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As staff meetings went, it wasn’t that bad, John felt. He was even willing to score it a seven out of a possible ten despite the fact that Radek, that little Czech bastard, had managed to get his hands on PowerPoint and was currently subjecting them all to an incredibly mind-numbing report of the city’s self-diagnostic system. The only thing that made it worthwhile was Rodney shooting instant messages to John, describing exactly how he was going to kill both Radek and the idiot who let him near PowerPoint. Better still, the longer Radek went on, the more creative Rodney got. It was because of Rodney’s instant messages that John almost missed what Woolsey had to say next.

“...be here next week. I trust you’ll be available, Colonel?”

“What?” John gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence that would get him nowhere, but he followed it up with a confession that would. “Sorry. I was so engrossed in Radek’s findings that I missed that.”

Or maybe his confession wouldn’t get him anywhere. Woolsey didn’t look like he was buying it, but he sighed and said, “Senator Hogan of Maryland, the new Chair of Armed Services Committee, will be making a site visit to Atlantis next week in anticipation of our return to Pegasus. I trust you’ll be available?”

“Um, no can do,” he said quickly. “I’m pretty sure I have leave time accumulated, and —”

“Leave denied,” Woolsey said. He didn’t even bother to pretend to be apologetic about it, which made him even more of a bastard than Radek. “Senator Hogan specifically requested that you make yourself available to go over the casualty reports from the time we first occupied Atlantis. General O’Neill was more than happy to assure her that you would be here.”

“What? That’s ridiculous!” Rodney said. John was about to thank him for intervening on his behalf when Rodney added, “These numbers can’t be right.”

Radek muttered something in Czechoslovakian and then in a louder voice said, “They can be right, because they are right. Just because they don’t match your pet theory about the city’s power consumption during diagnostics does not mean they are wrong.”

“Well, run them again!”

“I will not! I have run them five times already, and each time, the numbers come out the same. If you do not believe me, run them yourself.” With that, he snatched up his pad and stalked out of the conference room. Rodney sputtered in outrage for a moment before following him, and after that, everyone else took the opportunity to escape, leaving John alone with Woolsey.

Alone and bitter, because honestly, he thought a little help and support from his colleagues were called for, considering that he’d helped save the planet almost a year ago, but no —

“As I was saying, Senator Hogan was very specific in her desire to speak with you. Considering that she currently holds the purse strings for the American military, both Stargate Command and the IOA felt it was a reasonable request.” Woolsey paused before lowering his voice to say, “And of course, you —”

“Great. Perfect. Dog and pony show. Got it,” John interrupted, unwilling to deal with Woolsey’s sympathy. He wondered if he had a chance in hell of resigning and sneaking back to Pegasus through a conveniently timed wormhole. Probably not. He was pretty sure there was a clause in one of his contracts granting the SGC permission to hunt him down if he tried to run away.

Woolsey sighed. “I know you aren’t fond of these types of diplomatic meetings, and I’m sure this one will be even more trying than usual for you. For the sake of Atlantis and everyone’s desire to return to Pegasus, however, I hope you’ll put aside whatever negative feelings you have and be able to maintain a professional demeanor in spite of any provocations that may occur.”

Trapped, with no way to chew his leg off to escape, John said morosely, “I’ll do my best.”

“Excellent.” Woolsey started gathering his files. “I’ve forwarded a list of mission reports you’ll want to review in advance of the Senator’s visit, and I’ve asked Majors Lorne and Teldy to please handle the bulk of whatever military issues arise between now and the end of the Senator’s visit.”

At that, John asked, “You what?”

“I apologize. I know it isn’t proper procedure, but I can’t emphasize enough how important this meeting is,” he said. The hell of it was that John believed Woolsey really was sorry about stepping on protocol. The man lived by rules and regulations. “In any event, I’ve made sure that no one will disturb you in your office.”

John only just stopped himself from asking, “What office?” before Woolsey walked out. And then he pounded his head on the conference table a few times, because as much as he hated the idea of having to ask Teldy — or worse, Lorne — where his office was, he’d hate it even more if he couldn’t navigate his way there when the Senator arrived. He knew from personal experience she wouldn’t be amused.

*****

John didn’t ask for a lot from Rodney. Not really, not when it came right down to it. Sure, he got a little testy when the Wraith were attacking and Rodney was taking his own sweet time finding a solution, but beyond that, he didn’t ask for much. A little respect, a little fair play, a little fooling around — that was all he really wanted — so he didn’t think it was completely out of bounds to expect Rodney to shut the fuck up pretty much any time about the fact that John was doing something other than showing up in the lab to turn shit on.

“Do you have a point?” he finally asked.

Rodney’s mouth worked a moment longer, then he said, “Well. Yes. I need you in the lab.”

“Okay, I know you were at the meeting when Woolsey talked about Senator Hogan coming for a visit.”

“I was?”

“And you were at the follow-up meeting where he told all department heads, including you, to get your reports together for her visit.”

“No, really? I was?” John hated that look on Rodney’s face. He could never tell if the confusion was real or faked, but when he was being honest with himself, he knew Rodney wasn’t that good an actor.

