably shouldn't
do this again."

 

"Talk to him first," John said with his head in his hand, feeling unbelievably
bad in ways he couldn't begin to describe. "And then see how good a man you
are."

 

McKay grimaced at him and nodded, slipping out the door, looking alarmingly like
a man trying to be nonchalant. On anybody else it would have been a huge
tip-off.

 

John finally got his shower, though it left him feeling cold and chafed.
Purposefully avoiding the labs, John spent the rest of the day doing the sorts
of things the military commander of an active base was expected to do. Work out,
harass the marines, check in on various tasks, attend a thoroughly boring
briefing, and of course, harass the marines.

 

In his brief stint in the mess, Zelenka once again hurried in, piled a tray high
and hurried back out. He looked more harried than the last time. John winced
guiltily, ducked his head, and stared at his food. He didn't fail to notice that
he didn't see Rodney all day.

 

"Medical emergency in science lab three!" Rodney's panicked voice called over
the general intercom.

 

John ran, getting there just after Beckett's medical team. McKay was on the
floor waving away the people hovering over him.

 

"I'm fine. Though it's possible I hurt my back when I went down. Ow," he
muttered as he sat up.

 

"Rodney slugged him," Zelenka announced.

 

The entire room glared at him and Rodney immediately waved his hands in front of
his body. "No, no, no! I did not! Radek!"

 

"He didnt," McKay confirmed from the floor.

 

"Shut up, Rodney," Beckett ordered, staring at his scans. "How is this
possible?" He pressed some buttons frantically.

 

McKay smiled smugly. "How much is gone?"

 

"You'd just begun to metastasis last time I checked." Beckett ran the scanner
over him again.

 

"What?" Rodney snapped. "He'd begun to *what*?"

 

Oh, too many questions with too many Rodneys. John stepped up. "How about we not
have this conversation here?"

 

"Yes," Rodney nodded and snapped his fingers at Zelenka. "Keep working,
something is obviously going right." He pointed at Beckett and McKay. "You two,
the infirmary now." He pointed to John next. "And you, Dustin Hoffman, you don't
look surprised enough, you're coming too."

 

John was willing to admit he may have dragged his heels on the way, sticking
around to make sure Rodney really hadn't decked McKay, because any sort of
physical altercation was the kind of thing he needed to know about. Yes, it
definitely was.

 

He caught up with the group mid explanation; Rodney was standing silently, arms
wrapped around himself. McKay interrupted occasionally to add a word here and
there, but for the most part, he let Beckett speak.

 

Finally, when it was all done, Rodney tapped his foot rapidly on the floor,
fingers fluttering against his arm in random patterns. "What, are you insane?"
he finally yelled. "Carson, you thought this was a good idea?"

 

"I thought it was a horrible idea," Beckett said.

 

"Hello?" McKay interrupted from the table, waving his hands between the two of
them. "Are we forgetting the part where it worked?"

 

"Are we forgetting the part where you fell to the floor in enormous pain?"
Rodney mocked.

 

"Yes, I am. The throbbing in my lower back is completely ignorable." McKay's
eyes beamed happiness. "It worked!" he said, a small little laugh escaping. The
last time John had seen that look, it had been about a month before 5/6th of a
solar system had blown up on his ass.

 

"Wonderful!" Rodney threw his hands up, spinning in a little circle. "You're one
step further away from dying."

 

"Yes," McKay agreed. "Once again my brilliance is overshadowed by other people's
jealousy."

 

Rodney's eyes narrowed. "You didn't just--"

 

"Rodney!" John snapped frantically. "Not that time for this." Taking a deep
breath he stepped between them and muttered to McKay, "I thought you said you'd
talk to him."

 

Rodney crossed his arms. "You're assuming I was willing to listen."

 

John resisted the palm to forehead movement that seemed inevitable in this sort
of situation. "Rodney, McKay," he addressed both of them, teeth gritted. "We're
all adults here, though apparently only in the most nominal sense. Go back to
work as soon as it's okay with Beckett, do that thing you do so well, and find
some time to talk, civilly."

 

Rodney frowned. "But-"

 

"No," John interrupted, turning to Rodney. "No," he said again for good measure.

 

He left, mostly because he really didn't want to hear them start up again,
though he did make a mental note to do something nice for the Doc later. Beckett
really deserved it, despite having brought some of it on himself, what with the
big mouth and all.

 

******

 

That night, when his door opened, John was awake, sitting against the wall on
his bed, pretending to read the book on his lap.

 

"Hello, John."

 

He didn't look up, but he was damn startled that it was McKay and not Rodney
standing there. John had expected Rodney to demand first verbal assaulting
rights or something else completely insane and utterly Rodney.. "Why do you say
my name like that?"

 

"Like what?" McKays slow footsteps could be heard as he made his way closer to
the bed.

 

"Like some creepy stalker," John said, shifting his legs so McKay had someplace
to sit.

 

"I didn't get to say it for a long time," McKay said, settling onto the bed.
"And when I did, it was always in the past tense."

 

John closed his book carefully, setting it aside in case McKay showed any of
that sudden energy again. He wasnt sure he wanted to know, but, "So, how did
that conversation go?"

 

McKay studied his hands carefully, not looking up when he spoke. "It went," he
said. "We came to an agreement."

 

Eyeing him suspiciously, John muttered, "If the word timeshare is uttered,
you're sleeping on the floor."

 

McKay's laughter was bitter. "No," he assured, "the word timeshare never came
up." He reached out and snagged one of John's ankles, pressing down in the
perfect spot. "Surprisingly enough, once we stopped yelling, we found some
common ground."

 

"Who knew?" John rolled his foot and found it caught up in the strong grip of
McKay's hands, which unerringly found each every sore spot.

 

"He'd prefer if he didn't see very much of you while I'm around," McKay said.
"That is, if you're still on board with the 'comfort the dying selfish bastard'
plan."

 

John swallowed heavily. That was the crux of it wasn't it? What exactly was he
doing? Rodney appeared in his minds eye, scowling and irascible and irritating
and the person he trusted most in two galaxies. There had been something brewing
between them for a long time; it was tumultuous, a little bit dangerous, and
explosive, but also mellow and sweet and perfect in its own way.

 

He looked at McKay who sat there patiently, switching to Johns other foot,
working magic with his thumb and forefinger. John liked to think that they could
get there one day, dodge all the bullets of their lives, the credible, the
incredible, the Rodneyesque, and find some sort of happy balance. Someplace
where they complemented each other, traveled through time for each other, John
had no doubt that McKay was telling the complete truth, he *was* a selfish
bastard. Getting John back was all he really wanted. The rest was just icing.

 

John tugged gently at McKay's arm, pulling him until they were even. He pressed
three firm kisses into McKay's lips, closing his eyes and feeling the heavy
thrill that raced through him. "Come on, you look like crap. Let's get some
sleep."

 

"You sweet talker, you," McKay muttered, reaching for John's shirt, slipping it
over his head with practiced ease. Silently they took off what needed to be
taken off and slid into sleep between one slow touch and another.

 

******

 

Another morning, another hit and run blow job that left John stuttering and
quivering uncontrollably and had McKay ambling off into the shower before John
could pull enough brain cells together to remember why he should try and stop
him. Really, that had to stop, he felt bad enough about the whole thing in a lot
of ways.

 

This time at least he barged into the shower successfully and they made out
through the entire hair washing process, which took more skill and coordination
than he had thought.

 

After dressing and successfully shaking off his vaguely guilty feeling, John
skipped the mess on his first walk through, figuring he could hit it on the way
back. Rodney was puttering silently in the lab. Without a word of warning, John
walked in, hooked a hand around his arm, and dragged until they reached Rodney's
office.

 

"Oh my god! You dislocated my shoulder!" Rodney complained, rubbing the area
vigorously.

 

"I did not," John said automatically, but watched carefully as Rodney rolled it
without any trouble. He looked around the room, noting the piles of unorganized
crap and the fine layer of dust. "You do know this is your office, right?"

 

"I'm too important to stay locked in some small stuffy room." Rodney ran a
finger through the dust on his desk and sniffed it. Then he sneezed loudly.
"Besides," he said stuffily. "All the good stuff is out there anyway."

 

He had a point and arguing it wasn't really why John had dragged them in there
in the first place. "That, I can understand."

 

"Good for you." Rodney crossed his arms, injury obviously forgotten. "I thought
the older, less attractive me was supposed to tell you to keep away."

 

John pinched the bridge of his nose. Words were obviously not the way to go,
which was okay, because he wasn't really a talking kind of guy. He was a tongue
down the throat, hand up your shirt, hey when did your fly get undone kind of
guy. His hands closed over Rodney's arms, moving him in quick steps backwards
towards the wall.

