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The Photographer

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Bill sighed to himself. He watched from just outside the door to the space he had been assigned as a studio while McKay and Sheppard poked around his cameras and made silly faces. He probably should be grateful they didn't touch anything but, well, he had been warned about them.

He stepped into the room and cleared his throat. The two froze in place.

"I sat through all of the endless briefings about don't touch anything and was hoping that would apply to my equipment," he said mildly.

"Sorry!" McKay said, not sounding sorry at all. "We have some cameras in the lab, but nothing as fancy as what you have here."

"And while several folk are reasonably competent, no one who's really good at taking pictures of any kind," Sheppard added. "Although I know there are a couple of folk who would appreciate some advice."

"I'm more than willing to help anyone out," Bill replied. "Don't hesitate to send anyone interested to me."

"We'll do that," Sheppard promised.

"Are you here for anything special?" Bill asked, curious.

"Actually, looking over your set-up and seeing what you're looking to use as backgrounds," Sheppard got serious. "Need to make sure that nothing... alien slips through."

"Understood," Bill agreed. "That's been stressed, several times, I might add, before I even got here."

"Okay," Sheppard shrugged easily while McKay peered closely at the camera set on a tripod.

"What kind of a camera is this?" McKay asked, looking up. "It doesn't have a brand on it and it doesn't look like anything I've seen before."

"Something of my own make," Bill admitted. "I have a friend who does some of the programming for me, but it's mostly my own design."

Rodney looked thoughtful. "I'd like to learn more about that!"

"What sorts of things were you looking to do first?" Sheppard broke in before Rodney could take the conversation off on a tangent.

"Probably the official pictures," Bill replied.

McKay frowned. "We don't have to get dressed up, do we?"

Bill thought the whine was... interesting.

"Rodney!" Sheppard sighed. "If you had paid attention, you know that everyone has a choice... Anyone in the military needs to wear a uniform, but dress uniforms are not required. Non-military personnel can wear their expedition uniform or business formal."

"But..." McKay started to protest.

"No 'buts' about it," Sheppard said firmly.

Bill thought it interesting that McKay stopped protesting without too much of a fight. The sudden wink McKay gave him made him realize that McKay was giving Sheppard a hard time.

"Once we get the official pictures largely done, I'll be open to informal and group portraits," Bill went on. "I'm also interested in helping document some of the work you've been doing around here."

"Your file says you've been through the Gate," Sheppard said. It's wasn't quite a question.

That made Bill realize that this meeting maybe wasn't quite as casual as he had thought.

Bill shrugged. "Been through the gate a number of times," he admitted. That was part of his official record. "Was hoping you'd clear me to go out with some of your teams to document some of what they are doing."

"We'll run you through our field check," Sheppard replied. "We don't let anyone through the gate without checking them out first." He held up a hand when Bill started to take a breath to reply. "Even seasoned Marines that have been on a gate team on Earth have to do it. We do it for everyone."

Bill nodded. "Fair enough, then," he agreed. He wasn't worried about anything they might ask him to do. "Since you're here, do you have like ten minutes?"

"For what?" Sheppard asked.

"Just, well, you get to be the guinea pigs," Bill answered cheerfully. "Let me take a couple of pictures to get some adjustments on settings and lighting."

"What! I'm not dressed for anything!" McKay said in dismay, looking down at his not-quite-ratty t-shirt.

"Not for public consumption," Bill said patiently. "Just so I can do a test run on the settings." At McKay's continued frown, he added, "I'll delete them when I'm done."

"Make me a copy of the better ones?" Sheppard asked quickly. "Umm.... before you delete them?"

McKay rolled his eyes. "All right, all right." He looked around. "Where do you want us to stand?"

"On the line," Bill said, pointing to the tape on the floor. "Just next to each other will work."

McKay and Sheppard moved toward the line and stood shoulder to shoulder, facing the camera.

"This okay?" Sheppard asked.

"Perfect," Bill replied. "Now give me a moment."

"Not sure why I agreed to this," McKay complained softly.

"Hey! Help the man out!" Sheppard answered. "We can go to lunch next."

The offer of a meal made McKay's eyes light up, and Bill made sure to capture that moment. He absently listened to them debate about what might be on the menu as they stood together. But he did catch them leaning closer together as time went on.

"Okay, thanks!" Bill called.

"I didn't hear... oh, you solved the shutter noise problem!" Rodney enthused. "Okay, we need to talk about that. We've not been taking pictures in a lot of places because of that." He turned to Sheppard. "We could..."

"Rodney! Sold!" Sheppard laughed. Bill took another still of the smiling face. "There's plenty of time, and we need to get to lunch." Sheppard turned to Bill. "You going to come?"

"Sure," Bill agreed. "Let me close up the room."

"You're ATA positive, just put your hand on the door frame and think 'locked' at it," Sheppard instructed. "That will keep most of everyone out."

"I assume you have an override," Bill stated.

Sheppard nodded.

"We haven't found much that Sheppard can't open," McKay admitted.

"That works," Bill agreed, thinking about some places he'd like to explore on the city.

Lunch turned out to be a team event, with Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagen joining the table.

"This not-tuna isn't bad," McKay commented, taking a bite of his sandwich. "Although if we could get more potatoes, or tormack, it would be better with chips. Or fries."

"Where do you get the not-tuna?" Bill asked.

"Here," Sheppard replied. "There are some really huge fish on this planet and they're pretty decent eating. The fillets are good baked, and the smaller parts make good not-tuna salad. But one fish will give us a couple of days worth of meals."

"I guess that's not something you go trolling for with a rod, then," Bill grinned.

"Nope," Sheppard replied. "It's actually a rotating mission. The fish is better fresh and we really can't store it for all of that long -- we'd need to bring more cooler space online to do that. Although the cooks are working to see if they can dry it and keep it palatable. If they can do that, we might be able to trade it off world in places that don't get seafood at all."

"Sounds interesting," Bill agreed.

"No. Do not get him talking about dried fish," McKay put in. "It's become an obsession."

Bill caught a small grin from Sheppard. "But Rodney, all the things you can do with dried fish..." he started.

"La-la-la-la-la-la-la..." McKay sang as he got up from the table. "Need to get back to the labs anyways." He took his tray and went off.

Dex and Sheppard broke out into laughter as Emmagen rolled her eyes at them. "It is not fair of you to tease Rodney like that!"

"It's fun," Dex grinned. He went back to his lunch. "Although there are lots of people that really would appreciate it. So, it's worth pursuing."