“And you were at the second follow-up meeting, where Woolsey handed you a flash drive and told you to review the mission reports on it in case the Senator had questions for you.”

“What flash — oh.” Rodney suddenly looked guilty, which was never a good thing.

“You looked at the flash drive, didn’t you?”

“Well —” Rodney cringed a little.

“Tell me you didn’t erase it.”

“I needed a file from Simpson, but she was working with Wraith code on an isolated workstation, and the file was —”

“Let me guess — the file was just under four gigs.”

“Actually, it was just under a hundred gigs. She had to compress it for me.” Rodney sat down in front of John’s desk then looked around for the first time. “Have I ever been here before? For that matter, where are we?”

John felt his mouth drop open, and after a moment, he closed it. Then he asked, “How can you possibly not know where we are? You came to see me, remember?”

“Well, yes. But I used the life signs detector to get here.” He looked around. “Hey, this looks like an office. When did you get an office?”

“I’ve had one for a while now,” he said, unwilling to admit that he had no idea when he ended up with an office.

John didn’t even know who had assigned the space to him. It was something Elizabeth might have done, but she’d seemed to know him better than that. Sam, too, had seemed to get that John wasn’t really the office type. That left Woolsey, but the way Lorne acted when John asked him for directions, it seemed like this had been his office for a lot longer than Woolsey had been in Atlantis. In any case, John didn’t want to be asked about his office, and he wasn’t in any mood to tell. Besides, Rodney shouldn’t have sounded so surprised. John was, after all, the military commander of Atlantis, so it only made sense that he would have an office. It didn’t matter that until six days ago, John himself hadn’t known he had one.

Rather than continue down a conversational dead-end, John asked, “Since you deleted the files on the flash drive Woolsey gave you, I’m guessing you need them again?”

“Do I have to? I mean, I’m not even an American, so I don’t really see why —”

“You’re a member of my team,” he said slowly, making sure Rodney was tracking. Or at the very least, that he was irritated enough to prove he was listening.

“What about Ronon and Teyla? She can talk to them and get her interrogation jollies that way.” Rodney looked around again. “I think your office is bigger than mine.”

“My office is not —” John clenched his jaw and refocused, saying, “Ronon and Teyla won’t be back from Colorado for another month.”

“A month? Why? They were supposed to be back in three days.”

“Yeah, well.” John slumped back in his chair. “Sam and Teal’c got Landry to issue them an invitation to do special seminars for the gate teams. I tried to get him to invite us, too, but he said we’d be too busy with Hogan.”

“I still don’t see why I have to —”

“Rodney.” When Rodney snapped his mouth shut, John continued, “Senator Hogan is going to want to talk to you, and she’s probably going to want to ask you about the specific missions that were copied onto that flash drive.”

“She told you this?”

“No.” John almost added more, but he decided he wasn’t quite ready for that level of sharing. “Just — just trust me. She’ll have questions. You should refresh your memory.”

“I have an excellent memory!”

“Yeah. So excellent you forgot you were supposed to keep what was on the flash drive Woolsey gave you.” John dug around in the top drawer and found another flash drive. He mounted it on his laptop and said, “I’m resaving the files for you, and then I’m giving you a pop quiz later on to make sure you looked at the damn thing.”

John ignored Rodney’s objections as he pulled Rodney out of the chair and put the flash drive in his pants pocket. He walked Rodney to the door and said, “Time to go.”

“I — you can’t —”

Once Rodney was on the other side of the threshold, John gave him a little wave goodbye and told Atlantis not to open the door to anyone. She sent back a vaguely querulous concern about John never being allowed to leave, and he reassured her that she could open the door for him, just not anyone else, and then he wondered if anyone else had noticed that Atlantis was getting a little dotty in her old age.

*****

For the most part, John liked his dress uniform. It fit, for one thing, and for another, it made him look kind of sexy (or a lot sexy, judging by the way Rodney tended to go slack-jawed whenever John had to put it on). When he wore it, he felt pretty good about himself and the world around him, so it didn’t make a whole lot of sense that he was fussing with it at this point, except really, it did.

The Senator was due any —

“I don’t know what you’re worried about,” Rodney said. “All you have to do is charm her, and she’ll be falling all over herself to get into your pants.”

John’s mouth moved for a moment before he was able to squeak, and then he said, “She’s not going to try to get into my pants.”

“Oh, please. Women in two galaxies throw themselves at you on a regular basis. She won’t be any different.”

Woolsey spoke up then. “Dr. McKay, we’ve had this conversation numerous times before. It is entirely inappropriate for you to discuss such matters with any of your colleagues, and it would be even if the IOA didn’t have a policy statement on sexual harassment in the workplace.”

“I’m in hell,” John muttered. “Not quite sure why or what I did, but I’m in —”

“Scheduled activation,” said Amelia. “Incoming wormhole from Cheyenne.”

“Drop the shield,” Woolsey said, glancing sideways at John, who straightened up even more than he thought was possible. Rodney, thankfully, stopped trying to defend himself and at least made an effort to look like he wasn’t slouching.