 

Rodney was going on about how easily he bruised and how fair his skin was and
that everyone would know if John beat him up and how juvenile was John anyway?
John ignored him and settled himself carefully, but firmly and mostly definitely
*bodily* against Rodney, letting out a satisfied 'Hmm' as they clicked together
easily.

 

Lips, tongues, teeth, hands all firmly entrenched themselves in Rodney, who
stopped his tirade to make a startled "oh." John licked inside Rodneys mouth
and wrapped his arms around Rodney's warm body as it settled against him
perfectly. Oh yeah, that was it, a bit messier than McKay, more unpracticed,
they still had to learn a few things here and there. Rodney's leg twined around
John's, easy and pliable. The hip action was nice too, all slow and languid
movement.

 

Rodney had his hands buried in John's hair, carding through it unconsciously
when they finally parted. One last slow peck and John braced their foreheads
together.

 

"What," Rodney breathed, "was that?" His hands slowly traced the hair line on
the back of Johns neck "Not that I'm complaining or anything." He froze
momentarily. "Wait, did you actually say no to him?"

 

"No," John said, more annoyed than he thought he should be with someone he
kissed that well with. "That was me telling you, that if you want, we can pick
this up later, when things aren't so, you know, like a plot to a bad sci-fi
show."

 

"Ah." Rodney unfroze. "I ah, that is, ah-- mmphhh!"

 

John decided to put Rodney out of his misery with another kiss; they probably
communicated better that way anyway.

 

When they parted, John whispered, "Thank you," and peeled himself away.

 

Rodney shrugged and dusted himself free of imaginary lint. "Hey, it's not like I
can't understand where he's coming from."

 

John raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

 

"Really," Rodney said quietly, head tilted down. "Okay, so the cancer thing is a
bit out of my sphere of understanding, but imminent death isn't. And I
understand want." He peered up through his lashes. "Need, desperation. I get
that. A lot."

 

"Rodney -" John's voice broke right at the end because he wasn't ready to deal
with this, this emotion you were supposed to build up to, small little doses of
poison that led to the whole not being quite so overwhelming. "Don't ever let
anyone say you're not a gracious sort of guy."

 

Rodney shrugged again. "You're not exactly cheating on me." He finally looked
John in the eye. "And it's not like there was anything to cheat *on*."

 

"You're right," John admitted. "But there is now." Which was a huge fat
conscience saving lie. There had been, just the teeniest bit of a sapling dying
of thirst, but it had been there. Cheating wasn't about the defined lines so
much as the undefined lines.

 

"Well, good." Rodney's cheeks took on a rosy color. "Now off with you." He made
shooing motions. "I have very important work to finish, and you have technique
to learn." Rodney opened the door with the flick of his hand. "You better be a
good study," he threw over his shoulder on the way out.

 

John ran a hand through his hair and couldn't help but feel that maybe he'd just
lost control of a whole lot of things beside the conversation. He smiled slowly;
he was going to have a hell of a lot of fun getting it back.

 

******

 

It was to John's complete and utter surprise when McKay appeared at the staff
meeting later that day. Then he learned that McKay himself had actually
scheduled it -- that would teach him not to look at all the details on his memos
next time.

 

It was of even greater surprise when McKay demanded an off-world mission to an
abandoned planet they'd scouted out a year ago. The fact that he wouldn't say
why and remained stubbornly silent about the whole thing wasnt surprising at
all.

 

Three hours later, John, Ronon, Teyla, McKay, and Beckett were geared up and
ready to go. Beckett looked unhappy, but McKay had insisted that he come,
complete with a fully stocked emergency field kit. That stipulation alone
quieted anymore objections the doctor had.

 

McKay came up beside John, weapon steady in his hands as he rechecked its
readiness. "Older model than I'm used to, but I remember how to use it," he
assured.

 

It didnt really make John feel much better about the whole thing. McKay was
looking healthier by comparison than the day before, but he still didn't look
*healthy*. Beckett had demanded to know why Rodney couldn't go instead.

 

"He's got enough to do here and he won't know what to look for." After that it
was back to tight-lipped McKay.

 

So John found himself on an empty planet full of trees and rocks and unfamiliar
animal sounds. McKay took point, which was really weird, but he navigated them
around a few fairly well-hidden traps without too much trouble. The fine sheen
of sweat on his skin was worrisome, but they were headed towards a series of
caves that weren't too far away.

 

At the mouth of the cave, McKay stopped them all with a silent hand signal and
absorbed himself in the readings from his Ancient scanning device. Finally he
smiled broadly and let his hand drop. "Peter," he called quietly.

 

John looked at McKay, ready to wrestle him back to the gate. Teyla and Beckett
both shifted uncomfortably. Ronon just waited.

 

"Peter," he called again. "It's Rodney. Come on before we all have to run for
it."

 

Run for it? Before John could ask, rustling came from darkness inside the cave
and then a thin, dirty, beaten, and injured looking man appeared.

 

"Peter?" Beckett gasped.

 

"Rodney?" the man asked as he came closer, and only Ronon had the presence of
mind to raise his weapon. "What the hell happened to you, man?"

 

McKay smiled. "Long story.” He turned to Beckett. "You up for a little surgery?"

 

Beckett blinked heavily. "What on earth are you--"

 

"Runner," Ronon interrupted. "How long have you been here?

 

"Not long," Peter said. "I only come back every couple of weeks to sleep and
drop off a few supplies."

 

"He's building a radio." McKay said. "But originally it took him another year
and a half to contact us."

 

Beckett was already taking off his pack and hunting through it. "How did you
know he'd be here."

 

"I asked," McKay said.

 

Well then, apparently there *was* such a thing as a simple answer.

 

They sent Ronon and Teyla back to Atlantis for a litter and supplies. Peter was
more than happy to be unconscious during surgery and John wasn't too keen on
being tracked back to Atlantis, so Beckett grit his teeth and bared it once
again.

 

John stared long and hard at Peter Grodin as he slid down the cave wall and
looked like he was relaxed for the first time in probably months. Rodney sat
next to him, looking a little gray in the face. "How you doing, McKay?"

 

"Oh, nothing a little shift in the space time continuum won't cure." McKay waved
him off. "Shouldn't you be doing something manly and military?"

 

John glared mildly and turned to Beckett. "You need anything else?"

 

Beckett shook his head. "That's okay, Colonel, everything I need I put on the
list for Teyla and Ronon. Just do me a favor and keep it quiet. I dislike
operating around gunfire."

 

John nodded and heard Grodin make a startled exclamation. That's right, the rank
thing. He assumed McKay was getting Grodin up to speed because they quickly
settled back into quiet conversation. John walked past them with a nod and
resumed his perimeter check.

 

 

Ronon and Teyla returned with the supplies and Beckett made quick work of the
surgery, despite being in the most non-antiseptic field possible. John rolled
his eyes at the mutterings coming from the man and made a note to remind him
about conditions in field hospitals and M*A*S*H units in earlier wars.

 

McKay spent most of the time with his gun clamped in his hand, sitting painfully
still near the cave entrance. He looked tired and sick, the sheen of sweat on
his face casting almost a sallow shade.

 

As soon as Beckett dropped the tracker to the floor and stomped down on it with
a muted crunch, everyone breathed a silent sigh of relief. Beckett finished the
surgery with quick precise movements that John frankly admired and silently
applauded. The quicker they were off this planet the better.

 

At one point, McKay levered himself upright, using the rock wall for support,
John couldn't help but swoop in and wrap one hand around McKay's sweating arm,
fingers pressing in almost too firmly.

 

McKay glared at the help, but gave him a quick head tilt of appreciation before
moving off further into the cave and slowly bending to collect Grodin's meager
possessions.

 

Walking through the other side of the wormhole was like walking onto a stage; a
sea of faces staring at them in silent awe, the lights bright in John's eyes,
making him squint. Then there was one clap and another and more and it doubled
and tripled and compounded until John's lungs felt compressed with the weight of
the sound as it achieved physical form and reverberated through him in dense
waves.

 

Beckett took off with his patient as soon as he could fight through the crowd.
Elizabeth walked up to them, beaming brightly, and gave everyone she could reach
a one-armed hug. Finally she stood in front of McKay, foot tapping and arms
crossed, though she couldn't mute her happiness. "You could have told us, you
know. It's not like I would have said no."

 

McKay just looked at her, snappy retort completely encased in his eyes. "This
way was more fun."

 

Elizabeth shook her head, the half-smile never leaving her face. "Well, for
future reference, I'd appreciated a bit more warning." She raised her hands to
McKay's shoulders, giving him a cross between a shake and a squeeze.
Surprisingly, it was McKay that drew her in for a tight hug while she barely
managed to suppress a girlish squeak.