"Good to know," Bill put in.

Sheppard looked at him. "Get settled in your studio space today, don't touch anything, no matter how nicely it asks, and I'll put you in the schedule for field testing tomorrow. Sound good?"

"Sure," Bill agreed.

"Okay, I guess I can't put off work any longer myself," Sheppard said. He looked at his team mates. "See you for dinner?"

Emmagen shook her head. "I will be working with training Jinto, and that will run through dinner time."

"And I'm taking the kid while she does that," Dex said. "I'll bring him to dinner."

"Good to know," Sheppard said. "See you later."

"Good to meet you," Bill said to Dex and Emmagen. "I hope to see you later."

Bill went back to his studio but it wasn't long before there was a polite tap at the door.

"Mr. Finland. I'm Richard Woolsey," the man introduced himself.

They shook hands. "Call me Bill, please," he replied.

"Richard, then," Richard said easily. "Welcome to Atlantis. Sorry to not be available when you arrived."

"It was the middle of the night," Bill pointed out. There has only been a skeleton crew when he had stepped through the Gate from the Midway Station. The supplies that had been shipped through with him had been efficiently whisked away, and one of the soldiers had guided him to his room. We'll bring the rest of your things in the morning he had been promised.

"The time difference does get to be a nuisance sometimes," Richard agreed. "The 32 hour days on this newest planet is awkward to say the least."

"Everyone was helpful and efficient when I arrived," Bill agreed.

"Good, good," Richard beamed. "When you're ready, I'd like to go over your plans for taking the official photographs."

"Not a problem," Bill replied. "Colonel Sheppard has me scheduled for field testing tomorrow morning. Other than that, I'm available when you are."

"Oh! That is good. Well, then how about if we have dinner tomorrow evening?" Richard proposed. "You'll be tied up for most of the day and will want a breather before you do anything else."

Bill now wondered what the heck he had agreed to. "Sure," he agreed. "Dinner tomorrow sounds fine."

"I'll meet you in the cafeteria about eight local time, and we can take our meals off to the side," Richard outlined. "Even with the new staff we've gotten, it's still more efficient to have meals made centrally. You can check out some basic food for your living quarters, if you have a room with a kitchen. But we try to keep everyone somewhat together for meals."

"Sounds good, see you then!" Bill promised.

"Don't hesitate to ask if you need anything," Richard said. "See you tomorrow."

Bill went back to sorting through the boxes piled in the room. The cameras had been part of his hand-held luggage, so that he would know exactly where they were at all times. Some equipment had been shipped earlier in the week and the rest had come through with the supplies last night. It had all been piled here for him to sort through.

There was baked fish for dinner that Bill took automatically. He took a small sample of pretty much everything, mostly because he was interested in seeing that had been done to some of the foods he was familiar with.

A casual wave from Sheppard had him going back to the same table he had eaten lunch at.

A small child that Bill knew to be the equivalent of five years old looked him solemnly.

"Torren, this is Mr. Bill," Dex introduced him.

Bill knew what was coming out of McKay before he even started.

"Oooohhhh, noooo Mr Bill!" McKay sing-songed in a bad falsetto.

"You're showing your age," Bill said mildly. "That's older than Torren, you know." He looked carefully at Dex. "It's probably older than Dex, here, too."

"Ronon," Dex looked up at him.

"Bill then," Bill said readily.

A short nod before Ronon went back to keeping an eye on Torren, who was more interesting in looking around than eating. Ronon didn't seemed to fussed about it.

"He'll eat when he's ready," Ronon offered. "No sense in rushing him."

"That's a reasonable plan," Bill added.

Sheppard offered Torren a part of a roll. Torren took it and nibbled at the torn edges.

Bill took a forkful of one of the purple vegetables he wasn't familiar with and... he decided spitting it out was probably not a good example to set in front of Torren. And it wouldn't kill him, since it was on the serving line. He chewed, swallowed and grabbed his coffee.

McKay, Sheppard and Ronon burst out laughing.

"Oh, funny," he said. "Don't warn the new guy about..." He looked down at his tray. "What the... heck was that?"

"It's from Partame," Ronon calmed down enough to reply.

"The nutritionists say it's good for us, vitamins and fiber and all that," Sheppard added. "But it really does taste awful."

Bill took another swallow of coffee, trying to chase the taste out of his mouth.

"Don't eat anything purple that you don't recognize," McKay added cheerfully. "And, always ask. They have to tell you what it is."

"McKay's got allergies," Ronon put in. "Gets crankier when he doesn't eat."

"Hey!" McKay frowned at his teammate, who grinned back at him. "Allergic to citrus," McKay admitted. "Luckily, there doesn't seem to be a lot of it in Pegasus."

Bill thought through some of the foods he had been familiar with. He'd have to check through the database to see what might still be around and be similar enough to citrus to give McKay problems.

Finishing his dinner, Bill said, "See you in the morning!" He figured an early night was probably in order, considering Woolsey's oblique comment about the field testing.

After an early breakfast, Bill went to meeting place for the field testing. He was surprised to see not only the Marines he had come through the Gate with, but three civilians who were obviously science staff.

Sheppard came up and everyone turned to face him.

"Morning!" he said cheerfully.

"Good morning, sir!" came from the Marines as a group. The scientists gave varying degrees of "Morning" back to him.

Sheppard nodded acknowledgement of the response.

"Everyone will be going through basic weapon assessment," Sheppard went on. "Handgun tests for everyone. Automatic weapons for the Marines and any of the civilians can volunteer to be tested. Not to repeat everything you have already been briefed on, the handgun proficiency was a requirement to get this far. You will be re-tested -- and pass - regularly. You have to consider this a war zone and if you don't make an effort to protect yourself and your teammates, you'll be on the next trip back to Earth."

"But I'm just a botanist!" One of the scientists protested. "How dangerous can that be?"

Sheppard gave a sharp snort of laughter. "Dr. Parrish is the head of your division. Ask him that question, maybe you'll understand better."

Slightly mollified, the scientist settled back to listen.

"Chief Dex and I will be breaking you into two groups," Sheppard went on. "Don't do stupid and do ask questions. Clear?"

"Sir, yes, sir!" came from the Marines.

"Ronon, take these guys and check them out," Sheppard directed. "I'll take the others."

That meant Bill was in the group with Sheppard and the scientists.