O’Neill stepped through with Senator Hogan right at his side and pretty much filling the gate room with her presence. It always took John a moment to remember she was only five-foot-four at best, and that was in heels. Even so, he could tell she was unnerved. She had the same look on her face that Rodney had right after he had the gene therapy, which — great! — Atlantis was talking to her. And judging by the level of enthusiasm John was picking up from the city, he was willing to bet that the Senator had a pretty strong expression of the gene. Wonderful. Just fucking wonderful. Not for the first time, he wondered if he would be able to get through this visit without a) killing anyone or b) curling up in a corner to cry.

“Mr. Woolsey, Colonel Sheppard, Dr. McKay,” O’Neill said, “This is Senator Hogan.”

“Welcome,” Woolsey said, stepping forward with his hand out. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Madam Senator, and to introduce you to Atlantis.”

The Senator smiled graciously at Woolsey and took his hand. Then, looking straight at John, she said, “I’m looking forward to hearing all about the military presence at this base.”

John winced.

*****

Two hours later, John and Rodney were following O’Neill, Woolsey and the Senator around on a tour of the city when Rodney yanked John into an unused lab and whispered, “All right, I want to know everything.”

“What are you talking about?” John glanced into the hallway and saw that the other three continued to walk slowly as they made the kind of small talk that always threatened to explode John’s brain.

“You and Hogan — you know each other. What is she to you? Mrs. Robinson?”

John gave Rodney a horrified look. “What the hell? Geez!”

“Fine. Not Mrs. Robinson, but —”

“Colonel Sheppard!”

Her voice carried just as well as it always had, and John twitched a little. He glared at Rodney for making him have to listen to her call for him, and then he went back into the hallway. “Sorry about that, Senator. Dr. McKay thought he saw something in the lab.”

“What did you find?” Woolsey asked.

“Nothing. It was just his imagination.” John ignored Rodney’s attempts to defend himself and caught up with the other three.

O’Neill asked, “Can we get on with it, or does McKay want to go searching for more ghosts?”

“I think I’ve seen enough of the city for now,” the Senator said. “I would prefer to meet with the Colonel now to discuss the mission reports he’s filed.”

Cheered by the news, Rodney clapped his hands and said, “In that case, I’ll just head back —”

“Don’t disappear completely, Doctor,” she said. “I have a number of questions about the role you played in these missions.”

“Excuse me?” The hell of it was that John could see he was genuinely confused, which meant he either hadn’t looked at the AARs John had given him or he had but hadn’t made the connection.

“Your role, Doctor. I’m particularly interested in hearing how you view your own incompetence when out in the field.”

“Okay!” John said brightly. “If you’ll come this way, I’ll —”

“Incompetence? I — What?”

O’Neill and Woolsey looked ready to run, and John was convinced that if he hadn’t glared at them, they would have disappeared without hesitation, leaving John to deal with the fallout. He didn’t like to think of O’Neill as a coward, but if the yellow fit —

“You heard me,” the Senator said, recapturing John’s attention. Somehow, and John would never figure out how she managed it, but somehow, even though she was more than half a foot shorter than Rodney, she looked down her nose at him. “Your actions directly caused the death of Colonel Sheppard once and nearly caused his death countless other times. I trust you’ll be able to —”

“Like I said, if you’ll come this way, we can talk in my office,” John said quickly, all but picking her up and carrying her away. The last thing any of them needed was for her and Rodney to have a knock-down, drag-out fight in the hallway. Judging by the way O’Neill and Woolsey started moving Rodney along, both men were clearly on John’s side in this.

Fortunately, she didn’t try to stay, which was just as well, because John really didn’t want to manhandle her anymore than necessary. Aside from the embarrassment factor, she’d never let him forget it. Rodney’s protests faded behind them, but John didn’t speak until they were nearly at his office.

“Is there some reason you’re attacking Dr. McKay?”

“He’s a menace.”

“He’s the reason we’re all alive, and I’m including everyone on Earth in that ‘we,’” he said, opening the door and gesturing for her to go in first.

She glared up at him but waited until the door closed before saying, “Do you have any idea — any idea — what it was like to read about all the times you nearly died and realizing that I never would have known why if I hadn’t been read into the program?”

“Look, I’m sorry —”

“Sorry doesn’t cut it, John Patrick Sheppard. You had no right to go off to another galaxy without at least letting me know where you were going,” she said, punching him on the arm.

“Do the words ‘top secret’ and ‘classified’ mean a thing to you? Also — ow!” He wanted to go sit behind his desk and maybe establish a little authority over his own command, but he knew he didn’t have a hope in hell of managing that until she’d had her say.

“I had clearance, and you know it.”

“Well excuse me for thinking you wouldn’t give a damn,” he said, promptly regretting it as soon as he did. She looked like she was about to cry.

“How could you say that?” Damn it, there were tears gathering in her eyes. God, he hated that, hated that he was yet again making her cry, hated that a small, mean part of him was convinced it was an act, hated that an even smaller part of him felt he deserved whatever she had to throw at him. After all, it took two to fuck up a relationship, and she’d done her share over the years, just like John had.

“You’re the one who told me not to bother looking you up after I married Nancy,” he muttered, feeling guilty and, even more, feeling pissed off that he felt guilty.

“You’re gay, John. It was bad enough that you hid to stay in the military. How on earth could you imagine that I would have ever approved of you going even deeper into the closet?”