 

John smiled at the sight; McKay swung her in a little half-twirl before putting
her down.

 

"Well," Elizabeth said, once she'd regained her balance. "Thank you Rod-- McKay.
Carry on." She walked off, still looking flustered.

 

Even thought he was still gray and tired, McKay managed to look rosy and pleased
all at once, his smile taking away the worst of the deep circles and sallow
skin.

 

"Feeling better?" John asked, leading them away from the gateroom and down the
small series of makeshift locker rooms.

 

"She deserved it, that's all." McKay shrugged, unbuckling his vest slowly. "I'm
a man of regrets, John, and not appreciating her is one of the big ones."

 

The statement hit John directly in the gut. A tight feeling built steadily at
the weight of heavy regret radiating off McKay's shoulders. John turned and
finished his own armor removal. When he turned back, McKay was still sitting,
not facing him, head bowed. John sat down next to him and bumped their shoulders
gently.

 

McKay dislodged his hand from his face and John got a glimpse of a white tissue,
wet with blood.

 

"What the hell?" John's hand immediately went to his headset ready to call for
help until McKay brushed him off.

 

"Gums are bleeding," he said around the tissues. "Nothing new."

 

John jumped up and got his half-full canteen, from his locker space. "You've got
meds for this?"

 

"Yeah. Carson handed me the entire spectrum. There's a bottle in my vest, has a
couple of each, hand it to me." He fumbled with the bottle in his hands; they
shook slightly around the plastic before the cap opened. He sorted through the
various pills quickly and downed two of them. "It's not really a solution, you
know." McKay gestured vaguely at the bottles.

 

John nodded, watching the bottle disappear into McKay's pocket. "Nothing I say
is going to convince you to see Beckett?"

 

"Nothing," McKay confirmed. "I can however," he stretched slowly, hands pushing
at his back to help it arch, "be convinced to take a nap."

 

They walked down the corridor, John having assimilated McKay's slower gait over
the last few days, didn't miss a step when McKay took the lead and once again,
turned left when he should have turned right.

 

John vaguely recognized the section they had wandered into as someplace that had
been cleared, but summarily dismissed for the time being because there werent
any toys that lit up and sparkled. Now, however, as McKay opened a large, dusty
door into a spacious room with a large balcony and floor to ceiling windows,
John decided to rethink their assessment. It was obviously a set of high-end
residential quarters, with a living room and kitchen and several small doors
lining the far side of the room.

 

"This way," McKay said quietly, leading them to one of the other doors. It
opened up into a comfortable looking bedroom. "No offense to your bed; I've got
a number of fond memories in which it has a starring role, but I'm tired and
sore and would rather not imitate a pretzel while trying to get some rest."

 

The bed was a strange size between queen and king but it was soft enough. Once
the covering was removed, it was also surprisingly clean. McKay was already
crawling into it, looking weary, a fading shadow of his usual self. John slid in
beside him and wrapped his arms around McKay's waist, pulling him close and
hooking a chin over his shoulder.

 

McKay was asleep instantly and John sighed slowly, blowing his breath out
between pursed lips. "What am I going to do with you?"

 

******

 

Grodin's reintegration into the city was punctuated by large groups of people
wandering around looking just a little bit too happy. John arranged for drunk
patrol, mostly making sure no one passed out or vomited on the wrong bit of
electronics.

 

John and Elizabeth had an informal debriefing with Grodin the evening of his
return. In a quiet exchange of information, Grodin told them of a few allies
he'd managed to develop and some useful stargate addresses. Elizabeth explained
that if he wanted to, he was welcome to take a trip back to Earth for however
long he wished.

 

Grodin nodded at the information, looking a little wary. "I think I'd just like
to enjoy sitting still for a while, if it's all the same to you, Doctor, Maj--
Sorry, Colonel."

 

Nodding, John gave him a comforting pat on the shoulder and then arranged for a
guard to play go-between for all of Grodin's would be visitors.

 

The roar of accomplishment never quite left Atlantis and that day was the one
where everything clicked. The labs poured out tiny accomplishments, everything
from Ancient green houses -- which used surprisingly little energy, they seemed
to be one of the only bits of technology to take advantage of the sun and the
natural motion of the water -- to new scientific theory that advanced their
previous knowledge by hundreds of years.

 

Rodney finally deigned to get his own food from the mess and John couldn't help
but notice the flush of discovery stark on his face. He bounced all around
Zelenka as they stood in line and Zelenka looked only mildly put upon, although
he did get a sympathetic look from the server and a second desert stuck on his
plate.

 

McKay stepped in a few minutes later and John realized that it was the first
time he'd seen them together in as public a setting as the mess hall. Rodney and
Zelenka took a seat in the corner, taking a break from their work.

 

Obviously ignoring one another, McKay eventually found his way to the seat
across from John.

 

"Work going well?" John asked between bites of his own food. "The science
department's constant cheering can be heard all the way to the control room."

 

"We're quickly approaching that point of no return," McKay answered, pushing the
food around on his plate. "The problem inherent in ZedPM making is that you need
power to get power, highly inefficient."

 

John watched the fork in McKay's hand not make it anywhere near his mouth.
"Where you gonna find the power?"

 

"Same place we found it last time." McKay took a tentative bite and made a sour
face. "Hydroponics. There's a reason I pointed the botanists towards the
greenhouse." He took a slow sip of coffee. "Other than the fact that parts of a
ZedPM literally need to be grown."

 

"Wow, that must have really been a fly in the ointment of the McKay way of
life," John said. "How long did you sulk?"

 

"I did not sulk." McKay drummed his fingers on the table. "Seriously though, the
botanists could have shown a modicum of restraint when they were told."

 

John watched McKay slowly finish his plate, making various faces at each bite.
"You're like a five-year-old, you know that?"

 

"Shut up," McKay said around his chocolate pudding.

 

******

 

John had his hands full restructuring the patrols yet again; the more ground
they gained, the more geometric headaches John had to endure. In addition, it
was time to catch up on all of his back paperwork and as much as he hated it,
everyone would know who to blame if they ran out of toilet paper and had to go
back to that horrible cross between fabric and leaves that the Athosians were
fond of.

 

Oddly, John always found the paperwork dealing with pay the funniest; it wasn't
like any of them would really see most of it for a long time, but he'd done it
as a way to mark time, to pretend they had a thin glimmer of attachment back to
a planet they never thought they were going to see again. Once they'd
reestablished regular contact, someone had decided that John should continue the
upstanding job he'd been doing so far. That was what happened when you tried to
take initiative.

 

He slipped into his quarters quietly, unsurprised to see a still lump curled up
in the middle of his bed. Actually, there was a little surprise; he would bet
Rodney was still plugging away at all the new toys in the lab even as McKay
slept. He sighed quietly and toed off his boots.

 

McKay's breathing was slow and even and his eyes were closed, the lids lying
heavily over black circles. John sighed again and slid to his knees next to the
bed, ghosting his knuckles over McKay's cheek.

 

"mmm… John?" McKay said without even opening his eyes, reaching out blindly.

 

"Hey," John said quietly, capturing the reaching hand, brushing a thumb over its
knuckles, simultaneously struck by how easy this was, and how weirdly off it
felt. McKays hands were too thin.

 

"What's wrong?" McKay asked, already pushing himself up.

 

John gently pushed him back down. "Nothing, I was just thinking--"

 

"Oh god no." McKay snatched his hand away and put it over his eyes.

 

"Ha ha," John said dryly.

 

"Very," McKay said smugly. "And the least you deserve for waking me up." He
pushed up onto his side, leaning his head onto one loosely formed fist.

 

Unable to resist and a feeling a little guilty for it, John leaned in, brushing
their lips together. Slow and tender enough to make him ache, John moved his
lips carefully. McKay made a small, high pitched sound in the back of his throat
and surged bodily, nearly off the bed and knocking John over.

 

"Woah there," John said, hands running down McKay's shoulders, soothing the
sudden tremors under his skin. "Woah," he said into McKay's lips before licking
into his mouth, the kiss shattering something between them.

 

"John," McKay said when they parted. "John, I want--" He leaned in to kiss John
again, hanging over the edge of the bed, clawing at John's shoulders to pull him
closer.

 

John found himself on the bed, tangled up in McKay in a very good way. He wanted
to taste him, all of him, understand every weird feeling that McKay and by
extension Rodney, or possibly the other way around, inspired within him. McKay's
hands worked their way under his shirt, sliding down his back with just a hint
of pressure.

 

He found himself on his back, shirt rucked into his armpits, eyes rolling into
the back of his head as McKay sucked greedily on a nipple. Hands found their way
to his pants and John finally gathered enough brain cells to stop the inevitable
conclusion before it started. "McKay," he said, his hands closing over the ones
near his fly.