"We're going to work with static targets this morning," Sheppard explained as he led the way to another room. "If you want to go through the Gate, where McKay swears all the good stuff is, you'll need to qualify on moving targets. What's out there won't stand still while you take aim on it."

"How do we learn that?" the botanist demanded.

"Practice, like anything else," Sheppard answered. "The shooting range has regular hours and lessons on improving your skills are available by arrangement."

"I already have a heavy work load!" the man protested.

Another amused snort. "Wait. It gets worse!"

"What?" A bewildered question.

The woman in the group took pity and stepped in. "You've not worked with Dr. McKay before, I take it?" The botanist shook his head. "McKay was always a bastard, and will always throw more work at you than any six people can work on. It's your job to weed through it all, do what is most important and ask for help on the rest."

"How do I know if it's important?" At least that was a good question, Bill allowed.

"Will someone die if it doesn't get done?" the woman said baldly. Then grinned. "Or does it involve food?"

Sheppard gave a grin. "Those are the priorities. Keep everyone alive, and keep McKay fed. After that, it's simple."

The botanist shook his head in disbelief. "I don't get it. This isn't what I came here to do."

"Well, it's what you're going to do," the woman dismissed the man. Clearly, she believed he wouldn't be on Atlantis very long, an assessment Bill agreed with.

Sheppard ran them through basic gun procedures, had them all demonstrate that they could properly handle the weapons, and that they knew how to operate the safety. He handed out ear protection and herded them into a room that smelled strongly of ammunition.

Bill wasn't surprised when the woman knew how to handle a weapon and scored well on the target shooting. The botanist did poorly and the silent third person scored as well as the woman. Bill scored better than all of them, for which Sheppard gave him a thoughtful glance.

"Automatic weapons, anyone?" Sheppard asked.

The botanist begged off but Bill and the other two showed that they could easily handle the P-90 that there seemed to be a number of.

When asked about the choice of automatic weapons, Sheppard shrugged. "Someone on Earth seems to think they're our favorite. Or there's someone on the payroll at the manufacturer. Don't care which. We get more of them than we need and the ammo to go with them. Lots of ammo we don't have to beg for is a blessing. Which is why we can use them for target practice. Not that we have ammo to burn, but we don't have to be as careful with it."

Both the woman and the silent man did reasonably well with the P-90s, enough that Bill would trust them to be able to help cover a team in case of trouble. Bill did significantly better, enough that Sheppard asked, "Interested in trying moving targets later?"

Bill shrugged. That had been his goal, after all, but no sense tipping his hand too soon. "Sure!"

Sheppard turned to the group. "Okay, let's move on to survival gear."

The rest of the morning was spent reviewing survival gear, basic first aid and evacuation plans. Bill was interested in seeing the myriad of levels of evacuation plans for getting out of Atlantis in case of a major emergency. That level of planning demonstrated how fucked up things must have been here over the years.

"Okay, enough for now," Sheppard said. "Make sure you have your survival pack set up and stored in your locker. Then you can go for lunch." He looked at Bill. "Meet me back here for more target practice?"

"Not a problem," Bill replied.

After a quick lunch, Bill met Sheppard at the same place. Sheppard led him off to a transporter and out to one of the piers.

"Safer to have this range out here," Sheppard explained. "We've shut down all the other transporters to the area, so this is the only easy way in. And it's far enough from the space we're using that you'd have a long hike to get out here. Makes sure no one wanders onto the range by accident."

Bill looked up and was dismayed at the wear and tear on what was once breathtaking space. It was an outside theatre with audience seating around three side and a stage at the far end.

"I know," Sheppard said softly. "But it pretty much was this way when we got here."

"It was... must have been beautiful," Bill replied. He shook himself and then turned to Sheppard. "Where do we start?"

"The moving target test is essentially laser tag," Sheppard explained, unlocking a cabinet and handing Bill a bulky hand weapon and a vest. "Ronon and I will be out there, and your job is to get to the flag on the stage without being killed. The vests will record strikes and let you know when you're too incapacitated to move, or when you're dead."

Bill slipped the vest on, feeling the Ancient electronics go to work.

"Clever," Bill admitted. "Why don't you use these with the civilians?"

"They need to actually shoot a weapon," Sheppard countered. "The target practice earlier lets us weed out anyone who really can't handle a weapon. If they really want to stay and are willing to put in the time, we work with them. The rest go back to Earth."

"Like that botanist," Bill grinned.

"McKay didn't really want him, but Parrish did," Sheppard shrugged. "McKay's going to be insufferable when the guy goes back, but he's also willing to listen when someone makes a case for something."

"Okay, then," Bill waved his weapon around. "How does all this work?"

"Treat it like an off-world mission," Sheppard replied. "You don't know what's out there and what will come at you."

"I can do that," Bill agreed.

"Face the door we just came through, count to fifteen and then you can start," Sheppard instructed.

Bill turned to the wall... fifteen?

One... two.... three... four... -- then he caught on -- fivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelvethirteenfourteenfifteen. Bill turned to find Sheppard gone and no sign of Ronon.

Bill took a moment to look at the area he had to cross. With a little imagination, it could be any small village, anywhere. Vegetation grew wild, and what could be small buildings sat waiting. There was no obvious path to the other side of the area... Bill figured that threat assessment was part of the testing.

Bill hefted the weapon in his hand, which caused him to pause. He studied it for a moment and then felt the Ancient tech. He laughed. There were about a dozen 'shots' loaded into the weapon. Anyone without the ATA gene would not be able to figure that out without asking -- and, like a rube, he hadn't asked himself.

He resisted calling up a life sign detector, although that would have made it more fun. But he did want to keep Sheppard on his side and not 'cheat' on a legitimate test. Okay, Sheppard was the one who was cheating, but that was fine with him.

It took him half an hour to move across the space. Sheppard also hadn't said that there would be 'civilians' and 'Wraith' to contend with, but that was the reality of any off world mission. Nothing could be assumed to be safe and this made a good point of that.

Bill scooted to the flag, out of breath and out of ammo. Only a bare tingle of electronics made him stop before grabbing the flag from the shelf it sat on. He sat down and breathed heavily.

Ronon stepped out from behind a wall, came over and handed him a bottle of water.

"You made it," he allowed. He turned to Sheppard and said, "He's good."

Sheppard nodded. "Almost none of the civilians ever make it this far. You've set the new civilian record. Zelenka held that, and he had been Czech army at one point. You've had some military training?"

Bill nodded. "Long time ago," he admitted. He wasn't going to admit just how long ago that was.

