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An Unexpected Sentinel

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Rodney knew something was wrong as soon as he awoke.

Or, tried to wake. By the soft light coming through his eyelids, he figured it was early morning, but when he tried to open his eyes, it was like trying to look into the sun. He closed his eyes, only to realize that a variety of loud noises were pounding against his ears. The covers of the bed were suffocating, and he started to panic.

He reached blindly for the communicator by the side of the bed and got out a weak, "Help me!" before he passed out.

Rodney regained a level of consciousness and realized he was in a darkened room. He remembered moments of awareness, most of them painful. Mostly awake, he realized there were still many strange noises but he was lying on what they had dubbed a 'bio bed' in the infirmary -- oh, he wasn't wearing any clothes and had only a thin sheet covering him. But he wasn't cold, so he couldn't complain -- much -- about being naked.

Movement outside the room drew his attention. The door opened and closed with a blare of light and noise.

"Ah! Good, you're awake," Carson said loudly.

Rodney flinched. "Geez, you don't have to yell at me! You're standing right there!"

Carson looked startled for a moment, hesitated, and then said, "Is this better?"

"A bit," Rodney admitted. "What the fuck is going on? Why is it so noisy in here?"

"The bottom line is that the shot I gave you to activate your ATA gene, has also activated your Sentinel gene," Carson admitted.

Rodney stared. "I don't have a Sentinel gene. I was tested," he replied.

"Well, either they've been looking at the wrong gene, or there's something with the ATA gene. But, as far as we can tell, you're now a Sentinel," Carson said, getting louder at the end.

"Stop shouting at me!" Rodney protested.

"Sorry!" Carson replied. "I'm barely whispering. It's your hearing that has changed. You're probably hearing a lot of new things that you couldna hear before. It seems to be all of your senses. Tell me about the lighting level of this room?"

"Pretty normal, I guess," Rodney said, looking around.

"We've turned off the lights and there's essentially a night light in the corner," Carson pointed out. "I can barely see you."

"How do I turn it off?" Rodney demanded. "All of it!"

"In theory, you should be able to think it off," Carson said. "Think of it as a dial you turn down."

"In theory?" Rodney screeched.

Carson shrugged. "I'm not an expert, Rodney," he admitted. "I've only had basic training, years ago, about how to deal with Sentinels. Since there wasn't a Sentinel sent with the Expedition, they didn't think we'd need a specialist."

"Oh, fuck," Rodney muttered, laying back on the bed.

"Close your eyes, and focus on just your hearing," Carson said. "We'll do one thing at a time and see if you can manage anything at this point."

Giving in to the inevitable, Rodney relaxed for a moment on the bed. He closed his eyes and thought about what he was hearing.

"Turn your hearing down," Carson reiterated. "Otherwise you can get lost in the sounds."

Zoned -- everyone knew that a Sentinel lost in his senses was in a zone-out and needed to be guided out of it.

Fuck! Guide... he'd need a guide. No! He'd learn to manage. He was the smartest man in two galaxies, and he'd survive without any fucking guide.

"RODNEY!" Carson's voice boomed.

Rodney jumped, then glared at Carson.

Quieter this time, Carson said, "I think you started to zone out. You weren't responding to me."

Rodney took a deep breath. "Sorry. It's... I don't know what to do."

"Let's try managing your hearing one more time," Carson said gently. "I'm going to speak at a normal volume and want you to focus on turning down your levels."

"Let me sit up first," Rodney said. "And why am I naked?" Rodney awkwardly struggled to sit up without dislodging the sheet. Not that he had anything Carson hadn't seen before.

"You were starting to break out in a rash," Carson replied. "We have yet to figure out whether it was the detergent or the fabric."

"These sheets seem okay," Rodney fingered the cloth.

Carson shrugged. "I think we got lucky there," he replied. "Okay, ready?"

Rodney sighed, waved a hand to indicate that Carson could start, and focused on Carson's voice.

He didn't know how long it took, and his control was tenuous at best, but Carson was finally talking at what he said was a normal level, and it no longer felt like he was shouting at Rodney.

"Enough for now," Carson declared. "Let me get you some food."

"Coffee?" Rodney asked hopefully.

"Do you think you can handle it?" Carson asked.

Rodney considered. He hadn't thought about that. "Maybe?"

"I'll get some put on a tray, but the rest will be as bland as we can make it until we know more about how your taste works," Carson gave in.

"This is going to take forever," Rodney whined.

"We'll see," Carson said. "Now close your eyes. We have a blanket over the door to help keep the light out, but something may leak in."

Rodney dutifully closed his eyes and felt, as much as saw, a flash of light as Carson left the room. He lay back on the bed, wishing for clothes, or at least some boxers. Laying naked under a sheet felt somewhat undignified.

Rodney must have dozed -- hello! dark room! -- when he heard Carson approaching the room. The footsteps echoed in his head and he worked frantically to dial down his hearing.

"I brought some lunch," Carson announced, loudly to Rodney's ears. "Close your eyes while I come in."

"Give me a minute," Rodney replied.

Carson, fortunately, understood that Rodney's control must have slipped while he was away and stood silently near the door.

"Okay, come in now," Rodney called, remembering only at the last minute to close his eyes. He got a shot of light that made him wince.

Lunch was mostly a disaster. Rodney got one whiff of coffee that almost made him gag, and Carson had to take it out of the room. Plain oatmeal and lukewarm water was about all Rodney could stand to eat.

"We'll just keep working on it," Carson promised.

They worked on Rodney's light sensitivity next. Carson pointed out that Rodney wouldn't be able to work on a laptop until he got that under control.

"That's not fair!" Rodney protested.

Carson shrugged. "Even at it's dimmest, a laptop screen is going to be brighter than the light we have here. Consider it an incentive."

Light was harder than hearing, Rodney decided, but kept working on increasing the levels of the room -- with some help from Atlantis, he was surprised to find.

As Rodney would get used to a new level of light, the city would increase the level in the room. As soon as Carson realized Rodney could do this on his own, he begged off. "Have to see what else is going on. And there's a team scheduled to come back shortly from a mission."

"Go... Go." Rodney waved him off. "I've got this."

Rodney spent the afternoon 'playing' with his hearing and vision. He suspected that he started to zone at one time -- the city flashed a brief, brighter light than they had been using so far to get his attention.

"Thanks," Rodney muttered, self conscious that he was talking to no one.

*****

"What is wrong with Dr. McKay?" Teyla asked over dinner.

"Not sure," John answered. All he knew was that Rodney was in isolation, and that Carson wasn't talking. He had been at the Alpha site, reviewing their evacuation protocols, when Rodney had called. The airman that had gotten to Rodney's room first only knew that the scientist had been all but unconscious when the medical team had taken over.

"Hope he's okay," Aiden Ford added. "After all, he's missing meatloaf tonight."

John frowned. He suddenly wondered if Rodney was getting meatloaf in the infirmary.