“Damn it, Mom!”

“Enough.” She took a deep breath and said, “I’m going to be here for several days. We can talk about your missions tomorrow.”

“But —”

“No. I don’t want to do this right now.” Of course not. John might actually win the argument, and she couldn’t have that.

Not that he was bitter or anything.

“Fine,” he ground out. “I’ll get one of the Marines to escort you to quarters.”

“Fine.”

“Fine.”

*****

It was close to 2200 hours before John found his way to Rodney’s quarters and face-planted on his bed. After the day he’d had, he’d earned this and had every intention of milking it for all it was worth. For a moment, John lost himself in a fantasy of being able to stay on Rodney’s bed for the next few months or years without having to deal with the SGC, the IOA or the Senator. It was a nice fantasy and one he figured he could indulge in for a while, since Rodney was working at his desk and probably hadn’t noticed John’s arrival. As it turned out, he was wrong about that, because Rodney spoke to him.

“I’m surprised you’re not off charming the Senator into giving us more money.” Yeah, Rodney’s jealousy was kind of irritating except when it totally wasn’t. John hadn’t really been the object of that kind of possessiveness for very many people — the Senator was the last one he could think of who’d tried like hell to keep him under wraps, back when he was a teenager — and it was kind of nice knowing that Rodney gave that much of a shit. Of course, it was also a pain in the ass, but John figured it was just the price to be paid.

“Rodney.” His face was buried in Rodney’s pillow, so it didn’t come out quite as forcefully as he would have liked.

“I could see the way she looked at you. The way she blamed me for your death wish. She wanted to carry you off and lock you away somewhere, never to be heard from again.”

“Rodney.” He’d lifted his face a little that time, but clearly, it wasn’t enough, because Rodney was still going. Also, it was kind of creepy, the way Rodney read her so accurately.

“I know you don’t like to think it, but your sex appeal is universal.” He took a deep breath and, sounding reluctant yet determined, he continued with, “I don’t mind you taking one for the team, especially if it —”

John lifted his head even further to say clearly, “She’s my mother.”

He let himself drop back down again, because seriously? Rodney’s paranoia was fueling images that made John want to wash his brain and hang it out to dry. They probably wouldn’t have had such an impact if he hadn’t just spent several hours having a similar conversation with Woolsey and O’Neill. Of course, they actually knew who the Senator was, but still, they seemed to think that because John was her son, it automatically meant Atlantis would get funding. John knew better. The way he saw it, the IOA and SGC would be lucky if they ever saw another dime as long as John was still in the military, because yes, the Senator really could be that kind of dick.

“What?”

“You heard me,” he said, not bothering to lift his face. Rodney was smart. He could figure it out.

“Wait — but she —” Half a second later, Rodney’s big brain put it together — the sniping she’d done throughout the tour, John’s reticence, O’Neill’s rather odd and disturbing attempts at tact. “Oh my god. Your mother is a politician?”

“You don’t have to say it that way. She’s not a crook,” John said, wondering if he should have kept the information to himself after all. Rodney wasn’t exactly fond of politicians, and there was a very real possibility he’d punish John for being stupid enough to have a Senator for a mother.

“She’s a politician in charge of money, and she hates you. We’re totally screwed.”

“She doesn’t —” John gave up and rolled onto his back. “She doesn’t hate me. She hates that I’m on Atlantis. That I’m military.”

“I repeat: we’re totally screwed.” Rodney stood up and started pacing. John closed his eyes, because he’d seen Rodney do that so often, he knew his routine by heart. “How could you let this happen?”

“Not my fault.”

And it wasn’t. John blamed President Obama for their current problems — Obama and the Republican Party. If it hadn’t been for those two, the Democrats never would have kept their majority in the Senate, and his mother never would have become Chair of the Armed Services Committee when the guy before her retired. He thought about trying to explain that to Rodney then decided it wasn’t worth it. Rodney wouldn’t thank him for pointing out that the Republicans could have been useful for at least one thing.

Rodney continued pacing, and John imagined steam coming out of his ears as he tried to figure out what to do. It was a comforting thought, knowing that Rodney was on the job, so to speak. And yeah, he sucked when it came to interpersonal communication, but John figured he had a reasonably good chance of coming up with an idea that might convince his mom to play nice and not remove funding for an American military presence on Atlantis.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, John heard Rodney clicking his fingers. “I’ve got it!”

“Okay.” John kept his eyes closed. He was comfortable and considerably calmer than when he’d arrived — Rodney’s bed was good for relaxation — and he was close to falling asleep. He was pretty sure nothing Rodney was about to say could —

“Lorne.”

— okay, maybe there was something Rodney could say that would wake John up. He opened his eyes and lifted his head enough so he could glare at Rodney. “What?”

“Lorne. He’s not as pretty as you, but I’m sure he could —”

“Shut up.”

“But —”

“I’m not pimping out my XO — or anyone else on Atlantis — to my mother. Get that idea out of your head right now, and keep it out.”