"Well, you're cleared for a Gate team," Sheppard announced cheerfully.

Bill was glad for his chance to clean up and rest before his dinner with Woolsey.

He had to give Richard Woolsey credit. He was charming with just enough overt insecurity that he seemed harmless. On the other hand, Bill had read the mission reports and knew just how ruthless the man could be. He spent the meal projecting back his own benign thoughts and attitude. He was pretty sure Woolsey didn't really believe it, but since he couldn't prove anything was wrong, had to let Bill be.

The next two weeks were spent doing what he had come to Atlantis to do. He spent days taking pictures of the members of the Expedition, both formal and casual portraits. Several of his evenings were taken by an impromptu photography club -- some were serious photographers already but most were just looking to improve their own skills.

McKay and Sheppard hovered on the periphery of all of this. They didn't spend a lot of time physically in his space, but there were frequent mentions of Colonel Sheppard said... and Dr. McKay wanted... in any number of conversations.

Which is what he had hoped for. McKay and Sheppard were fully invested in Atlantis and Pegasus, and were a bright light after a long darkness.

"Interested in 'documenting' a trip through the Gate?" Sheppard dropped down next to Bill at lunch one day.

"Sure!" Bill agreed. "Where are we going?"

"P47-981," Sheppard replied. "Day after tomorrow."

At Bill's mystified look, Sheppard explained, "It's our turn for what the geeks call 'Gate roulette' -- they pick a planet at random from the database, send some probes through to make sure it's a planet and not a space gate, and has breathable air. Couple more probes after that to see if there are people or something interesting. If one of those is a 'yes', it goes into the maybe list, if both are yes, it goes into the rotation for a day trip."

"And this has both people and something interesting?" Bill asked. "What makes it interesting?"

Ronon dropped a tray next to Bill. "One of McKay's endless vague energy anomaly." He snorted. "That's always trouble."

"Ah!" Sheppard grinned. "This one has a vague Ancient energy anomaly."

Ronon rolled his eyes. "Double trouble, then."

"And I'm invited, why?" Bill has to ask.

"There's no evidence of natives living too close to the gate, and the village and the energy source are in opposite directions," Sheppard shrugged. "It's as benign as it gets."

"Now you've jinxed it," Ronon muttered.

"Ronon!" Sheppard sighed. "We have to get lucky somewhere."

"Never happens," Ronon grinned.

"I'll make sure to bring extra ammo," Bill replied.

"Good!" Sheppard said. "I'll send you the info, and there'll be a briefing tomorrow."

"Thanks!" Bill said. "I don't have any appointments scheduled. I was planning on doing some informal pictures around the city for the next few days."

"Sounds perfect," Sheppard agreed.

Bill used the information Sheppard sent him to look further into the world they would be going to. The city database really didn't have much more than what had been found by the probes. Staring at the screen, he suddenly identified one of the icons. He clicked on it, and had to fight pass some security settings. When it finally opened, he found someone's private notes. It wasn't anyone he had known, it was centuries newer than that, but he started reading...

The briefing the next day was, he suspected, mostly for him. Bill patiently sat through a review of mission protocol, and a review of the information that had been in the email Sheppard had sent to the team.

"Since the energy source and the village are in opposite directions, and it's only about a mile and a half from the Gate, we'll walk rather than take a Jumper," Sheppard outlined.

"Why walk?" Bill was curious.

"Thank you!" McKay interjected. "My point, precisely!"

Sheppard sighed. "Number one, we've run into just enough worlds where going through the gate with a Jumper sets off either a booby-trap or a signal we're really rather not send." He looked pointedly at McKay. "You know that, Rodney!"

"What kind of a signal?" Bill jumped on what he considered the more interesting part of that statement.

"We're just about the only ones in Pegasus, besides the Wraith, that use technology to get through the Gates," Sheppard outlined. "Travelers typically come down from space and largely don't use the Gate system. The Wraith have taken to putting what we've taken to calling listening devices on random Gates so that it signals them that something they may be interested in has gone through."

"That's awkward," Bill admitted.

"Certainly is," Sheppard agreed.

"And the probes we send through now check for those sorts of devices," McKay grumped. "The first ones are small enough not to trip the listening device and, if we find one, we don't send through the second probe."

"And it never hurts any of us to walk," Sheppard replied patiently. "It's not all that far!"

"What do we have on this energy source?" Bill asked hurriedly, before McKay could start up again.

McKay looked at him sharply. "It's mostly a reading from the second set of probes," he explained. "We have telemetry on the probes that tell us that there are energy readings, just not what they are. We're always hoping for ZedPMs, but we'll take what we can get."

"And how do you identify Ancient energy signals from anything that might be local industry or something physical, like geothermal?" Bill felt like he needed to lay some groundwork for what they might find.

"There's a carrier wave that we have found is pretty unique to Ancient equipment," McKay went on. "Especially on a largely uninhabited world like this one, it sticks out like a sore thumb." He paused. "What makes you ask?"

Bill shrugged. "Just getting some background so I'm better prepared for what we might see."

McKay seemed mollified with that answer, going back to whatever he had been doing on his tablet. He looked up. "We done?"

Sheppard sighed but nodded. "Sure, go!" As McKay got to the door, he called, "Rodney? See you at dinner?"

McKay smiled at Sheppard for a moment. "Sure... come and get me?"

"I will!" Sheppard promised. He turned to the rest of the group. "Anything else?" When there were no questions, he waved to Teyla and Ronon as they left the room.

As they prepared for the mission, Bill noted that Sheppard had Ronon keep an eye on him. It wasn't obvious but when it came to leaving the ready room, Ronon gave him a quick once-over before letting him leave the room.

It was early morning when they arrived on the planet. The sky was blue and the air was crisp,
promising to be warm later in the day. Bill was glad for his jacket and reached for his sunglasses. He took some pictures of the area, not that pictures of scenery would be meaningful later.

McKay pulled out a hand-held device, moving is a slightly circular motion to take his readings.

"Power signal that way," he pointed off to the left, across a rocky expanse. "Village should be that way.” He pointed off to the right, following a worn track.

“The people who live here appear to use their gate for travel,” Teyla observed. “But perhaps on an irregular basis, based on the growth around the platform.”

“Wagons, at best, but probably hand carts,” Ronon added. “Don’t see any hoof prints.”

“We’ll check out the energy reading first,” Sheppard reminded them. “If we have time, we’ll take a swing by the village.”