"I hope he's not having a bad reaction to the ATA treatment," Aiden suggested.

That had been John's nightmare, the one he didn't want to say aloud. Carson had promised that either it worked, or it didn't when he was giving Rodney the shot. But the fact that Rodney was now in isolation didn't bode well.

"I'll check with Carson after dinner," John promised.

"Thank you," Teyla replied. "Let me know if there is anything I can do."

John took the long way around to the infirmary. He was still getting used to being in charge of the military, and it was interesting that his personal life gave him more skills in dealing with that then the military had.

Being only a Major, John was -- at best -- 'middle management' in the Air Force. Majors would supervise small groups of soldiers on specific projects, but rarely for an extended period of time and never without being supervised by at least a Lieutenant Colonel. Majors would serve as aides to Lt. Colonels and Colonels before being given any serious supervisory responsibility.

At home, Sheppard Industries had been part and parcel of everything the family did. David had never been interested in what their mother had done for the company, mostly because it wasn't a 'real' job. But being married to Patrick Sheppard meant being hostess to dinners, galas and other events run by the company. There were staffers who did most of the work, but it was Caroline Sheppard who made all the decisions. When they were alone, she would often talk with John about some of those decisions. It was years later that John would realize what she had taught him in those talks.

John had learned about 'steel magnolias' from a master. Never raising her voice but always getting her point across, Caroline Sheppard was loved by everyone who knew her.

It was Caroline who realized that John had come online as a Guide at fifteen. Caroline was a low-level Guide who had never found 'her' Sentinel, and she knew the signs when John came online. She taught him what she had learned about shielding, and managing her abilities.

"I'd like to take you to the local Center," she had said. "You need more training than I can give you."

"But everyone knows there are lots more Guides than Sentinels," John protested. "You never found your Sentinel."

"No, but that doesn't mean that you won't," she said softly.

"It's not worth it," John declared, frowning.

"You're a more powerful Guide than I am," Caroline coaxed. "I can't teach you everything you need to know."

"I'll figure it out myself," John replied stubbornly.

It was their secret, as far as John was aware. He knew his dad knew his wife was a Guide, but never referred to it. John didn't want to think about what would happen if he realized his son was also a Guide.

So John learned what he could, built his shields as tight as he knew how, and was determined to go on with his life, not wasting his time hoping for a Sentinel that would never come.

It wasn't only John who grieved at Caroline's untimely death from a fast moving cancer. There were hundreds of people at the wake and the funeral, and only his mother's example -- and the thought of her frowning at him in disappointment -- kept him from fleeing the crowds.

It was when Patrick forbade John from taking over some of the work she had been doing -- You're only a fucking teenager! You should be focusing on your grades and friends your own age! -- that John started to re-think his position in the firm. He knew Patrick had plans for him and David, but without his mom, the thought of working in the company dismayed John completely.

John was packed and ready to leave when he told Patrick about Stanford.

"What the fuck!" Patrick shouted.

John stood in the doorway to the house, his car packed with his belongings.

"I'm going to Stanford," John said softly.

"What about Harvard?" Patrick demanded. "That's been your plan forever."

"No, that's been your plan," John replied steadily. "I'm going to Stanford."

"I'll cut you off!" Patrick roared.

John shrugged. "Figured as much. I have a full ride, as long as I keep up my grades," John said calmly. "Car's in my name and paid for. And I have a job lined up once I get there."

"Don't think you can come crawling back here when you get into trouble," Patrick ground out.

"Don't plan on it," John said. "Bye."

He got into his car and drove west, never looking back.

He tried, once, to go home but it was so painful that he never went back. He took Nancy to meet his family, reaching out to Dave to see when their father would be home.

"What? Is she pregnant?" Patrick had asked rudely, drink in hand.

"Dad, this is my wife Nancy," John had introduced them.

"Glad to meet you Mr. Sheppard," Nancy said. She held out a hand, then withdrew it when Patrick made no effort to shake it.

"How are you?" John tried to smooth over the awkwardness.

"What are you here for?" Patrick demanded. "I haven't heard from you for seven years. You have to want something."

John sighed. "I wanted you to meet Nancy. I wanted to see how you were doing."

Patrick looked at them both. "You ever going to be pregnant?" he finally demanded.

"None of your business," John snarled.

"Then I don't care," Patrick said, downing the rest of his drink.

They left shortly after that, not staying for dinner. It didn't take long for Nancy to realize that John wasn't going to give up flying for a family, and decided that maybe they'd be better off apart.

Then he sat down in a funky looking chair in the Antarctic....

Wandering around the city, John stopped in to all of the areas they occupied. Even the science labs. Without Rodney, he knew that Zelenka would have the labs under control, but he wanted to make sure to keep in touch.

It took a couple of hours before John ended up in the infirmary.

"Aye, wondered when you'd be here," Carson greeted him.

"What can you tell me?" John asked.

Carson hesitated. "Not much at this point," he admitted.

"Is he going to be okay?" John asked, trying to keep the anxiety from his voice.

"Oh, sorry, yes," Carson put in quickly. "There's nothing life threatening. It's just such an unusual reaction that we need to take precautions."

John gave a sigh of relief. "Can I see him?"

"Not today," Carson replied. "Let me talk to Rodney and see what he thinks."

"Tell him that I... well, everyone, is worried and hope he's better soon," John replied, trying to cover his slip.

"I will," Carson promised.

******

Rodney's head came up as Carson entered the isolation room. Dinner had been more oatmeal and water, which made Rodney want to be cranky, but at least he wasn't hungry.

"John... Sheppard was here?" Rodney asked, hesitantly.

Carson grinned, oddly, Rodney thought. "Interesting that you would say that. Yes, Major Sheppard was here asking about you," he admitted. "You can think about what I should tell him and Dr. Weir."

"Do we have to?" Rodney whined.

"If we were on Earth, I'd give you more latitude, but since we're stranded in Pegasus at the moment, I think it's important that they know what they will be dealing with," Carson replied. "And, we should see if anyone can act as a Guide for you."

"Oh, fuck," Rodney moaned. "With my luck it'll be someone stupid. Or Kavanaugh." Rodney rolled his eyes. "Or, even worse, an anthropologist."

"From what I know, Sentinels and Guides are usually compatible," Carson offered. "And no one who came with us could be considered stupid."

"Yeah, yeah," Rodney waved off Carson's counter-argument. "Oh, a botanist. Oh, fuck me."

"This is personal, but are you open to a same-sex Guide?" Carson asked. "There are more men than women with us, and you're more likely to have a male guide."

Rodney shrugged. "That's not a problem," he replied. "Never limited myself to one gender." Then he frowned. "Oh, my god. Not one of the botanists. Please."

Carson snickered.

"Carson! It's not funny!" Rodney protested.

"I suspect you'll be fine, lad," Carson replied. "Now, I'd like to tell Major Sheppard and Dr. Weir, mostly so we can see about finding your Guide."