“But —”

“No, Rodney.” John lifted enough to prop himself up on his elbows. “Sex is not the answer to getting my mother to play nice, no matter how much you like it as a solution. And since you’ve apparently lost sight of the very important fact that she’s my mother, it’s clear that I need to be more blunt. As far as I’m concerned, she’s had sex exactly twice in her life, and the only reason I’m willing to admit that much is because as far as I know, artificial insemination wasn’t really an option back in the sixties. This means there isn’t a chance in hell you’ll get my buy-in for any scheme that involves romance. Understood?”

Rodney blinked a few times then said. “Um, sure.”

“Good.” John pushed himself up a little more. “Now. Since you’ve disturbed me greatly with sex talk involving my mother, you can make up for it with sex talk that involves you and me.”

“But —” He sort of flailed at his laptop and said, “I was just working on —”

“I’m not joking. You owe me.” John stood up and started getting naked.

As expected, Rodney’s eyes glazed over, and he finally got with the program.

*****

The next day dawned bright and early, with the smog of San Francisco wafting out to the bay and settling around Atlantis like a malignant growth. John, who was used to running outdoors on a pollution-free planet, ended up going back inside, because his lungs had gotten kind of wimpy when it came to dealing with that crap. At least Atlantis kept out the worst of it, which was nice, but then she kept asking when they would return home. He always felt like he was kicking a puppy when he answered soon and she sagged a little. Not that she actually sagged; it just felt like sagging when they communicated in that weird-ass way they had with each other.

He sighed as he reached his quarters and wondered if there was a chance, even a small one, that some emergency could crop up and keep him away from pretty much everyone. Atlantis offered to lock him in his room, and he would have taken her up on it if his mother hadn’t already been in there.

John scowled at her for a moment before asking, “How’d you get in?”

“I knocked, and the door opened,” she said, unrepentant as she continued to look through the files on his laptop. He would have objected, but from long experience, he knew he would get about as far with her as he did with Rodney — in other words, not very. Although it sucked ass, admitting defeat without even trying, John had never been interested in fighting pointless battles.

“Find anything interesting?”

He started stripping as he headed toward the bathroom, carefully dropping his very wet t-shirt on her shoulder, because never let it be said that John couldn’t do passive-aggressive as well as the next person. The way he figured it, it was a necessary skill around both Rodney and his mother, since it was one of the few things guaranteed to drive each of them bugshit insane. It was a fair trade, considering they did the same to him, though honestly, he didn’t do it as much to Rodney as to the Senator. For one thing, Rodney regularly saved John’s life. For another, Rodney regularly gave him orgasms. Joan Hogan, in contrast, just made John’s ulcer a little bigger every time he saw her.

“An accurate count of the times you’ve nearly died, for one thing,” she said, absently shoving the shirt to the floor. “Is there some reason you’re lying about that?”

“Way to give me the benefit of the doubt, Senator.”

He paused for a moment to admire the way her face went beet red before closing the door so he could get a shower. There weren’t all that many things he could do to break through her political face, but using her title in private was one of them. It was also a really low blow, but he figured she had it coming, seeing as how she was threatening the entire mission. John finished stripping quickly to get into the shower, and he only just made it by the time she decided to barge in to continue the argument. It was a little scary how much she and Rodney were alike that way.

“Then how else do you explain the discrepancies in these numbers?”

“I don’t know what numbers you’re looking at. But I think that if I was looking at two sets of numbers and they didn’t agree, I’m pretty sure I’d ask what was going on before going around and accusing people of lying.” He poked his head out of the shower stall to add, “It’s — I don’t know — polite or something?”

She snorted. “Please. You’re my son, not one of my constituents.”

John bit back a sigh, because when it came right down to it, he knew what she was saying: blunt force honesty was for family; strangers got tact. He sometimes thought that was the reason he’d gotten along so well with Rodney right from the start — Rodney felt like home, in a way. On the other hand, Rodney didn’t really think tact was for anyone; he seemed to regard it as a deadly sin, right up there with studying psychology and using lemon in anything.

“What reports were you looking at when you decided that I was lying my ass off?”

“Dr. McKay’s. He says —”

“A lot of things. Rodney overreacts sometimes.”

“So you didn’t nearly get boiled in oil?”

He finished scrubbing himself down and calculated the odds of getting her out of the bathroom so he could leave the shower stall. They weren’t good, but he figured he would give it a shot anyway.

After turning off the water, he said, “If you’re talking about P3X-369, no, I didn’t. The high priestess was carrying a chalice of sacred oil when she tripped over Rodney’s backpack and spilled it on me. It was warmer than I liked, but I didn’t get burned.” He poked his head out of the shower stall again and asked, “Are you going to leave so I can get out of here?”

She looked at him with a calculating gleam that was pure and unexpected mischief. “I don’t think so, John. At least this way, you can’t walk out on the conversation.”

“I wasn’t the one who left yesterday, you were. Hand me a towel.”

She settled against the sink, her arms crossed, and said, “No. I’d rather hear why Dr. McKay grossly overstated the oil issue.”

John rolled his eyes. “He gets that way. And I’m getting cold. Towel, please.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Why does he get that way, John?”

“I don’t know. Seriously, I’m getting cold here.” Atlantis started filling the shower stall with steam, which helped a little, but not nearly as much as a towel would.

After a moment, his mother’s eyes got wide. “Oh my god!”