Bill privately doubted they’d have time to go to the village, but since his information was pretty out of date, it could go either way.

The target was almost two miles from the Gate and McKay bitched about the extra distance. There was no obvious path and a more-or-less straight route went over uneven terrain pocketed with small holes, requiring them to watch their step. He wasn't breathing hard, so Bill chalked the complaining up to 'being McKay' more than anything else.

Along the way, he got some casual photos of the team. McKay frowned at him at one point, then ignored him for the rest of the trip.

They ended up at an obviously Ancient structure, the section above the ground was the size of an Earth-side single home. The vegetation had grown close to the building and the building looked undisturbed.

McKay walked within about ten feet of the building before stopping and taking more readings with his device.

"No one here," he announced. "Lower level energy reading from here... much lower than I would have expected after what we got from the probe." He fiddled with the device.

"Is it safe to approach?" Sheppard asked.

"Let me..." McKay was tapping on the device and looked up. "I'm not sure." He sounded surprised.

"What's going on?" Sheppard asked.

"There's something else here," McKay said slowly. "Something the probe did not detect."

"Wraith?" Ronon demanded.

"It doesn't look like their usual technology, no," McKay said quickly. "Something Ancient rather than Wraith."

"The local population?" Teyla asked from her position further away from the building.

"I don't think so?" McKay equivocated.

"Are you asking or telling?" Sheppard asked patiently.

"Thinking!" McKay shot back.

That must have been a familiar enough response -- the rest of the team settled into place for the moment. McKay's fingers flew over the device.

"Okay, if there's local security, it's pretty unsophisticated and we should be able to get around it," McKay finally decided. "It's definitely not Wraith, or even Genii, so we should be all set."

"What about anything that signals the village?" Bill asked casually. He shrugged when they looked at him. "I've read enough reports about 'sacred' sites to at least ask."

"If there's something low-tech, we may or may not readily find it," Sheppard admitted. "Which is why not all of us go inside."

"We will be on guard," Teyla promised.

"Chop, chop!" McKay called, walking closer to the building.

A puff of stale air exited the building as McKay and Sheppard stood on either side of the door. Sheppard had waved Bill to stand on the other side of him as they worked the door controls. Bill tucked his camera into a pocket, and made sure his P-90 was ready for use.

They waited a count of one hundred, to see if anything would happen immediately, before they peered inside. Sheppard flicked a light over the interior.

"Empty room, dead plants," McKay enumerated. "What is it with the dead plants? We've come across them everywhere!"

"Maybe someone liked to brighten up their workspace?" Bill suggested. "Those would have been flowering plants, and they would freshen the air."

McKay looked askance at him as Sheppard went alone into the building. He moved slowly, almost testing each step before he'd put a foot down.

There was a buzzing in the back of Bill's head that he knew Sheppard should also be feeling. It wasn't clear if it was a good or a bad buzz yet, which he assumed was making Sheppard extra cautious. McKay must have felt the edges of it, since he made no move to follow Sheppard into the building.

Suddenly, the buzz turned sharp.

Fuck it. Bill called into the building, "Sheppard! Console at your nine o'clock! Grab the contents, and get out of there!"

Bill was grateful that Sheppard didn't ask any questions but turned to the console, slapped a hand on it, and grabbed the case that was there before starting for the door.

"Incoming!" Ronon called. "They don't look friendly."

Sheppard was scrambling for the door as it started to close.

"No, no, no, no, no," McKay chanted as he fought with the controls.

Bill put a hand on the building and thought a firm Stop! at the door. It stopped about two-thirds closed, but it was open enough for Sheppard to get outside.

"What do we have?" Sheppard called to Ronon as he stuffed the case into his backpack.

"Looks like scouting party," Ronon replied. "I'm going to suspect there's more behind them."

"Teyla? Stay or go?" Sheppard asked calmly.

Teyla hesitated. "Go, I would think."

"You heard the lady," Sheppard ordered. "Let's get out of here."

That was easier said than done, Bill realized. There were now a handful of locals between them and the gate. There weren't enough of them to block the way, but they could be more than a nuisance.

As the team moved toward the gate, the locals backed off enough to let them move away from the building. Bill could see cross-bows and other hand weapons, but nothing that looked sophisticated. But he knew you could die from an arrow to the heart -- bullets weren't always necessary.

As they got past the scouts, a roar of "VIOLATION!" came from the outpost. The open door alone might be enough to set them off.

"Oh, fuck," Sheppard muttered, then yelled, "Go!" They started running.

Arrows whizzed by their heads. Sheppard yelled, "Evasive tactics!"

That meant to shoot to discourage, rather than to harm anyone -- if at all possible.

The gate was in sight when two things happened at once -- Teyla slipped and fell, and Sheppard got hit by an arrow.

"Ronon!" Bill shouted. "Help Sheppard!" Bill surged forward to haul Teyla to her feet. "Can you walk?"

"I'll manage," she replied calmly.

"McKay, we need you to dial the gate," Bill directed. He watched as Sheppard's eyes rolled back and he collapsed in Ronon's arms. Ronon gave a feral grin, and slung Sheppard over a shoulder.

"Keep going," Bill directed. He turned back to the approaching natives and deliberately shot three of the lead runners. Two were definitely shoulder wounds -- serious enough to drop them in place but probably not kill them. The third might be fatal, he wasn't going to stop to find out.

That slowed the rest of the natives down enough that they got to the gate without further mishap.

"Send your code!" McKay shouted as he slammed his hand on the center of the DHD. "Now!"

Bill sent his code and keyed his comm. "This is SGA-1, we're coming in hot and with wounded!"

"Acknowledged!" Chuck's calm voice came back. "Shield is down, come through."

"Go, go, go," Bill shouted waving an arm.

With Sheppard awkwardly over his shoulder, Ronon ran through the gate, shielding the unconscious man the best he could from the natives at their backs. Arrows flew through the air, barely missing them as Ronon stepped through the Gate.

Bill put an arm around Teyla, holding her up as they hobbled together to the Gate. He knew McKay was using the last of his ammunition to cover them.

Bill all but pushed Teyla through the event horizon. "Go!" He had to trust that someone would catch her on the other side. He turned to face the open field.

"McKay, get your ass over here! Now!" he shouted, bringing up his P-90 to cover McKay's retreat.

McKay barrelled across the open space, an arrow embedding itself in his backpack. As McKay drew even with him, Bill stepped back and fell awkwardly through the Gate.

"Shield up!" McKay and Bill shouted simultaneously.