 

McKay looked up, startled and little bit frightened. "John, what?"

 

"Hey," John said, his own aching need almost immediately forgotten. "What's
wrong?" He pulled McKay up, wrapping his arms around his chest and holding him
close, his hips jerking involuntarily as McKay's leg settled between his.

 

Instead of answering, McKay wrapped more firmly around him, rocking his thigh
back and forth.

 

"McKay wha--nnnngg -" Another surprisingly strong rock of hips almost made him
lose his thought along with the power of speech. "Stop," he said breathlessly.
"Stop and tell me what's wrong."

 

Because something was definitely wrong, McKay's eyes were looking everywhere but
Johns face and his hands were shaking, but subtly different; they were clammy
against his skin instead of nicely warm and sweaty.

 

"I want," McKay whispered hoarsely. His hand grabbed at John's arm and shoulder.
"But I haven't since you…" he trailed off, face flushing with embarrassment. " I
really want to."

 

That stopped John cold. "Not once?"

 

McKay shook his head from where it lay against John's other shoulder.

 

"And I'm guessing that's been a long time?" John said to the ceiling.

 

McKay nodded and starting moving his hand down. "That's why I was going to--"

 

"None of that," John interrupted, smacking the hand away.

 

"I should go." McKay began to push back.

 

"Did I say that?" John tightened his hold. "Just… let me think." He stroked down
McKay's back, once again momentarily disturbed by the lack of padding under his
fingers. "Do you trust me?"

 

McKay nodded, his hair brushing against John's chest.

 

John didn't bother responding, just sat up gently, taking McKay with him.
Silently, they stripped; John sliding McKay's shirt over his head, letting his
hands run down his sides, tracing the odd contours, noting the odd bruise here
or there, taking the time to kiss them gently.

 

He kept them on an even keel; for every piece of clothing he gently removed from
McKay, he'd take off his own matching piece. McKay's wide eyes made him warm all
over.

 

John stood, slid his pants off, and then pushed McKay back down to the bed,
slowly tracing fingers down his naked chest and around the waistband of his
pants. McKay lifted his hips obligingly as John slid them off, taking his
underwear with them.

 

Almost shyly, McKay pushed up onto his elbows and watched John's every movement.
John took his time, learning curves and bumps and hollows that seemed wrong on
his super-imposed image of Rodney. It wasn't fair to anyone involved how he
really didn't see a difference between the two of them, but he couldn't help it
during these soft quiet moments.

 

McKay's half erection left a nice solid feeling in John's palm; the soft mix
between a moan and groan gave him a little shock of pleasure.

 

"John," McKay whispered brokenly, and reached for him.

 

John spread out next to him, one hand tracing small circles on any skin he could
reach, kissing McKay leisurely and intensely. His other hand took long, careful
strokes up and down McKay's cock, feeling the skin slowly, so very slowly,
stretch and tighten like a sunrise after a long storm, the first weak rays
peeking through the clouds. It warmed in John's hand, perfect and sweet.

 

"Oh," McKay sighed. "Oh that's… that's very nice." He curled around John,
holding on tightly, thrusting his cock in and out of John's careful fist in a
slow and even pace. "Oh yeah."

 

The wonder on McKay's face, the absolute joy he took in being right there at
that moment was just as arousing as those morning blow jobs McKay kept sneaking
up on him with. John kept the pace as steady as possible, letting McKay enjoy
himself.

 

Finally, long minutes later, John felt a shift in McKay's hips, a hint of
desperation in his kisses. John went faster, twisting at the end and McKay
buried his face in John's neck, gasping sharply with each breath.

 

"Oh, John." McKay managed to make his name sound like a broken plea and some
sort of reverent exultation at the same time. It was scary and thrilling and
made John work harder, wringing out pleasurable half-gasps that sunk into John's
skin and made his dick twitch with each one.

 

McKay clung to him, slick with sweat, broken pleas bubbling out of his mouth, a
constant series of directions that changed with each twist of John's hand.

 

"Please just--" McKay said to him, mouth wide open, lips wet, "oh right--
there-- yes."

 

John swallowed the words in a kiss, sucking on McKay's agile tongue, dipping in
and out of his mouth in ever quickening licks. John's dick found a nice
comfortable place on McKay's hip, the friction perfect and overwhelming.

 

Soon though, dull pain bloomed in John's wrist and he couldn't keep the pace up.
He ached to come, he was so close it hurt, but McKay's pleas had turned sour and
he was shaking his head. "Sorry," he said, "sorry, sorry, I told you--"

 

"Shhh--" John covered his lips in another long kiss. "That was only idea number
one." He shimmied down McKay's body, leaving a trail of wet open-mouthed kisses
on his skin. "I'm a plethora of naughty ideas."

 

"Keep using-- oh" he gasped as John carefully took an experimental lick, "using
those big words-- ohmygod!" McKay slammed back onto the bed when John took his
head into his mouth. His hands reached for John's hair. "Big words and I'll come
in no time."

 

John started slowly again, listening to McKay, letting his body and voice direct
him. Soon their hands were tangled in a tight grip and John was remembering his
advanced blow job lessons as McKay rocked in and out of his mouth.

 

John didn't stop him. Instead he breathed deeply, taking in the sweaty musk of
the other man and shuddering in time with him, his cock grinding into the
mattress underneath. He wanted to hump his way through the bed as McKay fucked
his mouth. Finally, finally, that perfect line of tension started at the base of
his spine and John could feel it run through McKay. His voice went higher and
pleading and if possible, more breathy.

 

"Oh-- I-- John I---" McKay rocked uncontrollably and John let him, not surprised
that somehow, McKay knew how not to choke him. "That's it-- right-- just don't
move-- oh"

 

John's eyes fought to stay open as his entire body tightened into one long mass
of muscle and released in blinding shudders and uncontrollable stuttering.

 

"Oh" McKay breathed, "did you-- oh!" Long slow pulses were caught in John's
mouth and he sucked McKay gently through each and every shudder and whine and
tremble until finally he lay limp and still, breathing hard.

 

McKay's spent cock slipped from Johns mouth with ease and John pulled himself
up to sprawl next to McKay. "Told you so," he muttered smugly, kissing his
shoulder softly.

 

"Okay, note for the future." McKay carded limp fingers through John's hair. "You
once informed me that's not as romantic as one would think."

 

"I know it's been a while, Rodney, but this is where you fall asleep."

 

******

 

McKay was still deeply asleep when John slipped out of bed the next morning and
he didn't feel bad at all letting him continue to sleep as he stealthily
showered and dressed. It was a talent he had learned years before when hed been
tagged for the first round of special training.

 

Four hours into his day Rodney stomped over to him and crossed his arms; brows
set to stun and lips pressed angrily together. "What did you do to him?"

 

John stopped, because with the way his day was going, ‘him could mean so many
people. "Excuse me?"

 

"He practically limped into the lab," Rodney said. "Late, and looking like the
last time I spent three days drinking and whoring my way through Toronto."

 

John breathed his spit down the wrong pipe and choked hard enough for Rodney to
actually look alarmed. John waved him away. "Okay, first… I'm not sure which is
less plausible, you drinking and whoring, or Toronto."

 

"Fine." Rodney shrugged. "I had two strawberry daiquiris and passed out next to
a women's studies grad student."

 

John bit his lip and tried to look serious.

 

"She wore open-toe shoes!" Rodney insisted, arms opening wide in supplication.

 

"The hussy," John announced, still biting back laughter.

 

Rodney shook his head. "Stop distracting me. What did you do to him and if it
has anything to do with long hours of really hot and moderately kinky sex, is it
wrong that turns me on?"

 

"Kinky?" Oh, Jesus, Rodney really needed to get laid, or at least learn not to
spill every single thing on his mind out his mouth. Especially little
revelations like that. John shook his head. "Never mind. I did nothing to him."
He winced. "Or nothing that should have left him limping and looking like he
just went on a three day bender."

 

"Huh," Rodney said distractedly.

 

John went for his pistol. "Huh?"

 

"Nothing," Rodney shook his head, "I'm just disappointed."

 

John resisted the hand to forehead maneuver and sighed deeply. "I promise to
physically injure you in the name of miraculous orgasm some day soon."
Unintentionally his voice lowered and husked and there was an uncontrollable
lean in his upper body, the kind that if he'd found in his car, would have
landed it in the shop for at least a day.

 

Rodney swallowed loudly. "Uh, um. Great. Thanks." Then he shook his head
violently. "Distracting me!"

 

"Possibly." John shrugged. "Look, he's pretty sick, I thought you knew that."

 

"Yeah well, he looks sicker," Rodney said quietly before turning on his heal and
leaving.