Rodney sighed, knowing that it would be for the best. He knew he could manage somewhat on his own, he'd fight to do that. But he also knew he would do better with a Guide.

"Just them for now," Rodney allowed. "I don't want to be fodder for the gossip mill any sooner than I have to be."

"In the morning, then," Carson said. "I'd like to keep you here for the night. Hopefully, your senses will keep steady during the night."

"The City helped me before," Rodney said. "When I was working on seeing and light levels. If I zone overnight, you'll be here in the morning."

"A couple of hours in a zone-out isn't healthy," Carson frowned.

"You've admitted you're not an expert," Rodney countered. "Short of keeping me awake all night, which probably isn't any better, what can you do?"

Carson rubbed his forehead. "I'm not happy with that."

"Carson, get some sleep," Rodney replied. "Let me try to get some sleep. Although I'd appreciate at least some underwear in the morning."

"I'll send one of the nurses to your room, to see if they can find something reasonable," Carson promised.

"Oh, please," Rodney rolled his eyes. "Send Sheppard. He'll be able to find something."

"If you say so," Carson agreed. "Anything else?"

"I don't think so," Rodney shook his head.

"Good night," Carson said.

Rodney lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. He focused his hearing on the sounds of the city, listening to various sounds outside the room to see what he could identify. It was a good exercise in controlling one of his senses. He finally turned his hearing down to the point that he couldn't hear anything before he fell asleep.

********

"Rodney is what?" Elizabeth Weir demanded.

"A Sentinel," Carson replied. "And, if I'm not mistaken, a pretty strong one."

"How did that happen?" John asked.

Carson shrugged. "I haven't done all the research, but it looks like it's tied to the ATA activation I gave him."

"Carson! It's not supposed to do that!" Elizabeth replied.

Carson ran a hand over his face. John figured Carson probably didn't sleep much last night.

"I know, I know," he replied. "I canna begin to explain it."

"What happens now?" Johns asked, needing to focus the conversation.

"The bottom line is that Rodney needs a Guide," Carson answered. "The sooner we can find him a Guide, the sooner his senses will stabilize."

"We do have a couple of Guides in the Expedition," Elizabeth offered.

John looked at her, immediately concerned. He held in an instinctive flinch.

"How do you know that?" Carson demanded.

"It's in their confidential personnel files," Elizabeth said.

"It's not in their medical records," Carson frowned.

"I was given that information to use if it's needed," Elizabeth said. "Turns out that is was a good thing."

"That's not good," Carson said. "I should know that in case I have to treat them for Guide related problems."

"And at that point, I would have given that to you," Elizabeth said calmly.

Carson blew out a frustrated breath. "Elizabeth!"

"Carson." She replied evenly. "I talked to these individuals before we left Earth, and they'd prefer not to be singled out as Guides unless it becomes necessary."

"How many are there?" John asked.

"Two who are online, and one that's latent," Elizabeth said. She held up her hand. "And I need to talk to them before I can pass their names on to you."

"That's only fair," Carson allowed.

John sat back, relieved and worried. He had never talked to Elizabeth, so he was not one of the Guides she knew about.

But... Rodney! A Sentinel. That was... unexpected in many ways.

"What do we do now?" John asked.

"I will, discreetly, talk to the Guides and see if they are at all interested in helping Rodney," Elizabeth said. "I will send them to you, Carson, and you can help anyone interested in interacting with Rodney."

"What if they bond?" John forced himself to ask.

"We'll worry about that if it happens," Elizabeth replied. "None of the Guides are soldiers. At that point, it would be up to Rodney and his Guide to decide what they want to do." She looked closely at John. "You have to face the fact that he may withdraw himself from your team."

John could only give a curt nod.

"Rodney's demonstrated a reaction to his clothing," Carson said. "We need to see about Sentinel friendly laundry and cleaning supplies. We're not prepared for this, but we have to figure some of this out quickly." He looked at John. "Can you find something for Rodney to wear that will be soft and non-irritating? He asked if you could bring him anything, even some underwear."

John's mind whited out momentarily at the thought of Rodney hanging out naked in the infirmary.

"Uh, sure, I can do that," John promised.

"Bring it by, and I'll also see if maybe you can visit," Carson offered.

"Is that safe?" Elizabeth asked.

Carson shrugged. "I don't know as much about Sentinels as I would like, but I know Rodney. He's working on controlling some of his basic levels right now, but he's going to be bored quickly. And a bored Rodney is a dangerous Rodney."

John gave a short laugh. "Too true." He looked at Carson. "Is it safe for me to visit? For Rodney?"

Another shrug. "Either it will or it won't. He seems to tolerate me fairly well, so you should do fine."

"What about me?" Elizabeth asked. "I'd like to visit him, also."

"Let me see how it goes with John first," Carson hedged. "One person at a time. And Rodney's already asked for John, so I need to prepare him for you first, I think."

John could tell Elizabeth wasn't too happy with that answer, but was secretly glad that he'd get to see Rodney first.

"When you get Rodney's clothes, take a shower and minimize your scent," Carson instructed. "No flowery soap, no cologne."

John knew that from the reading he had done about Sentinels, in case he ever met a Sentinel that he was attracted to, and from what his mother had told him. His own kit was pretty much Sentinel friendly, just by habit.

"Not a problem," John promised.

John took his shower, cleaning himself a bit more carefully than usual. He also dug into his own clothing for clean sweats, avoiding his uniforms that were probably permeated with not only his scent but also weapon and off-world residue.

Swinging by Rodney's room, he looked it over carefully. The bed needed changing, since no one had been here since Rodney went into the infirmary. Rodney also had a stack of laundry that needed to be done. John made a mental note to get the room cleaned up and ready for a Sentinel.

Before he went to the infirmary, John sat on the edge of Rodney's bed and took a few minutes to meditate and shore up his shields. One of the first things John had learned was how to 'shut down' his signature, so that a Sentinel would never identify him as a Guide. He had gotten sloppy on Atlantis, since there had been no Sentinels to worry about.

Rodney, a Sentinel... John didn't know whether to laugh or weep. He had carried around the hole in his psyche for so long that it had become part of him. He never wanted a Sentinel, never looked for one. Now his first best friend in a long time had suddenly become one.

Hiding behind his shields for so long had left John unprepared to try to live without them.

John took the clothes he hoped Rodney could tolerate. He took a deep breath and went to the infirmary.

"Carson?" John asked when he found the doctor. "I brought some clothes for Rodney."

"Good," Carson said, distracted.

"Anything wrong?" John asked, concerned.

"No, just... one of the... candidates is in there with Rodney," Carson reported, speaking softly so that he would not be overheard.

John bit back his alarm.

"I'll take those," Carson reached out to take the clothes from John. There was a momentary tug-of-war when John's hands didn't want to let Carson take the bundle. John had to force his hands to let go.

"Sorry," John mumbled.

"Not a problem," Carson replied.

"Can I see him?" John asked, trying not to sound too pathetic.

"One at a time," Carson replied.