There were several light thumps against the shield. Arrows, not bodies Bill thought. Hoped. He lay panting on the floor of the Gate room.

One of the nurses leaned over him. "Where are you hurt?"

"Left ankle, twisted but not too badly," he reported. "Okay otherwise."

She ran a scanner over him, hmmmm'd then said, "Stay here, we'll get you transported to the infirmary."

Bill lay back on the floor, relaxing. He let the noise of the city wash through him.

It wasn't long before two corpsmen came over. One leaned over and said, "Sir? We're going to help you get on to the gurney. Okay?"

"Okay," Bill replied.

They got on each side of him, efficiently levered him up on his good foot, and then manhandled him onto the gurney. One tightened a strap about his waist before they took off at a brisk pace.

Bill was rolled into an almost quiet section of the infirmary. Most of the noise came from McKay, who was fighting with the nurse trying to check him over.

"I'm fine!" McKay protested. "Someone tell me how J-.. Colonel Sheppard is!"

"Dr. McKay..." the nurse started to protest.

"I'm not hurt!" McKay said grimly. "Tell me about Colonel Sheppard!"

The nurse sighed and stepped away from the bed McKay was perched on. "If I check, will you stay here?"

McKay nodded tightly.

"I'll see what I can find out," she said.

Bill lay back on his bed, tuning into the Ancient equipment to see if he could find out anything himself.

He was able to tap into the audio feed for the infirmary area, and found the link ot the surgery.

"Daft bugger!" Becket exclaimed. "There must be something in the arrows that's keeping him unconscious." A pause. "Run the blood work, see if you can find something to explain it."

"Yes, doctor." A different voice. One of the nurses, Bill assumed.

"Okay, let's close this up," Beckett ordered.

Bill backed out of the feed to see a nurse staring at him, puzzled.

"I was just... meditating," Bill explained. "Helps with the pain."

"Umm... okay," she said warily. "Okay, let's get you out of those clothes so I can check you over."

"If you let me stand a bit, it's easier," Bill suggested. "I've got one good foot."

"Okay, but the least wobble and you're back into the bed," she agreed.

The extra set of hands had him out of the dirty clothes and into scrubs in short order. He grabbed his camera before his clothes got set aside for the laundry and set it on the bedside table. Getting the boot off the bad foot was the worst for him -- it hurt like hell and more than he expected -- but the nurse handled it like a pro. Twisted and broken ankles probably were common injuries, he guessed.

"Okay, let's make sure it's only sprained and not broken," she said. "Let me get an x-ray and let the doctor take a look."

"Can I get something now for the pain?" Bill asked. "Doesn't have to be much, just a tylenol or something."

"Sure," she agreed. "Back in a minute."

She was quickly back with two pills and a glass of water. She handed the pills to him, and he drank down the water gratefully.

"I'll get you some more water in a sec," she said. "Lay back and relax while we get this taken care of."

Bill lay back and closed his eyes... only to open them as he heard McKay talking.

"What do you mean unconscious?" McKay hissed.

"There may have been something on the arrow," Beckett explained. "There's nothing obvious in the Colonel's bloodstream, so I have to guess it's organic."

"Guess? Damn voodoo," McKay ranted.

Bill sat up, waving to get their attention. "McKay. Your backpack. There's an arrow stuck in that. You got shot as we fled through the gate. Since the pack isn't organic, Dr. Beckett should be able to get a sample from that."

Rodney brightened. "Is that what hit me?" he asked. "It's around here.... damn. Where is it?"

Beckett put a hand on Rodney's shoulder. "Probably in the Gate Room, or in the lockers. I'll get someone to get it for me." He looked at Rodney. "You stay here!"

McKay huffed but sat back on the bed.

The nurse came back with a handheld device. "It's just a sprain, which is the good news. The doctor will take a look at it shortly."

"No hurry," Bill assured her, laying back.

It was a while before Beckett got to him. "Just a sprain," he agreed cheerfully. "We'll wrap it up, and you need to keep off of it for a couple of days. Ice it regularly and I'll give you some ibuprofen to help with the swelling." He made notes in the data pad in his hands. "How are you feeling?"

"A hot shower would feel good about now," Bill replied. "Any chance I can get out of here for that?"

"It's late enough that I want you to stay overnight," Beckett decided. "It's easier than getting you moved."

"I guess," Bill agreed reluctantly.

"Get some sleep," Beckett said kindly.

Bill figured it wasn't worth fighting over, besides he could keep a closer eye on McKay and Sheppard since they would be staying in the infirmary also.

It was probably after midnight before McKay finally got out of his bed. He fiddled with the controls so the nurse on duty wouldn't get any notifications that he was moving about.

Bill let McKay get out of the room before he duplicated the escape process. McKay hadn't gone far, just to the other end of the infirmary where Sheppard was under observation. McKay pulled a chair next to Sheppard's bed, and settled in.

"You idiot," McKay murmured, taking Sheppard's hand. Sheppard didn't stir, which didn't seem to bother McKay at all. "If it's not alien princesses, it's getting shot with arrows." He sighed. "Carson better be able to figure out what that stuff was... And what's with Bill? What did he tell you to take, and how did he know it was there? You were right to be worried... he knows more than he lets on and it's perplexing."

McKay looked down at their loosely joined hands. "And, you... you better get your act together soon... I mean, I understand and all but, well, there's always going to be something. Observers, new personnel... stupid reports to be done..." Another sigh. "There needs to be time for us. There needs to be an us."

At that, McKay inched closer to the bed, to be able to lay his arms on the blanket and lean into Sheppard. He put his head down on his arms and closed his eyes.

Trying not to think about how private this moment was, Bill snapped a picture and returned to his bed.

The infirmary was relatively busy when Bill woke in the morning. He was given crutches and, when he showed the nurse that he was comfortable using them, he was allowed to use the bathroom on his own. Breakfast came soon after, and then a visit from Beckett.

"Use the crutches, I'll leave an order for ice to be brought to your room, stay off your feet as much as you can for a couple of days, and check back in tomorrow morning," Beckett rattled off.

"I can do that," Bill promised.

The hot shower in his own room felt as good as he knew it would. Clean clothes and a nap in his own bed went a long way to making him feel good again.

Bill made his way down to lunch to find Teyla and Ronon already at the table.

"How are you doing?" Bill asked Teyla.

"I am better, thank you," Teyla replied. "My ankle was twisted but will be better in a few days. And you?"