 

******

 

The arrival of the Daedalus stirred up a mix of good and bad energy in Atlantis.
For John, it meant tightening up his Soldier routine and generally not being in
the same room as Caldwell if there wasn't a briefing going on. It was a mutually
beneficial solution, except that there always seemed to be some extra crisis
that needed to be managed and their initial briefings often extended for hours
past the allotted time.

 

And the addition of an extra McKay and a presumed dead, with good reason, Grodin,
the meeting quickly ground to an exceeding frustrated halt.

 

Of course, the look on Caldwell's face made up for the first few hours.

 

"They beamed me out," Grodin told them. He was first on the agenda and John
couldn't blame Elizabeth. Grodin still looked like he hadn't slept in three
months. "I could see the walls breaking apart around me even as they did it."

 

Caldwell nodded thoughtfully. "Any idea why they didn't just stick you into
storage?"

 

Grodin nodded. "We were new to them," he said carefully. "We used tactics that
were, I guess the word is strange. Most importantly?" He paused looking at each
of their faces. "We were apparently succeeding and that didn't sit well with
them."

 

"Resistance," McKay said from his corner of the table, "was a concept they
hadn't dealt with in nearly 10,000 years."

 

Rodney made a disbelieving noise. "I'm sorry, what we're doing is winning in
their book? I was pretty sure it was much closer hanging on by the skin of our
teeth."

 

"Five hive ships, Rodney." John felt compelled to remind him.

 

"Out of at least sixty," Rodney shot back.

 

John watched McKay bite his lip and stare staunchly at a spot on the wall to the
left of John's head. "Always the downer, Rodney."

 

"What did they do after they beamed you up?" Caldwell pressed on, giving both
Rodney and McKay a quelling look that did little to dent their dispositions.

 

"I was brought to meet the Queen, but since I knew nothing of the plans other
than the worst case scenarios, I wasn't the font of information they were
looking for." Grodin's fingers began a nervous tap on the table and John made a
note to talk to him later. He was the only other person who'd spent one-on-one
time with a Queen and lived to tell the tale.

 

Caldwell put his pen down and took a deep breath. "I hate to ask this, but did
you tell them anything else?"

 

Grodin shook his head, "They scanned me with something, got all excited, and I
was hustled off someplace a dart could pick me up. Next thing I know, I'm
rematerialized-” he grimaced and touched the back of his neck, "and dropped off
with an implanted tracking device, a single weapon, and no hope."

 

"Any idea why?" John asked. "Did they give any indication of their intentions?"

 

"None. It was an easy assumption about what they'd implanted, though they were
slow in getting to me."

 

John nodded. "Probably a side affect of us kicking their asses."

 

Grodin smiled warmly, the first one, John suspected, in a while.

 

Caldwell was pleasantly kind and only asked a few more probing questions,
looking for any potential security leaks. A few codes and protocols needed to be
changed, but it seemed that Wraith hadn't had time for a full investigation.
Grodin's part in the whole meeting ended with his quiet pronouncement that he'd
be leaving with the Daedalus on the next run.

 

"What?" McKay sat up straight. "No, Peter you can't."

 

"Dr. McKay," Elizabeth said firmly, "Peter can do whatever he pleases."

 

McKay didn't argue, but he looked ready to continue the point as soon as he
didn't have any adult supervision.

 

When they were done, Grodin got up; looking incredibly grateful to be leaving.
John noticed a tinge of understanding on both Rodney and McKay's faces.

 

The rest of the meeting was taken up with updating Caldwell, as well as everyone
else in the room, though mostly it was interspersed with a verbal tug of war
between McKay and Caldwell about future events, with Rodney chiming in now and
then.

 

"No offense, Dr. McKay, but you're not exactly the best judge of useful tactical
information," Caldwell argued.

 

"Shows what you know," McKay said over Rodney's shouted 'Hey!' "And it's been a
long time and I'm alive and you're dead. So really, one person's scared out of
their mind dive behind a large rock is another person's tactical and well
thought out plan."

 

Caldwell took his apparent death with classic flyboy stoicism and changed the
subject.

 

By the end, John was left with the impression they were in the wait portion of
'hurry up and'. The mineral and plant life for the ZPM was coming along and the
botany department was practically orgasmic with glee over the rest of the
greenhouse. The Ancient data bases were slowly having their wheels greased and
some random bits of Ancient technology were waking up and being calibrated.

 

Beckett's report was terse, so much so that John had a sneaking suspicion that
he was attempting to spill McKay's secret without actually spilling it. It was
sneaky, and John couldn't really bring himself to disagree.

 

"I'd like to have McKay in for a visit soon. He's got a handy piece of
technology sitting in his arm and as it's mostly from Earth, I think it should
be fairly easy to understand." Beckett said. "I'll need an engineer to work on
it with me though."

 

"Fredicks," McKay suggested immediately.

 

Rodney shrugged. "Fine."

 

******

 

Long hours later, John finally left the briefing room with the internal cry of
'Freedom!' ringing through his head and a happy smile plastered to his face.
Even the air on the other side of the door felt fresher. Beckett, in an
uncharacteristic fit of rudeness, practically pushed past him and John got a
completely uncalled for mental image of a kilt and a broadsword.

 

The smile stayed, lurking just under his semiserious demeanor, undeterred by
even the food in the mess.

 

"Carson I need you in Science Lab Three *now*!" Rodney's panicked voice came
over the common channel, high-pitched and quick. John was out the door before
the acknowledgement even hit his ears.

 

He met them on the way. McKay's form way curled up on the gurney, his skin pale
and sweating, practically gray.

 

"What's happening?" John demanded.

 

"I don't know!" Beckett snapped. "And don't you dare get in my way."

 

John walked next to Rodney, listening to a stream of medical jargon that quickly
went over his head. It translated to 'Very bad, McKay is dying.' The urge to
take Rodney's hand and squeeze it tightly surged higher with each needle and
scan. The feeling of utter helplessness was so choking it left a bitter taste in
his mouth.

 

Long minutes later, Beckett finally stepped back and stopped moving, studying
his readings carefully. "Well, you stubborn mule, you're not dead yet, but you
will be soon."

 

"Love you too, Carson." McKay said weakly, the sarcasm holding less bite than
normal. "So, how am I dying now?"

 

Beckett gave him a long hard look. "It's your stomach."

 

McKay closed his eyes tightly. "Yeah, okay. That sucks."

 

Beside him, Rodney sucked in a quick breath. “So basically, quicker and more
painful.”

 

Beckett looked like he was about to say more, but he just closed his mouth and
nodded.

 

John watched Beckett fuss around for a few more minutes, adding devices to McKay
with alarming frequency. Rodney took two quick steps forward to stare wide-eyed
at his doppelganger, hands twitching nervously at his sides.

 

His eyes darted back and forth between McKay, lying prone in the bed, and the
doors to the infirmary off to the right. John stepped up behind him, settling
just outside of Rodney's personal space. "You okay?"

 

"I'm watching myself die," Rodney snapped.

 

"So that would be a no."

 

"Hey," McKay called from under miles of tubing and cables and white hospital
blankets. "I'm not dead yet."

 

Rodney pointed a finger at him which practically screamed accusation. "If you
say you feel better, so help me…"

 

McKay chuckled low in his throat, the noise sounding rusty and grating, and
ended in a grunt of pain. "I think I'll go for a walk," he croaked.

 

With an angry noise and sharp jab, Beckett finished his fussing. "If you decide
to do anything about this, yell." He walked off in an angry huff.

 

"When did I start laughing in the face of my imminent death?" Rodney asked, arms
crossed in front of him tightly.

 

McKay's small smile dropped from his face and he nodded at Rodney. "You know
when."

 

"Oh right," Rodney sneered. "I forgot I'm three steps from insanity. Did you
tell him," he pointed to John, "that?"

 

John pushed Rodney's finger out of the way. "I pretty much figured it out on my
own, thank you." A few feet away, he made eye contact with McKay, his lips
twisting into what he hoped was a comforting expression. "How're you feeling?"

 

McKay gestured drowsily to the IV bag. "Carson broke out the good stuff."

 

"Right," John said tightly. "I'll just--" he gestured vaguely at the doors.

 

McKay nodded; his eyes half closed, and John couldn't stand it any more, so he
left, his feet moving swiftly under him. He couldn't be there for McKay, he
could barely be there for himself and it was nauseating.

 

He made it to his room and fell against the door, eyes shut tightly. His chest
burned with each deep breath and he punched the wall with every exhale until the
sharp pain translated all the way to his elbow.

 

He should have known really, from the first moment when McKay's shaking arms had
wrapped around him so unexpectedly and held on so tightly and something inside
him had thudded hard and McKay had settled so neatly against him.