“What?” The look on her face told him exactly what, and Christ — how the hell had he managed to forget that she was the smart one in the family?

“You and Dr. McKay?”

“Can we not have this conversation when I’m wet and naked?”

“How could you? He’s — he’s — God, John. He’s Canadian!”

He stood there, speechless. Unless he’d severely misread the situation, his mother had just said “Canadian” the way most people said “terrorist.” It didn’t make a lot of sense, so he said, “Last I heard, the Canadians were our friends. Did things really change that much while I was gone?”

“You have no idea,” she said with a shudder. “I thought you had better taste than that.”

“Oh, please. And anyway,” he said, thinking he might still have a chance to salvage the conversation, “Rodney’s my friend, so you’ll just have to deal with it.”

“Friends generally don’t exaggerate minor events into life-threatening situations,” she said sternly. “How long have the two of you been together?”

“I’m not having this conversation with you,” he said, calculating the distance to his towel. It wasn’t far, and he could cup himself on the way to dignity. Granted, it would suck getting there, but at least he could get out of the stall.

“Yes, you are. Honestly, what were you thinking?”

John, chilled despite the steam and fed up, snapped, “I was thinking he pretty much has the perfect ass for nailing. You’ve got three seconds before I come out. If you’re still here, you’re getting an eyeful.”

*****

In retrospect, threatening his mother with his naked ass hadn’t been as good an idea as it seemed at the time. He’d honestly thought she would leave, but no. She’d stood right there and gotten a good look at John in all his glory, which had made him feel like he was six years old, when he’d run screaming — naked — through the house, because he’d been convinced that was the way to get her to say yes to going to the zoo. The naked thing hadn’t worked then, either, something John really wished he’d remembered the other morning.

It was quite possible that if he’d remembered that, the next few days wouldn’t have been enough to make him long for the days of kneeling in front of random Wraith queens. Not that John was comparing his own mother to a Wraith queen, because he wasn’t. His mother was a hell of a lot scarier when it came right down to it, especially when it came to the subject of John’s love life. Speaking of which, he’d gone down to Rodney’s lab for a reason.

“I hate my life,” he told Rodney as he leaned against the table.

“Of course you do,” Rodney said absently as he looked at a pile of Ancient tech. “Hey, Zelenka, did you see that —”

“It’s under the —” Zelenka said as he walked toward the door.

“Right, right,” Rodney said, plucking a whatsit out from under a bunch of other whatsits. “What were you saying?”

“I hate my life. I tried resigning this morning, but Woolsey wouldn’t let me.”

And what a conversation that had been. John figured he was as patriotic as the next Air Force officer, but to hear Woolsey talk, John was contemplating nothing less than high treason and the complete destruction of all that was good and true, not only in the Milky Way galaxy, but in Pegasus, too. About the only thing Woolsey hadn’t accused him of was taking candy from babies, but that was probably only a matter of time.

“You —” Rodney looked at him properly for the first time since John arrived in his lab. “What were you thinking? Are you completely stupid? You can’t possibly resign. I have too much to work to do.”

“That’s what I love about you. You’re always thinking about others,” John said.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Rodney sighed. “Fine. This is about you, not me. I understand. I still think you’re being ridiculous.”

“Not really.”

Yes really. You think I don’t know how you get when you’re away from Atlantis? You practically pine for her. And she’s not much better when you’re away. All I get from her is, ‘Will John be back soon?’ and ‘Where’s John?’ I swear, it’s like dealing with my grandmother at times.”

“You noticed that, too, huh?”

Rodney frowned. “Noticed what?”

“That Atlantis is —” John flapped his hands. “— kind of losing it?”

“The city is millions of years old. Don’t you think she’s entitled?” When Rodney put it that way, John had to admit he had a point. “Besides, we’re talking about you and this ridiculous idea you have of resigning.”

“Resigning? John’s resigning?” Great. Just what he needed to make his morning even more perfect than it already was.

“No, Mom, I’m not,” he said on a sigh. “Are you ready to go over the rest of my mission reports?”

“I’m here to speak with Dr. McKay.”

Shit. John tried to remember if he’d told Rodney that his mother knew about them as a them, but with everything that had happened in the last few days and the fact that she’d been keeping him hopping —

“What? Why me? Colonel Sheppard is the team leader. You should talk to him about our missions,” Rodney said, his voice high and his words fast.

John was pleased to see that Rodney was finally and at long last gaining a proper appreciation of just how much it sucked to be in his mother’s sights. And while he was thinking about it, it was kind of nice not to be her only target for once. Maybe later, they could console each other with blowjobs. It was a happy thought, and John held it close to protect it from —

“I’ve already learned as much as I need to from the Colonel.” Wonderful. She was calling him “Colonel” again. He wondered which of Rodney’s reports she’d just read before coming to the lab, and then he decided it really didn’t matter. Whatever the report, it had been enough to make her pissed off at him and Rodney. Given all the scrapes they’d gotten into together over the years, there was no way to tell which one it was.

She stepped right up to Rodney, and — and it was weird. Rodney and his mother were both standing in exactly the same way and almost had the same expression on their face — it was one that meant they were both gearing up for battle. The only difference was that Rodney’s expression was a little more confused, because he had no idea why she was getting in his face, and if John didn’t say something soon, he was pretty sure there wouldn’t be commiserating blowjobs later on.