"What if it doesn't go well?" John persisted.

"Rodney will ask him to leave," Carson answered with a shrug of his shoulders. "I know enough that Guides will respect the decision of the Sentinel, especially if the Sentinel does not want to bond. Sentinels can protect themselves that way."

"And if Rodney accepts... this person?" John forced himself to ask calmly.

"Then, well," Carson looked at the bundle in his hands, "Rodney's not going to need these too soon."

John's hands clenched. He took what he hoped was a discreet breath and relaxed.

"I'm just giving them a few more minutes," Carson said. "I asked them to let me know if they were going to bond, just so I can make sure they are not disturbed."

"Good," John bit out.

"I'm thinking that Rodney's not going to be up for company after this," Carson decided. "How about if you come back later this afternoon and I'll let you know then."

"I... okay," John stuttered.

John left the infirmary, not sure what to do with himself. He stood in the hall, debating.

Knowing he wouldn't get anything done until he had a chance to see Rodney, John decided to go back to Rodney's room and clean it up. It might be the closest he'd get to helping Rodney through this.

"Damn it, Rodney, you're a slob!" John muttered to himself at one point. He found clothes everywhere, most needing washing. John was also amazed that Rodney wasn't over run by insects, with the wrappers and crumbs in the oddest places. He hoped it was the city keeping the bugs away.

It was just that, as a Sentinel, Rodney wouldn't be able to live with being this sloppy. Until he bonded, and even then he'd need time to stabilize his senses, the way he had been living would annoy himself to no end. He'd learn to be neater in his surroundings pretty quickly.

Hopefully, Rodney's Guide wouldn't be too accommodating to Rodney. Rodney could be a force of nature but he needed someone who would make him own up to his own shit. If Rodney's Guide couldn't do that, both of them would be in trouble.

John checked the time and decided he needed some lunch. And another shower. Damn it, this was getting old already.

The shower was quick, since John didn't want to totally miss lunch.

The bad news was that Aiden and Teyla were there, obviously waiting for him to appear.

"What have you heard about Rodney?" Aiden asked.

"It's a medical thing," John hedged. "It's mostly under control, but Carson wants to keep Rodney under observation until he's sure Rodney's stable." That wasn't too much of a lie.

"Will he be all right?" Teyla asked in concern.

"Yes," John said firmly. No sense in letting any rumors even start. "It's more of a precaution than anything at the moment." He held up a hand before they could ask. "He's not up to visitors just as yet, maybe in a day or so."

"Well you tell him to get better soon," Aiden said. "There are a couple of missions that are right up our alley that we're going to miss if he doesn't get out of the infirmary."

"If you have some free time, then," John grinned, "I have some paperwork you can work on."

"Really?" AIden groaned.

John shrugged. "You need to learn this stuff somewhere," John pointed out. "Might as well start sooner than later."

"Is there anything I can do?" Teyla asked.

John considered. "I suspect there might be," he decided. "Let me look over some of this and see what I can let you do. Some of it is military and I'm not allowed to let civilians have access to it."

"That is understandable," Teyla agreed. "I have some training sessions this afternoon. I hope to see both of you there at some point."

Both John and Aiden groaned as Teyla laughed.

John took Aiden back to the space he used as an office, then walked him through some of the paperwork they had been using to handle requisitions.

"Since we don't know when we'll be in contact with Earth, we need to know what we have," John pointed out. "You don't need to do the inventory, but you need to make sure it's done regularly and to know what we have."

"Someone else does the inventory?" Aiden asked.

John laughed. "Yes," John assured him. "Work with Sergeant Bates to keep track of everything."

"Okay, I can do this," Aiden looked at the paperwork on the desk and the computer programs John had given him access to. Most of the records were electronic, since paper was at a premium.

"I'm going to see Rodney," John said. "Take your time. It's important but I can answer questions, as well as Sergeant Bates."

"Okay, I'll take a look at it all, sir," Aiden assured him. "Go, check on Rodney."

John decided he didn't need yet another shower, as he went off to the infirmary. He had to search through the infirmary wing to find Carson.

"Any chance I can see Rodney now?" John asked.

Carson winced. "Sorry, the other Guide came by, and she's in there now. Although I don't think she's a viable candidate."

"No?" John tried for casual. "Why not?"

Carson considered. "She's a low level Guide and I doubt that she's... assertive enough to keep up with our Rodney."

John nodded. "I was thinking it will take someone special to keep up with Rodney," John agreed. "So this morning's candidate didn't work out?"

"The morning person isn't incompatible, just... there wasn't an instant bond and Rodney wanted to give the others a chance. Rodney felt they could make do, if there were no other options," Carson reported.

"Rodney shouldn't have to make do," John replied.

"That was Rodney's thought," Carson said.

John laughed. "Never change, Rodney!"

Carson laughed with him.

"Any chance I can see Rodney today?" John asked, frustrated.

"After dinner, now," Carson said. "And only if he's up to it."

"Understood," John sighed.

Figuring he might as well earn his next shower, John went to Teyla's training room for a workout. By the time they were done, John would be ready for a soak in a hot tub. One of the few good things they had found in Atlantis was the almost limitless, hot water. Well, when the hot water worked. There had been a couple weeks of cold showers at one point. John hoped that never happened again.

"Have you seen Rodney yet?" Teyla asked as John lay panting on the mat. Again.

"No," John frowned. "There was... something else going on when I went by."

Teyla looked at John in concern. "Is there something wrong?"

"No," John sighed. "Yes. But, I'm sorry, I can't tell you."

"I do understand," Teyla said. "Rodney is entitled to his privacy."

"Thanks," John replied.

Another shower before dinner helped with the aching muscles, but not with John's nerves. What if Rodney decided the first Guide was good enough? And why did the thought of that dismay John so much?

*****

"Peter?" Rodney demanded.

Peter Grodin stood just inside the door to the isolation room. Carson had ushered him in and quickly left them alone.

"Hello!" Peter said. "Understand you have a problem."

"Pah!" Rodney spat. "Fucking Atlantis turned me into a Sentinel."

"That's what Elizabeth told me," Peter admitted. "That you're a Sentinel. And I can feel that. Pretty powerful, too."

"And no one here knows enough about Sentinels to be much help," Rodney sighed.

"While you feel good, really good, you're more powerful than I am. Maybe even Alpha level," Peter said. "I can probably help you out, if there's no one else." He hesitated. "Elizabeth says there's at least one more online Guide in the expedition," Peter went on. "And someone who's latent."

"Do you know who else..." Rodney asked.

"I've kept myself pretty locked down. To protect myself, mostly," Peter replied. "So, no, I don't know."

Rodney groaned. "It's a botanist, I just know it!"

Peter grinned. "I can at least help you out, if you're having problems with your levels."

"I've worked on hearing and vision," Rodney reported. "Taste and smell are still way off. I can't eat anything but plain oatmeal at this point." He frowned. "And I miss coffee."