"Pretty much the same," Bill admitted, pointing to his crutches.

Ronon paused in his eating and looked at him. "You knew something."

"I suspected something," Bill admitted. "Something I could not prove."

Ronon slapped a hand on the table and growled, "You should have said something."

Bill sat back in his chair. "I know, I know," he admitted. "But, would you have believed me?"

"And what might we have done differently?" Teyla asked. "With no proof, and Bill is new to Atlantis. We may have taken anything he had to offer seriously but still not change anything."

"He should have said something," Ronon persisted.

"And Colonel Sheppard will address that when he is better," Teyla said firmly.

"Unless McKay gets his hands on him first!" Ronon growled. He roughly pushed himself away from the table and stalked out of the room.

"I suspect you should seek out Rodney," Teyla said gently.

Bill shrugged. "I know, I know," he replied.

Bill was working in his studio when McKay came storming in. "What the fuck is Ronon talking about?" he demanded.

"Hello to you, too," Bill said calmly.

"What. Is. Ronon. Talking. About."

Bill sighed. "How is Colonel Sheppard doing?" He already knew from listening to the infirmary feeds, but hoped he would side-track McKay at least slightly.

"He's finally awake but groggy," McKay ground out. "No thanks to you, if I understood Ronon."

"Colonel Sheppard will be fine after dinner," Bill stated calmly. "And I'll be glad to explain everything to him, and you, then."

McKay considered, only slightly mollified by the offer of an explanation.

"I really would prefer to explain while both of you are present," Bill went on. "It's... far fetched and you both need to hear it." A McKay's huff of impatience, Bill added, "It's not bad. I'm not here to hurt anyone and, well, anything more will come tonight."

"Ronon's going to follow you around until then," McKay stated flatly.

Bill shrugged. "Not a problem." He raised his voice slightly. "You might as well come in and watch from here. You'll be more comfortable."

Ronon came into the studio and settled into a chair without a word.

"I'll be here in the studio for the rest of the afternoon, then dinner. After dinner, I'll meet you in the infirmary," Bill outlined. "Ronon and Teyla are welcome to come, but perhaps you might want to make sure no one else is around when we talk."

Bill spent the afternoon working on the picture project. The official portraits were complete and he finished loading them to the network server where they would be attached to everyone's personnel file.

The informal portrait proofs had largely been sent out to everyone. Folk could use them as they liked or get prints made on several of the high-quality printers around Atlantis.

Ronon sat quiet but alert in the chair, never moving. At one point, Bill picked up a camera and took a picture as Ronon glared at him. "That one is for me," he admitted. "I'll make sure you have a copy."

Ronon ignored him as Bill downloaded the image and sent a copy off to Ronon's email.

Teyla came by late in the afternoon. "I understand you will be joining us for dinner," she said.

"I'd love to," Bill grinned. "I need to wash up, can we swing by a bathroom?"

Ronon didn't quite follow him into the bathroom, but Bill really did want to wash up before dinner. He hummed as he dried his hands.

"What's for dinner tonight?" Bill asked.

"I believe there is meatloaf," Teyla answered. "I did not check on the menu."

"Meatloaf is good," Bill replied.

"Tormack," Ronon added.

"Ah!" Teyla grinned. "And that is why it is a good thing we are going to dinner early. Ronon can eat his weight in tormack."

"I've heard about tormack," Bill admitted. "I've been looking forward to it."

The serving line was obviously prepared for the rush. There were extra staff on hand and the line for dinner had already started.

Tormack really was as good as everyone had told him it would be. It had to be a relatively recent development, it wasn't anything he had eaten before.

Ronon went back for more tormack as Bill worked on his initial serving. Teyla shared a small grin with him as Ronon waited in line for his second serving.

"Ready?" Ronon asked when they had finished.

"Sure," Bill agreed.

They made their way to the infirmary,

McKay was working his way through a bigger serving of tormack than Bill had just watched Ronon eat.

"What?" McKay mumbled through his mouthful.

"Rodney! Just eat!" Sheppard said in exasperation.

"I wasn't going to miss..." McKay went on.

"Just eat," Sheppard said firmly.

"Almost done!" McKay said, scraping up the last of the food from the plate.

While McKay was finishing up, Ronon had rounded up some extra chairs for Bill and Teyla. Evidently Ronon planned to stand.

"How are you doing?" Bill asked Sheppard.

"Okay, now," Sheppard replied. "Thanks to you for remembering that arrow in McKay's pack. It helped Beckett figure out what had knocked me out."

"Good to know," Bill replied.

"So, what's going on?" Ronon said from behind him.

"First of all, I want to start with an apology," Bill offered. "I'm working under some limitations of what I can do, and what I can tell you."

"Knew it!" Ronon growled.

Bill held up his hands. "I'm here to help," Bill said.

"Ronon, relax," Sheppard directed.

"She's talking to you, isn't she?" Bill asked softly.

Sheppard gave a reluctant nod.

"What? Who's talking to you?"McKay screeched, sitting up and leaning toward Sheppard. "Why haven't you..."

"Rodney!" Sheppard interrupted. "Just... hang on."

McKay frowned at him. "We are so going to talk later."

Sheppard shifted uncomfortably in the bed. "Later."

McKay snorted and sat back. Sheppard made a 'go on' motion at Bill.

"My... colleagues, shall we say, are aware of the fight you have here, mostly with the Wraith but also with your own people," Bill stated. "Your expedition is the best chance in a very long time of fixing what's wrong in Pegasus."

"But..." Sheppard drawled.

"You're working under some limitations that can be fixed, with what is minor assistance," Bill went on. "My colleagues have been convinced that you should get that help, and I've been sent to deliver the first part of that."

Bill heard Ronon take his weapon out of his holster.

"Ronon! Stand down!" Sheppard ordered sharply.

"He's not who he said he is," Ronon growled.

"And he's not here to hurt us," Sheppard replied.

"You don't know that!" Ronon shot back.

"Ronon," Sheppard said gently. "Let him talk."

Bill didn't have to turn to know Ronon was on alert behind him. He wasn't worried.

"So what happened on P47-981?" Sheppard dragged the conversation back to Bill.

Bill reached out for McKay's tablet. "If I may?" He brought up the entry in the database for the planet. "See this icon down here?"

"Yes! What is that? We've never been able to figure that out or see where it leads," McKay exclaimed.

"It's an indicator that an individual has additional information on the planet," Bill explained. He clicked on the icon and it brought up a security screen. He typed in a code.