“She knows,” he said, his voice dry and too soft. He tried again. “Rodney, she knows. About us.”

“About —” Rodney gave her a horrified look. “Oh. My. God. Is this a meet-your-family thing? Is that it? Because those never go well for me. I mean — seriously, John, why do you think Jennifer asked for a transfer? I have to — I need to —”

He grabbed his pad and started to leave, but he stopped cold at, “Don’t even think of running away.” She pointed at the door and told John, “Go.”

“I don’t think —”

Now, John,” she said, and he was halfway out the door before he even thought to object. He was forty-two years old, and honestly, he should be able to stand up to his own mother. John turned around and started to say as much, but Atlantis closed the door on him with a kind of mental hiccough and apology. It wasn’t that she liked him any less, she told him, it was just that his mother’s intent was so much clearer.

That made a weird kind of Atlantean sense, so he tried clarifying his own intent to get back inside, where he could hear raised voices. Not that it worked, which was no surprise. All of his nightmares lately centered around being stuck in a locked room while Rodney and his mother had at it. Given his conflicted feelings on the subject, it was no wonder that he was still on the wrong side of the door five minutes later, glowering at it and wondering if he should get Zelenka to help.

“Colonel Sheppard,” said Woolsey from behind him, “I distinctly recall telling you to meet with Senator Hogan this morning. Why aren’t you?”

“Maybe because she wanted to meet with Dr. McKay instead?”

They heard Rodney say, “You harridan!” before his voice dropped again.

“Oh dear,” said Woolsey, who kind of looked like he wished he was anywhere other than right there.

“You think?” John tried once more to get Atlantis to open up, but she refused. “I still have that letter of resignation. I can get it to you in five minutes.”

“I’m sure it won’t come to that.” Woolsey frowned at the door. “I take it you can’t get in?”

“Turns out Mom has a stronger expression of the gene than I do.” John really, really wanted to kick the door, but Atlantis’s feelings would be hurt — something he’d learned the hard way after he’d used C4 during the false quarantine — and he didn’t especially want to spend the next month apologizing.

“I see. Well. That’s —” The door opened, and both John and Woolsey stepped back.

His mother came through and said, “John. My quarters. Now.” She kept walking.

“And stay out,” Rodney called.

John waved in Rodney’s direction and said, “Mr. Woolsey, would you —?”

“I’ll see what I can do to — er — pour oil on troubled waters.”

“Pour —” John jerked a little when his mother called out his name again, and he started walking after her. “Whatever. Just calm him down and tell him I’ll be back later.”

“Of course.”

John caught up to her just as she reached one of the transporters — and it was a measure of just how much his day sucked that he didn’t even stop to think how cool that was, the way he usually did. He got in just behind her, and before she could set a destination, he told Atlantis to keep them right where they were, no matter what his mother thought. For her part, Atlantis did the apology thing again and sent them to the hall where they kept VIP quarters.

His mother stepped out, and John followed, saying, “Damn it, Mom!”

She turned on him and started poking him in the chest. “How dare you? How dare you even think of bringing that — that —”

“Okay!” he said brightly, staring at the Marine who was trapped in the hallway with them. “Let’s go to your quarters!”

He turned her around and managed to quickmarch her to her door before she realized what he was doing. John glanced back and saw that the Marine had taken the escape route John opened up for her. It was just as well. He wasn’t sure his mother would be able to keep it together well enough to remember that even though “don’t ask, don’t tell” was due for repeal, it was still the law of the land.

Once inside, she started with, “He has to be the most obnoxious, self-centered person I’ve ever met in my life. Do you know what he called me? Do you?”

“I heard ‘harridan,’” John said, scratching the back of his neck, oddly relaxed for all that she was ripping him a new one. There was something vaguely comforting about the situation, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out why.

“And that was the least of it. Really, John, I can’t begin to imagine what you were thinking. I know you have this absolutely ridiculous appeal and that men and women throw themselves at you constantly, but I should think that by now, you would have developed at least some semblance of taste and discretion.” She started pacing, and John was struck by just how much she and Rodney were alike when they were ranting.

He blinked.

Then he blinked again, because Jesus — his mother and Rodney? They really could be twins, separated at birth. Hell, they even got the same rhythm going when they were questioning John’s intelligence, and yep, there was yet another reference to John’s alleged sex appeal. If he hadn’t been dead certain they’d never met before last Friday, he would have been convinced they’d been reading from the same playbook for years. It was kind of scary, once John thought about it, but at least it explained why he was so relaxed instead of waiting for his ulcer to start bleeding.

Huh, he thought. Who knew?

John tuned back into her rant in time to hear, “...resign at once and come home where you can find the right kind of man.”

“Yeah, no,” he said on a laugh. “Not happening.”

She did that trick with looking down her nose at him while staring straight up into his. “Excuse me?”

“I tried that already. Woolsey wouldn’t take it, and honestly? I didn’t want him to,” John said, suddenly cheerful. He’d learned how to deal with Rodney on a rant, and as similar as Rodney was to Joan Hogan when she was on a rant, John realized he knew how to get her to back down. Before she could start again, he said, “I love you.”