"You'll find coffee one of the harder things to adjust to." Peter gave what Rodney thought was an evil laugh. "Caffeine is actually something that Sentinels are usually particularly sensitive to."

"Fuck me!" Rodney moaned.

"It wouldn't be an awful thing," Peter laughed.

Rodney looked Peter over. "It wouldn't be awful," he agreed. He was suddenly aware of his nakedness under the sheet.

"But not perfect," Peter said, sadly.

"Sorry, not perfect," Rodney agreed.

"So, what have you managed so far?" Peter asked.

Rodney went through the exercises he went with his hearing and vision. He had been able to manage a single source of light in the room, but when he had opened a laptop, the screen had been too much and he had zoned. It had taken Carson long enough to bring him out of it that Rodney was forced to give that idea up for the moment.

"I've seen you work on a computer," Peter grinned. "Try sitting back just a bit further so that it's not the only thing in your line of sight."

"But then I'm distracted!" Rodney protested.

Peter shrugged. "It'll be some trial and error, then, to see what lets you work."

Rodney sighed.

They talked for a bit longer, Peter adding other tricks that might help Rodney manage some of his levels better.

A tap came on the door and Carson came in with something in his hands. Seeing Peter still not too far from the door, Carson asked, "No luck?"

"Oh, Rodney's a very attractive Sentinel," Peter admitted. "I could bond with him, but he's powerful enough that he may not fully bond with me."

"That doesn't sound good," Carson admitted.

"If no one else is compatible, it would be better than no Guide at all," Peter said. "But, well, let's see if the other candidates are a better fit than I would be."

"Good to know," Carson said. "Rodney? That all right with you?"

"Yes," Rodney replied. "There's some... instinct that tells me there is a better fit. Somewhere. And while Peter and I would probably be compatible, I don't want to rush into things."

"Breaking a bond isn't simple and not without some psychological pain," Peter added. "I don't think we have anyone, except maybe Rodney, who could do that. And since it would involve him, I'm not sure he could do it."

"Okay, then, no bonding until we have to," Rodney declared.

"How are you doing?" Carson asked.

Rodney shrugged. "So-so, I guess," he admitted. "I can mostly control seeing and hearing, although if I try anything too fine, I'm likely to zone. You've brought me out of a couple and I think the City has done something to help. On the other hand, I know zoning is a dangerous thing to have happen around here."

"Too true," Peter agreed.

"It's only been a couple days at this point," Carson added. "We can see how it goes."

"Anything else?" Peter asked.

"Not right now," Carson replied. "Please, keep this to yourself until Rodney's ready to make his status public."

"If you'd do me the same courtesy," Peter answered. "I don't want to be singled out for my Guide status."

"Certainly," Carson said.

"You're entitled to some privacy," Rodney said. "It's not going to be easy."

"Let's let Rodney rest," Carson said. He put the bundle in his hands on the bed. "John brought you some clothes. You can put them on or not."

Rodney lay back, exhausted, after they left. He decided to take a nap before he tried putting the clothes on.

Rodney slept for about an hour before Carson brought more oatmeal -- and some fresh fruit as flavoring, oh, my! -- and asked, "How are you doing?"

"Well, I'll feel better with some clothes," Rodney admitted. "Even just the idea sounds good right now."

"Keep an eye out for any sign of a rash," Carson warned. "It can flare up suddenly."

"Okay," Rodney agreed. As he pulled the t-shirt over his head, he caught a scent of something... bubble gum and fresh roasted peanuts. But it was gone, although it was something he would never had noticed before.

"There's a second Guide candidate who would like to meet you," Carson said. "But.. no, I'm going to let you make up your own mind."

"What?" Rodney was confused.

"Are you willing to meet with another Guide?" Carson asked.

"Sure," Rodney said. "As long as it's not a botanist."

Carson sighed and rubbed his forehead. "It's not a botanist."

"Okay, then, bring him or her in," Rodney agreed.

"Her, this time," Carson said. He went to the door. "You can come in now," he said to someone just outside the door.

"Miko!" Rodney was faintly dismayed.

"Dr. McKay," she greeted him as she entered the room.

There was a moment of silence.

"No offense, but I doubt that we are a good match," Rodney said gently.

Miko shook her head. "Dr. Weir did not tell me it was you," she agreed. "I probably would not have come if I had known."

"I'm sorry to put you through this," Rodney replied.

"You're... very strong," Miko said. "Alpha, probably."

"That's what P--, umm, the other Guide said," Rodney admitted. "I don't know enough to know what I'm supposed to be."

"I... can offer to help with what I can," Miko said with a small smile.

"I appreciate that," Rodney said sincerely. "Thank you."

"I... I will go now," Miko said softly.

"Thank you for coming," Rodney replied.

She ghosted out of the room, leaving Rodney alone.

Rodney lay back, closing his eyes for a moment. "Fuck my life," he moaned. "Why me?"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Have you been able to see Rodney?" Teyla asked at dinner.

John sighed. "No, not yet," he admitted. "Carson's been running some... tests. And said I could try after dinner."

"Is it serious?" Aiden asked, in some alarm. "It's been a couple of days now."

"No, not that serious," John tried to project calm. "It's more that the ATA treatment should just work. It's either worked or not for everyone else. So Carson needs to make sure that whatever happening is unique to Rodney or if it's something else."

"It's probably Rodney!" Aiden laughed. "This is yet another way he's special!"

Teyla gave a small smile in agreement and John could only nod his head.

"Tell him to get better soon," Aiden went on. "I really don't want to have to learn all this paperwork you've set out for me!"

"There are always things that must be done," Teyla chided him gently. "There are many things that may not make sense the first time, but when you look over time, there are good reasons for them."

AIden shook his head. "Yeah, I know that, but some of this seems totally pointless."

"And some of it is," John said. "The US Military at it's finest."

"Amen to that, sir!" Aiden laughed.

"Hopefully, Rodney will be up to more visitors soon," Teyla said. "Please tell him we miss him and hope he gets well soon."

"I will do that," John promised.

John quizzed Aiden on some of the reports he had started and made suggestions where he seemed to be puzzled.

"I'll let you know what I can," John promised them as he left the dinner table.

John again made the rounds of the city, checking in on various groups and making a minor nuisance of himself in the labs.

"Go away," Radek finally pulled John aside. "We are finally getting some boring but necessary work done, and I don't want them distracted."

"Sewers and Puddle Jumper maintenance?" John asked, remembering some of the things Rodney had ranted about on their last mission.

"And setting up hydroponics, for growing things," Radek added.

"Oh, okay," John agreed. "Just thought I'd check in..."

"You have checked, you can now go," Radek dismissed him firmly.

John knew Zelenka had the labs well in hand, and hoped Rodney would recognize that when he got back. Rodney wasn't always good about noticing what went on around him, although he knew that would change with his enhanced senses.

As John was wandering back toward the infirmary, he felt a sharp, irrational burst of anger flow through him. It was so strong that it made him stop and put his hand on the wall of the corridor to maintain his balance.