 

That was what John had so carefully and painstakingly pushed away, the pounding
heart, the bit of bile in the back of his throat, the feeling that he could do
something stupid at any moment. He turned back to the door, elbow drawing back
and fist swinging forward in one last expression of anger--

 

--that hit Rodney square in the cheek.

 

He went down with a like a sack of potatoes and John was too stunned to do
anything but stand there and be pretty grateful he'd made it into the room far
enough for the door to slide shut again.

 

"Ow!" Rodney yelled, voice muffled from behind his hand. "What in the *hell* was
that? My nose is broken! You broke my nose!" He was writhing around on the
ground, rocking back and forth.

 

That snapped John out of his stupor. "I didn't hit your nose, you big baby." He
knelt on the floor next to Rodney, wincing as he moved Rodney's hands out of the
way to reveal a large red patch of skin just under his eye. "But all the girls
are gonna swoon over the black eye."

 

"There goes my 20-20 vision!" Rodney pushed him away.

 

"It was bound to happen sooner or later." John put his hands back, firmly
grasping Rodney's chin, aiming it so he could see Rodneys cheek clearly. "All
that squinting at computer screens and all." He brushed his thumb lightly over
the heated skin. Rodney hissed and flinched away violently. "Sorry," John
apologized.

 

John found himself pulling Rodney to him; he couldn't stop his arms from
wrapping around Rodney, holding him tightly. "I'm so sorry," he said again.
"Sorry." His voice cracked slightly and he clamped his mouth shut.

 

"You should be. You might have hurt my very important brain," Rodney scolded,
before reaching out and holding John right back, petting down his rib cage
nervously. "If you cry, I'm posting it on the bbs." He leaned the undamaged
portion of his face on John's shoulder.

 

Rodney's neck was soft and creased under John's nose and he smelled of sweat and
coffee and soap and McKay. Somewhere deep inside all of the other scents was
McKay and it was Rodney and it was perfect and bittersweet. John made a broken
noise and buried his face into it, breathing deeply.

 

Rodney's smooth skin came alive under Johns lips; each kiss warmed a small
space from cold to hot, inch by inch. Above him, Rodney gasped and his arms
spasmed around John, pulling him closer. John kissed his way up, hitting
stubble, the roughness making his lips tingle. Slowly across Rodney's jaw,
whisper quick on already too hot skin, blooming with pain just under the
surface.

 

Rodney's eyes were closed, long lashes dark against flushed skin. His mouth was
hanging open, lips moist and inviting, and John covered them with his own,
sucking and pulling and feeling, looking, searching desperately for something.

 

Finally, Rodney tilted his head and groaned into the kiss, lips sealing together
perfectly and it echoed, just for a second a memory, the ghost of another kiss
and Rodney's hands were perfect, skimming over his chest and arms and cupping
one cheek boldly. John wanted to hold on, but Rodney's swelling cheek wouldn't
let him. Instead John pushed carefully until Rodney went, almost gracefully, to
the floor, John followed, sinking down on top, just far enough to feel Rodney
against his front.

 

John's hand splayed hotly on Rodney's hip, holding him steady while Rodney's
hand buried in his hair. He licked his way inside of Rodney's mouth and
searched, moving until he could feel it again, a sharp hipbone in his side, the
faint feel of ribs, Rodney's wondrously healthy body disappearing with John's
tightly closed eyes.

 

"Rodney," John choked out,. He was hard against Rodney's body, aching and needy
and the urge to prove he was alive, to prove Rodney and John and McKay were
alive, was thrumming through his veins.

 

"What?" Rodney stopped beneath him. "What did you say?" His body went from
pliant to unyielding like a snap of fingers.

 

John looked dazedly at him. Rodney was flushed all over, his lips puffy and
swollen. "I… what?" He asked, not understanding at first. Rodney's shirt was
askew, revealing pale patches of skin. "Rodney?"

 

Rodney stared at him, blinking rapidly, pulse beating wilding under John's hand.
"John," he said quietly. "Who are you here with?"

 

John tried to review what had happened. At first all he could remember was warm
skin and hot kisses and sounds that John just wanted to store away somewhere for
later viewing. Underneath it all, he could hear his voice, rough and
embarrassingly laden with emotion, babbling all sorts of things into McKay's
skin and-- oh god. "McKay," he whispered in an echo of the earlier moment.

 

"Right, I thought so," Rodney said at his stunned silence. "I knew this was a
bad idea."

 

"Rodney," John said, pressing himself back down, feeling Rodney automatically
relax against him. "You're right, I'm sorry." John kissed him soundly. "I just,
in my head, you're the same person."

 

"Are we really?" Rodney asked, already shaking his head. "Because I think that
says a lot about me, or at least a lot about what you think about me." He tried
pushing John away, but it wasn't a very heart felt attempt.

 

John pressed down with his whole body, gently easing Rodney a few inches back to
the ground, and then laid his head on Rodney's shoulder. "You act a little
differently maybe; the sum of your experiences makes you who you are." He
breathed deeply, drowning in Rodney's scent. "But everything that makes him
Rodney makes you McKay, I can see and I can feel it." He tightened his arms
around Rodney, savoring the feel of familiar topography. "I know it in my head
and now I'm watching you die--" he stopped, because the words made something
inside him hurt.

 

Rodney stared at him, hand drawing small circles on John's back. "You love him."

 

"You," John corrected, kissing the words into Rodney's temple. "You moron."
Under his hands Rodney began shaking heavily. "What?"

 

"Dying," Rodney croaked, hands moving restlessly. "I'm dying, which means
something didn't work and I failed and I probably messed up the entire
space-time continuum as well." He started to push up off the floor again, but
John held him down firmly. Rodney resisted just long enough that when his arms
finally buckled they both went down with a whoosh, John's now bruised knuckles
brushed against the floor causing him to suck in a sharp breath of pain..

 

"He's dying," John said reasonably, after he'd caught his breath. "He's not dead
yet."

 

Rodney rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand. "Oh my god, if people don't
stop quoting that movie, someone is going pay with their coffee rations."

 

"I meant," John pulled Rodney's hand from his face, "there's still time to fix
things."

 

"As much as they can ever be fixed you mean." Rodney gave him a baleful glare.

 

 

Gathering Rodney tightly to him, John buried his face back in the crook of
Rodney's neck. "You alive is pretty much the positive outcome I'm looking for
here and if we could stop talking about it now, that'd be really cool."

 

For once, Rodney didn't utter some scathing retort. He just curled back around
John and breathed.

 

******

 

They spent a long enough time on the floor that even John was starting to worry
about the state of his back by the time Rodney gave in and uttered the complaint
he'd probably been holding back since the first time John had pinned him there.
It had been long enough that Rodney's eye had started to swell and John could
see him avoiding certain facial expressions.

 

"You should really get that looked at." John's fingers hovered carefully over
Rodney's face, the heat coming off the injury making him feel embarrassed. "I
swung pretty hard."

 

"I know." Rodney's fingers brushed John's away and pushed gently at the skin. "I
can still feel my face vibrating from the residual kinetic energy."

 

John nodded at the door. "Come on." He moved to let Rodney walk out first and
winced at Rodneys first lumbering steps. "Try not to limp; this is going to
look bad enough."

 

Rodney looked back at him with a scathing glare. "My back is very sensitive and
the floors here on Atlantis are hardly stunning examples of orthopedic
excellence." His face softened anyway. "I promise not to let anyone but me press
charges."

 

"Comforting someone is just second nature to you, Rodney." John patted him on
the shoulder.

 

They entered the infirmary, both of them gravitating towards the curtained off
area in the back. There was only quiet behind the white free standing curtain
and it make John swallow harshly.

 

"He's asleep and I'll not have you waking him up," Beckett said from behind
them.

 

They both whirled in surprise but before either of them could get a word out
Beckett began pushing Rodney towards an open exam table.

 

"What on earth did you do to yourself?"

 

"I walked into a door," Rodney snapped. "What do you think happened?"

 

Beckett dropped his hands and turned to John. "Now, Colonel, I understand the
urge, really, but I'll have to ask you to find other ways of expressing your
frustration."

 

After reassuring Beckett that Rodney's colorfully black eye was in no way
intentional, Rodney was handed some Advil and told to stop whining about the
loss of peripheral vision.

 

"But I need my peripheral vision!" Rodney explained, even as John pulled him out
the door. "Have you seen who I go off world with? I'll be killed!" He then waved
expansively at John's now swelling right hand. "At least fix him, so that when I
miss the large, cave bound native running at me, he'll still be able to shoot
straight."

 

******

 

John and his newly wrapped knuckles found themselves following Rodney around,
sticking closely to him. For the most part, Rodney just looked at him a little
funny, got an almost doe-eyed look and said that John was following him around
because his job didn't involve much more work than toting a gun and grunting.