Yep. Worked as well on her as it did on Rodney, and never mind that his voice cracked a little. At least he’d managed to get it out on the first try. Her face went all soft and misty at those words, whereas Rodney’s face tended to go all soft and confused, but there was enough similarity for John to keep going. However, the best part for John was realizing that he meant it, that they weren’t just words to throw at her. Granted, they’d never enjoyed the warm, loving relationship she liked to claim in front of her friends and constituents, and really, they never would. John and his mother were too incompatible for that. Even so, he could honestly say he loved her and maybe he was even starting to like her some, which he was sure made his own face go soft and a little confused.

He repeated the words, since practice made it easier to spit out, and then he said, “Now sit down and listen.”

She did, her eyes large and — shit — shiny with tears.

“Look, Mom — I know you don’t like the choices I’ve made. I get that.”

“I just want what’s best for you.”

“I know. And believe it or not, that’s all Rodney wants, too.” She started to shake her head. “Trust me, he does. Why do you think he exaggerates so much in his reports? He hates it when I get injured in the field — always has, even since before we got together. If he had his way, he’d cover me in bubble wrap and lock me away in his lab so I couldn’t get hurt.”

That startled a laugh out of her. “I can understand the impulse.”

“See? That’s something you two have in common.”

“John —”

“I’m not leaving, Mom. I belong here.” He took her hand and added, “If you stop and listen to Atlantis, you’ll understand.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, looking away. And Jesus, if John ever needed proof that he’d married his mother when he’d hooked up with Rodney, that evasion pretty much nailed it. The two really could have been twins.

“I know she talks to you. She talks to everyone with the right genetic structure.”

“It’s ridiculous.”

“It’s Atlantis. And I belong here. You know that,” he said gently. “Mom, listen to me, okay? Are you listening?”

“Yes,” she said, still refusing to look at him.

“I need you to stop dicking around with funding for the mission.”

“I’m not —”

“Yeah, you are, because you’re kind of an asshole when you get an idea in your head.” At that, she finally looked at him. Okay, more like glared at him, but before she could deny his accusation, John said, “And that’s okay, because I love you, remember?”

“Damn it, John. I want you home.”

“I’ll come visit the next time I have Earth-leave,” he said with a big grin, and just like that, he knew everything was good between them. He also knew he was going to have a fist-sized bruise on his arm from where she’d just punched him, but he figured it was a small price to pay for being allowed at long last to go back home.

*****

“You’re sure?” Rodney asked for the thirtieth time. Or maybe it was the fortieth. John had lost track over the last couple of days, and as far as he was concerned, liftoff for Pegasus couldn’t come soon enough. Maybe then, Rodney would believe him about the funding and John’s place on the mission.

“Yes, Rodney, I’m positive. Now be nice when we say goodbye. If you piss her off, you’re the one who will have to sweet-talk her into authorizing the funding again.” John added, “She’ll probably make you fly to Washington to do it.”

Rodney looked suitably horrified when he said, “She wouldn’t.”

“She would. Just remember, my dad was the nice one in the family.” John straightened his uniform jacket one last time and grabbed Rodney’s arm to take him down the gate room stairs to where his mother, Woolsey and O’Neill waited for the gate to activate. “Come on. Let’s go.”

“Are you sure I have to? I mean, I have lots of things to —” Rodney’s voice stuttered into silence as John’s mother glared at him. John could tell that the minute he loosened his hold on Rodney’s arm, Rodney would probably be out of there, so he tightened his grip and smiled.

“It’s been a pleasure, hasn’t it, Rodney?”

John got a squeaky “Yes!” out of Rodney by jerking his arm a little. He got a somewhat more dignified “Yes” out of his mother by lifting an eyebrow at her. They were both rewarded by the first genuine smile he’d been able to give anyone since before her arrival.

Still holding on tight to Rodney, John leaned down to kiss his mother on the cheek, whispering, “Thanks for the funding. It fits perfectly.” He pulled away before she could hit him again, because seriously, that got old the first time she did it to him.

His mother glared at Rodney, then said, “You take care of my son,” punctuating each word with a hard poke to Rodney’s chest. John sighed, since he was pretty sure he’d be hearing about in-law abuse for the next few months, but maybe it was worth it, because his mother at least smiled at Rodney before turning to O’Neill and saying, “Well? What are we waiting for? I have a committee to report to, and if they wait any longer, your funding will be reassigned to that bridge to nowhere up in Alaska.”

O’Neill blinked a couple of times then said, “Right. Go. Now. Woolsey?”

John saluted O’Neill and his mother, then he pulled Rodney back to the stairs as the gate activated. As bad as the visit had been — and “hellish” didn’t begin to cover it despite John’s reconciliation with his mother — it had also been kind of cool. And no matter how much she and Rodney hated each other, at least they both recognized they were family now, which meant John didn’t have to worry about crossing that bridge anymore.

All in all, John was feeling pretty damn pleased with the universe, and so, for that matter, was Atlantis. He could do without the countdown clock she’d started for liftoff in six weeks’ time, but he appreciated her enthusiasm.