He shook his head, to try to clear it, and nothing more seemed to happen. He continued to the Infirmary.

Where he was met by barely controlled chaos.

"What's going on?" John demanded of the first nurse he saw.

"We're not sure," she admitted. "We have a handful of upset folk, as well as calls from a couple parts of the city, of sudden fights breaking out. Nothing more serious than a bloody nose, but it's shaken quite a few people up."

Rodney! John thought. Something made him angry enough to project his feeling so that everyone would feel it.

John quickly wended his way to where the isolation room was located.

He found Carson struggling with Elizabeth just outside Rodney's room.

"John! Help me calm her down!" Carson called.

John hurried over and put his arms around the struggling woman. Carson wrestled Elizabeth around so that John held her from behind. Elizabeth was smaller enough that John could restrain her.

"Hold her!" Carson commanded. He rushed off as Elizabeth kicked out, trying to get free.

"Elizabeth!" John said firmly into her ear. She continued to struggle.

Reluctantly, John reached into himself and found his Guide Voice. Something he had vowed to never use. But he didn't want to hurt Elizabeth, or let her hurt herself.

"Elizabeth! STOP!" John commanded.

She drooped in his arms, a suddenly dead weight. John didn't relax, not knowing for sure how long the command would hold.

Carson came running back, and looked at John briefly before jabbing a short needle into Elizabeth's upper arm.

"It's a quick acting sedative," Carson told John. "Let's get her over to a bed."

Elizabeth was almost unconscious at this point, so John picked her up bridal-style. He moved to the far end of the isolation area, away from where Rodney was.

John lay her gently on the bed, and Carson fixed restraints around her arms.

"Why are you doing that?" John asked, watching closely.

Carson gave a sigh. "Turns out she's the latent Guide," Carson admitted. "She told me that she just wanted to check on Rodney, and see how he's doing. I made the mistake of leaving them alone."

"And she started hitting on Rodney's levels," John guessed. "With his lack of shields, he couldn't keep her out."

"That's right," Carson agreed slowly. "How do you know that?"

John shifted on his feet, looking at the floor.

Carson put a hand out, as if he would put it on John's arm, then withdrew. "No, you don't have to answer that," Carson backpedaled gently. "Thank you for helping."

"Saw it happen in Afghanistan," John explained. "One of my guys came online as a Sentinel and before we could get him someplace safe, a Guide tried to bond with him."

"A serious mis-match," Carson guessed.

"Turns out the Guide had been bonded before and his Sentinel had been killed in action," John went on. "What he was even doing in the field, or how he functioned, I have no clue. It was a clusterfuck from start to finish."

"Thank you for your help," Carson repeated.

"How's Rodney?" John asked.

"I have to see to him," Carson admitted. "I needed to get Elizabeth under control first."

"Can I..." John started.

Carson shook his head. "Rodney was starting to freak out as I got Elizabeth out of there," he explained. "His levels are all over the place, and I need to get in there in case he starts to zone."

"I..." John ground to a halt, not sure what he wanted to do. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Fuck it. "I can help."

"You sure?" Carson asked.

"Yes," John replied. Determined.

"Okay." Carson let the way to the isolation room.

As John feared, Rodney wasn't on the bed, he was sitting in the far corner of the room, rocking frantically to and fro.

"Rodney?" Carson called gently.

No response.

"Let me," John said, moving closer to Rodney. He sat on the floor, pausing for a moment to lower shields that he had spent a lifetime building up.

He placed a loose hand on Rodney's ankle, taking care to touch skin. "Hey! Come back to me," John whispered.

Rodney's head shot up. "John!" He frowned. "What the fuck happened?"

"Elizabeth... she tried to bond with you," John explained.

"She's... she's not right," Rodney said with a grimace.

"I suspect not," John agreed.

Rodney looked down at the warm hand on his ankle. "So. Umm..."

John blushed. "Yeah." John carefully lifted his hand and inched away from Rodney.

"Not going far," John promised when Rodney started to whine. "Carson?" John called, without taking his eyes off Rodney.

"Yes, lad? What do you need?" Carson asked.

"A bathrobe for Rodney, to start," John answered. "We're not going to do anything here."

"Where?" Carson asked, dubious.

John laughed to himself. He had been nesting without even realizing.

"Rodney's room," John answered. "We'll both be more comfortable there."

"Ah! I can do that," Carson said.

"Get Ford and Teyla," John added. "I need Ford to take command for a couple of days, and he and Teyla can help keep anyone away from us while we move."

"Is that okay, Rodney?" Carson asked.

"Yes..." Rodney stuttered.

"Shhh... just a little bit longer," John soothed. "Hang in there for me."

Rodney looked at John, hope coming to life in shining blue eyes. "Okay."

"Carson, quickly, please," John ordered.

John knew it wasn't long but it seemed like forever as they sat there.

"Okay, Rodney, we're going to go back to your room," John explained carefully as they waited for Carson.

Rodney looked at him. "John..." he whined.

"Rodney, hang on," John begged. "Not here. I need to get you someplace more comfortable."

"Why do you smell so good?" Rodney asked.

"That's the bond," John admitted. "Makes me more attractive to you. Your Sentinel is looking for his mate and nature wants to help us along."

"Mate?" Rodney said the word, rolling it over his tongue. "Yes, that feels... right."

"We have to get back to your room, so we can complete the bond," John desperately held his voice steady. If he gave in, they'd be bonding here in the isolation room.

"I... it's hard," Rodney whined. "Even your voice..."

"That's it," John coaxed. "Focus on my voice for just a little bit longer. You can do that."

"Talk to me," Rodney begged. "What happened?"

"Carson said that Elizabeth wanted to visit with you," John said. "He didn't know she was the latent Guide, and he's feeling guilty about that."

"He wouldn't know," Rodney said softly.

"That's right," John agreed. "I... I had my shields up so high that I didn't know either. Once I let my shields down, I could feel her."

"You have to teach me about shields," Rodney replied.

"Some of them will come naturally, once we bond," John answered. "But, we'll work on that together."

A tap came on the door that John recognized as Carson.

"Come in," John called.

Carson handed John a bathrobe. "It's clean, no one has used it."

"Good, no sense confusing Rodney's sense of scent," John replied. He turned to Rodney. "Let's get you in this, and then we can go to your room."

John got Rodney up and into the robe.

"I'm going to put my arm around you," John warned Rodney. "Don't hesitate to close your eyes or turn your hearing down as far as you need. Let me guide you."

Rodney took a deep breath, closed his eyes. "Okay," he said softly.

Outside the room, Aiden and Teyla were waiting for them.

"What can we do?" Aiden asked.

"Walk with us to the transporter," John ordered. He looked at Aiden. "I'm going to be out of commission for two to four days. You're in charge, but work with Bates on anything military."

"What can I do?" Teyla asked.