 

Smiling faintly, John slouched comfortably against a nearby wall and let his
eyes do an up and down number as he slowly licked his lips. Rodney flushed and
ducked his head away.. "Yeah, that's me, Rodney, grunt extraordinaire."

 

The urge to plaster himself up along Rodney's side and set up camp didn't
subside and made him feel twitchy, but he managed to distract himself with some
of the cool new toys that had been cleared for him to play with.

 

Rodney settled himself into his work station and took up, what seemed to John,
at least three different tasks and from the look on his face, each was more
frustrating than the last. "Radek, where the hell are the equations from the
last simulation?"

 

John put his current doodad down and propped his chin on his fist, waiting to
see how long it took for Rodney to stop snapping his fingers and look up from
his computer screen.

 

"Radek!"

 

A minute and a half; must be interesting stuff.

 

"I am right here, Rodney," Zelenka said from the door, walking in, with Grodin
hot on his heels.

 

Grodin stopped at the edge of the doorway.. His eyes flicked to each individual
before finally settling back on Zelenka. He took a visible breath and stepped
inside.

 

"Peter! Great, I've got something you'd be perfect for," Rodney said. He wasn't
looking at his screen anymore and there was an uncharacteristic nervous twitter
to his actions.

 

The room became unnaturally silent. Zelenka, Rodney, and the few others working,
stopped what they were doing and waited. John felt his entire body tense,
coiling tightly because there was a precipice he couldn't quite see hanging over
all of them. McKay was dying a painful death and John had a sneaking suspicion
this was one of the key tangling points.

 

"Well then, it's a good thing I'm here," Grodin said eventually.

 

Zelenka smiled, wide and dangerous. He clapped Grodin gently on the arm. "Good
man. Rodney here is getting a bit uppity and we could use another clear-headed
individual."

 

"I can't promise clear-headed when it comes to Dr. McKay," Grodin pronounced
gravely.

 

Rodney sputtered for effect, but John could see the sparkle in his eyes. "Well
then, get to it!" He all but threw a computer at Grodin.

 

John once again slid to the back of the room, watching the rhythm come back to
the science team, a nostalgic set of noise and motion. Despite the fact that he
rarely spent more than an entire afternoon in the place more than once every ten
days or so, John recognized it as the sound of something sliding correctly into
place.

 

He resumed his steady progress through the pile of Ancient artifacts. Sure there
were others who could do this as well, but when John did it, things went quicker
and had a better likelihood of success. Besides, this way he got dibs on all of
the cool stuff.

 

A small, elongated object caught John's attention next. It reminded him a little
of a green kryptonite crystal from Superman, only smaller, palm sized even, with
a flat underside. He touched it carefully, feeling through the ancient
interface.

 

"Rodney." Beckett's voice startled all of them. He stood in the doorway,
grim-faced and looking sick.

 

John knew without needing to be told. "No." He shook his head. "No you should
have called me-- us."

 

Rodney's coffee cup clattered to the ground, the brown liquid spilling over the
floor in a slow crawl. "What happened?" His voice cracked halfway through the
question.

 

"I couldn't even begin to tell you," Beckett admitted. "Rodney, I'm so sorry,
but he kept getting sicker and I couldn't keep up with which illness he had
anymore."

 

"He failed," John said quietly.

 

"I wouldn't say that." Zelenka bent to pick up the coffee cup, carefully
cleaning the spilled liquid. "Go pay your respects; we will manage on without
you."

 

Rodney nodded slowly and moved off to join Beckett. John went too, but it was
like walking through water and all he could think about was how he'd been so
sure there was still time to figure it all out. Now he was left with nothing but
conflicting feelings and a sense of guilt.

 

They viewed the body together. McKay, laying too still and too pale in his bed
tucked away in a private corner. John who had spent so much time around him in
sleep knew instantly that this stillness was different. Beckett left them alone.

 

"He looks so," Rodney said from his small little corner, "not me."

 

"Yeah," John agreed roughly, reaching out a hand to gently trace McKay's brow.
"Thank you," he said carefully. It was all he could think of.

 

"Rodney, this is Radek," the radio crackled in their ears. "I do not wish to
disturb you but Peter has come upon something interesting that I think you need
to see."

 

John shook his head, feeling cloudy. "Go on, Rodney," he said when he saw the
look of indecision on the Rodneys face.

 

"Right," Rodney said. "I'll just--" He stopped, hands clasped together firmly.
He looked at the closed-off curtain and then darted forward for a quick hug,
just a tight squeeze of arms that was so unexpected John didn't have enough
brains inside him to respond. "I uh--" he pointed to the door. "You know where
to find me," Rodney finished, and darted out.

 

John watched him go, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth despite the
heavy feeling in his chest. He turned back to McKay, intent on just trying to
understand, though if pressed to say what, he'd never be able to tell.

 

He was staring so hard he nearly missed it.

 

A twitch of thumb that nearly gave him a heart attack. His eyes immediately
flicked towards nonexistent monitors. Beckett had cleaned McKay up before they'd
gotten there.

 

John knew things about dead bodies, knew there were sometimes strange twitches
and sounds and activity that could not in any way be associated with actual
life. That didn't stop him from hoping.

 

Still, when McKay's eyes went wide and he made the most horrible sound John had
ever heard while gasping for air, John yelled loudly, "Beckett! Get back here
now!"

 

He'd never seen the doctor so flustered in his life. The orders however were
snapped out briskly and clearly to his nurses and John was shoved to the
background. He watched them all run around frantically checking on things,
giving drugs, and looking flat out astonished. John himself thought really hard
about hysteria. It seemed like a good choice.

 

"Colonel Sheppard, you're needed in the control room."

 

John recognized the tone of voice that came over the comms, the ‘oh shit
something bad is about to happen kind of frantic that always made his
adrenaline pump. He got his shaking legs under himself again, made eye contact
with Beckett, who nodded him off, and double timed it to the control room.

 

******

 

John walked into controlled chaos. People were shouting information left and
right and Elizabeth was in the middle nodding quickly, bent over a computer with
Rodney and Zelenka.

 

"What's going on?" John asked.

 

"It's a surprise party and someone invited the Wraith; two cruisers and a
handful of darts to be precise," Rodney answered, not looking up. "And we don't
have a new working model of a ZedPM to play with."

 

"Can we cloak?"

 

"Working on it," Rodney muttered. "But it's not as easy as snapping our fingers,
Colonel."

 

John moved to the long-range sensors. "How close are they and how come we didn't
see them before now?"

 

"It's 10,000 year old technology," Zelenka said. "Maybe it is behind on
maintenance?"

 

"Or maybe," Rodney said, looking pissed over his keyboard. "The Wraith have
learned a trick or two all on their own. After all they at least understand
their own technology and while both sides have been static for a very long time,
that sort of thing tends to lead to an advantage."

 

"Either way," John said tensely, "I don't like that they're coming to take a
look."

 

"It's not exactly on the list of things that I appreciate about them either,"
Elizabeth agreed.

 

"I'll get some jumpers in the air and--" the long range scanner went white.
"What the hell?"

 

Rodney was there instantly pushing him out of the way. "What the hell?" He
pressed on a few keys, taking readings before standing up and looking puzzled.
"They're gone."

 

"Cloaked?" Elizabeth asked.

 

John's stomach clenched, because that would be really bad.

 

"No." Rodney shook his head. "Gone. As in, exploded, dead, itty bitty Wraith
bits will be burning up into the atmosphere for weeks. Gone."

 

"Well," John said conversationally, leaning heavily on a nearby console. "Not
that I mind, but I sort of feel cheated."

 

"What are you, insane?" Rodney's look said 'I'm measuring you for a comfortable
white jacket with lots of buckles'.

 

"Dr. Weir," the gate technician called. "We're getting a signal."

 

"From who?" Rodney demanded.

 

"Um… well-" The gate tech looked very reluctant to speak.

 

John smiled; he had a very good feeling. "Put him on the speakers."

 

"Yes, sir." The technician pressed a few buttons. "On speakers."

 

"You're a very good shot," John said into the microphone.

 

"You bet your ass I am," his voice said back.

 

John relaxed into a nearby chair. "So you were just in the neighborhood, huh?"

 

"Well see, I've got this new car I'm testing out and it's no good unless you hit
the highways."

 

"Oh god." Rodney sounded horrified. "There's two of you."

 

"Karma's such a bitch," John said smugly.

 

******

 

The puddle jumper that landed in the jumper bay looked like every other jumper
they had. There weren't even any extra dents or scrapes. John, Rodney, and
Elizabeth converged on it and waited as the hatch opened slowly.

 

Inside John saw the outline of a figure, leaning artfully against the side wall
waiting for the hatch to finish moving. "What, no party?" the shadow said.