"Okay, where did you get that?" McKay demanded. "Nothing we've tried has worked."

"That's one of the first things I can offer," Bill replied. "You now have admin access to the database."

"What? How did you do that?" McKay asked. "And we can't have everyone..."

"Just you," Bill interrupted. "Well, you and Colonel Sheppard."

McKay looked momentarily relieved. "Okay, better." He reached for his tablet. "Admin access?"

"Rodney, focus," Sheppard drawled. "What did you find there?"

"The site was a group project," Bill said. "They were working on a new version of a ZPM, and the notes show that they had a working prototype. That's what I'm hoping we were able to grab before we had to leave."

"Did we trip an alarm?" Teyla asked.

"I think so," Bill shrugged. "There was a note that one of the scientist had set up a physical connection between the building and the local village." At Ronon's growl, Bill held up a hand. "The entry is at least ten thousand years old. There's no way to know that the alarm still would work, or that the locals would respond, or... or what. Unless you wanted to take the locals out of the equation first, which would be just as dicey."

"Either they've forgotten that they're protecting something or the site is from the gods and is rabidly watched and we'd never be allowed close to it," Sheppard offered.

"Exactly!" Bill nodded. "No telling which way it would go. The best option would be to be careful and to not disturb the locals."

"Which is what we do anyway," Sheppard agreed, looking at his team. "Would we have done anything different?"

Silence.

"So. Now we can get to the good stuff," McKay grinned. "Who are you, and what are you doing here?"

"Sheppard?" Bill looked at the man.

Sheppard sighed. "You're an Ascended Ancient."

"I didn't think you were allowed to help us," McKay protested.

Bill shrugged. "That's a majority opinion and not an absolute. And, after the mess with the Ori, there's a group that has a strong feeling that we owe you something."

"That's true," McKay said. "You guys owe us big time for not helping with that."

"That's what I'm here to do," Bill admitted. "What happened to the case we got from P47-981?"

"I'll get it," Teyla offered, standing up. "It should be in Colonel Sheppard's locker."

"A working model of a new type of ZedPM?" McKay's eyes lit up.

Bill nodded. "It should still be viable, and you can study it to figure out how to build your own."

"There isn't a stack of ZPMs just lying around somewhere, are there?" Sheppard asked.

"Sorry, no," Bill said. "We used them about as fast as you have. Trying to make a ZPM that would last longer was a major focus of a large number of scientists."

"The Asurans seemed to have a lot of ZedPMs," McKay pointed out.

"And they burned through them as fast as they could make them," Bill replied.

"Huh," McKay sat back for a moment.

Teyla came back with the case. She handed it to McKay, who placed it on the table next to the bed.

"Is it safe to open?" McKay asked.

"Should be inert," Bill said. "The value is in the instructions and having the prototype. It's not something you'll be able to use tomorrow, but inside of a year, you'll be ready to be building your own."

"And that gives us the time to figure out how to manage the deployment of those devices," Sheppard observed.

"Yes," Bill agreed. "I've seen enough of today's Earth that you can't just hand those devices out to anyone. Your politics are almost as bad as we were before we left."

"Why us?" Teyla asked.

"You have a... passion and a commitment that hasn't existed in this galaxy for a long time," Bill explained. "And a strong moral backbone -- you prefer to be as fair as you can."

"What about the Wraith?" Ronon asked.

"Now that McKay can really get into the city database, there's enough information in there to help," Bill said. "Again, it won't be overnight. But five years from now? I think there will be a very different Pegasus."

"What about you?" Sheppard asked.

"Now that I've gotten you started, my work is done," Bill admitted. "It's been an honor to work with you."

"Hey! Wait..." McKay started. He sat back in his chair. "I had more questions," he said folornly.

Bill faded from their view.

"Now what?" Ronon asked.

"Sheppard gets some sleep," McKay said. "Carson said he should be able to get out of here tomorrow, if he behaves." At that last, McKay glared at Sheppard.

"One more night is all I can stand," Sheppard replied.

"I think that we will have a lot to do over the next few years," Teyla said. "That makes it easier to wait one more night. I will see you tomorrow."

"Let me know what we need to do about the Wraith," Ronon said. "Let me know what I can do to help."

"I will," McKay promised.

McKay sat in the chair next to Sheppard's bed and took his hand. McKay's other hand was on the case with the prototype.

"I want to..." McKay started.

"It can wait until tomorrow," Sheppard soothed. "Some of these problems have been around for thousands of years. Is it selfish of me to want you here?"

McKay blushed and moved closer to the bed. "I guess not," he said.

Bill withdrew completely at that point. He wanted to give them some time.

A week later, Bill tracked McKay and Sheppard down to a lab where Rodney was working.

"How's it going?" Bill asked.

"Ack!" McKay gasped, clearly startled. "Don't do that!"

"Hey!" Sheppard greeted him. "Wasn't sure we'd see you again."

"One of the things that's important in all of this is the two of you," Bill said. "I sent you a picture, just for you, that you need to talk about."

"Us?" McKay squawked.

"All of this is going to be hard," Bill pointed out. "You need to support each other one hundred percent. Especially when you figure out how to build and charge ZPMs. While you need the energy here -- in Atlantis and in Pegasus, you're going to have Earth politics forcing you to make decisions you can't even prepare for."

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely," Sheppard said softly.

"Exactly!" Bill agreed.

"But why us?" McKay asked.

"Individually, you're both good at what you do," Bill replied. "Together? You can be unstoppable."

"No pressure there," McKay sighed.

"You're already missing out," Bill said.

"You going to come back?" Sheppard asked.

Bill shrugged. "I think you can do this. But, I'll see what I can do."

"We can use all the help we can get," McKay said.

"Oh, and can you pass a message on for me?" Bill asked. Sheppard nodded. "Tell Daniel that Oma said she's fixed that pest problem. And that he'd know what that means."

Sheppard frowned. "Okay?"

Bill waved. "Take care." He disappeared, but hung around to see what might happen.

"Umm... together?" Sheppard said, sounding tentative. But he moved closer to McKay.

"I..." McKay took a breath. "I've wanted you since you sat in that chair in Antarctica. You've been brave and honorable and stupidly frustrating ever since."

"I took that fleece," Sheppard admitted, closing the distance between them.

"You! I looked for that for weeks," McKay complained.

"I still have it," Sheppard said softly.

"I want it back," McKay said.

When they moved closer together, Bill knew everything would be fine.