"Elizabeth's also... not well," John went on. "I need you, Aiden, Carson and... Radek to be in charge while I'm with Rodney. Let Carson decide when Elizabeth can go back to work. Carson will tell you what he can."

They reached the transporter. "Don't send out any missions unless it's an emergency," John added.

"What do we tell anyone if they ask what's happened?" Aiden asked.

"Rodney's a Sentinel, and I'm his Guide." John went for the most straightforward answer. "And we need to bond."

Aiden's eyes got big at that. Teyla frowned in confusion.

"Go," Carson commanded. "I'll explain it to them."

John ushered Rodney into the transporter and pressed the map for the area near Rodney's room.

"Almost there," John reassured Rodney. He waved a hand over the entrance and the door opened. John gave a sigh of relief when it closed behind them.

"John?" Rodney asked softly. A plea.

"It's okay now," John answered.

"Good, because I've been wanting to do this forever."

Rodney turned in his arms, brought his hands up to the sides of John's face, and kissed him.

Before John knew what was happening, Rodney had him backed against the door, never breaking the kiss.

"Wanted to do this," Rodney murmured, dropping kisses on John's lips. "Before. Always."

John groaned. It was everything, and not enough. "Let's take this to the bed."

Rodney had the advantage of already wearing fewer clothes. John struggled slightly to take off his clothes while Rodney wouldn't take his hands off of him.

It took a bit, but they ended up in bed together. John went pliant under Rodney.

"Take what you need," John directed.

Rodney held himself over John. "I... I don't know what to do."

"Follow your instincts," John said softly. "Use all of your senses on me. So that you will know me anywhere, be able to find me. So that I'm the other part of you."

"John!" Rodney leaned in to brush his lips over John's.

"Take your time, we're not going anywhere," John said. Rodney's smile was blinding.

John was grateful that Carson had a chance to get someone to stock the room with food and drink. He had to coax Rodney to take small breaks to eat and drink.

It was two days before he could get Rodney to sleep at all. Rodney wrapped himself around John, so that John had no choice but to sleep himself.

John woke to Rodney... doodling on his back.

"Are you writing equations on me?" John asked sleepily.

The finger stilled. "Yes?"

"Is that a question?" John rolled over to face Rodney.

"Maybe?" Rodney grinned.

"Good to have you back with me," John said. "Not that I minded all the bonding, and sex, and all," he hastened to add, when Rodney started to take his hand off John.

For all his new Sentinel abilities, John realized that underneath it all was proud, genius, insecure Rodney. That would change with time, but it was too new -- for each of them.

"Glad it's you," Rodney finally said. "Didn't know you were a Guide."

"I've been hiding so long, worried what would happen if I bonded to someone who didn't... understand," John offered. "There are few enough Sentinels, figured I would never bond."

"Well, good, because now we can be together," Rodney replied. "I meant what I said before. I've always wanted you, and didn't think you'd ever look twice at me."

"I wanted you, too," John admitted. "But I didn't want to take a chance, and then lose my best friend."

Rodney looked absurdly pleased at that. It was a good look, one John promised himself he'd put there as often as he could.

"How about we clean up, now that we're awake," John suggested. "And are you settled enough for some company?"

"Who did you have in mind?" Rodney frowned.

"Carson, at least," John said. "He'll be worried."

"Just Carson," Rodney agreed reluctantly. John suspected that was the bond speaking. They'd need more time together, he didn't know if they could afford to take it.

"Get into the shower, and I'll talk to him," John suggested. "I'll be there in a minute."

Calling Carson and setting up a visit took only a few minutes. John was soon slipping into the shower Rodney seemed to be enjoying.

"Not too much?" John asked.

"No," Rodney admitted. "As soon as I got in, I could dial down the touch of the water. It's easier now."

"The bond does that," John replied. "But we'll still have to work on some things, so it's going to take some time before you'll be able to do this on your own."

John could feel the dismay from Rodney.

"It's not forever," John said softly. "Just until you have your feet under you and have some reasonable shields." John shrugged. "Maybe a couple of weeks."

A sigh. "I guess I can live with that," Rodney replied.

"We'll do this together," John said firmly.

John rather ruthlessly got Rodney through the shower and dressed in the half hour he had asked Carson to wait. He had settled Rodney in a chair with a glass of water and a power bar when the door chimed.

John went to the door to make sure it was Carson, and led him into the room. Carson handed John a bag, since he was juggling multiple items.

"You're looking better!" Carson said happily.

"Feel better," Rodney admitted. "Although John has a lot to do with that."

"Brought you some fresh food and drink," Carson said. "Thought you'd appreciate something different."

John dug into the bag and brought out muffins and fruit. Carson put a jug of fruit juice on the table. John let Rodney pick over the offerings, he was glad to see Rodney take a muffin and a cup of the juice.

"Looks like you've settled some of your senses," Carson observed. He held a medical scanner that he pointed at Rodney, then at John.

"They're mostly okay, but I suspect I'm buffering most of it a the moment," John offered. He picked up a muffin for himself. "We haven't had time to solidify Rodney's levels or work on his shields."

"Ah! Bonding, I assume," Carson grinned.

John felt himself blush. "Um, yeah."

"Anything you need help with?" Carson asked with sudden concern. "No... pain or tearing?"

"No!" John answered hastily. "We were careful."

"That's actually a good sign," Carson replied. "That you were both aware enough to be careful with each other."

"I think that was more Rodney," John admitted. "A need to protect, if you will."

"Well, I'm suspecting you're our current Sentinel expert," Carson said. "I've read a lot and have more material, but never had any experience in dealing with newly bonded Pairs."

"I don't really know anything about that," John demurred. "I've done a lot of reading myself, but I obviously didn't take any of the Guide classes offered. So what I know it mostly theoretical."

"Oh, great!" Rodney muttered. "The blind leading the blind."

"You're both otherwise intelligent people," Carson retorted. "And I'll do whatever I can and make the material I have available to you. But you really should be fine."

John moved to touch Rodney's shoulder, which seemed to settle him. "We'll figure it out together."

Mollified, Rodney went back to eating his muffin. "Hey! I should be able to smell citrus in foods, shouldn't I? Or will just the smell trigger my allergy?"

"As long as it's not a concentrated amount, the parts of citrus fruit that make up the aroma should not contain the actual allergens," Carson answered. "So it's not perfect but it will be better for you."

"One good thing to come of all of this!" Rodney crowed.

"Hey!" John protested.

"Oh, okay," Rodney grinned. "Another good thing to come of this."

"Better," John grinned.

"What happened with Elizabeth?" Rodney asked.

Carson sighed. "This would normally be confidential, but you need to know," Carson started. "Turns out that Elizabeth isn't as much latent as dormant. She was once an online Guide but she was assaulted while she was in college. As a result of that incident, her gifts were evidently turned off. She's considered herself latent, mostly as a self-defense mechanism. I'm not sure she could bond with a Sentinel at this point, but I don't know enough to be sure. That would take an expert."