 

Rodney threw his hands up in disgust. "Sorry, but the caterer quit last week."

 

The older Sheppard stepped into the light. He was grayer, approaching salt and
pepper, and had gained a few extra wrinkles and a light scar that John didn't
recognize, but all in all, looking fit. He walked casually up to John and stuck
his hand out. "General John Sheppard." He bounced a bit, eyebrows waggling at
John's shocked expression. "I know, I can't believe they did it either."

 

"Doomed!" Rodney all but wailed. "Doomed I tell you."

 

General Sheppard shook his head at Rodney, amusement clear on his face. "Rodney,
you have no idea."

 

"General Sheppard." Elizabeth stepped forward. "It's good to meet you." She took
his hand and shook it firmly. "Very good."

 

"Good to be here," Sheppard answered. "Now, I believe there's a wayward
scientist hanging around?"

 

Rodney's face immediately dropped and John realized that there hadn't been any
time to tell him, or to even check in on McKay. "General," John quickly stepped
in, "he hasn't exactly had an easy time. Hes in the infirmary." John could see
Sheppard's shoulders stiffen, and he paused, unsure how to deliver the next bit
of news. "He died on us for a few minutes there."

 

Rodney frowned at him. "What do you mean for a few minutes?"

 

"You got called away before all the excitement," John explained. "But he scared
the crap out of me when he woke up."

 

"But he's alive?" General Sheppard asked, eyes hard.

 

"Last time I checked," John answered, hoping nothing had changed since he'd
left.

 

******

 

Walking through the hallways was a trip that John actually enjoyed a bit. The
double takes were kind fun, and that last spit take had almost hit Caldwell
right in the face. Caldwell was too busy staring to even notice John trying very
hard not to laugh.

 

They arrived to find Beckett chatting happily with McKay, who looked very much
alive. Tired, but alive.

 

Rodney stumbled to a halt at the sight. "Oh my god, I turned into Dr. Jackson."

 

"Don't complain," General Sheppard said. "I can think of worse things than
coming back from the dead."

 

Their conversation attracted McKay's attention, who swung his head away from
Beckett to look at them, and froze. "John?" he croaked.

 

General Sheppard separated from the pack and settled beside McKay's hospital
bed. "Hey. Rodney, I hear you've been having a party."

 

"Oh yeah." McKay's voice twisted softly. "It's been a blast."

 

The exchange was so intimate John's own chest ached and he fought the urge to
avert his eyes.

 

"Rodney," General Sheppard said quietly.

 

"John," McKay said back, voice breaking, he reached out, hand shaking. "Oh my
god, John how did you-- wait I think know how-- but still I-- I-- you--"

 

"Yeah," General Sheppard nodded. "How soon can we get him out of here, Carson?"

 

There was an odd dissociation at his use of Beckett's first name, but John
supposed after at least a decade of working closely with someone, being on a
first name basis wouldn't be so unusual.

 

Beckett sighed the sigh of the put-upon doctor. "Well most of what's left is
trauma and stress from all that he's been through. I'm assuming you've got a
competent doctor on your end of things?"

 

"The best." General Sheppard smiled, eyes plastered on McKay.

 

"Then he'll need a bit of time to recover before I'll be comfortable letting him
go," Beckett answered. "But not too much longer."

 

"Thank you," General Sheppard said to Beckett, and then turned to the rest of
them. "All of you, really. I doubt he'd admit it, but I'm sure he couldn't have
done it without you."

 

"I hate it when you talk for me," McKay grumbled, cheerfully pulling off the
last of the diodes, eyes suspiciously misty and hands shaking "And they were so
eager to help, how could I say no?"

 

"Now off with all of you." Beckett shooed them out. "There are a few tests I
still need to run."

 

John was thoroughly unsurprised when General Sheppard didn't exit with them.

 

******

 

It didn't take long for John's knuckles to really start throbbing and the pain
killer he'd refused earlier was coming back to haunt him. Sighing, he stared at
the bandages, noting a small spot of blood had seeped through. It was hard to
keep knuckles immobile enough for the scabs not to rub.

 

Beckett didn't look too surprised to see him, but John could see the tell take
knowing look as the painkillers were handed to him first thing, before he even
had a chance to talk. As long as he was there, Beckett also insisted on taking
another look and a fresh bandage.

 

John distracted himself by studying the slowly moving shadows behind the white
curtains in the corner. "Hey, how's he really doing?" He asked when Beckett
finished taping him up.

 

"He'll be fine," Beckett assured him, "especially now."

 

Startled, John looked up at Beckett, but he was already busily putting things
away.

 

Curiosity and possibly a few other nagging emotions stopped John from leaving
the infirmary directly, hushed voices, heavy with emotion carried John's feet
until he stood, hopefully unobtrusively next to the far curtain as it butted up
against the wall. It curled in on itself giving John just enough space to see
two figures, heads bent together. General Sheppard was sitting in a chair,
leaning forward, propping himself up with his hand, which was pressed into the
bed next to McKay.

 

"…that's a long time," General Sheppard said quietly, "how much do you
remember?"

 

"I don't know anymore," McKay answered. His hand was wrapped tightly around
General Sheppard's. "There are things I know that happened, I told myself about
some of them, I'm almost tempted to ask now."

 

"I can't believe you did all this," General Sheppard pulled gently on McKay's
hand and brought it to his lips. "It was insane."

 

"I was insane." McKay pulled his hand back, the General coming with it, standing
and then leaning until their lips brushing tenderly. "John I can't do this
again, okay?" He said when they parted.

 

John pulled back from the curtain feeling like an intruder, but he couldn't help
take one last look. He found they had returned to their original positions,
still leaning close, hands tightly held together. McKay was laying back into his
bed, eyes closed, listening to General Sheppard's quiet murmurings, and the
beginnings of a smile gracing his lips

 

******

 

General Sheppard and McKay didn't stick around long after that. John could see
the tightly held movements in McKay's frame as well as a similar restraint in
his own. They were being discreet, but they sure as hell didn't want to be.

 

Hours later, alone in the jumper bay, John and Rodney found themselves facing
their older versions.

 

"John," McKay said, stepping forward, obviously addressing John and not the
General. "I-- there are--"

 

"Thanks for keeping the husband sane," General Sheppard interrupted. "I'm not
too upset about how."

 

McKay elbowed him in the side. "Even I know there were better ways to do that."

 

John and Rodney were too busy squeaking "husband?" to take too much notice of
their companions.

 

"Well, life partners just sounded kind of gay." General Sheppard patted John
consolingly on the shoulder. "Really, it's not as bad as it sounds."

 

"You know, self-fulfilling prophesies aren't actually a proven thing," McKay
grumbled, and then pointed an accusing finger at Rodney, "and I don't know why
you're so shocked. You knew."

 

"You knew?" John looked at Rodney who was staring anywhere but at him.

 

"A ring," Rodney said frantically. "I was shown a ring, it could have meant
anything!"

 

******

 

After General Sheppard and McKay they were gone and there was only one of each
of them again, Rodney looked far more relaxed. "Well, it's a lot harder to mess
with the timeline if there's no one actually changing it," Rodney explained.

 

" I guess this proves it," John said casually, noting they were walking towards
his quarters.

 

"Proves what?"

 

John opened the door for them. "The future is what you make of it."

 

Rodney nodded, then paused abruptly. "You did not just say that."

 

"Just because you disagree with the technology in the movie," John said
reasonably, "doesn't mean you should ignore the philosophy as well."

 

"I bet you that was his pet puddle jumper." Rodney sighed theatrically.

 

"It was," John said knowingly. "And her name is going to be Delorean."

 

"I cannot believe I married you," Rodney grumbled, pinching the bridge of his
nose.

 

John really couldn't believe it either, for a whole lot of really expansive and
difficult reasons that had little to do with Rodney himself. "Oh you so can." He
sat on his bed and patted the space next to him expectantly.

 

"Can not." Rodney said, sitting next to him. "I was probably half insane when
you proposed, years of exposure to your radioactive personality." They leaned
together, shoulder's touching lightly, thighs warm against each other.

 

"What makes you think I proposed?" John slipped a hand behind Rodney's head,
fingers sliding downs his neck, heavy pulse thrumming under John's touch. "Other
than the fact I think you'd make an excellent bride."

 

Rodney made an indignant sound that quickly transformed into a half moan when
John's mouth covered his own. As kisses went, it was a bit awkward, but sweet
and perfect never the less. Small, firm kisses followed until they were firmly
pressed against each, holding tight. Rodney rested his forehead against John's
shoulder. "You do know that if you die, I might just go a little insane?"

 

"I figured that out, yes." John said, carding his fingers through Rodney's hair.

 

"Also," Rodney looked up frowning, "I look horrible in white."

 

THE END