"What can we do for her?" John asked.

"Right now, I've sedated her," Carson said. "She was still irrational this morning. Dr. Grodin helped me settle her enough to get some drugs into her. I'm guessing that I'll have to put her on some anti-psychotic drugs until we see what happens. Once she's settled, I'm going to ask Dr. Heightmeyer to work with her."

"What happens now?" Rodney asked.

"When do you think you'll be ready to be with more people?" Carson asked.

John considered. He moved to Rodney and put a hand on Rodney's arm, so they were touching skin-to-skin.

"Tomorrow, we can probably handle a couple more people," John said as Rodney frowned. "At least two more days before we're ready for anything more than that."

"Since it's late in the day now, how about if I bring Teyla, Aiden, and Radek in the morning?" Carson asked. "Think you can handle them, or will it be too many?"

John nodded. He hadn't thought to look at the time before calling Carson. "And that would put us closer to a normal sleep cycle, so that would be good," he agreed. He turned, "Rodney?"

"Okay." Rodney hesitated. "I think." He frowned.

"No touching," John reminded Carson. "For either of us."

"I'll tell them," Carson promised.

John herded a yawning Rodney back to bed. Not that it was much of a hardship. Just curling around Rodney and sleeping was something John never thought he'd ever have. Having Rodney share his bed, and his life, was something he hoped he'd never take for granted.

The next morning, after a limited breakfast and a shower, the chime rang on the door.

"Ready?" John asked. "We don't have to do this yet."

"No, I need to try," Rodney replied, taking a deep breath. John knew he would sense if Rodney was getting overwhelmed, and would have to ask the others to leave.

John opened the door, and said, "Okay, try not to talk all at one time. That will help."

Everyone nodded and John stepped back to allow them into the room.

"Well, we obviously didn't think this through," Rodney snarked. "Don't sit on the bed, please. But we'll keep this short since there aren't enough chairs."

"Good to see you," Aiden said. Radek nodded.

"It is very good to see you both," Teyla added.

"How is everything going?" Rodney asked. "John hasn't let me at my computer yet."

"Nothing special," Aiden reported. "There are lots of questions, of course, but there seems to be a general level of acceptance among the military." He grinned. "Although there is a general surprise that you're the Sentinel and the Major is the Guide."

"Oh, yeah," Rodney laughed. "That's the stereotype. The military man is the Sentinel."

"Many Sentinels are attracted to military or police work, because of their need to protect," Carson offered. "But it's true not for everyone."

"Evidently not," John added.

"My people have stories of protectors," Teyla offered. "But I have never met one, and I do not know anyone who has."

"Sentinels do tend to be protective," Carson explained. "The stronger the Sentinel Pair, the more protective they tend to be. Both of each other, and of those around them."

John made a mental note to speak to Teyla later about protectors. He decided he wasn't surprised that the Wraith would try to eliminate what would be their biggest enemy, after the Ancients.

"What about Elizabeth?" John had to ask.

Carson frowned. "I've had her moved to an isolated living suite where she's starting to work with Dr. Heightmeyer. I've had to restrict her to the suite, and Aiden assigned someone to watch the door, but luckily she has not fought that. She's aware enough to understand you've already bonded but also admits she doesn't know what will happen if she meets up with either of you."

"That's going to be awkward," Rodney commented.

"If I could, I'd send her back to Earth," Carson admitted sadly. "She needs more help than we can really give her here."

"I wish that were an option," John replied.

"We can keep her isolated for a while, but at some point that will be difficult to maintain," Carson said. "We don't have the staff or the facilities to keep her away from everyone."

"If you think it would be appropriate, perhaps Dr. Weir could move to the mainland with my people," Teyla volunteered.

"That might be a good idea," Carson replied.

"Thank you," John added. "We may take you up on that."

"It is the least we can do," Teyla replied. "You and your people have done so much for us."

"Where does that leave us?" Radek asked.

"We need to replace Elizabeth," Carson stated the obvious.

"That is easy," Radek snorted. "As a bonded Pair, Rodney and Major Sheppard are the only choice."

John held up a hand. "I'm not so sure..."

"Sorry, but he's correct," Carson stopped John before he could protest.

"I don't want to be in charge!" Rodney whined.

John put a hand on Rodney, touching skin to enhance their connection. "Close your eyes and think about how you'd feel if... if Radek was in charge."

"Thank you for nothing," Radek murmured, eyes glinting with humor.

Rodney took a breath and closed his eyes. They watched in silence as Rodney contemplated the option.

"No!" Rodney exclaimed. John figured Rodney was the only one surprised by that response.

John gave a small, humorless laugh. "There's your answer," he said. "Your instincts are to be in charge, and you'd be even worse than you are in the labs if anyone else would be head of the expedition."

"But..." Rodney stopped himself, and sighed, rubbing his forehead.

"Don't worry, I'll be right there." John had to give in to the inevitable himself. "You and me, together."

"All right," Rodney agreed. He looked at Radek. "Which means you just got promoted to Chief Science Officer."

Radek rolled his eyes. "Thankless job, for which I'm not sure I thank you."

He and Rodney grinned at each other.

Carson looked around. "I think that's enough for the moment," he announced. "We need to let John and Rodney be alone for a bit, and we can meet up again..."

"How about after dinner?" John asked, looking at Rodney. Rodney nodded agreement.

"Ford? Can you find us a room nearby that we can use as a temporary meeting room?" John asked. "Work with Dr. Z to make sure it's clear of artifacts. But we can't meet here, and we'll need some place to work until Rodney's senses are better stabilized. Once that happens, we can look at moving around and start meeting with some of the others."

"Got it!" Aiden nodded.

"What may I do to help?" Teyla asked.

"Carson, work with Teyla to make it reasonably Sentinel friendly," John decided. "It won't be perfect, but it will be a start. Carson, if you would share what you know about Sentinels, she can share anything she learns with her people."

"I certainly will!" Carson beamed.

"Okay, I'm chasing you out now," John announced to the group. "I can feel Rodney's headache coming on..."

They moved the few feet to the door, Carson being the last one out. "Do not suffer," he said firmly. "Take some Tylenol and let me know if you need anything."

"We will," John promised.

After they both took some of the pain reliever, John herded Rodney into the shower, to clear his senses of the people that had just been in the room.

Clean but still slightly damp, Rodney then dragged John back to bed. "Need you.." he murmured.

That simple statement made John go pliant under Rodney.

"Love you..." Rodney murmured against John's lips. Helpless, John opened himself in a way he never had before. Mind and body, they joined together.

John woke first this time, and lay watching Rodney sleep. A level of tension that Rodney habitually wore was gone. John knew that what they had to do going forward together wouldn't be easy on either of them. But at least they'd do it together.

"Hey!" Rodney said softly. Sleep rumpled and sated was a look John hoped to see on Rodney more often.

John leaned in for a soft kiss.

"Come on," John said. "Need to get something to eat soon. Then, we have work to do."